Monthly Archives: October 2008

Austin Halloween

The local news had a live camera feed of a Halloween party in downtown Austin. It cut to the crowd a few minutes ago and, judging by this one guy’s lack of clothes and funny manner of running, I’m pretty sure someone went as Greased Up Deaf Guy. Certainly the tv news people couldn’t stop themselves from laughing until the camera cut away. “We see some people there in costume. And some . . . not.”

Perspective

From CNN:

Motorcycle accidents have killed more Marines in the past 12 months than enemy fire in Iraq, a rate that’s so alarming it has prompted top brass to call a meeting to address the issue, officials say.

Twenty-five Marines have died in motorcycle crashes since last November — all but one of them involving sport bikes that can reach speeds of well over 100 mph, according to Marine officials. In that same period, 20 Marines have been killed in action in Iraq.

That’s quite an odd way to spin such news, but I’m hardly surprised.  Also of note is that — assuming recent figures remained constant — significantly more US Military personnel died this year from illness, homicide, and suicide than from hostile action.  I’m calling for an investigation.

What Post-Racialism Doesn’t Look Like

Two students have been arrested for hanging a presidential candidate in effigy. It seems the actual arrest is for stealing the things to make the effigy, but I’m curious how many times something gets stolen from a frat house and it results in a prosecution.

UK President Lee Todd said the effigy violates the university’s code of ethics, and Fischer faces punishment that could include expulsion.

“As outrageous and offensive an act as the effigy was, I truly believe it has mobilized our campus, the community and the state in an effort to battle racism,” Todd said Thursday.

Go to hell, Lee. Making and harming effigies of presidential candidates is an old American hobby, and if we’re going to live in an age when black people are going to run for president, we’ve got to tone down our racial sensitivity when people make political statements about black politicians.

UK police said the two men told them the act was in response to news reports of an effigy of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in California.

I guess prosecuting them for the theft could be called for (again, though, from the information released, this sounds like a pretty minor thing to give someone a criminal record over).  But the university president’s jump to “now let’s fight racism” is the idiotic crap you’d expect from a university president. And the sort of racial overkill you’d expect in the Age of Obama.

Thank God I wasn’t Melpomene

Your result for The A-Muse-ing Test…

Your muse is Clio!

50% Clio, 0% Erato, 0% Euterpe, 10% Melpomene, 30% Calliope, 0% Thalia, 0% Urania, 10% Polyhymnia and 0% Terpsichore!

Your muse is Clio!

Clio is the muse of history known as the “glorious one.” She is one of the least called upon muses and perhaps one of the most unappreciated. Yet without her knowledge of the past we would not ever be prepared for the future, for it is well known that we learn from past mistakes. It is the education and knowledge that she offers that can help someone become great in their lifetime.
Call upon Clio when you need to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes.
Find a comfortable quiet spot where you can be alone for a time. Recount your past, mistakes and all. Know that you can speak and your confidence will not be betrayed. You can speak without fear and without shame. Here is when you can then take your journal and write until you feel that you are in control of you life again. Let go of the past and look forward to your future. You should value yourself and value your history. No person in this world has ever gone through life perfect. We are all flawed, but it is how we cope with this fact that makes the difference.

Take The A-Muse-ing Test!

(H/T)

Government and Human Nature

[Note: this post started as a comment on Tom's excellent post below about bleeding heart conservativism.  The ideas seemed to merit a full blog post rather than a blog post comment.]

A useful, if by no means perfect, way to think about government intervention is to do a thought experiment: will this program exacerbate a problem because people, who tend to take the path of least resistance, will behave badly so as to continue to take advantage of it?  Always remember that a government program is a subsidy, and whenever something is subsidized, we get more of it.

One program that passes this test would be the G.I. Bill.  This program is the sort of thing that some anti-war and anti-government libertarians would like to repeal, but since it encourages military service and college, it subsidizes good behavior.

One program that flunks this test would be the Great Society’s welfare program.  It had wonderful intentions: alleviate the poverty of single mothers.  But in doing so, government made fathers and work irrelevant; we got an explosion of single motherhood from this subsidy of bad behavior.

The Most Insightful Poll Analysis I’ve Seen So Far

Comes from McCain’s pollster. Read the whole thing, but this point did a particularly good job of tying some things together for me:

6. I am becoming more and more convinced Senator Obama “gets what he gets in the tracking.”

Typically a Republican candidate trails among African Americans on a survey by a margin of something like 78% to 14%. As a firm, we consistently warn our clients that on Election Day, they will underperform their polling margins with African American voters. If their tracking says 78% – 18%, they should expect to only carry 8% of the African American vote, as the Democrat candidate will typically carry more than 90% of the African American vote.

Senator Obama’s numbers are different than anything we have ever seen before among African Americans.

In most polls, McCain is losing these African American voters by margins like 97% to 1%.

This means when you see Senator Obama’s number in a survey, it already reflects his significant and full support among African American voters.

Functionally, this means the only undecided/refuse to respond voters are white and Latino.

So, in a state like Indiana where he has recently “led” Senator McCain, in most tracks, Senator Obama is at 46% to 47% of the vote.

I am becoming increasingly persuaded it will be very difficult for Senator Obama to perform much above his percentage of the vote in a state. This puts any number of historically red states very much “in play” and MUCH more competitive than is generally believed by the media. But critically, as Obama drops below 50% in other blue states, some of these states may also becoming back in play as well.

In a year when I’m very leery of polls, this analysis made more sense to me than anything else I’ve read.

A Case For Bleeding Heart Conservativism?

Freddie issues a powerful challenge:

My least favorite conservative trope– my very least favorite– is the “liberals are naive” meme. Drives me a little crazy, both because as I said above I have never seen a compelling reason why we should abandon pursuing impossible goods, and because conservatives simply have their own naivete. Where liberals are supposedly naive about the ability of government to create happiness/security/fulfillment, conservatives either naively think that the market, community or society will provide these things, or they elide those concerns altogether….

I long for a conservatism that publicly says what some conservatives say privately, that they don’t care what happens to people with needs that they can’t fill themselves. It used to be that libertarianism was a bastion for this kind of cruel but honest conservatism, where people were fine with saying “sucks for them”. But libertarianism, as it has grown in popularity, has become just another ideology of free market utopianism, where people conveniently assert that, if government disappears, there won’t be any suffering. Because the question of a real social safety net of last resort is so intractable for these thinkers, they think them away. They can’t confront the problem of people who can’t feed or house or clothe themselves in any responsible way, so they don’t. Instead they contribute to the popular and growing project of asserting that capitalism is a system that eventually is going to mean no suffering, no one left behind.

In a follow-up post, he continues:

Suffering exists in the world, and in the United States. That is an inevitable consequence of life. The fact that it is inevitable does not obviate our responsibility, as individuals or a society, to make good faith efforts to ameliorate that suffering. In a sense, any individual’s thoughts about how far that responsibility extends determines whether they are a liberal, or a conservative, or a libertarian, or a socialist, or whatever else…

I promise you, there are very many people who think we should do nothing at all about suffering adults. In fact, I’d wager that their number includes the majority of libertarians and many conservatives. So… what happens to those people? What happens to those people if government does not provide for them? Again, you will hear reasons why it’s bad for government to provide for him, from conservatives, and you’ll hear reasons why it’s unfair for government to provide for him. But you’ll find precious few conservatives that will have anything whatsoever to say about what, exactly, will happen to such a person. You can say that they’ll just continue to suffer, or you can say that we should care for them, or you can come up with an alternative scheme for how they can be cared for. You can’t, however, act like pointing out the difficulties inherent in this caring for people amounts to an answer about what exactly will happen to them without government.

There are indeed such people, and shame on them.  I’ve a certain affinity for some aspects of Objectivism — how was that for weaselly? — but the Randians-Are-Jerks stereotype exists for good reason.  Excess compassion can have ill side effects, but cliched responses involving upward force applied to bootstraps can be heartless.

That being said, Freddie makes a really irksome error: one’s thoughts about how extensive the government’s role should be in ameliorating suffering determines which of those political labels fit.  Those labels have nothing to do with one’s willingness to help others privately.  One might argue — perhaps successfully — that conservatives’ expectations of their own non-coerced generosity are naive, but that’s not the same as saying they don’t care.  Indeed — depending on how much money/time a person gives — they could easily out-compassion the biggest bleeding heart liberal.

If I get my druthers and government takes a back seat to private charities in these matters and people fall through the cracks, am I willing to let them starve?  I suppose I am, though I’d be saddened that nobody helped them (and that people, including me, didn’t donate more).  But if Freddie gets additional government sponsored/operated safety nets and someone falls through the cracks, is he willing to live with that?  I imagine he is, though he’d be saddened that the government wasn’t there to help him and advocate they do more. That hardly makes either of us a horrible human being.

Regardless, conservatives’ belief that social safety nets should be handled through private charities creates a great obligation for us to be charitable.  That’s something I need to do personally and I’m thankful for the impetus.

Re: Anti-Radio Bias

Apollo has waded into the Rush Limbaugh/David Frum feud and sided with Rush, so I shall do the opposite.

It seems as though Apollo disagrees with Frum’s assessment of Limbaugh as an entertainer.  I believe that Limbaugh refers to himself as such on occasion (I don’t listen to Rush as much as I’d like).  Limbaugh’s mouth sometimes gets him in trouble, since what plays well in a radio sketch doesn’t always translate well without the vocal tones and nuance.  While talk radio is important, as David Frum gracefully noted here, books are perhaps more important in the long run.  Rush’s brilliant improvisations on radio are effective, but how many of them age well?  Obama was recently able to twist Limbaugh’s words around in a way to attack John McCain, after all. 

Books are less sexy, and most of them have less impact than a single Limbaugh broadcast, but some of them might well resonate more than of talk radio put together: Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, for example, or William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, or perhaps even Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative.  These books were not bestsellers like Gone with the Wind or Harry Potter, but we can see in hindsight that they shook the world.  It’s been ages since I read Rush’s books, but I recall even then that some parts of them seemed dated.  Mocking David Dinkins and Ted Danson, as Rush did in The Way Things Ought to Be (if I recall correctly), is all well and good, but who remembers those two has-beens now?  Contrariwise, Frum and Perle’s An End to Evil might have been the most influential book in pushing America into removing Saddam Hussein.

Frum’s concern is that Limbaugh is refighting yesterday’s already won wars at the expense of today’s battles.  He outlined this at length earlier this year (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5).  To summarize: conservatives won great victories in the Reagan-Gingrich era.  Ronald Reagan crushed stagflation, wiped the Soviet Union off the map without firing a shot, and nobody is seriously thinking of re-regulating airlines or oil companies or anything else the Gipper freed.  Marginal tax rates were over 90% at one point, and even Obama isn’t going to raise taxes to half that; indeed, Reagan was so successful with actual tax cuts that Obama calls his government giveaways “tax cuts,” even though they’re nothing of the kind.

Newt Gingrich was a lesser figure, but he still was the pivotal player in approving NAFTA and reforming welfare.  Bill Clinton may have dominated the politics of the nineties, but Gingrich dominated its policies.

The trouble conservatives now face is that after winning on these big issues, there’s confusion about what to do now.  Social Security, Medicare, and the current credit crunch are very different problems from uncompetitive tax rates, welfare, or government price controls of oil.  Similarly, instead of having one massive enemy (the USSR) to worry about, we now have a host of small to medium size threats: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela. 

Limbaugh has been right many times in the past, but Frum’s quotation from Machiavelli bears repeating:

[W]hen a man has been very successful while following a particular method, he can never be convinced that it is for his advantage to try some other. And hence it results that a man’s fortunes vary, because times change and he does not change with them.

I sometimes get the impression that only the second coming of Ronald Reagan will make Limbaugh happy.  Much as I love Reagan, that he was the right man for his time does not mean that he’s the right man for these times.  One of the unnerving things about the Republican primary debates was the lengths to which all the candidates were trying to be the next Reagan.  I kept hoping someone would say something like this: “Like every other candidate on this stage, I respect Ronald Reagan.  He was the right man for 1980.  You’ll note that when he campaigned, he never tried to be the next Calvin Coolidge or Franklin Roosevelt.  His goal was to be the first Ronald Reagan.  In the same vein, I intend to be the first [insert name here].”

Reaganite principles—free markets, faith, a strong military, small government, judicial restraint—remain sound, but the policy prescriptions and politics must adapt to the times.  Frum’s concern, which I share, is that Limbaugh’s a Reaganite when we need (for want of a better word) a Neo-Reaganite agenda.  Frum isn’t always right, but his is a good faith attempt to keep the the post white, as Chesterton put it—and as I quoted in my inaugural post:

The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone, you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must always be painting it again; that is, you must always be having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old.

The post that is conservatism has gotten black, and Limbaugh and Frum are haggling over how to repaint it. 

I Don’t Think That’s a Good Idea

When you consider 1. the sort of emotional attachment so many of Obama’s followers have developed for him; 2. the fact that everyone expects Obama to win, but the polls are sufficiently unbelievable this year that an election night surprise is not out of the question; 3. the fact that many people on the Left, particularly the passionate ones who have long been emotionally attached to Obama, were very quick to jump to conspiratorial conclusions when Bush did what all the polls predicted and won reelection in 2004; 4. that large crowds of people will do things that no individual in that crowd would think of doing on his own; 5. there may be a million people at Obama’s election night “party”…

Well, I will still extend to my fellow citizens the presumption of non-violence. But then, I don’t live in Chicago.

P.S. I just noticed this in the story:

[Mayor Daley] openly acknowledged that he would have preferred a more “controlled” venue like the United Center. The Obama campaign quickly pointed out that the United Center was booked on election night with a Celine Dion concert.

I’ve always wondered what people who aren’t interested in politics do on election night.

Anti-Radio Bias

Without commenting on the overall merits of this David Frum post, this struck me:

I think Rush is a great entertainer and has often been a force for good in the conservative movement. But right now, he is feeding his audience pleasing illusions that can only lead conservatives to even greater troubles in the days ahead.

Why does Frum feel the need to denigrate Rush as merely an “entertainer”? McCain did this a while back, and I remember being cranky about it at the time.

But why shouldn’t I refer to Frum as an entertainer? There’s a tremendous bias among writers that writing is somehow a superior, more intellectual form of communication than others. But how many people read thoughtful things that bore them? It’s been a while since Aristotle or Heidegger produced a best seller. A writer, even if he is of the serious sort, absolutely must entertain. But it would seem odd if I referred to Frum as an entertainer, no? That’s a word reserved for non-writing boobs like Rush (though Rush’s monologues have been turned into two books that sold monstrously better than anything Frum has produced).

If the phrase “public intellectual” has any meaning, it absolutely must include Rush Limbaugh. For fifteen hours a week, he engages in reasoned discourse over the news of the day, very frequently getting into serious points of political philosophy and history. Compared to the hollow poll-following “who-has-momentum-today” level of print and television journalism, Rush does much to elevate the level of discourse above where it would be if left to the supposed serious journalists. You can watch an entire month’s worth of Sunday-morning programs without learning as much as Rush delivers in a day, and without laughing as much as Rush’s listeners do in ten minutes. I imagine it really grates on certain people that this country bumpkin college drop out prompts more thought than every Ivy Leaguer and J-school grad on television or in newspapers.

So Frum can look down his nose at Rush the Entertainer all he wants. But there is not a more important public intellectual in America today, and he’s done more to preserve and advance the conservative movement than anyone presently at National Review.