Friday, December 14, 2007

Gingrich: We're Sleepwalking Into a Nightmare

Personal moral failings (which rightly led to his fall from office) aside, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been one of very few men or women in American politics in the last generation who has consistently come up with, or popularized, good ideas that, if implemented, would lead to positive solutions to many of our most serious problems. Thoughtful, optimistic, and frequently right, Mr. Gingrich is one of those people I can listen to and I will have learned something interesting in the process.

This is an address he gave at a Jewish National Fund meeting last Nov 15 in Atlanta. (Hat tip to Dr. Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor Mail.) You can also read it here or listen to the Podcast.

Sleepwalking Into a Nightmare

I just want to talk to you from the heart for a few minutes and share with you where I think we are.

I think it is very stark. I don't think it is yet desperate, but it is very stark. And if I had a title for today's talk, it would be sleepwalking into a nightmare. 'Cause that's what I think we're doing.

I gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute Sept. 10th at which I gave an alternative history of the last six years, because the more I thought about how much we're failing, the more I concluded you couldn't just nitpick individual places and talk about individual changes because it didn't capture the scale of the disaster. And I had been particularly impressed by a new book that came out called Troublesome Young Men, which is a study of the younger Conservatives who opposed appeasement in the 1930s and who took on Chamberlain. It's a very revealing book and a very powerful book because we tend to look backwards and we tend to overstate Churchill's role in that period. And we tend to understate what a serious and conscientious and thoughtful effort appeasement was and that it was the direct and deliberate policy of very powerful and very willful people. We tend to think of it as a psychological weakness, as though Chamberlain was somehow craven. He wasn't craven. Chamberlain had a very clear vision of the world, and he was very ruthless domestically. And they believed so deeply in avoiding war with Germany that as late as the spring of 1940, when they are six months or seven months into they war, they are dropping leaflets instead of bombs on the Rohr, and they are urging the British news media not to publish anti-German stories because they don't want to offend the German people. And you read this book, and it makes you want to weep because, interestingly, the younger Tories who were most opposed to appeasement were the combat veterans of World War I, who had lost all of their friends in the war but who understood that the failure of appeasement would result in a worse war and that the longer you lied about reality, the greater the disaster.

And they were severely punished and isolated by Chamberlain and the Conservative machine, and as I read that, I realized that that's really where we are today. Our current problem is tragic. You have an administration whose policy is inadequate being opposed by a political Left whose policy is worse, and you have nobody prepared to talk about the policy we need. Because we are told if you are for a strong America, you should back the Bush policy even if it's inadequate, and so you end up making an argument in favor of something that can't work. So your choice is to defend something which isn't working or to oppose it by being for an even weaker policy. So this is a catastrophe for this country and a catastrophe for freedom around the world. Because we have refused to be honest about the scale of the problem.

Let me work back. I'm going to get to Iran since that's the topic, but I'm going to get to it eventually.

Let me work back from Pakistan. The dictatorship in Pakistan has never had control over Wiziristan. Not for a day. So we've now spent six years since 9/11 with a sanctuary for al Qaeda and a sanctuary for the Taliban, and every time we pick up people in Great Britain who are terrorists, they were trained in Pakistan.

And our answer is to praise Musharraf because at least he's not as bad as the others. But the truth is Musharraf has not gotten control of terrorism in Pakistan. Musharraf doesn't have full control over his own government. The odds are even money we're going to drift into a disastrous dictatorship at some point in Pakistan. And while we worry about the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon, the Pakistanis already have 'em, So why would you feel secure in a world where you could presently have an Islamist dictatorship in Pakistan with a hundred-plus nuclear weapons? What's our grand strategy for that?

Then you look at Afghanistan. Here's a country that's small, poor, isolated, and in six years we have not been able to build roads, create economic opportunity, wean people off of growing drugs. A third of the GDP is from drugs. We haven't been able to end the sanctuary for the Taliban in Pakistan. And I know of no case historically where you defeat a guerrilla movement if it has a sanctuary. So the people who rely on the West are out-bribed by the criminals, outgunned by the criminals, and faced with a militant force across the border which practiced earlier defeating the Soviet empire and which has a time horizon of three or four generations. NATO has a time horizon of each quarter or at best a year, facing an opponent whose time horizon is literally three or four generations. It's a total mismatch.

Then you come to the direct threat to the United States, which is al Qaeda. Which, by the way, we just published polls. One of the sites I commend to you is Last Wednesday we posted six national surveys, $428,000 worth of data. We gave it away. I found myself in the unique position of calling Howard Dean to tell him I was giving him $400,000 worth of polling. We have given it away to both Democrats and Republicans. It is fundamentally different from the national news media. When asked the question "Do we have an obligation to defend the United States and her allies?" the answer is 85 percent yes. When asked a further question "Should we defeat our enemies?" — it's very strong language — the answer is 75% yes, 75 to 16.

The complaint about Iraq is a performance complaint, not a values complaint.

When asked whether or not al Qaeda is a threat, 89% of the country says yes. And they think you have to defeat it, you can't negotiate with it. So now let's look at al Qaeda and the rise of Islamist terrorism.

And let's be honest: What's the primary source of money for al Qaeda? It's you, re-circulated through Saudi Arabia. Because we have no national energy strategy, when clearly if you really cared about liberating the United States from the Middle East and if you really cared about the survival of Israel, one of your highest goals would be to move to a hydrogen economy and to eliminate petroleum as a primary source of energy.

Now that's what a serious national strategy would look like, but that would require real change.

So then you look at Saudi Arabia. The fact that we tolerate a country saying no Christian and no Jew can go to Mecca, and we start with the presumption that that's true while they attack Israel for being a religious state is a sign of our timidity, our confusion, our cowardice that is stunning.

It's not complicated. We're inviting Saudi Arabia to come to Annapolis to talk about rights for Palestinians when nobody is saying, "Let's talk about rights for Christians and Jews in Saudi Arabia. Let's talk about rights for women in Saudi Arabia."

So we accept this totally one-sided definition of the world in which our enemies can cheerfully lie on television every day, and we don't even have the nerve to insist on the truth. We pretend their lies are reasonable. This is a very fundamental problem. And if you look at who some of the largest owners of some of our largest banks are today, they're Saudis.

You keep pumping billions of dollars a year into countries like Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Russia, and you are presently going to have created people who oppose you who have lots of money. And they're then going to come back to your own country and finance, for example, Arab study institutes whose only requirement is that they never tell the truth. So you have all sorts of Ph.D.s who now show up quite cheerfully prepared to say whatever it is that makes their funders happy — in the name, of course, of academic freedom. So why wouldn't Columbia host a genocidal madman? It's just part of political correctness. I mean, Ahmadinejad may say terrible things, he may lock up students, he may kill journalists, he may say, "We should wipe out Israel," he may say, "We should defeat the United States," but after all, what has he done that's inappropriate? What has he done that wouldn't be repeated at a Hollywood cocktail party or a nice gathering in Europe?

And nobody says this is totally, utterly, absolutely unacceptable. Why is it that the number one threat in intelligence movies is the CIA?

I happened the other night to be watching an old movie, To Live and Die in L.A., which is about counterfeiting. But the movie starts with a Secret Service agent who is defending Ronald Reagan in 1985, and the person he is defending Ronald Reagan from is a suicide bomber who is actually, overtly a Muslim fanatic. Now, six years after 9/11, you could not get that scene made in Hollywood today.

Just look at the movies. Why is it that the bad person is either a Right-wing crazed billionaire, or the CIA as a government agency? Go look at The Bourne Ultimatum. Or a movie like the one that George Clooney made, which was an absolute lie, in which it implied that if you were a reformist Arab prince, that probably the CIA would kill you. It's a total lie. We actually have SEALs protecting people all over the world. We actually risk American lives protecting reformers all over the world, and yet Hollywood can't bring itself to tell the truth, (a) because it's ideologically so opposed to the American government and the American military, and (b), because it's terrified that if it said something really openly, honestly true about Muslim terrorists, they might show up in Hollywood. And you might have somebody killed as the Dutch producer was killed.

And so we're living a life of cowardice, and in that life of cowardice we're sleepwalking into a nightmare.

And then you come to Iran. There's a terrific book. Mark Bowden is a remarkable writer who wrote Black Hawk Down, has enormous personal courage. He's a Philadelphia newspaper writer, actually got the money out of the Philadelphia newspaper to go to Somalia to interview the Somalian side of Black Hawk Down. It's a remarkable achievement. Tells a great story about getting to Somalia, paying lots of cash, having the local warlord protect him, and after about two weeks the warlord came to him and said, "You know, we've decided that we're very uncomfortable with you being here, and you should leave."

And so he goes to the hotel, where he is the only hard-currency guest, and says, "I've got to check out two weeks early because the warlord has told me that he no longer will protect me." And the hotel owner, who wants to keep his only hard-currency guest, says, "Well, why are you listening to him? He's not the government. There is no government." And Bowden says, "Well, what will I do?" And he says, "You hire a bigger warlord with more guns," which he did. But then he could only stay one week because he ran out of money.

But this is a guy with real courage. I mean, imagine trying to go out and be a journalist in that kind of world, OK? So Bowden came back and wrote Guests of the Ayatollah, which is the Iranian hostage of 1979, which he entitled [sic; subtitled], "The First Shots in Iran's War Against America." So in the Bowden worldview, the current Iranian dictatorship has been at war with the United States since 1979. Violated international law. Every conceivable tenet of international law was violated when they seized the American Embassy and they seized the diplomats. Killed Americans in Lebanon in the early '80s. Killed Americans at Khobar Towers in '95 and had the Clinton administration deliberately avoid revealing the information, as Louis Freeh, the director of the FBI, has said publicly, because they didn't want to have to confront the Iranian complicity.

And so you have an Iranian regime which is cited annually as the leading supporter of state terrorism in the world. Every year the State Department says that. It's an extraordinary act of lucidity on the part of an institution which seeks to avoid it as often as possible.

And you have Gen. Petraeus come to the U.S. Congress and say publicly in an open session, "The Iranians are waging a proxy war against Americans in Iraq."

I was so deeply offended by this, it's hard for me to express it without sounding irrational. I'm an Army brat. My dad served 27 years in the infantry. The idea that an American general would come to the American Congress, testify in public that our young men and women are being killed by Iran, and we have done nothing, I find absolutely abhorrent.

So I'm preparing to come and talk today. I got up this morning, and a friend had sent me yesterday's Jerusalem Post editorial, which if you haven't read, I recommend to you. It has, for example, the following quote: "On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, 'The problem of the content of the document setting out joint principles for peace-making post-Annapolis has not been resolved. One of the more pressing problems is the Zionist regime's insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state. We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined.' "

What truly bothers me is the shallowness and the sophistry of the Western governments, starting with our own. When a person says to you, "I don't recognize that you exist," you don't start a negotiation. The person says, "I literally do not recognize" and then lies to you. I mean the first thing you say to this guy is "Terrific. Let's go visit Mecca. Since clearly there's no other state except Israel that is based on religion, the fact that I happen to be Christian won't bother anybody." And then he'll say, "Well, that's different."

We tolerate this. We have created our own nightmare because we refuse to tell the truth. We refuse to tell the truth to our politicians. Our State Department refuses to tell the truth to the country. If the president of the United States, and again, we're now so bitterly partisan, we're so committed to red vs. blue hostility, that George W. Bush doesn't have the capacity to give an address from the Oval Office that has any meaning for half the country. And the anti-war Left is so strong in the Democratic primary that I think it's almost impossible for any Democratic presidential candidate to tell the truth about the situation.

And so the Republicans are isolated and trying to defend incompetence. The Democrats are isolated and trying to find a way to say, "I'm really for strength as long as I can have peace, but I'd really like to have peace, except I don't want to recognize these people who aren't very peaceful."

I just want to share with you, as a grandfather, as a citizen, as a historian, as somebody who was once speaker of the House, this is a serious national crisis. This is 1935 or 1936, and it's getting worse every year.

None of our enemies are confused. Our enemies don't get up each morning and go, "Oh, gosh, I think I'll have an existential crisis of identity in which I will try to think through whether or not we can be friends while you're killing me." Our enemies get up every morning and say, "We hate the West. We hate freedom." They would not allow a meeting with women in the room.

I was once interviewed by a BBC reporter, a nice young lady who was only about as anti-American as she had to be to keep her job. Since it was a live interview, I turned to her halfway through the interview and I said, "Do you like your job?" And it was summertime, and she's wearing a short-sleeve dress. And she said, "Well, yes." She was confused because I had just reversed roles. I said, "Well, then you should hope we win." She said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "Well, if the enemy wins, you won't be allowed to be on television."

I don't know how to explain it any simpler than that.

Now what do we need?

We need first of all to recognize this is a real war. Our enemies are peaceful when they're weak, are ruthless when they're strong, demand mercy when they're losing, show no mercy when they're winning. They understand exactly what this is, and anybody who reads Sun Tzu will understand exactly what we're living through. This is a total war. One side is going to win. One side is going to lose. You'll be able to tell who won and who lost by who's still standing. Most of Islam is not in this war, but most of Islam isn't going to stop this war. They're just going to sit to one side and tell you how sorry they are that this happened. We had better design grand strategies that are radically bigger and radically tougher and radically more honest than anything currently going on, and that includes winning the argument in Europe, and it includes winning the argument in the rest of the world. And it includes being very clear, and I'll just give you one simple example because we're now muscle-bound by our own inability to talk honestly.

Iran produces 60% of its own gasoline. It produces lots of crude oil but only has one refinery. It imports 40% of its gasoline. The entire 60% is produced at one huge refinery.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan decided to break the Soviet empire. He was asked, "What's your vision of the Cold War?" He said, "Four words: We win; they lose." He was clearly seen by The New York Times as an out-of-touch, reactionary, right-wing cowboy from California who had no idea what was going on in the world. And 11 years later the Soviet Union disappeared, but obviously that had nothing to do with Reagan because that would have meant he was right. So it's just a random accident the Soviet Union disappeared.

Part of the war we waged on the Soviet Union involved their natural gas supply because we wanted to cut off their hard currency. The Soviets were desperate to get better equipment for their pipeline. We managed to sell them through third parties very, very sophisticated American pipeline equipment, which they were thrilled to buy and thought they had pulled off a huge coup. Now we weren't playing fair. We did not tell them that the equipment was designed to blow up. One day in 1982, there was an explosion in Siberia so large that the initial reflection on the satellites looked like there was a tactical nuclear weapon. One part of the White House was genuinely worried, and the other part of the White House had to calm them down. They said, "No, no, that's our equipment blowing up."

In the 28 years since the Iranians declared war on us, in the six years since 9/11, in the months since Gen. Petraeus publicly said they are killing young Americans, we have not been able to figure out how to take down one refinery. Covertly, quietly, without overt war. And we have not been able to figure out how to use the most powerful navy in the world to simply stop the tankers and say, "Look, you want to kill young Americans, you're going to walk to the battlefield, but you're not going to ride in the car because you're not going to have any gasoline."

We don't have to be stupid. The choice is not cowardice or total war. Reagan unlocked Poland without firing a shot in an alliance with the pope, with the labor unions and with the British. We have every possibility if we're prepared to be honest to shape the world. It'll be a very big project. It's much closer to World War II than it is to anything we've tried recently. It will require real effort, real intensity and real determination. We're either going to do it now, while we're still extraordinarily powerful, or we're going to do it later under much more desperate circumstances after we've lost several cities.

We had better take this seriously because we are not very many mistakes away from a second Holocaust. Three nuclear weapons is a second Holocaust. Our enemies would like to get those weapons as soon as they can, and they promise to use them as soon as they can.

I suggest we defeat our enemies and create a different situation long before they have that power.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Might Giuliani's Nomination Mean?

In the (current) December 2007 issue of First Things, Hadley Arkes offers a compelling essay on what the cost of nominating and electing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as President by the Republican Party would be. I won't pretend to know how American Whigs would have stood regarding today's "life issues." This was, after all, a party that failed to survive the slavery debate. But neither were the Whigs afraid to play the "personal morality card" at election time.

It is fair to be clear about my perspective as I introduce Prof. Arkes' essay. Just before going to bed on the eve of the 2004 election, I wrote the following on LutherLink's Table Talk on my decision on for whom I was going to vote. I began with some thoughts on the Democratic candidate's record regarding the war in Iraq, then continued:
[Sen. Kerry] is a Catholic who is able to make a difference in our culture of death, and not only does he choose not to do so, he tries to make support of that culture sound morally virtuous. Whether the ones to be killed are pre-born infants or the enemies of our nation, it doesn't seem to matter.

My phrasing of the above comments, plus others I've made on TABLE TALK the last couple of years, make plain that I am not enamored of President Bush, either. His expansion of federal power over that of state and local governments (plus schools), his administration's obsession for secrecy, and his unwillingness to exercise any control over federal spending (the massive expansion of Medicare entitlements when the program is already plunging into bankruptcy is merely the icing, granted, a thick gob of icing, on cakes of pork) had me gagging over his presidency from the beginning. The pretexts for war with Iraq -- WMD, if anyone cares to recall, was actually only one of them, and one for which there was no dispute except where to find them until our boys were already surrounding Iraq and poised to invade -- were the most obscene since the US invaded to start the Mexican War. Alas, unlike 1846-47 there were no Whigs 2 years ago to challenge the President and even NPR was as anti-war as Hearst's papers had been in 1898.

As an expatriate Californian resident in Illinois, it's pretty clear that "my" electoral votes will be cast for the Democrat. And until last week, I fully intended to vote for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian.

But in the morning, while I may hold my nose doing it, I'm going to vote for President Bush's re-election. With him in office the mass sacrifice of human embryos to blood-thirsty gods of "science" will be (at least for a time) averted and the world will know that the United States of America, for all her faults, will not be afraid to act boldly in her defense.
I vote pro-life. And with that, here's the beginning of Hadley Arkes' essay:
Abortion Politics 2008
by Hadley Arkes

For reasons quite plausible, even to people on the pro-life side, Rudolph Giuliani persists in standing well ahead of the pack of the Republican candidates for president. He has sounded the traditional Republican themes: preserving the Bush tax cuts, seeking free-market solutions to problems such as medical care, and standing firm on the war in Iraq.

But there is in his campaign a sobering truth that cannot be evaded: The nomination and election of Rudy Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican party as the pro-life party in our politics. And that would be the case regardless of whether pro-lifers respond to his nomination by refusing to vote for Giuliani, forming a third party, or folding themselves into a coalition that succeeds in electing Giuliani.

I often meet, here in the East, conservatives of an old stripe: eager to vote for a Republican but repelled by what they have seen as a party in which the religious and the pro-lifers have a marked leverage. Are there enough of these voters to convert, say, New Jersey and Connecticut into Red States? There might be if the old-line conservatives see a massive defection from the party on the part of the pro-lifers. For that will be a sign that the party is becoming habitable again for people like themselves, who may come to define again its character.

What is engaged here is a truth about the nature of political parties that has gone remarkably unappreciated: Parties have the means of changing their own constituencies or their composition. By altering their appeals, they drive some groups out and bring others in. If a Republican party, reconstituted in this way, manages to win, the Republican establishment will readily draw the lesson that they can win convincingly without pro-lifers and their bundle of causes: the destruction of embryos in research, assisted suicide, the resistance to same-sex marriage. Indeed, a Republican party shorn of those people and their baggage may seem to offer a stronger, more durable majority than the party that eked out victories by narrow margins in 2000 and 2004.

Pro-life voters may subordinate their concerns and join the new coalition, but the lesson extracted will be the same: “The Republican party can win when the pro-life issue is thrust from the center to the periphery of the party’s concerns. Even the pro-lifers do not see themselves as one-issue voters; they will give primacy to other concerns as the crises before us make other issues indeed more urgent. They will content themselves with symbolic gestures or modest measures rationed out to them. For they know that, when their interest collides with others, the party will have to subordinate their concerns to nearly anything that seems more pressing.” And, for all practical purposes, nearly any interest will trump the interests of the pro-life community.

For those concerned about the life issues, the choices offered by a Giuliani nomination are bleak. This melancholy state of things is deepened by the awareness that there are powerful considerations moving the pro-lifers toward accommodation. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, the Republican party has become, ever more clearly, the pro-life party in our politics. And, just as clearly, the “right to abortion,” with its theme of sexual liberation, has become the central peg on which the interests of the Democratic party have been arranged. Under these conditions, the pro-life movement has become bound up inescapably with the fate of the Republican party.

But the White House cannot be preserved for the Republicans—and the pro-life movement—without solving the problem of the war in Iraq. To this task Giuliani brings no military credentials, but he seems to have the tenacity to see the war through to victory and to bring the Republicans through as a party that need not apologize for a war that was undertaken for good reasons. Even the pro-lifers may recognize then that the war claims a certain precedence or preeminence in the issues now pressing. The pro-life issue may have to be submerged at this moment as a matter of high strategy, for the interests of the country and for the survival of the Republican party as the pro-life party.

For years now, the pro-life movement has followed a strategy of moving in incremental steps, unfolding a plan of principle with, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln, the object being to put abortion “in the course of ultimate extinction.” But a successful candidacy by Giuliani would subtly put in place a scheme whose tendency and object would be to put the pro-life movement itself on the course of ultimate extinction.
For the rest, read here -- but you will need to be a registered subscriber to First Things (which I recommend highly) to read. Or read a copy in the library or (go ahead, buy it!) at your newsstand now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Making the Least of a Good Situation

It seems to be a time for conservative soul searching. Last Wednesday OpinionJournal - Federation reprinted an essay by William Voegeli in the Fall 2007 Claremont Review of Books, where he describes the accomplishments (or the lack therof) of US conservatives since the Reagan Revolution. My title comes from this line from late in the essay: "Between 1981 and 2006, conservatives made the least of a good situation. If the more difficult years ahead are not going to be a debacle, conservatives need to wrestle with some important strategic questions." But let's let Mr. Voegeli first set the context.
The Trouble With Limited Government
Why even Reagan couldn't stop spending from skyrocketing--and what to do about it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST

A quarter century ago president Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. . . . It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people." In 1981, the year of that speech, the federal government spent $678 billion; in 2006, it spent $2,655 billion. Adjust that 292% increase for inflation, and the federal government is still spending 84% more than it did when Reagan became president--in a country whose population has grown by only 30%.

To put the point another way, if per capita spending after 1980 had grown at the rate of inflation, federal outlays would have been $1,883 billion in 2006 instead of $2,655 billion. The 41% increase from 1981 to 2006 is considerably lower than the 94% increase in real per capita spending in the previous 25 years, from 1956 to 1981. In the past two decades, the federal establishment grew steadily, rather than dramatically. Nonetheless, Reagan's pledge to curb the government's size and influence has hardly been fulfilled. Inflation-adjusted federal spending increased in every year but two over the past 26 years.

Military spending is a minor factor in the overall growth of government. It was 23.2% of federal spending and 5.2% of gross domestic product in 1981. Those percentages peaked in 1987 at 28.1% and 6.1%, respectively. Defense spending fell steadily thereafter, and was just over 16% of the federal budget and 3% of GDP from 1999 through 2001. Since September 11, defense spending has climbed to 20% of the federal budget and 4% of GDP. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both figures are lower than they were at any point during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

The engine driving the growth of government has been "human resources"--the Office of Management and Budget's category that includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with other programs for health, education, veterans and income security. Spending on human resources in 1981 was $362 billion, slightly more than half (53.4%) of all federal outlays. That proportion declined to slightly less than half (49.7%) by the time Reagan left office in 1989. But it turns out there was a peace dividend after the fall of the Berlin Wall: National defense spending dropped from 26.5% of federal outlays in 1989 to 16.1% in 1999. That savings--a tenth of the budget--migrated to human resources, where spending climbed to 60% of outlays by 1995. The category has stayed above that level ever since, reaching almost two-thirds of federal spending (65.6%) and 13.1% of GDP in 2003.

The numbers confirm what every despondent conservative already knows. Since Reagan's stunning victory in 1980, conservative journals have annihilated forests to print articles about excessive government spending. Conservative think tanks have produced sweeping plans for reducing the welfare state. Republicans occupied the White House for 18 of the 26 years after 1980, and held a Senate majority for 16 1/2 years and a House majority for 12 years. Yet the result is a federal establishment bigger and more influential today than in 1980.
Read it all here or in the original.

That's actually the "good news" part of the essay. The rest outlines the bad news: ways in which conservatives blew a quarter-century of governing (or, as has been said in other situations, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory), and even lost (or did they just throw in the towel?) the debate while they were ruling. And then asks, having lost the debate, is it nonetheless possible to emerge once again with a positive message? Do read it.

Tip o' the hat to Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor Mail (you do read that, don't you?).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What's Next for Conservatives?

The Intercollegiate Review first appeared in my mailbox some 30 years ago -- presumedly they got my address from Youth for Reagan after we went to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City to work for Gov. Reagan. Subtitled "A Journal of Scholarship & Opinion," it is published twice during the academic year by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to provide "a thoughtful and thought-provoking interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary issues by digging to the roots: first principles, philosophy and religion, cultural and historical forces."

IR was my introduction to the intellectual, academic side of the conservative movement -- names like Russell Kirk, Stanley Jaki, Richard Weaver are among the better-known. I am now getting to the point of not being surprised to find that those interviewed, writing or discussed in publications such as First Things or Mars Hill Audio appear throughout my archives of The Intercollegiate Review.

At least for me, ISI's purpose, "to convey to successive generations of college youth a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free and virtuous society," has been met. Which is why I've supported ISI (perhaps best known for its Choosing the Right College) over the years and am glad to continue receiving its publications.

All this is to introduce the "Editor's Note" by Mark C. Henrie that appears in the latest (Vol. 42, No. 2, Fall 2007) issue of The Intercollegiate Review:
As the 2007-8 academic year begins, the political struggle in Washington over continued U.S. military engagement in Iraq is reaching a new intensity. Arguments are advanced, tactics debated, blame assigned, contextual narratives proffered—all in an attempt to score partisan advantages. It will be decades before we are able to come to a disinterested historical assessment of the Iraq adventure: after all, even today we do not yet have such an account of Vietnam. Perhaps it really is true that by taking the fight to “them” “over there” we have prevented, so far, another attach “over here.” What is certainly true, however, is that the political sound and fury over Iraq has distracted us from a deeper effort to grasp the new relationship between the West and Islam that was heralded by 9/11. In the face of a new—or rather, very old?—adversary, our political class has simply recycled shopworn theories and discovered precedents for the unprecedented in strained historical analogies.

Thus, in one form or another, both liberals and neoconservatives have agreed that terrorism is best understood as a “symptom” of the desperate situation of backward societies lacking economic opportunity and political liberty. The prescription that follows is that we must address the “root causes” of terrorism in the Middle East—either through ameliorative liberal concessions or by muscular Wilsonian democratization. Once these societies are modernized, all will be well. The only problem with this excellent theology is that the actual 9/11 hijackers were not the wretched of the earth but rather educated, largely middle-class Saudis who had long resided in European cities. Subsequent events such as London’s 7/7 Underground bombing and this summer’s “doctor’s plot” in Scotland seem to show that it is not Arabian backwardness but rather Western modernity that is “the problem,” the “root cause.” What then? In a similar vein, it is often said, hopefully, that Islam is due for a Reformation. Alas, it is not implausible that Wahhabism itself is the Islamic Reformation. What then?

We shrink from such questions because, for at least two centuries, we have presumed a “universal” history in which the West represents the vanguard of mankind, behind which all humanity will at length follow, so that all will inevitably become “like us”—enlightened, largely secular, liberal democrats. We have not considered the possibility that “modernization” may lead to quite different destinations. The Cold War struggle with Soviet communism was an ideological conflict precisely because both communism and Western liberal democracy laid claim to the status of the “vanguard within the vanguard” in the West’s universal history. The current interaction with a resurgent Islam is not an ideological conflict, however, precisely because Islam rejects the universality of the West’s history.

American conservatives have to hand a rich repertoire of arguments, concept, and theories concerning ideological struggle, a legacy of our leadership role in the Cold War. We lack, however, similar resources for understanding a “civilizational” conflict. We need new thinking for a new historical circumstance.
                                        —Mark C. Henrie
For what it's worth, I'm not so sure that American conservatives -- who must be distinguished from the neo-conservatives who have done much of the thinking for President Bush's administration, or the faux-conservatives who long-ago hijacked the Republican Congressional leadership -- actually lack such resources. The conservative critique of neo-conservatism -- and most of the thoughts behind Henrie's "Editor's Note" above could have been written before the disaster that began on September 11, 2001, and were written by some in the build-up for the 2003 invasion of Iraq -- points me in that direction. But we may need to re-discover them.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just because I haven't posted...

...doesn't mean I don't have something to say. But I have other priorities, some of which you'll see on my other blog.

I was reminded not long ago, though, that there are some folks who are actually interested in what I have to say on this blog. I do have in my head, though not yet written down, a piece on the state of the Illinois Republican Party. Back in June I was invited to a special preview of the Party's We Are Illinois web site and campaign to reform Illinois politics. It's slick, all right. The question is whether or not, in focussing on the corruption of the current Democratic governor (who easily won re-election last year) there is any credible spokesman for reform for reforming Illinois politics in the state Party's leadership. The prior link might give you a hint on my answer to that question. More later.

The big political news remains Iraq and what the US needs to do next. While I've not written about it (yet), some of the consistently best and most thoughtful writing can be found over at The View from Chaos Manor, both the "view" sections by Jerry Pournelle and the "mail" section by his correspondents with (sometimes) his responses. Dr. Pournelle and I start from the same perspective -- the United States had no business invading Iraq in the first place. I'll try to say more about that later, but I remember the campaign for invasion during the late summer and autumn of 2002, during the mid-term congressional election, both conservative and liberal politicians and pundits were whole-heartedly for it. I remember practically screaming at NPR while driving through Missouri to a conference that fall, for even this "progressive" public radio was one-sidedly promoting an invasion of Iraq ala William Randolph Hearst and Cuba in the 1890s) as a strike against terrorism even though our invaders were elsewhere. We ought not let the Democrats and the press get away with encouraging amnesia about the opposition to invasion waiting until after the election and the President was already mobilizing the troops against the Ba'athist regime. But the congressional and presidential Republicans have seemed too busy trying to escape responsibility for betraying genuine American conservative (as opposed to neo-conservative) principles to challenge the media's amnesia.

But, we're there now, and Pournelle has been asking the right question: Having made that mess and incurred a moral obligation, what is the cost of withdrawal? That is the more difficult question, and what we see/hear/read of the political debate is so shallow that it can easily drive a responsible American citizen to despair, for our political and pundit classes don't seem to be even thinking about that one. Meanwhile, over the last couple of days as General Petraeus has been repeatedly questioned, "How long?" I kept thinking of all the troops we've had in Korea for the last 55-plus years, or those we still have in Germany after WW2. Indeed, "How long?" This mis-spent (thus far) Iraqi occupation isn't really all that much put in that perspective.

Anyway, if you come by here looking for some new Whiggish comments and don't find them here, click those links I have in the right-hand column.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What the 4th of July Is All About

Go ahead. Take some time to read it. All of it.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Perhaps the current Congress of the fifty United States, our President, and the Courts ought to read this -- not as an historical document, but as a vision statement, and ask how well they are accomplishing it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The more things change...

The immigration debate continues to be depressing in just so many ways, caught up as it is in the middle of so many different issues -- "homeland security," welfare and runaway healthcare costs, employment and unemployment, nativism, "law and order," and just general discontent. While some of the details change, the argument goes back a long time in American politics. (Not just the "Yellow Peril" of the 19th and 20th century west coast, but well back in the 18th century English colonies! See, for just one example, the journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the father of American Lutheranism.) And logic has rarely been a significant part of it.

I think it is important to remember that nearly every American is not that far removed from being an immigrant him or herself. I have a maternal great-grandmother who immigrated from Sweden. And while she was born here, my paternal grandmother was raised speaking German. But it's not just a personal observation.

I was surprised by something in my current pleasure reading, The California God Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by the historian Leonard L. Richards. California history is not quite the way we were taught it in (if I recall rightly) the 4th grade. That's not the surprise, of course. We learned about Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and the Spanish explorers, Sir Francis Drake, Father Serra and the California Missions, the settlement of Los Angeles, Mexican independence from Spain, a very little about the Mexican War (though not that the peace settlement happened only a few miles away from our school), and -- of course -- John Sutter, the Gold Rush and the '49ers. Surprisingly, I don't remember being taught anything at all about Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, but there was a rebroadcast of the Romance of the Ranchos series and hazy memories of Zorro to get a flavor of Old California. I guess by the late '60s that was too old-fashioned to teach. Anyway, I've tried to fill in some of the blanks over the years as I continue to cultivate my California roots.

This is what surprised me: of the 48 delegates to California's constututional convention in 1849, only 7 of them were Californians -- that is people who had been Mexican citizens. And even their leader, Abel Stearns, had been born and raised in Massachusetts. The rest came via President Polk's grab for Mexican territory (which is not quite how the Mexican War was originally taught to me). Quite fascinating is that one of California's first US Senators, William Gwin, came from Mississippi to California not for gold, but specifically to capture the Senate seat of state that was just about to be formed. In the space of barely 5 years, the Mexican province of Alta California became the State of California. Ah, the power of immigration, especially when its legality is questionable.

Oh, then what did the new legislature of immigrants do? Pass laws to prevent negro slaves (okay, California was admitted as a free state) and free blacks (and other persons of color) from residing in the state.

I've also been reminded of something that I had been taught, though I probably need to study up on it to speak more intelligently: the role of squatters in settling of the territories west of the Mississippi. See also economist Hernando de Soto's interesting article on the place of "squatters' rights" in helping form American property law.

The immigration battle is not as simple as the anti-immigrant politicians and pundits (most of whom I respect on many issues) usually describe it. "Send 'em back; they broke the law" makes for a good slogan. But it does so at the expense of our own identity as a people.

And in this age of Islamicist terror, it distracts us from the real enemies of America and all she stands for.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Primary Election Day

Tuesday was the Primary Election for Peoria's at-large City Council seats. 14 candidates were to be narrowed down to 10 for the April 17 General Election where 5 will be elected. One of the TV stations reports a less-than 10% voter turnout.

I voted at about 3:30 pm and was the 11th person to vote in my precinct.