February 27, 2010 - February 20, 2010
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Not understanding the
Secretary of State gig
The worst job in
the new administration? Snake handling in foreign capitals.
CAESAR EVER SERVE?
This isn't a post designed to share insights. It's the exact opposite.
I simply cannot imagine how serving as Secretary of State is going to
advance Hillary's career in any way. If any of you do, please let me
I can sort of see why Obama might offer it to her, though I'd regard it
as a bad decision on his part unless he's desperately looking for cover
on the likelihood that he's going to stay in Iraq despite his many
promises to pull the plug. But he can't entirely escape the blame he'll
receive from the far left if his policy turns out to be Bush Lite, and
if he lets Hillary become the punching bag for it, he'll just look weak.
And what's in it for her? She'll have to give up her only ever elective
office, so it's not likely she'd be signing up for just a year or two.
Which means she'd be subjecting herself to a terrifying gauntlet of
opportunities to look bad -- Iranian nuclear weapons; more disasters in
Israel, possibly unthinkable ones; a ticking time bomb in Pakistan that
will probably explode into chaos while bin Laden continues to elude
capture; ongoing humiliations for the U.S. at the U.N.; double-dealing
from the European Union, which is bound to go on no matter how much
they profess to love Obama; futile negotiations with Saudi Arabia about
everything, complicated by Bill's problematic financial ties to rich
Arabs; the mounting threat to European peace from Russia; and the
possibility of further terroristic attacks by Islamofascists in a legal
and military environment considerably diluted from the national
security first policy of the Bush administration. Even her occasional
past hawkishness on such issues wouldn't net her much in an
administration committed to talking first, second, and third before any
firm response can be attempted.
Consider: if she stayed in the Senate, she'd always have the freedom
to express reservations about administration policy on this, that, and
the other foreigh policy crisis. As a member of the administration,
she'd be a hostage to Obama's inexperience and naivete, the well
demonstrated capability of the U.S. State Department to come to "own"
every Secretary of State since Dean Rusk, and the unquestionable
treachery of every government in the world which thinks it has
something to gain at U.S. expense; i.e, all of them.
In fact, the only reason I can conceive of for Hillary entertaining
such a personally disastrous appointment is, uh, patriotism. Did I just
say that? But no other explanation makes any sense at all. The only one
that computes is that she's thinking, "However bad the Obamessiah turns
out to be, at least I'll be
there to provide the only toughness, common sense, and pro-American
determination to be found in this administration."
Feel free to explain where I'm wrong about this. I have no objections
whatever to Hillary proving herself a patriot. It's just that I don't
believe I'm seeing the whole picture somehow. Please remedy my
blindness if you can.
Well, there is one horrendously Machiavellian reason I can think of,
but it's such a slim chance I don't even want to mention it. So I
won't. Your assignment still stands. If one of you mentions what I'm
thinking about, I'll come clean. I promise.
SURRENDER. I think it's a fair question. Heaven knows they've hung
"vision thing" on every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald
Reagan left office. Needless to say, they've all been found wanting in
this regard, and even conservatives have gnashed their teeth about
their leaders' inability to describe the elusive, oh-so-necessary
'Vision' that should animate voters' desire to work for a Republican
president. Which is the clearest symptom of just how dumb conservatives
have gotten, with special emphasis on the intellectual wing which is so
anxious to tell the rest of us how thick-headed we are in the
contemporary political context.
[Excuse me. Time out for a completely private and personal tantrum
about all the pseudo-intellectuals who are trying to destroy the
conservative movement in the name of saving it through their superior
intellectual command of governance. God damn them all to hell.]
Where was I? Oh. Vision. Not
the job of a conservative, not even
Reagan. As he was at pains to point out to Americans who weren't so
infatuated with their own brilliance as to misunderstand everything he ever said. Vision is
not the job of brainy columnists for the New York Times, the Washington Post, or even National Review. It's the job of
the American people. That's the reason for the amazingly simple agenda
of American conservatives: limit government to the handful of things
only government can do, like defending national security, guarding the
borders, negotiating treaties that benefit the American people, passing
and enforcing laws that keep people from hurting each other and
government from interfering in the people's right to life and pursuit
In short, conservatism is about confining government to the smallest
possible impact on the lives, ambitions, and values of the people it
serves. Indeed, the foremost role of government in the conservative
model is to prevent
government from having a 'Vision.' That would be an infringement
of the people's right to live their own lives in a state of
liberty, autonomy, and individual aspiration. If our government has
reached the state where professional conservative bureaucrats feel the
need for elite, highly specialized professionals to define the
conservative 'Vision' for the rest of us, the battle has already been
lost. What remains is picking the flavor of the authoritarian regime
they intend to impose on the ignorant, contemptible masses.
The Democrats labor under no such constraint. It has always been their
position -- since FDR at any rate -- that the people are helpless,
stupid victims of life and require strong, interventionist policies to
keep them from screwing up their own prospects for relative (and I do
mean relative) contentment. They want to be in charge. They want us to
let them decide what equality
means, what justice means in domestic and
international affairs, what rights people have and should have vis a
government's ability to reallocate resources from individuals to the
authorities, however conceived, and they insist that we trust them to
rectify every injustice
claimed by every group which can organize itself into a bloc of
resentful malcontents with a lobbyist presence in Washington.
Which means that the 'Vision thing' isn't a Republican or conservative
problem; it's an absolute requirement for the liberal ideologues who
insist they can make our lives better by letting them have more control
over our lives. So what constitutes a better life in the liberal
worldview? Do you have any idea? I don't.
All we've heard from Obama is the need for "change." How much change?
When will things have changed enough? Do you know? Have they said? No.
They haven't. We know they want more government. But when will the
government be big enough to suit them? Will they ever say, "At last.
The government is now big enough. No more." There's no way to answer
that question because they define their policies, always, by their
opposition to Republican 'laissez-faire' immorality. What are they for?
Will they be content when all incomes are equal? When no one anywhere
believes in God? When everyone in every nation on earth can break all
the immigration laws of the United States and roost in our cities with
full medical care and complete immunity from deportation on any grounds
ever? Will they be happy when everyone is subject to the same
incredibly expensive government-financed healthcare that has turned
people-killing but equal rationing system in the U.K., Canada, France,
and other EU nations? Will they feel us all ennobled by a mandatory
unionization of all businesses, large and small, such that all small
businesses die and all big businesses are too big to fail and thus
become part of the government as institutional parts of an egalitarian
welfare system? Does their
sense of social justice extend to include every victim in the entire
world, meaning that our progressive impoverishment as a nation in favor
benighted, failed countries in other parts of the world actually
accords with their sense of morality, which they cannot justify in any
sort of religious terms, given their secular atheism, but only to their
ideological preference for punishing their own country and its citizens
in the name of racial, ethnic grievances we should all accommodate
based on their superior sense of political right and wrong?
How many generations back must we look to correct the sins of ancestors
nobody remembers anymore, and will there ever be a day when there is no
political original sin associated with being born white, or male, or of
European or Celtic ancestry rather than African, Native American,
hispanic, meso-American, muslim, or whoever else is endlessly owed
crime was committed against their ancestors by our ancestors?
Will their disgust with the most effective economic system ever devised
finally end when every blue-collar worker works for a union that can
paralyze the economy with a single publicly recorded vote, or will it
continue until every last man, jack, and boy works for the government
itself and every job is paid on the basis of comparable worth,
reparations owed, and affirmative action compensation for ever receding
They don't tell us where their "Vison' ends. They don't describe for us
the world we will live in when all their mandates and judgments have
been levied. They don't tell us what role they see even for the human
race after their ferocious judgment of civilization itself has resulted
in the repeal of technology in favor of snail darters, polar bears, and
Don't they owe us their 'Vision'?
I think they do. And I'll also add a footnote. The presumably missing
conservative 'Vision' isn't really missing at all. It just doesn't look
like a Vision because it's a romance.
Conservatives believe in the
beauty and pathos of individual lives, struggles against the odds,
triumph in the face of daunting obstacles. These are the things which
make life beautiful, exciting, inspirational, passionate, and
fulfilling. Oddly enough, Hollywood agrees. For every lockstep liberal
actor, there is a movie which has made that actor famous in which the
plot celebrates the courage and idealism of a protagonist who refused
to join the safety of the herd and instead took every conceivable risk
to accomplish something brave, improbable, and important. The empty
who play those parts in costumes and makeup are the liberals in the
body politic. The movies themselves, the stories, the great romances
which intensify our experience of life are the conservative vision
that's supposed to be missing in action.
To put the case in brute simplicity. If you're a liberal, you probably
prefer the political stylings of Viggo Mortensen to the character of
Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.
You're welcome to Viggo. A symbol of social justice. Is that Vision? Ha.
What will the liberal national anthem be when they have accomplished
their social and legislative goals?
Thanks to Laura Beth for that glimpse of Paradise.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The fabric of reality has been disrupted,
violated. If the United States of America can elect Barack Obama as
president, we are either living in the Twilight Zone or we are being
given proof that reality itself is not what we think it is. There's
plenty of precedent for questioning the reality of the reality we're
told about. Here's the latest in a long line: a guy who argues quite
seriously that we're all living in a video game:
[T]he generation of a full-immersion
simulation is not only feasible,
but also likely some time in the next 20-30 years. So who is to say
that we aren't already in one? In fact, Nick Bostrom's
Argument makes a compelling case that we probably are.
The argument goes like this…
Someday, we will have the ability to generate and experience these
simulations (the time at which this occurs is called the posthuman
phase). And when we do, we would generate millions of them. From a
logical standpoint, he says that one of three scenarios must be true:
1. We never get to the posthuman phase because we destroy ourselves.
2. We never get to the posthuman phase because we make a conscious
decision not to pursue this technology. Personally, I throw out this
scenario as unrealistic. When faced with any technology that has
inherent dangers (nuclear energy, nanotech, cloning, generating
energies in particle accelerators that are sufficient to create a black
hole), when have we ever made a decision not to pursue it?
But bad examples are instructive. Learning can occur.
3. We do achieve posthumanism. And, since the odds that we are living
in one of the millions of generated simulations is much higher than the
odds that we just happen to be in a reality musing about the
possibilities 20 years hence, we are most probably living in a
all have this power. That's
why Instapunk didn't die at 19.
He was every bit as doomed as Neo. Didn't die. Bug? For sure.
Therefore, if you subscribe to his logic and have an optimistic view of
where we are going as a species, you have to conclude that we are
probably living in a simulation. [YouTube
I'd add a few other points to his argument. If we're experiencing
simulations, some of them at least are experiments designed to see if
we can recognize that that's what they are. Everybody who's
experiencing this particular simulation has already experienced at
least three impossible anomalies given the understanding we're supposed
to share of human history.
1. We didn't die in a nuclear war with
the Soviet Union. Nothing in human history the way we were taught it
explains the fact that a desperate totalitarian regime would choose to
yield power rather than call down all the thunder and lightning at its command in an act of self-immolation such as Hitler wanted and tried to effect.
It makes no sense. Those of us who ddn't experience that end of the
world but a miracle
instead are probably locked in a video game that lets us live multiple
2. We didn't experience a technological armageddon on January
As we've even discussed here before, there's no very good explanation
for that non-event. Another video game reboot we just don't remember.
3. Now we have elected the most inexperienced and unqualified
of the most powerful nation on earth ever. You'd have to go back to
Caligula to find an appropriate analogy. It's Level 7 of the hardest
part of the game. Are you up to it?
Yes. You are. You're in the same simulation with us, and we aways
survive. It's always the others who feel the worst effects, the
violence, the disease, the poverty, the genocide. We're going to be
okay. Just don't lose your head. Keep looking in every nook and
cranny for all the weapons, supplies, and rejuvenating good stuff it's
going to take to enable us to survive to the next level.
It's a game. It's not real. And we know what we're looking for. A
simulation that wants us to go along with the loss of individual
identity in favor of bureaucratic groupthink is also going to have
software that doesn't quite work. Because it was written by groupthink cartoon dudes.
tell me you haven't encountered the blue screen of death at MSNBC during the past
two years. Nothing but.
Don't you notice that it's all dumber and slower than it should be somehow? The DailyKos is a major political influence? The New York Times and the Washington Post are really written by intelligent professional journalists? Andrew Sullivan is conscious? Maureen Dowd is an example of an intelligent woman? Chris Matthews is a journalist? Keith Olbermann is a high school graduate? Please. Please! Cease being alarmed. These are all symptoms of effed up gaming software. We're living in an indescribably bizarre video game experiment, programmed by morons. Look for the Microsoft moments in everyday life. And don't forget them
when you see them. That's how you survive the Obamatrix.
I just can't believe it's going to go down the way
talking about it. I know I'm a dinosaur. I was there at a tiny
back-country racetrack for one of the first ever showdowns between the
legendary Corvette and the mysterious new predator called the Cobra.
The venue was too small for both of them. The corners were too tight,
the straightaways too short. Neither of the competitors was wearing the
kind of shiny paint shown above. The headlights were masked with exes
of black tape, and the bodies were dull with the sweatsuit primer of
gym-rat sluggers who don't care how they look. They both carried too
much power into the turns, their rears swinging like wild left hooks,
but the longest straight went right in front of the stands, and it was
awe-inspiring to see the Cobra run down and pass the Corvette with a
burst of hungry, guttural acceleration that was brand new to an
audience used to thrumming Austin Healeys and singing
This was low, snarling, teeth gnashing horsepower unleashed. The
Americans had entered the
sports car wars, and there was blood in their eye.
But that's the way it's always been. America is competition. Coke versus Pepsi.
versus Burger King. Chevy versus Ford. Mopar against all.
Competition is bred into our bones. Texas versus Oklahoma on the
University versus Michigan at hockey. Harvard versus Yale at football
and presidents. Walmart versus
versus Mobil. (And, yes, we understand that sometimes losers die or get pwned.) The Celtics versus the Lakers. Democrats versus
Republicans. Apple versus Microsoft. East coast versus west coast. The
Yankees versus absolutely everybody else in every city and state. It's all the
They say it's shutting down, that America is closing the door on
capitalism. Don't you believe it. This is still America. Here's the
truth of it.
Millions of American mothers let ther sons play football. It's a game
in which injuries aren't just likely but inevitable. Knees, shoulders,
heads. And the risks go well beyond that to include boos, derision,
defeat, humiliation, and personal failure. Mothers fear ruined knees.
Their sons fear the safety of the bench. Why do they do it? Why do the
mothers offer up their sons? Why do the sons volunteer in such
staggering numbers? The squeamish ones who really believe that we all
want to be protected from every bad eventuality in life should abandon
their worship of grim statistics and look at the everyday statistics.
Every high school in the United States refutes their conviction that
life is supposed to be safe. In America, safety can't hold a candle to
Why do conservative intellectuals struggle so with the difficulties
they perceive in communicating the economic tradeoffs between risk and
reward? Because they're just plain ignorant themselves. The American
people understand the relationship between risk and reward perfectly
well. They live it every day. Their son is a linebacker or a
quarterback -- or an X-Games skateboarder, a drag racer, a motocross
competitor, a junior bull rider, a Golden Gloves boxer -- and they know
that the quest for victory can exact a terrible price. They do not
demand an end to risk. Only that the rules be fair and equitably
enforced. No matter how many pictures we see on the network news of
people with their hands out, that is not
the American Way. We have not
become a nation of whining soccer moms who want all games to end in
ties and no child to get his feelings hurt because he's no damn good at
the game. That may be the way the Europeans see things, but it's not
how we see things in America.
If you have any doubts about American exceptionalism, go to the
nearest high school football field this Friday night. You will witness a
scene you can't see anywhere else in the world. And maybe you've been
taught to look down on it. But you shouldn't. Everything you own and
enjoy has been purchased by the kinds of souls you will see on that
football field, youngsters who understand that victory, pride, and
outstanding performance really are worth the risk of humiliating
defeat, broken bones, and the
extreme consequence of death in a game. No other country on earth
understands this so well. Your freedoms were not procured by shrewd
lawyers and slick speechmakers. They were procured in the first place and
protected ever since by the spirit you see on that high school football
field. That spirit has made you free, it's made you rich, and it's made you
complacent, because it's always always there, and you don't have to
have it yourself to benefit from it.
I know it's become the fashion to belittle the unfamous people who
build your houses, fix your plumbing, repair your cars, and fight your
wars. You probably think they're not as smart as you are. They believe
in God, they drink, they smoke, they can't do the Sunday Times
crossword puzzle if they even know it exists, and they can be stampeded
into fear of things they think they don't understand, like economic
crises and mysterious chemical threats. But don't ever think they're
fools. They're not going to let you turn government into the great
eliminator of all risk in life. Whatever you think, they don't all want
to work for the government. They know the extraordinary value of
cheers. And they won't let you take away all the rivalries that infuse
their lives with energy and excitement.
You can bail out Ford and Chevy in the short term. But if you try to
turn them into state-run, can't fail bureaucracies, all the mothers and
sons who make high school football possible will come for you with
pitchforks. And they'll be right to do it. Because this is America. The
land of the free safety and the home of the breakaway running back.
(And while you're at the game you've never bothered to attend before,
check out the parking lot; then tell us that Americans won't fight for
GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Ain't gonna go down that way, bro.)
I know the great liberal dream is to turn America into Europe. It's not
going to happen. Not in the Obama administration. Not ever. Because
even as we speak, some fifteen-year-old boy is practicing to catch the
game-winning touchdown, no matter how much it costs. You can bleed
America all you want, but you'll never bleed that trait out of our
unique and indefatigable people.
Monica has forwarded an irresistible video that seems somehow to go
with this post.
Don't ask me how. I might tell you.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Gathering Storm
is not a screed. It's an attempt to be measured and objective.
. Every U.S. president has two presidencies: the one he
planned on and the one he actually gets. The second usually differs
radically from the first because it is driven by events rather than
plans. It may well be that President Obama is in for the rudest of
shocks, a four-year term in office so dominated by foreign policy
crises that they will eat up the time and energy required for massive
domestic change initiatives.
There are a couple of points worth noting here. American presidents
almost never accomplish the laundry lists of initiatives they describe
in campaigns and state of the union speeches. Like corporate CEOs, they
are most successful when they focus sharply on a short list of top
priorities and give them the close managerial attention needed to
obtain a result something like the original intent. Typically, the best
time for big domestic initiatives is the first term, when momentum can
be generated during the honeymoon period every president has, to one
degree or another, with congress. By the second term, presidents and
congress are, also typically, weary enough with one another that the
president begins to look abroad for foreign policy opportunities --
peace deals, trade treaties, and other legacy items that don't require
as much interaction with Capitol Hill.
There are obviously exceptions to this pattern, but the relative
stability of the Cold War era and its immediate aftermath allowed
two-term presidents the luxury of putting much of the world on hold
while they spent their early years in office trying to fulfill their
biggest domestic campaign promises. Reagan never even met with Soviet
leaders during his first term, for example, and Clinton saved the
Kosovo intervention, his Irish peace initiative ands his
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for the years after he had made some
progress on "it's the economy, stupid." Even George W. Bush managed to
get the ball rolling on his top domestic priorities before 9/11 swept
the table clean of his original agenda: His tax cuts, the "No Child
Left Behind" education bill, and the new drug entitlement for seniors
squeaked through in his first term.
Interestingly, the exceptions tend to prove the rule. Jimmy Carter
focused disproportionately on foreign affairs -- brokering the
Israel-Egypt peace treaty and destabilizing friendly dictators in
Nicaragua and Iran -- with the result that Iran and unaddressed woes in
the domestic economy blew up in his face and cost him a second term.
George Bush the Elder spent a disproportionate amount of his one term
in office turning back Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which made him seem
too remote from the lives of average Americans and caused them to vote
him out in favor of Clinton.
It's clearly the hope of the Obama administration that they'll be able
to repeat the Reagan-Clinton formula. A principal stated reason for Obama's
determination to withdraw from Iraq, for example, is to end the
distraction it represents from addressing domestic priorities. He wants
to reallocate the money, time, and attention that Iraq has consumed
over the past five years to improving the lives of poor and middle
class Americans. His avowed intention to trade unilateral action
overseas for talks and multilateral negotiations also, in this
context, represents a belief that the world can still be put on hold --
stalled, if you will -- for enough time to accomplish key reforms at
But there's a good chance that the universal dislike of George W. Bush
has caused even the smartest of the experts to miss a big, and ironic,
hallmark of his presidency. The unpredictable and much despised cowboy
has, to a very significant extent, done what should be impossible in
the chaotic post-Cold War, post-9/11 political environment -- he has put the world on hold in such a
way that it resembles the time when flare-ups could routinely be
prevented from ballooning into disasters by the grim controlling
caution of American and Soviet leaders determined to avoid fatal
confrontations with each other.
This relative quiet in the global political environment is not like the
stasis of the Cold-War. It just looks like it in an oddly reassuring
way. North Korea goes rogue and then pulls back at the last minute.
Iran blusters and threatens but keeps returning eventually to the
circular but comforting delay of more talks with the Europeans.
Hizbollah, Hamas, and other deadly firebugs in the middle east keep
playing with matches but put them aside just before they light a
wildfire that can't be contained. Russia flexes its muscles and makes
reckless moves in eastern Europe but then ever so slowly subsides into
bellicose calm. Pakistan looks ready to implode into civil war but
somehow elects a fragile government to replace Musharraf, and the
world's most unstable nuclear power keeps limping along. That's how the
world has worked throughout most of our lives, and it's how it will
keep on working, right? There is time to deal with problems in a fairly
orderly way. If he's steady behind the wheel, President Obama will be
able to steer us safely through it all and find the time to do the
necessary things at home before events appropriate his agenda. Right?
Maybe. But probably not. When Bush leaves office, it will be like the
marshal turning in his badge and riding out of Dodge City. It's the
worldwide fear of how the United States will react that has kept the
global pot simmering just below a boil. Even if they suspect that Bush
won't call in airstrikes or a battalion of marines in response to a
truly provocative act, they don't know it for sure. And so they
hesitate, they think and think again, and then they wait. What are they
waiting for? For Bush to be gone. As he will be in January 2009.
George W. Bush has been a one-man Cold War, the kind of stabilizing
influence created by the perception of a danger that transcends local,
personal rivalries and grudges. That's the irony of our current
situation. And it's a truly colossal
irony. Americans are tired of
being not liked around the world. Obama promises to change that. He
proclaims his intention to conclude the American Cold War against the
world. He will no longer act hastily and unpredictably. He will put
away the big stick. He will be reasonable. And we are buoyed and reaffirmed in our
support for him by the fact that the world cheers when we elect him to
Why are they cheering? Because things will slowly get better in
international affairs as the civilized norms of traditional diplomacy
are gradually restored to their proper place? Or because there will be
a sudden sizeable window of time in which a young, naive, and
inexperienced president of the United States will be trying to do too
many things at once -- learn the job, staff his administration, resolve
an economic crisis, and pursue an extraordinarily ambitious domestic
legislative agenda -- leaving the door open for bold moves
around the globe he can't possibly respond to effectively?
There are already numerous signs that it's the latter. The world
is about done with waiting. They're getting ready to rumble. Maliki is
preparing to push back hard against the Obama administration in Iraq.
The rattle of sabers in Iran
is growing ominously louder. The other players in the middle east -- Syria,
-- are already nearly at the boiling point The always unsubtle
Russians have been signaling their intentions for months
and getting bolder by the day.
Movements under the surface of the uneasy relationship between Taiwan
and China are threatening to erupt into sudden crisis. Add to this
mix the worldwide economic uncertainty, the economic desperation caused
by plunging oil prices in oil-exporting autocracies like Venezuela and
Russia, and the growing instability of regimes in North Korea and Cuba,
where the age and ill health of long-time dictators could cause
collapse or civil war at any moment, and you have a recipe for multiple
massive international crises within months or even days of Obama's
Has anyone given much thought to Joe Biden's odd candor about the
"testing" of Barack Obama? What he didn't say was that the consequences
of such testing might be so serious and long-lasting that they could
entirely co-opt the Obama presidency. He might find himself putting out
fires around the world full-time from day one.
I hope I'm wrong. But I might not be. The Obama honeymoon that begins
in January could quickly turn into a nightmare for everyone. If he can
talk his way out of it all as he seems to believe, good for him. But
there's reason to doubt that's the way world works right now, if it
Pray for him. Or if you can't do that, pray for us.
This post has no real import. It's just funny. And sad.
Actually, mostly sad. The way
things can be in this explosive new media environment. It's a vignette,
really. About Daily Pundit, alias Bill Quick, the blogger who coined
the term "blogosphere" and helped usher in our grand new age. I've had
some communications with him in the past, and he seemed a decent guy,
but I'd lost track of him until one of the commenters here at InstaPunk
checked in yesterday
Today I got into a disagreement with
Daily Pundit proprietor Bill Quick for having the temerity to suggest
that 1) IP is a better-written blog than most; and 2) that
conservatives need to be more aggressive:
His response was less than encouraging; he started by belittling this
place, then by attacking me for apparently responding to a post in
which he specifically called for comments.
Really, with friends like that . . .
In response to queries, he elaborated, as follows:
In my comment to Daily Pundit I was
trying to make a point about
conservatives being soft and not being sufficiently fierce about the
language they use when attacking or defending certain policies. He
apparently thought I was off-topic; I then re-commented to explain
myself. Which I did pretty well, I thought. I also thought I did it in
a non-personal way. His follow up said I'd insulted him. Which I
hadn't. However, in the spirit of not being too big a jerk, I told him
no offense intended (which was true). Now I'm wondering whether I
That being said, the whole exchange was
instructive for me.
funny thing is, I don't think his posts are badly written, generally
speaking. They don't have the eloquence of a lot of the stuff here, but
hey that's life.
I was curious, because as I mentioned, I've had contact with Bill
Quick, and so I followed the link in the comment and found that the
"belittling" included traffic data for his blog, Ace of Spades, and
other famous righty blogs compared to the much lower traffic figures
for Instapunk. His scornful conclusion was that we don't matter because
we're a ratings loser. Kind of like "Knight Rider," I guess. I thought
that was funny, so I posted a jocular comment of my
own based on our previous acquaintance:
Well, you’ve turned into a nasty old
bugger, haven’t you?
I, for one, have never held your high traffic against you. I’ve never
once compared you and Ace to Jacqueline Suzanne and Stephen King, who
were after all the greatest writers of their time because their sales
were so high.
Is the ACP — and all the weighty responsibilities associated with it —
sapping your sense of humor? I fear so. Tell you what. Try watching a
few episodes of AbFab, South Park, and House. See if your dangerously
inflated amour-propre doesn’t shrink a quart or two after a few
hubris-puncturing laughs. You’ll feel better for it. I promise.
Late this afternoon, I decided to visit his blog and see if he'd read
or responded to my joust. But I couldn't get there. I don't mean I couldn't make a comment or access existing comments. I couldn't get to DailyPundit.com at all. Instead, I got a series of
"403" error messages telling me I was "not authorized to access this
site." I tried various other ways of getting there, including cutting
and pasting the link from the comment that had first piqued my
interest. I even ventured over to instaPundit and clicked from his
blogroll. Nothing doing. So I consulted with my webmaster, who was able
to access the site, and he sent me Bill Quick's response to my comment:
Just to make things clear, no one from here started a "blog war," and
the only commenter who referenced this site at DailyPundit did so on
his on own hook, without any prompting from us. He was also -- you can
look it up for yourselves -- both polite and conciliatory about the
possibility of having given offense where he meant none.
But what's more interesting is the part where Bill Quick says, "I was
only peripherally aware that your blog even existed."
Which doesn't quite square with my own records. Quick announced
six months ago that he was interested in founding a new political party
to replace the failed Republican Party. He asked for volunteer
contributors. I volunteered by email (under my own name but with
reference to Instapunk) and
received an almost immediate response, which I quote verbatim:
I'm happily familiar with Instapunk.
I'm trying to organize this on the principles Glenn Reynolds talks
in An Army of Davids - let it more or less self-organize within certain
broad confines. (As an example of "confines," I turned down one
applicant who was honest upfront and asked me if there would be any
objections to an editor with a "cynical voice." I told him he was
than welcome to comment, but editors, at least in the early stages,
would need to be more idealistic than cynical about the overall project
- at least when they are nominally representing it.
I'd like to see this venture's web presence eventually approach the
level of Daily Kos, but from a conservative pov. My notion right
to sign up as many conservative voices as I can who are interested in
pushing the project forward. I don't expect anything of any
editor except that. In this case "editor" might be better
I'm hoping that out of this initial mix of contributors and commenters,
we will begin to naturally develop an organizational structure, an
ideological stance, and, at some point down the road, an actual
political party. But even before that, we might find ways to act
pressure group and a fundraising and support entity for candidates of
any party who seem to deserve our support.
Go here to log in:
Your username will be: XXXXX (case matters)
Your password will be: XXXXX- please change to something else
after you log on.
Your display name will be: XXXXX (you can change it to something
else after you log on).
I'll use the email on this letter as your official email. You can
change it after you log on, if you'd like.
I did post. I posted this, in fact:
The American Conservative Party. It's a big idea. Bill Quick has to be
commended for setting this monster in motion. He's asking us all to
take a step back from the cut and thrust of everyday politics and
think. About who we are. What we want. How we might conceivably get
Anyone who's seen my site, Instapunk.com, will suspect that my whole
purpose is to make trouble. That's not true. I am a real conservative.
I have two credentials most of you don't have -- which is good news for
you, because having my credentials would make you as old as I am. I was
raised by rock-ribbed conservatives who lived through FDR and Truman,
despising every minute of it, and then I went to Harvard, where I
encountered a concentrated propaganda effort intended to make me hate
It was the heart of the Vietnam era. I won't dwell on it, but I
experienced the demonstrations, the mimeographed hate letters to the
United States, the nonsense of tenured professors prostituting their
reputations to condemn their own country for opposing the most
murderous totalitatarian regime in recorded history. I participated in
the draft lottery-- after my WWII vet father told me not to
volunteer for a war our country didn't want to win -- and I lost. The
top third of the lottery, into which I fell, was expected to be
drafted. Except that year was the first in which no one was taken. The
war was over when I turned nineteen.
The easy conclusion is that I missed the war. But I didn't. The Vietnam
War has never gone away. I've lived to see the people who swore they'd
never fight it become congressmen, senators, cabinet officials, and
presidents. I've lived to see them in charge of U.S. foreign policy.
And I've lived to see all the avowed draft dodgers take over the best
colleges and universities in the country. There is now an entire
generation in power which has never been tested against their own fear.
I went to Harvard because my father was determined that his children
would be educated in the Ivy League. What he couldn't control was that
I would come of age in South Jersey, where you were judged by how well
and how fast you could drive. For the sum of $300 I bought a 1970
Chrysler Newport convertible and rebuilt it with a high-performance 440
engine, headers, dual exhausts, Koni shock absorbers, metallic brakes,
and police pursuit radial tires. It became a 4,000-pound car that could
do zero to sixty in six seconds. One night, in my hometown, I raced an
IROC Camaro up the narrow main street, passing within several inches of
the bridge oiver the town's river. I barely made it but I beat his ass.
That's how I learned fear. And
the way to conquer it.
Does all this seem off point? It isn't. Life is about fear. It's also
about the difference between social acceptability and self-confidence.
I'd like to suggest that politics begins with personal
experience. You learn to drive like hell, run like hell, block like
hell, throw or bat like hell, or you settle for being a liberal.
Which is another way of saying that being a conservative is about
aspiration. Conservatives expect more of themselves, their families,
their business partners, their representatives.
As I said up top, this is only a first step. Being a conservative is
not about being rich, cautious, or retiring. It's about the joy of
living, even when the bureaucracy is determined to view you as a unit.
Government is not about the joy of living. It's about the joy of
controlling others. And mostly, the control is designed to keep those
others from seeing the weaknesses of those in charge.
The American Conservative Party should be about living. That's the
ideal. Which suggests that the name might be wrong. Our mission isn't
to protect, defend, hold the line, keep the faith, or other
backward-moving concepts. It's about freeing people from those who
would tell them exactly how to live. It's about letting the fresh air
I'll elaborate on this in another post. In the meantime, don't think
defense. Think aspiration.
Bill didn't exactly like this post. He commented (yes, personally) that
the name of the
party was not up for debate. But I wrote a second post anyway:
What's in a name?
In my first post here (2/6/08) I suggested that 'American Conservative
Party' might be the wrong name. Here's why I believe that and why I
We think of ourselves as conservatives because the positions we tend to
share are based on time-honored verities of American experience. We
believe in limited government because the founding fathers' greatest
fear was big, tyrannical government. We believe in a strong national
defense because that was one of only a handful of roles the
Constitution specifically assigned to the federal government. We
believe there is a role for religion in public life because the
original intent of the "separation of church and state" was to protect
religion from government, not the other way round. We believe in the
sanctity of life, particularly with respect to abortion, because there
is no basis whatever in either the Constitution or our religious
tradition for depriving the smallest and most helpless among us of
their right to live. Our specific policy positions tend to arise fairly
directly from these bedrock principles of the past. Thus, we see
ourselves conserving that
But this is a fantasy, possibly a dangerous one. The reality is that
almost no one alive has ever cast a vote prior to the New Deal
political era that fundamentally changed the relationship between
Americans and their government. Throughout our own lifetimes we have
witnessed a political evolution from large, intrusive federal
government to incredibly larger, almost paralyzingly intrusive
government. In this context, the real
conservatives are those who have resisted periodic Republican attempts
to slow down this evolution or undo some of its more dramatic
expansions of unconstitutional federal power.
Democrats are no longer agents of change in the American political
system. They are the
reactionaries, constantly promulgating the same tired old prescriptions
and platitudes for every new circumstance in a rapidly changing world.
That's why Clinton and Obama never really say anything in their
speeches and debates. They're the ones whose message is reducible to
"stay the course." If we have a problem, they will legislate an
expensive federal program to put a bandaid on it. If we have a problem
that can only be dealt with by a demonstration of national character
and courage, like the war against Islamofascism, they will turn their
backs on it, because the character which forms the backbone of the
Constitution was muscled out of our system a generation ago. It is the
Democrats, not the self-styled conservatives, who are clinging to a
past which encompasses the entirety of almost all our lives.
Why does this matter?. Isn't it just a semantic distinction I'm
a vain argument about a meaningless label? No.
There are only two kinds of political parties. There are 'club' parties
which provide a refuge for members of a like-minded minority who can't
bring themselves to associate with the mongrel philosophies of those in
power. And there are parties which really do seek to govern by creating
alliances among people and constituencies like-minded enough to work
together for what they agree is most important. Which kind of party do
you want to belong to? I prefer the latter because I've lived through
many years when the Republican Party had, in reality, become the
former. That situation only changed when a new vision opened the door
to forming alliances with people old-style republicans could never have
imagined in their cohort -- all those blue-collar Reagan Democrats.
We face a similar opportunity right now -- if we can give up licking
our wounds long enough to see and grasp that opportunity. If we can
just give up the notion that we are hanging grimly on to a tradition
that grows fainter by the day, we might begin to understand that our
real mission is to innovate a better future for our nation, its
children, and its diversifying citizenry. We might also recognize that
we are really the ones who have as much faith in the tools of right now
and the future -- technology, global economic systems, and the
potential breakthroughs of scientific research -- as we do in the
philosophical roots of our history.
There are at least two significant constituencies who, if they only
knew it, should be flocking to a new party with core beliefs like ours.
Young people in the workforce -- between 22 and 35 -- will be the most
immediate and hard-hit victims of whatever form of national health care
the Reactionaries manage to pass into law. The dirty secret of all the
proposals is that they will be funded by compelling the financial
participation of those who are presently opting out of the existing
insurance system because they are willing to accept the risk for other
rewards of their own choosing. They are looking straight down the
barrel of a monstrous, effective tax hike.
The same is true of whatever plan the Reactionaries eventually adopt to
"save" Social Security. A dramatically increasing population of old
people will be raiding the pockets of young workers at an accelerating
rate. They should be with us, fighting to protect their own financial
futures by forcing government to back off and seeking innovative ways
to apply free-market efficiencies to both these swords of Damocles. Yet
where are they while we bicker here about who's the real conservative
and who we just can't bring ourselves to support in our fierce little
bubble? They're cheering wildly at the utterly vacuous rhetoric of
Barack Obama. They are proud to be liberal, progressive Democrats
because they know
Conservatives are wicked old ignorant fuddy duddies.
The other big chunk of the electorate who should belong to our party is
African-Americans. It was the Democrats who trapped them in the
nightmare of the welfare state in the first place, who doomed them to
perpetual doubt in the workforce through the pernicious implementation
of affirmative action. It is the Democrats -- and their blood alliance
with the teachers unions -- that have amputated the best possible route
to economic freedom and properity by preventing adoption of a voucher
system that would give even poor people an opportunity to choose among
competing elementary, middle, and high schools.
And now it is everyone but the hated conservatives like us who are
dealing them the most deadly body blow of all -- cutting away all the lower rungs of the economic
ladder they have to climb by facilitating the influx of an endless
supply of cheap labor that costs unskilled native-born Americans the
ability to negotiate fair living wages with private employers. More
than that, as they do manage to climb higher on that ladder, they will
be compelled to fork over more and more of their newfound prosperity to
an indigent immigrant population that has paid nothing like the dues
which have been historically paid by African-Americans.
What's in a name? To these groups, an "American Conservative Party" is
pre-branded as an irrelevant, probably backward-looking party of the
club type. It doesn't matter how unfair that pre-branding is. A
lifetime of liberal propaganda has convinced them they know who and
what you are. Besides, it's not
completely unfair. Conservatives have fostered their own delusionary
culture, one that compels them to keep looking back -- to Newt, to
Reagan, to Eisenhower -- and therefore denies them the energy of their
faith in the future-building power of character, values, technology,
and an optimistic view of the potential of the unfettered human spirit.
What if, for just a moment, everyone reading this put the word
"conservative" out of mind, out of the philosophical universe
altogether? If you wanted to initiate revolutionary change, rethink the
systems of government and statecraft to make them more capable of
unleashing the power of ordinary Americans to gain more, and more
prosperous, control of their own lives, how would you go about it? Who
would you campaign to attract to your side? How ambitious would your
goals and aspirations be? What kind of future can you imagine in your
If your answers are anything like mine, you can't even come up with an
appropriate qualifying (i.e., limiting) adjective to take the place of
'conservative.' You might find yourself thinking of The American Party.
After that, I ceased getting emails from Bill Quick and the American
Conservative Party, and my access dried up. It appears that he
continues to toil away at his grand delusion, which is like many
creations of the internet a fantasy, but the ACP ste has steering
committees, sponsors, organizing committees, and lists galore.
Despite his wrath, I wish him well. But I will mildly rebuke him for
assuming that this site is seeking the kind of notoriety and clout that
being so earnestly solicited by organizations like, say, the American
Conservative Party. I also resist the charge that we have done, "Oh,
that’s right, nothing."
It's an interesting accusation coming from such a devout conservative
-- that is, one of those who believe so particularly in the
inviolability and autonomy of the individual. Is it really a crime that
Instapunk has chosen to embrace the value of the individual voice
rather than organize and assemble compulsively to form a thundering (or
whispering) herd capable of commanding the attention of media, other
competing organizations, and advertising dollars?
Is it nothing that we write sincerely or satirically or dismissively
about the great events of the day from decidedly individualistic
perspectives? And if it is nothing, why
is it nothing? Because it's objectively without value? Or because it's
not of measurable value in an
increasingly mass culture driven by
polls, counting algorithms, sales figures, and audience share?
Well, when the fame bug bites you, your values tend to change. I
suspect our biggest sin here is that our values haven't changed. We
just go on doing what we do. In one of his responses to the commenter
who had the unfortunate run-in with Bill Quick, CountryPunk advised him
not to be dispirited because:
There are plenty of good bloggers out
there, but they're mostly the
ones who aren't peddling their podcasts, running for Conservative Blog
of the Year, or starting their own political organizations.
Blogs are letters to the editor. When
they try to be more than that, they generally wind up being nothing.
But when he wrote that, he didn't know that Bill Quick owned the
monopoly on the definition of 'nothing.'
Still. We're content with our "pathetic little shithole." We're pretty
proud of the kind of traffic
we have. They're people worth trying to influence with good ideas and
provocative questions. They think about things. Would you rather be
Simon Cowell or a teacher who knows for a fact that he inspired one
student to make more of his life than he would have otherwise?
Elections and politicians come and go. I think we're writing about more
than party politics here. But, then again, what do I know? All I have
to go on is "a solid foundation of popular television shows."
As always, we'll trust you to make your own decisions about all that.
And if you don't mind, we'll indulge ourselves with a small chuckle
that technorati is certain not to overhear.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
From reality to interpretive legend
disturbing relic. The creeping amnesia of war.
. Like everyone else who remembers that today is Veteran's
Day, I thank all those who have carried arms in the service of
our country, with particular emphasis on those who have served so
honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan since the events of 9/11. By devoting
this post to the day which began this annual commemoration, I am not
ignoring those who have paid many different kinds of prices for their
service in these conflicts. I am trying to remind my countrymen of a
few important lessons from the past that are still relevant to our
present and future rules of engagement in foreign theaters of combat.
November 11 became a sacred date in 1918 with the Armistice that
concluded hostilities in World War I. Here are excerpts from an account
of that day:
The final Allied push towards the
German border began on October 17, 1918. As the British, French and
American armies advanced, the alliance between the Central Powers began
to collapse. Turkey signed an armistice at the end of October,
Austria-Hungary followed on November 3.
Germany began to crumble from within. Faced with the prospect of
returning to sea, the sailors of the High Seas Fleet stationed at Kiel
mutinied on October 29. Within a few days, the entire city was in their
control and the revolution spread throughout the country. On November 9
the Kaiser abdicated; slipping across the border into the Netherlands
and exile. A German Republic was declared and peace feelers extended to
the Allies. At 5 AM on the morning of November 11 an armistice was
signed in a railroad car parked in a French forest near the front lines.
The terms of the agreement called for the cessation of fighting along
the entire Western Front to begin at precisely 11 AM that morning.
After over four years of bloody conflict, the Great War was at an end.
Colonel Thomas Gowenlock served as an
intelligence officer in the American 1st Division. He was on the front
line that November morning and wrote of his experience a few years
"On the morning of November 11 I sat in my dugout in Le Gros Faux,
which was again our division headquarters, talking to our Chief of
Staff, Colonel John Greely, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peabody, our
G-1. A signal corps officer entered and handed us [a cable from Marshal
Foch announcing the Armistice].
'Well - fini la guerre!' said Colonel Greely.
'It sure looks like it,' I agreed...
My watch said nine o'clock. With only two hours to go, I drove over to
the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy
and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me
that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last
eleven o'clock came - but the firing continued. The men on both sides
had decided to give each other all they had-their farewell to arms. It
was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately
many fell after eleven o'clock that day.
All over the world on November 11, 1918, people were celebrating,
dancing in the streets, drinking champagne, hailing the armistice that
meant the end of the war. But at the front there was no celebration...
After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the
daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy,
the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony.
Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier
temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the
embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little
crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an
exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of
their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories
paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St.
Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan.
What was to come next?...
Meuse-Argonne: The largest
American cemetery in Europe.
Please take the time to watch this brief
video about the place.
For many, nothing would come next. American dead in World War I totaled
more than 116,000. Something to remember for those who once supported
our current military campaigns but have grown weary and lost patience
with such an inexcusably long war -- short wars aren't automatically
more efficient or brilliantly administered. Our casualties in WWI
occurred in just seven months
American combat. Those who now wish to jump-start the Afghan
campaign by sending in huge numbers of American troops might pause to
reflect that big armies can come to grief more catastrophically than
small ones, and in the wrong kind of terrain (as Afghanistan has been
since the days of Alexander the Great), big armies are actually an
invitation to catastrophe.
There are other sobering reminders embedded in our mostly forgotten WWI
experience. Our troops in that conflict were told they were fighting a
"war to end all wars" and that their victory would "make the world safe
for democracy." Victory is what they achieved, witness the facts quoted
above: "Germany began to crumble from within... the Kaiser abdicated;
slipping across the border into the Netherlands and exile." But there
are two equally important components of a successful military campaign.
The first is conquest on the battlefield. That was achieved in 1918.
The second is careful negotiation of the peace and intelligent
administration of its terms. This did not occur in 1918 or after.
It is possible, and even common, for politicians to lose a war at the
peace table after it has been won in battle. That is precisely what
happened with the Treaty of Versailles which was negotiated after the
1918 armistice. Our troops came home almost immediately, and French and
English troops also stood down in short order after installing a weak
democracy in Germany that never had a chance of meeting the
needs of its war-devastated and divided populace.
Tumultuous events aren't over and settled just because you want them to
be or because it's more convenient to pretend they are. Turning your
back on complicated situations you don't have the wit or energy to deal
with appropriately can get you stabbed in the back. Which is how Hitler
-- in just 20 years -- turned Germany's military defeat in WWI into the
single greatest threat to western democracies they'd ever experienced.
Politicians transformed the sacrifice of all the World War I dead into
wasted lives. In particular, the Americans died in vain. Unlike their
European counterparts, they weren't fighting to restore an uneasy
status quo among rival kingdoms. They were fighting for a vision of
world peace, a profound change in a sick and dangerous region of the
world. But their leaders didn't have the patience or the vision to
carry out their part of the mission. And so the Americans, I repeat,
died in vain.
We are on the brink of a very similar situation. The Democrats and
their supposedly visionary standard-bearer are poised to take the
military success that has been achieved thus far in Iraq and do little more with
it than declare victory and "bring the boys back home." And as they openly
contemplate such a potentially disastrous course, they look damn
self-righteous doing it.
That's why, today, I'd ask everyone to remember future veterans in
addition to those from the past and present. If we bungle the next
"peace," we will all be doing our part, even if through mere laziness,
to ensure a whole new generation of American dead and wounded in wars
not yet dreamed of. But just because no gun has yet been fired at the
soldiers in those wars doesn't mean we're not already carrying the
crosses that will be placed on their graves. We are. We are the people.
We are the government of the United States. We are responsible for what
is done in our name. And right now we are blind to the future our votes
are helping to create.
Something to think about. On Veterans Day. On Armistice Day. The day
the peace that wasn't was signed.
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