Archives for the 'Asides' Category

More Examiner Columns


…here are the rest:

5. “The Right Can Do Better than Romney”: arguing that the current front-runner for the GOP nomination, the horrible and boring former Massachusetts governor, shouldn’t be the conservative standard-bearer:

With his square jaw and flawless salt-and-pepper hair, Romney certainly looks presidential: Like a character actor playing the president in a superhero movie — or, less charitably, like a creature genetically engineered and grown in a vat for the sole purpose of securing the nation’s highest office.

There’s more to the presidency than looking the part, however. Conservatives ought to take a good look at the Romney record and ask themselves whether a man of such flexible convictions is the best they can do.

6. “The Era of Big-Government Initiatives Is Over”: putting Obama’s health-care difficulties in the context of 40 years of declining trust in government–a wonderful thing, despite what responsible opinionmakers tell you–and explaining why I think another New Deal or Great Society is improbable in this day and age:

Who could have predicted that the summer of 2009 would be such a tough time to be a liberal? Seven months ago, President Barack Obama took office with a 79 percent approval rating — the highest in three decades.

The Kennedy-esque cult of personality that surrounded the new president led many conservatives and libertarians to fear he’d be able to work his will in Congress, dramatically increasing the size of government.

Yet, cap and trade has dropped off this year’s legislative agenda and today Obama’s signature initiative — national health care — remains stalled, growing more unpopular by the minute.

[T]he resurgence of public skepticism toward federal power is good news for those of us who support limited, constitutional government….

Obama bears much of the blame for his current political woes, having pushed an overly ambitious agenda that the public seems reluctant to accept. But he’s also the victim of trends that long predated his presidency.

7. “Abolish the DHS!” a case for getting rid of the obnoxious and useless Homeland Security department. Embarassingly, I got the location of DHS’s new HQ wrong. Also, more people than I would have thought were mystified by the reference to “Spinal Tap” and the phrase “dog’s breakfast”:

The Homeland Security Advisory System is a case in point. Even before Ridge’s revelation, two separate studies showed that Bush received a boost to his approval ratings with each escalation of the terror threat level. The warning has been raised above yellow (“elevated”) 16 times, but it’s never been lowered to blue or green, the bottom rungs on DHS’s Ladder of Fear. Yet, with Spinal Tap logic (“this goes to 11!”) the department insists on keeping all five levels.

[T]he department has done little to provide genuine security and much to encourage a pernicious politics of fear.

The department itself is a dog’s breakfast of 22 federal agencies brought together in the hope of providing better coordination on a common mission. But turf battles left key antiterror agencies like the FBI out of the reorganization, and DHS finished last or next to last on every measure of employee morale in a 2006 Office of Personnel Management study.

The truth, as analyst Jeffrey Rosen points out, is that DHS is ‘an institutional money pit that has more to do with symbols than substance.”

8. “Afghanistan: Obama’s Vietnam”: last Tuesday’s column. Unfortunately, the same day, some other guy made the same argument and stole all the attention:

there’s another aspect of the LBJ parallel that deserves more attention. That’s liberals’ temperamental affinity for nation-building, which may help explain why Obama is doubling down on a bad bet.

Historian and Vietnam veteran Walter McDougall calls Vietnam the “Great Society War,” one shaped by liberals’ conviction that no social problem is too difficult for a determined and well-meaning government to fix.

As McDougall tells it, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara “put more than a hundred sociologists, ethnologists, and psychologists to work ‘modeling’ South Vietnamese society and seeking data sufficient ‘to describe it quantitatively and simulate its behavior on a computer.” “Dammit,” LBJ exclaimed to an aide in 1966, “We’ve got to see that the South Vietnamese government wins the battle… of crops and hearts and caring.”

True, Obama admits that we can’t “rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy.” But the administration’s vision for Afghanistan is quixotic enough nonetheless…

Posted on Sep 4, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 9 Comments

Recent Examiner Columns


And since I last updated the blog, I’ve written eight columns for the DC Examiner. Here are the first four; I’ll put the others up tomorrow:

1. “Sarah’s Swan Song”: prompted by Palin’s resignation, it argued that “Conservatives undermine their movement when they fetishize inarticulateness as ‘plain speaking'” and take disinterest in national affairs or foreign policy–the stuff of the presidency–to be qualifications for the office:

William F. Buckley had a point when he said he’d “rather be ruled by the first 500 people in the Boston phonebook than the faculty at Harvard.” But you can take that point too far–and conservatives have.

Their logic seems to go something like this: Jimmy Carter was smart, and a bad president; Reagan went to Eureka College and the intelligentsia sneered at him, yet he was a good president. Liberal elitists sneer at Bush and Palin, too, therefore they’d make marvelous presidents.

But unlike either Bush or Palin, Reagan was fiercely interested in ideas. Anyone who’s looked at “Reagan in His Own Hand,” the volume that reproduces his handwritten 1970s radio speeches, knows how sharp and skilled our 40th president was as a writer and thinker. And it must be said that none of Reagan’s speeches featured as many screaming ALLCAPS and exclamation marks as Palin’s Friday speech, which included lines like, “LIFE is about choices!”

2. “The Statist Generation”: reading about the “Millenials” made me oddly proud to be a cynical Gen X’er. Musically, we have very little to apologize for (Grunge was pretty awesome), and politically, what’s coming is far worse:

Kids today are a credulous bunch. The 2007 Pew Political Values survey revealed “a generation gap in cynicism.” Where 62 percent of Americans overall view the federal government as wasteful and inefficient, just 42 percent of young people agree.

No wonder, then, that GenNext responds to President Obama’s call for “public service,” roughly translated as “a federal paycheck.”

Here, they differ dramatically from their skeptical “Generation X” predecessors. A 1999 survey asked Gen X college seniors to name their ideal employers; they “filled the entire list with for-profit businesses like Microsoft and Cisco.” What a difference a generation makes. In the same poll today, Gen Y prefers the State Department, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. That’s a problem for a country built on the entrepreneurial spirit.

Get off my goddamn lawn.

3. “Staying Sane as President”: at least, I think that’s what I called it originally.

Silent Cal couldn’t have imagined the atmosphere of celebrity adoration that envelops today’s chief: “OMG! Obama swatted a fly! So cool! He went to Ray’s Hell Burger! Just like any normal person with a massive Secret Service detail!” How long could any of us remain “grounded” in an environment where we’re constantly treated like a god?

Cornell University psychologist Robert Millman argues that many celebrities suffer from “acquired situational narcissism.” As Millman explains, otherwise emotionally healthy people often develop delusions of grandeur after they strike it big in Hollywood. When “a celebrity walks into a room,” Millman writes, “everyone looks at him: he’s a prince.” After a while, what happens is our star “gets so used to everyone looking at him, that he stops looking back at them.”

Celebrity pathology is harmless fun when we scan Us Weekly in the checkout line. But if the president loses his grip, there’s rather more at stake.

Past presidents, drunk on adulation and tormented by responsibilities no movie star faces, have indeed lost their grip. In an Oval Office meeting in 1967, asked by a reporter why America was in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson unzipped his fly, wagged the presidential member at his questioner and exclaimed, “This is why!”

4. “If Troops Are Deployed at Home, We Need to Have Solid Oversight.” Actually, I don’t think troops should be deployed at home for domestic security purposes even if there is solid oversight:

if you’re inclined to thank God for small favors, there’s this at least: Obama has yet to propose turning the U.S. military against American citizens. Last week, The New York Times revealed that the Bush administration seriously considered doing just that.

According to former administration officials, at a top-level meeting in 2002, then-vice president Dick Cheney and his allies lobbied hard for sending U.S. troops onto the streets of a Buffalo, N.Y., suburb to kick down doors and kill or capture a group of terrorist suspects, the so-called Lackawanna Six.

Posted on Sep 3, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 6 Comments

Intermittent Blogging Resumes

cult-poster I haven’t updated this blog in almost two months, so I guess it’s time. Here are some Cult-related items since last I blogged:

In the July 23 issue of the Economist, “Lexington” devoted his column to Cult of the Presidency. Here’s the first paragraph:

IN JANUARY 2007 Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said he was running for president to revive “our national soul”. He was not alone in taking an expansive view of presidential responsibilities. With the exception of Ron Paul, all the serious candidates waxed grandiloquent about their aims. John McCain said he modelled himself on Teddy Roosevelt, a man who “nourished the soul of a great nation”. Hillary Clinton lamented that America had no goals, and offered to supply some. And let us not forget the man they all sought to replace, George Bush, who promised, among other things, to “rid the world of evil”. Appalled by such hubris, a libertarian scholar called Gene Healy wrote “The Cult of the Presidency”, a book decrying the unrealistic expectations Americans have of their presidents. The book was written while Barack Obama’s career was still on the launch pad, yet it describes with uncanny prescience the atmosphere that allowed him to soar.

That was neat. That it happened when I was on vacation half a world away in Bali made it all the sweeter. For a while, I thought about getting a T-shirt made with “Ask Me About My Uncanny Prescience” across the chest, but I decided that would be pompous.

Also, my ability to predict how things would go politically has always been pathetic. Back in 1995, I told anyone who would listen that Phil Gramm would be our next president. Oddly, it turned out that America really didn’t want to elect a surly bald guy who once tried to finance soft-core porn movies.

But maybe I’m getting better at this prediction thing. Back in the early days of the Obama administration, when most limited-government types were doing an imitation of Bill Paxton’s character from Aliens, I argued that Obama’s then-stratospheric popularity was ephemeral, and that he was likely to end up as unpopular as Jimmy Carter. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but, uh, beep beep.

Here’s a nice Cult mention from Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times last week. Alex Massie gave the book some kind words in the Spectator as well.

Posted on Sep 3, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 8 Comments

Look, Ma

I was on TV again.

Posted on Jun 17, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency, Executive Power | 8 Comments

Disrespecting the Cult which the Motorhome Diaries crew visits a weird, Easter-Island looking roadside Rushmore, and with Megadeth blaring, express their disapproval.

Posted on Jun 13, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 5 Comments

That’s the Spirit

I recently noticed this anecdote from NRO’s Jay Nordlinger:

A reader pointed me to a treasurable fact. It can be found in an obituary of Ralph J. Perk, the mayor of Cleveland from 1972 to 1977. “President Richard M. Nixon invited Mr. Perk and his wife, the former Lucille Gagliardi, to a dinner at the White House. But Mrs. Perk sent word that she could not attend because it was her night to go bowling.”

The spirit of Lucille Perk lives on in the Steelers’ James Harrison:

Linebacker James Harrison told reporters earlier this week he’d be a no-show at the White House. He denied any political motivation for his decision. “This is how I feel — if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don’t win the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, he would’ve invited Arizona if they had won,” said Harrison, who later joked that he was staying away because the White House was located in a “bad neighborhood.”

This isn’t the first time Harrison has declined an invitation to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — he turned down an invite from former President Bush after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. “Let me ask you a question,” he said Wednesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Why is it a big issue now that I’m not going if it wasn’t a big issue the last time?

“…Hey, James ain’t changed. I guess my profile did, but I didn’t change. I’m not going because I don’t want to go,” he said. “They’re making a big deal out of this: ‘Oh, my, James Harrison is not going to the White House; he must be a devil worshipper!'”

H/T Chuck Katz

Posted on May 23, 2009 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 11 Comments

The Roots of Mustardgate

greypoupon1Just finished David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power. Mendell was the Chicago Tribune reporter assigned to cover Obama in his ’04 Senate race, so he had good access to BHO at an early point in his career. The book’s a bit of a hagiography, but it has a lot of useful information. In fact, if Sean Hannity had read it, he’d have realized that Obama’s condiment-based elitism started well before his infamous trip to Ray’s Hell Burger. On his first downstate trip as a new state senator, Obama was warned about this by his aide Dan Shomon:

Shomon told him to wear polo shirts and khakis throughout the trip, in order to fit in. Obama also recalled the story of Shomon advising him in a downstate restaurant to eat regular yellow mustard rather than the more pretentious Dijon mustard.

Personally, I think ordering your burger well-done is a much greater offense.

Posted on May 23, 2009 in Asides, Conservatism | 8 Comments

Live Author Chat

…which is better than the alternative, at least from my perspective. I’ll be doing one starting 8 PM ET over at Radley Balko’s site. Stop by.

Posted on Oct 29, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 10 Comments


Dieter: “Ve are Nihilists, Lebowski. Ve believe in nothing! Nothing!”
–Joel and Ethan Coen, “The Big Lebowski”

“And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed.”

–David Brooks, “The Revolt of the Nihilists,” September 29, 2008

That’s David Brooks tearing his hair out yesterday over the failure of the bailout bill. It’s interesting that Brooks characterizes people who resist the idea of privatized profits and socialized loss as “nihilists.” If you’re not willing to let Brooks’ “new establishment” play with up to $700 billion in tax dollars, if you don’t offer up your wallet the moment an expert cries “crisis!”–why then, you must believe in nothing! Nothing at all!

Interesting, but maybe not all that surprising. Brooks is, after all, the architect of National Greatness Conservatism, the philosophy that says “American purpose can only find its voice in Washington.” Inside Washington: purpose, meaning, fulfillment–glory. Outside Washington: a vast and pitiless void. “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state,” as a prominent theorist of national greatness once put it.


Posted on Sep 30, 2008 in Asides, Domestic Policy | 13 Comments

Me, Me, Me, Me

Here I am from a conference at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover from back in May. I uhhh gotta work on my uhhhs, but otherwise I think it comes across ok.

I’m answering questions over at LibraryThing, which, I recently learned, is run by an old friend from college.

And Matt Yglesias gave the book a nice shout-out last week. Thanks, Matt!

Posted on Sep 23, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 6 Comments

“Even Richard Nixon Has Got Soul”

A great lyric, and perhaps an expression of bottomless Christian charity, because if Nixon had it, there’s not a one of us doesn’t. One of the many wonderful details in Rick Perlstein’s compulsively readable Nixonland is the following memo “To: Mrs. Nixon “From: The President”:

It wasn’t a love note. “With regard to RN’s room, what would be the most desirable is an end table like the one on the right side of the bed which will accommodate TWO dictaphones as well as a telephone…. In addition, he needs a bigger table on which he can work at night.”


Posted on Jul 27, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 8 Comments

Sunday Presidential Song Blogging

Neil Young: “Campaigner.” “Even Richard Nixon has got soul”: a lovely line, even if it’s hard to make sense of the rest of the lyrics. And hey, the Godfather of Soul endorsed Tricky Dick’s ’72 reelection campaign, so maybe he did.

Tags: , ,

Posted on Jul 27, 2008 in Arts and Culture, Asides | 7 Comments

Sorry for the Radio Silence

I’ve been out of town, in Las Vegas, America’s Museum of Obesity, a sprawling, endless Epcot Center for Drunks. In some ways it’s the Platonic form of America, in others a horrid, weirdly Soviet atmosphere that amplifies our country’s worst qualities. I’d never before seen people ride those “Rascal” mobility carts, not because they’re handicapped, but because they’re fat and lazy. Since I returned, I’ve been buried in work. I wish I had a Rascal with a laptop tray, so I could get work done on the commute home.

But back to self-promotion: Jim Antle, late of the American Conservative, now with the American Spectator, just wrote a nice review of Cult in the Washington Times. Thanks, Jim! (I can’t track down your email).


Posted on Jul 16, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | Comments Off

Things I Wish I Could Un-read

From the NYT Sunday Magazine interview with Uma Thurman’s dad, a Buddhist scholar at Columbia:

What do you think about when you meditate? Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

Posted on Jun 30, 2008 in Asides | 12 Comments

Neocon Career Advice

First two sentences of a book review by David “End to Evil” Frum in yesterday’s NYT:

In most lines of work, a person does his credibility real damage by denying the obvious and asserting the manifestly untrue. Yet in the book world, there can be very large rewards for a writer who boldly turns reality on its head.


Posted on Jun 30, 2008 in Arts and Culture, Asides, Conservatism | 3 Comments