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Monthly Archives: September 2008

Time is Running Out

September 28th, 2008 - 12:09 pm

The Debate

Obama’s constant deference to McCain as in “John is right…”; the worried side-looks over at McCain, who, in contrast,  addressed the audience; and the desire for false intimacy (employing “John” instead of “Sen. McCain”) reflected the relative lack of gravitas on Obama’s part—something that transcends education, eloquence, and youthful vigor.

Did the McCain debate victory matter? Yes, it helped, but time is running out and the economy is trumping the campaign battlefield. It matters little that Chris Dodd in disgraceful fashion took $165,000 from the miscreants at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or that Barney Frank’s vehement opposition to reform of those institutions empowered their near-criminal leveraging.

Instead, the incumbent administration and its party in general get blamed or credited for the current economy. Moreover Wall Street as right-wing free-market sewer is a far better known talking point than the more complex corruption of hyper-liberal legislators legitimizing their own dishonesty and graft through calls to help the poor and minorities get loans and be relieved of their debts.

In the next two debates, McCain has to hit Obama harder on his past and rattle him. Or barring that, the proposed settlement will have to improve markets and stop talks of the Great Depression.   The voters want to tilt McCain, but the last 10 days have been framed (in part accurately) as hyper-capitalism, greed, and wildly unregulated free markets hurt Middle America–and that narrative has cost (unfairly) McCain, who wanted to regulate Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac more than did any Senate Democrat, in aggregate about six points in the polls.

The irony is that the basics of the US economy–demography, productivity, innovation, infrastructure, legal structures, and higher education–are, as McCain said, sound. They are in far better shape than anywhere abroad (look at a shrinking Europe, or disgraced industries in China, or Indian fervor and unrest, or Russian criminality.) In that regard, if I had capital (I don’t, so easy to speculate), I would buy houses in good locations, and the stocks of well-run companies since they are at historic lows, will rebound, and their value won’t tank since the US won’t tank.

I think the bail-out will end up making rather than losing money, and by 2009 the economy will be back to near normal. Indicators as diverse as GDP, inflation, unemployment, and deficits as a percentage of GDP are not as disturbing as in our recent past.

The Obama Two Step

The truth is that we have an election between a moderate Republican whose centrist positions worry conservatives, who is pitted against a fringe-hyper-liberal candidate who must somehow assure the voters he is merely liberal. Never in recent history, have Republicans nominated one so moderate, never Democrats one so hard left.  Yet we are not getting from a proud and unapologetic Obama “My left-wing views have at last proven prescient and arrived, and McCain’s namby-pamby moderation is not what these crisis times call for.”

Instead, it is dissumaltion all the time, as Obama (for now) essentially has refuted most of his prior positions on the major issues. Even his tax-and-spend plans are now on hold, pending the Wall Street uncertainty. We know nothing really of his background between Columbia and Harvard Law School. Few can figure out exactly what he and Ayers were trying to do with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge other than to give someone else’s millions to further the hard-left agendas of a number of cronies whose efforts did not result in any marginal improvement in the Chicago schools.

In other words, the most liberal presidential candidate in our memory is suddenly posing as a moderate centrist not much different from McCain (e.g., “I agree with John…” ad nauseam).  And McCain thus far has not been able to scratch the thin veneer. Had Palin once worked in community organizing with a Timothy McVeigh, or had McCain been the member of a white supremacist church for 20 years, or had McCain been judged the most conservative member of the Senate, the McCain-Palin ticket would have long ago imploded.

How did Obama so successfully metamorphosize?

The Strategy of Preemption

Note what’s behind the recent efforts of St. Obama to threaten to go to the courts after the NRA ads, to swarm Milt Rosenberg’s radio station in Chicago to badger guest Stanley Kurtz, or to unleash Missouri law-enforcement on McCain’s campaign ads.

Partly this hardball is a sort of determination not to play Democratic softie again, since a liberal myth has arisen that Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, et al. lost elections only because of unfair hit ads rather than their own hard-left agendas. In that regard, Obama has prepped the battlefield well.

First, by playing the race card, all criticism can be couched in advance as racist in origin, and much of it has.

Second, by playing the no-more-swift-boat card, all campaign ads (compare the Limbaugh smears, or the third-party [cf. the role of Howard Dean’s brother] attacks on McCain’s health) are always to be seen as retaliatory and contextualized as defensive.

Third, Obama wants to “get in their face” and show that he’s “tough” and not another wilted-flower Dukakis. So he preens that he will bring a gun to a knife fight, and is going to “go after” John McCain. Because we are so prepped that this is not Obama’s natural inclination, we are to show forbearance that he is “forced” to go negative.

Fourth, we are seeing a traditional ‘noble ends, justify crude means’ campaign of the left, in which the annointed often excuse transitory street tactics for the sake of the greater good. Threatening to sue, or to intimidate guests, or to “get in their faces” are legitimate tactics because we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to obtain the “change we are waiting for,” in a “vero possumus” messianic figure who will stop the seas from rising, and the planet from heating—if we just accept his divinity.

In such a context, worry about the past of Bill  Ayers, Tony Rezko, or   Jeremiah Wright, or concern about flops on campaign finance, town hall debating, FISA, NAFTA, guns, abortion, capital punishment, drilling, Iran, the surge, or Jerusalem, or fear of a high-tax more entitlements agenda, consistent with Obama’s most liberal Senate voting record, and lavish distribution of grant funds when working as a Chicago organizer and Ayers sidekick on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge—yes, all that legitimate worry must instead be seen as racist, or Rovian, or more of Bush/Cheney polarization.

Race, race again everywhere

The most brilliant prepping has been an anticipatory demonization of the white working class in an effort through shame, fear, or pity to sway them to vote Obama. The narrative advanced is that if McCain wins, the real reason is because working-class Democrats—once they collectively get into the privacy of the voting booth—sighed and voted against Obama because he is of half-African ancestry, despite telling pollsters they would not.

In the last two weeks I think I have read at least 20 op-eds with one of the following three premises: (1) warning: Many Americans are racists, and the election will thus hinge on race, so you have one last chance to get it right; (2) shame: The world is watching, and will either like or dislike us, depending on our support for Obama; (3) fear: If Obama loses, expect furor or even near riots.

Enough already

So will the white working class take into consideration race? I don’t think so if one defines race as skin color, or larger cultural issues of black versus white. After all, Americans have never voiced an iota of racism about eight years of African-American Secretaries of State, who were the most visible representations of US foreign policy.

Most conservative Democrats’ worries about Obama have nothing to do with race per se, but center solely around five other issues:

(1) his judgment and the degree to which he felt comfortable with an array of disreputable figures, whether Chicago racketeers like Tony Rezko, radicals like Ayers, or racists like Pfleger and Wright;

(2) perceived elitism that transcends arugula riffs, such as his Pennsylvania clingers speech; his oceans rise/planet cools egomania; ‘we are the change . . .’ hubris; his silly new presidential seal; the Berlin second coming and Greek temple backdrops; Michelle’s rants about being suddenly proud of the US; and the worship from the hip and smug elite like a Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, etc. The net result of this is a certain “I can save you all from your natural Neanderthal tendencies of voting for those who really don’t know how to help you like I do.”

(3) his ultra-liberal Senate voting record, especially on matters of defense, abortion on demand, education, and taxes, and subsequent flops and flips to disguise this record; most voters don’t want higher taxes, don’t think government has all the answers to our current problems, are tired of identity politics, and think the world abroad and the UN are mostly unstable if not scary;

(4) his flippant, instinctual riffs that reveal occasional ignorance—confusion over how many states, the location of Kentucky, the liberation of Auschwitz, tire pressure over oil drilling, etc;

(5) the degree to which his supporters have resorted to thuggery: photo-shopping John McCain’s Atlantic Magazine picture; hacking into Palin’s email; swarming talk radio stations when guests question Obama’s integrity; media seen in the tank while posing as objective journalists; trafficking in rumors about her Down syndrome pregnancy;  daily Hollywood moronic outbursts; threatened law-suits, etc.

Don’t Tread on Them

The white working class is tiring of the constant sermons on race, either chauvinism or veiled threats or overt insults. Obama’s supporters really need to cool it, and stop suggesting that at each dip in his polls, Americans are proving less than noble people. The only thing that will really lose them the working-class vote is the gun-to-the-head, you’d better vote this way or else attitude.

I grew up among the Democratic working classes, and I can vouch for one eternal truth about them: anyone who lectures them about what they “must” do—or else—will simply achieve the opposite result, every time. Time might be better spent making the very difficult argument that 60% of the white vote going for McCain, not 95% of the African-American vote going for Obama, is in some way proof of America’s unhealthy racial chauvinism.

Obama, after all, at some point in his career made the political decision not to become a public figure in the manner of a Colin Powell. From the beginning he should have said something to the effect that African-Americans have always voted for white candidates that they agreed with, and whites in turn will do the same when the opportunity arises to vote for African-Americans—and then left it at that.

Instead, from the very beginning of his political career, he chose to talk about “transcending race” to gullible liberals while seeking black nationalist credentials to solidify his Chicago base. As I have worried earlier—Obama, I think, has set back racial relations a number of years by caricaturing the white working classes, legitimizing nuts like Wright and Pfleger, warning that votes against  him  arise from racial fears, and talking loosely about “reparations,” racial-identity charter schools, and the need for “oppression studies”.

A Condoleeza Rice made a number of statements about race, but none of them were polarizing or suggested racial identification was central rather than incidental to her character. We will look back at Obama as a racial polarizer of the first order, despite the utopian rhetoric of racial transcendence and the daily op-eds from his supporters accusing America of being racially intolerant by passing on the Obama Sermon on the Mount.

The Campaign Gets Hotter Still…

September 24th, 2008 - 6:23 pm

Obama wins/McCain wins

If Obama wins, I think most McCain supporters will accept the verdict, and do what they can to make sure their country presses ahead, restores fiscal sanity, and remains strong in a dangerous world—and thus would wish a President Obama, as our shared commander-in-chief, all the best. Once I wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed supporting Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, despite not voting for him, and was duly impressed with his welfare reform and the surplus that emerged during his presidency.

I know I  would do all I could to make sure Obama’s America remains preeminent and that he is successful in running the country. I surely do not think Obama would be as experienced as McCain, and his past disturbs me in no small way; but I think he would be surrounded by a few former Clintonite centrists. Conditions on the ground, both in Iraq, and on Wall Street, would mean that his range of options would be far more limited than his utopian campaign rhetoric suggests—and that the republic would survive fine. He may wish to spend a trillion dollars on more entitlements; but  his trillion has already been pledged to make up bad debt, and even he will think twice of raising taxes too high in times of uncertainty.

But is the reverse true?

Given the hysteria, I worry that there is a large group of Obama supporters, who, should he lose, will become unhinged. We see that already with the vitriol against Bush voiced daily on the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and MSNBC, which led in naturally to the Palin hysteria and the insurgency tactics against McCain.

We suffer still from the sorry legacy of  1960s guerrilla theater, in which a San Francisco now ponders naming a sewage plant after George Bush, or a Sarah Bernhardt talks of her friends raping Sarah Palin. Again, there was some of this on the right in the 1950s and 1960s, but figures like William F. Buckley took on the John Birch Society, the neo-Confederate/Lost Causers, and the Klan, and they were pruned away from the fringes of the conservative movement.

In contrast, a Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Daily Kos, Air America, Huffington Post, and Moveon.org that all have engaged in smears and slanders have not been marginalized by the Democratic Party or the liberal mainstream. And that is why on any given day one can read the truly outrageous on these blogs, or see a NY Times discounted ad by Moveon.org about “General Betray Us”; or hear that Atlantic Magazine has a problem with a nut photographer, in pornographic fashion, photo-shopping outtakes from her McCain cover shoots, or the son of a Democratic legislator hacking Palin’s email.

The problem is that the ’60s notion of utopian ends justifying crude means is still deeply embedded with the activist wing of the Democratic Party—a boil that has never been lanced. The Nation Magazine may be the flip-side of Rush Limbaugh. Fine. Both advance strongly-held views within certain acceptable parameters. And for every cruel Borking there was also a Clinton-hatred of the 1990s that went way overboard. But again, something has now changed in this campaign cycle, and there is nothing now on the right to quite match the Wild-West crudity of what we’ve seen from the hard left in this election.

Joe Biden’s Great Depression

Most once shared the following feelings about Biden: he will say anything; we will forgive him for anything; he remains a likable Joe, despite streaks of meanness and pomposity.

But such exemption has limits, and, by general consensus, he has now sadly crossed them.

In only a day he all but said that McCain took a $50,000 bribe. He claimed that the AIG bailout was bad, then flipped. He yelled out that we don’t need to burn coal (half our electricity is produced by coal, a fuel, for now, essential to power plug-in electric cars to come);  

he (or his campaign) suddenly retracted/nullified his apology about the dirty McCain immigration/Limbaugh ad. And then he blurted out that FDR went on television as president in 1929 to address the nation after the stock market crash (after prefacing that remark with pompous statements that leaders must know what they’re talking about). His description of being forced down in Afghanistan by weather sounded as melodramatic as Hillary’s Balkans’ moment.

Same old, same old…

More of the same: Palin was  “good looking” and “Lt. Governor” of Alaska. Hillary, he confessed, was the better VP pick than himself. Be patriotic and pay higher taxes—all this evokes his primary remarks about Indians in donut shops, and “bright and clean” blacks. In all this we are reminded constantly of why and how he once plagiarized and fabricated his bio.

Palin as Biden?

Two observations: had Palin done this, she’d be through and the election over; second, something is very wrong with Joe Biden. These are no longer slips, but signs of erratic behavior that raises for the Obama campaign real worries about his competence for the job. We may worry whether being governor of Alaska for two years is the proper prerequisite for the office of VP, but we fret more about a Vice President candidate who issues daily sweeping statements that are either not true, must be retracted within hours, offensive, or simply scary. The truth is, despite media bias, the real VP worry is Biden and always was.

We knew that he did this sort of thing serially as a Senator (his posturing at public hearings was painful to watch). But suddenly he is elevated to national media exposure, and he seems absolutely incapable of self-control. (Note: I don’t buy into conspiracy theory that all this is scripted to allow Biden to leave the ticket and usher in Hillary—as some have suggested).

And then there is Chris Dodd

This is called gumption: He is the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. He took $165,000 from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and for years resisted more oversight of both those now bankrupt entities. He got discounted mortgages from the now melted-down and bought-out Countrywide financial institution. And? Yesterday he was pontificating about the greed and the need for “oversight,” and his zest to guard the public trust. A screenwriter could not have come up with such a script.

Cui malo?

Whose fault is the Wall Street implosion? On the one hand, conservatives did encourage a sort of hands off attitude in which whatever is technically legal in the world of finance is ethically OK. On the other hand, the Democrats practiced a sort of mortgage affirmative action, turning a blind eye to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on the pretext on helping “first-time” buyers, minorities and the poor, when in fact their concern was more  cronyism and lavish campaign donations. Here is  a quote from Barnie Frank in 2003 from the New York Times:

”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

Like it or not, we are at an impasse where all sides are dirty, and there are no good choices. The medicine of trillion-dollar bailout guarantees is nearly (but not quite) as bad as the disease of mortgage meltdowns. And remember, we, the American people, are not quite innocent. We voted for the present politicians; we have created a culture where there is apparently little stigma in walking away from a house with zero equity, or defaulting on credit card debt. In the last 20 years, there arose a sort of thinking that a Wall Street operator is less than capable when he gets our 401(ks) a good 5% rather than a sky-high 15%. Blame is due all the way around.

The only blue sky? This may sober up the American people. The shock may force McCain to drop talk about more tax cuts, and Obama to jettison more spending, and instead create a consensus for a balanced budget and fiscal restraint, while reminding Americans that if Wall Street hype seems to good to be true, it is. We need to get back to honoring construction, agriculture, mining, engineering, manufacturing, and energy development as the muscular source of our wealth, and cease idolizing those who created fortunes out of hedge funds, derivatives, subprime mortgages and mergers, take-outs and buy-outs. The ruthlessness of the latter may make capitalism competitive and efficient, but the former is what makes life itself go on.

Ayers—so what?

The Obama defense seems to be something like, ‘Do you really think Barack Obama shares Ayers’ terrorist views?’

Of course not. But the issue is still important for four other considerations.

1)    Bad judgment. One does not share fora with, and seek help from, an unrepentant terrorist. Period. That is simply stupid, however helpful it may have once been to jumpstart a Chicago political career.

2)    Crackpot ideas about education. Ayers’ philosophy about education is puerile,  teen-age utopianism— salute the world flag, downplay the US, focus on race/class/gender relativism and oppression rather than Western Civ and basic education. If we were worried about Obama’s clumsy past calls for more “oppression studies” and “reparations”, then we can see the font of all this nonsense in the years spent with Ayers at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

3)    Lack of honesty. The Obama narrative is that he scarcely knew Ayers who is now supposedly a mainstream distinguished professor. But each week, we learn that, in fact, Obama once served closely with him, helped him dispense millions of dollars to suspect community organizations, and may have known him during his years in New York. Why the silence? Simply explain the relationship and answer questions.

4)    Is this “community organizing?” Is this how it works: left-wing organizers hear about a right-wing capitalist who gave hundreds of millions to help education; so they form an agency to snare millions; then pack it with ideologues in order to dispense lucre to cronies and friends in Chicago of questionable skills and more dubious ideologies. The result is a lot of money for insider organizers and activists,  but no positive effect at all on the educational levels of at-risk Chicago school children. We know that intensive languages, math, science, and emphasis on history and literature alone improve  literacy and knowledge. Neglect of that core in favor of the therapeutic “they did terrible things to me” classes achieve the opposite effect. Would an Obama presidency further the ideology of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge—his first and only brush with executive experience?

So I agree with Obama that he doesn’t share Ayers’ anti-American, pro-terrorist views, but I want him to allay the above anxieties.

Another Press Watch—Another Distortion
From time to time I reply to erroneous press accounts (could be a full-time job), the last from the Monterey Herald. Today in the Los Angeles Times, in a review of a new book on Dick Cheney by a Barton Gellman, the reviewer Tim Rutten writes falsehood:

Another of the details Gellman teases out is Cheney’s propensity for seeking private advice from the conservative fringe. The night after the Senate debate over authorizing force against Iraq, the vice president asked conservative military historian Victor Davis Hanson to address a small dinner salon at his official residence. The topic was to be “the roles of leaders in unpopular wars.” A specialist on the ancient Greeks, Hanson “cited Hellenic philosophy. War was ‘innate to civilizations,’ a terrible thing, but not necessarily unjust. Citizens often faltered, putting leaders to the test.”

Laugh or Cry?

1.    Note the quotation marks. Does Rutman really think Gellman has a transcript of the paragraph “the roles of  … to the test.”?—as if that is a direct quote from me?

“Teases out” and “Conservative fringe” instead give away the game. At the time in question, I was teaching at the nearby Naval Academy and as now a registered Democrat. Is that the “fringe?” So what does the euphemism “teases out” mean–an on-the-record interview, a written source, collaboration from named sources? Or what we suspect instead—innuendo, creepy hearsay, and lazy internet third-hand googling as part of the usual trash Cheney topos?

2.    “Address a dinner salon”. I was asked to go to a dinner in which a television newsman, another columnist, a diplomat, and two members of the Vice President’s staff had a round-table discussion concerning the United Nations and its authorization of the Iraq war. (I respect their privacy; and so their names and conversations of some 6 years ago will remain private).
3.   UN.  I suggested that going to the UN as was planned was wise and essential, but that it might not lead to authorization given the French and Russian positions; and that one then, without a formal UN resolution, would have to follow and incorporate the Congress’s own 23-point resolution to convince the American people to go to war—and to expect hysteria immediately if the war went sour, since many who were for it, would not soon be if perceptions of victory changed. Nothing since then has convinced me that advice (given in five minutes along with others’ input) was either wrong or short-sighted.
4.    War is, of course, a terrible thing. And as Martin van Creveld just noted in his new The Culture of War, it seems to be “innate to civilizations.” And as World War II showed, it really is sometimes “not necessarily unjust.” And leaders like Lincoln often, in fact, are put to the test, when citizens abruptly (read Thucydides Book 2 on Pericles, or cf. the landscape of the  Bush’s surge) suddenly blame their politicians for enacting the policies that they once endorsed. All that said, the discussion was not led by me; the topic was not “Hellenic philosophy”, but rather the dilemma of translating House and Senate approval of removing Saddam to international approval via the UN, during a period of then bipartisan consensus and satisfaction with the prior removal of the Taliban.

5.    The Vice President was hardly zealous for war. He was instead reflective and wanted views from historians and writers, and asked not the “fringe,” but had made it a policy of seeking out those of all backgrounds to participate in group discussions—something apparently at odds with the now media stereotype of Cheney, the madman in his bunker.

6.    A Normal Event. I have been asked about this single dinner on dozens of occasions, and still don’t divulge who spoke or what others said. That said, as far as I am concerned: no, the VP was not in a bellicose mood; no, there was not a lecture advocating war; no, there was not triumphalism, but real debate over the wisdom of the war and the utility of the UN; and this was not a big deal, but one of hundreds of conversations Cheney had with officers, historians, and diplomats—all at odds with the stereotype of a recluse, entrenched, bellicose figure.

7.    Engaged. A Vice President is supposed to welcome as many views as he can; and if the reporter had taken the time to find out the guests who over that year  went to the VP’s house, he would quickly learn that they were from both parties, of liberal and conservative persuasions, and were in a 2002 bipartisan mood. But again, the post-2004 Cheney is now been recreated into a sort of demon who shoots the innocent with a shotgun, tears up the Constitution with glee, and sent out Scooter Libby to defame Joe Wilson and poor Richard Armitage. Anything less simply won’t do: especially the notion of a VP who, as a realist, not a neocon, had real doubts about the war, wanted as many different voices as possible to be heard, and was quiet, introspective, and engaged, rather than partisan, brooding, or nefarious. Don’t these reporters any more do anything other than just surf the Internet? Or go beyond the Bob Woodward methodology? Or do anything other than call up a favorable source and say “Talk to me and you come off well; don’t and others fill in your blanks for you!”

8.    Citations? Note well that neither Mr. Ruten nor Mr. Gellman (whose book I have not yet read) will be able to cite a source to the contrary, because to do so would be to print something untrue. Note especially again “Gellman teases out” which is the equivalent to conjecture without written evidence or named sources.

9.    Why is Cheney so demonized? Largely, and now I am conjecturing,  because, unlike most past VPs (Biden will be a reporters’ dream), he doesn’t leak. Nor does his staff. He doesn’t seem to enjoy  the NY/DC press and doesn’t seem to hide that. He won’t do unnamed sourced “background” and doesn’t like associates who do. He doesn’t report on  private conversations and doesn’t like those who do. I respect him and admire him all the more for that, even though it means that anguished reporters in the subsequent news vacuum create fantasy and seek to vilify him for his obstinacy.

10. A necessary task. I mention all this only to correct the LA Times and will keep trying to set the record straight when others insist on distorting it.

Elitism, the Culture Wars, and the Campaign

September 21st, 2008 - 6:00 am

You are a damn elite, not me!

That sums up the current political debate—whether we look at charges that John McCain has so many houses he can’t remember any longer the actual number of them; or that poor Barack Obama is depressed at the soaring price of arugula; or that Fightin’ Joe Biden once bootstrapped himself up at ten in Scranton; or that moose-hunting Sarah snowmachines as naturally as Barack Obama trips over himself in a bowling lane.

A nation of wood-cutters

In short, we remain log-cabin America, formed as the frontier antithesis of Europe. Apparently, we are determined, at least in mind, to stay that way—rightly or wrongly sneering at both natural Francophile John Kerry’s spandex, and also poor forced and uncomfortable duck-hunting John Kerry, decked out in camouflage, and looking as uncomfortable with a dead duck as Mike Dukakis in a tank helmet. We don’t like snooty elitists, and don’t give them a break when they clumsily try at election time in the eleventh hour to morph into one of the people.

A state of mind

So what is elitism? And who is an elitist? We can start by remembering that objecting to elitism in hardly anti-intellectualism. Elitism itself cannot be defined necessarily by social status, money, blue-chip degrees, or tony zip codes—though all that can make an elitist’s task much easier than can a CSU Bakersfield BA and residence in Oildale.

Rather, elitism is a state of mind. It is a world view in which one’s refinements from the commons—whether they are natural or acquired tastes and interests, whether they be intellectual, musical, artistic, architectural, or simply social—are seen as exclusive rather than inclusive.

Looking up with, rather than down at, others.

Poet and intellectual Dana Gioia, the head of the National Endowment of the Arts, is not an elitist, primarily because he works to bring his knowledge of poetry, music, and art to Middle America, rather than to subsidize yet another talentless endowed Professor of Art’s postmodern pornographic paper-machês that could not exist as art, outside of the university lounge. He believes that music or poetry not only enriches life, but that most in rural areas, or the ghetto, or the middle-class suburbs agree, if only they are given steady opportunity and encouragement  for such enjoyment, and the arts are presented in a context of shared tastes and the desire for commonality and fellowship, rather than the condescending bestowal from a superior to his pawn.

Renaissance man Teddy

Teddy Roosevelt was not for long seen as a snooty Ivy-League bore once he went West, fought with the Rough Riders, and in his fifties ended up with malaria in the Amazon, determined that the value of his education was to lead others and enrich his own rather full and often arduous physical life. He read Tolstoy while chasing outlaws out West. In that sense, his Harvard education was of benefit only to the degree learning acquired in Cambridge proved in the real world of some value in sharpening Roosevelt’s acumen, his sense of beauty, his judgment, his knowledge, and his ability to enlighten others. It surely did in matters intellectual, since Roosevelt wrote persuasively about the West and South America, as he drew on word and deed.  If education does not do such things— and it often does not for many—then refinement and intellectual prowess are as valuable as a crystal paper weight: sometimes impressive to the eye, but more frequently of no utility, not quite art, not quite an implement.

Something gained, but something also lost
Second, elitism is the deliberate deprecation, in active or passive fashion, of the other world of physicality and pragmatism. The true elitist values his books, his music, his refined taste in furniture, food, and fashion to the neglect of how one makes a book, to the absolute uninterest in the construction of a violin, a chair, a fig, or a pair of pants. The elitist always fails to appreciate, (1) that his existence, and his much cherished rarified world, are impossible without others that are as smart and as skilled as he, and thus due commensurate thanks and acknowledgment, and (2) that in the zero-sum game of life, hours spent at the piano, Smyth’s Greek grammar, the Sunday morning opera, or the Guggenheim Museum are a tragic trade-off in which one forfeits commensurate time invested in the physical challenge of chain-sawing limbs, the aesthetic sense of accomplishment in weeding an overgrown garden, or the satisfaction of re-roofing a house. The elitist, in contrast, simply cannot imagine that such tasks are as necessary as his own, or that such muscular experience can reflect upon character and knowledge as much as those interests of his own softer and more sophisticated world. Again, knowing how to chain-saw or hammer may be more valuable in dealing with Chavez or Putin than distinguishing Virgil from Horace.

Forgetting Plato’s warning about wisdom

Third, the elitist, by his very nature, proves overreaching. That is, he seems in anti-Platonic fashion, to think his expertise in one field is instantly transferable to another. The good tractor mechanic may, with dirty nails and the odor of diesel, instinctively sense  that he has shorted rhetoric and diction, and so has to prepare and tread carefully when  dealing with the probate lawyer, county assessor, or local professor at night school.

Again, in contrast, the elitist seems to think that his Harvard Law Degree or Stanford PhD, or Victorian on Pacific Heights instantly makes him a far better guide to human nature, diplomacy, warmaking, and governance—almost anything—than does the sheet-rocker or crane operator (cf. the Obama sermon on clinging Pennsylvanians). That is, the elitist does not understand that his admirable hours spent investigating French provincial furniture or understanding the pedigree of good silverware may be of no more utility in cultivating logic, good judgment, and moral character than in mastering checkers.

William F. Buckley, who knew something of the Ivy League, was not being (just) flippant when he quipped
“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

 The Anger of the Annoited

The Democrats are furious—and have been so throughout the last thirty years in which they have nominated the less than savvy products of law schools—that the public does not appreciate their concern for the poor and middling classes. This angst plays out in a sort of ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas’ sneering, akin to Marxist false consciousness, that the yokel simply has been hoodwinked by the Machiavellian Karl Roves of the world to vote against his own economic interests by electing a NASCAR-going, nuclar-speaking George Bush, who, the liberals cry out, is really a snooty product of Yale and Harvard determined to protect his own class.

 Ivy League–sometimes good, sometimes bad, depending…

How odd that while the media informed us that Obama’s Harvard education was a pivotal consideration, we were never reminded earlier of any advantage in Bush’s own as lengthy pedigree in the Ivy League. If Obama would release his transcripts, we could compare Bush at Yale, and Obama at Columbia to ascertain the more serious student. Legacies were as important perhaps in Bush getting into Yale as affirmative action was for Obama to enter Columbia and Harvard, given his actual GPA. I just did an interview for CNN (probably won’t be aired) in which the interviewer after arguing that the Ivy League should be a proper barometer of talent, then blurted out but “Yale and Harvard didn’t help George Bush.”  Odd to see someone trying to make and reject her case all at once.

 Rove made them do it

The question liberal Democrats must ask is not whether George Bush fooled Middle America—but rather how was he able to do it? And the answer is a pontificating and hypocritical Al Gore, or a ponderous and sanctimonious snob like John Kerry made it easy. Long gone are the Harry Trumans, Scoop Jacksons, and Hubert Humphreys, all smart, widely read and sophisticated leaders, who nonetheless sought to include others rather than relied on social status, education certificates, pedigrees, zip-codes, tastes and fashion to remind the less blessed that their own cultivated landscape was proof of singular intelligence and competence.

In the arena

Like it or not, this campaign has turned into a cultural war in which elitism is center stage. Everyday some celebrity like a Chevy Chase or Woody Allen, whose own lives are hardly worthy of emulation, gives a nasty, condescending lecture about how inept Palin is, how dense we are, and how embarrassed they would be should we pass on Obama and disappoint “the world”.

When Obama talks ad nauseam about Biden’s “Scranton upbringing” (moved away at ten), we know he’s afraid of his own impression that he is elitist. And that is not helped by his lectures to Americans about their inability to speak French (he doesn’t himself), or praise to Europeans about world efforts to save Berlin during the airlift (mostly a US effort), or braggadocio that he doesn’t look like most American officials who come to Germany (false; cf. Powell and Rice).

I don’t think a Bob Herbert knows anything because he writes for the New York Times, ditto a Sally Quinn who sometimes op-eds at the Washington Post.  Matt Damon’s ideas about Palin are no more valid than my vineyard renter’s, but far less logical and sane. I take Obama’s lectures about French about as seriously as I do any backpacking student’s.

Paths taken and not

We are all a sum total of what we’ve read, how we’ve been taught, where we lived, what we’ve done and not done. Given our tragically short-lives it really is a zero-sum game, in which each choice entails a choice not to do something else. I grant that in theory sitting in front of a sofa watching sit-coms could be a bad choice if done serially. But then so could be acting in that silly sit-com day after day a bad choice of time, even if such performance sometimes brings one the money and status to fool others that it is not.

Palin and Obama—What Really is Wisdom?

September 18th, 2008 - 7:19 am

Palin vs. Obama

The race unfortunately has been framed the last two weeks by Democrats as one of Obama versus Palin. That will stop as Obama realizes he loses should it continue. Nevertheless, the comparison of the respective experiences of a McCain and Obama is so much in favor of the former, that it requires no discussion. So I turn to Palin, given the charges that she is unfit and clueless.

Is Palin Tough?

I have been asked by many  why I have such confidence in a rookie Alaskan governor, given the rigors of the campaign to follow. (Many Republican pundits apparently do not.) I think we are starting to see the answers to that question. The proverbial “they” hacked into her private email accounts. They swore that her daughter was the real mother of her Down Syndrome baby. They sent legions of reporters and lawyers to Alaska to dig up dirt. They wrote columns suggesting that she was stupid, uneducated, dishonest, a liar, and worse still. All this was the work of moralists, who, in their more extreme manifestations, tried to flood a Chicago radio station to disrupt guests, who doctored photos of McCain to subvert his portrait, who disgraced the Atlantic brand by trafficking in pregnancy rumors, and who now publish the private email of Palin.

And? She is still smiling and apparently unmoved. Had they done this to Biden, he would have gone berserk. Wait—they didn’t do this to Biden, and he seems near berserk in his daily gaffes.

So who is really experienced?

The point is this: I think it is much harder for a mother of three or four in an out-of-the-way Alaskan town to get elected to city council and the mayorship, then take on the entire Republican establishment and get elected governor than it is for a Barack Obama to emerge from Chicago politics into the Illinois state house and later Senate. The qualities that allowed a Palin to succeed without the power spouse, the identity politics, the Ivy-League cachet, the fawning New York editors and DC insider-press will ensure she does not implode on the campaign trail—and won’t in office either.

Barack Obama, in contrast, on numerous occasions has complained how tiring, how hard, how unfair, how racist the campaign has turned out to be; Palin never. I could not imagine Obama doing his hope and change thing in the Senate while holding a one-year-old and checking on four more children at home. And I wager shooting a moose or trying to navigate a snowmobile in the chill is a little harder than shooting baskets in one’s down time or offering riffs to the fainting at a Beverly Hills get together or Presidio Heights fundraiser.

Again my point? That the much deprecated “life experience” is every bit as important to leadership as is abstract learning. Both complement each other, but so far I think Palin understands the symbiotic world of word and the world of deed far more so than does Obama. And again, we are not talking about McCain, where the contrast only widens–and is far more important.

Word and Deed, Head and Arm

Let me be a bit more specific still and indulge a bit from what I saw of these two worlds. I spent nine years as an undergraduate and graduate student– three at UC Santa Cruz, four at Stanford University, and two in Athens, Greece. In that near decade, I met all sorts of supposedly brilliant professors, undergraduates, and graduate students in the humanities—Ivy-League Ph.Ds, whiz-kids with Oxford and Cambridge degrees, Rhodes Scholars, famous archaeologists, accomplished classicists and historians, well-know humanities scholars, and Oxbridge Dons with landmark books on history and philology. In addition, the last five years I have worked at Stanford again, and often have met another array of brilliant entrepreneurs, in fields as diverse as finance, law, medicine, engineering, and computers.

I contrast  all this with growing up my first 18 years in southwestern Fresno County on a 120-acre tree and vine farm, where for most of my life I knew only neighbors who worked the soil, and survived the tough environment of the local schools. And then once again from age 26 to my mid-forties, I farmed as well as taught, and so I had a good idea of what the highly educated did during the day, and what the farmers and small businesspeople did on weekends and late afternoons.

Two conclusions I drew from all of this. While civilization advances on the shoulders of the educated, it is carried along by the legs of the muscular classes. And the latter are not there by some magical IQ test or a natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff, but rather by either birth, or, as often, by their preference for action and the physical world.

Second, I have seen no difference in intelligence levels between those who inhabit the world of the physical and those who cultivate the life of the mind. That is, the most brilliant Greek philologists seemed no more impressive in their aptitude than the fellow who could take apart the transmission of an old Italian Oliver tractor, fix it, and put it back together—without a manual. And I knew three or four who could. The inept mechanic seemed no more dull than the showy graduate student who could not distinguish an articular infinitive from an accusative of respect.

My seventy-year old Austrian professor who, off the cuff, could recite the lettering peculiarities of some 100 or so Athenian inscriptions on stone was brilliant–but no more   intuitive or impressive than my grandfather who at 86 could scan 100 rows of vines under irrigation, instantly access how many  acre feet of water were in the field, how many more needed, and then screw up or down an iron gate on a 20-foot standpipe and ensure the ditch water reached the end of each row—and only the end of each row.

You know all this in your hearts

For most of you readers, all this is trite and self-evident. But apparently not for hundreds in politics, the media, the universities, Hollywood, and the foundations who seem to think that a fumbling nervous Obama in interviews, who grasps for a word and utters vacuous platitudes is “really” contemplative, like his Harvard Law professors; but when a Sarah Palin seems nervous under scrutiny from a pseudo-professorial, glasses-on-the-lower-nose Charlie Gibson,  she is clearly an empty head with an Idaho BA.

A Ronald Reagan knew more about human nature, and thus what drives the Soviet Union than did all the Ivy-League Soviet specialists that surrounded Jimmy Carter-much less the Sally Quins and Maureen Dowds of that age.  We in America, unlike the Europeans,  know this intuitively, grasp that a Harry Truman figured out the Russian communists far better than did the Harvard-educated aristocrat FDR.

A Sense of Balance

I am not calling for yokelism, or a proponent of false-populism. Rather, I wish to remind everyone that there are two fonts of wisdom: formal education, and the tragic world of physical challenge and ordeal. Both are necessary to be broadly educated. Familiarity with Proust or Kant is impressive, but not more impressive than the ability to wire your house or unclog the labyrinth of pipes beneath it.

In this regard, I think Palin can speak, and reason, and navigate with bureaucrats and lawyers as well as can Obama; but he surely cannot understand hunters, and mechanics and carpenters like she can. And a Putin or a Chavez or a Wall-Street speculator that runs a leverage brokerage house is more a hunter than a professor or community organizer. Harvard Law School is not as valuable  a touchstone to human nature as raising five children in Alaska while going toe-to-toe with pretty tough, hard-nose Alaskan males.

What is wisdom?

Not necessarily degrees, glibness, poise, or factual recall, but the ability to understand human nature. And that requires two simple things: an inductive method of reasoning to look at the world empirically, and a body of knowledge and experience to draw on for guidance.

Palin in empirical fashion bucked the Republican establishment and the old-boy network when she thought it was unreasonable; Obama never figured out or at least never questioned Tony Rezko or the Chicago machine, Trinity Church or the Pelosi-Kennedy liberal mantra—unless it proved advantageous. Palin draws on everything from position papers on ANWR to how to keep four screaming kids fed and bathed; Obama on Harvard Law Review and dispensing more public money to more Chicago interest groups.

That’s a simplification, but also an answer to the old Euripidean question “What is wisdom?”

Obamania—as in craziness, not craze

September 14th, 2008 - 1:44 pm

A Fair and Balanced Paradox

The contention is not that the media shouldn’t investigate Palin, but whether they are doing it in the manner, spirit, and level of intensity that they likewise explore Biden (and Obama).

So far that is simply not the case. And the voters know that. And it is hurting Obama’s efforts as the polls show. A weird paradox arises: the more the elite media wish to aid Obama, the more their bias and invective seem  to turn off voters and help McCain—and the more they in turn redouble their anger, as if  more smears and furor, not fewer, are the answer. Strange to say, they don’t seem to get it that they are, well, not liked or respected.
If one thinks I exaggerate, then cf. the latest concerning the Atlantic Monthly, a creepy story that few would believe.

No Foreign Policy Experience?

That, of course, is the charge against Palin, and it is a legitimate consideration. But as an executive of a key state, I trust her administrative skills and experience will ensure she is surrounded with policy wonks, in the way that other Governor-VP picks were in the past.

Other thoughts: I am far more worried about the top, not the bottom, of a presidential ticket. Barack Obama has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, as we have seen in his historically inaccurate and silly speech at Berlin, his flips on Jerusalem, Iran, and the surge, as well as his confusion over Georgia (go to the UN, both sides are to blame, Iraq was the Russian model, etc.) and NAFTA.

Joe Biden claims to know the world as a long-time Senate insider; but that tenure seems to have had almost no positive effects in honing his judgments—inasmuch after 9/11 he wanted to send millions to Iran as a good will gesture. He talked in 2003 in saber-rattling fashion about going to Iraq, only to abandon his war support when it was politically advantageous—but not until loudly advocating a trisection of the country into permanently warring rival fiefdoms. His candidacy thus far has been a daily gaffethon.

McCain and the Press

The liberal press, which is the mainstream press (NY Times, DC Post, NPR, PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, Time, Newsweek, MSNBC, CNN, etc.), hates McCain.

Why? They claim he has “changed” and no longer is his old maverick self that they used to josh with and kid around with on the straight-talk express. But in truth, they only flirted with him in 2000 for two reasons: (1) he was going to lose to George Bush; (2) he wasn’t George Bush. In their eyes, he was a useful foil. Period.
And now? He (1) could well win; (2) and could well win by defeating their once-in-a-lifetime heartthrob, Barack Obama.

So suddenly he “lies”, is a “liar”, and a “disgrace”.

Issues, What Issues?

For all the talk from the Obama campaign about issues, rather than personalities, I think the McCain positions resonate more with the voters. Here’s my take on “issues”, and hope they will be soon discussed rather than McCain’s keyboard expertise, or Obama’s sex-education programs.

1. Foreign policy. Note that Obama on Iran, the surge, Georgia, Afghanistan, Israel, free trade, and drilling has moved more to McCain’s position.  I can’t think of a single instance where McCain emulated Obama, whose main argument seems to be more deference to the UN, “restoration of ties with allies”, and more multilateralism.

But he doesn’t seem to score points here, at least in 2008, when our bilateral ties with the UK, Germany, France, Italy, India, China, etc. are not suffering all that much. Iraq is now  on the backburner—given that far more Americans are killed each week in Detroit or Los Angeles than in Iraq.

Note that whereas a year ago Edwards and Obama were demanding apologies from Hillary for supporting the war, now Obama is vulnerable on having advocated a total withdrawal from Iraq by March 2008—de facto defeat when victory is now in the grasp of the elected Iraqi government. Things can change instantaneously, but right now foreign policy is all McCain’s.

2. Energy. McCain should drop opposition to ANWR and give credit for that change to Palin. Note again—Obama’s emphasis on wind and solar is a de facto (hard to tell given his shifts) neglect of more drilling, more refineries, clean coal, and nuclear. McCain can argue he is as strong on wind and solar as Obama is as weak on gas, oil, coal, and nuclear—and thus the only holistic candidate for doing everything we can to avoid going broke.

3. Spending. Both candidates are murky. We either have to raise taxes or cut spending or both—or insidiously see our financial position erode. Raising taxes and raising spending seem to be more the Obama approach that will either raise or keep static the current deficits. We don’t know the details of all of the McCain platform (cut or not cut more taxes?), but it seems to be at least to cut spending and hope the economy grows itself out of a deficit without raising taxes. The latter would resonate more with voters, though who knows once entitlements are capped and there are no new gifts? We await the candidate who promises that archaic notion of a balanced budget first, and worries about the rest later.

Note that drilling would add billions in federal revenues, cut trade deficits and helping to restore the dollar’s strength by curbing US demand on world supplies.

4. Illegal immigration.
Both seem to talk of “comprehensive reform”, but are relatively quiet now, and hoping the sudden Bush switch to building a fence, fining more employers, and hiring more guards have cut down illegal entries, and thus will by attrition make the contentious issues (where both are at odds with the public) like amnesty, guest workers, and fines moot — once the influx tapers and the powers of integration, smaller numbers, and voluntary deportation began to come into play. Better enforcement may explain why the issue is growing dormant compared to energy and foreign policy.

5. Cultural issues. There is a sort of schizophrenia here with voters. They don’t want late-term abortions, but seem not to wish to outlaw abortion entirely. They want the death penalty, but then wish to abolish it entirely any time a state executes on even a single occasion someone of questionable guilt or mental capacity. They don’t much care what you do in your own bedroom, but don’t want gay marriage; they oppose biases, but don’t want affirmative action. They want tougher sentences and tougher judges, but no more costly prisons and politically-wired guard unions. McCain here again seems better positioned, and more likely not to have political crazies on the fringe than does Obama, whose hard-left he has courted even more than McCain has the hard right.

With Friends Like These

One thing that is losing voters for Obama and (is ignored) is the growing public anger at celebrities and media elites. McCain has no worries that a sober Clint Eastwood or respected Robert Duvall will say something stupid about Obama. But daily a Matt Damon, Pamela Anderson, Sean Penn, or Richard Dreyfuss will mouth off in a way that reveals arrogance, viciousness and stupidity, and turn the public against whatever they are for.

Ditto the media. A Limbaugh has his own show and a particular audience; a Hannity on TV is balanced by Colmes. But a Chris Matthews, Anderson Cooper, or Keith Olbermann assumes the veneer of a newsperson, and so the bias for the viewer is harder to take.

So far a George Will, David Brooks, or Charles Krauthammer has analyzed, often in tough fashion, the campaign rather than demonized Obama; a Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, or Bob Herbert are overtly partisan, and often amateurishly and embarrassingly so. And when one throws in the fringe, witless crowd like Michael Moore (nuff said), Andrew Sullivan (recently peddling rumors that Palin’s daughter delivered her Down Syndrome child), and Randi Rhodes (Palin a sexual threat to teen-aged boys), Obama, fairly or unfairly, suffers by guilt through association with the supportive unhinged as well.

Some of the McCain surge is surely due to the public’s weariness with the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, and the nut-blogs—all brought to their attention, with editorializing, by widely visited conservative outlets like Limbaugh, Hannety, Fox, Drudge, etc. So another paradox: the elite media suffers both ways. It has lost respect from the public; but its sensationalist charges don’t always result in more sales or attention, since many of the public  likely learns, second-hand,  of their bias and extremism through Drudge, National Review, PJ Media, Limbaugh, and the regional talk radio stations.

The Old Fish

After all the liberal lectures about bias, racism, sexism, and the other assorted –isms, we are down to one desperate last card: McCain is too old, and by extension so are most over 70, given that McCain is more active than most his age.

Thus we hear him compared to an old stinky fish. It’s not that he doesn’t know how many houses he has, but doesn’t “any more” —as if his memory is now shot. He can’t do email or the Internet (never mind the effects of five-years plus of physical torture). He is “confused” and “angry”.

This is rather strange for a reform candidate like Obama, and ultimately counterproductive as well. Consider that we were warned that anti-Obama forces would use race. None in the McCain campaign so far have. Though Obama himself surely did, via associates like Wright and Pfleger, though his own preemptive warnings about his name, religion, and race, and through his media surrogates who screeched that his failure would mean we were racists and disgraced in the eyes of the world.

But again examine: sexism? Hillary sure thought Obama played the sexist card. We see it again with Palin. How many have asked Obama whether he has tucked his two children in at night; or have gone after Joe Biden’s wife; or have ridiculed Biden’s hair (a bee-hive surely is preferable to hair plugs for most in the fashion world)?

So here we have an anomaly: the candidate that we were warned would be victimized by racial hatred has quite insidiously waged a campaign  that plays on fears of women and old people. Again, voters are not stupid and that hypocrisy in part explains the current Obama slide. If one were to examine the mysterious Illinois Senate race of 2004, in which both the Democratic and Republican challengers, Blair Hull and Jack Ryan, in the respective primary and general elections fell victim to a weird concentrated rumor campaign, spurred on by anonymous sources and the Chicago newspapers, about their sealed divorce records, resulting in their withdrawals and a walk-in win for Obama, one would not be surprised that “hope and change” needs to be qualified by Chicago politics.

Casting the first stone…

I was reading this in the recent column of Bob Herbert in the New York Times:

“While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.”…. “John McCain, who is shameless about promoting himself as America’s ultimate patriot, put the best interests of the nation aside in making his incredibly reckless choice of a running mate. But there is a profound double standard in this country. The likes of John McCain and George W. Bush can do the craziest, most irresponsible things imaginable, and it only seems to help them politically.”

But wait! I remember this Mr. Herbert, who on television showed his own degree of erudition, intelligence, and common sense by assuring his audience that a McCain ad film clip of Obama addressing thousands before the Victory Column in Berlin was really a snippet, yes, of the Washington Monument and the Leaning Tower of Pisa! And why did Herbert confuse these easily distinguished towers? To “prove” the point that McCain was peddling phallic imagery to tie Obama with white women through supposedly taboo liaisons. And so goes the New York Times commentary on a gutsy Governor handling the slanted questioning of Charlie Gibson.

This is not the exception. It is striking how many critics of Palin, whether in politics such as Joe Biden, or in journalism such as Joe Klein, have themselves demonstrated in the past poor judgment, a lack of intellectual honesty, and have been caught in false assertions—and yet nearly weekly are offering sweeping denunciations of Palin.


I posted a longer version of this on the NRO corner:

To understand John McCain participating in a live-audience forum at Columbia University, Obama’s alma mater, and being interviewed by Time editor Richard Stengel (formerly Bill Bradley’s campaign adviser and speechwriter) and PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff (married to Al Hunt), and answering questions on how the government should expand public service agencies, imagine Barack Obama going to West Point before an audience of cadets, to be interviewed by serious-thinking Michael Gerson and a circumspect George Will, on US defense strategy and the military. Both are perfectly legitimate enterprises and have merit, but the latter would be immediately deemed by the left as disproportionate. This, and the Gibson missteps in the Palin interview, are the apparently unconscious and highbrow versions of CNN/MSNBC.

Corrections and Replies

Thanks to readers for spotting the date concerning the Carter mistake. I wrote correctly in two columns that we haven’t had a Democratic ticket without a lawyer (if one counts Al Gore who dropped out of law school) for a quarter-century, but a third time in reply to critics wrongly wrote since 1976—thus incorrectly not including the farmer Carter’s second run in 1980, the last time someone on the Democratic ticket had not been to law school.

Next time I will reply to the usual weekly critics, this time on the right, Dinesh D’Souza, and the left (?) Michael Scheuer.

More Journalistic Malpractice-

September 11th, 2008 - 8:01 pm

 A Sorry State

I don’t think at any time in our history I have seen anything more depressing than the record of our media this year—a Chris Matthews offering us  “tingling” in his leg in lieu of analysis, the media gush over Obama, the hysterical hatred of Palin,  all following the relative silence about the success of the surge in Iraq, after four years of IEDs, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo as our only Iraqi front page news.

If one thinks I exaggerate, here is an example from today’s Salon from one Cintra Wilson, followed by a quote from Keith Olbermann.

Cintra Wilson

“It is unsurprising that the morally compromised fraternity of
corruption-infested Republican robber barons and war profiteers came up
with this stunt, but we must regard it in the same light as the rest of
their treasonous, criminal behavior. We must regard Sarah Palin as the
Carmella Soprano of the GOP — an enabling wife of organized crime, who
sees, hears and speaks no evil of the boys in her old-boy network for
whom she does this ideological lap dance.
It is a kind of eerie coincidence that Sarah Palin is being sprung on
the public at the same time as the bimbo/frat-boy titty comedy “House
Bunny,” which features a poster of a beautiful young lady with
Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open
like someone just punched her.
Sarah Palin is the White House bunny — the most nauseating novelty
confection of the evangelical mind-set since Southern “chastity balls,”
wherein teen girls pledge abstinence from premarital sex by
ceremonially faux-marrying their own fathers.
Sarah Palin is the sexual front of the culture war and the embodiment
of the bold social engineering stance of the new authoritarianism that
Republicans have been employing ever since they stole the election in
2000. As a result of conservative Republican policies, America has
proved itself to be too rife with fraud, bureaucratic constipation,
self-inflicted economic calamity, cronyism and incompetence to effect
any positive movement anywhere at all, even at home.”

Keith Olbermann  on the Republican tribute to September 11.

“What we got was not a tribute to the dead of 9/11, nor even a
tribute to the responders, or the singularity of purpose we all felt.
The Republicans gave us sociological pornography, a virtual snuff film.”

More on Those Lawyers

A Crazy Op-ed from the Monterey County Herald

I usually try to reply to critics. But this campaign season, the media has become unhinged as we saw with Palin derangement syndrome. It would be a full time  job to reply to all the distortions, but I will select one example as an example of today’s sad journalism.

Recently I wrote (http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson090808.html) that the Democrats has nominated only lawyers as their Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees in every election since 1976 (Law School dropout Al Gore being the only exception), and that exclusivity was a mistake, both ensuring that their candidates wouldn’t draw on wider experiences, and instead would be reemphasizing legalese and argumentation as the apparently only requisite for government. It was not an attack on lawyers per se, but a warning that the notion that apparently only lawyers are nominated by the Democratic Party for their top posts usually ensures defeat in November.

In response, the Monterey County Herald (http://www.montereyherald.com/contact/ci_10426009) chose to write an unusual, but nevertheless intellectually dishonest and, in toto,  disgraceful generic editorial about that column. I will respond in brackets after each of their paragraphs:

Now adding a hypocritical voice to the partisan attack on educated Democrats is conservative columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson.

(Journalism 1A: present the opponent’s argument first—before resorting to the ad hominems like “hypocritical”, “partisan” and “conservative.” And note the dishonesty: the column was on lawyers in the Democratic Party, not “educated Democrats.” Not a good start, but it establishes a pattern of using their own words in lieu of direct quotations from what I wrote.)

Once known as President Bush’s favorite neocon, Hanson warned voters this week that Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School and Joe Biden graduated from Yale Law School, which makes them the worst kind of elites.

(It is again sad to see this sorry lack of journalistic standards. I was never “once known as Bush’s favorite neo-con.” Can the Herald please produce a quote? I did not “warn” that Joe Biden “graduated from Yale Law School” [read the column, again editors at the Monterey paper, and please use quotation marks rather than inventing something I didn’t write]), because, of course,  Biden didn’t [he graduated from Syracuse Law School]. And please find the quote where I wrote the “worst kind of elites.”  The word “elite” does not appear in my column. I think we used to call this “projection.”)

Hanson’s principal point is that lawyers “usually do not run companies, defend the country, lead people, build things, grow food or create capital.” His secondary point seems to be that lawyers are the opposite of “working mom Palin.” Not Palin the governor. Palin the working mom.

(Note “seems.” Of course,  lawyers of the sort nominated by the Democrats do not have the different sort of background as Palin (well beyond being a mother of five), and that is why she has resonated with the public in a way differently than say, a Kerry or Biden.  Note how the Herald shifts from suggesting I was attacking “educated Democrats” [I am a registered Democrat] to the narrowness of their training. So which is it?)

What the Democrats needed to win this year, Hanson offers, were “candidates who might have sounded a little rougher, a little less condescending and a little more like most voters.”

(Does the Herald have a clue why Palin is drawing such crowds? Or why in turn newspapers are hysterical about her appointment? A moose-hunting Alaskan governor, mom of five, former small-town mayor really offers something different from the usual law school nominee. That is an empirical fact).

Though he is also bright, like Rush Limbaugh with a bigger vocabulary, Hanson seems to have forgotten that running a country requires more than image.

(Note the condescension. I was waiting for Rush Limbaugh to appear, and behold he did. This is one of the craziest, most incoherent editorials I have ever read, since I wrote the problem is not just image, but the fact that lawyers really  do not usually “run companies, defend the country, lead people, build things, grow food or create capital”—but that such diverse experience is invaluable in government.)

Building his own, Hanson has always been quick to mention that he lives on a family farm and not nearly as quick to let on that his mother was an appellate court justice (a lawyer!) and that he received his doctorate from Stanford.

(I don’t think I have mentioned in print that I have a doctorate from Stanford. Please list where I wrote that. “And not nearly as quick to let on that his mother was an appellate court justice (a lawyer!)” In fact, I mentioned that very fact this week on a column on Palin and the old-style feminism! But these sad folks lack the ability apparently to reason: for the nth time, the problem is not lawyers, but the apparent inability of the Democratic Party to nominate anyone but lawyers these last few elections.)

So here we have a highly educated darling of the right, a tireless critic of affirmative action, championing a candidate because of her gender and relative lack of education.

(More ad hominem: “darling of the right.” At this point, one wonders whether the Monterey Herald is serious or writing caricature? So once again, I am not championing Palin because “of her gender and relative lack of education,” but because as a mayor, governor, mother of five, journalist, hunter, fisherwoman, and experienced in the frontier life of Alaska she brings pragmatic and executive experience that we don’t see with the usual law school / to Congress / to run for President. And more strangely still, the Herald gives the game away when they sneer that Palin has a “relative lack of education.” In fact, she has a BA from the University of Idaho—unless that does not constitute education in the Herald’s eyes.)

Apparently the only thing that would make her more qualified, in the eyes of Hanson and the other spinners, would have been for her to flunk some of her journalism and poli-sci classes.

(Here again in lieu of what I wrote, we get the hypothetical “would make her” and “other spinners.” I have been a tireless proponent of the need for education, especially classical education. But just as important, as I wrote in Who Killed Homer? Fields Without Dreams, and Letters From an American Farmer, is pragmatic education to balance abstraction and ground formal scholarly training. That’s why I like Palin. Again, the editors of the Herald only reveal their own values when they think advocating experience with the physical world constitutes flunking journalism and poli-sci classes.)

Not Going Quietly into the Night?

These are confusing times. Print journalism is dying. The wild arena of the Internet is a no-holds-barred slugfest. The media, like the university, has coronated itself as protector of the liberal faith, ever vigilant to smear the supposed yokel who might believe in God, not favor abortion, admire the military, or wish low taxes and less government. That said, what drives the angst is the liberal fear that the majority does not share the views of the annoited, and that barring some unusual variable (Watergate, a Ross Perot candidacy, etc.) a  liberal simply doesn’t get elected President anymore. (And never a northern liberal at that).

So we all supposedly suffer from the Kansas Syndrome, in which as helpless dimwits, corporate America and themilitary feast off our flesh, while the brave Ivy League Professor, Foundation President, Senior liberal Senator, community organizer, Newsweek or Time editor, or Hollywood icon bravely calls out in the wilderness to us to wake up and yet is tragically shunned and suffers accordingly on our behalf.

So melodramatic these…(but vicious nonetheless)

Obama Up, Obama Down…

September 10th, 2008 - 7:01 am

Obama Needs to Get Back to the Teleprompter and the Economy
Campaigns are cyclical. They ebb and flow. McCain no doubt will have a bad week characterized by Biden-like gaffes and getting off message. We all remember McCain’s ugly green backdrop behind his acceptance speech, and “my friends” ad nauseam.

Still, if some lament the lack of discussion of issues (I do), we nevertheless know if McCain had picked a wonkish “old white” guy like Romney, we still would not be talking about taxes, defense, Iraq and housing; but would be bombarded by the prefab attack ads that would have run, such as “John McCain doesn’t know any more how many houses he has. But with Mitt Romney they now have 20 between them.”

So McCain had to do something to shake up his campaign, and Palin was the answer. In a very strange way, her mere presence makes the media and many in Obama’s camp unhinged, as a Clarence Thomas once did in different circumstances to elites. So for now she need not talk to the press for a few more days, since they are determined to lose Obama the election on their own by their frenzy.

Panic Mode

Recently Obama himself has panicked over Palin. He lashed out, and has shown himself unsteady. He apparently thinks that hope-and-change Sarah is all fluff, has fooled the nation that doesn’t see, as he alone does, that she is empty, resents her glibness and her youth, feels she doesn’t have enough experience and has hoodwinked the voters, and finds her soaring speeches vapid.

In other words, he knows what worked for him—and is furious because he suspects that his doppelgänger at the 11th hour might be working it even better. In a Freudian sense, he knows he is inexperienced as he once confessed, and is angry that we don’t sense it about Palin. If he doesn’t watch it, on one of these hand-in-mike outings, he will yell, “Hey, she’s just like me. I know that better than anyone. What’s going on here!”

It’s the Economy

To right himself, Obama must forget the Republican VP nominee, and run against McCain on the economy. (Even Kerry didn’t run against Cheney, or Bush against Edwards).  Just because Sarah outhoped and outchanged him is no reason to implode in furor. The puerile media was bad enough, and when he too piles on her, the polls will show even greater slides.

So Obama must stop the prancing and extemporaneous lecturing with the hand-held mike, where he sort of mimics Rev. Wright’s grating cadences. He comes off as petulant and angry—as if to say, “I’m Obama! And I’ve always wowed people with my mellifluous voice, so get hypnotized and do as I say.” And when they don’t, he freezes.

Of Lipsticked Pigs and Old Fish

Yesterday he did it again, and paid big-time with his silly “lipstick” quote about Palin. A small matter, but of enormous symbolic importance: it shows that he can’t leave well enough alone, as if he were driven on by forces beyond him.

Watch the tape and you can see him struggle for the impromptu zinger—and anticipate that he’s going to pause, stutter, and flub it up, big time. And he does.

In all the furor over that “pig” reference, commentators forgot to examine his entire attack, which was worse still: “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still gonna stink.”

A woman who may be a VP is “a pig?” A senior senator is “an old fish” who will “stink?”

His dual animate male/female references and two metaphors are clear: most would think that Obama is talking about both on the ticket and his anger how each has expropriated his change motif. He appears both to insult the 72-year old McCain as the “old fish” that is still going to “stink”, and to refer to Palin, who had evoked the metaphor of lipstick in a nationally televised address, as still the pig despite the lipstick.

The fact that he used two metaphors to attack the two, and used expressions referring both to age and Palin’s recent use of “lipstick” don’t seem to be accidents and that’s why the cooing crowd got the old fish=McCain; lipsticked pig=Palin immediately.

Worse Still

Then note his next qualification that was supposed to assure us he wasn’t talking in sexist fashion about Palin:

“Look, she’s new, she hasn’t been on the scene, she’s got five kids.”

A feminist would say, “She is also Governor of Alaska!

I don’t care much whether he goes that low route, but given the present climate of liberal media sexism, it is suicidal. If he keeps it up, he’ll be down by 10 by the weekend in the all the tracking polls. He should get Hillary out on the stump, especially in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and stick to blue-collar issues, not Palin.


Next, Team Obama has to muzzle Biden. First it was “good looking” Palin. Biden has now trumped that with Palin as  “a step back for women.” And if he too keeps it up, soon even Hillary is going to get angry. Meanwhile those independent white working-class female voters are slipping, a natural constituency for Obama. Let me get this straight: Obama picked as VP someone who bombed in two presidential tries (1% of the vote while he ran); turned down Hillary who got 18 million voters and won the last primaries with white working-class voters? And for all that he was to get Biden’s “experience” and “sobriety”, a Senator who was always the most mercurial and gaffe-prone around?

Ol’ Hill—gone, but not forgotten.

Hillary, it is true, tells white lies about her past; but she does not sound insipid and self-important in Biden’s fashion. She was the ideal VP candidate. So I never saw the Biden logic; he’s always had a reputation for duplicity, logorrhea, and gratuitous insulting. Why compound the error of not nominating her for President, by the greater error of shutting her out of the VP nomination?

True, Obama had legitimate worries about the Clintones, and their dream of a de facto shared presidency, with Bill being Bill. But that assumed he could win easily without them. He can’t (ask Gore).

Wiser  to win first with Hillary, and then next deal with her later, rather than letting pride and hubris cloud logic.

They’re Back

Some of the recent bad Obama news reflects past errors.  Who wants the UN and fawning Euros on your side? That ridiculous Euro-tour and his “I am a Europeaner” speech were disastrous, and even now reverberate.

The latest to get in on the election are the nosy condescending Brits, as in the disastrous ’04 fashion when they were going to warn Ohioans to vote for Kerry.

Note Gordon Brown, while in office as British PM, seems to take the unprecedented step of almost endorsing Obama. That will only alienate Americans, and if McCain is elected, make him regret it.

Creepy Brit Russell Brand at the MTV award calls Bush a “retard.” Then he went off on Palin in rather disgusting terms, intermixed with pathetic calls to elect Obama. But after looking at this sickly figure, one could imagine that Sarah could make mincemeat of him in seconds, without the moose gun.

And then the BBC conducts a “world” poll to inform us that the planet likewise wants Obama—but are we  impressed that the Putin and the Russians, or the Chinese, or the Venezuelans or the UN general Assembly knows best for us? I’d easily prefer that the US be run by the city council of my home town Selma than by the EU governing assembly.

If critics suggest I exaggerate, cf. this advice from the British Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland:

Until now, anti-Americanism has been exaggerated and much misunderstood: outside a leftist hardcore, it has mostly been anti-Bushism, opposition to this specific administration. But if McCain wins in November, that might well change. Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start – a fresh start the world is yearning for.

Soon voters in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will ask why do these people like Obama so much, and us so little?

The Democrats Forgot their own Rules

#1 Do not nominate northern liberals unless they have a southern accent.

#2 Do not go near a veteran liberal Northeastern Senator who perpetually runs for President, is hooked on cameras and loves to extemporaneously lecture. He will balance no one.

#3 Stay away from Chicago politics

#4 Keep away completely from the nut-fringe, whether Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore—or Bill Ayers. They are the leftwing version of the John Birch Society of the 1950s.

#5 Do not allow a nominee on the stump to wear camoflauge, a tank helmet, pick up a gun, or bowl

#6  Don’t ever do tell-all interviews by televangleicals

#7 Don’t get near MSNBC, the Daily Kos, or the Huffington Post—keep to NPR, PBS, NBC and the New York Times/Washington Post.

#8 Don’t start a name calling contest with Sean Hannety and Rush Limbaugh. They will seem presidential, the nominee like an inept talk show host.

#9 Keep away from all celebs, whether Ludacris or Barbra.

#10 If you really must speak of military affairs, use the words “win” and “victory” in each sentence.


Inexact thinking

Readers who suggested that McCain’s insider connections nullify my larger point about similar feminist critiquing bootstrap Palin error. McCain is NOT in condescending fashion belittling the up-from-nothing rise of others. For the analogy to be accurate, it would be as if the conservative admiral son’s pooh-poohed a blue-collar populist and liberal captain as not being “officer material”.

On Income

I wish Obama’s new taxes would be to help the general welfare as in paying down the debt. But he wants, as I read his website and do the math, about a trillion more spent on new programs, and paid for with about a trillion more in new taxes. That would mean taxing in a downturn, not paying off the debt, getting larger and more inefficient government, and taking more responsibility away from the individual. We forget that we have an enormous government already, high taxes, and plenty of programs. The trick is to make them work  better, cut spending and leave taxes as they are.

On Change.

Of course, McCain and Palin are brazenly expropriating change, but tweaking it with the word “maverick”. They’ve hit on a sort of Butch Cassidy/Sundance duet, riding into town guns blazing as “outsiders” who “took on” the insider status quo. Americans can relate to underdog change, but Obama’s wore off, and the veneer peeled away showing a sort of orthodox tired McGovern/Mondale/Dukakis/Kerry liberal agenda as usual. All politicians flip; my point was that Obama was flipping in substance toward McCain, McCain in rhetoric and style toward Obama.

On Issues
Obama has it wrong. He thinks talking about the issues favors him. They could, if he talked balanced budgets or getting bin Laden as an antidote to George Bush, or the need to drill, do nuclear and coal, and find ways to get to solar and wind without going broke. But there was a reason Kerry lost, and the corrective to present ills is not Kerryism, but the sort of post-political belt-tightening and restraint Obama once promised.

For 90 days, voters can be misled that a glib sort of Dukakis or a new take on Kerry is real change; it is in a superficial way. But in the last 60 days we will see that voters are angry that “change” really meant the old liberal taxes, big government, and qualify and fifth guess what America does at every turn. Being angry with Bush does not mean necessarily voters regret not having a Kerry the last four years.

The Race Tightens Up (Again and Again)

September 7th, 2008 - 6:24 am

McCain Versus Obama

It is interesting how Obama has been evolving toward McCain’s positions rather than vice versa. Take Iran. At first, to Obama it posed little threat; now it is a danger large indeed—as McCain insisted all along. Obama used to ridicule the surge and claim it had failed; now he assures us that it has worked beyond our wildest dreams. Obama was opposed to oil drilling, and was silent about coal and nuclear power. Now suddenly he has dropped mention of inflating our tires, and is referring to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear production as legitimate means to wean ourselves off foreign oil. In political terms, all this is wise, since voters ultimately want to be reassured about centrist positions rather than worry over consistency. As Anbar quiets and we leave, expect him to suggest his pressure and criticism were responsible for the Iraqi government’s turn-about.

On matters like abortion, capital punishment, gun control and FISA, Obama again moves closer to McCain rather than vice versa. Apparently, he realizes that no northern Democratic liberal has been elected since JFK, nearly a half-century ago—an amazing fact in and of itself—and so has to follow the Bill Clinton centrist route, which can be accomplished by a variety of measures.

Thus Biden is playing up his distant Scranton childhood; Michelle is muzzled; Ayers, Pfleger, and Wright are no doubt somewhere in suspended animation; and Obama has suddenly dropped all talk of reparations, oppression studies, America’s tragic history, typical white people, etc. And when he does start in on his preemptory “they’re going after me” stump whine, he doesn’t mention race, only his name and the faux charge of being a Muslim. Again, if he continues, in another month he won’t sound like a Pelosi liberal anymore, and perhaps eat into the working class white voting block.

Where do the candidates then differ? Mostly on taxes and spending. Obama would raise most taxes, albeit mostly (but not completely) on the more affluent, by ending FICA limits, raising income rates, upping capital gains, and raising the death tax. He would use the resulting trillions (if such taxation did not itself stifle economic growth and thus not bring in additional revenue) not to pay off the deficit, but to fund new entitlements in education, health, and housing.

McCain would not likely create new programs or new government health and education entitlements, but hope to cut where he could and lower the deficit by spending restraint rather than by new taxation. In times of recession, I think cutting spending is far preferable to raising any taxes on anyone. Bottom line: for a couple making $300,000, there would probably be at least $20,000 more to pay to the fed, and that money in turn would be redirected to a couple making $50,000 in various additional entitlements. If one lives in a high-tax New York or California, one can imagine paying 60-65% of much of one’s income going to FICA, federal and state taxes, on top of capital gains, property and sales taxes.

Obama would appoint more judges like Breyer and Ginsburg, McCain more like Roberts and Alito. That seems a wide difference. I don’t think the Right will allow another Souter or Kennedy, and the Left would never allow, one time, anyone like Roberts.

On foreign policy, Obama would, to be fair, return more to the Clinton than the Carter model—welcome to some after the blood and treasure lost in the Iraqi war, frightening to others, as they remember the 1990s and the serial terrorist attacks on US soldiers and diplomats that went unanswered and logically led to 9/11.

A forgotten difference is that Obama has navigated a great deal in the Ivy League, Chicago’s corrupt politics, and Trinity Church, without executive or managerial experience and without a lot of knowledge of Middle America. One does not see any antithesis on his part to all this, in the manner Palin took on the old-boy, corrupt Republican Alaskan establishment.

I have led a sort of schizophrenic life, growing up and living in rural Selma, farming, and remodeling various farm houses and buildings, juxtaposed with graduate school at Stanford and years working, speaking, and writing in  academic environments. From my perspective, I have been far more comfortable with, and have far more confidence in, the pragmatic judgment and worldview of rural America than I have found among the blinkered and intolerant sophisticated and educated elite. Out of politeness, I’ll stop there, since I confess that Columbia, Harvard, Chicago wards, and Trinity Church do not offer any stimulus for pragmatism, self-reliance, or American exceptionalism, but are landscapes in which government is the answer, a particular elite know best, politics is the art of dispersing someone else’s money, and America is to blamed first not last in matters of controversy.

Obama would now be far better prepared had he taken a three-year hiatus from community organizing in Chicago and gone downstate to work with struggling Illinois farmers—or better yet, apprenticed for a year on a John Deere and “seen the world” so to speak.

For some reason the nation is arguing over whether the Republican Vice Presidential nominee is as minimally qualified for office as the Democratic Presidential nominee, and that simply can’t be good for Obama.

The Boomerang keeps on boomeranging

I wrote last week in several venues that this media hysteria over Sarah Palin would incite a terrible backlash, manifested in furor expressed at the New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, etc., the climb in the McCain-Palin polls, and a surge in Republican fund-raising. I think that has already happened. An outraged Chris Matthews or snide Andrew Mitchell or disappointed Anderson Cooper should in toto  be worth 2-3 points for McCain.

For some Pavlovian reason, the media’s talking heads still harangue about Palin’s oration being written by a speech writer, as they send hundreds of reporters scurrying to Alaska to talk to the sorry miscreant brother-in-law trooper. No such emissaries were sent to inquire about Biden; when a freelance inquirer like Stanley Kurtz tries to wade through the Obama archives, he’s met with institutional obstacles. Isn’t there one honest person in the media who will stand up to the madness, and cry “ENOUGH!”?

My favorite example was the dour CNN reporter interrogating the Palin former brother-in-lawyer trooper. Even he seemed taken back at the fellow’s maze of transgressions, as we inadvertently learned that, as a state trooper, the ex-brother-in-law was drinking on the job, shot a moose out of season, really did Taser his step-son, and is now married and divorced four times. The question is not whether Gov. Palin worried that this miscreant should be fired, or why the poor trooper went public, but why CNN itself thought it could extract anything negative about Palin after talking to this confused employee. If anything, the entire episode was a reminder how state bureaucracies and employee unions have conspired to make it impossible to fire anyone for anything.

In the Palin case, there seems a sort of the straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back phenomenon about the sheer hypocrisy of the elite liberal media. For decades they have been championing the independent, audacious woman, which, we learn, only meant any female that toed the hyper-liberal, secular, pro-abortion, affirmative-action, big government, more entitlement, and power-couple professional agenda. But more importantly, we learn that there is a gatekeeper sect who adjudicates who is a proper feminist and who is not, and its top rung is limited to an New York-Washington DC economic, political and journalistic/media elite, with auxiliary status accorded to the southern California and Bay Area wealthy celebrity crowd.

Perhaps Andrea Mitchell summed up the assumptions best when she explained why no sane feminist would vote for McCain/Palin: “She is not appealing to the same women who were really voting or supporting Hillary Clinton on ideological issues but they think that they can peel off some of these working class women, not college educated, who, the blue collar women who were voting for Hillary Clinton and may be more conservative on social causes.” But wait, Sarah Palin is college educated—with the same degree BA degree that Andrea Mitchell received—at least if non Ivy-League University of Idaho still counts in the mindset of New York and Washington.

As I wrote last time, one artifact of this creepy frenzy is reexamination of how today’s uberwoman really makes it to the top. And the answer is revealing since it is surely not the way Sarah Palin did, with the small-town, rural Alaska, Idaho BA, five kids, calloused-handed, snowmobiling husband resume.

Who Will Police the Feminist Police?

So I invite readers to play a small game with me, and recall in various fields as many liberal feminist icons as they can, especially in politics or the media. Ponder their pedigrees and then speculate just how they reached their present celebrity and influence.  And, lastly, ask whether it has anything to do with the much reviled old-boy patrimonial lineage or the much caricatured old-boy matrimonial connections. Here I mean again politicians like Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Nancy Pelosi, or a media person like Campbell Brown, Gail Collins, Andrea Mitchell, or Sally Quinn.

Let’s briefly collate some, and then see just how many powerhouse-feminists were either (a) themselves the daughters of powerful politicians; (b) married insider politicians or government officials, or influential media figures, or (c) inherited substantial money or found plenty of income by marrying wealthy men who energized their careers.

An Ode to Palin

I predict we will be astonished that in comparison to their normal cursus honorum, Sarah Palin’s up-by-the-bootstraps background is itself nothing short of astonishing. Here, I don’t wish to suggest that one finds enormous success without talent, or is to be criticized de factis for being lucky by birth or in marriage, only to suggest that all these woman who themselves tsk, tsk Palin should take a deep breath and ask themselves whether they would have made it as Vice Presidential candidate should they have shared the Palin background.

The View from the Distant Shore

Apparently the federal government is going to open up coastal waters for wind turbines. But we all know that in key places off the coasts of Massachusetts and California suddenly we will hear that the windmills are either dangerous, harmful to wildlife, uneconomical, and any other reasons to stop these obstructions from marring once scenic views from the living rooms of the blessed. Here I think the left has it all wrong: with new horizontal drilling techniques, it would be far less conspicuous to go after gas and oil.


Lawyers Again

Many readers questioned my suggestion that the Democrats should try nominating from a field far wider than just lawyers. I have nothing against lawyers (my mother was an appellate court justice and I remember her advice that “a competent honest lawyer is a treasure”.) My point is only that modern legal training, given the nature of our now hyper-litigious society, should not become the only requisite background for Presidential candidates. I think that worry was no exaggeration, since every Democratic nominee for both President and Vice President, since Jimmy Carter (with the exception of Al Gore who did not finish law school), has been a lawyer. Again, the point was really presidential diversity, not that legal training is not valuable.


I don’t think my comments about Palin are partisan. Read what David Frum, Dr. Laura, Peggy Noonan, George Will and a host of other conservatives have written about the choice. Whereas, as one reader noted, a Michael Savage can tear her apart, or a Charles Krauthammer can worry over her qualifications, I don’t think Democratic pundits expressed worry over Joe Biden, although his own past had plenty of reasons to evoke worry, whether we talk of plagiarism, invented bios, terrible performances as a Senate judiciary inquirer, or hare-brained foreign policy ideas, and so on.

I don’t know yet how Palin will do on the stump as a candidate; I do know her Middle-America credentials and conservative ideas have sent a particular elite into apoplexy not seen since the Clarence Thomas appointment. And why powerful conservative women or independent black intellectuals do that to the liberal mindset (who should applaud the success of “the other”), is an interesting question all in itself.

Robert Novak

I have been following both the medical problems of Ted Kennedy and Robert Novak very carefully, perhaps because my mother Pauline Davis Hanson, an appellate justice at the Fifth District in California, died, in perfect health, in her sixties in 1989 from a malignant brain tumor— initially (her tumors were removed twice by surgery) wrongly thought to have been a benign meningioma.

It was a terrible time, and I now remember most of it as a blur as I camped out for months in the university library (in the days before the internet for me) reading every scholarly article I could find on the typologies, courses, and treatments of various brain tumors, and then trying to cross-reference that information with dozens of surgeons and oncologists. In the end, all was for naught. And I still second-guess myself daily that I might have erred in directing her to a particular course of treatment, among the very many experimental regimens that were offered in the late 1980s, that unfortunately not only did not bring a cure, but made things far worse—and caused her a great deal of discomfort from the effects of that particular toxic chemotherapy.

So I hope both Kennedy and Novak can beat the diagnoses—even if they prove to  be glioblastomas, which, unlike meningiomas, are not so encapsulated and never benign. I disagreed adamantly with Novak on Iraq, and, decades ago, thought both his politics and manner in presenting them were often unnecessarily over the top. That said, I have always liked him, even more so in recent years, since he has a twinkle in his eye, was of good humor, and never seemed to have held a grudge.

I once watched an interview with him about his newfound Catholic faith and found him sincere and at times moving. I read his memoir and, again, found his candor and ‘prince of darkness’ humor admirable. For me the heavies in the Plame affair were two: Joe Wilson who simply could not tell the truth, and exaggerated almost everything he came into contact with, in flamboyant and obnoxious style; and Richard Armitage who knew from the beginning, that he, not Scooter Libby, had first been told about Plame’s status and passed it on to others—and yet reminded publicly silent about it while someone else was demonized for just those supposed transgressions.

So I hope both Novak and Kennedy can beat these tumors and survive well through their eighties—possible perhaps given recent enormous breakthroughs in the treatment of such tumors.

Good luck to both and God bless them!

Target Palin

September 4th, 2008 - 8:32 am


If the post-Speech reaction of the talking heads at CNN, PBS and MSBNC, or the op-ed ravings of Gloria Steinem, Maureen Dowd, Eleanor Clift or Sally Quinn are any indication, the Secret Service better enlist the Alaskan National Guard for help ensuring the Alaskan Governor’s safety.

A beautiful, confident, articulate, independent, accomplished—and conservative—woman apparently has enraged Team Obama, the mainstream media, and the entire American intelligentsia, as if they were collectively hit by a cruise missile aimed from Middle America.

When Palin talks about her present life it sounds as authentic as Biden’s showy populism came off as false. Enraged feminists are apparently the gatekeepers for less well-educated American women, who are supposed to have 0-1.5 children not 5! Their husbands must be professors, lawyers, CEOs, editors—not snowmobile champions, union members, oil workers, and fishermen—or, worse, all in one! And unlike a Pelosi, Quinn, or Clinton, Palin, God forbid, did not rely on a powerful, wealthy husband or father to energize her career. Worse still, she took no women’s studies class, never attended the Ivy League, and shoots moose. The danger is not just that Sarah Palin could win McCain the election, but she could expose the entire flimsy structure of doctrinaire liberalism as the hypocrisy—and chauvinism—it has become.

Dumb and dumber

At about the time that the Republicans were making the case that liberals were hyperpartisan, a little unhinged, and out of touch, hundreds of nutty demonstrators were outside the convention screaming in the usual street theater mode about war crimes et al.—even as Joe Biden announced that when elected, he and Obama may well seek out Bush administration officials to try them for crimes!

Two nations….

The Geraldine Ferraro Democratic Vice Presidential nominee appointment was an inspired stroke of genius that advanced the cause of feminism; Palin’s was tawdry tokenism.

Edwards was a social reformer brought down by the tabloids; Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is white trash and fair game.

Insulting “small town mayors” and “good looking” women is funny; suggesting that “community organizing” is often a farce is a felony.

Obama’s violation of drug laws with a “little blow” was youthful exuberance; Palin’s husband’s DUI was more proof of a working-class messy family.

Joe Biden bravely continued as Senator after the tragic death of his wife and daughter left his injured young sons with a single parent; Sarah Palin selfishly shorted her children by running for VP and endangered her infants by flying while pregnant.

Criticizing Clinton’s engaging in sex in the oval office and lying about it to the American people were once “the politics of personal destruction”; lying that Sarah Palin might not have been the mother of her 5th child is the mere overreach of the blogs caused by the improper vetting of the McCain campaign.

This all reminds me of the 2000 campaign when the media beat the dead-horse of Bush (Yale BA, Harvard MBA) as the lousy, lazy C-student, when, in fact, Al Gore’s undergraduate record at Harvard was full of C’s, F’s at Vanderbilt Divinity School (dropped out), and C’s at Vanderbilt Law School (dropped out). The point is not that quitting professional schools is necessarily a sign of anything, but rather once again that the media is shown to be bending and inventing facts for their higher purposes of liberal utopianism— a continuation of some half a century when we remember the “dumb” Ike floundering before the  “brilliant” and “witty” Adlai Stevenson (who flunked out of Harvard Law School, a fact hidden from the public for decades.)

The Poverty of the Legal Culture

Every Democratic Presidential and VP nominee of the last thirty years, with the exception of Al Gore (law school drop out), has been a lawyer—Obama (s) and Biden, Kerry and Edwards, Gore and Lieberman, Clinton (s) and Gore, Dukakis and Bentsen, and Mondale and Ferraro. And while Carter was a failure, he at least brought a different perspective from someone whose professional training was argumentation.

The Republicans, at least, understood that legal training is not a prerequisite for the Presidency (one in law doesn’t build things, grow, defend, or create anything). The Democrats need to branch out, and find a Reagan, Palin, or McCain. Had the Bushes and Cheney been lawyers, I doubt they would have been elected. I am not suggesting that the products of modern law schools are not articulate, clever, used to arguing both sides of an issue, often rhetorically adept, and attentive to detail; but all that is part of the problem: they simply rarely wade out and solve problems rather than postfacto examining and litigating those who do.

All About  Race, All the Time

Two truths have emerged: after promising to be the postracial candidate, Obama evokes race constantly; after suggesting McCain will, he hasn’t yet.

Remember this from Obama: “So what they are going to do is make you scared of me. You know he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like those other presidents (sic) on the dollar bills.”

Or this Obamism:  “They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

Or this in Berlin: “I know that I don’t look like the other Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.”

Or  his slur of his grandmother as a “typical white person” or the Pennsylvania “clingers” nonsense. No need to go into  the rest of the Obama racial stable: Rev. Wright’s racist outbursts; Father Pfleger’s creepy rants; Michelle’s more subtle “they” “raised the bar” complaints, or Barack Obama’s own promises to fund more “oppression studies” as a result of the “tragic history” of the United States that requires “reparations” in deed, not just word.

And then, of course, there are the self-appointed spokesmen from the nut-fringe, racists like Ludacris or Diddy who have weighed in with creepy attacks on McCain and Palin. Here I include the ever crazy Howard Dean. Remember this from the Chairman of the Democratic Party: “If you look at folks of color, even women, they’re more successful in the Democratic Party than they are in the white, uh, excuse me, in the (chuckles) Republican Party, because we just give more opportunity to folks who are hard-working people who are immigrants and come from members of minority groups.”

Then there are the op-ed writers weighing in on cue, like Philadelphia Daily News columnist Fatima Ali: “If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness — and hopelessness!”

Or this from Harold Meyerson (who earlier accused Hillary and Bill Clinton of playing the race card) in the Washington Post: “In a year when the Democrats have an African American presidential nominee, the Republicans now more than ever are the white folks’ party, the party that delays the advent of our multicultural future, the party of the American past. Republican conventions have long been bastions of de facto Caucasian exclusivity, but coming right after the diversity of Denver, this year’s GOP convention is almost shockingly — un-Americanly — white. Long term, this whiteness is a huge problem.”

Or Bob Herbert’s fantastic claim that a McCain ad showing Obama speaking in front of the Berlin Victory Column was really a racist attack juxtaposing the Washington Monument and the Leaning Tower of Pisa as phallic symbols to scare the public about black male/white women coupling. About all Herbert revealed was that the New York Times columnist can’t distinguish America’s best known obelisk from a European monument to Prussian militarism.

Bottom line: expect more of the race card, especially if Palin gives the Republicans a bounce after the convention—and anyone who objects to it will be preemptively charged—of course—with racism.

Palin: too much Hope and Change?

September 1st, 2008 - 8:12 am

The Great Liberal Crack-up
Sarah Palin has not even been widely known nationally for a week. We await her speeches, interviews, and grace or lack of it under fire. There will be examination like none other.

Yet in anticipation, the liberal establishment has gone simply haywire this last week. Joe Biden—anyone who has followed his career knows that it is only a matter of time before he makes something up about himself, says something inane, or claims something is true that is not—has announced her “good-looking,” in a way he once dismissed Obama as “clean.” (You see, most others lack Biden’s brilliant intellect, and so only advanced on their looks, which he apparently acknowledges through his own hair transplants as marginally important in politics).

The former head of the Democratic National Committee, Don Fowler announced that Hurricane Gustav was God’s payback to the Republicans—apparently not so unusual a liberal quip since caring Michael Moore hyper-ventilated about the same phenomenon. Their point apparently is fourfold: 1) people who believe in God get ironic payback; 2) it’s nice to see political opponents’ best laid convention plans disrupted by natural disaster and Obama helped; 3) My God!—there is no Obama post-convention bounce!; 4) who cares about what happens to millions in Gustav’s path?

It did not take a vicious Andrew Sullivan and the Daily Kos long, in despicable fashion, to start directing our attention to pictures of the Palins’ sixteen-year-old daughter, with the unhinged suggestion that she was really the mother of Sarah Palin’s recent child—all this from liberal humanists who lecture the nation hourly about Rovian politics. In their world of the self-anointed, the filthy ends of smearing a teen-ager always justify the noble ends: who cares about destroying the reputation of the Palin family if it brings us the Messiah? (Watch the retreat to victimhood when the untruths from these purveyors of slander are exposed as absolutely false; it will be something like: if you allege I’m a smear artist, then you are thereby a smear artist.)

Then terrified feminist columnists, whether at the New York Times or the Huffington Post, wrote furiously that anyone is clearly a  sexist who might suggest that a  woman out of solidarity would vote for Palin—this after the nation has witnessed 18 months of Hillary’s campaign calling for women of the nation to unite, and Obama has raised the issue of race in ways that ensured 95% of the black vote.

You see there are apparently problems for many “powerful” feminists with Palin: she’s a happy mom of five; she made it in the world by partnering with men on her own terms; she likes real physical challenges whether shooting, fishing, or snowmobiling—or running an entire state. Had Palin announced that she was pro-choice, liberal, the mother of one or two children, a graduate from Harvard—and were she not so attractive—we would be hearing about her stature and seriousness.

The liberal mindset is so funny—and so predictable. A Joe Biden or Barack Obama, both lawyers and senators and residents of mansion-like houses, whose associates are for the most part lobbyists, insiders, and wheeler-dealers, claim that they are men of the people. No matter that they both went to private prep schools, had parents of a rather different sort than steel workers (Obama’s were both PhD candidates, Biden’s dad worked for an oil company and was a business executive), and obviously enjoy the good life (few who work at Wal-Mart get hair-plugs or eat arugula). This disconnect is all accepted by the liberal establishment, and encouraged, since elites are supposed to have a speck under their fingernails—but not much more.

Suddenly Palin comes along with a real middling class upbringing (her parents were out hunting when her nomination  was announced), and a husband that is a state snowmobiling champion. We won’t have to worry, in other words, that she will put on spandex and be caught wind-surfing, wearing the obligatory Democratic camouflage and being seen in a duck blind, or fumbling all over herself at the bowling alley. But if the smirks about her looks, family, and inexperience are any indication, liberals find all this a  sort of raining on their parade. (You are supposed to occasionally talk or look middle class—but NOT, God forbid, actually be middle class!). Middle-class concern is a sort of tsk, tsk that allows an Al Gore to fly Gulfstream or John Edwards to have that extra 27,000 sq. ft. of housing.

Bottom line: we are supposed to turn our lives over to a particular sort of lawyer, Ivy-League deity, who knows far better than we how we are supposed to live. If one understands that condescension, then all the talk about race, class, and gender is about as serious as communitarianism was to those bloated figures who used to stand on the podium at the Moscow May Parade. They are, again, means to an end, the end being perpetual power.

In short, Sarah Palin in just a few days has proved to be a sort of nightmarish liberal banshee. We heard how impossible it is to balance work and family (remember the old wonder stories about how Hillary raised Chelsea while being a lawyer?)—but we don’t wish to hear about a working mom with five children. That suggests just too much family solidarity and bliss. We praise the distant middle class, but don’t want  a rural beauty queen and happy governor of Alaska in Washington. We want to agonize about women’s dramas and abortion, but not someone to deliver a child known in advance to have Down syndrome. We want a superwoman, but that means going to Harvard or Yale, not standing in waders on a boat or carving up a bloody moose.

I don’t know what the ultimate political result will be of the Palin appointment. I do know that as Vice President she would be every bit as qualified and experienced as Obama, who, after all, wishes to be President.  But if the first week’s liberal crack-up is any indication, John McCain has just out hoped and changed Barack Obama.

The Hillary voter who saw sexism in the primaries is now examining every word from Obama (“sweetie”) and Biden (“good-looking”). Is McCain still the DC “insider” after Obama nominated the apparatchek Biden, while McCain goes with Palin? The working white class voter is anxiously examining what the Obama hit teams do with a fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, pro-drilling Alaskan mom of five. Is she a clinger? Someone who likes her guns and church?  A “typical white person?”

And the hardcore old white guy of the rightwing base, who has been demonized by the hip Obamatti as staid, boring, and predictable, just played his own trump card—and is now crowing that he has a younger and more charismatic face of his own:  ‘You really want to play the media ga-ga hand?  Ok, I just matched your Obama and raised a Palin!’

The election race for the nth time just started from square one—and in  a year like this that only helps the old war horse McCain.