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Monthly Archives: January 2008


January 25th, 2008 - 8:05 pm

Clinton in South Carolina

I was listening tonight to a C-Span broadcast of Bill Clinton’s stump speech for his wife in South Carolina. Here are my conclusions:

1. In her mid-twenties, right out of law school, Hillary’s philanthropy and social service were of such a magnitude that they almost immediately found their way into federal law. Indeed, much of our comprehensive legislation concerning children and the poor had their geneses through her twenty-something work. The audience is to believe that leaving Yale Law School and forgoing politics back in Illinois were moral decisions for which we all are forever in her debt. Like Bill, she has suffered for all of us.

2. There is really not much of a social safety network for anyone. We may be giving half our incomes over to federal, state, and local taxes, spending 70% of our budget on social programs, and at the apex of large government in our history, but none of this is adequate. Instead, veterans, children, the poor, and aged, all of them are simply being neglected—and only Hillary has the savvy to create enough new social programs to save those who need to be saved. Any social pathology is entirely due to collective indifference or government neglect. Since the individual through drunkenness, drug use, ignorance, evil, or selfishness is never responsible for the results of his pathology, it would be silly to ask of him to clean up his own mess.

3. Almost every anecdote is prefaced by “When I was Governor, Hillary…” or “When I was president, she…” By implicit assumption, if we vote for Hillary we are voting in name for a co-presidency, but in fact, for a third and fourth term for Bill.

4. The problem is not that Bill Clinton occasionally lies—he does. But instead, almost serially he exaggerates and fudges—and in ways beyond not inhaling or redefining “is”, or insisting oral sex is not sex. The result is a Forrest Gump like effect, that we are to believe he and Hillary were the font of every almost every liberal gift of the last quarter-century—Yale, then Arkansas being the Mecca of social change.

5. It would be cruel, but understandable to ask amid these long encomia on Hillary’s character, her talent, and her morality—prefaced by Bill’s commentary that he almost alone realized her singular gifts, why in the world, then, did he spend over thirty years trying to escape her in almost every way imaginable? Why if she walked on water, did he find company, carnality, conversation with Paula Jones or Gennifer Flowers, or feel the need to talk trash and more with Monica? In other words, he is asking the voter to take on a partnership, a political marriage if you will, that he, mutatis mutandis, never would or has. It reminds me of the last time I bought a Chevy S-10. The local Selma salesman went on at great length about its reliability, its power, and economy, its great price, and then I asked him whose small, like-sized Toyota Tacoma was parked nearby and was it for sale? No need to tell you to whom it belonged.

More on McCain

My private email, still deluged with angry letters, reflects the postings here that many will not vote for McCain—no matter what. Perhaps President Hillary will make their point that a quasi-conservative (80 or so in standard ratings) is not good enough and should equate to a lost election.

But all the candidates have problems. Huckabee’s populism and foreign policy experience reflect more Huey Long or William Jennings Bryan than the Republican mainstream. Romney crafted a career as a blue-stocking moderate to win in Massachusetts, a stance that was deliberately at odds with Reaganite social conservatism. Giuliani reflected those mushy attitudes about illegal immigration characteristic of the 1990s. Yet I would vote for any of the above in preference to Sen. Clinton, who, as we are beginning to see, is a mere surrogate for eight more years of Bill, who, in turn, is determined to wash away his earlier stains by a third and fourth chance at our collective expense.

I take McCain at his word that—once chastised on immigration—he will close the border. Ending illegal immigration, restoring fiscal sanity, cutting spending, and insisting on victory in the war are the essential issues, and on all he is far preferable to Hillary. There really is a difference between “suspension of disbelief” and “no substitute for victory.” That is why a number of conservatives have and will continue to hold their noses and endorse McCain.

Republicans, like it or not, have been given a great gift. Just three months ago Hillary was coronated in the media as our next President, as polls showed her winning against all comers. Then came her demonization of Obama and the entrance of pit-bull Bill—and the country was reminded of the Clinton viciousness and the entire fraud of modern liberal thinking.

Identity politics? Good except when your square white wife must win to get you back in power? Feminism? Women rule—except when they are surrogates for a male return to power at any cost? The policies of personal destruction? Terrible—unless you must engage in them to destroy the black candidate to save the black constituency. A liberal slanted media? Great—until liberals begin to see that Clintonites are embedded all over the networks and can’t quite be fair to Obama.

All this the Clintoni have exposed and the results are clear: a moderate-conservative nominee, at a time when a Republican President has a 35% approval rating, will still beat a left-wing Democrat. And yes, moderate Democrats, who watch this Clintonian ruthlessness, will be turned off and may well vote for a McCain in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Florida and elsewhere not because McCain is a liberal, but because they can disguise their embarrassment and disgust for Clinton by claiming they voted for a national hero.

A Final Note. Remember that Ronald Reagan signed the greatest amnesty bill in our history that helped to ensure the present 10-15 million illegal aliens, raised payroll taxes and upped gasoline taxes, sold arms secretly and illegally to the Contras, had a disastrous episode in Lebanon that cost 241 Marine lives, naively called for global nuclear disarmament, and far more unconservative accomplishments—and rightfully, despite all that, deserves the mantle of a great President. And more importantly, it is likely that the two moderates in the race, McCain and Giuliani, most often supported Reagan during his administration in practical ways.

A better tactic than sitting out the election would be to unite around the nominee, and then put his feet to the fire on key issues. If it is McCain, then demand he go on Limbaugh’s show for an hour, or speak before social conservatives, and take the heat.

We are watching something historic—the crumbling of the Clinton façade. Its disintegration does not mean Hillary won’t be President, only that she can now be beaten when just a few months ago that was deemed impossible. Strange to say: the election is in Republican hands.

Two New Journals.

Two left-of-center journals, Lapham’s Quartlery and World Affairs, have appeared and they are, yes, both excellent. Both have the usual anti-Bush subtexts. But there is a lot of balance. In the World Affairs launch issue there are good essays by Peter Collier and one by Christopher Hitchens, as well as contributions from Reuel Marc Gerecht and David Bell.

Louis Lapham’s final editor’s essays in Harper’s excoriating Bush were near hysterical and rambling. I’m sure he thought that I was as unhinged in support of the removal of Saddam and the need to replace him with a constitutional government as I did his blanket opposition.

But no matter—his quarterly is excellent, an original sort of publication devoted to military history in the broadest literary sense. The method is to take today’s controversies—Iraq, asymmetrical warfare, terrorism, preemption, etc.—and juxtapose current observations by military historians and essayists with those of the past, whether by Thucydides or George Orwell. The effect is to have a board of contributors, as it were, made up by the likes of Machiavelli and Eugene Sledge. The quarterly is lavishly produced and beautifully illustrated, a sort of literary version of Military Historical Quarterly. I would like to hear readers’ comments about the first issue.

Fox News

I am supposed to be on Fox News this Sunday at around 11 AM. I try to do a radio program every day or so, but usually avoid television. There are no studios in Fresno that will open a link, and the networks don’t like to send a van out to the farm. They’ve done so 5-6 times, but it seems a colossal waste of money to set up the living room for 2 hours and then do 3 minutes. The only time I can do it, then, is here at Stanford that has an excellent studio, and I am rarely here at the time they ask—except for this Sunday.

Rush, the Genius?

I note in passing that, contrary to elite opinion, I am mightily impressed by most in talk radio. A Hugh Hewitt or Dennis Prager is far brighter than most academics I met over the last thirty years, not to mention far better spoken. We also forget that Limbaugh is not just a pundit, but a gifted comedian. His impersonations and imitations are in the first rank of comedians. Note the recent writers’ strike shut down or emasculated lesser talents like Leno, Letterman, and Maher, but reminded us that Limbaugh daily, for three hours non-stop can do his own material. He had all the requisite talents—quick wit, well read, good memory, excellent delivery, and a comic sense.

The Left never saw that. They thought offering up antithetical shows would do the trick, not understanding that Rush succeeded wildly, not just because of his commentary, but because he really is a gifted entertainer, a sort of combination Jack Benny, Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles, and Rich Little all in one, with the insight of a Buckley or Novak. Really a gifted guy. If he bit his lip Clinton-style or socialized with the literati, or didn’t have to do ads, he would be considered by critics as the genius that he really is.

Politics Again

January 21st, 2008 - 10:50 am

An Asymmetrical War

The other day a story ran about new French male fashion shows—of sexually-ambiguous fellows dressed in a sort of terrorist-chic outfit (one had a hood on). And on the same day came this quote from one of the creepier terrorists around, Mr. Nasrallah of Lebanese Hezbollah infamy; he emerged briefly from his secret bunker to announce, “I tell the Israelis, we have the heads of your soldiers, we have hands, we have legs.”

That juxtaposition in tastes between what goes on in Paris and Beirut makes this war, well, very problematic to say the least. A bin Laden or Dr. Zawahiri must be quite amused, surprised, flabbergasted, delighted? by a Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, or Michael Moore.

Gaza Blackout

After the nth rocket attack, Israel politely stopped providing fuel transit for the Gaza power station, which is now shutting down for a bit. Expect world outrage. Israel would have done better to send about 20 Kassem captured rockets into it rather than do something transparently, nonviolently and logically, given the outrage of safe Western elites.

And the effect? I would assume two things: the ‘Kill all the Jews” rhetoric of Hamas will go into, “How can they do this to us” victimization in a heartbeat; and, two, don’t expect an emergency shipment of Saudi fuel, or a sudden airlift, Berlin style, from Iran or Egypt. Sending weapons is one thing if it means using Palestinian fodder to hide the criminality of the Arab hierarchy in the Middle East, but quite another to help keep the lights on.

There will be as many candle-light processions in Gaza as there are none to stop the rockets. And remember Gaza is no longer “occupied”, but under Hamas control, itself in a deadly war with the West Bank Palestinian authority.

What happened to Iraq?

The general media reaction to the good news in Iraq has been the following: ignore it; or run stories about traumatic and deadly stress of veterans, or other bad news themes like the updates on the Marine trials; or talk not about the significance of victory but only of the unnecessary cost. Iraq was supposed to be the make-or-break issue for the Democrats, as they vied with one another to get the troops out the quickest. But the last two months in the theater, the number of American fatalities is starting to devolve to the number of what might be normally lost in deployments of the size of 160,000 through normal training and dangers in a noncombatant environment. (20,000 have died in military accidents since 1980).

In any case the argument is increasingly becoming moot. Americans of all persuasions want US troops to come home, the question now is mostly under what circumstances. Fears of Iran and $100 a barrel oil have made many of the old controversies of the 2003-5 years moot as well. I wrote once that the war would end with a whimper not a bang, and so it is starting to—only to be refought for the next twenty years by historians, once the tell-all, fiasco, quagmire, ‘George Bush is our worst president’ exposes clear out.

More on McCain

I continue to be deluged with angry letters from conservatives about McCain. My observations–as a TMS columnist I can’t endorse candidates– were entirely empirical: McCain has the best and perhaps the only chance to defeat the Democratic nominee, and his chances hinge in part on the degree to which either conservatives balance his good conservative rating (in the high 80s, strong support for the war, budgetary prudence) versus his propensity in the past to denigrate principled critics, and, out of misplaced bipartisanship, vote wrongly on issues such as closing the border now and censoring forms of political expression, inter alia—or his own magnanimity in admitting past straying and promises to reflect his party, perhaps by selecting, if nominated, a hard conservative as VP.

That’s how it looks from the outside, without partisan zeal. I understand conservatives’ anger that they will sense they are being co-opted, but they have to weigh that against the specter of a co-Bill-and-Hillary Presidency (on which see below).

An afterthought. If Bill and Hillary continue to split the Democratic Party, and Bill especially plays the race card, and loses his temper at the minority upstart that did not come through proper liberal white suburban approval channels, a number of bruised Obama voters may either stay home or vote a McCain ticket.

Trip to Battlefields of Western Europe

In an effort at chronological (15th-century to the present) and topical (e.g., Agincourt, Waterloo, Somme, Verdun, Normandy, etc.) diversity (post-war issues such as Nato in Brussels and the Treaty ending World War I at Versailles) we will try to spend some time at Rouen visiting the Joan of Arc sites. Within a few days I’ll have more information on the Nato headquarters meeting and the debate at the Hotel Trianon at Versailles between Professor Thornton and a prominent French intellectual on the future of Europe. We still have a few more openings, but have now a good-sized group, and some wonderful speakers. For those who might tire of lectures on war and campaigns and graveyards and battlefields, there is a nice evening boat cruise on the Seine in Paris, and plenty of down time in Brussels and other cities.

Sent this into the NRO corner this morning on Bill Clinton:

Who exactly is running for President?

I wrote not long ago about Bill as the “Clinton Albatross,” but recently it is more apt to compare him to some sort of attack dog unleashed. His (note-his, not hers) victory speech in Nevada was quite extraordinary; he went on and on, while she stood next to him mute-as he gloated over her comeback, took digs at the other candidates, referenced himself of course, and was reluctant to give up his iron grip on the microphone.

Her expression was that of a classic “Don’t dare ask me to muzzle that Doberman!” frozen bystander. If she can’t control him, how could she control the country-or is that a fair comparison given that his own pathologies are far greater than those of our collective nation? It defies the laws of physics for such a narcissist to recede into the shadows, or in suitable fashion yield to his wife, or to play a private role making calls and quietly calling in political debts.

In 2000 George Bush was careful not to be too partisan and mostly kept out of the campaign limelight. There was no sense that a vote for W. was simply a continuance of Bush I. So Bill’s ubiquity on the campaign-sharp partisan attacks and caricatures, misinformation about his own record, fiery outbursts to reporters-is quite unprecedented for an emeritus President, especially one who had so carefully cultivated his image as a global insider and international humanitarian.

If between 2001 and 2008, the Clinton 1993-2000 legacy was something to be defended by all Democrats, now Hillary’s candidacy and Bill’s unseemly behavior are calling all that in the past into question. Who knows, soon Democrats themselves, either Obama supporters or disillusioned Clintonites, may grudgingly concede to critics, “Yeah, you were right about that guy all along.” If Bill keeps up the attack on Obama, he may become the first unblack President.

Of course, Bill sees his wife’s election as a referendum on himself, a way to redeem himself for his impeachment and tawdry exit from the Presidency, and a co-presidency-if the prefix “co-”, in any sense, can ever be applicable to someone of such an extraordinary ego. Again, I pass on the Freudian aspect of him in part wanting her to lose. Handlers may think that Hillary’s bounce came from Bill’s suddenly frenetic pace, and indeed, he surely claims as much. But it is more like a shot of adrenalin to a floundering patient-necessary perhaps for one-time revival, but fatal in the long term if resorted to on a daily basis.

Again, the surprise is not that he has gnawed himself free, but rather how and why the old pros in the Clinton campaign did not have a steel chain rather than a mere leash. So far Obama has played off this gaffe in good fashion-when attacked being both pained and confused in just the right mixture. But it would be wise for him to counter Bill a bit more, drawing on his sense of much more even-tempered perplexity and sadness to challenge Bill’s mendacity. If he does that and keeps his cool, it will remind voters that Hillary apparently has willingly chosen bystander status-and sooner or later Bill will blow up big-time, and do irrevocable harm to Hillary’s candidacy. The Clintons know his snapping and biting must cease, but also know he can’t stop-sort of like the frustrated Queensland Heeler who has gone through extensive obedience training only to snap at the first stranger he sees.

In the meantime, we witness the odd effect that the more Bill presses the attack, the more sympathetic and likable-and presidential-Obama becomes. How odd that Obama appears on the campaign trail more like a calm ex-President, and Bill the over-eager grasping wannabe we remember so well from the late 1980s.

Politics and Fruit

January 17th, 2008 - 11:26 am

Here He Goes Again

Bill (of “motor-voter” access fame) lost his temper again, berating a reporter who quizzed him about the very strange support of the Clinton machine for a suit seeking to restrict caucus access for Nevada workers on the strip. He once again turned beet red, got in the reporter’s face and let go—about what we’ve seen in the Chris Wallace interview and the various rebukes to Obama on the stump.

For a number of years, Bill had seemed to take great efforts to achieve post-presidential, bipartisan “stature” by teaming up with George Bush the elder for humanitarian causes, and tried to be above the political fray, hoping to tap into the Bushophobia, and erase the bad taste of Monica and the pardons. But insidiously he is eroding all those efforts by his nasty campaigning for Hillary, and his adolescent outbursts. By year’s end he will have achieved what Jimmy Carter did in his post-9/11 slide, from elder statesman to partisan hack.

Republican Fratricide

After reading most of the McCain animus on conservative blogs, I’m a little worried that some of it goes over the top. Specifically, I am confused about statements on NRO where I write, suggesting that stopping pork barrel spending won’t improve a single American life or that McCain’s surge support is exaggerated. Stopping the bridge to nowhere or the billions spent needlessly (I can cite 100 such needless expenditures in central California) most definitely will improve far more than just a single American life. And while it is true that many candidates supported the surge, and that McCain unnecessarily in serial fashion denigrates Rumsfeld, his support for the surge was the most visible, and had a key effect in reining in other so-called moderate Republicans who were going to bolt.

McCain’s past support for the flawed immigration bill, McCain-Feingold, and opposition to tax cuts, as well as temper flare-ups at those who questioned his conservative fides are legitimate concerns. But many believe that the two key issues right now are winning, in conservative fashion, the war in all its theaters, and controlling out-of-control spending. He seems in the forefront there. Moreover it seems odd to fault him for telling the truth–however politically unwise–that all the jobs in the automotive industry simply aren’t coming back as before (given the global stature of Toyota, Honda, etc.), much less to suggest that his Michigan concession speech being (by design) preempted by a victorious rival is somehow just desserts.

I think those who might prefer a McCain or Giuliani will be perfectly happy to vote for the ticket should a Romney or Thompson be the standard bearer. But from the recent rhetoric, it almost seems the inverse is not true. And if that is the case, then a President Clinton seems to me a sure thing–which of course may be the desire— in the fashion that 1964 purists thought their loss logically led to recovery in 1968 or 1976 had to transpire to get to the promised land of 1980. I would remind conservatives, however, that we are in a war, and that sitting out 2008 might mean allowing a candidate to win (pick any of the three Democrats) who has promised to withdraw all troops in 2009, regardless of the battlefield landscape (perhaps versus a McCain Presidency who surely won’t do that).

California Tree-Fruit

I receive a lot of questions concerning why California tree-fruit, such as plums, nectarines, and peaches, continues to be in depression, when row crops and things like almonds and fresh grapes are not. Speaking as someone who grew up with the tree-fruit industry (my grandfather began farming our place in trees in 1910), I think there are three reasons.

All fresh fruit that is not storable is not so easily exported, and so misses out somewhat on the new appetites of an increasingly affluent middle class in China, India, and Korea, who are beginning to put California almonds in their rice, or use more of our walnuts or processed fruits as condiments. Second, 10-15% of all fresh fruit in the United States in the summer months is now consumed in farmers’ markets, and bypasses the old packer, shipper, broker nexus (Thank God), which leads us to the third relevant point: the new varieties that came on the scene in the 1960s were disastrous: big, shiny, watery, hard, bouncy—and tasteless, they shipped as well as they tasted awful.

Oh, to Eat an Elberta Peach!

In the old days, farming tree-fruit was an art: one had 24 hours to pick a delicious and ripe Santa Rosa plum or an Elberta peach before it went bad. Pickers used gloves; we used small padded boxes; and the fruit was on the truck within the day—or else. I can remember 20-hour days of madness as we rushed with my grandfather into the orchards to spread boxes and get them out, and hear his lectures to the picker to be sure to wear gloves and not drop the fruit from the bucket.

The result was that a consumer ate a delicious, ripe (and sometime messy overripe) tree-fresh plum or peach. It was hard to farm a 30 acre block of one single variety, since the skills involved took years to master. A single bad decision about irrigation timing, or soil fertilizaton, or thinning, or picking time, or a suddenly hot or cool day could spoil tons of fruit. The corporations, family or not, hated the hassles, and much preferred to have large tracts of ‘pick and forget’ varieties that were off the tree half green in one or two (rather than four or five) pickings. Almost anyone could manage such an orchard, and many with almost no skills did.

So with the advent in the late 1960s of varieties like Red Beaut plums (that destroyed its rival (both were picked in late May) delicious, soft old Burmosa early plum), May Grand nectarine, or Red Top peaches, the shipper had a fruit that could be picked half green and still colored much better, had a window of a week to be picked, did not bruise, had a good shelf life, and thus attracted the shoppers’ eye—until they got home and tried to eat it.

After forty years, the consumer said “no mas” and simply assumed that California plums, nectarines, and peaches were de facto unripe, hard and taste badly, if not saturated with chemicals to make them ship and look like plastic fruit. True, some have gone back to the old varieties for local consumption, but the notion that a family farmer of 100-200 acres could grow blocks of five-acre varieties, and from May to September pick and pack each day at a profit is apparently over.

They are going broke or long gone. Instead we have micro-farmers, mostly organic who do their own labor on 10-acre suburban farms for farmers’ markets, with tasty old varieties, OR mega-corporations, who own 5,000-10,000 acres of tasteless hard fruit and through sheer economy of scale still survive, though are in deep trouble since they have a product few anymore like.

(Tree-fruit farming is far more risky than Vegas gambling, as I can attest. It is not unusual to net $50,000 one year on a five-acre plum orchard, and lose $20,000 annually on it for the next seven years–due to hail, rain during bloom, shortage of bees, poor set, market collapse, changing taste for varieties, tree or soil diseases, strikes, etc.)

In the end, one would be safer playing the stock market or going to the Casino.

I note in passing that to a degree the fresh grape industry was similar, but the new shiny hard varieties like Flame Seedless tasted almost as good at Thompson Seedless (itself making an unfortunate devolution from a small, golden color sweet grape to a pumped up, girdled, gibbed-up, and water soaked monstrous, thumb-sized tasteless berry.)

The end of the Santa Rosa Plum and the Elberta Peach is emblematic of our age.

The Campaign

January 11th, 2008 - 8:11 am

The Fights Continue…


The Cry

Hillary’s cry was perfect. She previewed it by talking about the unfairness accorded women who tear up; she post-viewed it by announcing she’d found her “voice”. And in Act III the moist cheek worked beautifully— a tin man’s half tear, not a cowardly lion’s deluge.

But it isn’t over till it’s over. And her problem remains that Obama is a far better speaker, maybe brighter as well, surely more charismatic who in brilliant fashion taps into all the reservoirs of liberal anti-Clintonism. And he doesn’t have to go negative to the degree she does.

True, Bill will do his dadburn negative part. But he’s so narcissistic that his stump speeches usually end in angry riffs on himself. They’d be better to confine him to a boardroom rolodex, and let him work the zillionaires for money in the fashion he did with his library.

Chips and Guacamole

She also comes across as a sort of phony on issues of the poor. When Hillary talked to black workers not long ago she adopted a fake, but condescending ghettoized accent.

And when walking in the barrio of Las Vegas this week, she talked about problems in terms of “one is guacamole and one is chips”—her Mexican restaurant experience apparently, like her push-button fake accent, reflects the degree to which she has communed with the minority poor. And when she said no woman is illegal, it may be true in the liberal humanitarian cosmic sense, but it surely wasn’t for the questioner who has a real problem when his wife didn’t come here legally.

In the general election, neither she nor Obama has worked out the immigration triangulation. Both are for open borders, but will have to nuance that enough to seem palatable to the two-thirds who want them closed right now.

Another Cry?

The 90’s Clinton rat pack will return, but they have a problem with Obama—how to destroy him without appearing racist or condescending, a sort of destroy the village to save it dilemma. So far the answer is to say he’s inexperienced, or glib but not deep, or a fairy tale, tactics very similar to those liberals used to allege right-wingers stooped to when complaining about affirmative action.

Also, you can only cry once. So that shoot-and-scoot rocket is now gone and the launcher can’t be reloaded. It may be enough for Hillary to remember the voice coaching: speak more slowly, pause a lot, bite your lip occasionally, look earnest, tragic, and conflicted, and avoid at all costs both the canned hardy ha ha laugh, and especially the screech owl shrieks of anger when talking about right-wingers or George Bush.

The point is to present the reluctant Hillary who braved all this for us, not the pushy college coed screaming about saving the world. I’d say that she will follow the script pretty well, especially because she only gets a pass in this campaign for 1-2 of her Al Gore outbursts. The clips of those lose her voters every time they’re replayed.

Bill Again

I’ve ad nauseam suggested that it is problematic whether Bill Clinton really wants her to win: on the yes side, four, maybe eight years of him jetting around, solving world problems, hogging the lime-lite, center-staging again in the world. On the no to her presidency side: his personal life at least wont’ be center-stage, Hillary won’t need him anymore and might cut him loose and he’ll be freer to do what he has done. And, remember, he then remains the only Clinton and thus won’t have to worry about asterisks about the saner Clinton who was the first woman president and avoided impeachment. A toss-up, hence the schizophrenia of seeing him labor hard on the trail for her, while seemingly offering up the most asinine, distracting, and counterproductive speeches


I think Edwards is getting tired of the new personna. He is a very glib and smart guy, so hides it well. But in the end he doesn’t seem comfortable with his false-populist role. It means constant blue-jeanning and talking up his mill roots, when his natural inclination is to go into his mansion and hit one of the fifty remotes, or get back into the tie and suit circuit, or hang with guys in the hedge-funds or big law firms, or pick up 20K here, 40K there for giving a speech. A guy who has those multi-hundred dollar haircuts simply can’t plop down like most into a barber’s waiting chair, pay $15, listen to gossip, and get out with a good enough lopsided cut.

His accent is the antithesis of Thompson’s: listen to the latter and you immediately recall the charm of the Old South, listen to the former and you, well, nearly recoil. Populism also requires a certain appearance of cragginess to it, some evidence of wear and tear, a certain naturalness. Huckabee can pull it off, McCain too. Thompson even.

But Edwards looks perennially happy to be suddenly rich, preppy and, to be candid, ridiculous—no one imagines anyone in his physical landscape venturing very far out of it other than to find status and power through winning an election.

And no one believes that trial—especially personal injury—lawyers in mansions are populists. I’ve dealt with a few the last thirty years, and, to indulge in stereotypes, they are the most cynical in the world—fine to have a cigar and drink with, and entertain you with stories of courtroom antics, but their business precludes taking ideology very seriously, since the client is always right, especially the one who pays off the most.

I wrote about one I called Hightower once in Fields Without Dreams, whom a few of us broke farmers hired (money upfront) to sue Sun-Maid to recapture our lost capital retain expropriated by the near bankrupt cooperative. At the negotiation hearing, the discussions transcended cynicism.

His flights down to Fresno were hilarious. He would ask me on the way from the airport to prep him on pruning shears, what a raisin bin was, and the nature of capital retain (his meter was on, so I guess he was charging $200 an hour at that point) then, presto, morph inside the court-room into American Gothic. Very good too, especially the references to the blue-jeaned toiler of the soil. But for all his flair and big name, he was no match for the local Fresno boys, who chewed him up.

We tired of him as much as the coop’s lawyers, and when it was all said and done he took his tens of thousands in fees, settled for us for 11 cents on our lost dollar, and got out of town fast. My last, but favorite airport remembrance was his final complaint at 5PM after missing a flight and being stuck at the FAT until 9, “So, what am I supposed to do in this town for the next f—ing four hours.” I left him at the ticket counter, suggested a nighttime trip to the zoo (great zoo too), and left. I never saw him again, but heard he dropped dead in the prime of a very eventful life.

Note in passing that Edward’s wife has already commented on the fact that poor John is only a white male, while Clinton said poor Hillary can’t be male or taller, so you get the drift: Obama is the cookie-cutter affirmative action dream candidate, and these white liberal elites are fearful of being hoisted on their own petards.


Conservative fides

McCain has developed a successful short-term strategy of deflecting conservative attacks on his tax, immigration, campaign finance reform, etc. record, by showing just enough anger, and just enough reminder of his courageous past, to silence critics. But eventually he should sit down with a conservative voice, a Limbaugh or Hannity type, and discuss and defend his positions. I think he would do quite well, and prepare the way to unite the party should he win the nomination. Better now than later, since he needs the base as much as independents to win the nomination and the general.

The Pack

Thompson is doing much better, but may be, in the mind of his own supporters, too little and too late. He is certainly the most charming of the candidates, and brings a certain stature to the race. The more he dismisses the obnoxious interviewer, the better he does. He’s starting to replay his Law and Order character and that helps a lot. I had a breakfast with him this summer; he was reflective, honest, and had a good appraisal of the field and the issues.

Romney looked good early on, but he’s not cut out to be an attack dog. It’s not his nature, and it comes across as the first-row guy (I was once a professor for 21 years) in the class always answering the questions, offering up facts, and unintentionally dismissively referring to the less bright behind him. When Romney is attacked he defends himself well, and gains sympathy as a good counter-puncher. He’s the most prepared of all the candidates, but needs to relax and seem less scripted. I also had breakfast with him once, and found him energetic, impressive, sincere, and incredibly prepared and informed.

I was talking to a lot of Giuliani supporters and they are baffled by his rope-a-dope strategy of being either forgotten or beaten up early on, and then coming in with a haymaker in Florida, New York, California or New Jersey. It may work, but voters have a brief attention span, and their desire to be associated with a perceived winner often trumps principles and devotion. His strength is a natural intelligence and a quick repartee; he rarely makes mistakes and is brilliant in the impromptu.

Huckabee is a delightful guy, witty, honest, charismatic—but he knows almost nothing about foreign policy, far less than candidates Bill Clinton, George Bush, or Jimmy Carter did. His position paper in Foreign Affairs was embarrassing, and his remarks off the cuff so far have confirmed that picture. He’s waging a sort of William Jennings Bryan campaign lite, heavy on the religion, heavy on the populism, and soft around the edges on taxes, government, war, etc. Calling Bush’s team “arrogant” and the US misguided in its policies provides some leftish cover to talk about Jesus more.

St. Paul

Even mentioning Ron Paul translates into several hate letters, as I can attest from the response to even tangential references. In any case, I’ve been watching Ron Paul’s strange defense of these 1970s-1990s newsletters that in some detail (I read a few) refer to his own past and employ the first-person pronoun, interspliced with what could fairly be called out-of-the-mainstream observations on race and culture.

He says, although his name was on much of the literature, that he didn’t write these papers or even read them—before going on the attack against those who raise the issue. I can’t recall a similar defense by anyone, especially given the first-person pronoun usage. It depends on the meaning of “I”?

Of course, the major media is trying to discredit him, but no more so than they do others. His apologia is farfetched (I remember his Barbara Jordan controversy), and this is important, since his appeal to his supporters thus far is his blunt candor. But if he can’t honestly say, “Yes, I probably either wrote, edited, or read that stuff with my byline, but it was a long, long time ago, and it doesn’t reflect my current views and I am sorry to those who took offense,” then he devolves into just another candidate. He’d be wise to let the Reason magazine apologists take over his defense.

History, Europe, and Our Elections

January 6th, 2008 - 10:07 pm

The Great Historical Questions

Why Northern Europe?

I received a lot of questions the last few weeks about why Mediterranean peoples in Italy and Greece who crafted Western civilization eventually faded before Northern Europeans (tribal barbarians during a thousand years of Greco-Roman civilization), and especially Anglo-American culture.

A couple of observations. First, and most obviously, northern Europeans derived their own Western culture only through the classical inheritance. Second, by the 7th century Islam was on the move, and the Mediterranean and Eastern European states were a sort of buffer belt for the next 1,000 years—as the once classical bastions like northern Egypt, Ionia, Greece, Sicily, Cyprus, and Crete were serially overran. Third, geography was turned upside down, as Mare Nostrum became a sort of dead-end pond, while Spain, Portugal, France, England, and Holland had access to the Atlantic, and with it a direct route to India and China, and the Americas. Fourth, England was spared much of the internecine squabbling on the continent, developed a sort of cosmopolitanism and globalized presence as an island and imperial sea-people, and was able to develop a stronger sense of Protestantism, setting the stage for an Anglo-American global ascendancy.

American Decline?

Another reader wondered whether the United States is now in irrevocable decline, while India, Russia, China, Japan, and Europe reemerge to assume our once global prominence.

I doubt it. All of those countries have far more fundamental problems that we do. India is mired in poverty and overpopulation, prone to religious violence and burdened by a caste system. Russia is a neo-Czarist thugocracy, a $100-a-barrel oil price plastering over the otherwise corrupt and inefficient Russian economy, and a shrinking Russian population. China has not yet come to grips with class strife and unionism, suburban malaise, and must spend hundreds of billions in infrastructure. Its environmental degradation will take years and trillions to repair.

Europe is shrinking, as its socialist/secular/pacifist/heaven-on-earth creed has brought short-term prosperity and stability, but also millions of unassimilated Muslims, no defenses in the face of rising jihadism, possible rogue nuclear states like Iran and North Korea, and a bullying Russia, and a sybarite culture founded on the premise that the here and now is all there is.

In short, America’s natural wealth, its meritocracy and legions of different races, religions and tribes that are united under meritocratic values, its superb military, its past avoidance of doctrinaire political extremism, whether fascism, militarism, Nazism, communism, or jihadism, and its ability to react and galvanize almost overnight, all suggest we can rather quickly, should we wish, defeat any foreign enemy, get off our costly dependence on foreign oil, close our borders and end illegal immigration, begin to spend less federal money, promote more individual savings, balance budgets, pay off foreign debt, and restore our financial preeminence—if we get honest charismatic and competent candidates who can appeal to the better angels of our nature.

No War New Under the Sun

Finally, a reader wrote in and asked whether the ancient world offered any parallels in our modern war on jihadism.


Preemption? In 369 BC Epaminondas decided that the Spartans were a non-ending threat. And while the latter had not invaded in over a year and a half, and probably wouldn’t, he nevertheless considered them an existential and immediate danger, and so went into the Peloponnese in winter 369, ravaged Laconia, freed the Messenian helots, and spread democracy by force through the creation of the three great citadels at Mantineia, Megalopolis, and Messenê. Sparta never again invaded Boiotia.

Preventative War? Consider Rome’ Third Punic War, where Carthage represented no immediate threat (far less than Sparta posed for Thebes), and yet Romans went to war to end their unrelenting fear of a reemergence of a North African empire.

Counterinsurgency? The Romans dealt with magnetic nationalist leaders like Boudica, Jugurtha, Mithridates, and Vercingetorix that required fighting terrorists, winning hearts and minds, and fighting unconventional wars.

A War Against Terror? Pompey’s successful war against the pirates, mostly from Cilicia, was waged against a tactic more than a state or people.

Asymmetrical warfare? Athens fought Sparta largely by sea, Sparta by land—until the last bloody decade of the Peloponnesian War. In hellholes like Aitolia and Akarnania conventional Athenian hoplites were bled white by terrorists, light-armed, and missile-troops. Alexander fought a dirty war of ethnic cleansing in Bactria and southern Afghanistan that cost him more losses than in his three conventional battles against the Persians.

In other words, nothing we have encountered since 9/11 is new. All our current challenges have parallels, and they have been faced—and overcome—by past conventional Western leaders. Classical literature reminds us how and why. Human nature is constant, only its technological manifestations change. For every bin Laden there was an Arminus, for every Ahmadinejad there was a Jugurtha, for every David Petraeus there was a successful Sertorius in Spain or Caesar in Pontus.

We are not alone, and nothing we encounter is novel. Millions in the past experienced everything we have, though on a quite different magnitude, and we can learn about almost everything in present by reading from the past.

Sidenote to the May-June European Tour

Our debate/discussion on the future of Europe at the Trianon Hotel at Versailles is shaping up well, with Bruce Thornton and, it looks like, a prominent French intellectual/diplomat soon to be announced. And we hope to have a good tour of Nato headquarters, and similar discussion and debate that evening. Visits to Somme, Verdun, Waterloo, etc. should give us some appreciation of the burdens of European history, and why the European Union frightens us more than it does Europeans wearied by centuries of deadly squabbling.

Empathy for the Candidates

I confess a certain sympathy for the candidates. They are up at dawn and out till late night. Many are over 60. Three have survived melanoma, prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They must be obsequious in the face of often arrogant and stupid questioners ,who try to bait and embarrass them. Less bright media talking heads bully them incessantly. What they wear, how they look, or the blunders they make are the evening small talk of millions. And all this for the Presidency?

So there is a certain Darwinian logic to our process. Any who survive our modern political agôgê, both mentally and physically, are apparently certified to be able to be President.


The Obama-Edwards-Romney-Huckabee mantra of change, means what? One would hope something like the old contract for America to insist on spending cuts, and thus ensure necessary tax cuts don’t lead to deficits. Contrary to conventional “change” wisdom, what should we do differently abroad?

Any new ideas on Pakistan? Huckabee and Obama want to invade. Richardson wants to depose Musharraf.

And Iraq? Edwards’ timetables on withdrawal?

How about Iran? Formal diplomatic negotiations á la Obama?

The truth is that there are no good alternate choices on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, or the general Middle East. Someone did something right to have killed thousands of al Qaeda operatives, avoided another September 11, and deposed the Taliban and Saddam.

Perhaps “change” means balanced budgets, paying off the debt, paying down trillions of dollars overseas? If so, that would be something indeed, but no candidate seems to man up to that. So we are left with a sort of “I’m an outsider” reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s Plains stchick, or the “new ideas” of Gary Hart. But as Walter Mondale once asked, “Where’s the beef?”

The Fox Debate Tonight

I got a lot of abuse for writing the “Old Warhorse” column for TMS syndicate. It was not an endorsement, but an acknowledgment that McCain’s appeal sort of transcends ideology and is based on his blunt talk—whether telling Iowans that subsidies for ethanol are misplaced, or club-for-growth types that tax cuts without spending limitations only discredit the necessary idea of shrinking government to increase economic prosperity.

He supported the Petraeus surge at a time when other moderate Republicans were about to bail (and his persistence helped give Petraeus the window of time for the surge to work and deflate the defections). And when he was wrong, there was a logic to his fallacies. His immigration lapses, and subsequent demonization of those who wanted the borders closed now, were based on the correct enough notion that we can’t deport en masse 11 million illegal aliens, many of whom have resided here for years, are law-abiding, and are not on public assistance, but gainfully employed. He was too iffy on tax cuts, but mostly because he wanted them tied to mandatory spending reductions.

And the disastrous McCain-Feingold grew out of a correct appreciation that the cash for favors nexus in our political culture needed addressing.

On the surge, it should be noted, however, that in 2004 McCain and others were calling for an additional 100,000 troop surge, opposed by Casey, Abezaid, and Rumsfeld. The current smaller Petraeus surge was a compromise, and predicated on counter-insurgency reforms.

In this regard, I think McCain is to be congratulated for his stalwart support for Iraq. But while Petraeus is clearly the right man at the right time for the right job, I don’t understand the serial damning of Donald Rumsfeld. I am not convinced that had Casey or Abezaid asked for more troops, Rumsfeld would have resisted. There is a way to take some credit for the brilliant Petraeus surge without suggesting that Rumsfeld was incompetent, or, as once alleged, one of the worst secretaries of Defense in history—untrue, unnecessary, and unbecoming.

And the other candidates?

When Romney attacks and goes negative, he loses empathy. But when ganged upon, Romney’s natural sunny disposition shines through, and we start to see less of the slickness, and more of the quite impressive control of facts and ideas. As a side note, Romney may talk tough about being against amnesty in any form, but if so, then he needs to explain how we deport 11 million, at least 5-6 million of whom have been here over five years, are gainfully employed, not on public assistance, and have never been arrested. It is easy to declaim “I am against amnesty in all forms”, but rather difficult to say, “Therefore I urge we deport summarily every Mexican national, no matter his circumstances.” Somehow we hear the former, but rarely the latter.

In this Sunday night’s debate on Fox, I think Huckabee’s limitations become more and more evident. His impressive character and unquestioned conservatism on social issues seem to me outweighed by a sort of tentativeness, and relative inexperience in foreign affairs at a time of war. We should expect that it will be likely in early 2009 that the jihadists or an Iran or Syria will deliberately test our new president, and try to make inroads by forcing him to either back down or use military force.

Giuliani always comes across well, whether candidly admitting his errors, or in pulling no punches about the jihadists. I like him a great deal, but think if one wishes a moderate, McCain has a better chance to defeat Obama or Hillary. Most polls continue to show that he is the only Republican who can win a general election—an important consideration given that an Obama or Clinton presidency would be as self-righeously wrong-headed as Jimmy Carter’s

As for the Democratic candidates, I posted tonight the following at NRO’s corner.

O Hillary, Where Art Thou?

Poor Hillary is in a Catch-22 dilemma—and there’s no Dick Morris to bail her out. Bill’s constant presence, campaign gaffes, and serial narcissism contributed to her slide, reminding Americans that his ubiquitous picture on the screen, her incessant references to her work in his administration, and the specter of 28 consecutive years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton rule are about the farthest thing from “change” imaginable.

And then there is the Freudian problem. It is not altogether clear that his own desire for another eight years of the limelight overshadows a deep-seeded resentment and envy of his wife, who might, as the first-female president, and a liberal who avoided tawdry scandal, overshadow the prior Clinton’s legacy. In that regard, remember Bill’s 1992 revealing concession— “It doesn’t bother me for people to see her and get excited and say she would be president too.”

As Hillary slides, there were will be logical calls to raise his “it doesn’t bother me” profile, due to his “stature,” “savvy” and “experience.” But when one wonders why Hillary’s negatives poll nearly 50%, we should also remember that in neither election Bill achieved a 50% plurality, either due to third-party candidates or innate worries about his character that trumped his successful triangulating politics.

Sen. Obama looks unbeatable, especially since Hillary’s campaign was well funded, did almost everything by the book, and still is imploding. When John Edwards drops out–and he will–most of his money, supporters, and voters will probably go to Obama.

But all that said, Obama’s charisma and ex tempore rhetorical skills have a shelf life without concrete positions. The war in Iraq is no longer a key issue, so against it “from the beginning” does not resonate so much any more. Where does Obama stand on closing the border and amnesty? Does he want to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for his new programs, themselves poorly delineated.

If he doesn’t get specific, his “change” mantra will be like Gary Hart’s “new ideas” that Mondale deflated in 1984 with the “where’s the beef?” debate quip that Bob Beckel turned into a campaign stop staple.

Expect her to go for the jugular on all that and more. To the extent she can on her own, without a beet-red Clinton shaking his finger at a Chris Wallace, or fibbing about being against the war from the start, she might recover.

The Campaign

January 1st, 2008 - 10:47 am

But First, Some Updates

We are nearing forty confirmed travelers for our May trip to the battlefields of Europe. Beside on-site lectures in places like Waterloo, Verdun and Omaha Beach, we will have more in depth give-and-take, question and answer sessions in the evening at the elegant historic Trianon Hotel at Versailles on the legacy of that denoument to World War I, and again at the Nato headquarters in Brussels on the past and future of that organization.

Bruce Thornton’s new book (Decline and Fall) discusses some of these issues and we will try to press him on his arguments, perhaps enlisting a European intellectual to take him on. Hillsdale College military historian Tom Connor is an excellent lecturer, and has visited our sites for over thirty years. While the dollar has plummeted, the problem is ours, not the group’s as the price remains fixed in dollars as listed. And as on the Greek trip, we’ve got an interesting schedule at meals in which the three of us will meet and talk with each person on the tour.

Some have asked about the progress of the novel, No Man A Slave, whose excerpts I ran this year on occasion. I’m almost finished (500 pp in ms) and hope to have the illustrations, maps, and other peripheral things finished by early spring and off to the agent my March 1.

Meanwhile I am editing a prequel to the classic Princeton volume “Makers of Modern Strategy”—a “Makers of Ancient Strategy” in which prominent ancient historians like Donald Kagan, Barry Strauss, Tom Holland, Ian Worthington, Adrian Goldsworthy, Josh Ober, and others relate the ancient world’s experience with terrorism and counter-insurgency, wars of national liberation, preemption, multilateralism, imperialism, border defense, etc. to shed some light on our current challenges and to remind us, in this current war especially, that there is nothing new under the sun.


Even the big-city newspapers finally are beginning to run a few human interest stories about the improved quality of life in Iraq—and more even than the usual ‘it’s our fault’ lines that suddenly the morgue workers or taxi cab drivers who ferry families to funerals are out of work and ‘hurting.’

But often lost in these accounts is any sense of appreciation of the US military—both the tens of thousands of unknown souls who walked up and down the cities of Anbar in the worst days of 2004-6, and the hundreds who were killed as part of an effort that might lead to something like we are beginning to witness today. Walking in a Ramadi is eerie, since there are living battlefields of pockmarked walls and cratered alleyways reminding one, among the current relative quiet, that not long ago this was a killing-field and its combatants either dead, wounded, or long gone and little remembered. But there are thousands of Americans this new year, who served in Iraq, well before the surge, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for fighting courageously when we were not sure of the enemy, or the correct strategy, or the labyrinth of Iraq’s tribal structure, and yet they nevertheless met and defeated the enemy. It is a minority opinion perhaps, but I think far from “ruining” the military, the Iraq war showed us all how the military, under the worst conditions imaginable, both political and tactical, at home and in the field, nevertheless manages to prevail.

And we should not forget David Petraeus, who is on his way of becoming a rare, but genuine American military hero. Should Iraq become permanently stabilized, it is hard to measure the achievement of his generalship in the late 2007, not the least here at home in radically changing the political landscape.

McCain Again?

One beneficiary of the turn-around in Anbar is the stalwart John McCain, whose unending support for the war and the surge is a reminder of why voters are starting to see something in him that is critical in a war. As some readers noted, my disclaimer that I cannot support candidates due to the Tribune column is somewhat nuanced by my continual admiration for McCain these last four years. I thought his attacks on Rumsfeld were often excessive, and disagreed with his illegal immigration fixes, campaign finance legislation, taxes, and Guantanamo position, but all that is more than outweighed by his past service, his blunt talk, his unapologetic defense of unpopular positions, and his desire to balance the budget and keep our defenses strong. I think I will try to elaborate on this further in this week’s TMS column.

I worry about Sarkozy

Is he for real? He just cut off diplomatic talks with Syria over its extremism and tampering in Lebanon. He seems hardly crushed by his wife’s exit, at least if photos from Egypt with his new girlfriend are any indication. He hasn’t backed off either his reforms or his pro-Western defense. In short, he seems like he is having the time of his life, and energized rather than demoralized by his controversies. I pray for his continued good health. Along with David Petraeus, I can’t think of any two figures that have more changed the world for the good in 2007.

A Latino Klan? (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-gateway30dec30,1,1970709.story?coll=la-headlines-california)

There is relative media silence about reports that Latino gangs in the Florence neighborhood of Los Angeles had systematically tried to murder blacks in a sort of primeval ethnic cleansing. I may be mistaken, but this seems to me the first time in American history since the early 1960s in the South, where an ethnic group deliberately employed terror and murder to rid another race from an environs in systematic fashion. Why the relative quiet about such an atrocious report? If true—where is Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? Where is the hate crime, the political ads? This is an explosive story and a shocking development.

Where Did Britain Go?

There are all these strange stories emanating out of the UK—a desire to talk with the Taliban, and a group of leftists polling no confidence in the notion that the British were morally superior to the Taliban. Then there is the Iran sailor fiasco, the Basra pull-out, and the usual loudmouth imam on public assistance trashing the West from his London sinecure. It seems lost on Americans that our traditional European bogeymen—the French and Germans—are trying to reestablish friendly relations, while the British drift apart. I am interviewed from time to time by foreign journalists and try to go to Europe twice a year, and my inexact gut feeling continues to confirm the impression that the British elite is among the most anti-American in the world.

Hillary as Wonder Woman

Sen. Clinton apparently said the following, at least as reported:

The dictum around the Oval Office in the ’90s, she added, was: “If a place was too dangerous, too poor or too small, send the first lady.”

I would grant that her husband might not be all that willing to fly into harm’s way, but her assertions are ludicrous. Every day military personnel and diplomatic officers really do fly into monstrous places, eat questionable local food, and deal with a host of unsavory characters. But that is simply not true of the First Lady. And such melodrama is a window into her soul and character, one that reveals a near delusional sense of self. Does she really believe that she was some sort of superhero that was ordered to fly into the darkness (“too dangerous, too poor or too small”) to save things?

Two weeks ago I wrote about the “Clinton Albatross” or the notion that Bill’s sudden ubiquity would be no plus, and for a variety of reasons. I didn’t get much reaction to that column, but note her sudden plunge has an eerie correlation to his appearance on the campaign stump. Too many Americans remember the Chris Wallace Fox interview or the finger pointing and beet-red temper tantrums.

Edwards Redux

I continue to be baffled by John Edwards, really am bewildered. His anti-corporate, populist message is typically American, and reminds me of my grandmother’s memorized recitations of William Jennings Bryan speeches, or my dear grandfather’s rational defenses of the Sun Maid Raisin Cooperative in its light vs. dark struggle against the greedy private raisin packers. No problem there, very American.

But what I can’t fathom is the complete disconnect between the blow-dried Edwards—charging a broke UC system thousands for a talk on poverty, working for a Hedge Fund, living in a mansion that is emblematic of American excess and self-indulgence, and on and on—being taken seriously as a candidate. It makes no sense, except as a reflection how angry some voters must be at the status quo, at least enough to hold their nose at this walking contradiction and vote for his populist rhetoric.

Wrote this for NRO’s corner this morning

A Happy New Year Abroad

Watching the debate over whether Huckabee’s withdrawn “attack” ad is over the top, and other assorted Iowa psychodramas makes interesting contrast with the rest of the world’s electioneering outside the Great Satan.

In Kenya they’re burning churches and rioting; in Pakistan riots lead to murder and arson. Hamas and Fatah are at it again in Gaza. At some point, someone might wonder how such a crass hyper-power can rather peacefully conduct voting in a way most abroad apparently cannot.

In the case of Pakistan, however, we are starting to see a disturbing pattern: the rioting and violence continues, the conspiracies mount, and the three general factions square off (the al-Qaida/Islamists “death to the West” clique; the military/dictatorship “at least we provide order and secure the nukes” bunch; and the “reform” and democracy Bhuttoites ["forget our past corruption"]).

The common denominator is that it is somehow America’s fault for: either “propping” up a dictator”, or not pressing him enough to reform, or naively backing him up against a wall, or demanding he fight terrorists, or giving him a pass not to fight terrorists, or rigging an American-backed Bhutto return, or exposing a brave heroine to the clutches of her enemies without proper security, or this or that or that or this.

And these endless, and self-contradictory indictments are often voiced by Pakistani elites of two types. They are either opposition figures whose past careers are ample proof of corruption and lost opportunities—or expatriate intellectuals in European capitals and American universities (who sound like they had a little bit more opportunity at the good life than those who grow up in El Paso or Bakersfield), endlessly faulting some aspect of US foreign policy–always forgetting why they are here and not over in Pakistan, and why perhaps they might do more good to match their idealistic and often vituperative rhetoric by returning to the land of their birth to enact real change on the ground, a country that sorely needs those with such international experience and expertise.

The media usually, but unknowingly, provides some exegesis: they have shown now for the nth time the shrieking rioter who serially beats the skeleton of a completely burned out and utterly destroyed bus with a long wooden stick–then cut away to the typical interview with some government grandee, ensconced in a beautiful home of tile and gardens, defending the indefensible of the government in mellifluous English.

Meanwhile, we are daily reminded that Pakistan’s 1998 detonation of a nuclear weapon remains the greatest foreign policy lapse of the last quarter-century.