Thursday, October 25, 2007

Coins of the Realm: Looking at the 2008 List

Presidential candidates have two sides just as coins do. This has almost always been true, but it is now more so than ever. Their obverse side wants to please voters. Its face says what they and their campaign advisors think voters want to hear. Their reverse side seldom speaks. It is the side, which should they win, will have to make decisions in the world beyond campaigns, that is, in the opaque, ferociously demanding, and complicated real world of the presidency itself.

In fact, the obverse side of a presidential candidate, the only side we usually see, often tells us very little about what kind of president he or she would be. In the case of those who have not had high executive office before, no matter what their verbiage and campaign position papers, we are can only guess how they might perform when given ultimate responsibilities.

In 2008, with its large number of choices in both major national parties, and no one among them previously holding the presidency or the vice presidency, the American people are really left in the dark in spite of the plethora of debates, appearances, political analyses and microscopic media examination of candidates and their personal histories.

We lump together what we think as most important as the notion of "character." This, we say, will instruct us best. But how do we accurately determine character? Many voters, and many in the media, want to examine personal lives. Obviously, this tells us something. But does it it tell us the vital information we need to know? A candidate has been divorced, for example, but what does that tell us about how they will act as president? A candidate attended, or did not attend, an Ivy League or other top university for his or her education, but does that predict competence in the Oval Office? A candidate served for many years in legislative office, even high legislative office, but does that prepare one sufficiently for the conduct and decision-making in the ultimate public executive office?

Looking at the 2008 list with this in mind, we have so far a very cloudy view, a view obscured by slogans, short sound bites and long position papers, measures of fundraising, ethnic and religious labels, contrived advertising, and attempts at political one-upmanship. Nor are the candidates and their campaigns helping us see through all the political camouflage.

After all we have seen and heard so far, and after this cycle's excruciatingly premature contest, we are still left guessing if we are going to get a "pig in a poke" such as Jimmy Carter, a bright man who turned out often to be incompetent as president, or a Harry Truman, a man with no college education who turned out to be exactly what the country needed and a man of true presidential character. Will we get a Richard Nixon whose character was so flawed that it overshadowed his presidency or a Ronald Reagan who has become the modern icon of his party?

We see the obverse sides of this year's candidates, but we have been left to guess their much more important reverse sides.

There once, and only once, was an American coin which had the same obverse and reverse. During the brief period between the American revolution in 1776 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1788, there was a semi-official coinage. Among the most popular of these coins, were the coins which portrayed the hero of the Revolution and the man who would become the nation's first president, George Washington. One of those coins had the head of Washington on both sides (known today, not surprisingly, as the "double head cent") and was minted in 1783. George Washington was the only American president perhaps who truly did not seek the office. He definitely was the only president to be offered a royal crown (reportedly, he turned it down three times), and notwithstanding the cherry tree myth, was known for speaking his mind and pandering to no one.

But he was a slaveholder who wore a wig, He would not have had a chance if he ran in 2008.


-This article was first published in The Washington Times on October 25th, 2007.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The newspapers, magazines and broadcasting networks have been filled the past few days with the news of who got the Nobel Peace Prize as if this prize any longer meant anything save the $1.5 million that goes with it.

This year’s winners were Al Gore and a United Nations committee on global warming. Unlike the Nobel science prizes which are determined by Swedish committees made up of acknowledged experts in their fields, the Norwegian peace prize committee is made up of politicians. That should tell the reader all he needs to know, that is, politicians giving prizes to politicians.

Journalists and politicians who are impressed with the words “Nobel Peace Prize” are of course trumpeting Al Gore’s win as “vindication” of his now historic defeat in the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you examine the full list of Peace Prize winners since 1901 (when Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventer of dynamite, created most of the prizes given today), you will note that until about a decade ago, the Prize was awarded almost always to deserving figures. In 1994, the co-recipient was Yasir Arafat, the very antithesis of “peace.” Since that time, it has been clear that the Norwegian committee often has a purely partisan political agenda. The science and economics prizes, in contrast, go to persons of great achievements later in their lives when it is clear that their work has had lasting impact.

The problem with this year’s prize is that the “irrefutable fact” of global warming, and its alleged clear and present danger to humanity is anything but fact. It is true that there is short-term warming, as has occurred with regularity over the past million years or so, as has longer-term warming and cooling (the latter produced the latest ice age about 10, 000 years ago). What global warming alarmists, including Mr. Gore and the U.N. Committee, are alleging is that industrial nations are causing this warming, that it will destroy or severely harm all of humanity, and that it can only be repaired by halting our current industrial practices (read as bringing the present capitalist industrial world to a standstill).A majority of scientists (many of whom know little or nothing about this specific subject) seem to agree.

But importantly, a number of scientists, especially those who are expert in the climatology and environmental fields, strongly disagree. Their disagreement varies from asserting that the dire predictions and narrow placements of blame are at best unproven and premature, and at worst, fraudulent.

I am not an expert in this area, so I do not know with certainty which side is more correct. But I do know something about politics, and I know a political agenda when I see it. Under the surface of the global warming “scare” is a whole program of dismantling Western (and now Eastern) industrial society, redistributing world wealth from developed and rapidly developing countries to undeveloped countries with little motive more than economic philanthropy.

Nor is the real effect of such philanthropy beneficial. That is because if the global warming threat crowd has their way, the prosperity of North America, Europe, China, India and Japan would evaporate, and the result would be dire unemployment, economic depression and human suffering. While this global warming movement does have a neo-socialist cast to it, it is instructive to note that the last remaining Marxist superpower, China, rejects it just as much as the U.S. government has. If anyone knows contrived economic redistribution, they do.

There is simply no factual evidence yet that global warming is long-term, although it is may ultimately be proven correct. There is no decisive evidence that the industrial world is primarily “causing” global warming. We do know that industrial pollution is destructive to human beings and the environment. When lead was removed from gasoline in the U.S. several years ago, there was an incontrovertible improvement in the American atmosphere. Carcinogenic or radioactive materials released in the air or exposed to workers and human populations are undeniably destructive and must be controlled or eliminated when possible. But just as the DDT scare was ignited decades ago by Rachel Carson, the scare turned out to be only just that, and wrong! In the meantime, not using pesticides meant, and means, denying hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of persons enough food and nourishment.

Those who claim the award of the Peace Prize to Al Gore “vindicates” him in history, vis a vis George W. Bush, are only disclosing their political agenda. It may be that history will judge Mr. Bush harshly and Mr. Gore well, but the award of the discredited Nobel Prize is proof of none of this, nor its ultimate confirmation.

Ask anyone in serious American politics of either political party if they would prefer to serve as president of the U.S. or win the Nobel Peace Prize. I think it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority would greatly prefer the former and say so without hesitation.

As for Al Gore, good for him for finding something fulfilling to do with his life after politics. Show business is great, and an Oscar is a serious prize. As for the Nobel award, my unsolicited advice is: Take the money and run.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Republican Delusions: Going Over the Political Ledge

There is something degrading going on in the national Republican Party as it prepares to contest the 2008 presidential, congressional and state elections. The Republican Party has won the presidency eight of the 14 elections since World War II, but during most of those administrations, the executive branch had to form a partnership with a Congress in which one or both houses were controlled by Democrats. Only Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" brought the Republicans back to power in the House in 1994, and only President Bush from 2001-2007 was able to govern with the entire Congress, and with the majority of state governorships, under Republican control.

In the wake of the Democratic victories in 2006, Republicans have reacted traditionally by going back to their party's right wing base for rejuvenation. Unfortunately, this reaction is precisely what is likely to ensure their continued disappointment at the polls, and their resumed role as a minority party.

Not that the Democrats, now back in power in Congress, are doing a very good job themselves. Ignoring their successes in winning the presidency in 1992 and 1996 with a centrist leader, and by 1995, a centrist agenda, they have since leaned back to the party-base left wing. Democrats have repeatedly rebuffed the centrist domestic agenda that would increase and perpetuate their majorities. They have further stymied themselves by choosing inept congressional leaders. Republican President Bush has continued to be unsuccessful in capitalizing on the early military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and popular support for him has plummeted. The national Democratic leadership, however, has recently fumbled the ball in the political red zone time and again. The 2008 presidential election should not be in doubt, even now 14 months from election day. But it is in doubt.

On the other hand, just as the Republican Party has seemed to come up with a governing strategy and perhaps a winning candidate (or candidates) for 2008, the party base is acting like lemmings going over the political ledge.

The recent immigration debate is emblematic of this disaster, but the extent of the problem is not limited to it. Social conservatives, sensing that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani might actually win the Republican nomination, have desperately met and declared that they will walk out on the Republican Party if it nominates him or someone like him (e.g. John McCain, Mitt Romney, or possibly, Fred Thompson).

This is ludicrous on its face, since all of these candidates, regardless of their personal views, have pledged to nominate conservative judges to the federal bench and Supreme Court (the only places where a president has any real influence on social policy). All of the major or so-called first-tier Republican candidates are economic conservatives, and each of them is likely to reverse the ambivalent economic spending policies of the Bush administration, a legitimate grievance the party base does have.

The alternative, in real terms, is unthinkable in its consequences for conservatives, that is, a generation or more of unrelenting tax-and-spend economic policies, an increase of abortion-on-demand, unending interventionist liberal federal courts and a foreign policy that caves into international public opinion and weakens our military defense and national security.

If that is what the majority of voters in the nation want, of course, and make that plain in a national election, then that is what they should have.

But if part of the conservative base of the Republican Party walks out on its candidates, popularly chosen, it will lead to an electoral rout without precedent and deprive most American conservatives of the ability to affect American policies, possibly for decades.

James Dobson and his colleagues speak of principles over power. As I have pointed out, this is exactly wrong. Any of the major GOP presidential candidates will deliver a conservative program. It won't be pure. But never in the history of democratic republics has any administration acted with "pure" conservatism or "pure" liberalism. Those who wish for purity are really yearning for a totalitarian state.

The same is true on the Democratic side. Antiwar zealots who hate Mr. Bush want their candidates to demand immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and surrender American sovereignty to organizations such as the (failed) United Nations. They want "pure" left anti-corporate government with high taxes, single-payer universal health insurance (and no way to pay for it), and a rejection of free international trade. Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden don't really favor such extreme "pure" views, but populist Democrats want to bully them into adopting these policies. Yes, their views are considerably more liberal than their Republican counterparts, but the proper place to make workable policy choices is in a national election, not from the political blackmail by each party's extreme wing.

Republicans have been indulging themselves in abstractions on the immigration issue, turning away a growing and important Hispanic electorate that had been increasingly voting its way in the last two presidential elections. Republican statesmen such as Mr. Gingrich have come up with reasonable plans that eschewed deportation and negative stereotypes. But these plans are ignored, and anti-Hispanic sentiments
are fanned into hysteria. Hispanic Americans do not fail to get the point. They will vote for the Democrats.

Political parties which chronically fail to assemble majorities eventually disappear.

Have you spoken with a Whig lately?


-This article was first published in The Washington Times on October 12th, 2007.