A Conversation on Presidents’ Day


456px-abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portraitAbraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States was born on this day, February 12, in 1809—exactly 200 years ago. He’s one of three Presidents born in the month of February: George Washington on the 22nd in 1732, and Ronald Reagan on the 20th in 1911.

Washington died in 1797, at the age of 67. This was just thirteen years before Lincoln’s birthday. Had Lincoln lived to be 67 (and died in 1876), Reagan’s birth would have followed only 35 years later. Of the three, Reagan lived longest—93 years. If all three men had lived to be 93, Lincoln would have been 14 at Washington’s death in 1823, and Lincoln would have lived another 46 years, dying the year Reagan was born. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in the year I was first eligible to vote.

Imagine eavesdropping on a conversation between these three great figures. What would they talk about? Here are portions of one scenario that occurs to me.

Washington (to Mr. Lincoln): We all feared and half-expected that the union of our colonies under a shared constitution might not last. There were many reasons to be skeptical. One, of course, was the problem of black slavery. We believed that a titanic struggle over slavery would come. We expected it much sooner than it happened. But in those days, the infant nation had fought to the fringes of its might the power of king George. The issue of slavery, something that plagued our consciences to our dying days, could not be addressed directly at the time. What little there was of “union” would have dissolved in an instant. Mind you, we also felt that delay on this point would reinforce and perpetuate that damnable practice, so that the struggle which had to come sooner or later could mean the end of our union. It was a risk we had to take, you understand?

Lincoln: That is all as I suspected. It was my singular duty to have charge over the Union when the inevitable occurred. I had no doubt that Providence was at work in the timing of my presidency and what is called the “Civil War.” It was that . . . a civil war. We were a nation of men and women at war with each other. There’s truth in calling it “the war between the states.” Robert Lee’s agreement to lead the “Confederacy” was, I have to say, a shock to me. I believed then that our country would be torn in two, with no prospect of reconciliation. But it turned out we had generals equal to Lee. In due course, I began to imagine the possibility of re-union. Sadly, though the war had been won, my time for leadership—ordained by God—was over before the challenge of reconstruction could begin.

Reagan: It’s a wonder that war didn’t end in anarchy. That it didn’t is a tribute to your leadership, Mr. Lincoln. It’s also a tribute to the ratification of the United States Constitution, General Washington.

Washington: Ratification almost did not happen. Some of us wondered if it would matter. We realized that a document, a piece of paper, could be shredded. Our Republic depended on government “by the people,” as Jefferson wrote, to the consternation of Georgie. If the people could not abide the Constitution in the years ahead, . . . well.

Reagan: Well, some have threatened to shred the Constitution. The greatest offenders have been our own justices of the Supreme Court, and appointed federal judges, who swear to uphold the Constitution.

Washington: That is one of the great surprises for me. Many at the Convention thought a Supreme Court was a bad idea, that it would disallow adequate representation of all the states. They thought the law could be drafted and enforced by the states themselves. This, of course, was nonsense.  There had to be laws that protected the union of the states, as well as states’ rights. That called for a judiciary at the federal level. Congress would make law. But there needed to be a sensible body with a steady grip on the Constitution, so that laws passed in Congress and signed by the President would safeguard the survival of a fragile union. It was, I think, one of our better ideas to provide for a federal court.

Reagan: No doubt about it. But appointing judges to the bench was among the most difficult challenges I faced as President. It was clear that certain judges, whom we called “liberal,” were legislating from the bench, and doing so in violation of the Constitution. During my administration, two opposing views about the Constitution had taken root and defined much of the “conservative-liberal” debate. Some held that the Constitution is a “living document,” meaning that the justices had to adapt its general configuration to the needs and circumstances of the times. The other main group argued for “original intent.”

501px-gilbert_stuart_williamstown_portrait_of_george_washingtonWashington: Yes, the idea that there should be strict adherence to the Constitution as it was intended to be understood by its framers—by those of us who were there. You wish to know the position of the framers on precisely this point? Believe me when I tell you that this was a matter of considerable controversy during the convention. Jefferson warned against a fluid constitution quite explicitly, and I sided with him in the matter. I am happy to say that most agreed that the Constitution should be framed for timeless application. And I dare say that all who were there and finally ratified the Constitution had no doubt about “original intent,” as your generation called it. There were misgivings, to be sure. And this is why the Constitution made provision for amendment. The process of amendment was meant to be deliberately cumbersome. This, no doubt, explains why some preferred to think of the Constitution as a “living document.” Perhaps judges could be influenced to make unofficial amendments and write law when they were supposed to be interpreting law.

Lincoln: It would be odd, would it not, to argue for the “living document” theory on the grounds that this was the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution?

Washington: Is that how they argued?

Reagan: It is more or less how they argued.

Washington: Well, I can tell you that any person who thinks that is wrong.

Lincoln: “Living document.” That would have been a convenient trick in my day. The justices could have settled our issues with the stroke of their pens. I believe our civil war was fought with deference to the Constitution by both sides. The Confederacy did craft its own constitution, in preparation for independence from the Union. Their constitution was actually adopted, in March of 1861. But I’m sure you know about all that.

Reagan: Well, I know the confederate constitution was virtually identical to the U.S. Constitution.

Lincoln: Quite right. The two main differences were additions. Their constitution stressed greater independence for individual states, and it permitted the ownership of slaves. I always thought their document was a tacit concession to the authority of our Constitution and an admission of guilty rebellion against it.

Washington: This is the form of challenge to the Constitution that we expected in those early days. Secession was a grave concern. And it could not have been tried without bloodshed.

Lincoln: If the southern states had won their independence, their own constitution would have led to strife between the confederate states themselves, with no constitutional recourse to prevent the convenience of secession. I think this would have happened very early on. Within a decade.

Reagan: Why is that?

Lincoln: The states in the south may have shared an approval of slave-ownership—enthusiasm even for that varied considerably from state to state—but they differed on other points. Commercial imports and exports, for example. Some states were bound to enjoy greater wealth and thus be in a position, eventually, to attempt annexation of bordering states with weaker defenses. I never understood why Cobb Howell, and all the others, could not see that their constitutional efforts were thwarted in the very act of waging war with the union army.

Washington: Mr. Reagan, you presided over the conclusion of an altogether different war, the so-called “cold war.”

479px-official_portrait_of_president_reagan_1981Reagan: Yes, the “cold” war. There was always the threat of nuclear war and mutual annihilation. Nobody wanted it. But warheads that could destroy whole cities proliferated. One nation would seek its security in the development of more and more arms, just to keep pace with other nations capable of causing mass destruction from a safe distance.

Lincoln: I shudder at the thought of it. We fought with conventional weapons. Had it been otherwise, there may have been nothing left in the end—or no one left—and nothing that could be salvaged and rebuilt into a viable state. The European nations would have swooped in and re-colonized.

Washington: I agree. America’s independence has always depended on its strength as a unified nation. France and England kept a constant vigil for any opportunity to ruin our Republic.

Reagan: The Brits were our closest allies during the cold war. It was fortunate for me and our great country that Maggie Thatcher was prime minister at the time. The French didn’t really enter into the equation all that much. They were, in my judgment, opportunists who might play the sides of the Soviet Union and the United States against each, to whatever advantage they could. They had a reputation for that sort of thing in the twilight years of the 20th century.

[Later in the conversation . . .]

Lincoln: Mr. Reagan, you narrowly survived an assassination attempt. I understand you were wounded, and didn’t know about it for the first few minutes.

Reagan: That’s true. I knew there had been gunfire, and I worried that there might have been injuries. Things happened quickly. I was shoved by security agents into a limousine. We were on our way back to the White House when it was noticed that I was bleeding. So we changed course and went directly to Walter Reed Hospital. It saved my life.

[A few moments pass before anyone speaks.]

Lincoln (quietly and slowly): I lost consciousness the moment Booth fired his pistol. The situation never improved.

Reagan: What happened in that balcony that night is unspeakable.

Lincoln: You know, don’t you, that I would not have won re-election. I was never popular with the people during my presidency.

Reagan: That’s what the history books say. But you were admired by every American in my day.

Washington: Citizens are a fickle lot. Mr. Lincoln, given the opportunity, would you have run for re-election, regardless of public opinion and the likelihood that you would lose?

Lincoln: I would. I was responsible for the conduct of the war, and I wanted desperately  to oversee reconstruction. I didn’t think there was anyone else who knew what to do. I still believe that. The Confederacy had surrendered. But the peace had not yet been achieved—not really. They needed to see me reaching out to them with an olive branch. They needed to be able to trust.

Washington: Our enemy was king George. Yours, Mr. Reagan, was the communist party of the Soviet Union. But Mr. Lincoln, for you the enemy was your neighbor.

Lincoln: Sadly true. Our militia was more of a police force at first. It was deployed to deal with internal rebellions. But the southern states formed their own union, declared secession, and mustered an army and a navy. Suddenly, we were at war.

Reagan: No president since the Civil War questioned the wisdom of your leadership during that trying time. Even your vice president, Andrew Johnson, who was a Democrat from Tennessee, supported you. I find that remarkable. I was on friendly terms with many leading Democrats in Congress, but I don’t know that I could have counted on their support in the way you could with Johnson.

Lincoln: I’m glad you mention Johnson. President Johnson was a man of honor. Anyone in his position during Reconstruction would have been in a hard place. He may have been too conciliatory and moved too quickly to accommodate the grievances of the South. I can’t be sure I would have acted much differently.

Reagan: I can tell you this, Johnson was wise in his purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Most people don’t even know about that. I realize he could not have known the significance this investment would have for my generation. But I’m eternally grateful. He didn’t know about the gold in the Alaska territory. He didn’t know about its oil resources. And he certainly didn’t have any reason to expect conflict with the Russians on the scale that we faced during the cold war.

Lincoln: You have my friend, William Seward, to thank, as well. William was my Secretary of State. The purchase of Alaska was William’s idea. Here’s the kicker. He brought it up to me, with annoying frequency, I should say. I could not see the point in it. And it was a distraction. Thank God, Johnson listened to him. William probably made such a nuisance of himself that Johnson simply relented out of sheer exasperation.

Washington: That Johnson fellow was vice president for barely a month before your assassination, Mr. Lincoln. This business of comparing Presidents and sorting out who was the best and who was the worst is unsettling. Andrew Johnson made one momentous decision that might never have been made by anyone else. But the experts rank him down there at “the bottom.”

Lincoln: Would you agree, Mr. Washington, that Providence has a hand in these things?

Washington: I do.

Lincoln: And you, Mr. Reagan?

Reagan: You bet I do.

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Mudflats Is at It Again


The obsession with Sarah Palin continues over at Mudflats. This time the news is “Palin is Back at Work.” I guess that means she has started caring about health care for children and pregnant women. First evidence of this is that she is suddenly prepared to write more into the state budget for this purpose. Notice the  word “more,” which is not emphasized by the Mudflats Maven. The source she quotes, The Anchorage Daily News, does explicitly acknowledge that this is an “increase” in coverage.

What miffs Mudflats is that it’s too little too late, more or less. You see, there was an oil-related windfall a year ago that could have been applied to the problem. It wasn’t. Now there’s the possibility of a near-term shortfall, because of the plummeting price of oil these days. So the coverage will be hard to pay for. You understand, don’t you, that whether children and pregnant women get the health care coverage that’s just right depends on the price of oil.

I don’t know what “just right” is. Neither does the Maven. But once an expenditure is in place for anything the government pays for, it’s unusual for that expenditure to be wratcheted down later on, even if there’s no money for it. Imagine, in this case, what that would mean. “Mean” would indeed be the operative term. To take coverage away from children and pregnant women, because the state could no longer afford it—because the price of oil was down—would be mean, plain and simple.

Of course, the Mavin speculates about Palin’s reasons for the unexpected about-face. Palin’s VP candidacy brought national attention to Palin’s neglect of this sector of the Alaskan population, so now she has, under penalty of chagrin, to do something about it. And “she has plans for 2012, after all.” The Mudflats Maven knows. Maybe she does. That is, maybe she knows Palin has plans for 2012; hence, maybe Palin has plans for 2012. (I have plans for 2012, too, just for the record.)

Why Winning a Presidential Election Is No Big Deal


Of course, being the President of the United States is a big deal. For one thing, you get to sit behind a cool desk and look powerful. (Apparently, however, it does’t take long to discover that even a president-elect has limited powers. Our current PE, Mr. Barack Obama, has already revealed plans to be more realistic than his campaign promises.) You get to travel the world and talk to all the other really important people. You get to live in the Big White House. And someday, you’ll have a giant library with your own name on it, dedicated to reminding everyone of your past greatness.

Still, there’s a sense in which winning an election, even a presidential election, is no big deal. It may attest to your campaign prowess, your ability to raise more money than you can spend, and your ability to look presidential. But does it establish that you are the rightful heir to presidential power? Constitutionally it does, certainly. But is this the only sense that matters, in a democracy? It shouldn’t be. A citizen becomes President by garnishing a sufficient amount of support from voters. And it’s the constitution of today’s voter, not the Constitution of the United States, that requires chastened realism about the significance of an electoral victory.

Since the voters decide who is to be president, the quality of the decision correlates with the quality of the electorate’s decision making powers. With this in mind, I’m led directly to wonder: how does it feel to win an election, knowing that those who voted for you, as a block, have no idea why you deserve to be President? Fortunately, with all the preparations before Inaguration Day, there is precious little time for sobering thoughts along these lines. Unless you’re not the president-elect and you don’t have such great matters to distract you. Then you can ponder the wisdom of the electorate—if you have the stomach for it.

There’s a common form of argument called modus tollens. It goes like this:

  1. If P, then Q.
  2. Not-Q.
  3. Therefore, not-P.

If P stands for “The majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election voted wisely,” and Q represents “The decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was a wise decision,” then we get the following argument, using the above schema:

  1. If the majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election voted wisely, then the decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was a wise decision.”
  2. The decision to elect Barack Obama as the the 44th President of the United States was not a wise decision.
  3. Therefore, majority of the electorate in the 2008 general election did not vote wisely.

I don’t think we need such an argument to establish the conclusion in statement (3). That’s because there is plenty of independent evidence that the electorate did not vote wisely, and, strange as it may sound, this has almost nothing to do with Barack Obama. The most salient evidence has to do with the appalling illiteracy of the American electorate, about history and economics, about values and political theory, and a host of other things.

Some who voted in the recent election believe that the Revolutionary War was won at the Battle of Gettysburg, that the Holocaust is a Jewish holiday, and that Lithuania is stored in a bottle in mother’s medicine cabinet. Suppose we subtract from the electorate any person who believes any one of these things, or anything else akin to such things. Why would we do that? Not simply because their beliefs are silly in the sense of being mistaken, but because they are silly in the sense of being believed for the reasons people who believe such things believe such things. Wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction, a kind of minimalist step, to get decision makers with a modicum of knowledge and knowledge-acquisition skills, capable of making wise decisions about who gets to sit behind the Big Desk?

To be sure, the intelligence test I’ve just proposed is pretty minimalist. It doesn’t account for level of reasoning ability. We should want our voting citizens to be well-informed and capable of basic critical reflection. Two of my examples of “silly beliefs” are taken from Lewis H. Lapham’s article “Playing with Fire” (Lapham’s Quarterly, Fall 2008). Lapham writes, “Why would any politician in his or her right mind wish to confront an informed citizenry capable of breaking down the campaign speeches into their subsets of supporting lies?” That’s an excellent question. It’s meant to be rhetorical: no politician today would wish such a thing. If Lapham is right about that, then we need different politicians. But then they might not be the politicians we deserve.

Lead-Up to “The Unnecessary War”


I was in Boston last week, hanging out with a friend and fellow-philosopher. He gave me two book recommendations:

and

I’ve read the first four chapters of Dubay, but that isn’t enough to have a firm opinion about it yet. I’m halfway through Buchanan and I’m prepared to recommend it for its carefully documented but iconoclastic interpretation of the lead-up to World War 2.

buchanan-unnecessary-warThe verdict on Hitler is pretty well-established, I’d say. Buchanan doesn’t veer from that. But Winston Churchill may have been a more dangerous war-monger than most would think. The evidence of Churchill’s predilections for military engagement, and for shifting blame for the war’s outcome, casts a pall over the received view of his leadership through “inevitable crisis.” David Lloyd George has become a person of interest to me. And I now know more about Chamberlain than before. Lord Balfour is a puzzle to me. These are achievements of the author. They reflect his success in stirring my interest and leaving clues to follow for further study.

Buchanan is not a professional historian; but he is a provocative interpreter. His thesis is controversial and has already been challenged by aficionados. He could get to the point more quickly. But he’s determined to support his claims with statements made by the players themselves and by sharp historians of the period. He quotes someone on virtually every page, sometimes at length. In every case, however, his choice of quotes is a valuable contribution. Each remark helps to capture the mood of the figures who made the critical decisions and altered the course of history.

Buchanan’s chief objective is to explain how World War 2 might have been averted, if it hadn’t been for vanity, or incompetence, or misinformation at numerous turns and among numerous parties. This story has no doubt been told before. But only here is it told in Buchanan’s style, and with his perspective on current events.

My thoughts about the war, its lead-up, its aftermath, and its present significance have been enriched:

  • I can now entertain the possibility that the Kaiser’s war (i.e., World War 1) was a war of German survival without imperialist ambitions.
  • I think I understand better how Hitler managed his coup and led a demoralized people into unwelcome conflict with the European powers.
  • I hadn’t known of Mussolini’s disgust toward Hitler and of Hitler’s almost obsequious admiration for Mussolini.
  • The hypnotic effect of Hitler on Western leaders who knew of his diabolical behavior (who were even, at times, on the receiving end of it) never ceases to astonish. This mystery is compounded by Buchanan’s telling of the story.
  • Ever since my visit to the Brenner Pass in the majestic Italian alps I’ve wondered how it came about that this region, formerly a precinct of Austria, had been handed over.
  • The roles played by Czechoslovakia and Poland impress me as much more significant now.

I could go on. Instead, I’ll read on, and probably learn more about how America came to abandon its protectionism and make war on the continent (I suspect it has something to do with the Japanese, who had been disenfranchised by the British), the mystery of alliance with Stalin’s regime, and much more. I expect—I hope—I’ll have more questions when I’m done reading. But before the book is closed, I feel comfortable already recommending it to others.

Note: There’s a Kindle version of Buchanan’s book. If there wasn’t, I might never have gotten round to reading it. Learn about Kindle here.

I Want a Bailout


Suppose it’s August 2007. You apply for a line of credit against the equity in your existing home. CitiBank approves a line of credit that allows you to invest in some undeveloped property and still have something left for building a modest vacation home where you can be near your family for part of the year.

Fast forward to November 2008. CitiBank sends you a letter. It claims that the venerable financial institution has reviewed your assets and concluded that you are no longer in a position financially to meet payments on the balance of your line of credit, should you wish to borrow that money. They’ve decided to zero out your balance, effective November 5. The letter you hold in your hands arrived by regular mail on November 6.

You’re stuck. You have a piece of property with no prospect now of building. It’s unlikely that you could sell it for what you paid for it a year ago. And, in any case, you don’t want to sell it; you want to pursue your dream. But CitiBank has revoked your line of credit. This despite the fact that you’ve made all your monthly payments on schedule for over a year.

You wonder what changes in your financial situation could have reversed CitiBank’s kind disposition toward you. And then it occurs to you. Maybe it’s not your financial condition that has them worried, but their own financial condition that has them over the barrel. Maybe they’re afraid you’ll write a check against your line of credit and they won’t be able to cover it.

Sure enough, a week later you learn that CitiBank has recently laid off tens of thousands of employees and that they lost billions of dollars during the past twelve months. “Aha!” you think. “So that’s what happened!”

Is it any consolation to know that they freaked, and then dissembled? Of course not. You’re still stuck. You secretly hope that CitiBank will be held accountable, that maybe the CEO will have to look for work.

And then you learn today that CitiBank has been offered a bailout, because the economy needs it. Isn’ that nice?

The above scenario has been played out for countless customers of CitiBank. The details vary but the shenanigans are the same. Some customers “took out” a line of credit to have greater security for a rainy day. Others to meet expenses for children in college. And others to make essential repairs on the only home they’ll ever own. Every one of the customers victimized by CitiBank’s recklessness deserves a bailout as much as CitiBank. But what are the chances they’ll be getting a letter in the next week saying, “We’re happy to announce that your original line of credit has been reinstated?”

Eric Chartman Charts the Political Age of Sarah Palin


Eric Chartman, over at American Heartland Bar and Grill, explains why Sarah Palin has plenty of time to return to the national scene in politics. Click here for his chart analysis of “political aging.”

Then come on back to this post and place your bet on Palin’s future:

  1. She will go back to Alaska as governor and never rise to a higher level of political leadership.
  2. She will go back to Alaska as governor and deliberately position herself to return to the national spotlight in 2012.
  3. She will go back to Alaska as governor and seek election to the U. S. Senate at the earliest opportunity.
  4. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and win.
  5. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and lose.
  6. She will become the CEO of the largest American oil company.
  7. She will spend the rest of her evenings watching Star Trek re-runs.
  8. Other: __________________________________________.

How I Managed to Miss the Election


I have a passion for politics. Thus, I deeply regret that about the only access I have to its vicissisitudes is through the media, so beloved by Americans today. The truth is, I’m what once would have been called, metaphorically, of course, a “junkie.” You can imagine what this means for me during the year of a general election. At least I had the sense to wait until January 1, 2008 to tune in to campaigning that had already been going on for nearly a year. I vaguely recall the relief I felt when the primaries were over.

That was nothing compared to the relief I now feel about being able to think about something other than the future condition of the United States of America. That was such a huge responsibility. The election took that particular weight off my shoulders. It was as if the fate of our national culture had been decided and there was nothing left to do about it. My vote had been cast (by absentee ballot), and my contribution—the climax of hours, days, and months of careful analysis of every nuance of truly weird media coverage—was complete.

But there’s something else that fills out the explanation for my equanimity subsequent to this particular election decision: I missed it! I missed the election!! I was holed up in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, with no TV, no radio, no web connection. I did have popcorn and a microwave, but that didn’t translate into an evening of couch potato, election-watching entrancement—I mean, enchantment—that has been my joy every four years since Ronald Reagan challenged Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But I’m on sabbatical leave from my teaching duties, and due to a series of unavoidable events, the only days I could work into my calendar for “ideal sabbatical working conditions” encompassed the one day when ideal working conditions would cause deep frustration—November 4, election day.

As it happened, I managed pretty well. I did have a cell phone, so my wife was able to fill me in with admirable brevity and enviable composure. She should have been a news anchor for a major cable network. At any rate, and to my surprise, the call was enough for me. I may have swallowed hard a couple of times. But I got right down to work on my writing projects with virtually no remnants of concern. And so, I owe a great debt to the simple grandeur of the Olympic Peninsula and my dear friends who graciously made their cabin available. I learned that I could survive without the usual inoculation of political serum. I found that I could miss the election . . . without missing the election.

Is Obama Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?


There is a difference between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion. In other words, “pro-choice” is not just a euphemism for “pro-abortion.” The pro-abortion position is far more extreme than the pro-choice position. I’ll refer you to an argument for that in a moment.

First let’s ask the question: Is presidential candidate Barack Obama pro-choice or pro-abortion? In his public statements he has said he is pro-choice and that no one is pro-abortion. If he didn’t know better, I’d say this is naive. But he does know better, and his own record and future policy plans demonstrate that Barack Obama is pro-abortion. In fact, he is pro-abortion in the extreme. He is pro-actively pro-abortion.

I must confess, I find it difficult to believe that any American has such extreme views and will do everything in his power to make them a matter of enforceable law. But a recent article by Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence, Robert P. George, makes the case with compelling force. If Professor George is right, then Americans who plan to vote in this election need to consider this carefully before they make their presidential choice. I urge you to read “Obama’s Abortion Extremism” at your earliest opportunity.

Here is the opening paragraph in Professor George’s chilling expose:

Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.

Near the end of his piece, Professor George writes:

In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: “that question is above my pay grade.” It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator’s pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy – and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.

Some reading this post may be thinking . . .

  • ‘Pro-choice’ . . . ‘pro-abortion,’ whatever—it’s just semantics.
  • I’m not a single-issue voter, and Obama’s strengths in other areas trump his weakness on this point.
  • I believe Obama is honest and sincere and has no hidden agendas. The Princeton professor must be the one with a hidden agenda.
  • There may be a handful of Americans who are pro-abortion extremists, and this is abhorrent and disgusting; but there’s no way a United States Senator on the cusp of winning a presidential election could possibly be this extreme.
  • This is the first opportunity to elect a person of color to the highest office in our Republic, and I’m willing to take a chance on Obama because of this unprecedented opportunity.

I assure you, we are not talking semantics here.

I understand the single-issue concern. But there are two things to say in this case. First, Obama’s unprecedented extremism on abortion is so extreme that no good he could possibly achieve as president could compensate for the permanent damage of his pro-abortion policies—not only to the unborn and the newly-born, but to many health-care professionals and women. Second, this is not a single-issue issue at all. If successful, Obama’s plan will constrain fundamental human liberties for many besides the unborn and the newly-born. Obama’s position on abortion is symptomatic of a political philosophy that is a direct threat to democratic freedom.

What about Obama’s honesty? You can’t tell whether a man is honest just by watching him on TV. You have to study his record and cross-examine his claims. Professor George does this in his article. Obama is not going to volunteer to go on television and talk about his position with this professor of jurisprudence. At most, he will make denials, not arguments that deal with the details of his record. Obama’s agenda, whatever it is, is hidden. By that I mean that he has not been candid about things we should like to know about him. If Professor George has an agenda, he at least has been clear in his claims and he has built a mountain of evidence that cannot simply be dismissed.

There is an extreme pro-abortion movement in this country. Leaders in the movement have been working a strategy for decades. They’ve raised millions of dollars. They understand the American democratic process. They have settled for small victories through less extreme advocates of a pro-choice position. They’ve patiently recruited charismatic individuals to their cause and groomed them for leadership of the movement for the next generation. It would be naive to believe anything else. The tectonic plates in this country are shifting. There is no reason why a major party candidate for the presidency could not, with the help of a minority of powerful insiders, sneak past the electorate into office with an agenda to “change the way politics is done in America,” an agenda that will challenge the moral integrity of American citizens and threaten social stability.

Barack Obama is the first black candidate on a major party ticket. Black men and women have every reason to be proud of the many black leaders, in business, in education, in politics, in the military. Every American should be proud of the progress that’s been made to break down racial barriers and ensure equal opportunity for all who share the American dream. I fully expect that we will eventually have a black president, and I welcome that prospect. I would encourage any voter who is eager to see a black person in that high office make that moment count. If Barack Obama is sworn in as President in January, that will be a historic moment, a proud moment for many black men, women and children. Many others besides will be excited and enthusiastic, and rightly so. But what will become of their pride if Obama disappoints and injects into our shared political bloodstream an ideology that threatens our core values as freedom-loving Americans?

Obama’s position on abortion and other fundamental issues has that potential. I predict, given his record, that this will be the effect if he is elected. Our social and political immune system will be tested then. But it is being tested now, as we contemplate the important choice of president in less than two weeks.

No one of us as individuals will ever have the kind of power a President Barack Obama would have to directly and profoundly influence abortion policy in this country. But we do make the decision whether Obama is invested with that kind of power and opportunity as one individual to transform our culture. And the outcome will be our responsibility.

Why Would a University of Chicago Professor Call Obama a Marxist?


Maybe he knows something we don’t. Or maybe he knows something we secretly suspect. A lunch companion of Barack Obama’s reportedly claims that Obama is a Marxist.

Here’s what James Pethokoukis writes today for U.S. News & World Report:

A while back I chatted with a University of Chicago professor who was a frequent lunch companion of Obama’s. This professor said that Obama was as close to a full-out Marxist as anyone who has ever run for president of the United States. Now, I tend to quickly dismiss that kind of talk as way over the top. My working assumption is that Obama is firmly within the mainstream of Democratic politics. But if he is as free with that sort of redistributive philosophy in private as he was on the campaign trail this week, I have no doubt that U of C professor really does figure him as a radical.

Believe it or not, there are people in America who would dearly love to have a Marxist in the White House. Bill Ayres may be one of those people. Almost certainly the Reverend Jeremiah Wright would be delighted, since he is himself an advocate of liberation theology. I’m not a lunch companion of Barack Obama, but I do know something about liberation theology. It is a fundamentally Marxist ideology with a religious veneer. A major goal of leaders in the liberation theology movement is to radicalize people on the lower end of the economic spectrum by causing them to believe that they are oppressed and entitled to redistributed wealth.

Now we can hear in Obama’s own words that he is a redistributivist. He told a now-famous plumber named Joe that he wants to “spread the wealth around.” His plan for doing this is to penalize the success of some people to provide handouts to the less successful, without regard for the work ethic of the parties involved.

I can’t shake the suspicion that Barack Obama’s students days and his years as a budding politician were framed by a radical ideology. This would explain many of the few things we actually know about Obama.

Talk about an Abuse of Power


An Alaska ethics probe concluded today that Governor Sarah Palin did abuse her power in the ordeal surrounding the dismissal of state official Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire state trooper, Mike Wooten, who had been married to Palin’s sister until that marriage ended some years ago. Wooten had, Palin alleged, tasered his 10-year-old stepson and threated to kill Palin’s father. This before Monegan’s departure from his job.

Inquiries into Gov. Palin’s possible conduct in the matter had already begun prior to her nomination to be John McCain’s running-mate. There is evidence, however, that the probe was managed by Obama supporters and was speeded up to result in a decision soon enough to have a bearing on the presidential election.

I don’t know the facts, but if this suspicion is true, or even if the suspicion is well-founded without being demonstrably true, then there ought to be a very speedy inquiry into the ethics of the ethics probe and the possibility that those who conducted the probe are themselves guilty of an abuse of power.

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It’s not surprising that Alan Colmes (of Hannity & Colmes) was pleased with this result. He interviewed Dick Morris, who noted that trooper Wooten had made a death threat on Palin’s father and tasered his stepson. Colmes’s response was interesting. He said that Wooten denies making any death threat. Apparently, Colmes had done his homework and knew that this did not apply to the allegation that Wooten had tasered the young boy.

A few weeks ago, during a televised interview, the officer in question acknowledged that he had tasered his 10-year-old stepson. He said he did it because the boy was curious about tasers and asked to be tasered. He agreed in the interview that it was a dumb thing to do.

I mention this because of the example it provides of the deterioration of public discourse. Morris’s statement was a conjunction: Wooten made a death threat against the father-in-law and Wooten tasered the stepson. To defeat this statement, Colmes challenged the second conjunct and ignored the first. In challenging the second conjunct, Colmes offered as evidence Wooten’s denial of the allegation. This is hardly compelling evidence, especially if the first conjunct is true. And the first conjunct is true. The evidence for that is that Wooten confesses to that.

Now, logically, if the second conjunct of Morris’s statement is false, then the entire conjunction is false. But it doesn’t follow that the first conjunt is false. That part of the conjunction is true. And Morris’s comments clearly indicated that he believed its truth is a sufficient condition for Sarah Palin to have fired Monegan if he refused to fire Wooten.

If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.

What is of interest—because we are in a position to judge based on observation—is the conduct of the press in this matter and the jockeying that will go on among chieftains of the two presidential campaigns. Barack Obama is under closer scrutiny than ever before because of his financial support of ACORN and his relationship with sundry scoundrels. Treatment of the Palin news will be an illuminating test of the objectivity of the “mainstream media.” I make no predictions about what will transpire over the weekend, but if the several prominent news and commentary shows direct more attention to the Palin issue than the Obama probe they themselves should be conducting, it will be very telling.

This Election as a Referendum on the Liberal Media


Voting for John McCain is a referendum on the liberal media. They have made it obvious that they support Barack Obama and will cover for him by not covering him when that’s in his (and hence their) best interests. They are doing what they can to get Obama elected a few weeks from now. This is patronizing and offensive. They presume to know better than voting Americans who should be the leader of this great nation. They filter the news and editorialize without restraint, believing that we must rely on them to get the facts that matter. Since we do rely on them for this, and they have not fulfilled their noble duty, voters can send a powerful message of disapproval to the media by voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. If they do, they will also have a President they actually know something about.

Louis Farrakhan Knows Messiah Obama Better Than You Do


Louis Farrakhan says he wants to keep a low profile in his support for Barack Obama, because he knows this could hurt Obama’s chances of winning the election. Farrakhan is the Honorable Minister of the Nation of Islam, with headquarters in Chicago. Yesterday, WorldNetDaily posted an article titled “Farrakhan on Obama—’The Messiah is Absolutely Speaking,'” where there’s a YouTube video of Farrakhan gushing about Obama.

I have no doubt that Farrakhan knows Barack Obama better than anyone reading this post. What are the implications of that?

If voting Americans sincerely witsh to know who Obama really is, there are two things to do.

First, we need to connect the dots we have and resist the temptation to connect dots we can only imagine. What are the dots we have to navigate so far? Obama’s voted “present” so often as Senator that all we know is that he was in the room and didn’t cast a vote one way or the other on significant issues. We don’t know what he was into or who he palled with as a university and law school student. We’re beginning to learn that his affiliation with Bill Ayres went deeper than he said at first. And we know that he can speak with some eloquence in vague generalities.

It looks like Barack Obama doesn’t want people to know who he really is. His single greatest acomplishment since achieving public prominence has been keeping us all in the dark about his core values and the specific direction he will take this country if elected.

Second, we need to do everything we can to compel the media and others to thoroughly vet Obama’s background immediately. They’ve been asleep at the wheel on this one. Maybe they have vetted him and are afraid to say what they know. Maybe they’ve neglected their responsibility because they fear what they’ll learn. Or maybe they just don’t care. But we should care. And if we don’t know enough about Barack Obama to vote for him responsibly, then we shouldn’t. This is Obama’s Achilles’ Heel.

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Here are a few other posts related to Farrkahn’s enthusiasm for the “Messiah”:

Do You Know Kathleen Parker?


If you do, there’s only one reason for it—Ms. Parker’s “cringe reflex has been exhausted.” That happened on September 26. She must be truly exasperated by at this point in time. But what does Ms. Parker mean?

She means that Sarah Palin, whose selection by John McCain she really tried hard to endorse, just isn’t verbally fluent enough to be Vice President, to say nothing of being President.

I cringe, too. I even wrote a post about it. But how does having a dilapidated cringe reflex explain why Kathleen Parker is now enjoying a few minutes of fawning media attention? To understand that, you have to know something most of us didn’t know and you have to remember something that really isn’t that easy to forget.

What you have to know is that Kathleen Parker is a conservative columnist who writes for The National Review and a woman (duh) who wrote a piece called “Palin Problem—She’s Out of Her League.” You’ll find it here. In this September 26 piece, Ms. Parker, with great reticence, I’m sure, suggested that McCain should dump Palin because of the liability she has become, and get someone more erudite to stand at his side. (Maybe Ms. Parker would like the job. She seems to believe that she knows better than McCain how to pickem’, and that’s got to count for something . . . right?)

Now, here’s what you have to remember. Sarah Palin is incredibly popular among leagues of women voters. These are women who will vote. And many of them were not as likely to vote at all until Sarah Palin came along. That’s got to scare the bajeebers out of the liberal left and the liberal media that bleed allegiance to their cause, especially their version of the feminist cause.

Who doesn’t know that if the liberal media can find a conservative woman journalist who thinks Palin’s got to go, that woman journalist is bound to get her chance to be on TV? It sure looks like the media is hoping to scare up a caucus of Republican Women Against Palin. (Not that Ms. Parker is a Republican; I wouldn’t know.) This ought to get interesting. Will it work? Who can say? I figure it’s got at least a 50% chance of backfiring.

* * *

Thinking about this has led me to wonder about the polls we’ve been hearing about. I would imagine that a legitimate poll would include a significant number of women who are backing Palin, quite apart from that fellow McCain. I think it would be interesting if pollsters asking who voters are more likely to vote for, McCain or Obama, would also ask, “And what do you think of Sarah Palin?” And report the results, of course.

Here’s what I’m thinking. If only a small fraction of the people polled show real enthusiasm for Palin, then a satisfactory cross-section of likely voters has not been included in the poll. And that ruins the value of the poll.

From Drama to Trauma Under Obama?


Flannery O’Connor, one of our great American writers said, “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life, and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

I have two questions:

  • What do Americans expect if Barack Obama becomes our next president?
  • What can Americans expect if Barack Obama becomes our next president?

Obama Headshot

To the first question there are straightforward answers. Just ask the people around you. To the second all we can say is, “We’ll just have to wait and see.” No matter what the answer to number two is, Obama is going to be faced with a serious problem—if he becomes president. He will have to live up to expectations that he has deliberately fostered as a would-be messiah who stands for The Audacity of Hope.

This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to vote for a messiah. Barack is special. Barack is young. Barack is charming. And you know what else? Barack doesn’t make mistakes. Just ask him.

Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made when voting as a Senator. Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made in his circle of associates. Ask Barack what mistakes he’s made about the war in Iraq. He might confess a peccadillo or two. But copping to anything substantive would be a strain on his memory and his self-understanding.

Of course, you can’t ask him these questions. You don’t have the opportunity. But members of the media, who have the opportunity, don’t ask, either. Do you know why? Because we don’t interrogate a messiah.

We should be wary of messianic promises. And that begins with shedding the sentimental dreams we all have of a utopian society. When we cherish messianic expectations we are vulnerable to messianic promises. But we are bound to be disappointed. The higher our hopes when a candidate is sworn in as the next president, the greater our feeling of defeat when it turns out that he has feet of clay. We’ve always known that about candidates for the presidency—until now.

Barack Obama’s campaign has been dramatic. He beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries when she was the presumptive nominee from the beginning. He was received with acclamation by European citizens. He’s raised astonishing amounts of money from sources that remain a mystery. He is all-knowing, except when he’s asked about his past associations with unrepentant terrorist thugs and a racist, anti-American minister. He’s made a fetish of inexperience, for he has almost no record to speak of, and so nothing to explain.
And the media have been entranced by this great man. Barack owes them big time for keeping alive the drama of Obama. (And he owes a special debt to Keith Olberman, a man of extraordinary objectivity and an icon of our collective wisdom).

If and when we see the man for who he really is—because he will be making very public decisions that affect us all—what will become of the drama that is Obama? That depends on who Barack Obama really is. If we don’t roll the dice and get him elected, we’ll never know. Could we accept such an anticlimax to such drama? Alternatively, could we stomach the trauma that is Obama if he isn’t the messiah we would like for him to be?

Madeleine L’Engle, another novelist, once said, to no one in particular, “Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.” That is another option.

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Note: “The Drama of Obama” is part of the title of a book by black activist Wayne Perryman: The Drama of Obama on Racism.

For a book related to this post, see Who Is the Real Barack Obama? For the Rising Generation, By the Rising Generation. The authors, Steve Bierfeldt, Francisco Gonzalez, and Brendan Steinhauser, are young investigators with a message specially written for college and university students whose support the Obama campaign has fought hard to win.

Recent links that dig behind the public persona of Barack Obama:

“At Least He Looks Presidential”


Any number of people would look equally presidential in the situation we witnessed tonight. Some of them are good friends of mine. They are self-possessed, have an authoritative bearing, are practiced public speakers across a full range of contexts (including debates), and could have learned everything that was said tonight in less than a week just watching a selection of Obama’s and McCain’s campaign speeches. But none of these friends of mine has any business running for president. Thankfully, they are not.

But Barack Obama and John McCain are running for president. And they both look like they could be president. It’s befuddling and disappointing that this is the single most significant factor the pundits have utilized in calculating the net result of tonight’s debate. Obama only had to look presidential to win—even if McCain also looked presidential—as long as McCain did not deliver a knock-out punch. This because Obama’s lead in critical states has lengthened. And that’s more-or-less how things turned out, if we’re to believe post-debate chatter.

What do pudits mean by a “knock-out punch”? What many of them mean is the slick delivery of a purely rhetorical zinger. An example, courtesy of Brit Hume (Fox News), is Ronald Reagan’s admittedly clever and endearing jibe about not taking advantage of Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience.

Give me a break. Has the media gone bonkers? The most charitable spin I can put on this is to suppose that the punditocracy is merely speculating (perhaps quite plausibly) about how viewers (especially undecideds) will perceive the outcome. But that isn’t exactly what the pudits are saying. It sounds like it’s what they themselves believe. And they should know better. More than that, they would serve us better if they attempted to educate us in the proper criteria for evaluating a candidate for the presidency. Otherwise, we don’t really need them.

Maybe they think that’s what they are doing—educating us in a tradition of collective wisdom. If so, they and I disagree about what that is and what criteria matter most.

I’m of the anachronistic opinion that we need to distinguish between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions for being qualified to serve as president of the United States. Looking presidential (talk about a subjective variable) may be a necessary condition—may be. But in my judgment it is by no means a sufficient condition. A candidate must have other qualities. And among the preeminent qualities are proven experience and policies that make sense on close inspection.

That probably sounds like an endorsement of a particular candidate. But I’d like to know who disagrees with me about the criteria. “Proven experience” may be a lock for John McCain. “Policies that make sense on close inspection” will be matters of principled disagreement among those who take pains to understand proposed policies thoroughly, know what to look for in sensible policies for times like these, and have the disposition to embrace those policies.

Do you reckon you’re one of those people? I’m not sure I am. Remember that “zen-like” question the candidates had to answer at the end of the debate? “What is it that you don’t know now that you’ll have to learn after you become president?” Maybe those of us who plan to vote in November should be asking ourselves a parallel question: “What is it that we don’t know now (about the candidates) that we’ll wish we knew after one of them becomes president?” Something tells me that tonight’s debate did little to dispel our dangerous ignorance.

Our democracy is threatened by a glib populism. I suppose that’s always been true to some extent. But greater access to modern media by more people, and the dumbing down of America, is cause for concern. This can’t be what the Founding Fathers had in mind, though I’m sure they feared the possibility of its emergence.

Let’s at least think as hard as we can before we “pull the lever” (to use a quaint expression).

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