December 1, 2009 - November 24, 2009
Monday, October 13, 2008
The name that should be on the tip of your tongue is Johnson.
. A lot of pundits and commentators on both sides have
been groping for appropriate historical analogies to put the coming
Obama presidency in context. I'm the only one who's sussed it out correctly. So pay attention.
On the left, the favorites have been JFK's
Camelot and Lincoln, meaning the second Lincoln term we never got
because of John Wilkes Booth, in which all the amimus of the Civil War
would presumably have been soothed away by the kind of oratory we
remember from the Gettysburg Address and The Great Emancipator's Second
On the optimistic right, the most popular (and
delusional) comparison has been to the disastrous one-term presidency
of Jimmy Carter, whose rigid naivete paved the way for the Reagan
On the pessimistic right, there has also been abundant
resort to Carter analogies, but their emphasis is less on the brevity
of Carter's tenure in office than on the longevity of his catastrophic
legacy -- legitimization of Islamic fascism, negotiation with
terrorists, appeasement of openly declared enemies, sabotage of the
U.S. military, self-destructive energy policies, wrong-headed economic
measures, and a holier-than-thou relationship between the executive
branch and ordinary Americans who would rather be Americans than global
citizens. A very few on the libertarian right (e.g., Glen Beck) have
reached all the way back to 1860 for a better parallel, positing
that our union faces as grave a crisis as the Civil War itself, one
that threatens to shatter our national unity forever.
All these analogies are wrong. Nobody but a bare majority of voters
on one particular Tuesday in November 1976 ever liked Carter, let alone
loved, admired him, and saw him as some kind of messiah. To the extent
they approved him at all, it was because they imagined him humble,
which he wasn't, and they swiftly came to despise him. Obama's
following approaches cult status. He is the kind of political figure
who can do absolutely everything wrong, fail at every task to which he
puts his hand, and still retain the devotion of those who have
projected onto him their wildest utopian fantasies. That's the only way
he could have survived a candidacy which has made so many missteps and
changes of position that the man literally has no fixed points left on
the public record other than his party affiliation. Carter was a man
(don't know what
he is now,
besides contemptible). Obama is a symbol. He has enormously greater
latitude for screwing up than Little Jimmy ever did. The
optimistic right fears him too little. So does the pessimistic right.
We'll get to the Civil War later.
The Dems aren't in much better shape. Obama has none of JFK's wit and
common touch, and he is 180 degrees opposite JFK's muscular foreign
policy. (Michelle and Jackie might as well be from different planets.)
In fact, the only things Obama and JFK have in common are a cool
presence on camera, a perfect figure for clothes (tautology?), and
striking inexperience in any executive capacity. Obama does have a
couple of attributes in common with Lincoln. Both are nominally sons of
Illinois, though both were born and raised elsewhere. And the second
term of Lincoln is as purely imaginary as the massed expectations of an
Obama presidency. Since his self-serving and lavishly praised speech on
race, already virtually gone from the public record, the Obama faithful
have been promising us a Lincoln. What we're going to get is a Johnson.
No, not Lyndon Johnson. Andrew
Johnson. The father of post-Civil War Reconstruction. That's right. The
most appropriate year of comparison is nothing in the twentieth century
and it's not 1860, either. Lincoln was no pacifist or appeaser. He
fought the Civil War tooth and nail, and he helped make it the most
ferociously savage war yet fought, so much so that the term "Total War"
was coined to describe its excesses. We remember his speeches not because they were the highpoint of his presidency, but because they are reminders of his strength as a moral decisionmaker. If he'd been more like Obama, we wouldn't remember him at all.
Obama is a post-Lincoln kind of guy, a pure politician in a time of pure politics. That's why the year that fits best is 1865,
when a second, less violent but more pernicious war began, this
one against all those who had opposed the powers Lincoln' reelection
had given the upper hand over a defeated enemy.
I'm NOT arguing the historical pros and cons of Reconstruction as it
unfolded in the nineteenth century here. I'm aware that the historical
debate still rages over whether it lasted too long or not long enough.
I'm just saying that it's the closest equivalent to where we are right
now. Whatever its perceived merits afer the fact, Reconstruction began
as an attempt to punish and humiliate the South, even unto ruination.
Its direct effects included the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the
subsequent adoption of Jim Crow laws and their innumerable dreadful
consequences, as well as the impoverishment of the former Confederate
states into the late twentieth century. Reconstruction as it was
administered -- regardless of its motives -- was the American
equivalent of the Versailles Treaty that followed World War I and
helped bring about World War II.
Just as the War between the North and South ended at Appomatox, the
state of Total War between the Left and Right which has raged since
George W. Bush's election in 2000 will end with the election of Barack
Obama in 2008. He has presented himself as a trans-racial unifier, a
post-partisan healer who is able and determined to bring a divided
country back together. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Obama is a one-man Trojan Horse, an apparent peace offering filled with
implacable instruments of vengeance. Nothing could be clearer than that
the Democrats and all their allies hate
their Republican and conservative opposition. They will not be content
with electoral victory. They need
annihilation. And in Obama, they have the exact right man for the job. That's why they tossed Hillary (and their few thousand diehard feminists) to the wolves and with her Bill Clinton, the moderate Democrat who showed them how to govern from the comparatively safe center. There's absolutely nothing safe about Obama. That's why they preferred him. After Bush, they were no longer interested in governing. They wanted revenge.
Barack Obama was raised by a Marxist mother as a mixed-race, stateless anomaly
in an isolated colonial acquisition of the United States, sent abroad
for education in Third-World nations that had themselves experienced
the brunt of European colonialism, and then released for a power elite education into
exclusively urban locales within the continental United States. He knows nothing of life in the 48 states that don't contain one of the four most populous cities and precious little of life outside those cities. His
major acts as an independent adult were to form alliances with a
racist black nationalist preacher tied to Louis Ferrakhan, join
the inveterately corrupt Chicago Democratic political machine,
intimidate his electoral opponents into quitting the race before
election day, and ally himself with a radical sixties political terrorist
for the purpose of funnelling money to 1) educational programs designed
to radicalize minority students and 2) a renegade national organization
in the business of promoting minority voter fraud and minority access
to fraudulent mortgage contracts. This is not a trans-racial
second-term Lincoln stand-in. It is far and away the most left-wing
political personage who has ever been nominated by a major party to run
for the presidency of the United States.
His unexamined candidacy has also demonstrated the lengths (and lows)
to which he is willing to go. His internet-based campaign finance
"bundling" operation has devised ways of receiving foreign moneys, even
from places like Iran, which cannot be called to account. He has
succeeded in demonizing all who question his negligible qualifications
and dubious political partners as racists. He has been ruthless in
using left-wing tactics to suppress and/or libel specific accusers and
accusations, including mass phone and email attacks undertaken by his
own campaign managers -- and ambiguously sponsored groups whose more
extreme statements can be disavowed if necessary. He has been such a
chameleon on public policy matters, thanks to his quasi-messianic
rhetoric and mass-media appeal, that he cannot be pinned to any
specific position he has taken, since it will probably change tomorrow
without being detected or challenged. He has become so much a symbol
that being a cipher
no longer matters
Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans play directly into his hands.
Democrats are willing to endure the costs of the Reconstruction he
will wreak on the nation because it will hurt Republicans more than
Democrats. If his vengeance should prove to be race-based, so much the
better for them. They are on the side of the angels in this, they
believe, and their sense of poetic justice is nourished by the lies
they have continuously told themselves about the nature of their
red-state antagonists. Even the most cynical of them seem unaware that
the underhanded tactics they connive in might also be used, one day
soon, against them too. If race relations should be set back a hundred
years by what is done in the name of punishing conservatives,
eradicating racism and other forms of "hate," and redistributing the
wealth of a greedy capitalist system, they figure they'll still have a
seat at the table where the spoils are shared. But there is no honor
among thieves -- or pirates. They know it but keep forgetting that
they're not necessarily the smartest pirates on the open sea. Bad news
for them. Worse news for everyone else.
So the man who has, apparently, convinced a majority of us that he is
the only one capable of bringing us all together is, in reality, the
one who has the best possible training in eliminating all his -- and
his sponsors' -- political enemies. He will have the full support of a
veto-proof Congress as he sets about the task of denying free speech
(on "hate" grounds) to his enemies, facilitating the socialization of
not only the healthcare system but also the nation's financial system,
and gradually, suborning both the U.S. Constitution and national
sovereignty to authoritarian international systems like the United
Nations, the European Union, and the World Court.
But John McCain is self-righteous about informing his terrified
supporters that they needn't fear an Obama presidency, because "he's a
decent man." Which does more than any Obama attack to defeat McCain,
because it proves him the worst kind of fool. No wonder high-profile
conservatives are scrambling for cover
It won't be pretty when the Obama DOJ starts investigating Sarah Palin
for malfeasance in office as Governor of Alaska. (Tina Fey will no
doubt be happy to help with funny funny skits...)
Four years of this will not be undone by any congressional electoral
rebellion. Obama's legacy will make Carter's look like the first
attempts of an amateur graffiti vandal. In this respect, he is no tyro.
He has been raised for this purpose as single-mindedly as Sarah
Conner's son was raised to fight the conspiracies of SkyNet.
really waiting in their horse's belly?
How now will you defend Troy?
Friday, October 10, 2008
Brooks, Kathleen Parker and Christopher Buckley.
not calling them turncoats. Just effete and tiresome.
. Earlier in the week, David Brooks called Sarah Palin a
on the Republican Party." Today, he excommunicated
conservatives who don't work for The
New York Times
Modern conservatism began as a movement
of dissident intellectuals.
Richard Weaver wrote a book called, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Russell
Kirk placed Edmund Burke in an American context. William F. Buckley
famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the
Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn’t believe
those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of
urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application
Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build
an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines.
They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not
disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.
Ronald Reagan was no intellectual, but he had an earnest faith in ideas
and he spent decades working through them. He was rooted in the
Midwest, but he also loved Hollywood. And for a time, it seemed the
Republican Party would be a broad coalition — small-town values with
Republicans have [since] alienated the highly educated regions —
Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the
Northeast are mostly gone.
The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to
the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With
doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With
investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose
the banking community.
Conservatives are as rare in elite universities and the mainstream
media as they were 30 years ago. The smartest young Americans are now
educated in an overwhelmingly liberal environment.
His conclusion, of course, is that Sarah Palin is the catastrophic
climax of a process of devolution that has destroyed the conservative
movement in America. It's an astonishing piece, as revealing as it is,
We have here a whole series of untruths, misrepresentations, and
confusions of cause and effect. I am sure that this is an accurate
representation of the conservative universe from David Brooks's
viewpoint. It's just that it's historically and conceptually false. If
you read the whole essay, for example, you will discover that he has
essentially confined the entire Reagan Revolution to one three-sentence
paragraph, almost as an asterisk to the real
work that was done by Buckley
and other conservative intellectuals like himself. I'll come back to
the falsehoods later, but first it's time to take note of another,
equally provocative essay that appeared online today.
It's by Chris Buckley, son of the late patron saint of the National Review
, William F.
Buckley. Son Christopher has decided to endorse Barack Obama. Here are
some representative excerpts of that gem
, longer than I would like but necessary to convey the
of William F. Buckley has decided—shock!—to vote for a Democrat.
Let me be the latest conservative/libertarian/whatever to leap onto the
Barack Obama bandwagon. It’s a good
thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They’d cut
off my allowance....
I am—drum roll, please, cue trumpets—making this announcement in the
cyberpages of The Daily Beast (what joy to be writing for a publication
so named!) rather than in the pages of National Review, where I write
the back-page column. For a reason: My colleague, the superb and very
dishy Kathleen Parker, recently wrote in National Review Online a
column stating what John Cleese as
Basil Fawlty would call “the bleeding obvious”: namely, that
Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that. She’s not
exactly alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his
career at NR, just called Governor Palin “a cancer on the Republican
As for Kathleen, she has to date received 12,000 (quite literally)
foam-at-the-mouth hate-emails. One correspondent, if that’s quite the
right word, suggested that Kathleen’s mother should have aborted her
and tossed the fetus into a Dumpster. There’s Socratic dialogue for
you. Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who
fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something
transcendently and provocatively cretinous, “You know, I’ve spent my entire life time
separating the Right from the kooks.” Well, the dear man did his best.
At any rate, I don’t have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 emails
saying how good it is he’s no longer alive to see his Judas of a son
endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the
A year ago, when everyone, including the man I’m about to endorse, was
caterwauling to get out of Iraq on the next available flight, John
McCain, practically alone, said no, no—bad move. Surge. It seemed a
suicidal position to take, an act of political bravery of the kind you
don’t see a whole lot of anymore.
But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously,
apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to
change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John
McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A
once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly;
his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic
promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first
term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing
and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His
ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally,
not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he
have been thinking?...
As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited
throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes,
Jr.’s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he’s
a Harvard man, though that’s sure as heck no guarantee of anything,
these days. Vietnam was brought to you by Harvard and (one or two) Yale
men. As for our current adventure in Mesopotamia, consider this
lustrous alumni roster. Bush 43: Yale. Rumsfeld: Princeton. Paul
Bremer: Yale and Harvard. What do they all have in common? Andover! The
best and the brightest.
I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are
first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own
books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a
small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and
old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On
abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian....
Obama has in him—I think, despite his
sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly
rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader.
He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be
calling for. [emphases mine]
The Brooks piece and the Buckley piece may seem substantially different
-- one a formal construct of argumentation and the other a personal,
almost casual memoir of conversion -- but what they share is far deeper
than any of the points they make. Both rest on the unacknowledged
assumption that what is called intellectual is, in fact, meant to be
synonymous with intelligence itself, specifically the kind needed to
make decisions for a rowdy people that can never be trusted to do such
basic things as read character, employ logic, understand consequences
in the short and long term, and run
their own damn country
In Christopher Buckley's piece in particular, I found reinforcement of
a suspicion I have always entertained, with much reasonable doubt to be
sure, about William F. Buckley. To make this suspicion clear, I'll need
you to look at the following YouTube clip from Brideshead Revisited
miniseries of Evelyn Waugh's exploration of the British aristocracy in
the Edwardian (pre-WWII) era. The scene in the clip portrays the first
exposure of the staid protestant protagonist, Charles Ryder, to the
glamorous society of Oxford's decadent Anglo-Catholic demi-monde.
to 2:55 in, to the arrival of Anthony Blanche. Watch
as much of his luncheon
performance as you can stand.
The relevance of this scene is not Blanche's ostentatious
homosexuality. It's his determination to dominate by being outrageous.
He succeeds brilliantly in his goal of attracting attention. He is more
a master of style than of substance. But in his social context, he
might be pardoned for believing that verbal quickness and cleverness
are the most effective proof possible of authentic intelligence. After
all, people listen to what he has to say. They are defenseless against
That, forgive me, was always my concern about Buckley the elder. For
two reasons. First, because I had run into blueblood "conservatives" at
Harvard myself and when you scratched the surface, they were not so
much (small "R") republican federalists as anglophile
monarchists. Like the Anglo-Catholics of Waugh's book, they looked down
on the lesser American elites of Kennedys and Massachusetts descendants
of the founding fathers. They regarded membership in the Democrat Party
as an unbecoming stain on true aristocracy. Their objection to the
power of labor unions wasn't a political distaste for the New Deal
Coalition so much as an unpleasant olfactory response.
Second, the Buckley verbal style always grated on me. It was so
mannered, so somehow self-satisfied
in its refusal to be
clear and direct, that I immediately associated it with the posturing
of Anthony Blanche. And if you think the comparison is far-fetched, how
is it that an American born in this country and educated at Yale
continuously displayed the most perfect possible example of the
infamous "Oxford stutter
Worse, his columns embodied exactly the same refusal to communicate
clearly and directly. His sentence structure was perverse, his syntax
rococo, his use of vocabulary deliberately opaque, and his
anti-egalitarian insistence on being incomprehensible to those who did
not know Latin or Greek made me regard him as more poseur than
political evangelist. I never bought the act that he was reaching out
to everyday Americans. If he was, he was a terrible writer. If he
wasn't, he was an American version of Anthony Blanche -- a pretentious
(however learned) cocktail party hero.
I reserved judgment about Buckley because he did ultimately bond with
and support Reagan. Reading Chris Buckley, though, who is one further
generation from Edwardian England, I am frankly repelled at his
anglicisms -- "mum and pup," "don't have the kidney," "the bleeding
obvious" -- and casual Latin pretentions "pace
Oliver Wendell Holmes." I'll
readily admit I haven't read Chris Buckley's fiction, but I'd place a
small wager that he writes more like Waugh than any other American you
might name. I'm also suspicious that he's so easily seduced by Obama's
"writings." If he cares enough about the candidates to libel John
McCain for trying to win an election, he should
also care enough to consider
that Obama may not have written his "first-rate" memoirs. (Oops. What
would that do to his "airy-fairy" endorsement? What, what, eh?)
And bearing just a bit longer with the Waugh analogy, it does seem to
me that the best way to understand the high and mighty American
Republican elitists is to see them as the minority Anglo-Catholics in
the liberal aristocracy that dominates all the professions and
universities. The political battle they think they perceive with their
superior intellectualism is actually a social contest undertaken in the
very provinces where David Brooks feels himself losing -- "Silicon
Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham," among other watering holes
of the rich and privileged. These places are no more liberal than
they've ever been. What's changed is the snobbery standard. Nobody likes Bush and the cognoscenti are embarrassed he went to Andover and Yale. Academic
institutions among the elite have been marxist for a century. That hasn't changed. Lawyers
switch parties whenever their opportunity to sue is threatened. T'was
ever so. What's different is the company highbrow conservatives are compelled to keep -- or at least defend.
When I was much younger, my experience wth such snobs convinced me that
there was a fifty-first state no one knew about. It included Grosse
Point, Michigan, Lake Forest, Illinois, Chestnut Hill in Boston, the
Philadelphia Main Line, the Upper East Side, New York, and dozens of
other wealthy preserves where the children were destined to attend the
same prep schools, the same prestigious universities, and the same
private summer communities. Call it the "Commonwealth of Intelligentsia." Its citizens
tended to know one another, no matter how far apart they lived, and
they shared what Fitzgerald called a "vast carelessness," nourished by
the certainty that real consequences are always visited on those a
level or two down in the social order. For the past eight years,
parties have been a drag for intellectual conservatives. The poor
dears. The local politics of Intelligentsia have gotten ugly. Teacups
are being dashed to the floor in anger. (Which is tantamount to
extreme violence for the Paper
This is the state David Brooks and Chris Buckley are from. The rest of
our country isn't real to them. The Reagan Revolution is
only worth a couple of sentences
in the tomes they write about their own accomplishments, and they
missed all the real historical antecedents of conservatism in flyover
country because they can't understand or even perceive a movement that
begins in people's hearts and lives rather than high-society skirmishes
that result in unlikely invitations and lucrative book and media
Bottom line (I use this term here because they hate it so): Defecting
from the cannon-riddled ship of American conservatism at this point in
time is perfectly predictable and perfectly illuminating about who they
are. They never got into this game to defend hockey moms, moose
hunting, and Down syndrome babies. And their astonishment at
discovering that in the internet age, writing about politics can lead
to such unpleasantness as death threats is also a revelation of their
naive presumptions. They've been "conservatives" all this time without
knowing what innumerable combatants like Michelle Malkin and Ann
Coulter put with daily, hourly
Me, I'm perfectly happy to have them run away to their boat slips in
Nantucket and put all the nasty byplay of politics behind them forever.
But the good news is we don't need them. Intellectualism is not the
same thing as intelligence. In many ways it is frequently the opposite.
(Read Chris Buckley's "pup" quote about Harvard vs the phonebook and
then his uncomprehending deprecations of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton
politicians. He knows. But he doesn't. QED.) If you want to read the
best writing about American conservatism, read "Reagan in
His Own Hand
." No, he wasn't an intellectual. But he was
smarter than all the clowns we've been discussing in this (admittedly)
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I'm not saying it's meaningful. I'm just saying I thought of it, that's
all. The two far and away most famous and anthologized poems by a truly
original American poet. It's not that they're right or determinative.
It's just that they're somehow close
Is that worth pointing out? I
think so. Here's the first one.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine -- we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.
And here's the second one:
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.
Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.
Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.
Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.
Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediaeval grace
Of iron clothing.
Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.
Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.
I mean, isn't it odd? It's not like they're portraits or anything. But
aren't they somehow in the ballpark?