Friday, February 01, 2008

What Makes A Reaganite?

The greatest President in the last century, if you are a Conservative, is Ronald Reagan. Because of this, every Republican wanna-be compares himself to the Gipper, and every Republican who wants to be President claims to be a Reagan Republican. The range of candidates making such claims is so broad, that frankly some of them have to be lying to make that claim. The trouble, of course, is that any of the posers would be quick to assure you that his opponent is the liar, while he is the real deal. So, rather than get into a prolonged ad hominem shootout, I think the better course for us would be to discuss the qualities of a true Reagan Republican.

Ronald Reagan made his mark even as he took office, when news broke that Iranian terrorists had released American hostages taken in 1979 when they overran the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. While the terrorists had meant for the gesture to be a sign of contempt against the Carter Administration, the public generally took it as a sign that Iran was far more worried about a Reagan White House than his predecessor, and that Reagan stood for a strong America. That image was his first legacy, and it still stands. Any Republican who would claim the Reagan mantle, must first be strong on the Military and resolute on National Security.

Reagan is also famous for Free Trade. Trade was an effective weapon against Communism, a force which Gorbachev could neither deny nor defeat. It was also Reagan’s trump card for unifying the West and guaranteeing the preeminence of America in her alliances and associations. Reagan was the driving force behind NAFTA, and he was a constant advocate of a world without tarifffs or trade barriers. As much as Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan created and developed the concept of Globalization as we know it. Any Republican who would claim Reagan’s blessing, must also be a thorough champion of Free Trade.

Reagan also stood for Free Speech. Reagan not only encouraged and energized the rhetorical forces of Conservatism, but he also listened and responded to Liberal arguments, either debunking false claims or building respect by accepting valid claims. Reagan properly recognized the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ for the Orwellian lie it was, and worked to dismantle it. Reagan knew and taught that free expression of ideas, concepts, debate was the best and surest means to creating open societies and truly republican democracies. Any Republican who would claim to be like Reagan, must support freedom for expressing opinion, especially in politics.

Reagan also stood for the United States Constitution. It was his constant desire for judges to obey the provisions, and the limits, of the Constitution and to limit government intrusion into the lives and freedom of American citizens to those boundaries explicitly defined in the Constitution. Any Republican who would claim to carry forward Reagan’s legacy, must support constructionist judges and justices.

Those are my first thoughts on what it means to be a Reaganite.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not So Fast, McCain

John McCain is acting like a winner. A bad-tempered winner with no sense of perspective, a chip on his shoulder the size of his well-fed ego, and an arrogant disregard for the precepts of the President whose “foot soldier” he claims he was so many years ago. Apparently, McCain thinks that being in government service the same time as Ronnie qualifies him to make that claim, although such a lax definition would allow Mikhail Gorbachev the same honor.

But a winner nonetheless, in the same way we saw ‘winner’ defined, back in the days when an NBA team would celebrate with gangsta imitations, in the same way that Floyd Landis figured no one would dare investigate his doped-up Tour de France win, and so on.

Anyway, McCain is going on these days about what a great ‘conservative’ he is, by which we are supposed to accept the hijacking of Senate Judicial hearings, the suppression of individual political speech just before an election, and insubordination of party leadership whenever they disagree with him as proud hallmarks of the Reagan Revolution. Apparently, McCain believes that his present position in front of the GOP race gives him the right to redefine terms, to lie about his opponents, and to declare the race over. But to that I call not so fast, Senator McCain, this race is not nearly done. In fact, it’s just warming up.

Tuesday, February 5, twenty-two states will hold their GOP caucus or primary, with 1,102 delegates riding on the outcome. For comparison, all six states which have had a GOP primary or caucus up to now have accounted for a total of only 181 delegates, and some of those are uncommitted. For all the hoo-dah in the media, the fact is that it takes 1,191 delegates to secure the nomination, and none of the candidates has even cleared a hundred in his tally yet. Seems McCain is real anxious that most of the country does not get a chance to say whether or not this chucklehead should carry the banner of the Republican party into the fall. I certainly understand why McCain would want to shut the doors now, but it’s important we don’t get fooled by his act.

To be sure, McCain did a hero’s service during the Vietnam War. In challenging his hubris, I want to make clear that I am not denying the man his due as a hero. For those unclear on that point, what made McCain a hero during Vietnam was not simply that he was prisoner of war, but that because of his high profile as the son of the Navy’s CNO, McCain was the subject of much worse torture and pressure from the North Vietnamese. Not just physical torture, though there was plenty of that, but emotional torture as well, such as suggesting that if he played along, McCain could get his buddies released from prison camps, or trying to give McCain preferential treatment so the Communists could gain a propaganda victory. For six years, John McCain defied his captors, and was a lasting source of strength to his fellow prisoners.

McCain’s lesser qualities appear, however, in his work as a Senator. As a Senator, McCain quickly established a stubborn refusal to work with anyone who was not going completely in his direction, and more than once McCain defied GOP leadership in critical situations, most notably during the George W. Bush Administration. Bittter from his 2000 primary defeats, McCain was one of only two Republican senators who voted against the Bush tax cuts, saying that he wanted spending cut first, but also that he opposed “tax cuts for the rich”.

McCain was one of the writers of the infamous McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which basically tries to stifle anyone discussing an election in the last month before it happens. McCain has never apologized for that assasult on the First Amendment.

Then there is the “gang of 14”, another example of McCain leadership where McCain decided that having the Senate actually do its job as a body and vote on judicial appointments was not good, that one-seventh of the Senate could make back-room deals on judges, not even based on their qualifications, but purely to expedite political arrangements. Again, McCain has never apologized for railroading qualified judges and defying the Constitutional role of the United States Senate. Indeed, McCain seems to think he can gloss that over and we will let it go, as if it were some minor foible. But the record needs to be seen in total, the times McCain got it right, and the times he got it wrong.

I certainly have issues to some degree with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but in both of their cases, I at least believe they are conducting honest campaigns by the standard we see these days. It is truly disappointing to see a former naval officer of McCain’s repute prostitute his honor in the pursuit of an office he so patently should not perform.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The President’s Blogroll

As I begin this piece, I have to admit that it sounds more than a bit presumptuous for a blogger to recommend that the President of the United States needs to read more blogs. But actually, I will go even farther and say that any of the candidates for that office needs to spend time, a lot more time, reading political blogs. And I mean the candidates and the President in person; you won’t get what you need from having a staffer write up a summary to go over in 45 seconds.

Let’s start with the status quo; President Bush says he does not read the papers, and I believe him, insofar as he does not dwell on Op-Eds and what this talking head or that wants to sell the country. But I am sure that the White House has people who do read what’s in the papers and on the television, and they do report to various entities a sense of the national mood and climate. Rove and Hughes would give Dubs a bop on the head right out of the V-8 commercials if he tried to ignore the media that completely. So the idea of getting feedback from the media is a well-established practice for politicians.

The problem is, the MSM is no decent barometer for what’s going on out there. The television and print media are, almost exclusively, watching the Bush White House in the predatory manner, always looking for a weakness to exploit, the next great lever to use to tear down the best President in a generation. I think that’s what Bush meant when he said he doesn’t worry about the newspapers, that there’s no good reason to give that pack of jackals any attention or the pleasure of thinking that they make a difference.

The thing though, is that for all my approval of the Bush Administration, they have goofed a few of the calls. In the case of the Meirs nomination, for example, while it is true that no one really knows how good or bad a SCOTUS justice Miers might have been, there is no question that President Bush was completely caught by surprise by the hostility and venom from Conservatives after he announced his pick. No, that does not mean Bush should kowtow to political thugs when he makes decisions, but knowing what would happen from a Miers nomination would have helped the White House at least prepare a better defense for Miers. The same with the Dubai ports deal; the deal was a good one if seen in its proper perspective, but again the blow-up destroyed the chance for the United States to advance an advantageous Foreign Policy initiative and thwart Chinese ambitions in both the Middle East and with regard to U.S. ports. But in both cases, the mood of Conservatives was not understood by Bush, even though bloggers had set the tone well ahead of the events. Also, if President Bush held any notion that the Democrats could be trusted on any major initiative, even to keep promises made in confidence, the major Liberal blogs would have made clear that the Democrats had undertaken a major ideological war; they would assist a Republican no more than Fidel Castro would renounce Communism. But again, in several signature bills President Bush chose to trust the Democrats to keep their word, even when the blogs warned well in advance that the Democrats would break their bargain as soon as they found it to their political advantage to do so. The blogs, if you note them, serve as a decent Early Warning system for the response of the politically active groups. Certainly, there should be someone aware of the issue discussions who could send a printout of a key blog debate with a suggestion along the lines of ‘Sir, you should take a look at this’.

That advice may sound like I am selling the blogs as a tactical resource, and in some cases I certainly do mean to say that. But what else makes the blogs worth noting, is the reader commentary. The network television news and newspaper Op-Eds speak in monotonous soliloquoy, while blogs often fire up intense debates. Anyone should be able to recognize the difference between a blog post which gets 4 or 5 comments in a day, and one which gets a hundred responses almost immediately. If nothing else, the White House would do well indeed to notice which issues really do reflect the priorities of the people.

This usefulness for blogs certainly also extends to the current candidates. Some of the most glaring mistakes by contenders are also mistakes which could easily have been avoided. In the Republican race, Rudy should have understood how front-loaded the race had become, and maybe he would have realized ahead of time that by waiting for Florida, he could be in a desperate strategic situation. Fred could have understood that he had millions of potential supporters, but who were worried about his perceived level of energy, and early level of commitment to the early race. Romney could have understood that his Mormon faith was not an issue for most Republicans, but his image appeared too controlled and artificial to catch fire. As for the Democrats, Hillary could have understood that she does not win support when playing ‘attack dog’. Obama could have understood that when you don’t know anything about foreign policy, it’s best to shut up before you make yourself look like a dangerous fool. And Edwards could have realized long ago, that this is not 2004, and if he could not do better than runner-up to a walking doorstop in 2004, he would hardly fare better now.

In conclusion, it’s obvious that for all their attempts to appear cutting-edge and savvy, where blogs are concerned the President and his would-be successors are still well behind the curve.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why Jesus Wept

I went into MDA today for my 3-month checkup, and in my case I am happy to say that my condition remains stable. Everything seems to be going well except for my weight, blood pressure, and a bit of arthritis in the shoulders and hands. In fact, Dr. Lambert said she has lowered the probability that I will need surgery in the next couple years from 50% to about 25%. So, on that count I should be happy, and I am truly grateful to the Lord for His mercy and my good situation.

But these visits to MDA tear at me. Cancer is still one of the most horrific diseases I have ever had to see attack people, and because you are never “cured” of the thing – in a best-case situation it just stops trying to kill you for a while, and you wait to see if and when it comes back for another go. And cancer almost never hurts just one person. It puts wives and husbands, parents and children, through absolute hell for years on end, as doctors fight an ongoing battle against malignant cell growth, side effects from the chemotherapy and the radiation and the drugs, and in some cases the damn thing mutates or becomes resistant to the best treatments we have available. Every time I go to MDA, I see people waiting for their first diagnosis and worried about what they will hear, I see people who have to learn a new way to live to deal with their condition, I see people who have to hear that there may a “lose” to this thing, but in many cases the closest thing to a “win” is that things are no worse.

I found out today that someone I met here in October, whose Leukemia treatment was going well, passed away last month. A couple other patients I knew have had to go into hospice care. I was in an elevator this morning trying to come to grips with this news, when another patient, whose face had been half-destroyed by a Stage III melanoma, saw my distress and tried to cheer me up. He thought I was worried about my PMP, and sympathized that he at least knew the worst of his condition, and he wished I knew how my situation would go. I thanked him for his kindness, frankly amazed that someone who had suffered so much would still pay more attention to someone else.

In the Bible, it is written that when Jesus came to the town where his friend Lazarus had died, He wept. At times this seemed strange to me, since the Scripture made clear He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. The suffering, however, by Lazarus and by his family, that was very real and did not un-happen even with Lazarus coming back to life. I believe that verse was there, so that we might understand that God cares about our suffering, that He shares our pain and that we are not alone in it. I cannot say I understand anything about the reason why this kind of pain should exist, but I do know that it is very important that we know we do not have to be alone in it.