Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

David Letterman vs Benjamin Franklin

By now, any conservative that is still reading this blog must be pretty fed up with me.  I have advocated that we stop opposing Obamacare, the legalization of marijuana, and gay marriage, as well as transgressing in numerous other areas of conservative orthodoxy.  In the eyes of most "true" conservatives I am indeed worse than a RINO, but I assure you that I am not a Democrat in disguise.  I am a staunch fiscal conservative that believes that our position on social issues and our messaging is what is defeating us at the polls.  I advocate stripping all social issues out of the Republican Party platform and adopting a set of objectives that calls for smaller government and fiscal responsibility - period.  I suggest that we should stop injecting religion into our political arguments and deal with the fact of life that America is increasingly secular in it's thinking.  If we want to be relevant we must focus and modernize our message.

I really like history and believe that we can learn a great deal from it, but I suggest that conservatives are not utilizing it correctly in our political debate with liberals.  This last time around, a lot of us quoted from the "Founders."  These quotes resonated with both conservatives and liberals alike, but what each group took away from these pithy statements was different.  Most conservatives heard the words as the distillation of timeless principals.  Many liberals heard them as the dusty rant of old, rich white men who massacred Native Americans, held black people as slaves, and would not let women vote.  Many young people do not see the relevance of a small white elite that lived several centuries ago with the society that they see all around them today.  Unfortunately, the men who gave us our country can be dismissed by much of society today with relatively weak humor.

Conservatives ridiculed Barack Obama for his penchant of appearing on various entertainment shows when we felt that he should be in the oval office working on matters of state.   While some of us were talking about what Benjamin Franklin told George Washington, Axelrod had his man talking to David Letterman and Whoopi Goldberg.  We criticized the president for going off to Las Vegas to party with the entertainment crowd at a time that we felt he should better be talking to the National Security Council about Benghazi.  We were right about substance and Axelrod was right about elections.  We must understand what all of this implies about the effectiveness of our messaging.  It, unfortunately, also says a lot about an important segment of the American public.  We can ignore or demean that aspect of all of this, but, if we do, it will mean that we will continue to lose elections.  I don't want to do that.  The future of this country is truly at stake.  The people who spend their days watching entertainment shows vote.

None of this means that I or anyone else must "abandon our principals."  Each one of us will obviously think about each of these fundamental issues the way that we wish and that is as it should be.  I just think that we should stop trying to impose our social value set on other people who do not agree with us.  The same goes for religion.  I further suggest that we take the role of entertainment as a form of communication in modern America more seriously than we have in the past.  I suggest that we prioritize our political objectives and improve the effectiveness of our messaging in order to maintain a voice in how this country moves forward.  America is changing whether we like it or not (and I do not).  One of the changes that is going on is that the political balance is tipping toward the liberal side of the scale.  I see that as dangerous to the long term health and welfare of this country.  I want to raise the conservative voice effectively, not to turn back the clock, but to move forward as intelligently as possible.  

PS:  I would like to take the slogan "Forward" away from the liberals.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pot and Conservatives

I have no medical experience what so ever.  I do not know for certain what marijuana does to a user's body, but I can't believe that it is very good.  People who support it's legalization tell me that it is no worse than alcohol, but that does not reassure me very much.  I've seen too many bad things come from drinking booze.  At the same time, I live in a part of the country that has a fairly large number of people who regularly smoke pot.  It is socially accepted throughout this community and I honestly do not see any violent problems that can be traced to it's use.  I do see lethargy among the users, but I do not know for a fact how much of that is due to marijuana and how much to other factors.  

A few of my neighbors say that they use marijuana for medical reasons and I suppose that there might be some value in that application of the drug if someone has a particularly horrible health problem.  Most of the folks around me that smoke pot, however, appear to fall into the recreational user category and they liken it to drinking beer and wine without the hangover.  My unscientific conclusion is that most pot smokers use marijuana as a way to escape reality.  Some of them also use other substances for the same purpose, but I do not know the causative effects that marijuana had on that use.  My suspicion is that the life style that emerges from the use of pot contributes to an individual's interest in exploring other avenues of escape in the same way that alcohol does.

California recently voted against the legalization of marijuana and my strong hunch is that all of the pot smokers in my community voted against it because they felt that it would adversely impact their own marijuana growing endeavors.  From their point of view, the current situation is better in that they can enjoy pot and make a little bit of money at the same time.  From their point of view, they are probably making the right decision.  Once government gets into the act there will be much more of an incentive to control and concentrate production and taxes can be expected to increase the price dramatically.  This community will lose an important source of income and the price of an important commodity will inevitably rise.

Another aspect of marijuana that we have to consider is the cost of enforcing prohibition.  I know very little about our penal system, but I am told that marijuana laws account for a very, very large proportion of convictions throughout the country.  This has serious social and financial implications that must be factored into the marijuana debate.  The dollars devoted to this purpose could clearly be used to good effect elsewhere.  More important is the fact that we are taking large numbers of average citizens out of mainstream America and incarcerating them along with hardened criminals.  I suggest that is not particularly good for the longterm social health of this society.  At best, all we are doing is teaching pot smokers to be more careful in the future about where they keep their stash.

There is also a political cost involved.  Democrats generally support legalization of marijuana.  Conservatives generally oppose legalization.  I suggest that the American public is changing it's mind about the subject and it is one more reason why voters are turning away from conservative ideas generally.  The pot debate epitomizes what many young people feel is wrong with the Republican Party.  In their mind it is clearly behind the times.  An increasing number of mature voters are coming to the same conclusion when they point out that we have tried prohibition for a long time and it is clearly not working.  Maybe we ought to try something else.  My guess is that no matter what position conservatives take on this issue, the legalization of marijuana is unfortunately the wave of the future.

So, once again, we conservatives are faced with a tough choice.  Go with the flow to get votes or stick to our guns and insist on maintaining the current prohibition.  This is another crossroads issue.  Which ones of these issues do we fight and on which ones do we fold our tents and bow to the public will?  I argue that we should cave on this one.  Prohibition is not working.  An increasing number of people want a relaxation in marijuana legislation.  I suggest that conservatives take the position that it is an issue for the individual states to decide and we strip marijuana out of the Republican party position at the national level.  As individuals we can continue to argue the issue anyway that we want, but we had better make up our mind to the fact that the public is moving away from us on this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Obamacare and Republicans

If a conservative wants to influence the course of the ship of state we have to first recognize that it is a big boat and we are all in it - liberal and conservative alike.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are currently 314,823,965 of us here in this country.  (There will be more by the time that you read this.  We multiply like rabbits.)  Some of us are liberals, some conservatives, and some of us have never thought about the question.  In fact, a depressing number of folks live their lives without much real thought about political issues.  They are the ones that answer the polls with the I don't know answer and vote according to the way their tweets are trending.

I suggest that too many of us that are interested in politics, on both sides of the aisle, take too absolutist a view of the subject.  We have defined our political position as not only being correct, we go on to hold that it is the only acceptable approach to any of the many serious problems facing this country.  When everybody agrees, that works out just fine, but when they do not, we run into serious problems.  During the first Obama term, the Democrats passed Obamacare without any conservative input what so ever and split the country into two warring groups.  Romney's campaign for the presidency had as one of it's basic tenants that he would overturn Obamacare.  Obama won that round, but the country is still divided on the issue.

The problem is wider than just Obamacare, but let's stay with that issue as an example of what I am talking about.  Opponents of Obamacare have two choices.  One is that we can continue to oppose it, dig in our heels, and wait for the political wheel to turn in the hope that we will be able to eventually overturn it.  Viscerally, that is what I would like to do, but after thinking about it, I argue that we should not follow that course.  Instead, we should take the helm and steer the ship in what we believe to be the best direction for the good of all of us, hopefully remembering that we are all in this boat together.  

Prior to the passage of Obamacare, we all saw problems in our health care system and nobody did much about them - conservative and liberal alike.  With the passage of Obamacare we all see more problems coming and we all agree that the crowd in the White House is almost certainly not going to handle them in an optimal fashion.  So what should conservatives do about it?  If we sit back and wait for the looming problems to further degrade our healthcare system we might believe that we will have proven to America that we were right all along and that might help us in the next election cycle.  Alternatively, that course of action might prove to America that Axelrod is correct after all.  We are just a cloud of negative energy trying to do our best to hurt America, not help it.  We want to take America backwards not forward, etc, etc, etc…

I suggest that we conservatives should stop trying to master the art of boxing and begin practicing the art of jujitsu.  Let's go with the flow and change it's course, rather than be seen as the dam standing in the way of progress.  Much of the real action on healthcare is going to happen at the state and local level and there are serious problems there.  Politically, we have a pretty good position in many state and local governments.  Let's use that position to shape a sensible healthcare policy for our various states.  Let's not be in a hurry to solve healthcare problems at the national level.  Let's recognize that it takes a long time to change the direction of a large ship, and let's recognize just how huge this ship of state really is and how many different kinds of people are in it with us.  If we successfully resist the urge to hurry, we will accomplish more of our objectives more quickly.

I did not like Mao tze-tung, but I agree with his focus on convincing the people in the heartland to support his revolution before he tackled Chiang kai-shek in the capital.  Fortunately, our problems are not comparable with those of twentieth century China, but politics are politics.  Let's work to change people's minds rather than attack our opponents in every way possible.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Axelrod was the best general.

Conservatives understandably are focused on what went wrong in this last presidential election.  The incumbent had a lousy record and we had a very competent candidate with what we believe to be most of the right answers to the most important problems that face us.  How in the world could we have lost that contest?  Some folks point to the minority vote "breaking" for the president because Democrats favor more welfare.  Others suggest that our ground game was inadequate.  Still others claim that our candidate should have been more aggressive.  Many feel that we lost the women's vote even though they are not quite sure why.  Some say that we should have paid more attention to young people.  If this hand wringing goes on long enough somebody will argue that Romney and Ryan should have learned how to speak spanish.  The one that I like the most (sarcasm here) is that not enough white people voted.  And in the background is the constant complaining about negative campaigning, fraud at the polls, and dirty tricks.

At the end of the day, I believe that we lost because David Axelrod was a superb general and ran a more effective campaign than we did.  Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate that we adopt Axelrod's tactics.  I do advocate that we look at them, all of them, with clear eyes and develop a strategy and tactics that obviate their effectiveness.  (That is really what this blog is all about.)  It is a complicated challenge and it is going to require conservatives to do a lot of things that we do not want to do - much of it internally among ourselves.  If we do these things, I believe that our victory at the polls will be assured.  If we do not, we are a footnote to history.  So, if I am so all-fired smart, what are the things that we must do to win the next election?

I've already written about some of the things that we need to do and will address more in the months ahead, but right now, I would like to focus on the need for conservatives to find a better general to run our next set of campaigns.  I don't want to malign the people who made the campaign decisions this last time around.  It is a brutal enough business that they are in.  The fact of the matter is that they lost, so they need to be replaced.  I don't know the personalities and I don't know who, if anyone, is seeking the job, but I can come up with some of the requirements for it.

The first requirement for ultimate effectiveness at the polls is that we quit reinventing our campaign structure every two to four years.  Why in the world do we even have a Republican Party if it dissolves itself after every election?  The pitiful organization that exists between elections is inadequate to get the job done and part of the reason that it is so weak is that it periodically disappears in all but name only.  My impression is that, in the "off years" we select people who we think might be able to raise money for the "big push" come election day.  This is poor prioritization on our part and we should realize by now that there are no "off years" in the election cycle.  Money is important, but people and structure are ultimately more important and election day is only one part of the overall requirement.

We criticize Obama for his constant campaigning during his first four years in office, but we should probably quit moaning about it and start learning from his example.  Axelrod began his 2012 re-election campaign in November, 2008.  I suggest that we adopt the same strategy.  Let's quit the bickering and name calling and get serious about running for office right now.  Let's hire a good general and let's give him an organization that can recruit a team of volunteers throughout the country.  Let's do Axelrod one better and let's not just focus on the so-called swing states - let's talk to all of America.  We have a positive message.  Let's get it out there.  If we were to do that effectively, the probability is that we would turn every single one of the reasons that we lost this time into the reasons that we will win next time.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Let's get to know our new neighbors.

I am not big on the idea of spanish, or any other language for that matter, being an official, or even semi-official, second language in this country.  I continue to believe that it is in all of our interest to do everything that we can to get everybody to learn english and learn it well.  Language is a very important part of the acculturation process and that is what makes us Americans.  It is an essential first step in blending diverse peoples into one culture.

I accept the fact that recent immigration patterns have brought very large numbers of spanish speaking people to this country and we have to find ways to effectively communicate with them for all manner of reasons.  Clearly, the easiest way to do that is to translate everything into spanish, but that slows down the acculturation process and actually serves as one more thing that sets these people apart from the rest of us.  It actually tends to perpetuate the existence of an under class and that is not good for them or for the country.  

I believe that full acculturation into the main stream culture should be the principal objective.  American culture will be richer for it and these folks will have a much better life than they do now.  At the same time, I really do not like the way that some conservative politicians approach the subject.  It is one more example of how stupidly some of us relate to "them."  English will be the official language of America.  People who want to live here will learn english.  We will not accept spanish as a second language.  Etc, etc, etc…  I suggest that this is too harsh and is very counter-productive.   If I were one of "them" I would not be attracted by that sort of rhetoric.

I have met a lot of folks who are recent immigrants to this country and I have yet to meet very many who do not want to learn english.  Some of the older folks perhaps, but even they see the importance of it for their younger relatives.  Given the right conditions, I have seen these folks learn our language incredibly rapidly.  I suggest that the position we conservatives ought to take is that we want to help these folks integrate themselves into the main stream culture.  Get rid of "you will learn english."  Replace it with "we would like to help you learn english."

Once we have changed the way we conservatives think about the challenge, we should institute private community programs to teach english as a foreign language to adults throughout the country.  Teaching a foreign language does not need to be expensive.  The primary expense is teacher compensation.  I suggest that we staff our community learning centers with volunteers and we make classes free to students on the condition that they maintain satisfactory attendance records.  The only real requirement for a teacher is that they must be a native speaker of english.  I suggest that there are enough retiring baby boomers to easily staff all of the learning centers adequately.

The beauty of this approach is that we would not need to address the second language issue in our political system.  It would wither of it's own accord as the community language program took hold.  Please note that it might also introduce conservatives to a few of these folks and that might help both sides of the cultural divide understand each other better than we do now.  The pot would start bubbling again and that would be good for all of us.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Internet Culture and Our Future

I live in California.  The state is an economic disaster with a few islands of marginal prosperity.  San Francisco is one of these islands.  It is also one of the most liberal places in the entire country.  High tech accounts for the better than average economy and an extremely imaginative population accounts for the politics and life style.  This is Nancy Pelosi country.

For better or worse, San Francisco is no longer the place where Tony Bennet left his heart.  Today, it is the center of an extremely advanced alternative life style (even though the city council recently banned nudity in most public places).  The denizens of San Francisco are definitely hip.  In fact, they are the ones that are defining the very word.  These are the boys and girls that are inventing the new internet culture that is taking the entire world by storm.

Most of the offices for the Googles, the Apples and the Ciscos are further down the peninsula in places like Mountain View and Cupertino (the original Silicon Valley).  Nothing is actually made in San Francisco.  That pretty much takes place in China (where labor is less expensive).  Even the server farms that manage the Cloud are located elsewhere (where land and power are cheaper).  The only part of the internet puzzle that is in San Francisco is the internet literati.  They sleep and eat and play in the city by the bay.  Some of them make a lot of money and most of them spend it like there is no tomorrow - even if they have to borrow it.

If anyone wants to understand the impact that the internet culture is having on America and the world they must understand San Francisco.  I frankly confess that I am not smart enough, but I do see some aspects of the culture that worry me.  Change in San Francisco is as fast paced as it is on the internet.  Fortunes are made and spent in the blink of an eye.  Today's guru is tomorrow's old timer.  Flash is more important than bottom.  Youth is more valuable than experience.  The tweet is more important than the essay.  Superficial is the new reality.

San Francisco has seen booms before.  Gold in the nineteenth century, railroads and shipping in the twentieth, but the internet boom is somehow different.  Gold and railroads and shipping built tangible things.  The current boom is not building very much that we can actually touch and that makes me nervous.  Everything is a flickering shadow on a computer screen.  Money is still being spent on "stuff," but most of the stuff is made elsewhere and all of it appears to have very short life expectancy and seems to be very disposable.

I have met some of the folks that make this internet world go around.  They are very impressive and obviously think way outside the box.  I remember meeting a very young man in a t-shirt that said he and his buddy were inventing a search engine that would dominate the internet.  He did.  He and his buddy built Google.  I am definitely not trying to put these people down.  In fact, I admire them.  I can't even program one of the new television remotes and they invent devices that can transport people literally and figuratively to other worlds.  I just worry that the world that they are inventing may not have much of a place for the rest of us.  

It would be the ultimate irony if it turned out that these high spirited, infinitely gifted youngsters that sincerely champion freedom were actually inventing the tools that governments will use to restrict our freedom more effectively than ever before in the history of man.  That today's licentious San Francisco could be the heart of that effort is something that I think about a lot.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Education and the Real World

I am fascinated by a human being's ability to have a fine education and simultaneously lack common sense.  I am likewise also fascinated by those that lack formal education and accomplish amazing things in their lives.  I can cite numerous individual examples of both phenomena among people that I have met during my lifetime, but I suggest that it is also applicable to groups of people as well.  

At one point in my life, a long time ago, I seriously considered going back to academia, getting a doctorate, and taking up a new career in education.  I was conceited enough to believe that my life experience might be of some benefit to somebody or another.  While I was exploring my options at one of the more prestigious universities on the West Coast, a very wise academician warned me that there were people who do, and people who teach, and the two were not interchangeable.  That was not the reason that I did not pursue a career in education, but I must say that the words stuck with me.

I do not go so far as to give credence to the more negative version of this old saying:  Some can, and some can't.  Those that can't, teach.  I see little or no proof of that version of the proverb and suggest that it is counterproductive to seriously entertain it.  Teachers are, by and large, wonderful people, selflessly dedicated to their profession and to their students.  We are fortunate to have them and our future depends upon them.  Those who malign them are shortsighted idiots.

Although I treasure teachers in our society, I am struck by how few of them have had much experience in fields other than teaching.  Again, without attempting to be critical of the selfless individuals involved in academics at all levels, I suggest that this has a very real impact on our education system.  I believe that it is one of the principal reasons, that our education system tilts so heavily toward liberal concepts.  Like most students, I came out of college a heartfelt liberal.  I didn't begin to understand the need for more conservative thinking until the real world had knocked me around a bit.

I suggest that the real world is a nasty place and humankind is less than perfect - by a long shot.  I agree that we should teach our youth to be good citizens, have high morals and want a better world, but we should also arm them with that which they will need to protect themselves and to protect society from dangers both within and without our borders.  I call that body of knowledge common sense.  It is a complicated set of challenges, but our education system may be failing us, in part at least, because the people in it do not have enough first hand experience of the real world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Conservatives should stop whining.

During his reelection campaign, Barack Obama made a big deal about his effort to create what he calls a fair society.  Many conservatives dismissed this out of hand as being ridiculous rhetoric.  I do not.  I think that it was one of Axelrod's most powerful messages.  I do not think that any conservative candidate dealt with the President's fairness challenge adequately.  If we are to return this country to a sound economic footing, we are going to have to deal with it.  If we do not, we will continue to go down the path to full blown socialism and inevitable economic decline for all of us.

Slogans are not an alternative here.  It is not acceptable to point out that it is not fair for those who work hard to pay the way for those who do not work hard.  That may sound good to the conservative base, but too many people in this country feel that they are working hard and still not getting ahead.  I know some of these people personally and can understand why they feel the way that they do.  Part of the problem is rising expectations combined with increasing impatience.  What it means to get ahead today is different than it was when I was a youngster.  My life goals were definitely very high, but I was not as impatient as the young people that I meet today.  I accepted that I would have to work hard for a full lifetime to get where I wanted to go and I mapped out a long term strategy to accomplish my objectives.

In today's world that may be more difficult to do than it was in my time.  In my day, the economy was a bit more linear.  It was easier to map out a strategy, particularly if you wanted to remain in one field for your entire career.  Today's youth see a rapidly changing economy and little long term economic certainty.  Not only is the economy changing in America it is changing everywhere in the world around us.  This makes it more difficult to plan one's career and increases uncertainty.  Uncertainty eventually leads to indecision.  Indecision leads to missed opportunity.  Miss enough opportunities and you become discouraged.  At that point it is understandable that you might begin to think that the world is unfair and you might welcome a helping hand.  Bingo!  Socialism.

So, what do we do about it?  There is good news and bad news.  The good news is that the problem can be solved.  The bad news is that it is going to be a very hard and a very long road.  The first step in the process is to accept the fact that we are not going to resurrect traditional America - ever.  That ship has sailed into history and it will not do us any practical good to endlessly chant slogans from what some of us feel were our glory days.  The next step is to accept the fact that we are now part of a global economy and we have to find acceptable ways to excel in that arena.  The third step is to attack the lack of common sense in our education system.  The fourth step is to ….  The list goes on and on and that is my point.  Conservatives should stop grousing about change, quit opposing it, and take charge of it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Youth and the Future

I took my car in to the dealer to get it serviced the other day.  in the process, I spent a few minutes chatting with the scheduler.  He was young, bright, knowledgeable, and obviously well respected by his co-workers.  We discussed my car for a few minutes and then I asked him what he was driving.  He told me that he did not have a car at the moment.  I kept the conversation going along car lines and was shocked to learn that he believed that he would never be able to afford to own a new car.  The man is in his late twenties, has what I presume is a pretty good job, and appears from everything that I could see to be a good prospect for promotion.  

When I was this fellow's age I purchased my first new car with money that I had earned.  I remember it vividly.  I went to the bank and took out the money in cash so that I could handle it before I gave it to the car dealer.  It was a big deal in my life, but it was not something that I thought to be particularly unusual.  It was one of those milestones in a young man's life that we all expected to experience.  It had never occurred to me that I would not be able to own my own new car.  It was just a matter of time, working hard, and saving a bit of money.  I never questioned that I would acheive it.

OK, automobiles are not what they used to be.  They are fancier and they are more expensive.  So that may well be part of the problem, but I am afraid that there is something else going on here and I suggest that we should be cognizant of it.  I met another fellow about the same age as my car guy in Reno, Nevada.  A day manager in a chain lodging company.  Bright, personable, intelligent, knowledgeable, competent, etc, etc, etc.  We got into a discussion about his future and he was not at all optimistic.  I travel a lot and I can cite numerous other similar examples where seemingly competent young men and women are pessimistic about their future.  Most of the time I give them a pep talk and cheer them on, but I honestly do not believe that I have had much of an impact on their attitude.

I think that young folks are more pessimistic about their future today than I was at their age five or six decades ago and I don't think that is a good thing.  Part of the problem is obvious.  The current economy stinks and, because we have kept Obama in office, it is not going to get better as quickly as it could or should.  No use complaining about that, the public voted and we have to deal with it.  The current state of the economy might well be the biggest challenge, but I think that the problem may be bigger than that.  These young people are smart.  They are looking ahead and they appear to see a country that will never again offer the promise that we used to take for granted.  These are not the ones demonstrating in the parks.  These folks are actually trying to participate in the economy.  These are the youngsters who took a shower, put on clean clothes and went and got a job.

If I am correct in this, we have a psychological problem that could easily destroy us.  These young people are literally the future of our country.  If the future of this country ever decides that they have to live with mom and dad, stay on their parent's health care program, and study up on welfare programs, America is not going to have much of a future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hispanics and the Melting Pot

There is currently a debate going on among some political pundits about why Hispanic voters turned out in greater numbers for Obama than they did for Romney.  Some folks hold that most Hispanics are less well-off financially than the rest of the public and for that reason were motivated to vote Democratic because that party champions more welfare.  I suppose there were some Hispanic voters that were so motivated, but I very much doubt that it was a majority.

Before we go on, I would like to say how much I dislike the term "Hispanic."  I do not know one single person whose parents or grandparents came from Hispania.  I do know folks who trace their ancestry back to Mexico, or Guatemala, or San Salvador and even a few whose parents were Spanish, but nobody I know is really Hispanic.  If my parents were Olmec, or Zapotec, or Mayan, I would be one heck of a lot prouder of that lineage than I would be of one that identifies me as having lived in a country that was colonized by Spain.  When someone points out that all of these people speak Spanish and claims that makes it convenient to refer to them as Hispanic, I respond by saying that Americans should therefore be called English.  I am not English and I don't want to be called English.

Very few Americans understand the background of these recent immigrants to our country.  We lump bananas and oranges into the same basket and call it fruit.  It is not surprising that our effort to understand them is incomplete.  Oranges are citrus and bananas are not.  It is another example of the cultural arrogance of our mainstream society.  While this arrogance is usually just irritating, in this instance it is dangerous.  There are a lot of these folks living in this country today.  They are our neighbors and increasingly they are our husbands, wives, sons and daughters.  It is time that we quit lumping them into one basket and got to know them as individuals.  That is true for our politicians and it is true for the rest of us as well.  

We Americans claim that we are not racist, but some of us still analyze the vote by the color of people's skin.  Brown people voted one way, blacks another, and whites still another.  That seems to me to indicate a certain amount of racism in all of us - conservative and liberal alike.  Why not ask ourselves why "people" voted the way that they did?  I know for a fact that I did not vote the way that I did because my skin color is pasty orange.  I voted the way that I did because I wanted a certain kind of government.  If we want these folks to vote conservative we have to explain why that is in their own and their children's long term interest.  That is exactly the same challenge that we face when soliciting the vote of a person with Irish, or German, or Norwegian heritage.

How do we do that?  We start by being civil in our dialog with all people and eliminating insults - intended and unintended.  Immigration will serve as an example.  We have an immigration problem in this country.  Our legal immigration system does not work well and our borders are too porous.  A large number of illegal immigrants have entered the country and successfully incorporated themselves into our society.  By and large, they are exactly the kind of people that we want to have in this country, but they broke the law to get here.  We can not accept the fact that they broke the law nor can we accept the reality of uprooting them from the community.  There is a simple solution - tighten border security and issue work permits.  

Please note that I did not have to use the color of anyone's skin nor the language that their parents spoke to explain the solution to our immigration problem.  America is what it is in large part because we have been a cultural melting pot.  How can we melt together if all of us insist on perpetuating these superficial differences?  If we are really not racist, let's quit talking about black people, and white people, and yellow people, and brown people.  Just plain people will do just fine and then maybe we can get on to dealing with those things that are really important.  If we have to give these various groups a label, let's call them Americans.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Henry David Thoreau said it best.

Any conservative that has been reading this blog recently might well ask themselves why I consider myself a conservative.  Some, that did not read my words carefully, might conclude that I favor social causes that have long been anathema to conservatives.  Several of these issues are sensitive and all of them are important to a great many people in this country including me.  As our president likes to say "Let me be very clear."  I am a traditionalist through and through.  I do not know for sure whether God exists or not, but I believe that the Christian religion has long been a vital cornerstone of our community.  I do not like the idea of killing anything, let alone babies.  Women turn me on, men do not.  I think that we should respect our flag.  I am very patriotic and believe that we have long benefitted from living in a country with the worst political system except any other that has ever existed.  Etc, etc, etc...  

In short, I hold most of the traditional conservative beliefs and I very much regret the fact that the world around me is changing.  I also agree with Henry David Thoreau (not Jefferson or Paine) in believing that the best government is the one that governs least.  I favor a government that stays out of social issues as much as humanly possible.  Ideally, it would limit itself to those tasks that are enumerated in our constitution.  Allegedly, most of my fellow conservatives hold this same view, except that some of us want to get government involved in the selected set of social issues that interest us most.  They argue, in this regard, that we must be true to our principals.  I respond by saying that I can stay true to my principals without requiring government to determine my every move.  Any intrusion into the private life of the citizen is an assault on our liberty, whether it is done for a reason that we like or not.

So now the question becomes whether or not I am a libertarian.  In all candor, I wish that I could believe that philosophy would work, but alas I do not.  Humans have not advanced far enough beyond the mouth of the cave to handle that much freedom.  Sad, but true.  So I am stuck with conservatism and limited government.  Limited government should clearly mean small government not big government.  Government that impacts each of us in as minimalist a way as possible.  I favor free enterprise over government services in every possible instance.  Defense of our cities need the police and defense of our country needs the military, but Fed Ex and UPS move the mail better and cheaper than does the Post Office.  Private entrepreneurs gave us smart phones and government gave us Solindra.  Private sector jobs do a better job of raising living standards than do food stamps.  Etc, etc, etc...

The result of limited government is that the individual citizen will be as free as possible.  Freedom is one of those conservative values that I particularly cherish.  So, if I am to live up to my basic conservative principals, I am going to quit inventing social litmus tests for my candidates for public office.  I am going to strip the criteria down to the bare essentials.  We conservatives talk a lot about the importance of the constitution.  Lets start practicing what we preach.  Let's get out of the bedroom, lets leave religion to the churches, and let's champion free enterprise over big government.  If we do that we will permit a majority of our fellow citizens to join with us in getting us out of the financial hole that we are falling into.  After we have accomplished that objective we can continue to argue about all of the other very important stuff that is out there.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gay Rights and the Republican Party

I am a thoroughly heterosexual male.  I admit that I am not attracted to a homosexual relationship, but I do not feel threatened by others who engage in homosexual activities.  As far as I am concerned those kinds of personal relationships are matters for folks to figure out on their own.  I know a number of homosexual men and women.  I respect some and not others in about the same ratio as with heterosexual people.  I believe that sexual orientation is not a subject that should be a matter of legislation or prejudice any more than the color of my eyes or my shoe size.

I am also a traditionalist and was brought up to think of marriage as being between a man and a woman.  As I read history, most of the cultures that preceded our own pretty much thought the same way, but then many of them also believed in slavery and some other things that we now find unacceptable.  I suggest that cultures can change their minds about things and ours appears to be changing it's mind about homosexuality.  Not everybody in America is on the same page regarding the subject of gay rights, but the tide is definitely moving in the direction of removing taboos and barriers that previously barred gays from full and open participation in our society.  I have no problem with that even though I am not attracted to the gay life style myself.

To put it very bluntly, I don't want to marry another man, but I don't really mind if Joe wants to marry Bill or, for that matter if Judy wants to marry Susan.  I also understand that most of the churches in this country are still adamantly opposed to homosexual marriage.  I have no problem with that either and I do not see that it poses a serious problem. Certainly, I do not want to legislate that a priest has to sanctify a marriage that he or she feels violates God's law.  That would be ridiculous.  For some folks, marriage is a holy thing.  For others it is a social contract between two people.  Until churches change their dogma, the only avenue open to homosexual couples is the social contract.

The legal rights and duties of a married couple are primarily defined in legislation at the state level.  For that reason, it is appropriate that this subject be decided on a state by state basis.  If the majority of folks in Massachusetts agree that homosexual couples can marry so be it.  If the folks in Texas say no, that too is their right.  Marriage is a social contract and the participants in that contract have to abide by the laws and customs of the community in which they live.  I see no reason why they can not advocate for change, but until it happens they will not be able to marry - at least not in that state.  That is the way our system works.

I advocate that the Republican Party open itself to gay people and support their efforts to be fully accepted in our society.  Whether some of our membership likes it or not, gay people are increasingly being welcomed into main stream culture.  For the Republican Party to close it's eyes to this is not only short sighted, it is also stupid.  Apparently, the primary reason that I am heterosexual and George is gay has to do with the way our two bodies were created rather than some intellectual decision to adopt a particular lifestyle.  (For those among us that believe in a divine creator, please note that God created me a heterosexual and George a homosexual.) To not welcome gay and lesbian folks is about as mindless as rejecting people who are left handed.  We are loosing some very imaginative people when we discriminate against them and we are definitely not living up to our Big Tent principals.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Straight Talk or Double Speak

Romney is not the only one who said it.  A lot of conservatives believe that there is a segment of the American public that can never be persuaded to vote with us.  I thoroughly disagree with the "47% argument" and I do not think that conservatives should give up on any Americans no matter what their current political beliefs.  To do so is just another way to cast the challenge that faces this country in terms of two warring groups.  One that wins this time around and one that looses.  I suggest that we are all Americans and we all want a good life.  Why needlessly divide ourselves into two diametrically opposed camps?  Why not talk to issues and find solutions that work for all of us?  We chastise Obama for dividing us, but we conservatives do the same thing when we advance the 47% argument and talk about takers and makers.

I also don't like talking behind other people's backs.  Why tell supporters one thing in closed door session and the public another in an open venue?  This last time around, both Romney and Obama got caught at it and that is bad enough, but it is even worse to have done it in the first place.  My friends will call me naive, but I am not.  I am serious.  I really don't want to vote for anybody that is not straight with me.  If the politician doesn't say it like it is to my face, how do I know what he or she will do after they get elected?  I am capable of dealing with a tough message, but I am tired of coping with two faced political speak.  We should outline the problems that face us in straight forward language that everybody can understand, describe what we believe should be done about them and specify what the remedy will cost in precise terms.  It should be like going to a good automobile repair shop. Find out what is wrong with the car, determine what has to be done to fix it, and figure out how you are going to pay for it.

Another pet peeve of mine is the belief that we have to dumb down our arguments so that the general public can understand them.  Wow!  Talk about elitism.  Both parties do it, of course, but that does not mean that it is a good idea.  OK, so not everybody can follow a complicated issue and sort out the wheat from the chaff, but that just means that we have to take the time and make the effort to explain it effectively.  Not to do so is to admit that we are not smart enough or brave enough to say what we mean.  Bumper sticker explanations warring with one another is hardly the way to create an informed electorate.  If you have a moment, look at how both sides spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising during this last presidential election.  Some of it was just plain trash talk, some of it was sloganeering and virtually none of it was substantive.  And then we make jokes about ignorant people voting for the other guy.  The people who generated those ads are the dumb ones and they are definitely not contributing to an informed electorate.

So, I suggest that we conservatives start doing three things right now.  First, agree that we are talking to all of the American people.  Second, talk straight and employ unambiguous language.  Third, tell folks exactly what the problems are, what we intend to do about them, and what it will cost.   The economy is busted and the country needs an honest repair shop to fix it.  The one that we are using right now is not honest and it is not fixing it.  They are using inferior parts, are employing  inexperienced staff, and are charging way too much for their services.  Conservatives have a quality product, understand how to fix the economy, and will charge the minimum necessary to get the job done.  We do, however, need a better marketing program.  We have the right ideas, but the American people are not buying them.  That is our fault - not theirs.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In God We Trust

The Founding Fathers believed in Christianity and framed a government that acknowledged the existence of God.  Individual freedom came from the same source and virtually every aspect of government had God written into it.  At the same time, the framers had to wrestle with the fact that there were a lot of different interpretations of Christ in the various religious sects that existed in the colonies.  They settled this issue by rigorously separating state affairs from religious teaching.  

The religious landscape in America today is much different than it was in the eighteenth century.  I am not certain what percentage of our populace identifies itself with which religious belief, but my perception is that day-to-day agnosticism outweighs religion in the aggregate and overwhelmingly outweighs any individual specific religious belief, including Christianity.  We are a nation dominated by secular thinking whether we want to admit it or not.  This is not to say that the discussion about religion is not ongoing.  It is.  Until someone can adequately explain how life is created in other than religious terms, we will continue to wonder about it and discuss it - intensely.

The only difference between the current discussion and the one three hundred years ago is that we have added a serious doubt in the mind of much of the public as to whether God exists or not.  The implications are fascinating and provide material for an infinity of discussion and debate, but that is not my purpose here.  I am less ambitious.  I don't aspire to settle the argument about whether God exists or not.  I seek only to find a way through this discussion to a rational approach to politics in the Twenty-First Century.  I suggest that we follow the example of the Founders and rigorously separate government and religion.

For conservatives this would mean that we stopped injecting God into our appeal for political support and votes.  We would argue all political issues without trying to claim that God is on our side.  (Even if God exists, I am not sure whose side he is on.)  There are a vast number of places where religion inserts itself in political arguments, but the example of abortion will suffice to make my point.  The abortion debate is currently waged on a number of levels and religion permeates it at every level.  That is as it should be and religious concerns are appropriate and should be considered, but we should not try to insert government into the solution for religious reasons.  Medical, yes.  Financial, yes.  Religious, no.

This is not to say that religion is not a valid part of the discussion.  It definitely is, but it should not be the basis that our candidates for office advocate governmental action.  To do so is contrary to the principals on which our government was founded.  More importantly, religious argumentation has clear limits of effectiveness in a secular society.  If we want to have a real impact on abortion we must make the case on other than religious grounds.  The increasingly secular nature of our population demands it.  I understand that many conservatives feel extremely strongly that life must be protected and I am not here disagreeing with them.  I am only suggesting that the religious argument must be supplemented with a strong secular argument.  We should not expect government to buttress our religious beliefs.

On the other side of the coin, I suggest that secular leaders in this country leave God alone for the rest of us.  As far as I am concerned, "In God We Trust" stays exactly where it is until they definitively prove to me that he or she does not exist.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What we need is some old-fashoned Common Sense

I am what most folks would call a very traditional American.  I am also well along in years and consequently most of my more youthful friends probably think me a bit old fashioned.  I do indeed hold many personal beliefs and a value system that are definitely from another era.  I actually heard John F. Kennedy's call "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  I took it to heart and tried my very best to answer his charge.  I am patriotic to a fault and I try very hard to obey the law.  

Now that I think about it, I guess I am something of an anachronism.  I see very few of the values that I grew up with in the social whirl that surounds me.  I am not saying that my friends and acquaintances are bad people.  Quite the contrary.  They are good folks trying to figure out how to get along in modern America.  Many of them work hard, all of them sincerely care about their friends and family, and all of them are extremely worried about the future of this country.  They are well educated in reading, writing and arithmetic, but very few of them have a very sophisticated knowledge about how things work at the state or federal levels.  They have little interest in anything that happens outside of our borders and know virtually nothing about foreign affairs.  (I am not saying that I am all that smart either, I'm just trying to describe the community that I live in.)

Virtually all of my immediate circle of acquaintances vote year in and year out for the Democratic candidate for whatever post is open at the time.  Some of them are heavily involved in one or another campaign, but the majority are just reliable supporters of whatever the current liberal cause demands.  None of them delve very deeply into the arguments, relying instead on what Democratic leaders and the sense of their community advocates.  Marijuana is the biggest cash crop in the community and gay rights are accepted without much question.  Few folks go to church.  History is not a subject of general interest.  The community is well versed concerning the ins and outs of various governmental assistance programs and virtually everyone earns all or part of their income "under the table" in order to minimize the impact of an outrageous tax structure.  The fellow in line ahead of me at the grocery store usually has food stamps to spend and several of the folks that I know are on disability of one kind or another.

It is not a good situation, but what do we do about it?  It does little good to say go get a job.  There are no good paying jobs in the neighborhood other than in the marijuana trade and there is already full employment there.  Some of the men fish for the family table and sell the rest of their catch from the back of a pickup truck, but that is small potatoes.  Home construction and real estate used to be big money makers in the community, but those days are gone, at least for now.  Tourism is down.  I find it easy to understand why my neighbors look to government for assistance.  I completely understand why they take full advantage of any governmental assistance programs that are available.  I am not naive enough to think that they would not game the system if the opportunity presents itself.  Many of them do and all of them seem to get away with it.  I do not find any of them reprehensible even though I do not like the situation one little bit.  If I were in their shoes I would do exactly the same thing (and if things continue the way they are going right now I may have to do precisely that).

I don't like this situation and I don't think that it is sufficient to just rant about it.  I think that we had better get serious about fixing this very broken economy before it destroys this nation and all who live in it.  I don't much care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, an idiot or an intellectual it is time for some down to earth common sense.  Oh, and I think that it is really stupid to talk about makers and takers.  How does one bring about change when we insult the very folks we are asking to help bring about that change?

Conservatives do not need Warriors

As conservatives look back on the presidential election many ask how the American people can be so stupid as to continue to support President Obama and his failed policies.   As we all know, it is possible to win the argument and not change the other person's mind.  I suggest that is an important part of the answer as to why conservative concepts did not carry the day.  I think that all of us, myself included, should look at the way we make our various arguments.  The subject matter is important and most of us have pretty strong views about what we think about the various topics that are at the top of the list.  Frequently, we slip into preacher mode and thus lose those in our audience that are not of a like mind.  People on both sides of the argument say to themselves: "here come the talking points."  In many, if not most cases, the discussion turns into an argument with point counterpoint exchanges that do little to change anyone's mind about anything.  The side of the argument that has the most vociferous supporters usually wins that particular round and everybody goes home knowing that they really told the other guy off good.

I watched Bill O'Reilly discuss Colorado and Washington's decision to legalize the recreational use of marijuana with Juan Williams and Mary Katherine Ham the other night.  It is a useful, if limited, example of what I am talking about.  Williams tried to introduce the analogy of alcohol into the discussion.  O'Reilly refused to permit it by forcefully and loudly talking over Williams.  Ham suggested that she might support a more nuanced position on marijuana and O'Reilly completely ignored her comment to continue his own very forceful argument against legalizing marijuana.  No one in the discussion nor anyone watching it changed their mind about anything.  Similar examples of this kind of argumentation characterize much of the television news shows and Talk Radio on both sides of the political divide.  This obviously distorts the traditional role of the media, but that is another subject.  For the moment, just look at the way the argument is being made on both sides of the political fence and think about your own experiences in discussing politics with your friends.  

A great many of us take the position that politics is too divisive a subject to bring up in polite company.  We conclude that we are living in a polarized country and leave it at that.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we don't even talk about politics with (not to) those holding opposing views we can not hope to alter the political trajectory of this country.  So, if you agree with that point, how do we go about talking civilly with the folks next door about politics without getting into a yelling match?  I suggest that we ease into it gently and do not set our sights on converting our neighbors into ultra conservatives in one or two conversations.  Each of us is going to go about the task differently.  We must find a way that fits each of our different personalities.  I'm not smart enough to offer much in the way of useful advice, but I do suggest that we start the conversation with questions rather than statements.  There is a very good possibility that we are not as smart as we think that we are about at least some of the subjects that are on the political table.  It might also be useful to start with a subject that is in dispute between the two sides, but is not critical to us personally.  This might make it possible for you and your neighbor to find a compromise on that particular subject that works for both of you.  This in turn might start building a bridge that will support substantive discussion of an expanded range of subject matter in future discussions.

My thesis here is simple.  Stop yelling - start listening.  Stop being authoritarian - start being pragmatic.  Stop demanding - start persuading.  The conservative cause does not need warriors, we need agents of change.  Stop loosing - start winning.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The human component in the campaign.

I am not experienced in the get out the vote effort, but my impression is that it is heavily dependent on advertising, technology and mass communication.  My mailbox was stuffed with all kinds of mailers and I received a large number of irritating robotic telephone calls and I do not even live in one of the so-called swing states.  In those states that were hotly contested, huge amounts of money were spent on television and candidates and their surrogates held numerous large rallies.  Social media and the internet were also a major component of both campaigns.  The effort to raise money to pay for all of this dominated much of the time of those running for office at all levels of government.

A long time ago in this country, before we had television and the internet, fairly average citizens actually hustled votes from their neighbors.  The newspapers and radio were also used, of course, but human contact was key to the get out the vote effort.  One of the most highly developed examples of this was in Chicago where so-called machine politics long dominated the electoral process.  It is not surprising to me that David Axelrod understood the value of human beings in a political campaign better than did his counterparts in the Republican camp.  I suggest that this, combined with the advantage of incumbency were the two major factors in making the mechanics of the Democrat's ground game better than that of the Republicans.   I am not saying that the proper use of technology is not important.  I am saying that the human factor is at least as important, and perhaps more important.

Axelrod managed to keep his 2008 political apparatus in place for four years with the help of regular visits from the President - the "Campaigner-in-Chief."  On the other side of the political spectrum, the vast majority of Republicans that supported John McCain in 2008 went home and licked their wounds after Obama's victory.  Sarah Palin and the Tea Party emerged and introduced new fissures within the party.  The Republican Party had to start from scratch in 2012 and attempt to build an entirely new campaign structure with a new mix of operatives and volunteers.  The first challenge was determining who would lead the ticket.  No matter how you look at it, the primary system is a bruising process during which all of the flaws of the various candidates are laid out in vivid detail.  After months of bitter internecine strife, the party then attempted to unify around the new standard bearer and convince the public that they should vote for their ticket.  They had several months to get their message across.  Axelrod and Obama had four years.

The political cliche that applies to the 2016 presidential election is that the Democrats will not have the "incumbent advantage."  While that is true, I do not believe that it is any excuse for not addressing the fundamental problem illustrated by the 2008 election results.  The plain fact of the matter is that the Democrats have a much better political machine in place than do the Republicans.  While it is by no means a certainty, I can easily conceive of a transfer of the presidential mantle from Barack to Hillary or someone else with very little attendant disruption in the mechanical apparatus that is already in place.  Conservatives ignore this political fact of life at their peril.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Change and Politics

There is a lot of bemoaning "the passing of America as we knew it" going on in conservative circles these days.  My reaction is to welcome these folks to the real world.  The idealized America that they refer to was lost long ago (along with a lot of features that were not very attractive).  During the run up to this past election, I heard a lot of quotes from our "Founders."  I admit that I like a lot of them and believe that they are still applicable to every day life in America, but I do not believe they are very effective in changing anyone's mind about how to vote.  Cliches are sometimes useful, but "America as we knew it" is not one of those.  A better one for us to consider is "the only change that is inevitable, is change itself."

Whether we like it or not, this country has changed and will change further as we go forward.  Conservatives have a choice to make.  We can maintain our ideological purity and feel superior as we watch our country decline, or we can roll up our sleeves and engage ourselves in the process of making this nation the best that we possibly can.  There are some very fundamental challenges out there and I am not at all certain that we can do the necessary to keep America great, but I know for certain that we will fail if we just throw up our hands and look forward to the time when we can say "I told you so."  

Please note that I am not, repeat not, saying that we have to give up our principals.  I am saying that we have to understand the reality on the ground and find ways to deal with it effectively.  This last go around, we definitely had the right ideas, but we failed to win.  We can blame the American people, but that is not going to help anybody including the American people.  Barack Obama is a charlatan with an abysmal record in everything that he has touched for four years and we could not defeat him.  Ask yourself whose fault that is.  I believe that it is my fault and yours.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Future of Conservatives in America

On my way home from a trip the other day, I stopped for a hamburger and a beer in a brewpub that I like.  I was alone and in a hurry so I sat at the end of the bar and asked the waitress to rush the order.  A fellow at a nearby stool asked me if I thought anyone in the place had voted for Romney.  A strange question.  We were in one of the more liberal parts of California.  I decided to go along with the conversational gambit and indicated that I was probably the only person in this whole part of California that had voted for the Romney/Ryan ticket.  There followed about thirty minutes of disjointed attacks on the Republican Party and all who adhered to it.  Many of them were difficult to follow, but they obviously made sense to others, because several folks from a nearby table joined in bashing conservatives.  Interestingly, all of my efforts to turn the conversation toward substantive issues were rebuffed.  The only subject of interest was the evil nature of the Republican Party in general and the Tea Party wing in particular.

I may be doing these good folks an injustice, but I honestly do not think that they had done much, if any, thinking about the issues that were decided in the recent election.  I was also interested in their obvious pride for having shown Republicans that they can not "buy the election" although I was unable to discover what they meant by that.  The main objective seemed to be to convince me that the Republican Party was a bad thing for America.  There seemed to be no interest in any of the substantive issues that I believe are facing this country.  Certainly there was no interest in discussing them beyond the repetition of various electioneering slogans.  There was also a conviction that the Republican Party could not hope for much of a future because of changing demographics in America.  I suspect that this episode is indicative of the attitude of liberals in this country.  If I am correct, it is obviously a serious problem, but it is not one without hope.

Although the election was a disaster for the country, we must remember that it was a close election and may not accurately reflect the true nature of the challenge that we face.  There are some indications that a significant number of conservative voters refused to support the Romney/Ryan ticket because it was not conservative enough.  If that is true, the balance between conservative and liberal thought in America is not completely out of whack.  The gentleman that started the discussion with me in the brew pub said as much when he credited the Democrat's ground game with the ultimate victory.  "The Republicans didn't see it coming."  I think that he is correct in that assessment, but I would add to it that we have to do a bit more internally within the conservative movement to agree one with another about what the word conservative means in the Twenty First Century.  We can not afford to hand the liberals a victory by staying home rather than holding our nose and voting for a less than perfect candidate.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What is a Conservative?

What is a conservative these days?  For many of those holding liberal or progressive views, a conservative is a person who opposes much of what they hold dear.  Many on the political left believe that conservatives are racist and misogynistic and inherently devoid of compassion.  These folks dismiss conservative fiscal policy suggestions as being an effort to keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  In the eyes of a liberal, a conservative is seen as wanting to take this country back to an earlier time.  Someone who is out of touch with modern America.

No conservative that I know fits the definition that has been assigned to them by the political left in this country.  At the same time, no two conservatives are exactly alike, and the very definition of the word is in dispute - at least as it applies to the current political scene.  Some are fiscal conservatives, some social conservatives, and some a mix of the two.  Conservatives fight among themselves over the "true" definition of the word "conservative."  Most Republicans see themselves as being conservative, but some members of the political right scoff and refuse to formally associate themselves with the Republican Party because they see it as being too liberal in it's views.

Given the Republican Party's recent defeat in the 2012 presidential election, there is currently a great deal of soul searching going on within conservative political circles.  The Romney/Ryan campaign is being dissected, exit polls are being scrutinized, and pundits are identifying those things that they believe the party is doing wrong.  Democrats are enjoying the spectacle and are frequently heard to express the opinion that the Republican Party can not hope to compete in the future because of all manner of trends that are shaping a new America.  I believe that they may, repeat may, be correct.

Recent third world immigration has changed the makeup of our population fairly dramatically and differences in birthrates among various segments of the population is further changing the ethnic balance.  These developments bring about attitudinal shifts and introduce fault lines into our traditional system of values.  Our society is much more permissive than it used to be and an increasing number of our citizens are dependent on government for their ability to keep food on the table for themselves and their family.  All of this works against conservative candidates as they are usually positioned today.

We argue about the words that we use to describe what is happening, but whatever we call it, it is much different than the America that I knew a decade or two ago and the role of the government in our lives is greater than it used to be.  My guess is that this next four years will see an acceleration in these trends and that saddens me.   If those that believe we have passed the "tipping point" are correct, America can not reverse course.  We are doomed to a future of decline, turmoil and economic squalor.  I agree that that is a possibility, but I am not quite ready to give up.  I think that we should engage in a bit less name-calling and a bit more substantive conversation.  I honestly believe that conservatives have some ideas that can be useful in dealing with the momentous issues that face us.

Some are currently saying that very conservative voters played an important part in reelecting Barack Obama, because they refused to vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket which they saw as not being conservative enough.  I argue that attitude is the height of stupidity, even if you believe that Romney is not "conservative enough."  It is the definition of a "pyrrhic victory."  It is also at the root of our current problem in this country.  On both sides of the political isle we have given up pragmatism for absolutism.  You can pontificate about whatever you want, but it was not liberalism or conservatism that made this country great.  It was pragmatism and compromise.

Let's quit bragging about how pure we are in our belief systems and settle down to deal with the very real challenges that face us.  Each one of these "momentous issues" can be dealt with if we work together.  None of them will be adequately dealt with if we continue to hold out for a "perfect solution."  Cast the words liberal and conservative out of your lexicon and get to work before it is too late.  People on all sides of the debate do not have to change their principals, but they do have to find common ground.  Not to do so is the real enemy that we face.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We made a Mistake.

We, the American people, made a mistake yesterday and now we have to figure out what to do about it.  I am disappointed because I think that Romney/Ryan would have been a much better choice, but we must face the political fact that Barack Obama is going to be our president for four more years.  I echo Mitt Romney when he calls for an end to political bickering at all levels.  Our politicians do have to reach across the aisle and we must find a way for Republican and Democrat to work together.  This does not mean that conservatives have to give up our core values, but it does mean that we have to be willing to compromise wherever possible.  It will continue to be a challenge given the extreme positions that this Administration favors and there are obvious risks, but we must find a way through these next four years if we are to have any chance of righting the ship in 2016.  This country is too important to just throw up our hands and quit.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What is wrong with our Foreign Policy?

Benghazi has made me think about our foreign policy.  It is a subject that I had intended not to think about ever again.  I was going to leave it to the people that are running our government, but obviously that is not working out very well.

Let's start with the Department of State which I used to think was supposed to be in charge of helping the President develop foreign policy.  In today's USG that is not the case.  The Department of State was castrated long ago and replaced by the National Security Council, at least as regards "important" foreign policy issues.  The Director of the National Security Council has replaced the Secretary of State as the most important advisor to the President on foreign policy issues.  The relative influence of the two individuals varies with personalities and issues, but the Director of National Security is physically located in the White House and has far better access to the President.  It is not surprising that he or she is in position to win most of the bureaucratic battles.

This arrangement is strengthened by modern communications.  Centuries ago the monarch used to communicate with his colonial vassals by sailing ship.  It took a year for Father Serra and the King of Spain to exchange letters.  Today, the President can pick up the phone and chat with anyone that he wants in the entire world.  The situation room in the White House is staffed 24/7/365 by representatives of all of the key branches of the government and is fully linked into all communication feeds that are relevant to our national security.  These two things, the establishment of the Director of National Security and modern communications, have done more to limit the role of the Secretary of State than anything else, but in the Obama administration, domestic politics has contributed more than is usually the case to the mix.  

Following the 2008 election, there was the awkward presence of Hillary Clinton.  She decided to accept the Secretary of State position for a complicated set of reasons that included her own presidential aspirations.  For both personal and political reasons, she did not want to be too closely associated with the man that had just defeated her in a nasty primary.  As a result, her office on the seventh floor of the Department of State is basically a well furnished void.  She is usually in an airplane going to a conference in some distant place where she will give a speech that few will remember.  Her flight schedule is sometimes interrupted by a crisis someplace and she diverts her plane to a new destination to put out some fire or another.  She is effectively a high level envoy rather than a Secretary of State and that suits her political and personal objectives just fine (except that she appears to be getting tired of the game).

Another traditional role that has changed is that of the ambassador.  In ancient times that position was very important because there was not time to hear directly from the other country's monarch.  The local king would call in the ambassador and talk substance with him out of necessity.  Substantive messages would be sent back and forth between countries.  Treaties would be negotiated between countries, etc., etc., etc.  Today, in most countries around the world our ambassador does very little of this kind of work.  Legally, the ambassador is not a functionary of the Department of State.  He or she is the Personal Representative of the President of the United States, but very few ambassadors really believe that.  Virtually all of their communication with Washington goes through the Department of State and they usually think of themselves as a functionary of that organization.

In most cases around the world, the position of ambassador is increasingly a ceremonial role akin to the Marine honor guard that serves in his or her embassy.  Because the ambassador is increasingly irrelevant, the ambassador's staff is also increasingly irrelevant in providing analysis about what is going on in their country of assignment.  For a very long time, critical reporting on political developments abroad has been moving from State to the CIA.  There are many reasons for this, but one of the most critical is that the CIA is almost always deeply involved in those issues that are of most interest to the USG at any given time.  Very often their role is not limited to analysis.  They are frequently trying to shape events not just report on them.  This often gives them access to information and insights that the average foreign service officer does not have and that makes their reporting more interesting.  Unfortunately, it also sometimes slants it to favor ongoing operations.

Another development that impacts American foreign policy is the expanded role of the United States military abroad.  America has military units stationed all over the world and those personnel interact with the local governments directly and indirectly.  Very few ambassadors take advantage of their position as the Personal Representative of the President to exert their authority vis-a-vis military officers in the field.  Sometimes this works out just fine and at other times friction develops that adversely impacts our relations with the host country.  In these situations, the bickering is passed up the two chains until it is patched over in the bureaucratic maze in Washington.  When the military officer is a four star in an important regional command he usually sees himself as being above the various ambassadors serving in his Area of Responsibility.  Because Washington usually sides with the four star, this further demeans the role of ambassador.

Back home, in the six floors below the Secretary of State, there are several thousand people working on our foreign relations with the world.  Some of them are career officers, some career administrative staff, and some political appointees.  The higher up in the building that you go, the more senior the officer, and the more senior officer usually has the best access to information, but none of them have access to the full flow of intelligence.  This automatically reduces their effectiveness in analyzing what is going on and developing suitable foreign policy recommendations.  This reduces their ability to win bureaucratic arguments within and between departments and agencies of government.  This further reduces the effectiveness of the Department of State and all who serve in it.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea.  The State Department is not a vital part of the foreign policy apparatus in today's government.  It is too bad, because there are a lot of very good people in it.  More importantly it is one of the fundamental reasons why the United States Government does not have a sound understanding of the world and a foreign policy with a long term view of the world.  This critique applies to both Republican and Democratic administrations.  The fundamental problem is not who is in office, the fundamental problem is the way in which our government makes foreign policy decisions.  We are too tactical.  We need to get strategic.  In order to do that we need a more robust foreign policy process.  One of the ways to get that would be to strengthen an organization that is currently languishing on the sidelines - the Department of State.

I am not suggesting that we try to rid ourselves of the National Security Council or the Director of National Security, but I would caution against selecting a person to serve in that position that does not have a suitable background in foreign relations.  The current occupant does not.  Thomas E. Donilon is a former Vice president of Fannie Mae and a family friend of the Vice President.  I didn't like Henry Kissinger, but he had more of the qualifications for the position than this man does.  Future occupants of the position should be more qualified if we are to have a better shot at a decent foreign policy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Foreign Policy and Dead Americans

I am not an expert on Middle Eastern affairs and the only information that I get is what little can be gleaned from news reports, all of which appear to contain political and ideological bias.  Having said that, here is my best guess as to what we are up against in Libya.  

When faced by the so-called Arab Spring, President Obama's administration made an effort to maintain contact with the more moderate forces in the region, but found that extremely difficult to do for a variety of reasons.  Internal relationships within the various countries represent a tangled interrelationship between moderate and extremist and the more radical elements have better organization and are prepared to use violence to obtain their objectives.  In Libya, we chose to actively participate on the side of rebels seeking to overthrow Gaddafi.  The anti-regime coalition included both moderate and extremist elements.  The extremist content of the coalition included people with ties to al-Quaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other organizations that see the United States as their enemy.

Following the successful overthrow of Gaddafi, we started trying to strengthen the moderate leaders and weaken the more extremist leaders within the country.  It would appear that we had some early success in making this happen and a fragile, moderately pro-American national government was formed in Tripoli.  Ambassador Stevens was an important player in bringing this about.  At the same time, al-Quaeda and other radical organizations did not just give up and accept the new status-quo.  In the Benghazi region, the national government's control is overtly contested by various extremist elements including al-Quaeda.  As the 9/11 anniversary approached, our friends in the national government coalition warned us that an attack on our facilities in Benghazi was possible and, if it took place, they would be unable to stop it.  The tangled personal interrelationships that exist in Libya makes it difficult to build stability, but it simultaneously facilitates information flow throughout the community.  In retrospect, we should have listened to what our friends were trying to tell us prior to 9/11/12.

In a place like Libya, sorting out intelligence reports is an extremely difficult task.  The flow is enormous and contains far more that is inaccurate than accurate.  My guess is that there was a constant stream of danger signals some real and most unreal.  Hindsight always makes it easier to sort things out and we can now see that most of the United States Government did not make the right call prior to 9/11/12.  The difficulty of the task does not excuse the grievous error.  I include everyone in the entire government in my criticism above the level of those serving in Libya.  The folks in Libya did see the attack coming and did repeatedly request the kind of protection that would probably have obviated it and would definitely have prevented the deaths of the Ambassador and his three colleagues in the event that it were to take place.  It did take place.  Our people did not have the protection that they needed and they were foully murdered by terrorist thugs.

Why did we not provide the necessary protection and why did we not go to the aid of these people while they were being attacked?  The basic reason appears to be that we feared that those actions would weaken the national government of Libya.  Fundamental to the President's policy in Libya and in other Middle Eastern countries is the notion that the emerging governments must take real responsibility for solving their own problems.  In the case of Benghazi, we did not fortify the Consulate and we withdrew the Ambassador's security team in a conscious effort to make the Libyan government step up to the plate.  That is also relevant to the decision not to position military forces in such a way that they could get to Benghazi in time to save our folks.  I can understand the President's objectives, but this is another case where I disagree with the way in which he attempts to implement them.  Specifically, I do not condone gambling with American lives to accomplish an intangible goal - important though it might be.  I suggest that the loss of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues actually demonstrates the weakness of the Libyan government and rather than strengthening it weakens it further in the eyes of Libyans.  I believe that it emboldens al-Quaeda and further degrades our influence in the region.

But all of the above is just jabber.  The thing that makes me angry is that the President of the United States set these people up and then permitted them to be murdered.  Pure and simple.  A drone strike on some guy sitting in a pickup truck somewhere in the eastern Libyan desert is not going to reduce my anger or bring these folks back.