State of the Union

Let’s Teach Conservatism

Barron YoungSmith, over at TNR’s Plank, suggests that leftists should study conservatism, or more accurately the conservative movement, and laments that public school students don’t learn enough about the Right. What the public does know about conservatism is wrong, he contends, blaming among others Russell Kirk for giving “the misimpression that modern conservatism is simply a cautious cast of mind, no different from the conservatism of Burke or Eliot.”

One might charitably describe this take as oversimplified: Kirk, writing in the early 1950s, was not describing the modern conservative movement at all in The Conservative Mind, and what he was describing was not “simply a cautious cast of mind.” I can forgive YoungSmith his errors, though, since he’s indirectly paying tribute to the role of traditionalists and paleoconservatives in preserving the Right’s intellectual estate. Indeed, he writes, “whenever anyone does try to read up about the conservative movement, he is inevitably handed Kirk’s book–along, perhaps, with a copy of Patrick Buchanan’s A Republic, Not An Empire, or something similarly misleading–and hustled off to learn nothing about his intended subject.”

Well, it’s true: paleos and trads care a lot more about the Right’s intellectual history than the neocons or Republican establishment do, and unfortunately one usually won’t get a very good sense of the latter from reading the former — though Paul Gottfried’s The Conservative Movement and Robert Nisbet’s Conservatism: Dream and Reality are exceptions, being the two best overviews in print of conservatism as a movement and as a social philosophy. (Although actually, I’m not so sure that Gottfried’s book is still in print.)

Read More…

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The Medium is the Massage

It seems to me that Michael Gerson was a perfect fit for the Washington Post’s editorial page. As Jim Pinkerton has suggested,  the Post’s editorial and op-ed pages have become central forums for the advocates of militarist Wilsonian foreign policy which places the causes of promoting democracy worldwide and humanitarian intervention ahead of considerations of national interest.

As Media Matters pointed out in an analysis of the the enthusiastic support by the Post‘s editorial board for the Iraq War that was published after it had hired Gerson:

Gerson, as President Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001-2005, wrote or contributed to most of the administration’s major speeches — such as President Bush’s State of the Union addresses and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations — and crafted the false and misleading rhetoric the Bush administration used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Post editorial board repeated without question some of that false and misleading rhetoric in its support of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its continued justification for that support.

At the same time, by hiring a Republican and a “compassionate” conservative like Gerson, the Post can challenge the allegations from the political right that it’s too liberal.

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They Live: The MFMs Among Us

There is something utterly unseemly about this recent trend in hiring Bush mouthpieces right out of the White House and offering them prime real estate on the editorial pages and pundit perches in the most influential news organizations in the country.


Until now, I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why it bothered me so, or whether my growing indignation was even warranted — It’s not like former speechwriters and flaks don’t naturally gravitate towards media to make a living, or that they aren’t in demand professionally. But after the recent outing of the “message force multipliers,” or ex-military officers recruited by the Pentagon to serve as PR men for the war, things began to gel. It’s becoming clear that former administration tools may be wearing civilian clothes these days, but they are still serving as functionaries of an executive who is still in the White House and still in need of message management . Consider this gush of empty (and rather tired) analysis today from former Bush “scribe” Michael Gerson (who spent half the war in a cushy office on Pennsylvania Avenue, plopping such golden nuggets in the President’s mouth, and is now a columnist for The Washington Post):

From “The Necessary Three Front War”:

“Iraq, while consuming greater sacrifice, is now producing the most encouraging results. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is reeling. U.S. Special Forces in Mosul — a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad — are conducting about eight to 12 missions against al-Qaeda each night. In Baghdad, the surge strategy of securing civilians has dramatically reduced sectarian violence.”

There is something that is just so sad and perverse in the juxtaposition of Gerson’s light prose and the photo on the front page of the same edition of the paper today:

ali hussein

Caption: “Two-year-old Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his family’s home in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq on Tuesday, April 29, 2008. The child, who later died in hospital, was in one of four homes allegedly destroyed by U.S. missiles. More than two dozen people were killed when Shiite militants ambushed a U.S. patrol in Baghdad’s embattled Sadr City district, bringing the death toll in area on Tuesday to more than 30, a U.S. military spokesman and Iraqi officials said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)”

Here’s the full story

Gerson photo credit: USA Today (2001)

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Mystic Karl

Is anyone else fed up with reading electioneering tips from Karl Rove presented as zen-like wisdom from the political guru? Are we supposed to believe that mystic Karl can read the future? Rove is clearly a very talented strategist—his record proves that–yet his recent insights remind me of horoscope predictions: sufficiently vague to be indisputable, yet banal or obvious enough to be unhelpful, even meaningless.

Take this piercing apercu in today’s WSJ,

Mr. McCain cannot make this a biography-only campaign – but he can’t afford to make it a biography-free campaign either.


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Pigging Out

His case failing on the merits, a friend recently reduced his argument for open borders to four words: “I like cheap meat.” Most Americans do: in 1970, we spent an average of 4.2 percent of our incomes to buy 194 pounds of meat. In 2005, we spent 2.1 percent to buy 221 pounds. Recent trends in food costs may alter that pattern, but we’re still likely to demand massive quantities at moderate prices. Crudités platters don’t find as natural a toehold in the American psyche.

The Right seems to have an unusual attachment to ribeyes—perhaps in reaction to the Left’s yen for eulogizing lab rats and arguing for the unalienable rights of owls. But our counter to that prissiness has been callousness sufficient to anesthetize us to the means by which we’ve secured this supply of cheap meat. Maybe the idea of chickens with their beaks ground off or pigs that die without seeing daylight comes too close to lefty anthropomorphization to evoke red-state pity. But doesn’t the notion of independently owned, small-scale, locally diversified farms being gobbled by huge conglomerates offend some traditionalist sensibility? Add federal support—major collusion between government and powerful agricultural interests—and tell me again where endless veal figures into the conservative creed.

But take all of that off the table for the moment. A new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health finds that apart from the moral objections, the local ramifications, and the nutritional concerns about factory farming, even the economies-of-scale arguments used to justify it don’t hold up. Overuse of antibiotics breeds super-bacteria with grave human consequences and attendant healthcare costs. And environmental degradation from these concentrated operations is so severe that it’s costing the federal government $100 million a year to keep pace with the damage. Local water supplies are being contaminated. Workers and neighbors are becoming ill from airborne toxins. Moreover, in an age of rapidly rising energy costs, shipping food from enormous centers makes less and less sense.

But most of us would prefer to not think about it, even as we participate—one, two, three times a day. We like cheap meat. And we don’t care what that makes us.

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It’s so over (the race talk, that is)

Someone emailed a short and unexceptional essay by a professor at the Martin Luther King Institute at Stanford. It begins by quoting James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” :

A vast amount of energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man’s profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white, not to be seen as he is, and at the same time a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man’s equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror.

And then the piece goes on about how Jeremiah Wright will force us to address “the reality“, with itals for emphasis, of race relations in America.– a subject, the author claims, America is “consumed” with.

Baldwin was trying to write hard and honest, as did his white contemporaries (Podhoretz, Mailer, Updike among others) in grappling with what was once felt to be this country’s most vital subject. But doesn’t this all now seem as dated as a “Bonanza” rerun? I am old enough to to have experienced “white anguish” about how I was perceived by black Americans, to have spent countless hours in earnest debate over whether “revolution” was necessary to purge America of its racism, to have experienced shock at hearing black students at my university proclaiming loudly and publicly what seemed to me absolute nonsense about the institution, to have lived in New York City in the late eighties and early nineties, when any almost serious political discussion got into race, and when crime and the fear of it threatened, or so it seemed , to empty the city of its middle classes.

And how exhausted this topic seems now. White people don’t care about it anymore. They may pretend to, a little. They regret the poverty and social disorganization that reigns in much of black America. They are happy to live in a society where blacks play key and highly visible roles. But the subject of race bores them. They don’t puzzle over racial inequalities (on NBA rosters or university physics departments), they accept them. They don’t feel racial guilt. The sentiments, the “anguish”, Baldwin speaks of, are as distant and anachronistic to them as the burning of witches.

How has this happened? First a degree of racial peace, evident since the mid 1990’s. Secondly immigration, which has made America’s racial mix far more complicated, while smoothing the edges of black-white disparities. Third, the recognition that America has more pressing and difficult issues to confront (economic decline, Iraq, etc.) than anything Al Sharpton might pontificate about.

Barack Obama seemed to realize this, and regardless of his own long term interest in “race and inheritance” has campaigned quite effectively as a (sort of) black guy who didn’t talk about race very much. At the moment his campaign is being harassed by black race men who have made comfortable livings talking about race and little else. What Jeremiah Wright may not be able accomplish, Al Sharpton is also attempting, grandiloquently leaking to the NY Post that he has accused Obama of “grandstanding in front of white people.” Sharpton and Wright need to play off Obama in order to maintain their own relevance; without him, hardly anyone would even pretend to take them seriously. What power they have is negative–to try to drag Obama back and down. At that, they may well succeed.

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Go, Boris, go

Being a slimey-limey—and a grotty Londoner to boot—I want to bore you all about tomorrow’s mayoral election in Britain’s capital. There has been no shortage of good articles about the contest in the American press, though I think it still merits a mention on this blog.

The election is in some ways a good-old clash of Left v. Right. In the blue (Conservative) corner sits Boris Johnson, the former Spectator editor, perhaps the finest journalist of his generation, and an authentic conservative. In the red corner is the incumbent, Ken Livingstone—aka Red Ken—a committed international socialist, a devout multi-culturalist, and the sort of politician who would never get near power in America.

There are important issues at stake—taxes, congestion charges, transport etc– but the personality clash is what has really fascinated the public. This is not to say that the duel has been superficial. Far from it, here we have two very different attitudes to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, Londoners have a choice between an old New Brit, in Ken, and New Old Brit, in Boris. The decision they make will be important for Britain.

A Leftie friend who used to regularly interview Livingstone vouches for his moral integrity. But I find it difficult to accept. This is a man who has spent millions of taxpayer money promoting his own image; who struck a deal with the crooked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to get cheap oil for London buses; who has ties to the most unsavory Islamic extremists; and who has expanded the size and responsibility — not to mention cost — of his mayoral office enormously.

Ken has tried to move away from his angry communist youth, but the revolutionary antagonist in him slips out at crucial moments. When terrorists bombed London in July 2005, for example, the city’s mayor condemned the attacks for being aimed at “ordinary, working class” Londoners, as if bourgeois citizens were legitimate targets.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, should not be accused of class hatred, though he is despised for being upper class. He has offended many self-ascribed “working class” people, in Liverpool and Portsmouth. He has endlessly been accused of racism. He is often called an “idiot” or a “clown” by people of very limited intellect. Yet he remains amazingly popular because he is very funny, charming and obviously right on many issues. And, TAC readers take note, he is opposed to the Iraq War from a Right-wing perspective (although he did support the invasion initially).

Unfortunately, Conservative Central Office—desperate to win this election and score an important point against Labour—has really got their claws into Boris. His recent public performances have been depressingly staid and earnest. If it wasn’t for the unkempt mop and perpetual “erring”, you could mistake Johnson for a normal politician. Many Londoners hope that he will win tomorrow, and go back to his old self as the new Mayor of their great city.

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Circular Logic

Tom Friedman accurately summarizes the McCain/Clinton tax holiday:

This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

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Tax This!

The most dishonest policy proposal that I’ve seen in a while comes from Hillary Clinton. She wants to suspend the gas tax and pay for it with a “windfall profits tax”

I wonder just who she thinks is going to pay this tax. Come to think of it, I’m sure that she knows the cost will be passed on to consumers; but will Democratic primary voters?

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Globalization and the New Nationalism

When Larry Summers, one of Bill Clinton’s leading economic aides during the roaring 1990’s and a big cheerleader for globalization, is starting to sound like Pat Buchanan or Samuel Huntington, one needs to pay attention. In a recent piece in the FT he warns that: 

…growth in the global economy encourages the development of stateless elites whose allegiance is to global economic success and their own prosperity rather than the interests of the nation where they are headquartered. As one prominent chief executive put it in Davos this year: “We will be fine however America does but I hope for its sake that it will cut taxes and reduce regulation and put more pressure on young people to study in the ways that are necessary for it to be able to keep competing successfully.”

But Summers is worried that in a “world where Americans can legitimately doubt whether the success of the global economy is good for them, it will be increasingly difficult to mobilise support for economic internationalism.”

Since the end of the second world war, American economic policy has supported an integrated global economy, stimulating development in poor countries, particularly in Asia, at unprecedented rates. Yet America’s commitment to internationalist economic policy is ever more in doubt. Even before the significant increases in unemployment likely in the months ahead, the indicators are all disturbing. Presidential candidates attack the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Colombian free trade agreement languishes. There are increasing attacks on foreign investment in the US, not to mention growing support for restrictive immigration policies.

Similar concerns about the way the “rise of nationalism” frays global economic ties, have been raised by Bob Davis in another anti-business daily, the Wall Street Journal on Monday:

During the long march toward globalization, international borders and trade barriers came down. Communism fell. Protectionist walls in Latin America and elsewhere were dismantled. Governments — long prone to meddling in trade — took a back seat to broader market forces.In a globalization manifesto, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared that the Internet and other planet-spanning technologies were erasing national boundaries. The world, he said in a 2005 best seller, was flat.

No longer. The global economy appears to be entering an epoch in which governments are reasserting their role in the lives of individuals and businesses. Once again, barriers are rising. Call it the new nationalism.

“The era of easy globalization is certainly over,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin, whose 1998 book, “The Commanding Heights,” detailed the triumph of markets over nations, starting with British deregulation under Margaret Thatcher. “The power of the state is reasserting itself.”

Just a decade ago, Asia, Latin America and Russia were on financial life support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The U.S. was planning yet another round of global trade negotiations. The European Union was writing a constitution to shift power to Brussels from member nations.

Now borrowers shun the IMF and World Bank. Trade talks are shelved. Barriers to foreign investment are rising around the world. State-owned companies are expanding, particularly in oil and gas. Public support of immigration restrictions is growing in countries from the U.S. to India.

The rising influence of governments can be seen in massive state-funded investment pools, many backed by countries that were reeling financially a decade ago. Sovereign wealth funds from Asia and the Middle East are now propping up wobbly financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe, and may hunt next for real-estate bargains. The growth of state power may also serve to make dealing with global climate change — the most borderless of all issues — even more difficult.

Davis is basically bidding farewell to the era of globalization and points to rising pressure from the New Nationalism aimed at reversing many of the economic liberalization changes of the Reagan-Thatcher years:

The rising strength of national governments expresses itself in different ways. For rich countries, it generally means higher taxes and more regulation. In the 30 mostly rich countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tax revenue as a percentage of the local economy was higher in 2005, the latest year surveyed, than a decade earlier. That’s because of the rising cost to governments of health care and social security.In the U.S., the severity and scope of the current financial crisis has eroded the case for letting markets operate with ever-lower government guard rails. The current question is not whether regulation will increase, but by how much. All three presidential candidates say they would pass tougher financial-market regulation and would also boost government programs to retrain workers battered by the global economy.

In rich and poor countries alike, immigration has become a powerful political issue, as improved transportation makes it easier for people to move across borders and compete for jobs with locals. There are backlashes against Burmese in India, Haitians throughout the Caribbean, Bolivians in Argentina and Zimbabweans in South Africa. In 44 of 47 countries polled by Pew Research Center last fall, majorities supported further restrictions on immigration.

Reading these and other commentaries, tt seems to me that much of what has been written in TAC in recent years, on foreign policy and on globalization is gradually becoming the conventional wisdom.

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