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Sunday
Oct252009

Fox News is Obama's Only Friend

"At the White House, as we like to say, we love MSNBC." 
-Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for arts and culture and a key White House advisor on disability policy.  4 May 2009

It’s no secret that like-minded people enjoy each other.  Indeed, this weekend, LastingLiberty editors attended the Philadelphia Society conference in Indianapolis on the “Pursuit of Truth”.  It would be hard to assemble a larger group of philosophical conservatives, and we felt right at home, nodding our heads in synch as the speakers satisfied our appetites.

Enjoying as we did the chorus of choir preachers, we were reminded of a problem that plagues many people; that is, though it is fun to listen to those who reflect our beliefs, echoes eventually make people crazy.  Without listening to dissenting voices, beliefs gradually become more radical and irrational.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in Hollywood and Washington.  Actors go to parties with other liberal actors where they talk the same tripe.  They give each other awards for courageously promoting what they all believe.  They see the admiration, hear the clapping, and begin to believe their own lie.  “I really am a foxy yet serious superhero,” she says.  “You love me . . . you really love me.”  Politicians are a similar lot.  They write self-promoting memoirs, give speeches to adoring crowds.  When the spotlight is on and the crowd is in a roar, they can’t help but embrace their godlike status . . . “I am the one they’ve been looking for.”

There’s a joke going around the Internet about the difference between God and Obama.  The difference, so goes the punch line, is that God doesn’t believe he’s Obama. The joke plays off what many already think about Obama, that he is arrogant enough to believe his own rhetoric—that he really believes he can heal America and save the world from the evils of war, disease, and pollution. 

People like Obama who believe so strongly in themselves are particularly sensitive to criticism and often fall prey to groupthink.  History is full of powerful men whose egos robbed them from the wisdom of others.  One is reminded of Neville Chamberlain who, because of his pride, surrounded himself with sycophants.  Chamberlain was a brilliant administrator and by all accounts a smart man.  But he loved himself too much and dismissed those who did not share his admiration.   Instead of listening to wide ranging counsel, he embraced yes men and spurned able ministers (especially Churchill) who warned of the growing threat of Nazi aggression.  The result was a Britain drastically unprepared when war inevitably came.

In Obama’s case, the yes men are not only in the White House, they are in the media as well.  The administration’s love affair with MSNBC (see opening quote) and its disdain for Fox News is evidence the Obama team is guilty of collective rationalization, a term used to describe organizations that insulate themselves from the wisdom and benefit of criticism.  Even if Obama cannot stomach Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, at the very least, he should respect the opinions of fair-minded thinkers such as Wallace, Krauthammer, and Hume.  Sadly, Obama seems willing to paint all his critics with the same brush; they are foes of real reform and, as Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson so eloquently put it, “enemies of America”.

Obama’s handling of the health care debate is further evidence of his willfully blind self-assurance.  Particularly telling is Obama’s dismissive and trite handling of opposition voices.  Instead of listening to his critics respectfully, Obama is put off by what he sees as disingenuous attempts to diminish him politically.  According to Obama, opponents of his plan are simply playing “politics of the moment” and trying to “delay reform" to "score political points." In other words, Obama believes the debate is not about limited government or deficit spending or personal responsibility.  The debate is about him.

As the writer of Proverbs 15 instructs:

“A mocker resents correction; 
he will not consult the wise . . .

Plans fail for lack of counsel, 
but with many advisers they succeed.”

We all have bad ideas.  But we hopefully have friends who tell us they are bad. This Administration needs such a friend.  His first task would be to tell Joe Biden it is a bad idea to “spend money to keep from going bankrupt.”   His second task would be to tell Obama that subsidization never lowers costs, that government programs are inherently wasteful, and that Americans still believe in individual responsibility and freedom from government coercion.  A true friend would be honest about the dangers of government seizing the health care industry or about the real limits of soft power.  The real friends of Obama are those who dissent.  The real friends are those who tell the truth and refuse to fall in line—such as the broadcasters at Fox.  In this sense, at least in television, Fox News is the only real friend Obama has.  

 

Sunday
Oct182009

It's Time for the GOP to Do Something Bold

There is much buzz about the expected gains the Republicans will see in the 2010 midterm elections.  Political analyst Larry Sabato, for example, predicts Republicans will gain between 15 and 40 seats in the House.  Though the gains for Republicans are likely to be substantial, as Newt Gingrich has pointed out, Republicans have yet to see the polling results one might expect given the national mood with regard to the Democrats. "People are more frightened than they were in '93 and '94 -- both by the radicalism of the administration and by the economy," Gingrich told the Washington Post, but "they're more skeptical of Republicans than they were in '93 and '94.”

Assuming Gingrich is right, it is fitting to ask why the populace is skeptical of Republicans.  For one, Republicans have done little in recent years to differentiate themselves from Democrats.  Republicans have branded Democrats as big spending liberals for years.  But after watching George W. Bush and the Republican Congress pass a prescription drug benefit with a 10 year 1.2 trillion dollar price tag,  who can blame the average voter for rolling his eyes when a Republican rails against the deficit? 

There is another, less-considered reason why voters do not trust Republicans to lead the country.  Republicans are passive.  Though they aggressively argue against the policies of the Democrats, they fail to aggressively push an alternative vision.  Though they have alternative policies, they fail to display an alternative philosophy. Republicans, instead of speaking the truth boldly—admitting that government cannot solve all problems—are left waiting for Democrats to stumble in their attempt to do so.  In the meantime, Republicans tout a brand of slow-bleed “compassionate conservatism” that makes them appear as utopian as their opponents.

All experienced athletes know the surest way to lose a game is to play as if you’re worried to lose it.  For this reason, various teams have adopted the motto “Play to Win”.  Instead of playing to win, Republicans play not to lose.  As a result, ideas are stifled, boldness is crushed, and meekness rewarded.

“This is the nature of politics,” one might respond.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There must be a way to give up shy and passive politics and start being bold.   Of course, any bold moves come at a cost.  Try for example to make an argument against the Department of Education and wait—not long—for the press release claiming you are “against education”.  Mindless pundits and late night bomb throwers are waiting to pounce on any conservative who speaks the truth. 

If one is to be bold, one needs also to be ready for a fight.  No more stirring emotions and ignoring the mind. Republicans must be ready with facts and straightforward reasoning. They must be prepared with the philosophical understanding needed to defend those policies that appear heartless at first glance.  They must understand fully the principles of limited government and free market capitalism and argue vehemently for them.

The political consultants inside the beltway will of course think this approach awful.  Why, when the Democrats are digging their own grave, would we open ourselves up for attack? “Let them fall on their own swords,” they’ll say. This might be accurate, from a short-term standpoint.  But this is playing not to lose.  Only a party that actively differentiates itself from the other side will determine its own destiny.  Otherwise, the political winds will determine who is in power. The party that governs least will be the one that governs most. 

If we again consider the 1994 mid-term elections, the sweep Gingrich oversaw was not only the result of a backlash against the Clintons.  It was also a result of the boldness of the Contract with America.  It was in that document that voters were able to see a clear distinction between Republicans and Democrats.  It was the boldness and leadership of Gingrich and others who swept the Republicans into power.  If the current Republican leaders want to do the same, they best stop watching Pelosi’s collapse and start planning their own revival.   

Thursday
Oct152009

Conservatives: The New Radicals

It was George Orwell who said that one who accepts the status quo is basically accepting decay.[1]  It makes sense then that our current efforts to promote conservatism have done little to inhibit the corrosion of our first principles.

But as the unrest around the country shows, the new conservative movement is hardly about conserving.  After several decades of playing defense, we are seeing a populace ready for aggressive and far-reaching change.  Indeed, the principle of limited government has fallen so far, the American conservative majority is waking up.  Conservatives are becoming the new radicals.

And that’s a good thing.  Our founders believed in what we call conservative principles and yet they were active radicals of the highest order.  Let us not forget the Revolution was a revolt against taxes and an overbearing government that increasingly intruded upon the rights of the individual.  It was not polite men who threw off the tyranny of the British monarchy; it was a determined and learned group of radicals.

These men—such as Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere—were at their heart both true patriots and propagandists.   They understood at their core the wrongs of Britain and fought with their pens and their blood to reverse them. 

Yet when someone like Glenn Beck taps into this sentiment, he is summarily dismissed as nuts.  For all his showmanship, Beck seems to genuinely believe the spirit of the Founding Fathers is once again needed for the country to correct course, even going so far as to publish an updated version of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.  Paine’s pamphlet was, as conservative British Historian Paul Johnson put it, “a piece of atrocity propaganda,”[2] but Beck, tapping into Paine, seeks to use it to rally the populace to vote out an out-of-touch power structure.

The point is not to promote propaganda or distortion.  Instead, America should harness the passion exhibited at town halls, the tea parties, and the like.  These actions are a good start to what we really need; that is, a passionate and informed electorate ready to not only stand against the statist onslaught but be ready to reverse the decline we’ve already experienced. 

It’s not enough for us to simply oppose the latest round of social engineering.  That would be too conservative.  Instead, we should advocate a more drastic approach.  Why not push laws through Congress that actually reverse the creeping interference of government in industry?  Instead of decrying Obama’s spending, why not come out in favor of drastic cuts?  Instead of expanding the central government’s role in education, why not return it to the states?

These and many other conservative ideas would of course be too radical, and politicians aren’t known for their bravery.

Good thing Americans are.



[1] George Orwell, A Collection of Essays, (New York:  Harcourt Inc., 1981), 219.

[2] Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York:  Harper Collins, 1997), 153.

Wednesday
Sep162009

No, We Can't: A Response to Governor Jindal

All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest

-Paul Simon

 

Governor Jindal’s response after Obama’s first speech to Congress early this year got mixed but mostly poor reviews.   And while the critics have had their say about Jindal’s delivery, the philosophy espoused deserves more attention.

It is with Governor Jindal’s tag line we have an issue.  In response to the liberal assumption that government is the answer, Jindal offered his retort:  It is not government that can save us, it is man.  Or in his words, “Americans… can do anything”.

“A clear distinction!” Republicans cheer, “We trust the average Joe, not the bureaucrats in D.C.!”  One can almost hear Republicans responding with roars of  “Yes we can!”  But after a little consideration, isn’t it time we started chanting, “No, we can’t”?

We have become a nation, as Richard Weaver understood, of spoiled children.  We believe mankind with the aid of science has overcome the limits of God and nature. Who hasn’t heard an American start a sentence with, “If we can land on the moon, we can certainly . . . (fill in the blank with any number of utopian visions).  We stand at the base of the Tower of Babel, looking up and believing we really are without limit.

But we are limited.  And the idea we are not has for decades been slowly draining our real wealth, our liberty, and our national spirit.  We have been told for decades we have the ability to ensure each American has a home, a high paying job, loose credit, college education, freedom from want and sadness.  Not to mention, those who would believe we can provide these things to illegal immigrants as well.  Every major politician of our time has encouraged our slow destruction with bankrupt promises he or she cannot possibly deliver. 

We want so badly to believe the man who tells us change is coming.  We want to believe that somehow fallen man will rise up and war, disease, hunger, poverty, and toil will be defeated. 

 

We believe in cheap credit, and we have a housing crisis.

We believe in limitless money, and we burden our children with debt. 

We believe humans should be free from want, and we drown in materialism.

We believe in wars to end all wars, and we become complacent in the face of evil.

 

“You might say I’m a dreamer,” the songwriter proclaims, “but I’m not the only one…”

Lennon was right.  He was a dreamer.  But all the dreaming, instead of making us a better people, has contributed to corrosion of our national will and existence.  What the dreamers blindly regard as a progression toward a postmodern, limitless existence is only a slow slide backwards to a hollow and pudgy existence.

 

- The Editors

Wednesday
Sep162009

Campaigns Are Not Only About Issues

 

-The Editors

 

A common rant of the political class is that campaigns should be “about issues”.  We disagree.  Campaigns should be about philosophy.  Whereas circumstances change; principles do not.  The core of a person matters much more than the position he or she takes on a given issue.  How one views a question of policy--what shapes one’s opinion--should underline our consideration of a candidate. 

As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, debates in this country have succumbed to wonkery.  “What would you do,” the moderator asks, “about the growing number of uninsured in our country?”  We are then subjected to three-point proposals, a budgeting timeline, and if we’re lucky, an attack on the opponents plan-often in the form of “My opponent voted against 47 million dollars that would have gone to single mothers with dysentery and an itchy scalp.”  The opponent then defends his vote against women and children and proceeds to outline his or her alternate plan.

The dirty secret in campaigns is most grand plans end up dying in the grinding mill of congressional compromise.  It is better then to understand the political philosophy behind a proposal than to examine the proposal itself.  The majority of decisions a politician makes take place after the campaign.

Not that aspiring leaders should not also aspire to specific agendas.  All the better if they do.  Many leaders have accomplished their legislative goals that have left an indelible mark (or scar) on our country.

What we object to is the public’s or at least the media’s reluctance to consider the underlying assumptions of a politician's agenda.  We need to know why an agent of change believes a change to be right.  Has he or she been grounded in a philosophy pruned by history and political theory?  Can the politician use that philosophy to defend the proposed change?

And it’s not just the political players who ignore the philosophical underpinnings of campaigns.  Watch prominent media figures moderate a debate or interview a candidate and one will see a dearth of philosophical challenges.  Bill O’Reilly’s long awaited interview of Obama during the campaign is a good example.  At one point in the interview, O’Reilly noted that Obama’s ultra-progressive tax plan amounted to a redistribution of wealth, a basic tenet of socialist philosophy.  Obama rebuked O’Reilly by claiming government had the responsibility to provide the struggling masses certain needs.  If one has more money than needed, why not give “extra” money to the poor.  “What’s the big deal?”  Obama wondered.  And O’Reilly had little to say in retort.

It’s not enough to say “I support this or that program”.  The support or non-support of a program should only clue an audience to the candidate’s philosophy.  A candidate who supports school vouchers, for instance, can rightly be considered a candidate whose personal philosophy and understanding of free markets leads him or her to discredit the efficiency of the state.

The members of the current political class don’t understand the philosophy behind what they believe.  They base their decisions on polls and feelings, and we the people let them get away with it.  “Now is not the time for philosophical flexibility,” as Fred Thompson likes to say.  And he's right.  But to be grounded we must first root our understanding in the philosophy of the great thinkers of current and past generations.  Never has the importance of this mission been so great.  

 

 

 

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