Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

03/25/2010 (7:48 pm)

Obama: "Go For It" (Updated)

The Hill reports a speech by President Obama in which he challenges Republicans to try to repeal the health care reform act.

“This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about. And now that it’s passed, they’re already promising to repeal it,” Obama said. “They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November. Well, I say go for it.”

This brings to mind President Bush’s similar moment of bravado, when, on July 1 of 2003 he declared his confidence in US military preparedness for destabilizing attacks in Iraq by saying “Bring it on.”

The most remarkable difference between these two challenges by two Presidents is this:

Obama’s enemies are Americans.

In fact, a Rasmussen telephone poll released today indicates that 55% of Americans polled favor repealing the health care act, 46% of them strongly. So the adversaries that Obama is challenging are the majority of American citizens.

President Bush later regretted the combative tone of his challenge, acknowledging that some around the world got the wrong message. But at least he was challenging America’s enemies.

The President’s speech was delivered in Iowa City, IA, where candidate Obama first announced his health care agenda,

UPDATE: American Elephants linked here (thanks, guys), and also found the video from the speech. Here’s the video:

01/19/2009 (1:21 pm)

Ramos and Compean Freed

I’m about four layers removed from the actual story: AP informs Breitbart informs Hot Air informs moi. Still, the base will love this one. Apparently they cannot be pardoned, but their sentences can be, and are being, commuted.

That’s a relief. Even if you think they mishandled the situation, 10+ years in solitary is a Kafkaesque penalty for shooting an habitual drug dealer in the ass.

01/17/2009 (12:32 pm)

Bush Farewell Address


Crucial excerpts:

As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11; but I never did.

I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable, but good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong, every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right.

These are the central facts that describe and explain George W. Bush’s presidency.

01/15/2009 (3:36 am)

Retrospective on GWB

I’ve been planning to write a retrospective summary of the presidency of George W. Bush, but British historian Andrew Roberts beat me to it, and wrote an estimate of how history will view President Bush the Younger that’s pretty much what I was going to say. So, you get to hear his version instead of mine.

The American lady who called to see if I would appear on her radio programme was specific. “We’re setting up a debate,” she said sweetly, “and we want to know from your perspective as a historian whether George W Bush was the worst president of the 20th century, or might he be the worst president in American history?”

“I think he’s a good president,” I told her, which seemed to dumbfound her, and wreck my chances of appearing on her show.

This is the part to keep in mind when you hear the “historians call GWB one of the worst presidents” recitation on PBS or in the newspaper. The take from this vignette is that newsies are cherry-picking historians to find the ones that will say that Bush was the worst President. It’s partisans who say that; Roberts tells us that down the road, when the partisan rancor has settled, real historians will say something different.

Roberts’ argument rests on the correctness of Bush’s response to 9/11, which produced a security mindset at home, and attacks on the Taliban and Iraq and cooperation with capitals around the world to lasso terrorists abroad. He also notes that the recitations of ridicule will fade away, and after review of Bush’s notes and memoirs, the notion that he was an incurious frat boy will be treated like the unsupportable rubbish it’s always been. Also, the conspiracy-laced explanations for the Iraq war will hit the trash, and be replaced by the correct evaluation that Bush was right about most of what Iraq was doing, and where he was wrong, he was consistent with the rest of the world.

The only disagreement I have with Mr. Roberts is that he ignores domestic policy almost entirely, and where he pays attention briefly, he excuses Bush’s stimulus spending. I’ll continue to be a harsher critic of President Bush than Roberts. Eventually, Medicare and Social Security will fail, and when they do, we’ll all see their failure as having been inevitable and predictable, and blame the long string of Presidents who had the opportunity to fix it and did not. George W. Bush will figure high on that list. Also, history often omits details of economic policy, but the Bush legacy of growing the government and piling on the national debt will be remembered.

I’d like to reprint the whole article, but I don’t have permission, so here are a few excerpts:

At the time of 9/11, which will forever rightly be regarded as the defining moment of the presidency, history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the Americans murdered that day would be the very last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the US from that day to this…

Sneered at for being “simplistic” in his reaction to 9/11, Bush’s visceral responses to the attacks of a fascistic, totalitarian death cult will be seen as having been substantially the right ones.

Mr Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN’s food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter…

Films such as Oliver Stone’s W, which portray him as a spitting, oafish frat boy who eats with his mouth open and is rude to servants, will be revealed by the diaries and correspondence of those around him to be absurd travesties, of this charming, interesting, beautifully mannered history buff who, were he not the most powerful man in the world, would be a fine person to have as a pal.

Instead of Al Franken, history will listen to Bob Geldof praising Mr Bush’s efforts over Aids [sic] and malaria in Africa; or to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, who told him last week: “The people of India deeply love you.” And certainly to the women of Afghanistan thanking him for saving them from Taliban abuse, degradation and tyranny…

He was a success in foreign policy, though a disappointment in domestic policy. We were safe in our country because of his integrity and persistence. His was the cleanest government of my lifetime. Worst President in history? He’s not the worst of the 20th century, nor even near the worst in my lifetime; those honors go to Carter and Johnson for sheer incompetence, and Clinton for the felonious mess he dragged us through. Liberals will not admit it today, but we’re going to miss President Bush.

12/23/2008 (1:14 pm)

A Different Form of Government Charity

As if anticipating my criticism today of George W. Bush’s Evangelical impulses run amok, the Washington Times ran a story yesterday detailing a covert, White House operation involving both the President and the Vice President in efforts to visit as many servicemen and their families as possible to comfort them over losses sustained in war, out of the view of cameras.

For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark.

Their mission: to comfort the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to lift the spirits of those wounded in the service of their country…

… the size and scope of Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s private endeavors to meet with wounded soldiers and families of the fallen far exceed anything that has been witnessed publicly, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the effort.

This stands in stark contrast to President Clinton’s poll-driven agenda, and to President-elect Obama’s avoidance of wounded soldiers in Germany when he learned that the media would not be allowed to accompany him.

Hat tip to Jeff Emmanuel at Red State, who observes:

Whatever problems and disagreements we all may have with President Bush (and I have more than my share, starting with ‘04-’06 Iraq, ‘07 Israel, ‘07-’08 North Korea and Iran, TARP, immigration, NCLB, the Auto Bailout, and many, many more), there’s one fact which all who are not blinded by the most irrational form of Bush Derangement Syndrome can agree on: a very good man is leaving the White House in just under a month.

12/23/2008 (11:46 am)

RIP Compassionate Conservatism

John O’Sullivan’s cover story on National Review’s online magazine attempts to place George W. Bush’s presidency into a political category, and concludes that it can’t be done; rather, O’Sullivan observes, Bush’s presidency was more a reflection of his inner reflexes, for better or for worse.

All presidencies are shaped powerfully by the president’s personality. But the Bush presidency seems more personal, even impulsive, and less influenced by either party or ideology than most. In which case the quality of Bush’s personality becomes all-important. And just as compassionate conservatism lacks a guiding “governor,” so the Bush personality seems to lack a similar mechanism of impulse control. Sometimes his impulses are right, notably the surge; sometimes mistaken, notably immigration; almost always they prevail.

Which is why the best description of the Bush presidency was formulated almost 100 years ago by the great Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock: “He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

“Just as compassionate conservatism lacks a guiding ‘governor'” recalls the part of his analysis in which O’Sullivan critiques “compassionate conservatism” and leaves it bleeding and gasping on the floor. O’Sullivan’s criticism of compassionate conservatism suggests that it lacks any standard to limit the activism of government; that without any guiding principle, the inner impulse of the governor translate into unchecked and undisciplined spending on programs of dubious value. This strikes me as characteristic of Boomers, who are long on self-awareness and short on principle. Bill Clinton, our first Boomer President, showed us what happens when the worst of our narcissism gets unleashed on government; Bush completes the condemnation of our generation, showing us how destructive even our best impulses can be when they lack any meaningful discipline.

His critique of compassionate conservatism touched off a pretty interesting discussion in which Michael Gerson, Bush’s first chief speech writer, defends compassionate conservatism against what he regards as an historic wealth of heartless versions of conservatism, and O’Sullivan and Jonah Goldberg reply.

I found Gerson’s defense unpersuasive, but I was struck by the similarity between it and the defense of government intervention by a Christian friend of mine: “What if the people fail to meet the need? Do we just let the poor starve?” Gerson’s version goes like this:

Far from being a vague, weepy tenderness, compassionate conservatism has a rigorous definition. It teaches that the pursuit of the common good is a moral goal. It asserts that this goal is best achieved through strong families, volunteer groups and communities that all deserve legal deference and respect. But it also accepts that when local institutions fail — a child is betrayed by a consistently failing school, a state passes a Jim Crow law, a nation is helpless to tackle a treatable disease — the federal government has a responsibility to intervene. Such interventions generally are most successful when they promote individual and community empowerment instead of centralizing bureaucratic control. But when that is not possible, it is fully appropriate to send in the Army to desegregate the schools of Little Rock.

What Gerson (and my friend) describe as “compassionate conservatism,” I describe as “traditional liberalism with a preamble.” The difference between conservatism and “compassionate” conservatism is not really compassion — I’ll address that in a moment — but rather the assertion of the moral superiority of whoever runs the government, and positing the government as savior of final recourse. This is precisely what makes liberalism “liberalism:” the assertion that they (the liberals) succeed in understanding moral good where the people fail, and the assertion that government solutions produce better results than solutions that arise from the populace.

By contrast, sound conservatism understands that the people are at least as good a source of morality as the government. In the first place, the government is nothing but a reflection of the people; the likelihood that the government will embody better moral reasoning than the people who selected them is near zero, and if it occurs at all, it occurs by accident. In the second place, individuals within government are motivated by things that usually don’t affect popular efforts: lust for power, need to acquire votes and satisfy constituencies, bureaucratic turf and career protection.

This is why Gerson’s examples are bogus. The question of what to do when the people fail to produce enough compassion to meet all needs is contrived. It presupposes that there exists a morally superior elite that is uniformly and permanently capable of assessing moral need that the people are not capable of assessing. It rests entirely on a revival of the archaic notion of noblesse oblige, only instead of nobility residing in those who are born to it, it resides in those who hold the Correct Political Opinions. Should we be surprised that the person formulating this fine-sounding appeal is always a member of that elite?

Lacing Gerson’s defense, and aptly noted in Goldberg’s and O’Sullivan’s pieces, is the assertion that conservatism somehow lacks heart. That’s a libellous conceit on the part of liberals. Liberals assert that the only reason conservatives oppose their governmental programs to reduce poverty is that they hate the poor. In actual fact, conservatives oppose those policies because they love the poor, and understand that what the liberals propose will enslave and dehumanize the poor while enriching the bureaucracy.

I always took Bush’s use of the adjective “compassionate” as merely a rhetorical tactic to regain political high ground; apparently, Gerson either never saw it as that, or came to believe his own carefully-crafted rhetoric. It’s always been the case, and has lately even been established by research, that opponents of governmental charity exercise charity themselves to a greater degree than those who call on the government to do so. We even have larger-than-life public icons showcasing the difference: the last three presidential elections featured comparisons between the personal charities of Republican candidates who donate huge sums, and ponderously wealthy Democratic candidates who can barely be bothered to write a $20 check at Christmastime.

Nonetheless, President Bush apparently responded to his Evangelical impulses to help the poor, realized that he had this huge government at hand with which to do something about it, and produced a wave of government largesse as large as any we could have expected from his liberal opponents. That the Left in America can’t see Bush as anything but a conservative is remarkable; it’s fairly difficult to produce a list of conservative policies pursued by the Bush administration.

The positive achievements of the Bush administration lie in their having recognized the threat of Islamic Wahabist activism and taken strong, international measures to overcome it. Apart from that vital defense of the nation, the Bush presidency will be remembered for overspending on a series of domestic policies that could easily have been the product of a center-left President. Compassionate conservatism, requiescat in pacem. Please.