Archive for February 8th, 2009

February 8, 2009

‘Rendezvous’ premiere

Friday’s premiere of the new documentary, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous With Destiny, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, was a standing-room only affair.

Produced by Citizens United in association with Newt and Calista Gingrich, directed by Kevin Knoblock, Rendezvous With Destiny features interviews with Jack Kemp, James A. Baker III, William J. Bennett, Linda Chavez, Edwin Meese III, Mari Maseng Will, Richard Perle, Michael Reagan, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Natan Sharansky, Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, historian Douglas Brinkley, newsman Sam Donaldson and many more.

All of these people appear in the movie, but the star of the show is indisputably Ronald Reagan. The film footage and photos of Reagan in the movie are the highlights. His star quality carries the film. Here’s the trailer, and below that, some photos from the premiere.

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, at left; American Spectator publisher Al Regnery, at right.

Newt Gingrich talks with Seattle talk-radio king Kirby Wilbur, a member of the board of the Young America’s Foundation, which gave filmmakers access to the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif.

Me with Craig Shirley, author of Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America.

Philip Klein and J.P. Freire of the American Spectator with Ericka Andersen of Human Events.

Former Virginia Sen. George Allen talks with friends.

Cato Institute vice-president of communications Khristine Brookes and Fox News contributor James Pinkerton.

Fox News producers L.A. Holmes and Lee Ross.

Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator and me.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Jena Lenz of George Washington University Young America’s Foundation.

Former Virginia GOP chairwoman Kate Obenshain and Pete Parisi of the Washington Times.

Me and Kerry Picket of Newsbusters.

Kerry Picket, talk-radio producer Heather Smith and Quin Hillyer.

(Corss-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

February 8, 2009

Change You Can Believe In!

UPDATE: By special request — hey, I’ve got some twisted commenters — the notorious Speedo pic gets a Change You Can Believe In.

To create your own Change, go to ObamIcon.me.

February 8, 2009

And they say WE’RE ‘wingnuts’

Judith Warner is having some weird dreams about the POTUS. Donald Douglas and Ed Driscoll weigh in. I don’t know which is weirder: That Warner would write something like this, or that the New York Times would publish it.

UPDATE: Ed Driscoll: “. . . which brings new meaning to the phrase “Unicorn Rider.” The ironic absurdity of all this ought not go unremarked.

Permit me to risk denunciation by recalling that when the McCain campaign rolled out its “Celebrity” ads, a large swath of the left-wing commentariat jumped on it like a graduate seminar in semiotics, deconstructing the context to declare that the Republican was subliminally conjuring fears of miscegenation by associating Obama with such noted icons of virtuous white womanhood as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Now, however, the New York Times gives Judith Warner leave to publish the uncorrected draft of her script for Mighty Anaconda of Hope: Jungle Fever on the Potomac and . . . well, that’s OK, see? Progressive standards are so high, they need two standards for everything.

And where the heck is Ace? Do you expect me to believe that Ace doesn’t have anything to say about Judith Warner’s couch trip?

UPDATE II: Deuce Geary at Skepticrats:

What really kills me about these self-obsessed neurotics is their need to normalize these bizarre fantasies.

One wonders how much Prozac they gobble to reach that state of mind. According to them, conservatives are the repressed people with “hangups,” but ask any of my friends: I’m the most unrepressed person on the planet. Heck, I’m irrepressible. I’m an unabashed babe-blogger, and I have no trouble acknowledging celebrity hotness. But writing about your obsessive fantasies — do we really want to go there? I mean, I’m sure nobody wants to deal with the mental image of me in fishnet stockings and stiletto heels . . . or do they?

Hey, it’s the blogosphere. Bring you own brain bleach.

February 8, 2009

It’s all good, Kate

Don’t go changin’

Kate Winslet says she is not going to go crazy if she has a little junk in the trunk.
“I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t stand up and check the tushie before she walks out the door,” she tells Nightline in an interview airing Friday. “I’ve decided I am going to start loving my backside, really just saying, yes. Because I don’t know anyone who does that, you know? And for my daughter [Mia, 8], I want to be able to say to her, I love this.”

Hey, we love it, too! I was ragging on Jessica Simpson last week, but that was tongue-in-cheek. Sure, the camera adds 10 pounds, but real men don’t mind a bit more girth in the saddle, and it makes no sense for women to starve themselves to death trying to get that “social X-ray” look.

February 8, 2009

‘At least Henry Ford knew how to make a car’

Thus did John Podhoretz respond last week to what he saw as anti-Semitic neocon-baiting from Andrew Sullivan. The real weirdness, as Donald Douglas points out, is that Sullivan appears to have made alliance with some of the Culture11 refugees.

One can be pro-Israel and anti-neocon. Not every neocon is Jewish, nor is every opponent of America’s pro-Israel policy an anti-Semite. One of the worst fruits of the poisoned tree of “compassionate conservatism” is that it has popularized a superficial conception of “neocon” as an anti-Semitic slur meaning “Jewish Republican hawk.” The implied “dual loyalty” smear and the notion that the only reason the U.S. invaded Iraq was to serve the interests of Israel — well, these ideas didn’t just materialize out of thin air, but are socially constructed, as the postmodernists would say.

In its original sense, “neo-conservative” meant liberals or leftists who had been “mugged by reality” and reoriented themselves to a conservative position. Irving Kristol wrote a book about it.

The fact that many of Kristol’s ideological soulmates were likewise Jewish, and that among the “realities” by which they were “mugged” was leftist support for the Arab powers in the 1967 and ’73 wars — no one denies this. But the cause, character and conduct of neoconservatism as a school of political thought is varied and complex, and it was not until Bush’s engagement with radical Islamic terrorism after 9/11 that the term “neocon” was dumbed-down to its current status as the equivalent in political discourse of “kike.” (One wonders if Jewish boys today engage in schoolyard brawls after being called “neocon.”)

Elitism and neoconservatism
My pet peeve with neoconservatives has nothing to do with foreign policy, as such, and everything to do with the characteristic style and content of their arguments. The contant factor of neoconservatism — the thread connecting Irving Kristol with, inter alia, Bill Bennett and Peggy Noonan — has been their preference for a conservatism that speaks to sensibilities considered “respectable” by a certain academically-oriented urban audience.

This is not quite the same as saying that neoconservatism is the conservatism of the elite, for most of the elite are not conservative and, in the person of Sean Hannity, we can see what populist neoconservatism looks like. And one might note, for example, that Bill Kristol — who can claim the “neoconservative” label as a birthright — did not jump into the elitist anti-Palin camp with the likes of David Brooks.

In general, however, neoconservatives insist on a Right that they are not ashamed to defend in Manhattan and Hollywood (or at Harvard), and this results in a certain habit of argument: Concede the desirability of liberal goals, but object to the specific policies by which liberals seek to obtain those goals.

Hard-core liberals aren’t deceived by this half-a-loaf argument, but it does gain neoconservatism a hearing with bien-pensants who can’t understand why such phrases as “social justice” and “world peace” are an invitation to folly. Because neoconservatism so often succeeds at this game, entire organizations (e.g., the Claremont Institute) are devoted to supporting those whose job is to craft arguments convincing the bien-pensant simpletons that they can have their “social justice” and low taxes, too.

Exoteric and esoteric
This is why the term “Straussian” has been applied to neoconservatism. Leo Strauss famously identified the difference between the exoteric meaning of an argument — that is to say, its direct and superficial meaning, apparent to any reader — and its esoteric meaning, which is perceived only by the enlightened, the insiders, the elite. Neoconservatives apparently think of political leadership in terms of the Platonic archons, who understand the need for the “noble lie” of popular mythology. This Straussian tendency leads directly to a species of Republican mythmaking that is ultimately self-defeating, especially when the Straussians lose sight of the distance between myth and reality.

American government was founded with the idea, expressed by James Madison in Federalist No. 10, that there is no shame in the political pursuit of self-interest — i.e., “faction” — and that the object of government is to reconcile such factions so as to prevent harm to “the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Modern liberalism undermines this Madisonian conception by asserting that certain interests — e.g., “children’s health” — are so unquestionably urgent and valuable that no decent person can oppose them.

The error of neoconservatism is that it refuses to engage directly the underlying anti-Madisonian impulse of modern liberalism, opting instead to counter with a “conservative” proposal to achieve whatever it is that liberals aim to achieve. Neoconservatives grant the premise of the liberal argument, but deny the conclusion. This produces arguments that are sometimes successful, without being fully persuasive, because they lack the kind of sturdy, honest truth perceived by “men of untaught feelings,” to borrow a phrase.

You see, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess, that [the English] are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. . . . Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.
— Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Now, you may say that I am prejudiced in Israel’s favor, much as I am prejudiced against France. So be it. But I am far more prejudiced against liberalism and the Democratic Party, and it is these cherished prejudices — widespread as they are — that broadly unite the American Right. Our immediate challenge is to seek out and persuade those I have called “Future Ex-Democrats.” Exactly how they will be persuaded, and what sort of agenda they will support in the future, is yet to be discovered. But we know that the Democratic agenda is doomed to failure (“It Won’t Work”) and we know that many who voted for Obama will be disillusioned by that failure.

Populism and the Palinites
My preference is for a conservatism that is more forthright and “mean-spirited” than John Podhoretz might accept as respectable, and this “libertarian populist” conservatism might appeal to many who don’t share my favorable prejudice toward Israel. But foreign-policy arguments among conservatives are moot when conservatives have no influence over foreign policy, which is very nearly the case now.

Podhoretz recently published an article by Yuval Levin about Sarah Palin that expressed truth both exoteric and esoteric:

Many of those (including especially those on the Right) who reacted badly to Palin on intellectual grounds understand themselves to be advancing the interests of lower-middle-class families similar to Palin’s own family and to many of those in attendance at her rallies who greeted her arrival on the scene as a kind of deliverance. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that while these members of the intellectual elite want the government to serve the interests of such people first and foremost, they do not want those people to hold the levers of power. They see lower-middle-class populists like Palin and their supporters as profoundly ill-suited for governance, because they lack the accoutrements required for its employment — especially in foreign policy, which, even more than domestic affairs, is thought to be an intellectual exercise.

The esoteric significance of this class prejudice — for it is nothing else — can be observed in the way David Brooks inveighs against the anti-government rhetoric of populists. The meaning of Brooksian wrath can be summed up in two words: Pat Buchanan.

Because Buchanan is perceived as an anti-Semite, and because Buchanan has among his supporters some few who don’t even flinch at the accusation of anti-Semitism, there is the suspicion that everyone who grumbles about big government is a Jew-hating troglodyte. This is “conservatism” as viewed through the paranoid lenses of Theodor Adorno and Richard Hofstadter, the crypto-Freudian belief that we’re never more than one election away from that moment when the Republican Party unfurls the swaztika and the GOP brownshirts come goosestepping down Main Street.

Clever fellows that they are, the Brooksians conceal their silly fear with a superficially plausible argument that a more populist conservative rhetoric can’t win, an argument that is made to appear all the more plausible because it serves to undermine support — especially financial support — for populist candidates in Republican primaries. (Giuliani spent $59 million to get 597,518 primary votes. We are left to wonder where that $59 million might have gone, and what it might have accomplished, had not the Brooksians promoted the absurd notion that a short, bald, pro-choice New Yorker was a serious candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.)

Is Sarah Palin a rabble rouser? Oh, hell, yes. I’ve seen the rabble, and I’ve seen her rouse them. Feel free to argue that she wasn’t ready for presidential primetime on Aug. 29, 2008, but don’t tell me that she can’t possibly be ready by Jan. 20, 2013. And don’t tell me she can’t win. Whatever her deficiencies, she’s got more natural political talent in her little finger than Rudy Giuliani’s got in his entire body (and she’s got a much better body, too).

It may be that a Palin candidacy attracts some Buchananites and Paulistas whose foreign-policy views are not shared by me or John Podhoretz or David Brooks. As it is now, however, the really dangerous Jew-haters (including some self-hating Jews) are in the Obama camp, and they are all the more dangerous because Democrats control both houses of Congress. To take back Congress and the White House from Democrats will require Republicans to assemble a coalition inclusive enough not to demand foreign-policy litmus tests as a condition of admission. We can be grateful that economic issues will be front and center for the foreseeable future, since this unites the Paulistas in common cause with the broad limited-government conservative coalition.

Slagging Sarah Palin and her supporters — the Ordinary Americans, or “ordinary barbarians,” as some of them have dubbed themselves — because they appear to represent a Buchanan-style populism that inspires fear and loathing among the elite, is to push away the Reagan Democrats without whom Republicans can’t win.

It is worth noting that Buchanan was an adviser to both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, which is to say, “At least Pat Buchanan knew how to win an election.”

February 8, 2009

The indulgence of ‘analysis’

New York Times correspondent Jackie Calmes is a veteran reporter, but given the latitude to write an “analysis,” she forgets how to write a direct declarative sentence:

With the Senate on track to pass its version of the economic stimulus legislation, President Obama is widely expected to win final Congressional approval of the plan soon, and thus make good on an assortment of his campaign promises. But in the process, he is confronting the impediments to his most ambitious pledge: to end the capital’s partisan warfare.
Mr. Obama has been frustrated by an array of forces, from an often bitter and personal history of partisanship on Capitol Hill to the near-extinction of Republican moderates in the House to the deep ideological gulf between the parties on economic policy. And as his aspiration of putting aside petty politics has met the necessity of winning legislative votes — no more than two or three Senate Republicans are expected to support him, which is two or three more than did so in the House — he has gone through a public evolution that has left him showing sharper edges when it comes to the ways of Washington.

That last 66-word sentence earned Calmes a nomination as “Worst sentence ever written in journalism” from Megan McArdle. That might be overkill, but not by much.

Calmes goes off-course with her opening clause: “With the Senate on track to pass its version of the economic stimulus legislation . . .” Sez who? This assertion bears no qualifier like “evidently” or “apparently.” The possibility that the stimulus bill might yet be derailed having been dismissed without consideration, Calmes then commences to ponder “partisan” and “petty” politics at her leisure.

“Leisure” is the key word here. Calmes seems to have the idea that the definition of “analysis” requires that she write in the passive voice: Obama “is widely expected,” he “has been frustrated,” he “has gone through” an evolution. The second sentence’s use of “Obama is confronting” avoids the passive, but why not just say “Obama confronts”?

Well, the New York Times guidelines for “analysis” apparently require that reporters never use one word where two will do. And, oh, what labyrinthine sentences these are! Even before she gets to the 66-word monster that caught McArdle’s eye, Calmes is averaging 34 words per sentence. Her first sentence is 39 words, her second is a relatively terse 20 words, and then she comes back with 42 words in Sentence Three before her clean-up sentence comes to bat.

Ah, but it’s Murderer’s Row here, because Calmes next lays on us this mammoth jaw-buster:

Frustrated that debate over the bill was being dominated by Republicans’ criticism, and that his overtures had yielded little in the way of support from across the aisle, the president who began the week hosting Republicans for a Super Bowl party had by Friday switched to publicly pressuring them, and rallying fellow Democrats, with a hard-line message about his unwillingness to compromise his priorities.

Sixty-five words in that one. The reader is forced to wade through two clauses and a remembrance of last week’s Super Bowl party until reaching the 45th word, “switched,” which is the verb on which the whole sentence hangs.

God knows I love a fancy sentence. More importantly, I know I love a fancy sentence. Anyone wishing to accuse me of being hypocritical toward Calmes will have no trouble finding examples of ponderous sentences in my writing. The parenthetical aside — set off by em-dashes for a dramatic flair — is a technique to which I’m so addicted that I must consciously resist it or else I’ll overuse it to the point of parody.

However, I flatter myself to think that I have a good ear for rhythm in writing. I was a musician long before I ever became a journalist, and one of my great joys is to bring the reader to the point of what I’m saying with as much surety as P-Funk coming down on The One. Draw the reader in with an anecdote, string him along as you build your argument and then — when you’ve got him set up for it just right — WHAM! Gut-punch him like Rocky Balboa laying into Apollo Creed.

Can this technique be used in news writing? Here’s a story from 2001:

There were no nationally televised candlelight vigils for Jesse Dirkhising. No Hollywood celebrities mourned the passing of the 13-year-old Arkansas boy.
The New York Times hasn’t reported how Jesse died of asphyxiation in 1999 after prosecutors say he was bound, gagged and sodomized by a homosexual couple. And the seventh-grader’s death has not caused powerful Washington activists to lobby for new federal laws to punish such crimes.
While the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming provoked a blizzard of media coverage about the death of the homosexual college student, the Dirkhising case is just “a local crime story,” one TV network spokesman explains.
Joshua Macabe Brown, one of two men accused of killing Jesse, was convicted yesterday of rape and first-degree murder in a trial that began March 13.
Through yesterday afternoon, Brown’s weeklong trial produced a combined total of zero stories from the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN. . . .

Just the facts, ma’am. Here’s another classic Joe Friday job from 2003:

Brian David Mitchell was in many ways typical of the homeless, with a history of substance abuse and symptoms of mental illness.
It was not until his arrest last week in the kidnapping of Utah teenager Elizabeth Smart, however, that the self-anointed “prophet” brought attention to another aspect of America’s homeless problem: As many as half of the homeless have criminal records, and some have committed serious violent crimes, including rape and murder. . . .

Ah, those were the days! There is nothing more delightful than assembling a mountain of facts, then setting off the controlled landslide of a news story that leaves political correctoids sputtering in impotent outrage. Impotent, that is, because all you’ve done is to report the facts.

I’d never heard of Jackie Calmes until frequent commenter Smitty (thanks, man) tipped me to McArdle’s blog post. She’ll bear further watching in weeks ahead, and we’ll see if there is truth to her assertion about the stimulus being “on track” for Senate passage. Conventional wisdom has a way of unraveling in a hurry, and you never know when Rocky Balboa’s going to unload a punch in your gut.