Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Courage, and the absence of courage

by Jeff Jacoby

ARLEN SPECTER would never have made it into Profiles in Courage. Unlike the senators described in John F. Kennedy's book -- men who remained true to their principles, even when it meant paying a steep political price -- Specter has never been celebrated for his backbone.

Forty-odd years ago, Specter abandoned the Democratic Party in order to win election to Congress as a Republican; five days ago, he abandoned the Republican Party in order to win re-election as a Democrat. As he announced his defection, Specter all but admitted that he was acting out of naked political expediency. "I have . . . surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls," he told reporters, "and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak." According to a poll that had been released a few days earlier, only 30 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans were supporting Specter's re-nomination, while 51 percent favored his conservative rival.

When Vermont Senator James Jeffords defected from the GOP in 2001, Specter blasted his perfidy, and wanted senators to be barred from changing parties in midsession. As recently as two weeks ago, he assured Pennsylvania voters that he wouldn't do such a thing. Asked in an interview whether he might consider running as an independent or Democrat, Specter staunchly replied: "I am a Republican and I am going to run on the Republican ticket in the Republican primary."

But if Specter is no profile in courage, there are others in the public eye who are, as two admirable American women have recently reminded us.

At first glance, Carrie Prejean and Mary Ann Glendon could hardly seem more dissimilar. Prejean is a 21-year-old California beauty queen and model; Glendon is a Harvard law professor and a former US ambassador to the Vatican. What they have in common is a greater respect for honesty than for political correctness, and for the obligations of moral witness than for their own personal prestige.

Glendon made news last week when she refused to accept the University of Notre Dame's illustrious Laetare Medal, the oldest and most distinguished honor in American Catholic life. The medal was to have been presented on May 17, when President Barack Obama will receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address. Notre Dame is the nation's foremost Catholic university, and its decision to honor Obama -- an ardent supporter of unrestricted abortion rights -- has been sharply criticized, especially by Catholics who share their church's deep opposition to abortion.

In a letter to Notre Dame's president, Glendon expressed dismay that the university would bestow a high honor on someone so hostile to such a fundamental Catholic principle, in flat disregard of church guidelines. Worse, it was using her expected appearance to deflect criticism, suggesting in its "talking points" that Obama's address to the graduates would be balanced by Glendon's brief acceptance remarks. Unwilling to let her presence be exploited in this way, she chose to renounce the medal.

Unlike Glendon, who had weeks to reflect before making her decision, Prejean had only seconds. In the final round of the recent Miss USA Pageant, Prejean was asked by one of the judges -- a homosexual gossip blogger who calls himself Perez Hilton -- whether she thought every state should legalize same-sex marriage. It was, she later said, the question she dreaded most -- "I prayed I would not be asked about gay marriage" -- knowing that an honest answer would hurt her chances of winning.

Nevertheless, she gave the honest answer. "I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other," Miss California replied, but "I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be -- between a man and a woman."

As she foresaw, the crown went to another contestant. What she may not have foreseen was the wave of hostility and condemnation that followed. Immediately after the pageant, the judge who had asked the question publicly berated her, snarling in an online video: "Miss California lost because she's a dumb bitch." (In an even uglier postscript, he later said that he had actually wanted to call Prejean "the C-word.") California pageant officials slammed her, too; "religious beliefs," one wrote, "have no place in politics in the Miss CA family." The Miss California USA organization even issued a statement denouncing Prejean for "her opportunistic agenda." Village Voice columnist Michael Musto went on Keith Olbermann's TV show to slander Prejean as "dumb and twisted . . . a human Klaus Barbie doll."

Throughout the uproar, Prejean has remained gracious and calm, steadfastly refusing to demonize those who have been demonizing her.

It is not always easy to have the courage of one's convictions, to turn down honor for the sake of truth, or to resist the pressure to be politically correct. A law professor and a beauty queen have just shown us how it is done.


Intrusion of Reality

The Left understands that the character of a people can be transformed.

By Mark Steyn

We’re still in the first 100 days of the joyous observances of Barack Obama’s first 100 days, and many weeks of celebration lie ahead, so here are my thoughts:

President Obama’s strongest talent is not his speechifying, which is frankly a bit of a snoozeroo. In Europe, he left ‘em wanting less pretty much every time (headline from Britain’s Daily Telegraph: “Barack Obama really does go on a bit”). That uptilted chin combined with the left-right teleprompter neck swivel you can set your watch by makes him look like an emaciated Mussolini umpiring an endless rally of high lobs on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Each to his own, but I don’t think those who routinely hail him as the greatest orator since Socrates actually sit through many of his speeches.

On the other hand, if you just caught a couple of minutes of last Wednesday’s press conference, you’d be impressed. When that groupie from the New York Times asked the president about what, during his first hundred days, “had surprised you the most . . . enchanted you the most . . . humbled you the most and troubled you the most,” Obama made a point of getting out his pen, writing it down and repeating back the multiple categories: “Enchanted,” he said. “Nice.” Indeed. Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, but then he scribbles down your multi-part question to be sure he gets it right, and he looks so thoughtful, and suddenly he’s not a stranger anymore, and the sound of his laughter will ring in your dreams.

The theater of thoughtfulness is critical to the president’s success. He has the knack of appearing moderate while acting radical, which is a lethal skill. The thoughtful look suckered many of my more impressionable conservative comrades last fall, when David Brooks and Christopher Buckley were cranking out gushing paeans to Obama’s “first-class temperament” — temperament being to the Obamacons what Nick Jonas’s hair is to a Tiger Beat reporter. But the drab reality is that the man they hail — Brooks & Buckley, I mean; not the Tiger Beat crowd — is a fantasy projection. There is no Obama The Sober Centrist, although it might make a good holiday song:
“Obama The Sober Centrist

Had a very thoughtful mien

And if you ever saw it

You would say it’s peachy keen . . . ”
And it is. But underneath the thoughtful look is a transformative domestic agenda that represents a huge annexation of American life by an ever-more intrusive federal government. One cannot but admire the singleminded ruthlessness with which Obama is getting on with it, even as he hones his contemplative, unhurried, moderate routine on primetime press conferences. On foreign affairs, the shtick is less effective, but mainly because he’s not so engaged by the issues: He’s got big plans for health care, and federalized education, and an eco-friendly government-run automobile industry — and Iran’s nuclear program just gets in the way. He’d rather not think about it, and his multicontinental apology tours are his way of kicking the can down the road until that blessed day when America is just another sclerotic Euro-style social democracy and even your more excitable jihadi won’t be able to jump up and down chanting, “Death to the Great Satan!” with a straight face.

It would seem to me that reality is more likely to intrude on the Obama project from overseas than domestically. But if he’s lucky it won’t intrude at all, not until it’s too late. Thirty years ago this month, a grocer’s daughter from the English Midlands became Britain’s female prime minister — not because the electorate was interested in making (Obama-style) history, but just because nothing worked anymore. The post-1945 socialist settlement — government health care, government automobile industry, government everything — had broken down: Inflation over 25 percent, marginal taxes rates over 90 percent, mass unemployment, permanent strikes. The country’s union leaders were household names, mainly because they were responsible for everything your household lacked. Even moving around was hard: The nationalized rail network was invariably on strike, and you had to put your name on a waiting list months in advance for one of the “new” car models. The evening news was an endless parade of big, beefy, burly blokes picketing some plant for the right to continue enjoying the soft, pampering workweek of the more effete Ottoman sultans.

Margaret Thatcher was a great leader, who reversed her country’s decline — to the point where, two decades later, the electorate felt it was safe to vote the Labour party back into office. And yet, in the greater scheme of things, the Thatcher interlude seems just that: a temporary respite from a remorseless descent into the abyss. In its boundless ambition, the Left understands that the character of a people can be transformed: British, Canadian, and European elections are now about which party can deliver “better services,” as if the nation is a hotel and the government could use some spritelier bellhops. Socialized health care in particular changes the nature of the relationship between citizen and state into something closer to junkie and pusher. On one of the many Obama websites the national impresario feels the need to maintain — “Foundation for Change” — the president is certainly laying the foundation for something. Among the many subjects expressing their gratitude to Good King Barack the Hopeychanger is “Phil from Cathedral City, Ca”:

I was laid off in mid-January from a job I had for 12 years. It’s really getting hard to make ends meet, but this month I got some great news. This week I received in the mail official notification that my COBRA monthly payments for medical, dental and vision insurance will decrease from $468 to only $163, all due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This is a $305 in savings a month!

I can’t tell you how much of a weight off my shoulders this is. I am living proof of how the President’s bold initiatives are beginning to work!

But just exactly how do these “bold initiatives” work? Well, hey, simple folk like you and I and Phil from Cathedral City don’t need to worry about the details. Once these “bold initiatives” really hit their stride maybe the cost of everything over 400 bucks can be brought down to $163. Wouldn’t that be great?

The problem in the Western world is that governments are spending money faster than their citizenry or economies can generate it. As Gerald Ford liked to say, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” And that’s true. But there’s an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give Phil from Cathedral City everything he wants isn’t big enough to get Phil to give any of it back. That’s the stage the Europeans are at: Their electorates are hooked on unsustainable levels of “services,” but no longer can conceive of life without them.

Margaret Thatcher has a terrific line: “The facts of life are conservative.” Just so. Alas, while the facts are conservative, everything else — the culture, the media, the institutions in which we educate our children, the language of public discourse, the societal air we breathe — is profoundly liberal. Phil is “living proof” of something, but it’s not good news for conservatives.


The Hollow Man

While watching President Obama speak in his latest "press conference," it suddenly struck me what has been so troubling since Obama’s introduction and his ongoing "coronation." While we are mildly amused at his teleprompter gaffes, they are really reflections of a characteristic that is deeper and more serious.

During the campaign, the opposition flailed away at Obama, citing his lack of experience, his relationships with Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, and the corrupt environment on Chicago's south side. References were made to his upbringing, the loose ties with his family, his odd visits to various countries, and strong ties to Socialist education and influences. These do not really identify the essence of the problem, in my opinion. The problem is that he is a “hollow man”.

Hollow, because he has no value system. No value system, because his upbringing did not allow it. While President Bush can be criticized for much, he -- and some of his predecessors -- possessed a value system. You could always tell what issues affected him deeply.

His face and his eyes did not lie.

President Obama is a collection of beliefs, philosophies and agendas that have been imparted to him over the years by teachers, campaign activists, organizers, agitators, contributors, supporters, labor union leaders and lobbyists. Their teachings are, to some extent, fables. He may believe them to be "truths", but they are not his core, his essence. He has no such thing, because in fact, he is a "hollow man."

He is an attractive and charismatic presenter. When the teleprompter goes askew, he cannot rely on any fundamental beliefs, because he has none. He stammers and "uhms" his way through the speech until he recovers and loops back on message.

His gifts for presentation place him in a unique spotlight, and he is fawned over by those in the left, Hollywood and the media. Why? Because he was handsome, charismatic and so very different from previous politicians.

The "change" he preached was nothing more than a collection of philosophies never successfully implemented in any country, society or civilization. Every clear-thinking pragmatist knows that excessive borrowing, whether it's under the guise of a stimulus package or job creation, is still borrowing.

And borrowing must be paid back some day with interest and, perhaps, inflationary prices. The question is: will the nationalization of social and economic policies continue unabated under the leadership of the “hollow man” or at some point in time, will the electorate awaken, realizing that they have been “Elmer Gantry’d”?

Obama told Harry Reid, "I have a gift." And, indeed, he has a gift.

But only time will tell if the "hollow man" possesses a thin veneer that is beginning to fracture and flake away as the fawning and adulation fades. They will, instead, be replaced by more penetrating criticisms, even by the adoring media.

Many will feel disenchanted and then deluded, some will ignore the evidence, for to acknowledge those feelings would be indictments of their own beliefs and their cause. There will be a gradual, certain erosion of support from the moderate left; conversely, the far left will become more vocal in their support.

Because, at some point, he will shatter. And all the world will see the emptiness inside. It’s only a matter of time.


California as Liberalism's Laboratory

California's increasingly severe and largely self-inflicted economic crisis will deepen on May 19 if, as is probable and desirable, voters reject most of the ballot measures that were drafted as part of a "solution" to the state's budget deficit. They would make matters worse. National economic revival is being impeded because one-eighth of the nation's population lives in a state that is driving itself into permanent stagnation. California's perennial boast -- that it is the incubator of America's future -- now has an increasingly dark urgency.

Under Arnold Schwarzenegger, the best governor the states contiguous to California have ever had, people and businesses have been relocating in those states. For four consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California's business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state's. In the last decade, net out-migration of Americans has been 1.4 million. California is exporting talent while importing Mexico's poverty. The latter is not California's fault; the former is.

If, since 1990, state spending increases had been held to the inflation rate plus population growth, the state would have a $15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion budget deficit, which is larger than the budgets of all but 10 states. Since 1990, the number of state employees has increased by more than a third. In Schwarzenegger's less than six years as governor, per capita government spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased nearly 20 percent.

Liberal orthodoxy has made the state dependent on a volatile source of revenues -- high income tax rates on the wealthy. In 2006, the top 1 percent of earners paid 48 percent of the income taxes. California's income and sales taxes are among the nation's highest, its business conditions among the worst, as measured by 16 variables directly influenced by the Legislature. Unemployment, the nation's fourth highest, is 11.2 percent.

Required by law to balance the budget, the Legislature has "solved" the problem by, among other things, increasing the income, sales, gas and vehicle taxes. This, although one rationale for the federal government's gargantuan "stimulus" was to spare states the need to raise taxes which, in California, will more than vitiate the stimulus.

Proposition 1A would create a complicated -- hence probably porous -- spending cap, and a rainy day fund. Realists, however, do not trust the Legislature to obey the law, which may be why some public employees unions cynically support 1A. Another May 19 proposition, opaquely titled the "Lottery Modernization Act," would authorize borrowing $5 billion from future hypothetical lottery receipts. The title is a measure of the political class' meretriciousness.

If voters pass 1A's hypothetical restraint on government spending, their reward will be two extra years (another $16 billion) of actual income, sales and vehicle tax increases. The increases were supposed to be for just two years. Voters are being warned that if they reject the propositions, there might have to be $14 billion in spending cuts. (Note the $15 billion number four paragraphs above.) Even teachers might be laid off. California teachers -- the nation's highest paid, with salaries about 25 percent above the national average -- are emblematic of the grip government employees unions have on the state, where 57 percent of government workers are unionized (the national average is 37 percent).

Flinching from serious budget cutting, and from confronting public employees unions, some Californians focus on process questions. They devise candidate-selection rules designed to diminish the role of parties, thereby supposedly making more likely the election of "moderates" amenable to even more tax increases.

But what actually ails California is centrist evasions. The state's crisis has been caused by "moderation," understood as splitting the difference between extreme liberalism and hyperliberalism, a "reasonableness" that merely moderates the speed at which the ever-expanding public sector suffocates the private sector.

California has become liberalism's laboratory, in which the case for fiscal conservatism is being confirmed. The state is a slow learner and hence will remain a drag on the nation's economy. But it will be a net benefit to the nation if the federal government and other state governments profit from California's negative example, which Californians can make more vividly instructive by voting down the propositions on May 19.

Remember the story of the mule that paid attention only after being walloped by a two-by-four? The Democratic-controlled state Legislature is like that. Fortunately, it has handed voters some two-by-fours -- the initiatives. Resounding rejections of them should get Sacramento's attention.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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