The State Of Our Union Is…Confused.

President Obama’s State of the Union address was nothing new.  As all politicians do, he called attention to a few high points of the past year, but primarily focused on the future, laying out a fresh list of promises that few people truly believe he can make good on.

The President took aim at Big Business, especially the medical and insurance industries, blasting them for making record profits while average Americans struggle.  What is more interesting is that he went on to warn Congress that now is not the time to gut funding for medical research that helps to save lives.  We have to wonder if the President is aware of how much of those record profits the medical industry invests in just the kind of medical research he wants to protect.

The real issue here, though, is not the specifics of where certain money is being spent, but rather an entire political philosophy.  When the President suggests that high profits for private companies can actually have a negative impact on society, and that any reduction in government-funded research is unacceptable, he is implicitly saying that the responsibility to do such research should be entrusted to the government rather than those private companies.  It would be better, in his mind, for the medical industry to hand over more of its profits to the government (paying more of their fair share, as it were) so that the government can do more of the same work that the medical industry is already doing.  I’m not arguing here that this is either good or bad.  The President’s underlying philosophy could be right.  I merely point it out because, sadly, the underlying philosophies of our politicians are rarely scrutinized and examined in light of other issues, which often leads to confused voters and even more confused politicians.

An excellent example of this political schizophrenia came from two of the President’s more praiseworthy statements.  In his best line of the night the President said, “What makes a man is not the ability to conceive a child, but the courage to raise a child.”  He went on to say that our rights as individuals are always wrapped up in the rights of others, highlighting the importance of community and cooperation.  Taken alone, these statements are excellent and any Christian on the conservative side of the spectrum ought to be able to endorse them wholeheartedly.  What may seem puzzling to some, then, is the President’s radical Pro-Choice agenda and his newfound but staunch support for gay marriage.

President Obama rightly acknowledged that a stable family structure is best not only economically, but also for raising healthy and productive children.  The redefinition of marriage is at odds with this truth.  In every nation that has officially redefined marriage on a large scale, marriage is disappearing.

More important is the issue of abortion.  How can you hope to encourage young men to think of fatherhood as something that requires courage when all the consequences and “dangers” of sex and pregnancy are so easily removed, and with no remorse?  When you continue to push the “easy way out” on the one hand, any calls for courage on the other hand ring hallow.

Moreover, why is radical individualism only a bad thing, and why are the rights of others only important, when it comes to gun control or higher taxes?  Why does the President not chide the radical individualism of the successful businesswoman who seeks an abortion because a child is simply inconvenient at the moment?  Why is she not to be reminded that her rights are tied up in the rights of others, necessarily limiting her choices?

Again, our current way of political discourse in America is not set up to handle these underlying philosophical questions, so I don’t place all blame upon the President or his party.  Mr. Obama may be wrong, but Conservatives and Christians in the media are failing to say so in an intelligent and persuasive manner.  We are all caught up in the culture of soundbites and shouting matches.  Worse yet, when we finally do tire of this unhelpful bickering, we retreat into the amusement of trivialities.  Senator Marco Rubio delivered a winsome, articulate, and at times passionate response to President Obama’s address on Tuesday night.  All day Wednesday, the biggest topic of discussion was Rubio’s 3-second, awkward reach-and-sip from a mini water bottle.  This mildly humorous non-event has received more attention than anything the President said in his speech.  That’s a sad statement.

I don’t exactly know where to go from here.  But I do believe that if conservatives and independents start demanding more thoughtfulness from their representatives while refusing to reward the escalating “cycle of soudbites”, things can only change for the better.

You can start right now by NOT posting that angry knee-jerk response to your brother-in-law’s annoying Facebook post.

 

A Few Political Predictions

I predicted that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 Presidential race, so let that be a warning to you.

1.  The 2014 and 2016 elections will not be good for Democrats.  I don’t say this in a juvenile spirit of “Oh yeah, well we’re going to beat you next time, so there!”  Rather, I say this because the sixth year of a Presidency is historically brutal on the sitting President’s party.  This is merely a function of our tendency as an electorate to blame the current government for everything we think is wrong with the country at the moment.  Of course, the current party in power managed just fine on November 6th, despite a general pessimism about the current state of the economy, but there were a number of anomalies in the 2012 election.  Barack Obama is a popular President with a loyal base.  This was not true of Jimmy Carter or George Bush Sr.  There were also a number of major stumbles on the Republican side, most prominently the rape comments of Todd Akin and Richard Murdock, that tipped several races to the Democrats.  Without the aid of a popular President at the top of the ticket, however, the down ticket races in 2014 will be far more vulnerable, especially if Republican candidates begin to restyle themselves in a Libertarian direction (more on that in a moment).

And consider this:  In 2004, even after the seemingly ubiquitous outrage over the “warmongering” of George W. Bush, his portrayal in the media as a buffoon and Texas oil man who acted solely in his own interests, etc, he still won reelection by a healthy margin, with more votes than he received in 2000.  This could easily have been taken as a sign that America was doubling down on conservative social values and foreign policy, and yet just two years later in 2006 the House and Senate swung over to the Democrats.

This first prediction is the most provisional.  I’m far from certain that it will come true.  I can just as easily see the Democrats holding on to the Senate and gaining a few more seats in the House, but all this depends on what sort of candidates the Republicans nominate, which brings me to my next few predictions.

2.  Republicans will begin to favor the legalization of marijuana.
3.  Republicans will distance themselves even more from gay marriage, or say that it should be a state issue.

Both of these issues fall generally under the umbrella of Libertarianism.  Much of the Libertarian platform is popular with young voters (especially marijuana, and the “war on drugs” in general).  During the Republican primaries, the Ron Paul folks were fond of sharing polls that showed Ron Paul beating Mitt Romney among young and Independent voters, despite the argument that Romney was the more “electable” candidate.  Since Romney lost the youth vote in a major way, you can bet people will turn to Libertarianism as an easy solution.  There are plenty of conservative pundits, like Hugh Hewitt, who will continue to argue that issues like gay marriage are important to our society and shouldn’t be abandoned, but I have a gut feeling that his is the losing voice.

My final two predictions are more questions than actual predictions, so I won’t number them.  They concern immigration and abortion.  There is an impulse within Libertarianism towards something like open boarders, but this is one Libertarian position I suspect will not gain much ground by 2016.  Boarder security and illegal immigration have more to do with Mexican drug cartels and Islamic terrorism than whether an undocumented high school student should be allowed to stay in America so she can attend college.  Thus, while I suspect that “amnesty” in one form or another will begin to gain popularity, I doubt that Republicans will start getting too “soft” on immigration.  I say this is a question and not a prediction, though, because I have no idea what form Republican immigration policy will actually take.  There must be a better way to frame the debate than simply “pro-immigration” vs. “anti-immigration”, but I don’t know what it is.

Lastly, I am equally agnostic about the future of the abortion issue.  The Akin and Murdock fiascos demonstrated what should have been obvious already, that we must speak knowledgeably and with clarity about this issue, and candidates who do not are doomed to die the death of a thousand sound bites.  I still believe that this issue is different from the gay marriage issue, however.  For one thing, while public opinion appears to be racing towards gay marriage, the indications are that support for abortion, especially unrestricted or “elective” abortion, is slowly receding.  Moreover, the same Libertarian impulses we have been discussing do not apply to abortion, as we now have another human being involved, and her freedom and right to life is (at least arguably) of equal value.

This will be (I hope) my last political post for a good long while.  It’s time to take a break from politics and start picking some theological fights instead.  I’m sure I will revisit these things in 2014.  If every single one of these predictions turns out to be wrong, I will get out of the game altogether.  If just one is right, however, I will do as the professionals do and act as though it proves my clairvoyant powers.

What do you think?  Any predictions of your own?  Do you think my predictions are completely off base?  Let me know in the comments.

Mitt Romney: Lesser Of Two Evils?

Since the Republican Presidential primaries I have heard many conservatives threatening to withhold their vote from Mitt Romney in the November election, either because he is not conservative enough or simply because he is not Ron Paul.  Such sentiments are typically based upon principle alone, or else sending some sort of message to the “establishment.”  I fear that this sentiment is, as the wise man once said, allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Continue reading Mitt Romney: Lesser Of Two Evils?

An Affair to Remember in Words Soon Forgotten

An entire year of planning goes into the brief, televised announcement. A network of hundreds of experts vet every point. Presentation is everything.  The words, carefully chosen, have the power to define the successes of the last year and set expectations for the next. But after countless hours of wrangling decisions, the audience gathered, the cameras turned on, and the show began. At 5:30am Pacific time, Mo’Nique and Tom Sherak announced the nominees for the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

Oh, and another big event happened Tuesday, too: President Obama’s State of the Union Address. At first, I thought Tuesday was merely a serendipitous convergence of the outlying regions of my geekdom. A film snob policy wonk who dreams of running away to the White House anytime she watches the West Wing can’t ask for a better news day. But more than just the sheer fun of it, Tuesday taught me something about the two events. They are more similar than you’d think.

Both events began as relatively small affairs. Article II Section 3 of the Constitution mandates that the president

shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

George Washington delivered the first on January 8, 1790, though then it was called the President’s Annual Message to Congress. It was 1, 089 words long, delivered to 81 members of Congress in New York City. It probably took seven to ten minutes for him to read it. Until 1923 when Calvin Coolidge’s became the first address broadcast over the radio, the address was a low-key speech between the president and Congress that laid out the president’s legislative agenda for the coming year. As in so many things, the advent of telecommunications changed its nature entirely.

Likewise, the Oscars began as a modest brunch in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in 1929. Douglas Fairbanks and William C. deMille hosted the event. It was a private affair (tickets were $5 per person), and fifteen people were honored for their work from 1927 – 1928. Everyone knew who’d won because the winners had been announced three months earlier. For the next few years they withheld the names until the late edition newspaper the night before, and in 1941 they introduced the sealed envelope to increase suspense (and attendance).

Both events scarcely resemble their modest origins. I had the chance to attend the Oscars last year, and it’s a machine worthy of the most robust entertainment industry in the world. An Oscar nomination means millions in DVD sales, an Oscar win even more. The entire gathering is a showcase for studios, a runway for designers, fodder for the gossip mills, and the best networking opportunity of the year for filmmakers. Try as other awards might, they don’t compare to Hollywood’s big night.

Not that the Oscars mean much when it comes to the quality of the winning films. Though there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance about the value of the craft and prestige of the selection process, any organization that would nominate James Cameron’s Avatar for Best Picture has left artistry and cinematic excellence off its priority list. They may be bigger than ever, but the Oscars are just advertising with a black tie dress code.

The same could be said of the State of the Union Address. Every year since Woodrow Wilson set the precedent of delivering the address in person, presidents have had the annual chance to lend their voices and charisma to their legislative agenda, and for most of the 20th century it has been more for the benefit of the national audience than Congress. The event has become a campaign stop in our bloated campaign seasons that force politicians to start running for reelection before they’ve had a chance to move in to their offices. As such, it’s nearly impossible for the State of the Union to transcend mere branding of the party in power.

President Obama’s State of the Union was more of the same. I seriously considered running my review from last year’s address because so much of the speech was, point for point, repetition. That’s hardly the president’s fault: at best, a great State of the Union Address is a laundry list of policy achievements and goals sprinkled with sparkling rhetoric. It’s a pep rally for the presidency, and like the Oscars, has lost most of its true significance over the years. For the next few news cycles, pundits and politicians on the right will try to follow Representative Ryan’s example and paint the president as a leftist radical bent on the financial ruin of America, while in reality this speech was even more fiscally conservative than last year’s address (which didn’t seem possible). Left-leaning commentators will tout the bold proposals of a successful president and try to remind voters of Representative Bachmann’s nonsensical, bizarre response to downplay Ryan’s points. And so it goes.

But like the Oscars, the real story is much quieter. This was a good year for President Obama. He’s accomplished an extraordinary amount of items on his agenda, the Recovery Act and Affordable Care Act both seem to be helping Americans while both are still in need of some tweaking to increase their effectiveness. Despite some fairly paranoid focus on competing with China, the speech reminded its audience that America remains strong and is likely to continue to be despite doomsayers on both sides. But the best moment of the speech is from its beginning.

What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

If we can manage that in the midst of vigorous debate, we’ll be fine.

Well, that and if True Grit wins Best Picture.

Year of the Mommy Blogger

If 2010 is the year of the pro-life woman, 2016 should be the year of the smart “mommy blogger”—because, if the GOP wants to ensure its own long term success, today’s politically-inclined mommy bloggers will likely become tomorrow’s candidates.

Sarah Palin’s popularity is proof that the conservative grassroots are ready and eager to rally around a female candidate from outside the Beltway.   And, if the tea party movement continues strong, chances are good that one of today’s young, politically savvy mommy bloggers will be the next decade’s conservative champion.

While the stereotypical mommy blogger is better known for her potty-training rants than for her politics, an increasing number are intelligent, well-educated former professionals who left the full-time workforce in order to raise their children.  Advertisers are beginning to realize that moms are among the web’s most influential demographics, and, thanks to factors like the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, and the rise of digital activism, moms are finding it easier than ever to put this newfound influence to use.  Sure, some only blog about their families, but many offer a good mix of the personal and political—and they’re not afraid to act on their political opinions.  The popularity of mommy blogger gatherings like the BlogHer Conventions proves that they’re willing to learn how to write and act more effectively for a good cause, and it likely wouldn’t be difficult for existing conservative training organizations like the Leadership Institute to expand their recruiting efforts to include conservative moms who blog.  Imagine the impact Sarah Palin might have today if she’d spent the past decade learning the ideas and methods that can make or break a leader—and imagine the candidates the GOP might have in ten years if it started training smart, conservative mommy bloggers today.

The digital world provides a unique place for these women, whose unpredictable schedules and need to be centered in one physical space are perfectly suited to online interaction.  They also care deeply about the social issues that have kept conservatives and liberals squabbling for decades. This interest is far from idle or theoretical, and they tend to be well-informed about issues that may affect them and their families—a combination that makes them ideal potential activists.  While it is difficult to determine whether the “mommy-blogosphere” skews left or right, we do know that online moms are a force to be reckoned with and that their influence will continue to grow.

Mommy bloggers are, in other words, exactly what the Republican Party needs. As Ben Domenech writes,

Traditionally, one of the biggest reasons conservatives have a male-dominated Chamber of Commerce and local sports hero representation in the lower chamber is that they have a hard time finding female candidates for higher office. This is not because there are insufficient conservative women — as you may know, the gender gap is really just an example of the expanded racial gap than anything else (white women voted for McCain by a margin of 53-46) — but it’s because conservative and especially Christian women tend to choose to abandon their careers, or shift to part time work, the instant they have kids.

This is not a bad choice for them, and probably a good one for their families, but it’s one that deprives the GOP of a lot of very good candidates — a situation which is only becoming more challenging for Republicans as women overwhelmingly surpass men in educational achievement.

My thought, then, was that if Republicans were smart, in every district where they find a Democrat who has a 60+ edge, and the GOP has no obviously active candidates or farm team members in need of some seasoning, a general rule ought to be: run a Smart Mom.

Domenech is right, but I’d like to push his suggestion a step further: Republicans should not only recruit “Smart Moms” for 2012, but should develop a more long-term strategy of incorporating them into the ranks of the GOP elite.  Now is the time to identify and develop the smart mom bloggers whose involvement in the grassroots can help prepare them to run for office in 5-10 years.  It’s a long term strategy with minimal investment and enormous potential.

Many of today’s mommy bloggers are too young and too busy raising families to run for office, but that won’t be true for long.  It’s not too early to think about helping them become candidates in the future.  Additionally, as advertisers are discovering, online moms are an enticingly untapped resource. Thanks in part to the recent surge in popular pro-life female candidates, there’s never been a better time for homemakers to weigh in on online political debates—and there’s no better time for them to prepare to be the GOP’s next best weapon in a few years when their children are grown.’

Steeped in Revolution

As far as governments go, America’s is unusually stable. Considering it began in revolution and underwent four years of bloody civil war less than one hundred years later, the stability is incredible.

But now, no matter how we assess its motives or methods, the Tea Party movement has brought the idea of ‘revolution’ back to the forefront of the American consciousness.

That’s not to say that the Tea Party wants a repeat of the Civil War—‘revolution’ is a term that stretches beyond physical, bloody conflict. Another way of thinking about revolution could fall in line with Poland’s Solidarity or Martin Luther King, Jr. marching Washington’s streets. But even when peaceful, revolution is upsetting—it knocks something over in order to replace it.

Successful revolution results in radical change, either in terms of a thing’s function, structure, or ideology. The ‘Tea Party Patriots’ are clear that they are after radical changes in US government.  Some Tea Party groups even tout themselves as being revolutionaries.

How should we think about the Tea Party’s push for radical change—is it warranted and, if so, on what grounds?

Their official website includes a page concerning the “mission statement and core values” of the movement. There, in the section labeled ‘Our Philosophy’, they make some big claims about the justification behind their objectives:

The Tea Party Patriots…hold, as did the founders, that there exists an inherent benefit to our country when private property and prosperity are secured by natural law and the rights of the individual.

For the most part, I don’t have a problem with the Tea Party Patriot’s objectives. Fiscal responsibility in government? Cool. Constitutional adherence? Yes. Free market? Sure.

My main concern with their ‘philosophy’ is that they ground it on loaded, emotionally-charged terms. I have no qualms about the ‘tea party patriots’ platforms. I do think things get sketchy when the ‘patriots’ justify their platforms using phrases like ‘natural law’ and ‘the rights of individuals’.

If ‘Tea Party Patriots’ rely on the ideas behind these phrases to justify their causes, they’re going to run into some sticky points.

In one sense, ‘natural law’ or ‘individual rights’ are ‘Americanese’. We’ve heard them a million times, grew up reading them in schoolbooks and have import all sorts of emotional connotations.

But those phrases aren’t abstract ‘feel-goodisms’, nor were they first used in America’s 18th century foundations: they are technical terminology that trace back to Enlightenment political philosophy.

When John Locke, a key source of Founding Fathers’ political vocabulary, writes about the role of ‘natural law’ in an intentional, governed society, he isn’t prescribing free market capitalism, nor is he proscribing socialism. Natural law in society only allows for a narrow window of ‘individual rights’:

…when he joins in a…particular politic society, and incorporates into any common-wealth…[he] gives up [the power of  doing whatever he thought necessary for self-preservation] to be regulated by laws made by the society… laws of the society in many things confine what liberty he had by the law of nature.

Under Locke’s idea of government, a nation’s laws must have “no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people,” but how the government goes about that end is up to the people and what manner of government they consent to have.

In a society, positive law should secure private property and prosperity by virtue of popular consent to the law. By consenting, individuals transfer many of their rights to the government for the sake of general security.

Still, in Locke’s political thought, even if government makes “great mistakes,” citizens don’t escape the bonds of consent. Only when government has a “long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way” is revolution justified. Revolution–even a peaceful one–is inconvenient, precarious, and costly for the citizens of a revolting society.

If the ‘tea party movement’ were going to use Locke’s terms, as implemented in the Declaration and Constitution, as a source of justification for a radical reformation of government, they need better follow-through. Populism is not enough—unless they can demonstrate both popular consent, a history of abuse, and reason to believe the situation is hopeless, Locke’s philosophy does not justify their cause.

Let’s say that ‘tea partiers’ are able to prove that American government is blatantly ignoring popular consent—which, right now, is a shaky assertion. Even so, the stability of our government through the ups and downs of the last two hundred and fifty years makes me skeptical about their chance of showing that our situation is hopeless.

So long as the discussion remains focused on voter education and government reformation, I’m all ears. But if the Tea Party decides to invite Lockean revolution in for a cuppa, I’ll have to suggest that the partiers should take some brandy and a deep breath. ‘

Tea Party Democrats

Rasmussen announced yesterday that Americans agree with the tenets of the Tea Party movement more than with President Obama “on most major issues” by 48%-44%.  Additionally, The Hill reports that 40% of Tea Partiers identify themselves as Democrats or Independents.

This is hardly surprising in the wake of the healthcare bill’s unpopularity, and it reminds one that there is something of a divide within the Democratic Party as well as the GOP.  Though most Conservative commentators will say otherwise, this leftist divide isn’t necessarily good for Republicans.

If the president is smart, he’ll take advantage of these Tea Party Democrats and Independents and give dissenters like them a voice in his administration.  Rather than enjoying a cabinet full of liberal ideologues who echo his own views, he should use moderate and disgruntled Democrats to his advantage by allowing them a place at his table.

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it worked for Ronald Reagan, who was criticized for grouping moderate Republicans with movement conservatives in his own senior staff.    He explained the arrangement this way during a 1981 press conference:

QUESTION: There have been specific reports that your Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are not getting along and that they argue in front of you.  Can you comment on these reports?

PRESIDENT REAGAN:  The whole Cabinet argues in front of me.  That was the system I wanted installed.

Presidencies have historically benefitted from internal dissensions—provided the divisions extend to those in leadership.  Reagan biographer Steven Hayward writes,

In a manner that eludes many historians, political scientists, and reporters, the most successful presidencies tend to be those that have factional disagreement within their inner councils, whereas sycophantic administrations tend to get in the most trouble.  Fractiousness in an administration is a sign of health: the Jefferson-Hamilton feud in Washington’s administration, the rivalry within Lincoln’s cabinet, and the odd combination of fervent New Dealers and conventional Democrats in FDR’s White House provided a dynamic tension that contributed to successful governance. (The Age of Reagan, p. 9)

Of course, the Democratic members of a single grassroots movement can hardly be expected to change the course of an entire political party—at least not at first.  These Tea Party converts, however, combined with the President’s plummeting popularity, do present him with an interesting opportunity.  If Hayward’s historical analysis is correct, President Obama might very well benefit from the Tea Parties by offering them his ear.

I doubt he will do so, and that may be just as well; as a conservative, I am eager to see him leave office.  If he even appears to shift to the Right, his approval ratings will probably increase.  I don’t want that to happen – and, for now, neither does much of the rest of America. ‘

Douthat, Ornstein and Self-Execution

Recently two conservatives, Ross Douthat and Norman Ornstein, have come out against Republicans and talk radio for their strong opposition to the use of the “self-executing rule” to pass healthcare legislation.

Ornstein chastised Republicans for shamelessly accusing Democracts of using a legislative technique that they themselves have used numerous times.  He writes:

“Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

Linking to Ornstein, Ross Douthat weighed in on the matter:

“But I also think it’s appropriate that there exists, for an extremely determined but not-quite-super majority, mechanisms that allow legislators to overcome these hurdles and push a controversial piece of legislation through. ‘Hard but not absolutely impossible’ seems like the right bar to set for a bill of this nature. I wish the Democrats had chosen a different path, but in the end, we live in a republic, not a direct democracy: If our elected representatives can really muster enough votes, within the rules, to pass health care legislation even after everything that’s happened — if they believe that strongly, in other words, that this is absolutely and without question the right policy for America — then they have every right to go for it.”

Ornstein and Douthat’s points seem sensible except for one fact: the self-executing rule has never before been used in the way Democrats are proposing to use it.

That slight problem aside, Douthat and Orstein seem to misunderstand the nature of Republican opposition to the Democratic tactics.  The “self-executing rule” tactic allows Democrats to pass controversial legislation while enabling individual legislators to avoid voter accountability this coming fall; Republicans believe that individuals who vote to federalize 1/6th of the American economy ought be held accountable.

Even if it could be demonstrated that Republicans had, at some point in the party’s history, attempted to avoid accountability on a piece of legislation, I suspect it could also be demonstrated that Democrats chastised Republicans for the effort.  The point is that elected officials ought not to avoid accountability.  By no means are the Republicans feigning indignation at the attempt by their Democrat counterparts to avoid accountability.

So much for Ornstein’s objections.  Douthat simply spoke too soon and should have refrained from giving the Democrats a pass for their cleverness at the cost of sounding like he has admitted defeat at this crucial moment in the healthcare legislation battle.

For conservatives, this healthcare legislation is of the utmost importance; in the event that healthcare is federalized, this nation becomes, de facto, a center-left nation.  This healthcare legislation should not pass for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere.  To ensure that it does not pass, Republicans and their allies on talk radio have been fighting a hard battle for nearly a year.  This is a critical moment if we are to preserve any semblance of limited government.  With a vote expected Sunday, the President is ramping up the rhetoric, the parliamentary trickery, and the back-room deals.  In this critical moment Misters Ornstein and Douthat have chosen to chastise and betray their allies on the front line much to the ravenous delight of conservatisms opponents.  For that, these conservative critics ought be ashamed.

For my part, I pass on for consideration by Mr. Douthat and Mr. Ornstein remarks made by a former President who fought hard and won many battles political and otherwise:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt ‘

Barack Obama: The Populist Professor?

Last night’s State of the Union address changed nothing, aside from Chris Matthews’ eyesight, which I trust has returned to normal.  President Obama is still committed to the same unpopular policies that have left him with a dropping approval rating, and he “won’t quit”.

Neither will Republicans, despite—or perhaps because of—the verbal reprimand they received last night:

“Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.  We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.”

Despite his pledge to “show the American people we can do it together”, the President has firmly refused to rethink the fundamentally divisive policies Republicans have voted against.  In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that.  President Obama is consistently a leftist, through and through.  He absolutely believes what he preaches, and his apparent refusal to compromise on his core beliefs should come as no surprise—it should, however, serve as a warning to Republicans, whose recent victory in Massachusetts has left some emboldened and others in danger of becoming over-confident.

In light of that, it’s odd that Obama chose to compare himself with President Reagan.  He’s certainly no Reagan politically—nor should he claim to be, if he wants his actions to be consistent with his beliefs.  As time has worn on and the now-famous teleprompter has been a player in so many political dramas this year, we’ve learned that he’s not even much like Reagan rhetorically.  It made sense for a candidate Obama to try to link his name with that of Reagan, but as a sitting President who is thoroughly committed to the very leftist ideals Reagan eschewed, it’s a little strange.

Even more strange were Obama’s populist appeals spoken in his habitually professorial tone.  Believe it or not, it’s hard to be intelligent in America—especially if you are a politician.  No one wants to be stupid, but neither do you want to come across as too smart—at least not if you want people to like you.  Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, but fortunately for him he was also very good at acting like “one of the guys”.  This let him make full use of his intelligence without appearing stuffy or abnormal in ways that would have hurt his political career.

President Obama, on the other hand, is decidedly academic in both tone and demeanor.  While watching last night’s speech, Chris Matthews says he forgot our President was black.  I nearly forgot he wasn’t one of the visiting lecturers who used to speak for Capitol Hill interns on the house floor when Congress was out of session.

This academic approach obviously works for the younger generations, or at least it did during the election; 66 percent of the 29 and under crowd voted for Obama.  Will his populist appeals also work, or will his habitual aura of superior intelligence turn more and more voters off as they become accustomed to his habits?

Only time—and the next election results—will tell.  Meanwhile, Republicans can rest assured that they can expect more of the same liberal policies they’ve been fighting, without let-up and without compromise.  And unless the GOP manages to utterly take over the Congress in the next election cycle, Chris Matthews can expect to need glasses. ‘

Rebels Without A Cause: Conservatism’s Big Divide

If you have an opinion, there’s probably a brand of conservatism just for you.  If you care most about faith and values, for example, you might consider yourself a social conservative.  Those who worry about preserving the culture are paleo-conservatives, and neo-conservatives consider national security the most pressing issue of our time.

But what if you’re just a conservative?  Unfortunately, thanks to the widening gap between the thinkers and the doers of the movement, this isn’t always easy to define.  The intellectually robust “shared texts” that used to unite conservatives are no longer commonly read. Instead, they have been replaced by books that reinforce natural divisions by carefully marketing to splintered conservative demographics.  As Reagan biographer Steven Hayward wrote :

The best-selling conservative books these days tend to be red-meat titles such as Michelle Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption,” Glenn Beck’s new “Arguing with Idiots” and all of Ann Coulter’s well-calculated provocations that the left falls for like Pavlov’s dogs. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these books. Politics is not conducted by Socratic seminar, and Henry Adams’s dictum that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds should remind us that partisan passions are an essential and necessary function of democratic life. The right has always produced, and always will produce, potboilers.

Conspicuously missing, however, are the intellectual works…. There are still conservative intellectuals attempting to produce important work, but some publishers have been cutting back on serious conservative titles because they don’t sell.

Forget Burke, Locke, and Adam Smith – today too many of the conservative movement’s best-sellers are penned by talk show hosts and media personalities whose low-level content would bore the intellectual greats of past decades.  While popular-level works have always and will always be important to any movement, one wonders how long conservative activists will be able to continue their efforts without the support of the high-level intellectuals whose thoughts sparked so many successful campaigns.  Hayward continues,

Of course, it’s hard to say whether conservative intellectuals are simply out of interesting ideas or if the reading public simply finds their ideas boring. Both possibilities (and they are not mutually exclusive) should prompt some self-criticism on the right. Conservatism has prospered most when its attacks on liberalism have combined serious alternative ideas with populist enthusiasm. When the ideas are absent, the movement has nothing to offer — except opposition. That doesn’t work for long in American politics.

The Right can’t rest forever on the backs of the Buckley’s and Blackwell‘s who so successfully matched philosophy and action; if it is to grow and thrive in the coming years young activists must understand and duplicate their mentors’ integration:

During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

This much-needed balance was not an accident of earlier times, but was rather the result of intentional efforts to keep ideas and actions in an appropriate tension.  As conservative great Morton Blackwell reminded young conservatives over twenty years ago,

“The prideful conservative intellectual who avoids association with less elegant men of action may doom his cause… In our day we need still more conservatives who are first philosophically sound and then technologically proficient and movement oriented.  We must teach young intellectuals that a flattering and seductive talisman which they do not fully understand will not guarantee them success…. Good ideas have desirable consequences only if we act intelligently for them.”

If conservatives of all sorts really want to resurrect the sort of successes they enjoyed in Reagan’s glory days, they must intentionally school themselves in the seminal texts, not merely allow themselves to be marketed to – and divided by – the latest best seller. ‘