Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Standing Athwart History, Yelling "Stop!"

"Listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered!"

This was directed at Gore Vidal in a live TV debate at the 1968 Chicago Convention and was clearly not one of William F. Buckley's finest moments, but it was the first that came to mind on hearing today that Buckley had died, age 82 (The encounter can be read about, and apparently downloaded, here).

It is unfair to open with this spat, because although it brings to mind the dreadful, shouty bickering that seems to characterise American political discourse, Buckley deserves credit for his articulate, intelligent and determined efforts to confront and change the American political mind. For over fifty years, Buckley has been a leader of American conservatism, taking it from the fringes into the forefront. While Reagan took his confrontational conservative ideology to public office, articulating it in consistent popular rhetoric until it represented the mainstream, Buckley was of the elite, the now-maligned intelligensia, articulating his conservatism in its terms through his journal, The National Review, which challenged the weighty institutions of The Nation and The New Republic. Equally, this eventually became a standard in American political thought. This is from the first issue of The National Review, November 19, 1955:

We begin publishing, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right, and a despair of the intransigence of the Liberals, who run this country; and all this in a world dominated by the jubilant single-mindedness of the practicing Communist, with his inside track to History. All this would not appear to augur well for NATIONAL REVIEW. Yet we start with a considerable — and considered — optimism.

An optimism that, it seems, was well placed. But now, with both Buckley and the Communists out of the way, perhaps our current despair at the intransigent beneficiaries of his (and Reagan's) success can make way for a bit of optimism.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Culture and Stuff

I have now got my greasy hands on my housemate's shiny copy of Iain M. Banks' new novel Matter, the first new story of the Culture in eight years. The Culture, for those who don't know, is a galaxy-spanning anarchist civilisation who roam the stars free of disease, danger and possessions, interfering quietly and not-so-quietly in the affairs of less advanced and less well behaved societies. See here, if you want the details without the hassle of having to follow a story at the same time.

I am a few chapters in and things seem suitably byzantine and set up for excitement, and I have already had to make several detours to the seventeen-page glossary handily placed at the back to remind you which character is which, what species your dealing with, and what certain arcane, alien or techno-babble means. Here are some samples:

spore-wisp - plasma seed of a stellar field-liner

Despairationials - extremist group, Syaung-un

Stalks - slightly derogatory term used for landgoing peoples by aquatic peoples

Tubers - black hole smoker species

Godded - a Shellworld with a Xinthian at its core

Sunday, February 17, 2008

No We Can't

It tears me up to see people make fun of Republicans, but this also makes fun of Barack Obama's "spontaneous" celebrity schmaltz video.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Miracle Mike

Huckabee comes through with a real contender for Best Quote of the Campaign:

"Folks, I didn't major in math, I majored in miracles and I still believe in miracles."

This was to the Conservative Political Action Conference, and appears to be a scrubbed up version of an earlier, and even more special remark to a reporter:

"I was never that good in math. I'm more into miracles than math. Miracles, I understand. Math is a little harder."

The Governor graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1976, after majoring in religion.

(I'm having some trouble accessing the page of the Ouachita Mathematics Department - Any reason why their server might have crashed?)

Friday, February 8, 2008

John McCain and Republican Values

John McCain: An Elephant

McCain, barring the wrath of God, has the nomination. This is another surprise of the race, and a happy one. I confess to being pleased that the GOP has chosen its best candidate, a pleasure that is in no small way heightened by the snub that it delivers to those Republicans who have done their best over the past decades to make their party and their country ugly and vicious. Such types are railing and whining and threatening revenge, but to me it seems like so many hollow tantrums. Anne Coulter makes drunken boasts on Fox TV; so what? Rush Limbaugh rages on the airwaves about events out of his control and beyond his comprehension; what's new? Dare it be suggested that this wing of so called 'ultra-conservatives' and 'culture warriors' are not as dominant and widespread as everyone imagined? Yes, they have shouted the loudest and got the attention and, indeed, changed and debased American political discourse in recent years - but what electoral power have the religious and radical right really demonstrated? They have something of a candidate in G.W. Bush, but he was scraped in by a whisker in 2000. Reagan's success laid as much in his cross party appeal, than in the evangelicals and ideologues he attracted.
Since Reagan, conservatism has been mainstream in America and despite G.W. Bush, it probably still is. But John McCain is a conservative, and possibly one more representative than Coulter et al. McCain, after all, succeeded Barry Goldwater, who vitalised outsider conservatism in the GOP before spending much of the eighties berating Jerry Falwell and his authoritarian fellow travellers for trying to bring moral and social issues to the federal table. If McCain can run as a less cranky, less frightening Barry Goldwater, he could capture the support of a large number of Americans, with or without the lunatic fringe. After Goldwater won his nomination through a fierce battle with the old establishment, moderate Republicans, it is ironic that McCain now heads to the presidency over the bodies of those who claim conservatism for themselves (despite their frankly radical agenda). Of course, McCain will have to reach out to the erstwhile supporters of Romney, and to Huckabee's constituency, but I expect that nine months is enough for him to convince them, and that he can do it without posturing, as Romney did, for a handful of votes.
I may be wrong, of course, McCain may flip like a trained seal when the whip is cracked, but I expect that as soon as they see him beating up on a Democrat on the campaign trail, the vast majority of the natural party, and likely more, will fall in behind him. Anyway, the moonbats can perhaps take comfort in the idea that this is all God's plan - as soon as the old, decrepit, electable McCain is sworn in, he will be struck down to make way for President Huckabee...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reagan in the Race

Barak Obama and Mike Huckabee have received an equal number of votes in the contest to be crowned The Next Reagan, maybe some sort of broader system of elections should be organised to figure it out.

The memory of Ronald Reagan has been alive in the presidential race, with candidates in each party bickering over who likes him most. Clinton and Obama have clumsily accused each other praising him and his legacy, which bizarrely demonstrated the absence of of any Democrat leader of the past forty years with whom the candidates could identify to their benefit. Instead, they must disassociate themselves with the political trends of their age (Bill Clinton presents a problem for each: Hillary faces an increasing and multifaceted danger of being seen merely as Clinton II, or a stepping stone back to the White House for Bill, while any attempt by Obama to appropriate Clinton would just be insane - for now at least). It is of course in the GOP race where Ronnie gets the most action.

Before last week's debate at the Reagan Library, the LA Times drew up this little chart showing how many times each candidate had mentioned Reagan's name in previous debates (their chart, if you look, is really dull, so I jazzed it up a bit):

Andrew Malcolm suggests that considering Giuliani's glorious crash and burn, and Romney's faltering campaign, Reagan's name must not be as popular as once assumed. I'd argue that the numbers instead show which of the candidates are most comfortable with projecting their own distinct (conservative) image. Giuliani, being a useless vessel of ugliness and sheer ambition, had little to show for himself and thus made the most effort to cloak his shallow, mean soul in symbols of the past - 9/11 and Ronald Reagan. Dr. Paul, conversely, needs little imagery to shore up his own special brand. He has though, in I think one of the more interesting invocations of Reagan, argued that the Gipper's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon is the perfect model for his own isolationist designs.

In Wednesday's debate, Reagan was summoned again. McCain mentioned four times that he was a "foot-soldier" in the Reagan Revolution, marching happily under that sunny banner, bayoneting liberals this way and that. Huckabee assured us that he would not question Reagan's decisions in Reagan's own temple, (blasphemy I will be sure to avoid when I make the haj later this year): "I'm not that stupid. If I was, I'd have no business being president." Romney declared that Reagan would find McCain's campaign tactics "reprehensible."

To the final question - "Would Ronald Reagan endorse you? And if so, why?" - Romney gave a creeping, arrogant and intellectually hollow answer:

Absolutely. Ronald Reagan would look at the issues that are being debated right here and say, one, we're going to win in Iraq, and I'm not going to walk out of Iraq until we win in Iraq.

Ronald Reagan would say lower taxes. Ronald Reagan would say lower spending.

Ronald Reagan would -- is pro-life. He would also say I want to have an amendment to protect marriage.

Ronald Reagan would say, as I do, that Washington is broken. And like Ronald Reagan, I'd go to Washington as an outsider -- not owing favors, not lobbyists on every elbow. I would be able to be the independent outsider that Ronald Reagan was, and he brought change to Washington.

Ronald Reagan would say, yes, let's drill in ANWR. Ronald Reagan would say, no way are we going to have amnesty again. Ronald Reagan saw it, it didn't work. Let's not do it again.

Ronald Reagan would say no to a 50-cent-per-gallon charge on Americans for energy that the rest of the world doesn't have to pay.

Ronald Reagan would have said absolutely no way to McCain- Feingold.

Much of this is news to me, and I expect few in the GOP will be impressed by such shameless appropriation. There's no argument behind his claims, no sense of familiarity with his hero, no respect, Goddammit! Huckabee gave the best answer, one that actually displays some elements of Reagan's style, and importantly, an understanding of why it is that Reagan's memory so dominates Republican discourse:

I think it would be incredibly presumptuous and even arrogant for me to try to suggest what Ronald Reagan would do, that he would endorse any of us against the others.

Let me just say this, I'm not going to pretend he would endorse me. I wish he would. I would love that, but I endorse him, and I'm going to tell you why.

It wasn't just his specific policies, but Ronald Reagan was something more than just a policy wonk. He was a man who loved this country, and he inspired this country to believe in itself again.

What made Ronald Reagan a great president was not just the intricacies of his policies, though they were good policies. It was that he loved America and saw it as a good nation and a great nation because of the greatness of its people.

And if we can recapture that, that's when we recapture the Reagan spirit. It's that spirit that has a can-do attitude about America's futures and that makes us love our country whether we're Democrats or Republicans. And that's what I believe Ronald Reagan did -- he brought this country back together and made us believe in ourselves.

And whether he believes in us, I hope we still believe in those things which made him a great leader and a great American.