Three weeks from tonight, if current trends hold, the Republican Party appears poised to achieve a solid, yet not overwhelming, victory in this year’s midterm elections. What we’re about to see is not quite a wave, but might best be described as a correction. The red states are red again, while the blue states remain blue, and the purple states seem willing to give Republicans a chance. The Republicans will almost certainly capture the Senate, and possibly do so quite solidly, and may actually attain their greatest majority in the House in several decades. All of this, however, does not suggest a Republican resurgence, but rather a diminishing Democratic government.
If the national zeitgeist were to be put into words right now, it would probably go something like this. Things just don’t feel quite right in America. We’re not exactly doing poorly. We’re not in the midst of a once-in-a-generation economic depression, or a clash of civilizations against a foreign empire. No, instead, the tableau is more complicated. The economy seems to be growing on paper, but it doesn’t quite feel that way on the ground. America’s economic engine is working, but not roaring. The unemployment rate has gone down, but people are still not getting promotions, not getting raises, and working two jobs to keep afloat. There’s no optimism out there. Instead, there’s acceptance of a new normal, and a creeping feeling that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Internationally, America seems to be faced with a number of difficult challenges. These challenges seem like they could have been prevented, but now that they exist, they don’t seem easily reparable. The spread of ISIS in the Middle East, and the presence of Ebola within American borders, shouldn’t have happened, but did, and solutions to these sorts of challenges seem, like the economic picture, complicated.
And then there’s the Democratic government. Democrats like “complicated.” Democrats are all about “complicated,” because Democrats believe that life is inherently complicated, and are always ready and willing to provide complicated solutions that will somehow make things even more complicated. Democrats will be the first to claim that the current complicated state of things is the best of all possible outcomes given what they had to work with.
But again, I think, the current zeitgeist goes something like this. We don’t quite buy that argument. Both parties made that argument before, in the 1970s, and then the 1980s came, and it turned out not to be true, and that America could make a comeback. So maybe, once again, it’s not so simple as to deem the future of America to be complicated. Maybe it’s just that our current leaders don’t have a better answer.
Enter Hillary Clinton. Once thought to be the inevitable 45th President, Mrs. Clinton has been coming down to earth in the polls as of late. Several polls have found her statistically tied with a number of Republicans in Iowa, an all important swing state won by Republicans in 2004, and Democrats in 2008 and 2012. Should other purple states follow suit, the Democrats may find that they have a fight on their hands, as memories of the Clinton years are eclipsed by the nagging feeling that the Democratic government simply doesn’t know what to do to make the country better.
Meanwhile, the Republicans still seem to lack a unified message, or optimistic tone, and continue to search for a national leader that can give the party meaning and purpose in the modern era, a full decade following its last presidential victory. Such a leader is not simply going to have to speak to the GOP base, but actually bring together the hodgepodge of voting blocs that will give Republicans victories in states like Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire, the purple states last won by George W. Bush.
Asking for a charismatic and optimistic leader who will end up on Mount Rushmore might be a bit much given the prospective field of Republican candidates. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Democrats thought they had found the same in Mr. Obama, and look how that turned out. The nation may not be opposed to electing someone with less panache this time around, someone a bit more sober and perhaps just a tad boring, but at the same time, any such leader is still going to find that a personal connection with the American people remains a prerequisite for the presidency.
That personal connection was something that Mr. Romney, who is rumored to be considering yet another run, was never able to attain. Despite winning all three debates with Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney was unable to garner the support of a majority of Americans. The Republican Party, hungry for leadership, appears to be considering Mr. Romney again, but it is still far from clear whether Mr. Romney has the ability to be relatable, and to truly reach through the television screen and have a human moment with the American people.
Contra Mr. Romney is Mr. Huckabee, his former primary opponent, and continued outspoken former governor and cultural conservative. Mr. Huckabee is not lacking in human moments, but may not quite capture the zeitgeist of the era, which isn’t really about cultural conservatism versus cultural liberalism, and which is more about a Democratic government promising stagnation in perpetuity, and an American people that want an optimistic alternative filled with opportunity. Mr. Huckabee’s recent weigh in on same sex marriage, an issue on which the country seems to be moving away from his point of view, probably does represent the former’s governor’s genuine beliefs, but doesn’t necessarily bode well for a presidential campaign.
And then there’s Mr. Bush. The former Florida governor seems to be setting his sights on becoming the third member of the Bush family to find his way into the Oval Office, and, in ways that were unthinkable just six years ago, is beginning to seem to be a reasonable bet for the nomination were he to run. The zeitgeist, acting as confessor, seems to have given the most recent president named Bush absolution, and the nation’s problems no longer seem to be the result of an inept Republican president, but the inevitable woes of a nation that had once believed that peace and prosperity could last forever, with the focus now being on how to regain America’s lost prowess.
Mr. Bush’s argument for the nomination goes something like this: “Republicans, I am you. I am just as competent and intelligent as Mr. Romney, but I can avoid being branded just another rich guy. I proved that in Florida. I am no less pro-life than Mr. Huckabee, but no one can pigeonhole me as a socially conservative former preacher. I can appeal to Latino voters, and my wife and son prove that, and I can do so with the gravitas that my friend Mr. Rubio can’t yet muster. I can improve the country’s economic policies, without coming off as wonkish like Mr. Ryan, and I can do so without scaring seniors. Heck, I governed a state filled with seniors. I can win a majority, unlike Mr. Paul and Mr. Cruz, but I also have no animosity for the followers of Mr. Paul and Mr. Cruz, nor do they for me. I know how to win Florida. I’ll hold North Carolina. I can take back Virginia, because I know how to appeal to the concerns of the military without sounding brazen or hawkish. And we can take back Ohio, because despite my family name, I don’t come off as an elitist. And if we all work together, we can win back the swing voters of the Midwest and the Southwest who instinctively know that we as a nation can do better than this, but who need to hear it from someone who sounds eminently reasonable.”
And that may be what Americans will be looking for in their next president — someone relatable without being a rock star, and someone more competent than charismatic. If so, at least a couple of dark horse contenders who believe that they meet such criteria, such as Mr. Walker of Wisconsin, and Mr. Kasich of Ohio, may also begin to more seriously look at a country in need of a leader whose primary claim to fame will be uncomplicating that which is hopelessly complicated.
Then there’s Mr. Christie, a man who appears to be eyeing the White House, despite his own path to the Oval Office being quite complicated in and of itself. Mr. Christie most assuredly has the charisma and the ability to personally connect with the American people and to make a formidable candidate in a national election. But where does Mr. Christie find his base? Is Mr. Christie going to bring lots of new voters into Republican primaries, tilting the culturally conservative Iowa caucus or the gritty, provincial, slightly paleoconservative New Hampshire primaries towards his own personal version of conservatism and Republicanism? If so, Mr. Christie has no time to spare in starting to build such a coalition, and in coming up with the ideas on which this coalition is to be built, neither of which has happened yet. Despite a personality that is larger than life, Mr. Christie will need more than personality to establish a foothold in an early primary state, or put together a coalition that will take the nomination, let alone the presidency.
To be sure, Mrs. Clinton is still the frontrunner for 2016. But a bit less of a frontrunner than she was six months ago. And perhaps six months from now, she’ll be even less of a frontrunner, as Americans, tired of economic and global complications, decide to send the Democratic government a Dear John note with the message, “It’s complicated.”
The cinema has not usually been a source of truly profound utterances, but there is a line said by Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) to her husband Henry II (Peter O’Toole) in playwright James Goldman’s great film “The Lion In Winter” in which she says, “We are jungle creatures, Henry, and the dark is all around us.”
The first time I saw that film, and watched that scene, I knew I had heard something very powerful and true. Years later, it still echoes as I read the latest headlines about the enduring barbarity in the world in which we all live.
I am talking about the “civilization” of the species known as human beings. I know many of my readers will protest that I should not include most of Western “civilization” which includes Europe and North America, but why should I not include them?
Yes, democratic capitalism has advanced human society beyond the “naked” tribalism which has long existed in much of the world, and still prevails over a great portion of the human population. But more than two hundred years after democratic capitalism emerged in the West, and prevailed among some persons in some areas of the world, astonishing levels of barbarity survive and reappear in its midst.
The 20th century was among the most barbaric in all of recorded human history, and in spite of so many advances in technology, millions were unspeakably murdered in some of the previously most advanced societies. The 21st century, now in its early years, continues with more of the same. This is the century of the internet, astounding medical breakthroughs, and the rapid transformation of science fiction into science fact. And what do we also have? A worldwide religious war of savagery and intolerance. and a “United Nations” which supports and celebrates the denial of human rights, while it promotes conflict and hatred. In less than a century after they occurred, Europe has a case of amnesia about its Holocaust, and Russia has a case of amnesia about the murder of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin.
The world seems determined to repeat its past depravities again and again.
I know the reader would prefer a message of a more hopeful and positive world ahead. I would much prefer to write it.
But we are jungle creatures, and the dark is all around us.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
The art of penmanship used to be an important skill in American life, and whether or not you were good at it, writing in cursive longhand was something almost everyone had to do to communicate until the commercial typewriter
was invented in 1868.
Today, longhand or cursive writing by most Americans is limited to signing a check, signing a credit card slip, or writing a few words on an otherwise printed document.
Letter writing survives technically, but most communications today are by e-mails or text messages. Pen and ink, or even pen and pencil, are almost extinct.
Until the 19th century, every book was written in longhand before being typeset. Today, more and more books are being written, published and read electronically.
It is an irreversible phenomenon.
A relatively few persons, however, insist on writing letters. Some Americans, both famous and non-famous, persist in communicating in handwritten form. Fine writing instruments and fine papers to write with them are still made, but pen and paper companies are disappearing. The number of persons who write letters or anything else in longhand is fast dwindling.
The extinction of handwriting has been hastened by the many new devices with which you can scribble your signature on a credit card screen with your fingernail, or send money and information electronically without any signature at all.
Collectors of autograph letters and manuscripts no longer have contemporary material to acquire. Autographs and signatures themselves can be made with a machine. Handwriting itself will soon be something only found in a museum.
If handwriting survives at all, it will likely be as an art form like painting, and practiced only by s few artists.
In a few decades, most Americans will not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution documents.
In a few generations, ordinary handwriting will likely not be readable by anyone except a few scholars and trained experts. The handwriting that billions of us now take for granted will be like cuneiform, ancient pictograms and hieroglyphics are regarded today. It will be the same for those who speak English and other Indo-European languages, and those who write in calligraphic ideograms and non-Roman letters such as Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic and Hindi.
The question is, therefore, how long will penmanship be taught in schools? Will the children of the future even know how to write? Common Core does not ban teaching cursive longhand, but it also does not require it.
Because computers use keyboards, the skill of typing is still an important one. But even the ability to type may soon be extinct. (I’m old enough to recall that I thought the invention of the electric typewriter was “amazing.”) New devices now accurately transpose the spoken word into print on a computer screen. It is being widely suggested that even the spoken word might be soon extinct, as new inventions, already in development, can transpose words you “think” to a computer or readable device. No “sound” will be necessary.
It is all happening very quickly, and even if inevitable, it will change the whole nature of how human beings communicate to each other in only a few generations, and with sudden alterations of human culture itself.
Who knows the now inestimable consequences of this?
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
In his pithy, provocative, funny, sometimes outrageous, and often profound book We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, British-born commentator John Derbyshire says:
“Education is a vast sea of lies, waste, corruption, crackpot theorizing, and careerist logrolling.”
I wish I could say that Mr. Derbyshire overstates the case, but surveying K-12 and university education in the U.S. today, I cannot do so. With exceptions in some experiments with charters, vouchers, home-schooling, and other private schools, public urban K-12 education is a national fiasco and disgrace. Certain school reformers also have some interesting, if sweeping, proposals for change, but those and public K-12 education are a subject which requires much more discussion than I can provide in this space.
Instead, I want to point to the latest outrage in undergraduate higher education, a field which is becoming a Tartar steppe of intimidation against free speech and an empty reservoir of bleak politically-correct curricula.
A time-honored practice at graduation time is the commencement remarks of prominent public figures in American public life. These not only include presidents and former presidents, but other elected official and cabinet officers, as well as major personalities in science, business, the military, and the arts.
In very recent years, and especially this year, this custom is becoming an endangered species, as small extremist groups are intimidating college and university administrations to dis-invite or avoid inviting at all some very distinguished speakers because of their roles in American or international public life.
I won’t rehash how ludicrous it was for hitherto prestigious colleges and universities this year to turn away persons of great accomplishment. What I want to point out how these actions and the epidemic of political correctness, now so pervasive on so many American campuses, is only hastening the day when higher education will take place primarily online or in alternative models. The primary argument for the traditional undergraduate college or university has been the socializing experience of college life, the personal interaction between students, and between students and faculty. That is not only disintegrating rapidly, but the financial cost of providing this now-questionable experience has become prohibitive, and it is only a matter of time before American parents turn to alternative higher education experiences for their children.
Graduate schools and graduate education will likely remain on smaller campuses, but undergraduate education, I now believe, is an endangered species, made all the more vulnerable by its own hands, and its own follies.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Dr. Steven Hayward, the conservative commentator, is the fastest political wit in the West (he teaches at Pepperdine University), and he beat me to the political punch on the announcement, just published in the New York Daily News, that the World Clown Association has revealed a dramatic fall-off in its membership (reportedly down from 3500 to 2500).
Dr. Hayward is a bit more partisan than I would be, suggesting that many congressional and White House Democrats could fill in for the shortage. My take on the clown crisis is that both parties might be well served if some of their members realized they are in the wrong profession, and would make a mid-life occupational change and fill in at Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus and other circuses still performing
across the country.
The problem, according to circus officials, is that the clown population is aging, with fewer and fewer young persons attracted to the profession. Since I have been a circus buff since childhood, and have even known a few professional clowns, I also know that clowns are fine performing artists who work hard to bring laughter and tears to their audiences. That might pose a problem for any political clowns who might want to turn professional, since the political variety are most well-known for their primary goal of getting attention (and not doing hard work).
-Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
It’s taken some prodding for me to reappear from hibernation with anything other than a passing comment or post lately, but reading through Barry Casselman’s thought provoking essay on culture change and the comments beneath it made me pause. It’s a well written piece, as are all of Barry’s articles on this site.
On my way to work this morning, I was listening to NPR and they did a piece reporting on “Millennials” or Generation Y and automobile ownership. I am somewhat fascinated by this whole generational complex our society has; especially the differences between Generations X and Y. These differences between the two (socially, politically, personally, economically, etc…) have always been somewhat baffling to me personally
In 2010, Pew Research released a study on Millennials which contained some interesting findings, comparing all those between the ages of 18-28 at a specific timeframe. Here is their own description of the study:
America’s newest generation, the Millennials, is in this coming-of-age phase. Who are they? How are they different? How are they being shaped by their moment in history? And how might they reshape America in the future? The Pew Research Center sets out to answer these questions in a yearlong series of original reports that explore the behaviors, values and opinions of today’s teens and twenty-somethings.
In the study, there were many foregone conclusions, such as Gen Y’s emphasis on financial success, as well as lack of importance placed on religious values. One major point of our cultural shift that has been overlooked in most discussions that I feel is a vital key in understanding this change is what PEW defined as “community type.” They used this to describe the environmental upbringing of each generation and divided them into three separate categories: Central City, Suburbs, and Town & Rural.
The survey showed the predictable growth of the suburbs starting with the pre-1960 surveys they conducted through today. However, the Suburb-ian Boom did not see a decrease in central-city living environment, as it stayed relatively stable in each generation with roughly 30% of each generation living in an urban environment. In fact, the “suburb growth” came exclusively at the expense of rural life. Pre-1960, 36% of Americans lived in what they class as “town &rural” environments, i.e. small-town America. That number decreased in 1978, with just 29% of Boomers living in small towns. In 1995, 20% of Generation X lived in rural America. Today, only 14% of Generation Y comes from a “small town.”
When compared with the statistics gathered for population growth, it becomes more obvious. Pre-1963, the 18-28 year old population was listed at 24.6 million. As predicted by the term they are referred to by, that number jumped to 41.9 million with Baby Boomers in 1978. The growth slightly decreased with Generation X, and then jumped again too it’s current state of 45.8 million people between the ages of 18-28.
Since 1963, the generational size has almost doubled, while the growth of the suburbs has come exclusively at the expense of small towns and rural life in the United States. College enrollment has hit an all time high with the explosion of community colleges across the country. College enrollment has in fact jumped from 15.6% between 1973 and 2008. School diversity has seen modest, if not significant gains. Conflicts between this generation and the previous ones are down. The one significant change from Baby Boomers to Generation Y is household income, which has decreased both in terms of how much they made at that age and today.
On top of all these gains, one still sees what many consider to be a cultural decline. I don’t disagree with that notion, but it’s not as simple as the effect of an abortion bill or church attendance. It’s the culture we have surrounded ourselves with. Instead of getting out of the cities, suburban growth has come exclusively at the expense of small town life. Privately owned farms are disappearing. Locally owned small businesses, down to gas stations and convenient stores, have been replaced by quickie marts while the local goods went out of business when Wal Mart came to town.
What gave Americans their own cultural identities in different regions is ceasing to exist with any relevance. The cost of living has increased, while the quality of life has stagnated in the last 20 years, as suburban growth has leveled off. It’s a cultural clash within the GOP and conservatives as well, which has always embraced both small town values and big business.
The death of cultural values is directly correlated to the fact that what was once considered the American way of life, growing up on small towns, is on life support, and with it, the small town values Baby Boomers took for granted.
Blaming Roe vs. Wade or the decrease in religious values for what we consider the “cultural decline” in America today is too easy and simple. It’s also the decline in the values of the environment surrounding us, and our determination to respect, but differentiate ourselves from our parents.
This is just a theory, but Hillary Clinton missed the point when she stated that it “takes a village” to raise a child. It’s not the village that raises the child, but it’s the village environment they are exposed to and surrounded by during their formative years that can drastically shape their own outlooks as adults.
There has been much recent discussion about a “decline” in the American culture that has led to an accompanying shrinkage in our national education, the dissolution of the family, the alterations of the institutions of marriage and child rearing, a recession of our performing and other arts, the degradation of our civility, our language, indeed, of the whole of the “quality” of contemporary American life.
I myself have been writing about the diminution of American poetry and fiction, which I know something about, and even of other arts which I admit I know much less about.
Lamenting this state of affairs, however, is one thing; changing it is another.
Many analyses and diagnoses of recent changes of our culture are accompanied, following the lamentations, by calls to “fix” the culture, to reassert older values, to make things better “again.”
The presumption is that through formal legislation or regulations, or even through grand educational programs and intellectual campaigns, the culture can be changed. (The former would be the more “liberal” approach; the latter would be the more “conservative” approach.)
I don’t think either approach has much affect. The reason why this is so is that culture is not now, even if it was partially before, a product of formal education, either in secondary schools or colleges and universities. Nor is it simply transmitted and shaped as much as it was by religious, ethnic or even class backgrounds.
Instead, American culture is increasingly, in my opinion, formed and altered by the post-industrial technologies of communication, transportation, and medicine.
Some political theorists, mostly on the left, but some on the right as well, have been decrying an alleged rise of intellectual and economic elitism in America, of a growing distance between the rich and the poor, of the educated and the “non-educated,” of old and new citizen groups.
I take the contrarian view that this is not correct, or at the least, significantly misleading as a cause of the decline of American culture.
An honest and careful examination of American culture of the past century demonstrates what a qualitative economic and intellectual change has taken place in the nation. There has been a dramatic increase in the very level of income, employment, education, civil rights, health care and leisure time activities, of resident citizens of the United States. I repeat: a dramatic increase in the level.
Just take an honest look at the daily life of poor persons in general; blacks, Catholics and Jews, other immigrants and workers, before World War II, and compare those conditions to the ones which exist today. The platitudes alleging that there is a growing economic and quality of life difference between groups in America are propaganda.
The elite classes in America were, for almost the first two centuries, very small. Post World War II, the so-called middle class grew tremendously. Unlike our European and South American cousins, we had no permanent aristocracy or oligarchy. In fact, our culture, especially through radio, television, films and literature, celebrated the success of those who rose from suffering poverty and discrimination to become rich, successful and powerful.
None of what I am saying denies that there is not economic suffering today in the U.S., nor a total absence of prejudice and domestic violence. But those who suggest that the problems we have now are somehow a return to the past or worse than the past, are simply not telling the truth. In fact,there has been a great advance on conditions from the past. (I realize that this is heresy to those who now make a profession out of exploiting class, racial or economic warfare.)
A culture cannot be legislated. You cannot intimidate a national population to alter its cultural habits and preferences with abstractions. Moreover, you can’t change the American national culture without an honest appraisal of what that culture has already accomplished, and an appreciation of how the parade of expanding technologies forms what new generations think and do.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Three news stories out of the Lone Star State:
1.) In a surprise to absolutely no one, the Texas State Legislature has passed the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The mob that shut down the State Senate last time was no where to found. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst made it clear that he would have anyone who disrupted the Legislative process arrested. Rick Perry will sign the bill.
2.) In another unsurprising move, Attorney General Greg Abbott has declared his intentions to run for Governor. Abbott has already raised $18 million and had been laying the groundwork to run, assuming that Rick Perry didn’t run. He has been known for appealing to both the Establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP. Abbott, who is a paraplegic, made his announcement on the 29th anniversary of the accident that left him paralyzed. The Attorney General is considered by most as the next Governor-in-waiting.
3.) Intriguing travel plans for the junior Senator from Texas. This week Senator Ted Cruz will be in Iowa and in late August, he’ll be traveling to New Hampshire. Cruz will be meeting with Evangelical leaders in Iowa and he’s headlining a New Hampshire GOP fundraiser. Cruz has also visited South Carolina and will be coming to Florida as well.
The picture of modern college and university campuses has become so indelible in American minds for the past century, and the trillions of dollars spent to create and expand them is so great, that it is preposterous to suggest that they might become virtually empty and unused for their present purposes in the foreseeable future.
Or is it?
A recent study of an allegedly top-rated liberal arts college, Bowdoin in Maine, (“What Does Bowdoin Teach?”) has produced a firestorm of concern and controversy about the state of undergraduate education in America, particularly in its top schools. This study, written by Dr. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and Michael Toscano, is so thorough and so devastating that it raises anew whether college age American men and women, sometimes paying up to $60,000 per year to attend the nation’s leading public and private college and universities, are getting even a minimally respectable and useful higher education.
I have raised this question recently (on my blog The Prairie Editor) in a general format, citing my own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Minnesota, as examples of prestigious schools in decline. The NAS study exhaustively and, in my opinion, irrefutably documents a similar phenomenon at Bowdoin, with direct implications for so many other institutions of higher learning across the nation. Many others, educators and other commentators, most of whom know more about the subject than I do, have similarly indicted the leadership and faculties of many colleges and universities for the narrowness and triviality of their programs, and their preoccupations with issues of “diversity,” “sustainability,” and “political correctness.”
Considering the extremely high costs of higher education in most schools in America today, the lack of credibility of many of their curricula, and the extremist political domination of so many college and university communities, I don’t think there is much question that the whole institution is in a grave crisis.
So what will happen next?
Dr. Wood recently spoke to the Minnesota Association of Scholars, and following his remarks, was asked a question about the future of higher education. His answer included a comment about the possibility that the new institution of online higher education might be the only way to circumvent the entrenched faculty and administrative establishment, and restore higher education in America to its intended purpose and high standards.
As I listened to Dr. Woods remarks, it occurred to me that he might be right. Initially, I had reservations about online education. Part of this response, I must admit, came from the bias that I received my entire education — secondary, undergraduate and graduate schools — before the modern use of the computer. Another part of this response,I must also admit, probably came from a residual attitude that I had attended the “best” schools on major campuses, and that no off-campus educational experience could match them (even though I had, over time, become critical of those same schools). But the present crisis in higher education, and its astronomical rise in costs, I now believe could bring about radical change. If college and university presidents, boards of trustees and faculties do not quickly adapt or change in the face of this crisis, I think parents and students, the customers after all, will force a change by turning to online higher education, more technical community colleges and other new institutions to prepare them for their adult careers.
It won’t happen overnight. The “prestige” of the colleges and universities now at the highest level will persist, especially as long as employers pay attention to them. But as these same institutions continue to turn out poorly-prepared graduates, albeit intelligent ones, American business and professional employers will adjust their criteria and procedures for locating and hiring the best and the brightest.
Online higher education in the U.S.has just gone through a shake-up, as it is in the process of upgrading its standards and overcoming widespread past attitudes that online colleges and universities were “diploma mills.” But the best and some of the largest of these online institutions are surviving and growing. Able to provide quality undergraduate and technical higher education at much lower cost, and without the contemporary issues of “diversity,” “sustainability,” and political correctness now so out of control on so many of today’s college campuses, the online education industry is poised to grow exponentially and change the physical character of higher education in America.
In the past, the college campus offered a student an ”experience” beyond just book learning. But today, the college campus has lost its balance and its economy in so many ways. The tyranny of the radical political domination of so many campuses, grown unabated for the past 50 years, is about to be upended.
This educational revolt is not going away.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
I have been reading a great many books recently, biographies, history books and historical novels, which take place in the U.S., Europe and Asia in the period between 1934 and 1945.
This time has always interested me because it occurred before I was born or conscious of the world around me. I heard much about it from my parents, other family members and older friends over the years, and I did previously read a considerable amount about the U.S. and the worldwide depression, the rise of totalitarian fascism in Germany and Italy, the rise of totalitarian communism in the Soviet Union, the conquest of Europe by the Nazi armies and the conquest of Asia by the Japanese armies, and finally, World War II which brought the depravity of that era to a conclusion (as much as any period concludes anything before a new one springs out of what went before.)
There are many eras, of course, which are very interesting and deserve individual interest, and for Americans that often includes the colonial/revolutionary war period and the U.S. civil war period.
But I want to discuss the traumatic time of 1934 to 1945, a dozen years of unspeakable worldwide violence and terror that included the millions who died in the Stalinist agricultural and political purges in Ukraine and Russia,, nazi aggression, the Holocaust, the tens of millions of soldiers and civilians who died in the blitzkriegs, bombings and military campaigns.
There are , of course, the big names of this period, including President Franklin Roosevelt; Generals George Marshal, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur; Foreign leaders Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Tojo, Emperor Hirohito and Charles DeGaulle.
But there are many other persons who played key roles in this pivotal time. Leaders and personalities in all of the affected nations, today much less well-known, helped determine what happened, as much more importantly, did ordinary citizens whose examples of courage, brutality, suffering and endurance made them heroes, victims, saviors, assassins, torturers and innovators in such a terrible time.
I have been reading not only accounts of London during the blitz, but also Paris during its occupation, Moscow and Leningrad during their sieges, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw when they were invaded, Berlin, Rome and Tokyo while they pursued their aggressions against most of the civilized world, and then when war fell disastrously on them, too.
The basic theme of this relatively short, but so immensely tragic, time, is the sudden appearance of such venal and totalitarian forces, the initial inability of the “civilized” resistance to them, the depravity of how some human beings treated their fellow human beings, and the final triumph of the civilized nations.
In our own time, most of us, surely in the U. S., Canada, and most of Europe, are living through nothing comparable. In other parts of the world, especially in parts of the Middle East, Africa, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea, whole populations are enduring the latest forms of totalitarian life. That we are spared such conditions should give us no satisfaction, but the world today is no more a cooperative place than it has been in the past. The United Nations is a gross failure as the protector of human rights.
One of the books I have recently read, “The Polish Officer’ by the American novelist Alan Furth who has turned out so many fascinating and brilliant spy novels of Central Europe in this period, is exemplary in how it portrays with extraordinary contemporary details, the color and mood of 1934-45, and illustrates that while there are important constants in human behavior, constants of heroism, venality, courage, barbarism and selflessness, no historical period is exactly like another.
In “The Polish Officer,” a young cartographer with aristocratic background holds the rank of captain in the Polish Army at the outbreak of World War II when the German army invades Poland. The novel opens just a the nazi Wehrmacht crosses the eastern Polish frontier and moves toward Warsaw, the Polish capital. At the same time, as a result of a secret pact with Germany, the Soviet army crosses the western Polish border to split the nation in two, and occupy it, dividing the spoils.
The Polish government, knowing its long history of subjugation and exploitation, quickly realized that its principal allies France and Britain would no be coming to their aid (although each country, honoring their treaties with Poland, declared war on Germany). Helpless, though courageous, Polish forces were no match for the nazi and Soviet armies, and the country fell in a few weeks .The Polish government moved en masse to Paris (and after Paris fell, to London). With Nazi troops about to enter Warsaw, the Polish captain was given a choice of whether fight on (and die), flee, or remain in Poland as an operative of the Polish resistance. He chooses the latter, and the novel then takes us through an unforgettable journey through occupied Europe as the Polish officer performs dangerous mission after mission, beginning with smuggling the Polish national gold reserves into Rumania, and then the sabotage of German army preparations for invading England, for the exiled Polish government and its Allies, most of whom are now on the island of England.
In addition to the literary skill of Mr. Furst in telling a riveting story, the author has a knack of filling his pages with amazing and apparently remarkably accurate details of daily life in occupied Europe at all levels of society. It is these details, so fulsome and compelling, which however remind me how different times are. There are good reasons why this is so, particularly differences of technology, including transportation, communications, medicine and medical treatment, weaponry, among others aspects of daily life.
I have long said and written, that while history does not actually repeat itself, it does instruct us. We may be entering a new dark and problematic period of history. New forces of terror, hatred and violence have appeared. An extended period of economic stress, fostered by worldwide debt and economic instability, has also appeared. How we get through and resolve this global crisis is uncertain, but it seems it will not be merely a repeat of the crises of the just completed 20th century.
Yet certain themes of human behavior do not appear to change from century to century.
The United States is understandably weary of war. We have recently taken serious casualties, and unlike at the end of World War II or at the end of the Cold War, our benefits of victory and national interests are not yet clear. Grievous as the losses were on September 11, they do not even come close to the losses in other parts of the world in the last century, or even our own losses in our civil war in the century before that. The totalitarian impulse, alas, does not go away. It is rapacious and violent in all its actions. We ignore it at our very great peril. Freedom is not a slogan, It is the fundamental condition of human life if we are to advance as a species and survive.
Freedom is the incomparable human destiny, and if we lose it, we lose everything we think we want to be.
-Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution is out with a story today that Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss will announce his decision to retire. A hotly contested Republican primary for the nomination to win the open seat can be expected. Chambliss had been threatened with a primary challenge by one or two of the state’s conservative Congressmen, most notably Rep. Paul Broun. As the news report linked above notes, Chambliss had come under sharp criticism from “the base” for his willingness to work across the aisle to find viable solutions to the spending and debt problem. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, ran a story this past November about the impending primary challenge to Chambliss that discussed discontent with him. Here are a few highlights:
“Sen. Chambliss is not very popular among a lot of the conservative grass roots,” said Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots and the co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party.
Conservatives “don’t feel he’s as conservative as the base is,” said Virginia Galloway, the state director for Americans for Prosperity Georgia. “Sometimes when he sees himself being a statesman, conservatives see him as being a sellout.”
The crux of the base’s concern is Chambliss’ history of reaching across the aisle to work on solutions to issues such as immigration and federal debt.
Another thing that rankled some of the base: his involvement in the bipartisan effort to come up with a solution to the debt ceiling crisis as part of the “gang of six.”
Even without an opponent, Broun’s reelection came with controversy. A leaked video of a speech given at Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet on September 27, shows Broun telling supporters that, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” In addition, Broun also believes that the world is less than 9000 years old and was created in six literal days. In response to these remarks, coupled with Broun being on the House Science Committee, libertarian radio talk show host Neil Boortz spearheaded a campaign to run the English naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin against Broun, with the intention of drawing attention to these comments from the scientific community and having Broun removed from his post on the House Science Committee.
Broun won reelection on November 6, 2012, receiving 209,917 votes across the district. Charles Darwin received about 4000 write-in ballots in Athens-Clarke County as protest votes against Broun’s views on evolution, while Broun received 16,980 votes in that county.
I get the sense that next year’s Senate race may likely provide another platform for GOP candidates to discuss CCER (creationism, contraception, evolution, and rape) which by now will come as no surprise but is sure to attract lots of national attention.
Byron York thinks so:
In the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss, many Republicans say the GOP must make far-reaching changes to be competitive in future elections. White voters are a smaller and smaller part of the electorate, they point out, while Latinos and other minorities are growing as a percentage of the voting public. Unless the Republican Party reinvents itself to appeal to those voters, the argument goes, the GOP can get used to being out of power.
There’s something to that. The electorate is changing, and the Republican Party needs to keep up with the times. But the more fundamental answer to the GOP’s problems could be much simpler than that. To win the next time, Republicans need to find a really good candidate.
Mitt Romney…appears not to have excited any big group. Yes, he won the support of 59 percent of white voters, but there are indications that whites actually stayed away from the polls in large numbers. Overall, Romney won fewer votes than John McCain’s doomed 2008 campaign.
“The 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with nonwhite voters,” writes analyst Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics. “Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up. … The reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home.”
There is a less complicated lesson to this election. Voters want to believe in a candidate. If Republicans find that candidate, they will win.
As with the piece by Heather MacDonald I examined earlier, this is all true as far as it goes, but it is overlooking something very important.
Mr. York is far too casual about the fact that Mitt Romney won white voters by such a lopsided margin. According to some exit polls, he won by the same margin as Ronald Reagan did in his landslide victory against Jimmy Carter — the election that so many conservatives were hoping that this one would resemble. But the share of the white vote has decreased significantly since then, and the share of the Hispanic vote has quintupled.
2012 was a preview of the future, not an aberration of history produced by the technicalities of campaign mechanics. This cycle was merely a warm-up. The share of the electorate held by single women and Hispanics — as well as young people, growing older, who have learned to despise the Republican brand — is going to grow, not shrink, in 2016. The implicit solution in this piece is to simply fire up more Joe the Plumbers (the hidden white vote) with the same message — just, delivered by a more articulate messenger. That can’t work as a long-term proposition. We’ve been hearing ominous warnings for several cycles now about how the Republican Party needs to adapt its message with an eye toward the future, if it is to remain viable in the long-run. Well, the future is now — and the elections of 2016 and 2020 are really going to happen, too, and we really do need to think about these long-term trends if we want to win them. In other words: we will reap what we sow.
More saliently, then — what are we going to sow? What would a superior Republican candidate look like? What type of Republican candidate will be able to forge an emotional connection with voters in the way that President Obama can? Simply put, he’s got to be one that doesn’t pander to those who try to create an atmosphere of intolerance and exclusion. Consider George W. Bush — the winner of Nevada, Colorado, and even New Mexico (remember when we were competitive there?) — who won roughly 40% of the Hispanic vote in his reelection campaign by championing that community’s ambitions. He spoke the language of compassion and focused on education and health-care reforms. (His strident anti-same-sex marriage stance was mainstream at the time.) The median voter of 2004 did not consider the party of George W. Bush to be intolerant and out-of-touch. Whatever Bush’s faults, he understood what a lot of Republicans don’t. His brand of politics — his family’s, in fact — places a special emphasis on people’s lived experiences — and not just abstract ideology. We don’t need a return to the Bush years, but we do need a return to George W. Bush’s tone toward minorities and their aspirations. The message, not the messenger, is the heart of the problem. It’s really not that complicated.
Now that everything is said and done, it’s time to figure out the truly important stuff: Who benefits, duh! (Gotta embrace the new national ethos, right?)
WINNER: Nate Silver, Public Policy Polling, and Pollsters Generally: Surprise! It turns out that professional pollsters know how to do their jobs! Nate Silver and Public Policy Polling especially deserve credit, given the crap that they’ve had to put up with. Many conservative bloggers erupted at them for not telling them what they wanted to hear — but they were right. Mr. Silver’s modeling was highly accurate for the second cycle in a row, and the dreaded PPP nailed this election, calling every state, including Florida, correctly. Marist and Quinnipiac, also slammed by conservatives, were also highly accurate. When I predicted last week that Obama would win reelection and that we’d lose ground in the Senate, almost every single commenter on this site told me that I was buying into the awful biased pollsters and Nate Silver’s nonsense. The lesson here is simple: If you want to criticize a pollster, you need to understand how polling works and then make a specific criticism about the pollster’s methodology. If a poll shows a strong Democratic turnout advantage, it does not mean that the pollster is conspiring against Republicans — it means that more people are telling pollsters that they are Democrats and that they are also likely to vote. Weighting for party ID — ie; what so many people wanted the pollsters to do — is what would have really skewed the polls. Polls showed consistently that Democrats were just as enthusiastic, if not more enthusiastic, about reelecting the president as Republicans were about defeating him — and there’s more Democrats in this country than Republicans. The math is quite simple.
WINNER: Social Liberals: Ballot questions about same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization passed in almost every state that had them. (Oregon rejected a more extreme version of marijuana legalization.) Prominent social conservatives Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost Senate races that should have been easy GOP pick-ups. Is social conservatism viable? Perhaps, but at the very least, it will have to be repackaged. As a 22-year-old, I find it impossible to have conversations about politics with friends who barely follow the news: “Doesn’t Mitt Romney want to ban abortion? Wasn’t there a Republican talking about how he supports rape? Why would anyone vote for someone who doesn’t support gay people?” They won’t even listen to me try to explain the conservative position on a complicated issue like Medicare — they’ve already closed themselves off to the GOP, because they think it tolerates bigotry. Conservative activists need to learn that young people do not choose a party based on a checklist of issues — they examine the parties, usually in their late teens or early 20s, and try to get a general sense of what they stand for. The social issues are the easiest to understand and are the most emotionally-loaded. If the Republican Party is seen as harboring extremists, it will lose young people’s votes — possibly for a generation. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are not representative of the GOP mainstream — but too many young people look at the party and say “Well, I’m not sure where I am on all the issues, maybe, but I just know that I don’t wanna be in the same party as the guy talking about legitimate rape.” For your average voter, choosing a party is often no more complicated than that. If we want to make gains among young people, we have to actively suppress the candidacies of social-issues extremists.
LOSER: Rasmussen Reports: Scott Rasmussen can no longer be considered a credible pollster. His projections were disastrous. Furthermore, Rasmussen Reports polls should no longer be included in the RealClearPolitics polling average. If Rasmussen wants to win back his reputation, then he should demonstrate in 2014 that he is not just a partisan hack. But in this cycle, every single one of his state polls — both in the presidential race and in the Senate races — showed a pronounced bias toward the Republican candidate, just like they did in 2010. Rasmussen helped create a counterproductive echo-chamber environment amongst conservatives in this cycle — even as credible pollsters like PPP, Marist, and Quinnipiac showed the president gaining, for instance, conservative activists always were able to point to an inaccurate Rasmussen poll as a reason to believe that Mitt Romney still had a chance and that Rasmussen was catching something that the other pollsters, with their flawed turnout models, were missing. But Rasmussen showed a systemic Republican bias, and he needs to be held accountable for it in some way.
WINNER: GOP Up-and-Comers: With the Romney-Ryan 2016 question out of the way, the field is cleared for a new generation of leaders to truly assume command of the national conversation. Expect to hear more from Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and others — and for a dynamic 2016 primary race to unfold. Despite last night’s wipe-out, it’s an exciting time to be a Republican — for the first time in quite some time, it’s our party that looks like the party of the future. If we can fix our little demographic problem, that is…
LOSER: The GOP, Among Hispanics: Here is the fact that will tell you everything that you need to know: Romney won whites by the same margin that Ronald Reagan did in 1980. He still lost in an electoral landslide. There’s no way around this problem anymore: the electorate was only 72% white this year. We are running out of Joe the Plumbers. We cannot continue to be the party that Latinos perceive as hostile to their race and culture. We can complain all day long about whether that’s fair or accurate — but the problem exists whether he want to acknowledge it or not. It has cost us a variety of races in the past few cycles in states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. George W. Bush was on the right track, earning nearly 40% of the Hispanic vote. If his immigration reform bill had passed, we might have a considerable share of the Hispanic vote right now. But we gave into the Tom Tancredos of the world in 2006, just like Mitt Romney did in 2011 when he ran to the right of Rick Perry for short-term personal gain at the party’s expense. He laid his own trap for the general election. Now this problem persists. Obama is going to tackle immigration reform in his second term. If the Republican Party revolts against it, we may lose the Hispanic vote for an entire generation, and with it, the party as we know it. I anticipate a full-on civil war about this issue in the party within the next two years.
WINNER: Bill Clinton: The rehabilitation of William Jefferson Clinton is complete. There is no more beloved Democrat in the entire country. His excellent convention speech was widely credited with launching Obama into his comfortable September lead, and his preferred strategy of painting Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat rather than a flip-flopper paid off. Romney bested Obama on questions about the economy and deficit — but when pollsters asked whether Romney understood the problems facing the middle class, he was absolutely blown away by the president. Clinton helped Obama to embrace a truth that few politicians truly understand: That most people don’t vote for ideology. They vote for politicians who they think “get” them. Bill Clinton will also be a tremendous asset to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign — both in the primaries (should they matter) and in the general election. If she decides to run, that is…
NEUTRAL: Paul Ryan: Nobody is blaming Paul Ryan for any part of last night’s outcome. He performed admirably as Mitt Romney’s running mate and has seen his national stature elevated. He finds himself in a position much like John Edwards four years ago. Hopefully he can make a bit more of the opportunity — he is an exceptional politician and he deserves to be one of our party’s leaders.
WINNER: Establishment Republicans / LOSER: Tea Party Republicans: The Tea Party continues to rack up losses in the Senate. In the past two cycles, they have cost us Delaware, Indiana, Colorado, and Nevada. (Full disclosure: I supported Mourdock over Lugar. I did not expect him to self-destruct; I will never again support a Tea Party insurgent against a popular incumbent.) Tea Party favorites Allen West and Mia Love both lost; Michele Bachmann had a scare but managed to hang on. Republicans retain control of the House, though. As Obama’s second term begins, I expect Boehner and Cantor’s influence to grow against the more hardline Tea Party elements of the Republican caucus. The country has voted, and elections have consequences. Boehner and Cantor — as well as Ryan — recognize that. My advice to the Tea Party is this: When qualified, articulate, conservative establishment-types like Rubio, Cruz, and Toomey are nominated, they win. When radical ideologues like Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, and Christine O’Donnell are embraced, they lose. It’s not too hard to figure out what to do with such information.
OVERALL: I’m trying to find a silver lining for Republicans, but I just don’t see one. Last night was an utter massacre. Yet, this is no time to whine (or to shoot the messenger). It’s time to figure out why we lost — and what we can do about it.
Barack Obama deserves to lose this election.
As Republicans, we spend a lot of time mocking the president’s 2008 message of hope and change. But we should not forget that, to tens of millions of Americans fed up with how Washington conducts its business, candidate Obama was promising something rather specific — and rather thrilling, too. It wasn’t about policy, really. It was a high-minded, idealistic vision about changing how we approach the business of politics. What was missing from our system, Obama said, was a unified sense of purpose. And here he stood, an outsider, untainted by years of assimilation to the system, who seemed to “get it.” In his famous 2004 convention speech, he declared that Red State voters have gay friends, too, and that Blue State voters go to church and worship an awesome God. The pundits liked to slice and dice America into competing demographic groups, he said, but the president should unite us. He promised to go to Washington and fight not just for new policies, but for a new kind of politics; a clean break from the divisive Bush years. That’s what change was supposed to mean. Does anyone remember that? I didn’t vote for Obama, but it was easy to understand his appeal. His platform was big — it meant something.
That promise rests in utter ruins. The manner in which the president has conducted his re-election campaign is simply disgraceful. His campaign has accused Mitt Romney of thinking that soldiers and senior citizens are worthless bums. We have been told that Romney wants to drag civil rights back to the 1950s and “turn back the clock” for America’s minority groups. That he “bets against America.” That he harbors a deep-seated loathing toward women and wants to “wage war” on them.
These are not policy arguments. Nobody actually has a clue about what policies the president wants to pursue in his second term. These are not arguments about Mitt Romney’s professional style, either. The president has virtually ignored Romney’s record as Governor of Massachusetts. Instead, the focus of the Obama campaign has been a constant, calculated, deliberate attempt to ruin Romney’s reputation and paint him as not just unworthy of the presidency, but as a fundamentally bad person unworthy of even basic respect.
Welcome to politics, right? This nastiness is as old as the republic. But there’s something particularly jarring about a man whose main qualification for the presidency was his outsider status — his promise as a change agent — becoming the poster boy for that perennial division and nastiness. Without that promise, without that qualification, why did we put him into office in the first place? His proven executive skill? His deep record of legislative accomplishments? The premise of electing him in the first place was that maybe, just maybe, this guy was different. But he’s not different. He’s just like all of the useless politicians he railed against four years ago.
The president’s policies have been ineffective. He is in over his head. This country needs new leadership. But the proposition I am making here goes beyond that. President Obama’s re-election campaign has been disgracefully small and petty. And for that reason, not only does America deserve a new president, but Barack Obama personally deserves to lose this election.
Christopher Hennessey, a gay writer over at the Huffington Post, has penned a piece slamming Republicans who are supporters of same-sex marriage, yet support the Romney-Ryan ticket:
If I hear one more person explain how, even though they believe in gay rights, they’re voting for Romney, I’m going to lose my mind. We need to find ways to reach these people who say they love us and call us friends.
Below I share the most salient moment from each post. The first is from Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright, who said:
I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, “My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.” It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.
The moment I read this I felt that it encapsulated feelings and ideas I’d been stewing in for weeks. “Yes!” I shouted at my computer screen. “I want you to face me! Tell me these are your priorities!” Can you imagine the cathartic moment? But more importantly, think about all the people who might not vote for Gov. Romney if they knew they had to look their gay and lesbians loved ones in the eyes after they did so.
Mr. Hennessey explicitly directs his post toward friends and family members of gays and lesbians, blithely assuming that no gay person could possibly have any interest in voting for Mitt Romney. Yet, here I am — I exist! — a gay man who is voting — well, voted early — for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, despite my support for same-sex marriage. Why?
Well, let’s begin at the beginning: Marriage is not a “fundamental” civil right, and the comparison between George Wallace and Mitt Romney is demagogic and outrageous. The sleight-of-hand trick is this: Gay activists have adopted marriage as a proxy war for the public acceptance of homosexuality, thus inappropriately smuggling what should properly be a cultural issue into the realm of electoral politics. Obviously, as a gay man, I believe that homosexuality should be publicly accepted — yet, I really do not think that electoral politics is the appropriate arena in which to conduct this argument. Astute Republican professionals have long recognized that same-sex marriage is inevitable and that, at this point, it is largely a matter of waiting for demographic shifts to take place. Can anyone recall any Romney-Ryan ad campaigns slamming the president’s support for same-sex marriage? Of course not — they don’t exist. Mitt Romney is a traditional man and opposes same-sex marriage, yet, he is not a fool: he understands that this is not a winning issue, and that embarking on a lost-cause crusade against same-sex marriage is not a particularly important issue during a time when we face a $16 trillion (and growing) public debt, the economy is stagnating for the middle-class, and a narrative is being written about American decline.
As a gay man, I’d like to call for a moratorium on comparisons between the fight for same-sex marriage and the Civil Rights Movement — are gay teenagers being forcibly segregated from their peers? Are gays and lesbians made to drink from separate water fountains? Are gay protesters being hosed by the police, or having dogs unleashed onto them? This is an utter farce. Liberals have a visceral urge to be “part of history,” so they cook up these phony narratives so they can feel like they’re “part of something.” I voted for same-sex marriage on my ballot here in Maryland, and I hope that I’m fortunate enough to meet a man worth marrying, one day — yet, as a rational human being with a functioning brain, I find that cannot bring myself to engage in the kind of self-congratulation that is required to compare what I’m facing to what black people dealt with in the South during the era of segregation.
The fixation on same-sex marriage as a political issue, though, reveals a classic left-wing blind-spot. Over the past decade, public opinion has dramatically moved in favor of gay people and same-sex marriage — yet, which politician has taken the lead on this issue? Barack Obama has been utterly useless; he was officially opposed to it until he needed to whip up support among his gay supporters during this campaign season. No, the politicians have all but been silent. The prime movers here have been found in the culture. In 2004, when I was first beginning to recognize that I was gay, I faced a culture that, in my young eyes, seemed disapproving and wary. Here, just a decade later, the love that dare not speak its name has transformed into the love that won’t shut the hell up! From Lady Gaga to Glee, there has been an explosion of public support for gays and lesbians, especially in the youth culture. It is perplexing beyond belief to me that so many left-wing gay activists spend less time celebrating these gains than slavishly devoting themselves to the drudgery of politics. Politics is slow and messy — but when it comes to the social issues, the politics invariably responds to the culture. Again: If anyone can show me the Romney-Ryan ad campaign or stump speech slamming the president’s support for same-sex marriage, I’d love to take a look at it. But no politician produced this sort of climate. Instead, it is the culture. Ironically, given their dominance in music, movies, and television, liberals tend to lack an appreciation for the role of culture in shaping society, instead pouring their devotion into political crusades. How can it be that a pro-same-sex-marriage celebrity can look into the camera and tell average people that the most important work that they can do on behalf of gay marriage is to vote for Barack Obama? These people are oblivious to their own influence. Left-wing obliviousness to culture — and my own classical conservative appreciation for its role — goes a long way in explaining the gulf between us on this issue.
Yet, given all that we face as a nation, what can explain the manic obsession with this issue? I look at my own lived experiences, for answers. I was obsessed with my sexuality when I was younger. As a gay man, I’ve had to devote an inordinate amount of time thinking about what straight people take for granted. Yet, the reason that I was so fixated on it was so that one day I wouldn’t have to be so fixated on it. Once I’d figured it out, I could stop obsessing over it. Thinking about the basics of one’s identity is like a ladder: You climb it so you can get to where you want to go — and then you leave the ladder behind. When I was 18, I wanted a gay roommate in college, I went to gay clubs, I had a GLBT button on my messenger bag (which is pretty gay in itself, no?), I posted on gay forums, I made sure that I met all the gay people that I could. Now, at 22 — Enough! Obsessing about my homosexuality is a relic of my younger years. As it is for heterosexuals, my sexual orientation is background noise in my mind at this point. Hence, when I walk into the voting booth, I’m doing it as a citizen, not as a homosexual. My homosexuality is a part of my identity, yes — but I’m also someone who holds a share of the public debt, a student, a worker, a patriot who values American global leadership, a taxpayer. (My gosh! — It’s almost as if there were more to me than my homosexuality!) It seems to me that these activists are locked in an adolescent mindset.
I voted for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the hopes that they might address entitlement reform, tax reform, and deficit-reduction. They may or may not succeed; what we know for sure is that Barack Obama is indifferent toward or incapable of addressing these issues. As an American citizen, I believe that these are among the most pressing issues of our time. Yet, I am supposed to cast aside these priorities of mine because the president personally supports — finally, in the heat of a campaign! — same-sex marriage? I am supposed to forget about everything but my sexual orientation when I enter the voting booth? And this is supposed to be…liberating? If same-sex marriage is legitimately the most important issue of our time, then let’s hear the case for it — but for God’s sake, with so much potentially at stake, with a debt crisis looming, with our international stature in decline, with the economy stagnating — don’t give me this patronizing nonsense about my homosexuality being the be-all and end-all of my “dignity as a citizen of this country.“
In its beginning, there was only one set of Nobel Prizes. Swedish industrial mogul Alfred Nobel established the annual international awards to recognize great contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace more than 100 years ago. The Prizes soon became the worldwide standard for recognizing human achievement.
This reputation of the prize lasted through two world wars. But after World War II, those who decided who would win the Prizes, committees in Sweden and Norway, often and increasingly chose to use some of the Prizes to express their political opinions. A new Prize was added in economics, a quasi-scientific discipline.
While the recipients of the Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have continued to have the reputation for making some of the greatest contributions to humanity (with only occasional controversy), the awards in peace, literature and economics have often become self-parodies of the Nobel committees, obviously (and frequently explicitly) ideological and political, and, if the truth be told, a laughing stock for many observers in the world.
Last year, however, I wrote in praise of the 2011 Prize in literature that went to the great Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. After many years of awarding this Prize to leftist writers of uneven stature, the Prize went to one of the world’s greatest writers, in my opinion, whose work was beyond politics. (In fact, Mr. Transtromer is a political liberal, but his literary standing is based on the remarkable quality of his poetry).
The Prizes in literature and economics have not yet been announced (but will have been by the time this published), so I have nothing to say about this year’s awards in these fields.
The Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have been awarded, and as usual, they have recognized some of the world’s most outstanding scientists.
It is the just-announced awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, however, which has provoked me to write this column. This year’s Prize went to the European Union. This supra-national organization of most of the national states of the European continent has been in a prolonged economic and political crisis for many years, a crisis, I might add, of its own doing.
This year’s award is beyond ludicrous, beyond self-parody, and is one more instance of the Norwegian committee’s masochistic damage to the reputation of a once highly regarded Nobel Prize for peace. (It echoes the award in a few years ago to Barack Obama before he had served as president. That award was made solely on the hope that he would, in the future, contribute to world peace. Does anyone, except his political partisans, seriously consider him worthy of a Nobel Prize for peace three years later?)
The award to the European Union this year is similarly based on hope that the institution will survive. It is a self-congratulatory and desperate act of some elitist Norwegian Europeans who are observing the European Union, one of the world’s most dysfunctional organizations, endure protracted economic distress and loss of public confidence.
Alfred Nobel’s original idea was to recognize the highest human achievements. The purely scientific Prizes maintain that high standard. The second group of Prizes (in literature, economics and peace) have become too often an insult to Mr. Nobel’s vision, and a sad joke about what human beings can yet achieve.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Some cheeky Romney fundraiser thought that it would be amusing to throw the press a shiny object, apparently:
A surreptitiously taped video of Mitt Romney speaking at a closed-door fundraiser earlier this year shows him describing 47 percent of voters as tax scofflaws and so dependent on government services that they’re bound to vote for President Barack Obama in November.
“There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney appears to be saying in the video.
In the video, Romney asserted that 47 percent of people pay no income tax.
“So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect,” he said.
Romney went on to explain that he isn’t trying to court those voters.
“My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney said. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney chose a crude and mostly inaccurate dividing line between the left and the right in this country. Most of the poorest states — the states that fall most decisively into the “takers” column in the popular makers-and-takers divide — are actually deeply Republican ones. The South and Appalachia — states like Mississippi and West Virginia — disproportionately benefit from blue-state federal tax money. This isn’t just a racial division, either: West Virginia is lily-white, yet is very poor — and is going to overwhelmingly support Mitt Romney. So, surely something else is at work here.
It would be more accurate to ascribe the rise of the entitlement society to a particular ideology – one that cuts across income lines and, out of a distorted sense of noblesse oblige, is especially common among the highly wealthy (think David Geffen and Warren Buffett). The ideology is called egalitarianism — the philosophical sense that a more equal society is a more just society. Wealthy people are often all-too-willing to buy into the false idea that the federal government can afford to guarantee every man, woman, and child high-quality health care, education through one’s twenties, housing, food, unemployment insurance, and a pension — free of cost. High-income voters often believe that, by supporting policies like these, they are signaling to themselves and others that they are compassionate, empathetic, and in-touch with their fellow citizens. For these voters, it’s not a question of their own livelihoods — so Romney is certainly wrong that Obama voters unanimously see themselves as victims in need of care and protection. The truth is even more difficult: for these voters, it’s a question of their character. This is why battles over entitlements are never about math and are always about whether right-wingers are bad people.
However, the problem that Romney identified is accurate: we do live in an entitlement society. He should talk about it more, like I and so many others assumed he would after placing one of the entitlement society’s worst nightmares on the ticket. Overall — not in totality, but overall — the leaked audio reflects upon him favorably. He clearly and forcefully identifies the rotting core of American decline: the entitlement mentality. But he needs to make a cultural argument against it, not a class-based one. There are millions of poor and lower-middle-class people who resent the idea that government should be taking care of them — and many of America’s most forceful advocates for the welfare state are part of the evil One Percent. Mitt’s right, but he’s wrong. And since the cat’s out of the bag now, he has little choice but to get it right — and make the argument that he should have been making for the past four weeks, anyway.
It’s striking to me how few people actually argue with the intent to persuade. Every day, political junkies march into battle in the war of words taking place in the blogosphere and on social media websites — yet, it is difficult to imagine many people emerging from these exchanges feeling compelled to change their opinions, let alone reexamine their ideologies. Mostly, people just assert, and when their assertions are challenged, they assert some more, without bothering to examine their opponents’ assumptions about the world — which, right or wrong, are very different than their own.
I joked on my Facebook feed earlier this week that the Democratic Convention reminded me of why I dislike Democrats even more in practice than I do in theory — that, in the abstract, I usually agree with the party about one-third of the time, but that as soon as one of their leaders opens his mouth, I’m reminded that our agreement is basically an accident. I support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, for instance — yet, in my mind, I am not framing that support as a vindication of my own kindness, empathy, and compassion. Despite our mutual support for the bill, I could not recognize myself in the pro-Dream Act speakers, who discussed the argument in terms of heroes and villains — open-minded, compassionate liberals against racist, selfish conservatives. Why is this?
The answer can be found in the makeup of the parties. The essential nature of the two parties’ coalitions is this: the Republican argument is geared fundamentally toward ideology, while the Democratic argument is geared fundamentally toward identity. The Republican Party is a collection of ideological factions — capitalists, defense hawks, and religious traditionalists, all of whom identify first and foremost with their chosen ideology — and the Democratic Party is a collection of identity factions — women, gays, Hispanics, union members, etc., all of whom identify first and foremost with that identity. It’s not a perfect split, of course, but I think, as a general rule, this is true.
Ideology, by definition, is an abstract concern, while identity relates to people’s lived experiences. Ideals of liberty and freedom are worth fighting for — but for those who aren’t already predisposed to identify with and prioritize those values, they’re also hard to relate to, on a day-to-day level. This difficulty is compounded when dealing with people who are members of minority groups — people for whom identity traits are a constant theme in their emotional life. If you’re white, you’re unlikely to spend a lot of time thinking about your race. However, if you’re gay, you’re almost certainly going to spend a lot of time thinking about your sexual orientation, including how that factors into other aspects of your life, such as politics — which leaves less room for other values, like freedoms of speech, association, and religion.
Should that be so? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s the way it is. And it makes it significantly easier for Democrats to convince minorities to identify with their party — especially at a young age, when they are still in the process of forging an identity, still deciding what values will be meaningful in their lives. Most people — believe it or not — don’t actually pay much attention to politics. When choosing a political party, the average American simply asks himself which party best matches his personal values. Last year, I persuaded my best friend, a fellow young gay man, to become a Republican instead of a Democrat. “I became a Democrat because of gay marriage,” he explained to me. “From there, I just kind of talked myself into the rest of what the party said.” There are millions of stories just like my friend’s.
Those millions of stories translate into a solid foundation of public support for Democrats. The paradox of appealing to “minorities” is that the majority of us fall into one of those categories. Between blacks, Hispanics, feminist women, gays and lesbians, Jewish people, Muslims, and niche constituencies like labor unions, there are a whole lot of people who can properly identify as a member of a minority group — and the Democrats, not the Republicans, are the ones who appeal to them on a visceral, emotional level. Democrats reach out to them on the basis of identity — on the basis of their lived experiences. When it comes to raw, emotional reactions, lived experiences always beat abstractions. This is why Republicans are consistently trounced on the question of empathy — and why Obama is still in a commanding position to win reelection.
If Republicans want to win over minority voters, they have to do so by appealing to their lived experiences — not to abstract ideology. We can’t persuade simply by doubling down on idealistic themes like liberty and free enterprise. These are values that are worth fighting for, to be sure — and they remain our ultimate goals — but in electoral politics, different tactics must be used to appeal to different constituencies. We have to explain to the black urban voter how conservatism, not liberalism, will help his child obtain a better education, become financially independent, and encounter less discrimination in the world. We have to explain to gay voters that capitalism, not socialism, has made life easier for sexual minorities all around the world. These voters are not predisposed to agree with the Republican Party’s values, and they can’t be won over with the same rhetoric that we would use at CPAC. They want to hear language that relates to their lived experiences.
Perhaps in an ideal world, we’d be able to explain our values to left-wingers and moderates in the same way that we do among fellow conservatives and libertarians. Maybe, maybe not. But we’ve already tried asserting. We do that all the time. When it comes to winning over minority voters, it doesn’t work. If we want to close the ‘empathy gap,’ what we need to do is start persuading. And that means meeting other people on their terms. That is, after all, the very definition of empathy.
Radio host Peter Schiff finds out:
How does the average Democrat think the economy should work?
You almost have to wonder if anyone was looking at a calendar when the Democrats planned the DNC this year.
The convention is taking place from Monday, September 3 through Thursday, September 6. There are several other things going on that week that might just take the spotlight off of the convention, much to the Democrats’ chagrin.
First, Monday September 3 is Labor Day – the day when everyone is going out for one last vacation or camping trip, grilling, and relaxing. Nobody will be paying attention to the DNC that day.
Okay, you say, that’s fine — nobody really pays attention to the first day of a convention anyhow. So let’s go to Wednesday night — the night when the Vice President gives his speech accepting the Veep nomination. Oh, what’s that? Obama scrubbed Biden’s speech and asked for his own political bailout package by getting Bill Clinton to speak that night? Great! That will surely be seen by millions of Americans, persuading them to vote for Obama…
If they weren’t busy watching the NFL season opener that night, that is. The highly anticipated matchup between the defending champion Giants and their heated division rivals the Dallas Cowboys will be that same night. The game will be broadcast on NBC, giving tens of millions of viewers the choice between watching what promises to be a great football game (and the first one of the season!) or a speech by the guy who was President two decades ago.
Okay, so that’s not so great. But at least Barack Obama still has Thursday night all to himself with no competing holidays or TV shows. Surely his great oration skills will lead to a bounce in the polls, coming out of Thursday and into… the August jobs report released early Friday morning. Crap. By most accounts, the jobs reports for the rest of the summer (including tomorrow’s) aren’t going to be anything to write home about. So coming off of his primetime speech Thursday night, the Friday headlines will be about a less-than spectacular economic situation. Not a good way to build momentum for the final 26 days of the race. It will invite comparisons between Obama’s lofty rhetoric and the reality on the ground, as well as recollections of Romney’s speech promising to fix the economy.
Seriously, could the Democrats have chosen a worse week to hold their convention? Because I’ve looked on the calendar and I sure couldn’t find one.
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.
The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In the America they designed, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by the circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish. Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in lifting people out of poverty. It is the only principle that has ever created sustained prosperity. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and has long since surpassed them all.
The linkage between freedom and economic development has a universal applicability. One only has to look at the contrast between East and West Germany, and between North and South Korea for the starkest demonstrations of the meaning of freedom and the absence of freedom.
Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.
As the case of Israel makes plain, building a free society is not a simple task. Rather, it is struggle demanding constant courage and sacrifice. Even here in the United States, which from our inception as a nation has been blessed with freedom, we faced monumental challenges in harmonizing our ideals with our institutions. We fought a bloody civil war against slavery and it took a nonviolent civil-rights movement to bring political and social equality to all Americans. In these epic struggles we changed our “culture” and vastly improved it.
I have just returned from a trip abroad. I visited three lands — Israel, Poland, and Great Britain — which are defined by their respective struggles for freedom. I met with some of the greatest heroes of those struggles. I am always glad to return to American soil. On this occasion, I am only strengthened in my conviction that the pursuit of happiness is not an American right alone. Israelis, Palestinians, Poles, Russians, Iranians, Americans, all human beings deserve to enjoy the blessings of a culture of freedom and opportunity.
The Romney team today confirmed grass-roots reports that a campaign bus was sabotaged by an unknown vandal over the weekend.
The bus, which was being used for campaign events but not transporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was parked in Richmond, Va., when the vehicle was tampered with late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
A Romney campaign official told PJM that the alternator belt was cut. Repairs were under way Monday to get the bus back on the road for a voter registration event in Springfield, Va., from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Springfield Metro Commuter Lot.
The “New Civility” indeed.
The rhetoric which surrounds the issue of gay marriage should give any conservative pause before voting for or even associating with any Democrats. Pay attention to my reasoning.
The reason is NOT because gay marriage is the most abhorrent thing in the world. It doesn’t directly affect me. And frankly it frustrates me when people in the media say “abortion and gay marriage” in the same talking points phraseology as if there is no distinction in the level of culpability, because the killing that occurs with abortion is an exponentially greater threat to the moral ethic than gay marriage which does not involve a killing, but rather, a mere definition.
On the other hand, gay marriage DOES indirectly affect me, in the sense that it affects the broader culture and coincides with liberal attempts to smear, malign, and castigate Catholicism and Christianity and eliminate the Judeo-Christian ethic that has historic roots in the country. This indirect connection to my life, while still indirect, ultimately comes very close to directly affecting me as the broader culture affects everyone.
I personally oppose gay marriage. To be clear, there are many legitimate reasons for opposing gay marriage. I’ll just state the most compelling three reasons here for brevity. First, the definitional nature of procreation and child-bearing that can only exist between a man and a woman legitimately deserves special recognition in society. Second, it is certainly possible to respect gay people and at the same time oppose gay marriage, and those two principles are not mutually exclusive. Third, all arguments for gay marriage apply equally to polygamous marriage. This absurdity goes far to show how Hollywood and the news media can morph people’s minds, in the sense that the “gay lobby” has generally succeeded in labeling opposing forces as “bigots” but somehow the “pologamy lobby” has thus far failed at labeling opposing forces “bigots.” It’s still ay-okay for society to view polygamists as objectively unorthodox people, but now if you view gays as objectively unorthodox people not worthy of a legitimate marriage title rooted in procreation and child-bearing, well, then, YOU’RE A BIGOT!
And that brings me to this…the real reason that the gay marriage issue should prevent someone from voting or associating or being friends with democrats: “YOU’RE A BIGOT!”
Note that this reason is completely separate from the underlying merits of gay marriage. It is a reason based on the democrat consciously or subconsciously personally attacking and assaulting the integrity of the republican.
Why would a person want to vote for, associate with, or be friends with people that call you a bigot (or think it) based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever. “YOU’RE A BIGOT!” is nothing more than an extension of their compulsive desire to call you names (or think it), insulate themselves from being labeled a bigot (in thinking others actually are bigots), and satisfy their inferiority complex to make them feel good about the notion that you are inherently inferior to them as a person (and actively thinking it).
This is the subtext that underlies ALL democrat arguments. It’s a personal attack on the integrity of the republican.
YOU’RE A BIGOT!
YOU’RE AN ANTI-GAY HOMOPHOBE!
YOU’RE A RACIST!
YOU’RE A SEXIST!
YOU’RE A XENOPHOBE BECAUSE YOU OPPOSE AMNESTY FOR ILLEGALS!
YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT POOR PEOPLE!
YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYONE!
This is the entire democrat platform. Let me repeat. This is the entire democrat platform. Therefore if you are a democrat voter, by definition, your mind and your brain consciously or subconsciously views the republican voter in this insulting context. BY DEFINITION!
For this reason, the following question should occur to you. Why would any self-respecting individual desire to vote for, live with, have lunch or dinner with, have conversations with, be around, talk to, be friends with, meet on special occasions, dedicate your time to, share intimate moments with, or otherwise associate with any democrat when by definition they view you in this insulting context?
And as a brief corollary, this question: wouldn’t it make more sense to associate with conservatives who you know consciously and subconsciously respect you as a person? Not to mention the fact that you share core values and can actually entertain a conversation with them without the stated or unstated subtext of having your integrity personally assaulted. Not to mention that with conservatives, even when you disagree, you at least know they still respect you as a person.
Let me be clear. Abortion is far and away “Reason #1? because it involves an actual and real killing. Nothing can eclipse the seriousness of an actual and real killing and it remains shocking to me that an “informed voter” (rare as they are) could vote for an abortionist democrat party.
The aforementioned line of reasoning, nevertheless, stands as a pretty damn close “Reason #2.”
And I’ll take credit for this post being absolutely brilliant in seeking out and finding…truth.
While the political and media establishments of the West continue to claim that the world is on an irreversible path towards greater small-l liberalism, globalization, commercialization, and internationalism, the folks on the ground in struggling Western societies may yet have other ideas. In the first round of voting in France’s 2012 presidential election, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen finished in a strong third place, taking 18 percent of the vote, while Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy took 29 and 27 percent of the vote respectively. While Hollande represents the establishment Left of his country, and Sarkozy, the establishment Right, Marine Le Pen represents neither. As an opponent of globalization and multiculturalism, and a defender of France’s protections for its working class, Le Pen is the polar opposite of the NeoLiberal.
Without a contemporary ideology in the U.S., Marine Le Pen’s National Front probably resembles some sort of Ross Perot-Pat Buchanan hybrid in American terms. Under her leadership, the National Front has taken positions that would classify them, in the United States, as being far-right on certain cultural issues, like immigration and Islam, but far-left on issues like protections of workers’ rights and livelihood. Le Pen supports increasing the French birthrate, cultural assimilation of immigrants, a moratorium on immigration altogether, and is skeptical of the European Union. At the same time, she is opposed to the privatization of social programs and government services, considers herself an ally of the country’s civil servants, and views economic protectionism as the way to national prosperity. Americans might call this populism. Whatever it’s called, it is the ideology that is gaining steam throughout the West as the “new normal” of societal mediocrity sets in.
Similar sentiments seem to be on the rise in Greece, as the calls for austerity are met by the rise of the Golden Dawn:
The mainstream parties are paying the highest price for the country’s economic decline. One of the most active new parties is the ultra-right-wing Golden Dawn.
Its latest rally was in the working-class neighborhood of Bournasi. Party supporters here are mostly young, muscular, tattooed men, heads shaven, wearing black T-shirts with the party logo — an ancient Greek motif resembling the swastika. They blame the eurozone crisis on what they call international “banksters.”
After almost negligible support in elections three years ago, polls suggest Golden Dawn could win as much as 5 percent. Its message is simple: Dump austerity measures and kick immigrants — all of them are considered illegal — out of Greece.
If members of the political and media establishments throughout the West continue to downplay the concerns of the average citizen, nationalism and populism will continue to rise in popularity. As once strong Western middle classes find themselves squeezed ever tightly between the diminishing prowess of the Western private sector and the increasingly bankrupt Western governments, dreams of global utopia will be replaced by nationalistic fervor. The seeming inability of the political establishment across the board to turn things around for the Western world leaves no Western country immune from the call to populism, not even the U.S., which could have its own Marine Le Pen by 2016 unless things change, and change quickly.
This is amusing….so enjoy!
Continuing my discussion of world conditions and developments, I turn to France and its current presidential election.
The French are very proud folks. They are rightfully proud of their beautiful countryside, their extraordinary metropolis of Paris, their wines, their cuisine, their museums, and their contributions to world culture in painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, film and dance. But they have an exaggerated pride in their politics and the influence of their language. With their large continental population (about 65 million), their large economy, and the fact that France is the number one tourist destination in the world, this nation continues to be one of the top nations of Europe (along with Great Britain and Germany).
The main problem for France is that it is in protracted demographic and economic decline. French was THE international language for more than a
century, but French has now been supplanted by English, as well as (increasingly) Mandarin (Chinese), Spanish, Russian and Hindi. Thanks to
the emergence of Brazil as an economic power, even Portuguese is becoming more important than French. (But don’t tell that to a French-speaking person. He or she will yell rude epithets at you in French!)
After several hundred years of absolute monarchies with strong ties to the Vatican, including naming Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, Louis
IV initiated a number of European wars at the end of the 17th century, and France became a dominant force in continental Europe along with Spain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After a short-lived revolution a century later, Napoleon Bonaparte made himself emperor of France and put France back on the map at the beginning of the 19th century. He conquered much of Europe, and went all the way to Moscow. By 1815, however, Napoleon had been defeated. Later, the French empire began to shrink. Of course, France (as did her British,Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and German neighbors) established colonies throughout the rest of the world, bringing along her language, culture and law. At one time, France had the second-largest colonial empire in the world (after the British). Most colonies are now gone, although the French have made some of her smaller former colonies to be overseas departments (states) of France with full citizenship (and thus justifies holding on to them).
After Napoleon, France went through a protracted series of political ups and downs, including short-term restorations of the monarchy, and a series of republics. France was a military power at the outset of World War I, but by the time World War II began, her military power was outmoded and weak. France fell quickly to the Nazi blitzkrieg in 1940, and a large part of France was partitioned into a Vichy government, subservient to Hitler, but technically independent. This collaboration became the shame of France, as most of the French went along (as did, to be fair, most of occupied Europe). Some of the French, to their great credit, did not go along, and formed a network of resistance which greatly aided the Allies when they re-took the continent in1944. Under Charles De Gaulle, a Free French army was formed and moved to England, and likewise contributed to the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini in 1945.
After the war, the French reorganized into a new republic, and with the help of the U.S. Marshall Plan, recovered her economic well-being. France was a central player in the creation of the European Common Market, and its current successor, the European Union.
French politics continued its patterns of ups and downs. At the turn of the century, French society was torn by the notorious Dreyfus Affair in which
long-standing French anti-semitism became a central political issue. French leadership was part of the problematic Treaty of Versailles (1919)
in which the victors of World War I placed harsh terms on the losers just as the world economy entered a period of prolonged depression. Political and economic conditions quickly led to World War II, and French leaders (along with the British) were slow and inept in dealing with an aggressive and malevolent German dictatorship which soon combined with fascist totalitarianism elsewhere in Europe, and once again threatened the world.
In recent years, France has seemed often to overreach itself in its quest for world respect and influence. The French, as did the British and the Russians, acquired atomic weapons. When it became obvious that above-ground testing was a threat to world health, most of the nuclear powers limited themselves to underground testing, but the French, using their overseas Pacific territories, insisted on above-ground tests which had serious health consequences to nearby areas and populations. France, the colonial power of Viet Nam, was forced to withdraw from it in 1954. Soon after that, there was a traumatic separation of France from its Algerian territory in north Africa, something which profoundly divided the French people, and resulted in the creation of the Fifth Republic, the present system with a strong executive. Restored as president of France, Charles DeGaulle tried to rally visions of former French grandeur. Visiting Canada late in his last term, he recklessly incited French-speaking Canadians in Quebec to separate from Canada, long a member of the British Commonwealth. Although it has remained part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, France, unlike Great Britain, drew apart gradually from its historic alignment with the United States in foreign policy, although again to be fair, this separation followed what French leaders felt to be their economic self-interests (such as oil interests and markets in the Middle East). France, like much of the rest of Europe, has seen a huge wave of Islamic immigration that has upset past demographic and cultural national patterns. Although France was once the European nation with the closest ties to the Vatican, and was overwhelmingly Catholic, it has now become rigorously secular. Modern French anti-semitism, first made public during the Dreyfus Affair, and revived during the era of the Vichy government, has resurfaced, as have other ethnic and religious tensions.
France is still an economic power, but like all its neighbors, large and small, government debt, accumulated to pay for its vast welfare and entitlement systems, has threatened its solvency. Smaller neighbors such as Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Hungary, etc., are feeling this crisis more acutely now, and lack some of France’s resources (its healthcare and educational systems are highly-rated), but the French economy remains in trouble. Taxation in France, compared to the U.S., is very high.
Contemporary France is in great flux. Its president, Nicolas Sarkozy, leads with a multi-party parliament. Like most French governments since World War II, he and the parliament are “right of center.” Unemployment is high, and the endangered Euro (the common currency adopted by most European nations) is in considerable difficulty. For the first time since the Common Market was founded, the survival of its successor institution, the European Union and its Euro currency system are in doubt. Germany is now the most stable and successful economy in Europe, but its ability and popular will to continue to “bail out” the rest of Europe are also in doubt.
In the first round of the 2012 French presidential elections, the center-right incumbent Sarkozy came in second, slightly behind the socialist Hollande. They will run against each other soon in a second round election that will determine the new president of France. Since Hollande and Sarkozy each received less than 30% of the total vote, minor party voters will determine the outcome. Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, was the surprise of the election, obtaining about 18% of the vote. The communist (far left) candidate received about 13% of the vote. A centrist candidate received 9%. Various fringe candidates of the right and left got less than 5%. On paper, Sarkozy should get most of the Le Pen vote and narrowly win re-election, but in reality, the far right Le Pen party would like to replace Sarkozy’s party as the major party of the right in France, so many of its voters (and leaders) might choose not to vote for Sarkozy, and let the socialists win. In fact, most French political commentators have concluded that this will happen, and that M. Hollande will win the presidency.
On the other hand, Sarkozy is outspoken and controversial, and while this has often made him unpopular in France, he outshines M. Hollande (who is rather bland) on the stump. Sarkozy also claims to be the only candidate who can bring France out of her current economic slump. M. Hollande has offered the usual leftist ideas to solve France’s problems, and many observers suggest he is not as strongly committed to the European Union as is Sarkozy. Thus, a grand and pivotal showdown likely will take place in France over the next few weeks, with the smaller parties jockeying to provide the margin of difference in the election (seeking thus to receive much influence in the new government).
[I need to interject here a word of caution and clarification for American readers about the terms left and right, conservative and liberal, when
discussing European politics. Currently, the leaders of France, Great Britain, and Germany are described as "conservatives," but the term is not the same as it is in U.S. politics. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy are considerably to the "left" of their American counterparts, especially in terms of government entitlements and welfare. Only the Czech statesman and current president Vaclav Klaus (not to be confused with the late Vaclav Havel) would fit the American definition of "conservative" among European leaders. Another group of European politicians called "Euroskeptics" (the British member of parliament William Cash has long been one of the most articulate of this group), and who oppose much of the European Union, would also be considered genuinely "conservative" by Americans.]
If M. Hollande wins the French presidency, he is likely to make expensive concessions to the demands of French union workers, and this in turn may make the pressure of the debt all the more problematic for France to resolve its long-term problems (many of which it shares with its neighbors and fellow European Union members.) But it is not clear, if M. Sarkozy wins, that he would be able to muster the necessary support for the significant and ultimately “unpopular” changes in public policy that is going to be required soon of all governments both in Europe and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
-Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. Please visit Mr. Casselman’s personal site.
Rush Limbaugh is proving to be the gift that keeps on giving—for the Democrats. The Limbaugh controversy concerning his attacks on the Georgetown University Law School student continue to reverberate amongst the popular media and roil the GOP campaigns over this past weekend. [And you thought the 2012 Republican campaign was going to be about the most important issues on the minds of voters---the economy, jobs, and the struggle for upward mobility. Better think again]. On the ABC weekly Sunday morning news program, conservative commentator George Will offered some pointed observations, critiquing Limbaugh but especially the GOP leadership for being afraid of Limbaugh. According to an ABC news blog entitled “George Will: Republican Leaders Are Afraid of Rush Limbaugh” …..
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has been inundated with criticism after calling Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University student who testified before a House committee about contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.” But while Democrats have fiercely condemned the comments, Republicans’ ire has been significantly more muted.
ABC’s George Will told me Sunday on “This Week” that GOP leaders have steered clear of harshly denouncing Limbaugh’s comments because “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”
“[House Speaker John] Boehner comes out and says Rush’s language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that’s inappropriate. Not this stuff,” Will said. “And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”
“So, Miss Fluke, and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives…we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
As to exactly who Limbaugh’s collective “we” refers is not clear, but Mr. Rush clearly speaks for himself in any case.
It has been reported throughout the blogosphere over the weekend that a number of advertisers on Limbaugh’s show are cancelling their ads. Perhaps free market capitalism does work after all. And speaking of the market, everything in the super market these days has a “sell-by” date stamped on it. I think Rush Limbaugh’s “sell-by” date has just expired. Too bad the GOP made him their de facto party leader.
Read the full story here.
Prior to yesterday’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan, Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal penned an essay discussing Americans openness to candidates of faith but also their reservations about those who they think might impose their own moral and religious views via government. Her essay “Moralizer in Chief?” ran in the Friday, February 24, online and print editions of the WSJ. Strassel accurately and eloquently discusses the standard concerns that libertarian-leaning conservatives such as myself have with candidates like Santorum, but she hits on a couple of points that are particularly worth highlighting because they get to the heart of the difference between the fundamental approach taken by many contemporary social- conservatives with that of the iconic figure with whom they claim to identify—Ronald Reagan.
General elections are not won on bases alone. They are won on the margins—with the votes of married, exurban women, of independents, of moderate men. Many of these voters are generally conservative. They are also generally open to, even reassured by, candidates of faith. They are not thrilled by the recent trend in the social-conservative movement toward using government to impose a particular morality—a trend that Mr. Santorum would seem to highlight.
Ronald Reagan’s success in creating his coalition was highlighting the common desires of both social and economic conservatives. Grover Norquist famously termed it the “Leave Us Alone Coalition.” Reagan assured cultural conservatives that he would keep the federal government out of their homes, out of their faith, away from their guns. This dovetailed with his promise to free-marketers and libertarians of a more limited government. It was a great formula, rooted in liberty. It allowed Republicans to highlight their own social conservatism—an issue that plays well—even as they reassured voters that they, unlike liberals, wouldn’t use government to impose their worldview.
Yet as social conservatives have grown in political strength, more have turned to government. While many read George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as an explanation of the benefits of limited government, others saw it as a call for conservatives to embrace government for their own social-policy ends. This has allowed liberals to turn the tables, to frighten many Americans about the risks of a conservative-imposed social agenda.
It is here that Mr. Santorum has a problem. The Pennsylvanian is a man of deep faith, which many Americans might admire. He is also campaigning on the argument that strong religious communities and families make for a strong America. This, too, is something that ought to resonate with voters, as many believe that these institutions are best suited to solve most problems, and that government needs to get out of their way.
Yet Mr. Santorum has left many Americans with the impression that he believes it his job as president to revitalize these institutions. And he has done little to reassure voters that his personal views will not become policy. Quite the opposite. Mr. Santorum loves, for instance, to highlight his plans to triple the child tax credit—out-and-out social policy clearly rooted in his desire to increase childbirth. Voters will naturally wonder what other values he’d seek to institute via government.
All the more so, given Mr. Santorum’s unrefined method of delivering his social message. It is one thing to argue that the federal government has no right to force religious affiliates to pay for contraception; or to say that courts should not impose gay marriage; or to criticize policies that are biased against stay-at-home moms. All those statements appeal to basic liberty and are winners for the GOP.
It is quite another for Mr. Santorum to rail that contraception is “harmful” to women; to wax on about the “emotions” surrounding women on the front lines; to graphically inform the nation about his “problem with homosexual acts”; or to moan, as he did in his book, that too many women refuse to stay home with their kids but rather use “convenient” rationalizations to fool themselves into thinking “professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Those statements are rooted in a fervent moral view, one that many general-election voters will fear Mr. Santorum wants to impose on them. They will reject it, and not just because they won’t risk a president who might legislate values. They will reject it because it will offend them.
Reagan’s success was in respecting cultural conservatives’ right to live their lives as they saw fit. Mr. Santorum’s mistake is in telling people how to live. [Emphasis mine].
Read the Strassel essay here.
In recent election cycles there has been much rhetoric, much flapping about, within the GOP conservative universe about the components of the “conservative coalition” and the supposed need to recreate the “Reagan Coalition.” In the 2008 cycle we heard about the “three-legged stool” representing economic conservatives, national security conservatives, and social conservatives and the necessity of any successful candidate appealing to all three equally “like Reagan did.” But there has been little examination and discussion of how Reagan created and built his successful coalition. He did not go chasing after various factions or interest groups telling them what they wanted to hear and promising to enact their agenda once in office; rather, he annunciated a clear and consistent message as to why limiting government’s power and reach would benefit everyone. The foundation of the Reagan coalition and the common thread holding it together was freedom and liberty, the basic right to live our lives as we choose and the responsibility to do for ourselves. Reagan drew the various components of his coalition to him in response to the consistent set of fundamental principles he espoused from his earliest days in politics. As a result, Reagan created a new GOP majority coalition with a common unifying thread. Our candidates this time around should be trying to do likewise, if they are serious about winning the general election.
The current trajectory of the GOP nomination contest is inspiring more and more discussion about a brokered or contested Convention, including the feasibility of a new “white knight” candidate. As for the possibility of a contested Convention, meaning no candidate having a clear majority of committed first ballot delegates going into the Convention, I have now moved into the “maybe” category. Of course, the pump and dump pattern of this contest could continue and in another month we could be on a new trajectory once again. Regarding the feasibility of some new entrant, that elusive white knight, I remain skeptical unless it is done real, real soon and is someone acceptable to most flavors of Republican voters and someone who is recognized as having candidate qualities superior to those currently running. Washington Post political writer/blogger, Jennifer Rubin, was out with a blog article discussing the current state of angst among the GOP Congressional leadership and specifically the implications (as they see them) of a Santorum nomination.
Ms. Rubin draws heavily from some reporting by Mike Allen of Politico and Jim Pethokoukis of AEI blog, but she offers a gem of an observation of what distinguishes Rick Santorum from Marco Rubio, both social conservatives and both favorites of the Tea Party:
But, but — you say — these people [Party leadership] were the ones who wanted Charlie Crist instead of now-Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). But, really, Santorum is no Marco Rubio. Whereas Rubio expands the party’s base of support, Santorum shrinks it. Whereas women, independents and young people see Rubio as a forward-looking reformer, Santorum seems stuck in a time warp from a different era, someone chasing issues that were “lost” decades ago.
The emphasis in the above quote is mine. Read the full article here.
Within a few days of the debate over the Obama birth-control “insurance” mandate, I developed a sinking feeling that the GOP, including all of the presidential candidates (except for Ron Paul) are missing the real point and missing the opportunity to use the mandate as a didactic example of why government run health care is a bad idea. By devolving into the more narrow debate over contraception per se as opposed to focusing on the larger and more basic problem with government defined and directed health care coverage, the GOP may have inadvertently fallen into an Obama strategic trap. John Cochrane, a professor of finance at the University of Chicago and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, penned an excellent op-ed in the February 9 edition of the Wall Street Journal discussing the controversy and the pitfalls in the way the debate has been framed. Here are a few excerpts from Professor Cochrane’s op-ed:
When the administration affirmed last month that church-affiliated employers must buy health insurance that covers birth control, the outcry was instant. Critics complained that certain institutions should be exempt as a matter of religious freedom.
Critics are missing the larger point. Why should the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decree that any of us must pay for “insurance” that covers contraceptives? I put “insurance” in quotes for a reason. Insurance is supposed to mean a contract, by which a company pays for large, unanticipated expenses in return for a premium: expenses like your house burning down, your car getting stolen or a big medical bill. Insurance is a bad idea for small, regular and predictable expenses. There are good reasons that your car insurance company doesn’t add $100 per year to your premium and then cover oil changes, and that your health insurance doesn’t charge $50 more per year and cover toothpaste. You’d have to fill out mountains of paperwork, the oil-change and toothpaste markets would become much less competitive, and you’d end up spending more. How did we get to this point? It all leads back to the elephant in the room: the tax deductibility of employer-provided group insurance.
How did we get to this point? It all leads back to the elephant in the room: the tax deductibility of employer-provided group insurance. If your employer pays you $100 less in salary and buys $100 of group insurance for you, you don’t pay taxes on that amount. Hence, the more insurance costs and covers, the less in taxes you seem to pay. (Even that savings is an illusion: The government still needs money and raises overall tax rates to make up the difference.)
To add insult to injury, this tax deduction does not apply to portable, guaranteed-renewable individual insurance. You don’t get the tax break if your employer gives you the $100 and you buy a policy—a policy that will stay with you if you get sick, leave employment or get divorced. The pre-existing conditions crisis is largely a creature of tax law. You don’t lose your car insurance when you change jobs.
Why did HHS add this birth-control insurance mandate—along with “well-woman visits, breast-feeding support and domestic-violence screening,” and “all without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible”—to its implementation of a provision of the new health-care reform law? “Because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies,” says the HHS advisory panel. Because these “historic new guidelines” will make sure “women have access to a full range of recommended preventive services,” says the original HHS announcement. To “increase access to important preventive services,” echoes White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Notice the doublespeak confusion of “access” and “cost.” I have “access” to toothpaste because I have two bucks in my pocket and a competitive supplier. Anyone who can afford a cell phone can afford pills or condoms. Salting mandated health insurance with birth control is exactly the same as a tax—on employers, on Catholics, on gay men and women, on couples trying to have children and on the elderly—to subsidize one form of birth control.
If the government wants to subsidize birth control, OK, pass an explicit tax, and sensibly subsidize all birth control. And face the voters on it. The tax rate and spending debates that occupy the media are a small part of the effective taxes and spending that the government achieves by these regulatory mandates.
There is also the issue of religious freedom. Our nation is divided on social issues. The natural compromise is simple: Birth control, abortion and other contentious practices are permitted. But those who object don’t have to pay for them. The federal takeover of medicine prevents us from reaching these natural compromises and needlessly divides our society.
Now here is Cochrane’s conclusion which gets back to my point of inadvertently falling into an Obama trap:
The critics fell for a trap. By focusing on an exemption for church-related institutions, critics effectively admit that it is right for the rest of us to be subjected to this sort of mandate. They accept the horribly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and they resign themselves to chipping away at its edges. No, we should throw it out, and fix the terrible distortions in the health-insurance and health-care markets.
Sure, churches should be exempt. We should all be exempt.