Friday, December 28, 2007
Video proof that Fred Thompson can and will respond instantly and in kind to sneak attacks on American soil
The GOP nomination continues to be wide open. A campaign contribution right now to any of the major GOP candidates except Gov. Romney (who can self-finance and has indeed done so) is likely to have more impact than anything you've given to any national political campaign in the past. If Fred's your guy too, now would be a very good time to open your wallet, even if it's only for $25.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Christmas 2007 musings on politics and history
Journalist Matt Bai is a clever fellow and a good writer. His coverage of the Left has not infrequently been "critical" both in the sense of offering a critique and of offering an unflattering portrayal, and that's true too of his lengthy essay in today's NYT Sunday Magazine entitled The Clinton Referrendum. But sometimes, for those of us well-educated grown-ups not deeply embedded in the Left — and I use the word "embedded" in exactly the same sense it's used to describe modern war correspondents in Iraq who live, sleep, and eat with the troops of a particular military unit — Bai's most telling observations are the ones to which he himself is entirely oblivious.
To test how many of you have the same reaction I do, I won't use italics or bold-face to set it off, but here's one, which I include among quite a bit of before-and-after contextual material that gives a sense of the intended subjects and scope of Bai's essay:
... [Bill Clinton] almost single-handedly pulled the Democratic Party back from its slide into irrelevance. Liberals swallowed hard and endured Clinton’s pragmatic brand of politics because they assumed that Clinton’s success would beget more success and, ultimately, a more progressive government.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. First came the election of 2000, which Democrats believed was swiped from their grasp with little protest from the party’s Washington leaders. Next came compromises with George W. Bush on tax cuts and education reform. Then came the back-breaker: in the vote on the Iraq war resolution in 2002, many Democrats in Washington — including, most conspicuously, Hillary Clinton, then an unannounced presidential candidate — sided with President Bush in a move that antiwar liberals could only interpret as a Clintonian calculation to look tough on terror. If so, a lot of good it did; Congressional Democrats were demolished at the polls a few weeks later.
After that defeat, many longtime liberals, often coming together in the new online political space, began to voice a different thought: What if they had gone along with Clintonism for nothing? What if the path to victory lay not in compromising with Republicans but in having the fortitude to fight ruthlessly and to defend your own convictions, no matter how unpopular they might be? This was the moment in which Howard Dean’s explosive presidential campaign — and the grass-roots progressive movement it spawned — began to flourish. It was grounded in the idea that Clintonism, far from representing the postindustrial evolution of Democratic thought, had corrupted the party of the New Deal and the Great Society — and, taken to its logical end, had led Democrats and the country into a catastrophic war.
Even before they knew for sure that she was running for the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s top aides had to figure out how best to handle the growing tumult inside their own party. As a senator, Clinton had been, if anything, more centrist than her husband; she worked across the aisle with the likes of Bill Frist and Lindsey Graham, and her voting record on foreign policy placed her among the most conservative Democrats, only a few paces to the left of Joe Lieberman. There is no reason to think such stances on the issues didn’t accurately reflect Hillary’s convictions, but they had the added bonus of positioning her as eminently moderate and “electable” — both in New York State, where she won 67 percent of the vote in her 2006 re-election, and in the rest of the country.
The party, however, seemed to be moving in a different direction....
If one plugs the phrase "catastrophic war" into Google, its mysterious search engine algorithms will indeed rank references (mostly from politicians and pundits) to the Iraq War very prominently among the top few dozen returns. But the inhabitants of Carthage during the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.) would certainly have sooner been able to grasp the technology behind internet search engines than they could the mind-set of those who could label, from an American point of view, the Iraq War as "catastrophic." There are no more Carthagenians, because after their besieged city of between a quarter and a half million people was finally captured by the Romans, the 50-odd thousand Carthaginians remaining alive were all sold into slavery and the city was methodically leveled back to pastureland. That was a "catastrophic war."
From the perspectives of Germany, the Soviet Union, or the European countries in between or around the two, World War II was certainly a catastrophic war. There wasn't just "regime change, although there was certainly lots of that. Nation-states were erased from the map; others were partitioned and/or occupied by foreign armies for decades thereafter. And tens of millions of soldiers and civilians were slaughtered. Even the United States, which unquestionably emerged victorious and, relatively, unscathed by World War II, suffered thousands of soldiers killed in battle in a single day, sometimes for obscure specks of coral so lost within the vastness of the Pacific Ocean that Americans both then and now couldn't accurately locate them on the globe within a distance of 10,000 miles.
Any rational student of history would conclude that America has had at most only one truly "catastrophic war" — that being its own Civil War, in which something on the order of 620,000 Americans were killed. Yet most Americans, and most serious students of history around the world, think that the "catastrophe" of that war would have been if the Union had been permanently sundered, instead of only temporarily split. Even the grim KIA figures from the American Civil War are dwarfed by the death toll from the Battle of Stalingrad alone from World War II. And there were dozens of individual battles in either World War II or the American Civil War in which more American soldiers were killed in one single day than have been killed in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan in all the days put together since 9/11/01.
If it's your husband or son or sister who's killed or wounded, then of course any war may be "catastrophic" for you and your family. For some (blessedly small) number of Americans, the rescue that Ronald Reagan effected on the island of Grenada in 1983 was a "catastrophic war."
But from a national point of view, "catastrophic war" — to have any meaning at all — seems to me to be a term that ought to be limited to those wars in which, at a minimum, the country has incurred comparatively large numbers of killed and wounded, using other actual wars as a basis for comparison. And it probably ought also be limited to those wars that a country has actually lost.
Such is the breath-taking historical ignorance of the Democrats, however, that their candidates, their partisans, and the members of the press who cover them can all presume — without giving the matter a second thought — that the Iraq War is a "catastrophic war," and that all further interesting debate and analysis, and all primary elections and party nominations, must proceed from that premise of fact and judgment.
So the question I'm left to ponder — as I prepare for a quick holiday trip back to my hometown, where I'll give thanks this Christmas for God's boundless blessings upon me, my family, and my nation — is this: I think America can, if need be, survive the occasional presidency like Jimmy Carter's or Bill Clinton's. But is the historical ignorance of the Democrats becoming so pronounced that it's beginning to run the risk of becoming "catastrophic ignorance"?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I'm With Fred
I. Why now?
There has never been, nor will there be, any question that I will vote against the Democratic Party's 2008 nominee for president. And because I don't care to waste my vote on a protest, it will be cast for the GOP's nominee, whoever that turns out to be.
Moreover, I'm not, and have never been, among those who thought that a Democratic win in 2008 is inevitable. To the contrary, notwithstanding Dubya's low polling numbers, I'm convinced that the GOP's chances are at least as good as his were in 2000 or 2004, and that every single one of the potential Democratic nominees is eminently beatable. Indeed, depending on intervening events, some of them may turn out to be beatable in a landslide; and I'm convinced that whether it's Hillary, Obama, or Edwards, the Dems are going to feel serious buyers' remorse on the day after their nominee is finally decided. So I think that it does matter — indeed, that it matters a whole lot — who the GOP picks from among the present major candidates.
I've been genuinely, and intentionally, undecided among most of those major GOP candidates until now. But by March 4, 2008, when votes including mine will be tallied in Texas' primary elections, the GOP nominee may already have been effectively decided. That's far from certain — the possibility of a genuine national nominating convention, brokered or otherwise, is no longer a silly notion — but the possibility of my own primary vote becoming moot is still high enough to impel me to publicly express my preference and open my checkbook now, in hopes of affecting things even slightly in other states with earlier primaries.
Thus go I on record today: Fred Thompson is my guy for 2008.
II. Why Fred?
On every issue I care deeply about, Fred Thompson is a genuine, thoughtful conservative — without any major exceptions or doubtful areas that I have to forgive or ignore. And in the simplest possible words: I trust him because he's demonstrated that he has a real political spine.
Fred's my "Goldilocks candidate": On national defense and foreign policy generally, on taxes (and, in particular, income tax reform), on spending, on judicial appointments, on immigration, on increasing the size and capacities of the military, and on a host of other issues, he's "Just Right." And not only do his present views and positions match my own, but they've been consistent views throughout his career, so I don't have to worry that he'll be easily talked out of them through some rationalization in the name of "expediency."
Ironically, Thompson's political spine has been most evident in some of the very same episodes that his detractors will try to spin as grounds for conservative alarm. As a senator, Thompson cast lonely, politically unpopular votes grounded on a genuine understanding of and reverence for federalism, for example, that his political opponents have characterized as being "anti-tort reform." I could write for pages about all that, but let me boil it down to a sentence: Fred Thompson has far more in common with John Roberts (for whose SCOTUS confirmation he served as sherpa) than with John Edwards, and if you can't tell the difference, you ought not be voting in the GOP primaries anyway.
Even my biggest reservation about Thompson actually reflects well on his political spine: If simply getting elected and staying atop the polls were what Fred Thompson were all about, he'd be a much better candidate, but ultimately a much worse president. For better or worse, he's running his campaign the way he believes it should be run — meaning he wasn't stampeded into an early start, and there are definite limits to the indignities that he'll willingly suffer for the sake of retail campaigning. His abrupt refusal to participate in the recent "show of hands on global warming" in the televised Iowa debate, for example, was the act of a self-secure grown-up with a serious sense of statesmanship. Fred may be a good old boy, and indeed he's charming as heck, but he's just not a panderer.
Thompson has come a long way from a very humble start, so it's wrong to say that he's unambitious. But he does lack the overweening, compulsive degree of personal ambition that's characteristic of many presidential candidates in both parties. Too much ambition is a bad thing, and Hillary Clinton, in fact, is an example of pathological ambition — a trait she entirely shares with her husband (while utterly lacking his charm). But during the late summer and fall, prompted at least in part by Fred's critics among the pundit elites, I nevertheless wondered if Thompson had "enough" ambition. And indeed, if this were like 2000, in which a single, obvious GOP front-runner was cruising to the nomination with massive funding, and without serious missteps or questions about his candidacy, then the amount of fire in Fred's belly might be inadequate for him to secure the nomination.
But historically, Thompson has been a strong closer, and he's gotten sharper over the course of the fall. The GOP race — as evidenced by the remarkable Huckabee surge (which I am convinced will be followed with a Howard Dean-like collapse) — could not possibly be more wide open. I'm satisfied that Fred has plenty enough ambition to win the nomination in these particular circumstances. And at that point — when he's past the humiliating cattle-call debates and onto a national stage from which tedious retail politics become less key — I'm convinced that Thompson will rise ever more enthusiastically to the challenge, and that he can be at least as enthusiastic and effective a campaigner as Ronald Reagan was in 1976, 1980, and 1984.
III. Why not Mitt?
The more I've learned about Mitt Romney, the more impressed I've become with him. And it's going to take a few paragraphs to explain why he's not my guy this time around.
Basically, as I've aged, I've gradually come to treasure genuine resolve and commitment over short-term expediency. As a young adult, I was a slow and late convert to Reaganism. I supported and voted for Gerald Ford in 1976, when I viewed Reagan almost with alarm as an "extremist." I supported George H.W. Bush in the 1980 primaries, and I still thought that he was the better man of the two when they beat Carter-Mondale. To this good day, I'm still a fan of Bush-41: his assembly of the coalition that drove Saddam out of Kuwait in the Gulf War remains the single most impressive feat of international diplomacy in modern history, and I believe he is a competent and decent and honorable man who would be better appreciated now if he'd won and served out a second term.
But Poppie ran for election in 1988 on the famous "read my lips" pledge of no new taxes — and he broke that pledge in 1990. He genuinely thought he had compelling grounds to do so; he let Democrats and his own advisers talk him into it; and he therefore rationalized a compromise that violated what he had portrayed as, and what many voters genuinely believed had become, one of his fundamental, core principles. He also over-relied on minions to select and vet SCOTUS nominee David Souter — an indefensibly reckless and indisputably awful-in-hindsight nomination. It's not that Bush the Elder's heart was in the wrong place, but rather, that it wasn't balanced by a stiff enough political spine: he wasn't stubborn enough, and he was too flexible. He was certainly not the kind of entirely spineless, calculating, cynical snake oil salesman that Bill Clinton exemplifies, but Bush-41's dazzling résumé and political history (e.g., his own conversion to pro-life from pro-choice as Reagan's running-mate) always clearly telegraphed that he was more about the perceivedly practical than the thoroughly principled.
Mitt Romney reminds me of George H.W. Bush in many respects. I believe he's a good man, one who's clearly energetic and capable. But "Romneycare" scares the hell out of me — not just because I think it's a poor template for national health-care reform, but because it bespeaks a willingness to make and justify compromises with his political enemies that looks an awful lot like Poppie Bush on taxes in 1990. Mitt Romney has been a political pragmatist, not a political idealist, and it's probably true that the former is the only sort of Republican who can be elected governor of Massachusetts. But that's also a damned good reason why the GOP generally ought not look to Massachusetts as a breeding-ground for its national presidential nominees!
Mind you, it's not that I actively distrust Romney, but rather simply that I trust Fred more. The objective consistency of Fred's record comforts me in my subjective evaluation of his political backbone, and I haven't had to be talked into accepting that Fred's a conservative in his bones. Indeed, Romney's my second choice behind Fred, and I'd be perfectly content to see Romney as the GOP's Veep nominee, with him playing fully as active a management role in a Thompson Administration as Dick Cheney has played in Dubya's or as Bush-41 played in Reagan's.
IV. Why not McCain, Giuliani, or Huckabee?
John McCain is a genuine American hero, and he's been a thoughtful and steady pillar on matters of national security in particular — if that's defined to exclude security threats from our porous borders. But he, too, is a politician of "expedience" on immigration and far too many other areas — most prominently, as the leader of the Gang of Fourteen on judicial nominees and, of course, the abomination that is McCain-Feingold. I'm still offended, and doubtful of McCain's presidential temperament, based on McCain's May 2007 incident with my home-state senator John Cornyn, who was very professionally and effectively representing the position of many concerned Texans, including me: "'F**k you! I know more about [immigration] than anyone else in the room,' shouted McCain at Cornyn." I'll vote for McCain and support him if he gets the GOP nomination. But I cannot support him in the primaries, and I still think that he's extremely unlikely to be the GOP nominee.
Rudy Giuliani is a tough, smart S.O.B., and the country could do much worse. I don't doubt Rudy's backbone, but I'm still concerned about exactly where it's located. Most of the time, he would probably govern as a conservative. But he isn't one — he's just not, he's too liberal on too many issues to be considered, overall, as anything other than a political moderate who's in the left wing of the Republican Party. If I were more pessimistic about the party's chances in the general election or more impressed by any of the Democratic candidates, I might be persuaded to support Rudy on "electability" grounds, and I won't be distressed if he gets the nod. But I can't support him over Thompson.
And as I mentioned above, I think Huckabee won't hold up to intense scrutiny, and his campaign is likely to crash as fast as it has boomed. I was much amused and originally impressed by Huckabee's humor. But I've now concluded that his weak grasp of foreign policy — compounded by his subsequent incredible disingenuousness in claiming not to owe Pres. Bush an apology after twice referring to Dubya as "arrogant" and guilty of a "bunker mentality" — is by itself sufficient to make him a candidate I can't support in the GOP primaries. And I have other serious and growing doubts about Huckabee as well.
V. What's next?
Due to pressing professional commitments, I'm still unlikely to be blogging regularly through the remainder of this year or January. But I may post a few observations about the political race from time to time, and/or such other whimsy as the muse dictates and time permits.
In the meantime, there's now a Fred08 contribution form on my sidebar. With the wide-open races in both parties, but the front-loaded primary season nearly upon us, the month of December is obviously an awfully good time for you to make a contribution, in terms of getting lots of potential bang for your political buck in the states that will decide the nominees. Whether it's to Fred or one of the other candidates, I hope you'll consider contributing.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Huckabee confirms worst fears re his foreign policy inexperience
I'm taking a very short break from my blogging sabbatical just to express a moment of disgust:
This — from a foreign affairs white paper purportedly written by GOP presidential candidate "Michael D. Huckabee" and entitledAmerica's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan" — is just awful:
Summary: The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. In particular, it should focus on eliminating Islamist terrorists, stabilizing Iraq, containing Iran, and toughening its stance with Pakistan.
The first two sentences (emphasis mine) are Kumbaya diplomacy at its most deplorable, and if the candidate really believes them, then he's far too naïve to become president — at least as the GOP nominee. Anyone who really thinks that the problems of the world boil down to American unwillingness to "open up [and] reach out" is an irredeemable idiot.
Unfortunately, the balance of the article after that summary is also riddled with platitudes and soft-headed mush. Some of the platitudes are nominally "conservative" in tone, and Huckabee gets a few substantive points right, but that's almost (it seems) by accident, or in contradiction to other themes. His Obamaesque policy toward Pakistan is reckless and feckless (and even if it were wise to pursue, it would not be wise to telegraph). I agree with many (but not quite all) of the criticisms of this paper leveled or quoted by Dr. James Joyner on Outside the Beltway, and I found another jaw-dropper there in this NYT quote:
At lunch, when I asked [Huckabee] who influences his thinking on foreign affairs, he mentioned Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, and Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative and the founder of a research group called the Center for Security Policy. This is like taking travel advice from Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but the governor seemed unaware of the incongruity.
Friedman is a well-meaning crackpot who just barely manages to beat the stopped-clock accuracy rate (twice a day), and with even less profundity. I guess this means that Huckabee was one of several dozen Times Select subscribers. So is he also going to be influenced in the White House by Maureen Dowd?
I know that Huckabee is having to assemble a foreign policy platform on the fly and without any substantial experience in the field. But the fact that he's chosen to engage in mindless (and in my view, very badly unjustified) Bush-bashing in the lead sentences of his most important foreign policy statement troubles me a great deal. He literally doesn't know what he's talking about himself, and he's obviously repeating things from others who are either equally as clueless or else affirmatively hostile to at least some of the basic tenets that have characterized Republican presidential foreign policy for many decades.
I want a GOP candidate to identify with and promise to emulate Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin. This article is enough to ensure that Huckabee won't get my vote in a GOP primary.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Not to worry, it's just a bit of a blogging hiatus
There are several downsides to conducting a solo practice of law. One of them is simply a function of limited capacity: a gush of urgent work that might result in modestly less avocational time if that work is spread out among four or five lawyers can result in a major time-crunch for a solo. For the several weeks just passed, and probably for several on the immediate horizon, I've been and will be up to my elbows in some very challenging work.
I'm sure that the tides will ebb, at least a bit, in due course, and the itch to blog will assert itself again. For those who've emailed to express concern or encouragement, many thanks. Don't delete me from your bookmarks quite yet.