Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Lost Art of Going Negative

I think this is a golden age of political civility. But I'm living in the past.

It was a time of great speeches, great letters, and even greater personal invective.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Political Class Meets the People

2010 is indisputably "the Tea Party election." Who they are and why they've been able to turn politics on its head  has received many answers. I have offered a few myself.

In this column, "Bringing Down the Political Class," I summarize the point that pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make in their book Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two Party System

According to the authors, the Tea Party has been a spontaneous, principled, and yet passionate response to a politically unhealthy divide in the country. That divide is not fundamentally between Democrats and Republicans or between liberals and conservatives but between what they call the American mainstream and the political class. ...Fundamentally, Tea Partiers are moved by the view that “the federal government has become a special-interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.”

The Republican establishment opposed Ronald Reagan in 1980 because he was an outsider. Despite having been governor of California, he was not part of the political class, and by conviction as well as temperament would never be. Reagan was not an Ivy Leaguer. He went to Eureka College in Illinois. (Notice that you have to say “in Illinois.”) The establishment in general hates Sarah Palin for the same reason. The authors observe that, "the mainstream media and the political class seemed not even to attempt to understand what her appeal might be.” Instead, she “set off a trip wire within the political class regarding access to power: she didn’t meet their standards and they felt threatened by her” (p.98).

Rasmussen and Schoen explore many aspects of this divide, including the shrinking middle class and thus the growing gap between the rich-and-getting-richer and the poor-and-getting-poorer in this country, something that Republicans don't like to talk about, and that Democrats can't talk about without calling in the government to punish.

Shelby Steele has an interesting take on the Tea Party toward the end of his Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, "A Referendum on the Redeemer."

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old characterological evil that you always knew was there. Thus the tea party—despite all the evidence to the contrary—is seen as racist and bigoted.

But isn't the tea party, on some level, a reaction to a president who seems not to fully trust the fundamental decency of the American people? Doesn't the tea party fill a void left open by Mr. Obama's ethos of bad faith? Aren't tea partiers, and their many fellow travelers, simply saying that American exceptionalism isn't racism? And if the mainstream media see tea partiers as bumpkins and racists, isn't this just more bad faith—characterizing people as ignorant or evil so as to dismiss them?

Peggy Noonan has had a couple of good columns too: "Why It's Time for the Tea Party" and "Tea Party to the Rescue." I'm sorry, but I have found all the critics on the left (Krugman, Rich, Friedman, Wallis) to be hysterical and just blind. Chuck Colson's criticism in "Channeling the Populist Rage" is neither hysterical nor blind but misplaced just the same, I think.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our Wise and Gentle President

Our president is deeply concerned for the country, especially for ordinary Americans. So it should not surprise us that, at this time when unemployment and uncertainty are high and the country is going through fundamental changes, he has his gentle and benevolent finger on the pulse of the people. He hears us and he knows us. He may even know us better than we know ourselves. But that's why we trust him.

He recently told us* why we are so upset going into this midterm election. (His heart! His fatherly heart!)

Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does [sic.] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country's scared.

I felt that his words were like a presidential hug. I was both warmed and calmed by them.

He then offered this poem. (Any resemblance between this and Robbie Burns' "To a Mouse" is entirely coincidental.)

"To the Voter" -- by Barack Obama

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi' Tea Party combustion!
But I wad be loath to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' humble contrition.

I'm truly sorry Bush's dominion
Has broken America's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, to come who was the One
and seems immortal!

We're unworthy! We're unworthy!

*Carol E. Lee, "President Obama: 'Fear and Frustration' Drive Voters,", October 16, 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Purify Politics. Depoliticize the Economy

Democrats and John McCain like to crow about all the money in politics, and its corrupting influence. But is it really so much money? George Will's research staff puts it in perspective for us ("The Democratic Vision of Big Brother," Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2010).

Total spending, by all parties, campaigns and issue-advocacy groups, concerning every office from county clerks to U.S. senators, may reach a record $4.2 billion in this two-year cycle. That is about what Americans spend in one year on yogurt but less than they spend on candy in two Halloween seasons. Procter & Gamble spent $8.6 billion on advertising in its most recent fiscal year.

Those who are determined to reduce the quantity of political speech to what they consider the proper amount are the sort of people who know exactly how much water should come through our shower heads (no more than 2.5 gallons per minute, as stipulated by a 1992 law). Is it, however, really worrisome that Americans spend on political advocacy -- on determining who should make and administer the laws -- much less than they spend on potato chips ($7.1 billion a year)? 

But with government driving its tentacles every more deeply into the economy and the business of business, who can blame corporations and the Chamber of Commerce investing in the outcome of national elections? If you want to get money out of politics, get politics out of money!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Local Political Rot and Stench

There is no corruption like the corruption of local politicians. It's like the mold in your basement in a damp summer. Uncleanness thrives where sunlight never reaches. And there is little media attention given to the self-service that is rife among the life-long parasites that are local civic leaders.

Antony Niro, a Toronto high school friend with whom I have recently reconnected, has been running an innovative campaign to oust the conspiracy to fleece the public that is the Vaughn City Council. The city of Vaughn is a suburb just north of Toronto. At least one politician is suing him, and so he made this video in response. He would have my vote.

Here is a local news article on the campaign. Notice that the Mayor, Linda Jackson, boasts of having been involved with Vaughn politics since 1974. That's thirty-six years of cultivating cozy relationships for personal nest feathering. Notice also that she complains the ads are "hurtful." Poor, leathery thing. I don't know this woman, but I know human nature and I know politics. Without knowing anything else, I would put her out to pasture.

Look at the TimeForChangeVaughn website.

Here is a story from the Toronto Star. Notice that people are afraid of reprisal from these local politicolords. As Niro says, that's a bad sign.

This article in the Toronto Sun, the city's tabloid, provides a deeper look at the history, the litigation, and Vaughn's reputation for corruption.

Perhaps if federal government would restrict itself to its legitimate business, it would not absorb our attention so completely. Then we could pay attention to matters that are closer to us, and keep the politicians who are closer at hand under closer scrutiny.


October 31 post-election update:
Good news from Vaughn, Ontario! Voters ousted 4 of the 5 councilmen, including the 3 of the worst. Victory for Vaughan, but at a large personal and financial cost to the citizen-combatants. Exercising your democratic liberties should not be this costly. One source who was deeply involved in the struggle reports, "The mood in the city changed overnight."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Professors Against Drunk Voting

Some of us are prone to excessive and blinding political passions. Politics does that to you. Those in political philosophy, like me, have to balance the sober study of politics with the active life of a citizen who loves (yes, loves) justice. Love engages the passions, and the passions cloud the mind. You see the problem.

Because politics, unlike mathematics, necessarily involves profoundly important moral questions, political passions are both necessary and dangerous. God made us to love righteousness, but not to idolize a well ordered life in this world.

In this week's Worldmag column, "Victory and Idolatry," I reflect upon the forms that excessive and misplaced political hopes often take: millenarian enthusiasm and disgusted withdrawal. I intend this as a tonic especially for Republicans and Tea Partiers as we approach the November election. But not a paralyzing one.

Constitutionally Expressed Anger

Mad As Hell. The title of Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen's book on the Tea Party movement nicely summarizes the theme of this year's midterm elections. I expect that it will be the dominant theme for the next couple of years as well.

In last week's Worldmag column, "Republicanism at Work," I point out that when that popular angry expresses itself at the polls on November 2, it is not "democracy at work" that we will see, but the republican system of government doing what it was designed to do.

With the people as angry as they are with the political class, it would be reasonable to expect a complete change in government. In 1993, Canadian voters were so upset with the Progressive Conservative Party, one of the country’s two major parties, that they reduced the Tory’s 169-seat majority in Parliament to a mere two seats, with even the prime minister herself failing to win reelection in her district. That is what voter anger can do in a democracy. But you will not see that in November. ...

[I]t was the intentional design of our Founders to protect our political life from the instability of democracy and its potential for tyranny, or what Alexis de Tocqueville called “democratic despotism.” Our constitution attempts, quite successfully I think, to institutionalize the people’s better judgment while at the same time giving vent to their passing opinions and passions.

Of course American government is "democratic," if by that we means that it is, as Lincoln said, government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The board mass of the population is the fount of political authority, as of course it ought to be. But simply democracy, as a form of government, is far more volatile than a modern republic. I explain how.

We should thank the Lord for the wisdom of our Founders, and be vigilant when a pol tries to justify something on the basis of its being more "democratic."

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Bad Earworm

When a German has a song in his head that keeps playing and playing, and will not stop, he calls it an Ohrwurm, an earworm. That expresses the problem well.

At the moment I have Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" running around up top, and it's taking up valuable mental real estate. But there is good reason for its being there.

I am not equipped to analyze Bad Romance articulately. But emotionally it is a remarkably arresting song. Her soaring vocals and pathetic tones complementing the pathetic theme, the alteration back and forth between Berlin cabaret and Broadway tragedy, and even some classy French at one point to cleanse the listener's ear before returning us to the singer's unhealthy involvement with her lover's "ugly" and "disease" confront us with an immediate awareness that nothing like this has happened in pop music since Michael Jackson released Thriller in 1982 and U2 came out with War in 1983, or possibly since Nirvana's Nevermind showed up in 1991.

But I have not been following popular music closely the way I did when I was 18, and what do I know anyway? That's why I'm going public with these thoughts.

I won't post her video because it is vile, but consider this stunning performance of the song.

It brings to mind this earlier classic of dance and song.

It is true, we are living in a golden age of creativity. I can hardly keep up with it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How Must I Help You?

Beggar in Tehran, Antoine-Khan Sevruguin, 1880

It is healthy for all of us that the Evangelical left has provoked the rest of us into a more careful and conscientious consideration of our moral obligations to the poor among us. But while they tend to think that what those moral obligations demand of us is obvious (perhaps just the most vocal among them), it strikes me as considerably more complex, like the human relationships and human souls that the question involves.

I briefly address this question in "The Least of These,", October 6, 2010.

They are people for whom it is a challenge each day simply to feed themselves and their families. The Bible typically presents them as the widow, the orphan, and sometimes the sojourner. These are people who have lost their natural protectors and have little or no means of providing for themselves. They are exposed to the wolves of society, powerful and unscrupulous people of means who would devour them for selfish gain.

How people are to help such people depends on one's relationship to them, and position of authority. I don't have the same moral responsibility for people across town, much less across the world, as I do more people in my own community, or even my next door neighbor. This is not to say I have no responsibility, which of course increases with the development of technology that makes the world a smaller place.

I have heightened responsibility for brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet again for for own family.

There is also a giving that is inappropriate. If I were struggling to keep my family fed and clothed, and a wealthy person in my church took pleasure in decking out my children and wife in nice clothes, I would resent this. I would return the gifts, because he is supplanting me as provider. It's not his place to give these things, or at least not in that way.

Government welfare supplants in the same way. When it steps in and gives what private charity and family are supposed to give, while providing for real material needs it destroys or at least slackens important relationships in the process. This should come as no surprise because it is not government's place to provide this good. God appointed government to praise what is good, not do the good itself (Romans 3:1-7; 2 Peter 2:14).

Christians have no disagreement over the moral necessity of kindness to the poor. Our point of debate is what the legitimate and most beneficial means are for accomplishing this. But it is sheer political fantasy that in Matthew 25 Jesus was mandating a government engineered transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor in the form of direct payments and a broad array of social services and economic subsidies.

I don't mean to suggest that the Evangelical left discovered the poor and the moral obligation of mercy. Marvin Olasky has been encouraging the compassionate dimension of the Christian life at least since he published The Tragedy of American Compassion in 1992. But the history of Christian charity is a long one, and no generation has been without its chapter.

Monday, October 4, 2010

We Have Been Warning You

I know that some of what we have written on these pages has seemed to some of our readers overwrought, perhaps especially my entries. It is a paradox of evil and evil doers that their depravity can a times so exceed the normal person's imagination or sense of reality that accurate reporting of what is actually true seems like delusion to those hearing of it for the first time. Have I seemed over the top on occasion? Naively cutting corners, extrapolating wildly, blowing out of proportion things explicable under more reasonable parameters? I cannot claim 100% truth content in the opinions I hold, nor the information I pass along here. But I do know a couple of things, and the more I read and see the more confirmed I am in my opinions. I can't think of anything published here that I would retract as over-stated or untrue.

Accordingly, the following video from an outfit calling themselves "10/10" , calling on everyone to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010, which has been belatedly pulled from all their own sites and media placements, shows just what is lurking behind the happy face progressivism so in vogue these days.

I must warn you about this video however; it is shocking and sickening beyond anything David and I could have ever prepared you for, and goes well beyond anything warned of on this blog. But it does follow quite easily from the sort of radicalism of William Ayers and the Weather Underground, for example, or the Baader-Mienhof gang, the Red Army Faction, the Black Panther Party, and any of dozens of eco-terrorist groups like Earth First! or Earth Liberation Front, operating now. Like all these 60's era revolutionaries, the people behind this 10/10 thing countenance political murder along the exact lines explicated by Albert Camus in The Rebel. (Camus was close to converting to Catholicism just prior to his death in 1959--he had had it with the international left, and his book is another instance of a barely credible indictment of evil).

Professor Ernst Sternberg of the University of Buffalo, State University of New York, has an equally ghastly appraisal of what the international Left is up to here: The enemies of the new order must be destroyed, as the pleasant and rational school teacher in the video understands.

Here is the abstract:

Abstract: The past decade has seen the coalescence of a new ideology that envisions social movements in a cataclysmic struggle against global capitalist "Empire". Controlled by U.S. militarism and multinational corporations, in cahoots with Zionism, "Empire" contaminates environments and destroys cultures. Its defeat will bring about a new era of social justice and sustainable development, in which the diverse cultures harmoniously share the earth. Is this a totalitarian ideology? From fascist and communist precedents, we learn that lovers of renewed humanity are not sufficiently motivated by abstract ideals. They must also identify humanity’s enemy, the cause of all suffering. Equipped with a scapegoat, diverse communities can achieve solidarity through shared execration.


Innes adds: As to the video, it speaks volumes about these people (a) that they think this is funny, (b) that they think the general public would think this is funny or even remotely acceptable, and (c) that it made it's way all the way through the planning and production process without anyone saying, "Are you insane?" Did this make its way onto British television before someone finally sounded an alarm? If so, same questions.