Wednesday, December 08, 2004

 

Enter the Theophobes

This year, the Theophobes went too far: They chased the Salvation Army away from Target, banned “Merry Christmas” at Macy’s, denied Christians a place in Denver’s “Parade of Lights,” booted fifth-and-sixth grade carolers from San Francisco’s Union Square, and eliminated the Declaration of Independence from the history curriculum at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, Calif.

It is hard to imagine a more telling batch of secular idiocies.

Target, the single largest collection source last year for Salvation Army donations -- $9 million out of the $90 million taken in during the Christmas season -- decided to shoo away Salvation Army solicitors so as not to give offense to the miserly. In being solicitous of Scrooge, however, Target may have reaped a retail whirlwind.

Ditto for Macy’s, the store celebrated in “Miracle on 34th St., and famed for concluding its Thanksgiving Day Parade with an appearance by Santa Claus himself. The retailer has instructed employees to stop saying “Merry Christmas” in favor of the blander, “Happy Holidays.” Panjandrums from the chain’s owner, Federated Department Stores, say they have let stores make the final call on what employees may say, but employees tell me otherwise.

Next on the bah-humbug Bandwagon, Denver, where Mayor John Hickenlooper flirted with the idea of removing from city hall an old “Merry Christmas” banner in lieu of a “Happy Holidays” greeting -- until enraged voters gave him the what-for. He sheepishly reversed course.

A similar ban-and-feel-the-public’s-wrath fate also awaits organizers of the 30-year-old Parade of Lights, which this year rejected a float from the Faith Bible Chapel (story requires registration) because it wished onlookers a Merry Christmas and emphasized the good cheer by treating bystanders to Christmas carols! While the Christians cooled their heels, citizens did get to take in the site of a float featuring “holy figures” -- gay, lesbian, transsexual and bi-sexual American Indians.

And last, but not least, keep an eye on the case of Williams v. Cupertino. Fifth Grade Teacher Steven Williams of Cupertino, Calif. has filed a religious discrimination suit against Patricia Vidmar, principal of Stevens Creek Elementary School, along with the schools superintendent and the school board.

In a refreshing departure from recent First Amendment jurisprudence, Williams has not insisted on worshipping a witch, beast, fowl or inanimate object. He just wants his history students to know that America's founders considered religious faith important. This seems unobjectionable, but his school principal actually forbade his distributing to students excerpts from such documents as the Declaration of Independence, diaries of George Washington and John Adams; early state constitutions; a sermon on "the rights of colonists" by Samuel Adams; and writings by William Penn and others.

The principal and teacher first crossed swords last year, after a student asked about the provenance of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Williams handed out the 1954 Congressional Resolution that led to the insertion of the two words, whereupon a parent called to complain. The tempest seemed to pass but not for long. Williams continued teaching required material -- such as the Declaration of Independence and the religious revivals known as the Great Awakenings. But Principal Vidmar blew the whistle when the teacher tried to discuss Easter.

My guess is that Williams, a devout Christian, discovered (by design or happenstance) how to get under Vidmar's skin. Along the way, he passed out a couple of documents that one might construe as mildly proselytic: One lists quotes about the Bible -- mostly from great American figures -- but also includes Jesus' observation: "It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (The other chronicles the use of "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.) Whatever the circumstances, the principal overreacted and started outlawing anything that mentioned God or Christianity.

This approach would force students to study American history without consulting the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, every Inaugural Address, the bulk of writings by America's founders and much more. Taken to further extremes, it would deprive Stevens Creek students knowledge of the Roman Empire from Constantine on, the Crusades, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, most of the greatest artwork before the 20th Century, the oevre of English-language authors from Chaucer through Eliot (C.S. Lewis no doubt is strictly forbidden!), and the musings of great scientists who to this day puzzle over the existence of God. The result: a curriculum that ignores the substance of history and reduces the textbook to a sketch pad -- an assemblage of empty pages, which the children may fill with scribbles, scratches and inventions. Worse, the school's chief administrator, far from erecting a wall of separation between church and state, has put up an even more impervious wall of separation between students and knowledge.

Setting aside the legal merits of the case, it's clear Steve Williams has become the latest victim of Theophobia -- the absolute, frenetic, run-away-from-Godzilla panic that afflicts some people when they hear the "G" word. The Supreme Court spread the contagion through a series of bumbling and incoherent First Amendment cases, and the plague has ripped through the nation's intellectual elites, most of whom equate religious expression to fascist incitement.

That’s a curious twist, since the only thing protecting the American political system from fascism is religion itself. Here's why: Those who worship God necessarily acknowledge that moral truth exists and comes from a divine source. It does not come from elected officials, or arise through the haphazard affairs of humans. This means legislators cannot crown themselves as gods.

Furthermore, if people agree upon basic moral precepts, they can trust each other and go about their business. They don't have to waste time watching their backs for Hobbesian treachery; they can proceed with some confidence that their persons, property and lawful actions are safe from assault.

To put it in another way, when societies drive out God, somebody always moves swiftly to fill the vacuum -- and that somebody is one who controls the biggest and best guns. It is no accident that Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot and other totalitarian butchers took special pains early in their despotic careers to suppress religion and undermine the traditional family. You kill God, you kill society. This explains why theophobia -- while popular in faculty lounges, journalism seminars and Hollywood bacchanals – isn’t fooling anybody on Main Street.

Monday, November 29, 2004

 

Once Around the World

Happy Holidays!

Here's a seasonal perennial. It involves Jesus, God, a public school and a lawsuit. The only twist is, this time the teacher is doing the suing, accusing the school of paganism.

An Oil for Sleaze update

In the oil-for-sleaze scandal, U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan has valiantly declared that he had no idea his son was scamming off Iraqi oil payments, despite the fact the story has been in the press for, oh, nine months. He’s now tossing young Kojo overboard. Nice. In a seemingly unrelated but possibly helpful development, researchers say they have found a foolproof way to detect deliberate lying. Bill Safire doesn't need any stinkin' test, however. He knows everything he needs to know about Annan, thanks to the brilliant and courageous Claudia Rosette (requires registration).

The U.N. needs to heed Safire's advice. Give Annan the boot. But don't stop there. Bring in Colin Powell! After all, wouldn't it be nice to have as the chief administrator of the world's foremost democratic organization a man who actually has experience working in a democratically-elected government?

A religion of -- well, you be the judge

Meanwhile, back in the war on terror, some interesting developments. Ayman al Zawahiri has issued his latest Monty Python video, while Franklin Graham has taken another poke at Islam and Islamists. Before you rush to judgment about Graham, a Saudi imam has made the preacher look downright Panglossian. But that's just the start. Did you know Iran is hiring suicide bombers?, and that churlish Muslim immigrants have managed to wear out their welcome in, are you ready? Sweden!. Who on earth can wear out his welcome in Sweden?!

The New Blue Flu, the malaise that's the craze

In the New Blue Flu category (the term refers to the listlessness and anger that seem to be striking blue-state left-wingers with savage efficiency), the Washington Post argues that racial disparities exist in college admissions because we don't have enough quotas, although the paper's pundits do acknowledge in the final peroration that a big problem is that the the public schools stink (requires registration).

Another victim of the NBF, Moveon.org, has fallen on bad times, being reduced to holding anger-augmentation encounter groups in hopes that the organization can Keep Rage Alive another four (or is it 40?) years. I report, you decide.

Save a Swiftie!

And finally, this. Remember Steve Gardner? He was one of the band of brothers who decided to share his recollections of John Kerry’s service. Now, in a show of compassionate liberalism, the guy has paid for his candor by losing his job. The Chicago Sun Times has the story, while Powerline is helping collect donations in a show of compassionate conservatism.



 

Bill, Dan, David, Tom & Co.

The Has-Been Media are preparing for the most exhaustive and significant shakeup in the history of television news. Tom Brokaw has stepped aside at NBC, and Dan Rather will exit stage left in late March (can Peter Jennings be far behind?). In addition, two lions of the print press, Bill Safire of The New York Times and David Broder of The Washington Post, have announced plans to hang up their spurs.

Most of this was bound to happen. Safire and Broder have been at it a long time; both have tired of the deadline grind and would like more time to sculpt their thoughts and reminiscences. Brokaw also read the handwriting on the wall. He chose wisely to move out while atop the heap, knowing the Golden Age of network news has drawn to an end. (The guy has uncanny survival instincts, including a sense of impeccable timimg.)

But then there’s Rather. Having survived in the piranha-like conditions of the network newsroom for nearly a quarter century, Rather finally fell prey to a combination of personal foibles and inspired back-biting. When the already-grim ratings picture suddenly began to look hopeless, CBS execs shoved Rather off the ship, describing his “transition” as an amicable decision, agreed upon mutually. That’s a lawyerly way of saying he cried uncle, panting and screaming, but only after they subjected him to a brisk, sustained session with the bastinado.

As a result of his leaving and Brokaw’s opportunistic escape, the news business has entered a Wild West phase – a time of riotous experimentation and no-holds-barred competition. This is a good thing, because journalists have lived too long in a bubble of their own connivance and design. The average reporter in America is far more adept at identifying an impudent cabernet than in locating a local church (forget about an Elk’s Lodge – any Elk’s Lodge).

Broadcasters and scribes tend to look at the American public with finicky disdain – as if a journey into a suburb were akin to peering over the edge of a smoldering trash dump, searching for a debris-munching rodent. They not only have lost contact with Mainstream America; they have taken an active dislike toward it.

Network news since the Cronkite era has thrived on snob appeal. People watched the evening news broadcasts so they could learn how adopt a posture of suave boredom. Networks dispensed a steady stream of fashionable opinions and factoids, which viewers could save up for use in a debate at the company cafeteria: “Yes, but Cronkite said…” That sort of thing worked for many years, but the networks, unsupervised and untethered to terra firma, inexorable spun out of orbit. The facts and opinions dispensed by the mavens moved from being merely shocking to becoming impossibly implausible, and with the possible exception of the Streisand Brigades, everyone figured out that bias had driven away any pretense of even-handedness.

The 60 Minutes II imbroglio did Rather in not because it seemed a departure from the norm, but because it seemed too perfectly to capture the arrogance and determined ignorance of the Has Been Media. Rather did what most editors do out of habit (something I have done not only out of habit, but out of a sense of obligation as an editor). He stood behind his wayward reporter, rather than demanding a quick accounting for the story and inflicting proper discipline. Instead, Mary Mapes still earns a salary at CBS, while a nameless news producer got fired for reporting in a timely fashion the death of Yasser Arafat.

Brokaw, Rather, Jennings and other old lions know a new age is coming, and so they’re muttering a bit as they leave the stage. Who can blame them? The world in which they acquired wealth and celebrity has crumbled with startling speed. A new order has arisen. Journalism, no longer a redoubt of the illuminati, has become a vessel of grubby democracy. Anybody – literally, anybody – can play these days. They can insert their views in a weblog. They can call talk radio. Eccentric plutocrats, such as George Soros, get to spend bundles on advertisements in any and all media.

But Bill, Dan, Dave and Tom haven’t fallen prey to a predatory press. They have become the latest generation to realize that history did not commence with them and will not pause to prevent their passing. Don’t weep for them: They have enjoyed a splendid ride. They have been to the journalistic mountaintop, and then some; virtually any one of us would love to have been fortunate enough even to tag along for part of their journeys.

Yet, now the fun comes to people like you and me – for it is our opportunity and obligation to make the press smarter, humbler, and fairer than ever before.

I’m game for the challenge. How about you?

Monday, November 22, 2004

 

Arrogance? Reflections on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is America’s defining holiday. The people who sailed to our rough and forbidding shores wanted to lay claim not just cliffs of stone and forested wilderness. They pursued an idea: A republic that would secure liberty by venerating virtue – or to put it in less highfalutin terms, a place where people could do what they wanted because they could trust their neighbors.

Their idealism sustained them at first, since mere liberty was of little use in subduing harsh winters and forbidding roughlands. The colony at Roanoke vanished, presumably due to hardship and disease, and the first generation of European immigrants suffered staggering mortality rates. Yet legend has it that those who survived the first year in New England stopped -- not to mourn, commemorate, or rage against their fates – but to give thanks and share their meager stocks of food with local Indian tribes.

That celebration highlighted what would become this nation’s formulating virtues – with humility first and foremost. Despite recent global complaints about American “arrogance,” we’re a modest people, eager to credit Providence for our blessings and determined to make full use of our bounty.

Humility begets generosity, another staple of our national life. Somewhere near you, somebody right now is trying to help the indigent and poor – providing food, shelter, clothing or simple kindness. Millions of Americans annually commit themselves to such good works – and no country on earth comes close to matching our record.

Finally comes the matter of faith. We believe. We believe in our destiny as a nation. We believe we have been called to do good – to spread the blessings of liberty and encourage the sense of trust upon which free societies depend.
To have faith is to believe in truth; to believe that truth confers special power on those lucky enough to get a little insight; but most of all, to have faith is to know in the marrow of our souls that these things come from God.

This circle of virtues – from humility to God and back – explains why any American can rise from penury to greatness, and why all of us feel the tug of history’s call. It helps us understand why young men, thrust into combat operations a half-world away, can operate with brutal efficiency on a battlefield and then display jaw-dropping compassion the instant hostilities draw to a close. It accounts for the fact that Americans volunteer their services in every squalid encampment on this planet, and why the typical picture of an American features a smile. We know life is good.

Our virtues also help us shove aside adversity – to create something glorious and new from the ashes of hardship and tragedy. Consider this singular Thanksgiving proclamation:

“The year that is drawing to its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties … others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften … the heart.”

Abraham Lincoln wrote those words in the midst of what then was the bloodiest year in American history, 1863. Northern and southern soldiers were ripping one another literally to shreds on killing fields from Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico; from the Atlantic coast to our Western territories. Yet despite this grueling and murderous war, Lincoln encouraged Americans “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November … as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father” – and to extend a hand to “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” and to “heal the wounds of the nation and restore it … to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

No civilization in history has committed itself so fervently to giving thanks when things seem bleakest and worst. In the poem written for John Kennedy’s inaugural, Robert Frost noted that our brashness – our faith – made us strong, but only after bitter experience chipped away at our natural pride and reserve:

“Something we were withholding made us weak,
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith we found salvation in surrender.”


That “surrender” part is especially apt: We surrender arrogance so we can enjoy the jaunty proceeds of being free. But there’s more:

“Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.”


And for a land ever caught up in the act of becoming, we give thanks – for the land, for the society strong and free – and most of all, for each other.


Monday, November 15, 2004

 

A New Age Now begins

Tanned, rested and ready

The president isn’t wasting any time shaking things up after the election. While it is traditional for top-level appointees to submit resignations at the end of a presidential term, it is less customary for a president to accept them. But that has become the rule rather than the exception this time around.

So far, George W. Bush has accepted resignations from Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. There are more to come, including Tommy Thompson – and sooner or later, Norm Minetta. I expect Tom Ridge and Elaine Chao to move out of their present assignments, but not necessarily out of the inner circle. (BTW: Put Ridge on your list of people to watch for in the 2008 presidential contest. You heard it here first.) On the preliminary replacement list: Condoleezza Rice to State, outgoing Democratic Sen. John Breaux to Energy.

What it means

There are two ways to read the tea leaves – the changes betoken either discord at the White House or big ambitions on the president’s part. You can find the correct answer in column B.

Some appointees, including the Secretary of State, had asked for a little more time on the job, but were informed curtly that the White House wants to get on with finding a team for the next four years. Colin Powell, who always has noted that he serves at the pleasure of the president, took the news with typical aplomb. Others – who, for the sake of discretion I will not mention – suffered through cases of deep denial, and tried their best to beg their ways back.

This is to be expected. Team Bush has lived through three parlous and historic years, and it’s difficult to turn away from what in many cases will be the most thrilling and fulfilling years of these folks’ public careers. On the other hand, George W. Bush wants to avoid the fate of every second-term president since Teddy Roosevelt. He doesn’t want his presidency to grind slowly to a halt, as pretenders to the throne busy themselves with plots to become the next commander in chief. Expect the most aggressive domestic agenda since TR – check my post from last week on the agenda items – and the most momentous Supreme Court selections since FDR.

No guts, no glory

Ironically, close observers continue to misunderstimate the guy. My favorite headline comes U.S. News, which opines that the president wishes to “consolidate power” at the White House. If a president needs to consolidate power at his own White House, he’s in what the president’s father once referred to as “deep doo-doo.”

Here’s the deal: George W. Bush has built the most disciplined White House in memory – a fact that has annoyed to no end a press corps that feasts upon leaks planted by disloyal or disgruntled employees. Many people fitting those descriptions have been eased out (remember Richard Clarke) to write forgettable memos or draft poison-pen screeds for various publications.

Bush II will have more energy than the latter-day Bush I, with its beleaguered and war-tested cabinet. Unlike his predecessors, the president will not pack his second administration with bench players and camp followers. This administration will have the feel and vigor of a first-term administration, and the president’s charges will have strict orders to shake things up – to knock the barnacles from the bureaucracy, send laggards packing, and transform the federal government from a sclerotic, sluggish money-burning machine into an agent of transformation. We’ve already seen this at work with the CIA, where Porter Goss has made waves by putting the squeeze on the president’s enemies. In short, this is going to be interesting – and an absolute blast for those of us who observe politics for fun and profit.

Also Tanned, rested, and ready

Bill Safire, one of my mentors in the news business and the man who sealed my fate as speechwriting director for President George Herbert Walker Bush, has announced that he’s packing his word processor as of Jan. 24, 2005.

Safire is the consummate Washington Insider – a former aide to Vice President Richard Nixon, speechwriter for President Nixon, and the recipient of many an important leak in this town over the last three decades. But he’s also a polymath, the author of interesting books about everything from Job to Nixon – with Jefferson and Lincoln in-between. He is the founder of the Judson Welliver Society, a collection of former White House Speechwriters. And best of all, he’s simply a wonderful, interesting, impish and lively guy. I hate to see him leave the op-ed page of The New York Times, but it’s comforting to know he’ll be around. I’ll write a more longer paen to Safire soon. But trust me: The guy’s a giant in Washington journalism – and I suspect he’s still available for those interested in seeking either advice or sage career counseling.

The worst poet ever

Mikhael Lermontov, a minor Russian poet, once penned a couple odes to “A young woman, beautiful but dumb.” Britney Spears has now crafted what one might consider the definitive response, in the form of a tender ode to marriage: “A meal, a shower and some ice cream/Then I threw my man down, you know what I mean!” Dr. Spears says she intends to burnish her intellectual credentials by attending a college-to-be-named-later, a revelation that brings to mind another Russian-born author, Vladimir Nabokov, whose book, Lolita, taught every dictionary-toting youth the meaning of the word, “callipygian.”


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

 

Mandate, Schmandate

President Bush didn’t win a mandate, and nobody should wish one on him. In fact, the debate about mandates is downright silly.

Let’s begin by examining the pivotal word. When one talks of a “mandate,” what does it mean? It means a politician not only has won a political office, but has acquired something special in addition – the right to impose laws and policies on the populace – in other words, to make election promises mandatory.

That’s the plain meaning of the term. There’s a softer formulation as well. Pundits employ it all the time. They treat “mandate” as a surrogate for “legitimacy.” To say one has a mandate is to proclaim the person has (a) proper claim to the office and (b) moral authority to pursue some course of action.

Of course, no sensible voter thinks this way. This laying-on-of-hands stuff seems better suited to the selection of saints than the election of presidents. We realize that we are electing human beings, not gods, and that all of them suffer the same foibles we do. They are vain, ambitious, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing and emotionally needy. And we get to see them strutting across life’s stage, emotionally naked and neuroses jiggling like walrus fat, each and every day. These are not the sort of creatures who belong on Mt. Olympus, where they may hurl thunderbolts and decrees. They need constant adult supervision.

The mandate talk therefore is a great, big dodge – a classic case of rhetorical misdirection. Left-wingers cannot believe 60 million Americano hayseeds cast their lots with George W. Bush. The Larry O’Donnell Brigades say George W. Bush should not be president; does not deserve the office; acquired it by underhanded means; has polluted the system by taking the oath of office – and that patriots have an obligation to resist him at every turn.

Bushophobes don’t say this outright because they know such fulminations are boring. Instead, they adopt the “mandate” angle. They claim that he won by such a narrow margin that he ought to govern according to promises and principles other than the ones he presented to the public – and that he ought to show more respect and solicitude to the proposals of the loser, John Kerry.

If this makes your head swim, fear not. There’s a simple way to dispel confusion. Just remember what you were supposed to have learned in civics class:

Elected officials derive their legitimacy from a system of government that lets citizens pick their lawmakers. Officeholders do not acquire additional “legitimacy” by virtue of the electoral margin. (Had that been the case, Ronald Reagan should have been able to assume czarist powers, and Bill Clinton would have enjoyed less proper authority as the winner in 1992 and 1996 than Richard Nixon did as the loser in 1960.)

Therefore, we now are ready to explain the 2004 election result in a simple declarative sentence: George W. Bush did not win a mandate; he got a job.

The same holds for the opposition. Democrats have an obligation to work with the president when they think he’s doing the right thing and to resist him when they think he has gone off the rails. Our system of government, like the legal system, thrives on adversarial conflict – the clash of ideas.

So, to summarize: The president doesn’t have a mandate; doesn’t need one; couldn’t get one if he wanted. He survives on the basis of popular support and consent – both of which he needs not just on election day, but every day. If he fails to persuade people that he is doing the right thing, he will bring his party to ruin, and perhaps his country. Ditto if his policies backfire.

But here’s the magical part: Every four years, we get a chance to correct our course. That’s because we – not a president – have the mandate.

Monday, November 08, 2004

 

They're coming to take me awaaaaaaayyyy!

If you thought the Michael Moore Brigades would slip quietly into the night, forget about it: Conspiracy theorists have skittered into their bunkers, pencils at the ready, scratching out scenarios under which George W. Bush stole the election – this time, through the use of high-tech chicanery. Democracy Now issues this alert. Meanwhile, Thom Hartmann accuses Republican computer hackers of overturning the election. Keith Olberman joins the "they-stole-Ohio" chorus!


 

You say you want a revolution?

John Fund offers sensible, sobering words of caution to Republicans celebrating the president’s victory last week. While many of us have seen the Red and Blue Map, which gives the impression that a Republican tide has swept the country, that graphic is a little misleading. Note the “cartograms,” which tell the more accurate story -- the unsurprising news that high-density areas vote blue; the rest votes red. But note something else described by Fund -- a series of impressive statewide victories by Democrats, especially in Minnesota. Democrats have retaken an overall lead in the number of state legislative seats nationwide. The lead is a paltry six seats, but it’s a lead.

Fund’s report dramatizes the promise and challenges facing George W. Bush. The president has a real chance to rejigger voting patterns nationwide. Exit polls indicate new strength for the president among Catholic, Hispanic and evangelical voters, not to mention married women. If he can consolidate those gains, and continue chipping away at the ridiculously lopsided Democratic lead among black voters, he will have cobbled together the basis of a new coalition built on several key pillars:

Freedom at home and abroad

o Freedom at home through reduced government regulation and taxation, and the transfer of the power to make key decisions about health-care expenditures and retirement investments. With any luck, those issues won’t be government’s call anymore; they’ll be yours.

o Freedom abroad by taking on Islamo-fascism and paving the way to democratic government throughout the Middle East and Asia. The carrot here is the promise of commerce; the stick, the threat of pre-emption.

Respect for traditional virtues

o Years ago, Gertrude Himmelfarb made the point that it makes more sense when discussing a nation’s moral core to use the term “virtues,” instead of “values,” a word that may too easily be applied to changeable financial transactions and mushy, relativistic fads of the day.

Note that the Founders talked incessantly of virtue, not of values. The President is a virtue guy, not, as MoDo and others fear, because he wants to become a Petro-mullah, but because he appreciates things that count -- such as, for instance, the institution of marriage. Traditional virtues include hard work, thrift, concern for others, and the like. Bush II is likely to tackle federal programs that whittle away at one’s ability to chart one’s fate -- and also to take responsibility for one’s actions. Such reforms would include not only private savings components to social security and medical savings accounts, but other long-overdue blockbusters:

§ School choice
§ A flat tax
§ Judicial nominees more interested in rendering the Constitution than appeasing the editorial board of The New York Times.

Principled internationalism

o The United Nations has become Disneyland for Despots. It took the Kofi Corps months to discern genocide in Darfur, and could require years to acknowledge the Oil-for-Food debacle. The latest violence in the Ivory Coast marks yet another failure for U-N “peace-keepers.”

While the striped-pants set recoiled in horror when W insisted that the U-N Security Council honor its own resolutions in Iraq, he was right: If a global organization dedicated to human rights cannot stand up for human rights, but can become a magnet for bribery and corruption, what good is it? George W. Bush has rediscovered the U-N’s organizing ideal: Liberal Democracy. It has become the ideological centerpiece of his foreign policy. But unlike Jimmy Carter, who picked out the same centerpiece, Bush is every bit as realistic as Kissinger and the neo-Metternichs. Hence, principled internationalism.

o The president not only is taking on bad guys; he also has tried (sometimes) to advance the cause of internationalism through support for free-trade. One hopes that the idiotic first-term embrace of steel quotas was a mere and temporary misstep.

Compassionate multiculturalism:

The good news is that race-baiting is dead. Younger Americans don’t give a rip about revisiting Selma. They have figured out something their parents refuse to admit: The Civil Rights Movement was a stirring success. If Republicans can stop patronizing black voters with cheesy appeals to welfare spending and other such idiocy, the GOP might develop real rainbow appeal. Immigrants understand the message; now is the time to start talking directly – no bad imitations of Jive Talk, if you please – to black voters of all income groups. The values/enterprise message works in every demographic hamlet in America except high-income Snob-urbs. So take the message to the streets!


 

Welcome!

Well, I guess the secret is out. I started blogging beneath the radar screen, but have been outed by none other than the Midland, Texas-based Jessica’s Well, which became one of my absolute fave websites after the boffo posting last year of John Dos Passos’ nihilistic (and silly) handwringing about bad post-war planning in WWII Germany. Welcome to the Snowblog one and all. And thanks for the photoshop monkey offer Consider it taken!

I've got to run out for lunch, but will return with more blogging later in the day.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

 

Out with the MSM, in with the HBM

The Has-Been Media

Forget the mainstream media. The label no longer works. There's a new mainstream in town, and you're reading a poor representative of it. The old order merits a new label: The Has Been Media.

The HBM once ruled supreme in the councils of American opinion, but it has been slipping of late -- and absolutely jumped the shark with the presidential campaign of 2004.

If you want proof, consider the reactions to George W. Bush's victory last Tuesday. Katie Couric wore black for two consecutive days. Dan Rather’s neurons and synapses exploded in a nuclear flash. Peter Jennings and George Stephanopoulos wondered aloud about the public’s concern with a thing called “moral values.” And these were the people who took George W. Bush’s victory graciously.

The former elites reacted with the chablis-and-brie equivalent of a primal scream. They jotted out their rantings, and published them. Consider a few of the most prominent losers. First, Paul Krugman:

“President Bush isn’t a conservative. He’s a radical – the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the barriers between church and state. And thanks to a heavy turnout by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has four more years to advance that radical agenda.”

Translation: Permit me to deconstruct. Begin with the phrase, "America as it is." He views our wondrous land not from street level, but from the lofty perch of the faculty lounge. Paul Krugman’s America is a place not of homes or schools or neighborhoods with trees and grassy lawns. You can find his authentic landscape indoors -- specifically, in Washington agencies that dispense checks to those who fill out the requisite forms.

To illustrate the utter cluelessness of his opening peroration, conduct the following thought experiment. Think back to the moments immediately after the September 11th attacks -- the instants when America seemed under assault, and each of us thought immediately of the people, places and things we treasured most. Now ask yourself: In those parlous moments, did you once worry about the records room at the Department of Health and Human Services? Did you torture yourself with concern about the integrity of the social security trust fund?

Of course not! Marbled buildings in Washington do not constitute “America as it is.” They symbolize the delusion that wise people in the nation’s capital solve our problems by formulating plans and creating agencies. As for me, my thoughts about the real America drift in other directions. Meanwhile, back in the lumpenproletarian America, most of us harbor more mundane concerns. I, for instance, think about sitting on the couch each evening with my wife, catching up on the day’s events. I ponder the best way to teach my son how to dribble with his left hand and get his homework done on time. I wonder why jazz is so hard to learn.

But I digress. Krugman closes by identifying the bogeyman: “evangelical Christians” -- fiends who take scripture seriously rather than as poetry to recite when you’re trying to wriggle out of trouble. Here’s the agenda Krugman considers radical – the belief that we all ought to chart our own destinies, without aid from or obeisance to, Uncle Sam. If that’s radical, count me in!

More sour grapes:

Then there's Tom Frank talking about the “conservative rebellion” in America:
“It is an uprising of the common people whose long-term economic effect has been to shower riches upon the already wealthy and degrade the lives of the very people who are rising up. It is a reaction against mass culture that refuses to call into question the basic institutions of corporate America that make mass culture what it is. It is a revolution that plans to overthrow the aristocrats by cutting their taxes.”
This sort of speaks for itself: Socialist cant, not even warmed over.

She has issues:

Yet nothing quite matches the bitter reveries of Jane Smiley, who has produced one of the most heartbreakingly angry pieces I have ever read. The gist is that everybody who disagrees with Jane is an ignoramus, and therefore a threat to the safety and well-being of all.

First comes this attack on her own blood relations: “(T)he good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine. But 58 million have not. (Well, my relatives are not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.)”

Then comes the insight that Republicans are butchers:

“Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand fight on the frontier called a ‘knock-down-drag-out,’ where any kind of gouging, biting or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of today’s red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on these fights…. The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America.”

And finally, a peroration on faith:

“Here’s how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you – if you don’t believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell…. Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent…. Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor…”
“The reason Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulation that were protecting those whom they considered their rightful prey – workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, and we see the outcome now – Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm.”


One feels compelled to give the poor woman a hug, or whisper a prayer in her behalf, since little else seems likely to quell the throbbing in her unhappy heart. One other note: Smiley’s anti-capitalist essay appears on Slate, a website underwritten by the most successful businessman of the last century, Bill Gates.




 
Here’s E.J. Dionne

“Let's be honest: We are aghast at the success of a campaign based on vicious personal attacks, the exploitation of strong religious feelings and an effort to create the appearance of strong leadership that would do Hollywood proud. We are alarmed that so many of our fellow citizens could look the other way and not hold Bush accountable for utter incompetence in Iraq and for untruths spoken in defense of the war. We are amazed that a majority was not concerned about heaping a huge debt burden on our children just to give large tax breaks to the rich.

“And we are disgusted that an effort consciously designed to divide the country did exactly that -- and won.”

Vicious personal attacks: This is the sound of an otherwise bright guy in deep and whiny denial. The “vicious personal attacks” on John Kerry involved skepticism about his Vietnam record and rage about his betrayal of veterans upon his return from combat. George W. Bush, in contrast, had to put up with Fahrenheit 911, the rantings of every known rock star and most Hollywood celebs, bogus stories about his National Guard record, “lost” munitions, human-rights abuses, etc. The only conclusions one can draw here are that E.J. hasn’t read his own side’s rantings.

Strong religious feelings: This has become the central gripe in the after-action kvetching. The president stands accused of whipping up religious fervor. So here’s a question: How? What did he say? Name one statement.

Fact is, John Kerry talked more often about “faith” on the stump than the president did. He’s the one who pelted us with altar-boy remembrances and confessions that he had grown beyond the boundaries of the Magisterium. Here’s the dirty little secret: The left long ago killed God and replaced Him with an assemblage of bureaucratic gnomes – clerks, check-cutters, and form dispensers who claim godlike powers to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, console those in mourning and – at least in John Edwards’ calculation – raise the dead and let quadriplegics leap to their feet and join the cast of Riverdance.

It all comes down to this: Conservatism is the doctrine that absolute truth exists. Our Creator endowed us with inalienable rights and more. We enter this vale of tears possessing senses of right and wrong, good and evil, freedom and obligation. Socialism and its watered-down progeny regard absolutism as a dangerous and silly thing. They also reject the notion that individuals bear principal responsibility for their actions -- preferring to reduce all to debris swept forward by the stream of history. By the same token, the left prefers to outsource good deeds to the state -- hence the weird phrase, "government compassion."

Leadership: As for the claim that George Bush “created the appearance of strong leadership:” Wrong. The president practiced strong leadership – and that was John Kerry’s chief complaint against him. The president stood up to a dissolute and corrupt United Nations, a dissolute and corrupt Europe and a dissolute and corrupt Arab world. Oh yes, he also took on the Taliban, bin Laden and Saddam. In failing the “global test,” he passed the test of leadership.


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