Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Memories

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prospects for Paul

Congressman Ron Paul has been the most continuous and consistent advocate for Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.

He has been the most continuous advocate of these views since at least the 1980s, long before the meltdown of 2008. He even broke for a time from the Republican Party over its lack of fiscal discipline during the Reagan administration.

 He has been the most consistent because he has based his views on constitutional principles rather than pragmatic or utilitarian consequences. Paul argues that the problem with spending derives from a government operating outside its constitutional bounds.  In contrast, many conservatives argue for reigning in spending because we can no longer afford it. This seems to imply that they would have no objections to such spending if we COULD afford it. They joined the calls for limited government  and reduced spending only after 2008. In addition, Paul remains one of the few candidates drawing attention to the role of the Federal Reserve in manipulating the economy.

Paul also advocates limited constitutional government in international affairs. Just as government intervention at home has disrupted our market economy, so government intervention abroad  has disrupted our relations with other nations. Two undeclared wars in Iraq and an invasion-turned-nation-building in Afghanistan, he argues, have discredited us abroad. Do we really need 600 bases in 135 countries?  Moreover, the financial cost is bankrupting us.

Here are some highlight from the last Republican debate:

Unfortunately, Paul sometimes sails of the edge of the earth. It  is one thing to to audit the Federal Reserve and reign in its influence; it is another thing to abolish it and return to the gold standard. One of the first acts of the Washington administration under the new Constitution of 1787 was to create the Bank of the United States, a precursor to today's Federal Reserve. Even those who politically opposed the intuition like James Madison rechartered it fifteen years later. All modern commercial republics have maintained a central banking system.

In addition, he needs to articulate his foreign policy positions with a little more nuance. Warnings that American intervention abroad can make enemies too often comes across as "blaming America first."

And his healthy skepticism of government and it's lack of transparency has sometimes lent support to conspiracy theorists. Paul's support for an independent investigation in the 9/11 attacks has been embraced by "Truthers" behind the most obscene claim imaginable: that the attacks came as an "inside job." As historian Richard Hofstadter once suggested, for some of us history HAS conspiracies; for others, history IS a conspiracy. That is the problem with the "Truthers." Paul needs to disassociate himself from the "Truthers."

One of Paul's biggest challenges, however, remains his, shall we call it, "presence." He lacks the rhetorical skills of Obama and of the other Republicans. Paul awkward speaking style, unusual gesticulations, and sometimes ill-fitting suits reduce the strength of his message.

Paul has never been accused of putting style over substance.

And in our contemporary media era, this might be a fatal flaw.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on Jon Huntsman

In the continuing series of brief observations on our current crop of Republican challengers to President Obama, some thoughts on Jon Huntsman:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Newt Gringrich: Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Newt Gingrich, former college instructor and Speaker of the House, has emerged as the front runner among Republicans for our party's nominee for President.This trend is both surprising and alarming.

It is surprising given Gingrich's situation as the campaign began. He had served a Speaker of the House between 1994-1998 and had helped win the first Republican majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. The Republican majority promoted a number of necessary reforms suggested by the Heritage Foundation and spelled out it the Contract with America. He quickly fell from grace, however, and was deposed by his own party. He's haunted the halls of power ever since, but never  in an official government capacity. When the campaign began, many considered him a "washed up" politician with little chance of winning the nomination.

It is alarming, too, because no one knows what to make of him. Critics (and supporters) has labeled him mercurial, undisciplined, erratic, and most recently, zany.  Many people concluded that this temperament doomed his candidacy  when he decided to go on a cruise at the beginning of the campaign, prompting many staff members to quit. Moreover, he has proposed a number of unusual ideas . Finally, he has reversed himself on a number of core issues. Perhaps the most interesting primary debate would involve Newt Gingrich vs. Newt Gingrich:

Republicans cannot be certain which Newt we are going to get.

There may be more to Gingrich's gyrations than mere lack of discipline. It may be deliberate.

In the 16th century, a Florentine diplomat named Niccolo Machiavelli wrote of couple of books spelling out his theories about republican government and advising prospective leaders on how to maintain their states. The main goal for leaders, he wrote, was to achieve glory, fame, and honor for their states. (This sounds like the vision of  "big government" conservatives, including Reagan, who did not reduce the size of government but merely turned it to conservative ends). He also noted that people are easily deceived. “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” A leader, therefore, should be more concerned with appearances than reality. If a leader does not possess religion and virtue, according to Machiavelli, then it must appear that he does. "Appear as you wish to be." In addition, a leader must to willing to change.  “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” And Gingrich himself has admitted that "I do change things when conditions change."

Mercurial or Machiavellian?

Maybe both.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Mitts Come Off

Mitt Romney's caution and even aloofness  in debate has come under withering attack.

He has approached the debates as a front runner who only has to avoid losing. Although he has espoused liberal positions in the past--probably partly a  reflection of the political realities of serving as governor of a liberal state as much as personal conviction--Romney appears to enjoy the support of the Republican Party establishment. He has described himself as a progressive and moderate Republican:

Romney has nimbly avoided severe missteps in his efforts to reconcile a liberal history with conservative candidacy. There is nothing inherently contradictory about serving as a liberal chief  executive of a state and serving as a conservative chief executive for the nation. Our federal system permits that. He can consistently assert his belief in limited, enumerated powers for the federal government while as the same time advocating  an energetic state government. This is essentially how he has finessed conservative objections to "Romney Care" in Massachusetts.

He acknowledged changing his views on on some issues. Cloning apparently brought about a reconsideration of his positions on abortion and the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. And on other issues he simply flip flopped. He was for the bailouts except when he wasn't. He remains primarily a fiscal conservative, concerned about the federal budget and the economy. His  personal character seems impeccable. Many conservatives see in his polling numbers the only candidate that can defeat Obama.  Even conservative bomb-thrower Ann Coulter came out in support. Other conservatives, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party movement, keep waiting for the "Not-Romney" candidate with more convincing conservative credentials.

Rich Perry emerged as the first. He proved the most aggressive challenger to Romney, but he quickly imploded.

Now Newt Gingrich of all people has emerged as the new "Not-Romney" and favorite of many in the Tea Party movement. Like Romney, during most of the debates he has tried to remain above the fray. But now that Newt has replaced Perry as Romney's chief obstacle to the nomination, the gloves have come off as Romney tried to appeal the Tea Party conservatives with pejorative remarks about career politicians.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, noting the similarities of their views, announced the candidacy of  Newt Romney. She turned Romney into a  newt.

The next debate could be very interesting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Give Em Hell Michele"

In the continuing assessment of  Republican conservative hopefuls . . .

Michele Bachmann remains one of the most consistently conservative candidates. Calling herself a "Constitutional conservative," she opposed the bailouts, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the stimulous packages. She has called for an audit of the Federal Reserve, encouraged a reduction in both spending and taxation,  and advocated repealing  regulations on business, particularly in the energy sector.

Bachmann has performed satisfactorally in the debates, including the most recent one where she attacked the two front runners and clearly distinguished herself from them as a "Constitutional conservative:"

To which Romney, who clearly detests Gingrich, could only be thinking, well, who didn't see this coming:

These policy positions have won her support from members of the Tea Party movment.

Bachmann's core support however, like that of Rick Perry, lies in the evangelical community. She is one of the many politicians who attempt to incorporate traditional religious concerns into the Tea Party movement. This "strange brew" has only limited culinary appeal.  Her positions on "social issues" trumps all others when is comes to her "Constitutional conservatism." Bachmann believes in a strong federal government when it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bachmann's positions on "social issues" animates her strongest supporters. But these positions also restrict her appeal not only among some conservatives, but also among the independents needed to capture the White House.

Although she has avoided  debate gaffes, she has committed plenty of these, some important some not,  while on the campaign trail. When combined with her undistinguished career in the House of Representatives and her persona or lack of gravitas or whatever it is, she remains far behind in polling both  among Republicans and against President Obama.

While most conservatives ultimately would embrace her as the "Not-Obama," she cannot even establish herself as the "Not-Romney."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rick Perry 2.0

Leaving aside for now the "Curious History of Republicanism," let's assess the current status of our conservative potential Presidential candidates.

As the Iowa Caucus date of January 3, 2012 draws near, Rick Perry has attempted to reboot his Presidential campaign with a media blitz.

When he first announced his campaign, he jumped to the head of the Republican slate of candidates. As a successful governor of a large state, Perry seemed to possess the skills, experience, and the record that other candidates lacked. The only reservations voiced by skeptics was how his so-called "Texas swagger" would play outside the South. (I do not recall anyone asking how Mitt Romney's "New England Prissiness" would play outside the Northeast).

Dismal debate performances and a series of  "shoot-from-the-hip" (Texas swagger?) comments, however, sent him plummeting in the polls. Whether he is a bad debater or simply uninformed about national and international issues, voters quickly lost confidence in him.

Perry first attempts to revitalize his Christian core support with this ad:

This ad will play well among his core evangelical supporters, but among few others. It is difficult to discern the alleged war on Christianity after last week's lighting of the White House Christmas tree and Christmas greetings from the first family .  Perhaps Obama's incompetence as a chief executive is exceeded only by his incompetence as the commander-in-chief of the war on Christianity.

Then Perry adopts the strategy that has worked so well for Newt Gingrich--attack Obama.

Whether or not  well-crafted commercials can overcome the debate failures and  the conviction of voters that Perry lacks preparedness for the Presidency, time will tell. Right now other Republican candidates can safely ignore him. This might be enough for his continued  marginalization. If he does begin to surge in the polls, those debate clips will no doubt receive extensive replay.

Probably only strong debate performances in the future can insure his reemergence as the "Not-Romney."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is Herman a "Sugah" Cain?

Well, few can say with certainty.

If Herman Cain is innocent of the accusations of sexual harassment and marital infidelity, only he knows. If he is guilty, then only he and the women involved know

At any rate, he "suspended" his presidential campaign owing to the "distractions" caused by the accusations and the pain caused to his wife, family, and supporters.

When Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaan first issued their accusations, two very predictable reactions occurred.

First, the mainstream media played it to the hilt. It accepted the charges at face value without the slightest bit of skepticism. Consequently, it made no serious attempt to investigate the background or possible motives of the accusers. It offered brief reports about the Rick Perry campaign as the source of the original "leak" that eventually brought out the accusers, but not much else.

Second, conservative supporters rallied around Cain without the slightest concern that the accusations might be true. For example, Ann Coulter wrote columns  here, here,  and  here.  Supporters of Cain and conservatives in general have exhibited the skepticism about the claims missing from the mainstream media. In addition, conservative defenders of Cain rightly note the disparity between the media's response to Cains accusers and its response to Clinton's accusers back in 1996 and it total obliviousness to the John Edwards.

While no doubt the media regularly exhibits a double standard, until recently the cases differed. Cain was accused a sexual harassment, something that violated most private companies standards of acceptable conduct and in some cases is illegal. Clinton was  accused of marital infidelity, which, at least in the eyes of liberals, seems far less offensive.

Of course, marital infidelity presents its own problems and is not just a harmless private indiscretion. Although everyone knew Clinton was a serial adulterer, voters put him in the White House anyway. They assumed he would not dare continue his behavior in the Oval Office. Well, we eventually were treated to that horrible spectacle involving Monica Lewinsky. Of course, to Clinton supporters the problem was not Clinton's moral viciousness, but Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky, the Devil with the Blue Dress  on . . .  and off.

Now the accusations leveled by Ginger White that she had a thirteen year affair with Cain simply complicates the candidacy even more.  Rumors of marital infidelity will sit less well with core supporters than accusations of sexual harassment. And when added together with the sexual harassment accusations, White's charges create doubts about the man's personal character that are at odds with the image projected by his presidential campaign.

He made the right decision to "suspend" his campaign, right for his family, and right for his country.