alien & sedition.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
  R.I.P Molly Ivins

Story here.

I've aspired to be a writer half as witty, moral, and incisive as she was.

"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

Edit: Strke that. No one could even be half as witty.


  Red State on the Summit

I promise that after tomorrow, it won't just be all Summit all the time. But meanwhile, check out msstaley's comment at Daily Kos, pointing out some reactions to the Conservative Summit from RedState. Interestingly, the ones she cites are opinions with which I quite agree.

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  Notes from the Summit: Reed v. Sager

A few more random clips from the Ralph Reed-Ryan Sager debate on Evangelicals and the GOP.

Reed smugly asserts that "I don't think that affirming marriage is bigotry." He goes on to cite opposition to gay marriage by Bush, Kerry, and Bill Clinton, who all agreed that marriage was 'between a man and a woman.'

"I call that consensus," he says.

Sager destroys him: yeah, he says, but none of them are actually against gay marriage. Nobody seriously believes that Kerry or Clinton oppose it. And even Bush has never done anything about it. Where's the marriage amendment?

Reed looks like a gullible evangelical, getting screwed by the GOP again.


During Q&A, a Hispanic radio host stands up to argue that Republicans can use social conservative hobby horses to bring in Hispanic voters. Sager replies that "the Hispanic vote is the great white whale of the Republican Party."


Reed agrees that, sure, younger voters aren't into banning gay marriage. But "give 'em time." (A woman behind me laughs in agreement: "they're kids.") "You think they don't care about the sanctity of marriage? Wait 'til they get married."

Clearly, Reed is smoking some pretty good stuff.


Sager asks the audience, "what is the conservative movement's answer to the fact that gay people exist?" A murmur of disapproval runs through the room.

They don't have an answer, and they don't want to think about it.

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  I Was Right: Romney Sucked

Excerpt from an email to Kathryn Lopez of NRO, from one of her readers:
I'm a Mormon, so I should be Romney's natural constituency, but that speech just didn't sit well with me. It never came together. It was recipe conservatism, not conviction conservatism. The part about his conversion to pro-life causes was particularly unconvincing. The part about his conversion to pro-life causes was particularly unconvincing. The catalyst, he said, was when the Harvard profs tried to justify embryonic stem-cell research on the grounds that they'd destroy the embryos they created. The result of this catalyst was that he decided that destroying frozen embryos would be acceptable but not creating new embryos for destruction. Then he mouthed a few platitudes and said he was now a whole-hearted life-beginss-at-conception pro-lifer. That was it. I defy anyone to show any evidence that Romney had a coherent way of connecting those dots.

[...Goes on to compare the pro-choice to the provocations of the Southern Slave Power...]

This is the case that Romney needs to make—that he never thought seriously about abortion and was content to keep abortion laws the way they were, but he found that the abortion crowd wouldn't stop. They kept pushing for more funding, for lower ages of consent, for the right to *create* embryos just to do scientific experiments on them before destroying them—and eventually he decided that he'd had enough.
Oh, and then there's this part, which made me giggle:
P.S. Can Romney please stop talking down Massachussetts at every opportunity? I know all us yokels out here in the sticks don't like the place, but we do understand local patriotism and sticking up for your own people. All his Massachussetts talk feels like condescension to me.
Mark Steyn responds:
Governor Romney needs to do quite a bit of work on his pitch in this field, but you shouldn’t be holding it against the guy that he’s changed his mind. If he means it, then that’s great news for us: we’re meant to be persuading people, aren’t we? And, if he’s just being opportunist, then even that is modestly encouraging.
So, actually, at least Steyn dug the pandering.

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  Pataki's Not Running

I must say this is a surprise.

Truly, a great, astounding, monumental surprise.

George, we hardly knew ya', except here in New York, where we knew ya' for too damn long.

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  Conservative Summit Part 2: The Interminable Mitt Romney

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

There’s a bit of cultural whiplash, going from conservative conference to anti-war march and back again, but it’s an interesting mental exercise. Walking west on Pennsylvania Avenue, I shed the outward signs of my real opinions – by Fourth Street, my ‘Out of Iraq’ placard is gone; by Tenth Street I have put the peace button in my pocket. By the time the Marriott heaves into sight I’ve set myself to reassuming a conservative mindset, the kind of outlook that’s less interested in peace, and a lot more interested in wondering how the heck the GOP leadership is going to account for itself after last November’s debacle. Just inside the doors of the Grand Ballroom, a gaggle of dark-suited young conservatives eye my name tag and step aside to let me pass. I gather that they have been assigned to keep any of the anti-war rabble from crashing the conference. And a good thing, too.

1:45 pm
Panel: Editors and the Leaders
Rich Lowry, Kate O’Beirne Q&A w/ Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor

John Boehner is here to offer contrition. The National Review editors are here to publicly flog him – politely and with subtlety, but a flogging nonetheless. They’ll talk policy, but this session is not about substance, it’s about ritual.

They grill him on the Republican failure to pass ethics reform last year (it got hung up in the Senate), about why House Republicans believe they lost, (Iraq, but also because “we lost the confidence of the public to govern”), how the Republican caucus feels about Bush (there’s going to be a problem on immigration), and whether the GOP has a brand problem (yes, “but the brand is an outgrowth of who we are”). Boehner repeats the Grand Truth that has been reiterated ad nauseum at this conference: we must return to our conservative principles. I don’t know whether he really believes this, but he certainly knows what the crowd wants to hear.

The crowd also wants a bit more flogging. One of Boehner’s constituents stands up and asks the Minority Leader whether he has any personal sense of contrition for his own sins against the conservative movement. “And if so, when did you lose your way?” A little thrill runs through the ballroom. A direct hit!

Boehner defends himself half-heartedly: “I don’t feel I ever lost my way.” And he rambles on about earmarks.

The session ends to disgruntled chatter from the audience. “Boehner seemed defensive,” says a man to a woman next to me. “The other speakers talked about what to do next. He seemed entrenched.”

“Grim,” the woman agrees.

2:30 pm
Presentation: A Conservative Agenda on Social Issues
Maggie Gallagher, Professor Robert P. George, Ed Whelan
Moderated by Judge Robert Bork

A chill falls on the room: Bork has arrived. The dark lord of the social conservatives takes the podium to introduce the next panel; he speaks excruciatingly slowly, as though he were demoralizing himself with each word. By the end, my soul hurts.

If you read conservative magazines every week, as I foolishly do, you might notice that it’s mostly all about the money. Social issues tend to seem as though they’re thrown in for filler, for a change of pace. I’m surprised, therefore, to witness how passionately the audience responds to this panel. Judging by the discussion, social conservatives are currently interested in only two little things: life and marriage.

George is a highbrow conservative intellectual: the kind who writes books with titles like Making Men Moral, and In Defense of Natural Law. He argues that government, while it should be limited, must act on the basis of “moral truth:” his truth, of course, not yours or mine. Though now I’m talking like a relativist. George speaks in support of the anti-abortion movement’s “incrementalist” strategy, comparing it to the path taken by the anti-slavery movement all that time ago. He argues that the movement’s next priorities ought to be to 1) “Make high-quality sonography widely available,” and 2) Elect legislators (all over the country) who will “de-fund abortion.” He also speaks about stem-cell research, warning of the dangers of “fetal farming,” and about marriage, arguing that it cannot be a private affair, that government has an interest in “supporting” it.

But the most interesting discussion of marriage comes from Gallagher, the long-time “marriage activist.” For the first time I start to understand how social conservatives see this issue, how they didn’t start talking about marriage in the context of gay marriage, but how they’ve been worried about the institution’s “decline” for quite some time now, and for them gay marriage was just the latest in a long string of battles in what they think is a war to “defend” marriage. “The marriage crisis has nothing to do with gay people,” says Gallagher. She sees gay marriage as an unfortunate diversion – a divisive fight at a time when Americans left and right should be uniting around a defense of marriage.

And then she lays out the deep conceptual dilemma social conservatives face over gay marriage. They can’t just accept it, for a very basic reason:

“How can the marriage movement make the argument that children need mothers and fathers if we accept gay marriage?”

She goes on to explain the really dark fear harbored by anti-gay marriage activists. If the state accepts that there is no difference between gay marriage and other marriage, opposing gay marriage will be treated as racism is treated.
"And let’s look at what the government does not let racists do:
  • You can’t run a school
  • You can’t have a professional license
  • You can’t run a charity."
This last one is especially upsetting to social conservatives. For instance, Gallagher says, “the Catholic Church has been forced out of the adoption business in Massachusetts.”

I think that “marriage activists” are deeply confused about the difference between means and ends, fetishizing the one (marriage) for the nominal sake of the other (healthy individuals, healthy society). And I think it’s a disgrace that their social battle lines would hold civil rights hostage to the prejudices and neuroses of various religions. But let’s be clear about the magnitude of the challenge here. Those of us who defend civil rights have argued for a distinction between religious marriage as a private affair and state-sanctioned marriage as a public affair. But for some people, it is impossible to separate those spheres. Not just theoretically, but in everyday practical life.

I don’t believe that Maggie Gallagher hates gay people. I think she is sincere in her belief that marriage needs defending and that gay marriage is a sad battle that must be fought in the course of that defense - because what other option does she have? Perhaps we really do need the work of our religious progressives, because perhaps the battle for justice and equal rights can only be won by recognizing that, spiritually speaking, for very many people, not only is the personal political, but the political is personal.

3:30 pm
Debate: Resolved: President Bush’s Planned ‘Surge’ in Iraq is a Mistake
Lawrence Korb vs. Bill Kristol

Here is the Debate that Dare Not Speak its Name in conservative circles. It’s an open secret that many conservatives – including Bill Buckley, the godfather of NR and all that it spawned – consider the Iraq war a mistake and the ‘surge’ a dumb idea. But it’s still not exactly polite to make a show of it in public. And that, embarrassingly, is what Korb is here to do.

I can feel the hostility in the room before Korb even opens his mouth. He makes great points: we’ve ‘surged’ several times before to no effect; neighboring countries – including Iran – have no interest in a failed state in Iraq, but will only come to the table when we set a date certain for withdrawal, and for the Iraqis themselves, the issue is not how well-trained they are (they’ve had plenty of time to train), but how motivated – and once again, there is no motivation until we provide a deadline. The crowd applauds his opening remarks politely; it’s the last time in the debate anyone will clap for him.

Korb, the realist ex-Reagan official, is up against Dr. Surge himself, the neocon Bill Kristol, who I’m surprised to find is funny and self-deprecating. He jokes – gently – about whether Korb should be “out there demonstrating with Jane Fonda.” And then its on to the wackiness: while the Iraqis might not want us there anymore, “It’s the Iraqis’ country but it’s our war – and I think we should try to win our wars.” Etc., etc.

Korb’s rebuttal is sharp: he wonders why it’s suddenly so in vogue to listen to the generals, considering that the administration had never done that before, and he mocks the notion that Congress’s nonbinding resolution could “send the wrong signal” about American resolve
.“You say the resolution sends the wrong signal? We had an election. That was the signal.”
Kristol will later respond to this remark with a variation on the “we weren’t conservative enough” theme, arguing that much of the anti-war vote was from people who think we’re not fighting hard enough. It carries on, round and round the same circles with which we’re all so familiar. The audience grows increasingly irritated with Korb as the debate continues. I suppose it’s remarkable that this public debate is happening at all within conservative ranks, though the realist/neocon debate is one of the numerous significant fissures within the movement, so perhaps we should expect some airing of opinions. But I’m not left with the impression that anything has been resolved, that the right is any less befuddled by this mess of their own making.

4:30 pm
Panel: Trumping the Race Card
Ward Connerly, Michael Steele, Dr. Abigail Thernstrom

Thesis: for Republicans, race is not a social issue, it’s an electoral issue. If that seems cynical, it’s hard to avoid. The only references to race I’ve heard at all thus far have to do with strategies for peeling off “the Hispanic Vote,” or a portion of “the Black Vote.” And this panel seems to have been arranged for strategic, not altruistic aims.

Still, that interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that there are black Republicans, some of them here today (though, and I’m saying this purely as an observation, not out of nastiness, this panel is the only point during the conference in which I will see more than one black person in the room. At this panel there as maybe six.). Presumably black Republicans want to talk about blacks and the GOP for reasons that go beyond pure instrumentalism.

Steele speaks first, but reveals very little. He talks about the burden of being an African-American Republican-American, but says nothing much beyond praising “the Party of Lincoln” and asserting that only the GOP can truly provide “empowerment, opportunity, and ownership” for blacks. Connerly tells the story of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the latest in his long line of career-making efforts to end Affirmative Action. He promises a “Super Tuesday for Equality” on November 4, 2008, when he plans to have anti-Affirmative Action referenda on the ballots of 3-5 states at the same time. The states will be “carefully chosen,” but he doesn’t indicate which ones they might be.

Thernstrom, though, reveals something more of the paradox at the heart of conservative attitudes toward race. She bitterly attacks Republicans for voting to uphold the Voting Rights Act, which she blames for creating the majority-black districts that allow the Congressional Black Caucus to, as she sees it, set the tone for African-American politics in the U.S. “Without the spineless groveling of Republicans,” she asserts, “black politics would be very different.” In her interpretation, the GOP, by refusing to force a re-writing of the VRA, has “aided and abetted” a kind of “extremist” racial politics which actually encourages African-Americans to view themselves as alienated from mainstream America. She insists that Republicans must find a distinct “civil rights voice” of their own:
“If Republicans want to win elections, it would help to stop pandering to the so-called civil rights movement. … Most Americans know it’s 2007, not 1950s Mississippi.”
Setting aside the fact that the past isn’t dead, and it isn’t even past; setting aside the National Review’s own shameful racist history, I’m not sure that everything Thernstrom says can be dismissed as disingenuous. Her CV features writings about race that go beyond crass political hackery, and when she speaks at the conference about the crisis in black education, she’s passionate about it; it matters to her in ways that go beyond electoral calculation. It’s probably a sad commentary on the conservative movement that this should be so noteworthy, and there’s certainly plenty of room to argue that those conservatives who genuinely are interested in racial progress have their prescriptions all wrong.

But it does progressives no favors if we ignore the fact that conservatives are talking about it.

After the panel, I wander the various levels of the lobby for a while. In the bar, the still-goateed Jonah Goldberg is shoveling peanuts into his mouth, surrounded by yet another circle of admirers – or is the same circle again and again? The bar is crowded with young Republicans in expensive blue suits. One of them buys Jonah a Miller Lite. “You’re a great American,” he tells Goldberg.

In the main lobby, schools of folks wearing anti-war pins drift through reefs of dark-suited conservatives. Hotel security is refusing entry to a man bearing a protest sign. Near a railing I see a pair of uniformed cops, watching.

7:00 pm
Address by Governor Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan. Everyone in the conservative movement seems to be looking for the next Reagan; every politician seeking conservative support is keenly aware of the burden the Gipper’s legacy presents them. And Mitt Romney does not wear it well.

I’ve been sitting at a table near the podium, getting to know my fellow conservatives. Todd, from Albany, introduces himself with a joke: “I work for NARAL.” For a moment I believe him, forgetting where I am. Everyone else laughs heartily, and I join in. When Linda from Colorado sits down, Ian from D.C. steals Todd’s joke. We all laugh again.

Next to me is Brian from Hawaii. He’s quiet and for some reason I begin to suspect that he may be a mole like me. But in deep cover, you never know. Meanwhile, a debate flares up over presidential contenders. Todd likes Giuliani on national security, but doesn’t trust him on the courts. He asks me who I support. I’m a Newt Man, I say – though I’m concerned he may not be electable. I explain that I like the way he talks about politics and the personal. I don’t want to reveal my real reason for supporting him: he’s my friend.

And then, after the main course, Romney takes the stage. He looks, and even sounds, not unlike Martin Sheen doing President Bartlett. But his words. My God, his boring, boring words.

He opens with what seems like a twenty-minute monologue on being a consultant. Somewhere I hear Newt Gingrich spinning in his premature grave.

Then he panders. “I opposed then and do now gay marriage and civil union” (applause). “This is not about adult rights. Gay marriage is about children” (applause). “I’ve changed my views on abortion” (big applause).

He talks about entitlements. He talks about competition from China. It’s like his people have been sitting through each panel at the conference, taking notes and compiling it all into one massive, numbing speech. People are falling asleep at my table. I get up to use the men’s room, and as I slip out, a man whispers to me: “He’s duplicating Bill Clinton at the ’88 convention. Somebody needs to send him a signal.”

Another man, overhearing this, whispers back: “How do you think I feel? I’m from Massachusetts. I’ve heard this all before!”

By the time I get back from the john, Romney has finally finished. He receives a standing ovation, which I think has as much to do with everyone’s need to stretch their legs as anything else.

I’m headed back to my hotel. Mark Steyn has promised us a Night Owl session featuring “Jonah Goldberg in a sparkly Bolero jacket, flouncing around like some queeny waiter in a Malibu restaurant,” but I’m going to have enough psychological baggage from this weekend as it is, without adding that image to my mental catalogue.

And the conservatives aren’t done yet.

Tomorrow: Mr. Huckabee Goes to Washington

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
  How Bush May Save Ahmadinejad

Ali Ansari at the Guardian explains: the Iranian president is politically isolated and increasingly unpopular:
Ahmadinejad was elected on a platform of anti-corruption and financial transparency, and few appreciated how rapidly he was intoxicated with the prerogatives of his office. He very soon forgot the real help he had received in ensuring his election, basking in the belief that God and the people had put him in power. Ahmadinejad soon had a view for all seasons: uranium enrichment. Of course Iran would pursue this, and what's more, sell it on the open market at knockdown rates. As for interest rates, they were far too high for the ordinary borrower, so cut them immediately. And then there was the Holocaust.

None of this might matter so much, if the president had based his rhetorical flourishes on solid policies. But much to everyone's surprise nothing dramatic materialised. Ahmadinejad appeared to follow the dictum of his mentor, Ayatollah Khomeini - "Economics is for donkeys".
The result? Inflation, unemployment, and "ridicule." Even his supporters are dismayed:
Much to their irritation, not only has Ahmadinejad singularly failed to consolidate and extend his political base, the recent municipal elections saw his faction defeated throughout the country. Traditional conservatives and reformists reorganised and hit back, ingeniously using technology to work round the various obstacles placed in front of them. Now, over the past weeks, with biting weather, shortages of heating fuel are further raising the political temperature, while his political opponents point to the burgeoning international crisis for which the globetrotting president seems to have no constructive answer. Talk has turned to impeachment.
Only one thing can save Ahmadinejad's political career now: American belligerence.

One cliched dictum of politics is that you should never get in the way of your enemy when he's trying to commit suicide. And yet, that's what American policy towards Iranian hardliners seems to do again and again.

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  Nothing Good on the Menu

Okay, I'll bite the bullet and post a link to the Politico. Here's Jonathan Martin on why none of the Republican presidential candidates look appetizing to conservatives.

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  Friedman the Mistaken

Yesterday was Milton Friedman Day, as Lawrence Kudlow reminded us at the Conservative Summit. I haven't posted about that, which is a glaring omission considering that Friedman is by this point probably the single most important influence on the modern conservative movement (he's bigger than Jesus, honestly).

I'll have my own things to say about Friedman in due time, but for now I'm scrambling to get the other two parts of this Summit report up for you. And anyway, Max Sawicky has all you need to know - at least about Friedman's own mistakes. His influence on conservatives - well, like I said, we'll get to that.

Update: Also read this excellent post by Thomas Palley.

Update #2: Also Paul Krugman at the New York Review of Books.

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  I Go to the Conservative Summit, Part One

Friday, January 26

Washington feels better – physically improved – with the Democrats back in power. Where it had lurked menacingly, the Capitol now presides majestically over the skyline. The monuments seem ennobled rather than cheapened, the marble shinier, the steam grates steamier. There’s still that problem with the White House, but it’s shrunken now; the man in there shrank it himself. And this weekend, tens of thousands of my fellow citizens will take to the city’s streets to once again demand an end to the war in Iraq. Washington is changing.

But I’m here to caucus with the throwbacks, the vanquished rebels, as they regroup and plot to storm the establishment once again. We beat them last November but they aren’t going anywhere. This is the National Review Institute’s 2007 Conservative Summit, a conclave of the best and the brightest in what remains of the conservative movement, and they may be hurting, but they’re in a fighting mood. This is where they discuss the long road back to what they hope will be power.

And I’m your fly on the wall.

The Summit is convening at the J.W. Marriott on 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., just around the corner from the Reagan Building - a billion-dollar boondoggle, the most expensive Federal building ever constructed, built by a Republican Congress and named for the hero of the small-government conservative cause. And they say Americans don’t do irony.

I’m a little nervous. I have a cheap suit and a flimsy cover story; I half expect to be tossed out unceremoniously when I try to register. I don’t know how to act ‘conservative.’ And this evening’s event is going to require jumping in at the ideological deep end.

6:00 pm
Cocktail Reception Honoring Ambassador John Bolton

I read recently that Dartmouth archconservative Jeffrey Hart, who has recently – and vehemently – broken off his long association with the National Review, defines a “real” conservative as a person who, among other things, drinks “maybe Dewar’s on the rocks.” That’s my drink! It’s nice to know I’m already a little bit of a conservative. First thing I do after walking into the Marriott’s Capitol Ballroom is ask the bartender if she has Dewar’s. She nods and hands me an O’Douls. Things are off to a bad start.

The room is crowded with blue-suited and bejeweled conservatives. The racial composition won’t surprise you, but I have to admit that only a portion of the people here seem as square as I’d expected. Some of them are actually quite stylish. I even spot more than one indie-rock hairdo.

And then there’s Bolton. He’s standing right there, just a few feet away from me, nodding graciously to praise from a modest stream of respect-payers. He’s shorter than I expected, but his moustache is no less impressive. I want to say something to him, just to have the experience of talking to John Bolton, but that would require shaking his hand, and it’s going to require a far more advanced case of Stockholm Syndrome before I’m willing to do that.

I wander off to a table with a small sign marked “imported cheeses.” One of them looks suspiciously like Brie. French brie. I help myself. Then I turn around and Bang! There’s Jonah Goldberg. My head swims. He’s goateed and shaggy-haired, looking for all the world like a Bay Area dot-com geek circa 1997. Surrounding him is a circle of admirers, hanging on his words as he discourses about… I don’t know, sounds like something to do with Arab nations and GDP. I hear him use the word “kleptocracy.” I need another drink.

And there's Pam Atlas, wearing the silveriest, sparkliest thing in the room. Why didn’t I bring my camera tonight? I get my drink and skulk away, annoyed with myself.

Near the stage, Jonah G. is holding forth about something Colbert-related, when NR editor Rich Lowry steps up to the podium to introduce David Frum, who praises Bolton for “representing the United States of America at the United Nations, and not the other way around.” Frum condemns liberals for failing to insist on reform at the UN. Never mind that, if we’re serious about reforming the UN, perhaps it would be good to send an ambassador who could attempt to do so in good faith, rather than one who seems mainly interested in the organization’s physical destruction.

Finally Bolton himself steps up, to raucous applause. The man standing next to me shouts, “I love you John!” I look at him, unable to hide my disbelief. He shoots me a hostile glance in return. I need to be more diplomatic.

Bolton’s own remarks are brief – and, unsurprisingly, defiant. He talks about his political baptism in the Goldwater movement, a poignant historical reference for a conservative crowd seeking reassurance after a political defeat. He urges his audience forward again, insisting that this is no time to let liberals gain the initiative: “we ought to set the terms of the debate.” He’s given another enthusiastic ovation, though for these conservatives, the vexing question at the center of the conference is exactly how that might be possible.

And so it begins.

8:00 pm
Night Owl Panel Session
The State of Conservatism
Mona Charen, Laura Ingraham, Kathryn Lopez, Michelle Malkin, Kate O’Beirne

“Welcome to ‘The View,’” says K-Lo. And, with the comfy chairs, the coffee mugs, and of course the all-female cast, the panel is quite a lot like that show, if Rosie, Barbara, Joy, and Elisabeth all had written books with subtitles about “How Liberals” are doing all manner of vile and degrading things to marriage, puppies, and the Republic.

They discuss the State of the Union address (Malkin is displeased with the President’s reference to ‘wood chips’), Jim Webb (they’re impressed), and the Democratic field (they fear only Hillary). (More here)

But mostly they talk about Iraq. It’s a PR problem. On this they all agree. It’s the AP’s reporting, it’s the lack of a heroic “face” because the administration won’t flog the stories of Silver Star winners, it’s a dearth of pictures of dead terrorists. As Charen says, “it’s all about perception.”

I understand why people like Malkin and Charen and Ingraham have so much invested in viewing Iraq as primarily a problem of public relations. It’s because only in this interpretation is the war something that falls within their competence to influence. They are communications professionals, so Iraq must be a communications problem. They are hammers, so Iraq is a nail.

If it were otherwise, if Iraq were to be understood as a real problem to be solved by people with actual expertise in things like military affairs, international diplomacy, economics, and so on, then these pundits would be doing nothing more than chatting vapidly from one easy chair to another, exchanging pointless opinions over coffee, providing nothing beyond idle entertainment.

They’d be little more than talk show hosts.

Saturday, January 27
8:00 am
Address by Speaker Newt Gingrich

The welcome is more modest than I had expected. Ryan Sager, in a book to which I’ll refer below, described the former Speaker as “Newt Gingrich – or, as conservative crowds like to call him, ‘Newt! Newt! Newt!’” But this morning there’s no chanting – only friendly but subdued applause. Maybe everyone’s hung over.

Newt, the futurist conservative revolutionary, has been predicting interesting times for the Republican Party for at least a year now. And having been proved right, with the GOP trounced in the midterms and the conservative movement scrambling to regroup, he’s able to buck up the crowd by putting things into a little perspective. He recounts his long struggle, first to get elected as a Republican in Georgia, and then to drag his party’s Congressional leadership toward a majority that few of them had been actively seeking. The point, he emphasizes, is that when his Revolution came in 1994, it was as the result of a long investment.

And, he says to fierce applause, “Republicans did not make conservatives a majority; conservatives made Republicans a majority.”

Gingrich launches into a scorching denunciation of the two-year-long presidential cycle, calling it a “consultant employment program.” Much of his speech is an assault on consultants – not far off from the kind of criticism you find in the progressive blogosphere. He excoriates their reptilian anti-intellectualism, insisting that what Republicans need now is an intellectual renaissance. And he argues that the conservative revival can only come from outside the Beltway – to this end, Newt has launched a new 527 (American Solutions for Winning the Future), a nationwide training program for conservative leaders fifty times the size of GOPAC, using advanced communications technology to hold it all together.

Gingrich has always had a flair for communication. He explains to the audience how conservative rhetoric should speak “personally first, historically second, and politically last.” The question, he says, is always “what are you going to do for me?” For instance: “I’m going to give you the choice to take your kids out of a failing school.” Sounding a theme I will hear over and over again this weekend, he argues that Americans are waiting for an alternative to the rule of the ‘liberal elites.’ “Why aren’t we the ‘better-life’ party?” he asks.

Ultimately he believes that, if Republicans connect with their “core values,” they are the party of the natural majority (he really is the mirror image of the progressive blogger). And he calls for a philosophical confrontation with the left:
I don’t believe the left can survive in an open and honest dialogue about the differences between the two [philosophies].
For a number of reasons, I think Gingrich is right: the confrontation is coming. We will have to explicitly ask Americans to decide between the conservative and the progressive conceptions of government.

I disagree with him about who will win – but only if progressives are prepared.

During Q&A I sneak out the back and get in near the front of the book-signing line. I buy a copy of Newt’s latest, and step in behind a woman with a giant stack of books. In fact, her giant stack is only two copies of the same thing: Newt’s massive Civil War novel. “It’s more fun” than the other stuff, she tells me. She’s buying copies for her sons. Lucky them.

Gingrich emerges and begins to sign, and I wonder what I’ll say to him. He looks engaging and friendly. Apparently the woman in front of me is some sort of writer, and when she mentions this he says he wants to give her an “assignment:” we need somebody to write an alternate history novel, he says – but I can’t hear what it’s supposed to be about. Damn! Newt actually directs the woman to his publisher. I want an assignment! And there I am, still without knowing what to say. I mumble something about the consultants, because I hate consultants too. He thanks me and signs his name with a blue sharpie. “Your friend, Newt Gingrich.”

My friend!

9:00 am
Panel Session: “Is Small-Government Conservatism a Big Joke?”
Dr. Marvin Olasky, Congressman Pat Toomey, Congressman Paul Ryan

So why do I think a confrontation is coming? One reason is that, for conservatives, it’s the only way out of an ideological trap of their own making – the only way short of total surrender, that is. As a percentage of GDP, government spending has multiplied seven times since the Great Depression. No conservative leader – not Reagan, not Gingrich, none – has had any significant impact on this. “Starve the beast” has failed. The projected growth of entitlement costs is going to require a massive increase in government spending over the next generation.

And six years of a “conservative” president working with a “conservative” Congress has done absolutely nothing to reverse or even slow that trend. George W. Bush has presided over the largest expansion of entitlement spending since Lyndon Johnson – a fact conservatives repeat bitterly, and often. Deficits are skyrocketing.

The session’s title poses a harsh question for the panelists.

Olasky, the architect of Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism,’ is on the defensive. Compassionate conservatism is denounced by many on the right as “big-government conservatism” – a pseudo-liberal scam operated by those who believe that the only way to hold power anymore is to feed Americans’ sense of dependency. Olasky, though, argues that compassionate conservatism is in fact the only path that can lead to smaller government. “If Americans think that big government helps the poor and small government doesn’t, a critical mass of them will choose big government.”

Olasky flogs a pair of old ideas - an “anti-poverty tax credit” (an idea he has been pushing for at least 12 years), and a system of “social service vouchers” (there is, it seems, little that conservatives love more than a good voucher). Katrina, he argues, demonstrated that government cannot meet human needs as effectively as local volunteers. Here we see again the conservative reaction to Katrina as self-fulfilling prophesy. All Katrina proved was that conservative government doesn’t work, because conservatives don’t believe that government can work. Would you trust a doctor who didn’t believe in medicine?

Paul Ryan, the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, suggests that the American people now view the Republican Party as the party of big government. This is good news, he argues! It means that voters threw the Republicans out because voters want small government. (Congressman Ryan must live in a world with a very pretty sky indeed.) This is a chance, Ryan tells us, for the GOP to get rid of the deadweight, to “go back to the wilderness” and rediscover itself.

“What happened to our big ideas?” he asks. Conservatives should be seeking ways to break Americans’ solidarity – though he doesn’t put it this way; rather, he argues for ending “collectivist” government programs in favor of “defined contribution” schemes. It’s the ownership society, which, as we all know, means you’re on your own.

The problem for conservatives, Ryan points out, is that time is not on their side. If they don’t destroy entitlements, the costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will require higher taxes and much larger government – Ryan says it will double in size – within forty years. Being knocked out of the majority, Ryan suggests, is the GOP’s chance to focus the debate on the role of government itself.

Toomey, the right-wing former Congressman who nearly unseated Senator Arlen Spector in a primary challenge, is now President and CEO of the Club for Growth. Like Ryan, Toomey believes that there is demonstrated public support for limiting the size of American government. “Almost all the bad things that happen in America come from big government,” he asserts. Conservatives must seize the opportunity to force a debate about the size of government – because this may be their last chance. “The default setting of government is that it grows,” says Toomey. If conservatives don’t force a confrontation now, “we’ll get to the point where it’s politically untenable” to shrink government at all.

In the question-and-answer session, a man asks the panelists whether the time has come for a national sales tax. He’s not the last audience member to speak up about sales and flat taxes over the course of the weekend – and nearly every single time, the question will be dodged. Ryan does say something interesting, though: in 2011, Congress will be forced to deal with a big tax adjustment. This may be an opportunity for conservatives to completely re-write the tax code. You can bet that Ryan and his fellow-travelers will be ready for ideological war. Will we?

10:00 am
Debate: Resolved: Religious Conservatives are Critical to Building a Republican Majority
Ralph Reed vs. Ryan Sager

For conservatives, ideological warfare against progressives is linked to the war within. I’ve been looking forward to this session. Sager is the author of The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party. I’ll review the book later this week – it’s a great read, and a fascinating window into the dilemma currently facing Republicans and conservatives. The book is very much a mirror image of Tom Schaller’s Whistling Past Dixie, urging Republicans to avoid getting bogged down in the South and to focus on winning the West.

Despite the subtitle, Sager’s primary target is not evangelicals, but the aforementioned “big-government conservatives.” The problem is that social conservatives have grown comfortable with the Bush administration’s betrayal of libertarians, and by rhetorically feeding evangelicals while abandoning the small-government project, Bush has helped wreck the balanced “fusionism” that has held the conservative movement together since the 1960s.

Ralph Reed is here to argue that evangelicals are still a crucial part of the conservative movement, though that isn’t exactly what Sager is arguing against. Sager only wants to restore the balance between social and economic conservatives, and he points out that Reed himself, as head of the Christian Coalition, once promoted an agenda that was as much about taxes as it was about abortion.

One problem is that nobody can agree about how much power evangelicals actually have. Depending on how you look at it, Christian conservatives are either dominating the GOP or being repeatedly fooled and manipulated by it. Whatever the case, Reed insists that it would be a mistake for the Republicans to turn their backs on the one constituency that has consistently supported them.

But Sager warns that the evangelicals’ obsession with issues like gay marriage could seriously damage the Republican Party:
Demographically this is just a losing issue. Being on the wrong side of one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation – this is what happened last time – isn’t a good thing. […]

You will lose the younger generation. It’s like the civil rights movement, which is a stain on the conservative movement and on the National Review – not to get nasty, but it is.
The marriage issue is the politics of division: demonizing one group to win another group’s votes. It’s the losing side of history – Sager notes that, for instance, Eliot Spitzer is getting out ahead of the issue, having endorsed gay marriage in his 2006 campaign with the expectation that by the time he runs for president in 2012 or 2016, the country will be ready for it. At the sound of Spitzer’s name, a hiss runs through the crowd. I can’t help thinking to myself: Eliot Spitzer could kick your asses. All of you. I’m a little juvenile that way.

The West, Sager says, is turning blue – and there are far too few evangelicals there for the GOP to make them the center of its strategy to remain competitive in the region. I think he’s absolutely right, but the crowd is clearly on Reed’s side. That’s reassuring – the bulk of the conservative movement is deluding itself here – but gradually the right will start to wake up to what Sager is saying, and then we’ll have a real challenge on our hands.

Of course, the ‘evangelicals vs. libertarians’ debate, while real, is just a proxy battle in the central war within the conservative movement: over whether “small-government conservatism” has any future, any meaning at all. It’s a war that will have great consequences for the progressive project, too – since the conservatives’ only way out of it may be to turn their energies against the notion of activist government with greater vehemence than ever before.

11:00 am
Presentation: A Conservative Agenda on Foreign Policy
John O’Sullivan, Clifford May, David B Rivkin

If the debate over the role of government is vexing conservatives, so too is the question of the way forward for conservative foreign policy in the wake of the Iraq disaster. Despite the mess they’ve made, however, their arrogance is undimmed.

O’Sullivan dismisses liberals’ national security agenda as a series of irrelevant obsessions with AIDS, poverty, and global warming (and the audience laughs heartily). Never mind that in fact global warming, if it’s anywhere near as bad as scientists warn it could be, will present national security threats that will make the Iranian situation look like a game of patty-cake. This is the crowd that blithely sucked us into the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, presuming to lecture liberals on the national interest.

O’Sullivan attacks NGOs ("transies," he calls them), and suggests that, just as conservatives built a movement to take control of politics in America, they should now do the same on the international level. And he denounces the European Union, labeling it “anti-American” and criticizing the Bush administration, and Condi Rice in particular, for supporting it. The American strategy in Europe, O’Sullivan argues, ought to be “divide and conquer.”

David Rivkin agrees. “The EU project is very interested in imposing its views on the world,” Rivkin tells us. Indeed, it has been seeking to make it impossible for “civilized nations” to make war at all anymore. But “the biggest problem is at home,” he says. It’s the “cross-pollination” between the European left and Blue America, undermining the neoconservative project on both sides of the Atlantic.

One man’s biggest problem is another man’s greatest hope, I suppose. I leave the room and head upstairs toward the lobby. Jeb Bush is scheduled to speak at lunch, but I’ve had enough of the Bush clan in my life. Instead, I walk out and down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Reagan monolith, to the east end of the National Mall, where a crowd is gathering under the Capitol to insist on an end to the Iraq war, and to the reign of catastrophe the right has imposed upon America and the world.

The biggest person in Washington, I learned from a tour guide, is Freedom, who stands atop the Capitol dome. She faces east because that is the direction from which danger came. But today the danger is all around her. And on this day in particular, it is fourteen blocks behind her at the Marriott Hotel, where the movement that has wreaked so much havoc, at home and abroad, is licking its wounds, and preparing for a comeback.

Will we be ready?

Next: Part Two: Will Mitt Romney Never Shut Up?
And: Part Three: Mr. Huckabee Goes to Washington
  Notes from the Summit: "The View" on Webb and Hillary

Part one of the full report will be up in a few minutes (just adding the html). Meanhile, here's an additional snippet from the Friday night panel with Kathryn Lopez, Kate O'Beirne, Mona Charen, Michelle Malkin, and Laura Ingraham.

Jim Webb's response to the State of the Union really seems to have gotten under the conservatives' skin. I'll hear denunciations of Webb all weekend, but tonight's panel is impressed. Ingraham thinks Democrats must be “pumped up” about Webb, and she praises him for praising America. She frets that the GOP is losing touch with “the little guy.” We can’t let the Republicans become as elite as we like to say the liberals are, she argues. She even relates a story about a friend's right-wing father who called to ask, "did you hear this Webb guy? I haven't heard a Democrat talk like that in years."

The panelists debate whether Webb represents a genuinely important new development for the Dems. Is our Democrats learning? Charen, who gives me the cold creeps, tries to argue that Republicans shouldn’t worry too much about him. He’s not running for President, and anyway the rest of the Dems are still a bunch of loonies. Ingraham is worried nonetheless. “Heaven forbid if the Democrats became a pro-life party,” she says. “They would be dominant.”

They also discuss the Democratic field: Obama’s a fad, Edwards makes them laugh, but they really fear Hillary. K-Lo asks if HRC will be the next President of the United States. "No," moans the crowd. But it looks stark to the panelists: "Does anyone really think she'll lose any of the states Kerry won?" asks Ingraham.

And the Republicans: Apropos of Mitt Romney, K-Lo asks rhetorically if anyone in the room could vote for someone who voted for Paul Tsongas. Inside my brain, I raise my hand. And Ingraham asks the crowd: “Is everyone in this room looking for the next Reagan?” Big cheers. Make straight the way…

And, of course, they have to get in their digs at Speaker Pelosi. They can't believe she could be a role model. Says Lopez, "I don't think little girls are going to bed tonight dreaming of being Speaker of the House."

Replies Charen: "I hope they're dreaming about Margaret Thatcher."

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Monday, January 29, 2007
  On Protesting

Steve Gilliard reposts the link to this Mahablog post from last April, about the differences between effective protests and those that are just counterproductive. Maha suggests some "rules of ettiquite for protesting": Be Serious, Be Unified of Purpose, Good Protesting is Good PR, etc.

I was at the protest in Washington on Saturday, for about an hour and a half in between sessions at the Conservative Summit. I was wearing a suit, mainly because I had to wear a suit to the summit, but I was glad to turn up at the demonstration that way, too.

Those of us who agree about the importance of the kinds of "rules" Maha lists have to be careful not to condescend, or to play into right-wing stereotypes of demonstrators. The overwhelming majority of people at antiwar protests are ordinary people, dressed in an ordinary way, showing up because they understand the moral importance of opposition to the war, not because they intend to make a spectacle.

And a lot of the "clever" signs the more theatrical protestors bring are genuinely funny.

That said, the wacky "look at me" element is strong, and it does, I think, often work at cross-purposes from the intent of the march. Saturday's march was no different. Maha's right: a lot of politics is about PR. If we disregard that fact, we will lose at politics because our PR will be disastrous.

The basic problem is this: it makes no sense for a movement that seeks to sway mainstream opinion to present itself as a counterculture. It contradicts the entire purpose of the exercise. Using antiwar protests as an opportunity to get publicly freaky means showing the public that opposition to the war is for freaks. It's as simple as that.

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  McCain's Fancy Dance

Via Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe, Roll Call reports that John McCain has ignored an invitation to address the House conservatives of the Republican Study Committee at their upcoming retreat. Rudy Giuliani declined to attend, citing a scheduling conflict, but McCain didn't respond at all.

As Sargent points out:
Making McCain's snub all the more inexplicable is the fact that McCain has been desperate to prove to conservatives that he wouldn't betray them as President. Endorsements from prominent House conservatives would do much to allay such suspicions. And yet, as Election Central reported recently, Romney has been far more aggressive than McCain in reaching out to conservative members of the House.
This comes at the same time as McCain's endorsement by moderate GOP Senators Snowe and Collins, both anti-escalators from Maine.

Sargent's right about Romney, who is basing his early candidacy around a bid to win conservative Republicans. He, for instance, was at the Summit this weekend - about which more later, though let me tell you, he's no Reagan. McCain was conspicuous by his absence.

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  I Survived the Summit

Got back late last night from the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit in D.C. I'll have a full report posted tomorrow, including strategies to watch out for, the grand dilemma of conservative ideology, and the Jonah Goldberg Facial Hair Watch.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for something to read, may I suggest this excellent Glenn Greenwald post, in which he further destroys the right's absurd and embarassing reliance on the Churchill metaphor. Sample passage:
These are the same people -- the President, Lieberman, Bill Kristol, the Fox warriors -- who never tire of dressing up in Winston Churchill costumes and spouting the only historical analogy they know in the most reductionist form possible ("Churchill = strong, war; Chamberlian = weak, anti-war; we must Be Churchill").

But Churchill would have recoiled -- he did recoil -- at their argument that criticism of the Leader and the war are improper and hurts the war effort. Churchill repeatedly made the opposite argument -- that one of the strengths of democracies is that leaders are held to account for their decisions and that those decisions are subject to intense and vigorous debate, especially in war. In January, 1942, Britian had suffered a series of defeats and failures (which Churchill candidly acknowledged and for which he took responsibility), and he therefore addressed the House of Commons and insisted that a public debate be held in order to determine whether he still had the confidence of the House of Commons in his conduct of the war.
Read, as the saying goes, the whole thing.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'll be out of town this weekend, so no more posts 'til Monday, but I should have some interesting stories when I get back.

So A&S passed the 1,000 reader mark last week, which for a two-month old blog by an otherwise obscure guy isn't too bad, I suppose. A rough impression of Sitemeter data suggests that our readers break down into four main categories, listed in descending order of numbers:

  1. BuzzFeed hordes drawn over by a single half-assed post I wrote about marriage one day;

  2. A small - but deeply appreciated - number of regular readers;

  3. Writers Technorati-searching themselves; and

  4. Mom (Hi mom!)

I'm excited about where we're going... Over the next few months, we'll continue the TWICO feature, the Reading Conservative History series (pre-empted this week because of time constraints), the Right-Wing Think Tank Review (which will resume in two weeks), and all kinds of other irregular stuff. Plus we may finally see the debut of the long-promised Justin (who's had a really good excuse for not posting yet), who will bring his own take, especially on aspects of politics and conservatism relating to corporate law and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks for reading, feel free to comment, and have a great weekend.



  This Week in Conservative Organs: Altered States

Conservatives don't believe in retreat; they merely advance in another direction. This week our organists grapple with the Decider's State of the Union address, trying to parse out whether he's still leading the conservative charge, especially on the home front. On some issues, there's a letdown. On others, they're happy to report that in the Bush administration the conservative project is alive and well. That project, of course, is the regression of government and society to whatever they supposedly used to be, long long ago. Don't say conservatives don't believe in evolution: they merely evolve in a backwards direction.

TWICO Feature: The Purpose of our Suffering is Only More Suffering

"No Shock, No Awe," declare the editors of the National Review. But they're pretty happy with the SOTU anyway: "where was this Bush a year ago?" The president, we are told, "made a solid case for victory in Iraq." (As he so often does - I, meanwhile, have repeatedly made a very solid case for being given a magical flying pony, but have yet to receive it. I blame the Democrats.) The editors also love the health proposal: it's "genuinely innovative." Indeed, if you consider a great health plan to be one that wrecks the current system, mainly benefits the wealthy and healthy, and shifts risk onto individuals, then, as the editors say, "the Democrats will not be able to come up with a similarly attractive package."

The National Reviewistas are not so fond of Bush's energy proposals or his immigration rhetoric. Oh, and:
Where were the social issues? It is widely accepted that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage are two of the few issues that have been helping the Republican party lately; why abandon them now?
Nobody ever claimed that the National Review was a libertarian publication, but this underlines it. At a time when economic conservatives are loudly raising the alarm about the health of the conservative coalition, and debating how quickly they can cut off the social conservative deadweight, here's NRO actually claiming that abortion and gay marriage are the future of the Republican Party. Don't ever change, kids.

Anyway, the editors note that "the truth is that the president is down, way down, and the State of the Union address is not going to do anything to change that." But speech consultant T.J. Walker has good news!
Bush now thoroughly knows his way around a Teleprompter. He moves his head well, pauses sufficiently, and does not rush. Bush finally shows a full range of facial expressions.
Then there's my favorite part:
Fantastic improvement!
I actually agree. Just goes to show that the words can be clear as a bell even if the message still doesn't make any sense.

OTHER REVIEWS FROM THE NRO'IANS: Michael Cannon totally digs the health care plan: "It would be difficult to overstate how dramatically the president’s proposal would reduce government influence in the health care sector." John Fonte likes the sound of 'assimilation' (it's a sibilant sound) but judges Bush's conservative tack on immigration to be "too little, too late." And Clifford May seems to forget who's in the driver's seat now:
The White House is betting that some Democrats will come along on each of these issues — not out of respect for Bush; not even out of respect for his office, but for self-interest: While in the minority Democrats could be satisfied merely to oppose. Now that they are in the majority, some Democrats may want to show they can do more than carp and criticize from the sidelines.
Right - because that's all they've done so far.

Veronique de Rugy makes an interesting point: "In apparent surrender to the Democrats, the president didn’t mention making his tax cuts permanent. Also absent from the speech was his commitment to Social Security reform." Jim Webb's response, meanwhile, left her indignant. Forget all that nonsense about the struggling middle class - the fact is that people are getting richer "whether they feel it or not." I've just got to try and feel it more.

ALSO AT NRO, Max Schulz and Henry Payne are unimpressed with the president's alternative fuel proposals. Schulz argues that "making vehicles more efficient will actually increase gasoline consumption," since it'll just mean people can afford to drive more. Payne, meanwhile, says that the Renewable Fuel Standard exists mainly "to satisfy the auto and farm lobbies" - the former, because it allows them to skirt fuel efficiency laws, and the latter because, ya know - sell more corn.

AND, Larry Kudlow wonders why it's so hard for everyone to just admit that the economy is doing super! (Here are some reasons, Larry). Meanwhile, Jennifer Roback Morse finds herself faced with a bit of cognitive dissonance: The New York Times says that marriage is in decline. What to do if you 1) Also like to insist that marriage is in decline, but 2) Believe that the Times is filled with nothing but sulphurous liberal lies? Oh, it's not as hard as you'd think:
The point of the story was to convince the public that this decline is inexorable, like a force of nature, and that only old fuddy-duddies complain about it.


MORE... Deroy Murdock continues his one-man crusade to cast Giuliani as a Conservative After All, this time making the argument that, since abortions declined in New York during Rudy's term, and since Rudy didn't actively try to prevent that decline (by, what - standing out on the street with a megaphone and a placard demanding HAVE MORE ABORTIONS?), he's pro-life in his own special way. Meanwhile, Michael Cannon reveals that ArnoldCare would rely on a lot of money from other states (aka Federal money), Jonah Goldberg urges us to not think of the children, and poor Kathryn Lopez talks about a "vision" problem, which seems to have something to do with seeing everything backwards: she says that Iraq will be a "great burden on the campaign trail" for Democrats, and that "we can't wish away a war we didn't start" (this last quote would make sense if by "we" she meant Democrats, but no - she means the United States. And guess who she thinks 'started' it? Rhymes with 'errorists.')

Up-is-Downism Award: You Made It Real, You Can Make It Unreal

Our Up-is-Downism winners this week are the Weekly Standard's Masters of Destruction, Frederick Kagan & William Kristol. These bold strategists pour scorn on Hillary Clinton's proposal to cap the number of troops in Iraq, arguing that if we did so, the Iraq war might start to go badly. But the Dems seem to be willing to let the war go on for years:
Perhaps the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the forced migration of millions would eventually lead to a certain exhaustion [no kidding! - ed.]. Is that the outcome Senators Clinton, Dodd, and Obama have in mind? It's a far cry from the Democratic party that insisted on sending American forces to stop ethnic cleansing in war-torn Bosnia in the 1990s, to the one that now declares an Iraqi bloodbath no concern of ours.
They have a point: remember how we invaded Bosnia, a nation which had been at peace and hadn't attacked us, thus provoking years and years of bloodshed which our troops, despite great sacrifice, were unable to contain? Remember how none of the Bosnians wanted us there and how everything we did just seemed to make the situation worse? Oh, right.

Anyway, the point is we should just trust Petraeus:
There is one man who should be recommending the size of American forces in Iraq, and that is the incoming commander, General Petraeus. ... And when he has spoken, Senator Clinton and her colleagues should carefully weigh the burden they will take on themselves if they dismiss his advice.
So now it's cool to listen to the generals? When did that happen?

Then there's this, which is just really, really neat:
The efforts of Clinton and others would prevent the new commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, from working effectively to bring the violence under control. There is every reason, therefore, to imagine that violence would continue to increase. This would be the effect of Sen. Clinton's legislation.
That's right. The violence in Iraq would be Hillary's fault. There really is nothing we can't blame on her!

ALSO AT THE STANDARD, Tom Donnelly continues the Petraeus worship. after making the obligatory Churchill reference, Donnelly gives us the good news:
Happily, Petraeus, whom I've known and observed for nearly 20 years, wears "the mask of command" as well as any current officer. He's already done so successfully for Iraqis.

I'm not going to be the one to argue against knowledge gained from 20 years of personal friendship, so I'll let William Arkin do it. Anyway, record be damned. The important point is that he's "charismatic" and lots of people seem to like him.

AND, Irwin Stelzer takes an interesting look at Barney Frank's ideas for the House Financial Services Committee, which include the notion of improving corporate democracy and moving towards British-style 'principles-based' regulation of corporate governance, as opposed to the 'rules-based' regulation used in the U.S. Unfortunately for CEOs, it seems, the principles-based system leaves them feeling a little exposed when it comes to shareholder suits and fraud prosecutions. Also, Harvey Mansfield has a fairly interesting meditation on the philosophical meaning of courage - despite his gratuitous swipes at feminism - and Wesley J. Smith praises the UN's new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which specifically mentions the "right to life," and suggests that conservative NGOs need to start trying to get more ideas on the World Government's agenda.


As I've written elsewhere, conservative intellectuals may be abandoning their denial of global warming (in favor of treating it as a "long-term" technological challenge). The American Spectator, though, seems to have missed the meeting. Both Peter Hannaford and William Tucker flog the new book by oil industry-funded warming denier Fred Singer (can't they find one denier who doesn't take oil money?) - though Tucker is willing to grant that warming may be partially our fault.

MEANWHILE, John Tabin praises the president's SOTU for painting a good picture of the enemy (he paints that same picture over and over again - he's like Degas and ballerinas). Tabin argues that the Dems will do nothing about Iraq, and takes a moment to engage in that favorite pastime of pro-war pundits: projecting his opinions onto the American people:
The public is pessimistic about the prospects of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the mood of the country is not yet so dark that leaving the Iraqis to slaughter each other is a winning position.
But my question is: who calls it "Operation Iraqi Freedom" anymore?

ALSO, David Hogberg looks at the domestic side of the SOTU: Health plan? Two thumbs up. Budget? One thumb up - should've mentioned corporate welfare. Energy: "Ugh." Meanwhile, Doug Bandow rails against card-check elections for unions, while Jeremy Lott wonders just what the hell Alberto Gonzales is smoking.

ON THE LIBERTARIAN SIDE, Katherine Mangu-Ward has an interesting piece at Reason. She considers the implications of a lawsuit against, over whether individual users could post discriminatory preferences (e.g., 'vegetarians only') in their for-rent ads. That kind of thing is mostly forbidden (with a 'Mrs. Murphy' exemption for small units), but the real question is whether sites like or Craigslist can be held responsible for misconduct by their own users:
To make such ads illegal would require overturning parts of the Mrs, Murphy exception and the Communications Decency Act. The latter is especially disturbing since it puts a whole host of Web 2.0 sites at risk, including Wikipedia, MySpace, and blog engines. Any website with user-generated content (including the comments section of could be legally on the hook for anything users post.
ALSO AT REASON, Jacob Sullum excoriates the Bush administration for its FISA tomfoolery:
By exposing the hollowness of President Bush's national security justification, his tardy compliance with FISA demonstrates more contempt for the rule of law than continued defiance would have. [...]

The reason for the delay in complying with FISA is clear: When it comes to fighting terrorism, the president considers obeying the law optional. As Gonzales emphasized, the administration still maintains the president is not obligated to follow FISA; he is doing so only because he has decided that "involving all branches of government on such an important program is best for the country." Given the president's view of his "inherent" powers, he could go back to evading the courts and flouting the will of Congress any day.
AND FINALLY, Cathy Young considers the state of the culture war six years into the new milennium, Ronald Bailey suggests that the ban on federal funds for stem cell research may have been the best thing that could have happened for the research, thanks to the resulting explosion in state and private funds, and Charles Oliver, in an article titled "The Era of Big Government Never Ended," looks at the state of libertarianism in a post-Cold War era. Can liberty survive in the modern welfare state? And what about the need for security?
The challenge of liberty in the near future will be to show how those philosophical arguments about liberty and order, freedom and safety, bear on current debates regarding the powers assumed by the government in the War on Terror.
Oliver's musings are worth a look. He's a man in search of his true self. How archetypically American can you get?

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007
  Willie Gets His Due

Via this diary at Amazin' Avenue... The Mets and Willie Randolph have agreed to a $5.65 million, three-year contract that will keep the team's manager in Queens through 2009, with an option for an additional year.

I know people have criticized Randolph's in-game management, and I haven't totally been in love with every decision he's made, but that's a small part of the manager's job anyway. The important thing is his personnel management skills, and there I think Willie's been fantastic. He's not the only reason the Mets did so well last year, but he was a big part of it, so congrats to Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon for doing the right thing and bringing him back under a real contract.

April's only three months away...


  Are British Conservatives Gearing Up for a Culture War?

In a column at the Guardian today, Paul Dacre attacks the BBC's "cultural Marxism" - and predicts "an American-style backlash." It isn't the BBC per se he objects to - unlike American conservatives, who'll keep itching 'til they finally kill PBS and NPR. It's the content.

The BBC, Dacre argues, is supposed to be impartial. But instead, it has used "impartiality" as cover for a diet of left-wing propaganda. Not only has it supposedly failed to cover any of Labour's various scandals with sufficient zest, but it has set itself against conservative Britain altogether:
[W]hat really disturbs me is that the BBC is, in every corpuscle of its corporate body, against the values of conservatism, with a small "c", which, I would argue, just happens to be the values held by millions of Britons. Thus it exercises a kind of "cultural Marxism" in which it tries to undermine that conservative society by turning all its values on their heads.

Of course, there is the odd dissenting voice, but by and large BBC journalism starts from the premise of leftwing ideology: it is hostile to conservatism and the traditional right, Britain's past and British values, America, Ulster unionism, Euroscepticism, capitalism and big business, the countryside, Christianity and family values. Conversely, it is sympathetic to Labour, European federalism, the state and state spending, mass immigration, minority rights, multiculturalism, alternative lifestyles, abortion, and progressiveness in the education and the justice systems.
Whether Dacre's portrait is accurate is a matter somewhat beyond my capacity to judge. I catch the occasional half hour of BBC America, which is of course its own thing; the last time I was in Britain for a sustained period of time was during 2002-3, when it seemed that Channel 4 was going after the warmongers with more zeal than anyone else. But mine is a pretty limited sample. Of course, this kind of complaint is quite common in the United States. And as we like to say: reality has a liberal bias.

If the argument sounds familiar to Americans, that's part of Dacre's point. He sees the battle arriving on British shores:
How instructive to compare all this with what is happening in America. There, the liberal smugness of a terminally worthy, monopolistic press has, together with deregulation, triggered both the explosive growth of rightwing radio broadcasting that now dominates the airwaves and the extraordinary rise of Murdoch's rightwing Fox TV News service. Democracy needs a healthy tension between left and right, and nature abhors a vacuum. If the BBC continues skewing the political debate, there will be a backlash and I predict that what has happened in America will eventually take place in Britain.
Of course that explosion of talk radio and the rise of Fox News et al took place in a context Dacre fails to acknowledge. They happened only after a well-funded, ideologically disciplined conservative movement had been developing for a quarter century; the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine then set the demons free.

This is not to say that similar things couldn't happen in the UK. In fact, I'm very curious as to whether Britain has anything like a nascent conservative movement in the post-Goldwater model. I know there are British conservatives who would like to develop such a movement. But I haven't seen any signs yet of whether one actually exists.

But I suppose that's what I get for getting my news about Britain from the BBC.

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  Viguerie Is Having None of It - But Don't Get Too Excited

Via Daily Kos, here's Hotline reporting on conservative patriarch Richard Viguerie's reaction to Bush's SOTU. As you can probably guess, he's not thrilled.
The underlying message in this State of the Union Address was directed toward the Democrats: In effect, we can work together--let's make a deal. The underlying message directed toward the conservatives was: You have no place else to go.

He did not acknowledge any mistake in pursuing the liberal, big government policies that have driven the Republican Party from power on Capitol Hill.

He did not announce any changes in personnel in a conservative direction.

He did not announce that he will veto any increase in discretionary spending.

He did not call for the downsizing or elimination of any government programs.

He did not call for eliminating the corporate welfare shelled out to big business.

He did not announce that he will veto any legislation that contains 'earmarks.'

He did not launch a serious war on the institutionalized government corruption between big business, their lobbies, Congress, and the Administration.

He did not announce any significant initiatives to protect traditional moral values.

Accordingly, conservatives must continue to declare their independence from the Republican Party. We must act as a Third Force in American politics, seeking to draw both major political parties to the Right. Conservative principles and goals take precedence over partisanship. We will support Democrats and Republicans alike when they do the right thing, and oppose Democrats and Republicans alike when they do the wrong thing.

Take the third-party threat with a grain of salt. As Hotline notes, "Viguerie is the press's to-go guy when there's a need to quote a conservative who thinks some other conservative isn't conservative enough."

There is certainly serious and growing dischord within the conservative movement, much of it centered around conservatives' great sense of betrayal by the Bush administration. Viguerie's statement captures many of their complaints. But if you're looking for signs of the conservative movement breaking apart, don't look for them in Viguerie. He's something like a right-wing version of Ralph Nader: a lot of credibility based on his past, but far more willing to be schismatic than most of his comrades.

If he were to create a conservative third party, it would likely have about as much impact as Nader's Greens: it could swing a close election, but would mean little to nothing in the long run.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
  Unedited Reaction

(Cross-posted at the Daily Gotham)

Just got back from a nice little SOTU party in Manhattan - I was planning to go to one of the shindigs sponsored by the various New York grassroots progressive groups - including the one I'm part of - but ended up heading to a friend's party instead.

So, unfiltered by media reaction - my own initial thoughts:

It was boring. Bush, who has turned the notion of being a "war president" into a fetish, opened with a tedious - if technically relevant - discourse on domestic economic issues. Within the opening minutes he was talking about earmarks. That'll definitely keep them from switching over to "Best Week Ever."

Nonetheless, Bush presented himself well. He seemed subdued, far less awkward or arrogant than usual. One of the few times I've watched him and not had the distinct impression that somebody quite stupid was actually condescending to me. So props for that.

His health care proposal was a definite wedge. Conservatives seem to be deserting him in droves, but they may be interested in his crappy little health plan. He mentioned "private insurance" more times than I could count. There's no question that his health proposal was designed not for the purpose of getting more people insured, but primarily to reinforce the idea that private insurance is the way forward in health care.

His global warming bit was less than I expected. I mean, it's revolutionary that he even used the term "global warming." So maybe the Kremlinologists can read something into that. I was expecting some discussion of emissions limits. Did I miss that? I didn't hear it.

Jim Webb ate Bush's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. I mean, I haven't heard a Democratic response so invigorating since the Bush era began. Sure, Webb came across a little stiff. But his words were fierce. And his conclusion was devastating. Webb ate Bush for lunch.

Now I can read other reactions and see how many people totally didn't see it how I did...

Update: Bush did talk about alternative energy, which I suppose is related to global warming. It's a wood-chips-based future! Anyway, it was mostly a sop to the ethanol lobby. You saw how slobberingly happy Chuck Grassley (R-Where the Tall Corn Grows) looked.

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  Dinesh D'Souza, Wanker

No, I didn't come up with that title, but it certainly does stick in the head. And good thing, too.

Dinesh is now furiously trying to get out of the hole he dug himself into, with his suggestion that the right and the radical Islamic terrorists were natural allies against the American left. He has to square the circle by somehow arguing that, functionally, it's actually the left who are the jihadis' comrades.

The good folks at Sadly, No! - as they are wont to do - illuminate the comprehensive and glorious asshattery at work. Go read, if you haven't already.

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  Senator McConnell, Reality Would Like to Have a Word With You

Senate Minority Leader says:
A word of warning as we move ahead: Democrats in Congress have inherited a strong economy. Over the last four years, we’ve seen the greatest housing boom since World War II, helped create more than 7 million new jobs, and seen the Dow Jones Industrial Average reach its highest point ever. These achievements are the result of the 2001 and 2003 tax relief passed by a Republican Congress at the urging of President Bush.
Reality responds:
Serious economic challenges exist at the personal level for middle class Americans and at the macroeconomic level in communities across the country. Personal economic anxieties played a significant role in the last fall’s congressional elections. While many in the media or in the current administration seek to portray these feelings as mysterious or unfounded, a close look at recent economic data shows that the typical American faces real economic insecurity, shrinking job opportunities, declining upward mobility, and a growing inability to save and accumulate wealth. In addition, our nation’s large and rising foreign debt—much of which grows out of an unsustainable federal budget deficit—exacerbates these insecurities and threatens future improvements in most Americans’ standard of living.

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Monday, January 22, 2007
  Old Dirt, New Dirt - Some Folks Just Need Dirt

Kevin Drum lists some reasons why he thinks Hillary will win - not just the primary, but the whole thing. One of them:
She has nowhere to go but up. Seriously. Every nasty thing that can possibly be said about her has already been said. Her negatives may be high, but that's mostly among Republicans who won't influence her primary chances and wouldn't vote for a Democrat in the general election anyway. Rush Limbaugh will spew his usual swill to the dittoheads, but for the most part all the old attacks will seem, well, old. (And this is one area where the iron laws of the press corps will work in her favor. Old scandals are almost never deemed worthy of revival in a presidential campaign. You have to dig up fresh dirt to get their attention.)
That seems like a pretty good point. As much as Republicans salivate over the chance to go negative on Hillary, she's probably already been as damaged as she'll ever be by it, so if the polls say she's still competitive, that's a pretty formidable sign of strength for her.

Still, the conservative movement tends to thrive when it has a good enemy - communism was great; "Islamicism" has been a disappointment, but Bill Clinton was almost as good as the Reds. And we all know how Hillary will play that role for the right. Not that Democrats should choose their nominee based on fears of what the conservatives will think - and it might not be enough to stop her. But candidate Hillary - and especially President Hillary - would be a boon to a conservative movement currently struggling with serious internal strife.

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  Bush Keeping the Insurance Industry Happy

President Bush's proposal for a health insurance tax deduction could cost millions of Americans their employer-based health coverage. Luckily, as the AP reports, it's going nowhere.

But it does represent a dangerous direction in the health care debate: away from a truly progressive policy and straight into the grasping arms of the insurance industry:
[I]nsurers like the president's focus on health care going into the year.

"With the president coming forward and making health care such a major issue on his priority list, I think progress is definitely possible," [Insurance industry representative Karen] Ignagni said. "We're going to see views and positions from all sides. We see that as a very promising thing. More and more people will come to the view that we've reached a tipping point."

Update: Ezra Klein's take on this is completely different. He sees the Bush plan as a small - but at least positive - step toward uncoupling health insurance from work. I absolutely agree with that as a larger goal, but I'm concerned that this kind of incrementalism - limiting deductions on employer-based care without addressing the need for systematic and affordable coverage - could cause a lot of people to lose care they need now. If this is a "tentative first step" towards real reform, great - but how many people will lose their affordable insurance before we step forward far enough?

Update #2: Ezra says, "I was wrong." So never mind. We all agree it sucks.

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  Return of the Smoke-Filled Room?

The Politicker posts a fascinating email from Andrew Rice about what could end up happening as states shift their primaries forward: a return to old-style brokered conventions.
[I]f big delegate states like California and New York move ahead in the calendar, there might not be time for this shaking-out process to occur. It'd effectively be a national primary, taking place over the course of a couple weeks, and you could certainly imagine a scenario where Edwards takes the south, Hillary wins New York and the northeast, and Obama wins Illinois and California --in other words, a return to the kind of fractured regional politics that made the smoke-filled rooms of the old conventions such interesting places to be.
Rice points out that the Democrats, several decades ago, gave a major role to "superdelegates" as a way of stamping out insurgent candidacies.
[M]ost of the superdelegates are party elders--the very sort of people who might be beholden in some way or another to the Clinton machine. So all of a sudden, you have candidates spending the spring courting the likes of Tony Coelho. Journalists everywhere have to start familiarizing themselves with the arcana of delegate selection. The Huffington Post starts a "Draft Gore" campaign. It's chaos--and everyone realizes that the nomination process, though it pretends to be democratic, is really a relic of the party boss era.
Yeah, it would be a PR nightmare and a field day for hacks, but man it would be interesting.

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  De Rigeur in the Anti-Choice Set

Brownback is the new black: Hotline reports from the anti-abortion march in Washington on the label everyone wants to wear.

Sorry, Mitt.

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  Lesson #475 in Not Taking Advice from Your Enemies

Demosthenes wonders what the hell Frank Luntz is doing on the front page of the Huffington Post. Good question. Why should a liberal site waste bandwidth hosting a weaselly screed on 'bipartisanship' from the Republicans' master of focus-group-tested political nastiness?
The only reason he's preaching conciliation is that he knows that liberals tend to respond well to that sort of thing, knows the press likes their Dems fluffy, cute, and conciliatory instead of akin to those mean, hard-edged Republicans, because it makes for a better story, and knows that if they do so, they'll get eaten alive by the employers he really makes money from.
I haven't been alive long enough to see the House change hands more than twice, but I imagine it's always funny to watch the sudden reversal in complaints about majority bullying. That kind of silliness is probably just par for the course.

But Demosthenes is right that Democrats have a particular vulnerability to the 'bipartisan' bug. Consensus is a liberal value. It's become a cliche that progressives win by uniting Americans whereas Republicans win by dividing them. So we have to at least maintain the political appearance of inclusion. But, as I've written before, broad consensus is not the same as total consensus. Progressives need to remember to be united around our values, which are majority values. If Republicans want to support those values - as they did in large numbers during the first 100 hours - then we should welcome them. But 'bipartisanship' for the sake of bipartisanship is just another word for getting suckered.

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"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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