Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Which Party? Answer Is Shockingly Easy

TORONTO - An obvious choice can be unnerving. When the apparent perfection of one option or the unspeakable awfulness of another makes a decision seem too easy, it is human nature to become suspicious.

This instinct intensifies as the stakes of the given choice are raised. American voters know no greater responsibility to their country and to the world than to select their president wisely. While we do not yet know who the Democrat and Republican nominees will be, any combination of the leading candidates from either party will make for the most obvious choice put to American voters in a generation. To wit, none of the Democrats has any business being president.

This pronouncement has less to do with any apparent perfection among the Republican candidates than with the intellectual and experiential paucity evinced by the Democratic field. "Not ready for prime time," goes the vernacular, but this does not suffice to describe how bad things are. Alongside Hillary Clinton, add Barack Obama's kindergarten essays to an already confused conversation about Dennis Kucinich's UFO sightings, dueling celebrity endorsements and who can be quickest to retreat from America's global conflict and raise taxes on the American people, and it becomes clear that these are profoundly unserious individuals.

To be sure, there has been a fair amount of rubbish and rhubarb on the Republican side (Ron Paul, call your office), but even a cursory review of the legislative and professional records of the leading contenders from each party reveals a disparity akin to adults competing with children.

FOR THE Republicans, Rudy Giuliani served as a two-term mayor of New York City, turning a budget deficit into a surplus and taming what was thought to be an ungovernable metropolis. Prior to that, he held the third-highest rank in the Reagan Justice Department, obtaining more than 4,000 convictions. Mitt Romney, before serving as governor of Massachusetts, founded a venture capital firm that created billions of dollars in shareholder value, and he then went on to save the Salt Lake City Olympics.

While much is made of Mike Huckabee's history as a Baptist minister, he was also a governor for more than a decade and, while Arkansas is hardly a "cradle of presidents," it has launched at least one previous chief executive to national office. John McCain's legislative and military career spans five decades, with half that time having been spent in Congress. Even Fred Thompson, whose excess of nonchalance transformed his once-promising campaign into an early casualty, had more experience in the U.S. Senate than any of the leading Democratic candidates.

WITH JUST over one term as a senator to her credit, Hillary Clinton boasts the most extensive record of the potential Democratic nominees. In that time, Sen. Clinton cannot claim a single legislative accomplishment of note, and she is best known lately for requesting $1 million from Congress for a museum to commemorate Woodstock.

Barack Obama is nearing the halfway point of his first term in the Senate, having previously served as an Illinois state legislator and, as Clinton has correctly pointed out, has done nothing but run for president since he first arrived in Washington. Between calling for the invasion of Pakistan and fumbling a simple question on driver's licenses for illegal aliens, Obama has shown that he is not the fellow to whom the nation ought to hike the nuclear football.

John Edwards, meanwhile, embodies the adage that the American people will elect anyone to Congress -- once. From his $1,200 haircuts to his personal war on poverty, proclaimed from the porch of his 28,000-square-foot home, purchased with the proceeds of preposterous lawsuits exploiting infant cerebral palsy, Edwards is living proof that history can play out as tragedy and farce simultaneously.

Forget for a moment all that you believe about public policy. Discard your notions about taxes and Iraq, free trade and crime, and consider solely the experience of these two sets of candidates. Is there any serious issue that you would prefer to entrust to a person with the Democrats' experience, rather than that of any of the Republicans?

Now consider the state of debate in each party. While the Republicans compare tax proposals and the best way to prosecute the war on terror, Democrats are divining the patterns and meaning of the glitter and dried macaroni glued to the page of one of their leading candidate's kindergarten projects.

Does this decision not become unsettlingly simple?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beneath our petty differences, a common love of freedom

Tony Blair spoke in Toronto last week, and he stressed an important truth that has been obscured in recent years. To wit: No matter how profound political differences may seem within and among Western democracies, and despite the passions those differences ignite, those distinctions are minor compared to the cosmic contrasts between our culture and those that oppose us.

On issues ranging from freedom of speech and religion to women's rights, the environment, commerce, democracy and on ad infinitum, Westerners of all parties and persuasions can usually agree, at least, on the fundamentals.

Democracy is good, for example (or, as Churchill called it, "the worst form of government, except for all the others"). Individuals should be allowed to worship, or not, as they choose. Women are not property. These concepts are nowhere near revolutionary in the West. But, Blair posits, we ought to remind ourselves that those who oppose us openly (al-Qaeda, Iran, etc.) or strategically (China, and increasingly Russia) do not share many of our most basic beliefs.

This realization ought to do two things: First, it should disabuse us of the guilty misapprehension that every conflict we encounter is somehow our own fault, the natural result of an imperialist past or Western excesses; second, and more important, it ought to sharpen our focus and steel our resolve to protect our shared values in a dangerous world.

The most apparent and explosive threat to free society is radical Islam. But cancerous concepts such as communism (despite the much-ballyhooed demise of that twisted ideology, it still enslaves one-fifth of the world's population) or good old-fashioned dictatorial thuggery (Vladimir Putin, please pick up the nearest courtesy phone) will gladly fill any vacuum left by liberty's retreat.

Faced with eager adversaries whose worldviews are utterly antagonistic to our own, democratic leaders and candidates for office ought to be mindful of the maxim that political differences should end at the water's edge. By all means, discuss and debate tax policy, environmental controls, immigration and health care. But do so with gratitude for the system that makes such debate possible, and remember that there are many who would rob us of that freedom. Blair's political career epitomized the transcendence of smaller notions in furtherance of liberty. As conservative writer Mark Steyn observed in 2005, "If I lived in Britain, I'd vote for Tony Blair's Labour party. Yes, yes, I know he's a nanny-state control-freak and you can hardly pull your pants on in the morning without filling in the form for the Public Trouser Usage Permit and undergoing inspection from the Gusset Regulatory Authority. But on the One Big Thing -- the great issue of the age -- he's right, and he's reliable."

Not only are we blessed with the right to dissent, we are charged with the duty to defend it. At times, that defence takes the form of military action, as in the efforts Blair supports in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as all people of good faith agree, war ought to be our last and least-favoured option. Our most potent weapon is the manifest goodness of freedom. Refined and ratified by history, the concept of government that guarantees individual liberty has defeated despots time and again.

In the streets of Baghdad and Kabul and the corridors of power in Tehran and Beijing, there are many who would crush the best hopes of humankind. But, as Blair said in his seminal speech to the United States' Congress in July of 2003, "In the end, it is not our power alone that will defeat this evil. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns, but our beliefs."

Monday, January 14, 2008

The season of sound bite politics

Ronald Reagan is credited with saying, "It is not that our liberal friends are ignorant, but they know so much that isn't so." Of course, misbegotten certainty is not the sole province of the left, but they certainly have a talent for it.

Every election cycle sees the general American populace put atrophied political muscles to use. Like a middle-aged former athlete overdoing it at the company softball game, voters strain to assimilate issues -- tax policy, immigration, social security reform, what-have-you -- that most of them do not spend their daily lives contemplating.

It is likely a very good thing that, absent an election, most folks go about their business without obsessing over policy issues. A society in which everyone constantly discussed politics would descend into an oxymoronic wasteland of tedium and rage. But, while regular people keep political worries to their season, the committed left remains in high dudgeon even in odd-numbered years, committing to memory all the nonsense that they "know:"

"Bush lied!" "The deficit is huge!" "The economy is a disaster!" "Iraq is a quagmire!" "Illegal wiretaps!" "CIA spies exposed!" And so on.

One of the many troubles with this carnival barker discussion of policy is that the repetition of these imagined grievances creates a place for them in common parlance. Consequently, when the nation turns its lowly eyes to political campaigns, this caterwauled nonsense is mistaken for legitimate opinion.

And who can be expected to respond to the liturgy of liberal "truth," recited at full speed and volume, as above? An attempt, in reverse order, may go something like: "Valerie Plame was not undercover, the Senate has declared in a bipartisan statement that her husband fibbed, and it was Richard Armitage, no friend of the Bush administration, who told Robert Novak that she worked at the CIA; Democrats and Republicans in the Senate voted 99-0 to authorize changing the way in which wiretapping is done, now that even terrorists have been approved for cellphone plans with unlimited evenings and weekends; Sunni and Shiite populations in Iraq have turned on al-Qaeda and allied themselves with the U.S. military, which has seen an extraordinary decline in casualties and tremendous success since the "surge" began; the American economy has experienced six straight years of economic growth, surpassing the average rate of the 1990s, '80s, and '70s, with 3% GDP growth in 2007, creating 8.3 million jobs in 52 straight months since 2003; the budget deficit is down to 1.2% of GDP, well below the average of the last 40 years; and if Bush lied (presumably about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction), so did Bill Clinton, Al Gore, 16 different intelligence services, Tony Blair and countless other politicians and policy makers, going back to years before George W. Bush was first elected governor of Texas -- but surely the "fact" that Saddam had no WMDs comes as a great relief to the more than 20,000 people killed, blinded or maimed by his chemical attack on the city of Halabja." Catchy rejoinder, no?

It is far easier to be brief and blithe than plodding and accurate. So the shorthand silliness often sells at election time. But it is not merely the front page, high stakes issues on which the left is consistently and conspicuously incorrect. The notion that the Democrats are the party of the little guy is exploded every year with perennial reportage that the wealthiest donors are overwhelmingly Democrats, yet the myth persists. Financial heavyweights champion liberal causes with regularity. As Warren Buffett joins forces with Hillary Clinton to defend the death tax, Michael Bloomberg bans cigarettes and trans-fats, and George Soros massively funds left-wing lobby groups. If you are being told not to smoke, what to eat and how much of your life's work you can leave to your children, chances are it's a billionaire doing the bossing.

One small mercy is that, as we approach Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, the left's purveyors of truth become so shrill as to consign some of their talking points to pitches that only dogs can hear. Whether these pleas translate to success at the ballot box is a matter for the American Kennel Society. But citizenship comes with responsibilities, and voters must be vigilant and wise in order to separate "fact" from fiction.