In 1964, Barry Goldwater struggled to find a politician to accept a spot on his ticket. He eventually found a running mate in an obscure New York congressman named William Miller. In response, confused Goldwaterites rhapsodied: "Here's a riddle/It's a thriller/Who the hell is William Miller?" No doubt political observers are asking the same question about Sarah Palin today. What I do know about John McCain's choice for a running mate, I like. From a strictly conservative perspective, she is the best of the candidates discussed. Her story is compelling, particularly the fact that when pre-natal screening revealed her fifth child as suffering from Down's syndrome, she balked at the idea of killing her baby in the womb. Her response to seeing her disabled son? "I see perfection." Her oldest son goes to Iraq in a few weeks. She has a history of challenging Republicans in primaries and on ethics. From a political perspective, Palin provides balance on age and sex. Hillary voters still smarting from the Obama defeat and shoddy treatment now have more of a reason to vote for McCain. If McCain wanted to separate himself from the Bush administration, he could not have selected an outsider further outside of Washington, both literally and figuratively, than Palin.
Charismatic leader? Check. Unbalanced audience swayed by emotion and not reason? Check. Sea of flags? Check. Overflowing stadium? Check. If you are the type of person easily dazzled by fireworks, then Barack Obama's acceptance speech probably impressed. But if your interests in a president lie in more substantial fare, then the Nuremberg-style rally at Invesco Field didn't do anything to win your vote. "I'd love to find something to criticize there," a sycophantic Keith Olbermann reacted, asking MSNBC sidekick Chris Matthews if he saw anything wrong with the speech. "No," Matthews answered. He could not find anything to criticize, either. Don't fret, I found a few flaws. To cite one, Barack Obama's promise to wean us off foreign oil in ten years is what Paul Tsongas used to call playing Santa Claus. No president has the power to make such an amazing transformation, and anyone who weilded such power would not be called president but dictator. Particularly disturbing is that, juxtaposed with myriad specific programs--such as universal health care--that Obama seeks to institute, he could not name a single program that he would abolish. He lamely promised, instead, to "go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work." A man whose brother lives in a box in Nairobi announced, "I am my brother's keeper." His example shows the difficulty in being keeper to one's real brother. Yet, Obama would have the rest of us act as keepers to millions of people whom we don't even know. Great speeches, like the one whose 45th anniversary America commemorated yesterday, last through the ages. The "greatness" of Barack Obama's speech, stripped of the Roman columns and Roman candles, couldn't even survive a simple read.
NRO's John J. Miller's Between the Covers is a weekly podcast on books. In a dark age when the idea of serious reading means A.D.D. blogs, poorly written op-eds by the ever-expanding universe of syndicated columnists without a syndicate, and the ubiquitous chyron ticker-tapes on the bottom of your television set, it is outstanding that Miller has kept the focus on more substantial fare. Even better, then, that Miller takes the time to highlight A Conservative History of the American Left in the latest installment of NRO's Between the Covers (listen here).
In 1984, Walter Mondale, a la that ubiquitous Wendy's commercial, asked, "Where's the beef?" Twenty-four years later, I ask of Mondale's fellow presidential nominee: "Where's the bounce?" It may be premature, but after announcing a running mate and with three days of the four-day convention informercial under his belt, Barack Obama's poll numbers haven't really moved. Gallup tracked him at 45 percent prior to the convention, and guess what, Gallup tracks him at 45 percent now.
What does this say about the failure of the Democratic National Convention? Unlike running mates, who can only hurt you, conventions can hurt or help you. Conventions are opportunities to show America why they should vote for you, or, alternatively, to show America why they should not vote for you. The Democrats, thus far, haven't done a good job showing America why they should vote for Obama.
This is not to say the convention is a disaster. The anarchic 1968 convention in Chicago, where riots outside and fights inside marred the event, cost Hubert Humphrey the presidency. Voters thought: If the Democrats couldn't govern their own party, why let them govern the country? "There won’t be any riots in Miami because the people who rioted in Chicago are on the platform committee," delegate Ben Wattenberg quipped about the 1972 convention. The results of welcoming the barbarians inside of the gates was predictably destructive. George McGovern began his acceptance speech at 2:48 a.m., which he later joked was primetime in Hawaii. McGovern lost in one of the biggest landslides in presidential history. In 1924, the Democratic National Convention lasted 17-days, in part because of a contentious debate over whether to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK escaped condemnation by one vote, but eighty four years later the anti-Klan Democrats are getting the last laugh.
This convention is no disaster. But it's no success story, either--at least not yet. Why? Because Democrats have not served Barack Obama well. Why didn't Mark Warner, the keynote speaker, go after John McCain more aggressively? Who, really, is doing the dirty work of going negative so Obama doesn't have to get his hands dirty? Even Joe Biden's attack was typically senatorial in its collegiality. Remember Ann Richards? She of George-Bush-was-born-with-a-silver-foot-in-his-mouth fame? Richards, by virtue of attacking a fellow Texan (even if just a Transplant Texan), stood to lose big time. But, given the opportunity to deliver the keynote, she took her pound of flesh and gave the crowd the red meat they wanted. Why couldn't Mark Warner, or anybody, have gone after John McCain with a similar enthusiasm?
Consider the two speeches that are, deservedly I think, earning plaudits from the Fourth Estate. The fact is, it shouldn't have taken this long for Hillary Clinton to unequivocally make the case for Obama. Clinton's speech was great, and her video introduction was truly awesome, but it was two months too late. And Michelle Obama did a wonderful job humanizing herself, but isn't it a little late in the game for a getting-to-know-you speech? In other words, it's a bad sign when you have to say "I love America" to reassure those who doubt that you do.
After days of wall-to-wall Obama on every network, the American people don't like his candidacy anymore than they did before the convention. Is to know him not to love him?
On Saturday, I will be guest hosting for the talented Michelle McPhee from 9-11 a.m. on WTKK in Boston. Jumping from guest to guest host is a really exciting opportunity for me. Be sure to tune in to 96.9 on the FM band if you live in the Boston area. For those outside of the Boston area, there is a "listen live" button on WTKK's site. If you can't wait so long to get your fix of me on the airwaves, Howie Carr's interview of me from Wednesday appears here.
Hillary Clinton speaks liberal. One line in Senator Clinton's convention speech evokes the chasm dividing Right and Left: "Most of all, I ran to stand up for all those who have been invisible to their government for eight long years." For liberals, being "invisible to their government" is the nightmare. For conservatives, it is the dream.
Forty years ago this week, Tom Hayden implored activists outside of the Democratic National Convention: "Make sure that if blood is going to flow, it will flow all over this city." It did. Yesterday, during another Democratic National Convention, Hayden's mouth once again inadvertantly aided Republicans. "I have met and like John McCain, but he bombed, and presumably killed, many people in a war I opposed," Hayden offered. "If I can set all that aside, I would hope that Americans will accept" that Obama's Weatherman friend Bill Ayers has changed, too. Outside of the 2008 Democratic National Convention activists hope to "Recreate 68." That's the last thing Barack Obama wants. Read my City Journal article wondering why anyone, particularly left-wing activists, would want to "Recreate 68."
If "We Are Family" isn't the theme song of this year's Democratic National Convention, then maybe it should be. Howard Dean needs to call the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and see if they could lend him the 8-track. Politics is an orgy of nepotism. At their national convention, the Democratic Party appears as one of those parties that you have to be related to someone to get on the guest list. "How did I get in?," Barack Obama must be wondering.
Nancy Pelosi, whose father and brother served as mayors of Baltimore, appropriately kicked off the convention of politician progenies. Jesse Jackson, Jr., apparently a legacy admission to the DNC's roster, spoke in prime time. So did Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, whose Aryan-Youth posterchildren introducting her makes me think the family business that began with both of McCaskill's parents will continue with her blue-eyed, blond-haired spawn. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's dad was president 45 years ago, so a slot was reserved for her to introduce her ailing uncle. Aside from being the brother of the president, Ted Kennedy's dad served as the ambassador to the United Kingdom and his grandfather served as the mayor of Boston. Ted K's introduction to politics, if you remember, was the 100-mile-an-hour debate hardball: "If your name was simply Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, your candidacy would be a joke." Alas, the fellow delivering the high heat, Edward McCormick, was the nephew of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not only did the nominee's wife speak, but so did Michelle Obama's brother and Barack Obama's half sister. Was that guy living in a box in Nairobi busy or something? I didn't see any fifth cousins twice removed, but it may just be that I wasn't paying attention. Speakers for the next few days include Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (daughter of Ohio Governor John Gilligan), Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (son of Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey), Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (son of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley), and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (son of Indiana Senator Birch Bayh). Alas, the Republican Party is no better. The titular head of the GOP grew up with his grandfather in the U.S. Senate, and much later, his father in the White House.
It's a good thing democracy replaced the irrationality of government by birth-right with government by the people.
Michelle Obama stole the show on night one of the Democratic National Convention, which is saying quite a bit given Ted Kennedy's dramatic appearance. She presented herself as a girl from the South Side of Chicago rather than an Ivy League elitist. She, in an effort to erase past characterizations, let everyone know--and we needed to hear it--"I love this country." The taped introductory remarks by her mother, her brother's introduction, and, especially, the scripted banter with Barack Obama and her beautiful children humanized her. She no longer seems like Omarosa Obama, but Michelle Obama, a wife, mother, daughter, person.
The presentation deserves an "A"--far better than the preceding borefest of speeches by people who make their living giving them. The substance, however, alarmed me. Specifically, the person writing the speech crafted a narrative reminiscent of Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man. Herbert Marcuse, as readers of Intellectual Morons know, was the pop philosopher of the New Left. He is famous for his "intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left," which almost reads as marching orders for generations of campus activists, academics, and administrators. But his most important work was a 1964 book called One-Dimensional Man, which posited that reality is false and fantasy is truth. The one-dimensional man merely sees the existing world. The two-dimensional man also sees the potential world of his imagination. Sound familiar?
On Monday night, Michelle Obama divided people between those who "see the world as it is" and those who "see the world as it should be." She argued that "America should be a place where you can make it if you try." But her autobiographical message suggests that it is that place. This overriding theme of the speech was straight Marcuse. She concluded by counselling the audience to "stop doubting" and "start dreaming."
Count me in the camp of the doubters. Better to preserve what's good than to experiment for a brave new world. The story of the past century is idealism run amok. People who saw "the world as it should be" made a world far more horrific than the one that they inherited. From the creators of "heaven on earth" in the Soviet Union, to the dreamers of a "perfect" race of men in Nazi Germany, to the idealists who seek Allah's kingdom in the temporal world, recent history is filled with examples of why it's dangerous to leave politics, the art of the possible, in the hands of those who dream the impossible. Stop dreaming. Start doubting.
In nominating Senator Joe Biden for vice president this week, Democrats predictably select a senator to fill the office that presides over the Senate. Since 1944, Democratic National Conventions have nominated senators for vice president in sixteen of seventeen elections. Geraldine Ferraro stands as the only vice presidential nominee since 1944 who never served in the Senate. (Sargent Shriver never served in the Senate, but since he replaced Senator Thomas Eagleton on the ticket several weeks after the convention had adjourned he is excused from this discussion.) What explains this peculiarity? Democrats, the party that looks to Washington for solutions, looks to the Senate for vice presidential candidates. Republicans, who in theory at least maintain an outlook decidedly more federalist, have been more diverse in the choices for the lower half of the presidential ticket. I hope they think outside of the rotunda, as in the capitol rotunda, once again. The Senate seems an incestuous club less concerned with furthering ideas than maintaining collegial relations, which is one of the reasons the bizarre talk of Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, as John McCain's running mate so sickens me. It's also interesting that sitting U.S. senators have won the presidency in just two elections (Warren Harding and John Kennedy) during the past century. A contest between John McCain and Barack Obama is certain, unfortunately, to buck that trend.
A cinematic tribute to Ted Kennedy is planned for tonight's Democratic National Convention. Ted Kennedy, suffering from brain cancer, reportedly wants to appear in Denver. How much do you want to bet that getting kicked out of Harvard for cheating, Chappaquidick, and the incident on the floor of La Brasserie restaurant doesn't make the highlight reel?
Barack Obama made the boring, but safe, choice. One senses that Joe Biden will not violate the first and only rule of running mates: do no harm. He has run for president twice and served in the Senate for longer than I have been alive. He's been there, and he's been vetted. He won't appear as a deer in the headlights and there won't be any revelations about him undergoing electro-shock therapy. Biden has the unique ability to play the attack dog without becoming a devil figure among political adversaries. If Bill Clinton was born to be president, Joe Biden was born to be vice president. To quote that black-robed sage of the fairway Judge Smails, "The world needs ditch diggers, too."
Accuracy in Media's Don Irvine interviewed me today for AIM's podcast. Therein, we discuss A Conservative History of the American Left and the 2008 presidential election. Turn your computers up to eleven and listen here carefully.
The Boston Herald reports that Massachusetts has donated more money per capita to the Barack Obama campaign than any other state. You don't say? The $10.2 million divides into $1.58 per Bay State resident. Massachusetts out-gave Vermont and Illinois (Obama's home state) to become the top cash cow for Obama to milk. Obama did not win Massachusetts in the primaries, but given his early support from the state's governor and two senators, and the disproportion in party registration, the money explosion should not surprise. No word yet on which of the 58 states sunk the least per capita into Obama's heavy coffers.
Ponder this. Provided that John McCain doesn't choose Liddy Dole to close the gender gap, or Bob Dole to the Arizona senator's relative youth, or Jeb Bush to get one of his political lackeys to fix Florida (I keed! I keed!), this will be the first presidential election in my lifetime that a Bush or a Dole is not on the Republican ticket. Ford/Dole '76, Reagan/Bush '80, Reagan/Bush '84, Bush/Quayle '92, Dole/Kemp '96, Bush/Cheney '00, Bush/Cheney '04--forgive everyone under the age of 40 for thinking that the Republican platform required a Bush or a Dole on the presidential ticket. Don't forgive them for thinking it a "Reagan" party.
Shouldn't a convention keynote address be delivered by someone representing the future of a party? Democrats get this. Ann Richards gave a fiery keynote speech in 1988. Two years later, she was governor of Texas. Barack Obama delivered the keynote in 2004. Four years later....
Rather than elevate fresh talent, Republicans awarded the coveted keynote slot to Rudy Giuliani, a sixtysomething cancer and combover survivor who last held elective office more than six years ago. He balked at taking on Hillary. He bombed in this year's Republican primaries. And now he's the keynote speaker?
If the postbellum GOP could wave the bloody shirt for decades, McCain's Republicans figure that 9/11 imagery--Why else would Giuliani have been selected?--can fuel their ambitions for at least a few election cycles.
Leave aside the fact that Giuliani used to be a Democrat, consistently earned the endorsement of New York's Liberal Party and the jeers of New York's Conservative Party, supported abortion, gun control, unlimited immigration, and affirmative action as mayor, and endorsed Mario Cuomo--who gave a rousing keynote for the Democrats in 1984--for governor in 1994. Giuliani is neither a figure on the rise or nor the face of the party. Why not youngbloods, such as Sarah Palin in Alaska or Bobby Jindahl in Louisiana? Why not St. Paul favorite son Tim Pawlenty? Why not a non-incumbent whose candidacy could be made by a rousing speech?
Nah. Let's give it to the guy who just ran one of the most horrible campaigns in the history of presidential primaries and has no future in electoral politics. What, was Harold Stassen unavailable?
John McCain enjoys a five-point lead over Barack Obama in the latest Zogby poll of likely voters. That last part is important. Many of the polls touting an Obama lead have been of registered voters, discarding sampling methodology for a naive wish that everyone registered will vote.
Remember Senator Obama's "President" label on his campaign jet? His coronation tour through Europe and the Middle East where he prematurely met with other heads of state? His declaration that the "the odds of us winning are very good"?
When will the ghosts of Democrats past pay Obama a bedtime visit? Michael Dukakis posted a seemingly insurmountable lead against George H. W. Bush. So did John Kerry against George W. Bush. But sadly for those men, elections are held in the fall, not the summer. Even Jimmy Carter, who, unlike Dukakis and Kerry, squeaked into the presidency, posted a 33-point summertime lead over Gerald Ford. The only modern Democrat candidate for president, at least the only one that I can think of, whose election-day performance discernably improved from his summertime poll performance was Hubert Humphrey. He closed well, but he didn't close the show. Democrats, in other words, are strong out of the blocks but weak finishers.
Why is this so? My own sense is that the media gives many like-minded candidates a free ride. When voters aren't paying attention in the dog days of summer, they let the idiot box do their thinking for them. In the fall, voters look at the candidates more closely. A sizable number then shift from the candidate the media told them to vote for, to the candidate who more closely represents their ideas on policy, character, leadership, etc.
This phenomenon should especially trouble Barack Obama supporters. Senator McCain is a known political brand. He has run for president before. He has been in the Senate for twenty-two years. Even prior to a life in politics, Americans may have heard of him as fighter pilot downed over North Vietnam. In other words, he is a known commodity. People have formed their opinions about him. Going negative won't change those opinions much.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, seemingly stepped into the political limelight the day before yesterday. He has been in Congress for less than four years. It will be relatively easy for negative ads to reshape opinions of a man who we really don't know. Thus does the flavor of the month become the flavor of last month.
Obama's handlers would be wise to tell their candidate a bedtime story about President Michael Dukakis or President John Kerry. If that doesn't shake his arrogance, perhaps one of Aesop's Fables will do the trick: "With a careless glance at the tortoise, now halfway along the course, he decided to have another snooze before flashing past the winning post. And smiling at the thought of the look on the tortoise's face when it saw the hare speed by, he fell fast asleep and was soon snoring happily. The sun started to sink, below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke with a jolt. He could see the tortoise a speck in the distance and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he'd be first at the finish. But the hare's last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post."
Republicans are decrying their Democrat counterparts on Capitol Hill as a "do nothing" congress. As if that's a bad thing? "Barring a burst of legislative activity after Labor Day, this group of 535 men and women will have accomplished a rare feat," Elizabeth Williamson reports in the Wall Street Journal. "In two decades of record keeping, no sitting Congress has passed fewer public laws at this point in the session--294 so far--than this one."
The vice presidency isn't worth a bucket of warm bleep, John Nance Garner once said. He would have known. He served in the position for two terms under Franklin Roosevelt. Had he remained for another two, he might have thought differently. Harry Truman, who suceeded Garner as Roosevelt's vice president after the Harry Wallace interregnum, was sworn in as the 33rd president of the United States. The tale of these two vice presidents reflect the paradox of vice presidential selections. They are at once the first presidential decision a would-be president makes--a decision potentially as important as the decision voters make in November--but usually the least meaningful--in terms of electoral outcome and governing policy--decision that a president makes.
Rumor has it that Barack Obama will select his running mate today. His choice will probably reflect where he thinks he is weakest. A choice of Joe Biden reflects insecurity on foreign policy issues. A choice of Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius reflects insecurity on the Hillary/woman issue. A choice of Indiana senator Evan Bayh or Virginia governor Tim Kaine reflects insecurity on white men. Of course, some selections reflect strength rather than weakness. Bill Clinton, for instance, picked a running mate that didn't bring much to the table that Clinton himself didn't bring. Clinton just chose the guy he thought most qualified.
So who will Obama pick? My pick is Joe Biden. Though it would be the first ticket of accused plagiarists, and the first senator runningmates since 1960, my sense is that Obama has the the outsider/change reputation covered and thus does not need to select a governor. He can get away with choosing a senator. I also think there is a perception, perhaps unfounded, within Camp Obama that an African American on the ticket is controversial enough; adding a woman would be too much for some to handle. Thus, I see neither Sebelius nor especially Hillary Clinton on the ticket. In addition to running twice for president, Biden has served in the senate for longer than I have been alive. In other words, there is unlikely to be any surprises with an established, thoroughly vetted politician as there would be with a fresh face. Biden is known, likable, and, at least within the left-wing caucus that the senate Democrats have become, a moderate.
Remember that mantra "Democracies don't fight wars against one another"? If the Israel-Lebanon war of last year didn't uproot such ahistorical sentiments, then perhaps the Russia-Georgia conflict will. The Russia-Georgia conflict also reminds how idiotic George W. Bush's airy second inaugural address truly was. Remember the lofty rhetoric of "ending tyranny," democracy being "the urgent requirement of our nation's security," and how the "survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands"? The words have aged as well as raw hamburger at the beach. How do you suppose a thinking Georgian reacts to a replay of President Bush announcing, "the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you"? Should America fight a war with Russia to protect a fledgling democracy in Georgia? If one follows the logic of Bush's second inaugural address, then the answer is yes. If one follows logic, then the answer can only be no. President Bush didn't even believe the words he spoke, and that is a good thing.
I've been thinking about The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" for the better part of the last 25 years. The song saw the future more clearly than Nostradamus ever did. What radio star, precisely, did video kill? Hundreds, perhaps, that we have never heard of were strangled in the crib. But what of the ones we had heard of, and cranked radio volumes to eleven during the pre-MTV seventies? Meatloaf and Billy Squire are two rock stars whose careers collapsed shortly after MTV aired The Buggles's prophetic song on August 1, 1981. But if I could pick one radio star who wasn't destined to continue stardom in the video age it would be Steve Miller.
Rolling Stone has an outstanding piece on the sonic bard of Dallas, Texas, he of "The Joker" and "Jungle Love" fame. "In 1983, everything was pretty much over for me," Miller confesses to Rolling Stone while "smoking a cigar in a posh New York hotel room." The 64-year-old remembers, "Bands like X were the big thing in L.A., and my work was being called unmitigated slop. I said to myself, 'I get it! I'm outta here! Stop kicking me, I'm leaving.'"
Miller notes in the piece that he never gets noticed. Like pre-Wall Pink Floyd, Steve Miller is one of those rock stars who could walk through a shopping mall without anyone asking for his autograph. Part of the anonymity stems from his career as a radio star. Part of it stems from his regular-guy appearance. If Steve Miller were a criminal, he would be one that would drive sketch artists crazy. It's telling the one video I can recall Miller releasing--1982's "Abracadabra"--I don't remember him appearing in. The image of him etched in my mind is of a face hiding behind oversized sunglasses. He explained to Rolling Stone, "I used to be able to go into a record store, buy Steve Miller CDs, give 'em my Steve Miller credit card and walk out. I don't have to deal with that celebrity kind of business."
So how is it that a forgettable face who hasn't released an original album in fifteen years and hasn't had a hit since 1982 packs summer-shed venues from coast-to-coast? It's because good music is timeless. It doesn't need gimmicks, like bizarre costumes or hair, to get by. Miller plays straight-up, unpretentious rock 'n' roll. Some of it is pedestrian, particularly after the 700th listen. All of it is straightforward rock 'n' roll. People like having a good time, and "Rockin' Me," "Take the Money and Run," and "Jet Airliner" are a soundtrack for having a good time.
If video killed the radio star, constant touring, a greatest-hits album ubiquitous as a staple of music collections, and album-oriented radio caught in a '70s time loop can bring him back to life. Who needs MTV when you have classic rock stations spinning your records at saturation levels for 35 years and counting?
Another of the thoughts provoked by the Russian provocation in the Caucuses is the danger an unassimilated minority poses to the majority (and vice versa). It's dangerous enough to have such a situation due to historical circumstances, such as carefree colonialists drawing borders unconnected to demographic realities. To invite such a situation through Section 8, food stamps, and tuition waivers is to flirt with national suicide. It would be nice, particularly for intellectuals, if an idea (like democracy or communism) united us instead of tribe or faith. Example after example--Yugoslavia, the Caucuses, Iraq--shows that it doesn't work that way.
When did the Constitution start saying that the president got to declare war? Where does the commerce clause give all three branches of the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce, let alone intrastate commerce? Why did federal judges read specific legal prohibitions on busing as empowering them to command busing? Such questions are tackled in Thomas Woods and Kevin R.C. Gutzman's Who Killed the Constitution? The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush, which I review today at the American Spectator.
Sixteen years after infamously denying pro-life Bob Casey, then governor of Pennsylvania, a speaking slot at their national convention, Democrats have invited pro-life Bob Casey, Jr., senator from Pennsylvania, a speaking slot at their national convention. Not to fear members of the Abortion Fan Club, the party is as enthusiastic about abortions as ever! Here's the new platform: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."
One can deduce from the list below why any neighbor of Russia's would want to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One can understand if not by NATO's name then by article 5 of its charter--any attack on a member state is to be considered an attack upon all member states--why the United States encouraging diverse countries to join NATO is not in its national interest. Should the United States have to fight a war against Russia in defense of the Caucuses? Given the frequency with which Russia invades her neighbors--once every four years or so over the last century by my calculations--America would have been in a perpetual war for a century had there been a NATO-like treaty between those nations and America. At least Hessians fought for foreigners because they had debts and crimes to repay? What would be our excuse?
Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan. Tajikistan. Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan. Bessarabia. Poland. Belarus. Bulgaria. Czechoslovakia. Finland. Latvia. Estonia. Lithuania. Ukraine. Afghanistan. Georgia. Germany. Hungary. Armenia. Romania. Yugoslavia. Japan. China. Korea.
It's one thing when the major airlines gouge us in charges for water, headphones, pillows, blankets, space for a second bag, and even a fee for the actual ticket. They make us pay for what we used to get for free. It's quite another thing when they impose costs extraneous to the ticket on soldiers going to fight, and perhaps die, in Iraq. The greed upsets me as much as the bureaucratic sclerosis that makes getting reimbursements out of the military as likely as squeezing orange juice out of a rock.
The same jingoes who smile at the thought of General William Sherman's scorched earth campaign through Georgia beat war drums at Vladimir Putin's ruthless campaign through Georgia. The same doves who loudly condemned George W. Bush for invading a sovereign nation tell everyone to shut up when we condemn Vladimir Putin for invading a sovereign nation. The same Putin who violently suppressed separatists in the Russian province of Chechnya now violently aids separatists in the Georgian province of South Ossetia. The same Americans who declared Kosovo a republic independent from Serbia decry Russians who declare South Ossetia a rebublic independent from Georgia. "The first casualty when war comes is truth," noted Senator Hiram Johnson in 1918. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, emerges unscathed.
The Internet has made tuning-in as easy as a mouse click. No longer must listeners be concerned with, to paraphrase Adam West, tuning in at "the same bat time, same bat channel," but can now catch radio programs when and where they choose. Listen to Pajamas Media's Ed Driscoll interview me on his XM Satellite Radio program here. Other interviews available via podcast on A Conservative History of the American Left include discussions with Michael Medved, Joseph "Tex" Dozier, and Howie Carr.
Russian hypocrisy is rationalizing a brutal supression of Chechnyan separatists on the grounds of territorial integrity and then discarding the territorial integrity of neighboring Georgia to aid Russian separatists there. Though the designs aren't as grand--South Ossetia is no prize on the scale of the Baltics, Poland, Finland, or any other coveted place unfortunate enough to share a border with the Soviet Union--Russia's aggrandizing ambitions remain intact. Too bad for them that they no longer have the world-saving ideology to clothe the naked imperialism.
Rolling Stone is a celebrity magazine that trades on its ancient history of rock journalism and underground credibility, so it is appropriate that it downsizes to match all the other star-worshipping sheets in the checkout line. Rolling Stone is going small, which any longtime reader of the magazine knows it did years ago. "All you're getting from that large size is nostalgia," notes Jann Wenner, the publication's creator and destroyer. Indeed, why should Rolling Stone's size, or any of its physical characteristics, differ from Us Weekly or People. They're all the same magazine, right? I only wish Jann Wenner changed the name, too. Actor/addict Robert Downey, Jr. graces the cover on stands now. Last week it was Disney creation The Jonas Brothers. A few weeks before that it was the underwear-clad girls from MTV's The Hills. By way of comparison, the publication featured Pete Townshend, Frank Zappa, The Band, and The Beatles on its covers in its first full year--and not a single celebrity unrelated to the music industry. Just as MTV proves the television rule that all channels not explicitly anti-E! Channel will one day become the E! Channel, Rolling Stone proves the print rule that all magazines not explicitly opposed to becoming the National Enquirer will one day become the National Enquirer. For Rolling Stone, that day came long before Jann Wenner decided to shrink the magazine.
Here is my olive branch to environmentalists: let's rid the planet of those smog-inducing menaces called toll booths. A trip from Massachusetts to DC and back reminded me of how costly, mostly in terms of time, toll booths are. A back-up leading into the Mass Pike from 290 made a 15-mile ride last an hour. On the return trip, the New York Port Authority charged me $8 for the privilege of driving over the George Washington Bridge. The state's highwaymen not only took my lucre, but stole more than an hour of my life as I sat in a traffic jam on I-95. Upon paying, and perversely saying "thank you" to the toll taker, I realized my trouble had just begun. The scores of lanes necessary to more quickly--relatively speaking, of course--facilitate the state's highway robbery now merged into a few scant lanes on the bridge, which resulted in another traffic jam.
In my 400-mile journey through six states, only Connecticut--which, perhaps not coincidentally, has the most expensive gas and the least trigger shy of shootists of the radar gun--refrains from impeding my trip with a toll booth. Several tolls, like the $5 fees levied by Maryland and Delaware, don't lead into a tunnel or onto a bridge. What, precisely, I am paying for, I am ignorant. Adding to my confusion is the presence of these state tolls on I-95, an interstate highway that, by federal law, is supposed to be free of toll booths. Alas, loopholes allow states to claim stretches of interstate highways as state highways, refusing federal money to get at travellers' money.
Removing these choke points would eliminate useless, tax-supported jobs (Do we really need to pay people to hand us tickets on the Mass Pike?), save drivers time and money, and, yes, result in cleaner air. I understand libertarian arguments preferring user fees to taxes, but aren't taxes on gasoline that pay for road construction, repairs, and maintenance, in effect, user fees? Certainly eliminating tolls would save America as much gas as Obama's tire-inflation gauge idea. Leaving all those reasons for eliminating tolls aside, we are confronted with millions of idling cars emitting noxious fumes into the air every day. Wouldn't removing the cause of all that pollution help the environment?
So why haven't environmentalists been clamoring to rid the world of toll booths with a volume and pitch equivalent to their screeching appeals to render SUVs extinct? My suspicion is that they want to feed the beast--big government--and are reluctant to see it miss a meal. Environmentalism, particularly in the last forty years, has been a trojan horse to enhance the power and extend the intrusiveness of the state. When environmentalism imposes costs upon private citizens and employers the response of environmentalists to the aggreived parties is, essentially, "tough." When the state incurs the costs, environmentalists--who at heart are statists--balk.
Are you paying attention? Launching an aggressive war coinciding with the Olympic Games is no coincidence. It's Public Relations 101. Like Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, John Edwards got an "A" in that class. Waiting for the weekend and the start of the Olympic Games, Edwards admitted the adultery he so fervently denied only when Americans were most distracted with the weekend, with summer vacation, with the Olympics. August may be the worst month to launch a product, but it's the best month to break bad news.
Forty-three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court invented a "right to privacy" in the Constitution in its Griswold v. Connecticut edict. As William O. Douglas rationalized, "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance." Sure. Whatever you say. The decision invalidated state laws prohibiting contraceptives. It would have been bad enough had it stopped there. But, in the intervening years, the same forces have extended the logic of Griswold to find a right to an abortion, and now, a responsibility for doctors to provide contraception--even when it violates personal conscience.
"From a policy standpoint, it is important that the pro-life movement oppose governmental efforts to encourage contraceptive use--particularly among minors," Professor Michael New writes at NationalReviewOnline. "Indeed, the aggressive promotion of contraceptives would shift cultural norms in ways that would do considerable long-term damage to the pro-life cause." Put another way, New's argument is that rather than cutting the number of abortions, widespread, free availability of contraceptives will only further an anarchic sexual culture that will ultimately result in more abortions.
Who would have thought that contraception, forty-three years after Griswold, would be an issue in a presidential campaign? John McCain's inabilty to answer "whether insurance companies should be forced to cover contraceptives in their policies," and President Bush providing legal cover to health-care providers who decide not to provide contraceptives, has enraged the pro-choice activists into running campaign ads on the topic and issuing direct-mail letters.
In their outrage, one sees clearly the slippery slope from "pro choice" to force. Given the force involved in that euphemism that simply means the right to kill a baby, the drift from it to legal compulsion forcing doctors to violate their consciences isn't so great. So moral do pro-choice activists see their crusade that not only must laws emanating from the people be invalidated, as in Griswold, but individuals exercising their freedom to chose, as in the doctors who object to abortion or contraceptives, must be forced to act against belief, religious or otherwise. Pro choice?
Heather MacDonald dubs the women twisting the results of a new survey on the performances of the sexes in mathematics "reality-denying feminists." I blame the feminists' fuzzy math on their smaller brains.
"Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds," reads a misleading headline in the New York Times. "Let me begin by raising a glass of champagne to the official closing of the math gap," Ellen Goodman writes in a recent Boston Globe column. "It turns out that girls do not lack the math gene. Nor are they math-phobic. Nor is there any 'intrinsic' difference--thank you, Larry Summers--between the abilities of girls and boys to succeed in the numbers business. There's no reason at all for inequality. In fact, there's no longer inequality." Alas, there is. And the inequality is most extreme where it matters most--at the top.
"On the contrary," Heather MacDonald writes in the City Journal, "Science's analysis of math test scores only confirms the hypothesis that cost [Larry] Summers his Harvard post: that boys are found more often than girls at the outer reaches of the bell curve of abstract reasoning ability. If you're hoping to land a job in Harvard's math department, you'd better not show up with average math scores; in fact, you'd better present scores at the absolute top of the range. And as studies have shown for decades, there are many more boys than girls in that empyrean realm. Unless science and math faculties start practicing the most grotesque and counterproductive gender discrimination, a skew in the sex of their professors will be inevitable, given the distribution of top-level cognitive skills. Likewise, boys will be and are overrepresented among math dunces--though the feminists never complain about the male math failure rate."
"[T]he blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development is quite different. Anguish about our divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all developing into similarity; neither one can be transformed into the other without the use of violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side's defects, too, and this is hardly desirable."
--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harvard University Commencement, June 8, 1978
I spent a great afternoon with the students participating in Young America's Foundation's National Conservative Student Conference on Tuesday. My speech, which focused on the illusion of "newness" surrounding leftist ideas and the dangerous delusion that the millenium can be ushered in through human agency, was well received. It's difficult to successfully weave a narrative about past events into a discussion that has present-day relevance. I hope that is what my talk did. Following the lecture, there was a massive book signing. My hand hurt at the end, which, strangely, was a good feeling. Best of all, C-SPAN carried my message to a national television audience. My experience tracking sales on Amazon following my appearances on various television programs suggests that C-SPAN is the best for moving books. I sense that this is because people who watch C-SPAN are more likely to be readers and, rather than a five-minute drive-by interview, a C-SPAN lecture allows me to more fully discuss the themes within a book. Thank you for watching if you tuned in. If you didn't, C-SPAN generally rebroadcasts speeches, but because by necessity they schedule their programming on the fly I might not be able to announce the rebroadcast with much notice. That's the bad news. The good news is that Young America's Foundation also taped the speech, which can be viewed anytime on their website. Happy viewing!
I caught Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts this past weekend. My verdict? Good performance, bad setlist. A severe thunderstorm delayed the show. Hearing after the fact that the boss scratched "Racing in the Streets" from that night's repertoire makes me bitter. Alas, he exceeded the stadium's sonic curfew by more than an hour, so something had to go--why couldn't it have been the twenty-minute version of "Mary's Place" instead of my favorite Bruce song? This was my sixth time seeing Bruce, who is a showman's showman. But is he a frontman? I ask because the Boston Globe laments an endangered species in rock n roll: the frontman, that superhero who has charisma to match the voice. The piece cites Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Coldplay's Chris Martin, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke as the biggest offenders in the category of would-be rock gods who are all-too human on stage. Just call them the anti-David Lee Roths. I agree with the piece. I like my rock stars to act like rock stars. They should be larger than the stage they perform upon. They shouldn't be able to walk the streets unnoticed. I've seen some extraordinary frontmen in my day--Roger Daltrey, Axl Rose, and Mick Jagger come to mind. Where are their progeny? Hiding behind their microphones, bridging the gap between audience and performer instead of calling attention to the wide talent chasm between. It's an egalitarian age, I guess, and musicians would rather blend in with the crowd than stand out from it. I doth protest. They're called rock stars for a reason. My message to any of the regular-guy rock "stars" out there? Stop acting like a forty-watt light bulb. Start acting like a rock star.
C-SPAN will broadcast my lecture on A Conservative History of the American Left on Tuesday, August 5 at 2:30 p.m. Tune in and watch live! The lecture is part of Young America's Foundation's National Conservative Student Conference, which is streaming live at the Foundation's website. Other speakers you may be interested in watching include the New York Times' David Brooks, George Mason University's Walter Williams, and National Review editor Rich Lowry--and that's just from tomorrow's schedule.
When does a $50 debt become cause for the owed to take the home of the ower? When you owe $50 to the government, whose predacious debt collection practices would make Shylock blush and the mafia take note.
In 2004, an agent of the city of Milwaukee issued a $50 parking violation to Peter Tubic. What's interesting about the citation is that it was for the alleged offense of Tubic illegally parking his SUV on his own property, if that's even possible. "Tubic first got the fine for parking his Ford E150 with no license plates in the driveway of the home, which belonged to his parents at the time," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The radiator had broken and Tubic couldn't get his plates renewed unless the van passed an emissions test. He didn't have the money to make the repair and had more pressing worries, he said." In other words, the state wouldn't allow him plates, which they then fined him for not displaying.
If a private lender were to alchemize a $50 debt into a $2,600 in less than four years, the government would declare it loan-sharking and place the usurous claim holder in jail. Now imagine what would happen to that hypothetical loan shark if he had the hubris to expropriate the lendee's home in lieu of payment? The situation is actually far worse than that, given that Milwaukee had no right to issue a public parking ticket on private property in the first place and that Tubic, in addition to dealing with the deaths of his parents, is mentally impaired and physically disabled. But you get the point.
The government operates outside the law. It does not live under the rules it enforces upon the people. As in so many cases where the state abuses the law, we ask: WWBS? What Would Bastiat Say? "But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime." In this case, the law is not benefiting one citizen at the expense of another, but benefitting itself at the expense of a citizen by doing what it would deem a crime if done by a private entity. The state has a voracious appetite for your money. Always and everywhere, it wails: "Feed me!"
A prophet is not without honor save in his own house, reads the Bible. The world lost one of its great prophets on Sunday. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, political prisoner, exile, Russian patriot, and World War II veteran, died of heart failure Sunday at 89. He did more to expose the evil nature of the Soviet regime than any other human being and foretold the day when Russia would transcend Communism. Standing on the right side of history but the wrong side of power, Solzhenitsyn is one of the few great men of the 20th Century who was also a good man.
Has there ever been a more stark juxtaposition of courage and cowardice than Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and the Western political leaders who shunned him out of fear of alienating his Soviet persecutors? Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, but his greatest honor came four years later when the Soviet Union stripped him of his citizenship and deported him. Indeed, it wasn't until he left the Soviet Union that the novelist received the prestigious prize. When he attempted to receive it at the Swedish embassy in Moscow in 1970, the Swedish government balked out of fear of offending the Soviet Union. Much of the same accounts for Gerald Ford's cowardly refusal to meet with the exiled sage once he migrated to America.
Solzhenitsyn included the West in his criticism once he relocated to Vermont. "If I were today addressing an audience in my country, examining the overall pattern of the world's rifts I would have concentrated on the East's calamities," he told graduating Harvard students in 1978. "But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the West in our days, such as I see them." Therein, Solzhenitsyn set his sights on the overly legalistic nature of the West, the mob thinking prevalent, its decadence, and the cowardice of its political leaders. The same leftists who utter platitudes about "speaking truth to power" harbored utter contempt for Solzhenitsyn, a man who actually spoke truth to power by writing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipeligo, experiencing the Gulag after criticizing Stalin, and feeling the sting of the Western intelligensia by challenging rather than flattering their crude prejudices. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, rest in peace.
What's your favorite drinking game? Mine is beer pong. I am a bit old for drinking games, so I partake only when forced to. But if I could choose a game without coercion it would be beer pong. Apparently, many schoolmarms don't share my enthusiasm for tossing a ping-pong ball across a table into one of six triangularly arranged cups of beer.
Georgetown University has banned beer pong on its campus. Yale, Penn, and Tufts have banned drinking games in general. "Last year, Dartmouth College banned water pong...because of the risk of water intoxication," Time magazine explains in an article on the anti-beer pong killjoys. "I know that [water pong] seems like a good balance between the Dartmouth drinking culture and just trying to have fun," a Dartmouth administrator informed the campus. "However, it can be just as dangerous, if not more so." If the game involved gay sex instead of beer these schools would probably have mandated rather than outlawed it.
Can I make a drinking game rule? Any tattletale caught snitching on a beer pong game at any of the aforementioned reeducation centers has to play "party 'til you puke" solo in front of a laughing audience.
I know the name of another drinking game that readily applies to the typical anti-beer pong bluenose. These busybodies even strongarmed a video game company to change a release's name from Beer Pong to Pong Toss. The attorney general of Connecticut, perhaps in a moment's respite from rooting out smokers from the state's bars, even fired off an ominous letter to the company regarding Beer Pong. "We never anticipated such a severe reaction to the word beer," Jag Jaegar, an owner of JV Games, explained to Time. Next time use "pot" instead--and change that Pong to Bong. The meddlers currently in an uproar will leave you alone.