Friday, February 27, 2009

Conservative Panic

In the conservative movement, there is an unspoken feeling of panic. The main sign of it is that, with the last national elections, they haven't realized that there might be something else wrong other than they "haven't been conservative enough" (i.e. "libertarian enough"). All they seem interested in is smaller government because "the American people can do anything". But how can the American people do anything if they have leaders who are not willing to lead? The earth cries out for the Republicans to hear them, but apparently the Republicans' radios have broken down. They have offered very few measures (maybe they offered tax-cuts) and no new ones. How can a party survive if the only alternative to "more of the same" they see is in the opposition? The agenda of the latest CPAC conference should serve to confirm this theory, if you aren't ready to accept it yet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Al Franken has written that Rush Limbaugh is a idiot. When you consider the Limbaugh's following soliloquy (lifted from Allahpundit) you can safely say that Limbaugh is, at the very least, no WFB:

"So, where are we? We as conservatives are in the wilderness, and many of you are hopeless. So we have a guy, Bobby Jindal, 37 years old, first time on the national stage, shows up last night to make a response to The Messiah. All he did was articulate what we believe. All he did was articulate opposition to what Obama is doing, with the obligatory when he’s right, we’ll work with him, just like we worked with Clinton on NAFTA, just like we worked with Clinton on welfare reform after we brought him in. These things happen. It doesn’t mean that we lose our distrust. All Bobby Jindal did was tell us what conservatism is; he used his own life story to do it; he talked about the American people making the country work. He had it all. Now, he may not have done it in the same stylistic way as Obama. I can understand the Democrats trashing the man, just as they trashed Sarah Palin. They are mean-spirited, heartless, horrible winners. But the people on our side are really making a mistake if they go after Bobby Jindal on the basis of style.

Because if you think people on our side, I’m talking to you, those of you who think Jindal was horrible, in fact, I don’t want to hear from you ever again if you think that what Bobby Jindal said was bad or what he said was wrong or not said well, because, folks, style is not going to take our country back. Solid conservatism articulated in a way that’s inspiring and understanding is what’s going to take the country back. Bobby Jindal’s 37 years old. I’ve spoken to him numerous times. He’s brilliant. He’s the real deal. I’m not coming here to defend him, he doesn’t need that. We’re going to have to figure out what we want. Do we want to have somebody in our party who can sound as smart as Obama regardless what he says and convince people to vote for us, or do we believe in a set of principles that defined this country’s founding and will return it to greatness again?"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What a Horrible Year for Movies

To celebrate a very boring year for movies, Oscar night offered up a very boring and predictable list of winners (yes, yes, I am sure that Slumdog was a perfectly good movie; it's just that I could have said that it would win two months ago). Apparently Sean Penn got another Oscar for Milk, a movie that no one will probably remember in ten years. Kate Winslet won for The Reader a movie people will have forgotten in six months. And then there were a slew of other movies that won awards that I've already forgotten. Heath Ledger, I suppose, won an award for a great performance, but it is somewhat belittled by the fact that it probably would have gone unrecognized were he not dead. As someone said, I don't remember who, making the Best Supporting Actor award into something of a memorial is just a little tasteless. If I had a Jungle Cat Award, it would play out something like this:

Jungle Cat Award for Best Film: Gran Torino
Jungle Cat Award for Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Jungle Cat Award for Best Director: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight

I think that would have been much more inspired than that which was actually offered up, but, what can I say: I suppose that we'll have to wait for a whole new year.

No Pasarais

There has been a lot of talk by people of a more Democratic leaning recently about the possibility of finding common ground on social issues and, in particular, abortion. The Democratic national committee amended their platform, writing that they supported abortion more thoroughly than before, but were willing to consider supporting the freedom of women to choose alternatives. Since then, most of their discussion of abortion--which has, since the 1980s, been a embarrassment for the Democratic Party, though it is unlikely that it will ever again be outlawed--has focused on reducing the number of abortions through the implementation of social programs. They think that pro-lifers should join with them in the "common" cause. Pro-lifers shouldn't.

The entire notion is a stunt by the Democratic Party to have a cake and eat it also. They talk about finding "common ground," but seem perfectly content to be the ones to define which grounds are common and which grounds are off-limits. What they are actually doing is inviting pro-lifers to accept their own terms and lend easy support to programs which have the stated purpose of "reducing the number of abortions". There is not even any concrete evidence that indicates that abortions are reduced by an increase in social programs such as day-care.

The most fundamental problem with their reasoning is that they may want to reduce abortions, but they want to reduce abortions when starting from the maximum number. The notion that abortions decreased because of Bill Clinton's social policies is a myth; it was actually the restrictions of governors--from Bob Casey to Kirk Fordice--during the 1990s that reduced the number of abortions. (Incidentally, the number continued to decrease, largely due to the efforts of a GOP administration during the last eight years.) In their ideal society, the Democrats want the maximum number of abortions to be a possibility, if not the status quo. But when the status quo is not desireable for those who consider themselves pro-life, why should they consider making common ground where it is defined by those who wish to increase the death-toll?

Friday, February 20, 2009

On the Second Bill of Rights

Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union[1]:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

(The highlighted section should be written as "People who are hungry and out of job are what dictatorships are made from." The USSR and Nazi Germany ended up with people who were hungry and out of a job precisely because petty dictators promised them a society in which people would NOT be hungry and out of a job. It is Hobbesianism at its most extreme. Here's hoping that FDR's Second Bill of Rights is never implemented. We're lucky that it wasn't sixty-four years ago.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mainline Protestants? Do They Care about All Things Metaphysical?

Warren has some decisions to make, too. He would do well to apologize for comparing gays to pedophiles, and also for comments to Beliefnet deriding mainline Protestants for not caring much "about redemption, the cross, repentance."
- E. J. Dionne

I haven't decided how I feel about Rick Warren yet, but, from what I can tell, he appears to be a perfectly amiable and faithful Christian gentleman. It is the latter part of this sentence that is of most interest to me (". . . deriding mainline Protestants for not caring much 'about redemption, the cross, repentance'"). Before Reverend Warren apologizes, I think that Mr. Dionne would do well to point to produce a mainline Protestant who does care "about redemption, the cross, repentance"--or at least care more than Archbishop Schorri whose practical prescriptions for Christianity read like a U.N. Charter. (As a matter-of-fact, if Jody Bottum's article [] is at all accurate, her prescriptions may, in fact, be the U.N. Charter.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I have been reading many culturally (or is it agriculturally) conservative blogs recently expressing agrarian sentiments. While I enjoy working in the ground with my hands as much as the next man, I am no agrarian myself. My tepid view of agrarianism--I say tepid, because I actually think that the farm has some attractive attributes--springs partially from my own experience in farm-hand work, but also because I have a sneaking suspicion that there are very few voices of agrarian sentiment who are actually--or would actually be--farmers.

Today's primary voice of agrarianism, Wendell Berry, does own a farm, and he does appear to actually put a great deal of work into it and eat food which is yielded by the soil. That being said, he is also a teacher and a well-known writer; his father, who was also a farmer, was primarily a lawyer. In other words, the life that Berry has lived has always been immersed in agrarian values, but has never been dependent upon it. And Berry is an exception to mold; most agrarians--from Cleanth Brooks and Donald Davidson to Robert Penn Warren--were academics.

Agrarianism is nothing new (and, by that, I mean it wasn't something that was invented in the 20th century, nor was it created by Jeffersonian democracy when the United States came into being.) It is as old, in fact, as Thomas Wyatt's poem "To My Owne John Poins", if not older. (It is, arguably, even Virgilian.) But the one key factor of agrarianism among all of its propagators is the fact that it is unrealizable. Agrarianism is based on a desire for the past, not enjoyment of the present and, while this might give rise to some good writing, I don't see how, in the long run, it doesn't express the experience that people such as myself had while working in the ground.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Three Cheers for Liberalism!

A Georgetwon professor with whom I am acquainted recently published a blog article questioning the ethics of philosophical liberalism. His article, which is worth reading, can be found at this site: ( Here are my two cents in response to it, which I also posted on Culture11:

"At the heart of modern liberalism is an argument that human beings do not possess inherent dignity, but only the value that is accorded to them by the estimation of others."

Professor Deneen always has insightful posts, but, in this particular essay, I believe that his ideas are in need of some qualification. First, it seems erroneous to say that "an argument that human beings do not possess inherent dignity" is "[a]t the heart of modern liberalism" because, while there may be one liberal tradition in Western Civilization, the voices of that tradition are legion and not always in agreement. Prof. Deneen is right to place Hobbes in the liberal tradition, but Hobbes is not an unproblematic liberal, nor is he a mainstream representative of liberalism. Hobbes's liberalism is of a variety that would not have endorsed that great liberal event, the American Revolution, but would rather have endorsed the absolute rule of the English monarchy.

A more representative voice of liberalism is that of John Locke who based his concept of just government on the inherent and transcendent dignity (or at least value) of every individual; in his "Second Treatise of Civil Government" Locke wrote: ". . . no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions. For men being all the workmanship of one omnipresent and infinitely wise Maker--all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order, and about His business--they are His property, whose workmanship they are, mad to last during His, not one another's pleasure;" (396). It is Locke's "Treatise," not Hobbes's "Leviathan," which serves as the philosophical foundation of America's "Declaration of Independence" on the basis of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

This is not to say that "liberal" societies have not been contemptuous of human life in the past. The French and Russian Revolutions both had abstract liberty as their justification (and the guillotine and gulags as their result). But, again, it is necessary to make a distinction between the principled, systematic liberty of St. Paul, Locke, Burke, Tocqueville and Niebuhr and the abstract, libertarian liberty of Rousseau, Godwin, and Mill.

Furthermore, it should be noted that from a historical point of view societies of principled liberty have been the most respectful of human dignity. There are many societies today which consider themselves liberal, and many of these societies have legalized illiberal practices like abortion, but, while abortion is permitted, it has not been mandated in any of these societies. There have been, on the other hand, illiberal societies, such as Communist China, which have taken it upon themselves to regulate procreation. All of the 20th century's most destructive ideologies have shared a distaste for liberalism, whether they be communist, fascist, or national socialist. (In all fairness, some of the only regimes to take a stand against abortion in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Ceausesu's Romania and the Sandinistas' Nicaragua, have been illiberal regimes, but few conservatives would recommend either of these regimes as models for emulation.)

All of the above are extreme cases, but neither have older cultural or social orders which promoted communitarianism over individualism been much more respectful of human dignity: The Spartan state and the Roman family had no difficulty neglecting or killing children who were born with physical deformations or mental handicaps; neither, from an anthropological point of view, have tribal societies tended to deviate from this pattern.

Liberalism, far from being a modern heresy, is in fact a secular complement to the Judeo-Christian tradition and an outgrowth of its literature. While it did not sprout until the Enlightenment, its seed was planted from when God's people were led out of Egypt. This is not because Judeo-Christian literature propagates individualism--that ideology which underpins the liberal political philosophy--but rather because the literature assumed individualism. The scriptures--from the Exodus, through the writings of the prophets to the Gospels and the Acts--are prolific in the presentation of individuals representing divine will against an established secular order, something not found (or at least not praised) in the classical literature of the Greeks and the Romans. But, it should be noted, that none of these figures was required to advance divine purpose; they could have refused had they been willing to suffer eternal damnation rather than "set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a bride against her mother-in-law" (Matt 10:34), but the Gospel was for individuals, not communities and behind this rationalization lies the assumption that the individual's immortal soul is immeasurably more valuable than the community from which he came.

This is not to say that there are not possible abuses bound up in this assumption. Roe vs. Wade--which was both a failure of individualist and communitarian political philosophy--is a case in point. Liberalism is not utopian and does not always offer dogmatic or universal answers, but is probably the best system for governing human nature that has yet been developed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Democrats, Obama Appointees and their Tax Problems

The surprising thing about the Obama nominees who have run into trouble so far is that they are the nominees whom--like the devil--you would least expect. When I first saw Geithner, I thought that this was a guy who wouldn't have a worry in the world during his confirmation hearings. Instead it turned out that he had $35,000 that he had failed to pay to the IRS. When I saw Richardson for the first time--several years ago now--I thought, this is a guy whom I could see being the next president; instead, he dropped out of his candidacy for Secretary of Commerce (who even knew that such a post existed before he failed to get it) after it turned out that he was involved with some shady contracting. Then there was the case of Tom Daschle. No one--and I mean no one--would have guessed that someone who had, in a past life, qualified to serve as minority leader would have forgotten to pay $100,000--enough to buy five Detroit cars--to the federal government. If the Democratic Party pays its taxes as well as its leadership does (and this is the leadership that includes, by the way, Ways and Means chairman Charlie Rangel) then this country is in grave danger from a fiscal standpoint.