Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 8, 2008

The ‘Best Piece of the Week’ Award…

…goes, as it usually does when he has a piece that week, to Andrew Ferguson for an essay entitled “The Unity Fantasy” in the Weekly Standard. Just a taste:

Like vacation brochures or soft-core pornography or TV ads for Ronco’s Chop-O-Matic, political campaigns are exercises in fantasy. They sell something that could never exist in the real world, at least in its advertised form. Certainly the campaign of Obama’s opponent–who promised, among much else, to balance the federal budget in four years–was built largely on fantasy. Reagan sold some fantasies of his own, as his critics never tired of pointing out. Obama’s chief fantasy is that he’s a politician who will relieve us of the burden of politics. He may wind up, like Reagan, a successful president. But if he does, it will be because, like Reagan, he engaged his ideological and political opponents in ferocious battles and beat them. Maybe unity will ensue–but only in hindsight, 20 years on or more, after we’ve forgotten how we got there.

There’s more. Much more. Read it.

…goes, as it usually does when he has a piece that week, to Andrew Ferguson for an essay entitled “The Unity Fantasy” in the Weekly Standard. Just a taste:

Like vacation brochures or soft-core pornography or TV ads for Ronco’s Chop-O-Matic, political campaigns are exercises in fantasy. They sell something that could never exist in the real world, at least in its advertised form. Certainly the campaign of Obama’s opponent–who promised, among much else, to balance the federal budget in four years–was built largely on fantasy. Reagan sold some fantasies of his own, as his critics never tired of pointing out. Obama’s chief fantasy is that he’s a politician who will relieve us of the burden of politics. He may wind up, like Reagan, a successful president. But if he does, it will be because, like Reagan, he engaged his ideological and political opponents in ferocious battles and beat them. Maybe unity will ensue–but only in hindsight, 20 years on or more, after we’ve forgotten how we got there.

There’s more. Much more. Read it.

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Rabin Supports Bibi

Tonight, Israel marks the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Lest we think that this somber occasion would be a moment of pure reflection, national introspection, and so forth, Rabin’s son Yuval has made sure that the connection to Israel’s current political miasma remains fresh.

But not in the way you might expect. Yuval Rabin met today with none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, who was widely branded by Rabin’s supporters as bearing indirect responsibility for the murder — for having created what was called a “climate of incitement” that seemed to legitimize and justify the crime. Rabin’s widow Leah famously refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand. But now her son not only appears to be making peace with Israel’s opposition leader, but also apparently lending him public support in advance of the coming elections. When confronted by reporters (according to the Hebrew-language site NRG), Rabin said that he was “unwilling to live only in the past, but also in the present and future . . .  reality has changed. Just look at who else is running in the elections.”

That’s a pretty nasty slam, not just against Rabin’s heir in Labor, Ehud Barak, but even more so against Kadima head Tzipi Livni. Yet it is more interesting in the broader context of Netanyahu’s recent string of high-profile catches over the last few months. First Gen. Uzi Dayan, the nephew of the famous general and Labor figure Moshe Dayan, a few months ago. Then, more recently, Benny Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Tomorrow, Netanyahu is reportedly going to announce the return of Dan Meridor, a long-time Likud moderate with an unrepentant early-Beatles haircut. Rabin has not yet suggested that he would actually run for a spot on the Likud list, but the speculation is rife.

What do all three of these new additions have in common? A strong reputation of either clean hands or centrist views, which Bibi does not. This suggests an important PR makeover for Likud. Given the odor of corruption hanging around Kadima, it’s a strategy that may well work.

Tonight, Israel marks the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Lest we think that this somber occasion would be a moment of pure reflection, national introspection, and so forth, Rabin’s son Yuval has made sure that the connection to Israel’s current political miasma remains fresh.

But not in the way you might expect. Yuval Rabin met today with none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, who was widely branded by Rabin’s supporters as bearing indirect responsibility for the murder — for having created what was called a “climate of incitement” that seemed to legitimize and justify the crime. Rabin’s widow Leah famously refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand. But now her son not only appears to be making peace with Israel’s opposition leader, but also apparently lending him public support in advance of the coming elections. When confronted by reporters (according to the Hebrew-language site NRG), Rabin said that he was “unwilling to live only in the past, but also in the present and future . . .  reality has changed. Just look at who else is running in the elections.”

That’s a pretty nasty slam, not just against Rabin’s heir in Labor, Ehud Barak, but even more so against Kadima head Tzipi Livni. Yet it is more interesting in the broader context of Netanyahu’s recent string of high-profile catches over the last few months. First Gen. Uzi Dayan, the nephew of the famous general and Labor figure Moshe Dayan, a few months ago. Then, more recently, Benny Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Tomorrow, Netanyahu is reportedly going to announce the return of Dan Meridor, a long-time Likud moderate with an unrepentant early-Beatles haircut. Rabin has not yet suggested that he would actually run for a spot on the Likud list, but the speculation is rife.

What do all three of these new additions have in common? A strong reputation of either clean hands or centrist views, which Bibi does not. This suggests an important PR makeover for Likud. Given the odor of corruption hanging around Kadima, it’s a strategy that may well work.

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Global Harmony?

Need proof that the election of Barack Obama foreshadows a new era of global tranquility?  Yesterday, Reuters reported that Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s fiery president, released an album of songs.  Not impressed?  Well, let me say this: while the pudgy socialist belts out the hits with his unmistakable baritone, he is not imprisoning his foes, nationalizing our property, or destroying the country’s fragile constitution.  Nor is he moving Venezuela closer toward either the other two members of the “axis of diesel“-Iran and Russia-or his fellow renegades, like Cuba, not blessed with abundant supplies of hydrocarbons.

Will we really see worldwide peace in our time?  Many of the planet’s rogue states sent congratulations to our President-elect, among them Iran and Burma.  North Korea this week signaled it is willing to work with America once President Bush is out of the way.  China issued a series of its highly formulaic messages, which closely resembles the ones it sends to new leaders in Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Burkina Faso.  Even non-state actors got in on the act.  Today, Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, said his group was willing to establish a dialogue with Obama “on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options.”

Of course, Russia had to remind us how little things really changed this week.  As Abe noted, the Kremlin, immediately after Obama’s election, manufactured a crisis by announcing that it would base short-range missiles near its border with Poland.  Yet with so many harsh words emanating from Moscow these days, almost no one-apart from the Poles-got too excited.  (Memo to Putin: there is an inverse relationship between the frequency of threats and their effect on your intended victims, even the European ones.)

With so many despicable foes to choose from, it will be hard for Obama to decide which of them to engage first.  Maybe he will not be able to change their minds after heartfelt discussions over cups of tea, but perhaps he can persuade them to sing.  Singing, after all, seems to take Chavez’s mind off destabilizing the international community.

Need proof that the election of Barack Obama foreshadows a new era of global tranquility?  Yesterday, Reuters reported that Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s fiery president, released an album of songs.  Not impressed?  Well, let me say this: while the pudgy socialist belts out the hits with his unmistakable baritone, he is not imprisoning his foes, nationalizing our property, or destroying the country’s fragile constitution.  Nor is he moving Venezuela closer toward either the other two members of the “axis of diesel“-Iran and Russia-or his fellow renegades, like Cuba, not blessed with abundant supplies of hydrocarbons.

Will we really see worldwide peace in our time?  Many of the planet’s rogue states sent congratulations to our President-elect, among them Iran and Burma.  North Korea this week signaled it is willing to work with America once President Bush is out of the way.  China issued a series of its highly formulaic messages, which closely resembles the ones it sends to new leaders in Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Burkina Faso.  Even non-state actors got in on the act.  Today, Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, said his group was willing to establish a dialogue with Obama “on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options.”

Of course, Russia had to remind us how little things really changed this week.  As Abe noted, the Kremlin, immediately after Obama’s election, manufactured a crisis by announcing that it would base short-range missiles near its border with Poland.  Yet with so many harsh words emanating from Moscow these days, almost no one-apart from the Poles-got too excited.  (Memo to Putin: there is an inverse relationship between the frequency of threats and their effect on your intended victims, even the European ones.)

With so many despicable foes to choose from, it will be hard for Obama to decide which of them to engage first.  Maybe he will not be able to change their minds after heartfelt discussions over cups of tea, but perhaps he can persuade them to sing.  Singing, after all, seems to take Chavez’s mind off destabilizing the international community.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Would a GOP candidate who spoke more fluently on the economy have done better? This interview with Mitt Romney gets you thinking.

The Washington Post fesses up that they were in the tank for Barack Obama. Shouldn’t people be fired for two years of biased coverage?

It seems that Sen. Mitch McConnell should find a way to sweeten the pot in order to encourage Joe Lieberman to switch parties. Or at least make Harry Reid’s job harder.

The Palin-McCain staffer wars continue. Interesting how many people now want to be on the record defending her. These people can read polls — and presumably want others to know they were not among the leakers.

I, like Larry Kudlow, am a bit surprised Obama has yet to name his Treasury pick. It is not as if he didn’t know he was going to win, and didn’t understand the importance of selecting someone who might calm the markets.

Marc Ambinder tries to unpuzzle the Romney camp’s connection to the Palin smears. I can’t really see how this helps Romney’s prospects, since right now she is the darling of the base. He’s not a foolish man, so that leads me to conclude that there’s no organized effort to join in the smear fest.

I take some comfort in this interview with Rahm Emanuel. It suggests the moderate Obama is the one who will show up in the Oval Office. Is it moderate and “pragmatic” to abolish the fairness doctrine, outlaw secret ballot union elections, and ban offshore drilling? I don’t think so, but I’m not the one deciding what is too ideological and what is not. And the Congressional Democratic liberals have their own ideas as well.

Is the glass really half full for gay marriage advocates? Well, at least for now, some will have to rethink the theory that reclaiming the White House would mark the dawn of a new, socially-progressive era.

Others share my enthusiasm for Paul Ryan (R-WI).

As bad as the media bias was, I think it is incorrect to ascribe John McCain’s loss to the MSM. Worse, it prevents Republicans from taking responsibility for their errors and from devising a more effective media plan in the future.

More good news from Iraq. Plus evidence that Iraqi Security Forces are stepping up to the plate.

Hard to quibble with this: “But some number of voters seem to be engaging in truly magical thinking about what is possible from a president.  What happens when they get a $500 increase in the child tax credit and military operations in Pakistan instead of fairyland?”

I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m a sucker for any Godfather analogy: “So it’s like Tessio proposing a meeting with Barzini: Any McCain aide blaming Romney thereby becomes identified as an anti-Palin traitor.”

Would a GOP candidate who spoke more fluently on the economy have done better? This interview with Mitt Romney gets you thinking.

The Washington Post fesses up that they were in the tank for Barack Obama. Shouldn’t people be fired for two years of biased coverage?

It seems that Sen. Mitch McConnell should find a way to sweeten the pot in order to encourage Joe Lieberman to switch parties. Or at least make Harry Reid’s job harder.

The Palin-McCain staffer wars continue. Interesting how many people now want to be on the record defending her. These people can read polls — and presumably want others to know they were not among the leakers.

I, like Larry Kudlow, am a bit surprised Obama has yet to name his Treasury pick. It is not as if he didn’t know he was going to win, and didn’t understand the importance of selecting someone who might calm the markets.

Marc Ambinder tries to unpuzzle the Romney camp’s connection to the Palin smears. I can’t really see how this helps Romney’s prospects, since right now she is the darling of the base. He’s not a foolish man, so that leads me to conclude that there’s no organized effort to join in the smear fest.

I take some comfort in this interview with Rahm Emanuel. It suggests the moderate Obama is the one who will show up in the Oval Office. Is it moderate and “pragmatic” to abolish the fairness doctrine, outlaw secret ballot union elections, and ban offshore drilling? I don’t think so, but I’m not the one deciding what is too ideological and what is not. And the Congressional Democratic liberals have their own ideas as well.

Is the glass really half full for gay marriage advocates? Well, at least for now, some will have to rethink the theory that reclaiming the White House would mark the dawn of a new, socially-progressive era.

Others share my enthusiasm for Paul Ryan (R-WI).

As bad as the media bias was, I think it is incorrect to ascribe John McCain’s loss to the MSM. Worse, it prevents Republicans from taking responsibility for their errors and from devising a more effective media plan in the future.

More good news from Iraq. Plus evidence that Iraqi Security Forces are stepping up to the plate.

Hard to quibble with this: “But some number of voters seem to be engaging in truly magical thinking about what is possible from a president.  What happens when they get a $500 increase in the child tax credit and military operations in Pakistan instead of fairyland?”

I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m a sucker for any Godfather analogy: “So it’s like Tessio proposing a meeting with Barzini: Any McCain aide blaming Romney thereby becomes identified as an anti-Palin traitor.”

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When Do We Find Out?

The Wall Street Journal notes:

The stock market selloff that greeted Mr. Obama’s election this week is another sign of these gloomy realities. On Wednesday and Thursday combined, the Dow fell 9.7% before rallying some on Friday. Hedge funds are still deleveraging, as investors seek redemptions in order to return to cash, forcing the funds to sell stocks to meet those redemptions. Cash is king when no one can see the bottom.

However, at Friday’s presser we didn’t find out much — who would be Treasury Secretary or whether he was really committed to raising taxes, for example. His first press conference was a study in vagueness. If he had been given instructions to avoid saying anything about anything he couldn’t have done a better job.

The Journal concludes:

The President-elect dodged a question about whether he might abandon his plans to raise taxes on upper-incomes. The bad news is that he replied that he thinks his campaign agenda (which includes a huge tax increase on “the rich”) is still the best policy blueprint. The good news is he didn’t expressly say he’d insist on tax increases, leaving himself some running room.

Mr. Obama will take office with an enormous amount of goodwill, but good feeling alone won’t bring lending and risk-taking back to the economy. Americans are waiting to see if their President-elect is going to be the class warrior he sometimes was in the campaign, or push a pro-growth agenda that can get cash off the sidelines and moderate the recession.

Vagueness worked well for Obama in the campaign. Better to let everyone guess at his true intentions and absorb a general sense of calm and moderation. But now he has to act, choose and incur opposition. None of this is familiar stuff for the neophyte executive. It will be interesting to see how it all works out. And we will eventually get an answer to the greatest mystery in Washington: who was it we just elected?

The Wall Street Journal notes:

The stock market selloff that greeted Mr. Obama’s election this week is another sign of these gloomy realities. On Wednesday and Thursday combined, the Dow fell 9.7% before rallying some on Friday. Hedge funds are still deleveraging, as investors seek redemptions in order to return to cash, forcing the funds to sell stocks to meet those redemptions. Cash is king when no one can see the bottom.

However, at Friday’s presser we didn’t find out much — who would be Treasury Secretary or whether he was really committed to raising taxes, for example. His first press conference was a study in vagueness. If he had been given instructions to avoid saying anything about anything he couldn’t have done a better job.

The Journal concludes:

The President-elect dodged a question about whether he might abandon his plans to raise taxes on upper-incomes. The bad news is that he replied that he thinks his campaign agenda (which includes a huge tax increase on “the rich”) is still the best policy blueprint. The good news is he didn’t expressly say he’d insist on tax increases, leaving himself some running room.

Mr. Obama will take office with an enormous amount of goodwill, but good feeling alone won’t bring lending and risk-taking back to the economy. Americans are waiting to see if their President-elect is going to be the class warrior he sometimes was in the campaign, or push a pro-growth agenda that can get cash off the sidelines and moderate the recession.

Vagueness worked well for Obama in the campaign. Better to let everyone guess at his true intentions and absorb a general sense of calm and moderation. But now he has to act, choose and incur opposition. None of this is familiar stuff for the neophyte executive. It will be interesting to see how it all works out. And we will eventually get an answer to the greatest mystery in Washington: who was it we just elected?

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The Joke

So Barack Obama was seized with a moment of private amusement when thinking about the question of which former presidents he had talked to following the election — the idea that he might have had a moment of communion with presidents not living. In that split second, he got confused the story of Hillary Clinton saying she had imaginary conversations with the story of Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer on her husband’s schedule, Mary Todd Lincoln having seances in the White House, and perhaps even with the story of Richard Nixon talking to the presidential paintings in the days before his resignation in 1974. Following that split second, with the sort of smile one gets on one’s face when a funny thought crosses one’s mind, he said, “I have spoken to all of them who are living. I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances.”

Jen thinks this was graceless. Maybe. But he surely didn’t mean anything by it. And I’m sorry he’s getting hammered for it, because it made him seem like a more interesting person. Now, Obama is nothing if not an interesting person. His book Dreams from My Father is a very, very interesting self-portrait — my friend Andy Ferguson has gone so far as to call it a “small masterpiece,” which is higher praise than I would give it (and, moreover, from a source who is far less inclined to lavish praise than I am). But it is the nature of politics that it forces interesting people to turn into less interesting people, because displays of personality can always be taken the wrong way. Obama just learned a lesson about that, and it may force him to continue to keep his guard raised lest too many signs of his ironist’s temperament emerge to give the 24-7 news maw something to chew over.

It used to be that Caesar’s wife had to be the person in the Empire with unimpeachable character, to give Caesar a little leeway. Now Caesar has to be purer than his wife.

So Barack Obama was seized with a moment of private amusement when thinking about the question of which former presidents he had talked to following the election — the idea that he might have had a moment of communion with presidents not living. In that split second, he got confused the story of Hillary Clinton saying she had imaginary conversations with the story of Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer on her husband’s schedule, Mary Todd Lincoln having seances in the White House, and perhaps even with the story of Richard Nixon talking to the presidential paintings in the days before his resignation in 1974. Following that split second, with the sort of smile one gets on one’s face when a funny thought crosses one’s mind, he said, “I have spoken to all of them who are living. I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any séances.”

Jen thinks this was graceless. Maybe. But he surely didn’t mean anything by it. And I’m sorry he’s getting hammered for it, because it made him seem like a more interesting person. Now, Obama is nothing if not an interesting person. His book Dreams from My Father is a very, very interesting self-portrait — my friend Andy Ferguson has gone so far as to call it a “small masterpiece,” which is higher praise than I would give it (and, moreover, from a source who is far less inclined to lavish praise than I am). But it is the nature of politics that it forces interesting people to turn into less interesting people, because displays of personality can always be taken the wrong way. Obama just learned a lesson about that, and it may force him to continue to keep his guard raised lest too many signs of his ironist’s temperament emerge to give the 24-7 news maw something to chew over.

It used to be that Caesar’s wife had to be the person in the Empire with unimpeachable character, to give Caesar a little leeway. Now Caesar has to be purer than his wife.

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Shirley, You Can’t Be Serious

In an op-ed published in the Investor’s Business Daily, longtime Republican and conservative activist Craig Shirley adds his thoughts to the ongoing debate about the future of conservatism. Shirley makes one claim that is worth highlighting because it reveals a confusion about conservatism that others might share.

According to Shirley:

The foreign policy right will have a more difficult task coming to terms with what it stands for in a post-Bush world. Traditionally, the internal affairs of a sovereign nation were not of concern to conservatives unless that nation threatened America. They believed only in projecting American power to protect American interests.

Driven by the “neocons” who are neither “new” nor “conservative,” this has gone off the tracks badly in the past eight years. Traditional Reaganites are already clashing with the neocons who inspired the “Bush Doctrine,” but I suspect that eventually this too will be reigned in and the neocons brought to heel. Making the world safe for democracy has never been the business of conservatives.

Shirley is using lazy caricatures and making sloppy arguments. Let’s try to untangle some of them.

Perhaps the place to start is by pointing out that the projection of American power during the Bush years was to protect American interests. There were two “projections of American power” during the Bush years. The first involved a military response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Presumably Mr. Shirley supported the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but perhaps not.

The second instance was the Iraq war. Of course, the reason the majority of the country, the Congress, and conservatives alike supported the Iraq war was because the United States believed, along with the rest of the world, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Beyond that, Saddam was the most ruthless and aggressive dictator in a region that that (a) has its share of awful ones and (b) is of enormous interest to the United States. His invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s was the triggering event for the first Gulf War. The implication that Iraq and what happens in the Middle East has nothing to do with American interests is silly.

As for the notion that “the internal affairs of a sovereign nation were not of concern to conservatives unless that nation threatened America:” Shirley is (again) wrong. Is it his view that conservatives should be utterly indifferent to genocide unless it occurs in a nation that threatens America?

The internal affairs of sovereign nations is our business if that nation is engaging in persecution, oppression, and mass death. That doesn’t mean that we ought to use military force in such instances; there are  limits to our capacity to restrain evil in the world. But there are a range of options short of military force that can be used. And even where our instruments of action are limited, the notion that genocide is “not of concern” to conservatives is wrong-headed and startlingly callous.

Beyond that Shirley – who invokes Ronald Reagan’s name worshipfully – argues that conservatism has gone “off the tracks” because of a belief in promoting liberty to foreign lands. Well, now. Shirley might be interested in the words and philosophy articulated by Reagan in an important June 8, 1982 Westminster Address. In that speech, Reagan said this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings…. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy….

What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people…. [T]he task I’ve set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best — a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.

Craig Shirley appears to be part of that strand of conservatism that finds the work of advancing democracy to be an unworthy aim of American foreign policy and genocide to be a matter of moral indifference. That view is wrong and, if taken seriously, morally offensive. Fortunately it has nothing to do with authentic conservatism. And that is something  Ronald Reagan, thankfully, knew.

In an op-ed published in the Investor’s Business Daily, longtime Republican and conservative activist Craig Shirley adds his thoughts to the ongoing debate about the future of conservatism. Shirley makes one claim that is worth highlighting because it reveals a confusion about conservatism that others might share.

According to Shirley:

The foreign policy right will have a more difficult task coming to terms with what it stands for in a post-Bush world. Traditionally, the internal affairs of a sovereign nation were not of concern to conservatives unless that nation threatened America. They believed only in projecting American power to protect American interests.

Driven by the “neocons” who are neither “new” nor “conservative,” this has gone off the tracks badly in the past eight years. Traditional Reaganites are already clashing with the neocons who inspired the “Bush Doctrine,” but I suspect that eventually this too will be reigned in and the neocons brought to heel. Making the world safe for democracy has never been the business of conservatives.

Shirley is using lazy caricatures and making sloppy arguments. Let’s try to untangle some of them.

Perhaps the place to start is by pointing out that the projection of American power during the Bush years was to protect American interests. There were two “projections of American power” during the Bush years. The first involved a military response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Presumably Mr. Shirley supported the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but perhaps not.

The second instance was the Iraq war. Of course, the reason the majority of the country, the Congress, and conservatives alike supported the Iraq war was because the United States believed, along with the rest of the world, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Beyond that, Saddam was the most ruthless and aggressive dictator in a region that that (a) has its share of awful ones and (b) is of enormous interest to the United States. His invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s was the triggering event for the first Gulf War. The implication that Iraq and what happens in the Middle East has nothing to do with American interests is silly.

As for the notion that “the internal affairs of a sovereign nation were not of concern to conservatives unless that nation threatened America:” Shirley is (again) wrong. Is it his view that conservatives should be utterly indifferent to genocide unless it occurs in a nation that threatens America?

The internal affairs of sovereign nations is our business if that nation is engaging in persecution, oppression, and mass death. That doesn’t mean that we ought to use military force in such instances; there are  limits to our capacity to restrain evil in the world. But there are a range of options short of military force that can be used. And even where our instruments of action are limited, the notion that genocide is “not of concern” to conservatives is wrong-headed and startlingly callous.

Beyond that Shirley – who invokes Ronald Reagan’s name worshipfully – argues that conservatism has gone “off the tracks” because of a belief in promoting liberty to foreign lands. Well, now. Shirley might be interested in the words and philosophy articulated by Reagan in an important June 8, 1982 Westminster Address. In that speech, Reagan said this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings…. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy….

What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people…. [T]he task I’ve set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best — a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.

Craig Shirley appears to be part of that strand of conservatism that finds the work of advancing democracy to be an unworthy aim of American foreign policy and genocide to be a matter of moral indifference. That view is wrong and, if taken seriously, morally offensive. Fortunately it has nothing to do with authentic conservatism. And that is something  Ronald Reagan, thankfully, knew.

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Are You Likable Enough, Barack?

President Elect Obama’s first press conference was distinguished by an amazingly off-putting and frankly cruel comment about former First Lady Nancy Reagan. His staff must have realized as much and released a statement later:

“President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference. The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation.”

I am reminded by another ill-advised, unkind comment in the New Hampshire debate when he remarked to Hillary Clinton: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Another smark-alecky jab. And who could forget his entirely dispassionate and steely cold declaration that his illegally residing aunt (who is among his unassisted relatives) would be getting no special breaks from him?

Some candidates and  presidents are clearly softies, Ronald Reagan for one. Some are irrepresibly jovial. Think Hubert Humphrey. Still others in their private moments are know for uncommon grace and consideration. Michael Gerson attests to George W. Bush’s qualities on this score. So what is Barack Obama? Is he so cool as to be uncaring and unkind in personal dealings and unguarded moments? Is he as humorless and joyless as his public demeanor would sometimes suggest? We don’t really know, given the lack of careful scrutiny during the campaign.

So far our next President hasn’t shown a excess of personal warmth in his brief time on the national stage. It is not perhaps the worst characteristic for a president to have, but it is not the best either. It is enough to make you miss a president who feels your pain.

President Elect Obama’s first press conference was distinguished by an amazingly off-putting and frankly cruel comment about former First Lady Nancy Reagan. His staff must have realized as much and released a statement later:

“President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference. The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation.”

I am reminded by another ill-advised, unkind comment in the New Hampshire debate when he remarked to Hillary Clinton: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Another smark-alecky jab. And who could forget his entirely dispassionate and steely cold declaration that his illegally residing aunt (who is among his unassisted relatives) would be getting no special breaks from him?

Some candidates and  presidents are clearly softies, Ronald Reagan for one. Some are irrepresibly jovial. Think Hubert Humphrey. Still others in their private moments are know for uncommon grace and consideration. Michael Gerson attests to George W. Bush’s qualities on this score. So what is Barack Obama? Is he so cool as to be uncaring and unkind in personal dealings and unguarded moments? Is he as humorless and joyless as his public demeanor would sometimes suggest? We don’t really know, given the lack of careful scrutiny during the campaign.

So far our next President hasn’t shown a excess of personal warmth in his brief time on the national stage. It is not perhaps the worst characteristic for a president to have, but it is not the best either. It is enough to make you miss a president who feels your pain.

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