Monday, December 31, 2007

Wise Words from Peggy Noonan

"This is my 2008 slogan: Reasonable Person for President. "

With these words, Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan begins her final assessment of the candidates and of our national leadership needs before the January 3 Iowa caucuses and the rapid movement of political developments from one tightly scheduled primary to another following that ("Be Reasonable: As Iowa sizes up the candidates, so do I," Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2007).

Peggy is a strikingly reasonable person. When you read her, you feel as though you are in conversation with a friend, regardless of your party affiliation. And whether or not you agree with her, you always find her conversation enjoyable, challenging, and profitable. I think that is why I feel inclined to call her "Peggy," rather than Noonan.

From an aerial, bipartisan perspective, she speaks for reasonable voters everywhere: "
We just want a reasonable person. We would like a candidate who does not appear to be obviously insane. We'd like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it."

Among the Democrats, she respects Joe Biden and Chris Dodd for their many years of experience in the Senate dealing with serious national security concerns.

Mitt Romney gets her nod. "
Characterological cheerfulness, personal stability and a good brain would be handy to have around. He hasn't made himself wealthy by seeing the world through a romantic mist."

In Peggy's judgment, McCain is also sane. "
Mr. McCain is an experienced, personally heroic, seasoned, blunt-eyed, irascible American character. He makes me proud. He makes everyone proud."

"Mike Huckabee gets enough demerits to fall into my not-reasonable column."

Obama may possibly have the character it takes to lead the nation in times of national peril, but he is too young and inexperienced. Those are two separate considerations. "
Men in their 40s love drama too much. Young politicians on fire over this issue or that tend to see politics as a stage on which they can act out their greatness. And we don't need more theatrics, more comedies or tragedies."

Hillary? No. The next American president must be someone who, for reasons of character or of circumstance, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have not been: someone the nation can trust in times of crisis. Hillary Clinton is obviously not that such a person.

...[T]he next American president will very likely face another big bad thing, a terrible day, or days, and in that time it will be crucial--crucial--that our nation be led by a man or woman who can be, at least for the moment and at least in general, trusted. Mrs. Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctively distrusted, political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon. Would she be able to speak the nation through the trauma? I do not think so. And if I am right, that simple fact would do as much damage to America as the terrible thing itself.
Though she had some respectful words for HRC, John Edwards gets an unbroken drubbing. "John Edwards is not reasonable. All the Democrats would raise taxes as president, but Mr. Edwards's populism is the worst of both worlds, both intemperate and insincere." Yes, that sounds right.

Giuliani "
is reasonable but not desirable." She doesn't waste time explaining. Perhaps later.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

John McCain Re-visited

John McCain entered this presidential race as the Republican frontrunner. When he alienated conservative voters with his support for the Senate's bill to remedy the illegal alien mess, and as others entered the race, attention shifted.

People became excited about the prospect of a Fred Thompson candidacy. But Fred fell asleep and missed the bus.

We began reconsidering Rudy Giuliani. Lots of good conservatives like Bill Simon and Ted Olsen were supporting the guy. He's the sort of tough street fighter that we need against both al Qaeda and the Democrats, and his approach to Supreme Court nominations largely neutralized his position on abortion. But then the record of scandal from his governor days began to emerge, including the illegal use of state police for use during illicit romantic getaways. (Does that sound like another guy we would like to keep out of the East Wing of the White House?)

After Mike Huckabee did surprisingly well at the Iowa straw polls, we turned our attention to the funny Baptist minister turned Arkansas governor. But aside from his solidly conservative stance on moral issues, we found very little that was recognizably conservative, or even Republican. The sentimental religious Iowans will give him a resounding Amen! on January 3, but then he will fizzle.

Of course, the whole time there has been moneybags Mitt Romney maintaining good numbers, but little excitement. That's a bad sign. It means the party is dancing with you while looking over your shoulder, scoping out the other prospects in the room. We thought he might be "the One," as Oprah puts it. He was a great success in business, he saved the Winter Olympics and he demonstrated crossover appeal by getting himself elected in liberal Massachusetts. But then you hear him and you fall asleep. And there is also the truth issue. He's an avid hunter. Well, he shot a squirrel once. He fondly remembers seeing his father march with Martin Luther King Jr in Chicago. Well, actually he meant the whole thing metaphorically. He appears to have a history of Clintonian treatment of the truth, and one that is lengthening all the time. Allow me to shift the romance analogy just slightly. If you know a young lady who is courting a man who has a habit of lying to her from time to time, you would advise her not to marry him, right?

So now our eyes are returning to John McCain, the war hero who suffered torture with his comrades rather than enjoy liberty without them. He's tough on foreign policy. He supported the surge from before the start. He has a solid pro-life voting record. He speaks frankly. It was that candidness, as well as his iron resolve on security issues, that struck me in the YouTube debate ("Republican YouTube Debate").

A guy named Jesse Kurtz, who ordinarily writes on Atlantic City issues, provides a nice little background in "A Second Look at the Third John McCain." He sees Sen. McCain as a worthy successor to his father, John Sidney McCain Jr. (1911-1981), commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command during the Vietnam War, and his grandfather, Admiral John Sidney McCain (1884-1945), who led the Fast Carrier Task Force in World War II, and as a continuation of an aristocratic tradition that is essential to the success of our democracy. "America’s founders argued incessantly, but they agreed on one thing: preserving elements of aristocracy while incorporating vast public responsibility is tantamount to success in America’s future. Indeed, McCain is a member of that aristocracy they spoke of, while also taking responsibility for our bright future." He also provides two videos. One is the endorsement by Sen. Sam Brownback, and the other is a 12 minute McCain campaign video that gives the account of his courage in Vietnam, entitled "Courageous Service, Experienced Leadership, Bold Solutions."

Boiled down, Brownback said this. It comes across alot better on the video.

I'm here today to endorse the best pro-life candidate to beat Hillary Clinton, a man that I think is best prepared to be Commander-in-Chief during these difficult times and during this War on Terrorism, and I might say as well the person that had the right strategy a couple of years ago for how we would stablize Iraq...If you want a guy to change Washington, John McCain's the guy to do it. He has been in Washington, but he is not of Washington. He will appoint strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court. ...[F]or a breadth of causes, the Court is the key issue! And here is a pro-life leader who will appoint strict constructionist judges...He's the full package.

Read Fred Barnes, "McCain's Last Stand: He Still Has A Chance," (The Weekly Standard, December 24, 2007). He quotes Phil Gramm saying, "Deep in their hearts, Republican primary voters know John McCain is the only great man running for president." There is certainly the stuff of greatness in him. Primary voters are sniffing for tragic flaws, perhaps including whatever led him to sponsor the McCain-Feingold assault on first ammendment freedoms and to oppose re-authorizing the Bush tax cuts.
Here is the endorsement from the Des Moines Register.
Here is Robert Novak's sober account of McCain's own surge and chances for the nomination ("GOP's Last Man Standing").

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Principal New York Films

I have finally got around to assembling my list of the greatest films that feature New York City. This completes the project that began with "New York City Film Classics" and "Again, the Big Apple on the Big Screen." If you think I am missing a very important title, please let me know. I will either quickly correct the mistake before my shame on the point extends further across the globe (I don't say planet; it's so Gore lefty secular Saturday morning cartoons), or I will make a point of watching it before too long.

If you consult the lists in either the left or the right hand column, you will see these Principal New York Films:

King Kong (Fay Wray, 1933)
Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941)
Miracle on 34th Street (dir. George Seaton, 1947)
An Affair to Remember (Cary Grant, 1957)
On The Waterfront (Marlon Brando; dir. Elia Kazan, 1957)
West Side Story (Natalie Wood, 1961)
Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Mean Streets (Robert De Niro, dir. Martin Scorsese, 1973)
Serpico (Al Pacino, dir. Sidney Lumet, 1973)
Death Wish (Charles Bronson, 1974)
Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino, dir. Sidney Lumet, 1975)
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
Taxi Driver (Robert De Niro, dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Manhattan (dir. Woody Allen, 1979)
Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan, 1986)
Metropolitan (dir. Whit Stillman, 1990)
Newsies (Christian Bale, 1992)
A Bronx Tale (dir. Robert DeNiro, 1993)
Men In Black (Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, 1997)
Gangs of New York (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2002)

A friend in Toronto added this to one of my original posts:

For your consideration, three new films using NYC as a backdrop/nemesis/protagonist. Naked City (1948) was one of the first on-location movies to be filmed in New York. A good little film noir. Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, portrays New York in a very dark way (literally and figuratively). Curtis plays against type beautifully. On the Waterfront (1954) - well, what can you say about this classic? Shame, David, for not including it in your first round!

Certainly now that New York City is a lovely town full of polite people, we can expect that any films that take the city as their theme will be strictly historical in nature, like Newsies ('92), Bronx Tale ('93) and Gangs ('02). The citizen's gain is the moviegoer's loss.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I agree with Spurgeon in his view of Christmas.

At the opening of his 1871 Lord's Day morning sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the "Prince of Preachers," explained his Christmas sermon ("Joy Born at Bethlehem" - Luke 2:10-12) this way:

"We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour's birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. Fabricius gives a catalogue of 136 different learned opinions upon the matter; and various divines invent weighty arguments for advocating a date in every month in the year. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Saviour might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year. Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless since, the current of men's thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men's superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son."

Huckabee is Ahead...Among Democrats

Francis Bacon pointed out that it is less effective to tell your friend that a course of action is bad for him than it is to observe that his enemies will be pleased by his choice. In view of that, some have been drawing attention to how and why Mike Huckabee has been drawing good press from the Democrats.

Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal offered this interesting statistic:

Since the beginning of 2007, the Democratic National Committee has released 102 direct attacks on Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani has warranted 78; John McCain 68; Fred Thompson 21. Mike Huckabee? Four. The most recent of these landed back in March.

Democrats are supporting Mike Huckabee for two reasons. He's easy to beat and, should he win, he'll govern like a tolerably conservative Democrat. Let's take the second point first.

1. He has policies the Democrats like.
George Will, in his recent column, is blunt, but states the obvious:
Huckabee's radical candidacy broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America's corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity.

He calls it “a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs.” Huckabee’s response to challenges like this is to tell a joke or in some other way to deflect.

Mike Huckabee has attracted the favorable attention of the liberal National Education Association who are doing more to destroy the foundations of this country than any other organization, political or civil. In an unprecedented gesture, they have endorsed Gov. Huckabee for the Republican nomination.
In 2004, New Hampshire's chapter endorsed Howard Dean in the Democratic primary and no one in the Republican primary. Last week it endorsed Clinton in the Democratic primary -- and Huckabee in the Republican primary. It likes, as public employees generally do, his record of tax increases, and it applauds his opposition to school choice.
Do you think that ole Huck is celebrating that one on the primary campaign trail? His rivals should.

2. He is an opponent the Democrats love.
He has a record of corruption--Arkansas style--that rivals that of Hillary Clinton, and thus either neutralizes the issue in a contest against her or floors him in a match up against the relatively unstained Obama. In "Leap of Faith: Mike Huckabee and Little Rock Ethics," Strassel points out what has been widely reported:
In Arkansas, Mr. Huckabee was investigated by the state ethics committee at least 14 times. Most of the complaints centered on what appears to be a serial disregard for government rules about gifts and outside financial compensation.

There's a lot more where that came from. For example:
Most recent have been stories about his pardons and commutations, as well as the news that R.J. Reynolds contributed to Action America. Mr. Huckabee--who now wants a national smoking ban in public places--responded that he never knew he accepted tobacco money, which has inspired a former adviser to claim Mr. Huckabee is being "less than truthful." What's next?

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Should Governments Love Their Enemies?

I have a couple of outposts for this blog. One of them is WORLD on the Web where, from time to time, I contribute one of my Principalities and Powers posts. Stephen, a regular reader, questioned the logic and theology of what I said in criticism of Oprah's praise of Obama at the end of "Civil Religion on Steroids."

The paragraph in question is this:

She then adds that, “We need a president who cares about our friends and also cares about our enemies.” Does Senator Obama stand behind this statement? Does he propose that, when he is President, he will be above politics, above the America-world distinction, the friends-enemies distinction? Would he see himself as representing not just American interests, but in some way the worldwide common good? Does he understand that there are irreconcilable conflicts between national interests or between various local aspirations? He is so unseasoned, and he presents himself as being so idealistic, that I would take nothing for granted.

Stephen posed this question:
David, I’m not sure how you can negatively characterize a man who seeks to carry out the Biblical command to love one’s enemies while simultaneously demeaning his orthodoxy. But I suppose that, since you specifically — and quite rightly — limited it to evangelical orthodoxy, he would certainly be evangelically unorthodox if he carried that command into the sphere of politics. I fail, however, to see where a nation is exempted from loving their enemies and doing good to those that hurt them.

I responded with this, although I know that there is much more to say on the subject.

Stephen, a fair question. The Sermon on the Mount is moral counsel directed toward private individuals. It cannot be simply translated into public policy, whether foreign or domestic. For example, the command to turn the other cheek would certainly not invalidate the civil magistrate punishing muggers. The command to give to those who steal from you does not invalidate the civil magistrate punishing theft. So too, in foreign policy.

Romans 13 describes the civil magistrate as being a terror to evil doers. He bears the sword. He is given this ultimate power because it is the necessary means to protect the liberty of the people under his sovereign care in a violent and rapacious world.

What if one were to apply the “love your international neighbor” standard to the princes of the earth? Given that God raises up authorities for the care primarily of the people under their authority, they are not permitted to jeopardize the safety of their own people in the name of caring for other peoples. Secondly, the best way to love foreign enemies is to threaten them sufficiently that they do not harm your people–thus keeping peace in the international neighborhood–and to retaliate forcefully and effectively when they do in fact harm your people so that they will (a) stop what they are doing, (b) never think of doing it again, and (c) serve as an example to anyone contemplating similar evil.

Briefly, the alternative can be summarized in two words: “Jimmy” and “Carter,” or with the phrase, “Do good so that evil may result.”

There is much more to say on the subject. That would be POL451 Christianity and Politics.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Manliness and Luggage

At times I rebuke myself that I am so grumpy.

For example, when I nearly trip over someone's wheeled luggage as I maneuver through the crowds at New York's Penn Station. These one-car luggage trains roll through the concourse with their dark loads discreetly trailing down at ankle level, unobserved until you nearly fall over them. "David," I say, "his bag is heavy. He's entitled to his luggage, isn't he?"

But my conscience is clear and I'm back to grumpy on this. Seth Stevenson in today's New York Times has written an essay that brings the consideration of this issue out from under people's breath into public discussion, and zeros in on the central moral issues ("Hell on Wheels"). And it's also funny.

I consider it especially unmanly for a healthy gent to be dragging what is clearly hand luggage behind him on wheels. I want to say, "Don't be a girl. Carry that thing!" Luggage manufacturers first started putting wheels on their bags for little old ladies who were travelling without their little old men. They tend to outlive their husbands and travel to see grandchildren. Wheels help. Then, as women began travelling alone as result of the more public lives they were leading, they began using these wheeled suitcases as well, and even rolling hand luggage. Then the men said, "Why not me?" On goes the creeping effeminization of the modern man.

But then I had to lug a carry on sized bag to a conference. I have a ten minute walk from my house to the commuter train station. I hadn't gone but two blocks before I extended that handle and started rolling it. I felt like an old woman and the proper object of all virile contempt. But what was I to do?

Stevenson answers the question. Because these bags are made to be pulled on wheels, even "load-bearing wheels," they are also made to be overstuffed and thus unportable--by weight as well as proportion--except by a larger than average stevedore.

Whether you are a man or a woman or simply not sure, and whatever your age, we all need wiser luggage and a thoughtful eye to the people stumbling behind us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee's Foreign Policy: Change the Subject

Here I am, going on about Mike Huckabee again. Well, the Iowa caucuses are just over the Christmas horizon and this guy is almost as threatening to out national well-being as Barak Obama is or as Jimmy Carter was.

Would the party of Ronald Reagan actually nominate a man who, prior to announcing his candidacy for the nomination, appears never to have given a thought to foreign affairs at all? And this while our soldiers are in the field against a lethal enemy.

At this point he does not even have a foreign policy adviser. If he does, it is a well kept secret.

He recently published an essay in Foreign Affairs to clear up this rumor that he thinks the world is flat and that it does not extend beyond North America. (Is he aware of Canada? He has made mention of Mexico, and of course he wants to close Gitmo so the Europeans will like us, but can he find Europe on a map?) Matthew Continetti at the Weekly Standard provides links to various assessments of that essay. It's embarrassing.

One of those responses comes from Stephen Hayes ("The Perils of Huckaplomacy") who also provides quotes from the affable but inept former Arkansas governor in response to questions from CNN's Wolf Blitzer at a candidates' debate on June 5. He was asked directly about the al-Maliki government and about Darfur. His answers are frightening only because so many people are taking this guy seriously as a presidential candidate.

I think there's some real doubt about that, Wolf. But I want to remind all of us on this stage and the people in the audience that there's a reason that this is such a struggle. And I think we miss it over here in the West. Today's the birthday of Ronald Reagan. We all would believe that Ronald Reagan is the one who ended the Cold War, and Ronald Reagan is the one who helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there's a group of people who don't believe that, and that's the Taliban. They believe they brought about the demise of the Soviet Union because of the way they fought in Afghanistan. And what I want to just mention is that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.

What? Nothing there about the government in Iraq and what to do about it. And is he comparing himself to the Taliban in their fight as the mujaheddin against the Soviets?

On Darfur, he immediately redirected the conversation toward what appears to be a proposed War on Poverty:
I think we have some role to play in it, but I guess what disturbs me even more, we have not even addressed the genocide that's going on and the infanticide in our own country with the slaughter of millions of unborn children. And we also have extraordinary poverty in this country. Yes, we ought to be involved. But you know something? There are a lot of people in America that don't think the only poverty is in Darfur--understand, there's poverty in the Delta. There are people who don't have running water, people that don't have access to medical care and don't have a decent school to go to and you don't have to go halfway around the world to find it. We've got it right here in this country.

Was one Johnson era not enough? Huckabee's foreign policy seems to be: get elected, then hope the subject doesn't come up.

Kyle-Ann Shiver at American Thinker gives the best summary of how sensible people should view Mike Huckabee as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
We are up to our necks in a war for our own survival, and I will not put my vote in the hands of a man who learned his methods for foreign policy in vacation Bible school. We need a fierce, street-fighting Commander in Chief without a single gullible bone in his body.

John McCain is looking better all the time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Assessing Huckabee's Fair Tax

As the Iowa caucuses move closer and Mike Huckabee rises in the polls, discussion intensifies over his Fair Tax proposal. Here is some of it.

In today's New York Sun, Amity Schlaes calls it a Scare Tax. She shows how the 23% rate is actually 30% on each purchase, whether a DVD or a house. With that sort of surcharge, she foresees a black market developing. Though the idea includes canning the IRS, we can expect some other form of tax police to enforce the Fair Tax. Go to, "Scare Tax, Not Fair Tax," December 17, 2007.

Rich Lowry is also critical. In "Huck's Draft Tax Plan: A Silly Political Ploy" (NRO December 4, 2007), like Amity Schlaes he does not think that the sixteenth amendment will be repealed. The tax plan is premised on that. Otherwise, instead of a national sales tax replacing the income tax, it would be simply added on top of it. Lowry cites the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimating the tax being as high as 57%. He responded to Ken Hoagland of with this.

FYI, the sixteenth amendment to the constitution (ratified 1913) reads like this: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."

Bruce Bartlett, in "Dianetics, The Tax Plan" (The New Republic, December 13, 2007) focuses on the connection between the Fair Tax backers and the Church of Scientology, a religion invented by science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. He also has an assessment in the Wall Street Journal, "Fair Tax, Flawed Tax" (August 26, 2007), with only a passing reference to Scientology.

The editors at the National Review also give it the thumbs down. "Republicans cannot win a national election without the tax issue. If they ran on the national sales tax, Republicans would be taking one of their natural strengths and making it into a liability." ("Fair Tax, Foul Politics," NRO August 16, 2007)

David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Instititute and of the Suffolk University economics department backs the Fair Tax , but I found his brief defense in the New York Sun ("On Taxes, Huckabee Leads") to be without much substance. (You get one chance, buddy.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Utterly Groundless Stereotypes

I'm up to my throat in grading, so here's a joke. I don't know where I got it. I am assured that it's funny. (Actually, I adapted "Capitalism," and wrote "Socialism," "American," "American Entrepreneur" and "Peasant.")

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
You vote people into office that put a tax on your cows, forcing you to sell one to raise money to pay the tax. The people you voted for then take the tax money, buy a cow and give it to your neighbor.
You feel righteous.
There are still only two cows.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.

You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.
Beef prices go down.
Everyone's eating steak.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
Cows are nationalized as a social asset. They are the People's cows.
Everyone milks them. No one feeds them.
The cows die.
No more cows.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You economize on your spending, take a second job, and save for a bull of your own.
You and your neighbor form the American Cattleman's Association.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You get out of cattle and into vinyl fencing.

You have a cow.
Your neighbor has a cow.
Your neighbor manages to buy a bull and begins to prosper.
You shoot your neighbor's bull.

You have two cows.
The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, and then pours the milk down the drain.

You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains. Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 12 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.
You produce your 10th, 5-year plan in the last 3 months.
The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Glory and Empire of Christ

I have recently published a short article, "The Glory and Empire of Christ," in New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

It starts this way. Follow the link to read the whole thing.

The sixteenth-century political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli turned the world upside down when he introduced the notion that man, through an astute understanding of his world, could rise above the vicissitudes of life and actually overcome fortune.

In chapter 25 of The Prince, the infamous author states that though people had previously thought that fortune and God govern the affairs of men, it is rather that fortune governs half and men the other half. (Machiavelli was no Calvinist.) In saying this, he implicitly identifies God with mere fortune. As his argument continues, he reduces the role of fortune to those circumstances in which men have not taken prudent measures to resist her. When "wise" princes heed this advice, they secure their power and glory. Machiavelli was not the first to think like this, but he was the first to state these principles openly and shamelessly with a view to making them respectable.

In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar is one such prince who is ambitious to expand his empire. He delights in the vastness of his dominion and in the glory of his accomplishments: "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). As the cultural descendants of Machiavelli and the spiritual descendants of Adam, we have similar ambitions. They may be petty from a political standpoint, but they are spiritually no less a rebellion against the kingdom and glory of Christ than Nebuchadnezzar's boast. ...

My family is very happy in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In an age of spiritual fluff and entertainment, they take the Bible seriously -- not just in general, in the abstract or in isolated passages, but as a whole and theologically. They take the Biblical gospel seriously. They take Biblical worship seriously. At my congregation on Long Island, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, that bears fruit in joyful and caring fellowship as well.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). Later in the sermon, he added, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). Men may lie. Men may fail. But God never breaks his word.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obama Offers Civil Religion on Steroids

In this election cycle, religion is showing up in novel and surprising ways. We have seen religion playing a prominent role since Evangelicals broke their isolation in the late 1970s. Since then, we have seen the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Preacher Pat for President and, on the Democratic side, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton. In the campaign for 2008, we have a Baptist minister advertising his “Christian leadership” as he surges ahead in Iowa, and even Hillary Clinton (amazing grace!) has found religion.

Barack Obama is employing religion in an especially interesting way. Rather than invoking the Savior or pointing to Him, the junior Senator from Illinois is claiming to be the Savior…or at least supporters who are intimately close to him are doing so.

It seems that Obama may be transforming from a man of faith into an object of faith. In his column today, “Obama the Messianic” (The New York Post is more aptly titled “Oprah the Apostle”), Rich Lowry observes Oprah’s anointing of Sen. Obama as what she called “the one” who was to come. You can view the video here or at

In a her long introduction to the candidate before a packed South Carolina stadium, Oprah Winfrey said, "We need politicians who know how to tell the truth. But more important, we need politicians who know how to be the truth." (The emphasis was hers.) Barack Obama, a professing Christian (though his Evangelical orthodoxy is at least open to question, such that even David Brooks can see it), is surely familiar with Jesus' messianic claim to divinity, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Michelle Obama seems to be following this Messianic theme (I have not been able to locate the source): "We need a leader who is going to touch our souls, who's going to make us feel differently about one another." Of course, Jesus does that. It's called spiritual regeneration -- being born again. To Michelle, Obama is the Life. To Oprah, he is the Truth.

What does the prophet Barack say? In a South Carolina church a few weeks ago, he said that, through the new politics that he will bring, we will "create a kingdom right here on earth." Did the congregation gasp as they should have? I doubt it.

The American Revolution was, as Martin Diamond put it, one of "sober expectations." It recognized the sinful depravity of man and designed a constitution that could bring out the best in us and manage the worst in us. It was the French Revolution that promised "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité," a Republic of Virtue. Obama's rhetoric, and that which he is condoning, places him in the radical French tradition which led of course to the Terror and to Napoleon's tyranny. Excessive expectations for what is possible to achieve through politics always do. Hillary Clinton is more practically political, less inspiring, and even more selfish, and in those respects -- believe it or not -- she is a safer candidate.

A previous reflection on the longings of the soul and immoderate politics, "Community and the Longing Soul," is relevant here.


Oprah then suggests that Obama is perhaps not a god or a person within the Godhead, but rather a more highly evolved form of our species. "We are here to evolve to a higher plane. And the reason I love Barack Obama is because [sic.] he is an evolved leader who can bring evolved leadership to this country."

In the immediately preceding statement, Oprah claimed that Obama would not only love our country, but also love our enemies. "All human hearts are the same. Every mother losing her son in every country feels the same." This simply repeats the peacenik arguments from the 1980s that, because "the Russians love their children too," there is actually no threat of war coming from the Soviet Union. They skipped over the fact that even that argument depended upon maintaining credible nuclear and conventional threats. Oprah's own argument does not, of course, account for the women who have supported their children in their suicide bombings. Nor does it account for the little influence that tender hearted women have in our enemy nations. But not to dwell too long on an entertainer's silly remark.

She then adds that, "We need a president who cares about our friends and also cares about our enemies." Does Senator Obama stand behind this statement? Does he propose that, when he is President, he will be above politics, above the America-world distinction, the friends-enemies distinction? Would he see himself as representing not just American interests, but in some way the worldwide common good? Does he understand that there are irreconcilable conflicts between national interests or between various local aspirations? He is so unseasoned, and he presents himself as being so idealistic, that I would take nothing for granted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cruelty for Allah in Afghanistan & England

In a war like the present war, it is easy to forget the nature and evil of the enemy we are confronting. If you know of anyone who says that we should withdraw no only from Iraq, but even from Afghanistan, remind your friend of the safe haven that the Taliban gave to al-Qaeda. Then tell your friend about this. Tapscott's Copy Desk reports it from Jihad Watch which in turn gets it from the Telegraph in London. That's how I came by it.

The Taliban accused a 12 year old boy of spying for the British (telling them about roadside bombs--can you imagine the treachery in one so young?), hauled him off to a nearby garden and hanged him from a mulberry tree. No trial. Those are unnecessary when you're right.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, is apparently horrified. Haji Mohammed Anwar Khan, the head of Helmand provincial council, considers this wholly repugnant to Islamic standards of behavior. "If someone is a child their mind is not considered sufficiently mature to be held responsible under Sharia law. This is just a crime and we condemn it."

It is nonetheless well within respectable standards of Islamic behavior murder your own daughter for converting to Christianity, as this Imam is attempting to do, the London Times Online reports. Notice that this is not those crazy Talibs. This is commonly accepted practice in Islamic countries. Oh...except this Muslim religious leader lives and "ministers" in the north of England.

But I take comfort in the diversity he brings to that land.

On a happy note...In the People's Republic of China, one Bible is being produced every second. And it's all above board. This also comes from the Times Online.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lay Aside Politics. Let's Celebrate Tea!

In 1995, someone wrote a letter to Upton Tea Imports, saying: "Only a pervert is capable of drinking the revolting liquid which is obtained by steeping little bags of toilet paper in hot water." Of course, Upton Tea Imports--a merchant of the highest distinction--sells only loose tea. Thankfully, I am not so burdened with this enthusiast's refined tastes, but I respect his appreciation for a good cuppie o' tea (as they say in my ancestral land). In honor of that best of brews in all its variety, I share Robert Service's ought-to-be-classic poem from Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (1916), "A Cup of Tea." (The context is the trenches of World War I.)

You make it in your mess-tin by the brazier's rosy gleam;

You watch it cloud, then settle amber clear;

You lift it with your bay'nit, & you sniff the fragrant steam,

The very breath of it is ripe with cheer.

You're awful cold and dirty, and a-cursing of your lot;

You scoff the blushin' 'alf of it, so rich and ripping hot;

It bucks you up like anythink, just seems to touch the spot:

God bless the man that first discovered Tea.

Since I came out to fight in France (which ain't the other day),
I think I've drunk enough to float a barge;

All kinds of fancy foreign dope, from caffy and doo lay,

To rum they serves you out before a charge;

In back rooms of estaminays I've gurgled pints of cham;

I've swilled down mugs of cider till I've felt a bloomin' dam;

But s'truth! they all ain't in it with the vintage of Assam;

God bless the man that first invented Tea.

I think them lazy lumps o' gods wot kips on asphodel

Swigs nectar that's a flavour of Oolong;

I only wish them son's o' guns a grillin' down in 'ell

Could have their daily ration of Suchong.

Hurrah! I'm off the battle, which is 'ell and 'eaven too;

And if I don't give some poor bloke a sexton's job to do,

To-night by Fritz's campfire won't I 'ave a gorgeous brew,

(For fightin' mustn't interfere with Tea).

To-night we'll all be telling of the Boches that we slew,

As we drink the giddy victory in Tea.

Try How to Brew a Great Cuppa.
Interesting tea website: where you can find a sketch of Pushkin at tea.

Perhaps another time, I will post on Service's "The Haggis of Private McPhee." Ah, the golden cadence of poesy!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Tragedy of Christian Compassion

"wise as serpents" - Matthew 10:16

Mike Huckabee is offering himself as a superior candidate for the office of President. He is doing this partly, and perhaps mostly, on the basis of his Christian faith and Christian character. His decisions, unlike those of his competitors, will be guided by compassion, as they were when he was the governor of Arkansas.

Of course, there is much to say for compassion. Before he wrote his book on compassionate conservatism, Marvin Olasky wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion on the way well-intentioned, but ill-informed and thus misdirected compassion has brought us into the spiraling dependency of our present inefficient and ineffective entitlement mess. Compassion is not a sufficient moral guide. It is a passion, a feeling. As such, it needs to be tutored, informed and wisely directed.

Gov. Huckabee appears to have heapin' helpin's of compassion, but is somewhat deficient in wisdom. Consider the following.

  • Under pressure from then governor Huckabee, the Arkansas parole board released rapist Wayne Dumond from prison on condition that he leave the state. Shortly thereafter he raped and killed a Missouri woman. Read about it here (Arkansas Times) and here (National Review). Dumond's vigilante castration just after his arrest in 1985 as well as his Christian profession of faith appears to have influenced the governor's heart.

  • As governor of Arkansas, he supported extending state taxpayer-funded college scholarships and in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal aliens, i.e. students graduating from Arkansas high schools who are in the country illegally. His rationale for this is that we should not "penalize the children for the crime of the parents." But there is only so much money available for state college education, and every dollar that goes to an illegal alien, regardless of how well he or she performed in high school, is a dollar that is denied to a legal resident. That compassion is idiosyncratic, not intelligent, and thus not godly for Christian leader.
The more we get to know this man, the more examples of “the tragedy of Christian compassion”* come to light.

President Jimmy Carter was a man with a good heart who believed that good intentions were sufficient for good public policy. Niccolo Machiavelli was not a Christian, nor particularly compassionate, but he offers a wise critique of blindly sentimental Christian ethics.

A prince, therefore, so as to keep his subjects united and faithful, should not care about the infamy of cruelty, because with very few examples he will be more merciful than those who for the sake of too much mercy allow disorders to continue, from which come killings or robberies… (The Prince, chapter 17; Mansfield translation).

Of course, Machiavelli advocated making these judgments with no regard to justice apart from the appearance of it. But Christian statesmanship requires more than just a good heart. It requires a good mind: a good understanding of justice and righteousness, and a prudent judgment as to how to bring as much good as possible out of generally bad situations.

Candidate Huckabee would perhaps make a good pastor. But he lacks characteristics that are essential for wise and effective political leadership.
*I am indebted to my colleague, David Tubbs, for coining this phrase. Of course, he was playing on the title of Dr. Olasky's influential book.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Governor, You're No Ronald Reagan

Mike Huckabee was on the Don Imus show yesterday. Not exactly in the spotlight, because it's radio. But when you are speaking on the radio, your words themselves come under special scrutiny because there is nothing to distract from them. Power Line has an excellent analysis of the whole sorry affair.

Pastor Mike made the mistake of comparing himself to Ronald Reagan. He did this because Imus compared him to Sen. John McCain, the candidate with the most foreign policy experience, and asked why we should take seriously the candidacy of a governor with little or no experience at a time when international dangers are a prominent national concern.

Because it's radio, you have to picture the foot approaching the mouth:

Neither did Ronald Reagan [have much foreign policy experience]. Ronald Reagan came as a governor, he had been an actor. But ten years after he was sworn into office, there wasn’t a cold war, the Berlin wall was down, and there wasn’t a Soviet Union.

He says this as though Republicans do not remember the map of Reagan's life and how in detail he accomplished great victories for economic and political liberty. Huckabee suppresses (or forgets -- how can you forget?) the fact that after leaving the stage, Reagan thought deeply about the nature of communism and about how most effectively to deal with the Soviet threat to our national security. But Republicans who will decide the nomination will have noticed this omission, and will surely consider in light of that what is lacking in a Huckabee candidacy.

Huckabee then went on offer the foreign policy experience that any governor brings to the White House: "trade missions," "cultural exchanges," dealings with multinational corprorations when courting business, and the extensive "travel" that the job involves these days. Talk about damning with faint praise. The very fact that he would offer these as qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief in an age of terror and nuclear proliferation to rogue states is sufficient evidence of his disqualification for the office of President.

This can only help John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in the long run (as neither one is even attempting to do well in Iowa).

Power Line then goes on the compare Huckabee more convincingly to Jimmy Carter on the basis of his naively and dangerously moralistic approach to governing in both domestic and international affairs. You must read this. As Gov. Huckabee climbs in the polls, especially in Iowa, we are finding it increasingly reasonable to ask whether Hillary Clinton or Michael Huckabee would conduct a more prudent foreign policy. That's disturbing.

It seems that Huckabee and Obama, in practice, could be indistinguishable in their foreign policies: essentially a revival of Carter's moral crusade without any regard for prudence. Today's Power Line tells us that on an October 2006 Imus show, Huckabee endorced the James Baker Iraq plan, viz. draw down the troop levels and ask Iran for help. Bad call! You're gone!

For my own comparison of Mike Huckabee to Jimmy Carter and (as if that were not bad enough) Bill Clinton, go to "Fred, Huck and Rudy Part II."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Huck Flips Romney. Let's Not Flip for Huckabee.

Today we learned that as the Iowa Caucuses draw near, Gov. Mike Huckabee has flipped Mitt Romney in the polls, pulling ahead with 29% support over Gov. Romney's 24%.

But George Will remains uncharmed. Here are a couple of selections from today's column:

Mike Huckabee's candidacy rests on serial non sequiturs: I am a Christian, therefore I am a conservative, therefore whatever I have done or propose to do with "compassionate," meaning enlarged, government is conservatism. And by the way, anything I denote as a "moral" issue is beyond debate other than by the uncaring forces of greed. ...
Huckabee combines pure moralism with incoherent populism: He wants Washington to impose a nationwide ban on smoking in public, show more solicitude for Americans of modest means and impose more protectionism, thereby raising the cost of living for Americans of modest means.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church in the first century, "consider your calling, bothers: not many of you were wise by worldly standards...but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise..." (I Cor. 1:26f.). Mike Huckabee seems to fall into that category. He could be a lot worse, but it is increasingly clear that he would need to be a lot better in order to be seriously considered for the Republican nomination. Folks, we have enough well-meaning blunderers associated in the public mind with our religion. Let's not add this one.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Marks of True Prayer

I have been a reader of The Banner of Truth magazine off and on for the last twenty-plus years, and with rich profit for my soul. The magazine is remarkable for its warm and lively orthodoxy.

In the previous month's issue, we had fine articles such as "Aspiring to Live a Quiet and Peaceable Life" by Tom Lyons, and "Conscience: A Voice of God" by Peter Barnes. This month, Joel Beeke of the Netherlands Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids offers an instructive thirty-three "Marks of a True Believer." Here are a few.

#1 True prayer brings heaven down into the soul and lifts the soul up to heaven.

#9 True prayer is the believer's greatest weapon in the armoury of God. The Puritan Thomas Lye confessed: "I had rather stand against the cannons of the wicked than against the prayers of the righteous."

#11 True prayer has more to do with God than man. It is wrapped up in holy concern for the glory and kingdom of God.

#12 true prayer longs for revival. Its expectation is only in the Lord. When Adoniram Judson had laboured for 8 years without one apparent convert his Mission Board sincerely asked him if he had any expectation left. An affirmative answer prompted the question: "But how great is your expectation?" Judson responded: "As great as the promises of God."

#13 True prayer does not focus upon itself or the petitioner. It does not turn inward for morbid introspection, but turns inward to bring all the sinner's deadness and depravity outward and upward toward the Almighty God of grace.

Also consider these titles published by The Banner of Truth Trust:

The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) - From the Foreword, by Sinclair Ferguson: “It is full of rich spiritual wisdom and insight culled from the experience of a man who knew both the sorrows of life and the joys of faith in great abundance…. I pray that many readers will find here the help, comfort, wise counsel, and spiritual compass that we and our friends have so often discovered in meditating on these pages.”

The Life of John Newton by Josiah Bull - "This is no arid record of the past. Besides being a worthy memorial to the life and work of John Newton, this biography will also encourage those who love the gospel to consecrate themselves to the Master’s service as Newton did."

David: Man of Prayer, Man of War by Walter Chantry - "Only the supreme providence of God and the unfathomable depths of divine grace could have conceived and forged the life of David. God made the son of Jesse into the emblem of the kingly office which only Christ would fulfill more gloriously. He embodied all the qualities of manly nobility and charm. Everyone in his day loved David, except the most ugly and despicable figures. No matter how high David rose above other men, his spirit was childlike toward the Lord. He who was equally at home holding the shepherd’s staff, the warrior’s sword, the poet’s harp, and the ruler’s sceptre, was completely transparent in the humbling of himself before the God of all the earth. This ease and simplicity in worship draws out our deepest emotions as we read the life of David, King of Israel. We love this man for showing us how to pray from every point of life’s compass. We love him for showing us how, in the midst of spiritual failure, we too can draw near to the Lord again in trust and devotion. Perfectionists will not be comfortable with David. Those who stumble often, but who always turn with melted hearts to God for pardon and help, will find in him a brother for all situations. Such people will love the sacred history of his life and find it totally engrossing."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Campaign Finance and Spending Reform

How easily people are taken in by populist appeals that are used to justify government regulation of political speech. It is common to find the following line of argument in an undergraduate research paper. The Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) reports:

Ninety-four percent of the candidates who raised the most hard money won their 2002 general elections. In primary elections, the candidate who raised the most money won 90 percent of the time.
These figures show an almost perfect correlation between money spent and electoral success. PIRG continues to blow the trumpet for drowsy patriots:
The primary problem with money in politics is that large hard money contributions—which only a small fraction of the public can afford to make—unduly influence who is able to run for office and who wins elections in the United States. Without personal wealth, or the ability to raise large sums of money from wealthy contributors, many aspiring candidates are locked out of the process. Those voters who wish to support views that are rejected by wealthy donors are left without an outlet.
They provide 2002 figures from Federal Elections Commission (FEC) campaign finance data:
U.S. elections are predominantly funded by a small number of large contributors. Just 0.22 percent of the U.S. voting age population contributed at least $200 to a 2002 congressional candidate; this narrow donor pool was responsible for 76 percent of all individual candidate contributions. Only 0.09 percent of the population made contributions of at least $1,000 and accounted for 55.5 percent of individual contributions to 2002 congressional candidates.
It is worth noting that 2002 was an off-year election, i.e. there was no presidential contest to draw people to the polls, so turnout might have been at most 40% of registered voters. Notice also that PIRG provides percentages NOT of registered voters, but of voting age population. That presumably includes people who have not registered to vote, non-citizens, convicted criminals, the insane etc. I suspect also that all those clicking Internet small donors have shifted the figures considerably since 2002, but PIRG is characteristically silent on that. Nonetheless, those ancient 2002 figures aren't all that shocking. Given how hard it is to get people actually to vote, it should not surprise us that the percentage of people who contribute money to a political campaign is a relatively small segment of voters.

But it does not follow that elected officials therefore kowtow to that 1%. To get or keep power, they must still solicit the votes of 50% of the voters plus one. To be re-elected, they must please that same majority. If giving lots of money meant that you could control the outcome of an election, George Soros would have bought the 2004 election for Democrat John Kerry. But thankfully substance, i.e. what candidates say with their money, still matters in American politics.

More evidence that political office is sold to the highest bidder. According to, Hillary Clinton has raised over $90 million for her campaign, and spent half of it already. 88% of that has been from individual contributors, or $80 million. Once again, the leading candidate is the one with the most money. Is she in the lead because she is the most promising candidate, or because she has the wealthiest backers?

First, according to the same source, Barak Obama, though he has raised $10 million less Sen. Clinton has, has spent 4 million dollars more, but he is nonetheless 10-20 points down in the polls. But that aside, it seems to escape many people who encounter these arguments that perhaps greater fund raising ability is related to greater popular support in the first place. Can Senator Clinton's front runner status be reduced simply to her bigger bank account, or might there be other factors? If Mike Gravel (he's a candidate) had $90 million, would he be polling far out in first place? No! He would still be trailing because substantively he is not a good candidate. No matter how well and how often he were to get his face and message out before the public eye, the American people would find him unattractive for reasons entirely unrelated to his "war chest" and what he can buy with it. In other words, there is a reason that Hillary Clinton attracts money!

What about campaign spending limits? Buckley v. Valeo (1976) settled that question, overturning a law which attempted to set such limits, but people still find the notion attractive. In the interest of democracy and of removing the unfair advantage that wealth and wealthy backers gives to some candidates over other, let's level the playing field by setting a cap on how much any candidate can spend in campaigning. We could even adjust it for inflation and for the size of a given electorate. But what if I want to run for the U.S. Senate and I only have $1000 in my savings account? Why should others have an advantage over me just because they have more money? Democracy is about speech and equality, not about money. This is a democracy, not a plutocracy! So the spending cap should be $1000. But what about my neighbor who has only $100 and wants to run? You see the absurdity. If I were a credible candidate, people with whom I had credibility would be thrusting me forward with donations. Hence, the dynamic relationship between the support of the people and the financial means to address them for their support.

Of course, the equal right to speak, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, does not guarantee an equal right to the means of speech. Our republic is not only one of equality, but one of freedom. Indeed, the equality is understood in terms of freedom. "All men are created equal." We are equal in our humanity, in our essence. "And we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights." These are liberties, i.e. various aspects of the security in which to exercise our various (unequal) faculties, as well as to reap and enjoy the fruit of that exercise. Thus, though Rupert Murdoch has greater means to speak that I do, he does not have a greater right to speak. Government control of those means would be tyranny. To limit wealthy political candidates such as Mitt Romney, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Forbes or Ross Perot as to how much they could spend in addressing the nation would leave them politically "tongue-tied." But that freedom of the tongue, and by implication any means it can muster in its support, is precisely what the first amendment protects.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Republican YouTube Debate

In an earlier post, "Will the Republicans YouTube?," I predicted that, "Because this format lends itself too easily to politically awkward situations, and because it draws attention away from the candidates to the clever or shocking videos themselves, I do not expect that the Republicans will follow up with their own version of it." It seems, however, that either CNN learned a lesson from the absurdity of the first YouTube debate among the Democrats, or the Republicans successfully negotiated everything bizarre and disrespectful out of it before consenting.

I found the debate itself revealed a lot about the candidates. The minor candidates were self-consciously minor, except for Ron Paul who seems genuinely unaware that he is minor.

If the winner of this sort of event in the one who came across most consistently and convincingly as a president for our times, then John McCain was the clear winner. Since 2000, I have not trusted him, but last night he commanded my respect. On every question, he was tough, honest and seasoned with experience. Straight talk is what he gave us, and there was no sense at any point that he was posing, i.e. adopting a rehearsed posture. The contrast with the rest of the field was striking. Of course Ron Paul is also genuine, but McCain faced him down as well and put him in his place on the Iraq question. There no shortage of kowtowing on the stage to various video interrogators and invisible constituencies. But McCain was having none of it. Even on the question as to how many guns each candidate has and what what kind, he made it clear that boasting on this point was beneath him. On several occasions, the Arizona Senator spoke quietly and deliberately, but firmly and with "battered authority" to an opponent, and you knew who was the lion in the hall. He did not confront the only other lion, however: the prince of Gotham.

Mitt Romney gave some good conservative answers, but behind them displayed his reflexive big government approach to public affairs. In response to a question from a father and son regarding "black on black" crime, he first suggested strengthening the family (good answer) and then spoke of improving schools, which are not a federal responsibility, and then of putting more police on the streets, which again is none of the federal government's business. In another answer, he said he would sign a bill banning abortion nationwide, but again that is not a federal responsibility. Rudy and Fred got that one right.

Romney also revealed his liberal undergarments when, confronted with the words of a younger Mitt Romney that he looked forward to the day when gays could serve openly and honorably in the military, his line was that because we are at war, this is not the time for that to happen. Oh? Does he foresee a time when there will never be any more war? If we were to realize his beautiful vision during peacetime, we would have those homosexuals openly among the troops in the next war. So his point is that he doesn't want the Republican party to know how liberal he really is just yet.

Huckabee is no better, and perhaps worse. The Arkansas Baptist revealed his own statist instincts, but also a heart that may be too soft to be entrusted with the executive authority. I would feel safer placing the sword of state in the hands of an obviously unredeemed and unrepentant Rudy Giuliani than entrusting it to this jokester who, though he appears to be genuinely concerned to love his neighbor, does not exercise good judgment in how to apply that principle as defender of public peace and security.

As he made a point of mentioning a few times that he is a Baptist minister, it occurred to me that if he is going to take that calling and ordination seriously he should either take a church or comparable ministry or resign his ministerial office. There is no place for a clerical king in America (or anywhere for that matter).

Fred Thompson came a cross as a convincing president, but nothing to make you jump up and cheer. No fire. His negative ad went over like a lead balloon. It was inappropriate for the occasion.

Rudy Giuliani opened poorly by attacking Romney for his alleged "sanctuary mansion." He seemed petty and disingenuous. The mention of the Politico story on his misuse of public funds for his adulterous trysts with Judith Nathan was a nasty foretaste of what was all over the newspapers this morning, and may grow to larger proportions in the months to come. Why do they do these things?

Lastly, let me note that a very scary looking fellow confronted the candidates on whether the believed every word of the Bible to be the word of God, holding up a black leather Bible, presumably King James Version. Those who answered -- Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee -- did a pretty good job, though Romney seemed to choke on the phrase "every word" (my godly little 8 year old girl asked, "Why is that so hard to say?"). But they should have objected to the question itself, even to the manner in which it was asked. (There was similar moment in the Democrat debate. See "The Dignity Issue...and Courage.") There was a menacing tone to it. Do we require this of our nominee, not only that he support Christian moral positions, not only that he profess the Christian faith, not only still that he convince us that he is born again, but even that he believe that every word of the Bible is literally true? And if he asks what exactly that means, he clearly cannot be trusted with public authority. In a country where evangelical Christians are a minority, that is simply delusional. We should thank the Lord of mercy that we have as much influence as we do in one of the two parties, and work prudently and winsomely to secure liberty for godliness and to make the world as good as we can for ourselves and our neighbors.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bad Press for Huckabee

Mike Huckabee appears to be the media darling in the mainline press. That can't be good.

He is getting bad press, however, with new sources that are favored by the Republican party base.

The editors at National Review Online ("Right Questions, Wrong Answers," Nov. 19, 2007) say, essentially: "Stay away from this man!"

What Republicans need is a new domestic policy to address today’s concerns. Unfortunately, what Huckabee offers by way of solutions is a mixture of populism and big-government liberalism; the common theme of his policies is that they are half-baked.

Robert Novak, in "The False Conservative" (Nov. 26, 2007), regards him with horror. "Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but he is a high-tax, protectionist, big-government advocate." Novak also has critical words for the evangelicals who are backing this candidate simply because he satisfies the litmus test on abortion and one or two other social issues. I share his concern.
The rise of evangelical Christians as the force that blasted the GOP out of minority status during the last generation always contained an inherent danger if these new Republicans supported one of their own. That has happened now with Huckabee, a former Baptist minister. The danger is a serious contender for the nomination who passes the litmus tests of social conservatives but is far removed from the conservative- libertarian model of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
There is more to governing wisely than taking the right stand on a few certainly important social issues of great moral consequence. You have to be able to protect the nation from foreign danger. You also have to be able to keep people in prison who belong in prison.

Good News From Iraq

Amir Taheri, in his column today, shares good news from Iraq that goes beyond merely the violence index.

* More than 70 percent of the cells created by al Qaeda in Iraq have been dismantled, with vast amounts of money and arms seized from terrorists and insurgents. The so-called Islamic State in Iraq, set up by al Qaeda in parts of four provinces, has collapsed.

* Iraqis who'd sought temporary refuge in neighboring countries are returning home in large numbers - 1,000 a day returning from Syria alone.

* Thanks to mediation by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite coalition, the three groups that had withdrawn from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government are expected to return to the fold.

* The British forces' handover of Basra to Iraqi authorities was completed without a hitch; Iraq's second largest city is rapidly returning to normal.

* Iraq's national currency, the dinar, is trading at its highest level since 1990 against the Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the US dollar.

* Iraqi oil production is at its highest since 2002. Oil Minister Hussein Shahrestani recently notified OPEC that Iraq intends to produce its full quota next year.

* There's a rush of applications to set up small and medium businesses. In Baghdad alone, the figure for October was 400, compared to 80 last August.

* The fourth American university in the Arab world, and the first in Iraq, has started work in Suleymanieh, close to the Iranian border.

He also has bad news to share, and he is not short on it. It should not surprise anyone that there is lots of bad news coming out of Iraq. (There is bad news coming out of America, after all.) But on balance, the news is good.

IRAQ today is a hundred times better than what it would have been under Saddam in any imaginable circumstances. Statistics of violence don't begin to measure the efforts of a whole nation to re-emerge from the darkest night in its history. And in that sense, the news from Iraq since April 2003 has always been more good than bad.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Megachurches Found to be a Megabust


Bob Burney reports in Baptist Press that the leaders of the wildly popular seeker sensitive approach to worship, evangelism and church growth -- the so-called church growth movement -- have completed a study and found that their oh-so clever and oh-so contemporary new methods have not been doing precisely what they were thought to be so much better at doing than "traditional" (biblical) churches, i.e. gathering people not just into church, but into the Kingdom of God. Their success in growing local churches into megachurches was shallow enough for a purported lamb to wade in, but nothing more.

It was a "Science vs the Bible" disagreement. "Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting "felt needs" and sermons consistent with these techniques." Rigorous and conscientious adherence to God's way, as revealed in the Scriptures, in the face of the temptation to satisfy the interests of those who have no spiritual interest in Christ was scorned as unenlightened. "We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn't matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn't 'cutting edge' and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity."

Well, whereas studies showed that you have to give people what they want if you are going to bring them to Christ, now studies are showing that numbers in the door have not translated into saved souls and holy Christians.

Fundamentally, it does not seem that the Willow Creek crowd have learned their lesson. Bill Hybels, the movement's founder, admits that the measures they funded with millions of dollars didn't pay off spiritually, yet he continues to take his bearings from men rather than from God: "Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for." Whether it is answering a questionnaire or "crying out," it is the customer who has Mr. Hybels' ear.

Greg Hawkins, the executive pastor of Willow Creek and co-author of the published study, Reveal: What Are You?, also shows that in the end he has learned nothing: "Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet." Everyone up to this point has been wrong. We are the first to build the church of Christ on a scientific foundation. Hear the arrogance! The bombastic noise of it diverts attentions from the silence concerning God's grace and his mysterious will. Burney observes that, in Hawkins' statement, research still takes precedence over Scripture.

Jesus said, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). But it seems that Bill Hybels and these other twenty-first century followers of Charles Finney still think otherwise.

Folks in the equally everything-has-changed-and-we're-the-only-one's doing-it-right "Emerging Church" movement should take humble note of these developments.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Sermon - 1783

George Duffield preached this sermon in Philadelphia on a day of thanksgiving, Thursday, December 11, 1783, called at the close of the War of Independence, for peace and for personal and national liberty. These excerpts are a suitable Thanksgiving Day reflection for any age in which the Constitution of republican liberty continues to govern us.

...For, according to this time shall it be said of these United States, what hath God wrought for them? Great indeed, is the salvation he hath shown! And great the obligations we are under to praise! For, had we failed in our just attempt to secure our invaluable rights, America’s choicest blood had flowed in liberal streams: And her most valuable citizens, throughout the states, had expired by halters and in gibbets. ...But blessed be God, with Israel of old we may take up our song; “blessed be the Lord who gave us not as a prey to their teeth. Blessed be the Lord, the snare is broken, and we are escaped.” We cried unto him in the day of our distress. He heard our intreaties; and hath brought us forth into a large place; and established our rights; and opened before us a glorious prospect. May wisdom be given, to esteem and improve the invaluable blessing.
Here has our God erected a banner of civil and religious liberty:* And prepared an asylum for the poor and oppressed from every part of the earth. Here, if wisdom guide our affairs, shall a happy equality reign; and joyous freedom bless the inhabitants wide and far, from age to age. Here, far removed from the noise and tumult of contending kingdoms and empires; far from the wars of Europe and Asia, and the barbarous African coast; here shall the husbandman enjoy the fruits of his labour; the merchant trade, secure of his gain; the mechanic indulge his inventive genius; and the sons of science pursue their delightful employment, till the light of knowledge pervade yonder, yet uncultivated, western wilds; and form the savage inhabitants into men. ...

And to him be rendered the thanks, and the praise—not unto us; not unto us; but to thy name, O Lord, be the glory. For thine is the power, and the victory, and the greatness. Both success and safety come of thee. And thou reignest over all: And hast wrought all our works, in us, and for us. Praise, therefore, thy God, O America, praise the Lord, ye, his highly favoured United States. Nor let it rest in the fleeting language of the lip; or the formal thanksgiving of a day. But, let every heart glow with gratitude: And every life, by a devout regard to his holy law, proclaim his praise. It is this, our God requires, as that wherein our personal, and national good, and the glory of his great name consist. And without which, all our professions will be but an empty name. It is, that we love the Lord our God, to walk in his ways, and keep his commandments, to observe his statutes and his judgments. That a sacred regard be maintained to righteousness and truth. That we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Deuteronomy 30. 16. Amos. 5. 24. Micah 6. 8). Then shall God delight to dwell amongst us. And these United States shall long remain, a great, a glorious, and an happy people. Which may God, of his infinite mercy, grant. Amen.

*Religious liberty, is a foundation principle in the constitutions of the respective states, distinguishing America from every nation in Europe; and resting religion on its proper basis; as supported by it’s own evidence, and the almighty care of it’s divine author; without the aid of the feeble, angry arm of civil power; which serves only to disgrace the name and religion of Jesus, by violating the rights of conscience.

Taken from Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (1730-1805), Ellis Sandoz, ed. (Liberty Press, 1991); pp.771-788.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kim Jong Thug and the Monster Regime

Themes for Thanksgiving: The Dear Leader

As you plan out your holiday fun, you should include these videos of the zany, madcap Kim Jong Il.

Super Kim (a funny German mock-video game)
Is Kim Jong...Ill? (from chicksongs at

If only he were the clown that he appears to be. There is a third video that is game show themed, but the sadness is just too close to the surface.

If you want a quick introduction to the bizarre, totalitarian and monstrously cruel world that is Kim's North Korea, read Ian Buruma's "Kimworld: Inside the North Korean Slave State" (New Yorker, August 22, 2005). He reviews Bradley K. Martin's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin's; $29.95) and Jasper Becker's Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea (Oxford; $28). Becker has the better of the two books, though both are world reading. Buruma finds that Martin "paints a grim picture in exhaustive detail, backed by many first-person accounts. But, though he is no apologist, he is perhaps fair to a fault." He finds both books informative, but Becker is less naive, less prone to be duped by this apparently charming tyrant.

North Korea in the nineteen-nineties was, in Martin's somewhat peculiar choice of phrase, “a nightmare by human-rights standards.” Farmers were not allowed to relieve their hunger by growing their own food and selling it, for, Kim observed, “Telling people to solve the food problems on their own only increases the number of farmers markets and peddlers. In addition, this creates egoism among people, and the basis of the Party's class may come to collapse.” If things were bad in “normal” life, the conditions in the vast North Korean gulag are difficult to imagine. Even here Martin's struggles for “balance” come across as slightly otiose: “While more and more inmates died as a result of malnutrition, the political prison camps continued to be run more as slave-labor and slow death camps than as instant death camps. It may seem a small distinction, but it shows that in this regard at least Kim Jong Il was no Hitler.”
Whether you are a John Birch Society Ron Paul supporter or a Bush hater or something in between, this Thanksgiving, give the Lord the thanks he is due for the good government that we have.