Sunday, February 28, 2010

Radical Utopian Nutcase Quote of the Day

"From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption."

-- Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, in a New York Times op-ed.

Hat Tip: Ann Althouse

"What is Twitter?"

How can anyone not love Lou Piniella? Besides doing a better, more entertaining job at getting ejected than any baseball manager this side of Earl Weaver, he says things like this:

"First of all, I don't know how to Twitter. Second of all, I'm not going to learn how to Twitter.... I've heard of Facebook....But I'm really not a Facebook or Twitter guy. I'm a prime rib and baked potato guy."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What are they running for?

With the primary season upon us in Texas, a radio advertisement for a candidate for Texas Railroad Commissioner informs us that he is a "pro-life conservative." While that is a good thing, I am not sure what that has to do with the office that he is seeking.

Perhaps even worse, a candidate for the state supreme court is promising to "enforce" the Constitution. Perhaps she skipped high school civics on her way to law school.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doubling Down on Health Care

With the American people clamoring for legislation to do something about jobs and the economy, the decision by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid again to move health care to the front pages is utterly baffling. Prudence would have dictated, at the very least, doing something on the jobs front and claiming victory before moving back to health care. Instead, holding a hand of 15 and seeing the dealer's face card, they have decided to double down.

The changes outlined by the President on his website today will increase the cost of the bill, possibly by as much as $200 billion. That being the case, and assuming that some Democrats retain some vestiges of fiscal sanity, it is not completely clear that they will be able to pass a bill even using the reconciliation process. If they do, it will be at the cost of considerable public ire on legislation that promises benefits that will not begin until 2013. Thus, the clear political and fiscal cost is frontloaded, and the theoretical benefits are out in the future.

In California last week, I was asked what I thought would happen this year with health care reform. I responded that I did not believe that the Democrats would go on a suicide mission. I guess we shall see.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

George Will at CPAC

This is the best political speech that I have heard in a very long time. It is well worth the time it takes to view it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Illegitimate Road Use

Up until now, HOV lanes have been justified by the notion that people could be encouraged to carpool by permitting them to use lanes bearing less traffic during rush hour.

However, the state of Texas is now using taxpayer funds to build extra lanes for use only by those who agree to pay tolls.

One supposes that the message is that traffic, like taxes, is for little people.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Gospel Driven Life, by Michael Horton: a brief review

Michael Horton opens his provocative new book, The Gospel Driven Life, by explaining his intention in writing it: "The goal of this book is to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God's victory over sin and death in his Son, Jesus Christ."

The stated need "to reorient" implies that Dr. Horton believes that the church has gotten off track. However, it would be incorrect to suppose that this is primarily a negative book. He has previously written Christless Christianity, a book that outlines in depressing detail where the church has become wrongly oriented. In this work, he places primary focus on what Christians and churches should be focused on. In so doing, he has written a book that is relentlessly Christ centered and gospel centered. It is a vigorous call for the church to recenter itself around the gospel of Christ. For many churches, both liberal and conservative, this would represent a change of Copernican proportions.

While Dr. Horton's book is more prescriptive than critical, he does helpfully draw some contrasts throughout the book that help the reader understand what he is getting at. For example:

The gospel is not good advice; it is good news.

The gospel is not about God writing himself into our story; it is about Him givins us a new script, writing us into His story.

The gospel is not something that happens within us; it is something that happened outside of us in real space and time.

The gospel is neither personal nor primarily about our transformed lives; it is a public and objective set of events that occurred in real space and time.

The gospel creates a cross cultural community that has no power other than the gospel and the Spirit; the church does not effect change through coercive means.

Even the modern terminology of the church points to its tendency to conceptually move Christ and the gospel to the periphery. Thus, when we speak about having a "worship experience," we place more emphasis on our pursuit of the experience than we do on the God who is supposed to be worshipped. And, such emphasis on experience in the end leads to burnt out believers.

While Dr. Horton argues that the church should "avoid resorting to hostile rhetoric," he criticizes the church for caving into mindless sentimentality. He writes:

Lazy minds breed lazy hearts and hands.... The greatest threat to Christianity is never vigorous intellectual criticism but a creeping senility that transforms truths into feelings, public claims into private experiences, and facts into mere values. Christianity is either true or false, but it is not irrational.... We must recover our distinctively biblical commitment to rigorous, inquisitive, and persuasive thinking before there can be a genuine renewal of Christian conviction, faith, repentance, and discipleship. It is time once again to love God with our minds.

Indeed. The book suffers from some repetitiveness and as a result is not the most brisk of Dr. Horton's writings. However, it is a worthy exposition of a subject of great import. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Last Days and Times

Sally Reiser is a broken woman. The abuse she has suffered has made her hard, and before she met a doctoral student, the one great love of her life has been her retarded and adorable son, Eulie. But neither her life nor the effects of her abuse stop there. Everything that she has been through and has been shown to her has carefully molded her into the ingenious researcher she needed to be in order to bring down a madman bent on destroying the earth.

Despite the title, LAST DAYS AND TIMES by Stephan Loy is not a book about the end times per se, but it does draw heavily on the Biblical prophesies surrounding the coming of our Lord. Just like Tim Lahaye's LEFT BEHIND, it's a fictional account dreamed up in the fanciful whims of a writer based very loosely on scripture, but unlike Mr. Lahaye's series, LAST DAYS AND TIMES is not expected to be taken as truth, and that is one of the many reasons Stephan Loy's novel is more fun to read. While stating this book is better written than the atrocity Mr. Lahaye spewed on the literary world is not much of a compliment, I will say that the pacing and well written characters put LAST DAYS AND TIMES in a much higher category.

There is, however, one caveat to the character of Gary Lamonte, the main character's love interest. He is a principled and very faithful and educated Southern Baptist, but he does not believe in the infallibility of God's own word. The author is a liberal Catholic, and while I understand that writers often infuse their own beliefs in their stories, it is more important for the characters to be consistent. While I disagree with Mr. Loy's understanding of the Bible, I was most pleasantly surprised by a major theme that was woven through the book, and that is one of providence. God chooses those whom He wills, and He bestows His love unmerited. This is a very Augustinian viewpoint.

While on the subject of the author's Christian denomination, another problem with the novel that caught my attention was the fact that even though the antagonist is just over two thousand years old, his prophetic interpretations were loosely based in dispensationalism. The reason I find this odd is because it is a system of Biblical interpretation that has only been around for one hundred and fifty years, give or take. Catholicism has been around much longer, and its followers do not adhere to the rantings of the loud dispensational crowd. Also, anyone who is two thousand years old would laugh at that belief system. If this book were written by a Southern Baptist or a Pentacostal, the mistake would be more forgivable due to ignorance. As I said above, it is truly fiction, even from the standpoint of the author, so he may have taken license to appeal to a wider audience, and perhaps writing from that viewpoint is more fun when dealing with a madman trying to hasten the Lord's return. As such, I enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to others who love charcter-driven, fast-paced action novels. No matter what your faith is, it's a fun book to read.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brown, Bayh, and Obama

In the wake of the election of Scott Brown as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, President Barack Obama elicited laughter by saying, with a straight face, that Mr. Brown's election resulted from the same cause as his own: dissatisfaction with business as usual in Washington. While that bit of gymnastical punditry deserved the mirth that it received -- Mr. Brown's surprising election was, of course, a stunning repudiation of the President -- it has not been noticed enough that President Obama was half right. On the day that Sen. Evan Bayh announced that he would not seek re-election, it is appropriate to note that to the extent that the President was correct, he precisely identified why his first year has resulted in his administration party going into a political free fall.

When the President said that he and Sen. Brown were elected for the same reason, he by inference was admitting that they were elected for negative reasons. That is to say, their appeal, according to the Obama analysis, was not due to support for their policy positions -- on which they had nothing in common. Rather, they were elected because the Washington establishment was being repudiated. In Mr. Obama's case, that means his election was accomplished due to the unpopularity of his predecessor. He was not the positive Obama; he was the anti-Bush.

Mr. Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to receive more than 51% of the popular vote since LBJ, and he and the Democrats quickly took his landslide victory as evidence of a vast electoral mandate, if not a sea change in the direction of American politics. Does anyone remember when we were being assured that the future belonged to the Democrats, as the Republican Party had succeeded in relegating itself to the role of an irrelevant regional party nonexistent outside the south?

In fact, the President had no mandate, certainly not for the far reaching overhaul that he envisioned for the American economy, featuring government entanglement in the private sector, not as an emergency measure, but as a re-ordering of our way of life. The only mandate that President Obama had was not to be Bush. He has succeeded at that, but he has done so by being someone that the public was not at all prepared for.

The senatorial career of Evan Bayh was sacrificed by that mistake. His resignation will be symbolic of the sacrifice of the possibilities of Democratic dominance if the President does not find a way to change course and tack toward the political center.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

God and Country

For an excellent, balanced piece on the role of Christianity in America's founding, placed in the context of some of the excesses of the Texas State Board of Education, see The New York Times Magazine here.

I am sure that the fact that it comes from The NYT will cause some to approach the essay in a jaded way, but it is done about as well as anything I have seen lately.

Hat Tip: DMN Blog

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Money and Politics

Reports about a 5% increase in spending on federal lobbying last year will doubtless result in endless jeremiads about the amount of money in politics. Certainly, the question of whether this or that group has undue political influence is a matter worthy of public debate. However, such debate should include the following consideration:

In no year in American history has the federal government, through Congress and the Administration, proposed such far reaching proposals regulating such a broad spectrum of the American economy -- health care, finance, energy, transportation, housing, and so on. It is to be expected that sectors of the economy facing the prospect of new and increasing regulation will attempt to influence what is being done to them.

Arguing that some group has "too much influence" raises the difficulty of someone determining how much influence is enough. Leaving that aside, people and industries being acted upon by the federal government should not be blamed for exercising their fundamental right to defend themselves.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"A National Embarrassment"

In one of those columns one might wish for every American to read, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson argues that neither Democrats nor Republicans are acquitting themselves well on a great issue of apocalyptic import -- runaway deficits. One exception to the lack of seriousness about that serious issue is Republican congressman Paul Ryan. While Mr. Samuelson does not agree with all of Rep. Ryan's prescriptions, he urges that those disagreeing with the congressman need to come with solutions of their own:

But the larger point is that Ryan is trying to start a conversation on the desirable role and limits of government. He's trying to make it possible to talk about sensitive issues -- mainly Social Security and Medicare -- without being vilified. President Obama recognized that when he called Ryan's plan a "serious proposal." But since then, Democrats have resorted to ritualistic denunciations of him as pillaging Social Security and Medicare. Legitimate debate becomes impossible. If Democrats don't like Ryan's vision, the proper response is to design and defend their own plan. The fact that they don't have one is a national embarrassment.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Taking Palin Seriously?

David Broder has a long record of viewing politicians and the Washington scene, so he should not be quickly dismissed. This morning, he writes in the Post that Democrats are mistaken in being so dismissive of Sarah Palin. He cites her political skills, particularly an ability to connect to a populist crowd, as sufficient reason to take her more seriously than many on the ridiculing left do.

Certainly, the level of vitriol toward Ms. Palin is over the top, but so is Mr. Broder's praise.

If Ms. Palin were serious about future national aspirations, she should have done one thing and not done one other: she should have remained Governor of Alaska, and she should not have become a commentator for Fox News.

As to the former, remaining Governor and winning a second term would have provided a platform for attaining actual experience and accomplishment. An insufficient resume, along with a tenuous grip on many important national issues, remains Ms. Palin's biggest deficiency.

As to the latter, Ms. Palin, not to mention her new employer, fails to appreciate that an actively engaged politician should not be providing news commentary. Sure, many political figures -- George Stephanopholos, Bob Beckel, and James Carville come immediately to mind -- have made a direct shift from activist to commentator, but it is a bit more of a reputable path if they leave the game, at least for all public appearances, in order to become talking heads. Ms. Palin's path lacks even the appearance of reputability.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sen. Hutchison's Road Not Taken

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is, or at least was, a political powerhouse in Texas, and a year ago political analysts were salivating at the thought of covering the pending battle between the Senator and incumbent Governor Rick Perry, who announced that he would seek an unprecedented third full term in the governor's mansion. Republican insiders in Austin did not like opining about the race, with many not wanting to tip their hands, not wanting to back the loser in what appeared to be a dead heat.

Now, less than a month before the primary election, the Hutchison campaign is in shambles, trailing the Governor by 15 points. The only question at this point is whether a third candidate, Debra Medina, who has never held state wide office, will garner enough votes to force a runoff to determine the nominee.

What has happened to Sen. Hutchison, who was planning for this race even before pundits were floating her name as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2008? She has run an uninspiring campaign that has given Republicans no reason to turn away from a fairly popular governor in a state that has fared better than most in the nationwide recession. In short, she has given Texas Republicans no compelling reason to support her candidacy.

That is not to say that Gov. Perry did not have weaknesses that could have been, but were not, exploited. His pandering to the far right at tea party appearances at which he floated the possibility of secession embarrassed the state, not to mention sensible conservatives, and he has shown too much of a tendency toward secretiveness and a political approach that rewards friends arguably at the expense of what would be better for the state. However, attacking these areas would have risked her being seen as a moderate, and that is evidently a result that her consultants decided that she could not bear. Political handlers tend to focus on whether a candidate will run to the right, left, or center of their party. In so doing, they tend to focus on demographics, not on where the best arguments can be made.

Indeed, Mr. Perry's weaknesses could be criticized on conservative grounds. Granted, Sen. Hutchison's record of senatorial moderation would make that a difficult case to make. However, it was the best chance that she had. Taking down a popular incumbent -- frequently a loser's errand in any event -- usually requires an aggressive campaign that takes some risks. Sen. Hutchison has taken the safe path of an honorable loser.

UPDATE: I corrected Ms. Medina's name in response to a comment. I apologize for the error.

Politics as Scavenger Hunt

U.S Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has received much well-deserved approbation for his abuse of Senate traditions in placing holds on 70 of President Obama's nominees. Just as cold blooded reptiles are susceptible to trouble in the face of increasing heat, Sen. Shelby has felt the indignation of Americans, including Alabamans, at his stance. However, in relenting, he has threatened to do more of the same in the future.

Since moving to the Republican Party in the wake of the 1994 elections, Sen. Shelby has given evidence of being one of those lawmakers for whom all political principles seem subordinate to the need to procure pork for his state and the ultimate goal of elective office -- re-election. All across the political spectrum he should be regarded as the enemy of good government.