Thursday, October 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

Just a few random thoughts…

Many conservative Christians are convinced that the Harry Potter books are the work of the devil, based on the fact that the characters in them can cast spells. They never seem able to see beyond that fact, which is a pity, given that the books are actually fairly wholesome and have absolutely nothing to do with witchcraft as we understand it. This dislike is, in my mind, fairly irrational.

But fortunately, Richard Dawkins is busy proving that atheists can be far more irrational than most believers. He’s starting a crusade against the Potter books, warning of their “pernicious” effect on children. Dawkins, apparently, is under the impression that kids will believe what they read and grow up believing in wizards and spells. Dawkins claims to have made only one convert to atheism (Douglas Adams), and with arguments like that, I can see why.

Senator Norm Coleman is virtually tied with Al Franken in the Minnesota Senate race. It’s hard to think of a more irritating figure than Franken. He’s not really successful enough to be considering influential (half his books are bestsellers, but the rest were flops, and his radio show tanked), but just successful enough to be a threat. His books are poorly researched and mean-spirited, and obviously aren’t written by a man with the temperament of a Senator. In 1984, Minnesota was the only state that went for Walter Mondale, so it obviously doesn’t have the best of taste when voting, but inflicting Al Franken on the U.S. Senate is unforgiveable. Hopefully, the state will make the right decision this time.

I’ve given up on reading the polls—there’s just too much variance between them to make them worth reading. But one thing is for certain—unless every single poll is wrong, McCain will lose.

Gas prices are around $2.30 in Cincinnati, and are at similar levels around the nation. Evidently, all the hype about “the end of cheap oil” was overblown. Oil can’t last forever, but it will probably remain cheap for a few more years yet.

Quite a lot of pro-lifers seem to be supporting Obama because he is such a nice person. He may be—but it seems worthwhile reminding them that he still supports what is basically infanticide.

A bit of perspective on the military decline of Europe. Germany has about 100,000 troops. America has about 75,000 troops—just stationed in Germany. Granted, America is much bigger than Germany, but that is still quite a difference. Were anything to happen to the United States, Europe would be nearly defenseless.

Although Europe is doing a pretty good job of becoming defenseless already. In England, a judge recently ruled that a property owner could not protect his property with barbed wire—because criminals might cut themselves on it. Just unbelievable.

Yet another example of hypocrisy in the media: when some one allegedly shouted “Kill him” about Obama at a Palin rally, the media went berserk and started accusing the McCain campaign of inciting violence against its opponent. When someone hung Sarah Palin in effigy in California, though, the media didn’t seem to think that it were representative of the Obama campaign. It seems that the media has done a worse job than usual this year—not only in its political bias, but in its choice of stories.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What You Can Do

With the end of Obama’s giant half hour infomercial, the 2008 presidential marketing campaign is over. There isn’t time for either campaign to change the narrative of the race—voters know, or think they know, who the candidates are, and what they believe in. Barring a late breaking October Surprise, which almost certainly won’t come, what we see now is what voters will see on Election Day.

The narratives may be over, but the election isn’t, not by a long shot. Both sides can do a lot to change the results—but they will need your help.

There’s a lot you can do—phone banks, door-to-door walks, even attending campaign rallies can help the Republican cause. I have walked door-to-door for the past couple of weeks offering registered Republicans absentee ballots, which I assume is helpful, even though nobody really wanted them, and it seems to me that people already registered as Republicans as pretty safe votes already. But far be it from me to question the wisdom of the McCain campaign, and I did my best to help the campaign.

A common excuse for not volunteering (at least I think it’s a common excuse—I don’t pester people by telling them to volunteer for McCain in my daily life, so I don’t know from experience) is that volunteering takes too much time. It does take time—but then, if Obama is elected, the increase in time worked to pay off your higher taxes will increase dramatically, so it’s probably a good investment. And it’s not particularly hard work, and you get to meet like-minded, conservative people.

I know that many conservatives are quite willing to volunteer, but don’t much like the way the Republican party is heading and stay home. Which would be a perfectly good excuse, except that there are other candidates to volunteer for than John McCain. You’d be hard pressed to find no one on your ballot who agrees with you, and seemingly humble positions can end up being the start of greater things. Only five years ago, Barack Obama was humble State Senator. Now he’s close to the presidency.

That doesn’t happen often, of course, but lower level public officials do form the base of the Republican party, and their voices are heard. If you don’t like the direction of the GOP, there is no better way to change it than volunteering for a candidate you do like.

And, of course, perhaps the most important thing you can do is go out and vote. People don’t vote for a variety of reasons—lack of time, feelings of disenfranchisement (“one vote won’t matter”), unexpected family or business crisis’s. None of these is a good excuse. It rarely takes that long to vote, and it is well worth the time investment. And unexpected problem can usually be avoided with a bit of planning.

The disfranchisement mood is tricky, because it is party based on a truth—one vote won’t swing the election. But a large group of single votes will. And if you don’t vote, you really don’t have any right to complain about what you get.

To sum this post up: find good candidates, go volunteer, and go vote. Doing so will take time, and require sacrifices—but its for a good cause, and is well worth it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Supporting Obama Reasonably

Recently, there has been a rash of conservative, or at least right-wing leaning, writers who have announced their support for Barack Obama. Christopher Buckley (whose conservative reputation, it must be said, is a living testament to the power of nepotism) endorsed Obama, as did moderates David Brooks and Christopher Hitchens. Kathleen Parker hasn’t yet endorsed Obama, but given she recently called the McCain campaign “divisive”, “anti-intellectual” and “ugly”, it’s not hard to see which way she’s leaning.

I can, at some level, understand the reasoning behind these endorsements. This line of thinking isn’t popular, and few agree with it, but there is a case to be made for it. There is nothing wrong with holding an unpopular opinion, and these writers don’t have to be ashamed that they are voting for Obama. But it’s odd that after endorsing Obama, each of these writers starting writing absolutely absurd articles trying to defend their choice.

Kathleen Parker wrote about the anger and hatred expressed towards minorities at Sarah Palin rallies. Parker exposes the truth about the phrase “palling around with terrorists”—it actually riles “xenophobic, anti-Muslim sentiment,” which must be difficult, given that that sentence doesn’t actually include any references to either foreigners or Muslims. Parker reveals that this tactic has been “effective with target audiences,” based on the airtight evidence of a YouTube video someone posted showing a few eccentrics at a Palin rally.

For the record, Parker is absolutely wrong about the level of anger at Palin rallies. I’ve been to two. And if the people who attend rallies in Cincinnati are typical of people around the country, then Sarah Palin rallies are composed of perfectly nice, rational people. If there were any angry xenophobes attending either gathering, I missed them. People who go to Palin rallies are perfectly rational; the idea that they are somehow dangerous is simply a lie. Kathleen Parker is better than this. Her beliefs may be unpopular, but she doesn’t need to stoop this low.

Christopher Hitchens is, possibly, a bit mad, but in a brilliant way. His likes and dislikes are passionately held—he is either for something or against it. He’s against Palin.

So he felt the need to write a stupid, poorly researched column attacking her “anti-intellectualism.” Palin may in fact be anti-intellectual, but not for any of the reasons Hitchens gives.

Sarah Palin criticized earmarks used for studying fruit flies in France. So Hitchens, reasoning that fruit flies are used for DNA research, and DNA research is scientific and good, reasoned that Palin’s opposition to a fruit fly related earmark must mean that she is setting herself against science.

Yeah, there are a few links missing in that logical chain. The earmark Palin was referring to had nothing to do with DNA research—it was a result of lobbying efforts by olive growers to control the fruit fly population. This might be a good idea—but this isn’t exactly Gregor Mendel discovering the existence of genes here. Palin’s opposition was wholly justifiable.

Actually, this is some of Hitchens’ stronger reasoning. Later on, he decides that since Palin favors mentioning creationism in public schools, it just follows that she must be a creationist who rejects the theory of evolution. And then he figures that since Palin doesn’t believe humans are responsible for global warming (which is an oversimplification of her beliefs), she must be a “premillenial dispensationalist” who believes that the world will end soon so there is just no point in protecting it. This reasoning is so dumb it makes one wonder why Hitchens needs to reach this much to prove his point. It is not as if there aren’t plenty of things to criticize about Sarah Palin.

Christopher Buckley doesn’t spend much time attacking Sarah Palin in his latest column, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for some dumb stuff. For some reason, Buckley was offended at Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of his Obama endorsement (though one wonders what he expected), and decided to take him on. Why he decided to do this is a mystery—he couldn’t hope to win, given Limbaugh’s large audience, and attacking Rush would only serve to damage his reputation with conservatives further. Perhaps deciding that he wouldn’t damage it any worse, Buckley started his column by using a lot of French phrases to prove his elitist credentials, which while a clever idea, served to make him seem utterly pretentious.

Anyway, Buckley found time to repeat the fruit fly canard before reaching the heart of his essay—that Limbaugh was unfair when he said that “even if [Obama] goes lefty when he’s elected, [Buckley]’ll have a problem with that” summed up Buckley’s position. When actually Buckley said that “having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves.” Which has precisely the same meaning as Limbaugh’s quote.

Buckley closes by reminding us that he knew William F. Buckley and Rush isn’t him. Because if there is one person who should decide who the next dominant conservative leader is, it would be Christopher Buckley, the guy who’s voting for an ultra-liberal Democrat.

Those rightists who endorsed Obama don’t have to be ashamed. Endorsing Obama is a defensible decision, and there is no need to embarrass oneself trying to defend it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Audacity of Cynicism

Barack Obama’s primary attraction isn’t his aura of postpartisanship or his lofty speeches. It isn’t his good looks or his “firsts” (first black president). It’s his promise to replace the politics of cynicism with the politics of hope, with the promise of what we can accomplish by uniting and working together that makes him attractive to voters.

That’s the spirit that inspired voters to Obama’s cause last spring, and to a lesser degree (as Obama’s gotten a bit off the “hope” message in recent weeks), still inspires voters today. Americans want hope; they are tired of cynicism.

Give me cynicism. There’s really no other way to look at the world, at least the not the geopolitical world. Uniting and working together always sounds good and productive. It never is.

When Obama went to Berlin, he said that the collapse of the Berlin Wall proved that “there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.” Right. Actually, the world didn’t stand as one during the Cold War—about forty percent of the world sided (though usually not by choice) with the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet Union wasn’t an example of the power of unity—it was a demonstration of the disastrous effects the constant threat of nuclear annihilation can have on an economy.

Or to go farther back, do you like the United State’s position as leader, economically and militarily, of the free world? That’s because of Adolf Hitler. Before World War II, America had no military to speak of and was mired in the Great Depression. The War ended the Depression (wars can raise demand considerably), and strengthened America’s military. After the war, America was the only country that hadn’t been bombed to ruins, ensuring its dominance of the postwar era. Six million Jews were killed, much of Europe was reduced to rubble, and tens of millions died—but America became an economic superpower. America is what it is due to the deaths of millions of innocents.

And most of the world’s great advances didn’t come as a result of unity, but because 1) some crackpot happened to be right for once, or 2) some greedy capitalist made millions out of a great idea. The discovery of the Americas was one of the world’s great discoveries—it happened because Christopher Columbus had no idea of the true size of the world and thought he could sail to Asia from Spain. It should have failed, but America happened to be in the way.

Henry Ford changed the world with his ideas about mass production—he used much of the proceeds from his invention to fund the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And his invention, again, wasn’t the result of someone trying to change the world for the better—it was someone trying to grab as much money as possible.

Good intentions are nice—but they aren’t effective. I’d much rather have a nasty, ruthless pragmatist in the White House. To his credit, it’s probable that Obama really does want to change the world for the better—it’s simply that history shows that ideas implemented in good faith rarely work.

Social Security must have seemed like a good idea at the time—a fantastic way to ensure that Americans would have retirement savings. Now, we know that it will go bankrupt in thirty years or so. Fannie Mae—which provided low-income Americans with housing capital—seemed like a good idea too. And we all saw how that worked out.

There are plenty more examples of the futility of hope. But sadly, Americans are idealistic, and want hope and unity and harmony. It may very well get Obama the presidency. And then it won’t work, because it never does.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fun With Polls

Less than two weeks out from the election, there isn’t much to do. The narratives are set, the debates are over, and everything there is to know about the candidates (except Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers) has been revealed and overanalyzed. There’s nothing to do now except look at the polls.

Actually, maybe we shouldn’t look at the polls, because for a McCain supporter, they are pretty depressing. The RealClearPolitics poll average puts Obama up nationwide by 7.5 points, a pretty comfortable lead.

McCain can take comfort in the fact that these polls have a really wide range—Obama’s lead is one to thirteen points, depending on the poll. So if the polls with lower Obama leads are correct, McCain is still within striking distance. If the polls with higher Obama leads are correct, McCain probably shouldn’t count on becoming president.

The question is: which polls are right? The outcome of a poll depends, of course, largely on methodology—pollsters don’t just call up folks and start asking for their opinions. They have to weigh the answer they receive by race, party, sex, age, and any other demographic data—after all, a poll that oversamples, say, white people will be skewed towards the candidate with more support from whites.

We more or less know what proportion of the different races and sexes will vote—there probably won’t be any major surprises there. Party identification is more complicated—most polls seem to assume that Democrats hold an approximately six point party ID lead on Republicans. The party ID gap has not been greater than three points in any election since 1976 (this includes the 2006 elections). This suggests that either Democrats have an unprecedented advantage in party ID, or pollsters are oversampling Democrats.

Age is difficult too. It’s usually easy to figure out who most young voters will vote for—nobody, since young people don’t vote in significant numbers. But Obama has taken pains to attract the youth vote, which means that either there will be a lot of first time voters, or Obama really wasted his time there.

We can’t be sure, but I’m going with the second option. I’m a young voter myself, and I can’t say I’ve detected any great amount of enthusiasm for Obama among my peers. Most young people seem to support Obama, but not really in a particularly passionate way. Few seem to be really fervent Obama supporters—most support him just because it’s, you know, the accepted thing to do.

Maybe my experiences are atypical, but I don’t think so, at least not to any large degree. If there are any news stories of a massive youth grassroots movement supporting Obama, I’ve missed them. (And showing up at Obama’s rallies for an afternoon doesn’t count as a grassroots movement). Young people are always expected to show up in force and vote, and they never do. I wouldn’t, and this is an uninformed opinion, expect them to show up this year. If my uninformed belief is correct, then pollsters are oversampling another overwhelmingly pro-Obama demographic.

The polls that show Obama up typically give him about fifty percent of the vote, while McCain gets around forty-three. The polls showing the race essentially even give both candidates support at around the forty-three percent mark. This could be a result of pollster methodology. Pollsters who push voters for their decision (Rasmussen does this) seem to show higher Obama leads. Other pollsters, who might not be as insistent in their questions, show the race closer. This could mean that much of Obama’s poll support comes from voters who are essentially undecided, and simply pick the better known and more charismatic candidate when pushed for an answer.

Moral of the story? It could be that I am totally ignorant about polls, and McCain is finished. Or maybe it’s that I actually am a bit of a poll expert and my conclusions prove that McCain is right in this thing. I don’t know—we will find out on Election Day. But every person reading this should try to prove the polls wrong—go out and vote for McCain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Too Smart By Half

The conservative movement is blessed with some really, really excellent thinkers. Peggy Noonan is one; Kathleen Parker is another. Christopher Buckley and David Brooks, while not strictly conservative, are also smart and insightful writers. All these pundits are, perceptive, discerning, and smart, and can look beyond the obvious when analyzing an issue.

But it’s possible to be too smart by half; and it’s easy to overanalyze. And I think that some conservative thinkers are guilty of these sins. It’s tempting, when writing about some political controversy, to buck the prevailing trends and offer something no one has thought of, and it’s often attractive to go against the groupthink found in any movement. But Parker, Buckley, and the rest have gone too far—they’ve moved from edgy and challenging to merely stupid.

There seem to be two main ideas among the anti-McCain conservatives: a) that McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate shows his contempt for intelligence and competence, and b) that Barack Obama’s temperament is remarkable enough to trump ideological differences and represents a reason to vote for him over McCain. Both of these concepts are silly.

I think that it is nearly indisputable that Sarah Palin isn’t ready to be Vice President, and isn’t nearly ready for the presidency should anything happen to McCain. But neither is Obama. Obama is a smart man, and like Palin, could in time be a strong president (at least from a Democrat point of view). But he’s not ready—he has served in the Senate for less than four years, and hasn’t really done anything. He has never had to respond to anything more important than a drop in the polls.

Palin’s philosophical vision is hazy. So is Obama’s. Obama’s beliefs are pretty well-known—and they are nothing more than your typical Democrat ideals: balanced budget, more spending on welfare programs, less war, and the rest of the Democrat agenda. Obama displays no original vision, no brilliant ideas—his plans could have come out of the Official Democrat Incoming Senator Handbook, and probably did.

If McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin represents a lapse in judgment, then considering voting for Obama does as well. You can’t have it both ways—either both Palin and Obama are qualified, or they both aren’t.

Reason number two for Obama: Obama’s temperament is so adjusted and nuanced that it obscures any ideological weaknesses and becomes a real reason to vote Obama. A few problems there. First, Obama’s temperament may be good—but it’s not that good. Christopher Buckley seems to read judgment between the lines in Obama twin autobiographies. His books are interesting and revealing, but they are hardly literary classics. If Obama loses, his autobiographies will be on the bargain shelves pretty quickly, and will be completely forgotten a year from then. Anyhow, writing ability doesn’t necessarily translate into leadership ability—Ulysses S. Grant was a dreadful president, but wrote a very good autobiography.

And this idea ignores a more important point—when it comes to the presidency, competence might be a bit more important than temperament.

And there really isn’t any reason to think that Barack Obama is especially competent. He’s never had to make a tough decision, he’s never led a Senate fight, he’s never really even pushed any particularly unpopular positions. Some point to his presidential campaign as proof of his aptitude. But his campaign isn’t the smoking gun these people think it is—he beat Hillary Clinton, but she started with some sky-high negatives, and he should have won the nomination much earlier. His campaign has been run competently, but not brilliantly, and if Obama wants to cite a political campaign as evidence of his abilities, he had better run it brilliantly.

Noonan, Parker, Buckley, and the rest decry anti-intellectualism, and justifiably so. But just because one is smart (and for the record, any of the people I’ve cited is far more knowledgeable and insightful than I am—in fact, I feel presumptuous just saying that) doesn’t mean that one is invulnerable to indefensible ideas.

Peggy Noonan wrote a column praising Palin’s selection, then got caught bashing it on an open mike. Kathleen Parker suggested that Sarah Palin remove herself from the ticket in order to help McCain (which would hav) set up an Eagleton scenario in which McCain’s judgment would be irrevocably tarnished).

Neither of these things was a good idea, and I think that both writers will come to regret them. (In fact, I think Noonan already does). Too many people under analyze issues—but overanalyzing them to come to a ridiculous conclusion is just as bad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thinking About Tomorrow

Yesterday, I wrote a way-too-premature post about Bobby Jindal’s strengths and how they will impact his 2012 run. While I think everything I wrote was true, as far as it goes, it is still a bit early to start thinking of 2012. Conservatives have more important things to do. (That said, it’s still fun to think of a Jindal Administration).

We have to try to win this election, which is still within reach. Republicans must do everything possible to help McCain—remind friends to vote, attend McCain-Palin rallies, or volunteer for McCain. McCain can win—but he needs your help.


Even with an enthused base behind him, McCain still faces an uphill battle, and the odds are against him winning. So conservatives have to start planning for the future.

The 2012 election is important, and it’s fun to think about presidential politics, but the congressional elections in 2010 may well be more important. In 2010, Obama (assuming he wins) will have been president for almost two years; the Democrats will have controlled Congress for four. Things then will almost certainly be about as bad then as they are now—the Middle East won’t be any more peaceful, energy prices will be high, and Obama’s tax increases will just be starting to take their effect on the economy. And the economy will probably be bad too—there really aren’t any good economic choices for the next president of the United States. Between the aftereffects of the subprime mortgage crisis, rising energy costs, and repercussions of the bailout plan, the next president will have to make some difficult and unpopular choices.

This means a fertile environment for Republicans—possibly even as fertile as the ground in 1994. Republicans can win the next election, and could (two bad election cycles—and even if McCain wins, this election cycle will be bad—should be enough punishment for the GOP’s mistakes) retake one or both of the houses of Congress.

This is could happen—but it won’t happen by itself. Conservatives need to get involved—and the beauty of Congressional elections is that one person can make a real difference. If someone knocks on, say, three hundred doors for McCain, he really isn’t making much of a difference in the big picture—in a swing state like Ohio, there are millions of voters, and influencing a few hundred isn’t terribly significant. But in a Congressional race…well, three hundred voters is a fairly significant number. Just few volunteers can make a big difference.

But conservatives shouldn’t give their support indiscriminately—one good thing about the GOP’s recent electoral woes is the fact that the Republican party is being shaken up. Primary challengers have a better chance of unseating established candidates.

And if reforming challengers have an energized conservative base behind them, they could actually win, and maybe get some real results.

Right now, the polls don’t look too good for McCain. It’s easy to get discouraged. But discouragement won’t help—right now, conservatives should be getting energized.

And I realize that a lot of what I’ve just written is conjectural. Maybe McCain will win, maybe Obama will actually be a fantastically popular president, maybe the entrenched Republican establishment will crush all challengers to the status quo. But my ideas aren’t improbable—and conservatives can work to make them a reality. To borrow a nice inspirational but meaningless phrase from The One, Yes We Can.

Monday, October 20, 2008

If McCain Loses...

Not to be depressing, but odds are John McCain won’t wake up November 5th as president-elect of the United States. Obama holds a reasonably comfortable poll lead, and it isn’t shaping up to be a good year for Republicans in general. It’s not all bad news for McCain—Barack Obama’s lead has slipped in recent weeks, and the economy has gotten better lately, and polls historically seem to favor Democrats, but still, the smart money is on Obama.

After George W. Bush won the presidency, Republican congressmen were told to vote with Bush or get crushed. Most voted with Bush, and since George Bush isn’t Ronald Reagan, the results weren’t very impressive. That’s what would happen under an Obama presidency—except a hundred times worse, since the Democrats don’t even pay lip service to ideas like fiscal responsibility and low taxes.

Even after an Obama victory, conservatives can’t afford to despair. Politics has become a 24/7/365/4 occupation, the time to start looking to 2012 will be November 5th. 2012 could be a good year for Republicans. America faces some tough times right now, especially given the weak economy, and whatever party is in charge of dealing with them will be forced to make some unpopular decisions.

Since unpopular decisions drive voters away from the party in power, the GOP could have a pretty good shot at dominating in 2012.

But the Republican party must have a better crop of candidates than the bunch who ran this year. Rudy “9/11” Giuliani, the comatose Fred Thompson, and the most unlikable candidate since Dukakis, Mitt Romney formed the most depressing corps of also-rans since, well, the 2004 Democrat primaries actually, but still pretty bad. And I didn’t even mention Mike Huckabee, who seemed to step straight out of an especially corny cartoon. (“How should we improve education?” “Use weapons of mass instruction”) John McCain didn’t win the nomination; everyone else lost. The Republican party can’t afford to run such as weak slate again.

Fortunately, the Republicans have a much stronger set of candidates on the 2012 horizon. Sarah Palin will almost certainly run, and with four more years of experience (either in the White House or in Alaska, depending on McCain’s fate), she will make a much stronger candidate than she is now. Some of the 2008 also-rans, such as Sam Brownback (remember him?) and Mike Huckabee (seriously, he has some good points), could be good candidates too. There also might be someone who is more or less unknown now fated to see his star rise over the next four years—maybe someone like Michael Steele.

It is, of course, far to early to decide the best candidate. But I think it might be Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal’s already planning his 2012 run—he just happens to be speaking at the Iowa Family Policy Center’s annual banquet next month. Jindal is starting his Iowa-pandering early.

Jindal’s got a lot going for him—he’s young, smart, and conservative. But he has one attribute that may be more important than any of those: he is articulate. He can speak spontaneously and well; during Hurricane Gustav, he would give press conferences during which he would recite dozens of statistics off the top of his head. He didn’t get flustered during the crisis, and he sounds good on TV and while making speeches.

The last Republican presidential candidate who could really speak was Ronald Reagan. George H. W. Bush made his son sound like Cicero; Dole was flat and boring; Bush II suffers from a terminal failure to communicate; and McCain is an awful speaker. Sarah Palin can’t give a meaningful response to a simple question.

Jindal can. He can give impressive speeches, and answer interviewees well. Communication is his strong point, and given the Republican party’s failures in that area, it may prove a key element in his campaign.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Thoughts

A few random thoughts…

I’m not a big fan of blatant populism, but as obvious panders go, I’m enjoying the whole “Joe the Plumber” story more than any other political story in a while. “Joe the Plumber” is such a wonderful example of the common man—plumbers are as useful as any blue collar profession, and are regarded as salt-of-the-earth, sturdy people. And the actual plumber referred to couldn’t be better for McCain’s purposes—he is a living embodiment of the American Dream.

The American Dream usually means owning one’s own house and business. It doesn’t usually mean being a campaign spokesman, but maybe Joe Wurzelbacher should go into that profession instead of being a plumber. He manages to make a much stronger case against Barack Obama’s tax plan than any of McCain’s people.

If McCain wins—and he only trails by four in the latest Rasmussen poll, by two in the Gallup poll—“Joe the Plumber” will become the most famous campaign legend ever. He would replace “Dewey Defeats Truman” as the inspiration for longshot candidates.

I think it’s pretty obvious that the media has done a dreadful job this election cycle, not so much because of its liberal bias but because of general incompetence. The fact that cable news is an intelligence wasteland is pretty obvious, but the networks and talk radio are pretty bad as well. The networks are all hemorrhaging viewers, and their format is obsolete—I don’t have time to watch the news for a half hour at six o’clock, but even if I did, I wouldn’t anyway—I’d have found out about the stories that interest me six hours earlier on Drudge.

Talk radio is largely pretty bad too. I listen to Rush, and occasionally Glenn Beck, but the rest of the crew (in Cincinnati, that’s Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Mark Levin), is irritating. Hannity is relentlessly predictable—he has two set conversations. One for liberal callers (Liberal caller asks question, Hannity changes the subject, Hannity hangs up on listener), and one for conservative callers (“You’re a great American, Sean” “You’re a great American, caller” “Those liberals sure are bad, huh?” “They sure are…let’s go to…[next caller]”) I can’t take the repetition anymore.

I’ve noticed that the conservative blogosphere seems to be either really angry or really depressed, depending on the blogger. Both emotions, to me, seem a bit over the top and unnecessary, and neither will help McCain win. McCain’s not far enough behind to justify depression, and I just can’t get too angry at Obama. Maybe I should, but I’m just not feeling the anger.

Colin Powell might endorse Obama. Some Obama organizer decided to scrap the national anthem to fit another speaker into an Obama event. I’m not excited—but they’re stories up on Drudge. I guess not much is happening.

Returning to the topic of Joe the Plumber, how can the top headline on Drudge be “McCain defends Plumber”? Isn’t there anything else going on? Guess not.

I guess the baseball playoffs are good this year. I can’t watch—I used to be a big sports fan, but I’ve lost interest for the past year. I live in Cincinnati—since 1990, the Reds and Bengals have had two playoff appearances between them. Both teams are always bad—and they aren’t bad in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, but just plain, boringly bad. I root pretty hard for my teams—so if they won’t put out any effort, neither will I.

So instead, I’m following politics and rooting for McCain. Yeah, that’s the way to find a winner. Anyway, I’m trying to stay optimistic. Actually, not really—I’m just trying not to become terminally depressed at McCain’s chances.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sarah Palin, Evaluated

Evaluating Sarah Palin is tricky. She’s been in national politics only a few months, which means that hastily formed first impressions remain. She’s a woman, which makes using common frames of reference difficult. She’s attractive, which distracts from what she actually says. And she’s a supporting figure in a campaign which isn’t hers, and which she joined late, meaning that her talking points must coincide with John McCain’s strengths, not her own.

So it’s hard to form an accurate judgment of Sarah Palin. Is she the inspiring, brilliant figure who inspired millions with her campaign speech? Or is she the inept bimbo she seemed to be during her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric? Or is she a bit of both?

Her ideology is also a bit of mystery. Nobody knows what her position on immigration is; nobody knows exactly how she feels about foreign policy, other than her belief that McCain’s ideas there are pretty much right on the money. Conservatives love Palin’s views, but aren’t quite sure just what they are.

Above all else, Palin is a populist. She campaign shtick is that America needs to send two mavericks to take on the old boy network in Washington. Politicians love to talk about “the American People”; I think that Palin has a higher “American People” count than any other candidate. She claims to be able to speak for “hockey moms,” because she’s one herself, who understands the concerns of ordinary people.

I dislike populism—it represents the worst kind of pandering, and I much prefer exceptional people to Joe Sixpack. But if you like that sort of thing, I suppose that Palin is good at it.

Aside from populism, it’s a bit difficult to decipher exactly what Palin’s beliefs are—though that’s not altogether her fault. Her late entrance forced her to quickly start repeating the McCain campaign’s talking points, and it’s hard to see a way around that. But from what she has said in the past, she’s a conservative; more a part of the social conservative wing of the party than the fiscal conservative wing.

She opposes abortion, gay marriage, and gun control. She seems to take a dim view of high taxes, though she wasn’t above accepting a great deal of congressional pork. (Alaska gets a lot of pork—it’s a state that doesn’t really do anything, but Congress wants to remind voters it’s around). She spent a lot of money as mayor of Wasilla, and while it may have gone to worthy causes, it did leave the city (or town, given its size) in debt. And Palin doesn’t really have any strong foreign policy views, although her instincts seem good.

With a few exceptions, Palin seems a like strong conservative—not perfect, but pretty good. But there are a lot of conservative politicians—for a vice president, competence is as important as ideology.

Palin wasn’t governor of Alaska very long (about twenty months), but is highly regarded by her constituents. And her performance as mayor of Wasilla, if not perfect, was at least good enough to get her the governorship.

Some have brought up Palin’s awful interview performances as evidence of her incompetence, and they make a strong case. She seemed clueless—it is possible that Charlie Gibson flubbed his now infamous question regarding the Bush Doctrine, but it is doubtful Palin could have answered it even had he asked it perfectly. Her answers during the Couric debate were painful. So painful, in fact, that Tina Fey used her actual, unedited answers during her SNL Palin impression. That is the definition of a bad answer.

How significant are Palin’s interview performances? They reveal that she is almost certainly unprepared for the vice presidency. Couric’s questions weren’t exactly difficult posers—they were standard softball fluff, and Palin still couldn’t answer them. Were something to happen to McCain, it is pretty clear that Palin would not be prepared for the presidency.

Palin has her flaws, certainly, but her sex may exaggerate them. When Joe Biden gives an error-filled, incoherent answer, he’s is an erring elder statesman. When Palin does the same thing, it’s because she’s an incompetent bimbo. The only other prominent female in the race was Hillary Clinton, and she had been around so long that most voters were used to her sex. Most people aren’t willfully sexist—they are merely unused to seeing a female vice presidential candidate.

The final verdict on Palin will have to wait—there’s not enough evidence to pass judgment now. But a few things are obvious. Palin is a smart, conservative, but inexperienced woman. She would make a great president—but not this year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final Debate Reactions

Some debate reactions:

I like John McCain. There aren’t many conservatives who agree with me—some support him because of Sarah Palin, others because they dislike Barack Obama, others because he’s the GOP nominee. But I’m proud to be supporting him, and I think he’s a good candidate. I disagree with him on many issues, and I won’t forget that—but Reagan aside, I think that he is as good a candidate as the GOP has ever had.

I’m not sure how McCain did tonight—he either did very well or very poorly. He was energized, enthusiastic—but maybe a bit too eager to attack Obama. He has to stand on his own merits. It’s not enough to simply attack Obama. Voters know, or think they know, Obama’s positions. They want to know what McCain thinks first.

Not that McCain did a poor job of articulating his plans. They were, of course, hopelessly unrealistic—neither candidate will balance the budget, nor will either of them free us from dependence on foreign oil—but his positions sounded (sounded—not necessarily were) good, and he sounded strong and confident. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

And Obama didn’t. His answers were perfunctory and boring, though being boring is possibly the best strategy for the frontrunner. One odd tic—during McCain’s answers, Obama couldn’t stop smirking. Or maybe he was smiling derisively. I think Obama was shooting for the second choice—but I’m not sure he succeeded. An occasional smile is good—but a constant sneer isn’t.

John McCain asked Obama to repudiate a statement made my Representative John Lewis comparing him to George Wallace. Obama wouldn’t. That’s staggering—Obama obviously doesn’t wish to offend Lewis, but still, accusations of racism are the most serious possible in our political climate. A simple denunciation would have made Obama sound bipartisan and reasonable, and would have undercut McCain’s point. Further, and it’s sad I have to say this, but it’s doubtful that response calmed the fears of voters nervous about a black candidate. Not defending McCain in this case was wrong, I can’t imagine that Obama made any friends by his position here.

If McCain wins, “Joe the Plumber” will become a legendary debate figure, on par with the long-haired guy from Clinton’s “I-feel-your-pain” debate. And “Joe the Plumber” is a nice change from saying “the American people,” even though both terms are about as meaningless.

I thought CBS’s Bob Schieffer did a good job—the debate format was good, and his questions seemed topical. Although how come all the debate moderators have practically been mummified? Isn’t there any new broadcast talent that could moderate a debate?

The polls don’t look good for McCain right now, but a few points to consider. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was running close, and sometimes ahead of, Reagan, but Reagan did okay in that election. And many voters (around 45%) still think Obama lacks the experience necessary for the presidency. Sure, they still might vote for him—but then, maybe they won’t.

A final point. Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney. It hasn’t been a very good election for frontrunners.

If the election were held today, Obama would probably win. But the election is far from out of reach, and McCain brought it a little closer with his performance tonight. McCain might lose—but I doubt he’ll be blown out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Defending Moderates

A few weeks ago, Kathleen Parker wrote a column suggesting that Sarah Palin should remove herself from the ticket for the good of the McCain campaign and of the country. Parker cited Palin’s dreadful interview performances as proof of her glaring inexperience, saying that “if BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”

Parker went on to write that “only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.”

Well, there’s room for disagreement there, but that does represent a reasonable and thoughtful point of view. It’s hard to argue with Parker’s point about Palin’s interviews, and many do believe that choosing Palin was a mistake. Of course, it’s quite possible to make an equally strong case against Parker’s argument—but it is clearly a plausible idea.

Not so to many conservatives. Parker reported that she got thousands of angry emails, many of them abusive and violent. Around the conservative blogosphere, the general feeling was that Parker was a “traitor”, a “Washington insider”, and not a “true conservative.” Parker’s idea was reasonable. The reaction of too many conservatives to it was not.

Last week, National Review’s Christopher Buckley wrote a column endorsing Barack Obama for president. Buckley is probably the most prominent of the conservatives endorsing Obama—there have been others, but they tend to either be a bit obscure or a bit crazy.

Buckley’s reasoning was that Obama’s eloquently written books reveal a temperament suited to the presidency, and in the absence of any real difference between the candidates, is a sort of tiebreaker for Obama. Apparently, Buckley thinks that temperament is a substitute for ideology.

This line of thought isn’t exactly closely reasoned (I’d love to know where Buckley got the idea that there aren’t any meaningful differences between the candidates), but it does not represent any kind of repudiation of conservative principles on the part of Buckley. His position is that both candidates are liberal enough that things like temperament assume great importance, a position that is reasonable, if not one I agree with.

After Buckley delivered this opinion, conservative opinion swelled against him. He claims to have gotten the whole Parker email treatment of nasty emails, and felt compelled to offer his resignation. Apparently, he thought National Review’s editors would be grateful for his consideration, but graciously insist on him staying with the magazine. They weren’t, and accepted his resignation. Needless to say, the conservative blogosphere was jubilant.

There are just two examples of conservative intolerance for differing views—there are many more, such as the backlash against Peggy Noonan after she said that Palin’s selection represents “identity politics,” the dislike of David Brooks and David Frum for not being “true conservatives,” and the astonishing anger of so many conservatives at John McCain (okay, McCain isn’t wholly conservative, but he’s not nearly as liberal as people like Michelle Malkin seem to think). Conservatives seem to think that there are two kinds of people in the world—people who think exactly like them, aka conservatives, and far left liberals. There are no other categories.

There is a puzzling and stubborn meme in the conservative movement regarding the influence of Washington cocktail parties. Apparently, nearly all heretical writing by conservatives-in-name-only is due to a burning desire to get invitations to elite Washington parties. It’s hard to follow this line of thinking—I’m pretty sure David Frum and the rest of his breed would be much more in demand if they starting toeing the standard conservative line instead of advocating their own brand of conservatism, and anyway I’m not sure that anyone much to the right of Michael Moore is ever invited to those elite parties anyway. But many conservatives are convinced that anyone who calls himself a conservative but has the temerity to disagree with accepted conservative thought is only doing so out a desire to be accepted in liberal circles.

This thinking should cease. There is no value in attempting to ostracize anyone whose thinking is not wholly in line with that of Rush Limbaugh’s. Is David Brooks particularly conservative? No. But he does have some strong conservative views, and can express them, which makes him worth listening to. Conservatives should seek to emphasize their similarities with pundits like Brooks and Frum and Buckley, not stress their differences.

A more welcoming attitude is essential for the survival of conservatism. Any political movement should take care not to become stagnant, but should rather welcome new ideas. Some ideas (such as Buckley’s proposal to vote for Barack Obama) are stupid, and will be criticized and condemned. But conservatives should argue over and discuss these ideas—not shoot the messenger. Having people like Christopher Buckley and David Brooks on board is good for conservatism, and conservatives should welcome them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain's Last Gamble

At the very beginning of the primary season, there were two hot-button, hyper controversial issues—Iraq and immigration. John McCain went all in on both of these issues—he very vocally supported the surge in Iraq, and never wavered in his support for an immigration plan that included amnesty for illegal aliens. Both of these stands were potentially fatal—had the situation in Iraq deteriorated, or immigration remained an important issue, McCain’s campaign would have been finished.

Fortunately for McCain, though, his gamble paid off. Iraq became a winning issue for him, and oddly, people just kind of forgot about immigration (though it’s hard not to wonder whether there are still all that many “jobs Americans won’t do” in our rocky economy.)

As the primaries approached, everyone knew that either Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney would win Iowa. South Carolina wasn’t supposed to go for McCain (though it did), since McCain’s 2000 run had ended there, and Michigan was almost certainly going Romney. Romney’s deep pockets meant that he would be competitive everywhere, and Rudy Giuliani’s lead in Florida meant that McCain couldn’t plan on a win there. There was only one state that could jumpstart McCain’s campaign—New Hampshire.

McCain risked everything for the sake of a New Hampshire win. He spent little time in Iowa (which was probably a good idea, given his opposition to ethanol subsidies), and instead spent days meeting as many New Hampshire voters as possible.

Had McCain lost New Hampshire, his campaign would have been finished. And he could easily have lost—he beat Romney by only six points, not a terribly comfortable margin given the high stakes. But he prevailed, meaning that he lived to fight another day.

McCain took another big chance with his selection of Sarah Palin for his running mate. Had the choice backfired, his campaign would have taken a massive hit—Obama got a sizeable bounce from his convention, and McCain needed one himself to keep the race competitive.

Palin provided one. Whatever may be said about Palin, it is undeniable that she has energized the conservative base, and has ensured, at least, that the McCain campaign is never boring. And it seems probable that she will attract at least some former Hillary Clinton voters, with could make the difference in a close race.

When the financial crisis hit, McCain went all in once again—he suspended his campaign, flew to Washington, and threw himself unreservedly behind a bill most Americans opposed, or at the very least felt ambivalent about. His poll numbers dropped. After the bill passed, the stock market worsened. McCain’s stock dropped still more.

For better or worse, McCain’s fate is bound up in that of the bailout bill. If it fails, Americans will remember his enthusiastic support of the plan. Its failure will become his failure, and he will lose. If it passes, McCain will live to fight another day, as he has so many times.

But there aren’t many days left, and McCain needs to ensure if the bailout plan does succeed, it will reflect favorably on him as much as possible. It appears that it is working, at least a little bit—the market rose over 900 points today, which is a good sign. McCain needs to try to take credit for that shift.

Wednesday night, the two candidates debate for the last time. McCain must sell the bailout plan as an accomplishment, and must claim credit for the bill’s success—and accept blame for its failure. McCain must go all in on this issue—if the bailout works, he wins, or at least stays in the game. If it fails, he loses. McCain’s campaign has been a series of desperate gambles, all of which have paid off. McCain needs to win just one more.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Obama Presidency

Given Barack Obama’s formidable lead in the polls, many conservatives are resigning themselves to an Obama presidency. It’s a bit odd that, in a presidential race that can only be described as “unpredictable,” so many are convinced that polls taken three weeks before the election are set in stone, rock solid reliable indicators of public opinion, but many people have a near superstitious reverence for polls. (For myself, I think polls are valuable snapshots of where the race is—but they’re only snapshots. They have little predictive value). Right-wingers are looking ahead and envisioning an Obama presidency.

And their vision is a bit…apocalyptic. Blogger Sublog, writing at Ace of Spades HQ, offers his vision of an Obama Administration. It’s depressing—he sees at least two left-liberal Supreme Court Justices, a reestablishment of the Fairness Doctrine, higher taxes and spending, and endless investigations into George Bush’s “crimes.” He admittedly goes a bit far when he envisions the Democrats shredding the Constitution—abolishing the Electoral College and repealing the 22nd Amendment (the one setting presidential term limits).

The Constitution stuff is pretty wild speculation, but I think it’s a safe bet that most conservatives would agree with the rest. Your average conservative sees Obama as the second coming of George McGovern, or even worse—an extreme, left wing quasi-socialist.

I believe that candidates are never as good as you think they’ll be—and never as bad either. If, by some miracle, Sarah Palin was sworn in as president next January, conservatives would be a bit disappointed by her performance. And if somehow Nancy Pelosi became president (don’t laugh—it could happen) she wouldn’t be quite as dreadful as Republicans expect.

There is a simple reason for that—politicians have to be elected again. Democrats would love to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine—but they wouldn’t want to be accused of stifling free speech. Obama would love to raise the top income tax rate to ninety percent—but doesn’t want to be accused of socialism. Politics is played between the forty yard lines in this country, and that ensures that extremists of any kind won’t be elected to any office higher than Congressman.

(Sometimes this concern for next cycle’s election has disastrous results. Some congressmen noticed Fannie and Freddie dangerous loan practices—but didn’t act because they feared that they would be accusing of standing in the way of the “American Dream” of owning a house, and thus losing reelection).

So Obama won’t do anything too extreme—I very much doubt that Obama would try reestablishing the Fairness Doctrine, and any Constitution-tampering would be out of the question. At this point, Obama would probably fear the political consequences of withdrawing from a relatively safe Iraq, and has said Afghanistan is the central front of the war on terror, so no withdrawal there. His plan for Guantanamo Bay is very similar that of McCain’s.

On immigration, he and McCain more or less agree. Actually, we would probably be more likely to see comprehensive immigration reform (read: amnesty) under McCain that Obama—both support it, but McCain cares about the issue.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see too many investigations, either. The Republican Congress spent the entire decade of the nineties investigating Bill Clinton, and had him cold—but let him slip away and ended up looking stupid. As if Obama was to start investigating a former president who is probably not guilty, his favorable ratings would start to drop very quickly.

On the topic of healthcare, the two candidates are radically different, at least in theory. Obama claims to want to insure universal healthcare. McCain wants a free market solution. Neither will happen. Even with a filibuster proof Senate, an Obama would be vulnerable to public opinion, and anything close to nationalized healthcare would mobilize the entire conservative movement. The response to the McCain-Kennedy immigration plan last year was impressive—it would nothing compared to the outrage over nationalized healthcare.

Taxes: Obama would raise them, a lot, and McCain would lower them. McCain’s ability to lower taxes would, in practice, be rather difficult, but he wouldn’t raise them. Obama wouldn’t have any trouble raising taxes, though he wouldn’t raise them anywhere near as much as conservatives fear. (Again, he can’t do anything too extreme is he wants to win reelection).

On the spending issue, Obama would speedily increase the federal budget, thought he will not be able to enact all the programs he says he will. McCain, in all likelihood, would raise the federal budget, only a bit slower. I very much doubt that either candidate has the ability to balance the budget, as both promise to do.

It is, perhaps, on the issue of abortion that an Obama presidency would be most disastrous. Obama would appoint certainly one, and perhaps two or even three, pro-abortion justices. These justices would alter the nature of the Supreme Court for decades, and set the pro-life movement back enormously.

So Obama would be a disaster on taxes, spending, and abortion, and would be bad, but acceptable on the war (though ironically, it is in part due to McCain’s influence that we are winning in Iraq), immigration (at least if my estimate of Obama’s attitude towards immigration is correct), and healthcare.

An Obama presidency would be bad—but conservatives could live with it. We aren’t getting George McGovern—Obama is closer to Bill Clinton. There is no need to despair.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Atheist Illogic

In recent years, atheism has been a philosophy on the rise. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris have all published books attacking religion; atheist author Philip Pullman wrote a series of novels that explicitly attacked religion (which, it must be admitted, were apparently quite good) that were made into blockbuster movies (which nobody liked). Most recently, Bill Maher has made a critically acclaimed documentary (sort of) which attempts to ridicule religious doctrine. Atheists are making their voices heard.

As a believer, I think that philosophical debate is a good thing—dialogue is better than diatribes, responding is better than suppressing, etc. And many of the foremost atheist thinkers are remarkably intelligent men—Hitchens is one of the best writers and literary critics alive, Dawkins, undeniably, is a brilliant scientist, and Maher is by all accounts a talented television personality (I’ve never watched his show, and have no desire to). And these men are, apparently, decent and moral men (with the possible exception of Maher). In fact, prominent atheists seem to live better lives than many clergymen (it’s hard not to forget child molestation scandals among Catholic priests, or the numerous Jimmy Swaggartesque scandals among evangelical personalities).

So, atheists are sending out smart, good men to make their case, which means that the atheist argument should be smart, clever, and intelligent. And it is, but it is marred by one fact—all of the most prominent atheists making this argument are crazy.

Some as obviously unbalanced—Bill Maher has suggested that retarded children deserve no more rights than dogs, and that the germ theory of disease is incorrect (thereby losing all right to criticize Christians for being anti-science), while Hitchens has spent a considerable amount of time trying to prove that Mother Teresa was actually a hate filled, evil person. Sam Harris (and Hitchens) disputes the historical existence of Jesus, which is one thing all respected historians agree upon.

Another irrational belief that all these men share is the idea that religion is intrinsically harmful to civilization, a belief that, while popular, seems to ignore all historical evidence. Religion clearly wasn’t responsible for most of the more destructive wars in human history—Rome, the barbarian invasions, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin—none of these men (or empires, as the case may be) were motivated by religious belief, and the wars that were were rather pathetic in comparison—the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, or the Spanish Armada invasion.

(What would happen if Christians tried to peddle an idea this dumb? Actually, they would be treated about as respectfully as most atheists are. Anti-evolutionism is every bit as unfounded as the “religion is responsible for all the world’s ills” meme).

What is striking about this claim is the fact that atheists bill themselves as relentless, dispassionate fighters for the truth, no matter how unpleasant. This line of thought goes that everybody wants God to exist—it’s only atheists who have the fortitude to admit the truth.

Another point: atheists claim that religion is a harmful to society. But every (or very, very close to every) civilization on earth has some form of religion. Are we to believe that, in the history of the planet, not one culture stumbled onto the fact that religious belief was what was holding the human race back? I think most would agree that humanity, even saddled by religion, has made great strides throughout its history. So in what ways has religion held humanity back? Claiming that religious belief holds civilization back, when it is obvious that civilization is advancing, seems pointless and illogical.

Yet atheists feed themselves wild fantasies to “strengthen” their case. What is the value in doing this? Do they think that people will be fooled by this practice, or that repeating these claims to themselves will increase their validity?

Or do they feel that religion is not worth fighting unless it the undiagnosed cause of all the world’s suffering? Of course, that is not the case—if we assume that religion is illogical, then it represents a massive waste of time that should be opposed. But can’t atheist leaders simply condemn religion on that basis, rather than inventing a nonexistent existential threat to humanity?

I can’t prove this idea, but I believe that all humans require some higher dogma. Most find it in religion, a few find it in power, and a few find it in anti-religion. Atheism (as opposed to agnosticism) is simply the flip side of religious belief. It’s adherents are motivated by the same stimuli, and driven by the same fears, as religious believers. Atheism is anti-belief—it is simply another form of religion.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Debate, Polls, and More

Debate analysis: nobody won. Tonight’s debate has got to be the most boring debate of this election cycle. There were some debates during the primaries that were pretty awful; they were like the Lincoln-Douglas contests compared to this yawner. In most debates, the candidates try to stick to their talking points. I’ve never seen them succeed so completely.

Conventional wisdom: this lack of a winner is really, really bad news for McCain. McCain’s behind in the polls, and time is running short, so the conventional wisdom was that McCain needed a knockout punch here.

Wrong. Polls can change almost instantaneously—like they recently did for Obama—and it’s never too late for a knockout punch. McCain has plenty of time—a strong performance in his next debate, combined with a weak one from Obama, could wholly change the narrative of the race.

Besides, it’s not like McCain has never come back from tough obstacles. After Iowa, his campaign was effectively dead in the water. Then, somehow, he won New Hampshire and never looked back. A similar thing could easily happen in this contest.

Another point to consider: most of Obama’s poll bump is due to current events, not because of anything the Obama campaign is doing. And current events are fickle—a year ago, the election was supposed to be about Iraq, this summer, it was supposed to be about oil prices, now, it’s about the economy. Tomorrow, the focus could be on something completely different.

And it’s not like Obama’s campaign has been especially good at creating a narrative. Obama’s foreign policy trip was supposed to lend him gravitas—it didn’t. And his convention speech was supposed to be a seminal moment in his campaign. It wasn’t. Obama’s debate performances have been only average (as have, it must be said, McCain’s).

A final point on this matter—in the primaries, Obama had trouble closing the deal. He often led, or was very close, in the polls, then would get blown out by Hillary Clinton. Even with his impressive lead in current polls, he can’t afford to let that happen.

Many wonder what influence the “Bradley effect”—the tendency of many white voters to tell pollsters that they will vote for a black candidate—will have on the election. That’s an important point, but I think that the “cool effect” may have a bigger impact. When one thinks of politicians, Obama’s is the first name that springs to mind. There must be at least some, and maybe more than some, people who simply tell pollsters that they supporter the cooler and more well-known candidate.

Still, even with the “Bradley effect,” and the “cool effect,” and all the unknowns of the race, Obama is still clearly ahead. The smart money has to be on him to win—were I betting on the race, I would put my money on Obama. Things could change completely—but right now, Obama’s path to the White House looks clear.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What Economic Experience?

So, the federal government agreed last week to spend at least seven hundred billion dollars to bail out Fannie and Freddie. In response, the Dow plunged almost eight hundred points in a day, falling below 10,000. Europe’s markets are reeling—London’s stock market experienced its biggest drop since 1987, Germany is facing bank failures on the same scale that the U.S. is. Asian markets are down as well.

In this crisis, it’s clear that America’s next president must be a man know is familiar with economics; someone who understands the fiscal situation and can deal with it with confidence and skill. Ronald Reagan is an example—his vision and support for supply-side economics lifted the U.S. out of recession, and was responsible for the eighties boom. Even Bill Clinton didn’t do an awful job on this issue—he balanced the budget (with more than a little help from the Republican Congress), and didn’t raise taxes much. The U.S. needs a Reagan; even a Clinton would be tolerable, if barely so.

It won’t get one. Incredibly, none of the four presidential and vice presidential candidates has a clue about economics. Several years ago, in a moment of candor rare among politicians, John McCain admitted that he didn’t know much about economics.

Was he ever right. McCain has some good economic ideas (a lower corporate tax rate is a must for America), but also some dreadfully bad ones (carbon caps for businesses will cripple productivity, besides driving businesses out of the country). Sometimes, McCain seems cut from the Teddy Roosevelt activist government cloth (this was especially evident during his fight for campaign finance reform), and other times McCain goes into Barry Goldwater mode (his healthcare plan is quite good—much better than, say, Mitt Romney’s). This confusion makes for a confusing, sometimes contradictory economic policy.

Sarah Palin’s economic instincts are good—she comes from the small government element of the party, and did cut spending as governor of Alaska. But her experience on this issue is laughable—she actually cites budget cuts from her time as mayor of Wasilla as proof of her economic credentials! The difference between the budget of Wasilla and the budget of the entire country is unimaginably vast. To put things in perspective, Wasilla is half the size of Lebanon, Ohio (which is a Cincinnati area town you’ve probably never heard of—unless, of course, you happen to live in Cincinnati), which is maybe a twentieth the size of Cincinnati, which is a tenth the size of Chicago. Experience in Wasilla is irrelevant—running that town really isn’t much harder than being a community organizer.

Speaking of community organizers…it’s hard to judge the extent of Barack Obama’s fiscal knowledge, given that his political career consists of having served only as an oft-absent state senator and then as a presidential candidate, with only a brief time in the U.S. Senate in between. He doesn’t really have a record on economic affairs, and didn’t do anything noteworthy during the bailout negotiations, or during any other time for that matter. Obama doesn’t have the economic experience required to lead the country.

Neither does Joe Biden, but you already knew that. All Biden seems to have done in thirty years in the Senate is to introduce a law against violence towards women, and portions of that law were struck down by the Supreme Court. Nobody thinks he understands the economy—including, probably, Joe Biden himself.

So, America needs economic leadership—and won’t get it. Talk of another Great Depression is probably exaggerated, but a very nasty recession is very possible. And in these troubled times we get Barack Obama and John McCain, whose combined understanding of the economic is probably about that of Mike Huckabee* (that’s an insult). In other words, the economic outlook isn’t good.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Movie Review: An American Carol

It's not every day, or every year, or every decade that Hollywood comes out with an unabashedly conservative movie. There was the Passion of the Christ, though that was a Mel Gibson vanity project, albeit a very good one, and then there was...I'm not sure there have been any more. So when David Zucker came out with An American Carol, a film that exists solely to mock liberals, people noticed. Conservatives were encouraged by this film's existence--it seemed that at least one man in Hollywood was willing to take on Hollywood's liberal agenda.

Actually, a lot more than one man--in addition to David Zucker (of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame), stars like Jon Voight, Trace Adkins, and Kelsey Grammar signed on too. In addition to its reasonably impressive star power, An American Carol had a decent budget--this wouldn't be a low-budgeted, desperate spoof like Scary Movie 4. An American Carol had the potential to be good.

Of course, it also had a lot of potential to be bad. Most of the movie's stars are a bit past their prime, and David Zucker, impressive career notwithstanding, has sunk to directing movies such as, well, Scary Movie 4. And agenda driven humor can be very successful (the Daily Show) but is just as often not (see Michael Moore's Canadian Bacon).

The plot of An American Carol is loosely based on the Dickens story. Filmmaker Michael Malone (modeled, obviously, after Michael Moore) is an American-hating lefty filmmaker whose distaste for all things American drives him to push to abolish the Fourth of July. (Just the first example of this movie's subtle, understated humor). Chris Farley, it must be said, doesn't do much with this role--he really isn't much better than the Moore lookalike in the semi-popular Internet video "Fellowship 9/11", which was shot on a much less substantial budget. "Malone" is a gold mine of laughs--he gets slapped a lot (sometimes trampled too), he's fat and loves to eat, and...that's all actually. And given that "Malone" is onscreen almost the entire length of the movie, that's really not a good sign.

The rest of the plot features some Islamic terrorists who want Moo-, I mean, "Malone", to direct an Islamic training video so that they can blow up Madison Square Garden during a Trace Adkins concert for the troops (a dastardly but complicated plan--I'm not sure what they needed Moore for), and there are some protests, and of course there are the three ghosts--President Kennedy (in the Marley role), George Washington, General Patton, and Trace Adkins (Trace Adkins?).

These plot threads are hopelessly tangled, and I'm not really sure what happens, and it doesn't matter anyway. I think the directors were shooting for a Pythonesque collection of sketches . They failed.

Some of the scenes are merely lame (example: the movie's three thousand--at least--fat jokes), others are cliched (is having kids swear still supposed to be shocking?), others are supposed to be "politically incorrect," but aren't. None are really funny, in part because Kelsey Grammar's character insists on explaining why each sketch is funny. (Yeah, it's a good thing too--I never could have figured out "Rosie O'Connell" by myself). An American Carol should have driven an agenda--not hit us over the head with it.

The movie's message is as simplistic and unsubtle as its humor. The primary theme of the film is that "Michael Moore is fat," but the secondary idea is that liberals are closeted America-haters who root for the terrorists. I don't like Michael Moore, in fact I loathe him more than any other American in public life (with the possible exception of Paris Hilton, who appears in this movie as herself), but this is unfair. I, and I think most other conservatives, prefer to think of liberals as misguided rather than knowingly destructive. This movie somehow made me feel a bit sympathetic towards Michael Moore.

One scene has attracted a great deal of controversy--Jon Voight's George Washington shows "Malone" Ground Zero as a reminder of what we're fighting for, a scene many thought was incredibly tasteless. Those people must not listen to country music--Toby Keith's biggest hit was a song about 9/11. This scene didn't work--it was far too serious given its context, and Ground Zero was represented with distractingly bad CGI, but it wasn't particularly offensive, at least to me.

My recommendation for this film would be to skip the theatrical release, and wait for the DVD. Then don't buy the DVD either, because this movie (to steal a line from Roger Ebert) sucks. It's not funny, it's not edgy, it's just bland, boring slapstick.

An American Carol is bad, but David Zucker deserves credit for his courage. Hollywood does not tolerate apostasy. His basic idea (for a conservative film) was a good one--it's just a pity that the movie was so incredibly bad. Eventually, there will be a good conservative comedy--but this isn't it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More Palin Criticism

I took some heat in the comments over my criticism of Sarah Palin’s debate performance. First, it might be worth reminding everyone that there wasn’t anyone rooting for Palin more than I was—I really, really wanted her to do well. And I’m not sure why I was so down on her—even the most anti-Palin pieces always seem to begin with “well, you all might have thought she did well, but she didn’t, and here’s why.” I can’t imagine (literally, can’t imagine) how anyone could think she won the debate, or even came close to winning.

Evidently, I was wrong—everyone else though her performance was very strong at worst, and fantastic at best. Lines like “Obama’s plan is a white flag of surrender” sent chills up conservative spines—but I wasn’t impressed. Palin looked at her notes—where she had evidently reminded herself to use that line somewhere—smiled nervously, waited a beat, then blurted out her talking point. If that’s the standard for a knockout answer, then maybe we should reevaluate some of George Bush’s more awkward speeches, because they’re not half bad compared to Palin.

If Palin didn’t win the debate, it’s not because of anything Joe Biden did. Biden held his own—but he made a lot of mistakes, far too many mistakes for someone is his position. Some of his mistakes were inexcusable—he confused Article I and Article II of the Constitution, and invented an imaginary war in which the U.S. and France drove Hezbollah out of Lebanon. I don’t think he was being dishonest—worryingly, that’s just Joe being Joe. And that’s a bit scary.

Another point about Palin—like Bush, her language is sometimes simply incomprehensible. As I write this, Drudge’s main headline is that Palin expressed the notion that Obama isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief. I’m not quite sure what the news in that is—VP candidates rarely issue ringing endorsements of the other candidate’s ability to lead in times of crisis—but what is truly remarkable about her statement is its total incoherency.

“Some of his comments that he has made about the war that I think may — in my world– disqualifies someone from consideration as the next commander in chief.” That sentence might have the most awkward phrasing I’ve ever seen. The tenses aren’t right, she substitutes “that” for “which (I’m pretty sure that’s right), and her usage of “that” is confusing. And that, sadly, is a Palin soundbite—a line that the whole nation will hear.

One criticism that the few Palin detractors try to make is that Palin didn’t do what she needed to do, because she didn’t attack Obama. That’s absurd—attacking Obama was never on Palin’s to-do list, at any time. Her challenge from the beginning has been to present herself as an attractive, smart, competent running mate for John McCain—her role was never to hit Obama.

Much has been made of Palin’s winking at the audience. I didn’t notice—I was too busy cringing.

One thing Palin did very well—at the beginning and end of the debate, she kept her microphone on. Her “can I call you Joe” was pretty syrupy, but it seemed to work, and her interaction with her family at the conclusion—all caught on microphone—was pretty effective. Palin was strong in that respect—and she read her final speech splendidly. True, it was written before the debate—but then, so was Biden’s, and his speech wasn’t very memorable.

Even if we assume Palin won, the election isn’t over, not by a long shot. There are still two more presidential debates. The first one seemed to be a draw—McCain needs to win at least one of the next two. The next debate is Tuesday—McCain’s got to be ready.

[NOTE: Yeah, I’m being hard on Palin here. That doesn’t mean that I hate America, or am a closet liberal, or that I worship at the feet of the mainstream media. It just means that I didn’t happen to like one performance by a conservative. And it’s not like I heard Palin enunciating unshakably conservative views out there.]

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Palin's Big Night

Whenever I watch a debate, the first thing I do when it’s over is to head off to National Review Online or Ace of Spades or Instapundit or some conservative blog, to find out who won. I can never tell—invariably, I think the candidates I like do well, and those I don’t do poorly. My opinions on these issues are never right, at least compared to the popular view.

So when I concluded tonight that Palin was getting absolutely crushed, I thought that was a bad sign. (Remember, the candidates I like never lose, at least in my mind). She didn’t do anything right—I thought her opening “can I call you Joe?” was overly saccharine, her responses awful and nonsensical, and her demeanor poor. Her whole bearing seemed to scream out that she wasn’t anywhere near ready for the vice presidency. I expected the blogosphere to be equally gloomy.

Huh? Nearly every conservative blog thought Palin won? Instapundit thought both candidates did okay, Malkin thought Palin won, Ann Althouse thought Palin won, Jim Treacher thought Palin won, and Frank Lunz’s focus group thought Palin dominated. The National Review people are in her corner too—Mark Levin, who isn’t a big McCain fan, gushed over her, Katherine Jean Lopez (not the hardest person to impress, but still) loved her, and Ramesh Ponnuru thought she did quite well.

Liberals thought she won too. Andrew Sullivan (who is perhaps the most crazed Obama supporter on the Internet) though Palin won. Even the Huffington Post seemed impressed—their Palin-bashing seemed listless and obligatory.

So I guess I was wrong—Palin won. If the conventional wisdom holds up, there will be a substantial shift in the polls towards McCain. He’ll get a bump, conservatives will be elated, and then his bounce will subside, throwing conservatives into gloom. If the pundits are right about Palin’s victory, this is good news for conservatives, and will let McCain live to fight another day.

I have some observations about the debate, but there seems to be little point in sharing them, given the fact that everybody seems to disagree with nearly all of them. So I’ll just give my perceptions of the people involved.

Sarah Palin isn’t ready for the vice presidency. In fact, judging from her performance tonight, I’m not sure she’s ready for the governorship of Alaska. Her answers were canned, empty, and often meaningless—what you would get if someone mixed up a bunch of talking points. I have absolutely no idea of why everyone thinks she won. My judgment on these matters isn’t very good—but I’ve never been this wrong before. [NOTE: As I write this, the judgments keep pouring in from the NRO people. They are unanimous in their opinion that Palin won]

I can’t help but like Joe Biden. His political positions, of course, are radically different from mine, he is gaffe-prone, and his command of reality is limited (although the press really hasn’t covered it, he has his own version of Hillary’s “sniper fire” story). But I do think he is an honorable man, and one who truly cares about America. Tonight, he reminded voters that John McCain’s sons are serving in Iraq—a classy move, since McCain rarely reveals that fact. Biden would be a bad vice president—but he’s a good man.

There was a lot of controversy about Gwen Ifill, who is writing a book about the “Age of Obama,” serving as moderator. I thought she did fine—she seemed fair, and her questions didn’t seem to favor either side.

So Palin won. That’s good, I suppose, but I shudder to think of her next debate.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Palin Needs To Do

Tomorrow is the most important day of Sarah Palin’s life—she must debate Joe Biden in the single vice presidential debate. If she wins, she will reignite “Palinmania”, at least to some extent, and will almost certainly give McCain a significant boost in the polls. She will also be in good position to be considered the Republican party’s heir apparent. If she loses, she is finished as a national candidate—McCain will probably lose the election, and Sarah Palin will remain governor of an unimportant state, and will be remembered only as a miserable failure of a vice presidential candidate. Palin needs to win.

A Palin win isn’t a foregone conclusion. Palin doesn’t have much debate experience, at least on a national scale, and her media interviews up to this point have been rather poor, to be very charitable. (Disastrous is actually the first word that jumped to mind). Her grasp of the minutiae of presidential level issues seems a bit…limited, and she often answers tough questions by lapsing into generic nonsense, which doesn’t help her much. Palin faces a difficult task.

In order to win, Palin will have to absolutely destroy Biden. She can’t pull any punches, and she can’t let up. She will have to be on her A-game—and will have to keep Biden from being on his. No mercy—Biden (and Obama by extension) must be totally crushed.

An example of what Palin needs to do: while running for governor, Palin debated former governor Tony Knowles and independent candidate Andrew Halcro. (Is there a TV event less watched than Alaskan gubernatorial debates?) When the candidates were asked if they would hire their opponents for a state job, Palin’s opponents gave the question joking nonanswers. Palin didn’t. She responded that the stats-quoting Halcro would “make the most awesome statistician the state could ever look for." She then suggested that Knowles (who had previously owned a restaurant) for the position of state chef, saying that he “would be really good at that.” That’s the Sarah Palin who has to show up tomorrow.

Palin can’t afford a draw. This is her only debate, and the public perception of Palin seems to be that she is a pleasant but incompetent bimbo. (That perception, by the way, is not without some basis in fact). If the debate is a draw, this impression will remain. Palin has to win; a draw would be nearly as damaging as an outright defeat.

And to win, Palin must relentlessly pound Biden. Candidates rarely get too tough with each other during debates (the most aggressive response I can remember was when Mitt Romney told Mike Huckabee that he “made stuff up faster than you talk,” which isn’t exactly a crushing riposte), since they are afraid that they will be seen as bullies. Palin doesn’t have to worry about that—her looks and sex effectively insulate her from the bully image.

Palin might not look like a bully—but she does face the danger of coming across, well, like Hillary Clinton: shrill, hectoring, and overbearing. And there’s really nothing Palin can do to prevent this—she must simply hope that she can project a favorable, pleasant image, which is the one thing she has had no trouble doing. So Palin has few worries on that front.

A final challenge for Palin: moderator Gwen Ifill is obviously in the tank for Obama, as she is writing a book about his candidacy scheduled to be released on Inauguration Day. For this book to sell, Obama must win—no one reads books about losing candidates—and Ifill will almost certainly try to give him a little help. Palin has had difficulty with unfriendly interviewers—she will have to overcome Ifill’s bias.

Can Palin achieve these goals? No one knows, of course, but I’d put the odds at about fifty-fifty. Palin, for whatever reason, hasn’t really been that impressive outside her convention speech, and hasn’t impressed many as someone particularly likely to win a presidential debate.

Her grasp of the issues often seems a bit uncertain; and her phrasings are often confused and nonsensical. This may be—probably is—due to inexperience with high-pressure interviews—but Palin needs to catch up fast.

The debate will be decided by how fast Palin can catch up. She’s debating Joe Biden, who isn’t exactly a master of repartee. Palin wins overwhelmingly on style—but the debate will be decided on substance, and Palin is still in the process of being educated. But her education must be complete by Thursday night—when the debate starts, she’s got to be ready.