Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., 1925-2008

From this obituary: "For people of my generation, Bill Buckley was pretty much the first intelligent, witty, well-educated conservative one saw on television," fellow conservative William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said at the time [Firing Line] ended. "He legitimized conservatism as an intellectual movement and therefore as a political movement."

Visit National Review for more discussion about its founder.

Here is the bastion of liberalism's obituary on the "scourge of liberalism."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Michelle Obama

What a foolish remark Michelle Obama made in declaring that she's only recently become proud of her country. Her snobbery and ingratitude summed up much of the foolishness of the Left and the Democrats for the last 40 years.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Closing of Columbia's Mind

Harvey Mansfield has made the best criticism of Lee Bollinger and Columbia's decision to invite the Iranian President to campus for a discussion. Although conservatives feared that Bollinger was giving a platform to an enemy of America, Mansfield shows that Bollinger failed from the perspective of free inquiry. Bollinger showed little understanding of what the purpose of a university is with his rudeness. Mansfield's criticism is the most serious kind that one can level against a university president.

First, Bollinger was tough, calling Ahmadinejad a "petty and cruel dictator" and actually sounding like Presdient Bush. However, Mansfield notes that Bollinger didn't understand that Ahmadinejad came to Columbia to criticize the U.S. for managing the world and to mollify opponents of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Ahmadinejad came off as moderate. With his tough guy credentials already established, he merely had to explain that a free referendum of all Palestinians would end Israel's existence. Ahmadinejad used Bollinger's toughness to "align him with American bullying" according to Mansfield, and Bollinger himself seemed to want to manage the world as well by calling for a kind of Velvet Revolution in Iran.

Bollinger also did not speak to Ahmadinejad in a spirit of free debate by insulting him. Bollinger attacked Ahmadinejad on matters of policy in a way the Secretary of State might, dismissing his ideas before he even heard them. Similarly, "[i]mmitating Bollinger, the questioners at the speech also avoided ideas."

Ahmadinejad, by contrast, spoke of illumination. He also implied that science was compatible with religion by invoking "Almighty God" and argued that science simply wants to understand nature rather than command and control it. On this score, Bollinger had nothing to say.

Bollinger's problem is that he didn't understand the conflicts between politics and free inquiry. He wanted to be both a Velvet Revolutionary, attacking an enemy, and an academic, honoring freedon of inquiry. Bollinger thinks that inquiry is compatible with expressing revulsion -- a residue of the late sixties, as Mansfield says. "But insults harm free speech by drawing attention away from the ideas of the speakers, and expressing revulsion harms inquiry by discouraging or preventing cool. dispassionate analysis," according to Mansfield.

So Bollinger embarrassed himself in the most serious way for a university president by displaying confusion about the business of politics and especially about what thinking requires.

This was arguably Harvey Mansfield at his most liberal -- though liberal in the best sense of upholding the university's standards. The remark about the sixties wasn't conservative at all; instead it shows that the student radicals were illiberal enemies of free inquiry.

Friday, June 29, 2007

How Immigrants Have Changed

Peggy Noonan puts her finger on what's different about today's immigrants, though she doesn't delve too deeply into why they're different. She's right to cite advances in technology that allow people more contact with their lands of origin, but there have been changes in thought as well that have hindered assimilation. Technology rarely turns things upside down the way different thoughts can. As Peter Schramm puts it in another piece, the ideology of multiculturalism and self-loathing likely prevents the assimilation that once occured.

I once read that New York's Mayor LaGuardia held a celebration called "I am an American Day" in Central Park for new American citizens, complete with the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, himself a new citizen after fleeing the tyranny of the Soviet Union, playing at the event. It's difficult to imagine such an event taking place today. Anyway, here are Noonan's excellent remarks:

My grandfather had his struggles here but never again went home. He'd cast his lot. That's an important point in the immigrant experience, when you cast your lot, when you make your decision. It makes you let go of something. And it makes you hold on to something. The thing you hold on to is the new country. In succeeding generations of your family the holding on becomes a habit and then a patriotism, a love. You realize America is more than the place where the streets were paved with gold. It has history, meaning, tradition. Suddenly that's what you treasure.

A problem with newer immigrants now is that for some it's no longer necessary to make The Decision. They don't always have to cast their lot. There are so many ways not to let go of the old country now, from choosing to believe that America is only about money, to technology that encourages you to stay in constant touch with the land you left, to TV stations that broadcast in the old language. If you're an immigrant now, you don't have to let go. Which means you don't have to fully join, to enmesh. Your psychic investment in America doesn't have to be full. It can be provisional, temporary. Or underdeveloped, or not developed at all.

And this may have implications down the road, and I suspect people whose families have been here a long time are concerned about it. It's one of the reasons so many Americans want a pause, a stopping of the flow, a time for the new ones to settle down and settle in. It's why they oppose the mischief of the Masters of the Universe, as they're being called, in Washington, who make believe they cannot close our borders while they claim they can competently micromanage all other aspects of immigration.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why was Jason Giambi Summoned to the Commissioner's Office?

NY Yankee slugger Jason Giambi was summoned to the baseball commissioner's office seemingly because he offended baseball with these remarks:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up- players, ownership, everybody- and said, ‘We made a mistake.’”

However, this is old news. Giambi, after all, testified in late 2004 at the BALCO grand jury that he used steroids and human growth hormone. Could it be that the commissioner's office is embarrassed that a player can say what it has been afraid to? Just because Giambi feels guilty (a suspected brain tumor a few years ago will do that to you) doesn't mean he's a boy scout. Still, the commissioner's office is picking on him because he effectively fingered it for winking at the steroid problem previously.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

"France, Britain, and Germany, the three major countries in the E.U., are now in conservative or very moderate social democratic hands. It is an odd thing. George W. Bush was supposed to have entirely alienated Europe. But first with Angela Merkel in Germany and now with Sarkozy in France, we see pro-American leaders at the very heart of the E.U."

-- Michel Gurfinkel

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Executive Power is Unmanly

Commentators have been giving themselves hernias trying to see a connection between Harvey Mansfield's interest in executive power and his interest in manliness. (See this Andrew Sullivan post, and follow the links, for example.) In an interview with Bruce Cole, Mansfield provides the connection, but it turns out to be different than what most people think. Basically, Mansfield says that executive power is unmanly because it isn't rule in one's own name. When you execute (as opposed to rule in your own name), there is at least an element of doing someone else's bidding (Congress's, the people's). Someone else makes you do it, when you execute. In fact, that's why we call our president an executive; it's less threatening to people who view all rule as unjust than to simply say that he rules. Anyway, here's the relevant exchange:

MANSFIELD: Well, I talk about this in my book Executive Power, which looks at the influence of Machiavelli on modern politics. I argue that executive power is power that exercised in the name of someone other than yourself, so it’s a kind of indirect government. It’s a way of acting without taking responsibility for your actions. In that sense, executive power is something weak or it’s something that you present as, “I’m sorry, I would like to help you, but the law says I can’t” or “I’m sorry, we need to do this because the people have spoken.” You always find some other authority besides yourself in which to supply clothing for your own actions. This is something that had not been thought of or invented by the ancients, by Plato and Aristotle, it’s a modern idea.

COLE: This discussion seems to be heading towards manliness. That’s the title of your most recent book, right?


COLE: At first sight, Manliness seems to be a departure from your earlier work, but it really isn’t, though.

MANSFIELD: Manliness, you could say, is the opposite of executive power. Manliness, instead of being indirect, is very direct. It’s frank and open, and, therefore, somewhat oblivious to one’s surroundings and not, as we say today, sensitive. I’d say the present day opposite of a manly man is a sensitive male.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Energy in the Executive

Who better than Harvey Mansfield himself to give a synopsis of his book Taming the Prince as it relates to current events? Though a defender of an energetic executive, Mansfield steps back from that defense in this piece to display the philosophic roots of the debate between the strong executive and the rule of law. He also shows how the Constitution contains both sides of that debate or tension, and is, therefore, much more "alive" than Progressives, who assumed it was dead and wanted to breathe life into it (or thought judges should do so), ever realized. We have a Constitution that both supports the rule of law and somehow legalizes extra-legal energy in an attempt to give republicanism the stability it requires.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Best Piece on Va. Tech

Sarah Baxter has written the best piece I've seen so far on Virginia Tech. It should embarrass psychiatrists who insist on viewing Cho's rage as the product of repressed homesexuality. The shrinks are right to focus on feelings of being unmanly, but these are much less repressed than they think and don't necessarily have to do with fear of confronting homosexual feelings.

In any case, Camille Paglia weighs in, arguing "Women have difficulty understanding the mix of male sexual aggression with egotism and the ecstasy of self-immolation."

I don't know about self-immolation, but I think Paglia's onto something about misunderstanding male aggression. Modern liberalism may not give it its due.

Paglia is also right to compare American campuses to resorts and to argue that "there is nothing happening educationally in these boring prisons that are fondly called suburban high schools. They are saturated with a false humanitarianism, which is especially damaging for boys." Paglia continues in arguing that we neglect manliness: "Young men have enormous energy. There was a time when they could run away, hop on a freighter, go to a factory and earn money, do something with their hands. Now there is this snobbery of the upper-middle-class professional. Everyone has to be a lawyer or paper pusher."

More importantly, Paglia adds, "The pervasive hook-up culture at college, where girls are prepared to sleep with boys they barely know or fancy, can be a source of seething resentment and alientation for those who are left out. Young women now seem to want to behave like men and have sex without commitment. The signals they are giving are very confusing, and rage and humiliation build up in boys who are spurned again and again. The sex is everywhere but it is not erotic. It's not even titilating. It's banal and debasing."

Baxter also snagged some good quotes from Francis Fukuyama, who compares Middle Eastern terrorists with Cho. According to Fukuyama, "It really is young men between 15 and 30 who are responsible for the vast majority of crimes, although it is politically incorrect to say this too loudly. [Suicide bombers and Cho] fall into the same demographic of young males, a lot of whom are unemployed, without a clear place in the social hierarchy. these guys have the most to gain and the least to lose by martyrdom. [Often they are upset about girls]whose attention they can't get."

I suspect the psychiatrists have something to add as well, given reports about Cho's parents devoting so much attention to making ends meet and about Cho's mother having been obliged to look after her own siblings. Who knows what kind of resentment she may have harbored at being forced to start her own family at a later age than she might have liked and not with the man she might have preferred. Who knows also if and how this influenced her relationship with her son.

Maleness is crucial to this though, as Fukuyama says -- and not exactly in ways that the psychiatrists may think.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wolfowitz Ambushed, Financial Times Shows its Cravenness

My inclination to give capitalism two cheers instead of three sometimes puts me at odds with the WSJ editorial page. However, no media outlet has followed the story regarding alleged improprieties by World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz as carefully, and has exposed the cravenness of Wolfowitz's enemies with greater energy as the Journal. Two recent editorials (here and here) tell the story of how Wolfowitz properly disclosed his personal relationship with a bank staff member and followed recommendations regarding the situation of her employment. Efforts to oust him amid allegations of improprieties stem from disagreement over his anticorruption campaign. Apparently, Wolfowitz has the temerity to think the bank's loans shouldn't wind up in corrupt officials' personal accounts, and should actually help the poor.

Kudos to the WSJ as well for remarking how cynical the press corps is in thinking that Wolfowitz must be guilty without reading relevant documents. The Journal doesn't name names, but I will. The Financial Times has been particularly spineless in running multiple editorials against Wolfowitz while displaying no evidence of having read the documents pertaining to the case. Europe's leading business paper is so hot to pile on an ambushed American World Bank President that it has neglected to read exculpatory documents and is willing to defend the miserable status quo, whereby wealthy countries line the pockets of corrupt officials in the developing world.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Appeasing Terrorism

Can the trip to Venezuela be far off?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton

Yesterday was Hamilton's 250th.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Whither the Democratic Party?

The Democrats may have won the recent election, but they still lack a coherent governing philosophy, according to political scientist Dan DiSalvo. Unable to overcome the legacy of 1968, which represents the collapse of the New Deal coalition, the Democrats are caught between the vital center and radical politics.

In his review essay, DiSalvo shows how some old SDS campus radicals such as Todd Gitlin have taken on the trappings of the Cold War liberals they once denounced and whose purpose was to elevate the standard of living of working class Americans while unabashedly believing in America as a force for good in the world. The other intellectual wing of the party consists of the "identity politics" crowd, the residue of the 1968 radicals championing the "authenticity of the oppressed" and doubting "American beneficience in world affairs."

According to DiSalvo, the intellectual life of the Left is somewhat removed from politics, yet necessarily of great concern to the Democratic Party, whose image the intellectuals shape. For now, it seems unlikely that intellectuals, party strategists, and elected officials can forge a coherent message subduing or resolving the tension between the revival of Harry Truman's patriotism and radical Left multiculturalism.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Irony in the Eulogy

I couldn't help but think of a certain irony in President Bush's eulogy of former President Ford today. Bush discussed Ford's refusal to play in a football game against Georgia Tech in response to Tech's demand that a black player from Michigan not participate. The thought behind Ford's refusal to play was apparently that race is insignificant. The thought behind the University of Michigan's current affirmative action policies is the opposite.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Alternative View of Ford

Christopher Hitchens departs from the more polite tone of Peggy Noonan and Fred Barnes in remembering the Ford Administration. Contra Hitchens, I think Ford was ultimately correct to pardon Nixon. However, I think Hitchens is correct in condemning Ford for not meeting with Solzhenitsyn.

Ford was a Rockefeller Republican or, as Fred Barnes called him on FoxNews, a "Midwestern Republican". These are terms you hardly hear anymore because the species they describe are extinct -- or nearly so. (In fact, Ford elevated Nelson Rockefeller to the vice presidency.) This was the seemingly more moderate but really less principled wing of the GOP that Reagan marginalized in 1980, and that basically gasped its last breath when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. The species died out for the reason that Barnes states: "Ford, with Henry Kissinger as his Secretary of State, championed détente with the Soviet Union and its bulging empire. Reagan rejected co-existence and pursued victory in the Cold War as his goal, and he achieved it." Or, as Noonan puts it, "[Ford] did not fully appreciate the public desire for a fresher, more candid attitude toward the Soviet Union, and communism in general."

One thing I'll add is that Ford didn't fully restore confidence in the Presidency, as many of his obituaries have indicated. Up until the end of the Carter administration, many observers, including Washington lawyer Lloyd Cutler, wondered whether one person could do the job. Not until Reagan took office did those questions abate.

Update 12/31 -- During the state funeral yesterday, Bill Kristol mentioned on FoxNews that it's impressive how few presidents we've had, how stable the country has been, and how the ceremony we devote to each president's death is appropriate. He also noted that our system of separation of powers, unlike parliamentary systems, makes the president the only representative of all the people. There's something to this, but I wonder if it's closer to the progressive view of things, which strangely wanted more of a parliamentary system. The president is supposed to represent the country in foreign policy, where divisions could be crippling, but I'm not sure about this with regard to domestic matters, where the president is supposed to be more of a check against the people's representatives than a representative himself.