This is Week 12 of Season 3 in my 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading Series. Every week day I try to blog about compelling writers, their ideas, and the news cycle’s most interesting headlines. This Top 10 list is the series’ climax for this year, a project I’ve been planning since first asking the question December 5, 2012.
What is the future of conservatism? Which voices should define the priorities of the movement in the coming decades? Who are its most skilled proponents today? How should the movement evolve to face the threats most endangering America?
This list is my effort to advocate for both my favorite writers contributing to answering these questions and the ideas they champion.
5 quick ground rules first:
– I’m being strict with the “columnist” title – no bloggers, journalists, or feature writers. A “columnist” is one who writes a 700-1400+ word polemical article on a regular basis for an established publication or syndication.
– I’m likewise being strict with the “conservative” title – other various right-of-center ideologies (neoconservatism, libertarianism, Christian theocrats, and paleo-con conspiracists) warrant their own lists. (Which perhaps they might get next year as I continue mapping out today’s most important ideological advocates in the contests of politics, ideas, and culture…)
[UPDATE: Confused why some of your favorites aren’t on this list? See: 3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism]
– In selecting these individuals, I am including them and the ideas they champion in what I’m calling Conservatism 3.0. This isn’t just a stand-alone list, it’s part of the bigger, ongoing project of my attempt to encourage ideological debate and dialogue. The columnists on this list each write books too and I’m adding their titles to my reading lists at the Freedom Academy Book Club. In next year’s installment of my “radical reading regimen” I’ll blog through their titles too.
– I’m excluding writers that I edit. All of PJM’s columnists and freelancers have been going on a separate list of my favorite writers, which I’ve been accumulating over the last six months and you can read on the last page of this post. And as an extra mention I have to go out of my way to recommend Instapundit Glenn Reynolds’s USA Today columns too. Blogging isn’t the only medium that Glenn’s mastered.
– I’m including excerpts from some of my favorite columns. Fair warning: this article today is over 13,000 words, highlighting some of the year’s best op/eds. (UPDATE: And apparently that means it’s too big for the view-as-single-page or print-this-post feature to work. I’m sorry. I assure you that was not intentional.) It’s really more of a free online e-book — a late Christmas present to all the readers, writers, activists, and patriots who have inspired and encouraged me in my own journey across the political spectrum…
10. Ross Douthat
Back in 2009 the New York Times editorial page made the very rare great decision. They replaced corporatist neoconservative baby boomer William Kristol (born December 23, 1952) with cultural conservative millennial-leaning Gen-Xer Ross Douthat (born November 28, 1979.)
Gone was the D.C.-insider establishment man, symbolic of — and in some ways a contributor to — the Republican Party’s and conservatism’s failures todays, and in was a sunny National Review writer with a film critic background and religious interests to reinvent center-right arguments with a fresh, optimistic voice. A few highlights from this year, on Reza Aslan’s Jesus recycling, the celebration of tribal criminality in Breaking Bad, and lessons for the JFK cult:
August 3, “Return of the Jesus Wars“:
The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.
Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural.
Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.
There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith.
October 1, “Walter White’s Dream”:
The allure for Team Walt is not ultimately the pull of nihilism, or the harmless thrill of rooting for asupervillain. It’s the pull of an alternative moral code, neither liberal nor Judeo-Christian, with an internal logic all its own. As James Bowman wrote in The New Atlantis, embracing Walt doesn’t requiring embracing “individual savagery” and a world without moral rules. It just requires a return to “old rules” — to “the tribal, family-oriented society and the honor culture that actually did precede the Enlightenment’s commitment to universal values.”
Those rules seem cruel by the lights of both cosmopolitanism and Christianity, but they are not irrational or necessarily false. Their Darwinian logic is clear enough, and where the show takes place — in the shadow of cancer, the shadow of death — the kindlier alternatives can seem softheaded, pointless, naïve.
Nor can this tribal morality be refuted in a laboratory. Indeed, by making Walt a chemistry genius, the show offers an implicit rebuke to the persistent modern conceit that a scientific worldview logically implies liberalism, humanism and a widening circle of concern. On “Breaking Bad,” that worldview just makes Walt a better kingpin, and the beautiful equations of chemistry are deployed to addict, poison, decompose.
November 23, “Puddleglum and the Savage“:
What exhausts skeptics of the Kennedy cult, both its elegiac and paranoid forms, is the way it makes a saint out of a reckless adulterer, a Camelot out of a sordid political operation, a world-historical figure out of a president whose fate was tragic but whose record was not terribly impressive.
But in many ways the impulses driving the Kennedy nostalgists are the same ones animating Lewis’s Puddleglum and Huxley’s Savage — the desire for grace and beauty, for icons and heroes, for a high-stakes dimension to human affairs that a consumerist, materialist civilization can flatten and exclude.
And one can believe J.F.K. is a poor vessel for these desires, and presidential politics the wrong place to satisfy them, without wishing they would disappear.
“It is a serious thing,” Lewis wrote, describing the implications of his religious worldview, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship.”
It is obviously a serious mistake, from this perspective, to deify someone prematurely or naively, as too many of Kennedy’s admirers have done.
“To deify someone prematurely or naively…” — in continuing on this list, picking writers, activists, and thinkers who have influenced my thinking for years, I want to emphasize that this is not a list of conservative heroes. These are not the gods of right-wing writing circa 2013, but rather something more mundane: a chessboard. Both in specific arguments and in tactics they each simply model the methods for how to do battle.
Douthat is a knight. His approach of leading with deeper discussions of religion and culture then eschewing cliche ideological talking points is a great way to begin the discussion with skeptical or even hostile non-conservative friends and family. As the dialogue gets deeper into specifics — as you make progress in provoking others to rattle their chains in Plato’s cage by taking politically incorrect ideas seriously — it’s time to get focused on the facts about the nature of the enemies who most threaten our ability to have these free debates about God and life. I suspect that over the coming years more will make the journey from Left to Right as I and many other post-9/11 conservatives did: through recognizing the nature of the jihad declared against us and then responding in the same way that previous generations vanquished Nazism and fascism.
9. Frank Gaffney
In beginning the discussion for a Conservatism 3.0, one of the first points of debate is coming to some agreement about the nature of the most serious threat facing American national security. Previous generations of conservatives — the post-war movement founded by William F. Buckley Jr and National Review, what I’ve named Conservatism 2.0 — did not have this problem. They agreed on the enemy’s name. The Soviet Union was an imperial power run by criminal thugs who kept their people enslaved.
There is not yet a sense of unity regarding the nature of the threat today. Who is America’s greatest danger? Al Qaeda? Iran? North Korea? The Muslim Brotherhood? Russia? China? Or is America mostly invincible and we really don’t have to worry much about foreign affairs and we can all just go back to focusing on Obamacare and the ethnicity of St. Nicholas?
Frank Gaffney and his think tank the Center for Security Policy are where to go for erudite analysis and research into today’s malevolent actors and the strategies America needs to pursue to defeat them. His column after the Boston bombing is a must read. From April 28, “Welcome to the Global Jihad“:
Authorities in Massachusetts have identified suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday as Dzhokhar and (the now-deceased) Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two brothers of Chechen descent originally from Kyrgyzstan. Many Americans haven’t heard of the place; most couldn’t find it on a map. Nearly all would be unable to say why people from there would want to kill people from here.
Welcome to the phenomenon of global jihad. It is time to dispense with the illusion that we are safe from foreign threats because we have put, as President Obama repeatedly insisted during the last campaign, “al Qaeda on the path to defeat,” thanks to the death of Osama bin Laden and the drone-delivered thinning of the ranks of his lieutenants.
The Chechen jihadists in Boston may or may not have been associated with, or even inspired by, bin Laden’s terror network. But in the days and weeks to come we are likely to discover that they identify with its goals: 1) imposing the supremacist Islamic doctrine of shariah – a totalitarian, brutally repressive and anti-Constitutional ideology – on the entire world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. And 2) recreating a caliphate (or a similar theo-political entity) to rule according to that doctrine.
The same is true of other violent jihadists of the Sunni and Shia stripes, including, respectively, the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and the regime in Iran. Ditto the so-called non-violent Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, that organization – which is the mother-ship for virtually all modern Sunni jihadists – favors an approach better described as pre-violent: The Brotherhood is perfectly prepared to use violence when it will be effective. Until then, they will adopt other measures (which they call “civilization jihad”) to create conditions that would be conducive to the realization of the goals they share with all other Islamists.
One of the important subjects that Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy emphasize is the Islamic legal system Shariah, the unifying force that drives jihadists both Sunni and Shiite, both nuclear-armed states and lonely shoe bombers. A recommend book from the Center you can read here, the Team BII report:
Here are two more stand-out columns to consider, particularly in parallel. One from the beginning of the year describes the beliefs of Obama’s choice for secretary of Defense, the second from December describes the administration’s “achievement.”
February 25, “The Case Against Chuck Hagel“:
Senator Hagel has not only showed considerable sympathy over the years for Iran but has exhibited a hostility for Israel and its Jewish supporters that smacks of anti-Semitism. Comments like his reported 2007 remark at Rutgers University that “the State Department is an adjunct to the Israeli foreign minister’s office” is not only absurd to anyone familiar with the Arabists of Foggy Bottom’s reflexive hostility towards the Jewish State. It is redolent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with that odious tract’s assertions that Jews control the world.
Dec. 9, following the deal with Iran, “How to Tell When Barack Obama is Lying“:
Consider, for example, the latest on the Iran nuclear weapons front. Mr. Obama insists that his interim deal “freezes” the mullahs’ nuclear program for six months. He may be the only one who believes that whopper. Certainly, the Iranian regime does not, and neither should we.
Yet, the President insisted at a Brookings Institution symposium on December 7th that, “There’s nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich.” In fact, as the Iranians have noted, the United States and the other “Perm 5+1” members clearly accepted in two different places in the so-called interim accord that Iran would continue the enrichment of uranium.Whether we call this arrangement an acknowledgment of an Iranian “right” or not is beside the point. What matters is that the long lead-time item in Iran’s acquiring sufficient nuclear weapons-grade uranium has been legitimated by President Obama’s treacherous diplomacy.
When I named Robert Spencer as the lead counter-jihad activist, one regular commenter spoke up, insisting that Gaffney and the next individual on this list deserved representation too. Responding, I agreed they were both essential but in my engagement with their work I saw them differently. Spencer — whom I enjoy editing every week for PJ Media — primarily focuses on the Koran, Islamic theology, and current terror tactics. He takes a grass-roots, new media, activist approach, well worth emulating and supporting.
Gaffney, a former Reagan defense official, is more broadly focused on national security topics and has a Washington D.C. focus. (He moves more like — and has the reach of — a bishop instead of a knight.) Today his organization keeps alive the Reagan foreign policy vision that allowed America to defeat the Soviet Union. A few years ago I met Gaffney at a conference and got to talk to him about his foreign policy philosophy. He summarized it simply in a way that’s stuck with me ever since: We have to regard bullies on the international stage much as we would bullies in our real life. And then respond in the same way.
We have to know who our enemy is, call them by their name (Reagan’s “evil empire” descriptor remains appropriate for a number of regimes today), and stand strong against them. They will only try to conquer us if they think we are so weak that they can actually win. Peace through strength.
We need to understand where our enemies came from and the history of the land where they live. Next on this list is one of the world’s most renowned Middle East scholars.
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8. Daniel Pipes
The director of the Middle East Forum was also named as someone like Gaffney and Spencer — essential for the counter-jihad movement.
We all have differing roles to play on the conservative chessboard. Pipes’ books, articles, and organization are indeed useful to activists, but as with Gaffney, his approach and style are broader — he too is more an intellectual bishop than a new media knight.
Those new to Pipes’ work should understand him as more of an across-the-board scholar of the Middle East’s history and its geopolitics today. I think it’s important to read him and Spencer together. One focuses on the Koran and the theology, the other on the history of how they have been implemented in the Middle East. (I’ve added Pipes’ books to my want-to-read list at the Freedom Academy Book Club — a free program that I encourage everyone to try — and in the next season of my 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen will start going through his titles too.)
Here are excerpts from four of Pipes’ best this year, on the president’s opposition to Israel, the origins of Islamism (an ideology with which he naively collaborates), its coming failures, and the fascinating response from Saudi Arabia to this year’s shameful Iran deal:
January 22, “Obama’s Anti-Zionism“:
Were Barack Obama reelected, I predicted two months before the November 2012 presidential vote, “the coldest treatment of Israel ever by a U.S. president will follow. Well, the election is over and that cold treatment is firmly in place. Obama has signaled in the past two months what lies ahead by:
Approving a huge gift of advanced weapons — 20 F-16 fighter jets and 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks — to the Islamist government in Egypt despite the fact that its president, Mohamed Morsi, has become increasingly despotic and in 2010 called Jews “blood-suckers . . . warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
May 14, “Islam vs. Islamism“:
Major dissonance began around 1800, when Muslims unexpectedly lost wars, markets, and cultural leadership to Western Europeans. It continues today, as Muslims bunch toward the bottom of nearly every index of achievement. This shift has caused massive confusion and anger. What went wrong? Why did God seemingly abandon His faithful? The unbearable divergence between premodern accomplishment and modern failure brought about trauma.
Muslims have responded to this crisis in three main ways. Secularists want Muslims to ditch sharia (Islamic law) and emulate the West. Apologists also emulate the West but pretend that in doing so they are following sharia. Islamists reject the West in favor of a retrograde and full application of sharia.
Islamists loathe the West because of its being tantamount to Christendom, the historic archenemy, and because of its vast influence over Muslims. Islamism inspires a drive to reject, defeat, and subjugate Western civilization. Despite this urge, Islamists absorb Western influences, including the concept of ideology. Indeed, Islamism represents the transformation of Islamic faith into a political ideology. Islamism accurately indicates an Islamic-flavored version of radical utopianism, an -ism like other -isms, comparable to fascism and Communism. Aping those two movements, for example, Islamism relies heavily on conspiracy theories to interpret the world, on the state to advance its ambitions, and on brutal means to attain its goals.
Supported by 10 to 15 percent of Muslims, Islamism draws on devoted and skilled cadres who have an impact far beyond their limited numbers. It poses a threat to civilized life in Iran, Egypt, and not just on the streets of Boston but also in Western schools, parliaments, and courtrooms.
Our killer question is “How do you propose to defeat Islamism?” Those who make all Islam their enemy not only succumb to a simplistic and essentialist illusion but they lack any mechanism to defeat it. We who focus on Islamism see World War II and the Cold War as models for subduing the third totalitarianism. We understand that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution. We work with anti-Islamist Muslims to vanquish a common scourge. We will triumph over this new variant of barbarism so that a modern form of Islam can emerge.
July 22, “Islamism’s Likely Doom“:
Reflecting deep Middle East patterns, dissension among Islamists likewise prevents them from working together. As the movement surges, as its members approach power and actually rule, its cracks become increasingly divisive. Rivalries papered over when Islamists languish in the opposition emerge when they wield power.
Should the fissiparous tendency hold, the Islamist movement is doomed, like fascism and communism, to be no more than a civilizational threat inflicting immense damage but never prevailing. This possible limit on Islamist power, which became visible only in 2013, offers grounds for optimism but not for complacency. Even if things look brighter than a year ago, trends can quickly turn around again. The long and difficult job of defeating Islamism remains ahead.
December 3, “Saudis Bristle at Obama’s Outreach to Iran“:
…perhaps the most unbuttoned comment came from Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi prince who occasionally sends up trial balloons for the royal family: He called Iran “a huge threat” and noted that, historically speaking, “The Persian empire was always against the Muslim Arab empire, especially against the Sunnis. The threat is from Persia, not from Israel,” a ground-breaking and memorable public statement.
Alwaleed then detailed how the Iranians are “in Bahrain, they are in Iraq, they are in Syria, they are with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas, which is Sunni, in Gaza.” As this listing suggests, Saudis are fixated on the danger of being surrounded by Iran’s agents and are more scared by the non-nuclear implications of the joint plan than the nuclear ones. Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont sees Saudis worrying that the accord opens the way “without any obstacles” for Iran to achieve regional dominance. (This contrasts with the Israeli and Western position, which focuses on the nuclear danger.)
Abdullah al-Askar, foreign affairs committee chairman of the kingdom’s appointed Shura Council, elaborates: he worries “about giving Iran more space or a freer hand in the region. The government of Iran, month after month, has proven that it has an ugly agenda in the region, and in this regard no one in the region will sleep and assume things are going smoothly. … The people of the region … know that Iran will interfere in the politics of many countries.”
In previous writings I’ve discussed PJ columnist Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa’s new book Disinformation and its descriptions of how conspiracy theories spread through the US and Middle East via carefully planned KGB programs. Pipes’ books on conspiracy theory ideologies are very useful for helping to put into context just how important fears of a secret global conspiracy were in the rise of Nazism in Germany then and Islamism in the Middle East now.
Pipes shows how conspiracism as a mode of thinking is capable of penetrating any sort of political, cultural, or religious movement. It’s an ideology unto itself, that should be understood and battled because it inspires people to feel helpless — no matter what they do there’s always the super secret conspiracy holding them down.
Buckley and National Review recognized this in the 1960s with the rise of the John Birch Society, whose leader Robert W. Welch Jr. preached an all-encompassing Soviet conspiracy that ensnared even President Dwight Eisenhower. As a result of Welch’s conspiracism, the John Birch Society opposed the Vietnam war and all efforts to militarily fight Communism around the world. How could the US government be trusted to fight the Soviets if secretly all high level US government operatives were in in on the plot? (Welch would go on to move beyond communism, to see the primary enemy as actually the Illuminati.) An excerpt from page 295 of Buckley’s historical novel Getting It Right, quoting some of the Birchers’ beliefs:
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Why was it necessary for William F. Buckley Jr. to purge the Birchers from respectable conservatism? This is what they believed and what its consequences were. Page 295 of WFB's novel Getting It Right. #history #conservatism Conspiracism is an evil ideology just like any other. It must be fought against whenever it manifests.
In breaking with the anti-intellectual, paranoid, far Right fringe — National Review published an entire issue making the case — Buckley took an important step in making post-war conservatism a viable political movement that someday would elect a president like Ronald Reagan to implement a “peace through strength” foreign policy defeating the Soviet Union.
But Buckley showed other ways to move across the conservative chessboard. For decades he embodied the conservative intellectual writer-activist who used media from print to visual to advance the cause of American freedom at home and the defeat of Communism abroad. When I first discovered Buckley’s works as I was just beginning my political odyssey — then at the other side of the spectrum — I couldn’t help but like him even if I detested what he argued. I think there are three reasons why in particular, and those qualities are embodied in his literary heirs keeping his flame alive as writers and editors at National Review: Respectability, Entertaining Debating, and Literary Elegance.
7. Rich Lowry
Buckley and National Review were genuinely about trying to change minds and persuade — which makes sense given that the magazine was staffed and strongly influenced by ex-Marxists. And that tradition still pervades the publication and its digital manifestation today. The lion’s share of credit for that should rightfully go to Rich Lowry, the man who has edited National Review since 1997 — almost 20 years. And for that I owe him a piece of thanks as National Review was one of the first conservative publications I ever took seriously. In accepting Buckley himself as a worthy, respectable ideological opponent, so too I came to see National Review Online (NRO) circa 2003-2006 as the voice of respectable conservatism. They were wrong and putting forth bad ideas but at least they could write well and it took some skill to research a rebuttal to them. They wrote both with forcefulness and with respectable restraint. These were conservatives who would disagree with you without insulting you or thinking they were better than you. I wasn’t an outlier with this position — even Daily Kos himself singled out NRO as the best in the movement.
And Lowry writes columns that way too. He makes a strong point but doesn’t beat you over the head with rhetoric. He regularly writes the kinds of pieces you might want to email to that Democrat friend who hasn’t grown up yet. Here are a few to get started, beginning with an introduction to Lowry’s new book this year on Abraham Lincoln:
June 5: “Lincoln Defended“:
The anti-Lincoln critique is mostly, but not entirely, limited to a fringe. Yet it speaks to a longstanding ambivalence among conservatives about Lincoln. A few founding figures of this magazine were firmly in the anti-Lincoln camp. Libertarianism is rife with critics of Lincoln, among them Ron Paul and the denizens of the fever-swamp at LewRockwell.com. The Loyola University Maryland professor Thomas DiLorenzo has made a cottage industry of publishing unhinged Lincoln-hating polemics. The list of detractors includes left-over agrarians, southern romantics, and a species of libertarians — “people-owning libertarians,” as one of my colleagues archly calls them — who apparently hate federal power more than they abhor slavery. They are all united in their conviction that both in resisting secession and in the way he did it, Lincoln took American history on one of its great Wrong Turns.
The conservative case against Lincoln is not only tendentious and wrong, it puts the Right crosswise with a friend. As I argue in my new book, Lincoln Unbound, Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the foremost proponent of opportunity in all of American history. His economics of dynamism and change and his gospel of discipline and self-improvement are particularly important to a country that has been stagnating economically and suffering from a social breakdown that is limiting economic mobility. No 19th-century figure can be an exact match for either of our contemporary competing political ideologies, but Lincoln the paladin of individual initiative, the worshiper of the Founding Fathers, and the advocate of self-control is more naturally a fellow traveler with today’s conservatives than with progressives.
In Lincoln Unbound, I make the positive case for Lincoln, but here I want to act as a counsel for the defense. The debate over Lincoln on the Right is so important because it can be seen, in part, as a proxy for the larger argument over whether conservatism should read itself out of the American mainstream or — in this hour of its discontent — dedicate itself to a Lincolnian program of opportunity and uplift consistent with its limited-government principles. A conservatism that rejects Lincoln is a conservatism that wants to confine itself to an irritable irrelevance to 21st-century America and neglect what should be the great project of reviving it as a country of aspiration.
September 24, “The Moral Chaos of Breaking Bad“:
By the end, he’s the basis of an international meth network. He’s capable of having multiple potential witnesses against him killed simultaneously. He’s a prodigious and talented liar.
The sin that undergirds it all is pride and a related thirst for power. Walt could have accepted help with his medical bills from an old college roommate who achieved great business success, but he’s offended at accepting charity. He will maintain control through his own meth-fueled earning power. In so doing, he becomes a cash-addled slave to greed.
In the final season, we see him rolling a barrelful of his cash through the desert, in a Sisyphean march under the sun to save some of his millions. Even as his cancer returns after a remission, he is at war against the old adage that “you can’t take it with you.” He schemes to find a way to leave his ill-gotten riches to his family, to make, in his mind, all his crimes worthwhile.
He is a classic example of what the late political scientist Edward Banfield called “amoral familism,” the inability to work “for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family” that characterizes backward societies and the mob. His supposed loyalty to his family, though, is only a thin tissue of self-justification.
November 11, “The Secret Obama“:
President Obama’s harshest critics believe that he has always been hiding something. They believe that he is even further left than he has governed. They believe that he has kept himself under wraps to avoid running afoul of American political realities.
They might be surprised to learn that none other than the president of the United States agrees with them. The evidence for this is in the latest campaign book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, authors of Game Change and the sequel about 2012, Double Down.
In the fall of 2011, they recount, “All too often, Obama felt as if he were driving with his foot on the brake.”
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December 13, “The Left’s Reality Problem“:
Many liberals still don’t want to acknowledge the rather straightforward fact that if you mandate more insurance benefits in the so-called Affordable Care Act, insurance will cost more. Q.E.D. You might be able to cushion the cost increase for some people with subsidies, but not for everyone, and the underlying insurance is still more — not less — expensive.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote a particularly smug op-ed titled “The Wonk Gap” a couple of months ago, celebrating the Left’s lopsided advantage in policy analysis at the same time he pooh-poohed and took as a sign of rank ignorance the Republican contention that there would be sticker shock from Obamacare.
Krugman must consider it in extremely poor form that his own paper is kowtowing to the ignoramuses by publishing stories on how couples like Mike and Kay Horrigan of North Carolina are faring under the Affordable Care Act: “Mr. Horrigan’s coverage by a state high-risk insurance program was eliminated, then replaced by a more expensive plan. His wife’s individual plan was canceled for being substandard, then suddenly renewed — also at a higher price.”
The deceptions around Obamacare are central — both to the law and to the Left’s advocacy generally. So much of liberal policy is based on Affordable Care Act–style thinking, which involves hiding and never acknowledging the costs of a given policy; giving legislation a warm and fuzzy name on the assumption that its results will live up to that label; and moralistic attacks on people who resist as fools and ogres.
December 19, 2013: “Pajama Boy, An Insufferable Man-Child“:
Perhaps the goal of OFA was to create a readily mockable image to draw attention to its message, in which case Pajama Boy was a brilliantly successful troll. The right immediately Photoshopped him into the Mandela funeral selfie and emblazoned his photo with derisive lines like, “Hey girl, I live with my parents,” and, “How did you know I went to Oberlin?”
But it’s hard not to see Pajama Boy as an expression of the Obama vision, just like his forbear Julia, the Internet cartoon from the 2012 campaign. Pajama Boy is Julia’s little brother. She progressed through life without any significant family or community connections. He is the picture of perpetual adolescence. Neither is a symbol of self-reliant, responsible adulthood.
“As I argue in my new book, Lincoln Unbound, Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the foremost proponent of opportunity in all of American history.”
What if one of the answers to Pajama Boy is Abraham Lincoln?
I had planned to blog through Lowry’s Lincoln Unbound next year at my usual pace and use it as a springboard to begin researching Lincoln more in order to define what it means to be what I’ve started calling an “Anti-Slavery Republican.” Just one problem: while flying home to see the family for the holidays I ended up reading the whole book cover to cover. It’s that good! So I’ve already found a dozen or so quotes and ideas worth sharing. Lowry does such a phenomenal job of showing the development of Lincoln’s character and the nurturing of the personal values that transformed an awkward manual laborer into America’s legendary 16th president.
We need more books like Lowry’s in this style — the historical polemic that grounds its philosophy through telling the story of history. It’s a genre worth emulating. To that end, I’ll have a few more books to add to the pile from another NRO columnist who today embodies WFB’s Entertaining Debater spirit…
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6. Jonah Goldberg
The founding editor of NRO has been one of the most important writers to set the tone and style for new media conservative writers, bloggers, and activists. For years he has been mastering the art of blending pop culture hooks and political commentary with the cheery, happy side of conservatism.
In his columns and TV show appearances he models another trait that conservatives should emulate: be an entertaining debater. Don’t just hit hard repeatedly, instead make them laugh, take the level of seriousness down a few notches, and connect on a human level. If Lowry shows how to present the respectability, Goldberg embodies how to soften the approach. Here are five of my favorites of his from this year:
January 15, “Time to Grow up, GOP“:
For starters, the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can only come with persuading the unconverted.
A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Worse, it’s possible to be a conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument. Liberals lived in such an ideological cocoon for decades, which is one reason conservatives won so many arguments early on. Having the right emulate that echo chamber helps no one.
May 15, “Benghazi’s Smoking Guns“:
But the true core of this story has nothing to do with media vanity or talking points — or a political circus. The real issue is that for reasons yet to be determined — politics? ideology? incompetence? all three? — the administration was unprepared for an attack on September 11, of all dates. When the attack came, they essentially did nothing as our own people were begging for help — other than to tell those begging to help that they must “stand down.”
Again, there’s an arsenal’s worth of smoking guns, from uncontested sworn testimony at the Benghazi hearings to the State Department’s flawed internal review to the four dead Americans, including a U.S. ambassador sent to Benghazi on Clinton’s orders. That’s the “there” there — regardless of what happened with the talking points. There is, from what we know so far, at best circumstantial evidence pointing to why they pushed this video story so hard. Though, as Thoreau once said, “some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
July 17, “Rand Paul’s Paleo Problem“:
Rand Paul shares his father’s ambition to be president. Color me skeptical. Even though he’s a vastly better politician — morally and strategically — than his father, in a climate where politicians like Mitt Romney and John McCain can be demonized as bigots, should Rand Paul ever be nominated, one can only imagine what his opponents, in and out of the media, would do. Unfairly or not, his task of clearing the air would be Augean.
Hence another irony. Defenders like Napolitano think Paul’s critics subscribe to a “dying ideology,” but Paul’s only shot at the White House hinges on thoroughly interring an ideology far more deserving of death. He’s got a lot more work ahead of him.
September 27, “A Funny Definition of Anarchy“:
Nearly the whole story of American liberalism is a story of dedicated ideologues seeking to overturn what they consider to be bad laws and replace them with good ones. Sometimes those efforts were laudable, as when they fought to overturn the doctrine of “separate but equal” (despite fierce opposition from Democrats). And sometimes they were lamentable, as when they routinely labor to overturn or deny school choice laws, consigning underprivileged children to horrible schools just to placate teachers unions. But when conservatives try to do the exact same thing, they can’t simply be wrong, according to liberals. They must be demented extremists, anarchists and — another favorite epithet these days — nihilists.
The hypocrisy goes deeper though. Yes, Obamacare is the law of the land. But it is President Obama — who is legally and constitutionally required to faithfully execute the law — and not Republicans who has openly defied it. He has unilaterally and often with no statutory authority opted to waive and delay the parts of the Affordable Care Act that are politically inconvenient to him (or that his administration has been too incompetent to implement).
And finally, one of the very best Duck Dynasty commentaries, December 20, “Outrage Over ‘Reality’ Star’s Comment Smacks of Artificiality“:
Liberals love free expression so long as you free-express things they agree with. Particularly when it comes to homosexuality, there’s zero tolerance for dissent of any kind.
Now, I don’t agree with Robertson’s take on homosexuality. Heck, I don’t even like duck hunting. But I also don’t care. What I object to is the insinuation that I have to.
And what I find absolutely ridiculous is the feigned shock that an avatar of the redneck renaissance might actually have politically incorrect or just plain religiously orthodox views on homosexuality. Seriously, who called for the fainting couch when they read his interview in GQ?
“Duck Dynasty” has been a huge ratings success, receiving fawning coverage from the elite media. Much of the coverage has also been incredibly condescending, like aristocrats in Victorian London having a grand time inviting a Zulu tribesman to dinner. Everyone says, “Look at the funny rednecks,” until Robertson says something that you would absolutely expect to hear from a guy who plays a redneck on TV. Then suddenly everyone is scandalized? Please. Isn’t the whole point of these shows to demonstrate that there are lots of different kinds of people out there? Isn’t that a good thing? Lord knows there’s no lack of reality shows about gays.
Next: who is the most talented prose stylist in the conservative movement today? Who most consistently submits dazzling, fall-out-of-your-chair turns of phrase?
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5. Mark Steyn
So just how magical is pretty writing? Even if people don’t like something about what you’re saying you can seduce them into reading anyway.
Confession: of the 10 columnists on this list Steyn is probably the one I’ve resisted the most over the years and read the least. Why? It’s nothing against him personally, I’m just already overdosed on his style of Gen-X-leaning Boomer doom and gloom.
I hear enough worries and arguments about approaching armageddon coming from colleagues that do I really need to spend 436 pages of After America to hear about how we’re all gonna die? (As much as I’m happy to borrow many of the musical and cultural stylings of the generation younger than my parents and a decade or two older than me, I draw the line at indulging in their apocalypticism.)
That was my thinking on him for a number of years but I’m over it now that I’ve spent more time reading Steyn’s work closely and seeing that it’s not just Chicken Little-ism. So all of Steyn’s books go onto the 2014 to-read agenda, finally.
Disagree? Consider these four columns from this year:
May 24, “To the Slaughter“:
As grotesque as this act of savagery was, the aftermath was even more unsettling. The perpetrators did not, as the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston, attempt to escape. Instead, they held court in the street gloating over their trophy, and flagged down a London bus to demand the passengers record their triumph on film. As the crowd of bystanders swelled, the remarkably urbane savages posed for photographs with the remains of their victim while discoursing on the iniquities of Britain toward the Muslim world. Having killed Drummer Rigby, they were killing time: It took 20 minutes for the somnolent British constabulary to show up. And so television viewers were treated to the spectacle of a young man, speaking in the vowels of south London, chatting calmly with his “fellow Britons” about his geopolitical grievances and apologizing to the ladies present for any discomfort his beheading of Drummer Rigby might have caused them, all while drenched in blood and still wielding his cleaver.
June 7, “The All-Seeing Eye of State“:
He’s right. If you don’t instinctively know it’s wrong to stay in $3,500-a-night hotel rooms at public expense, a revised conference-accommodations-guidelines manual isn’t going to fix the real problem.
So we know the IRS is corrupt. What happens then when an ambitious government understands it can yoke that corruption to its political needs? What’s striking as the revelations multiply and metastasize is that at no point does any IRS official appear to have raised objections. If any of them understood that what they were doing was wrong, they kept it to themselves. When Nixon tried to sic the IRS on a few powerful political enemies, the IRS told him to take a hike. When Obama’s courtiers tried to sic the IRS on thousands of ordinary American citizens, the agency went along, and very enthusiastically. This is a scale of depravity hitherto unknown to the tax authorities of the United States, and for that reason alone they should be disarmed and disbanded — and rebuilt from scratch with far more circumscribed powers.
November 29, “Surrender in Geneva“:
In Geneva, the participants came to the talks with different goals: The Americans and Europeans wanted an agreement; the Iranians wanted nukes. Each party got what it came for. Before the deal, the mullahs’ existing facilities were said to be within four to seven weeks of nuclear “breakout”; under the new constraints, they’ll be eight to nine weeks from breakout. In return, they get formal international recognition of their enrichment program, and the gutting of sanctions — and everything they already have is, as they say over at Obamacare, grandfathered in.
Many pundits reached for the obvious appeasement analogies, but Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal argued that Geneva is actually worse than Munich. In 1938, facing a German seizure of the Sudetenland, the French and British prime ministers were negotiating with Berlin from a position of profound military weakness: It’s easy to despise Chamberlain with the benefit of hindsight, less easy to give an honest answer as to what one would have done differently playing a weak hand across the table from Hitler 75 years ago. This time round, a superpower and its allies accounting for over 50 percent of the planet’s military spending was facing a militarily insignificant country with a ruined economy and no more than two to three months’ worth of hard currency — and they gave it everything it wanted.
I am not much interested in whether “the Supreme Leader” can be trusted. Prudent persons already know the answer to that. A more relevant question is whether the U.S. can be trusted. Israel and the Sunni monarchies who comprise America’s least worst friends in the Arab world were kept in the dark about not only the contents of the first direct U.S.–Iranian talks in a third of a century but even an acknowledgment that they were taking place.
December 20, “The Age of Intolerance“:
In today’s America, land of the Obamacare Pajama Boy, Jesus is basically Nightshirt Boy, a fey non-judgmental dweeb who’s cool with whatever. What GLAAD is attempting would be called, were it applied to any other identity group, “cultural appropriation.”
In the broader sense, it’s totalitarian. While American gays were stuffing and mounting the duck hunter in their trophy room, the Prince of Wales was celebrating Advent with Christian refugees from the Middle East, and noting that the land in which Christ and Christianity were born is now the region boasting “the lowest concentration of Christians in the world — just four percent of the population.” It will be three, and two, and one percent soon enough, for there is a totalitarian impulse in resurgent Islam — and not just in Araby. A few miles from Buckingham Palace, Muslims in London’s East End are now sufficiently confident to go around warning local shopkeepers to cease selling alcohol. In theory, you might still enjoy the right to sell beer in Tower Hamlets or be a practicing Christian in Iraq, but in reality not so much. The asphyxiating embrace of ideological conformity was famously captured by Nikolai Krylenko, the People’s Commissar for Justice, in a speech to the Soviet Congress of Chess Players in 1932, at which he attacked the very concept of “the neutrality of chess.” It was necessary for chess to be Sovietized like everything else. “We must organize shock brigades of chess players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess,” he declared.
Next: while Steyn’s pyrotechnic prose will draw in some minds, there’s another columnist approach too with a more straight-forward voice, practiced by the best conservative talk radio host. It’s best summarized in three words: Clarity over agreement…
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4. Dennis Prager
My advocacy for The Dennis Prager Show, Prager University, and Prager’s books are pretty regular features at PJ Lifestyle. What is it that makes his work so effective and uniquely valuable? Prager is able to talk about God, the Bible, ethics, and morality in a non-threatening way. He does such a phenomenal job of explaining the distinction between a biblical value system, and a Bible-based religious theology — they’re not the same thing!
As a Jew, he’s not out to convert anyone to a specific theology. Instead he’s a modern day Maimonides, putting biblical values in a secular context, demonstrating their relevance today for all humans regardless of which religious theology — or none at all — they might prefer. Consider how effectively, and regularly, Prager makes the link between ancient earth worship and modern progressive activism in this February 26 column, “Environmentalism and Human Sacrifice“:
Using golden rice is by far the most effective and cheapest way to get Vitamin A into Third World children.
So who would oppose something that could save millions of children’s lives and millions of other children from blindness?
The answer is people who are more devoted to nature than to human life.
And who might such people be?
They are called environmentalists.
Is there a more effective writer/activist responding to the New Atheists than Prager? I have yet to find one. Here’s a subject that I intend to write about more, the way that quantum physics has become a kind of alternative, New Age theology for many secularists. If there’s actually an infinite number of universes then ours isn’t all that extraordinary and neither is a universe with human life; see June 18’s “Why Some Scientists Embrace the ‘Multiverse’“:
The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.
Honest atheists — scientists and lay people — must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence. And honest believers must acknowledge that the existence of a Designing Intelligence is not necessarily the same as the existence of benevolent God.
To posit the existence of a Creator requires only reason. To posit the existence of a good God requires faith.
This October 1, column, “A Response to Richard Dawkins,” poses one of those unanswerable questions of philosophy:
If there is no God, the labels “good” and “evil” are merely opinions. They are substitutes for “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” They are not objective realities.
Every atheist philosopher I have debated has acknowledged this. For example, at Oxford University I debated Professor Jonathan Glover, the British philosopher and ethicist, who said: “Dennis started by saying that I hadn’t denied his central contention that if there isn’t a God, there is only subjective morality. And that’s absolutely true.”
And the eminent Princeton philosopher Richard Rorty admitted that for secular liberals such as himself, “there is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”
Atheists like Dawkins who refuse to acknowledge that without God there are only opinions about good and evil are not being intellectually honest.
None of this means that only believers in God can be good or that atheists cannot be good. There are bad believers and there are good atheists. But this fact is irrelevant to whether good and evil are real.
To put this as clearly as possible: If there is no God who says, “Do not murder,” murder is not wrong. Many people or societies may agree that it is wrong. But so what? Morality does not derive from the opinion of the masses. If it did, then apartheid was right; murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was right; the history of slavery throughout the world was right; and clitoridectomies and honor killings are right in various Muslims societies.
So, then, without God, why is murder wrong?
I throw out this question regularly in debates and it always stumps my opponent. Most of them have never even heard it. Likewise, they’re ill-equipped when I start talking about the genocidal movements of past and present; see Prager’s December 10 column, “Learning the Wrong Lessons From Nazism“:
A fourth lesson the Left learned from Nazism has been that no judging of cultures is permissible. Because the Nazis deemed Jews and others inferior, we are no longer allowed to judge other cultures. In the post–World War II world of the Left, all cultures are equal. To say that the contemporary Islamic world or black inner-city culture have serious moral problems that they need to address is to be labeled dangerously racist — reminiscent, for the Left, of the Nazis who declared other groups (inherently) defective. For the Left the only cultures one may judge adversely are white American and religious Jewish and Christian.
I want to encourage everyone to use Prager’s columns to try and spark friends’ interest in listening to his radio show and especially reading his book Still the Best Hope. While the first two sections present accessible introductions to Prager’s analyses of Leftism and Islamism, it’s the final chapter defining the American trinity as the balancing of the values Liberty, In God We Trust, and E. Pluribus Unum that can really change your life the most. These aren’t just abstract ideas out in philosophical la la land. Understanding how and why these three values came to define American success over the last two centuries can then equip you to go out and live to the fullest.
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Next: as much as I appreciate Prager there is someone on the radio whom my views align with more regularly than his and who I anticipate will unseat him from his top spot as the best conservative talk radio host…. He just needs another decade or so of practice first…
3. Ben Shapiro
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” — Isaiah 49:6
In explaining why my friend Ben Shapiro is my generation’s most gifted and promising conservative media activist I take a different approach. While all of the other writers on this list are individuals I’ve only read or perhaps talked with briefly at conferences, Ben is someone I’ve been blessed to get to know personally since my wife and I moved to Los Angeles in spring of 2010.
Ben is 14 days older than me and while we come from very different cultural backgrounds — he’s an Orthodox Jew raised in the San Fernando Valley by conservative Republican boomer parents, I’m a Biblical mystic occultist ex-leftist raised in the Midwest by progressive Democrat boomer parents who disagree with their son’s strange ideological shifts — I find myself agreeing with him and his approach more than anybody else today. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was about Ben that made him both so effective as an activist writer and inspiring as a human being. But at the “Ask a Jew” talk that Prager gave with Hugh Hewitt last spring he crystallized the answer: The source of the success of the Jewish people? The Torah.
In getting to know Ben over the years I’ve come to believe that he’s sincere in his devout religious practice. I believe he means what he says and he’s a genuinely God-seeking man. The Torah should almost be understood more as a kind of technology inspired by God to reprogram our base, fallen human nature, and Jews like Ben are the proof that it works if you genuinely A) believe in it and B) follow a religion’s rituals to write it on your soul. Religions can work to transform you if you actually do them, instead of just believe them in your head. Rituals matter and rituals work.
(Many of my “Christ-like Christian” friends over the years have demonstrated the same point. The God of Israel is real and the Jews and Christians transformed through actively, consciously worshiping Him are His lights on this earth.)
The result of studying the Torah for a lifetime is that one begins to understand good and evil better, both the disease in our own hearts and its manifestation in others who threaten our safety in the world at large. Reading the Word and studying it imprints God’s personality on top of our own. Because Ben has dedicated himself with such sincerity for so long — with his genius-level, Harvard Law School intellect — to grasping God’s message of how to overcome human evil, he’s now able to apply this understanding to his columns, radio shows, and TV appearances. And the results inspire me:
April 17: “The Boston Bombing and the Nature of Evil“:
It is comforting to think that all we must do to defeat unique evil is to cling to the things we do every day. But it is false. Terrorists do not hate us because we help those in need. They think they are helping those in need. Terrorists hate us because they want to change the social framework in which we live. To stop them, we must not only fight ideologically for our own social framework, we must work to triumph over their evil social framework.
June 12: “7 Reasons to Worry About Federal Surveillance“:
6. Centralization of information is a magnet for foreign hacking. Reportedly, much of this NSA information will be kept at a centralized location in Utah. Recently, the Chinese government has been hacking into American governmental installations including the Federal Reserve and the Pentagon. Keeping our information available for download by a creative foreign government is a recipe for disaster.
7. The nature of Americanism is changing in very nasty ways thanks to growth of government. The debate about rights versus safety is a valuable one. But too many Americans are now thinking in terms of “needs” vs. rights. We have heard politicians ask whether we truly need to be free from government surveillance; these same politicians often ask whether we need a certain level of income, or need AR-15s. We may not need those things, but we have a right to them. The moment America becomes a “needs” country in which the government unilaterally decides what we need and regulates everything else we cease to be America.
October 9: “Why Do Advertisers Back Race-Baiter Al Sharpton?“:
Back in 1987, a young demagogue named Al Sharpton leapt onto the national scene, accusing a New York assistant district attorney, Steven Pagones, of raping a 15-year-old girl, Tawana Brawley. Actually, Sharpton claimed that Pagones had raped Brawley, anally raped Brawley and then scrawled the initials “KKK” on Brawley’s torso in feces.
“We stated openly that Steven Pagones did it,” Sharpton proclaimed. “If we’re lying, sue us, so we can go into courtwith you and prove you did it. Sue us — sue us right now.” Pagones sued. Pagones won. But Sharpton never apologized and had his supporters foot the bill.
Twenty-six years later, Sharpton still believes Brawley. Interviewed this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sharpton explained, “It’s a case where if I was called today by a young lady who made those claims, I would respond the same way. … Why would I say that I should not come to the defense of someone who had made a claim?”
December 11: “Nelson Mandela and the Dangers of Deification“:
So, how do we remember Mandela?
The world will remember him for the good he did rather than the evil he embraced. That’s appropriate and praiseworthy; his living legacy to the world will be his support for racial reconciliation rather than the violence of his youth or the incompetence of his administration and successors. But the media’s deification of Mandela means that millions around the world will lump in Mandela’s bad with his good. Instead of separating Mandela’s racial record from his support for communistic regimes, the media celebrate him as a sort of bridge between the Castros of the world and the West. Even more problematic is that President Barack Obama, who warmly shook the hand of Raul Castro at Mandela’s funeral, does, too.
This is the problem with our “good person” versus “evil person” view of history. Most of us, in our daily lives, say that someone is “good” when we mean that he is more likely than not to take a good action; we say that someone is “evil” when he is more likely than not to embrace the evil position. But in the Vaseline-covered lens of the media camera, every “good” person becomes a perfect person. The truth is more nuanced: Mandela did some incredible things, and he did some terrible things. The overall analysis of his life will weigh his largest and most important choice as the heaviest, as it should. But that should not mean that all of his sins become virtues, just as for his detractors, all of his virtues should not become sins.
A newspaper column should not be an end in itself. Ben is especially skilled at using his writing — both his columns and in blog posts at TruthRevolt.Org, the publication he edits — at provoking real world actions. This, the most badass cable news take-down of the year, happened because Ben previously mentioned Piers Morgan in a column and said just the right things to get under his skin, inspiring an invitation to appear:
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And now Ben is going to have plenty of more opportunities to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. As Twitchy reported last week, Ben is adding a SECOND radio show to his schedule. You can already listen to Ben every morning from 6 AM to 9 AM on KRLA, the Morning Answer, where he co-hosts a show with “mushy moderate” Brian Whitman and Sean Hannity’s protege Elisha Krauss. Now, on January 6, Ben begins his own solo show on KTTH from 3-6 PM PST. I can’t wait to see what he can do with 15 hours of solo airtime a week…
Next: the most important living philosopher and perhaps the best book that can transform Left to Right and reunify social conservatives and libertarians…
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2. Thomas Sowell
What is the difference between the libertarian-conservatism of Buckley, National Review, and the Reagan mainstream and the libertarian-anarchism of the Ron/Rand Paul, Reason magazine, John Stossel, Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party crowd? Where does the breakdown occur? The latter do not make the connection between culture and economics.
Just promoting freedom and liberty in the political realm is not enough. In order for an individual to take advantage of it, they need to embrace cultural values which push them to take responsibility for themselves and create value for their fellow man. Not all cultures do this. And the American system was not designed for a people who did not have religion and morality to temper their self-destructive tendencies.
Looking back on all the books that contributed to my ideological shift from Left to Right, I think probably the most important one is Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals. As soon as I began to make the connection that strong cultural values drove economic prosperity then it was game over on so many ideological issues. All my life I’d been raised to believe that “poor people” all over the country needed the help of federal government programs to improve the unlucky hand they’ve been dealt through no fault of their own. But after reading Sowell and actually experiencing first-hand the culture he describes — I lived amongst rednecks black and white after graduating college — I now know a lesson that should have been obvious: a whole lot of people cause their own poverty by embracing destructive, irresponsible cultural ideas. Redneck, cracker culture that originated in the Scottish highlands migrated to the South and then emigrated up into the northern city ghettoes after the Civil War. The vulgar, rap, thug, ghetto culture so many academics and activists label “authentic black culture” is anything but. And in fact, calling it such is monstrously offensive and racist and only contributes further to the failures of minority youth today.
Sowell’s columns are like sampler platters for his books and reminders of how effective his best arguments can be at provoking realignments in values. Here are excerpts from three great Sowell columns this year and also two of his regular “Random Thoughts” columns — collections of wise one liners he’s been doing since long before the Age of Twitter:
March 6, “Economic Mobility“:
Most working Americans who were initially in the bottom 20 percent of income-earners, rise out of that bottom 20 percent. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain in the bottom 20 percent.
People who were initially in the bottom 20 percent in income have had the highest rate of increase in their incomes, while those who were initially in the top 20 percent have had the lowest. This is the direct opposite of the pattern found when following income brackets over time, rather than following individual people.
We should be concerned with the economic fate of flesh-and-blood human beings, not waxing indignant over the fate of abstract statistical brackets. Unless, of course, we are hustling for an expansion of the welfare state.
What we were told repeatedly last year by the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and the American ambassador to the U.N., was that there was a protest demonstration in Benghazi against an anti-Islamic video produced by an American, and that this protest demonstration simply escalated out of control.
This “spontaneous protest” story did not originate in Libya but in Washington. Neither the Americans on duty in Libya during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, nor officials of the Libyan government, said anything about a protest demonstration.
The highest American diplomat on the scene in Libya spoke directly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by phone, and told her that it was a terrorist attack. The president of Libya announced that it was a terrorist attack. The C.I.A. told the Obama administration that it was a terrorist attack.
With lies, as with potato chips, it is hard to stop with just one.
Edmund Burke said, “There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men.” Evil men do not always snarl. Some smile charmingly. Those are the most dangerous.
I cannot see why even a single American, a single Israeli or a single Syrian civilian should be killed as a result of a token U.S. military action, undertaken simply to spare Barack Obama the embarrassment of doing nothing, after his ill-advised public ultimatum to the Syrian government to not use chemical weapons was ignored.
Some people say that some military response is necessary, not to spare Obama a personal humiliation, but to spare the American presidency from losing all credibility — and therefore losing the ability to deter future threats to the United States without bloodshed.
There is no question that the credibility of the presidency — regardless of who holds that office — is a major asset of this country. Another way of saying the same thing is that Barack Obama has recklessly risked the credibility of future presidents, and the future safety of this country, by his glib words and weak actions.
November 26, “Random Thoughts“:
Many people take pride in defying the conventions of society. Those conventions of society are also known as civilization. Defying them wholesale means going back to barbarism. Barbarians with electronic devices are still barbarians.
Next year I’m going to dive deeper into Sowell’s books. Here’s my reading plan and recommendations to others.
In addition to Black Rednecks and White Liberals, I’ve already read these seven Sowell books and suggest this order of importance with the first four especially as essential:
- Marxism: Philosophy and Economics
- Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy
- A Personal Odyssey
- A Conflict Of Visions
- The Quest for Cosmic Justice
- A Man of Letters
- Compassion Versus Guilt, and other essays
And here are the 21 Sowell books still on my reading list, in the approximate order that I’d like to read them over the next few years:
Two Critiques of Today’s Dominant Intellectual Culture:
A 1980 classic on how the transmission of knowledge in economics and social life affects decision making processes:
4. Knowledge And Decisions (This book can be especially helpful in explaining to people why Obamacare is failing so dramatically. The primary problem with socialism isn’t an ideological one but a practical one: nobody has the capability to acquire and process enough knowledge in order to make decisions for everyone else.)
A 1981 Classic Study of the History of ethnic groups in America:
Five Introductions to Classical Liberal Economics:
Three Explorations of Cultures Around the World:
Three Examinations of the Relationships Between Race and Economics:
Six newspaper essay collections:
Two Studies of Education:
Two Books on child development:
Finally, my #1 choice for best conservative columnist, two years running, the most talented polemicist today, one who regularly draws on Sowell’s insights…. What single quality must one embody in order to be the queen on the conservative chessboard?
1. Ann Coulter
I already explained back on November 19, The Most Important Reason Why Ann Coulter Is the Best Conservative Columnist:
Ann Coulter is not a conservative columnist who happens to be a Christian and a lawyer. She is a Christian trained and practiced as a lawyer who uses a conservative column to expose evil by name. Conservatism is a means to an end: the defeat of all criminal cultures — from street thugs to Islamists to Democrat Marxist liars — who live in rebellion against Western civilization.
But today, in considering her amidst the other columnists I’ve praised on this list, it’s worth noting that her writing and punditry approach differs 180 degrees with others I’ve already praised on this list. Something worth remembering: after September 11, 2001, National Review stopped publishing Coulter because of these notorious words, which are always worth reprinting because they are correct:
Airports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.
Whereas the Buckley/National Review tradition seeks to persuade and seduce, the Coulter tradition strives to provoke and infuriate. This approach can work too to draw people into an argument. It’s not a coincidence that Coulter was the columnist I hated the most as a leftist and today she’s the one I like the most. For Coulter it’s more than just using some stinging rhetoric or harsh words, it’s the arguments and facts themselves that do the real cutting. It’s not uncommon that the argument that Coulter chooses to make each week is something nobody else has ever heard of and fewer are prepared to answer. Likewise, she’ll frequently focus on topics that others don’t want to touch, including criticizing sacred cows in the GOP. (Her take-downs of Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Newt Gingrich especially — all reprinted in her new column collection Never Trust a Liberal Over 3–Especially a Republican — are phenomenal.)
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Consider these six from this year:
January 30, “Rubio’s Amnesty: A Path to Oblivion for the GOP“:
The Democrats never change their ideas; they change the voters. For decades, Democrats have been working feverishly to create more Democrats by encouraging divorce (another Democratic voter!), illegitimacy (another Democratic voter!) and Third World immigration (another Democratic voter!).
Strangely, some Republicans seem determined to create more Democratic voters, too. That will be the primary result of Sen. Marco Rubio’s amnesty plan.
IT’S NOT AMNESTY! Rubio’s proponents cry. They seem to think they can bully Republicans the way the Democrats do, by controlling the language. Rubio’s bill is nothing but amnesty. It isn’t even “amnesty thinly disguised as border enforcement.” This is a wolf in wolf’s clothing.
August 21, “Arab Spring: Worst Soap Ever”:
Obama’s bombing of Gadhafi was also enthusiastically supported at the Times. Gadhafi, you see, had killed hundreds of his own people. Meanwhile, President Bashar Hafez al-Assad of Syria can preside over the slaughter of more than 100,000 of his people since that time without a cross word from the left.
Libyan people proceeded to stalk and kill Gadhafi in the desert (video on YouTube). A year later, the happy people of Libya murdered our ambassador and three other Embassy staff. But as Hillary said, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
After all their carping about the Iraq War, you’d think liberals would have waited a few years before getting sentimental about democracy in Egypt and Libya. At least democracy is working in Iraq, despite Obama’s attempt to wreck it by withdrawing all U.S. troops. (We still have troops in Germany — but not in Bush’s Iraq.) Still, our ambassador wasn’t assassinated in Baghdad.
The one place Obama should have intervened was Iran. The moderate, pro-Western, educated Iranian people were being shot in the street in 2009 for protesting an election stolen by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a messianic lunatic in a Members Only jacket. There was a clear alternative in that case that didn’t involve the Muslim Brotherhood, to wit: the actual winner of the election.
But Obama turned his back on the Iranians. Democrats are so opposed to promoting the United States’ interests around the globe, it doesn’t occur to them that, sometimes, our national interests might coincide with the interests of other people.
September 18, “Crazier than Liberals”:
Liberals will pretend to have missed the news that the Washington Navy Yard shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic. They refuse to acknowledge that the mass murder problem — as well as the homeless problem — only began after crazy people were thrown out of institutions in the 1970s. They tell us crapping in your pants on a New York City sidewalk is a “civil right.” They say that haranguing passersby on the street about your persecution by various movie stars is a form of “free speech.”
Only after a mass murder committed by a psychotic with a firearm do liberals spring to life and suggest a solution: Take away everyone’s guns.
Taking guns away from the mentally stable only makes us less safe: Even psychotics know enough to keep choosing “Gun-Free Zones” for their mass murders. If Americans are serious about preventing massacres like the ones at the Washington Navy Yard, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora and Virginia Tech, it’s time to review our civil commitment laws.
After this latest shooting, will the left finally let us do something about the dangerously mentally ill?
November 20: “Alec Baldwin Vs Liberal Bullies”:
Bullying is the essence of politics for the left. They bully those they disdain, like Palin, with adolescent insults. They bully everyone with the threat of losing a career because of a word. They bully Americans with more than 1 million federal regulations. They bully men through feminist-designed divorce and sexual harassment laws –magically suspended in the case of President Clinton because liberals approved of his pro-abortion views.
That isn’t the rule of law; it’s the rule of bullies.
Conservatives believe people have a right to be left alone, whether from the word police, the government or delusional nuts, no matter how much they want “closure.” But most of all, conservatives don’t think the rules apply only to our political opponents — a liberal trademark, borrowed from the feminists.
We apply our principles even to people whose politics we dislike.
December 11, “Words with Fiends“:
This is how parents waste half a million dollars on their kids’ educations. Instead of learning how to make a point, their kids are learning how to end communication by denying the meaning of words.
December 26, “Kwanzaa: The Holiday Brought to You by the FBI“:
It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI stooge, Ron Karenga — aka Dr. Maulana Karenga — founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers. He was also a dupe of the FBI.In what was ultimately a foolish gambit, during the madness of the ’60s, the FBI encouraged the most extreme black nationalist organizations in order to discredit and split the left. The more preposterous the group, the better.By that criterion, Karenga’s United Slaves was perfect. In the annals of the American ’60s, Karenga was the Father Gapon, stooge of the czarist police.Despite modern perceptions that blend all the black activists of the ’60s, the Black Panthers did not hate whites. They did not seek armed revolution (although some of their most high-profile leaders were drug dealers and murderers). Those were the precepts of Karenga’s United Slaves.United Slaves were proto-fascists, walking around in dashikis, gunning down Black Panthers and adopting invented “African” names. (That was a huge help to the black community: Three of the four suspects recently arrested for the fatal carjacking at the Short Hills, N.J., mall were named Basim, Hanif and Karif.)It’s as if David Duke invented a holiday called “Anglika,” which he based on the philosophy of Mein Kampf — and clueless public school teachers began celebrating the made-up, racist holiday.Whether Karenga was a willing dupe, or just a dupe, remains unclear. Curiously, in a 1995 interview with Ethnic NewsWatch, Karenga matter-of-factly explained that the forces out to get O.J. Simpson for the “framed” murder of two whites included: “the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, Interpol, the Chicago Police Department” and so on. Karenga should know about FBI infiltration. (He further noted that the evidence against O.J. “was not strong enough to prohibit or eliminate unreasonable doubt” — an interesting standard of proof.)
Look, Coulter knows exactly what she’s doing when she says “outrageous” things that provoke attention — it’s a technique she has adapted from Rush Limbaugh who wrote the introduction to her second book Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right. They both know how to play the mainstream media like a violin. But for all the criticism she’s taken from more soft-spoken conservatives for her “rhetoric” I’m not sure that her reputation actually hurts her when engaging with progressives. Quite the opposite, in fact. So-called liberals expect that every time Coulter opens her mouth she’s going to spit a dagger into their heart. But when it comes to her values and positions she’s genuinely much more reasonable and sensible than one would ever expect. It turns out that what she said in If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans is actually true:
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m a middle-of-the-road moderate and the rest of you are crazy.”
Don’t believe me? Just look at the incredulity of Marc Lamont Hill and CNN’s Don Lemon when she makes arguments about the N-word that resonate with them:
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The effect of dialogues like these on progressives whose minds aren’t solidly sealed shut? “Gee, if that Ann Coulter has a smart point to make about this, and she says that just about all right-wingers think what she’s saying, what else might she and the rest of them be right about?”
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6 On Foreign Policy:
- Monday, August 5: ‘War, and Preparation for War, Are the Normal Conditions of Mankind, While Peace Is Extremely Rare.’ – Michael Ledeen
- Tuesday, August 6 on Andrew C. McCarthy: Muslim Brotherhood Operatives Have Infiltrated America’s Political and Cultural Institutions to Conquer Us from Within
- Wednesday, August 7 on Barry Rubin: First We Define Anti-Americanism, Then We Crush It Again Even Harder
- Thursday, August 8 on Claudia Rosett: The United Nations is a Corrupt Failure That Does Not Unite Nations
- Friday, August 9 on David P. Goldman: No to Corporate Neoconservatism, No to Paleo-Libertarian Anarchism, Yes to Augustinian Realism
- Tuesday, August 13 on Victor Davis Hanson: The Price We Pay for Our Ignorance of Military History Is Dead Americans
4 On Culture:
- Wednesday, August 14: 3 Weapons to Win the Culture War Courtesy of Roger Kimball
- Monday, August 19: How to End the Fake Fight Between Social Conservatives and Libertarians With Andrew Klavan’s Wonderful Writing
- Wednesday, August 21: Michael Walsh Names the Founder of the Criminal Organization Destroying America for Two Centuries…
- Sunday, August 24: The Most Valuable Writing Advice Roger L. Simon Gave Me…
6 On History:
- Tuesday, August 27: Ron Radosh: The Most Valuable Historian Exposing Marxism’s Long War Against America
- Thursday, September 5 on Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa: How the Soviets Seeded Antisemitism Around the World and the Price We Pay with Syria Today
- Wednesday, September 11 on James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus and their essential book America 3.0: On 9/11 and Benghazi’s Anniversary, We End Conservative Pessimism and Right-Wing Apocalypticism
- Tuesday, October 9 on Robert Spencer’s Vital Role in Creating Conservatism 3.0
- Sunday, November 24 on Conservatism 2.0 Founder William F. Buckley Jr.’s Birthday
4 On New Media:
- Wednesday, October 16 on Prager University: ‘There’s Nothing Just About Nature. Nature Is Only About Survival.’
- Tuesday, October 22: Ed Driscoll: New Media Master and Cultural Conquistador
- Tuesday, November 5: 4 Blogging Weapons I Stole from Vodkapundit Stephen Green
- Tuesday, November 12: 6 Ways to Change the World Glenn Reynolds-Style
1 On Talk Radio:
- Wednesday, October 30 on Dennis Prager: The 21 Most Evil News Stories from October
The Top 10 Conservative Columnists, 2013:
- Tuesday, November 19: The Most Important Reason Why Ann Coulter Is the Best Conservative Columnist
images courtesy shutterstock / Herbert Kratky