State of the Union

Second Day at CPAC

Continuing on some of  Phil’s thoughts about CPAC yesterday, I’d like to say, too, that there has been a subtle shift in mood at this year’s conservative confab, and it isn’t unwelcome. A touch more more think thank than GOP pep rally (save for the usual cringe-inducing moments, like Newt Gingrich’s purposely belabored 10 minute walk to the podium through a throng of groping groupies to the soundtrack of “Eye of the Tiger” this afternoon. The security detail was a nice touch).

Gone are the posters of George W in his cowboy hat and/or flight suit (though there is no getting away from Sarah Palin and the “Luce Girl” pinups).There seems to be plenty of books about liberty throughout the main exhibit hall. The best books, it can be argued, can be found at the American Conservative Defense Alliance/TAC table, which is experiencing more traffic than usual. As Phil mentioned before, Ron Paul and the Campaign for Liberty are getting a much warmer reception than the wholesale rejection these conservatives gave them last year.

But therein lies the fly in the ointment, in what might have been — from the perspective of a space alien who just landed in Washington for this annual pilgrimage —  a fairly innocuous political ritual of young, eager conservatives and movement activists finding their way out of the wilderness of hubris and hypocrisy in Washington.

For all of the renewed talk of limited government, freedom, civil liberties, personal responsibility, states’ rights, the U.S Constitution and William F. Buckley Jr., there was no avoiding the underlying cynicism, the niggling feeling that this sudden burst of purity, this potent desire to “return to our roots,” to “take back our movement,” wouldn’t have happened if a Democrat weren’t in the Speaker’s chair, or a “socialist” in the White House for the first time in eight years.

It is unfair, of course, to accuse everyone of such thinness and superficiality — it is the ignorance of such sweeping, cliched generalizations that turns me off the most about these gatherings. But the fact that many of the speakers — and I listened to a lot — have relied so heavily on relentlessly shopworn, ad hominem attacks, crude stereotypes (at one point a speaker asked, regarding Nancy Pelosi, “guys, how would you like to be married to that?”) and demagoguery (lots of talk about the Socialist Revolution at the door, hammers and sickles and pitchforks, oh my), indicates a lot more self-reflection needs to happen. But right now, red meat still rules. And it tends to spoil. Fast.

At least a few speakers — Bay Buchanan and former Michigan Republican Party chief Saul Anuzis on Thursday come to mind — cut through the bull and told the audience they all needed to accept responsibility for the awesome defeats of 2006 and 2008, and for losing the best chance they had for advancing the conservative agenda they’ve been rallying around year after year after year at CPAC.

Lastly, there seemed to be an awful lot of giddiness over Obama’s federal budget blueprint, and maybe too much obvious relief that they all had an ample — and safe — target just in time for the event. Just like Rush Limbaugh (he’s speaking Saturday) seems to have much more zip in his zingers now that his party is out of power. Smells like opportunity — the very opportunism that Charles Krauthammer accuses Obama of in today’s column.  Though opportunities can be constructive, one has to be constructive to make it work. I’m afraid as far as real opportunities go, there was a lot of missed ones at CPAC over the last two days, among some real glimmers of light.

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Return of the War Party

“Real men go to Tehran!” brayed the neoconservatives after the success of their propaganda campaign to have America march on Baghdad and into an unnecessary war that has forfeited all the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Now they are back, in pursuit of what has always been their great goal: an American war on Iran. It would be a mistake to believe they and their collaborators cannot succeed a second time. Consider:

On being chosen by Israel’s President Shimon Peres to form the new regime, Likud’s “Bibi” Netanyahu declared, “Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence.”

Echoing Netanyahu, headlines last week screamed of a startling new nuclear breakthrough by the mullahs. “Iran ready to build nuclear weapon, analysts say,” said CNN. “Iran has enough uranium to make a bomb,” said the Los Angeles Times. Armageddon appeared imminent.

Asked about Iran’s nukes in his confirmation testimony, CIA Director Leon Panetta blurted, “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”

Tuesday, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a front spawned by the Israeli lobby AIPAC, was given the Iranian portfolio. AIPAC’s top agenda item? A U.S. collision with Iran. Read More…

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First Day at CPAC

On the first day at CPAC there were some surprises.  Many people stopped at the table shared by TAC and the American Conservative Defense Alliance to pick up copies of the magazine and talk politics.  The magazine is generating considerable buzz because it is seen as one of the few genuinely conservative voices seeking a way out of the failed policies of the Bush years.  Most of those who stopped by read it on the internet.  Nearly everyone who lingered long enough to talk agreed that Iraq and Afghanistan have been disasters and I don’t think that they were just being nice.  Many agreed that it might be necessary to leave Afghanistan without further ado. 

And interestingly a much larger percentage of the crowd was young, a dramatic change from the gerontocracy prevailing in previous years.  Many Ron Paul supporters were in evidence, so much so that they were the most visible group.  Ron Paul speaks tomorrow and there was considerable anticipation of that event.  On the down side there were a number of Sarah Palinites floating around and handing out material.  Few neocons in sight.  Bolton spoke and signed a book and the hideous David Horowitz was present and also flogging a book demonstrating how American universities have become hotbeds of terrorism.  Also the chinless wonder Mathew Continetti will be performing on a panel.  Parking was a bitch.  They really should change the venue.

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The Freeman test

The first real skirmish over whether the Israel lobby and the neocons still call foreign policy shots in the Obama age is over Chas Freeman, former ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia and a superb exemplar of the foreign policy sensibility of an older American establishment — worldly, internationalist, able to discern that America’s national interests don’t necessarily coincide with the wishes of the right wing faction of one particular Middle Eastern ethnostate. Obama has named him to an influential intelligence post.

As well  chronicled by Bob Dreyfuss, there’s  a full court press on to block the appointment.

I’ve met Freeman: he’s a very  impressive guy.  Since his words are being quoted a lot, I’d like to add this, his pungent criticism of the Bush/neocon foreign policy, from a speech given  in 2007:

“In retrospect, Al Qaeda has played us with the finesse of a matador exhausting a great bull by guiding it into unproductive lunges at the void behind his cape. By invading Iraq, we transformed an intervention in Afghanistan most Muslims had supported into what looks to them like a wider war against Islam. We destroyed the Iraqi state and catalyzed anarchy, sectarian violence, terrorism, and civil war in that country.

Meanwhile, we embraced Israel’s enemies as our own; they responded by equating Americans with Israelis as their enemies. We abandoned the role of Middle East peacemaker to back Israel’s efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations. We wring our hands while sitting on them as the Jewish state continues to seize ever more Arab land for its colonists. This has convinced most Palestinians that Israel cannot be appeased and is persuading increasing numbers of them that a two-state solution is infeasible. It threatens Israelis with an unwelcome choice between a democratic society and a Jewish identity for their state. Now the United States has brought the Palestinian experience – of humiliation, dislocation, and death – to millions more in Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel and the United States each have our reasons for what we are doing, but no amount of public diplomacy can persuade the victims of our policies that their suffering is justified, or spin away their anger, or assuage their desire for reprisal and revenge.”

If Obama caves in on this appointment, it will be a strong early sign of an emasculated presidency.

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40 days and 40 nights

You’ve got to give up something for Lent so as of Ash Wednesday, I am giving up blogging. See you all in 40 days.

Before I go, I just want to comment on John Derbyshire’s recent TAC article on talk radio.  Eighteen years ago I’m sure a lot of us, myself included, listened to Limbaugh and other hosts back then because it was a new and entertaining form of media and the only one with a rightward bent.  It wasn’t so much lowbrow as it was populistic and funny. Today, talk radio is a form of ideological reinforcement  where the members of the “inner party” use the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world to make sure the masses tow THEIR particular line and where the talkshow host, instead of reflecting upon whether or not invading Iraq was a good idea, happily goes along with something they wouldn’t necessarily go along with if a liberal Democrat was in White House (I don’t recall Rush being an enthusiastic bombardier when it came to Kosovo) in order to stay in with in crowd. This is exactly the kind of totalitarian mindset Austin Bramwell described the conservative establishment as being today in his TAC article “Good Bye to All That – A former National Review trustee surveys the wreckage of contemporary conservatism.”  A few people get to decide what the movement thinks and everyone on down the chain obeys, just as Orwell described the world in 1984 or Animal Farm. 

Is this not the way the Left works and is this what we’ve been brought up to fight against? And yet we’re doing it to ourselves.  We’ve let power and influence and ratings turn us into the very things we supposedly can’t stand. Look at how chasten Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey became when he dared critize El Rusbo (or is it El Jefe?). Is it the talkshow host we should be blaming here and not the medium itself? I don’t know. It would take a brave host to step out of the mainstream in the face of ostracism that would occur as Charles Goyette will tell you (although Glenn Beck may be headed in that direction) along with a potential drop in ratings and advertising revenue because one isn’t taking the “party line.” Indeed, trying to create shows that appeal to the “middlebrow” audience may sound nice in theory, but I guarantee you won’t find a producer out there willing to put such a show together (What? Conservative audiences don’t go for that NPR “soft talk” crap. They want red meat. They want to be angry and ornery. They want outrage and by golly we’re going to give it to them!) . I’m no expert on talk radio, but it seems to me if you want a successful show you need to find an audience out there willing to listen to it and right now there just isn’t a middlebrow audience for any potential conservative host to reach out to at this point.  Conservatives may very well have to find another form of medium to reach out to this group.

Here are some past critiques of Limbaugh and talk radio I’ve written that you can chew on for the next 40 days and 40 nights: “Empire of Limbaugh makes another Conquest”; “The Politics of Rush Limbaugh – The Happy People vs. The Gloomy People.” and “The Enablers – Conservative Talk-Radio Hosts”


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Guns and Kauffman / Wilson and Holy War

Newly added on the front page: Bill Kauffman’s column on his visit to the Alexander Gun Show (“genuine democrats would come away refreshed by an encounter with working and rural citizens who are pro-Bill of Rights, anti-corporatist, and open to radical alternatives”) and Richard Gamble’s penetrating take on the religious roots and lingering legacy of Wilsonianism. Having suffered through eight years of “hard Wilsonianism” under Bush, are we now in for four more of humanitarian Wilsonianism under Obama?

Of course, to get Kauffman every month and to read all of TAC‘s essays and reviews, you have to subscribe. (And here’s a teaser of what subscribers will be seeing in the next issue: a major profile of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford; Jim Bovard on Obama’s threat to medical privacy; an exclusive excerpt from Thomas Woods’s bestselling new book on the financial crisis, Meltdown; Jeffrey Hart on the Burkean imagination of Lionel Trilling; reviews by David Bromwich, Jacob Heilbrunn, and Philip Delves Broughton — and much more!)

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Twittering While Rome Burns

Or, perhaps more aptly titled, “Omigod, my teenage babysitter and her friends are representing us in Congress.”

Columnist Dana Milbank lets it fly — rightly so.  I can’t decide, after reading this, whether I am more afraid for my country, or embarrassed by it, this morning. Any question about the fate of the country in the hands of Washington can be pretty much resolved right here:

President Obama spoke of economic calamity and war last night in that solemn rite of democracy, the address to the joint session of Congress. And lawmakers watched him with the dignity Americans have come to expect of their leaders: They whipped out their BlackBerrys and began sending text messages like high school kids bored in math class.

“One doesn’t want to sound snarky, but it is nice not to see Cheney up there,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) announced as Obama entered the chamber.

“I did big wooohoo for Justice Ginsberg,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) broadcast, misspelling the name of the ailing Supreme Court justice. McCaskill could be seen applauding with BlackBerry in one hand.

“Capt Sully is here — awesome!” announced Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.), spotting the US Airways pilot in the gallery.

Then there was Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), in whose name this text message was sent at about the time the president spoke of the need to pull the country together: “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren’t going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” A few minutes later, another message came through: “Disregard that last Tweet from a staffer.”

The silly narcissism and immaturity aside, one can almost pity these lawmakers’ attempt to be hip with the times, no doubt believing that if they don’t Twitter or podcast every inane utterance for their perceived rapt constituency that some snarky blogger from their hometown will call them on it. Almost. I’m reading some of these “Tweets” and I start thinking of all the salt of the earth people in the these members’ districts — yeah, the people now facing layoffs and the loss of health insurance — who might have given 50 or 100 bucks to a congressional campaign last year, thinking they needed the very best representation in troubled times. And look what they got.

“Even the Republican lawmakers went gaga,” wrote Milbank, describing the goofy transformation of grown men and women into annoyingly sycophantic and/or doltish adolescents before his very eyes. “When Michelle Obama walked in, one young Republican House member turned to a colleague and mouthed, ‘Babe.'”

Gag me with a spoon.

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Derbyshire’s talk radio article has stirred up the hornets nest known as FreeRepublic with predictable results; including numerous accusations of “RINO” and “liberal,” along with several post suggesting that Freepers cancel their subscriptions to National Review! What was that about wrecking the Right again?

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Crisis in American Authority

How am I supposed to take this article by Matthew Continetti seriously when it begins like this:

Decades from now, historians are going to fill e-tome after e-tome debating when the crisis in American authority began. A good place to start would be the Clinton era. The president of the United States had a tawdry affair, lied about it, and refused to accept any responsibility for his actions. The Republicans correctly pointed out that the president had acted beneath his office. The problem was that many of them were acting beneath their offices, too. (emphasis added)

How could anyone seriously argue that authority didn’t decline until the Clinton years? If he had placed it during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, I would say he was too late. A collapse in authority was evident in 1960s, but I would guess it began earlier than that. If anything, Continetti has it backwards: if a crisis in authority hadn’t already existed for decades before he came to power, Clinton’s tawdry little scandal would have never been exposed.

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Diplomacy or Bust?

Like all peoples who have ruled the world only to lose it, Brits tend to be sensitive about their nation’s prestige–downright touchy, even.

The news last week that Barack Obama had returned a British bust of Winston Churchill – a monument that occupied pride of place in the Oval Office of George W. Bush – prompted snorts of indignation among snotty Anglo-Atlanticists. Read More…

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