State of the Union

Biggest and Brightest

Academics and pundits love to analyze the nation’s presidents based on all sorts of personal data—their age on taking office, the state from which they hail, their pre-political careers, and, lately, their height and the quality of their hair. Gene Healy, in his latest Washington Examiner column, bemoans that celebrity culture has reached the presidency. “We’re not casting a chick flick here — we’re picking a constitutional chief executive,” he points out. Healy offers his own (some might say superficial) criterion for a good commander-in-chief: he’d like nothing more than a… fat president. Skinny guys are grasping and ambitious; they’re anxious to exercise their power (pun intended). Fat men, on the other hand, can stand firm and unmoving against entreaties for government to do more.

I once joked that my favorite president was a chunky, draft-dodging, scandal-plagued Democrat elected in ’92 … (wait for it) … Grover Cleveland. (The Big-Mac-gobbling Bill Clinton was pretty flabby himself, and lately he looks ever better compared to his successors.)

Like a giant, implacable Buddha, the Great Cleveland set his bulk against Big Government, wielding the veto pen more than any president before. Even $10,000 to relieve Texas farmers during the 1887 drought was too profligate: “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”

The opponent of Chris Christie, one of the country’s most promising politicians, made fun of the New Jersey guy’s girth in the governor’s race, but no one’s laughing now.

Most importantly, Healy has the Bard to back him up.

“Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much. Such men are dangerous,” Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comments to Marc Antony. “Let me have men about me that are fat … such as sleep o’ nights.”

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Arizona vs. “Birthright Citizenship”

Don’t miss Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce’s TAC piece today, in which he argues against the federal government’s (and immigration lobby’s) expansive interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Are children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants entitled to automatic citizenship? That was never the intention behind the amendment, and Pearce attacks the idea that a stricter interpretation would tear apart immigrant families. Read the article here.

Be sure to check out other recent offerings on our main page as well, including Kirkpatrick Sale’s look at anarchism and terrorism and Bill Kauffman’s reminiscence of a neighborhood friend.

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Selling News

What is the role of the newspaper in the digital age? It’s a question that’s been asked often since the Internet started stealing away paid readers from print publications, and it’s gained some urgency with the recession harming another source of newspapers’ revenues, advertising. One way to stay relevant might be to emphasize the sort of service that bloggers and low-overhead Web outfits don’t perform as well. But news outlets are increasingly outsourcing their investigative journalism.

As Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post, a nonprofit investigative outfit is hiring journalists just as newspapers and magazines across the country are laying them off: 

The Center for Public Integrity is hardly a traditional news operation, but it is taking on a more prominent media role, fueled by a recent hiring spree that has added more than half a dozen journalists to its 45-person staff.

“We see all our friends dying on the vine,” Kaplan says. “The irony is we’re doing pretty well, and we have a chance to fill these gaping holes.” And the center fills those holes free of charge, furnishing information — and sometimes staff-written pieces — to the media outlets.

One might ask what the journalists left at major media outlets are doing, if not trying to break news. Look at one example of what the Center provided to a publication:

Politico recently carried three pieces by center staffers, including a list of the lobbyists who serve as the biggest bundlers of campaign contributions.

Examining the ties between money and political influence should be one of the biggest beats of any political newspaper, but Politico is actually relying on outsiders to do this important work. (Does Tim Carney really have this beat to himself in the capital of the free world?)

Read More…

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Egalitarians or Elites?

Jack Hunter uses the Alvin Greene affair to debunk the Left’s claim to “intellectual superiority.” This guise of superiority, which at least partially motivated liberals to brusquely reject Greene’s candidacy, also contradicts their belief that, in the words of John Jay, the average citizen who “owns the country ought to govern it.”

The typical Democratic congressman wasn’t exactly struggling to pay the rent before deciding to run for Congress. Considering the political and economic homogeneity of their current elected leaders, shouldn’t liberals welcome Alvin Greene as a real representative of the forgotten little guy?

Liberals immediately relegated Greene to circus-clown status when he won the Democratic nomination. One could condemn them as callous hypocrites for this, but it is admittedly tough not to snicker while watching Greene struggle to remember his general election opponent’s name and reply “No Comment” when asked to name a city he visited while allegedly campaigning across his home state. Still, with the Left simultaneously aspiring to be above and beholden to the desires of the average citizen, intellectual honesty mandates they concede either the former is undesirable, or the latter is untenable.

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Anti-Statists Today, Torturers Tomorrow?

Longtime Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne gives readers a blast of conventional wisdom in his latest piece, on “The Right’s Disturbing New Anti-Statists.” The headline is a little misleading, since Dionne argues that the Tea Party mentality is not new at all, but a familiar blend of anti-elitism (or anti-intellectualism) and libertarianism spiced with some conspiratorial thinking. In the short term, he thinks the “energy” of this “disturbing style” is a threat to Obama, but in the long-term Dionne believes “its extremism may be his salvation.”

Anyone familiar with the evidence Dionne cites should immediately see the problem with his analysis: we have indeed witnessed various manifestations of an anti-government, populist Right over the past 60 years. But what has happened every time? The Goldwaterites turn into Nixonians. A Reagan disappoints the populist hard right. Anti-Washington sentiment puts in power a Republican Congress which then embarks upon a K Street Project. Every time the GOP has lost power in the past half-century, it has reverted to anti-statist rhetoric. And every time the party resumes power, that rhetoric proves empty. Is there any reason to think this latest iteration will be any different?

Democrats, of course, do much the same thing — they talk an antiwar, pro-civil liberties game when they’re out of office. But once a Clinton takes the White House, critics’ FBI files start getting pulled. An Obama campaigns on closing Guantanamo; once he starts governing, he keeps it open. All of this is dismaying, but there is a bright side — the American public, Republicans and Democrats alike, do put some value on anti-government rhetoric, and they recognize that Leviathan is potentially dangerous. The problem is, partisans only recognize the dangers that come from the other side. The Tea Parties would not be anywhere near as tough on a President Romney or President Jeb Bush as they are on President Obama.

At least, that’s true in the main. The variations matter, though — the 1990’s Right, for all its problems, was at least anti-nation-building and concerned about government eavesdropping, even after the GOP took control of Congress. Executive power is what turns civil libertarians into torturers. When either party holds the legislature but not the White House, there can be some real (though usually quite muted) differences of principle among its members — which provides an opportunity for pressure groups and voters to nudge politicians in a more or less statist direction. Some of the Tea Partiers are more than just anti-Obama or anti-Democrat. The question is, will they be well enough organized to have any effect on policy after November? And will they recognize that the presidency itself, regardless of whether a Clinton, Bush, or Obama occupies the Oval Office, has become the gravest threat to Americans’ liberties? I’m not optimistic, but one has to start with whatever resources are at hand.

What Dionne and other conventional commentators present as a right-wing coalition that comes together under “successful conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan (and George W. Bush in his first term)” but threatens to fracture into extremism when out of power is actually something else: a fairly stable party elite that employs a rhetorical strategy to sell Americans on liberty when the GOP needs to assemble enough votes to reclaim power, but that once in command again doles out privileges to favored interests and conceals the growth of government behind moralistic and nationalistic bombast. The words may change, but the speaker remains the same.

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WWCD – What Would Coolidge Do?

There are many in Washington D.C. invested in the Cult of the Presidency. Many of them are pundits, reporters and news organizations whose own importance would diminish if the institution of the Presidency was knocked down a few pegs.  That’s why these groups tend to be hard on President when they believe he’s  not rising to occasion as leadership demands or fulfilling their own expectations (Peggy Noonan’s latest column is a good example of the kind of pack-think about the Presidency.) Even President Obama himself has bought into this:

“”I want to be absolutely clear that part of leadership always involves being able to capture people’s imaginations, their sense of hope, their sense of possibility, being able to move people to do things they didn’t think they could do.”

Alas, by setting this standard for himself Obama may very well fail in office (even if he wins a second term) simply because his own style of leadership doesn’t lend itself to the heroic, or at least it is the perception of him amongst the Greek chorus that judges the modern presidency. It also sets up a strange cognitive dissonance where big government is supposedly hated by the populace, except for the Dear Leader who is supposed to, like Superman, reverse the rotation of the Earth in order to prevent the oil spill from ever happening. Thus –  even though experts agree there isn’t much the federal government can do to cap the well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and efforts from BP,  from governors of Gulf states and from local citizens to protect and clean up beaches, marshes and wildlife are taking place without orders from on high –  Obama gets blamed for appearing not to be in “command” of the situation because the reality is, the Federal Government which Obama leads is not in command and doesn’t need to be.

Read More…

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The Right’s Wrong Turn

Lee Edwards has written a very useful book (William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement). He is a longstanding conservative activist and intends to celebrate William F. Buckley as the founder of the political movement to which he adheres. For Edwards, Buckley’s “vision of ordered liberty shaped and molded and guided American conservatism from its infancy to its maturity, from a cramped suite of offices on Manhattan’s East Side to the Oval Office of the White House, from a set of ‘irritable mental gestures’ to a political force that transformed American politics.” (p.191) But this book discloses a great deal that supports Lew Rockwell’s verdict that the “‘conservatism created by William Buckley . . . gave us the most raw and stupid form of imperial big government one can imagine.’” (p.175) Edwards, by the way, calls Rockwell an “ultralibertarian,” in the same way leftists used to call those on the Right “ultraconservatives.”

Buckley, Edwards tells us, began as a follower of the libertarian Albert Jay Nock; and Nock’s disciple, Frank Chodorov, guided his early writing. (To Edwards, Nock is an “archlibertarian.” Whether there is a difference between “arch” and “ultra,” Edwards does not disclose.) Edwards mentions Nock’s “radical antistatism” but he tells us next to nothing about the views of Nock and his great follower. From Edwards’s account, one might imagine that Nock wished merely to curtail the New Deal. In fact, of course, Nock condemned the “political means,” i.e., the State, as of its nature predatory. Edwards also ignores completely Nock’s views on foreign policy. Nock opposed militarism and interventionism and his The Myth of a Guilty Nation was an early revisionist classic.

Despite Buckley’s early exposure to Nock, his fundamental premise thrust libertarianism aside. Buckley stated this premise early in his career: “[I]n his January 1952 essay in Commonweal Buckley wrote that given the ‘thus-far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union. . .we have got to accept Big Government for the duration.’” (p.53) Buckley here expressed no mere passing thought. Putting into action his belief in a crusade against Communism, he had after graduation from Yale joined the CIA for a brief period from 1950–51. Though he ostensibly left that agency, ex-CIA agents, as we shall soon see, played a major role in National Review. Read More…

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They Call a Man a Robber if ‘e Stuffs ‘is Marchin’ Clobber

Kipling again.  There are other lines in the poem “Loot” that I dare not quote…

The Guardian has an interesting story detailing how Israel’s famous victory over the Gaza flotilla was accompanied by a little good old fashioned looting.  The people who were seized in the act of international piracy and were lucky enough not to be shot had all their personal possessions confiscated by the Israeli Army.  A number of them have now discovered debit card deductions, credit card purchases, and the use of their cell phones.  The personal possessions have still not been returned and I rather suspect the Israelis are checking them over very carefully to determine if they contain anything that can be used to build fortified bunkers in Gaza.  Or eaten or worn, since the entry of most food and clothing items is also banned.

Will any of this be reported in the New York Times or Wash Post?

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What Price Afghanistan?

“The narrative … has been too negative.”

So says Defense Secretary Robert Gates of political and press commentary about the war in Afghanistan. It reminds him of the pessimism of June 2007, before the Iraqi surge began to succeed, said Gates.

But the narrative is coming now not just from critics of the war but stalwart defenders. John McCain says the war effort could be headed for “crisis” and holds President Obama responsible for announcing a timetable for withdrawal starting next summer.

And how optimistic can Americans be when, last month, in the ninth year of our longest war, the U.S. field commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said the Taliban have fought us to a draw.

Eight years ago, the Taliban seemed finished.

Since then, we have poured in scores of thousands of troops, spent $300 billion, lost 1,000 soldiers and seen thousands more wounded. Yet, the Taliban have never been stronger or operated more broadly.

Unfortunately, the narrative the Pentagon deplores is rooted in reality.

The battle for Marjah, said to be a dress rehearsal for June’s decisive Battle of Kandahar, appears not to have been the triumph advertised. The Afghan government and police failed to follow up and take over the Marjah district. The Taliban continue to execute those working with the Americans. Read More…

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Obama Admin.: Don’t Question Torturers’ Sincerity

The Supreme Court disgraced itself on Monday by torpedoing the appeal of Maher Arar, the Canadian who was kidnapped at John F. Kennedy International Airport and sent by the U.S. government to Syria for torturing.

The Canadian government has publicly apologized to Arar for providing false information to the U.S. government about Arar’s suspicious connections.  The U.S. government has refused to admit it did anything wrong in shipping Arar to the Middle East to be tortured at U.S. behest.

The Obama administration vigorously opposed Arar’s motion to get justice and to discover the details of the U.S. government’s role in his horror trip.  Obama’s Justice Department told the court  that permitting discovery in Arar’s case could result in unfairly exposing or scrutinizing “the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria.”

Now we also have sovereign immunity for the reputation of torturers and torture enablers???

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