Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Anything big happen while I've been gone?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ron Paul?

Really? WTF, CPACers? Seriously. W. T. F?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A (b)Old Statement

Today the "Mount Vernon Statement" was released, and I'm not all that happy. Oh, I don't really have any objections to what the statement says. I'm just disappointed that it had to be written at all.

The Mount Vernon Statement is supposed to be an updating of the Sharon Statement, signed by young conservatives in Sharon, Connecticut in 1960. It was bold and new at the time, because the young conservatives who put it together (for Young Americans for Freedom) were thinking bold and new thoughts.

Every one of the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are undoubtably conservative, but with the exception of Kathryn Lopez of National Review, I don't think you could call any of them "young". In fact, if I recall correctly, at least one of the signers of the original Sharon Statement 50 years ago has signed on to the Mount Vernon Statement.

I'm not disappointed in these signers for this statement. I'm disappointed, frankly, that these elder statesmen of conservatism feel like they have to do this. These guys built a conservative movement from scratch 50 years ago, and my generation has been content to work for them, draw a paycheck from them, and coast on their ideas.

Even worse, I'm sure that my generation could write a great statement of principles, but what these conservatives did 50 years ago went far beyond words on paper. They built brick and mortar institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, and of course Young Americans for Freedom. Our generation seems more interested in coming up with the venture capital needed for new blogs and websites. We're less interested in buildng a movement than in building our resumes or retirement accounts. We talk a lot, but we don't actually do much.

Perhaps it's not necessary for us to be architects of a 21st century conservatism. Perhaps we can stand on the shoulders of giants and use the institutions they created to further the conservative movement. Perhaps, but I'm not that optimistic. Is there room in modern conservatism for new and bold ideas that hearken back to the timeless principles enshrined in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence? Heck, is there room in modern conservatism to point out that the Declaration of Independence isn't all that conservative a document?

A return to the conservatism of 1960 wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I'm not convinced it's the best possible outcome. My generation has failed (and I include myself in this failure) to consider how to implement these timeless principles in a 21st century America, much less start the process of building the infrastructure that will be needed. I'm hopeful that the Tea Party movement may be the start of this process, but it's also clear that there are a lot of forces (both good and bad) who are trying to co-opt the Tea Parties for their own purposes.

In short, I'm feeling good about the chances for Republicans in 2010. I'm not feeling so good about the future of conservatism.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We Are Lost

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see.

We are lost as a nation, and whether or not we are found is decidedly up in the air. There's something dreadfully wrong taking place, and most of us feel it from time to time, burning inside us like a low grade fever. It's a nagging thought that won't go away, a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. It's fear, and I have every reason to believe we should be afraid.

Walter Russell Mead believes the Blue Beast is to blame, and I think he's largely right when he says:

Blue institutions aren’t productive enough and efficient enough to provide the services we need. There’s a hard and bitter truth here: workers in these sectors are going to have to accept lower wages and less security going forward — and they will have to produce more than they do now. Much more. This sounds draconian and harsh, but with a relative handful of exceptions everybody else in the United States has been facing this reality for the last generation.

But asking others to sacrifice wages and security for the benefit of others doesn't strike me as all that easy, and the fact that the government is adding workers left and right doesn't make it any easier. I'm just not sure it's a realistic solution.

On the other hand, John Ellis believes that a possible merger with Canada, acquire land in Africa or Siberia, or even sell off territory should be considered as possible solutions to our debt. According to Ellis:

These are the big issues of US restructuring. And they are all on the table.

Except they are not. The Obama Administration keeps talking at us like its 1998 and we can have a "green" jobs program and national health insurance and "cap and trade" legislation and $250 million criminal proceedings for homicidal Islamic psychopaths in downtown Manhattan. We don't have $250 million for the KSM trial in Manhattan. Everybody knows that except, apparently, the Obama Administration.

Until President Obama engages the Grand Narrative of our time, and makes it his own, he will remain disconnected from the broad national interest ("interest" in the sense of what people are interested in and "interest" in the sense of what is best for the country). This is not just another recession. This is not just a fraying at the ends. This is a crisis of high throw weight and terrifying potential consequences. It's important that we muddle through. It matters. The President needs to start the restructuring by talking openly and honestly about what it might entail.

You know, I read that and can't help but think "Oh good God, it's not that bad!"

The problem is that tomorrow, I'll get that sinking feeling in my stomach when I read the paper. I'll get that low grade fever and think, "We've really gotta do something soon." And it's getting harder and harder to push those thoughts away these days. As crazy as it sounds, I think John Ellis may be right, at least about the size of the problems we face, if not the specific solutions he suggested.

I am, however, at least willing to offer my own pie in the sky ideas up to scrutiny. Before I do though, I need to make a brief point about something. The best thing that could happen would be for our politicians to start offering big ideas. Ellis goes after President Obama for not thinking big, but I feel the need to point out that it's not like elected Republicans are out there offering up their own audacious proposals.

As for my own off-the-wall suggestions, I'll give you two. These are rather esoteric, and like both Mead and Ellis, are far easier to write about than actually implement. I don't believe that either of these proposals would magically right the ship of state, either. The problems we face are just too complex for simple solutions. With that caveat, here we go.

The first thing we have to do is recognize that no matter how much we may despise other ideologies or political philosophies, we are in essence married to our political opponents. Unless we want to seriously consider divorce, we'd better find a way to stick together and make our marriage work. If nothing else, let's stay together for the sake of the kids. After all, this country was created as a contract between the dead, the living, and the unborn generations yet to come. We've been through a lot in this country's history, including a war to preserve the Union that cost more than 500,000 American lives. Do we really want to be the generation that screwed it up to the point of separation?

This isn't a call for bi-partisanship. This is simply a call to stop viewing our political opponents as our biggest enemies. I assure you, as much as conservatives may hate Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, and as much as our liberal friends may despise Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck, these are not our biggest threats. China, a nuclear Iran, and non-state actors pose much bigger threats to our collective way of life than our political opponents. The people who are trying to destroy this country and our way of life won't be on the ballot this November, no matter what the pundit class says to the contrary.

If we recognize this, then perhaps we can start to deal with the domestic problems that confront us. But as long as it's easier and more politically expedient to place blame on the other side than it is to try and address the crisis that we face, we will do what is easy and fruitless.

Secondly, we need to decide on the scope of the problem. If, as John Ellis and Walter Russell Mead believe, this is a crisis of nation-shattering proportions, then our potential responses should reflect that. You don't take on an inferno with a squirt gun, after all. Mead says it's time to reform government with a crowbar instead of a scalpel. If that's the case, then why not go whole hog and call for a new Constitutional Convention? I know the can of worms that suggestion opens up, but I'd like to see such a convention focus on one thing in particular: updating our Constitution to allow for a greater consent of the governed. Is there a way that the People, either through the amendment process or via a national referendum, could overturn judicial decisions, veto legislation, or even enact legislation in certain circumstances? Obviously the bar would have to be high, but when vast swaths of the American people no longer have faith in their elected leaders, giving more power to the people seems like a much better alternative than just giving up and splitting apart.

I began this piece by quoting my favorite hymn, and for a reason. I'm not a very religious person, but I've been praying a lot lately, and I've been asking God to shed his grace on us. Throughout our nation's history, I believe you can find the hand of Providence guiding us through great moments of peril. If this is indeed one of those moments, or if we are hurtling towards one of those moments, I pray that we as a nation are still deserving and worthy of that amazing grace.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Where Have All the Statesmen Gone?

What do you do if you're a well-to-do attorney from Illinois who wants to cultivate a homespun, down-to-earth image? I suppose these days you hire a team of consultants, but back in 1857 Abraham Lincoln decided to go with a portrait of him with tousled hair.

Lincoln himself said that unless he gave his hair a "bad tousle", he doubted folks would recognize him. And historian Harold Holzer said the new Republican party used the 1857 portrait to promote Lincoln because it, "seemed especially suitable for illustrating the Log Cabin to White House image his supporteres were cleverly crafting in the candidate's behalf."

I love this story because it demonstrates that before Lincoln could be a statesman, he had to be a politician. The same holds true for every one of our presidents. I wonder if sometimes we don't hold our modern politicians to a lower standard than necessary. History tells us its not only possible to be both statesman and politician, it's inevitable. So where the hell are our statesmen these days?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Errant Thought on Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama

Sorry for the absence. I haven't had much to say, or at least haven't been able to adequately express what I want to say, so I've been spending most of my time reading history books.

I've moved on from the Revolutionary period and into the early days of the Repbulic. Garry Wills' description of the Jefferson presidency in Henry Adams and the Making of America is particularly fascinating to me lately.

In Jefferson, you have a man who was, in the public's view, the "mind of the Revolution". Here was the author of the Declaration of Independence in the White House and in charge of the nation! Imagine the possibilities of fulfilling the promise of the Declaration when its primary author is the most powerful man in the nation, his party firmly in charge of two of the three branches of government. Change came to the United States in 1800, and in a striking parallel to today, Americans quickly discovered it was not the change they were looking for.

Jefferson's presidency was a litany of broken promises, of vows "meeting their expiration date". The man who proclaimed, "A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government" enacted the Embargo Act. The Act crippled the New England economy, and led to uprisings in several places. The man who said "a little revolution every now and then is a good thing" called out the troops.

Jefferson the politician is fascinating and somewhat horrifying to someone who reveres the Founders. I'm not sure how much he reminds me of Barack Obama in terms of specific policies, but I am struck by the similarity of the hopes Americans placed in both men to transform America. Jefferson didn't get his nation of agrarian philosophers, and he nearly crippled the national economy by continuing to take Napoleon's side against England, albeit under the guise of neutrality. A foreign policy blunder eventually led to the War of 1812... a war we didn't need to fight. Jefferson, the man who said, "Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government" approved of organizing the local militias (typically organized for "the common defense") and invading Canada!

Apparently it's tremendously easy to write in defense of freedom, to in fact believe you are working in the cause of freedom, while at the same time appeasing (if not outright siding with) tyrants in foreign lands and unconstitutionally expanding the strength and power of the federal government. The depressing thing is that even though Jefferson was seen as a failure when he left office, he had already succeeded in diminishing the Federalist Party to a permanent back-bench status, which left the party of Jefferson in charge until Andrew Jackson took office in 1828. Jefferson famously said in his first inauguration, "We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists." 203 years later, Barack Obama proclaimed, "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Jefferson succeeded in delivering a death blow to Federalists, but I'm not yet ready to believe that the party of Barack Obama will remain in power for the next 28 years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Road

I asked my wife last night if she wanted to go see the new movie "The Road", based on Cormac McCarthy's novel. I haven't read the book, and had no idea that the movie has a post-apocalyptic setting until I saw the trailer. I'm always fascinated by this genre, and it looks intriguing. After watching the trailer, however, my wife said she wouldn't go see it.

"Too realistic," was her verdict. The weird thing is, I know what she means. It does feel like something big and bad could happen, doesn't it? A friend of mine told me the other day that he has a constant feeling of foreboding. Now this guy isn't a Birther or a Truther ("Oh good God no!" would be his reaction if you accused him of having sympathies towards either position), he's not a conspiracy theorist, and he's not one who always sees the worst in things.

We're a worried nation, no doubt about it. But are we worried about the right thing? We are so focused on our economic concerns that I wonder how many of us aren't thinking about the national security implications the Obama foreign policy (Obamappeasement, if you will) will certainly have. We are inviting trouble, we are showing weakness, and our enemies will take advantage of that.

Amidst this worry, economic or (less often) national security in nature, can a movie like "The Road" do well? I'm interested to see what the box office take turns out to be. My gut reaction is that it will do poorly, but perhaps a certain percentage of Americans like to soothe their worried minds by seeing humanity survive in conditions far worse than their own. If I end up watching the movie in the theater, it will be for that reason. I too am concerned these days, and a reminder that humanity is persistant would be welcomed these days.