Thursday, September 28, 2006

Reddish Blue and bluish Red

He has more questions than answers, but Michael Barone has a fascinating analysis of voter polling trends in this year's congressional elections. Republicans are faring poorly in many areas where President Bush did well in 2004. However, they are doing better in a number of areas (such as Maryland and New Jersey) that went Democrat in the last election. Some of this is purely a matter of local personalities and politics, but there are numerous other variables in play.

See Barone's discussion here.

A Grown Up in Politics

Rudy Giuliani has this to say about the blame game regarding 9/11 that is once again in fashion:

The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it. I don't think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for September 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists - the Islamic fanatics - who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it.

The Anchoress is correct that Giuliani, unlike many other politicos, manages to sound presidential and above the fray.

Who Threw Who under the Bus?

For anyone on the left who has managed to concoct the rather twisted notion that Joe Lieberman has committed some kind of betrayal against his party, the perfect, dead on response is here.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Its the Disclosure, Stupid

For an excellent piece on what is important in governmental ethics as Tennessee's new ethics commission opens its doors, see here.


Fred Barnes believes that George Allen has not necessarily destroyed his presidential hopes for 2008, but The Oracle can think of no Republican who has lived down such, to be charitable, clumsiness on the national stage. He still should win in Virginia this year, but if he runs for President in 2008, he will not be able to overcome the colon exam that will be administered by the national media.

2016 perhaps? Not 2008.

Ending Welfare for Politicians as Some Have Known It

The scheme whereby taxpayers have financed presidential campaigns since the 1970's will soon die, and George Will, for one, is celebrating. Will dismisses the suggestion that this will result in too much money being spent on those elections:

Reformers desperate to resuscitate taxpayer funding cite the supposedly scandalous fact that each party's 2008 presidential campaign may spend $500 million. If so, Americans volunteering to fund the dissemination of speech about candidates for the nation's most consequential office will contribute $1 billion, which is about half the sum they spend annually on Easter candy. Some scandal.

Over the last decade, Will has been among the most vocal and the most eloquent voices against the regulation of political speech by politicians. He is right.

Hating Nixon?

This morning provided a reminder that some people just can't get over their hate.

In the course of a presentation, a university professor and economist discussing a federal agency established during the 1970's mentioned that it was founded during the Nixon administration and then added gratuitously, "I hate Richard Nixon very much." Several things about the statement are worth noting:

  1. The statement did not fit with either the content or the tone of anything that followed. Most of the rest of the speech was devoted to outlining the relative value of various studies on an issue.
  2. The context of the speech did not necessitate mentioning Nixon at all. The reference to him as the President at the time that the agency was founded was not required to be included in the speech for this audience.
  3. The statement is intensely personal: "I hate Richard Nixon...."
  4. The statement is in the present tense: "I hate...."
  5. The statement required an adverbial intensifier: "very much."

Politics is serious business, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. Richard Nixon was a polarizing figure in American life going all of the way back to the 1940's. That he held office at the end of the tumultuous Vietnam era and resigned the presidency in disgrace only cemented hard feelings.

Yet, Nixon has been out of office for 33 years, and he has been dead for 12. Given those facts, the gratuitous "I" present tense "hate" personal "Richard Nixon" intensely "very much" comment strikes me as bizarre and sad. Can someone be so beholden to a political figure that they feel the need to declare their hatred over 30 years after the person left office?

Evidently, they can. I assume that 30 years from now speakers will declare their lingering hatred for presidents Bush and Clinton. That is too bad. I would suggest that anyone who takes their politics that seriously, and who holds their grudges that closely, should get a life.

While Thinking about the Brilliant Minds and Writers...

...responsible for The Tennessean's editorial page, I came across this gem, which evidently is regarded at the paper of record in Nashville as a summary of one side of the argument over American policy in Iraq: "One side, focusing on fear, will say if we don't follow the president's leadership, we're all going to die."

We're all going to die? If The Tennessean can find a single person in a responsible position who has said that, I will become a subscriber. That's the biggest sacrifice I can think of to offer.

The sad fact for The Tennessean's editorial writers is that when they argue against a straw man, they have only managed to find an even playing field.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

TV's, TV's Everywhere, and Not a Thought to Think

The Anchoress laments the prevalence of televisions in and out of American homes:

What is particularly unsettling, these days, is how ubiquitous televisions are - they cannot be avoided. The last time I went shoe shopping with a kid I felt assaulted by the multiple televisions blaring while we looked at sneakers. It was so difficult to talk, to hear each other, and to think. I left the store without making a purchase, moved on to yet another store full of yakking televisions, (then to the haircutter whose set was going full boar) and when I got back to my quiet little house I realized why I hate going out so very much, these days.

Indeed. Between televisions and cellphones, there is no longer a need for anyone actually to interact with people who are present with them.

The Toss Up

When the Democratic primary for Alaska House District 37 ended in an exact tie, they settled it in accordance with state law: they flipped a coin.

Hat Tip: The Thicket, which describes several other state contests from the past that have been settled by unusual means.

Dumbed Down

A blogger at KnoxViews seems annoyed that Newsweek thinks evidently thinks that American readers are stupid. Who can blame him?

There is a reason that Americans who are serious about news are relying more and more on alternative sources.

Historic Sites

The Oracle did not know until this evening that he was staying in the hotel at which the alleged Paula Jones incident occurred. At that time, the hotel was known by a different name.

He wishes to inform the perfect one that he has spent the week in meetings and in his room -- alone.

The State of Charter Schools

For an interesting summary of the current state of the charter school movement, see Chester Finn here. While Finn is known to be an advocate for charter schools, it should be noted that his analysis emphasizes that not all schools claiming the charter name are created equal. Finn says that some of them have been "fantastic," others "abysmal."

By coincidence, I heard a speaker this morning criticize charter schools, claiming that they are the solution of a society that is unwilling to invest in minority children. The truth is exactly the opposite. Many charter schools represent efforts to bring quality schooling to areas where the public schools have failed horribly and entrenched powers make it impossible to make needed changes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Oracle Visits Clinton Museum

The Oracle is in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he visited the

"Just a Difference of Opinion"

And we know what opinions are like....

The Anchoress has a lengthy post on "civility in political discourse" that deserves the attention of everyone.

Long, Long Ago

Roger Scruton reminds his readers that before Noam Chomsky established himself as the darling of the looney tunes wing of the the left, he did brilliant academic work in the field of linguistics.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Unhealthy Obsession?

Jerry Falwell recently said that if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, that it will energize the religious right more than "if Lucifer ran." Some are crying foul for the reverend comparing the good Methodist to the devil, while a Falwell aid dismisses the remarks as being "off-the-cuff." Meanwhile, Susan Olasky wonders if "the jibe hints at an uncomfortable truth" that "too many Christians have an unhealthy preoccupation with politics."

"I'm Being Asked This on the Fox Network"

In 1988, presidential candidate George H.W. Bush was being dogged by questions concerning his role in the Iran Contra Affair. In the midst of that controversy, Bush did a live interview with CBS News anchor Dan Rather that was supposed to be about a pre-arranged subject. When Rather went off the script and asked about Iran Contra, Bush pounced and asked Rather how he would like his entire career to be remembered for previously letting the network go black when he walked off the set. A stunned Rather fumbled the moment badly.

Later reports indicated that Bush had prepared the ambush in advance. The goal was not to attack Rather, though that was thought to be a nice side benefit. The real goal was to change the subject, to get the public's mind off of Iran Contra and on to the Bush-whacking of CBS's vaunted anchor.

It worked.

This weekend, former President Bill Clinton pulled out a page from the same playbook. Clinton, lately pummelled with questions about his administration's effectiveness in the war on terrorism, decided to change the subject. Those on the political left would find an attack on the network they love to hate irresistible, and the subject would be changed.

It is hard to blame him for that. Clinton did not effectively counter an increasingly aggressive terrorism challenge during his administration. In his defense, it is at least arguable, perhaps probable, that a Republican administration would have done no more.

Changing the subject: I thought the execution a bit ham handed, but that, at the end of the day, is really what this was all about.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I'll Bring the Ice Cream

Twenty years ago or more, it seemed like most of the conspiracy theory nuts were on the radical right -- the Birchers, and so forth. Ed Morrissey reminds us again that the conspiratorial mindset now resides largely on the left, and sadly not always far from the mainstream left.

Whenever The Oracle hears "October Surprise," he hopes it may have to do with a birthday party.

Rewarding Mediocrity

Paul Johnson notes the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins and the late faltering of the Detroit Tigers while lamenting that the wild card devalues the playoff race:

What does the wild card system give us in return? It gives us the cheap thrill of mediocre teams scurrying for playoff spots they don't deserve. There is no longer any meaningful wild card race in the American League, but in the NL Philadelphia is dueling with San Diego/Los Angeles for the wild card slot. This undoubtedly is a matter of intense interest to fans in Southern California and the Phillie area, but there's little reason for other baseball fans to feel excited -- with a winning percentage of under .530, none of these teams really belongs in the playoffs.

No disagreement here.

Michigan to Eliminate Racial Preferences?

In November, voters in Michigan will decide on the following: "A proposal to amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes."

For the hysterical reaction of opponents of this ballot measure, see George Will here.

Ethics Leaders who Argue Unethically

Robert Parham, whose title is Executive Director for the Baptist Center for Ethics, embarrasses himself by unethically manipulating facts in essentially arguing that Baptists in Tennessee can either vote for Harold Ford, Jr. or prove that they have not "moved away from their segregation heritage and racial prejudice."

The commentary's headline asks if Baptists will vote for "one of their own" if his name is Ford? But Parham, and the headline writer, have perhaps forgotten that Baptists in Tennessee refused six years ago to vote for a fellow Southern Baptist whose name was Gore. In fact, the rejection of Gore, not the race of Ford, is the factor to remember in this year's election. Gore, like Ford, was the son of a Washington politician who rose to prominence with the help of the family name, told voters what they wanted to hear about his conservative credentials, and then went to Washington and proved to be a left winger. Most Tennessee Baptists are old enough to remember when Gore was pro-life, and they are not naive enough to think that Ford, like Gore before him, is not capable of "growth." In addition, while Ford is trying to campaign to the right of Pat Buchanan, he has not voted that way, and no one really imagines that he will do so as a U.S. Senator.

If Parham wishes to engage in rhetoric suggesting that Baptists have a choice of voting for Ford or being branded as racists, he is free to do so. However, such propaganda sullies a man who would lead a "center for ethics," Baptist or otherwise.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Embarrassing Baseball

The Oracle's beloved Cincinnati Reds have fallen out of playoff contention and are just playing out the string, but one still expects them to play with some professional pride. Tonight they have committed five errors through four innings, and a runner just got picked off, having evidently fallen asleep off of second base.

I had actually thought about driving up for this game, since I have only seen them twice this year, and this weekend is the last home series of the season. I am now glad I did not.

The minimum salary in Major League Baseball is around $300,000/year. If the Reds would like to pay someone a prorated portion of that salary to go out and embarrass themselves for a week, I would volunteer for the task.

Gored Again?

Mark Rogers contends that Al Gore will 1) run for and win the Democratic nomination for President in 2008; and 2) be a "dreadful" candidate in the general election.

His argument is compelling on both counts. Because conservatives rallied around Bush during the Florida recount morass, and because much of the country rallied around the President in the aftermath of 9/11, it is easy to forget that the President also was not a terribly effective candidate. In fact, given the advantages of incumbency in an administration that could boast, at the time, of a strong economy against a poor campaigner, Gore should have been able to win in a landslide. That he, in fact, lost (yes, he lost) goes a long way toward telling reasonable Democrats that they would do well to look elsewhere.

Yet, the hard left increasingly rules the party, and Gore has become their precious. Should the Democrats choose Gore to run against, say, McCain, their precious will ultimately go up in flames.

Universal Care, but at What Cost?

For a compelling summary of the undesirable but likely consequences of the adoption of a single payer health care system in the United States, see a Heritage Foundation report here.

Changing Trends in the Court?

According to the National Chamber Litigation Center, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the upcoming term of the U.S. Supreme Court will include consideration of a larger number of cases involving business issues than any term in recent years.

Assigning Blame

Ed Morrissey addresses the blame game that continues to take place between many Republicans and Democrats about who should take responsibility for the lead up to 9/11:

All of this is prologue to 9/11, and none of the debate changes the fact that two decades of leadership dropped the ball on the rise of Islamist terrorism. Blaming one without blaming them all has solved nothing and teaches nothing. More to the point, it divides the nation for no purpose, and five years after 9/11, it's time we stopped allowing it.

The entire post merits reading. The only point of looking back should be to figure out how to move forward. The fingerpointing on both sides is counterproductive.

A Cautionary Tale for Churches

The Courier Journal has a lengthy story on the downfall of the pastor of a Louisvillea area megachurch. The pastor allegedly lost over $160,000 of church funds by engaging in day trading. Ongoing audits are identifying additional areas of financial mismanagement and waste.

While some will dismiss this as another story of a corrupt clergyman, that would be a mistake. Christians, who believe in the universal reality of original sin and, thus, should have theological instincts to know better, are notoriously poor at establishing checks and balances that would inhibit the possibilities of temptation and vice. This is frequently true in churches that have outgrown their more simplified methods for accounting for and disbursing funds. If Solzenhitsyn was right that the line that divides good and evil cuts through the heart of every man -- and the Apostle Paul would agree that he was -- then churches should take care to establish appropriate accountability for the manner in which their leaders handle contributions.

All of this is complicated by the fact that many of the largest American churches have been built by charismatic pastors accustomed to deference by those who follow them. Such pastors, and lay leaders associated with them, sometimes ask for a degree of trust that exceeds the dictates of scriptural wisdom. Because many of the fastest growing churches are independent of any denominational structures, accountability is sometimes lacking.

To those pastors' defense, it might be suggested that they have frequently built trust by managing to overcome the most inane forms of embedded resistance to progress and growth in church structures. Nonetheless, while pastoral authority deserves a certain measure of respect, it does not merit unqualifed deference.

Not above Reproach; but above This Reproach

An editorial in this morning's The Tennessean blasts Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jim Bryson's new "negative" political advertisement. As noted previously at this site, Bryson's ad is not above criticism; however, the reproaches offered by the paper of record in Nashville are little more than platitudes that don't really hold any water when looked at substantively.

While some sectors of the American public regularly bemoan the existence of all negative political ads and pronouncements, "going negative" has been a regular and often valuable part of American political life throughout our history. It has been noted that much of the Declaration of Independence is essentially a "negative" statement of the evils wrought by George III, and the author of that document later showed himself to be one of the best architects of negative politics in the history of the Republic.

While serving as Secretary of State in the Washington administration, Thomas Jefferson hired on the federal dime a personal translator named Phillip Freneau, whose only languages included English and French. Jefferson, who had spent years in Paris as the American ambassador to France, had no need of such a translator and, in fact, had hired Freneau for the actual purpose of founding a newspaper in Philadelphia to attack Washington's Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who Jefferson wished to portray as Washington's puppetmaster. Meanwhile, Vice-president John Adams, who also disliked Hamilton, was never beyond using colorful language to remind others that Hamilton's parents had never been married.

Over the course of history, political advertising and posturing has sometimes been both more and less enlightening than all of that, but complaints about negative politics that give the impression that such has brought about the end of substantive debate simply lacks historical perspective.

The Tennessean laments that Bryson uses a negative ad instead of telling voters about "his positions and credentials." Given that The Tennessean's editorial page has not recently distinguished itself for its breadth of thought, one perhaps should forgive them for not recognizing that one can learn about a candidate based on what he criticizes an opponent for. In addition, negative ads that reveal an opponent's inconsistencies, hypocrisy, or efforts to hide his real views can have significant value for voters.

As an example, in a Kentucky congressional race, incumbent Republican Anne Northrup has launched a series of ads showing that Democratic candidate John Yarmouth, who used to write for an alternative weekly in Louisville, has in the past taken positions that are far more controversial than what he now says that he would do as a congressman. The Yarmouth campaign has responded with loud complaints about negative advertising and claims that Northrup has taken Yarmouth's writings "out of context." For her part, Northrup has invited voters to examine the contexts themselves and has posted some of her opponent's quotes on a website.

Incidentally, Yarmouth has complicated his own response by previously writing a column in which he said that a politician should do "damage control" by claiming that statements were taken out of context or by denying they were actually made. Machiavellianism is more difficult in an age of modern communications.

Meanwhile, back in the volunteer state, The Tennessean wishes that Bryson would tell voters about some of his credentials. The paper's readers wish that it would manage to display some of its own.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Supporting the Cause

Roger Abramson seems to be a lightening rod for local conservative bloggers who expect their fellow conservatives to walk in lockstep behind whoever the standard bearer happens to be. Be that as it may, Abramson's statement of his approach is exactly right.

Writing seriously about politics involves weighing the relative importance of two kinds of concerns that sometimes seem almost mutually exclusive. On the one hand, there are public policy concerns that center around the ideas that animate serious political discussion. On the other, there are the pragmatic concerns that center around needing to take sides when the various available options are less than ideal. Some people are more dominated by policy interests and will tell the party to go screw itself if it fails to acknowledge their concerns. Others focus more on party politics, and they will defend party interests no matter how far afield they may go. Many, perhaps most, of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle.

Martin Luther once said that he would rather be governed by a competent infidel than by an incompetent Christian, and one does not have to be an elitist conservative to regret that sometimes one must choose between political agreement and personal competence. For those who care more about political ideas than about counting noses, there is no delusion that weak candidates, poor presentations, and half baked ideas serve the long range interests of conservatism. For those who promote conservative ideas in the face of a wider audience, as opposed to those who use them as wedges to cobble majorities, having a strong base from which to build an argument is a tantamount concern.

People who have those types of concerns are not merely out to help self-proclaimed conservatives win. They are also out to make sure that the conservatism that wins means something and makes a difference. Abramson has declared his support for both Corker and Bryson. That in the process he also wishes that they would do a better job of presenting themselves strengthens, and does not harm, the conservative cause.

The Meaning of the Day

For an interesting post explaining the significance of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), see Sharon Cobb here.

The Next Generation of Leaders?

A study of 5,300 graduate students in the United States and Canada conducted by a Rutgers University professor showed cheating to be widespread. Business students were the most likely to admit to cheating within the last year, with 56% saying that they had either copied the work of other students, plagiarized, or hidden notes for use during a test.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog. The blogger there asked in light of the seeming lack of ethics what a graduate degree is worth. I would have to check out the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines before answering that question.

Where Have You Gone, Walter Lippmann?

The Tennessean's editorial writers, who regularly alternate between stating the obvious and advocating the obviously wrong, in a fit of profundity today declare that alcoholism does not excuse bribery.

No, really, they do: "Ney reportedly is seeking treatment for an alcohol problem, but no bottle or personal hardship excuses selling out the public's trust."

How could Nashville do without such riveting thought as that?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Walmart's Costs Weighed

Political divisiviness can be a good thing, as it may indicate that a healthy debate is taking place between those advocating differing visions and alternative solutions to the problems of the day. However, some people are so hardened by partisanship that they can never acknowledge any value in an idea that originated with an opponent. There are Republicans who would never say a good word about Clinton -- even when he did something they agreed with -- and there are Democrats who have the same antipathy toward Bush.

Then, there's Walmart and its adversaries.

The big box behemoth announced today that it would begin selling close to 300 generic drugs at $4 for a month's supply. Given the role that rising drug costs play in increasing rates of medical inflation, that can only be regarded as a good thing. It might be assumed that a critic of the company would not feel a need to rush out and congratulate them, but that critic might want to take a day and just not say anything. Alas, Walmart's critics can only blast the company, saying that the proposal won't insure a single one of their employees.

There is an interesting statistic in the adversary's press release: they claim that Walmart's "health care crisis" will cost American taxpayers $1.2 billion per year. Assuming for the sake of argument that the number is correct (even while recognizing that partisans will sometimes inflate figures in order to win their own argument), that would mean that Walmart's misdeeds cost me (an average taxpayer) $4.

That's the cost of one prescription. Not bad, actually.

Sacrificial Lambs

Liz Garrigan has a somewhat lengthy and very informative post regarding the conclusion of this week's showdown between the KIPP Academy Charter School and the Metro Nashville school system. The good guys won. Garrigan writes near the end:

At its core, this conflict—headed off at the last minute—illustrates a frustrating reality: that the Metro school administration, and at least a few members of the school board, resent charter schools and only grudgingly approved them in Nashville. There’s a kind of antagonism, rooted in a sort of territorial instinct, that pervades the relationship between public school educators and reform educators.This despite the fact that there is probably no school in Nashville more accomplished at closing the performance gap between black students and white, rich and poor. While a majority of KIPP students entered the school last year, its first, behind, TCAP stores released in August show that 90 percent of KIPP students were proficient or advanced in math, and 87 percent were proficient or advanced in reading.

That one powerful paragraph alone reveals why charter schools and other types of educational choice initiatives should not be regarded as conservative vs. liberal causes. This is not a debate between right and left wingers. It is a debate between those advocating for educational opportunities for children and the myopic, turf protecting educational chieftains who seem willing to slay our children's opportunities on alters dedicated to the golden calf of free and ineffective public education.

Good Candidate; Lousy Ad

While The Oracle will vote in the same way that Roger Abramson indicates he will in the Tennessee Governor's race, it must also be said that Abramson is right about the new Bryson ad. Those who know Bryson personally understand that he is a serious man capable of doing a good job as Governor. Those who don't know him will never get a glimpse of it in that commercial.

In addition, one might note that there are good reasons for the general principle that candidates should introduce themselves and their message and leave the negative attacks to underlings. It is a mistake for the largely unknown Bryson to be his own attack dog.

The Oracle has a good speaking voice, so he would be happy to play surrogate attack dog -- and campaign message manager.

Corker Presses for Legal Reform

A press release from the Corker campaign describes speeches by the Republican candidate and former businessman calling for common sense medical liability reform. This is an important issue that differentiates Corker from his opponent, who has consistently voted against tort reform during his year's in Congress.

With important medical specialties such as obstetrics facing shortages, especially in rural areas, this remains a key issue on both the state and national level. It is not surprising that the need for legal reform is recognized by a man who has run a business and, thus, paid high liability insurance rates and faced the possibility of expensive, frivolous lawsuits. It is also perhaps not surprising that Ford does not recognize that need, as he has never done anything other than work in government.

Hard Hitting Politics

A criminal complaint has been filed against Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. by the land developer that he allegedly slugged in the jaw during a Prince George County committee meeting. The developer, Leo Bruso, called the blow he took "painful."

Interestingly, the two both spoke in opposition to the proposal under consideration. One can only imagine what would have happened if they had taken opposite sides.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

While Rooting for the Man of Steele....

For a fascinating look at the U.S. Senate race in Maryland, see Michael Barone here.

A snippet:

A Democratic-Republican struggle for the votes of middle-class blacks will be something new in American politics. Previously, political strategists have focused on middle-class blacks only in Democratic primaries, like the ones in which McKinney was defeated. Political organizational efforts among this group have been limited to Democratic efforts to register and turn out black voters. It's not clear whether Steele has the potential to make serious inroads in Prince George's. But it's probably the only way he can win, so he'll probably try.

Bush's Popularity

Ann Althouse joins numerous other commentators in asking what the reason is for the recent bump upward of President Bush's approval ratings. Currently, most pundits cite falling gas prices as the cause, but The Oracle has a different theory.

In early 2004, it was widely noted that the President' s poll numbers were so low as to cause concern about his electability. Some Republicans offered that he should push Vice-President Cheney off of the ballot in order to improve his faltering chances.

Then, however, the Democratic alternatives garnered more attention, and the President's popularity began to turn. The same has happened to a lesser extent periodically since the 2004 election. Bush does not look particularly good when standing alone; but when he is alongside a Democratic alternative, he suddenly becomes much more palatable.

Will that factor be enough to save one or both houses of Congress for the Republicans? God only knows, and, this not being a theocracy, He isn't sharing. Nonetheless, if it turns out that Republican losses are minimal because a public that dislikes the Republican administration cannot stomach the thought of Democratic governance, there will be a lot of soul searching, and fingerpointing, on the left side of the political spectrum.

A Modest Suggestion for the Local Tabloid

The editorial page of The Tennessean recounts what they regard as the spurious content of the advertising for Tennessee's Republican and Democratic U.S. Senate candidates and then makes the following lamentation: "Pity the poor Tennessean whose only information about the Senate race comes from the TV ads bought by the two candidates."

Indeed. Now, if the newspaper's staff will stop watching so much television and get out and cover the issues that they say the candidates should be discussing, perhaps the voters will have another source of information.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Biased Media

Kat Coble posts a complaint about media bias, but not the sort that most people usually gripe about. She points out that the bias is for "the lowest common denominator:"

Why else have we heard nothing about the goings-on of the world? Why has the top story for at least four days been the string of autopsies performed on an airheaded alcoholic betittied blonde's late son?

Exactly. The Oracle would pay attention to a dominant media with which he frequently disagrees. He mostly ignores one that merely wastes his time with triviality and incompetence.

Dems in Republican Clothing

A.C. Kleinheider has an interesting post indicating that ABC's Good Morning America was essentially duped when it presented a segment purportedly about three Republican women who were jumping ship. Kleinheider shows that at least two of the three are likely not Republicans.

This relates to a favorite tactic used by trained partisans writing letters to the editor or calling into talk radio shows over the last several years. Those who read or listen frequently can usually identify these frauds. Frankly, when a caller to a talk show begins the conversation by saying, "I have always voted Republican, but...." or "I voted for Bush the last time, but...." I assume that they are lying. Occasionally, that may turn out to be incorrect, but in the vast majority of the ones I have heard, I would venture that it is not.

The Democrats attempt to use those venues to create the impression that the Republicans have taken a harder line and are thereby driving moderate people out of the party. However, the use of phony callers is blatantly dishonest and unethical.

Republicans may do the same thing, but I have not noticed it. Of course, as all of the most popular talk shows lean conservative, the tactic may fit the strategic interests of Democrats more closely.

Iranian Law's Abuse of Women

Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice has an important and informative piece on the stoning of women who are guilty of what is called "adultery" in Iran. Under Iranian law, even a woman who has been raped can be found guilty of adultery and executed by stoning.

Though Hentoff's politics are polar opposite of The Oracle's, this writer greatly respects his willingness to take on civil rights causes wherever he finds them.

Hat Tip: PITW

Class Act Blogging

One of my favorite participants in the Nashville blogosphere is Nathan Moore of Moore Thoughts. Not only does Moore hold to views that are similar to my own, but he is also unquestionably a class act.

Thus, today he urges others to express encouragement to someone who in recent months had been a frequent thorn in his side. The political stuff is important, but at times we all realize that there are deeper concerns for all of us.

That is very classy, and I join him in praying for the Ward family.

Keeping Perspective

The recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's remarks regarding Islam has unfolded as follows:
  • The Pope criticized Islam in an academic setting for having used violence to spread the religion.
  • Followers of Islam killed a nurse, threatened to kill the Pope, and vandalized churches.
  • The New York Times urged the Pope to apologize for "fomenting discord."

To the suggestion that the actions of Muslims only confirmed the Pope's critique, some will doubtless respond that this fails to account for the complexity of the situation: the Pope used an unfortunate source, Muslims continue to speak of the Crusades as though they took place in the middle of the last decade, and so forth. While all of that may be true, this situation reveals the difficulty that some observers have with regard to standard responses to Middle Eastern complaints about the west's alleged atrocities. Middle Eastern terrorists use civilians as human shields, those civilians end up being killed by missiles, and the west is blamed for targeting them. Muslims use violence to support their beliefs, western observers point it out, and the westerners are bullied into apologizing for alleged incivility. Some thuggish behavior invites one to ignore criticisms of the sort that might concern Emily Post, but some people seemingly afflicted with western guilt insist on focusing on the table manners.

None of this is to deny that the Pope should have taken greater care with his words, but if I have to take sides, it will not be with those who kill nurses and vandalize churches.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Playing Nice and Accomplishing Much

While some people have associated the Porkbuster's phenomenon with the conservative portion of the blogosphere, the Beltway Blogroll points out that the push for more transparent government is a bipartisan movement.

There is no reason that it should not be. Whether government is viewed as having a limited or an expansive role, it should be agreed that government should do its job efficiently and effectively. A cause designed to promote good government should unite people across the political spectrum.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Harold Ford Goes to Church

Far and away, the best analysis of the controversy over Harold Ford, Jr.'s use of a church for his campaign commercial was written by Donald Sensing here. The post is thoughtful, nuanced, principled, and compelling.

The Oracle never minds praising those who think and write well.

The Real Thing

It is no wonder that it is difficult to accomplish genuine political reform when even those who should be opinion leaders value symbolism over substance.

Thus, The Tennessean, which rarely manages to publish a story about legislative ethics without splashing the words "wining and dining" across its pages, editorializes today that Congress has failed because all they did was make the earmark process more transparent. Of course, there is more that can be done, but disclosure on spending -- and disclosure of the sources of campaign contributions -- goes a long way toward making government better and more honest.

The constant references to wining and dining -- which are actually, miraculously avoided in today's intrepid editorial -- are only grating because they are code words claiming to reveal a problem that does not exist. Nobody's vote is for sale for the price of dinner. Dinners for politicians, like those for anyone else, are merely opportunities for getting acquainted. Shining sunlight on money in politics, not banning it, is the right way of inhibiting corruption and making it possible for voters to make informed decisions.

Living History

Although conservatives are sometimes accused of nostalgically living in the past, George Will accurately notes that at least some liberals are "lost in a time warp" of "antiquated categories."

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Lesser of Two Evils

The column by George Will discussing Walmart and its leftist critics (linked in my own post here) has generated considerable discussion across the blogosphere, including some debate along the lines of the one found here asking whether Walmart represents some sort of line in the sand differentiating conservatives and liberals. In that regard, I would only clarify my own thought by stating that I am less than enthralled by Walmart, both as a customer and a conservative, but I am even more put off by the messages and tactics of the retailer's political opponents. In that regard, a far less than ideal Walmart is made to look better by the enemies that have chosen it.

Less Likely to Win; Unworthy to Do So

Peggy Noonan may well be right about this:

The Democrats' mistake--ironically, in a year all about Mr. Bush--is obsessing on Mr. Bush. They've been sucker-punched by their own animosity.

"The Democrats now are incapable of answering a question on policy without mentioning Bush six times," says pollster Kellyanne Conway. " 'What is your vision on Iraq?' 'Bush lied us into war.' 'Health care? 'Bush hasn't a clue.' They're so obsessed with Bush it impedes them from crafting and communicating a vision all their own." They heighten Bush by hating him.

If it turns out that the Democrats underachieve in a year in which they have all of the advantages, that will be the reason.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What's in a Name?

My friend Mark Rose looks at the dictionary definition of "fundamentalism" and decides the moniker is appropriate. However, terms have connotations as well as denotations, and The Oracle would never encourage a thoughtful Christian to accept the appellation.

The term fundamentalist is now a pejorative with little or no underlying meaning. It is simply a term of derision used to describe someone who's religion you don't like. That was not always the case. Fundamentalism emerged in the late 19th century as a distinct form of traditional Christianity. Protestant clergy and their congregants in those days were accustomed to enjoying prominent positions in American society, but new intellectual, social, technological, and demographic trends began conspiring to break up the Protestant hegemony. By the end of the 19th century, fundamentalism was a loose coalition of widely disparate groups held together by a belief in traditional Protestant doctrines related to the authority of Scripture, the nature of the atonement, and so forth. These groups included academically oriented adherents to what became known as the Princeton theology, revivalists such as D.L. Moody, dispensationalists talking incessantly about the end of the age, and "deeper life" pietists.

Beginning in the 1910's, the movement produced a series of volumes called The Fundamentals, many of which are respectable amplifications of Christian belief.

However, the wide diversity of the coalition and the difficult personalities of some of its leaders combined with the pressures of modernity to cause the movement to implode. By the time of the Scopes "Monkey Trial," those who remained self-described fundamentalists had essentially withdrawn from the larger culture and became known for their strict separationism and legalistic mindset.

In 1947, a young theologian named Carl Henry published a book entitled "The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism," in which he chided fundamentalists for their anti-intellectualism, their lack of involvement in humanitarian enterprises, and their lack of participation in the larger culture. Henry's book helped to launch a new movement that became known as "neo-evangelicalism" That movement became associated with what was launched in the 1950's as a journal of thought, Christianity Today (it is now a rag), and the revivalism of Billy Graham. The descendants of that movement are now usually called evangelicals, though that term is now used to describe groups that are sometimes different from what Henry likely envisioned.

For anyone interested in a really good recounting of the movement's beginnings by an excellent writer and historian, I would recommend George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture.

Don't Help Poor Shoppers Save Money

George Will points out that the quixotic opposition to Walmart on the American left places liberals in opposition to much of their supposed constituency -- the median Walmart shopper has a household income under $40,000/year, and these customers shop there because of aggregate savings that far exceed government payouts for food stamps and the earned income credit. The anti-Walmart crowd also reveals some other unflattering realities about itself:

Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America's political argument, and they are more correct than they understand. Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets, because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots and announce -- yes, announce -- that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by . . . liberals.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

May the Worst Man Win

Enraged Tennessee conservative blogger Rob Huddleston told University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer that the Vols should throw the game to Florida for the good of the team. The near miss against Air Force last week proves that some Vols don't know what it takes to win, and a good butt-kicking at the hands of the hated Gators would give them the attitude adjustment that they need to win out the remainder of their games.

No, Huddleston really isn't saying that. His real argument is far more foolish.

Oh, and whoever gives one penny to the UT athletic department is a traitor to their principles after what they did to Johnny Majors....

Soon to Be Former Lt. Governor

Joe Public delivers his previously promised piece outlining the reasons why Lt. Governor John Wilder is unlikely to retain his position beyond this term. It is well worth the read.

By the way, the author says that it is "likely" that former Democrat Don McLeary will vote with Republicans in selecting the Lt. Governor next year. It is a lock.

Banned Speech

Does the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law censor political speech? Of course, it does. For a good summary of the argument as to why this is so, and as to why it is a bad idea to allow politicians to regulate political speech, see Brad Smith here.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Why Couric Is Faltering

A blogger at KnoxViews notes that the initially high television ratings of new CBS anchor Katie Couric's newscasts are already falling precipitously.

This is not surprising. People initially tuned into Couric's newscast for the same reason that they might stop to see a troupe of dancing dogs: they really aren't very good at it, but one is amazed that they do it at all.

However, the charm quickly wears off.

While the world might be a better place if a woman succeeded as a network news anchor, at its root the sex of the news reader is of tangential importance for anyone wishing to reverse the trend of people watching network news programming in decreasing numbers. People who are interested in news by and large do not watch the networks because the network newscasts spend relatively little of their time actually credibly covering real news.

Poll: a Four Letter Word

Over the next nearly 2 months, many of my fellow bloggers will make repeated references to the latest and greatest polling numbers in all of the varied races. The Oracle will not be joining them.

Polls are not really news: they are manufactured news. Furthermore, while changing numbers over a period of time sufficient to establish a trend may be interesting, the incessant reporting of minute daily fluctuations is not. The constant onslaught of varied polling information only provides fodder for partisans who laud the merits of favorable ones and explain away the unfavorable. In reality, a small daily or weekly fluctuation 2 months before the election means virtually nothing apart from the attempt of spinners to get stories into a news cycle claiming that they have established momentum.

The Oracle dislikes spinners even more than polls.

The Oracle is interested in the horses. Other than noting broad trends, he will not cover the horse race.

Showing the Money

The Hill reports that the Republican National Committee has a considerable financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart, and that Republican chairman Ken Mehlman is planning to spend it all in an effort to hold Congress. At the end of July, the RNC reported $43.6 million in cash on hand; the Democrats reported $11.3 million.

Mehlman says that no money is being held back for the 2008 Presidential election. Meanwhile, Democratic chairman Howard Dean is being widely criticized within his own party both for his methods in raising money and the manner in which he is distributing it.

Judicial Activism

For an excellent discussion of the proper definition of "judicial activism" -- contra a New York Times editorial lauding a study on the issue -- see here.

My informal definition of judicial activism is that it is what occurs when judges illegitimately take on the role of legislators in creating law.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No Link Found

From Scrappleface:

Just a day after the Senate Intelligence committee released a report finding no pre-war connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, aides said unpublished findings of the committee's probe also indicate no verifiable link between the senate and intelligence.

Scrappleface has the best satire on the net. Read the rest of his post here.

Bent, but Not Broken

Critics of the Bush administration have continued to pass on the canard that the United States had loads of international good will in the aftermath of 9/11 that were ultimately squandered by our allegedly bellicose cowboy President. It is a fine myth. Ann Applebaum correctly remembers that "the initial wave of goodwill hardly outlasted the news cycle."

To paraphrase a source that I have forgotten, there were many around the world who were prepared to show empathy for an America that was bloodied and lying on the ground. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of Bush's policies, it is important to realize that some despise us, not because we took off in the direction that we did, but because we had the audacity to get up and walk at all.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Political Reform that Matters

The editors of National Review point out that an important vote is looming in the House of Representatives. They will not be voting on legislation, but on a change in internal House rules that would accomplish important political reform by making legislative earmarks more transparent:

Under the new rules, the House Appropriations Committee would be required to provide a list of earmarks in each bill: who added them, who will benefit from them, and how much they will cost.

This rule would also apply to authorized spending like last year’s bloated transportation bill, making it even more comprehensive than the earmark reforms proposed in the House lobbying-reform bill. In addition, it would require the disclosure of special tax breaks to single beneficiaries, thus exposing “tax earmarks.” As a House rule change, it would apply only to House bills — but any earmarks added in conference and then returned to the House would also have to be disclosed before a final vote.

While the vote on these rules changes will not decide whether Republicans will hold their majority in the House, it might determine whether they deserve to. It will be a close vote. Those in both parties who view taxpayer money as a supplemental personal campaign war chest are opposed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dastardly Attacks

The debate over ABC's "Path to 9/11" has been discouraging for those who prefer principled debate over partisan demagoguery. The same people who skewered fabrications when they were directed by Michael Moore or aimed at the Reagans suddenly discovered a new found respect for the legitimacy of the docudrama genre when parts of one placed the Clinton administration in a negative light. Meanwhile, those who accused Moore's critics of nitpicking now find themselves horrified -- shocked -- that Hollywood plays fast and loose with the truth.

Just when one thought the debate had gotten as bad as it could, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid decided to unveil his best Spiro Agnew impersonation. Not since Agnew has a leader of Reid's stature so overtly threatened the free speech rights of the television networks based solely on a political disagreement.

However, at least a few people have gotten it right. Conservative columnist John Fund justly rips the program:

The makers of docudramas always have smooth explanations for why they need to adjust history for the purposes of storytelling. Cy Nowrasteh, the screenwriter for "The Path to 9/11," told National Review: "The Berger scene is a fusing and melding of at least a dozen capture opportunities. The sequence is true, but it's a conflation. This is a docudrama. We collapse, condense, and create composite characters. But within the rules of docudrama, we're well documented."

That's the problem with docudramas. Their rules simply aren't good enough when dealing with events that are still fresh in the minds of so many. At worst, they can be used by ideological gunslingers like director Oliver Stone, who smeared the reputations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in paranoid fantasy films.

It is good to come across principle in punditry.

The Nature of the Struggle

One may disagree with the President over the conduct of the war on terror or the relevance of the Iraqi conflict to it, but he made one statement tonight that is unassailably true: the battle that was forced upon us 5 years ago today is not merely a clash of civilizations; it is a battle for civilization, being waged by a barbarian horde that opposes it.

For that reason, the events of 9/11/01 must never be forgotten, and in this battle we must prevail.

You Know You Found the Perfect Girlfriend When...

...your new girlfriend, who has an extra Titans' season ticket for use by her date, hands you her binoculars during the Jets game as the cheerleaders are running onto the field during a break.

I looked through the glasses for a moment, then regained my senses and lowered them. "I don't need these," I said. "You're too close."

The Oracle is no fool.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Friendly Skies

The Transportation Safety Administration is banning almost all liquids from being carried on flights, including almost any kind of make-up, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. However, they are permitting your carry-on to contain up to 4 ounces of "personal lubricants."

The Mile High Club is open for membership.

Hat Tip: Neil Gaiman via Reality Me via Silence

Rendering to God and Man

The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, which did not like the new federal bankruptcy law that became effective last year, have issued a press release lamenting a recent ruling that the new law prohibits Christians in bankruptcy from tithing until they have met their obligations to their debtors. Previous bankruptcy law allowed charitable giving to be included as a monthly expense.

Leaving aside the legal and legislative issue, this situation strikes The Oracle as presenting a moral quandary. Christians have scriptural responsibilities both to give financially to the church and also to meet their financial obligations to their fellow man. How are those competing mandates appropriately delineated when one is bankrupt?

What You See Is All You Get

As someone who cares more about public policy than gamesmanship, The Oracle tires of the political realities behind headlines such as this: "House GOP plans earmark reform in appeal to conservative base."

The Oracle is not naive about the political calculations that go into most of what politicians do, but it would be nice if every once in a while one were permitted to suppose that some idea, such as reining in wasteful spending, was going to get a vote because someone in leadership thinks its in the best interests of the country.

Sometimes, cynicism about political motives is driven by the media. However, in recent months many Republicans on Capitol Hill have been distressingly forthright about their intentions. Back when the House was grandstanding over a vote on gay marriage, one Republican congressman declared that it was important to get Democrats' votes on the record. Yet, for the publicly minded among us, Congress doesn't exist for the purpose of getting votes recorded. It is supposed to play its part in governing the country.

Would Republican leaders, who have been resisting calls from within their own party for spending reform, allow this to come to a vote if they were not now in fear of the looming political consequences? Probably not.

If Republicans lose the House, it will partly be due to the reasons usually given: the unpopularity of the President and the war. However, it will partly be the result of a public that has become fed up with a Congress that spends so much time posturing that it never gets around to governing. After all, if image is everything, the interior must be hollow.

The Value of Creative and Persuasive Political Writers

Responding to a debate raging among a few local bloggers, Roger Abramson wrote the following:

Sure, sarcasm and petulance may be a lot more fun, but if the real goal is to affect real change, it's precisely the worst way to go. We live in a representative democracy: that means you need to get a majority of people (and often more than that) on your side to get anything done.

It doesn't seem to occur to many political bloggers and commentators these days that one can engage issues for the purpose of persuasion. Too many, perhaps most, writers nowadays seem to opine with the only goal being to receive rhetorical high fives from those already in agreement with them. This has led to a political culture that often divides heatedly and manages to be intellectually vacuous at the same time.

Some time ago an acquaintance of mine said that her favorite political writer was Molly Ivins. My mouth gaped. My surprise did not result from the fact that she liked a liberal -- I knew that my friend described herself as a political liberal, and I would not have been taken back if she had said she liked Ivins because she got in a good zinger every now and then. But, her favorite? The shock came from knowing that this person was intelligent, highly educated, and artistically gifted, yet she said that her "favorite" was a writer who has managed to master the craft of artless predictability. I would expect my friends to react the same way if I said that my favorite writer was Ann Coulter. Does Coulter sometimes say things I agree with, and do so with an enjoyable moxie? Sure. My favorite? I hate to sound like a snob, but, frankly, that's beneath me.

Among both bloggers and professional journalists, there are many whose views can be fully known by the end of the headline. There are relatively few writers, on either the left or the right, who go about their craft with creativity, intelligence, and persuasiveness. Once found, they become a reader's best friends.

On Behaving Well

The dean of Washington journalists, David Broder, has a post-mortem on the Plame controversy that merits heeding by all writers, including bloggers, who wish to engage their craft with integrity and to be taken seriously.

The first line alone whets the appetite: "Conspiracy theories flourish in politics, and most of them have no more basis than spring training hopes for the Chicago Cubs."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Exaggerated Similarities

If Rhode Island's conservative Republicans, a group that is longing to break out of its phone booth, succeeds in defeating Lincoln Chafee in the upcoming primary, many will make comparisons to Joe Lieberman's loss in Connecticut.

Paul Mirengoff argues that the alleged similarities would be greatly exaggerated. Whereas Lieberman almost always voted with his party on all issues except for one, Chafee almost never votes with his. In fact, an eventual loss of Chafee's seat to a Democrat could affect the balance of power in terms of the partisan composition of the Senate, but it would make virtually no difference in terms of votes on individual issues.

Teach the Bible at School?

The Wilson County Board of Education will consider a request to add a course on the Bible as an elective in its high school curriculum, The Tennessean reports. Terry Redmon, who runs an organization called "Reclaiming the Land with Christ Inc.," initiated the proposal.

While many on the left will immediately reject such an idea on what they suppose to be first amendment grounds, the question of the advisability of a Bible elective is actually much more complicated than that. The Bible is, in fact, in addition to being a religious text, a book of significant historical and literary importance for much of the world. This writer is currently reading the American classic Moby Dick and in so doing has noted that the novel is inundated with biblical references that make it hardly comprehensible to someone without at least a broad knowledge of scriptural references and themes. Historically, the Bible has played a prominent role in both American literature and other forms of public discourse and culture.

In addition, the fact that the Middle East has become a region of such importance to American life makes it important that Americans better understand that part of the world. The Bible provides much information of value to anyone that would understand the history of the area. In fact, one might criticize Christians on this score: at a time when the public needs to understand a part of the world about which Christians should have some expertise, the church has by and large not provided it. Instead of offering perspectives on Middle East history and culture, the church has more noticeably put forth spurious works of negligible value on apocalyptic themes.

Nonetheless, a look at both the proposal and the proposer does not encourage one that the purpose of the course would be historical and literary understanding. Redmon's organization has the stated purpose of "reclaim[ing] the land with Christ by involving the universal church in a grassroots effort to fulfill the Reclaiming The Land With Christ Vision and Mission Statements...."

In addition, Redmon is proposing that the Board take up the curriculum of the National Council on Bible Curriculum, whose president describes its goals as follows:

The curriculum for the program shows a concern to convey the content of the Bible as compared to literature and history.... The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society....

One might ask which of the statements is actually the objective of the course: to convey the Bible's content in terms of its literature and history (I have not yet figured out what the "compared to" phrase means), or to approach it as a foundational document for society? Either approach could theoretically be appropriate, but the two concepts are quite different: the first would place an emphasis on the Bible as a Middle Eastern text; the second would focus on its western influence.

That apparent contradiction, which is admittedly reconcilable since a course can have more than one orientation, along with the orientation of Redmon's organization, raises the likelihood that the real goal is to create opportunities for evangelization. It is regrettable, even pathetic, that Christians fail to see the mistake here of asking public schools to do that which they are failing to do themselves: to convey the content of the Bible to the next generation. Churches and Christian parents are not doing a terribly good job, as a whole, of teaching their own children the Bible. That might perhaps be a better focus than one that looks on the public school system as a surrogate.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lukewarm Support

The New York Times argues that Hillary Clinton lacks courage and fails to stand by her principles -- while giving her their endorsement.

I don't think she will include that one in her campaign literature

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Double Whammy

This line from the Wall Street Journal will pummel anyone who believes in limited government:

The House is holding up earmark reform, which is part of the ethics bill, because its leaders want to outlaw campaign spending by big-money 527 groups funded by the likes of George Soros.

Ok. So what was once the party of limited government will now defend its prerogative to waste taxpayer money unless it is granted the power to limit political speech.

Please keep me from sharp objects.

They Don't Even Wear Masks

Today's story in The Hill on congressional earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education bill makes lawmakers look like nothing more than a bunch of petty thieves taking other people's money for their own use.

Appearances are not always deceiving.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Not Real on Social Security

One can now add Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Robert Casey, Jr., to the list of those who either dissimulate or lack understanding of the future of Social Security. Yesterday, Casey responded to questions about the entitlement by saying that there was no crisis and that we could "do nothing."

Of course, disingenuousness has been a characteristic of much of the debate over government retirement entitlements over the last decade. Republicans have sometimes warned of a crisis, but then adopted a massive new Medicare entitlement to prescription drugs. On the other hand, one can not forget Al Gore's repetitious invocation of the mythical lockbox. That metaphor gave the misleading impression that excess social security taxes were being locked away as a future resource. In fact, those revenues were always turned into treasury notes used to fund the general budget, meaning that the result was a future government obligation, not a resource.

One may debate the proper response to the impending budget crisis facing a federal government that is making future promises that it cannot possibly keep. However, anyone thinking they have ended the debate by arguing that we can do nothing is either hopelessly irresponsible or grossly misinformed.

Wilder Days Are Passing By

Joe Public gives public notice of an upcoming column that will say that John Wilder's reign as Tennessee's Lieutenant Governor will soon end. He is most certainly correct. Wilder is already desperately engaged in an effort to bargain for Republican crossover votes, but it appears unlikely, assuming that they retain their senate majority, that they will make the same mistake again.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Our Enlightened World

A chilling story in today's The Tennessean tells us what our brave new world now mostly does with the weaker and less savory elements of our society. We kill them off.

The Orwellian phraseology being applied to the lower number of Down Syndrome births is that the trend may result -- it almost certainly does -- from "improved prenatal diagnosis." People sometimes employ euphemisms in an effort to save feelings, but they also frequently use them as an instinctive flinch from reality. Better early diagnosis is normally cited as providing the opportunity to take curative action at earlier stages of an illness. In this instance, diagnosis provides the opportunity to eliminate the patient.

Concerns about life have unfortunately become regarded as issues for the religious, and the non-devout frequently wish to ignore these matters for the same reason that many northern Whigs wanted the slavery debate to go away: they were themselves opposed, but the personal and moral nature of an argument with otherwise respectable peers was messy and uncomfortable business. Be that as it may, these issues were -- and are -- among the most important of the day.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No Endorsement for Ms. C. has declined to give an endorsement in the New York Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate due to the fact that political novice Jonathan Tasini garnered 44% of the group's vote. The organization requires a 2/3 majority in order to make an endorsement in the race.

A large and vocal group of activists that refuses to support Hillary Clinton because she's just plain too conservative promises to make the 2008 primary season an interesting one.

Hat Tip: The Corner

Online Tools and Legislators

Given that one of the most frequent criticisms of politicians is that they are "out of touch," it is not surprising that early returns from a project conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation are showing that online interactions with constituents can significantly improve approval ratings.

When the political class figures out how to effectively use blogs and other online forums, one can only hope that they will not utilize them in ways that will eventually fuel the kinds of cynicism too frequently found elsewhere.

Hat Tip: The Thicket


Sharon Cobb is right in calling the western world to task for failing to care about genocide in the Sudan. No words can describe the greatness of the travesty occurring there.

Read about it here.

Religious Political Activists

In a column appearing at National Review Online under the headline "The Activist Trap," Colleen Carroll Campbell offers thoughts that should be considered by all Christians who would engage the church in political affairs. She writes:

Church teaching clearly exhorts Catholics to work to alleviate poverty, promote peace between nations, and work toward a just society, as Benedict reaffirmed last year in his first encyclical, God Is Love. But Benedict warned Catholic activists against adopting a materialist worldview wedded to the welfare state or to utopian visions of social justice, neither of which can substitute for the authentic, person-to-person charity that is the Church’s direct concern and every Christian’s obligation.

Benedict also distinguished between the role of individual lay people working in the world — who have a “direct duty to work for a just ordering of society” — and the role of the Church itself — which “cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. … She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper.”

This spiritual energy that transforms cultures and promotes peace concerns Benedict the most, and he has warned his flock — particularly the Church’s most visible representatives — against becoming so immersed in activism that they fail to fulfill their primary vocation of bringing God to the world. On Holy Thursday of this year, he urged priests to be primarily men of prayer rather than activists. The world has plenty of activists, the Pope said, but “the world needs God.”

Though directed primarily to Catholics, these are thoughts that deserve the attention of evangelicals, both on the right and left, as well. Christianity is de-legitimized if it becomes first and foremost a political enterprise. Certainly, Christian faith has political implications, and the church as a whole may speak to those to one degree or another. However, the church should also believe that it offers change primarily through the redemptive power of the gospel, not through political coercion. Too many Christians have lost sight of that priority.

Forced Conversions and Moral Reasoning

Paul Marshall reflects on the public reaction to the story of the forced "conversions" to Islam of the two kidnapped Fox News reporters. Marshall writes:

The significance of this forced conversion has been downplayed in the media. The New York Times and the Washington Post even pronounced the two "unharmed" on release. This judgment is perverse. If Muslim prisoners in American custody were forced to convert to Christianity on pain of death or as a condition of release, the press would denounce it as virtual torture, and rightly so: No sane person would say the prisoners had suffered no harm.

Normally, it might be considered meritorious that we would hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we would expect from others. However, examples such as these are indicative of the dearth of what passes as moral reasoning in the western world. Those things that were once thought of, for example, in the Declaration of Independence, as inalienable human rights are now dismissed as mere western constructs.

Those who so dismiss alarm themselves that a return to thinking about freedom of conscience (a subset of which is freedom of religion) will lead to ever increasing American interventionism around the world, but that need not be true. Concern for human rights must always be measured along side numerous other considerations of resources, prospects for success, the legitimacy of any impositions, the strengths and weaknesses of other cultures, and so forth.

But considering and weighing all of those things would require a capacity for moral reasoning, and that is not now one of our great strengths.

A Trend or a Bump in the Road?

Revenues decreased for many Washington lobbying firms in the first half of 2006, according to a story in The Hill, which describes reporting as revealing a "slowing of growth" in the industry as a whole. Observers disagree as to whether this slowing results from recent Washington scandals or from a shorter congressional agenda in 2006.

In all likelihood, the downturn will be temporary unless those interested in porkbusting continue vigilantly press for far reaching reforms.

A Misleading Ad?

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has demanded that television stations cease airing an ad produced by their Democratic counterparts that apparently misleadingly blames Bob Corker for problems with Chattanooga's 911 system that occurred after the former mayor had left office. In response to those complaints, Harold Ford said that embarrassment for Corker does not mean that he can "lie about the facts."

Two observations:

1. The threat of a lawsuit probably is designed for public consumption and has little merit. First amendment protections of political speech have the latent effect of providing politicians with widespread latitude to dissimulate.

2. Politicians and pundits who accuse people of "lying" when talking about differences of policy or interpretations of facts show themselves to be lacking in civility, integrity, and moral seriousness. This is a principle that applies to Ford in this instance. It should be freely applied on a bipartisan basis.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Finding a Way to Lose

Up until now, the Oracle has accepted the premise that the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race is unwinnable for Rick Santorum and will be a loss for the Republicans. However, while in Harrisburg this week, I spoke with a highly connected political source who told me that the recent tightening in the race is causing whispering among insiders from both parties that Bob Casey, Jr. is repeating his performance in the 2004 gubernatorial primary, in which he blew a 20+ point lead to Ed Rendell and ultimately lost by double digits.

It will be interesting to watch.