State of the Union

The Left’s Unreported Extremism

In a recent column Cal Thomas states the obvious when he observes “Democrats and their friends in the big media protect their own when accused of outrageous acts.” Thomas contrasts the way the media has savaged the Republican Party, including Mitt Romney, for a stupid remark by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin about women being able to protect themselves against conceiving in a “legitimate rape” with the pass given to women abusers on the left or in the Democratic Party. The man imagined to be the “lion of the Senate,” longtime Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy “drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., leaving a woman, not his wife, to drown.” The reckless driver, who was under the influence at the time, was given a three-month suspension of his license in a state that his family controlled politically. Moreover, Kennedy, a senator for life, was comforted afterwards in the NYT about “the ordeal he had to overcome.” In 1978, the former president who will be a featured speaker at this year’s Democratic convention, Bill Clinton, was accused by a campaign worker, Juanita Broaddrick, of attempted rape when Clinton was attorney general in Arkansas. Not to worry! Clinton had the media cover for him and is now hailed as a champion of women’s rights.

The reason these cover-ups and double standards work is that lots of people suspend belief when told about feminist Democrats fighting Republicans who wish to enslave women. But no matter which party wins in November, the social changes of the last 50 years, which the government has actively promoted, are not likely to be altered. One has to be mad to mistake the wishy-washy Romney for an Iranian Ayatollah.

Such media bias does not surprise me. Those in a profession whose members identify themselves by more than 9 to 1 with the left and, for want of a more radical alternative, the Democratic Party, give us lots to choose from. The (for me) most annoying recent case of such bias came with the coverage of the gay activist who tried to shoot up the Family Research Council in Washington. The activist in question, Floyd Lee Corkins, went with a loaded gun and a pocket full of Chicken-fil-A sandwiches to wipe out a “hate group.” The council that Corkins targeted advocates traditional heterosexual marriage and opposes the legalization of gay marriage. It has also published more controversial but documented views about gays being more likely than heterosexuals to engage in pedophilia. Such positions call for debate, but such advocates as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Huffington Post are not accustomed to holding discussions with those on the other side. They rant against them as “hate groups.” SPLC spokesperson Heidi Beirich sees no significant difference between the Family Research Council’s rejection of gay lifestyles and the incitement to violence practiced by neo-Nazis. But that’s nothing new. For decades the center has accused those it dislikes of fomenting hate. Read More…

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Mitt the Minimalist

Never in my life have I encountered a politician who does a better imitation of a mannequin than Mitt Romney, particularly when called on to address social issues. Does this presidential candidate have an “opinion,” for example, on recent attempts to run the food chain Chick-Fil-A out of large municipalities because its president, Dan Cathy, had spoken up for traditional marriage? What is Romney’s view of President Obama’s application of executive power to grant legal status to almost a million illegal residents? Does Romney have a view about such matters? If he does, he is keeping it well hidden. The only thing I hear him saying on the domestic front is that Obama has not addressed the high unemployment rate or our soaring public debt. Presumably Romney will.

All of this has been carefully scripted to make Romney electable without requiring him to show his hand, with one terrifying exception that I’ll soon get to. Admittedly there may be something to be said for this strategy. Obama has messed up the economy and despite his personal popularity, he may not be able to put together the winning coalition he had four years ago. Romney, who looks presidential and can claim corporate business experience, has offered himself as the alternative; and if the economy continues to go south, the former one-term Massachusetts governor may squeak to victory.

But even here Romney hasn’t created for himself a strong profile. Obama went after him nonstop for weeks as a grasping CEO while heading up Bain Capital, and Romney long avoided countering, even when he held the good cards. Since Obama’s brief was at best spotty, the incumbent couldn’t get as much out of it, but certainly not because of Romney’s combativeness. All I heard him say even after weeks of accusations was that Obama was slandering him.

The GOP game plan seems to be that its media brigade, led by such worthies as Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter, will save Romney the hassle of taking socially conservative positions. Sounding “conservative” may not sit well with hypothetical independents, and so the party propagandists have provided their candidate with an opportunity to dodge divisive issues. But there is no real fit between the journalistically cultivated image of Romney as a social traditionalist (outside his own family life) and his actual political record. A book that landed in my hands, despite the efforts of GOP operatives to keep it from going anywhere, is an expose by Amy L. Contrada on Governor Romney’s “deception” during the campaign for gay marriage in Massachusetts. From Contrada’s account, it is hard to pinpoint where Romney stood on this sensitive social issue. The same is true for his position on abortion, which he changed with some regularity. The conflict-avoiding Romney has been around for some time, and he’s in his element when he avoids getting pinned down on social questions.

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A Note on Leo Strauss

Having seen Samuel Goldman’s thoughtful response to Kenneth McIntyre’s sizzling review of my book, I think that I might introduce myself as the author of the still rarely read volume that Professor McIntyre discusses in his essay. By now I am used to the admission that most critics of the review use to introduce their reactions: “I have not looked at Gottfried’s work but am responding to McIntyre’s remarks about Strauss.” Allow me to note that it might be a good idea if these commentators looked at my book, however steeply priced it may be. That would certainly help improve my sagging sales but even more importantly would throw light on what is being argued in my work about Strauss, his hermeneutics, and his academic and political following.

I fully agree with Samuel Goldman on two points. He is correct in his conclusion that Strauss’s greatest contribution to scholarship may be his early (German) writings, more specifically his work on the relation between politics and religion in Spinoza. Moreover, I would add to this early achievement Strauss’s brilliant remarks on Carl Schmitt’s 1932 edition of Begriff des Politischen, which may have been the young Strauss’s most insightful work.

I also think Goldman is correct to assign more significance to Strauss as a scholar than my reviewer suggests. In my book I underline the extent of Strauss’s linguistic training and his prodigious reading in political thought. Although I share McIntyre’s skepticism about Strauss’s way of reading texts and although I find Strauss’s interpretive quirks magnified in his disciples, I would not deny that there is immense erudition in everything he wrote. His disciples impress me far less than the master, as Goldman would learn from reading my book. Finally I don’t think Goldman, who has written splendidly on classical conservatism, would dispute my conclusion and that of Kenneth McIntyre that neither Strauss nor his leading followers would qualify as “conservatives.” One can describe them more properly as Cold War liberals or fervent “liberal democrats,” to use their own phrase. Nor does the intensity of their desire to protect Israel from its enemies or their eagerness to spread America’s democratic creed if necessary by force add up to what Goldman, McIntyre, and I would consider to be true conservatism.

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Tea Party vs. Occupy: Which Is Winning?

What may be a declining force in American political life is the Tea Party movement, which in 2010 played a critical role in winning congressional seats and governorships for the economically conservative wing of the GOP. Since then, national support for this loosely organized movement has fallen precipitously. Between March 2010 and April 2011, according to Pew polls, disapproval for the Tea Party rose by 19%, while only 21 % expressed positive views about it. 49% of those polled held no opinion on the subject and were not even motivated to inquire. At the same time, support for Occupy Wall Street movement has held steady at 21% and is now almost equal to the popularity of its right-of-center competitor.

There are several factors that make these findings curious. One, the Tea Party has obviously declined in its confrontational relation to the two-party establishment since 2010. For the last several months Tea Party leaders Senator Jim DeMint and Governor Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey, Governor Janice Brewer in Arizona, and Congressman Paul Ryan in Wisconsin have been piling on to the Mitt Romney bandwagon, and self-identified Tea Party sympathizers have been doing the same in primaries in Florida, Colorado, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Their support for the quintessential small-government candidate Ron Paul has been minimal, which should not be surprising. We are talking here primarily about Bush-McCain Republicans, who went on the attack against Democratic spending, and particularly against Obamacare, after the 2008 election. Tea Party demonstrators were mostly, according to polls, high on Medicare, which many of them are receiving, and have no desire to play around with entitlements. They are mostly objecting to Obama’s expansion of government spending. Read More…

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Obama Mobilizes His Leftist Base

Ever since I dared criticize the Obama administration and its partisans, I’ve been getting less than friendly email messages. Supposedly I work slavishly for the GOP and spend every waking hour listening to Rush Limbaugh or trying to imitate his verbal outbursts. For the record, I’ve been attacking the GOP at the national level ever since the neoconservatives came to refashion the Republican Party’s foreign policy, while taking over and reprogramming America’s misnamed conservative movement. And those things happened thirty years ago. Since that time I’ve stood athwart the GOP, as a relentless critic of how its advisors and politicians have defined America’s role in the world.

I’ve denounced in print for all to see the boasting engaged in by Republican presidential candidates and by Fox News talking heads about “American exceptionalism.” One has a right to like one’s country but not a duty to proclaim that it’s morally superior to the rest of mankind and that our state should impose its human rights ideology on everyone else. Pride goes before the fall, as Proverbs teaches.

Because of my objections to this vainglory and its foreign-policy implications, Republican and conservative movement activists have carefully avoided discussing my books; and they have written prospective publishers suggesting I would bring disgrace on those who disseminate my ideas. Moreover, those who know me can testify that I haven’t spent more than five minutes in the last twenty years listening to Rush. I view him as contemptuously I do Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, and other vulgarizers of political discussion. Read More…

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German Sabotage and America’s Entry Into World War I

Since neoconservative journalists, at least to my knowledge, have not been lately slamming the “German connection,” I rejoiced at a feature article in yesterday’s New York Post (March 20) going after the “series of German outrages” that helped push us into World War One. A commentary by Thomas A. Reppetto, on German saboteurs during World War, focuses on an explosion at an ammunition factory on Black Tom Island on July 30, 1916, which is now Liberty State Park in New Jersey. In this incident and other similar ones that erupted in the area between New York and Baltimore, German agents prevented by violent means the delivery of arms “to the Allied powers.”

Reppetto suggests that the federal government dealt effectively with such explosions, by declaring war on Germany and then taking counter-espionage into its own hands. At first this could not be done because we were mollycoddling Germans residents in the US while indulging such uncooperative figures as the authoritarian mayor of Jersey City Frank Hague. Reppetto does not hide the moral here, which is drawing a direct line between the sneaky, anti-democratic Germans in World War One and the present terrorist danger. “New Jersey officials need to recall the lessons of Black Tom.” “Islamic militants have operated out of Jersey City,” just as once other bad folks did.  Read More…

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Obama’s Grievance Politics

Despite high unemployment and soaring gas prices, it seems the Obama administration may survive the November election. This is due not only to Republican infighting but also to the support given to liberal Democrats in the media, educational establishment, and entertainment industry. But even these factors may not tell everything. Perhaps more importantly, Obama and his advisors have begun playing up ethnic and gender grievances in a way that may hurt Republicans.

The administration has taken a number of positions intended to mobilize its base in the same record numbers as it was able to do in 2008. It has doggedly opposed attempts by states like Arizona and Alabama to deal through legislation with massive illegal immigration. The feds have not addressed this problem with any particular vigilance, but they have denied the states the power to cope with it. At the same time Obama has suggested that dislike for Hispanics and other minorities lie at the base of this heated resistance to the influx of illegals into certain states, a situation that, by the way, has added significantly to local social costs and crime. More recently, the administration has drummed up another supposed indication of Republican bigotry, namely the insistence by GOP officials that would-be voters provide identification, to guard against fraud. This law is supposedly aimed at keeping blacks from voting, particularly in Southern states, since it apparently goes against a way of life that excludes identifying oneself before voting. Civil rights leaders have now joined the chorus of condemnation against “racist” Republicans who expect voters to provide the same ID-forms as might be asked of someone buying a bottle of booze.

The recent testimony concerning publicly financed contraception by Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who is considerably older and more politically engaged than the media would lead us to believe, opened can of worms for the by now anxious GOP another. Obama managed to turn to his advantage an issue that was creating flak for him, requiring religiously affiliated institutions to pay for birth control and abortifacients. Fluke became a stand-in for every victim of (a long-gone) male patriarchy. The fact that GOP shock-jock Rush Limbaugh weighed in by insulting Fluke complicated the problem. Academics and administrators, including clergy, fell over themselves defending Fluke and accusing Limbaugh and the party he fronts for of being complicit in the high crime of sexism. The gender gap surfaced again dramatically in recent polls, to the detriment of Republicans, and this has impacted most severely on Rick Santorum, the presidential candidate who has been emphasizing his religious traditionalism. In a two-way race, Santorum would be eaten alive by Obama. Read More…

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Hard Questions for Romney, Paul, and Santorum

Although not many people in high places may notice what I’m doing, I’d like to ask the following questions to three of the surviving GOP presidential contenders. First, why did Mitt Romney, as late as 2002, respond to a questionnaire from Planned Parenthood indicating that he fully supported Roe v. Wade and favored state funding for abortion?

According to his stated positions at the time, which were reported in the Boston Globe, Romney also favored allowing minors to obtain abortions without parental consent. Whatever one may think about these issues, Romney has been flip-flopping on social questions more often than he wants us to believe. Supposedly he had moved from wiggling somewhere to the left of Teddy Kennedy on abortion, while running unsuccessfully against him for the Senate in 1994, to being a “family-issues conservative” a few years later. By 2002, according to this frequently recounted narrative, he had undergone l sea change. As the Santorum campaign tried to point out during the recent Michigan primary, this change is not at all evident from Romney’s record; or else this change came later, when Romney’s presidential ambitions became stronger and he had to contend for votes from the Religious Right.

Second, if Santorum is as gloomy about the moral state of his country as he appears to be from his campaign speeches, how do we explain that he switches gears abruptly when he discusses America’s role in the world? Then we become a shining city on a hill and a chosen people required to bring the human rights we exemplify to the rest of humanity. This schizophrenia is characteristic not only of Santorum but of those Religious Right spokesmen and politicians I’ve been listening to. I wish they could make up their minds. Either we’re going to hell in a hand basket; or we’re so glowingly virtuous that we have a mission to make everyone exactly like us. Which is it? Read More…

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Immaculate Secularism

For the last few weeks Catholic clergy and GOP politicians have denounced the Obama administration for forcing Catholic-affiliated institutions to provide coverage for birth control and abortion-producing pills. After hearing strong reactions from his Catholic Democratic advisors, Obama offered an apparent compromise (if a pun may be permitted) to coat the bitter pill.  Arrangements would be made with insurance companies to supply the coverage, without directly involving institutions that are under the Catholic Church or under other protesting religious authorities. Presumably Evangelicals would express the same objection as religious Catholics to subsidizing what seems to be a form of abortion.

The Catholic clergy vigorously protested Obama’s plan in its original form and in its not significantly revised draft. Led by the about-to-become Cardinal of New York Timothy Dolan, clerics from across the country thundered in sermons against forcing Catholics to act against their consciences. Dispensing birth control particularly to the unmarried is an offense against Catholic moral teachings, but assisting in making abortion services available by paying for them goes beyond that. It is seen as turning Catholic institutions into accomplices in homicide. It would have been impossible for Catholic parishioners to have missed this message. And it would have been equally hard for TV news watchers to have missed the assertions made by all GOP presidential candidates that Obama was trampling on the religious consciences of individual Americans. He was doing this by removing an exemption that had been granted to religious institutions to withhold coverage for what they found morally objectionable. Read More…

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Enough With “Family Values”

Allow me to vent an old complaint. It’s something that I can’t get off my chest, although I have written about it many times. Every time I hear a politician utter the word “values,” I throw my shoe at the TV. I throw both shoes at the screen when I hear the term “family values.” It’s not that I personally am without moral beliefs. In fact the ones I hold would suggest that I’m a social reactionary. What I object to is empty rhetoric.

All politicians favor “values,” and when those on the social Left claim to stand for “family values,” as Obama has been doing, they have as much right to that term as anyone else. Indeed I can respect people I disagree with on just about everything, because they act on the basis of their beliefs.

Some of my Republican friends, who make fun of my attitude, ask me whether I really admire Obama as a person of principle. I respond by explaining that to whatever extent he acts on the basis of conviction, Obama deserves my respect. I wish I could say the same about Mitt Romney or other GOP presidential candidates who waffle every time they encounter liberal journalists or think that a hostile reporter may be eaves-dropping. Although I disagree with Ron Paul’s judgments about Iran, I have to recognize that Paul stands up for his constitutional principles. I find the same integrity in John Bolton, whom I have known for many years. Although I would not trust the war-happy Bolton anywhere near Foggy Bottom, let alone as Secretary of State, I’m sure he would never betray his conscience. For me that does count for something.

The users of the value-word are mostly hack Republicans, trying to avoid mine fields. Value-talk typically consists of phrases intended to reassure one’s base while revealing nothing that could get hurt the speaker. In the current presidential primaries several Republicans have departed from this script by telling us what they would do to oppose gay marriage and restrict abortions. I applaud this honesty, which for me is far less distasteful than hearing someone announce that he or she is the candidate of values. The only “value” that I find in such politicians is the priority of getting elected.

But standing for principle may not be enough. I also wish to hear from the advocates of traditional social positions how they intend to implement them. It seems that even those with whom I agree in principle have sometimes held questionable views about constitutional matters. It is state legislatures, not courts or federal bureaucrats, which should be dealing with abortion and gay marriage. Congresswoman Bachmann and former Senator Santorum both misstated this procedural matter during primary debates, although Santorum later corrected his mistake. All attempts at end-runs around state governments in order to have the feds decide social issues is not only constitutionally wrong but also dumb. Do social traditionalists honestly believe that the federal government is more likely to ride to their rescue than the state legislatures of our more conservative states? It is mostly the federal administration that has steered the country leftward throughout my life. I see no reason to believe this will change in the foreseeable future. Read More…

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