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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Wrong Way To Sell Conservatism

Typically, telling the press that you're glad you made a little girl upset isn't going to endear you many people... including your fellow conservatives.

Telling her mother that she wanted to come to the aid of a library under attack, 11-year-old Sydney Sabbagha stood at the podium before the Oak Brook village board.

"I used to go to the library knowing there were people there to help me find a book. Now there is no one to help me," Sydney said solemnly. "It will never be the same without the people you fired."

Sydney nestled back into her seat, but that didn't stop 69-year-old criminal attorney Constantine "Connie" Xinos from boldly putting her in her place.

"Those who come up here with tears in their eyes talking about the library, put your money where your mouth is," Xinos shot back. He told Sydney and others who spoke against the layoffs of the three full-time staffers (including the head librarian and children's librarian) and two part-timers to stop "whining" and raise the money themselves.

"I don't care that you guys miss the librarian, and she was nice, and she helped you find books," Xinos told them.
"I wanted that kid to lose sleep that night," a grinning Xinos says Wednesday, as he invites me for a nearly two-hour interview in his Mercedes-Benz in the gated Oak Brook community where he lives. "This is the real world and the lesson, you folks who brought your kids here, is if you want something, pay for it."

I won't say I disagree with Xinos's "lesson", but if he thinks he's a great teacher he's out of his mind.

"You may like the library, but when you call 9-1-1, you want a policeman or a fireman before someone to tell you where the books are in the library," says the man who has talked of privatizing, outsourcing or even closing the library.

"I understand that my philosophy is conservative," Xinos says, adding that government just needs to catch bad guys, put out fires, fix the streets and make sure buildings are sturdy.

He campaigned, successfully, against a plan to bring subsidized housing for seniors into town by declaring, "I don't want to live next to poor people. I don't want poor people in my town."

Awesome. Now, by the way, the local librarians are thinking about unionizing... as Teamsters.

And here's a question: how many conservatives would agree with Xinos that government just needs to "catch bad guys, put out fires, fix the streets, and make sure buildings are sturdy"? I consider myself to be a pretty staunch conservative, but I wouldn't expect to win an election on a platform like that, even in the reddest of red states.

Ask Yourself This

Robert Stacy McCain on Hoffman's loss in NY-23 last night.

OK, so Doug Hoffman fell 4,000 votes short of a House seat. But ask yourself this: What will Regnery pay him as a book advance?

Why would I care, Robert? Will a big, fat, book advance from a conservative publisher help me in any way? Will a book deal with Regnery for Hoffman help the conservative movement any more than Joe the Plumber's book deal? I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dear 23

Well, the results in NY-23 have certainly thrown conventional wisdom on its head. I, like most people, expected a solid Hoffman win this evening. Instead we saw the Democrat pick up a seat they haven't held in 100 years. Already people are saying there are no lessons to be learned from NY-23. That's nonsense. There are lessons to be learned everywhere, including unique circumstances. So what can we learn from this?

1) A Republican district is not necessarily a conservative one, or at least it's not necessarily a Glenn Beck-listening, Sarah Palin-adoring, Red State-reading district. In fact, it's highly likely that there are some Republican-leaning districts where an appearance by Sarah Palin could cost you more than she gets you. Oh, you'll get tons of supporters turning out to see her, and they'll be enthusiastic as can be, but they were already going to vote for you. The tea party celebrities are great cheerleaders, but they're not on the field. Ultimately they can't lead you to victory.

2) Owens was the beneficiary of some pretty ugly conservative infighting. The Scozzafava campaign was so busy filing police reports against reporters from The Weekly Standard, and the Tea Party crowd was too busy trying to convince Republicans to "Dump Dede" that Owens remained largely unscathed. In a perfect world, the argument wouldn't be about whether or not differing strains of conservatism can co-exist in the Republican Party, but how best to determine what strain of conservatism is most likely to work in any given race.

3) New Republicans, I fear, will use this as "evidence" of the Tea Parties failure, and will likely gloat about the loss. Good Republicans should never be pleased about losing a seat, and if we're talking about the need for a strong party, then that means we should all be bothered by Hoffman's loss. Like it or not, he was the standard-bearer of conservatism and Republicanism in the race... and he lost. New Republicans can't realistically claim that Scozzafava was going to win the election without Hoffman's presence, because many conservative Republicans would have simply stayed home. Hoffman was popular for a reason, and New Republicans have to recognize why he nearly beat Owens last night. Many of his positions are very popular, and not incorrect. We do need to spend less money. We do need more accountability in government. We do need the heavy hand of bureaucracy to develop a lighter touch. These are issues that resonate with large swaths of the voting public, but the New Republicans are too consumed by their distaste for the messenger that they give no real thought to the message.

That's the tragedy here. Both Tea Partiers and New Republicans want the GOP to maintain it's ideological purity as determined by them. Both sides seem to forget that conservatism has always had many strains. Conservatism isn't like communism. It has no single author. If the Tea Partiers can find room in their philosophy for both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two men who were political enemies for most of their post-Revolution lives, then why can't they find room in modern conservatism for Sarah Palin and David Frum? And if the New Republicans see that a pro-life Republican can win, even in the northeast, then maybe they'll realize that as long as social issues aren't at the forefront of a campaign, a socially conservative candidate can find success in some pretty "blue" areas of the country.

Frum's Wrong

Lest I be accused of spending an inordinate amount of time criticizing the Tea Party movement, let me lob a few rhetorical bombs David Frum's way.

Frum says that even if the GOP has a good day today, it won't be that big a deal.

In two of the three most watched races in the country, the candidate of the president’s party is running neck and neck against his main challenger – in the midst of the worst recession since World War II.

This is what you call a conservative politics that is “working”? What would it look like if conservative politics were failing?

Considering the identity gap facing the GOP right now, I'd say today looks pretty good for the GOP. If conservative politics were failing, I think you'd be looking at Deeds cruising to victory in Virginia, Corzine ahead by 7-8 points in NJ, and gay marriage enjoying wide support in Maine. None of those things are happening.

Yes, New Jersey is still close. It helps that Corzine has outspent Chris Christie nearly 3-1 in the campaign, with most of that coming from his own personal stash of cash.

Finally, what makes 1993 "so much more successful" for Republicans than 2009? Was it the election of Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan? The election of Rudy in NYC? Frum fails to tells us why those particular races should matter more than the possible election of a Republican mayor in Charlotte, and defeat of gay marriage initiatives in Maine and (less likely) Washington State.

Frum may not like the Tea Party crowd, but he's just wrong in saying that good news for the GOP means nothing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jacksonian Conservatism?

It's rare to find a conservative positively quoting Andrew Jackson. After all, he's the first president who wielded his office with supreme authority, an American Caesar who was derided as "King Andrew" by his opponents (and proto-Republicans) the Whigs. Yet a few days ago at Jersey Conservative, Dominick G. Spadea concluded a Tea Party-esque rant against the Federal Reserve by quoting Andrew Jackson's veto of the Second Bank of America:

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles."

As Damon Root pointed out at Reason last year:

On the bank issue, Jackson was something of a libertarian, arguing that the institution granted monopoly powers to politically connected elites. Yet when it came to South Carolina's talk of secession, Jackson was a ferocious nationalist, threatening to unleash steel and fire to preserve the union.

His politics, in other words, were all over the place, held together only by his considerable belief in his own righteousness. But why would anyone accept that as a reason to trust a single, fallible human being with unilateral war making authority?

Andrew Jackson was the closest thing to a despot this nation had ever known, and the fact that he was a populist shouldn't make him any more loveable to conservatives. Yes, I know that Americans of all stripes trivialize history, but there's a certain breed of conservatives who do something very dangerous; they value the past without truly valuing history. It's easy to do. In fact, I constantly struggle with it myself, but I now understand that knowledge doesn't come from memorizing a Patrick Henry quote, or citing Thomas Jefferson. The key, for me at least, was the recognition that the Founders were a diverse group, even during the War of Independence, and not all of them are rightfully called conservative.

Thomas Paine, as I've previously mentioned, wasn't the slightest bit conservative... but now plenty of conservatives (including me until relatively recently) see him as a forgotten Founding Father. Franklin wasn't particularly conservative, and would likely be labeled a RINO if he even felt at home in the Republican Party. Jefferson is a fascinating case. His quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" is as far from conservatism as Marx's "Revolutions are the locomotives of history." Yet the Tea Party movement seems to love Jefferson because of his professed belief in a limited federal government. The reality of his administration is quite different, but what he said is apparently far more important than what he did.

It is the same mistake Mr. Spadea makes in regards to Andrew Jackson. He quotes Jackson approvingly, but fails to see that Jackson was very much like our current president: Old Hickory knew that gaining popular support inevitably requires giving the people what they want, and that if the people are placated, enormous power can we wielded with little public consternation. Jackson could be both a man of the people, and an autocrat... kinda like Hugo Chavez today.

For the record, while it may very much have been in the nation's interest to shut down the 2nd Bank of the United States, the nation still went through an economic panic and 5-year depression beginning in 1837... the year after Jackson issued his quotable veto message.

The Tea Party Grows Up

By all indications, Election Day could serve as a coming out party for the Tea Party movement. NY-23 has been a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but when all is said and done it looks like the Tea Partiers were right: Dede Scozzafava was a wretched candidate, and if Doug Hoffman pulls out a victory tomorrow night, it will be hard to argue that he shouldn't have been the GOP's candidate. By the time dawn breaks on Wednesday, the Tea Party movement will be both hailed and vilified as the new power brokers on the Right.

I've been on the fence about the Tea Party movement from the get go, and I'm not quite ready to hop down on either side yet. I completely recognize the legitimate anger towards incompetent elected officials who seem uninterested in what their constituents have to say, the fear that the country is drifting (or dashing headlong)away from the principles of our Founders, and the

And yet I'm still not convinced that the Tea Party movement is, on the whole, a good thing for conservatism. I realize the tar and feathers are being readied for me after that statement, but hear me out for a moment or two.

First off, the notion that the Tea Parties are non-partisan in nature should finally be put to rest. The Tea Partiers support limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a restoration of our Constitution (as best as I can sum up from the various Tea Party websites out there). And supporting Doug Hoffman is well in line with those values. But why did the Tea Party people care about the RNCC supporting Dede Scozzafava? Why did a blogger/talk show host like Dana Loesch start a "dump Dede" website? Why did the Tea Party go after the Republican candidate and not the Democratic candidate? The answer's blindingly obvious: Tea Partiers are conservative, and they feel a connection with the Republican brand, even if they feel a disconnect with the current Republican leadership. That's all fine and good, but if the Tea Partiers want honesty, they can start with themselves.

That means that the Tea Partiers are waging a two-front campaign against both the progressives in power and the out-of-power (and quite possibliy out-of-touch) GOP. Two front wars tend to be more difficult, and tactically speaking, are to be avoided when possible. It's one thing to go after a bad candidate in a winnable district. It's another thing to go after the existing party structure, especially when the Tea Party movement itself is still very nebulous and unorganized.

I'm very interested to see who, if anyone, starts to become the de facto leader of the Tea Party movement. There are a lot of people, both established pundits and those who want to be the next conservative star, who have and will attach themselves to the movement. Some of them have some fairly wacky ideas about things, and I'm curious to see how the movement deals with the far-right fringe. We know that Dede Scozzafava is too far left to be welcomed into the Tea Party fold. Is it even possible that someone can be too far right to be embraced by the Tea Party faithful? How about "too crazy"? If the Tea Partiers break with a candidate because they're pro-choice, but welcome activists who believe in FEMA death camps, can the Tea Party movement really be considered mainstream? More importantly, can a movement predicated on the belief that The People innately know what is right and best really be considered conservative?*

There are a lot of questions surrounding conservatism and the Republican Party these days, and not every question needs to be directed at the party leaders who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Dede Scozzafava's campaign.

*I plan on expounding on this at some point in the future. I've been mulling it over in my head, and have even attempted to put some thoughts on paper, but I'm not quite ready yet.