Conservatives, or some of them, have begun to think about their time in power. Their role in American history. And their role in America’s future. These are just the first small steps in the long road back to winning back the confidence of the American people.
- “Intellectuals“, Thomas Sowell, National Review Online, 11 November 2008 — “Ignorance has consequences.”
- “Eight Wasted Years“, John Derbyshire, National Review Online, 5 November 2008 — “And the ratchet slips free.”
- “The Death of the American Idea“, Mark Steyn, National Review Online, 8 November 2008 — “An electorate living high off the entitlement hog.”
(1) “‘Intellectuals“, Thomas Sowell, National Review Online, 11 November 2008 — “Ignorance has consequences.” Excerpt:
Among the many wonders to be expected from an Obama administration, if Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times is to be believed, is ending “the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life.” He cited Adlai Stevenson, the suave and debonair governor of Illinois, who twice ran for president against Eisenhower in the 1950s, as an example of an intellectual in politics.
Intellectuals, according to Mr. Kristof, are people who are “interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity,” people who “read the classics.”
… Adlai Stevenson was certainly regarded as an intellectual by intellectuals in the 1950s. But, half a century later, facts paint a very different picture. Historian Michael Beschloss, among others, has noted that Stevenson “could go quite happily for months or years without picking up a book.” But Stevenson had the airs of an intellectual – the form, rather than the substance.
What is more telling, form was enough to impress the intellectuals, not only then but even now, years after the facts have been revealed, though apparently not to Mr. Kristof. That is one of many reasons why intellectuals are not taken as seriously by others as they take themselves.
As for reading the classics, President Harry Truman, whom no one thought of as an intellectual, was a voracious reader of heavyweight stuff like Thucydides and read Cicero in the original Latin. When Chief Justice Carl Vinson quoted in Latin, Truman was able to correct him. Yet intellectuals tended to think of the unpretentious and plain-spoken Truman as little more than a country bumpkin.
Similarly, no one ever thought of President Calvin Coolidge as an intellectual. Yet Coolidge also read the classics in the White House. He read both Latin and Greek, and read Dante in the original Italian, since he spoke several languages. It was said that the taciturn Coolidge could be silent in five different languages.
The remainder of the article discusses the many many things American intellectuals have been wrong about in the 20th century. Judging by the first decade, a simialr list for the 21st century promises to be just as long. Does Sowell include conservative intellectuals in the category of “intellectuals”?
(2) “Eight Wasted Years“, John Derbyshire, National Review Online, 5 November 2008 — “And the ratchet slips free.” Excerpt:
Margaret Thatcher used to talk about the “ratchet effect.” When the Left gets power, she said, they drive everything Left; when the Right gets power, they slow the Leftward drive, perhaps even halt it for a spell; but nothing ever gets moved to the Right.
U.S. politics in the 21st century so far bears out this dismal analysis. What does the Right have to show for eight years of a Republican presidency? I supported George W. Bush in 2000 because I thought he had a conservative bone in his body somewhere. I supported him in 2004 because I thought him the lesser of two evils. At this point, I wouldn’t let the fool park his car in my driveway. Bruce Bartlett was right, every damn word.
(3) “The Death of the American Idea“, Mark Steyn, National Review Online, 8 November 2008 — “An electorate living high off the entitlement hog.” Excerpt:
Unlike those excitable countries where the peasants overrun the presidential palace, settled democratic societies rarely vote to “go left.” Yet oddly enough that’s where they’ve all gone. In its assumptions about the size of the state and the role of government, almost every advanced nation is more left than it was, and getting lefter. Even in America, federal spending (in inflation-adjusted 2007 dollars) has gone from $600 billion in 1965 to $3 trillion today. The Heritage Foundation put it in a convenient graph: It’s pretty much a straight line across four decades, up, up, up.
Doesn’t make any difference who controls Congress, who’s in the White House. The government just grows and grows, remorselessly. Every two years, the voters walk out of their town halls and school gyms and tell the exit pollsters that three-quarters of them are “moderates” or “conservatives” (ie, the center and the right) and barely 20 per cent are “liberals.” And then, regardless of how the vote went, big government just resumes its inexorable growth.
… “The greatest dangers to liberty,” wrote Justice Brandeis, “lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.” Now who does that remind you of?
Ha! Trick question! Never mind Obama, it’s John McCain. He encroached on our liberties with the constitutional abomination of McCain-Feingold. Well-meaning but without understanding, he proposed that the federal government buy up all these junk mortgages so that people would be able to stay in “their” homes. And this is the “center-right” candidate? It’s hard for Republicans to hammer Obama as a socialist when their own party’s nationalizing the banks and its presidential nominee is denouncing the private sector for putting profits before patriotism.
… While few electorates consciously choose to leap left, a couple more steps every election and eventually societies reach a tipping point. In much of the west, it’s government health care. … Henceforth, elections are fought over which party is proposing the shiniest government bauble: If you think President-elect Obama’s promise of federally subsidized day care was a relatively peripheral part of his platform, in Canada in the election before last it was the dominant issue. Yet America may be approaching its tipping point even more directly. In political terms, the message of the gazillion-dollar bipartisan bailout was a simple one: “Individual responsibility” and “self-reliance” are for chumps.
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Posts about political theory:
- Diagnosing the eagle, chapter I — the housing bust
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter II — book recommendations for 2008
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III — reclaiming the Constitution
- Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation
- Forecast: Death of the American Constitution
- Would a charismatic President be good for America?
- More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series)
- Obama might be the shaman that America needs
- Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment)
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile
- A soft despotism for America?
- What comes after the Consitution? Can we see the outline of a “Mark 3″ version of the United States?