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Thursday, November 3, 2011
Guys' Day (Equal Time)

Last week I declared Peggy Janet Noonan Daley Day, in honor of two excellent female columnists I regularly enjoy. I promised the guys equal time.

Last week I posted links to recent columns by Peggy Noonan and Janet Daley. Today's "equal time for guys" approach includes more than two men. You are free to draw your own conclusions, such as, It takes more than two of these men to equal one of those women. Or, Among excellent conservative columnists there are more men than woman. (I'm not sure either of these it true, which is why I said the conclusions would be yours.)

In any case, our cast of characters today is noticeably larger: George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Victor Davis Hanson, Thomas Sowell, Jonah Goldberg, Orson Scott Card, and Paul Greenberg. You can thank me later for declaring this Guys' Day instead of George Charles Victor Thomas Jonah Orson Paul Davis Scott Will Krauthammer Hanson Sowell Goldberg Card Greenberg day.

You'll see that Greenberg gets the most attention here. Perhaps it's because, while all these others write, think, and explain superbly, Greenberg does all of those, but also routinely engages the heart (if I may say so, in a Peggy Noonan-like manner).

The President

Victor Davis Hanson and Charles Krauthammer explain in their own ways how President Obama is still the same guy who campaigned and got elected in 2008. Hanson writes:

The skeptics of 2008 proved prescient; those who demonized them should be embarrassed. And we should remember that candidates, of both parties, will govern mostly as they campaign. Slips are not indiscretions, but often will prove in hindsight windows of the soul.

Krauthammer explains:

. . . The new Obama, today's soak-the-rich, veto-threatening, self-proclaimed class warrior. Except that the new Obama is really the old Obama -- the one who, upon entering office in the middle of a deep economic crisis, and determined not to allow "a serious crisis to go to waste" (to quote his then-chief of staff), exploited the (presumed) malleability of a demoralized and therefore passive citizenry to enact the largest Keynesian stimulus in recorded history, followed by the quasi-nationalization of one-sixth of the economy that is health care.

Considering the political cost -- a massive electoral rebuke by an infuriated 2010 electorate -- these are the works of a conviction politician, one deeply committed to his own social-democratic vision.

That politician now returns.

Paul Greenberg lately describes a president who is out of touch:

Barack Obama long ago lost the common touch -- if he ever had it -- but he still seems to believe he's talking the language of The People even when he's just spouting Washington nerdspeak. Or trying to do a poor, a very poor, imitation of Harry Truman giving 'em hell. Maybe because Mr. Truman was authentic. As solid as any other show-me Missourian. But this president shows more condescension than connection to the American spirit.

And the people this president presumes to speak for are starting to notice. Which may explain why they've stopped paying him much attention. Remember when one of his presidential addresses, whether before a joint session of Congress or at a general store in the hills, was an occasion? Remember when people were actually interested in what he had to say? Now? Not so much.

Yes, that's a few too many sentence fragments for my taste, but I suppose my taste is not really the point.

Protests and Their Contexts

In essays this summer, Victor Davis Hanson considers whether certain protestors are deprived or decadent and examines Europe's unrest as a warning for the United States, and Jonah Goldberg looks (unfavorably) at popular rationalizations for the summer's mischief.

George Will explains the the sad condition of the British welfare state:

The British state is morbidly obese. For a third consecutive year, government will spend more than half the gross domestic product -- partly because half of all jobs created during the 13 years of Labor Party governance that ended in May 2010 were in the public sector.

Britain's debt, now 62 percent of GDP, is scheduled to rise to 71 percent in 2013-14 before declining. Government devours 47 percent of national income.

In "Anatomy of a Protest," Paul Greenberg offers this perspective:

This is not to say that all protests are born equal. Lest we forget, this republic was born in protest, usually in the vicinity of Boston, Mass., aka The Cradle of Liberty.

How differentiate between protests that lead to liberty under law, and to more respect for human dignity and self-reliance rather than less?

Just ask the reason for the protest. Ask for specifics. By their specifics you shall know them, and whether the protest is serious or just for show.

In case you're wondering what he thinks of the Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs, for the present he thinks it would be better for the environment if the protestors stayed off the grass. Ahem.

The Constitution and Democracy

A year-old but still relevant essay by ornery Democrat Orson Scott Card accuses the Democrats of "spitting on the Constitution." Speaking of a specific Obama appointment, he rages:

This is what dictatorship looks like, boys and girls. And Obama has been doing it all along. What do you think his "czars" are? But this case is so obvious, and so dangerous to the economy as well as to our freedoms, that it cannot be allowed to stand.

But even if Obama decides to withdraw this unconstitutional appointment, we must not forget that this is what he wants to do and how he wants to govern.

Meanwhile, George Will wrote the other day the constitutional implications of a lawsuit in Colorado, which touches on the nature of democracy and the constitutional republic.

Progressives have long lamented the fact that the Framers designed a Constitution replete with impediments to federal government activism -- fetters such as federalism itself, enumerated powers, three branches of government, two rivalrous wings of the legislative branch, supermajorities, judicial review, presidential vetoes. Colorado progressives, however, have decided the Constitution has a redeeming feature -- the infrequently invoked Guarantee Clause.

Thomas Sowell reflects on the questionable staying power of free and democratic societies, and on voters of a certain sort, who "represent a danger of terminal frivolity for freedom and democracy." Here's an excerpt:

Free and democratic societies have existed for a relatively short time, as history is measured -- and their staying power has always been open to question. So much depends on the wisdom of the voters that the franchise was always limited, in one way or another, so that voting would be confined to those with a stake in the viability and progress of the country, and the knowledge to cast their vote intelligently.

In our own times, however, voting has been seen as just one of the many "rights" to which everyone is supposed to be entitled. The emphasis has been on the voter, rather than on the momentous consequences of elections for the nation today and for generations yet unborn.

To those who see voting as more or less just a matter of self-expression, almost a recreational activity, there is no need to inform themselves on both sides of the issues before voting, much less sit down and think beyond the rhetoric to the realities that the rhetoric conceals.

Careless voters may be easily swayed by charisma and rhetoric, oblivious to the monumental disasters created around the world by 20th century leaders with charisma and rhetoric, such as Hitler.

Voters like this represent a danger of terminal frivolity for freedom and democracy.

In a September essay Paul Greenberg went from Hamilton to Washington to Tocqueville, before ending here:

For reasons hard to explain except by a providential grace, at just those moments when the country required a great leader, one would emerge out of the usual swirl of passions and parties that mark a democracy, and set a new course for the ship of state safely past the shoals ahead -- a Washington, a Lincoln, a Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan. Each made all the difference.

Now, once again, in both foreign and domestic affairs, the Republic drifts. Surely not even the most confirmed of Pollyannas would see any great constancy of purpose in the largely ad hoc maneuvers of the Republic's leaders today. But those of us who live by faith have come to expect grace -- indeed, to depend on it. Maybe that's why we wait confidently, expectantly, for the morrow. Keep the faith.

And you'll want to read about the little abuses of American liberties which lead Greenberg to this:

The spirit of liberty is more often lost in little ways -- a censored cartoon here, a prohibitive price for an expression of opinion there -- than all at once through some draconian decree. The spirit of liberty slips away a little at a time.

Whether it's a bus line in Arkansas or an Ivy League university, the same craven impulse is behind all such censorship: the fear that exercising our freedom will offend some mob somewhere. So we had better hush.

The spirit of liberty is always in danger, for there will always be fearful souls who don't see that courage is, was, and always will be the first requisite for liberty

Science and Higher Education

As a conservative (as distinct from a right-wing nut job), I'd be more enthusiastic about Mitt Romney's presidential campaign if he displayed Paul Greenberg's sensible understanding of what science is and isn't, and the implications of that for our understanding of climate change. He -- that is, Paul Greenberg -- muses on recent developments, then quotes Charles Mackay on the way to an interesting conclusion:

"Men, it has been said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one." And one by one, our scientists seem to be recovering.

Speaking of the sciences -- and arts and civilization and such -- Greenberg writes to a businessman:

Increasingly, college students are expected to know more and more about less and less -- everything about their specialty, not that much about the arts and sciences that compose the core of education, and of civilization. . . .

When the best of what has been thought and said is demoted to just another elective, you have to wonder if anarchy isn't getting the upper hand.

Last but Not Least

I let the ladies speak of September 11 the other day, because they did so very well. Maybe it means something about how I rank these men in my mind that my choice among their writings on the occasion of September's grim anniversary is Paul Greenberg's "'What Have We Learned from This?'," which also happens to include a portrait of a great teacher and some insight into reading history and scripture.

One more gem. Speaking of great teachers, a couple of weeks ago Greenberg asked, "What Makes a Great Teacher?" The product of that question was an essay on greatness in more than teaching, and a welcome dose of hope and even faith for a challenging time. (By the way, the most intriguing answer to the question in his title was by an authority on American education: "We don't know.")

Next time, we'll get back to what I've been writing lately, in my increasingly rare spare minutes.

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