Saturday, December 29, 2007

Faith Is Not a Marketing Tool

I don’t want to pick on Governor Huckabee too much, but he’s starting to really creep me out. I figure I can write about this, since the man has it in mind to become our next President, a possibility which can only come to pass if God turns out to be really angry with America and determined to punish us with a thoroughly incompetent and dishonest President. Sure, Liberals say that now about President Bush, but in the case of Huckabee, it really would be near a worst-case scenario.

Of course, there are other candidates equally unsuited to the job, but for here one trait which sets Huckabee apart is his belief that selling himself as a devout evangelical Christian is a political advantage. I have to admit that there is strategic precedent for this belief; Jimmy Carter essentially ran as a devout Christian, sort of a juxtaposition against the immorality of the Nixon Administration, even though Carter was running against Ford. And before Carter, many earlier politicians ran on their religious image. So, it’s no new thing for Huckabee to sell himself as a pastor-cum-leader. But this is a very dangerous thing for voters to believe. Real Christians do not flaunt their pious credentials, but sell their skills and experience. George W. Bush appealed to Christians, but did not speak about his faith except to answer direct questions. Ronald Reagan was a very devout Christian, but he too separated his role as a believer from his work as a President. John F. Kennedy made a point of asserting that while he was a strong Roman Catholic, as President he would answer to the American people, not the Pope in Rome. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, all throughout American History the greatest religious Presidents made sure not to blur the boundaries between Church and State. So, when a candidate sells him or herself as a strong believer in a particular faith, this is a danger sign. A big one.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Desperate Snake

A long time ago, I worked a summer job at a pet store. They had all the usual pets, including puppies and kittens, various fluffy rodents, fish and birds … and snakes. Snakes were especially popular with some folks, for reasons I never quite understood. The thing is, when a kitten or puppy got loose, everyone was well amused and happy to pick up the animal and get it back to safety. Not so with the snakes. When a snake got loose, we had to shut the store doors, make an announcement, and watch the customers freak out as their worst fears about reptilian intentions drove them to irrrational behavior. But that’s how it is with snakes: While most snakes would like nothing more than to leave people alone and live their lives far away from anything so much bigger than they are, many people are convinced that snakes are aggressive and malicious creatures which can’t resist attacking people. Now, it’s true that snakes are sometimes dangerous because of their venom, and in any cases no one likes getting snake-bit. But in my experience, snakes are most dangerous when they are desperate; a calm snake only attacks its prey but when in a panic it will bite anything that seems to be a threat. This is as true of vipers and cobras, as for grass snakes and garter snakes.

And that, in essence, is what happened Thursday in Rawalpindi. Al Qaeda has lost Iraq, and they are also being driven out of Afghanistan. AQ looked for a new home and found support in Sudan and Somalia, but neither has the resources AQ would need to effectively operate as a global terrorist organization. On the other hand, Pakistan is appealing on a number of levels to Al Qaeda, not least because they still have some of the old Taliban and Fedayeen hanging around. If the media reports are correct, the chief reason Osama bin Laden is still breathing air is because he found friends in the border mountains of Pakistan. All that is left of Al Qaeda’s nasty ambitions rests on Pakistan staying open to them. If Pakistan became a truly democratic republic, this would be the end of Al Qaeda. So it is not a stretch to say that the snakes of Al Qaeda were desperate indeed.

This is not to say that Benazir Bhutto was the worst enemy of Al Qaeda, but she would have revitalized the war against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and increased the government’s credibility in the war. Bhutto held the advantage that she was respected by U.S. officials but owed them no favors, so that she could deal openly and without any appearance of undue western influence. With a new U.S. Administration coming into power in 2009, A Bhutto Administration in Pakistan offered the hope of a completely new beginning in U.S.-Pakistan relations. While the Bush-Musharraf relationship was forged from necessity and the existing conditions, Bhutto could choose to work from a wider range of options, allowing more flexibility in the war against Terrorism, which in Pakistan is effectively always at the front door. The assassination of Bhutto, therefore, is in retrospect obvious necessary for Al Qaeda, and her death appears to have accomplished just what Al Qaeda hopes to achieve.

The key to moving forward from here, is understanding that President Bush was correct in his initial description of the assassination: A desperate, cowardly act. The reason this is important, is because whoever takes office as Pakistan’s next President will have a situation far more to their advantage than may be immediately apparent. Al Qaeda is still dangerous and their doctrine a foul poison on the faith of Islam and a terrible crime against the people of the Middle East, but they are weak and inconstant; a resolute leader in Pakistan could destroy them, if he or she is wise, and it is certainly in Pakistan’s interest to do so.

Al Qaeda is a remarkable organization for a number of reasons, not the least that their greatest successes will eventually bring about their own destruction. Osama believed that a war against the United States would eventually result in the U.S. leaving the Middle East, in the same way that the Soviets did after their loss in Afghanistan. There are many reasons why this was a faulty analysis, but the chief result is that the Bush Administration conducted the war in a far different manner than bin Laden expected, and as a result Al Qaeda suffered the decimation of its manpower and resources. An organization that once maintained offices in over a dozen countries and operated in a dozen more, Al Qaeda has seen its bases destroyed, almost its entire leadership structure killed or captured, and public opinion turned strongly against it, even in Afghanistan. Some writers have compared Bhutto’s assassination to that of JFK, but in reality it is closer to the Lincoln assassination, a bitter useless act which will in the end not help the cause of the murderers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The ITTI-bitty Review of the Major Candidates

Here’s the policy positions from each of the major candidates as of December 26 2007 (per their campaign websites), along with poll and fundraising numbers and my take on their chances:

DEMOCRATS (popular and media favorite as a party to win the White House in most polls at this time)

Hillary Clinton * New York Senator, former First Lady
Iraq : Pull-out within two years regardless of situation
Terrorism : Ignores it
Taxes : No specifics, likely would increase corporate taxes and raise personal some.
Immigration : Amnesty for illegals, easy access for more.
Polls: RCP Average 43.8% for Dem. Nomination (front-runner)
Fundraising: $90.4 million raised, $40.5 million spent so far
Prospects: 60% chance will win nomination, election depends on Republican opponent.

Barack Obama * Illinois Senator
Iraq : Would abandon Iraq immediately
Terrorism : Would ignore it
Taxes : Higher taxes across the board
Immigration : favors Amnesty
Polls: RCP Average 25.2% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $80.3 million raised, $44.2 million spent so far
Prospects: Diminishing chances, only 30% chance for the nomination, VP slot most likely. As Democrat nominee he would be shredded by almost any GOP opponent.

John Edwards * North Carolina former Senator
Iraq : Would abandon Iraq immediately
Terrorism : Return to pre-9/11 practices
Taxes : Would wipe out Bush tax cuts, whack corporations
Immigration : No plans to change anything
Polls: RCP Average 13.2% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $30.3 million raised, $17.9 million spent
Prospects: Articulate, getting stronger as race goes along, but a very dark horse. Maybe 8% chance of claiming nomination, could be a dangerous candidate if he gets the nod, as none of the GOP candidates has prepared much of a case for running against Edwards.

Joe Biden * Delaware Senator
Iraq : Would abandon Iraq in Vietnam-style disgrace
Terrorism : Would ignore it
Taxes : Would raise income taxes immediately
Immigration : Would ignore it
Polls: RCP Average 03.2% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $08.2 million raised, $06.3 million spent so far
Prospects – None at all. Best hope is to influence nominee and grab a nice post like SecState if the Democrats take the White House.

Bill Richardson * New Mexico Governor
Iraq : Would abandon Iraq immediately
Terrorism : Ignores it
Taxes : Across the board increases
Immigration : Amnesty and pro-Hispanic policies
Polls: RCP Average 02.4% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $18.7 million raised, $12.9 million spent so far
Prospects: Zero chance at the White House, unless asteroids hit the top 4 candidates. Then he’d have a 25% chance. Likely pushing for a cabinet post.

Christopher Dodd * Connecticut Senator
Iraq : Would leave Iraq in first year
Terrorism : Ignores it
Taxes : Opposes tax cuts, otherwise no plans
Immigration : Would not change existing conditions
Polls: RCP Average 00.0% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $13.6 million raised, $09.7 million spent so far
Prospects: When a fly meets a windshield, his odds of winning are still better than Senator Dodd’s.

Dennis Kucinich * Ohio Congressman
Iraq : Would abandon Iraq, apologize to Al Qaeda, and sue President Bush
Terrorism : Would ignore it
Taxes : Would raise them
Immigration : Would ignore it
Polls: RCP Average 00.0% for Dem. nomination
Fundraising: $02.1 million raised, $01.8 million spent so far
Prospects: None whatsoever.

REPUBLICANS (popular and media underdog as a party to win the White House in most polls at this time)

Rudy Giuliani * New York City former Mayor
Iraq : Supports Bush and Petraeus’ plan
Terrorism : Promotes local and state actions
Taxes : Vows to cut income taxes
Immigration : Middle-road approach, security and reform
Polls: RCP Average 20.8% for GOP nomination (front-runner)
Fundraising: $47.3 million raised so far, $30.6 million spent so far
Prospects: Weaker than in the fall, but still the lead dog, 75% chance of claiming GOP nomination. Excellent prospects in all potential General match-ups.

Mike Huckabee * Arkansas former Governor
Iraq : A total fool, promises a tough war but thinks we can trust Iran and Syria
Terrorism : No specifics, but promises it’s Job One
Taxes : Promotes the ‘FairTax’, but ignores flaws
Immigration : Hard-line right, no compromise
Polls: RCP Average 17.8% for GOP nomination
Prospects: Strong lately due to slick speeches, but his record is suspect and his positions will not dovetail with his claims. I expect he will win a couple primaries but crash. Huckabee is too combative to be anyone’s running mate or take a key post.

John McCain * Arizona Senator
Iraq : Agrees with Bush/Petraeus, but goes further to insist on long-term commitment to the region
Terrorism : Emphasis on strong, well-equipped military
Taxes : Opposes AMT, wants Super-majority needed to raise taxes
Immigration : Middle-road, mix of enforcement and opportunity, some amnesty
Polls: RCP Average 15.5% for GOP nomination
Fundraising: $32.1 million raised, $28.6 million spent so far
Prospects: Gaining strength, will put pressure on Romney and Giuliani, could well be the VP nominee. About 15% chance of claiming the nomination.

Mitt Romney * Massachusetts former Governor
Iraq : No specifics, generally supports the war effort
Terrorism : Supports Coalition approach, wants more “local government” participation
Taxes : No specifics, wants to cut spending
Immigration : Hard-line Right, opposes Amnesty in any form
Polls: RCP Average 15.0% for GOP nomination
Fundraising: $62.8 million raised, $53.6 million spent so far
Prospects: Strong start, fading a bit now because of inability to handle criticism, may well be damaged later by his handling of Craig scandal. Will not consider running mate position. 10% chance of winning nomination.

Fred Thompson * Tennessee former Senator
Iraq : No specifics, implies agreement with Bush/Petraeus surge
Terrorism : Strong military will total support, Demonstrated “will to win”
Taxes : Eliminate IRS, make taxes simpler, no specifics
Immigration : Generally wants enforcement, few specifics
Polls: RCP Average 11.5% for GOP nomination
Fundraising: $12.8 million raised, $5.7 million spent
Prognosis: Very strong start, but a fast fade when he could not keep up the pace on the actual campaign. Has not detailed many of his positions, and his Senate record is all but empty. Great potential, but as we know “potential” is a nice way of saying you have not actually done anything yet. He must show something substantial before Groundhog Day, or he’s done. Right now has no effective chance of winning nomination, which will be hotly disputed by the FredHeads.

Ron Paul * Texas Congressman
Iraq : Abandon Iraq immediately
Terrorism : Ignore them and hope they leave us alone
Taxes : No specifics, generally holds Mercantilist positions
Immigration : No specifics, implies hard-line position
Polls: RCP Average 06.8% for GOP nomination
Fundraising: $08.3 million raised, $02.8 million spent
Prospects: None whatsoever. Paul is a spoiler at most.

Duncan Hunter * California Congressman
Iraq : No specifics, generally pretends it never happened.
Terrorism : No specifics, generally approves of post-9/11 actions
Taxes : No position
Immigration : Border fence, strict enforcement, no Amnesty
Polls: RCP Average 00.0% for GOP nomination
Fundraising: $01.9 million raised, $01.8 million spent so far
Prospects: Hunter appears to have done the most he could hope for; he got his name on a few primary ballots. His lack of effort to explain his positions demonstrates his own lack of confidence.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Whiners, Cry-Babies, and A Thought

The Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday afternoon. Of itself, that is hardly shocking; the Texans are still a young team, and even there they are rebuilding from the previous coach’s bad decisions, while the Colts are one the NFL’s strongest franchises, powerful every year. What disappointed me, however, was the way in which self-proclaimed fans in Houston immediately went on a temper tantrum after the game, demanding coaches be fired and players traded, out of some vague notion that these professionals were less competent to make the Texans a successful club than the emotionally unstable mob of malcontents who contend that rash and chaotic upheavels are the best way to reach the promised land of winning games, divisions, and eventually Super Bowls. Those who have actually studied those teams which reach and win the NFL’s title game, note that the actual path to greatness is something a bit more rational and far less profanity-laced. Yet the screaming weenies persist, and their numbers are never small when their chosen team is anything less than perfect in results. Small spirits always harass the greater ones, it seems.

The same thing happens in Politics as in Sports. We see the candidates starting in on one another in a fairly juvenile manner of debate, but even more we see foul behavior and bitterness in the ranks of partisan snipers. I thought about posting some of the comments made on websites like Daily Kos and Polipundit, just to name two of the most rancid antagonists on each side. Now granted, from my conservative point-of-view it sure looks like the Left is far worse about this than the Right is, but every so often Ann Coulter writes something utterly cruel and heartless and she gets applause for it, or Michael Savage makes a baseless disparagement of a class of people and his callers call him brilliant for it. As for the Left, just look at Al Gore, Michael Moore, or Harry Reid. They are not only evil in their intent and thoroughly dishonest in their arguments, but also have propogated a cadre of like-minded minions who shout down all reasonable debate and discourse in the belief that only their side has the right to speak.

That’s the thing, really. I have tried to have discussions on the most sensitive issues with people who disagree with me, both Conservatives and Liberals. More and more often, it is impossible to touch certain topics, even to find out the reasoning and evidence for why someone holds a certain position. Ask most Liberals what they would do about Al Qaeda, and you will get a sermon on the evils of President Bush, but never a serious, considered alternative to the War on Terror. When I tried to discuss the obstacles to resolving the Illegal Immigration crisis on the Polipundit site in 2006, the site owner began a series of tirades that led to him kicking off the other four writers, not for disagreeing with him but for not instantly agreeing to write only in support of his position and opinion. More and more, I realize that these are not outliers, but actually represent the present tone and mietre of the campaign. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not allowed by their ‘base’ to promise military support for America’s allies, even where we have treaty obligations in place. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are not allowed by their ‘base’ to say that Roe v. Wade is not likely to ever directly be challenged in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during their lifetime, and so even if elected President they would never be in a position to “overturn Roe v. Wade”. The issues which matter most are swallowed into the gaping maws of popular expectancy. I would even dare to say that this, more than anything else, is what is killing excitement for the 2008 election. I said before that the GOP would miss Dubya, and the fact is that none of the present crowd of candidates rises to his level. Given that fact, if any of the present Republicans were to try to compare themselves to Reagan, the resulting laughter from the absurd attempt would drive them from the field. As for the Democrats, we are bereft of a substantive explanation of their planned policies from any of them – the Bush-hate demands that all speeches focus, indeed obsess, with the current President, even though he will be a private citizen after this next election.

The Blogosphere carries its share of the blame for this corrosive atmosphere, though most of it still rests with old-guard mandarins in the MSM who bitterly resent the fall of Soviet-style socialism and the Fairness Doctrine. But unlike the NYT, LAT, and their devolutionary progeny, the Blogosphere can also be a source of solutions for this problem. It’s a bit early for New Year’s Resolutions, maybe, but even so one cannot help but wonder what it would be like if the Blogosphere worked to calm tensions, not play on them, to suggest specific solutions and debate the pros and cons openly and honestly, rather than simply trashing the other side. What if Democrats could accept that George W. Bush did a pretty good job? What if Republicans could accept that the public saw something they liked in the Democrats in 2006? What if we argued the issues and the proposals to solve crisis, rather than created lists of remembered slights and offenses? What if we were less like The Sopranos, and more like real adults?

Hey, it’s Christmas Eve, and just maybe now is a good time for a spirit of renewed hope and optimism. What do you think?