Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is Obama A Democrat Eisenhower?

The presidential election of 2008 was the first occasion since the 1952 election, when neither the sitting president nor sitting vice-president was one of the major party nominees. It may also be notable, that in 1952 the winning candidate was not known for a long political resume, and the sitting president was going through a period of largely undeserved unpopularity. Similarities between the two situations create an opportunity for comparison.

General Eisenhower won the White House in 1952 by a comfortable margin, despite having held no federal office outside his term as a general officer of the United States Army and SHAEF. He was a popular president yet made remarkably few significant decisions, except for his principled stand for desegregation. Eisenhower won re-election in a romp, yet the GOP fared less well, never gaining control of the Senate either during the Eisenhower years nor in the generation following, and though the GOP took control of the House of Representatives in 1952, they lost it in 1954 and the democrats increased their control in each succeeding election through 1960. The popularity of President Eisenhower did not carry over to the republican candidates for the House and Senate. With the present democrats enjoying support at historically dismal levels, there is reason to believe that the American public may separate its impression of Barack Obama from the Democratic Party in general.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wild Card Republicans

While Barack Obama undeniably ran an effective and energized campaign, it’s plain by now that the McCain campaign of 2008 was a lot like the Republicans in general during 2008 – sloppy, disorganized, and frustrated. Now that he has lost the election and the most liberal candidate in more than a generation is the President-elect, Republicans and especially Conservatives have decided to tie John to a pole and set up a firing squad. Some republicans have opted for the full inquisition and tried to go after Governor Palin, only to find out Madame Governor is no docile scapegoat, and is inclined to return fire when attacked.

The problem for republicans, and especially for conservatives, is that there is no standout leader for 2010 or 2012 (thinking about the next go for rebalancing Congress, and of course things have reached the point where someone is bound to have already started planning the 2016 campaign). That’s not to say that there are not some good people, and some potential stars waiting to be discovered or for their time to arrive. But in the main, we have known ahead of time about big-league republicans and conservatives:

George W. Bush was a major GOP player as far back as 1994. Some said he was being groomed for the White House when he first won the governorship of Texas.

George H.W. Bush was a major candidate in 1980, and no one doubted that he would be the front-runner in 1988 when Reagan finished his two terms.

Reagan’s speech to the GOP Convention in 1976 laid a strong foundation for his 1980 run, as many republicans discovered what the RNC already knew as early as 1972; that Ronald Reagan was a rock star waiting for his stage.

It’s hard to believe in these post-Watergate days, but Richard Nixon was very well-respected all the years between 1952 (when he became Ike’s veep) and 1968, a man not much liked but understood to be a formidable force in politics and campaigning. It’s not generally recognized that many successful politicians learned from Nixon’s campaign disciplines.

You get the idea. While democrats have sometimes picked up their candidates on the fly, republicans tend to pick their winners pretty far in advance. The ones that get the nod late in the process – Ford, Dole, and now McCain – do not tend to fare well in the actual election. As a result, even though there should be opportunity in 2012 for a solid candidate, it is not clear at this time just how the GOP could hope to find a clear favorite. The primary season of 2007-8 was pretty dismal, in review. Few real conservatives ran at all, and the ones that did showed surprisingly little energy for the fight. Besides McCain, who ran his primary campaign on the strength of independent and crossover-democrat support (which did not show up for him in the general election), the main contenders in the republican primaries were Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, good men both of them but neither of them a true Reaganite. Thompson carried the hopes and prayers of many a conservative, but while he had the belly, he lacked fire in it.

It would seem that for 2012, the early cast of republican contenders comes in three flavors:

First, there are the 2008 contenders. Not to be mean, but if we ran McCain again, or Romney or Huckabee or Giuliani or even Thompson, we would only assure Obama’s re-election. I just do not see any of these gentlemen developing the requisite qualities which were lacking in this last election.

Second, we can look to the new generation. Certainly there is hope there, in such people as Palin, Jindal, Cantor, Putnam, Pawlenty, or Thune. But if we choose that road, we have to answer better for the onslaught of attacks that we saw leveled against Sarah Palin this time. Any of these contenders will need a lot of preparation and coaching, yet they have to remain the same pure essence of conservatism and energy that makes them attractive in the first place.

Finally, we can always hope that someone will demonstrate outstanding leadership in the House or Senate, someone as yet unknown who will make the case for conservatism in a way that we have not seen in a generation. I cannot say who that would be, and indeed at the moment I cannot imagine any of the present members of the House or Senate in that kind of heroic role, but then again, miracles can and do happen, and if we are granted one we should not overlook the grace of it.


The Wheel of Fortune turns
I go down, demeaned;
Another is raised up;
Far too proud
Sits the king at the summit –
Let him fear ruin!
For under the axis we read
About Queen Hecuba

- Carmina Burana, c. 13th century

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The presidential election of 2008 finished nine days ago, and by now most of the emotions have begun to settle. People for whom grace is their natural condition have returned to graceful tone, while those for whom spite and petulance is their preferred environment (sadly present to a significant degree in both major political parties) have continued to attack and defame their enemies and targets. In other words, things are returning to normal.

One thing which occurs to me in this readjustment of mood, is that while this election was important and its effects are significant, we are headed neither for a golden age nor the precipice of gotterdammerung. I am not one of those who believes that the United States shall die as the result of an Obama presidency, and I am certainly no worshipper of this modern Narcissus, nor am I so fooled by any of his dazzling promises, even the ones he has not already tried to wipe from his websites and interviews. What I see here is not so different from many times before, a lot of promises and in performance, ehhh, something less but nothing either of dreams or nightmares.

Since the election, I have been critical of the hype and propaganda from the Obama (‘God, only better’) camp, and for this have been accused of dining on ‘sour grapes’. In the actual case, I consider myself far better balanced emotionally than many, even considering some on the Left who are still inexplicably bitter and foul in their mood and behavior. But there will always be those for whom nothing is ever enough to make them act with courtesy or a gracious tone. In the matter of Obama’s election, though, I congratulate him not only on his victory but on the effectiveness of his organization and his near-total control of the media. If he can maintain that control, President Obama will be the first president since Reagan to able to use the media as a tool to help advance his agenda, rather than yet another obstacle or enemy waiting to trip him up or seek a weakness to exploit. Barack Obama also showed himself an adept student of Nixonian politics, wherein he not only played attacks on him into claims of victimization, but also played hard to his party’s fringe during the primaries, but swung hard towards the center when running his general campaign, to the point of denying statements and promises made during the primaries. Just as Nixon knew few republicans would vote for Humphrey or McGovern, Obama knew few democrats would consider voting for McCain. And just as Nixon’s campaign worked hard to get grassroots support and turnout, so too did Obama’s team sweat out the details to get all likely supporters to the polls. In many respects, this year’s election was one where democrats were energized, coordinated, and showed up to vote, while republicans were disorganized and allowed themselves to become demoralized and sat out the election.

In many ways this election is interesting, not least because of the myths which were disproven. The first myth shattered, obviously, was the ‘Bradley Effect’ – while some morons may vote for or against someone solely because of their race, it is not true to imagine that it is a major effect. The second myth, and one still floating around, is that the public really wanted democrats in control. The reason this is clearly a myth, is that despite the economic climate and the scale of Obama’s victory, the congressional and senate races did not produce the overwhelming numbers predicted. The democrats made modest gains in both chambers, so it’s not as if the republicans have rebounded in public approval (the third debunked myth). It would appear that President Obama will begin his term with fairly high public approval, but the democrats and republicans in Congress and as political parties will see little public support.

I have no doubt that President Obama will make some mistakes early in 2009, mistakes which some will claim prove him unfit for the job. But every president runs into some of that, and it’s a poor student of history who believes that when it happens again, it’s somehow the first time or proof of inadequacy. In some respects, it will be interesting to see if President Obama learns from the lessons of Presidents Bush and Clinton before him; not only that if a president does not consider his importance in relation to a policy or bill that his credibility with Congress could fail and make later work much more difficult, but also that if a president obsesses about his ‘legacy’ he may accomplish little work of substance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Semper Paratus

Yesterday I wrote about veterans in general, but today I want to focus on my personal favorite branch of the United States Armed Forces – the U.S. Coast Guard. These guys start missions in conditions which would shut down a SEAL team, they fly into places with almost no advance information, forcing improvisation and ingenuity to be a regular part of every team leader’s regular practice. Their missions range from military (Coasties have fought in World War 2, Vietnam, and the Iraq conflict) to drug interdiction to extensive short-notice and no-notice rescue operations. A coastie therefore must not only be ready to fight, but also have medical knowledge, understand the law with regard to arrests and contraband seizure, and be able to take charge of a wide range of crisis situations.

Like the other branches of service, the USCG has an academy to train officers. But unlike West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy, having a buddy in Congress won’t help you get into the Coast Guard Academy; the Coasties take academy cadets strictly by competition. And the Coast Guard does not train for what might happen someday, somewhere – a coastie knows he will see action, over and over again lives will depend on him knowing what to do and carrying it through, and he will get less press for saving a dozen lives than a Marine gets for successfully dressing himself. Coasties head full speed into conditions that would make Rangers mess their pants, and they do it all the time. Some soldiers are tough, some are smart, some are capable, but you have to be all three to be a coastie.

Semper Paratus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is Veterans’ Day. You’ll read about it in the papers and see mentions of it on TV, but probably there will not be much else said or done about it. Politicians will lay wreaths at gravesites, and then go on about forgetting the men and women the rest of the time. The VA will continue to be underfunded, the Guard will get sent in harm’s way after training with sub-standard equipment, and congressmen thinking only of their re-elections will push for actions which look good but ignore the needs of the men in the field. Kipling is ignored by Americans just as well as the British forgot him.

There are exceptions, of course. There are businesses which grant preference to veterans when they hire, seems they like to take on men and women who know how to handle responsibility and a genuinely difficult burden, who have dealt with stress and the tough decisions in a way that makes a few business decisions no sweat at all. There are a few congressmen and senators who will actually go out to see where the men serve and meet them to find out what they need in a non-election year, the way John McCain and Joe Lieberman did. And there are some good people who have been sending letters and packages to the troops, caring everyday and not just on a calendar day.

What makes America different, is that Americans do not like war. Even our troops have no desire to do the business of war, the destruction and the killing things they would just as soon not see happen, and these soldiers are only too happy to come home to a normal life. That’s why it matters, that we respect these men and women, not just when we know the cameras are rolling and there’s political gain or cost to a gesture, but in recognition of genuine sacrifice. And when they say they want to complete the mission, to finish the job, we owe them that voice and we should respect their decision.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan (parts of the same war, though some would lie and pretend otherwise) is controversial, not least because it requires stamina and patience, and the democrats have seen fit to use the war as a political football in more than one election. The soldiers simply want to win, finish the job, leave a stable and independent and free Iraq and Afghanistan, and come home. Anyone who wants to settle for less neither respects nor honors the troops.

War is a horrible thing, and sometimes it serves no good purpose and at other times the best of intentions carry horrific cost. But there are times where it is necessary, where there is no way for greater costs to be avoided except that our soldiers fight, often killing and sometimes dying. The horror of the cost is terrible to consider, yet we must consider it and consider it in context if we are to understand any of it. And the sad truth of it, is that many who make decisions about our troops never even try to consider the cost and its meaning.

Some people attach the moral value of a conflict to the president or party which supports it. I do not. I support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for reasons similar to why I supported the war effort in Bosnia and in Somalia, similar to why I supported Just Cause and the invasion of Grenada, and why I thought the failed mission at Desert One was something we should all respect and try to understand. Partly because in each of those conflicts American troops were committed and we owe support to the men who went in on valid orders from their commander. Partly also because wars are not to be decided in the same way we choose the next winner of ‘American Idol’. And partly because there is a virtue to American wars, something unique that comes from the character of the men who fight under our flag and the mission of the American war effort. We fight no wars of conquest, and our soldiers change the world for the better when they remove tyrants and despots.

This day is only a symbol of a debt so large we cannot possibly repay it, but the men and women in uniform deserve better than a mattress sale and a passing insincere gesture from a politician whose mind is on his own gain ninety-nine percent of the time. Think about it, then act on it.

Veterans Day 2008

Today is the day that America remembers its veterans. I wonder how President-Elect Obama will respect and honor – oh that’s right, this is the guy whose campaign worked so hard to keep overseas military ballots from being counted this election. Continuing the fine democrat tradition of ‘loathing’ the military, donchano?

Just Something to Keep You Awake

In 1995, a man named Babrak Kamal, one of Iraq’s leading bioweapons scientists, defected to Jordan. Fearing what he would reveal, the government of Iraq admitted some of its biowar planning, particularly at the Al Hakam and Al Manal plants (which had previously been identified as vaccine making facilities). Al Hakam was a factory for manufacturing anthrax, and is estimated to have created more than twenty tons of anthrax. None of the anthrax made by the Al Hakam plant was ever recovered or destroyed, and unlike most toxins, anthrax can be stored indefinitely in powder form. The Al Manal plant was even scarier, as it manufactured botulism toxin, a poison over one hundred thousand times more toxic than Sarin. A dot of bot tox the size of the one over this i can kill between eight and fifteen people; the Al Manal plant produced over nine thousand cubic yards, at twenty times weapons-grade concentration. None of the bot tox made at the Al Manal plant was ever recovered or destroyed. What’s more, in a deal made between the UN and the Iraqi government, the Al Manal plant was neither destroyed, seized, nor closed. There is no report on what was done at Al Manal and similar plants between 1995 and 2003, when Coalition forces invaded Iraq.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Trivia

In what year were biological weapons first used against the United States by a military force?

First Crisis

One sure event in every president’s first few months in office is a crisis. Some crises are predictable, like the economic depression Franklin Roosevelt had to face. But in recent years, the crises have more often been unpredictable, though just as serious. Early in George W. Bush’s first year, a US Navy surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese PLA Navy jet in international waters. In early 1993, President Clinton was faced with a crisis in Russia, as Yeltsin all but abolished the Congress of People’s Deputies as he tried to force Russia to reform its constitution. In 1989, new President GHW Bush had to deal with the challenge of Noriega’s attempt to deny US access to the Panama Canal as reprisal for interfering with his drug trafficking. In 1981, new President Reagan had to deal with a militant and ambitious Iran. Every new president tends to find surprise problems waiting for his attention early on, serious problems which were not always apparent before his election to office. Because many of these crises come from areas where the new president is not expert, he very often must rely on the experience of appointed heads of departments and offices, and so the decision in those appointments may prove pivotal in the success of the crisis resolution.

The quality of President Obama’s early appointments may therefore be far more significant than they may first appear.