Work and Days

Spare Us the Elite Populism


I was watching on television last week both Barack Obama and his wife Michelle speak about the supposedly depression-like conditions in the US, and a people strapped by students loans, near hungry, and without hope of betterment. Neither said anything of substance, though both were engaging, effective speakers. Still, never has so much talent been invested in saying so little.

If you were to believe them, we are in a sort of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra-era housing depression, not a boom-and-bust cycle where for the last five years, rival television shows proliferate on “flipping” houses (in which strapped investors and rookies borrow against rising equity to put in granite counters and stainless steel appliances for quick flip sales).

I have developed a bad habit up in the Sierra (Huntington Lake is hardly Tahoe) of asking strangers about their playthings—big boats, jet-skis, jacked-up four wheel-drive trucks with chrome struts that require a ladder to enter, all-terrain vehicles, recreation vehicles, racing-type snow-mobiles, etc. Most of these toys cost several thousand dollars. I am struck by the background of most that I meet who are driving them: the owners are electricians, cops, plumbers, teachers, government inspectors, etc. So far very few lawyers, doctors, and investors.

In other words, the middle class that Obama assures us is bankrupt seems to have been able to afford optional consumer goods as never before. Don’t buy a snow mobile and you can put a kid at a public college for a year. Don’t buy a racing boat, and you can put one there for four years. There seems to be plenty enough disposable income, it’s just that it is going to video games, big-screen TVs, and gas-powered toys.

Likewise I try to go a Wal-Mart or mall once a week just to survey crowds. Yesterday I saw a nasty fight between two 40-something obese people over the last mechanized cart available. By rough calculus, I would wager that 40% of the shoppers were clearly overweight. Vegetables and fruit are still cheap by world standards, and the notion of widespread hunger is simply not true. The plague that is killing the lower middle-class is obesity. In the Dr.’s office two weeks ago, every single male patient (I went to the urologist for kidney stones) was 40 lbs. overweight—or more.

Then we get to student loans. The Obamas were assuring us that they only recently paid off their student loans! But they live well, and their dual income was nearly a million dollars last year. And who ever promised that Princeton and Harvard, much less two additional law degrees from Harvard Law School, were either to be cheap or a government entitlement?

The shocking thing is not that the Obamas were still paying off student loans, but why in the world is the government subsidizing Ivy-League education for elites, especially when these universities’ billions in tax-exempt endowment income are not going to full tuition waivers, which in the case of Harvard it could easily do? Why should the government offer subsidized loans to the Obamas to go to Harvard Law School; but, more importantly, why are we to hear anger from two Harvard Law School lawyers that the loans have to be paid off rather than gratitude for their availability?

I could go on, but will save it for this week’s column.


Some answers:

1. Relationship with McCain: No, I don’t work for the McCain campaign; don’t know a single person there; and haven’t had a single communication from anyone involved. I have heard, but never met McCain; don’t want a federal job, wouldn’t leave California under any circumstances, etc, but mightily fear the Clinton or Obama alternative (see below).

I like McCain’s chances against Billary or Obama, and admire his heroism. I learned one thing in farming—waiting for the perfect harvest (we did this in 1976 when we waited until mid-SEptember for 21 brix sugar in the grapes before laying them down to dry as raisins and then watched them float down the rows due to unseasonable rains) usually means you will lose it. If conservatives are angry that there is a watered down McCain candidacy, it is a little late. All Republican candidates since Jerry Ford have compromised—even and especially Reagan, who raised payroll taxes, upped gasoline taxes, appointed O’Connor and Kennedy to the Supreme Court, created a new cabinet of veteran affairs, did not eliminate as promised Energy and Education, put in and pulled out troops in Beirut, (no need to mention Iran-Contra), and advocated global nuclear disarmament. I could make a longer list for Bush I (cf. tax cuts and the Souter appointment to start), and likewise with Bush II on spending, illegal immigration, etc. The idea that McCain is no different from the Democratic alternative is, well…again see below.

2. Makers of Ancient Strategy should be out a year from November. The contributors are, I hope, just starting their essays. I should finish No Man a Slave in 6 weeks It’s at 300,000 words, so it’s a long novel, and has derailed me from a new book on history since the 2005-6 Peloponnesian War volume. Hope to begin one however this summer, now that No Man a Slave is nearly done.

3. There are 7 rooms left on the May battlefield tour. We hope to have a NATO tour of their headquarters in Brussels, and a good speaker there, and a French jurist as well at a garden party in Versailles. The Trianon Hotel at Versailles is worth the trip itself. No finer mind on the current war than Bruce Thornton and Tom Connor knows more about the European battlefields than any historian I know. So I am very excited about it.

4. I like Rush Limbaugh a great deal. My mention of his ads, as one reader noted, was a reference to the unfair criticism of them from elite snobbery, not a suggestion there is anything inherently wrong with commercials.

The Republican Blood Feud

The present Republican infighting is as if Sherman marched on Grant while Lee headed toward Washington.

I wrote this recently for NRO, since I think nothing is scarier than 8 more years of the Clintons.

Thoughts on the Current Mess

There were four developments that got conservatives into this mess—the inexcusable increase of federal spending from 2001-05 (that gave mendacious Democrats room to fabricate that the tax cuts had caused the red ink), the sordid scandals of 2005-7, the tentativeness in the war (cf. the 1st pull-back from Fallujah, the reprieve to Sadr, the retreat to compounds in 2006, etc), and the complete unwillingness to close the border. McCain was involved with only one of these.

On these four critical issues would McCain be far better than Clinton or Obama. He is good on earmarks and pork barrel spending, and hates deficits; he is without scandal and, while terribly wrong on McCain-Feingold, is a corruption fighter; and he is aggressive on the war and wants to win. The problem with his prior support of immigration “reform” was not just that it would lead to ever more illegals and make a mockery out of past federal law, but that he either ignored criticism or impugned the motives of those who were genuinely worried about open borders and the travesty of the law, but themselves were neither racists nor without compassion.

So on 3 of 4 critical issues, McCain in strong, and on the 4th he is now on record in speeches and ads that he would close the borders first. His views on religion, abortion, gay marriage, guns, etc. please mainstream conservatives, on global warming, Guantanamo, campaign financing, etc. hardly.

How then to recapture the base? I don’t think the attitude “they have nowhere else to go” or “we don’t want to lose moderates by moving right” will work, especially if Obama is the nominee.

It would be better to get a base conservative on the ticket. And when you look around at the necessary requisites: youth to balance McCain’s age; strong base support; energetic; an experienced campaigner; not afraid to mix it up; geographical balance; economic experience and Wall Street fides; you inevitably keep coming back to Romney.

He would unite the party, not just by gaining the VP spot, but by acknowledgment that he would then be best positioned to assume the top spot after McCain. It would reassure conservatives on immigration, tax cuts, etc. And Romney’s last two weeks of speeches revealed a charismatic figure unlike that seen most of the campaign. Their animus is no greater than between Bush I (“voodoo economics”) and Reagan in 1980, but would be a genuine gesture on the part of McCain, to think of the base and swallow his seeming anger at Romney.

The alternative is a Republican loss, and likely increased Democratic control of the Congress and soon a trifecta with the Supreme Court. We would witness a new generation of European-like tax increases, unnecessary new programs, negotiated or unilateral surrender in Iraq, loss of what has been achieved in preventing another 9/11 (a return to the Sandy Berger/Albright response to terrorists in the late 1990s when our embassies were leveled and Pakistan got the bomb), 2-3 far Left Supreme Court justices, and the race/class/gender industry given official sanction.

The idea that feuding conservatives would each not make some sort of concessions to prevent all that is lunatic.