Archive for the 'Paradigm Shift' Category

Prince Charles tries, unsuccessfully, to ‘hijack’ a religion

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Weren’t we just talking about this? Why, yes we were, and here’s Prince Charles, in a speech at a Saudi University, already taking the lead on the task of finding new metaphors in Islamic texts so that sharia can save itself in its conflict with the modern world (via Guardian):

Focusing on the interpretation of religious texts, Charles told his audience: “We need to recover the depth, the subtlety, the generosity of imagination, the respect for wisdom that so marked Islam in its great ages …”What was so distinctive of the great ages of faith surely was that they understood, that as well as sacred texts, there is the art of interpretation of sacred texts – between the meaning of God’s word for all time and its meaning for this time.”

Prince Charles’ attempt to hijack Saudi Islam by injecting a little metaphor into its dreary, oppressive literalism was profoundly unsuccessful. In Saudi Arabia it is apparently literally true that some things never change; the paranoia in the second paragaph is also a nice touch:

Initial reactions to the speech from students interviewed by Reuters were far from encouraging. “Charles and the west don’t understand the true Islam,” said one student, Maher al-Sehili. “There’s nothing to change,” said another. “Islam can adapt to any era and any place, but there are no two interpretations to its sacred texts,” said a third.

A 21-yer-old student called Abu Dijana added: “He (Charles) should remember that the Qur’an is sacred. I don’t trust them (westerners) and the Qur’an says it clearly – Jews and Christians will not be satisfied until you follow their path.”

It’s also unlikely that the Prince’s words will generate much wider debate in Saudi Arabia if the Saudi Gazette is anything to judge by. Its report of the speech consisted of vague generalities without a single quote. Not entirely surprising, considering that the reporter assigned to the task was a woman and women were barred from attending.

Well, that was a good try by the Prince, and a dreary, predictable, annoying and tedious response from the mind-numbed Saudi robots, which inspires us to a question. Which is more annoying and tedious: (a) watching fundamentalist Islam head for its nervous breakdown as the modern world refuses to cease its existence in the face of the religious demands that it must; or (b) listening to adminstration functionaries prattle on about the “religion of love and peace.”

The Cartoon Riots, the War, and the Dubai Ports deal

Friday, March 10th, 2006

We have said that the Cartoon Riots were as important in their way as 9-11 and that they were responsible for killing the ports deal. The overwhelming unpopularity of the ports deal — 70% of all Americans — was likely not, however, an emotional spasm by the American people, but a turning point. The fundamental nature of the war has changed in the minds of many Americans. This is no longer is Global War on Terror, but World War IV: the War against Radical Islam. The political class would do well to figure this out.

If the ports deal had come up six months ago, it probably would have gone through. There was no opposition to the deal for the first two months after its annoucement in November 2005. If the Cartoon Riots had not occured during the approval process, the deal likely could have concluded quietly.

At the end of January (us or MM), the Cartoon Riots began, and continued unabated (us or MM) up through and beyond February 13, when the ports deal approval was reported. The visceral disgust at the Cartoon Rioters provided the emotional power that fueled American opposition to the ports deal. The Cartoon Riots changed Americans’ perceptions of the fundamental nature of the war; no longer was it simply a war of “insurgents” and “al Qaeda” against US soldiers. The image of our enemy became this — people in London and the world over who wanted to kill us or convert us:

slaybutcher1.jpg

Muslims from all over the globe reacted to little cartoons — which they had never even seen — with threats to “behead” this one and “annihiliate” that one. They burned buildings and killed people. In London, they shouted strange Arabic chants, and even stranger English chants (“take Danish wives as war booty“). As we said recently: “the Islamists have contrived to make themselves and their religion look repugnant…mobs with primitive bloodlust killing people over drawings, like something out of anthropology class. These riots, making Islamist rioters look like savages, and making the mute among their co-religionists look even worse in their silence, have also brought renewed focus to the atavistic and revolting beliefs of the Islamists about art, the status of women, and their real plans for the Infidels. Many Americans have begun to ask: who would want to have anything whatsoever to do with Islam after watching such violent, threatening, irreligious behavior?” People who riot over drawings are either evil, primitive or mentally unstable; people who riot over drawings for “religious reasons” are all that and deadly dangerous too.

(Meanwhile, the MSM took one look at the violent Brownshirts of our time and their neo Nazi book burnings, and couldn’t begin to bow and scrape fast enough before them, making every kind of excuse for the mobs and their violence and threats; but the people are not as craven or obtuse as the elites.)

In a pre-Cartoon Riot world, the rationale for the ports deal was a plausible one: we need good allies in the Arab and Muslim world to help us defeat insurgents in places like Iraq, and Al Qaeda terrorists worldwide. In a post-Cartoon Riots world, this rationale doesn’t cut it anymore; it is insufficient. Americans now see that Islamists worldwide are arrayed against them, and these Islamists seem vastly more interested in killing Americans than converting them. In such a world, silent Muslims are potentially viewed as unindicted co-conspirators. Places such as the UAE and Dubai suddenly have come to be judged by a higher standard: prove to us Americans that you are on our side, and that you are not sympathetic to our enemy.

Worldwide radical Islam has been at war with the United States at least since the events in Iran in 1979. With the Cartoon Riots, it may be true to say for the first time that Americans have begun to understand and reciprocate.

UPDATE

For a more pessimistic view of what conclusion the America people may have silently drawn from the Cartoon Riots, see David Warren in RCP. He says that there may be a fundamental flaw in the WWII template seemingly applied by the Bush administration to our current conflict. According to Mr. Warren, in President Bush’s view,

we are dealing with what amounts to a planetary civil war, between those who accept the state-system descended from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and an emergent Islamist ideology that certainly does not. To Mr Bush’s mind, only legitimately-elected governments, presiding over properly-administered secular bureaucracies, can be trusted to deal locally with the kind of mischief an Osama bin Laden can perform, with his hands on contemporary weapons of mass destruction.

But Mr Bush was staking his bet on the assumption that the Islamists were not speaking for Islam; that the world’s Muslims long for modernity; that they are themselves repelled by the violence of the terrorists; that, most significantly, Islam is in its nature a religion that can be “internalized”, like the world’s other great religions, and that the traditional Islamic aspiration to conjoin worldly political with otherworldly spiritual authority had somehow gone away. It didn’t help that Mr Bush took for his advisers on the nature of Islam, the paid operatives of Washington’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, the happyface pseudo-scholar Karen Armstrong, or the profoundly learned but terminally vain Bernard Lewis. Each, in a different way, assured him that Islam and modernity were potentially compatible.

The question, “But what if they are not?” was never seriously raised, because it could not be raised behind the mud curtain of political correctness that has descended over the Western academy and intelligentsia. The idea that others see the world in a way that is not only incompatible with, but utterly opposed to, the way we see it, is the thorn ever-present in the rose bushes of multiculturalism. “Ideas have consequences”, and the idea that Islam imagines itself in a fundamental, physical conflict with everything outside of itself, is an idea with which people in the contemporary West are morally and intellectually incapable of coming to terms. Hence our continuing surprise at everything from bar-bombings in Bali, to riots in France, to the Danish cartoon apoplexy.

If David Warren is giving voice to what those repelled by the Cartoon Riots have come to silently believe, then the sea change in American attitudes we have observed is far greater even than we have written.

A question for Shrinkwrapped on David Irving and Islamists

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

After reading a piece by him on David Irving, a question came to mind:

Lately it has seemed to me that something has to give, either Islamist fundamentalist exegesis of the Koran, or the modern world. Fundamentalist Islamism is just about played out in reality. It is economically bankrupt, producing terrible and unnecessary poverty (aside from oil), it produces nothing of value in science and technology (as you noted from my patent piece), it has little art (blowing up statues and forbidding orchestral music), it has little literature (and very few Western books are translated into Arabic); in short, it has nothing to offer the world, and yet these people are taught that they should be in charge of everything and everyone as a matter of theology. It’s as though a whole people were having a nervous breakdown from the completely incompatible messages being delivered from their religion and the world.

Is this not analagous in some way to Holocaust denial — the desperate clining to a sick fantasy in the teeth of the evidence? Is it any wonder that Ahmadinejad himself takes this view?

One man with a sick fantasy like Irving is not a big deal to me. Perhaps I’m wrong, but there you are. However, we now have millions of people, indeed governments, in such a cosmic state of denial about the failure of their religion to deliver the promised goods, that they are willing, anxious to sign on to the strangest and most extravagant fantasies to explain that their problems are really not caused by a flawed belief system.

If a guy like Irving is not treatable to get his worldview to comport with reality, what does this say about the prospects for dealing with the violent and hysterical world of the Islamists, which is based on Koranic exegesis that over and over, every day and minute of the week, the real world demonstrates to be utterly bankrupt?

I’m afraid I just don’t see this having a good end, but maybe I’m missing something. I suppose if there were hope for a David Irving, that might be a different story.

The question may have been rhetorical, in that Shrinkwrapped has in many ways already provided his answer here.

UPDATE

So far, Lileks speaks for us on the port issue. In the immediate aftermath of the cartoon riots featuring hysterical, bloodthirsty and deranged Arabs and Muslims from around the globe — whose actions are either endorsed by or uncontrollable by their governments — the ports fiasco is, at a minimum, a reason the President should watch more TV.

Steele and Rice

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

Shelby Steele provides some insight on one reason that so many in the GOP want Condi Rice to be President:

Precisely because Republicans cannot easily pander to black grievance, they have no need to value blacks only for their sense of grievance. Unlike Democrats, they can celebrate what is positive and constructive in minority life without losing power. The dilemma for Democrats, liberals and the civil rights establishment is that they become redundant and lose power the instant blacks move beyond grievance and begin to succeed by dint of their own hard work. So they persecute such blacks, attack their credibility as blacks, just as they pander to blacks who define their political relationship to America through grievance. Republicans are generally freer of the political bigotry by which the left either panders to or persecutes black Americans.

No one on the current political scene better embodies this Republican advantage than the current secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. The archetype that Ms. Rice represents is “overcoming” rather than grievance. Despite a childhood in the segregated South that might entitle her to a grievance identity, she has clearly chosen that older black American tradition in which blacks neither deny injustice nor allow themselves to be defined by it. This tradition, as Ralph Ellison once put it, “springs not from a desire to deny the harshness of existence but from a will to deal with it as men at their best have always done.” And, because Ms. Rice is grounded in this tradition, she is of absolutely no value to modern liberalism or the Democratic Party despite her many talents and achievements. Quite the reverse, she is their worst nightmare. If blacks were to take her example and embrace overcoming rather than grievance, the wound to liberalism would be mortal. It is impossible to imagine Hillary Clinton’s “plantation” pandering in a room full of Condi Rices.

This is why so many Republicans (including Laura Bush) now salivate at the thought of a Rice presidential bid. No other potential Republican candidate could–to borrow an old Marxist phrase–better “heighten the contradictions” of modern liberalism and Democratic power than Ms. Rice. The more ugly her persecution by the civil rights establishment and the left, the more she would give liberalism the look of communism in its last days–an ideology long since hollowed of its idealism and left with nothing save its meanness and repressiveness. Who can say what Ms. Rice will do. But history is calling her, or someone like her. She is the object of a deep longing in America for race to be finally handled, not by political idealisms, but by the classic principles of freedom and fairness.

Seems about right to us.

Prosecution and Defense share the same argument in Abu Hamza case

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Here’s the prosecution, as reported by Cal Thomas (HT’s: Wretchard, Shrinkwrapped):

In lectures, recordings and writings, the imam said Adolf Hitler had been sent into the world to punish the Jews. Repeatedly, said the prosecutor, Abu Hamza told his followers they must fight for Allah and such fighting involves a religious mandate to murder Jews, kuffars (nonbelievers in Islam) and “apostates,” such as leaders of Arab nations like Egypt. Abu Hamza has pleaded innocent to all 15 charges, including nine counts of solicitation of murder, four counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior intended to incite racial hatred and two counts related to the possession of offensive sound recordings and possession of a copy of the Encyclopedia of the Afghani Jihad.

The talks and written materials are not only about war. Abu Hamza also delivers diatribes about Britain’s licensing laws, the use of additives in food, adultery, the role of women and the “evils” of democracy. Abu Hamza repeatedly defines “jihad” as an avenue for establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, which would be governed by the most radical interpretation of Sharian religious law.

Here’s the defense, via the Times of London:

Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for the defence, said that Abu Hamza’s interpretation of the Koran was that it imposed an obligation on Muslims to do jihad and fight in the defence of their religion. He said that the Crown case against the former imam of Finsbury Park Mosque was “simplistic in the extreme”. He added: “It is said he was preaching murder, but he was actually preaching from the Koran itself.”

It is depressing that still so few people seem willing to face the logic of this situation. But the logic will force itself upon the West eventually. Ever so slowly, we get closer to naming the enemy.

Can one man change the world, or at least a newspaper?

Sunday, January 1st, 2006

Ask Patterico.

The totalitarian impulse of the Left and the craving to be in control

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

From the earliest days of this blog, one of the topics that has been of great interest is the distinct frameworks through which the Left and Right see the world. It continues to be remarkable to us that there is so little overlap between the two. One sees victory, the other defeat, one sees progress, the other chaos, etc; we won’t replay the list here. However there does seem to be a rather broad group of issues on which conservatives agree, involving liberty, markets, the scope of government, and perhaps religion; whereas on the Left we observe a number of policy views which look to us often like spokes of a wheel whose hub is government. What explains the differences in the perspectives and paradigms of the Left and Right — differences that we see widening rather dramatically today?

We have devoted quite a few hours and posts to thinking about the subject, among which are these:

The narcissism of the godless Left
The ruined dictatorship of the intellectuals
Hysteria
Utopia and its enemies
The personal feeling of oppression of people on the Left

We want to make a rather modest observation, but one which we feel has some potential explanatory meaning. In the world of conservative thought, somebody else is often in charge. For the businessman, it is the markets; for the religious person, it is God; for the deciding of important issues, it is the will of the people as expressed in elections and referenda; for the general roles of men and women in the world, it is human nature.

In the world of conservative thought, somebody else is often in charge, and that is just fine; in the world of the Left, if somebody else is in charge, that is the problem.

We often note on the Left: the need to make human nature conform to certain behaviors through speech codes and political correctness; the insistence on numerical quotas and the erasing of differences between men and women; the idealizing of the Supreme Court; the dissmissing of the markets and the attributing of evil intent to corporations; the conclusion that voters are stupid or elections are rigged if results do not go their way. And each of these problems has the same solution: that the man or woman of the Left be put in charge to make the rules for us all.

We are not saying, by the way, that the problems identified by the Left are not real problems; in many cases they are. But often the solution for the Left is not the markets, or God, or elections, or letting human nature sort itself out; it is rather to put the Left in charge so that they can create the best of all possible worlds.

We observe that on the Left, the need to be the smartest person in the room and the need to be in control have a different quality from what we observe on the Right. Don’t misunderstand: we are not saying that people on the Right are any better; nor are we saying that conservatives do not love wealth and power every bit as much as do those on the Left (who often hide these desires), and are often willing to do very unscrupulous things in order to achieve and maintain them.

We are not equipped to give a definitive description of why many on the Left are this way, though we are pretty sure that it begins with an inner feeling and works its way out to the world. We think that many on the Left have a deep, personal sense of oppression, that there is something very wrong with the way the world is set up. The oppressor takes the form of the corporation, or Christianity, or racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, or some other -ism of which they are the victim. Things will not be right until the man or woman of the Left is In Charge! — what they fail to understand is that things will not feel better when they are in charge, but that is another matter. They feel driven to gain the power to impose their will and their vision on others.

That the craving is so raw is evidenced for us by the need of many on the Left to conceal their motivations. By now everyone knows that when a cause is “for the children” they had better grab their wallets and run. How much more pathetic is it when a man like Dan Rather, who achieved the pinnacle of success in his industry, insists to this day that his fake memos are real, and that people won’t pay attention to the truth of the underlying story.

Nobody likes to lose power, and the MSM and the Democratic Left have been losing power for well over a decade now. That is maddening enough. However, we believe we are witnessing something more dramatic in 2005. For example, the attacks on America’s Iraq policy have become completely unhinged, portraying a decent, potentially incredible, victory as a humiliating defeat. The smart thing would be to climb on board the victory train, but the Left and the MSM cannot bring themselves to do so.

What happens when people who feel oppressed and crave power over others see that power slipping irretrievably away? That perhaps is something we shall be able to observe, first-hand, in 2006.

Addendum

It is not suprising, given this analysis, that many on the Left would come to admire the authentic men of violence like Yasir Arafat and Fidel Castro. They are the direct, unashamed men who kill their enemies in the name of the oppressed. To many an intellectual of the Left, such men are a kind of role model, though in reality if such a dictator came to power, the intellectuals would be the first people taken out and shot.

Electoral politics in Iraq is a plausible flashpoint for the Islamic Reformation

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

The essence of change is seeing things in a new way and embracing the fact that you now see them this way.

The Christian Renaissance and Reformation were full of men and society embracing their new perspectives. We have written of Masaccio and the rediscovery of artistic perspective, and what that might mean for today. More on point for today’s discussion is Martin Luther’s radical reinterpretation of Romans 1:17, which says “The one who is righteous will live by faith”. Luther had always been plagued by feelings of inadequacy, since he felt he could never be adequately righteous to be saved; however, in an explosive moment, he turned the text on its head so that it was God’s gift of faith that bestowed righeousness to Luther, and made it no longer something he had to earn. Thus was the Reformation born by Scriptural re-interpretation, as described by Internet Encyclopedia:

Luther finally found the assurance that had evaded him for years. The discovery that changed Luther’s life ultimately changed the course of church history and the history of Europe. In Romans, Paul writes of the “righteousness of God.” Luther had always understood that term to mean that God was a righteous judge that demanded human righteousness. Now, Luther understood righteousness as a gift of God’s grace. He had discovered (or recovered) the doctrine of justification by grace alone. This discovery set him afire.

In 1517, he posted a sheet of theses for discussion on the University’s chapel door. These Ninety-Five Theses set out a devastating critique of the church’s sale of indulgences and explained the fundamentals of justification by grace alone….

We see some of the same forces at work today in Islam and particularly in Iraq. Islamic theology contends that the Koran is literally true, having been given in revelation to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. This would be perhaps of limited interest to non-Muslims, except that sharia or Islamic law is meant to govern all aspects of a Muslim’s life, and sets forth governmental rules, including civil and criminal jurisprudence; and that further, (particularly critical for Islamists) Muslims everywhere in the world should have Islamic rule. This scenario spells trouble for the infidels everywhere, and that’s what we have seen played out worldwide in recent years.

As long as the argument is framed as believers versus infidels, there really is no chance for a satisfactory resolution (speaking as an infidel), since the there is no basis for debate between truth and ignorance or blasphemy, both of which we infidels excel at. We infidels are just plain wrong, and we need to submit to the truth, the precise, literal truth of the Koran.

What happens however, when the two main strains of Islam, each of which views the other as heretical in important ways, have to co-exist in the cutthroat give-and-take of parliamentary politics? What happens when different interpretations of the same sacred texts and traditions, each claiming truth, have to make decisions when fundamental beliefs come into conflict? Maybe you get war until one side achieves its tyranny of ideas, but maybe you get something new. Maybe you get a theology that adapts better to the realities of the world.

Luther didn’t think he was creating any kind of new Christianity. He thought he was clearing away the detritus of past clerical abuses to reveal a meaning that had existed all along. You will recall also that Luther had a civic aim in his 95 theses: he was aiming to clean up organizational corruption in church government in the selling of indulgences for profit. So don’t tell us that theological changes can’t have their foundations in practical problems of government, money and corruption. It happened that way in Christianity, and perhaps it can happen again in Islam.

First there is change, then the noticing of the change, then (if you are lucky) the embracing of the change, and finally a rationale so that the change really wasn’t a change after all. That is what we call progress.

A journalist discovers that doing journalism means stopping the mental replay of “Platoon”

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

We have long been of the view that the MSM’s view of the military comes not from John Wayne movies or Vic Morrow’s Combat! but from Apocalypse Now, Platoon, the Deer Hunter and the like. (We think this change occurred sometime around Dr. Strangelove in 1963, and was beginning to show itself in Seven Days in May and 1963’s Manchurian Candidate. The Kennedy assassination furthered the development of the paranoid school of political/military filmmaking. But we’re not film critics.)

In any case, Margaret Friedenauer, a reporter from Alaska, confirmed our notion that there is a bad movie running in the heads of the MSM when she chanced to question her basic assumption today in Iraq:

Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war. Then think again. I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong. Maybe not wrong, but certainly different than the picture in my head. I liken it to this; It was real struggle for me to choose to see the Harry Potter movies. I had read the books and loved the pictures I had in my mind of the details I read. I didn’t need to see a movie; I had a movie playing in my head of exactly how I perceived the stories. I had similar notions about Iraq, Mosul, the war and what exactly soldiers do…..

I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture. One soldier mentioned it might be a good idea to clean up the trash around one polling place, and another commented on the status of women in the culture, but they were nothing but respectful, friendly and buddy-buddy with the Iraqis they mingled with today. And this is good stuff….

But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one.

This is what change looks like, though, as with all conversion experiences, the question is whether the old template wins in the end or the new knowledge is accepted. (HT: Instapundit)

How your iPod is ruining America

Monday, December 5th, 2005

We have written a number of pieces about the remarkable changes of the last 130 years; they often include a variation of this:

Here is the signal fact of our progress in the last century. If you were born in 1900, your life expectancy was in the forties, and GNP per capita was about $4000. If you are born today, your life expectancy in about eighty, and statistically, as an average American, you are ten times richer. In reality you are a hundred or a thousand times richer, if you factor in your ability to be in Paris tomorrow for $500, your ability to watch events from fifty years ago as they actually happened, etc. – not to mention that your toddler’s severe pneumonia can be reliably cured in 48 hours or so. Only a little of this has to do with government.

Mostly it is because far more than 50% of everything ever invented in the history of humanity was invented in the last 130 years, and perhaps 50% of that was invented by Americans. Milton Hershey invented the candy bar, Carrier invented the air conditioner for a tire plant, Sears invented catalogue distribution, Henry Ford invented cheap cars, some guys from Texas Instruments commercialized the transistor. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the invention and wide use of brand names, which communicate the quality and dependability of every product we buy. This alone deserves the Nobel Prize. And it was a large and growing market, the availability of risk capital, the development of standardized accounting principles, and protection of intellectual and personal property by the courts that made this possible.

We are coming to the end of an era, the time when there will be no one in America who remembers what life was like without telephones, running water, indoor plumbing, cars, airplanes, central heating, or electric lights; for our purposes here, we’ll include the children and grandchildren of these men and women as participating in a chain of continuity to those old days. One of our favorite quotes from Henry Adams is apt: “The American boy of 1854 stood closer to the year 1 than to the year 1900.” Soon, almost no one in America will have a visceral understanding of what 1854 was like, and what the heck Adams was talking about.

It is even worse than that. The transistor was invented in 1947 and patented shortly after, and since that time devices of all sorts have been getting smaller, smarter and less mechanical. There is another loss happening because of this, and Americans — including us — have no idea what it means for the future, though we think it is, on balance, bad:

A typical boy of 1854 knew what farming was like and may well have worked on a farm, knew horses and other animals, and learned how to maintain and fix things, from houses to wagons to furniture. A typical young man of 1947 had been in the army, knew people who lived on farms, could tune and maintain his own car, and could change the fan belt on the refrigerator and refill it with Freon. Both the boy and the young man had some feel for the technologies that were developing and changing around them, since the technologies were often sized on a human scale and involved mechanical processes that they had some acquaintance with.

To an important extent, this is no longer true. You can’t fix an iPod the way you can fix a record player; indeed you can’t even open up an iPod to understand it, as you could unscrew the turntable cover to figure out how 33 1/3 rpm became 45 rpm. Nor can you fool around with a Toyota Prius the same way you could try to replace a 283 with a 327 in a ’57 Chevy.

We are not trying to be gooey and sentimental. We are not romanticizing The World We have Lost. Far from it. Today’s technology provides far greater health and wealth to a vastly larger world population than existed in those other times. We love refineries, steel mills, job shops, machine tools and oil rigs, but we are not suggesting, like Mao, a steel mill in your back yard or, like some current political nativists, some form of return to a manufacturing economy. However, we are saying that it is necessary to understand such things.

We hypothesize that, to some extent, the microchip culture we have now, where miraculous tiny things just somehow work, without moving parts, has produced a form of magical thinking in our country. (We also blame the Hollywood Utopians for this too — their creations often seek, not to mirror or enhance reality, but to create rather harmful alternative realities, but that is another matter.) Americans complain about gas prices, but they don’t like refineries, and they oppose oil drilling in godforsaken wastelands; yet somehow the gas is supposed to be readily available at low prices: this is but one example of a sort of magical thinking that seems to us the exact opposite of the way Americans thought in 1854 or 1947.

We think it is urgent for our future that Americans understand and teach our young people about the enormous developments that have happened since the nineteenth century. So far, such efforts seem to us to be largely centered on self-congratulatory sociological claptrap, where the current generation, with all its “diversity,” is superior to all those who have come before. Such thinking is worse than nonsense; if unchecked, it is a steppingstone to the downfall of the country.

In some small way, we think that standing on its head the thinking of Charles Eliot is what is required today. Harvard President Eliot was a great educator and thinker who changed the classical curriculum to make it more suitable for fast-developing America, through increased specialization. (Eliot began teaching at Harvard in that year of 1854, by the way.) We quote him via an unusually well-written entry in Wikipedia:

“As a people, we do not apply to mental activities the principle of division of labor; and we have but a halting faith in special training for high professional employments. The vulgar conceit that a Yankee can turn his hand to anything we insensibly carry into high places, where it is preposterous and criminal. We are accustomed to seeing men leap from farm or shop to court-room or pulpit, and we half believe that common men can safely use the seven-league boots of genius. What amount of knowledge and experience do we habitually demand of our lawgivers? What special training do we ordinarily think necessary for our diplomatists? — although in great emergencies the nation has known where to turn. Only after years of the bitterest experience did we come to believe the professional training of a soldier to be of value in war. This lack of faith in the prophecy of a natural bent, and in the value of a discipline concentrated upon a single object, amounts to a national danger.”

We agree with Eliot of course that the modern world needs specialization, but it needs anew the inculcation of a general understanding of and feel for the development of our technologies and businesses and how we came so far as a people so fast. There is no argument for Americans’ being as cut off from the world of 1854 or 1947 as they are today; only harm can come from such ignorance.

The Pew study: they didn’t get the memo

Friday, November 25th, 2005

On reconsideration, we may have been too tough on Pew in the post below. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo that said that a lot of things have changed in the last decade.

Pew has been using the same methodology for its study since at least 1993; you can see the summary here and the complete report here. Pew chose the same “opinion leader” types in 1993 that they did in 2005, despite the fact that some of those opinions have been in rather pronounced decline. It looks like they failed to note that a number of things changed in 1994, and that conservative thought and electoral success have been in somewhat of a bull market since then, as we have written. So we can perhaps pardon them for simply doing again what they have always done. A couple of quotes from Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which we cited in a previous piece, might be apt:

In a sense I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. (p. 150)….The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced….

Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are shocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine….[B]ut I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to look at both sides of the question with impartiality.”

And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (p. 151)

Of course we are talking about politics, not science, but it is surely true that most people keep believing and practicing the things they have always known; change is a difficult and slow process. We’ll conclude with a quote from Roger Simon which captures both the idea of stubborn allegiances and the possible momentousness of change when it happens. He was writing of the November 2004 election results:

The Democrats lost in the last election much more seriously than is commonly understood. A swing of three million votes is gigantic in our society where party allegiances are formed in childhood and reinforced by an omnipresent media. We can see the primitiveness of these allegiances in the remaining popularity of Howard Dean, a man who a very few years ago presented himself as a pro-gun centrist, jumping around like a re-upped version of Jerry Rubin to appeal to a segment of the Democratic Party that hasn’t changed one view about anything in thirty-five years. But… and here’s the crux… these people are not that exceptional. Few of us change our views over a lifetime.

Yet, three million did.

We started this piece with the intention to cut Pew some slack. It does not appear intentional that they cited as opinion leaders people who immediately raised red flags for conservative commentators. Pew simply applied the same methodology that they have for years to an opinion survey. However, we’ll cut them only limited slack. It is not unfair to ask a polling and public opinion organization to note when significant changes occur, and make appropriate adjustments to those who count as opinion leaders. After all, public opinion is their business.

Coming soon: Building a bridge to the 19th century

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

You will recall that a few years ago politicians stressed the need to build a bridge to the 21st century. That was precisely the opposite of a critical need in America. In our opinion, building a bridge to the 19th century is one of the most important things we need to do. We will discuss this at length soon. From the Jack Beatty article in the Atlantic in January 2003:

“The American boy of 1854 stood closer to the year 1 than to the year 1900.”
—Henry Adams

We have lost a great deal in the last 100+ years, particularly in the last two generations, even though our lives have doubled in length and we are ten or a hundred times richer. We do not have to give up these good things to reclaim the old; but we risk the good things if we do not reclaim the old.

Beware, but pay attention to, long-term forecasts

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

We were reading this piece on the French riots by Jack Kelly, and came across a reference to the always provocative Asia Times commentator, Spengler; we thought we’d drop in for a visit. (You might also want to read the piece in Asia Times which might be called Tojo Family Values, about WWII revisionism being carried out by the General’s granddaughter.)

Spengler argues that Islam is undergoing a crisis because of the failure of the religion to accommodate to the realities of the modern world. Modern consumerist society is contrary to the rather ascetic, sharia-ruled, usury-forbidden societies favored by the Islamists. Unfortunately for them, consumerist societies are awfully rich, and the ones they favor are awfully poor — in part precisely as a consequence of their religious principles. He sees the crisis as coming to a head because of the ageing of the population:

Muslim countries face breakdown. America now has a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$40,000 and a diversified economy. Iran has a per capita GDP of just $7,000 and depends on oil exports for the state subsidies that keep its population fed and clothed – and Iran will no longer be able to export oil after 2020, according to some estimates.

America can ameliorate the impact of an aging population by raising productivity (so that fewer workers produce more GDP), attracting more skilled immigrants (and increasing its tax base), and, in the worst of all cases, tightening its belt. American life will not come to an end if more people drive compact cars instead of SUVs, or go camping for vacation instead of to Disney World. But the Islamic world is so poor that any reduction in living standards from present levels will cause social breakdown.

In 2002, the United Nations’ Arab Development Report offered a widely-quoted summation of the misery of the present position of the Arab World, noting:
— The average growth rate of per capita income during the preceding 20 years in the Arab world was only one-half of 1% per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa
— One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 per day
— Fifteen percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this number could double by 2010
— Only 1% of the population has a personal computer, and only half of 1% use the Internet
— Half of Arab women cannot read.

Negotiating the demographic decline of the 21st century will be treacherous for countries that have proven their capacity to innovate and grow. For the Islamic world, it will be impossible. That is the root cause of Islamic radicalism, and there is nothing that the West can do to change it.

Among the Muslim states, Iran has seen the future most clearly, and drawn terrible conclusions. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad understands that life as Iranians know it is coming to an end, and has proposed drastic measures commensurate with the need.

In a program made public on August 15, Iran’s new president proposed a pre-emptive response to the inevitable depopulation of rural Iran. He plans to reduce the number of villages from 66,000 to only 10,000, relocating 30 million Iranians out of a population of 70 million. In relative terms, that would be the biggest population transfer in history, dwarfing Joseph Stalin’s collectivization campaign of the late 1920s. A generation hence, Iran will not have the resources to provide infrastructure for more than 50,000 rural villages inhabited mainly by elderly and infirm peasants. In response, Iran will undertake the biggest exercise in social engineering in recorded history, excepting perhaps Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Spengler, as might be expected, is a pessimist and practitioner of dark humor. (Check out his Dear Abby responses to letters from heads of state, for example; President Bush should be happy to be the “leper with the most fingers.”) What Spengler predicts could come to pass; none of us know. But these sorts of gloomy long-term predictions are more of use as indicators of which variables are important than as predictors of outcomes. Just ask Malthus.

Changes in worker productivity, longer working lives for people, disease, war, euthenasia programs, radical Islamic reform, or changes yet unimagined could set a far different course than the one Spengler charts. What struck us most in the piece were two points: (a) some radical changes will undoubtedly occur in the next two generations in order that the demographic trends be accommodated — we just don’t know what they are; and (b) we have nowhere seen until today any reference to the rather frightening program announced in Iran, which plan suggests a dangerous, meglomaniacal streak in Mahmud Ahmadinejad. That is a situation we should perhaps worry a lot more about than what will happen by 2100.

The hidden reason behind the Democrats’ WMD tantrum

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

We agree with John Hinderaker and Michael Barone that the Democrats’ WMD obsession is inane, but is useful to whip up the base and the fund raising. Their explanations are completely satisfying to the rational mind. But we believe there is something irrational at work in the WMD issue — we sense real conviction, intensity and passion in some of those shouting loudest about this foolish and discredited little issue.

The image we have is of a two year old standing in a crib, shouting “Bush lied” at the top of his lungs while covering his ears with his hands.

These people have been losing elections and losing their control of government at every level for a decade, and it has driven them nuts. They live in a country which is 3 to 2 conservative over liberal and they can’t deal with it. They are losing their last lever of government power — the Supreme Court — in real time. This is what denial looks like. You’d be crazy too if it was happening to you.

UPDATE

As further evidence of the derangement of many Democrats, there is the fact that they based a strategy on their wish that the Fitzgerald investigation would be about Bush’s lies and would result in a media circus trial of Karl Rove. Harry Reid, as quoted in Human Events: The episode involving Libby and Wilson, summed up Reid, “is about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the President.” Is it rational to base an electoral strategy on the wish for a third party to do harm to your opponent? How nutty is that?

Gosh, everyone is having a super! day

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Hugh Hewitt, John Podhoretz and David Frum, among others, are happy campers today. They think that Judge Alito will be confirmed after much huffing and puffing by Senate Democrats. Who knows? They may be right.

We, on the other hand, are making no predictions. Possibly these gentlemen are correct, and the big, bad Democrat bears will scamper back to their caves after some loud growling. Huh? Is that Armageddon?

If Alito sails through in the way predicted by these pundits, it would appear to be a very big deal for a number of reasons: (a) it means that the nomination of a stealth nominee such as Miers may have been a waste of time; (b) it means that the overheated, canned outrage of the Democratic Party has stopped working, at least on other Senators; (c) it would appear to be a defeat for the MSM, who cheerlead the broadcasts of the outrage!; etc.

The most important implications of the swift, relatively bloodless confirmation of Alito are two. First, the disgraceful behavior of Ted Kennedy in Borking Robert Bork has stopped working. As Podhoretz wrote, quoting Chuck Shumer:

“The real question today is whether Judge Alito would use his seat on the bench, just as Rosa Parks used her seat on the bus, to change history for the better or whether he would use that seat to reverse much of what Rosa Parks and so many others fought so hard and for so long to put in place,” Schumer said.

Now, it’s one thing for a senator to say that Alito should not be confirmed because he is too conservative. That’s been Schumer’s stance on GOP judicial nominations, pure and simple, and while it may be wrong-headed, it’s not disreputable. It’s quite another for Schumer to oppose a conservative jurist by suggesting his views are implicitly segregationist. That’s just a lousy and rotten thing to do.

Even more embarrassing for Schumer: His slander is just a cheap carbon copy of the real thing. That was Ted Kennedy’s stunning 1987 evisceration of Robert Bork — you remember, when Kennedy took to the floor of the Senate mere minutes after Bork’s nomination to say he would return America to a time when “blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”

Kennedy’s words ushered in a new era in American politics. It would be difficult to capture just how shocking that attack was. Nothing like it had ever been said by an elected official about someone who was not an elected official — unless he was speaking about the leader of an enemy country.

It would be an important and very constructive change in American politics if the hateful rhetoric of Kennedy and Shumer could be finally eliminated from political discourse on these matters.

However, even more important in our view is that a defeat as described by Hewitt, Podhoretz and Frum would perhaps force the Democratic Party leaders and backers to consider themselves as losers and outsiders, possibly for the first time. They rejected being losers in 2000. The war was an excuse in 2002 — plus their inability to get their message out. John Kerry’s weak candidacy was to blame in 2004, though Kerry was not a weak candidate: he straddled the pro-war and anti-war factions of the Party as perhaps no other candidate could do.

You may say that a defeat in the Senate is one thing, an election is another. Perhaps. But an easy Alito win would mean that conservatives — the conservative wing of the Republican Party — can legitimately see itself as a majority force in American politics, with power and agenda-setting ability exercised across the three branches of government. The Left of the Democratic Party would be impotent, out in the cold in terms of the ability to control anything, a decline that began near the time of the Borking of Bork (and which in our opinion many of them still fail to understand).

It is one thing to think of yourself as a winner-suffering-temporary-setbacks. It is quite another to see yourself as a loser. This is a psychological journey most people do not want to make, and will use every trick of denial and distortion of reality to avoid. In our view, the ramifications of a relatively-easy Alito victory might force some nasty self-examination that the Democratic Party has shown that it wants to avoid. Therefore, our counsel in this matter is: be prepared for anything. And if Alito is confirmed as these fine pundits predict, the political times promise to get even more interesting.

The old establishment is passing

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

We don’t always agree with Peggy Noonan, but we always pay attention to her. This has been particularly true since her November 2002 WSJ piece contending that the Democratic Party’s electoral troubles stem from the Party’s having largely fulfilled its historical mission that began in the New Deal. It is an outstanding analysis and worth a periodic re-reading. Very uplifting too.

Not so uplifting is her piece today in the WSJ. She senses that there is something seriously wrong in the country, and that the elites in America — presumably conservatives as well as liberals — have lost their faith in our future:

Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they’re living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they’re going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley’s off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, “I got mine, you get yours.”

We’re not as pessimistic as Ms. Noonan. We think she may be witnessing the demise of an old “establishment.” As we have written, the Democratic Party had 60% market share in 1964; today that has fallen to 37%. Similarly, the MSM’s audience for evening news was 60 million a quarter century ago; today is is 27 million or so and still falling. With the passing of these majorities and dominant mind-sets, it seems to us inevitable that a lifeboat mentality would grip members of an elite whose time is fading.

Conservatives outnumber liberals 3 to 2, and have for quite a while now. Yet the MSM paradigm, and the institutional paradigms at the other entities cited by Noonan, have continued to be reliably liberal. By and large this will not change, or change only very slowly. Institutions retain their cultures for a long time, even in the face of decline, as we have written on many occasions. Similarly, most people don’t change; as we noted in a post about Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, they tend to just die out rather then alter their lifelong beliefs.

Conservatives outnumber liberals 3 to 2, but until today they really have not acted like they believed they are the majority, even though their bull market began with the rise of the New Media in 1988 and the election of 1994. That minority mindset appears to have changed. We agree with Rush Limbaugh that the Miers debate, which he refers to as a Conservative Crackdown, is a sign of strength, not weakness. Weakness seems to us to be largely on the side of the Left, and has been perhaps best shown in the utter hysteria of its mouthpiece, the MSM, over the last four years. From Enron to Halliburton, Abu Ghraib to Club Gitmo, Durbin to Kennedy, Bill Burkett to Cindy Sheehan, WMD to flushed Korans, al Qa Qaa to Rathergate, Richard Clarke to Joe Wilson, Katrina! to Valerie, the MSM has fired everything in its arsenal against a Republican president and congress, to little effect.

Well, that’s not quite true. The MSM, with its relentless negativity, has brought down the president’s polling numbers. But, as James Carville has noted, the Democrats have sunk as much or worse. The Left, with its allies in Hollywood and the MSM, has created a culture of gloom in America, and we think this is what Noonan is observing in particularly intense form in the Beltway.

When will the culture of gloom officially end? When someone with a mainstream conservative viewpoint like Rush Limbaugh anchors the CBS Evening News. When someone with a mainstream conservative viewpoint like Jonah Goldberg is editorial page editor of the New York Times. (We are not suggesting these actual men for these actual jobs.) Consider it this way: what Dan Rather or Gail Collins think of the “normal” and “non-controversial” outlook is the liberal outlook, on issues like defense, civil rights, abortion, etc; we conceive of a time when the normal and non-controversial outlook is that of mainstream conservatives like these gentlemen.

Unthinkable? Consider this: the current dominance of conservatives in numbers and in thought was unthinkable a mere 17 years ago, when the New Media began. The Old Establishment is passing, and a New Establishment surely will fill that vacuum.

The Miers debate: a stumble perhaps, but also an inevitable moment

Thursday, October 13th, 2005

Perhaps the political vetting was no better than the personnel vetting in the case of Miers. Perhaps there never was a cold calculation that if a Luttig or McConnell or Janice Rogers Brown were nominated, the nominee could not be confirmed. Perhaps the Miers selection was a way to avoid having to find out where the chips lay. We (and some blogosphere notables) had previously made the assumption that the Gang of 14 or the weak GOP senate sisters would scuttle a nominee with a paper trail of solid conservative jurisprudence, but how do we really know that?

If the vetting process is any indication, per John Fund, the Miers nomination was characterized by improvisation, shortcuts, and unexamined assumptions:

The Miers pick had its origin in the selection of John Roberts last July. Ms. Miers was praised for her role in selecting him and the wildly positive reaction. At that point, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that William K. Kelley, the deputy White House counsel who had been appointed to his post only the month before, stepped in. The Post reported that Mr. Kelley “suggested to [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card that Miers ought to be considered for the next seat that opened.” To most people’s surprise, that happened with stunning swiftness when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Sept. 3. Judge Roberts’s nomination was shifted to fill the vacancy for chief justice, thus opening up the seat of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. A quick political consensus developed around the White House that the nominee should be a woman.

Even though several highly regarded female lawyers were on Mr. Bush’s short list, President Bush and Mr. Card discussed the idea of adding Ms. Miers. Mr. Card was enthusiastic about the idea. The New York Times reported that he “then directed Ms. Miers’ deputy . . . to vet her behind her back.” For about two weeks, Mr. Kelley conducted a vetting he has described to friends as thorough. It wasn’t. A former Justice Department official calls it “barely adequate for a nominee to a federal appeals court.” One Texas lawyer called by the White House was struck by the fact “that the people who were calling about someone from Texas and serving a Texas president knew so little about Texas.”

Both Fund and John Dickerson of Slate note that the White House decided early on that the O’Connor seat was a woman seat, for reasons unexplained, and perhaps on assumptions unexamined. We think it is likely that someone’s logic, perhaps Card’s, was that such a choice was a way to eliminate friction in the confirmation battle. Indeed, one only has to look at the beginning of the statement the President made in nominating Miers to see the theme of eliminating friction, the choice of a woman on Harry Reid’s list of suggested candidates:

It is now my duty to select a nominee to fill the seat that will be left vacant by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Once again, I considered a wide variety of distinguished Americans from different walks of life. Once again, we consulted with Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. We received good advice from more than 80 senators. And once again, one person stood out as exceptionally well suited to sit on the Highest Court of our nation.

A woman, just like O’Connor. Check. No paper trail like Roberts. Check. On Harry Reid’s list. Check. An evangelical, Check. Who is personally close to Bush. Check. Hey, that’s the perfect nominee! It is certainly conceivable to us that a micro-analysis of the Gang of 14 or the 5 or so GOP sob sisters was never undertaken, once a low friction (or so they thought) nominee was identified. (This is not to say that the White House didn’t have indications from the weak-kneed folks where they might come out on a strong, well-documented conservative, but early posturing is not dispositive.)

An inevitable moment

We don’t feel that strongly about Miers, by the way. We have been for her, we have been against her, but really, in a country which is 3 to 2 conservative over liberal, this nomination is hardly the end of a road, no matter which way it goes.

The controversy over the stealth nominee versus the paper-trail conservative nominee was bound to happen. It just blossomed with the Miers nomination, and it is not going away. It is part of the growing pains of the GOP, and conservatives within the GOP, feeling that they should call the shots. You will notice on potentially divisive social issues, from abortion to illegal immigration to calling radical Islam by its name, the Bush administration has consistently gone out of its way to avoid fights and to speak in the most moderate of tones, and let the debate move along among the people. This is arguably wise policy in a country in which the MSM still have influence on the vast moderate middle. Eventually, on issue after issue, however, consensuses often form, and sometimes you may have observed that the administration’s rhetoric has then changed. This has happened on the issue of radical Islam from 9-11 to today. A change is surely coming on the issue of illegal immigration, though it has not happened yet. And the administration has just had the apparent ill fortune to have triggered the acute phase of the judiciary debate by the Miers nomination.

No one on the conservative side should be discomfitted by the emergence of these debates. They are evidence of the paradigm shift, and the difficulties of that shift, as majority opinion makes its way from the liberal consensus of two generations ago to a conservative consensus today.

28% black positive response is higher than 11% or 18% — a GOP opportunity

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

Like you, in the aftermath of Katrina, we are dismayed by the depressing number of African Americans72% — who think that President Bush does not care about black people. But, in fairness, what do we have a right to expect after the rhetoric of the Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons, Louis Farrakhans, Cynthia McKinneys, Maxine Waters, Julian Bonds, and Randall Robinsons of this world? What can anyone reasonably expect when there are TV ads implying that George Bush did not care about the horrible murder of James Byrd or that black churches will burn if the GOP wins elections? It would be interesting to chart the time the leaders spend lambasting George Bush and the GOP versus their time addressing the problem that 70% of births are illegitimate among African Americans. This is of interest because, statistically in America, all you have to do to stay out of poverty is: (1) graduate from high school; (2) get a job; and (3) have no children out of wedlock.

We are here to point out that these black leaders have chosen in their rhetoric and actions a foolish poitical strategy. Here are the statistics as calculated by James Taranto:

The chart is a little hard to read, but the upshot is this: 59.8% of the American people believe that Bush cares about the fate of African Americans in New Orleans, and did not slow or hamper relief efforts because the recipients were black. Therefore: even if the black leaders convinced 100% of African Americans that Bush and the GOP were racist, it would not change majority opinion. Taranto’s point is that for playing the race card to work politically, it not only has to convince blacks, it has to influence white voters — and this is not happening.

Our point is somewhat different: the extreme and surreal rhetoric chosen by the African American / Democratic leadership is increasingly failing to influence its target audience in the black community. As the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies pointed out in October 2004, the number of African Americans who said they were willing to vote for George Bush soared to 18% in the most recent election cycle:

In a surprising contradiction, more African Americans say they are willing to vote for President George W. Bush on November 2, even though his favorable rating is lower now than it was four years ago, according to a new poll released today by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In the Joint Center’s 2004 National Opinion Poll – Politics, 18 percent of African Americans say they would vote for President Bush, doubling the nine percent that said they would support him in the Joint Center’s pre-election 2000 poll. However, Senator John Kerry still beats President Bush among African American voters (69 to 18 percent).

Rich Lowry in NRO says that, according to exit polling, Bush’s numbers only inched up in 2004 over 2000. Whether the difference between in-person polling and telephone polling influenced the results is impossible to tell, but in any event the direction was clear and it was positive for the GOP:

The numbers fell off on Election Day. According to the exit polls, Bush’s support among blacks nationally inched up only slightly from 9 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004. But the kind of dramatic movement in the pre-election Joint Center survey showed up in the battleground states where the GOP invested the most resources to woo black voters. Bush went from 7 percent of the black vote in Florida in 2000 to 13 percent in 2004. In all-important Ohio, Bush’s support among blacks rose from 10 percent to 16 percent.

In the near term, the Republican Party has no chance with the 72% of the African American population who say that he does not care about black people. But the GOP has clearly been making inroads in the other 28%. As Thomas Lifson has pointed out in the American Thinker, Bush’s performance in 2004 marked a 37.5% increase in black votes for him, very important in a voting bloc that accounts for roughly a quarter of national Democratic vote totals.

We prefer to see the glass as not mostly empty. If the glass goes from 8% full to 11% full, as it has, and holds the prospect of reaching 18% or 28% full, that would be incredible progress.

The survival instinct and the Bush plan to fracture the Democratic Party

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Just about the last thing we question about ourselves is our instincts. Sometimes, it is true, our instincts have led us to make mistakes, but far more frequently they have led us to good decisions. Indeed, many of us can point to certain decisions critical to our successes in life that we made seemingly irrationally — on instinct alone. Instincts are powerful and they are to be ignored at our peril: there is a resaon that the term is “survival instinct” rather than “recommendation,” or “plan” — in critical moments, instincts rule.

In the course of our travels, we have met politicians, media people and regular folks who just know, deep down in their bones, at the level of instinct, that there is something wrong with George Bush. They feel this at a deep level, powerfully, compellingly, in a way that rational denial of the feeling is useless. Is it that Chimpy is stupid, evil, dishonest at his core, a dry drunk, duplicitous, trapped by irrational ideological blinders? — this and more. Many of the terms these folks use to describe Bush are not quite precise; the terms seem to circle the problem. We think what these people sense is precisely this: danger.

We see and identify danger every day. We cross the street to avoid that guy with a certain look coming down the sidewalk. We scan the park where our toddlers play to see if anyone is out of place. Have you boarded a plane lately, or taken the subway? People are watching other people, profiling. We respect our instincts regarding danger, and rightly so.

Charles Krauthammer famously defined the phenomenon we are discussing as “Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” We will quote a long passage from Jonathon Chait’s famous and eloquent TNR piece on the matter:

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I’m tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism–“I inherited half my father’s friends and all his enemies”–conveys the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school–the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing– a way to establish one’s social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche.

We have come to the conclusion that both Krauthammer and Chait are, at least in important part, wrong. With all due respect to Dr. Krauthammer, “derangement” does not pay enough respect to the honestly-held feelings of the “otherwise normal people” he describes. As for Chait, “hate” is really too mild a feeling what what he seems viscerally to be experiencing.

After all, it is possible to hate someone and admit their occasional truthfulness or correct policy choices. But time and again, we observe something most peculiar with the Chaits of this world. We have met very smart people — MBA’s, PhD’s, MD’s, professors, distinguished lawyers and the like — whose feelings are so intense that they constantly get the facts wrong: it is as though they are looking for a peg on which to hang the cloak of their intense feelings. So they get it wrong on Rathergate, SwiftBoatVets, 16 words, and other matters where the facts are simple and demonstrable. The Rathergate memos were cheap frauds, immediately identifiable as such to even the casual observer. The SwifBoatVets were correct, starting with Christmas in Cambodia and through episodes both serious and funny. The 16 words in the State of the Union address were and are correct; Bush certainly wasn’t lying. (Captain Ed has a funny post about an encounter with an MSM dupe — we don’t know her politics, but we can guess.) Here’s our point: these people just know, deep down in their bones, that Bush is a bad guy, so the scandals are true, even if they’re not. Heck, Dan Rather continues pathetically to insist that his story of September 8. 2004 was true.

These media and political people all know that something very dangerous is going on with George Bush — and that it is happening below the surface. Grasping at the SwiftBoatVets, Rathergate, and similar stories is an attempt to get a handle on something deeply malevolvent that they feel is going on. We will identify what is going on for them.

We believe that Bush opponents, whose instincts tell them that he is a very dangerous man, have instincts which are functioning correctly. Bush is a very dangerous man. His mission is no less than to destroy the Democratic Party as a plausible majority institution in America, to fracture it beyond easy repair, and to take 10-20% of Democrats and make them functionally Republicans. His plan has been to exploit the twin clefts in that Party — on military matters and social issues — that make a sizeable minority of the Party more Green than Democrat. It is not beyond our imagination that Bush cynically signed McCain-Feingold understanding that, as unconstitutional as that law should be, it moved the energy and fundraising away from Party control into the leftist 527’s, further abetting the splintering of the Party.

Moreover, the modern Democratic Party is, in many ways, the Party of Government: the spokes are various interest groups, and the hub is the federal government. Bush has notably, and again, perhaps cynically, sacrificed traditional Republican tenets of small government to demonstrate that the GOP can operate the government larder as extravagantly as the Democrats. Presumably this is to be repaired at some future date.

For all his aw-shucks mannerisms, Bush has proceeded methodically and ruthlessly down a path of attempting to destroy the Democratic Party as an institution representing a majority at any level of government. As we have written, so far he has succeeded. It seems entirely appropriate to us that this should trigger the responses inherent in the survival instinct for some Democrats who are paying attention. They know a dangerous enemy when they see one.

War, games

Friday, August 5th, 2005

In the 1983 movie, War Games, the protagonists and the audience are instructed that the only way to win in war is not to play — not to engage in the war. The brilliant Stephen Falken says: “There’s no way to win. The game itself is pointless!” VDH, in his commentary on Hiroshima, says this:

The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse.

The movie men are right: the best way is not to choose war. But Hanson is also right: once war is on, the path to swift victory is usually the right choice. We are still hanging fire until after the Iraqi constitution, but many on both the Left and Right are questioning whether the Bush administration has chosen the path to swift victory.