Thursday, January 31, 2008

Letting the Dems in the Door Will Cost Lives

It is tempting to be so distracted with what you dislike and even hate about your party's nominee that you allow it to become all there is to see. In my last post, "Romney is Nice, But No President," I argue that having a President who will protect the lives of people in this country from slaughter by either terrorism or abortion is the chief consideration in the coming election. For others, because the abortion battles have continued for so long with seemingly little benefit having come from them, it is tempting to become discouraged and perhaps even cynical. What difference does it make who is in the White House, a pro-life Republican or a pro-choice Democrat? Abortions continue either way. In response to my abortion concern in choosing the next President, Richie says this in the comments:

With a supposedly pro-life president, a supposedly pro-life congress, and a 5-4 advantage on the Supreme Court, what exactly was done to curtail abortion? The court question is a little dicey (which way would Kennedy or O'Connor go), but the GOP held Congress and the Presidency, and they did nothing. I consider abortion to be the most shameful (ongoing) episode in American history, but it's a little disingenuous to act like the pro-life views of the next President are going to make a difference in overturning Roe v. Wade. I just don't see either party doing much to end (or increase) abortion. It's much safer to keep the status quo, and be "pro-life" or "pro-choice" and not do anything about it....Obama, Clinton, McCain, Romney, or Britney Spears, there will still be babies being murdered in 2012. Abortion is legal because Americans want abortion to be legal. I'm too young to be this cynical, I think....

Well, let me encourage you with this. There are two ways in which it makes a difference who is President and who controls Congress as far as this matter is concerned. First, Republican Presidents since 1981 have passed executive orders forbidding the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Our economist friends tell us that when you subsidize something, consumption goes up. A Democratic President will open the fire hose of public funding for abortions and little ones will die in significantly greater numbers as a consequence. (Republican Presidents have also cut off funds for abortions overseas.)

My second point goes by two names: John Roberts and Sam Alito. You have not seen a dramatic difference as result of the appointment of these two men to the Supreme Court because one of them replaced a conservative and the other replaced a moderate. The next two retirements are expected to come from the far left end of the bench: John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Replacing these two jurists even with moderates would bring a dramatic change not only on abortion questions, but as increasingly horrific practices (as if partial birth abortion weren't horrific enough) come before the high court for decision. See, for example, "An Entirely New Kind of Social Evil."

The legality of waiting periods makes a practical difference in the number of babies who are allowed to live. The legality of parental consent laws, the legality of requirements that women be informed of the nature and consequences of having an abortion--these make a difference. That is why abortion advocates hate them with such passion.

There is a lot of good that can be accomplished short of overturning Roe v. Wade. But I have hope that we could see even that.

Romney is Nice, But No President

Last night, at the final Republican debate before the Super Tuesday primaries, John McCain and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Gov. Romney advocated timetables for withdrawal from Iraq after the Republican Congressional defeat of 2006. Drunk with victory at the polls, the Democrats were speaking incessantly about bringing the troops home and establishing "timetables" for doing so. In that context, both ABC and CBS asked Mitt Romney for his views on withdrawing troops from Iraq. McCain rebuked his opponent for not giving the simple and decisive answer, "No!" Romney countered quite emphatically, and with visible irritation, indignation and even frustration as the charge kept returning, that he was speaking of various other timetables such as in fact we have.

The statements in question were these. From ABC News, "Romney Embraces Private Iraq 'Timetables'," whose Robin Roberts asked "if he believes there should be a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq"

Well, there's no question that the president and Prime Minister al Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about, but those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and the leadership of the Iraqi government.

On CBS's "Early Show," Romney said:

Well, I wouldn't publish [a timetable] for my adversaries to see. [Instead he advocates] a series of milestones, timetables as well, to measure how well they're doing. But that's not something you publish for the enemy to understand, because of course they could just lay in the weeds until the time that you're gone. So these are the kinds of things you do privately, not necessarily publicly.

ABC then made this interesting observation: "While Romney's Tuesday call for 'milestones' is nothing new, he has mostly shied away in the past from employing the more politically charged terminology of 'timetables.'" They also included a statement from a Romney official explaining what the candidate meant. In other words, the controversy was immediate, not something John McCain has invented.

As head of the executive branch of government, the President's chief responsibility is to defend the lives and liberties of the people against enemies both foreign and domestic. The two chief threats to the lives of people in this country are Radical Islam (primarily al Qaeda) and abortion. All the remaining candidates are square on the abortion question. But this remark just over one year ago under the pressure of fashinable thinking and voter anxiety shows that Mitt Romney does not possess the mettle and judgment to be commander in chief of the armed forces which is fully one half of the job.

I have tried to see the merits of this fellow. He did a good job last night of defending his record as Governor of Massachusetts. He was almost Reaganesque in his warmth. My guard was coming down. But in his altercations with the smiling and self-possessed McCain, he showed none of Reagan's executive fierceness. At no point did his words, tone, or manner suggest, "Don't mess with me."

Of the four men, there was only one President among them, and that was John McCain. The questions for Republicans is: who do you want confronting the deadly international evil that threatens us in Iraq, Iran, North Korea and in sleeper cells here at home and who do you want making the next two appointments to the Supreme Court: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain. The stakes are too high for a "sit this one out" strategy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

An Entirely New Kind of Social Evil

Last night, in George W. Bush's final State of the Union Address, the President addressed a matter that has been a moral concern for him throughout his presidency: the sanctity of human life, even in its earliest stages and most vulnerable conditions. The only veto he cast in his first term pertained to stem cell research, destroying the lives of some in order to enhance and extend the lives of others. Last night, the President noted recent breakthroughs in stem cell research that will allow us to extend the benefits of scientific research without taking innocent life. So he called on Congress to empower our medical researchers "to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries."

On matters of life and science, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries. In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life. So we're expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life is treated with the dignity it deserves. And so I call on Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting, or cloning of human life.


In November of 2001, President Bush established The President's Council on Bioethics. One of the eighteen members he appointed is Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. WORLD magazine recently interviewed Robert George and Chris Tollefsen ("Little But Alive," Jan. 26/Feb. 2, 2008; also this interview) about heir recent book, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. They argue that we have turned a terrible corner in the barbarous devaluation of our humanity in our ongoing press to conquer fortune.

Here is the worst case scenario: the creation of millions of human embryos--human beings in the early stages of development--in order to perform scientific experiments on them, and in order to harvest their body parts for medical therapies for others. We have, sadly, seen the destruction of millions of human beings before, in a litany of tragedies of the 20th century. But we have never seen the creation of human beings precisely for the purpose of destruction and use. (WORLD: And we'd all be inextricably linked to that.) The research would be funded with our tax dollars. It would be performed in our public universities. The therapies would be used by doctors for all of us in any number of circumstances. All of modern medicine would be touched by the influence of research that was deeply immoral and corrupting, and it would be nearly impossible for us to avoid being benefited by, or contributing to, this research in some way. So the creation of a massive industry for producing human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed really does seem to us an entirely new kind of social evil, on a scale of almost unimaginable magnitude.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Luther (2003) a Big Screen Service to Christ

Following up on my invitation for you to suggest the Principal Christian Films, I watched the 2003 Joseph Fiennes version of Luther. I'm no film critic, and I don't pretend to be, but these are my impressions.

Given the state of the Lutheran churches and given how hostile people are these days to the message of the cross, I was expecting either Barthianism or some vague message about a nondescript "God." Instead, I was moved almost to tears of joy (I could have let loose) when Luther introduced his congregation to the gospel that had been withheld from them all their lives. When Satan reminds you of your sins and accuses you, your response as a Christian is to admit those sins in all their wickedness, and respond in peace, "...but what is that to me?" Then (and this is the heart of the gospel!) you point to Christ in confidence and look to Christ in hope saying, "He died for me, and in dying he bore the wrath and curse that I deserved for my sins." I forget what exactly he said in pointing to Christ, but it was definitely Christ to whom he pointed and specifically to his work of substitutionary atonement.

The whole film said, Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus! True to Luther's life and ministry, the film sets in sharp contrast the futility of rituals and religious labors for finding peace with God, and the serenity of seeking that peace simply by faith in Christ, freely offered in the gospel. Luther shows us the tyranny and avarice of the medieval Roman church, and by contrast the freedom which the Christ-centered gospel brings.

In the WORLD magazine review, David Coffin wrote:

What's most remarkable about Luther, though, is the weight of its theological content and the strength of its message—the "Christ stuff" is fully intact. Mr. Clauss told WORLD that despite the need to compromise during production, he would not allow three scenes to be cut: two in which Luther addresses his congregation in Wittenberg and one in which he agonizes in his monk's cell, crying out in despair for a merciful God. These scenes are some of the most powerful in the film. Christ is central in all three, not only as the agent of that mercy, but also as the sacrificial recipient of God's wrath, justly directed at man's sin.

The film was bankrolled largely by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a Wisconsin based benevolent and financial services organization.

This film is definitely on the forthcoming list of Principal Christian films.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's a conservative to do?

Unlike David, I have been flogging a Guiliani nomination for some time now, and must admit to some distress over his recent fade in the primary process. I watched with interest Fred Thompson’s entry, and, along with everyone else, also watched as he let the brass ring pass before him several times without reaching out for it. A small number of stirring declarations of conservative principles and a few timely jabs at the lesser mortals round about, though bracing for the faithful, fell far short of galvanizing enough support for an actual candidacy.

The lack of an articulator of conservatism acceptable to the conservative core of the party is what is generating the diffusion of support among the four remaining (viable) candidates, at what seems like a late date but what is actually still quite early on the political calendar. Guiding this misimpression is the media’s (understandable) attempts to mine the mother lode. Yet so much of what the media serves up as information, in the form of polling results, is questionable at the very least. I am reminded of Aristotle’s remark in the Nicomachean Ethics regarding natural law—men make their own actions the measure of justice, and in doing so, he says they do no other than a carpenter who bends his square to match his own misaligned work. Most polling reflects a prominent predilection that infects several other forms of knowledge these days—establishing a conclusion and then searching for data to support it. This is an especially useful ruse in the politics of a free society, where a constitutionally sheltered press, posing as the guardian of justice, fairness, and all that is good, cynically imposes its own values, choices, and biases and presents them to the public as the public’s own considered opinions. I think this has much to do with the outcomes we have seen so far. (That and the fact that Florida will be the first primary not open to democrats and independents).

And thus I come back to what I started with, flogging for Guiliani. The mandarins at the New York Times have now weighed in with their thoughtful and helpful best on what the little people should do. It should prove to be a clarifying moment for conservatives. We can set aside the question of why Republicans of any stripe should listen to people who devoutly wish for their political destruction, and move to the content of the Times’ cool reflections on what good Republicans should do, and what avoid.

Rudolph Guiliani is the anti-Christ, the Prince of Darkness, and the spawn of Satan—this much even the dimmest bulbs among us could gather from their treatment of him during his tenure as Mayor. Lest we forget our lesson, they are once again reprising their hissing cockroach-like warnings about the man who went after core parts of the liberal left constituency—the squeegee men, prostitutes, pornographers, turnstile jumpers, and window breakers, not to mention the Gambino crime family, a welter of corrupt Wall Streeters, the teachers unions, and the nomenklatura and the party bosses in the city. Despite the concerted efforts of the above mentioned, Guiliani’s policies allowed decent people to return and flourish, setting up the long boom the city has enjoyed ever since. This is unpardonable; Times Square is now Disneyland Northeast. But his real sin consists in taking on the New York Times itself, and all it stands for. He cannot be allowed to get behind the controls of the federal government—we’ll all be wearing school uniforms and reciting that fascistic Pledge of Allegiance if he gets in.

Thus, the New York Time’s imprimatur goes to…John McCain. The sage advice of the best and brightest, gathered under the Solomonic presence of little Pinch, offered in all candor and good intentions, the man with whom they can do business, is John McCain. The only good Republican is one willing to buck conservative impulses over tax cuts, free speech, illegal immigration, judicial filibusters, and now global warming.

Maybe they know something about Guiliani they hope the rest of the Republican party doesn’t find out—he knows how to take on hard left liberals and defeat them on their own turf, and knows how much respect they are due. And he is much closer to being a true conservative than McCain. The Time’s endorsement is rightly understood by reading it inversely—if the lovers of General Dinkens love the one and hate the other, then practical wisdom, even such as we dim bulbs can muster, suggests the opposite.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Evangelical Left's Rejection of Reality

The candidacy of Barack Obama has brought the presence and appeals of left wing Evangelicals to greater public prominence. The public association with Democratic Party politics is nothing new, of course. People like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo have a history of advising Democrats in general and the Clinton administration in particular. (For example, see "The Message Thing" by Jim Wallis, NYT, August 5, 2005.) The so called "emerging church" movement has picked up this approach to the Bible and to public life and is giving it an ecclesiastical home.

It is always helpful to look at the part in light of the whole, and I find that Albert Wolters (Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario) in his book Creation Regained gives students of politics an excellent view of the theological big picture in which to understand politics, culture and all of life. For this reason, I assign it at the beginning of my Introduction to Politics course.

Wolters describes what he calls the “creation law,” what one might otherwise call natural law. The Lord made the world, by its very structure, to work in certain ways, whether physically, morally, psychologically, economically, etc. He explains this on pp. 13-20, followed by his account of the creation mandate in relation to it. On p.27, he defines it as, “the totality of God’s sovereign activity toward the created cosmos.” On p.62, he says that “ignoring the law of creation is impossible.” If you set government policy based on bad economics, i.e. policies based on false economic principles, i.e. principles that do not correspond to the way God has created the world to operate, they will be counterproductive and bring unhappy results. They won’t “work.” The question for the Evangelical left and right is: what is the creation law in the various spheres of dispute?

The left accuses the right of bowing to secular conservative notions that are not found in the Bible. But by common grace, non-Christians are able to discern these creation laws, often better than Christians can. The question is: have they discerned accurately? The left tends to focus only on the moral law (which they may or may not have right) and understand that as the exhaustive expression of God’s will. Thus, they determine their economics, for example, based entirely on the moral principles that they cull from the Bible. But of course the laws inherent in God’s creation, whether moral, political, economic or chemical, are fully consistent with one another. God is not incoherent. He speaks with one voice. So if their moral theology entails an impoverishing and politically enslaving economic theory, it is a good indication that their moral reading of the Bible is defective.

For example, Wolters writes, “Any theory that somehow sanctions the existence of evil in God’s good creation fails to do justice to sin’s fundamentally outrageous and blasphemous character” (pp. 58-59). An Evangelical on the political left would point out that the free market economic system (“capitalism”) employs and legitimizes selfishness, and thus is ungodly and inherently sinful. But lo, it works! It not only makes a few people rich, but it raises the tide and lifts all boats. In fact, the rising tide of prosperity in free market American lifts boats all over the world!

So how do we square the dependence on sinful selfish gain with the evident correspondence of economic liberty with natural principles in God’s created order? The answer, I think, is in examining the moral premise more closely. What our hypothetical leftist called sinful selfishness is actually just reasonable self-concern. My desire to prosper is not inherently sinful. My desire to get the best product for the lowest price is not inherently sinful. These things can take sinful forms, but that does not entail an indictment of the system itself which like all things, in order to function properly, needs to be set within the broader context of a charitable Christian society.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Principal Christian Films

I have said just about all that I have to say about the various candidates and, quite frankly, I'm tired of the horse-race commentary. I'm also at wit's end as to who the GOP should nominate--although, all things considered and on balance, I still incline toward McCain, taking into consideration character, policies and electability. At this point, I am happy just see who the collective wisdom of the Republican electorate will choose.

So I would like to return to the subject of film and ask for your input. What are the best "Christian" films? That is a more difficult question than "what are the best New York or political films?" New York is featured in a film or it is not. A film has an explicitly political theme or it does not. But what makes a film Christian?

There are films that have featured stories from the Bible. Gibson's The Passion of Christ is an recent one. The Greatest Story Ever Told was an earlier presentation of the gospel story. Campus Crusade for Christ's Jesus Film has had worldwide impact.

Some films that have featured Jesus Christ were blasphemous and thus not Christian at all. The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus Christ Superstar fall into this category. I think that Godspell is unintentionally blasphemous. In that film, Christ is unwisely depicted as some sort of clown, and so I would exclude it.

But I would also exclude the first three respectful treatments of the life of Christ because, standing in the historic Protestant and Reformed theological tradition as I do, I believe that any depiction of Jesus is distorting, misleading, idolatrous and thus blasphemous. (Westminster Larger Catechism Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?) Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments is a film classic, but insofar as it introduces extrabiblical elements such as the love story, can it count as a great Christian film? The animated Prince of Egypt misrepresents Moses as being more concerned for his Egyptian adoptive brother than for the holiness of God and of his people, as I recall. Bible movies are problematic.

Don't bother mentioning Left Behind (bad film; bad eschatology) or It's a Wonderful Life (bad angelology).

I'm thinking along these lines:

Les Miserables (1935; Fredric March, Charles Laughton). The bishop's forgiveness scene is marvelous.

Sergeant York (1941; Gary Cooper)

Shadowlands (1994; Anthony Hopkins)

Luther (2003; Joseph Fiennes), although I have to view the 1973 Stacy Keach version, and review the 1953 Niall MacGinnis version.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005; Andrew Adamson dir.)

Amazing Grace (2006; Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney)

What about Gods and Generals (2003)?

What do you think? Can anyone help me here? Was there nothing appropriately Christian put into film between 1941 and 1994?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Jihadist Mind

In a recent edition of the Jerusalem Post, Tawfik Hamid recounts his journey into and out of Jihadism. He begins "The Development of a Jihadist's Mind," with this:

What occupies the mind of a jihad-driven Muslim? How is such fervor planted in young and impressionable believers? Where does it originate? How did I - once an innocent child who grew up in a liberal, moderate and educated household - find myself a member of a radical Islamic group? These questions go to the root of Islamic violence and must be addressed if free societies are to combat radical Islam. To further this aim, I will explore the psychological development of a jihadi's mind through my own firsthand experience as a former member of a Muslim terrorist organization.
The Gypsy Scholar (Jeff Hodges, assistant professor of English at Kyung Hee University in Seoul), who put me on to the article, draws these conclusions regarding Zawahiri and his Jihadist movement:
First, he hates the West primarily because of the freedom that it gives women rather than keeping them covered in hijab and beaten into submission. Second, he wants Islam to dominate the West and the entire non-Muslim world and force everyone to submit to Muslim law. Third, he encourages a worldwide jihad carried out by each individual Muslim as a means toward achieving Islam's domination over the world. Whatever additional motives Zawahiri and other Islamists might have, we should never forget that the Al Qaeda and many other such Islamist groups share the imperialist aim of radical Islamic rule over all non-Muslims.
Read the article and the post for insights on how to disarm this evil movement.

Welcome New Author to Principalities & Powers

I am happy to announce that Dr. Harold Kildow is joining me as an author on the Principalities and Powers blog. Immediately below, you will find two of his posts.

Dr. Kildow received his Ph.D. from Fordham University in New York City for his dissertation on tacit consent in the political thought of John Locke under the direction of Michael Zuckert. He brings a broader awareness of issues and sources, and adds the sort of sober, discerning, academically informed, gracious and theologically astute insight that I like to think has always characterized this weblog.

In addition, Dr. Kildow's knowledge of New Jersey building codes, bathroom remodelling, and the 3-4-5 triangle brings a level of practical knowledge that this blog has been embarrassingly without.

Don't forget to put Principalities and Powers on your Favorites list, on your Blogroll, or perhaps even across the back of your neck if you like to tattoo passing fancies permanently on your flesh as even some nice people seem to be doing these days.

The Coming Divide

This piece by NRO's Rich Lowry ("Revenge of the Lunch Buckets") shows that maybe John "Silky Pony" Edwards was onto something, at least around the edges. The emerging, defining divide politically looks to be economic, not between rich and poor, qua Mr Edwards, but between the working class and educated professionals, whose stakes in two of the modes of globalization are quite different: illegal immigration is much more an issue for the working class people whose jobs and incomes are being squeezed, and global trade, which doesn't effect working class incomes as positively or as directly as for the professional and business classes. Populism and its discontents are once again coming to the fore, as we see already with the buttons Huckabee keeps pushing, and as Lowry points out, the Clinton machine has always known how to manipulate.

With the economy finally heading into a recession--its been almost ten years since the last one, a minor one, and even longer since a serious downturn--Republicans will have the uphill argument to make for free trade, lower taxes, and less government. Democrats of all stripes will be pushing the opposite policies as the only way up and out of the coming "disaster." Reagan's simple and devastating question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago? will be harder for Republicans to use this time in their favor. Most people are nervous about the national prospect, even if their own situation is good. If we don't get a Republican grown-up to effectively articulate the vacuity of the Democratic view of life as it ought to be, we are going to be forced to live in their world for a while.

One important thing we have been taught by the last seven years, made noticeable by its absence, is the improtance of a president's ability to articulate the party's positions and relate them to the general weal. Call it the Rhetorical Presidency, a scholarly idea, but still of enormous import. Whoever we nominate is going to have to explain things in whole sentences to people inclined to believe that corporate execs are more evil than government bureaucrats, that government promises are more reliable than free markets, and that unelected judges are better placed to decide social and political questions than elected legislatures.

Which candidate will be best able to articulate conservatism, while staying alive against the tag team of the democrat machine and the main steam media?

-- Harold Kildow

The Jihadist "Lawfare" Ploy

This is the more dangerous prong of the jihadist attack on us--the lawfare ploy. ("Terror suspects are waging 'lawfare' on U.S.") Idiotic judges and the plethora of left leaning advocacy groups eager to stick it to the establishment (to use an old phrase but one that still carries the intent) are being played like the useful idiots the Soviets found so congenial to their purposes. John Yoo is a very sharp guy, and now joins Mark Steyn in being sued by people who would close the very legal venues they are abusing were they ever to gain power in the West. This legal and cultural assault is the only way they could possible win--which makes the inroads they have made all the more alarming--and since we will never run out of left liberals eager to bow and scrape at the feet of any authoritarian who also hates the traditional basis of America, we cannot ignore these increasingly audacious and increasingly frequent lawsuits. Time to wake up America.

-- Harold Kildow

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dhimmi in America

Is there a more intolerant religion on earth than Islam?

Do you remember the Muslim cabbies at the Minneapolis airport refusing to pick up passengers who were carrying bottles of alcohol? Incidents like this are multiplying. Consider this report in Britain's Daily Mail of a Muslim cashier refusing to serve a customer who wished to buy a Bible story book.

A Muslim store worker at Marks & Spencer refused to serve a customer buying a children's book on biblical stories because she said it was "unclean". Sally Friday, a customer at a branch of one of the famous stores, felt publicly humiliated when she tried to pay for First Bible Stories as a gift for her young grandson. When the grandmother put the book on the counter, the assistant refused to touch it, declared it was unclean and then summoned another member of staff to deal with the purchase.

In case you are wondering, no Mosques have been burned by Christians in the wake of this offense, and no Christian has threatened any Muslim with death.

In a surprisingly self-critical gesture, Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said, "This appears to be a very regrettable incident and the 'unclean' remark was clearly very offensive and unacceptable. Many Biblical stories complement the teachings of the Koran. We hope that M&S will investigate this incident."

A reader of JihadWatch adds this insightful observation on Bunglawala's attempt to quiet any fears this incident might provoke over the implications of increasing numbers of Muslims living among us.

The slithery Inayat Bunglawala pretends to share our indignation here, but he can't keep it up without revealing his world-view. Note the last comment: "Many Biblical stories complement the teachings of the Koran." Why is that relevant? What if the Bible stories did not, in his view, "complement the teachings of the Koran"? Do those stories only have value, and are only to be protected, or treated neutrally (and refusing to touch a book, calling it "unclean" is not treating it neutrally) because they may, as he puts it "complement the teachings of the Koran"?
He draws out further implications of this incident:

One final query. Is it right and proper for non-Muslim clerks to handle a Koran? Or should they refrain from handling it, lest by their own "unclean" status--"najis" in the list provided at the Shia cleric Al-Sistani's website--they sully that book? In other words, would Muslims make clear to non-Muslims how we are to treat the Qur'an? Do we touch it, or not touch it? Do we wear gloves, or not wear gloves? Do we tug at our forelocks with one hand, or bow slightly if we are boys and curtsey if we are girls? What do we do with the Qur'an? And do the same rules apply to a collection, say by Al-Bukhari or Muslim, of the Hadith? Tell us. Infidel youth wants to know. Lest we offend.

Among the same comments, I thought this rumor was quite plausible:

It would also be worth checking where and how the Muslim employees arrange books on the shelves. We have read reports of other stores arranging books to ensure that the Qur'an is stored on shelves higher than books for other religions. We have also read reports that books critical of Islam are not kept in view in some bookstores, but are only available in the back, out of sight.

In view of all the experience that Europe is accumulating with this interesting social experiment, I would like to see an objective and extensive study of the implications of having a significant minority of these strictly legalistic and intolerant people living in a generally secular and tolerant society, with reflections on what is likely to be America's relationship with its Muslim minority in this coming century. I suggest the title, Dhimmi in America: The Twenty-first Century Tocqueville.

There is a much lower concentration of Muslims in America than there is in Europe, and they are more moderate, more reconciled with the American way of life. Nonetheless, we are seeing greater emphasis on Sharia compliant investments, Halal foods (the Muslim version of Kosher) and demands for accomodations of this sort. We are seeing hints here of what is a real problem in Europe: the Muslim minority insisting that the whole of Western society recognize that there is no God but Allah and conform to his Koranic law.

Incidentally, in my view the book is blasphemous because it displays images of Christ in violation of the second commandment. This is a traditional Protestant view (Westminster Larger Catechism Question 109: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?), though not widely accepted these days. But while I would reason with anyone on the subject, it is not my place to force compliance with that view upon my neighbors. If I could not in good conscience do what I was being paid to do by processing the sale (that would not be a problem), I would find another job. Do Muslims of this sort want to be hired for various jobs only to demand that those jobs be changed in order to acomodate them? As a Christian I know that if you are going to be faithful to your God in a world that does not recognize him certain freedoms that your neighbors enjoy will be closed to you. Perhaps it is a line of employment or perhaps a recreation. If our society were more culturally Christian as it used to be, life for a conscientiously Biblical Christian would be a lot easier. But a Christian may not demand that a non-Christian society make his religion easy and free of sacrifice. The same is true for Muslims.

I can take this view because Christianity, understood Biblically, is based on the grace of God and the re-orientation of the heart toward God. By contrast, Islam is not grace (God sovereignly working in the spiritually helpless heart of the undeserving sinner), but law ("You need to be perfect. This is how to do it. Get going, or else!"). It does not pertain fundamentally to the heart, but to outward action, i.e. outward conformity to that law. Hence, if a Muslim converts to another religion, Muslim authorities can threaten the apostate with death if he does not convert back again within three days. Such threats would make no sense coming from Christians. (Yes, the Roman Catholic Church threatened Protestant "heretics" in this way, but Medieval Roman Catholicism was more like Islam than it was like Biblical Christianity. That's why had a Reformation.) Christianity and Islam are not just two different "faiths." The one is a faith; the other is a law. Accordingly, there are political implications for the decline of the former and the rise of the latter among us. Gene Edward Veith had a helpful reflection on this in the wake of the looting in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein ("Heart Problems," WORLD May 3, 2003).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Rebelution: Godliness From Below

On the subject of the unintended political consequences of godliness, there is an interesting movement among Evangelical youth being led by 19 year old twins Alex and Brett Harris. They call it The Rebelution, "a teenage rebellion against the low expectations of an ungodly culture," and the call to their generation is, "Do Hard Things." In adition to the website and a conference tour, they have a book titled with the words of the call, Do Hard Things.

Their blog has posts on "The Myth of Adolescence," "The Importance of Character," The Rise of the Kidult" the freedom to be found in modesty, and "Modern Day Chivalry." And it's all cool.

Check out this 16 year old, Zachary Hunter, who is fighting modern day slavery through an effort called "Loose Change to Loose Chains," and who has written a book entitled Be The Change.

But despite the obvious social benefits of movements like this, they nonetheless scare the Chablis and brie out of secular liberals because they promote a culture of moral self-restraint, which secular liberals identify with tyranny, and they inevitably result in Republican political majorities which are unacceptable evils to be avoided at all costs. For an interesting booklength statement of that fear, see Lauren Sander's Righteous: Dispatches From The Evangelical Youth Movement (Penguin, 2007).

On Evangelical youth, see my previous posts, "America's Evangelical Future" and "America's Unstable Evangelicals."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Would You Buy A Car From This Candidiate?

I read someone recently say that while he would vote for Mike Huckabee if he were running for a church office, he would not support him for president. Quite frankly, I would not even go that far. Rich Lowry, in "Huck Hoax: Why He Won't Break Out," gives even more evidence that the man "slippery and laughably unserious."

Huckabee's campaign has been run on, to invoke two of his favorite substances, duct tape and WD-40. When reporters asked who his foreign-policy advisers were, he cited former ambassador to the UN John Bolton as someone with whom he has "spoken or will continue to speak." But he never had. His advisers then said he had e-mailed Bolton, which he had - once, without ever following up. It was vintage Huckabee - slippery and laughably unserious.

Now Huckabee has gone from supporting the Bush amnesty plan on immigration and righteously declaring in a debate that children of illegals shouldn't be punished for the sins of their parents, to promising to chase them all - man, woman and child - from the country. It might be the most nakedly political turnabout any GOP candidate has made in the race.

The tragedy of Huckabee's campaign is that if he'd sat down two years ago and thought seriously about what it would take to become the next president, he might have been able to make much more of his winsome ways. Instead, he ran on a kind of lark, without carefully considered policy, without fund-raising, without organization. His warm persona and religious rhetoric have won evangelicals, but left other voters cold, despite the fanciful theories spun around his candidacy.

The especially sad part of this is that his popularity among Evangelicals as a presidential contender has confirmed for many of our fellow citizens that we are intellectually uncritical, easily duped sentimentalists. "His warm persona and religious rhetoric have won evangelicals, but left other voters cold."

Perhaps McCain...but Not If Huck's Coming Too

Among my other reservations about John McCain as president (the McCain-Feingold assault not just on free speech, but on political speech at election time!; the Gang of Fourteen; etc.), there is also this fondness that he and Mike "Yet-Another-Man-From-Hope" Huckabee have for one another and the likelihood which that presents of a McCain-Huckabee ticket. Having the Huckster just a heartbeat away from the Oval Office (bullet, stroke, bout with cancer--McCain is 72) is off-putting, to say the least.

Peter Augustine Lawler (Berry College, author of American Political Rhetoric: A Reader as several other fine books) reports this sober defense of Mitt Romney over at No Left Turns.

Oh, and here's Ann Coulter speaking for Romney and flailing the darlings of the Democratic Party who are his closest rivals for the GOP nomination. Go on. You'll have fun.

A Word In McCain's Defense

Adrian Wooldridge's recent attempt in the New York Times to convince conservatives that John McCain is their man in 2008 ("Mr. Right - Don't Be Fooled: McCain is No Moderate," Jan. 17, 2008) caught my eye because of his fine 2004 book, The Right Nation, Conservative Power in America which he co-authored with John Micklethwait.

The concerns that Mark Levin lists in "The Real McCain Record" are real and weighty. But just as I would expect Evangelicals to focus on the practical essentials in the event of a Giuliani nomination (which at this point seems highly unlikely--but then this is politics), Wooldridge points "movement conservatives" to McCain's conservative core.

Mr. Huckabee would tilt the party away from people who look like Mr. Romney and toward people who look like himself — blue-collar social conservatives. Pragmatists like Mr. Romney argue that they could stitch the coalition back together and then manage it better. Mr. McCain offers a third way for conservatives: stick to the core principles while feuding with movement barons like James Dobson and Grover Norquist....Mr. McCain is more likely than any of his rivals to offer conservatives what they want: a vigorous pursuit of the fight against terrorism, the appointment of conservative judges, retrenchment and reform of government.

When the party finds it this difficult to settle on an acceptable candidate, and when the candidate on whom the party settles is considered by many as simply "acceptable," you can expect a Democratic victory.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More Fair Tax Scrutiny

In case anyone is still taking Mike Huckabee seriously (polls show him sliding in South Carolina), let's return again to this "fair tax" idea.

I know a conservative economist whose quick take on the "fair tax" was positive. He said, "getting rid of penalties on hard work and entrepreneurship (taxing income and profit) and replacing them with incentives to be fruitful, to save and invest (the unintended consequence of a sales tax) makes a lot of sense."

But that "quick take" is too quick. Don't take it! Jerry Bowyer, chief economist of BenchMark Financial Network and a CNBC contributor, raises what strike me a fatal objections in "Fair Tax Flaws" (Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2008 -- not available from WSJ online; I've pulled it from Advocates argue that, all things being equal, the fair tax will end tax evasion, simplify tax collection, force illegal aliens to pay taxes, and grow the economy. But Bowyer's point is that it is unreasonable to expect all things to remain equal. If you change the tax system, behavior will change in predictable but inconvenient ways.

"People would simply switch from cheating on income taxes to cheating on sales taxes....Look at cigarettes. Organized crime sells smokes on the black market in jurisdictions that impose high cigarette taxes....Increase sales taxes to a combined state and federal 30%, up from a state based 6% now, and watch the dodging begin."

As a former tax accountant, he sees enormous complexities involved in business transactions (what exactly would qualify as one?), business-to-business transactions (to save 30% on costs, businesses will consolidate like mad), and transition rules (people have invested for retirement based on the present tax regime).

As for repealing the 16th Amendment which authorizes the federal government to collect income taxes, "It's hard to get good ideas through the ratification process; imagine how hard it would be to push this stinker."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hillary Says She Won the War in Iraq

This clip from Meet The Press ("Hillary...I am the reason the surge worked") reminds us of those really big, audacious lies that you get when you put Clintons in the White House. Jim Vicevich, a local talk show host in Hartford CT, captures Hillary Clinton telling us that the main reason that the troop surge has succeeded is not the outstanding generalship of David Petraeus, but the response of the Iraqi leadership to her demand that troops be withdrawn by January 2009. The current military success in Iraq is a Democrat victory, ands specifically the fruit of Hillary's wise statesmanship. What is even more amazing is that there are people who will believe this though they are likely already voting Democratic or they are not in the habit of voting at all.

The Old Dragon said:

The point of the surge was to quickly move the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. That is only now beginning to happen, and I believe in large measure because the Iraqi government ... they watch us, they listen to us, I know very well that they follow everything that I say (she emphasized "I"). And my commitment to begin withdrawing our troops in January of 2009 is a big factor--as it is with Senator Obama, Senator Edwards, those of us on the Democratic side--it is a big factor in pushing the Iraqi government to finally do what they should have been doing all along.

Power Line adds a quote from an American soldier in Iraq sounding off with indignation at Hill's jaw dropping claim.

This is worse than Al Gore's claim that he invented the Internet.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What to Remember About John McCain

When your party's presidential primary presents you with a uniformly compromised selection of candidates, it is hard to keep all the pluses and minuses straight and balanced.

Mark Levin reminds us of John McCain's dark side, which is deep and scary, in "The Real McCain Record" (NRO, January 11, 2008).

Oh, fudge! Just when I was beginning to get enthusiastic.

In the grand scheme of things, the ultimate meaning of events such as these does not pertain to politics, but to the Lord Jesus Christ, his redemptive purposes, his glory and his kingdom. Perhaps the Lord is turning the eyes of our hearts away from the glory of men to the Glorious One who directs the affairs of men and the courses of empires, and brings good out of evil for his people who love him.

Follow-up on Islamism and Socialism

On last week's post, "Obama's Questionable Allegiances," in which I summarize Daniel Johnson's report of Barack Obama's vocal support on foreign soil for Kenyan lefty Islamo-sympathizer Raila Odinga, reader Jon S asks a good question: "How does one reconcile Odinga being both a communist and an Islamist? A fervent commitment to one seems to cancel out the other. Or is he just a garden variety socialist?"

I don't know if Odinga is still a communist per se. New reports indicate that he has been trying to convince Kenyans of his capitalist orthodoxy, though his having to do that is telling. Nonetheless, with a promise of further investigation, I responded: "I don't know the details on this guy, but I do know that much of communism has been or became a simple power grab. There are more than a few Islamists who used to be socialists or communists. The most obvious connection is totalitarian power on the one hand and fashionable political trends on the other, i.e. opportunism."

I consulted our resident expert on Islam here at The King's College, Dr. Robert Carle, who offered these "scattered thoughts."

What Marxists and Islamists have in common is a narrative in which the West exploits, abuses, and marginalizes the Islamic world. A quote from Flemming Rose (Danish journalist and cultural editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten): “The Role of the victim is very convenient because it frees the victim of any responsibility, while providing a posture of moral superiority.”

The mainstream Islamist position is that Western ideologies (capitalism, communism, and democratic government) all need to be replaced by Sharia law, but we face today a quirky alliance between Mideastern dictators, radical imams, and Europe’s traditional left wing. This alliance, however, is fragile. Khomeini deposed the Shah with the help of Marxist students. Once in power, he banned Marxism and killed off its leaders. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who favors stoning gays, is a supporter and good friend of gay rights activist Red Ken (mayor of London). Islamist parties in the Arab world are generally composed of people who are very poor, and this may account for their use of anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Some history: Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Muslim youth gravitated toward Marxism. They rarely touted their Muslim identities, and most viewed the folk Islam of their parents as moribund. 1989 represented a huge shift for Muslims. With the collapse of the communist regimes in the East, Marxism ceased to be a credible alternative to European liberal society, and the Rushdie affair inspired Muslims to mobilize around the banner of Islam.

Flemming Rose and Giles Kepel write about this phenomenon.

A brief search on my part turns up "Europe's Politics of Victimology" by Flemming Rose, and two books by French scholar Giles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2003) and The War for Muslim Minds (2006).

Pamela Geller, in Israel E-News, is troubled by this Muslim connection and Obama's reluctance to discuss it ("Obama, the Muslim Thing, and Why It Matters").

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Unintended Political Consequences of Godliness

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36) Similarly, what does it profit Christ's church if she gains low taxes, renewed federalism, secure gun rights, an end to abortion and an array of family friendly laws, if she looses her Christ-centeredness and, as such, her godliness in the process?

Where is the pursuit of godliness among evangelical Christians today? On the one hand, we have political Baptists (et al.) focused on electoral outcomes and public policy. On the other hand, we have megachurches absorbed in rock and roll sentimentality. (See "Megachurches Found to be a Megabust.") Who is discipling the saints in personal godliness? Some churches are. Many more should be.

If we were to focus less on politics, and more on repentance, reformation, revival and a return to Christ-centeredness, many of the social problems of our day that people are attempting to remedy by political means of one sort or another would find a more profound solution. This would come through the back door, as it were, as an unintended political consequence of godliness cultivated for reasons that are trans-political. On account of the great number of evangelical Christians in the country and the effect they have on their families, neighbors and associates, these happy effects on social and economic issues would accrue quite naturally through the market and the democratic process. Furthermore, the benefits would be realized more securely (though far from indefinitely) because they would come as a result of change that is primarily spiritual, not merely political.

Isn't this in the spirit of what Jesus said in his sermon on the mount? "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33)

Nonetheless, the practical citizen duty of selecting a president is before us, and Christians are called to be good citizens. But we are not to exercise that citizenship in neglect of, or to the detriment of, our heavenly citizenship in Christ.

For a previous reflection along these lines, go to, "The Attributes of Christian Political Involvement."

For further reading on the cultivation of godliness, consider the following.

My post on "Spiritual Classics," an expansion on my sidebar of the same title.

Three excellent books by Jerry Bridges: The Pursuit of Holiness, The Practice of Godliness, and The Discipline of Grace.

For men, Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes.

For women, Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot, and Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss.

For parents cultivating godliness in their children, Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obama's Questionable Allegiances

Barack Obama needs a lot more foreign policy scrutiny than he has been getting, and perhaps now that he's a contender, he'll get it.

Daniel Johnson gives it to him in "The Kenya Connection" (New York Sun, January 10, 2008) and raises very disturbing questions. He brings to our attention the fact that in August 2006, Senator Obama spoke at rallies in Nairobi in support of one of Kenya's presidential candidates. Odd, don't you think? Even at that level of detail, it is curiously reckless for a United States Senator with presidential ambitions to be inserting himself into the internal political affairs of a foreign nation. The fact that Obama is of immediately Kenyan descent is no excuse. (His father was Kenyan.) In fact, it draws attention and invites deeper investigation.

Even more alarming is the candidate to whom Obama gave his public blessing: Raila Odinga, the man who claims to have had his election victory stolen from him on December 27 by his opponent, Mwai Kibaki, and in whose name people have been burning and slaughtering these past two weeks. (See the report and the film here.) Johnson fills us in on the background of this Odinga fellow, the president of choice for the man who could be our own President by this time next year.

  • "Mr. Odinga's father, Oginga Odinga, led the Communist opposition during the Cold War and Raila Odinga was educated in Communist East Germany."

  • "His eldest son is named after Fidel Castro and his daughter after Winnie Mandela."

  • "Even more sinister has been Mr. Odinga's electoral pact with the National Muslim Leaders' Forum — a hardline Islamist organization that represents Kenya's Muslim minority. According to this document, dated August 29, 2007, Mr. Odinga promised the Muslim leaders that, if elected, he would establish Sharia courts, not only in the northern and coastal regions where Kenyan Muslims are concentrated, but throughout the country."

  • "Mr. Odinga in effect offered to Islamize Kenya in return for Muslim votes, despite the fact that Muslims make up only 10% of the population, compared to the 80% who are Christian. Mr. Odinga himself is nominally an Anglican, yet he signed a document that refers to Islam throughout as 'the one true religion' and denigrates Christians as 'worshippers of the cross.'"

  • Barack Obama's father and Raila Odinga share the same tribe, the Luo, and indeed Mr. Odinga claims that Obama's father is his uncle, and thus that Barack Obama is his cousin.
I am no Africa scholar, but it seems that Mr Obama, as a sitting U.S. Senator, campaigned on behalf of an anti-Western, communist sympathizing, Islam imposing, closely related fellow tribesman in a foreign country, Kenya, which had previously been a stable, pro-Western democracy, something rare in that region. This is VERY SERIOUS.

Even more serious are the doubts raised by Mr. Obama's attitude toward Islam, which has so far received much less scrutiny than might be expected in a post-September 11 presidential election. If Mr. Obama did not know about Mr. Odinga's electoral deal with the Kenyan Islamists when he offered his support, then he should have known. If he did know, then he is guilty of lending the prestige of his office to America's enemies in the global war on terror. We need to know exactly what Mr. Obama knew about Mr. Odinga, and precisely when he knew it.

Of course, the Democrats these days are not interested in foreign policy beyond "bring the troops home." These are perilous times.

Closing the Deal: Obama Didn't; McCain Must

Karl Rove on "Why Hillary Won" (today's Wall Street Journal--check out their improved OpinionJournal page).

1. She got the beer drinkers; Obama got the more affluent, educated white wine drinkers. There are more beer drinkers.
2. The weepy moment connected with women.
3. The substantive attacks on Obama's record, his lack of a record, and his general lightness.
4. Obama fails to close the sale by adding substance to inspirational rhetoric.

Speaking of closing the deal, Kenneth Blackwell argues in today's New York Sun ("How To Seal the Deal") that this is precisely what McCain has yet to do with the conservative Republican base, and must do if he is to win not just the nomination but also the election in November.

1. He must be the agent of change (earmarks, entitlements, energy, health care).
2. He must reach out to conservatives and show that he will be helpful to their causes.
3. Follow Giuliani's lead by highlighting what good appointments he will make to the judiciary.

These measures will "energize the right without angering the center."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hillary The Old Dragon Lives

Last night, New Hampshire taught us (and taught Barack Obama) how much Hillary Clinton is like Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) in 3:10 to Yuma--not to be underestimated.

Maureen Dowd attributes a significant part of her success to her tearful reflection in the café. But she's unimpressed and she's not buying it.

What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

She lets Hollywood comment on the old weapon of womanhood that puts her male opponents at a distinct disadvantage.

As Spencer Tracy said to Katharine Hepburn in “Adam’s Rib,” “Here we go again, the old juice. Guaranteed heart melter. A few female tears, stronger than any acid.”
But she doubts that that ole Hill can "cry her way back to the White House." Unlike in relationships, it may be a weapon you can use only once in a political campaign to be commander-in-chief.

For more on Hillary's strategic use of her womanly prerogatives, go to "Hillary Clinton - A Woman of Convenience."

So what else do we make of this interesting providence?

A Hillary Clinton presidency would certainly be a safer one--though still not a good one--from a foreign policy standpoint. But we would pay high price domestically to be saved from Obama's utter naiveté in dealing with our foreign enemies.

I speak this way because, according to what AEI's Norman Ornstein has observed, the prospect of Republican victory in November are not good. The New York Sun reports,

Lopsided turnout in favor of Democrats at the Iowa caucuses, a huge fund-raising
advantage for the Democratic presidential campaigns, and an atmosphere of
dissatisfaction among the Republican base are prompting warnings that any
Republican presidential nominee could struggle to win in November....In Iowa
last week, about 221,000 people turned out for the Democratic caucuses, despite
the fact that those sessions tend to be more lengthy and involved than the
Republican ones. On the Republican side, about 116,000 Iowans voted. That figure
was up more than 30% from the last contested primary in 2000, but nowhere close
to the Democratic number.

Ornstein goes as far as saying, "if the Democrats can't win this, they had better find a different line of work."

On the other hand, if the Republicans were to nominate John McCain, the GOP's grumpy old man is more likely to beat the Democrats' nasty old woman than he would their hopeful young prince.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hillary's Cry: O New Hampshire! New Hampshire!

What are we to make of Hillary Clinton's tears? Or was it just a swelling of emotion? Was she just just exhausted, or was she weeping over her beloved nation, in way similar to our Lord's weeping over Jerusalem (with obvious differences, of course)? Or is she crying because she sees the West Wing of the White House slipping forever out of reach?

You can watch the video here with an accompanying Newsweek story.

Senator Clinton appears to be speaking candidly and from the heart, but nothing of which I am aware in her long public life leads us to believe that she ever--especially at this crucial juncture--drops her guard and lapses into an emotional moment of candor. Everything is calculated, including her "soft and vulnerable woman" episodes. See my previous post, "Hillary Clinton - A Woman of Convenience," where I explore this at greater length with the help of Maureen Down, Peggy Noonan, and Judith Warner.

Furthermore, this comes in the context of a much larger campaign to "humanize" Hillary Clinton and "soften" her image. Look at how soft, quiet spoken and personal she is presented in this video, "Make It Happen." I first noticed this "Hillary is a Human Being" public relations effort when I started getting emails offering me the chance to "hang out" with her over lunch and stuff. It's a hoot, really. Go to "I Get Invited to the Clintons'," "Hillary's Luncheon Lottery," and "Alone With Bill? Interesting Prize." Then there was that whole "Hillary's Birthday--write her a note and send her money" appeal, also by emails from Bill.

And we're to take these tears seriously? Call me hard, but this woman has a history.

Democrat Anger Management

As we head into another election, I want commend my fellow citizens who support the Democratic party, and especially the disappointed supporters of Al Gore's presidential bid in 2000. All things considered, they took it well, especially given the circumstances surrounding that particular election--circumstances which, because we are sensitive, we will not rehearse.

We have heard a great deal about Bush-hatred on the political left in America. But behavior in Kenya in response to their disputed election gives every American an opportunity to reflect on our political blessings here.

I pulled this from the Telegraph. Perhaps not the most vivid description, but it makes the point.

"If we aren't rescued from this place we know that tomorrow we will all die," said Agnes, a woman from the Kisii tribe, as she sat on a grass verge outside he district commissioner's office in Kenya's third city of Kisumu yesterday. Hundreds of fellow Kisiis milled about anxiously beside two empty buses. They are especially vulnerable in Kisumu for this area is a stronghold of Raila Odinga, the opposition leader defeated in last Thursday's disputed presidential election, and his Luo tribe. The Kisii are suspected of backing President Mwai Kibaki and allying with his Kikuyu people.

This Telegraph video makes the point more graphically: Massacres in Kenya: Thousands flee homes in fear of civil war.

I appreciate that no one in Florida or anywhere in our country was hacked to death with a machete. No congregation was burned alive together in a church. No American town was depopulated and razed to the ground.

Despite everything that we have been through these last seven years--what with Florida and Iraq and so forth--the Democratic left has been remarkably well behaved. It's worth mentioning.

Digest of Reading for New Hampshire

The New Hampshire primaries are here.

First Christmas. Then Iowa. Now this. It's the hap-happiest time of the year.

If you haven't seen these already, I have done the work of collecting the for your "first in the nation primary" reading enjoyment.

"The New New Mitt: New Hampshire voters know Romney's record better than most. That could spell trouble," by Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal. Fred Barnes adds his analysis Romney's difficulties as a candidate in "The All-Too-Resistible Romney: He has everything going for him but voters" (The Weekly Standard).

Henry Olsen puts Mike Huckabee in an enlightening European context in "The GOP's Time for Choosing: Mike Huckabee would make the party more like Europe's Christian Democrats," (Wall Street Journal). William Kristol, now writing in The New York Times, reflects on the possibilities of a Huckabee presidency ("President Mike Huckabee?"). Ole' Huck is not to be either party.

David Brooks does a good job distinguishing two models of maverick candidate for the independent votes of New Hampshire in "McCain and Obama" (New York Times, January 8, 2007). The most striking passage from "McCain's Promise: It is cruel to compare the senator to most of his Republican competitors," by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal is on Obama, "whose stance against terrorism, should he become president, will apparently consist largely of antipoverty programs, reassuring the world of our peaceful intentions, and attending Islamic Conferences."

In National Review Online, Frank Cannon makes the case for John McCain as the candidate who follows most faithfully in the tradition of Ronald Reagan ("A Reagan Heir:McCain is closer to the spirit of Reaganism than his critics realize").

Finally, though you may not have noticed, a few days ago the Republican Party in Wyoming tried to attract attention by inserting it's caucuses between Iowa and New Hampshire. But almost no one campaigned there and it brought almost no news coverage. Hmmm. Interested? Read "Whither Wyoming? A primary no one seems to have noticed" by John McCormack in The Weekly Standard. It might be fun.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Iowa Refutes the Campaign Spending Myth

A cynic sees a dark, hopeless world, no matter what the evidence. So it is with those who are convinced that American elections are up for the highest bidder. He who spends the most wins the seat. It's a rich man's world.

The results of this year's Iowa caucuses disprove this charge quite dramatically.

According to CNN, as of September 30, Mike Huckabee has spent just $1.7 million compared to Mitt Romney's $53.6 million. Yet on January 3, Huckabee beat Romney by 9 points in Iowa.

On the Democratic side, though Clinton outspent Edwards more than 2 to 1 (40.5 million to 18 million, again as of September 30 according to FEC figures reported on, Edwards beat Clinton by one percentage point. In the race as whole, if spending followed the pattern established by the end of the third quarter, Barack Obama spent the most and also won. Ah-ha! But anyone who thinks that Obama won the Iowa caucuses just because he spent the most money is practicing bad science, isolating one factor (apart from message, charisma, Oprah, religion, Iraq, Hillaryscare, Clinton fatigue) and making it the sole factor.

This experience should motivate everyone who thinks that spending levels determine election outcomes to probe more deeply into the circumstances surrounding those high-spender electoral victories.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Vote Wisely, But Hope in Christ Alone

As we head out of Wyoming into New Hampshire in this presidential primary season, voters are asking (perhaps unconsciously), "Which one of these characters genuinely loves the public good?" "Who is telling the truth?" "Which candidate has the ability to defend the nation against enemies abroad and accomplish his goals despite opposition at home?" "Which of these people would it be a pleasure to follow?"

None of them can satisfy any of these criteria. I am not being overly critical of this particular batch of candidates. It is true even of the best merely human leaders of history. It is true of Reagan and of Washington. It is true because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (John 3:23).

All human government is given by God (Romans 13:1-7), is called to administer God's perfect government, and yet falls short of the glory of that righteous rule. It's imperfection and our recognition (whether philosophical or visceral) of its imperfection point to the sovereign, good and wise government of God himself for which our hearts long but which will be realized only in the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ.

Today my pastor, Benjamin Miller of Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Long Island, New York, impressed upon us the importance of recognizing that the God who so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to save his people from perishing in their sin is a specifically covenanting God. This is a prominent emphasis in his Biblical self-revelation that most Evangelicals, despite their boasts of being Biblical, fail to see. It was years before I came to appreciate it.

Those of us who are interested in government, as everyone should be, need to understand this characteristic of God in order to understand where our hearts are pointing us.

In Deuteronomy 7:6-11, the Lord explains to his people what it means to have a God who graciously condescends to enter into a covenant relationship with a people, sinful though they are. (1) He chooses in love. (2) He swears in faithfulness. (3) He redeems in power. (4) He commands in authority.

(1) He chooses in love.

The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples...(Deut. 7:6-7)

(2) He swears in faithfulness.
...but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations...(Deut. 7:8-9)

(3) He redeems in power.
...the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:8)

(4) He commands in authority.
You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today (Deut. 7:11).
I have taken all Bible quotations from the English Standard Version which you may find, along with other translations in many languages, at

Of course, this God who spoke covenant promises to Israel is the same God who fulfilled those promises in the Messiah, Jesus. The Apostle Paul tells the church at Galatia that the promises given to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and thus for the Christian church, both Jews and Gentiles: "if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29).

If you are disappointed with political leaders, it is because they are no better than you and me. If you want to be governed by someone who will never disappoint you, indeed who will marvelously exceed all your expectations and even correct your expectations as he transforms your heart, look to Jesus who is not only the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), but also the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

Now, it's on to New Hampshire.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Are We Doomed To An Idiot Election?

It seems that, in the last couple of generations, we have developed the habit of electing an idiot every 16 years. In 2008, according to that pattern and as well as to present indications, we're due for another one. Michael Barone explains why in "The 16-Year Itch" (Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2008).

Of course, he does not use the word idiot, but instead refers to "outside-of-the-system candidates."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

After Iowa...What? (R)

So Iowa Republicans have given their blessing to a nice religious fellow who is so bipartisan and so hostile to the Republican establishment that he is almost indistinguishable from a moderate Democrat. I don't think that he will survive outside the sentimental religious atmosphere of that state, however. But should he win the nomination, it is certainly at least reasonable to advocate voting for Barack Obama on the understanding that if a clearly unqualified and incompetent President is going to screw up America and the world, it is better that it be a Democrat. Otherwise, who would step in to begin fixing the mess four years later?

Assuming that it does not come to that, whither do Republicans cast their eyes this side of the caucuses? Romney has suffered a body blow. He poured enormous time and money into this state. He goes into New Hampshire on January 8 a second place finisher nine points behind the Iowa winner having already spent 53 of his $62 million campaign fund (according to CNN).

That leaves the race open to (essentially) tied-for-third-place finishers Thompson and McCain, Mayor Giuliani, and of course Pastor Huckabee. It also leaves Republican voters almost as confused and undecided and somewhat disheartened as they were on January 2. Where is wisdom?

Start here. None of these men is Ronald Reagan. We are not entitled to a Reagan every time the top slot comes open. Reagan was rare. Accept that.

With that understanding, a voter's responsibility in a democracy is to exercise his franchise in such a way as to help elevate the best (most wise, virtuous, prudent) people into government.

Again, there is something to be said for helping to engineer a calculated loss for one's own party in certain circumstances. Mike Huckabee's nomination might be one such circumstance. Aside from that, however, after 9/11 the stakes are simply too high to play that game. You may have strong misgivings about one candidate or another, perhaps even deep hostilities, but he is safer than any three of the Democrats (with one exception).

Simply consider the most electable of the best candidates across the board. (It is not enough to be simply a good candidate. He must also be electable to merit your support. The candidate who has the best positions on what you think are the most important issues is not necessarily, on that basis alone, electable. There is more to becoming President and more to being President than policy positions.) The Democrats are so foolish in foreign policy, so depraved in social policy, and so destructive in economic policy that they disqualify themselves from consideration.

On Mike Huckabee, I have already said enough.

David Brooks has an insightful column on Mitt Romney entitled "Road to Nowhere." He puts his finger on why I find Mitt so dull. He's entirely market tested, "the party's fusion candidate." Having been nowhere in conservative politics, he emerges as the conservative candidate, a though a presidential contender can be restructured like a company and then re-marketed to consumers. The problem, says Brooks, is that, "In turning himself into an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican, he has made himself unelectable in the fall." He polls in the single digits among young people who are Barack Obama's strength. He does very poorly among people making less than $75,000. Obama did well in all income brackets in Iowa. Independents find him "inauthentic," whereas Barack Obama gives just the opposite impression. Brooks has more to say about a general "failure of imagination," but the bottom line is this: "His triumph this month would mean a Democratic victory in November." Romney is not a reasonable alternative.

Giuliani? I just shake my head. The word commonly employed at the end of the Clinton presidency was "tragedy." So much talent and so much opportunity squandered for such trivial and stupid gain. The same word, "tragedy," comes repeatedly to mind when considering all that Rudy Giuliani has to offer the nation alongside the mess that he has made of his life and that stands impenetrably between him and the Oval Office. For example, read "Old Habits: How the Giuliani Methods May Defeat Him" by Elizabeth Kolbert (New Yorker, January 7, 2008). As the Republican nominee, Rudy would have to fight a two front war: Obama on one side and his own past on the other. Fierce animals, both of them. Why would the party choose that unless it were absolutely necessary? It is not.

That leaves you with two candidates: Fred Thompson and John McCain. Neither one is Reagan. Neither one is the conservative dream. Both are eminently qualified. Either one would be better than any of the Democrats. Choose one.

In choosing, be mindful of the wise counsels of Peggy Noonan and Larry Lindsey.

Choosing a President Wisely

Here is another refreshingly and genuinely non-partisan reflection on the presidency and the candidates for it by a Republican. Below, I reported one from Peggy Noonan. Here I report on Larry Lindsey's essay in the Wall Street Journal, "What We Want in a President" (January 2, 2008). Dr Lindsey (Ph.D. Harvard, economics) has served under the last four presidents.

In short, he says that because of the world's vast complexity and thus the unpredictable and inevitable turns of fortune, every president comes to office in need of learning a great deal. Thus:

Our job as voters should be to select someone who will (1) know what he or she doesn't know, (2) get up to speed quickly, and (3) avoid making serious mistakes in the meantime.

Furthermore, while the primary process focuses largely on policy positions and mastery of the process itself (commercials, debating technique--Plato illustrates this in The Republic 488b-d), it is personal character that makes a president either great or disastrous. By character, he does not have in mind matters like truth telling and faithfulness to one's wife, at least not chiefly. Instead, he lists three critical considerations.
First, has the candidate faced a crisis or overcome a major setback in his or her life?...Second, has the candidate had a variety of life experiences? ...Third, can the candidate tell the difference between a foreign enemy and a political opponent?

He expands on these persuasively and offers historical examples of people who hold these virtues and also of those who were tragically missing them. He leaves the reader to apply these criteria to the present slate of candidates.

The first question clearly disqualifies Mitt Romney. I'm sure he "got straight A's, never got turned down for a date, was never fired from a job or defeated in an election." McCain and Giuliani are the most obvious overcomers in a crisis candidates. Huckabee's weight loss doesn't cut it.

The life experience question seems to favor Giuliani and Romney, even Hillary Clinton if only on account of her actual White House experience, and it is most disfavorable to Barack Obama.

And what name rushes to mind when you think of someone who treats domestic political opponents, even within her own party, at least as ruthlessly as she would treat a foreign enemy? The thought is chilling.

But do your own analysis. Invite some friends over and make it game!

It is interesting that the man whom Lindsey identifies nar the beginning of the essay as his own choice, Fred Thompson, does not appear to fare well according to the first two questions on this test, or so it seems to me.

To my many friends in Iowa attending the caucuses tonight: be wise!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Beware of Clintons Bearing Gifts

Many of you have seen Hillary Clinton's jaw dropping Christmas video. If you haven't, you must.

It is called "Presents." In it, she is shown labelling various Christmas presents that have been beautifully wrapped in gold paper and big red bows. The camera closes in on labels reading "Universal Health Care," "Alternative Energy," "Bring Troops Home," and "Middle Class Tax Breaks." She draws particular attention to the final gift by seeming to have misplaced it and then finding it. Under the ribbon, she inserts the label, "Universal Pre-K."

On the face of it, three of these policies are Bush administration priorities. The present administration is investing in alternative energy sources, such as ethanol. President Bush is committed to bringing the troops home after their job is complete, namely victory in a stable Afghanistan and Iraq. Hillary Clinton has conceded that she foresees us having troops in the regions for some years to come. She has not been running a "bring 'em home now" campaign. On the other hand, dissembling is her intuitive response in any given situation. As for tax cuts, that has been a hallmark of the Bush presidency. The gift may be code for repealing the Bush tax cut on only higher incomes.

The whoppers, however, are the universal health care and universal day care, which she calls "pre-k." What is striking is that these are offered as "gifts" to the American people. The Clinton website calls them "her wishes for the American people." She presents these matters as though her wishes can be simply translated into fait accompli gifts, as though these generous desires can be delivered to us without any cost or complication. It is (I assume) unintentionally significant that these "gifts" are wrapped with gold and secured with crimson.

Hillary's campaign and her general approach to government came into illuminating juxtaposition for me with an old Popeye cartoon over the Christmas holidays. Compare the spirit of Olive Oyl's campaign song, "If I Were President" from the 1948 cartoon "Olive Oyl for President," with Hillary Clinton's Christmas video.

If I were president, if I were president,
There'd be at least ten months of June,
For folks to spend their honeymoon,
And night winds would all have the sweetest scent.
If I were president.

If I were president, if I were president,
Silk worms in every house would grow
And they would all be on the go
(In case there were a stocking accident).
If I were president.

There'd be lampposts like you've never seen.
And streets would all be spotless clean!

If I were president, if I were president,
I'd have a cure that would work right,
For those who couldn't sleep at night.
The time they spent awake would be well-spent.
If I were president. If I were president.

If I were president, if I were president,
The dogs whose habits all were strange
Would undergo a brand new change.
An all-day cone would cost a cent.
If I were president.

If I were president, if I were president,
Each bus would have a smoother run,
With lots of seats for everyone.
Apartments once again would be for rent.
If I were president.

There would be no wrangling anymore,
For drumsticks that fell short before.

If I were president, if I were president,
I'd pick up feminine morale,
And get a man for every gal.
More holidays would get my strong consent.
If I were president.
The premise of the cartoon is that this is how a woman would govern. She would make everything nice, just as she does in her home. She gives no thought to cost or to the constitutional bounds of federal government activity. In the cartoon, Congress responds to her campaign song with the chant, "She's a jolly good female, She's a jolly good female, She's a jolly good female. We love our president." You can make what you want of that.

I'm sorry that I could not find the cartoon for you on the web. Olive's portrait come to you courtesy of