Postmodern Conservatism

Reflections on politics, culture, and education.

Try Reaching The People Who (Sorta) Agree With You


Have you ever seen birds flying in what looked like a disorganized flying mob, and then the birds all simultaneously and perfectly changed direction in formation. It seemed as if the birds were all controlled by the same mind. It seems to me that much of the conversation regarding the political right making gains among African Americans seems to based on the assumption that the African American voters are all part of a hive mind rather than individuals within a community.

This assumption mars the Elbert Guillory ads. Take the part where he says “you scrounge together food stamps to buy Kool-Aid.” Or take the part where he talks about liberals being “our new overseers” on a “plantation”.

It is too bad because those ads have the occasionally powerful moment like the part where he says:

But who among us have they [the Democrats] saved?

It is a good question, but treating the intended audience as a collection of racial stereotypes gets in the way, and so does the absurdly overheated rhetoric. The bad elements in the ads seem designed to win over no persuadable African Americans in particular.

There is a spectrum of opinion among those who identify as African American. From public opinion polls, about 30 percent of African Americans have moderately conservative opinions on economic and social policy. Between five percent and ten percent of African Americans vote Republican in federal elections.

These kinds of discontinuities between ideology and partisan voting behavior are not new in American politics. In the past, you saw similar voting patterns with urban working-class whites and white Southerners. Republicans did not win every urban working-class white. Some of those urban working-class whites were liberal in their policy preferences. But Republicans did manage to convince many right-leaning working-class whites that that the GOP was not their natural enemy.

This was not an easy process. For one thing, many of these right-leaning white voters were not conservatives in the same way that the right-wing of the Republican party was conservative. You could not appeal to them by attacking the New Deal as the beginning of the end of American freedom. Conservatives had to craft a version of the right that could appeal to partisans of Silent Cal while not insulting voters who thought highly of FDR (which didn’t mean that they were all about wage and price controls). Finding that policy and rhetorical common ground was a halting and frustrating process – as you can learn from reading National Review writers like James Burnham and William Rusher in the 1970s.

In the medium-term, aligning African American voting patterns with the expressed policy preferences of African Americans should be the goal. One can hope to make converts to conservative policy preferences, but let’s learn to walk before we run.

There are several things to keep in mind. The first is that many of those African Americans who express conservative policy preferences are probably moderately conservative as to both economic and social policy. Picture a white tea partier, an establishment Republican and a moderately conservative African American. They are probably going to have three different ideas of what a relatively smaller government is going to look like – as well as different priorities. You can probably craft a politics where those three people have more in common with each other than with the median Democratic member of the House of Representatives, but it will take more than rewording a Chamber of Commerce wish list or repeating rhetorical tropes about freedom and the Constitution. It should also go without saying that these three people might have different ideas about the progress of freedom in American history – once again, not a new problem for the center-right.

It isn’t impossible. Republican governors have gotten 20 percent or more of the African American vote in their reelection campaigns. That included a conservative reformist like Mitch Daniels (who got 20 percent of the African American vote while running in a toxic environment for Republicans). But it isn’t going to just happen.     

On Obama’s Amnesty, Work Permits, Etc.


I got nothing. That doesn’t mean I think conservatives should do nothing. It is just that I have zero ideas of my own. Ramesh Ponnuru, Peter Kirsanow, and Sean Trende have some ideas.

I do think that it is time for some quiet conversations within the Republican congressional membership that, given the erosion of norms regarding use of executive authority and the privileges of the legislative minority (regarding the filibuster), it is better to jump out two steps ahead whenever you have the chance, rather than forever staying one step behind. Just a thought for the next time the GOP has the presidency and control (however narrowly) of both houses of Congress.


Traditionalists and Libertarians


I still have quite an impressive cold. But life goes on. The next stop on my fall tour is next Friday morning at the University of Virginia, with our own Jim Ceaser.

I’m giving two talks. One, as part of a class on the American political tradition, is during the week on conservatism. I’m speaking as a conservative. The reading for the week is from Russell Kirk and Milton Friedman.

The next is as part of a class on political economy. I’m speaking on Southern agrarianism or anti-industrialism. The reading is from the poets John Crowe Ransom and Wendell Berry. Well, Berry doesn’t write in a specifically Southern voice, and he is from a border state. I don’t think I’m supposed to speak as an agrarian, but maybe as a Southerner. Ransom actually calls himself a conservative, as opposed to a (techno-) progressive. Berry doesn’t do that, I would guess, because in our time conservatism is too readily identified with industrial oligarchs.

Mr. Ceaser, in his classic article about the many hearts functioning under the one head that is American conservatism (and that has to be one big, giant head), says that traditionalists (Kirk) and libertarians (Friedman) both should be called conservatives because they opposed collectivism, or progressivism defined as bigger and better government facilitating a great national community.

Well, that’s true, although that alliance was easier to hold together when the enemy was the radical collectivism called Communism. It’s possible to argue that nobody is a collectivist in the strong sense anymore, just as nobody is a progressivist in the confident FDR sense anymore.

We can also say that that Kirk and Friedman emphasized the indispensable place of personal property in securing liberty. So they weren’t only opposed to the cruel and monstrous tyrannies of the Soviet Union and China. They were (unlike Plato?) deeply theoretical anti-Communists. For Kirk, the bottom line is the dignity of the human person (which is why he understood himself as a theoretical Catholic); for Friedman, it’s the individual freedom to choose in every respect how to cooperate with other individuals.

The difference between individual and person was a big deal for Kirk. Although he knew he was in many respects allied with libertarians, he made a point of having some contempt for them. They were, he claimed, sectarians typically deformed by “relational issues” that caused them not to be able to think clearly about who they are or should be as parents, children, creatures, friends, and (for him last and least, perhaps) citizens.

It is true that when libertarians say “collectivist” they often mean being a sucker by thinking of oneself as part of a whole greater than oneself. From that view, “citizens” are either in the thrall of collectivist illusions that turn them into country fodder or cynical rent-seekers demanding preferential treatment over non-citizens.

And a libertarian has trouble distinguishing between a citizen and a statist and between a country or nation and a state. So, as I’ve said before, libertarian economists will often admit, after a couple of drinks, that this world would be a better place if we tore down all the political walls as nothing but arbitrary constructs and allowed voluntarily cooperating individuals to interact freely or contractually in the global marketplace.

For Kirk, a person becomes who she is within the relational confines of a particular culture and tradition, the foundation of which is somewhat mysterious or religious. Ordered liberty can’t be achieved mainly through calculation but mostly relies on shared customs, common religious observances, and habitual affection.

For a libertarian (say, Tyler Cowen), a free individual uses the money earned through his her productivity to consume the products of particular cultures without actually being immersed in or enslaved by any particular culture. The free or cosmopolitan individual orbits the world of cultures — achieving multicultural diversity.

Actually, Kirk and Friedman both agree that a key goal is to minimize the place of political coercion in life. Kirk’s vision is the small community where people are clear on both their rights and their duties and know their places. Friedman’s is through deploying all means necessary to replace coercion with contract, which is why is he for legalizing drugs, same-sex marriage, school choice and then the abolition of public education altogether, an all-volunteer army, and so forth. It’s telling how many of Friedman’s ideas that were regarded as hopelessly radical at the time he expressed them now seem reasonable or even mainstream. America is drifting in an individualistic or libertarian direction. It is, as I’ve explained before, a kind of libertarian securitarianism — a somewhat oxymoronic combo that reaches its extreme form in tranhumanism (especially in the singular form of Thielism).

Kirk’s concerns about natural and social ecology, “localism,” and excessive dependence on technology have gained traction, but mostly not very effectively. There are countercultural pockets of crunchy, traditionalist conservatism. And Kirk, given his own inability to hold a job, wouldn’t regard being effectual as a vice. He was a “bohemian Tory,” which is a lot more authentic than “bourgeois bohemian.” It’s also a lot more self-indulgent, some bourgeois fella might say.

Kirk and Friedman, opposed as they were to state coercion, agreed in their opposition to American imperialism, or the garrison state. So we see a mixture of traditionalist and libertarian isolationism on the pages of The American Conservative today.

We can say that Kirk and Berry aren’t very Southern in their lack of admiration of or at least interest in the American “citizen soldier” — and in their tone deafness to country music.

The radical difference between Kirk (and, of course Berry and Ransom) is over technology.  Kirk isn’t as “reactionary” or agrarian as Berry or Ransom, but he insists that economic choices be humane or attentive to properly human scale and to conserving the unbought goodness of leisurely, neighborly, natural, worshiping life. Berry refused to move beyond the pre-electric typewriter. And Kirk didn’t learn to drive the “mechanical Jacobin,” or automobile.

So the least we conservatives must learn from those traditionalists is to work hard to keep all education from being reduced to technical competencies and to preserve leisurely pursuits as humanly worthy educational activities.

When libertarians talk about techno-progress today, they begin first with the medical technology that benefits us all. Then they turn to the screen, which shows all the same wonderful stuff to billionaires and welfare recipients alike. Traditionalists begin by wondering what the virtual reality that is that screen does to divert us from the unbought goodness that is personal or relational life.

On the Founders: Kirk understands our written Constitution to be dependent on a providential constitution or our polymorphous inheritance of traditions of liberty. So he does what he can to minimize the contribution of the innovating and philosophizing Mr. Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence, from this view, has to be understood as a way of sucking up to those atheistic and “enlightened” intellectuals who dominated our potential ally France.

The libertarians (this is clear in both Hayek and Ayn Rand), by contrast,  understand that the Founders, being “classical liberals,” are important resources for advancing the cause of individual liberation. So libertarian “originalism” is very theoretical, with a big role for the Court in enforcing libertarian theory against a recalcitrant democracy.

So someone might say that the traditionalists and the libertarians both distort our constitutional foundation for their own purposes. Not, maybe, that there’s anything wrong with that. They both, after all, have their hands on part of the truth.

Rome and the Dynamic of Freedom and Virtue (2)


Continued from my post of November 12 – again much indebted to Pierre Manent’s Metamorphoses of the City.

Such a marvelous equilibrium could not be expected to be stable. The truth of human longing could not be captured in the figure of a virtuous polis looking up to a serenely self-satisfied philosopher. To state the problem in Platonic terms: If the Good that all human beings are somehow seeking, whether they know it or not, is indeed  “beyond being,” as Plato’s Socrates said (Republic 6), then the philosopher’s claim to possess what everyone else is looking for is dubious at best.  The restless freedom and glorious sacrifice of the common man point to a truth of the human condition that is not exhausted in the finite form of aristocratic transcendence. 

The whole history of Rome bespeaks the infinity of human freedom and its expression in glorious sacrifice. The classical polis understood itself in the light of its own concrete notion of human excellence: an Athenian legislator laid down laws that aimed to favor the formation of a citizen of a definite type of virtue, and the Athenian citizen deliberated and acted in view of a notion of the common good that reflected that concrete virtue.  In a sense, then, the polis was immediately visible to political reason; political action there implied a concrete and limited vision of achievable political ends. But in another sense the classical city depended on the unquestioned acceptance of its givenness, its naturalness as a city; this is what was expressed in the Platonic “noble lie” of autochthony: The citizens must believe that their city, with its ruling virtues, springs as it were from the earth, that it is just a given, a fact of nature. The Aristotle’s Athenians reasoned together about the means to virtue and the common good, but the very integrity of the city depended on taking as naturally given the character of virtue itself. (Again, Aristotle would refine and to some degree rationalize the political virtues of the Athenians; he would not radically question their givenness, their naturalness.)

It is here that the Roman republicanism came to distinguish itself explicitly from the classical political equilibrium. The Romans were very clear about their debt to Greek philosophy and culture, but they claimed to have in a way improved on the original. The Romans claimed a kind of rational advantage in being late-comers; they touted the superiority of their what might be called their derivative status or their “secondarity.” Unlike the Greeks, they did not consign the nature of their republic and its virtues to some mythic generation from nature, but took pride in a process whose beginning and unfolding they held to be available to rational understanding. The Roman historian Titus Livy thus held Rome to be “the work of a kind of genius common to a large number of citizens . . . by a labor pursued by generations over many centuries.” This work was not that of a distinct people who took their city to be a product of nature but rather of “outsiders . . . a motley crowd, an indistinct mix of free men and slaves, all searching for something new.”

 Rome produces a new political form as the notion of the virtuous common good, the rule of a concrete character type taken to be good by nature, is forgotten or left behind in this search for “something new.” The principle of association, the basis of community, is no longer the classical ruling claim to a shared way of life, a way that is largely taken for granted as inherited from divine ancestors (and interpreted by philosophy according to the standard of nature). What then, is the alternative?  To what authority or ground of meaning will Rome appeal as a principle of association, a bond of common action? It is the openness of this question that will give Rome its unprecedented energy, the restless and often cruel dynamism by which Rome would expand from Republic to Empire, by which it would reshape the world and form the crucible of Western civilization. 

 With the rise of Rome there is a decisive shift from what might be called “vertical” to “horizontal” figures of transcendence.

More to follow.

Tags: Rome , freedom , virtue , Pierre Manent

Where’s the Leadership?


It increasingly looks like Obama will issue the Big Amnesty order, likely this very week. Here’s descriptions from Ross Douthat and Jonathan Tobin of its breathtakingly anti-democratic, polarizing, and unconstitutional character. And here is a Wahington Post account that reads like a liberal legacy-media account, the sort that many of your fellow citizens are letting themselves be guided by, that tries to reduce the controversy to one about (a) immigration policy and (b) relations between Obama and the Republicans in Congress – i.e., it does much to avoid framing the issue as one about the Constitution.  

So that’s it, then? Another excuse for another one of those funding and shutdown battles, eh?  

Everything in me wants to scream against that. And the strategist in me wants to caution most gravely that Obama is likely not done with taking unconstitutional executive-order actions, which means the day after Big Amnesty, on top of calculating any retaliation against it or blocking of its implementation, we have to begin strategizing about how to prevent him from doing more and more of such actions.  

Will we let Big Amnesty go down in our history as something never challenged in any clear way as an unconstitutional abomination of the first order? Are there plans for any big protest? Discussion of whether to oppose ever granting voting rights to those so amnestied?  Does any conservative leader prepare citizens for what comes next?

Well, on NRO, Andrew McCarthy does. There’s Douthat’s work at the New York Times, although he has avoided ever recommending impeachment or the threat of it. But that’s about it. Oh, there undoubtedly are some more obscure writers, such as yours truly, who dwell upon the issue, but have we seen the big conservative outlets linking our commentaries? Pursuing major reporting on the issue? Discussing a menu of possible GOP responses? Nope.

Boehner tells us “we’re going to fight this tooth and nail,” and that “all options are on the table.” Okay. Thank you for saying that.  And maybe you do have some cool procedural weapons that you masterminds confer about in secret. But the public, meantime, is reduced to waiting to see what you will unveil.  Below that story I read some anonymous conservative’s comment: ”If the GOP leadership allows this to stand, they’ll be ruined.”  

Well, as far as I can tell, it is going to stand, and all the drama about government shut-down will, by itself, amount to little but a confusion.  Had the GOP organized a pledge to impeach in response to Big Amnesty, as I called for many months ago, and again last week, we could begin pursuing that without the shame of giving the public no warning of our intention. Had the GOP at least not discouraged its members from admitting the obvious fact that their constituents were talking about impeachment, perhaps such a pledge could have been quickly organized after November 4. But now? Heck, now, we aren’t even in a position to force the legacy media to take note of half the nation’s deep anger over this. Obama will do it, and a thousand editorials that only conservatives read will denounce it.

Does anyone organize a letter campaign?  Lay the groundwork for big protest actions? Does anyone give the conservative base a stinkin’ thing to do? I guess we’re supposed to just wait until after the order is given, and after the GOP honchos have had their meeting about how to respond. Meantime, the impression we’re all giving our fellow Americans is that we regard this as politics as per usual.  

I’m not directing my accusation here solely against McConnell and Boehner. I think their legislative pro-amnesty gamesmanship has been a disaster in several ways, but I feel, as I think think most conservatives do by now, used to it.  I expect it.  They are at least noble enough men to resent the blackmail Obama has threatened them with, and American enough to be aghast at the naked unconstitutionality of his proposed order.  Yes, their elitist approach to the “immigration issue” has now put them in an unprepared and unconvincing position to lead with respect to the core issue here, that is, the constitutional one, but this is not a surprise.

So the ones I most denounce for leadership failure are top conservatives across the land, in conservative media, think-tanks, political organizations, etc. I’d guess that at least a third of these people disagreed with the way Boehner his ilk continued, after repeated rejections, to pursue an immigration deal repugnant to most of the conservative base. So why didn’t these ones begin to make noise, or otherwise prepare for action? And why couldn’t even some in the “Boehner camp” have tried to forcefully distinguish between the policy issue and the constitutional one? The approach of this monstrosity has been visible for months. The pattern of take-care-clause violations, ones with lower stakes, has been unfolding since 2012 and rather obviously so from the summer of 2013 on. And as of today, I know of no organized group action to stop it, either from inside or outside the official GOP and conservative organizations. Why don’t I? On comment thread after comment thread, in poll after poll, evidence of astonishment and anger about Big Amnesty is seen again and again. Is there no “entrepreneur,” either as politician, organizer, or media-salesman, who has stepped up to serve such sentiments? Or, why haven’t we heard about them?  Perhaps Peter Spiliakos or someone else who understands the GOP and national conservative organizations better than I could explain why.

And no, the mere fear of uttering the “I”-word prior to an election cannot fully explain what’s going on here.  

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru proposes a decent selective defunding plan here. It has the key merit of simplicity, although it is still unclear to me how far existing funding would allow Obama to implement the order anyhow. So perhaps good news, that. Another bright spot amid the darkening gloom is the Washington Post’s editorial forcefully opposing the order. If only more liberal editorial pages had spoken so much sooner, but good for the WaPo nonetheless.  

Tags: Big Amensty , Republican Party , Conservatism , Ross Douthat , Jonathan Tobin , Andrew McCarthy


Privileges and Responsibilities


The two reasons you haven’t heard from me yesterday are: 1) I have a really bad cold/flu thing; 2) I spent a couple days at a great program put on for high-school teachers at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga’s Center for Reflective Citizenship. 

One of the speakers at UTC was the leading historian Walter McDougall. He explained that the independence and Constitutions things just wouldn’t have worked out had not the relevant deliberations taken place in Philadelphia. He brilliantly deployed Philly as a kind of focal point to tell the teachers with great candor about both the greatness of so many of the Founders and the role of luck in transformative political change. I would like to talk more about this “teaching method,” but . . .

I can’t help but think you would benefit greatly if I opened with some stuff about my presentation. I actually thought some about what a conservative account of American liberty would be these days. I begin with saying that liberty is best understood as a privilege, a point of honor, an unbought and unearned gift. Privileges have corresponding responsibilities. Americans have every reason to be grateful for having been given complicated and diverse understandings of what the privilege of liberty is.

1. Intellectual liberty (Socrates) — The privilege of living in the truth has the corresponding responsibility of preferring the truth to self-interest and prejudice, not to mention ideology.  This liberty of mind is somehow indispensable but insufficient in understanding who we are.

2. The liberty of the citizen (the polis) — The privilege of ruling and being ruled in turn has the corresponding responsibilities of loyalty and serious deliberation. It is a liberty that is, in its nature, territorial, as opposed to global. Global citizenship is an oxymoron. It’s in a particular political community that your rights are secured and that you experience yourself as being at home. This liberty is typically called republican liberty, perfecting itself in selflessly thinking of yourself as a part of your country. Spartan liberty. No American is a citizen and nothing more or even maybe a citizen deep down. But lots of Americans worry about the atrophying of civic virtue as America morphs from a republic to an empire and especially in the direction of apolitical and post-political fantasies promoted by libertarian futurists.

Generally, we Americans don’t think that the understandings of liberty we got from the Greeks are enough about personal freedom. They seem to depend on understanding oneself as part of a whole (nature or the city) greater than oneself. American bumper sticker: “I am not a part.” 

3. The liberty of the Christian.  The freedom of the person from nature and the city for religious community.  The equality of all men and women under God.  The unique irreplaceability of every human person. The virtue of charity

4. Puritan liberty — or a kind of Christian republicanism. The abolitionists, MLK, and the generous liberalism of Marilynne Robinson, which basically makes charity into a political virtue. Being a Puritan does mean being too judgmental and too intrusive politically, usually. Our puritanical impulse today has morphed away from sex and drinking and toward health and safety. Well, more precisely, it has changed it’s concern about sex — chastity has been replaced by safety. And about drinking — drunkenness remains bad but red wine does fend off those risk factors.

5. Individual liberty — which has the corresponding responsibilities of protecting the rights of others and working to provide for yourself and your own. Depends on the Christian insight that each of us is free from nature and civic determination. Government is a contract.  The source of our prosperity and much of our dignity. Still, not enough: Mr. Jefferson’s eloquent anti-slavery words (derived from Locke) weren’t matched by anti-slavery deeds.  Something irreducibly Puritanical about the American devotion to the proposition that all men are Created equal.

6. Stoic liberty — the liberty of rational men and women who have self-possession or moral virtue and refuse to compromise themselves in particular relational situations. The liberty of Southern gentlemen, Atticus Finch, Marcus Aurelius (philosopher-emperor) and Epictetus (philosopher-slave), Tom Wolfe characters, Admiral Stockdale, and George Washington. (GW is the founder with the most perfect anti-slavery record in practice, as well as the one most attuned to the generous and magnanimous duties Americans have to the Indians.) Atticus as superior to Socrates because he doesn’t use the privilege of  ”being a rational man” as an excuse to shirk civic and familial responsibilities. In his case, magnanimity is detached from the “common” or vulgar experience of racism. The various efforts to democratize Stoic virtue and the indispensability of the comparatively honorable and violent South in sustaining our all-volunteer army of citizen-soldiers who really don’t understand themselves deep down as merely citizens. But not only that: The current paranoia on college campuses today about the “rape culture” shows that American men and women can’t lived together securely in freedom without some reliance on honorable self-possession. It’s possible to be virtuous without being puritanical, and the virtue here is not necessarily confined to race, class, gender. (President Obama praised “the proud men of Morehouse.”) This part of the talk, by the way, is the one the teachers liked the best, and one of them told me about her efforts to get her students to taking on the privileges and responsibilities of being specifically ladies and gentlemen.

7. Much of American political deliberation is about balancing individual liberty, the liberty of the creature, and the liberty of the citizen. See, for example, the compromise that is the Declaration of Independence. Things get unbalanced when civic deliberation is displaced too readily by the imprudent judicial imposition of high principle.

8.  The problem with the two comparatively untraditional understandings of American liberty (which are, I emphasize, not all bad) — both called progressive — that they tend to be about privileges with responsibilities. Well, that’s obvious in understanding liberty as freedom from fear, want, and so forth through bigger and better government.

9. The other kind of progressivism is described the Justice Kennedy as the evolution of the meaning of constitutional liberty over time.  Laws thought necessary and proper to one generation of American government seem pointlessly oppressive to the next. This basically anti-puritanical evolution is to allow the particular individual to define oneself without the constraints of thinking oneself as a citizen, creature, or even a biological being. This kind of libertarianism has become, truth to tell, a kind of libertarian securitarianism (which is rapidly displacing liberal securitarianism), where freedom becomes the techno-pursuit of autonomy in the sense of safely detaching all human experiences from the relational constraints associated with love and death. I’m not taking some kind of Southern stand against techno-progress here, but it has to be chastened with the thought that privileges have their responsibilities. It really is true that we have the responsibility not to trash the planet. But techno-progress also gives us the responsibility to escape the planet should we trash it or it turn sour on us on its own. Those responsibilities are not to be confused with the thoughtlessly headlong project to impose total control on our “environment” at the expense of all that’s good about relational life. If we going too far down this “autonomy” road, freedom easily becomes another word for nothing left to lose, and American liberty becomes unsustainable. We can’t forget out dependence on those citizen-soldiers. But not only that, our future is also imperiled by the “birth dearth” or not enough kids. Where would we be without all those observant religious believers (and not, of course, only Christians) would believe what the Bible says about being fruitful and multiplying and who are free enough to relax enough to have unprotected relational sex and hope and pray for the best?

Next time, I’ll talk about what I learned from two of the other conference presenters, the great teachers Bill McClay and Patrick Allitt.

Republicans Will Gain among African Americans When They . . . Gain among African Americans


Here and there, I’ve read some articles, blog posts, and tweets about the importance of the recent election of African-American Republican candidates to Congress. One example would be Chelsi Henry , who wrote that “these historic wins [of Tim Scott in the Senate and Mia Love and Will Hurd in the House of Representatives] mark a turning point in the Republican Party’s relationship with African Americans.”

I have no reason to doubt that Hurd, Love, and Scott will all be good members of Congress, but I don’t think it is fair to them to imagine that the election of these three African-American Republicans to Congress (or the election of five or ten African-American Republicans to Congress) does much of anything to help the Republican party with African-American voters. Maybe it makes some kind of small difference at the margin. Maybe it makes no difference at all. It isn’t like the elections of J. C. Watts and Gary Franks in the 1990s did much to boost support for the GOP among African Americans nationally.

John Kasich won 26 percent of the African-American vote in his reelection for governor of Ohio. Tim Scott won 10 percent of the African American vote in the course of getting elected to the U.S. Senate. They are both Republicans. Kasich is white and Scott is African American.

That doesn’t mean that Republicans should seek to imitate Kasich’s strategy of expanding Medicaid (though a serious plan to get rid of Obamacare is going to need some kind of provision of expanding coverage for those currently receiving health insurance subsidies). It does mean that when Republicans hit on a strategy that appeals to the fraction of African Americans who have moderately conservative policy preferences but usually vote Democratic, that strategy will work about as well for any competent Republican candidate regardless of that candidate’s skin color. The reverse is also true. Absent a strategy for winning over these moderately conservative African-American voters, the nomination of African American candidates does not help very much.

The measure of Republican progress among African Americans is the proportion of African Americans voting Republican. That is the metric that matters.

Rome and the Dynamic of Freedom and Virtue


This is for any readers who might welcome the opportunity to step back from more contemporary political and educational discussions for just a moment to help me consider some basic questions in the history of political philosophy.  These questions might actually matter for getting a handle on our present ideological problems, but I leave the contemporary implications aside for now to try to get clear on the philosophical possibilities that have played out in Western history.  (I will be sharing some excerpts  – hopefully the kind some of you will find juicy from a manuscript of mine: Thinking Politically: Essays in Political Philosophy and its History. This is not from the beginning — there are chapters on the Greeks, on Plato, on Aristotle, etc., but from a part I have found the most difficult to teach and to write about.  But with Pierre Manent’s help — see his brilliant and intriguing The Metamorphoses of the City – I have come up with a take on Rome that seems to me to connect some dots.  This is just the first of a series of excerpts.)


The dynamism of Rome can be understood in relation to the classical equilibrium we presented earlier (in idealized form, of course).  As we have seen, the classical polis at its best, as articulated especially in Aristotle’s political philosophy, in some way held together (1) the proud possession of virtue, virtue as the secure self-possession of the best man, the man most worthy of his city’s honors, with (2) the aspiration towards some pure and beautiful goodness beyond the grasp of the city or the citizen, the idea of some pure activity that connected the human mind with a reality beyond all political conditioning, something proper to what is best in humanity, something therefore divine.  The whole effort, one might say, of classical political philosophy was to articulate the human quest for a divine reality in such a way as to sustain the proud ambition and idealism of the polis: political philosophy was to refine and to elevate the pride of the city but not to promise any purer, truer or more universal community.  Only the rare philosopher could transcend the city, and even this transcendence had to be expressed as an extension of the city’s proud claim of self-sufficiency.   This classical view was inherently aristocratic: the common human aspiration to freedom (the claims of democracy) had to be subordinated to aristocratic claims of virtue (which were in turn subordinated to the idea of a serene philosophic self-satisfaction).   

The limitations of the classical view are most apparent, perhaps, in Aristotle’s treatment of the virtue of courage.  Courage, for Aristotle, is in a way the first virtue, because the most necessary, but it is also the most defective from the classical standpoint – that is, the hardest to maintain within the classical equilibrium between the good of the soul and that of the city.  Aristotle does his best to display courage as an intrinsically satisfying good of the soul, but he has to notice that the whole point of courage is often to sacrifice the individual’s good to the city’s necessary self-preservation.  It is this aspect of sacrifice, which in fact colors all the virtues, that Aristotle cannot account for within the classical framework.  There is nothing more beautiful and greater than a human being’s nobly sacrifice his or her very life for something greater, something larger, something beyond his mortal existence.  For Aristotle, this sacrifice, which cannot be explained in terms of the pleasant activity of the natural soul, can only be consigned to dumb necessity.

In a word, the enterprise of classical political philosophy was to channel the human longing for freedom from all merely human powers, the open-ended or in-finite and restless quest for a way of being unlimited by mere human conventions and a willingness to sacrifice all known goods for some elusive beyond – all this had to be channeled into a deference towards aristocratic virtue, which itself was to be informed and chastened by the idea of the philosopher as the aristocrat of aristocrats. 

Such a marvelous equilibrium could not be expected to be stable.  … [to be continued]

Tags: Rome , Political Philosophy , freedom , virtue

The Future of Higher Education


Here’s my slight correction of Yuvalism or reform conservatism when it comes to higher education. It does appear that below the “cognitively elite” and “niche” (appealing to homeschoolers or whatever) levels, the future of the great tradition of liberal education is in big trouble in America. The idea that everyone is a citizen, and so everyone should be compelled to demonstrate “civic literacy” (as conservative foundations say), too readily morphs into thoughtlessly arrogant “civic engagement,” by which is never meant anything like the relatively bookish (if sometimes misguided and achingly naïve) tea-party activism. The argument is powerful that liberal education and civic literacy are themselves designer amenities that aren’t worth the time and money given the rigors of the 21st-century competitive marketplace. The libertarians tell us, after all, that the state is withering away, to be replaced by our unmediated immersion into the marketplace.

There’s certainly the issue of the market for students who major in literature, history, political philosophy, analytic philosophy, theology, and such. Certainly it’s very difficult, given the collapse of the market for lawyers, to let students think it’s a good idea to go law school these days. My advice: Okay, go, but only if you can keep your loans way down by getting the school to comp most or all of the tuition. Old advice: Go to the best  law school you can get into.  New advice: Go to the school that’s the cheapest for you or, even more realistically, don’t go at all. And I go could on and talk about how it might not be such a great idea to prepare for a career for college teaching in the old-fashioned way now. It’s not just the market today but the disappearance of tenure, the transformation of instructors into service providers working from scripts, “alternative delivery methods” that will diminish the need for real persons as teachers, and so forth.

I’ve been getting a lot of strange communication wondering whether I write esoterically or something like that. Well, that’s above my pay grade. And I have too much attention-deficit disorder to write or often read carefully. But here’s a real question: Given that there’s never really compete freedom of speech, what can professors not say these days if they want to keep their jobs and have any influence, even with students?

Carl’s Rock Songbook No. 103, Cate Le Bon, “No God”


Its title is stark, even rude, but it is not a song that tries to convince anyone that there is no God.  It assumes that most of us assume that.  In that way it is unlike classic anti-God rock songs, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine,” or The Dead Kennedy’s “Religious Vomit,” or the more detailed critiques of Biblical religion which I’m told are present in several songs by The Dave Matthews Band, and which I assume are in those by the explicitly anti-Christian punk band Bad Religion.

In fact, the song seems more directly about another subject than God’s assumed non-existence, namely, the loss of Cate’s grandmother.  Le Bon has said in interviews that a number of the songs from Mug Museum, released a year ago, have to do with her death, or at least with how that changed relationships in her close-knit family.  Here’s a live version more like the one we hear on the album, and here’s a solo version:



Well, say what we will about the message of her lyrics, there’s no denying her talent.  Hers is a song-craft solid enough to shine through even the sparsest of presentations.  I hope you hear the echoes of hymnody, such as the way the single syllable God is given a full line of notes. 

My analysis here will focus on the chorus, ignoring the verses, because while I have figured out what their words are, their meaning still eludes me.  There are bits about someone working with a (potter’s?) wheel, someone making a bell, someone leading lambs, a lot about a mantle that “you” get to wear, but which is “ruled out” for the narrator—perhaps there is a point there about Christianity having excluded women from the priesthood, but it’s very hard to say. 

The chorus, however, is painfully clear:

I…I saw her face, again.

I pulled…it from, my head

No looking, I know it well:

no God.

In some kind of vision or dream, the narrator sees the face of a deceased female loved one–if we’ve read the interviews or noted the liner notes, we will assume it is that of Cate’s grandmother.  The narrator knows there’s no way to really see those who have died, because she knows, and “knows it well,” that there is no God.  Despite what various 19th and 20th century spiritualist teachings have suggested, once God goes, all possibilities of personal immortality and of connection to the departed depart also.  So, no matter how real the vision seemed, it had to have been “pulled” from Cate’s memories. 

By itself, this would not amount to much in terms of lyrical artistry.  Its real impact comes with sensing its place in Cate’s larger body of work, first within the album as a whole, with most fans realizing its relation to her grandmother’s death, and second within one of her songwriting’s longstanding themes, the one about impermanence and parting that I discussed in No. 102.  Within Mug Museum, it becomes clear that “No God” is the companion song to the album’s main single, the gracefully lilting 70s-ish number “Are You with Me Now?”



 A great song, and its own lyrics describe its relaxing impact better than my prose can:

            There is a feeling I love,

            buried in my brow.

            I have no reason to run; I see no reason…

And then the chorus swells up asks the question Are you with me now?  The question is elaborated with two add-ons to the chorus.  Since the first states it’s not impossible, it’s not unfathomable…and the second yearningly sings as she knows me now, it seems that the “she” must be the spirit of a deceased female loved one, i.e., that of her grandmother.  So overall, the song begins with the narrator describing herself in a sinking spell, but then, a new feeling comes, a lovely and reassuring one; what is more, it is powerful enough to make her suspect the possibility of her loved one’s spirit being with her now.  Cate wonders if her grandmother is at that moment giving her the feeling, and even wonders about the manner in which she might be knowing her now. 

If that is the way to interpret the song, there can be no question that “No God,” which comes later in the album, replies to it with disavowal.  As there is no God, the “she” of both songs is no more, and just as a vision of her face must have been simply pulled from my head, any feeling I (i.e., the song’s narrator) might associate with her actively comforting me is said in parallel language to have been one buried in my brow.  Thus, while we are told that the feeling of the album’s main feel-good song is not one to be run from, its companion song reminds us that the hopeful wondering about the departed’s existence that the feeling provokes is deceptive.

“Are You with Me Now?” can lend itself to a more general interpretation, as being about personal connection, whether in a friendship or love-affair.  The lines It’s not impossible, it’s not unfathomable, which jump off what I have said is the chorus’ question about the departed’s immortality, continue with it’s not unusual, baby, to feel a shadow, in kind, which might simply refer to those having a close connection feeling similar feelings prior to any communication of them.  By this reading the chorus’ question is the narrator asking a friend or lover whether they are in tune with her feeling.  Still, a shadow in kind could be a departed spirit, a “shade,” and it is difficult to account for the as she knows me now line, nor the similarity of the brow line with the one found in “No God,” without interpreting the song as a moment of being open to the possibility of an afterlife. 

Moreover, this fits with an overall wrestling with death spread throughout Mug Museum.  For example, the loving recollections in “I Wish I Knew” seem to mainly refer to another elderly loved-one, a male this time, who has passed away, and the otherwise hard-to-interpret “Sisters” contains these striking lines, sung in hopeless protest:

And that old feeling, starts to show:

I’m a sister–I won’t die.

An intense connection, particularly with a family member, makes the future parting brought about by death seem absurd and impossible. 


Keep reading this post . . .

Tags: Cate Le Bon , Religion , rock , spirituality , atheism , John Lennon , Chantal Delsol

Space Between the Lines and in the Sky


So I’ve written some reflections on Arthur Melzer’s stunningly invigorating Philosophy Between the Lines. I confess I slighted Arthur’s message a bit to give my own very exoteric opinion.

The most invigorating movie I’ve seen in a while is Interstellar. It makes a magnificent contribution to Matthew McConaughey’s development of his persona as the very model of today’s American Southern Stoic. You might, if you want, compare his role of captain here with the captain — Marcus Aurelius Schuyler — presented by Walker Percy in the second space odyssey in Lost in the Cosmos.

The film is a lot more impressive as a visual display of theoretical physics than as showing, through coherent character development, deep truths about human nature. The dialogue is often too “philosophical” to be credible (Percy sometimes makes that artistic error, too). But it does cause us to reflect some about what we know about the limits of evolutionary theory. More soon.

For now, I will say the film is excellent propaganda for the reinvigoration of NASA. We really were (especially some of us) born for adventure. It’s natural for us wondering and wandering beings to turn our eyes to the skies. Not only that, it might be quasi-inevitable that we end up trashing this planet, and so we better have a backup plan.

I also appreciate the film’s insight that if it turns out that there really are aliens out there, they will be really advanced members of our species.

UPDATE from the genius threader Christopher Wolfe:

The first thing I thought of when I watched “Interstellar” was “Lost in the Cosmos.” It seems to me that this movie pits a variety of different “scientists” against each other. The Matt Damon character is a sort of Darwinian reductivist, and is shown to be an incredibly cold, lonely loser by the end. Anne Hathaway at first acts like she’s all about science, but it turns out that she’s all about “love” transcending the universe and is even willing to jeopardize the mission to reconnect with an old flame. Those two characters remind me of the pair of scientists from Los Alamos in “Lost in the Cosmos” who witness the Indian ritual.

Then there’s then there’s the McConaughey character, who comes to realize even more and more as the film goes on that the his love for his daughter is more important than getting help from aliens who could save earth

The 2014 Midterms and the Next Phase of Mr. Magoo’s Wild Ride


Here is a list of political riddles for us as we contemplate the meaning of the 2014 Midterms:

How do you create the business friendly conditions that promote economic prosperity without compromising the economic security of low-skilled and entry level workers?

How do you ensure health insurance as an entitlement without profound degradation to the quality of services that comes with bureaucratization? 

How do you ensure a strong national security policy without the risk of over-involvement overseas and/or heavy reliance on the surveillance state at home?

How, in a phrase, can we have our cake and eat it too?

Some years ago fans of the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report noticed something strange when the film went to DVD. The last scene was cut out. The film was an adaptation of a Philip K Dick story about a government program, called Precrime, that succeeded in eliminating crime by the use of psychic beings whose visions helped predict and pre-empt crimes before they would happen. In typical Philip K Dick style, the program proved to be imperfect and a villain from inside the program used his insider’s knowledge to conceal a murder he committed. The program was disbanded and the three psychic beings were sent to a place of idyllic isolation.

In the last scene the audience sees a text that announced that the year after the program was disbanded crime and murder returned. This was the scene that was cut out of the DVD version of Minority Report.  What was cut out of the film, in other words, was the acknowledged downside of the policy decision to eliminate Precrime.

There’s something of a debate as to why Mr. Spielberg made this editorial decision, but I think it was an obvious political decision to not complicate the political narrative of a movie intended to reveal the dark side of the surveillance state by acknowledging that there is a cost to be born by such decisions however justified they may be. Spielberg, like our political class, didn’t want to dilute the message with complicated realities.

This is the obvious analogy to our present political environment. While our world may be Philip K Dickian, our politics are Spielbergian. Inconvenient facts are obscured or completely edited out of our public political discourse to avoid an honest discussion of the political downsides of competing policies. And when those facts make themselves felt in the form of real consequence of poorly considered policy, the accumulative effect looks a lot like the 2014 Midterms.

As if to help me illustrate this point, a recent clip of one of the architects of Obamacare has just surfaced acknowledging the important role lack of transparency had in passing the Affordable Care Act. This combined with what we now know was a deliberate decision the President made to not alter his claim that American’s won’t lose their insurance under Obamacare reveals different instances of the reigning political mindset in Washington D.C., a mindset which is perfectly comfortable leaving inconvenient facts on the Spielbergian editing floor to ensure the purity of their preferred political narrative. While it is true that 2014 could be interpreted as a refutation of this kind of politics, Republicans should be very careful to not over-interpret the 2014 Midterm elections as an endorsement of Republican policy. A more complicated picture may be that it is a rejection by a voting public that has been systematically insulated from the fact that all policy options have downsides, even, it bears emphasizing, the conservative alternatives to the liberal policies rejected in this most recent midterm.

The more problematic fact is Democratic policy has a certain competitive advantage in this environment. While it’s true that the party has taken significant hits across the board and all the way down the political food chain, it bears noting that president Obama achieved his goal of transformation and can look forward to a post presidential career of reaping the rewards from his particular constituencies who are not among the roughly 55-60% of Americans who view the president unfavorably. In a manner of speaking, President Obama is a brand that is successfully completing its product lifecycle and will be phased out in 2016. Meanwhile, his potential democratic successor using the same brain trust that Obama used in 2012 will attempt to formulate a brand identity that integrates America’s perception of Obama’s failures by offering a contrast to his administration, even while in matters of substance Hillary will be using the same political class that gave us Obama’s policies. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

I’ve already written on the practical consequences of this sort of politics, why our political culture reeks of this epistemic detachment and why our society appears to be insensitive to its effects. The sum result is our policy making institutions bear an unfortunate resemblance to a well meaning, oblivious and nearsighted old man, bumbling through a dangerous world and narrowly escaping highly consequential effects of bad policy. 2014 was the result of voters taking note and voting (or in case of democratic voters not voting) accordingly. But there is a difference between voters responding to the vivid consequences of bad policy, and endorsing an alternative set of policies that, if they are presented responsibly, will be honest about their own downsides.

The good news is there is some talent among Republicans that appear to be willing to give the public the benefit of the doubt, Scott Walker and Tom Cotton being two. The bad news is there is so much work to do.    

Tags: 2014 Midterms

Critical-Thinking Skills


Briefly on the election: The size and scope of  the thumpin’ the president got is really a source of wonder, especially because the Republicans lacked an “alternative agenda.” And he’s being a major-league jerk about it. A minimal sign of basic humanity is some self-deprecating humor when you’ve been rather unexpectedly mega-shellacked by people you don’t even respect.

On education: I wrote another rant for liberal education and against technology, inspired in some way by Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy between the Lines. Melzer proves the case that philosophers — and others — routinely used to write esoterically and even brag about it. But his is also the book that rather definitively gives the distinctively Straussian line on pretty much everything I can claim only to have begun to appreciate it. Our Jim Ceaser had an able and witty intro to this book in the WSJ a couple of weeks ago.

On education, part 2: My friend David Corey of Baylor University posted on Facebook that the surest sign that an academic administrator doesn’t know much is his or her repeated used of the phrase “critical thinking.” Someone added in the thread: Even more clueless is the repeated use of the phrase “critical-thinking skills.”

On education, part 3: Ramesh and Yuval have a very interesting an article on the main page (from the WP) on how policies based on reform conservatism can make higher education better. That’s the one area of conservative reformism to which I dissent, at least some. Will explain later.

For now: I do agree that our colleges have been given, largely by default,  a more complicated role in preparing people for the increasingly demanding rigors of the 21st-century global competitive marketplace. I don’t mean our “cognitively elite” schools here. Kids who show up at Harvard or Swarthmore with killer SAT scores and fantastically impressive teenage résumés of accomplishment are already, in most cases, more than competent enough. At Berry College (which has the ranking of 196 on the list of brainiest colleges), some students show up with such good habits, so verbally and numerically literate, and so skillful at self-presentation that all we have to do is not screw them up. But lots, too, don’t show up that way.

America, for the most part, is getting less competent, mainly because of increasingly pathological families and the declining quality of most of our high schools (some, meanwhile, are getting better and better). And many experts are saying with a straight face that the key to maximizing social mobility in our country is to get as many people as possible to go to college. It is a quite reasonable question whether our less-selective residential colleges are or could be set up to do the job now expected of them all that well.

Meanwhile, academic freedom is on the decline our country. You can and should point to the increasingly intrusive and completely unironic political correctness. But you should also highlight the ironic (if not esoteric) writing deployed by our professors who explain on their syllabi why their students achieve the outcome of “critical-thinking skills” in such a way as to carve out a safe space for teaching them what they, in many cases, really need.

For Simplicity’s Sake, Pledge Tit-for-Tat GOP Executive Order


The essence of my proposal here is that the GOP would hold a caucus in which its members pledge not take any action against one future Republican president elected in 2016, 2020, or 2024, if he or she were to issue one executive order of equivalent impact with Obama’s threatened Big Amnesty order, if Obama goes through with it.  

You Dems dare to get Big Amnesty by unconstitutional executive-branch de facto legislating? Know this, then: The next time we elect a president, we get Big Fence, or Big Obamacare Repeal, or some other Big conservative wish-list law, by a similar executive order.

The GOP could do this if a) they were too chicken to pledge impeachment in retaliation for Big Amnesty, b) they pursued such, but found the public to be too much against it, or c) if the House went ahead and impeached Obama in retaliation, but with no effect on his behavior. Again, Senate conviction is impossible. Of course, I’m for the GOP pledging both impeachment and retaliation by executive order. ASAP. Give Obama and his party several reasons to want to back-down .    

The principle is simple:  this is grossly unconstitutional, and to deter Democrats from ever tolerating such again from one of their presidents, we will make them pay an equivalent price policy-wise. 

It is only in the language, and in agreeing upon the proposed menu of proportionately retaliatory executive actions, where things get tricky. 

As to the language, Republicans would have to say, “We are pledging ourselves to do nothing against one executive order by a GOP president we think is unconstitutional, for the sake of keeping any more of such orders being done. We will thus allow one instance of egregious Constitution violation for the sake of protecting it against many more.” The language must not say that any president has a right to such an action.  

As to the menu of acceptable retaliatory actions, this would be difficult to gain agreement upon, but such agreement would be absolutely necessary. Otherwise, we would face the prospect of some rogue Republican presidential candidate promising to do a too expansive retaliatory executive order, and he or she winning the election. Or, we would face the prospect of a Republican president, once in office, springing some quite new proposal upon us and saying we had agreed to it in principle. So each item — I would recommend three to five options — on the menu of acceptable retaliatory options would have to have some flexibility, such that a Republican president as late as 2024 would still find them relevant, but not so much as to amount to a blank check. 

I would leave the debate about such proposals to the Republican meeting, which should include all Republicans sitting in or elected to Congress, all Republican governors, and perhaps the chairman and other high officers of the party also. My suggestion would be to make the options as similar in broad nature to the promised Obama executive order as possible — i.e., they would be orders that mainly work via purported prosecutorial discretion, and that similarly effect so many millions of persons or have an equivalent fiscal effect. If a couple of these options could be drafted with respect to immigration policy, and if in a “restrictionist” spirit, all the better. I would, however, strongly advise against promises to punish those who have benefited from Obama’s order — we shouldn’t make the legal status of millions a back-and-forth political football.  


Simplicity, ladies and gentlemen. You allow your president to blatantly violate the Constitution for X amount of policy/political gain, we will allow one of ours to do the same in the future.  We will do so regardless of what might happen in the courts, or with any shut-down or impeachment threat.

It’s the people’s Constitution. Republican representatives, show the people with actions they don’t need legal or budget-rules expertise to understand, that you stand up for it.

Tags: amnesty , Impeachment , retaliation , Constitution , spine

For Simplicity’s Sake, Pledge to Impeach


In my most recent post (scroll below) I indicated why the using the power of the purse to respond to Obama doing the Big Amnesty executive order would likely be inadequate and confusing.

Back on August first, when Obama began floating his patently unconstitutional, utterly anti-democratic, and deeply polarizing plan, I wrote a piece here called “The Case for Formally Threatening Obama with Impeachment Right Now.”  If you’re going to object to this post in the comments, you may want to read that first, as it provides the full, objection-anticipating, case.  There I laid out the language a formal pledge would employ, in promising to impeach Obama if he does the Big Amnesty order.  There I also provided links to previous impeachment-blogging I had done (on the First Things channel) last December, one of which showed that there is no textual barrier, either in the Constitution or in The Federalist Papers, to impeaching Obama. 

What I envision now would be the Republicans calling for a party meeting and caucus of all Republican House members and all such Representatives-elect, for a one-day debate about, and public vote concerning, such a pledge.  ASAP.

The rationale would be this:  a) if Obama thought he would go down as only one of three presidents to be impeached (we’ll never have the votes in the Senate to convict) that might deter him from doing it, and b) if he goes ahead and does it, it will go down in the record books that the House, and perhaps 55% of the Senate, officially judged it unconstitutional. 

I am not saying this would be the only tool to employ.  The GOP could pursue legal angles, could make Big Amnesty part of a bundle of issues that provokes a money cut-off, and could organize mass protests.  We must want our “Sheriff” to show up to this constitutional crisis not just fingering a single billy-club, but also have a couple guns and plenty of ammo visible on his person.

Nor am I saying that the threatened Big Amnesty is the only aspect of presidential behavior unacceptable, illegal, debatably unconstitutional, and patently unconstitutional that Congress will need to act against.  Several scandals remain to be investigated, for one.  What a pledge would do is to highlight for the public how particularly heinous, constitution-wise, the Big Amnesty plan is.  It would single it out from other violations and disputes, and push the public to consider its opinion on the matter. 

Were a caucus-meeting gathered, obviously we would get polls about how the public feels.  If the immediate opposition to the idea in those polls was overwhelming, the delegates to the meeting could vote the pledge down.  Similarly, if over the period of time between the pledge and the initiation—assuming Obama goes ahead—of actual impeachment proceedings, the public voiced overwhelming opposition, that could be grounds for any representative voting against impeachment.  The pledge would only be to initiate the official process, not to vote one way or the other. 

To keep saying that the public isn’t ready, so don’t propose impeachment, is to never try to ready them.  I said as loudly as I could that it would be wrong for the GOP to pretend to disavow all recourse to it prior to the elections.  I was roundly ignored.  Charles Krauthammer and others announced that any talk of impeachment was insane.  Well, now the elections are won.  So it’s time for Republican representatives to talk honestly about the fact that probably majorities of those who voted for them want impeachment talk, although sure, doing so now is a bit more awkward than it needed to be.

But it is going to keep getting more awkward the longer it is put off.  If Obama gets away with Big Amnesty, with only drawn-out and confusing responses via budget process and legal challenges as the price, he will surely keep issuing unconstitutional orders.  When, oh sage Republican strategists, will it finally become acceptable to threaten impeachment?  If we stomach the four or so obvious violations he has committed so far, mostly to tinker with Obamacare rules, and then Big Amnesty on top of that, will it be at three more?  Ten?  Twenty?  In the summer of 2015?  The winter?  During the heart of the 2016 campaign? 

Simplicity, ladies and gentlemen.  It is what is the most democratic, the most Constitution-following, and compared to all the complex talk of budget-process and close-door bargains, it is indeed a joy.  “This would be a vile sin against the Constitution, and here is the remedy the Constitution itself provides against such.  We pledge, if the president does Big Amnesty, to use that remedy.  If he does it, there will be impeachment proceedings.  Period.”

Say it, and let the people judge.

Tags: Big Amnesty , Constitution , Barack Obama , Impeachment

Obama vs. Udall


So the war one women is over right? Well, the branding might be over, but the failure of the Udall candidacy doesn’t mean that the Democrats can’t successfully run an aggressive social liberalism campaign. Udall’s war on women campaign differed from the one Obama ran in 2012.

That doesn’t mean that conservatives can’t crack the 2012 Obama strategy. It would just be more difficult and possibly require a counterattack on social policy (preferably by outside groups rather than candidates). It is also worth remembering that the 2012 war on women stuff was way overrated as a matter of Obama campaign strategy. Obama’s focus on the economy and the Republicans as the party of the rich were more important for the Obama campaign. The war on women stuff was important primarily because of Republican senatorial campaign meltdowns and media feeding frenzies.

Constitutional Crisis and Complex Strategy


I hope you didn’t have the misfortune of actually hearing our President today demand that the current Congress send him a “compromise” illegal immigration amnesty bill of some kind to his desk, lest he go through with his promised executive order to provide an amnesty to millions of illegals on his own.  Were he to make such an order, it would be the most dramatic violation of the U.S. Constitution by any president in our history.  In my judgment, it has been obscene to have heard him, as we have since July, even raise the possibility of it, and all the more so to witness the legacy media and Democratic Party leadership raise barely a whisper against it.  But he did reaffirm his promise to make such an order today, and in what NRO’s Rich Lowry correctly labels as “blackmail,” suggested it would be Congress’s fault if he did so. 

So what should the GOP representatives do in response to this threat?  Two guys expert in the ways of Washington, Yuval Levin and Andrew McCarthy, today put their two cents in today on NRO.  Now Levin only really mentioned this issue in passing, as part of his sage general review of how the GOP Congress should now proceed after the election victories:

If he goes ahead with an executive amnesty, for instance, Republicans should use the CR [continuing resolution] and budget process to stop him, forcing Democrats to decide whether they will publicly endorse his actions and forcing him to decide if he will risk a shutdown on behalf of such a brazen overreach after the shellacking his party has just taken from the public.

Okay, that sounds good, and way better than pretending a court case will do anything, or resorting to impeachment, which of course unless the threat of such caused Obama to back down, would 1) only amount to a black mark on his record as there is no possibility of his conviction by the requisite two-thirds vote in the Senate, 2) could result in a serious public opinion backlash, and would 3) not stop the amnesty itself.   

But would the budget/CR strategy itself stop or seriously impair the amnesty?  The order for the new cards is already in the works, and the essence of the “temporary” status simply involves federal agents not enforcing laws, and Obama has existing funds of money at his command, so it seems to me he doesn’t need more money from Congress to do it.  With all the humility of ready-to-be-schooled ignorance, I ask Yuval, or anyone who knows: “Am I missing something here?” 

Perhaps even if there is no way the power of the purse can touch implementation of the Big Amnesty order, the idea Yuval’s really referring to is that the GOP could hold the operation of nearly the entire government hostage to Obama rescinding, or promising not to issue, the order.  I.e., it would be the usual shut-down politics but for higher and clearer stakes.  Hmm…  I’m not sure that such a scenario would involve that much less risk of a public opinion backlash than the impeachment one would.  

How does such a CR/budget strategy sound as described by Andrew McCarthy, then?  Well, it involves a lot of moving parts.  Wild-card #1 is whether those Republican reps who really would like to arrive at a compromise amnesty law with Obama have the chutzpah and the numbers to try such during the lame-duck session.  If they do, all bets are off.  Wild-card #2 is whether the current Republican reps might try to forge a budget compromise with Obama that goes well beyond January.  And there’s much more in play than just these, as McCarthy rightly says the new Congress will have to consider more than simply the Big Amnesty threat:

The incoming Republican majority will have only one way to stop the president: Use the power of the purse to cut off the money Obama needs to do the lawless things the voters are up in arms about.  Republicans will be toast with the people who have empowered them if they now turn around and agree to fund Obamacare, the Homeland Security’s immigration agencies and the Justice Department that refuse to enforce the laws, the IRS that colludes with Democrats to intimidate the Left’s ideological opponents, and all the rest of it. The prattle from GOP leaders that they must show the country they can “govern” is ridiculous. It is not possible for them to “govern” when the chief executive does not faithfully execute the laws they enact. Besides, voters did not elect them to govern – they elected them to stop Obama.

Amen, and note that by “stop Obama,” McCarthy mainly means, contain his activities to legal ones. He continues by describing the present choice about the CR:

If Republicans join the Democrats who have just been swept out of office to fund the government for the next year, they will be forfeiting the power of the purse. Before it even gets started, the incoming Republican-controlled Congress would be stripped of its last tool to stop executive maladministration.

The lame-duck session is a terrible idea. …At this point, it probably cannot be called off — the government…runs out of money on December 11.  But Republicans should resist anything other than a short continuing resolution that funds the government until the next Congress takes over in January.…[this] would keep the Republicans’ options open to strip spending authority from the executive branch and pressure Obama to act lawfully. It is the only way they can turn back Obama’s immigration amnesty…

So:  any shut-down showdown that happens will do so due to multiple issues.  The Big Amnesty order will be one issue among others.  Its very clear and big sins against constitutionality, democracy, and peacemaking, are not going to be subject to any up-or-down vote of approval or disapproval, but will get lumped in with a very complex and uncertain case about IRS abuses, and much else; and then it will be balanced in the public mind against the pain the shut-down will cause, and whatever bargaining occurs to end it.   

Complexity always diminishes democratic accountability.  The particular complexity I’m sketching here could become very harmful in the situation we may be entering.  Are we truly Constitutional Conservatives?  Does the GOP, or National Review, for that matter, call upon the public to be so?  But the public cannot stand up for the Constitution when their elected defenders of it give them no role, nor any clear vote to judge their representatives by, and say in effect, “Trust us to do the Byzantine bundled bargaining on this.” That’s not going to cut it here.  Either the Republican Party is saying “no way” to Obama’s proposed abomination or it is not.

I invite those who think the strategy that Levin and McCarthy point towards will work to explain to us why it will, and why we shouldn’t begin demanding that our present (and soon-to-be-seated) representatives schedule caucus votes on whether to threaten Obama with stronger remedies.  

Tags: Big Amnesty , Obama , Yuval Levin , Andrew McCarthy

Random Thoughts On The Midterms


Sorry I’m late, but here we go,

1. All of this big picture talk about demography and turnout is correct, but we should also focus on the brute fact of Obama’s unpopularity. After Bill Clinton’s brilliant speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Obama’s Real Clear Politics average job approval rating bounced around from 47% to 50%. His disapproval rating never quite hit 50%, and was usually a point or two lower that his approval rating. In the last few months, Obama’s Real Clear Politics average job approval rating bounced around between 41% and 43%, while his disapproval rating bounced around between 52% and 54%.

With all the great demographics, the great GOTV, and the great enthusiasm of the 2012 Barack Obama campaign, they were able to produce an electorate that had a 54% Obama job approval rating. That was 4% higher than Obama’s highest RCP rating in the Fall 2012 RCP averages. If Obama had gone into the 2012 election with his 2014 job approval rating (and more importantly his disapproval rating), all that demography, etc. would likely have produced a cliffhanger of an election.

On the other hand, what does it say that the Republicans would likely have struggled to beat even a clearly unpopular president?

2. There might be something to the idea that the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” was partly the Obama coalition of the ascendant. In 2012, Obama improved his margins among Latinos and Asian Americans over his 2008 numbers despite facing less favorable circumstances in his reelection campaign. Asian Americans swung sharply to the Republicans in 2014. My sense is that, for some Latinos and Asian Americans, reelecting Obama in 2012 was an assertion of civic equality, and that some of these voters are up for grabs in a post-Obama environment.

3. The Democrats could still consolidate support from Latino and Asian American voters aren’t careful.

4. Republicans still have not managed to win over that 15%-20% of African American voters who have moderately conservative policy preferences on economic and social policy, but who end up voting Democratic. Elbert Guillory talking about food stamps and Kool-Aid isn’t going to get it done.

5. Republicans would do well to adopt an agenda that is pro-first and second generation Americans, but that seeks to restrict future low-skill immigration. Both sides of this equation are equally important. Not being overtly hostile to current immigrants (including unauthorized immigrants) is not good enough. Restricting future low-skill immigration has to be integrated into a positive agenda for improving the work prospects of lower-skill Americans (whether native or foreign-born).  Senators Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton have a chance to work together to create a constructive and populist approach to immigration policy.

6.  That post-election presidential press conference was painful to the ear. It was like President Obama decided to give all (and I do mean all) of the stump speeches he didn’t get to deliver during the campaign because the vulnerable Senate Democrats did not want to be seen with him in public.

7. One of the themes of the press conference was that Obama was the president of real America and he was faced with the somewhat illegitimate Congress of midterm America. He got this across through his passive-aggressive references to the nonvoters in yesterday’s election. This kind of we’re-the-real-America stuff is politically self-destructive in the end.

Ralph Ellison and the Melting Pot


There was a late 19th-century Mexican intellectual who made a case for the superiority of the mixed-raced mestizaje make-up of the Latin American nations—according to him, their new race, La Raza Cosmica, took in the best characteristics of the world’s races.  His theory was surely a specimen of the dismal racialism than ran rampant in those days, but the term he coined had a certain zing to it.

If any people truly deserves or would even want the term, it is we Americans white, black, red, yellow, brown, and mixed.  We Americans–as per Barcelona, “North Americans” is no good as a label, since among other shortcomings it denies the Canadians their Canadian-ness–have particular reason to think of ourselves as a “nation of nations” and as “the creators and creations of a culture of cultures.”

Those are quotes from Ralph Ellison, in his essay ”The Little Man at Chehaw Station.”  Alongside its meditations about the character of art in democracy, discussed in a previous post, it contained an extended defense of the idea of the melting pot.  Ellison welcomed America’s continuing miscegenation, but, unlike the Mexican theorist, the mixing he celebrated was primarily cultural:

…it is on the level of culture, that the diverse elements of our various backgrounds, our heterogeneous pasts, have indeed come together, “melted,” and undergone metamorphosis.  It is here, if we would but recognize it, that elements of the many available tastes, traditions, was of life, and values that make up the total culture have been ceaselessly appropriated and made their own—consciously, unselfconsciously, or imperialistically—by groups and individuals to whose own backgrounds and traditions they are historically alien.  Indeed, it was through this process of cultural appropriation (and misappropriation) that Englishmen, Europeans, Africans, and Asians became Americans.

Granting the simplification in the final clause, the passage is correct.  It describes an undeniable fact about our culture, and one we should be grateful for and patriotic about.  Now as I have previously suggested, our understanding of this can take a wrong turn.   To the extent we understand our culture as “La Cultura Cosmica,” i.e., as the world-representing-and-blending one, the less we will be able to 1) limit ourselves in foreign policy issues, and 2) keep our officially non-national institutions, such as our corporations and universities, from encouraging “globalism.”  That is, the less we will be able to cultivate the needed sensibility I called “Globally-Conscious Americanism that Ain’t Globalist” in the extended essay of that name.  At its conclusion I said we Americans must deny that we are, or will become, the world, however much we celebrate our culture’s composite and immigrant-welcoming character.  A certain American provincialism, which includes a non-racist desire to maintain the broad outlines of our peculiar ethnic mix, is needed to keep the balance right. 

Now if I hold that, why am I offering up Ellison, given what I have quoted above, as a key exemplar of this sensibility?  It is because his life-long effort to convey the distinctive qualities of both Afro-American culture, as it was originated among persons of Negro racial descent and yet partly spread to others, and American culture taken as whole, gave him two perspectives from which to reject a “cosmic-democratic” understanding of America’s cultural blending, the sort of understanding we rightly associate with a thinker like Walt Whitman.  Ellison, in a sense, gets as close to such an understanding and derives as many true insights from it as one can without surrendering to its core idea, its conviction that America’s destiny is to breed the universal culture which will become the world’s; moreover, he gets close to it not from a grandiose motivation to understand America, the world, and their inextricable future relation, but from a homely motivation to understand the Negro(his preferred term), America, and their inextricable existing relation

So while Ellison even says that we are a “collage of a nation,” and one with an “irrepressible movement…toward the integration of its diverse elements,” he rejects the conceit that all the world’s cultures are represented in these elements, and any assumption that the blending of these into one another will be complete.  America’s cultural collage/melding, although it resists all but the most complexity-conveying efforts to define it and never ceases changing, is nonetheless a particular cultural collage/melding.  

As Lucas Morel and I said about the “Little Man” essay for the APSA conference this year, Ellison did not believe American acculturation was simply assimilation on the part of new immigrant groups.  Even less could he believe this was what had happened with Afro-Americans.  Instead, as he argued in “What America Would Be Like without Blacks” (included alongside the “Little Man” essay in Going to the Territory), the key test of American democracy was the extent to which it fostered “inclusion, not assimilation, of the black man.” To speak of “assimilation” suggests acculturation as a one-way street, with the majority-white society bestowing all that is good and righteous to recipient minority racial groups.  Such an understanding would ignore how blacks had been bestowing cultural goods to all Americans.

Begin with the musical case, made by Ellison and his friend Albert Murray, and further developed by Martha Bayles, that nearly all American Music, including country, can be spoken of as Afro-American Music.  Its distinctiveness always has to do with a Negro-originated ingredient, even if it might seem a small one.  As I put it in a couple of posts, understood in this way, Afro-American Music should not be regarded as essentially “slave music,” but rather as the result of various cultural mixtures, the most important of which is the African/American “world the slaves made” mixing with the blessed-and-burdened-with-freedom world of the larger American “main street.” 

In any case, our music is inconceivable without the cultural input of blacks.  As is our very language, which Ellison characteristically extends into our literature, saying that it is impossible to imagine the work of Twain and Faulkner, but also of many others, without the Afro-American influence.  It even gets down to how we joke and walk.  As he once told a mixed college audience(at 2:40 of this intro to Invisible Man.), “All of you white kids are part colored, and all of you black kids are part white.”

As for what is culturally “black,” it is itself inconceivable apart from America.  Perhaps the most moving thing about the mytho-poetic sermon at the heart of Ellison’s Juneteenth novel is the way it portrays the creation of distinctive Afro-American musical genres, and jazz most of all, as partly being a reconstitution of African cultural elements, out of the various once-distinct African cultures decimated by slavery, but also being a new mix, involving both those elements, and new world ones.  It is like a resurrection, and also, a birth.  It’s the reconstitution of African elements and the appropriation of non-African practices in an American context, and for a variety of purposes communal, commercial, and individual, that matter to Ellison, and not simply with respect to music.  While he cannot but attend to the various Ashanti, Igbo, etc. roots that we lump together as “African,” what he really focuses our attention to are the Afro-American beginnings or points of departure, especially ones found in the 1865-1920 window. 

(That’s Danny Glover in the John Sayles film The Honeydripper.   A film not to be missed, and if you’ve seen it, you know why this particular scene goes with Juneteenth.)

All in all, what or who is culturally Afro-American cannot be separately considered from what or who is culturally American.  And in most cases, vice-versa.  So as repulsive to Ellison as the racist imagination of an “America without blacks,” would be the globalist imagination of a “world without Americans,” that is, of a world so Americanized and an America so globalized that the two terms blend together.  For one thing, a world in which no practices nor persons remained distinctively American would necessarily be one in which none remained distinctively Afro-American.

So by Ellison’s understanding, segregationist racism and oppositional blackness-cultivation are both delusions.  As I’ve said before, had leaders stepped forward, the South could have known better than to have tried the segregationist system.  But the point to concentrate upon here is that real black pride will not succumb to the temptation to “damn America,” because it knows it cannot do so without implicitly wishing away the very existence of oneself, and of the unique people, call them Negro, black, or Afro-American, that is meant to be affirmed and loved by such pride.  However we understand America’s sins of slavery and segregation, and the twisted psychic burdens imparted by them, these did not so outweigh the real and potential blessings of America freedom, and of its democratic/Christian love, that they put the Negro that emerged from slavery in a situation so filled with degradation that it was one having to prefer death to life, or damning to striving.  Among many other pieces of evidence for this, we sure cannot say that the blues, despite how wide-open it was to exploring any side of life, was a music of suicides, revolution, and curses.  Alas, we sure have to say that about punk and rap.   

The “melting pot” was the title of a 1908 Broadway play; the phrase quickly became part of our vocabulary, because its basic idea was so readily understood.  Ellison is careful to say that the phrase is a “metaphor” that expresses an aspirational “conceit” or “ideal,” and we have seen that he rejects the idea of total cultural melting.  He is also careful to say, however, that the “Little Man” of his essay, whom we are often invited to think of as an obscure black person, would not regard the melting pot idea as a “con.”  It is true-enough.

Moreover, outright rejection of the melting pot ideal means a turning away from other core American ideals, and a turning into ethnic and/or cultural insularity that is untrue to our real backgrounds and present conditions.  True, certain studies of ethnic minorities, such as the landmark Beyond the Melting Pot by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan in 1963, called the metaphor into question.  Various ethnic minority sub-cultures seemed to maintain more of their distinctiveness than many had thought.  There remains sociological dispute about whether Glazer and Moynihan framed things correctly, but partly due to the influence of such greater awareness of ethnic distinctiveness, by the 1980s many were recommending a new metaphor, that of the “salad bowl” wherein each ethnic culture remains itself but imparts some of its flavor to the others.  

But the decisive factor causing Americans to reject the melting pot metaphor was the impact of the black-pride movement beginning in the mid-60s.  By the time of the “Little Man” essay, 1978, its overt influence upon black art, fashion, and politics was fading a bit, but its core ideas had developed in ways that were making them quite entrenched and of broader impact.  Black-pride had inspired other ethnic-pride movements, and this, combined with a certain liberal approach to the new situation, began to cause some whites in the colleges, even ones who had no strong connection to anything like Irish-American or Italian-American culture, to toy with talking of themselves as “European-Americans.”  The entire theory and institutional apparatus of multiculturalism was rearing its head.  In the colleges, filtering soon enough down to the schools, all Americans would be pressured, by way of being suspected of racism or some brand of “Oreo-ism” if they refused, to identify with one of the ethnic elements constituting the salad. 

Now I don’t deny that all of this came with a necessary greater awareness and appreciation of the insights to be found in minority ethnic cultures.  Much of this followed paths Ellison had blazed; and, granting his artistic strictures and suspicions regarding sociological accounts, he was  for such greater awareness.  It also came with a necessary ramping-down of demands for one-way assimilative acculturation by minorities.  (To be clear, some such assimilation by immigrants remains necessary, and must go beyond speaking passable English in public–one might turn to Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns to see how such an expectation was also applied to rural Negro migrants to Northern cities by the Negroes already there.)  But insofar as the emergent multiculturalism amounted to an insistence upon distinct ethnicity-rooted cultures, Ellison opposed it. 

What else could he have done if he were to remain true to what he had labored to show about America’s complexity?  Now in “The Little Man” essay, Ellison’s most explicit opposition to the emerging multicultural theory actually jumps off of his brief presentation of the “Tall Man” character.  If you recall from my previous post, he was a cat who Ellison witnessed, sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, adorned in a collection of contradictory styles—dashiki, riding boots, big afro, homburg hat, and driving a VW bug outfitted with a Rolls-Royce grill—as a way of humorously representing his own cultural identity of various elements, which apparently included black pride, radical sympathies, English heritage, classy aspirations, and common-man realities.  Ellison also noted his mixed biological ethnicity—he had blue eyes and light-brown skin. 

So here was the undeniable reality of what the metaphor of the melting-pot was attempting to convey.  The Tall Man could never think of his culture as clearly claim-able, or as being a simple ingredient tossed into some salad!  Rather, the salad, collage, and collision of multiple cultural inputs was inside of him.  While the Tall Man was himself aware that it was in some ways an absurd mix, Ellison suggests that such mixtures can sometimes result in genuinely new, we might say “melted,” cultural patterns or arts.  He also suggests that what the Tall Man displayed in an exaggerated way, is in fact the cultural reality for nearly all Americans of whatever ethnicity.  

Ellison sketches a theory of identity-anxiety to explain both the classic white racism, and the black-led turn to ethnic pride and the theory of multiculturalism.  Segregationism, black nationalism, overdone Irish pride, etc., all reject the idea of the melting pot, and are efforts to avoid the difficult task of comprehending the complexity of the national culture, and especially one’s own inheritance from it, by tightly holding onto the part of the culture most familiar to oneself.  The proponents of “ethnicity” avoid having to define American culture as a whole, and instead stake their claim to a specific part to set their minds at ease—what Ellison calls “psychic security.”  They would have the American individual cover-over, with strained affirmations of Africa or what-have-you, the restiveness and homelessness he is subject to when confronted by the actual multiplicity of his heritage. 

In Invisible Man, the narrator’s novel-long difficulty in “finding himself” is partly due to this—it is not simply a function of racism blinding others to his individuality.  Various secure identities are offered to him, such as the Tuskegee model of the upstanding race-man, or the communist model of the community activist—even the attraction of an America-cursing Afrocentric identity is displayed.  But all such identities that the narrator tries fail him.  One thing this suggests is that the urban Afro-American uprooted from the South might be the person best placed, at least in that era, to fully see the unsettled reality underlying all modern American life.  It is the “invisible man’s” curse, i.e., the truly self-aware Negro individual’s curse, to feel modern American homelessness more than most of us, and yet it is Invisible Man’s purported blessing to make all of us aware, on our “lower frequencies,” that this homelessness is also ours.

We might judge Ellison’s emphasis upon the modern democratic man’s identity search and self-discovery as overdone or otherwise flawed.  Although less would be at stake, we might say something similar about his valorization of blues-jazz or the faith he put in American literature.  But I hope no-one fails to see how practical and honest Ellison’s life-long effort to comprehend and express America’s “unity within diversity” truly was. 

And yes, precisely to the extent Ellison’s understanding were to become widespread, to that extent black politics would become subject to radical shifts.  For one, the lies and social pressure enforcing the limited menu of correct black identities, a limitation so necessary to the electoral chances of the Democratic Party as presently constituted, would collapse.  In my judgment, the resultant shifts would be in large part be those that Shelby Steele, himself a careful reader of Ellison, recommends

Ellison’s importance goes far beyond the coming of that day, however.  He models a way to attend to all the peculiar facts and developments that our “multiculturalists” and “globalists” do when at their best,  without succumbing to their hard categorizations and simplistic reductions, and without endorsing their larger agendas.  And he models so much more.  I don’t for a second hesitate to put his writings on any short list of what all Americans, and all persons anywhere who seek to learn from America, ought to read.  

Here’s a photo of a most telling scrap found in his papers—his notes there speak of his grand unfinished novel Three Days before the Shooting:

To conclude, let us admit that “melting pot” is but one image and phrase.  If even now you bristle at it, fine, but do remember that Ellison gave us dozens of his own fascinating images and hundreds of his own involved sentences to help us better grasp the reality that the simple metaphor can only points towards.  They are scattered throughout his writings, but some of the most potent ones are to be found in “The Little Man at Chehaw Station,” an essay I again recommend to one and all. 

Tags: Ralph Ellison , Shelby Steele , multiculturalism , globalism , Afro-Americans , melting pot

A Competent Thumpin’


So the headline at CNN this morning is a “thumping win.” And so it was.  I was genuinely surprise by the ease of many Republican victories, as well as by those new Republican governors, members of Congress, and state legislators. Although my prediction of the Senate result wasn’t that off, my overall perception of the likely outcome wasn’t even close.

In Georgia, I was exactly right in my interpretation of the trajectory of the polls over the last couple of weeks. No matter what they do, the Democrats can’t break that 46 percent barrier.

Nationally, I also went with the polls, and I was wrong. The polls didn’t pick up on the magnitude of the Republican surge in many places, beginning with Virginia and Kansas. Once again, the Republicans can be blamed for giving up on a scrappy Virginia candidate too early.

The pollsters weren’t wrong on who would vote. The turnout was about what they expected – a little more male and white and somewhat older.

The dominant explanation this morning is that the Republicans ran an (unexpectedly?) competent campaign. Their big data, turnout mechanisms, and all that weren’t inferior to the Democrats this time. I, among others, thought, given 2012, that the Democrats must know what they’re doing.  But it turns out that they didn’t have more of a clue than the Republicans.

The Republican candidates were a lot more competent (beginning with less strange) this time and stayed focused on the anti-Obama message. It turns out that critics who said the Republicans should have more of an agenda were probably wrong.

So the election was not a repudiation of incumbents in general but only of  Democratic incumbents, beginning with the president. It was a “negative landslide.” Well, it wasn’t only that. Voters returned Republicans to office they feel negative about, beginning with Mitch McConnell and Governor Scott of Florida.

It’s easy to blame Obama for the Democrats’ woes. Still, it’s the case that they have done a lot better lately when that excellent campaigner (for himself) is on the ballot. Democrats can say this morning that they can’t win with this president, but the studies actually show they can’t win without him. That is the main reason for Republican hope in 2016.

Meanwhile, we have to hope that the president is competent where it counts when it comes to running the country and being commander-in-chief for the next two years. Republicans shouldn’t shy away from helping out, when possible.


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