The GOP Platform is an Article of Faith

My cover-story in The American Conservative is now online. Basically my thesis is this:

The religious right is more convinced of American righteousness in the exercise of its military might than the neoconservatives are, and more invested than Wall Street in lower taxes.

Many on my particular ante-chamber on the right have posited that neoconservatives have brainwashed an unwilling movement into believing in the greatness of America’s world mission. This might be a comforting myth. If my fellow small-America types on the right were just trying to do what the neoconservatives do, that would be easy. You just publish a magazine or two, hold some small conferences, and get on television. We’re close to doing that now.

On the other side, it has been fascinating to watch so many Evangelicals swallow “American Exceptionalism” as a near-doctrine of their faith.

Heads Talking on Your Computer Device

This morning I recorded another episode of Bloggingheads.tv with Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches.  We discuss Gingrich’s marriages, social conservatism stuff, Rand Paul’s ability to take Paulism mainstream, marriage vows, and the political homelessness of Jim Wallis.

The End of the War As We Know It

James Poulos, in conjunction with PJTV, has asked me to be a regular panelist on his internet-talk show, Reform school. In this week’s episode, we discuss whether and how the war on terror will end.

No Reason to Leave Now

I once had the privilege of hearing Max Boot explain to a conservative luncheon that America had to make a 50+ year commitment to staying in Iraq. A recent Yale graduate, who looked like a 14 year old, explained that nearly everyone in the room would be dead by then, and he would be in his mid-seventies. Was this realistic? Boot said yes. Maybe he’ll be proved right.

So it is no surprise then that Boot took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to explain that killing Bin Laden was no biggie really. In fact we need to stay in Afghanistan much longer.

It is immaterial whether or not the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the others are currently targeting the American homeland. We cannot allow them to create a fundamentalist caliphate stretching from Kabul to Kashmir and beyond. Their takeover of Afghanistan—a first step toward this grandiose goal—would galvanize jihadists and could reverse the loss of momentum they have suffered because of the Arab Spring and bin Laden’s death. It would also provide greater impetus to topple the nuclear-armed Pakistan next door.

Notice how frankly Boot admits that the protection of Americans from harm is “immaterial.” Obviously for Boot, we can’t just have our State Department issue travel-advisories! We have to make the world safe. Full stop. Even at $2 billion a week. We’ll pay any price.

My first advice to Boot would be that of Calvin Coolidge: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

In this case, if you see 10 or more distinct terrorist groups and movements in Pakistan, you can be sure that nine will begin slitting each other’s throats before they reach you. Unless that is, you are foolish enough to unite them yourself.

The Slick To Serfdom

In the New York Times, Francis Fukuyama has a wonderful review of the reissued Constitution of Liberty by F.Z. Hayek in

In the end, there is a deep contradiction in Hayek’s thought. His great insight is that individual human beings muddle along, making progress by planning, experimenting, trying, failing and trying again. They never have as much clarity about the future as they think they do. But Hayek somehow knows with great certainty that when governments, as opposed to individuals, engage in a similar process of innovation and discovery, they will fail. He insists that the dividing line between state and society must be drawn according to a strict abstract principle rather than through empirical adaptation. In so doing, he proves himself to be far more of a hubristic Cartesian than a true Hayekian.

There are a few thoughts to add to this.

First, there are good reasons to divide society and state. Because there is not one unitary thing called society that makes decisions. When we say society we mean, in the United States, scores of millions of individuals, or families, civic institutions, businesses, all planning and calculating for themselves. Individuals, families, towns, parishes, and charities can “muddle along” precisely because their failures are mostly their own. If we had say, a single government agency making a mistake in pricing some good on the market, it could mean shortages for millions. And as we’ve seen, failures of government planning are usually excuses for more coordination by government. Perhaps it is an extremely slick slope.

Second, democratic states can’t “muddle along” and learn the way society does because the state itself rarely has “ownership” of its decisions. A man with a bad business plan can and will re-adjust. In government, failure has a thousand fathers.

Third, even after this defense, Hayek’s thought does seem incomplete, for some of the reasons Fukuyama points out. There is no account of morality. And there is no accounting for class interests or sufficient reason to dismiss class-conflict analysis.

Fourth, the “managers” of a democratic state have to resort to selling policies to society with the technology of persuasion we call ideology. Plans are “bought” by the public on the basis of identity-driven politics, or idealism disconnected from reason.  Ideology is an appealing tool in a democracy precisely because it is impossible to rationally calculate policies for 300 million people at once. It can make bold promises without ever delivering or having a reasonable expectation of success.

BHL in Hell

It’s one thing to persuade your president to embark on a ruinous and stupid war in Libya. It’s another to brag about.

From a New York Times profile of Tina Brown, a detail about Bernard-Henri Levy:

As her guests said goodbye, Brown and Evans looked eager to get their furniture back. Suddenly the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy wafted in, dressed in black and trailing a cloud of cologne and his mistress, Daphne Guinness, who was wearing a revealing black cat suit and heelless Alexander McQueen platform shoes. Lévy was fresh from Paris, where, he proceeded to tell Brown and a few stragglers, he had just single-handedly persuaded his old friend President Nicolas Sarkozy to go to war against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya. (A few days later, Steven Erlanger of The New York Times reported that this had, improbably enough, been the case.)

Bin Laden’s Funeral and Our Decency

 

 

More is revealed about Tim Pawlenty in this clip than in watching the entire deebate.

“What did you think of the funeral?” Hannity asks, late in the clip. He got full Islamic ceremony, according to the host. Is that appropriate?

Pawlenty went on to try to distinguish Bin Laden from a “regular army”, in what I thought would be an attempt to say that he doesn’t deserve respect. But he stopped short and framed the funeral rite that was accorded to bin Laden as appropriate per our strategic goals. And while I think that is right, it would have been an opportune time to tell Hannity and the rest of Jacksonian America, that, whenever possible, we bury the dead because we are civilized, even if they are not. The hidden suggestion in Hannity’s question that it would have been okay to desecrate Bin Laden’s corpse is reprehensible. Desecrating a corpse doesn’t make our “win” bigger, because it reflects a bigger disrespect of the enemy, it simply makes us smaller and more like the barbarians we are fighting.

The South Carolina Debate

In case you didn’t know, the South Carolina GOP in partnership with FoxNews, held the first presidential primary debate. The participants included  former-Pennsylvania-Senator Rick Santorum, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Tea-Party-Activist Herman Cain, Congressman Ron Paul, and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.

The first thing I noticed was that Ron Paul was sharper than he had been in 2008, perhaps due to his intensified media-schedule over the last four years. But I still wanted him to be sharper. At once point he was asked about drug legalization and made the moral case that most people have the sense not to do heroin without the government teling them not to do heroin. He should have also mentioned that under his view, states would still have the right to ban the use of narcotics. Instead he finished with almost a joke. Paul did much better answering for his views on Israel. He said that foreign aid should be withdrawn from Israel, yes, but that we give more foreign aid to arab countries that surround it. Further, because we give foreign aid, Israel has lost its independence.

Herman Cain was the candidate that most impressed the post-debate Frank Luntz panel. Cain projected confidence, played on the current populist conservative disdain for incumbents of all party’s, but offered little of substance. “I have a plan to reduce the deficit” Cain repeated that he had all sorts of “plans,” and if Luntz’s panel is to be believed, people ate it up.

Rick Santorum surprised me. He communicated to social conservatives that he is one of them. He gave a strong answer on an immigration restriction question, recalling that in his family learning English and assimilating were the key to success in America.

Tim Pawlenty got the biggest cheer of the night by inveighing against the National Labor Relations Board. But overall I’m struck by how weak Pawlenty seemed. There is something about his physical presence that seems uneasy, and it makes me uncomfortable to look at him.

Overall the impression I got was that Paul and Johnson were speaking to their own audience, and Pawlenty, Santorum, and Cain were speaking to another. If the libertarians in this race want to break out, and I believe one of them can, then they need to explain their philosophies in terms the base-Republican voter can understand.

Inflation

Niall Ferguson warns that inflation is back in Newsweek. There are plenty on right and left that have been warning that we are still in a period of deflation. Just look at housing prices! Indeed, home sales are slowing as more people become renters permanently, and the housing stimulus measures run dry. Home prices are still historically high when indexed to wages. Well, the deflationists say: look at the CPI! Unfortunately we can’t trust that number, and Ferguson points out why:

And the reason the CPI is losing credibility is that, as economist John Williams tirelessly points out, it’s a bogus index. The way inflation is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been “improved” 24 times since 1978. If the old methods were still used, the CPI would actually be 10 percent. Yes, folks, double-digit inflation is back. Pretty soon you’ll be able to figure out the real inflation rate just by moving the decimal point in the core CPI one place to the right.

Exactly. Inflation might even be welcome, after all it helped many middle-class homeowners in the 90s. But back then unemployment was low. Sure. some people will see their old debts begin to erode under inflation. That doesn’t help them if they are still unemployed and the cost of food, gas and other necessities in their lives goes up and forces them into new debt.

The New Malthusians

sp!ked review of books has an excellent essay by Daniel Ben-Ami taking on David Harvey’s critique of “neo-liberalism”, The Enigma of Capital. Here is just a small sample:

In effect, Harvey has turned Marx into a green and has transformed left into right. Whereas socialist movements used to campaign for popular prosperity – higher working-class living standards in the old terminology – the critics of neo-liberalism rail against what they see as excess consumption. The green egalitarianism that Harvey advocates is essentially a call to share out the misery more widely across society.

Ben-Ami points out rightly, that privatization has not meant the collapse of welfarism before the rising minimal state, in many ways it has meant the extension of state power throughout the economy, in an attempt to increase services or “access” without raising taxes.

The Photograph

WWDMedia has six photo editors examine the now famous situation room photograph.

I found myself agreeing with Scott Dadich of Wired magazine,

And the woman peeking over the guy’s shoulder? That’s to me the power of the moment. The cramming in. I don’t know who she is. But when you have the nexus of power in the Western world and who is that woman getting to peek in there and share this moment in history? I’m sure she is important but it feels like a stripping down of position here. Everyone is equal.

Most editors are drawn to Hillary and Obama’s faces, and much has been made of Obama being “in the corner” by those who want to invent a reason to criticize his leadership during what will likely be his presidency’s finest moment.

But I find them impossible to read. This anonymous woman leaning in seems like a stand-in for us. And actually Joe Biden’s expression is grave without the self-consciousness of Hillary’s or Obama’s. I’ve made fun of Biden in the past, but he does seem to have an idea, unlike Obama and Hillary, that his office carries some of the weight, that his political life is not all about him. And though it is more than likely I’m reading my biases into this photo, I think I see that here too.

 

To the Place I Belong

(via my friend Ray Lehman) comes a heartwarming story from the heartland itself.

The lede:

A West Virginia man found wearing women’s underwear and standing over a goat’s carcass told police he was high on bath salts.