Tags: Political Discourse

Do We on the Right Still Trust the People?


The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, making its way through the piles of snow mostly rain in northern Virginia, features the death of Hugo Chávez, Donald Trump joining the roster of CPAC speakers, the administration’s claim that it can kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil with drones, and then this big question for conservatives to tackle . . .

Our Big Challenge: Do We on the Right Still Trust the People?

My fellow conservatives . . . the state of our movement is not strong. Let’s face it. We’re depressed. We feel betrayed by the American electorate.

We feel betrayed by inner-city African-Americans, who can see the abysmal results of decades of Democratic governance all around them and who suffer the most from those failed policies, yet somehow keep sending the same crooks and losers back into office. Put aside Obama and these voters’ obvious pride of electing and reelecting the first African-American president; why is there no functioning alternative party in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Newark, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and barely one in New York or Los Angeles?

We feel betrayed that anyone, let alone a significant chunk of the electorate, could believe that our belief that this country should control its borders is driven by racism, xenophobia, and a hatred of immigrants.

We feel betrayed by young people, who also have suffered greatly from these failed policies. They’ve been told that a college education was the ticket to a good life, and they’ve taken on crushing debt for jobs that don’t exist and may never exist. Their professors failed to teach them the skills to thrive in a competitive job market and overcome adversity, and yet they haven’t yet seemed to turn on them in outrage. No, instead, they turn to government, enticed by the promise of free birth control.

Anyway, since the election, we’ve been marinating in this very grim story: we, a bunch of Americans who love freedom and believed that we can live happy lives if the government will just get out of the way, got swamped by a growing swarm of voters who believe that government — the very same government that had disappointed them and failed them time and again — will solve their problems.

So . . . what’s our story to come back?

I don’t quite mean our policies, although that’s part of it. What is our story? You get stories from Obama all the time. The story is pretty simple, deliberately so, and large chunks of it are hogwash. But it’s believable enough for enough people:

In the beginning, there was Bush, and Bush was bad. There was war, and it was bad; the war created the deficits, and so did Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. Because all the money went to tax cuts and wars, the government didn’t make necessary “investments” in “roads and bridges” and “green energy.” People couldn’t get health care. The oceans were rising.

Then we elected Obama, and it started getting better immediately! Okay, not everywhere, and maybe the progress and improvement was really hard to measure, but Obama inherited the worst crises of any president ever. Nobody could have generated better results than he did. The arc of history bent more toward justice, and better days are ahead, just you wait and see . . .

Now, you can come up with dozens of objections to those few sentences, but for the average Obama voter, that’s the gist of the state of the country from 2001 to today. It’s not all that different from your usual religious narrative, you have a fall of paradise (the election of Bush) the Devil (Bush), the messiah figure (Obama), the coming of a new kingdom and ultimate utopia. The purpose of the believer is to continue to believe in the redeeming messiah figure in the face of skepticism and doubt, because belief in him makes you one of the special and enlightened ones, and so on.

So . . . keeping in mind that we want to avoid all the creepy messianic vibes . . . what’s our story?

It’s going to be written by minds wiser than me, but I think we all know some of the key elements:

The American people have the tools they need to succeed and thrive. Now, when you look around you and see Snooki and the marching phalanx of idiotic reality stars, you may begin to wonder about this. But a core element of a philosophy built around individual rights is the notion that the vast majority of individuals are doing just fine as they are. Grown adults don’t need some sort of robed master or political or cultural elite to tell us what to do, how to think, how to live. If we do seek out teachers, mentors, wise men and women to help us make better decisions, it is best to find them outside of the coercive and inherently corrupting power of the state. We don’t need some massive social engineering or reeducation to cure us of backwards ways. In fact . . .

We are right to be wary of the powerful, because most of the folks who are supposed to be better than us, smarter than us, more wise than us, and more virtuous than us have failed us miserably. Where shall we start, the Wall Street Wizards who thought it was a good idea to start making six-figure loans to just about anybody, wrecking the old-fashioned virtue of credit? How about the government that takes in record tax revenue and still has trouble keeping this year’s deficit below $900 billion? The media botches stories regularly, our political leaders get caught in scandals like clockwork, epic mismanagement turns beautiful parts of the country like California into places nobody wants to live, or can afford to live . . .

We must deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. While diplomacy will always have a role in our foreign policy, the world is always going to have hostile states and hostile forces, who can only be deterred through military force. Foreign populations do not care if our leader lived abroad as a child, nor do they oppose us because our leader is too much like a cowboy. No amount of self-proclaimed “empathy” or “smart diplomacy” can overrule geopolitical realities. If we intervene in the world’s trouble spots, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, foreign leaders will demonize us and blame us for everything that goes wrong. If we do not intervene, horrific bloodshed on a grand scale follows (see Syria). Perhaps we need some variation of “speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Right now, there’s a conundrum at the heart of the conservative movement. Our entire philosophy is about trusting the people, in faith that they know what’s best for themselves, can spend their own money more wisely than the government can, and find the solutions that work best for their communities . . . and right now, we don’t really trust the people.

Tags: Conservatism , Elections , Political Discourse

Welcome to the Public Debate, Where Loud People Hate You


In today’s Morning Jolt, besides the regular campaign news, a few thoughts on the increasing price Americans pay for expressing their views…

Welcome to Public Discourse, Where Ninnies Hate You and Tell You So Constantly

A Morning Jolt reader wrote in yesterday, mentioning that his wife is a freelance writer, and recently had a column appear in a major newspaper.

He  describes the reaction:

You can probably imagine what the comments and emails and tweets are like.   A few people even looked up our phone number and called to say hi.  How thoughtful.

This stings!  And I have a thick skin.   I wish people had read the piece more carefully.  Some of the complaints are groundless.  Some are valid, to a point, although I see some nuances that make a difference.  Maybe, maybe not.  But people can be pretty cruel.

I told the reader he and his wife may want to get an unlisted number. It’s unfortunate, but we live in a world where people feel entitled to share their disdain for you in almost any way possible. And instead of reading something or watching something and exclaiming, “boy, that guy’s nuts!” and moving on — the way I feel when somebody insists I read the latest by Michael Tomasky or Andrew Sullivan — they feel the need to find that person and let them know how much they disapprove.

Being active in the public debate increasingly means sealing off the rest of your life from it, and having two hermetically-sealed spheres of public and private. The public debate is the Wild West; decency, respect, self-control and class are whispered as mythical attributes of a bygone age. (Maybe this starts at the top.) Hopefully your private life is quite different in its tone and mood.

In fact, if you express your views in public on a regular basis, chances are high that at some point you’ll get a death threat. Here are some of the folks who have received death threats in the past month or so:

·         Comedian Jon Lovitz.

·         A Spanish field hockey player.

·         A Somali comedian – who was actually murdered.

·         Actress Ellen Page.

·         Bank Employees in Cyprus.

·         Drew Peterson’s defense attorneys.

·         The guy who wrote the first negative review of “the Dark Knight Rises.”

“I want to kill you” is the new “I disagree.”

I don’t want to be cynical when I hear someone complaining about getting death threats, because it’s almost always frightening and surreal to receive one. Normal people don’t express a desire to kill each other over mundane disputes. (They reserve it for appropriate occasions, such as an insult to their loved ones, someone cutting them off in traffic, or when a referee makes an awful call.) But the ubiquitousness of death threats, and the ever-lowering bar to trigger an expression of allegedly murderous rage in some numbskull with access to an e-mail account, have rapidly devalued them on the scale of the Weimar Republic’s Papiermark.

I increasingly find myself rolling my eyes when a public figure cites e-mails threatening as a claim to a particular status of victimhood, or ipso facto evidence of the extremism and rage of those who disagree with them. Your critics may indeed be extreme and enraged… but the rise of e-mail has permitted people to express a lot more extreme and enraged views. (I like Amelia Hamilton’s method of handling it all.)

Anyway, back to the “double life” of those in the public debate – like superheroes, we wear our masks and do (rhetorical) battle with our foes, and then, hopefully, we step away from the computer, the telephone, the television or web camera and resume a home life as mundane as Peter Parker’s or Clark Kent’s.

Some may bristle and believe that the “double life” concept is dishonest (and for some, it may be). But an advocate, commentator, pundit, writer or activist is not a reality television star. The product is what you say and the arguments you seek to advance, not you. If your personality brings people to share your passions and brings them to support the causes you believe in, wonderful. But our politics shouldn’t be competing cults of personality.

As for when the split between private and public becomes dishonest… my following little anecdote of “life as a pundit” is based upon actual interactions:

When you show up to do television punditry, they first stick you in the green room, the waiting room with coffee, and you’ll meet some famous or semi-famous other Washington figure. And you’ll talk to them. And nine times out of ten, they’re really nice people. You start talking politics with them, and you find they’re nothing like what you pictured. They’re cracking jokes, they’re laughing at their own allies, they’re admitting their own side screws up or your side has a good point, and you think… oh! I’ve completely misjudged this person! We’re going to go on and have a great conversation!

And then the cameras go on, and there’s this Jeckyl-and-Hyde transformation, and suddenly you’re on opposite the Talking Point-o-matic 2000. And they’re pounding the table and full of righteous indignation that you know is phony, because they didn’t have it five minutes ago when there were no cameras on. In fact, seven minutes ago they were laughing at their own side for clinging to such implausible and unpersuasive talking points. And now you feel like you’re going to get steamrolled because he just called your side a bunch of child-molesting war criminals, so you’ve got to call his side a bunch of glue-sniffing communists, but you didn’t really set out to do that.

Off-camera political consultant: “I keep telling my clients to not do X!” On-camera political consultant: “X rocks!”

Tags: Political Discourse

The Great Chick-fil-A War of 2012


From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Great Chick-fil-A War of 2012

Landmark Mall is a sad monument to past commercial greatness not far from my neighborhood of Yuppie Acres in Alexandria, Va. It has all the classic hallmarks of the 1980s-era shopping malls – anchor department stories at the ends, large airy atriums, escalators, a food court, a small play area for the kids – but most of the big-name stores have disappeared. The branches of the big names that are still around – Macy’s, Sears, Victoria’s Secret, Bed Bath and Beyond – all seem to be a bit chintzier and more downscale than the other ones in the D.C. area. And there are a lot of empty spaces. Most times I’ve gone there, the mall seems almost abandoned; walking around you feel as if the area survived some great apocalypse and you’re witnessing the first tentative signs of human commerce among the survivors.

Upon hearing about Wednesday’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” I decided to see how it was playing in my (usually pretty Democrat-leaning) neck of the woods. I think I’ve eaten at Chick-fil-A twice in my life. The only one in the area is at the previously-described post-apocalyptic commercial wasteland that is Landmark Mall, and so I figured I would see little sign of the grassroots effort near me.

Instead, I found a line of eager Chick-fil-A customers stretched through the food court — easily fifty to one hundred people. None of the other food court eateries had more than a few people on line, so it wasn’t just a crowded day at the mall.

In case you’re not up to speed, I’ll let Ed Morrissey set the stage

Fast-food outlet Chick-fil-A started operations 45 years ago in the South, and has been expanding ever since. The owners have a well-known and widely publicized commitment to their Christian faith; Chick-fil-A stores remain closed on Sundays to celebrate the Christian Sabbath. Chick-fil-A’s mission clearly underscores those values, as well as traditional customer service goals: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

With that background — which Chick-fil-A promotes on its website — no one should have been surprised to hear chief operating officer Dan Cathy express his support for a traditional definition of marriage. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy told Baptist Press two weeks ago. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

…Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Cathy stating that “[t]here is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” (Chick-fil-A’s website explicitly states that they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in employment or in commerce, by the way.) A few days later, Menino had to retract that statement, after belatedly discovering that mayors and cities can’t discriminate on the basis of political or religious belief.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that Chick-fil-A did not represent “Chicago values,” and suggested that Chick-fil-A invest its money elsewhere. Chicago, by the way, has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation among major cities, so it seems odd that its mayor would tell Chick-fil-A to take a hike for having the exact same position on marriage that Emanuel’s former boss — President Barack Obama — held the entire time Emanuel worked at the White House. Even more odd, at the same time Emanuel declared Chick-fil-A fast-fooda non grata, he rolled out the red carpet for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to have his acolytes patrol Chicago neighborhoods. Not only is Farrakhan a well-known anti-Semite, he also opposes same-sex marriage. In fact, Farrakhan publicly blasted Obama for flip-flopping on the issue in May.

Emanuel later backed down, but not one of the local aldermen, who still demanded a pledge from Cathy to quit associating with groups that oppose gay marriage as a prerequisite for a business permit. A councilman in New York made a similar threat. San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee kept his attack on freedom of thought to Twitter, noting that the closest Chick-fil-A outlet was 40 miles away — and that the company shouldn’t try to get any closer.

Ed goes on to point out the obvious: in a free country, any citizen has a right to protest or boycott a business, and any officeholder is free to express their personal support or opposition to the views of a company or its leaders. But once officials start using the power of the state to punish companies for expressing views they disagree with, well… that’s fundamentally anti-American, and sliding towards a fascist view of how society should operate. Your ability to run your business should not depend upon mayoral approval of your personal views.

The good folks at Twitchy compile the photos and anecdotes of massive crowds at Chick-fil-As across the country.

I’ll probably never be an effective ideologo-vore. I like Ben & Jerry’s and Oreos too much. As Adam Wilson put it, “Not gonna lie: I’m so hungry I would eat a chicken sandwich without a full inquiry into its politics.”

Iowahawk asks, “Does Chick-fil-A oppose marriage between Five Guys?”

Dave Weigel speculates, “Time to ask whether Rahm, Menino and Vince Gray have Chick-fil-A stock.”

Exurban Jon laments, “I dream of the day when our sandwiches will not be judged by the color of their politics, but by the contents of their sesame-seed buns.”

Tags: Political Discourse

Even the Worst Political Hacks Are People, Too


In the Jolt, some thoughts on the egregious mockery of Trig Palin over at Wonkette.

What the crew at Wonkette are arguing is that children are fair game. They deserve it, if you’re angry enough at the parents. The author, Jack Stuef, could just have easily written about Sarah Palin. He could have argued about her policies or any one of a million topics. He chose her child.

I hope when I reached my angriest, I’m not like this, and I hope you’re not like this either. I think it’s probably a good sign if you still see the other side as human beings, and you refrain from dismissing entire sections of the population as “parasites,” as Andrew Sullivan said of people who work on Wall Street this weekend. Here’s an example: Early in Obama’s first year, NBC did an hourlong prime-time special, entitled, “Inside the Obama White House.” Those who feared an hour of propaganda found plenty to object to in the program. But there were two moments that stuck with me. The first was David Axelrod, talking to Brian Williams about living several states away from his adult daughter who has, in his words, “profound problems with epilepsy,” and showing a painting she made that he keeps in his office. Then Rahm Emanuel talked about working in Washington while his wife and three children remained back in Chicago, not seeing them for weeks at a time. Apparently, even fire-breathing Rahm had days where he came into Axelrod’s office and talked about the difficulty of being away from his family for so long.  (This section of the program can be found here.)

Now, regular readers of this newsletter know that derision and mockery of David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel are pretty much standard fare. In their professional lives, Axelrod cynically exploited a way-too-friendly media to elect a fundamentally unprepared man to be president; if Rahm Emanuel were not protected by the “D” after his name, the table-stabbing, fish-sending anecdotes would be cited as evidence of him being a raving maniac, not merely a passionate, foul-mouthed operator.

But in those moments, you can see two men, working long hours and away from their loved ones and wondering if they’re making a mistake and sacrificing what matters most. They’re fathers and husbands. Human. With vulnerabilities and regrets and doubts. Somewhere in Chicago, there are children who miss their dads, kids who have never given you or me any reason to dislike them.

What’s striking about this is that we have people – quite a few people, I increasingly suspect – in the political world whose entire interaction is based on sticking it to the other side. This is what matters most to them. Vengeance, or lashing out, against their political foes is preeminent in their hierarchy of values, outranking everything.

Tags: David Axelrod , Political Discourse , Rahm Emanuel

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