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One of the big reasons I love American politics is that nowhere else in the world can you find such a colorful cast of characters that pop up to add a little comedy to our otherwise deadly serious proceedings. Even the crooks are entertaining – if not personality wise then certainly in their marvelously inventive methods of purloining from the public purse.

Duke Cunningham may not have been much of a Congressman but he belongs in the Super Bowl of graft for his enormously inventive plans to enrich himself. “Dollar Bill” Jefferson gave a whole new meaning to the term “cold, hard cash.” Larry Craig’s straddles on more than just issues. And their friends in Congress can be even more entertaining and original in the ways they seek to separate the hard earned taxpayer coin from its owner.

Then there are the gadflies, the hangers on who wish to make an impact on our politics but only end up making idiots of themselves. Not surprisingly, I include myself in this group along with most (not all) bloggers, most columnists in major newspapers, most TV pundits, and anyone who writes for The Nation.

We are in “the boredom killing business,” as William Holden famously said in Paddy Cheyevsky’s brilliant and prescient take on TV news, the movie Network. And one of the best ways to alleviate ennui is to read books that purport to explain, analyze, or otherwise comment upon politics as it is currently practiced here in the United States.

Now the French, God bless ‘em, have a theory that you shouldn’t write about politics or history until at least 50 years have passed from the period you wish to study. Only after everyone is dead and their papers, diaries, letters, and post it notes are published can an author truly know and understand his subject.

This may be true. Then again, it might be a typical French excuse not to do any work. (Oh for God’s sake lighten up, I’m kidding you nitwits).

Be that as it may, today’s political authors immerse themselves in their subjects about as deeply as the puddle that forms after it rains in the utility room of my basement. Anything written by Sean Hannity must come with a piece of string so that the book can be tied to your desk lest it float away. The same goes for Ann Coulter and double for anything ever written about the Bush Administration by a liberal.

Then there are the books written to do a number on a candidate or political figure. There is nothing new about political hit pieces – Jefferson employed Philip Freneau to skewer Washington, Hamilton, and other federalists. The difference today is that they claim to be documented and “thoroughly researched.” Where Freneau would take great glee in airing all sorts of dirt on Alexander Hamilton (most of it untrue), political hatchet men today mask their attacks by hiding behind “scholarship.” Dolts who read these books are generally impressed because they contain hundreds of footnotes and feature a bibliography that rivals the Library of Congress.

But bad sourcing is still bad sourcing, even if you footnote it. And that appears to be the case with Jerome Corsi’s newst effort to insert himself into the presidential race with the publication of his book An Obama Nation.

Corsi’s career as an author is interesting. He’s written two books about a nuclear Iran that accuses politicians of actually paving the way for the mullahs to get the bomb. He’s written another book that tries to debunk peak oil. He wrote a book about border control with Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist whose main thesis is apparently that Bush is lax on border control because he wants to advance the idea of a North American Union with Canadians and Mexicans.

In short, Corsi is no ordinary Gadfly. He is a certifiable loon. He’s two shakes short of a martini. You cannot take anyone seriously who claims that US politicians are helping Iran get the bomb. Nor can you put any stock in anything written by a guy who thinks that any American president would give up American sovereignty just so he doesn’t have to pay any import duties on his Canadian bacon. It’s stupid. It’s cracked. It’s nutzo.

In a sane world. Jerome Corsi’s stuff might appear on the comic pages. Or placed next to the newest issue of Mad Magazine in the bookstore. But in today’s zany political culture, Corsi rates 100 guest appearances on talk shows and news programs. And apparently there are enough people out there who are either unaware or don’t care about his cockamamie views because Obama Nation will appear this week on the New York Times bestseller list at #1.

According to my old friend Pat Curley, Corsi is also a 9/11 truther who thinks that physicist Steve Jones is the bomb and Alex Jones worthy of an appearance on his show. In fact, the New York Times Caucus Blog informs us that the Obama project caused Corsi to delay his next big revelatory best seller; a book exposing the “lies” told by government in the 9/11 investigation.

Among the follow-up efforts to Jerome R. Corsi’s “Unfit for Command,” which inspired the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on Senator John Kerry in 2004, is “Obama Nation.” But the conservative commentator’s book about Senator Barack Obama appears to have distracted him from another project he was planning in January: exposing what he calls the government’s inadequate explanations about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

A YouTube video making the rounds, especially among Obama supporters, mocks Mr. Corsi for a Jan. 29 interview on Alex Jones’s radio show, a forum for those who take a deeply skeptical view of government claims about the attacks. (Mr. Corsi also frequently talks about the “North American Union” and other threats from globalization during his appearances).

The clip has Mr. Corsi discussing the findings of Steven Jones, physicist and hero of the “9/11 Truth” movement who claims to have evidence that the World Trade Center towers collapsed due to explosives inside the building, not just the planes hitting them, during the attacks.

Alex Jones is a popular radio host – especially with the tin foil hat crowd as well as that upstanding, all American, all White bunch at Stormfront, the neo Nazi site that gave a lot of luvin to Ron Paul recently. And Pat has also dug up the fact that Corsi apparently has no qualms about appearing anywhere at anytime to discuss his book – even if the radio show he agrees to appear on is geared toward the sub-60 IQ set:
Perhaps Corsi’s most telling appearance, however, has been on The Political Cesspool, an overtly racist, anti-Semitic radio show hosted by self-avowed white nationalist James Edwards. Corsi was interviewed on the Cesspool on July 20 and is scheduled to appear again this Sunday, August 17, joining a recent guest roster that has included Christian Identity pastor Pete Peters, Holocaust denier Mark Weber and former Klan boss David Duke.

Along with promoting Corsi’s appearances, Edwards is boasting on his website that the three-hour weekly show will join the Republic Broadcasting Network in September. This conspiracy-minded network, heard via satellite and the web, features talk about a sinister “New World Order” and wild theories about the causes of 9/11. Shows that air on the network include The Piper Report, named after host Michael Collins Piper, who has contributed to the holocaust denial magazine The Barnes Review, and Mark Dankof’s America, which has interviewed Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust denial group.

Nice company you’re keeping there, Jerry.

And nice company my fellow conservatives are keeping if you buy his book. There are oodles of things to criticize, denounce, make sport, and laugh at Barack Obama about without having to use anything from this screwball’s book. In fact, I would chastise folks like my good friend Jon Henke of The Next Right, the excellent Peter Wehner of Commentary, and numerous other conservatives and center/right bloggers and pundits who have actually taken the time to try and seriously discredit Corsi and denounce his inaccuracies and idiocies. The best possible thing to do about Jerome Corsi is point a finger and laugh at him. Laugh at his utter, hopeless stupidity at believing that there is a plot to form a North American Union. Giggle at his belief that the World Trade Centers were blown up by the government. Snicker at his notion that currently serving American politicians knowingly aided the Iranian mullahs in their efforts to get the bomb.

Why waste time and effort in a dedicated and well researched effort to critique someone who actually believes Obama is some kind of closet Muslim or at best, has “ties” to the Muslim religion he is not telling us about. This is especially wrongheaded considering that when the subject of Obama’s religion comes up, there is a ready made campaign killer all set to make a spectacular comeback this fall.

Jeremiah Wright as a tool to defeat Obama is a helluva lot more potent than any Islam worshipping Obama did as an 8 year old kid. All that bringing up the fake and foolish story that Obama is a Muslim does is distract from the public concentrating on Wright as Obama mentor and friend. In short, by trying to “prove” a baseless, ridiculous, nutty story about Obama’s radical Islamic past, those pushing this meme are only hurting their own cause.

I frankly don’t care how much of Obama Nation is true and how much is part of Corsi’s overactive imagination. I don’t care what his conclusions are nor do I care to know his views on Obama as a man or a politician. To my mind, a book on Obama written by Mickey Mouse would have more credibility.

At least Mickey isn’t responsible for what comes out of his mouth.

CATEGORY: Books, Politics

I’ve read a couple of books by Dinesh D’Souza, a self designated conservative intellectual whose most controversial book, “The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society caused some liberal’s heads to explode back in the 90’s. As examples of deep conservative thought, they are excellent brain candy; fluffy, superficial explorations of the left’s dominance of American culture and academia. The End of Racisim was even skewered by some conservatives for being wretchedly sourced and borderline bigoted. Two black fellows at The American Enterprise Institute resigned in protest over the think tank’s promotion of the book as well as D’Souza’s continued affiliation with the group.

One of the black fellows who resigned, Glenn Loury, wrote a review of The End of Racism in which he called the then 34 year old D’Souza “the Mark Fuhrman of public policy” which may have been a little unfair but indicative of the effect that D’Souza’s shallow critique of black culture had on genuine intellectuals like Loury. D’Souza also wrote Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus in which he anticipated the much more scholarly efforts of David Horwitz in exposing the left wing bias of professors and college administrators. In D’Souza’s case, the major criticism was again one of poor sourcing. I would add that Illiberal Education, as a dialectic, was an utter failure. Logical fallacies abound in the book and it should have finished the young man as a serious critic.

But the same conservative network of foundations, think tanks, and study groups that raises up and propels brilliant thinkers like Michael Ledeen, Fred Kagan, and Jeffrey Hart to prominence also brings us the occasional dud. D’Souza, and to some extent Ann Coulter, share a predilection for generating outrage both for the sake of advancing their personal public personae as well as eliciting angry responses from the left. The latter is important in that most criticism of their work is just as shallow and vapid as the work being criticized – easy pickings for a clever interlocutor like D’Souza who is a regular on CNN and other cable news networks where clever ripostes and chicken soup bromides rule the airwaves.

The only book of D’Souza’s that I really liked was Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader – a hagiographic summation of The Gipper’s impact on America and the Presidency as well as a listing of his leadership qualities that D’Souza claims made him the leader that he was. Here D’Souza wasn’t attempting any deep analysis but rather simply giving his opinion of a man he obviously admired. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read with plenty of Reagan anecdotes and a rehash of some of his major addresses. I came away with a deeper appreciation of the man although not convinced that any of Reagan’s unusual qualities or unorthodox leadership style could necessarily be adopted by anyone else to be a successful President.

This much is clear; D’Souza is not cut out to be a scholar. His mind appears to be too undisciplined to rigorously examine the subject he writes about, taking the issues apart and putting them back together so that he is intimately familiar with all aspects of the matter. Nor does he seem to be very self critical in that I don’t see him constantly challenging his own ideas. While this is a failing of many people who consider themselves scholars, constantly bulldogging one’s own work brings texture and a richness to arguments and gives depth and nuance to criticism.

It is dangerous (and a little silly) to comment on a book I haven’t read. But D’Souza’s latest effort, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, judging only by what the author himself has said and news reports of its contents have revealed, I would have to say that D’Souza has elevated logical fallacy to an art form while making Ann Coulter look like a Sister of Mercy of liberal criticism.

D’Souza’s own words:

“In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11. ... In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.

Muslim rage “fueled and encouraged by the cultural left” being “responsible” for 9/11? There are few more vociferous and sneeringly deprecating critics of the cultural left than yours truly but this is sheer lunacy. And it gets worse:

“I realize that this is a strong charge, one that no one has made before. But it is a neglected aspect of the 9/11 debate, and it is critical to understanding the current controversy over the ‘war against terrorism.’ … I intend to show that the left has actively fostered the intense hatred of America that has led to numerous attacks such as 9/11. If I am right, then no war against terrorism can be effectively fought using the left-wing premises that are now accepted doctrine among mainstream liberals and Democrats.”

First, the idea that no one has made this charge before is ludicrous and shows that D’Souza either lives in a cocoon or is a shoddy researcher:

It took culture warrior Robert Knight to refine the argument, and he was quite specific about who was to blame:

“None of this happened by accident. It is directly due to cultural depravity advanced in the name of progress and amplified by a sensation-hungry media.

  • We were told putting women into combat areas is progressive and enlightened.
  • We were told pornography is liberating, and that anyone who objects is a narrow-minded Puritan who needs therapy. We have been flooded with porn imagery on mainstream television and in magazine ads. Where did those soldiers get the idea to engage in sadomasochistic activity and to videotape it in voyeuristic fashion? Easy. It’s found on thousands of Internet porn sites and in the pages of “gay” publications, where S&M events are advertised alongside ads for Subarus, liquor and drugs to treat HIV and hepatitis.
  • We were told homosexuality is harmless and normal, and the military should live with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows homosexuals to stay in the barracks. We were told that men “marrying” men and women “marrying” women is inevitable – not only for America, but for the world. Imagine how those images of men kissing men outside San Francisco City Hall after being “married” play in the Muslim world. We couldn’t offer the mullahs a more perfect picture of American decadence. This puts Americans at risk all over the world, especially Christian missionaries who are trying to bring the Gospel to people trapped in darkness for millennia.
  • This is a Perfect Storm of our own making, and it is up to normal Americans to unmake it. It is not beyond correction. The American people should start by getting on their knees and asking God’s forgiveness for letting it get this bad. Then, they should ask Him for guidance in how to restore the moral order.”

While Knight is talking specifically about Iraq, he generalizes the jihadis hatred – ostensibly the same hatred that fueled the 9/11 attackers. (Read Eric’s entire piece. It is an excellent antidote to D’Souza’s idiocy.)

In fact, as this review of The Enemy at Home in Slate Magazine by Timothy Noah points out, D’Souza’s slings and arrows directed at the “cultural left” (a term he apparently never defines) seems to have missed their mark entirely:

The heart of D’Souza’s book isn’t his libeling of the American left, but rather his libeling of the American right. D’Souza notes, correctly, that al-Qaida’s hatred toward the West in general, and the United States in particular, is animated to a great extent by America’s permissive culture. But Bin Laden isn’t some Michael Medved figure grumping about the vulgarity of American Pie. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Al-Qaida’s enemy isn’t the excesses of secular culture; it’s secular culture itself. And to a surprising degree, D’Souza is willing to go along for the ride. Theocracy, D’Souza argues, is misunderstood to mean “rule by divine authority of the priesthood or clergy.” Not so! There are checks and balances, just like in the U.S. Constitution. In Iran, for instance, “the power of the state and of the mullahs is limited by the specific rules set forth in the Koran and the Islamic tradition. The rulers themselves are bound by these laws.”

Jesus Lord what sophistry! And ignorance to boot. It would come as a huge surprise to the small number of cowering democrats in Iran that the power of the state is “limited” in any way. More than 200,000 Revolutionary Guards make sure of that. And the Supreme Leader, whose power is technically checked by an Assembly of Experts, in reality does anything he damn well pleases as long as he’s clever enough to justify it by interpreting the Koran broadly enough.

But Noah’s point that D’Souza is actually libeling conservatives is well taken. If conservatives in this country express similar criticisms of the cultural left as the Islamic fanatics, according to D’Souza’s illogic doesn’t that put the social righties on the same moral plane as the jihadis? Doesn’t it, in fact, make us allies with conservative traditionalists around the world – even conservative Muslims? You betchya!

[I]f the political left and the Islamic fundamentalists are in the same foreign policy camp [because they both hate American imperialism], then by the same token the political right and the Islamic fundamentalists are on the same wavelength on social issues. The left is allied with some radical Muslims in opposition to American foreign policy, and the right is allied with an even larger group of Muslims [which includes radical Muslims] in their opposition to American social and cultural depravity. This is the essential new framework I propose for understanding American foreign policy and American social issues.

I hardly think we need this kind of “framework” – which is about as broad and simplistic as I’ve ever seen proposed – in reaching a new intellectual paradigm that explains either American foreign policy or the cultural left. D’Souza is spouting nonsense – a language he speaks with great fluency and total obliviousness to rationality.

If D’Souza had written about the toxicity of the culture promoted by the left and its effect on the mores and manners of American society – dumbing down discourse while polluting the values and traditions that hold the country together, I may have taken a flyer on the book and bought it. But from all that I’ve read about this book – both left and right – it’s a tome only the rabid cultural warriors could embrace.

Do you think they’ll catch the irony of D’Souza’s idea of making common cause against the left by allying with Muslim conservatives? I think not. They’ll probably be too busy chortling over the savaging of lefty icons to pay much attention to what passes for nuance in the book.

By: Rick Moran at 10:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (16)

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CATEGORY: Books, Media, Politics

It would be too much of a stretch to believe that Bob Woodward is in cahoots with the Democrats and has timed the release of his new book State of Denial for any other reason save the fact that political books are best published during the political season.

That said, it is fascinating to see the Democrats and the press leap upon this book like ravenous beasts, eagerly pointing out this little tidbit and that in order to “prove” something. What they are trying to prove is a mystery since from what I can gather from this story in the New York Times, there are absolutely no factual revelations contained between its covers. Instead, we have a typical Woodward book that gives us all the gossipy details of history in the making; what were people thinking and feeling as the Iraq War went to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, as is Woodward’s wont, he has relied on unsurpassed access to policymakers who for one reason or another, spill the chatty details about who they like, who they hate, why someone is strange or weird or just plain awful. They highlight their little stories by illustrating their points with vignettes of what goes on behind the scenes when high matters of state are being decided. Dishing dirt on co-workers may not be very elevating but it makes for damn fine reading.

Woodward then takes this raw material and fashions a narrative that is at once both gossipy and historical – an instant classic inside the beltway where people are always interested in gossip about politicians and their fellow travellers.

In this respect, Woodward will always be a highbrow Kitty Kelly, never quite descending into the personal muck that Kelly eagerly wallows in but at the same time, giving us the same angles and views of the high and mighty that Kelly so relishes. Both writers expose the powerful in ways that bring them down to the level of the rest of us by ripping aside the mystique of high office to reveal the petty, the quirky, the personality conflicts, and – dare I say it – the humanity of our national leaders.

The problem is that once you’ve read one Woodward book and the technique becomes familiar, most intelligent readers will start asking basic questions. How does he get those long, extended quotes from conversations between principals? How can he possibly know this particular detail of what someone else was thinking? Woodward’s books are usually riveting affairs because he has a reporters eye for important details and a novelist’s flair for making those details interesting. The question ultimately arises then; does he ever get his two personae confused? Does he try and logically extrapolate what was said or thought from known facts? Or does he truly have people on record revealing such intimate details of their thoughts and reactions?

Here’s Woodward himself on how he is able to write the way he does:

Woodward says that people talk to him because they know he has the time to get it right—which is also part of the reason these seemingly unattainable sources show him a little leg. “I have the significant luxury of time, which enables me to really look at something in depth,” he says. “I can go to people and then go to other people, and then go back and track and try to develop a documentary trail. I have time; most reporters don’t have time. Like you, for instance,” he said to me, “when you called me you said you had a tight deadline [for this story]. I don’t have that.”

It sounds plausible but it doesn’t answer some critics who believe he has actually fabricated some of the more noteworthy incidents in some of his books. Perhaps most famously, his 1987 book Veil which chronicled the extraordinary exploits (and crimes) of William Casey’s CIA, Woodward claims to have visited Casey on his deathbed in a hospital and gotten a confession from him that he knew about the transfer of funds from Iran to the Contras in Nicaragua. Casey’s widow stated that Woodward could not possibly have gotten access to her dying husband at that time – especially with a cadre of FBI agents guarding the Director’s door.

Somehow, this kind of thing has never damaged Woodward’s credibility. His eye opening books on the Clinton presidency – the towering rages by Clinton, the fights with Hillary, a cowed and brutalized staff – made for fascinating reading. But again, there really were no earth shattering revelations regarding policy or world events. Instead, the reader was treated to a front row seat at the greatest show on earth – how the powerful behave in various circumstances and the fact that they truly are no more or less human than the rest of us.

Woodward’s latest effort in this regard happens to arrive on book shelves at a very inopportune moment for the Administration. Just as the Republicans are making some headway in focusing attention on the fact that voting Democratic in November means handing the reins of power to politicans who have yet to annunciate anything approaching a policy on Iraq, the War on Terror, or homeland security, people are reminded once again what a truly botched effort the Iraq War has been and that the principals involved either through overweening hubris or tragic miscalculation quite simply blew it.

This hasn’t stopped the New York Times (who apparently got an advance copy – even before the Post was able to serialize the book prior to publication) from breathlessly reporting as “news” those facts which are already well known and whose only shock value will be in the way they are reported not that there is anything revelatory about them. In this respect, the Times and other news organs do the Democratic party a favor by going “green” and recycling – not to conserve but rather to destroy.

For instance:

  • Did we know the White House was warned that we would need hundreds of thousands of more troops in Iraq in order to get control of the country following the invasion? Perhaps we should ask General Shineski who testified before Congress and sounded that very warning.
  • Did we know that Rumsfeld mismanaged the occupation and reconstruction? One need only look at Iraq today in order to draw that conclusion.
  • Did we know that Rummy had lost credibility with the Generals by last fall? I guess the Times doesn’t read their own newspaper very often because that fact has been widely reported.
  • Did we know that the Administration was in a state of denial about the insurgency? This is a little trickier because again, the Times would have to read their own newspaper to see the 180 degree change in policy regarding how we were fighting the insurgency in the spring of 2004 compared to the previous summer.

What we are treated to and told is “news” are all the little gossipy details like the fact that Rummy hated Condi and wouldn’t return her calls unless the President told him to or that Cheney was obsessed with proving that WMD’s existed in Iraq by going so far as calling David Kay, who was in charge of finding Saddam’s weapons, in the middle of the night to give him satellite coordinates of a place to look for them. (Now what does that do to the moonbat theory that we absolutely knew there were no WMD’s in Iraq and invaded anyway?)

As an inside look at the Bush Administration, I have little doubt that Woodward’s book will be an entertaining read. But its political utility will be to block the small amount of momentum that Republicans had been gathering this month in their efforts to keep control of the House and Senate not by revealing anything new but by dressing up old news in the latest anti-Bush couture.


Allah describes the impact of the book in much more apocalyptic terms and is filled with “heart-ache.”

I hadn’t read the Daily News blurb about Tenet coming to Rice in July of 2001 begging for funds to go after Bin Laden. If true, all it does in my mind is add to the ongoing argument about how responsible Bush or Clinton was for 9/11. And, of course, going after al-Qaeda at that point would not have stopped the 9/11 plot which was ready to step off, only needing a the Saudi muscle guys to show up in America and a firm date (the date was set in early August).

As for the descriptions of Rummy, this again is nothing new. He’s an incompetent fool and Republicans on the Hill who didn’t join with Democrats in getting this guy kicked out should be ashamed of themselves. When the investigations into what’s gone wrong in Iraq begin, we will not have to look any farther than Rumsefeld’s extraordinary mismanagement of the entire occupation. One disasterous decision after another while going before the American people and telling us how rosy things really were.

The gossip dished on Rumsfeld in the book will reveal nothing we didn’t know about him already. And I will reiterate what I said above; the impact of this book will not be in anything new but in how it is being reported. In that respect, it may, as Allah thinks, be something of an earthquake. More likely, it will stall the Republican comeback and cost some GOP representatives their seats. And in a close race like this one, that may be enough to tip the balance toward the Democrats in the House.

By: Rick Moran at 12:47 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

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CATEGORY: Books, Government

This is the first in a series of 6 articles examining the issues and questions raised in Edwin Feulner and Doug Wilson’s book Getting America Right. Each article will examine one of the six questions the authors think we should be asking of every piece of legislation being considered by Congress.

The six questions can be found in my review of the book here.


How can it be determined if a proposed piece of legislation is the business of government?

The question is deceptively simple. For contained in that interrogatory is the confluence of government and politics. It highlights the clash of desire and necessity. It defines what kind of a people we want to be. And the answer to it is the permanent divide between liberals and conservatives.

A good starting point for looking at the history of the growth of what has been the “government’s business” would be the Civil War. It was here that “the arm of the federal government first reached out and tapped the ordinary citizen on the shoulder” as Bruce Catton put it when the great Civil War historian wrote about the first national draft in American history. Up until that time, the closest that the overwhelming majority of American citizens came to dealing with the federal government was in mailing a letter. Now the government in Washington could bypass the state and local government and affect the life of the individual American citizen directly.

The Draft Riots in New York city as well as in other places were not entirely the result of this radical measure taken by Lincoln to supply the northern army with much needed troops. In New York especially, there was a nasty element of racism and class involved. The government allowed that a draftee could purchase an exemption for the sum of $300. This amount was far beyond the means of most poor people. Couple that with a simmering resentment against free blacks among the almost equally oppressed Irish and the occasion of the draft simply supplied the kindling for a conflagration that killed hundreds.

But the very thought that the government in Washington could affect the life of the individual American was so radical that even supporters of the Conscription Act hastened to assure people that this was a wartime measure only and that such power granted the federal government would be taken away once the emergency had passed. Such was pretty much the case until the progressive movement burst upon the American political scene in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The existence of the progressive movement was a testament to the American belief in the perfectibility of society. Progressives believed that by applying scientific principles to government and couple it with technological progress, all of the ills afflicting society could be cured. The “March of Progress” was on and the government juggernaut began to role. Income taxes, business regulation, and an alphabet soup of new agencies and departments in the Executive Branch to deal with the new spirit of government intervention all came to pass even before the Great Depression.

It was Roosevelt’s New Deal, born out of dire necessity occasioned by a starving, nearly bankrupt country that finally placed the federal government at the forefront of radical intervention in the lives of individual citizens. With the massive expansion of public works and other measures like Social Security, the depression era federal government was for the first time taking on responsibilities that most Americans up to that time had reserved for themselves, their families, and their communities.

World War II brought unparalleled interference by government as rationing proved to be the most intrusive program ever enacted, telling people how much of a commodity one was entitled to and when they could buy it. And the War Planning Board was able to dictate to corporations what they could make and how much simply by controlling the supply of raw materials. Steel for washing machines was out. But if you wanted to make tanks, that was a different story.

In the immediate post war years, even though direct government control of the economy had been ceded, the left sought to influence both economic and social policy using incentives in the tax code to affect change. The result was an ever-expanding role of government in the decision making of average Americans.

The 1950’s saw no slackening to the pace of interference as a host of new agencies were born and the government entered the highway building business in earnest as the Interstate Highway System began to spread its ribbons of concrete across the country. Fueled by a gas tax, the building of the national interstate system could be considered one of the most necessary and successful government programs in history. What it has become in recent years is a repository for pork barrel politics and wasteful spending.

The explosion of social services offered by government in the 1960’s and 70’s altered the landscape of American society forever as we are still dealing with the consequences of many of these destructive programs that fostered dependency, hopelessness, and the break-up of millions of families. The addition of several executive departments such as CPSC, EPA, and the Departments of Energy and Education spread the influence of government until it touched every aspect of American life and commerce.

The 1980’s to the present has seen the growth of the corporate lobbying industry whose goal is simple; wrest as much money from the federal government as possible through tax breaks, incentives, and even direct grants. Giant companies whose only need of government is to help them destroy competition or fatten up the bottom line now feed at the federal trough with impunity.

I felt this short history of the growth of government was necessary if only to illustrate a simple point; it doesn’t have to be this way. And Messrs. Feulner and Wilson argue that it was our failure to ask that simple question “Is it the Government’s Business” that has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

When asking that question, we can obviously answer in the affirmative when it comes to national defense. We can also say with a reasonable amount of certainty that it probably isn’t a good thing to have 50 different standards for air and water quality. It is probably necessary to have some kind of a national social safety net involving programs that fill elementary human needs like food and shelter (the authors believe that such programs could better be handled by “state governments, neighbors, family, and local churches” which is true but unrealistic in that most poor people are cut off from society because of government dependence). Given time, there are probably dozens of areas where even a conservative could answer “yes” to the question at hand such as regulation of the stock market, anti-trust protections, and other measures designed to prevent us from returning to the turn of the 20th century when corporate trusts held sway over government and politics.

From my point of view, the question is not trying to create a “small” government which is, I believe, and impossibility in a 21st century industrialized democracy of nearly 300 million people. Rather, by asking if a law or regulation is the government’s business, we can certainly make government “smaller” thus making people and companies more self-reliant and give them more control over their own destiny.

The authors believe that “government bureaucracies are no match for the speed, creativity, and innovation that privately based free marketeers bring to problem solving” which is certainly true up to a point. The recent experiment in privately owned prisons is a good example. While praised for cost-effectiveness, the facilities have been cited for everything from poor nutritional programs to substandard rehabilitation efforts involving remedial education and job training. And studies have shown that recidivism rates are higher from these privately run prisons than from state and federal facilities (although many argue that there simply isn’t enough data yet to make those kind of determinations).

At bottom, what the question “Is it the government’s business” does is force us to keep decision making about what is best for society as close to the grass roots as possible. Would this engage the interest of a larger proportion of Americans in politics and government? And if it didn’t, wouldn’t that mean that the same activists who now drive the political agenda would be the only ones who seek to answer that question?

It’s my belief that even if we can only marginally affect legislation and regulation by asking that question every time a law is proposed, it would improve our lives. For that reason alone, the question should be enthusiastically embraced by the Republican party and especially Republican candidates for office.

By: Rick Moran at 12:43 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)


This review originally appears in The American Thinker

NOTE: Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation was kind enough to send me a free copy of Edwin Feulner and Doug Wilson’s new book Getting America Right in exchange for reviewing it on my site. It should go without saying (although given all the criticism of blogs lately from several mainstream media sources I’ll say it anyway) Mr. Tapscott had no input into this review whatsoever. The words and sentiments are my own.

When it comes to diagnosing what’s wrong with America and offering solutions on how to cure what ails us, there is no shortage of thoughtful, sincere opinions on both the right and the left that offer specific courses of action to address the nation’s problems. In fact, an entire literary industry is devoted to this peculiarly American genre of government improvement manuals. Ideas on repairing American democracy run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. Books by radio talk show hosts, comedians, celebrities, and self-improvement gurus can be found alongside the learned tomes of intellectuals, university faculty, and the baker’s dozen of major think tanks whose prescriptions for solving our problems are usually a combination of wishful thinking and mind-numbing complexity.

This drive to improve government is a clear offshoot of our drive for self-improvement, a trait that has piqued the curiosity of American observers from de Tocqueville to Churchill. De Tocqueville especially was fascinated with this aspect of the American mind, saying ” The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” The Frenchman marveled at our obsession with self improvement and attributed much of the vitality of American society to this singular characteristic.

Perhaps that’s why I liked Getting America Right so much. At bottom, the book is a joyous recognition of American exceptionalism; the fierce belief that despite seemingly insurmountable problems, the individual genius of American citizens can be brought to bear with results that have always astonished.

The idea of America as a wholly unique national entity has taken enormous hits in recent years from leftists in academia and liberal political pundits who have sought to superimpose a veneer of European ideas over the American experiment in self-government on everything from law to health care. Of course, this would have come as a shock to our Founders who did everything they could when writing the Constitution and forming our government to distance themselves from what they saw as the corruptive influences of nobility and the European traditions of monarchical tyranny. Coupled with similar attacks on the ideas of “natural rights” and “higher law,” American exceptionalism as a driving intellectual force has been in danger of being relegated to the dusty, disorganized national attic where we are storing other quaint, 19th century American peculiarities like self-reliance and self-restraint.

Authors Edwin Feulner who is President of the the Heritage Foundation and Doug Wilson, Chairman of have written a good book, perhaps an important book that is both eminently readable and thought provoking in diagnosing America’s problems and offering common sense, “bottom up” solutions. Using a combination of jaw clenching examples of the most horrific government waste imaginable and the inspiring stories of average citizens and local governments addressing some of our seemingly intractable problems in education, dependency, and federal overreach, the authors have succeeded in correctly identifying key areas where conservative values could be applied most efficaciously.

The problem however is not necessarily in the specific solutions being offered by Messrs. Feulner and Wilson but in what is at the core of their critique of America and their refutation of the welfare state: That in order to affect the kind of changes envisioned by the authors, nothing less than a revolutionary revision of the American people’s relationship with government would have to take place.

Can this be achieved? Considering that Americans are as susceptible to the natural proclivity of the human species to take the easy course when offered a choice between the hard slog of self-reliance and the soothing path of letting others make difficult personal decisions, it would seem a daunting task to make the kind of changes that would be necessary to enact most of the solutions offered in the book.

As the authors correctly point out, the American people have become addicted to government solutions for problems that their grandparents and even their parents would have solved themselves or with the help of their friends and neighbors. And lest anyone think that our major problems only involve welfare cheats and Medicare defrauders, Feulner and Wilson offer many eye opening examples of multinational corporations and other rich entities feeding unabashedly at the federal trough. The fact that we allow Congress to get away with this kind of tomfoolery goes to the very heart of what’s wrong with America today. We are sleepwalking our way to disaster. In this respect, the book is a wake-up call as much as it is a blueprint for change.

While not totally responsible for the kinds of budgetary shenanigans described by the authors, there is nevertheless a great conundrum in conservative governance that I wish the authors would have addressed more directly. Modern conservatism was an ideology born in a politically inferior position to liberalism. It’s strengths have always been in the logical way it is dismantled the intellectual underpinnings of the welfare state. But knocking the chocks from underneath the left’s cherished beliefs is one thing; actually governing a 21st century industrialized democracy is another.

The fact is, conservatism is suffering from the transition to majority status in that it is hard to be anti-government when you are, in fact, the government. The corrupting influence of Capitol Hill and the sybaritic culture inside the Beltway have led many erstwhile conservatives to abandon long held principles in order to fit in with the “get along, go along” culture of Washington. That, and the pragmatic realization that the American people may talk a good conservative game, but when it comes to improving the quality of their own lives or protecting their own benefits, they look to their Congressman to do the job. In short, many conservatives in Congress appear to have decided that fighting the system does not lead to longevity in politics. Better to go with the flow and become a careerist rather than rock the boat and risk losing what you have.

This is a cynicism that Messrs. Feulner and Wilson dance around throughout the book but never quite address. And that’s because they have opted instead to advocate for solutions that involve we the people rather than the Congress (in most cases). But as the authors point out, “[S]ocial power is a zero sum game: When governments take it, individuals lose it.” Wresting power from the powers that be is a dispiriting task. It remains to be seen whether or not the kind of reforms being offered by the authors are amendable to the real world struggles that would ensue between citizens and their government over who controls.

That said, the book does very well on a variety of levels. The authors have done a remarkable job in annunciating conservative values and principles and how they relate to American society. Defining the core beliefs of conservatism as “a set of beliefs that prize moderation, reflective tradition and reason; it cherishes the old and valued even as it produces new solutions,” is not only a classical recitation of conservative values but a recognition that modern conservatism, despite all, is still a churning cauldron that spews out a great many ideas and solutions to any number of challenges facing America today.

The authors also speak of conservatism as a “shared moral order” that “respects human dignity, inculcates decency, overcomes fear, and inspires people to help each other in times of trouble.” This is a side of conservatism I wish more people would see in that the mostly successful war waged against this “moral order” by the left has had so many deleterious consequences – dependency, a loss of civility in discourse at all levels of society, and a general decline in both manners and morals – that getting back to some level of sanity with regard to a reasoned and sober civil society will be a revolution in and of itself.

The book also succeeds in clearly delineating what constitutes good government. The authors accomplish this by applying a test involving 6 questions that should be asked of every law, every government program and regulation that is being considered:

1. Is it the government’s business?
2. Does it promote self-reliance?
3. Is it responsible?
4. Does it make us prosperous?
5. Does it make us safer?
6. Does it unify us?

Each question has a chapter devoted to discussion, examples, and solutions. This format succeeds as both a logical place to start a discussion of such intractable problems and as a way to measure the potential success or failure of many of the common sense solutions offered.

The book does not succeed as well in recognizing the systemic problems with the federal budget and Congress itself, although promoting the idea of a line item veto is mentioned. The problem there is the almost certain challenge to its constitutionality in Congress. What would our reborn Supreme Court think of a law that the Founders would probably have thought a usurpation of power granted specifically to the People’s House? That’s a question that will probably not be answered any time soon.

All told, Feulner and Wilson have written a timely, thoughtful, and intellectually satisfying book that offers a wealth of solutions to problems many conservatives have either thrown up their hands in dismay at ever solving or simply brushed off with the empty critique that such challenges would go away if only we “reduced the size of government.” I am very glad that the authors offered much more specificity than the hollow, generalized rants that pass for critiques of the welfare state by less serious lights in the conservative movement. If nothing else, the book proves that conservatism is alive and well and is still seeking answers to the basic question of how people in a free society can best govern themselves.


Getting America Right is such a finely written and richly textured book that I am going to write a series of 6 more articles over the next 6 days that address each of the 6 questions asked by the authors about whether or not a specific law meets the standards set by conservatives for good government.

I invite serious discussion on both the book and my take on it from both the left and right but be warned; troll droppings will be deleted mercilessly.

By: Rick Moran at 9:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8)

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My internet connection has been down since early this afternoon. It came on briefly at around 4:00 pm and again about 5 minutes ago.

Comcast says they don’t have a clue what’s wrong. I’ve already lost about 1/3 of the Carnival as it went off before I could save it.

What a mess. And depressing.

At any rate, it may be my little black box in which case I won’t have internet until Monday (didn’t get a dial up capability when I bought the computer, damnit). I’ll try again in the morning.

By: Rick Moran at 10:44 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (7)

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Human Events Magazine has gone and done it. They assembled a distinguished and surprisingly diverse group of authors, critics, and intellectuals and listed the 10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. (HT: Citzcom)

...So many books to choose from…so few chosen…

The fact is they could have made it “The Hundred Most Harmful, etc.” and still come up short. And even though they included both Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man in the “Honorable Mention” category – perhaps as a gratuitous slap to contemporary humanists – they actually did a pretty good job. Here are their choices:

1. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels

Or, How to Screw up the World In Five Easy Lessons

2. Mein Kampf by You-Know-Who

The first blogger, Hitler’s incoherent rants became a best seller in Germany only after he came to power and people started to give the book as a wedding gift. Also spawned numerous imitators and a cottage industry in accusatory epithets. (See here for the latest)

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao Zedong

Little known fact: Even though it’s been referred to by moonbats as The Little Red Book when the Chicoms ran out of red paper, they remade the cover, coloring it with the blood of the Gang of Four (which rapidly ballooned into the Gang of Twenty Million). Unfortunately, they soon ran out of people to execute (figuring that 20 million was just about right) and ended up publishing it in China with an aqua-marine cover with a very nice gold leaf binding.

4. The Kinsey Report by Alfred Kinsey

All your sex belong to us.

5. Democracy and Education by John Dewey

Take every crazy idea that’s come up in education over the last 50 years and it will have Dewey’s fingerprints all over it.

6. Das Kapital by Karl Marx

More looniness quoted today by loons who think a “dialectic” is some new kind of phone.

7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan

The reason why drop-dead gorgeous women are rarely feminists. One look at Freidan and most of her husky, pimple faced, hairy legged followers who think that sex is rape and good looking babes run for cover. The only mystique involved here is what man could have been so castrated as to marry this bitch?

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte

More God is dead stuff from a Frenchman. Two strikes right there.

9. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

God and Superman wasn’t enough for this moonbat, he had to saddle the western world with this incoherent screed against just about everything. Nietzsche was a pest. He was a pill. He was a burr under the saddle of rational thought. And he was Hitler’s fave to boot.

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes

We can thank this moonbat for the welfare state.

I’m surprised they didn’t find room in there for Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology which pretty much began the most destructive social movement of the 20th century, Deconstructionism. Although technically a book about literary criticism, Derrida’s followers pounced on his ideas of textual nonsense and turned literary criticism into damaging critiques of western civilization. We’re still trying to recover from that movement’s destruction of the rational left in Europe and to some extent the United States.

Finally, another really harmful book that didn’t make the list and was perhaps the book that had the most influence on Hitler and other Nazi leaders was Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s The Foundations of the 19th Century in which this befuddled Englishman’s theories on race so captivated the perverts who surrounded Hitler they just couldn’t wait to put them to good use. Hitler himself nearly swooned when Chamberlain told him at their first meeting in 1927 that he would rule Germany one day.

Good thing that one is out of print.

By: Rick Moran at 3:19 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)


I’ve complained many times that American history textbooks – especially for middle school children – have become nothing more than shallow, non-contextualized rants against America’s values, highlighting the very real sins of our past at the expense of conceptualizing our national “story.” And while giving some leeway to these same textbook authors due to omissions in the past, I’ve stated that by ignoring or trivializing vast swaths of American history, we’ve raised a generation of children who have no sense of a national narrative.

In Russia, they have exactly the opposite problem:

Russians remember the Siege of Leningrad—a brutal, 872-day blockade of Russia’s second-largest city by Nazi troops that killed 1.7 million people—as a dark, crucial moment in their history. Yet one of the most popular history textbooks in Russian classrooms casually distills the event into a mere four words.

“German troops blockaded Leningrad.”

Glaring omissions abound in Nikita Zagladin’s textbook, “History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century.” The Holocaust is never mentioned. The book barely acknowledges the Gulag labor camps.

And it flits past Russia’s 10-year conflict with separatists in Chechnya, reducing a pivotal episode in modern Russian history to seven paragraphs.

For some Russian academics, Zagladin’s penchant for smoothing over the bumps in Russian history is precisely the reason his textbooks have become mainstays in Russian classrooms.

Clearly, the Russians wish to create a national narrative without the inconvenient and embarrassing episodes that reflect badly on the overarching themes they’re trying to teach. But why?

When President Vladimir Putin met with historians at the Russian State Library in late 2003, he stressed that history textbooks should “cultivate in young people a feeling of pride for one’s history and one’s country.”

At the time, one of the most widely used history texts was Igor Dolutsky’s “National History: 20th Century.” For years, the book had been favored by teachers for its upfront discussion of sensitive topics, including Stalin’s purges, Chechnya and anti-Semitism in Russia.

“They said my book was `blackening’ Russian history,” Dolutsky said during a recent interview. “It was the first prohibition of a textbook in schools in 25 years.”

“Basically, they were dissatisfied with chapters devoted to Stalin’s regime and Putin’s leadership,” said Dolutsky, 51. “Sections that dealt with [Nikita] Khrushchev and [Mikhail] Gorbachev, they ignored.”

Trying to cover up the sins of Stalin’s murderous regime in which at least 20 million and perhaps as many as 40 million human beings were slaughtered is unconscionable. Not only is it dishonest, it leaves a gaping hole in modern Russian history. How can one explain Khrushchev without talking about Stalin’s ghastly regime?

This is what would happen in America if, say we wiped our history books of slavery or Native American genocide. Our modern history would make no sense. How did we get here from there?

Author Zagladin’s view of history in the classroom differs radically from Dolutsky’s. He agrees with Putin—a history textbook should make a pupil feel proud about Russia. It shouldn’t depress, and it shouldn’t shame.

“If a young person finishes school and feels everything that happened in this country was bad, he’ll get ready to emigrate,” Zagladin said during a recent phone interview. “A textbook should provide a patriotic education.

“It’s necessary to show Russian youths,” Zagladin continued, “that industrial development during the Stalin era was successful, and that the repressions and terror during that era did not touch all of the population.”

I’m very happy to learn that Stalin made the trains run – if not on time at least there were more of them to be late – but again, it’s hardly the point. And to be afraid the students will feel so much shame that they’ll leave the country is a novel excuse for cleansing textbooks of non-patriotic or embarrassing material. It assumes that students patriotism is shallow indeed.

Zagladin’s critics say Russian students do not need to be shamed, merely enlightened about history’s darker chapters, especially in a country where the truth has been lacquered over for so many years.

“According to polls, the majority of the population still considers Stalin to have played a positive role in Russian history,” said Yuri Samodurov, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum. “And the problem here is, our schools don’t do anything to change this attitude.”

Where the Russians have a problem with selective scholarship about its sins, American textbooks (written by committee rather than by individual historians for the most part) give short shrift to national heroes like Washington and Jefferson in order to illuminate America’s “diversity.” This is a result of textbook publishers wishing to sell to as many markets as possible, yielding to multiculturalists (and the religious right in some cases) so that their products are as attractive to a school district in Nebraska as they would be in New York City.

Both approaches are wrong.

American history isn’t locked away in some closet being guarded 24 hours a day by CIA agents. The information is out there for anyone wishing to find it. I remember the brouhaha that erupted following the release of Stephen Spielberg’s excellent movie “Amistad” that told the story of slaves being shipped from the Caribbean to America who staged a mutiny aboard the vessel carrying them here (The Amistad), and the subsequent pleas made on their behalf by abolitionists that resulted in a Supreme Court decision granting them their freedom. Educators were outraged that this “fact” was kept from our school children because it wasn’t in any history textbooks. This is laughable. What isn’t in American history textbooks could fill a building the size of the Library of Congress.

The purpose of a textbook isn’t to “celebrate diversity” or keep students from emigrating. The purpose should be to make students hungry to learn more, to develop their minds by engaging in a little independent thought, or at the very least, to give students a basic idea of how we got here from there.

If Santayana is right – if “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – both the Russians and Americans are in for some very bad times in the future.


Two interesting takes from opposite sides of the Shadow Media.

From Rob’s Blog:

This is not the example we want to follow. It would be like us censoring out the “bad parts” of our history and then making heroes of people like the Ku Klux Klan, George Wallace, and those who furthered the institution of slavery (and later the practices of discrimination).

While Bush rubs elbows with his chum Mr. Putin, he would discourage this tendancy if he understood the implications himself. I doubt he really cares, though…the idea of complacent citizens who believe whatever the government spews out is probably to his liking, too.

While making a good point about heroes, I doubt whether the President would take it upon himself to lecture Putin about history textbooks. And how we got from Russian textbooks to eeeeeevil Bush wanting to turn the country into a bunch of spoon fed automatons is, well, a crock. If Mr. Rob has a scintilla of evidence to back up that statement (rather than his own outrageously ignorant bias) I’d like to see it.

And here’s a different kind of myopia from No Speed Bumps:

I don’t see any good coming out of grossly whitewashing your history, especially when you are overlooking one of the most prolific mass murderers in history. The Russians could find plenty of heroics to celebrate in their history, in spite of the relentless oppression they have faced throughout their history, without glossing over the hard parts. I know that the Russians are made of tougher stuff than that. In fact, I would think that they would want to know their real history. Some leadership is called for here: Putin get your head out of the sand.

Putin is leading – he’s leading the charge on this whitewash job because he senses that by resurrecting Stalin, his own plans for returning Russia to outright authoritarian rule will get a boost from historical precedent. So while I agree with the assessment that the Russians can take a little truth about their past, the point, unfortunately, is that Putin can’t.

Cross Posted at Blogger News Network

By: Rick Moran at 6:41 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

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A Civil War re-enactor displays the Confederate Battle Flag which is different than the Official Flag of the Confederate States of America that you can see here.

It may have been the last time in history that such a sight was seen by mortal eyes.

Fifteen thousand men formed in 3 lines nearly 2 miles from end to end marching with lock step precision across 8/10 of a mile of open ground toward a barely discernible rise known locally as cemetery ridge – a name that forever after would be drenched in the blood of thousands of young men wearing both blue and gray. Snapping in the breeze were dozens of Confederate Battle Flags; the famous cross of St. Andrew on a red background with stars inset on the blue cross.

The majesty and color of the scene imparted a sense of awe and wonder to those watching. Robert E. Lee thought the scene “sublime.” Some of the boys in blue manning the stone wall at the top of the ridge actually cheered the Southerners good order. The visual must have been absolutely breathtaking.

Shortly thereafter came the shooting, the clubbing, and the stabbing as the nation’s most visible drama played out with an intensity not seen before or since.

The history of the Battle of Gettysburg says that the Union won. But the heritage of the battle belongs to the south.

Perhaps not so much today as the cloying grip of mass media has blurred the sectionalism so much responsible for that long ago conflict. But it’s also true that many southerners alive today are just one or two degrees of separation from that time in their history. After all, the last Civil War soldier lived until 1954. Many a southern grandfather can tell stories of long ago Fourth of July’s with some of those same boys that trudged up the ridge at Gettysburg, grown old and bent but still proud, marching in parades behind that most distinctive of American symbols.

Distinctive and yes, hurtful. For many Americans, the Confederate Battle Flag represents a hateful system that held human beings as chattel slaves. For them, there is no heritage only history; a shameful chronicle of rape, of whippings, of oppression that colors our politics and culture down to this very day.

The modern battle over the displaying and even the meaning of the Confederate Battle Flag has aroused emotions not seen since the darkest days of the struggle for civil rights in the 1960’s. The story of the people and emotions behind this struggle is told in a new book by John M. Coski “The Confederate Battle Flag : America’s Most Embattled Emblem .” Coski is library director for the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

In his excellent review of the book for The Weekly Standard, Edwin M. Yoder relates an anecdote about C. Vann Woodward, generally recognized as the greatest of all southern historians and the subject of the book’s dedication that reveals why southerners to this day are just a little bit different than the rest of us:

During the McCarthyist inquisition of the 1950s, he was once asked to certify that neither he nor his relatives had ever advocated the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. He was obliged to note that some of his ancestors had fought for the Confederacy and had contemplated exactly such mischief. Wit can defuse passionate differences.

Indeed, that’s usually the case. But in the matter of the Confederate Battle Flag those differences are too profound, too emotional to lend itself to anything but all out war.

Coski gives some post civil war history of the battle flag and in the process, destroys some cherished myths of its detractors:

It is not true, for instance, that we owe its negative symbolism to the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, Coski insists, the Kluxers made greater display of the Stars and Stripes, at least down into the KKK revival of the 1920s, when its ragtag and bobtail knights first seized on the Rebel banner as an emblem of racial and religious bigotry.

All along, such guardians as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans deplored this abuse. In 1948, when the hustings were loud with revivified Confederate rhetoric, and Dixiecrat rallies tended to be festooned with battle flags, the UDC pointedly condemned the flag’s use in “any political movement.”

Instead, the author points to the “flag fad” of the 1950’s when football fans and others used the emblem as a symbol of southern pride and school spirit leading one Atlanta editor to complain it had become “confetti in careless hands.”

Then came the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s and the battle flag took on a whole new meaning – that of southern resistance to both federal encroachment on states’ rights and the struggle to maintain Jim Crow segregation. In one way or another, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi incorporated the battle flag into their dissent. And that’s what has aroused the modern argument over the meaning and symbolism of the flag:

What has lately intensified the battle over the battle flag has been the struggle in four traditionalist southern states that had incorporated the battle flag in their state banners (Mississippi and Georgia), or flown it over their capitols (South Carolina and Alabama).

Mississippi had superimposed the battle flag on its state banner as far back as 1894. That gesture may have been connected with the so-called “redemption” of the state from federal control and black suffrage. But it obviously could have had nothing to do with the prolonged fight over school integration that prompted Georgia, in 1956, to make the battle flag part of its state flag as an explicit gesture of defiance.

Alabama Governor George Wallace famously flew the battle flag over the state capitol when Bobby Kennedy came down to discuss desegregating the University of Alabama. And South Carolina takes a perverse sort of pride in being the first state to secede from the Union following Lincoln’s election hence the flag has taken on iconic status as a symbol of the history of the state’s leadership.

This is what the NAACP and other opponents of the battle flag point to when demanding its eradication as a symbol of southern glory. But is that what the argument is really about? Coski doesn’t think so:

These latter-day battles, in any event, underscore one of Coski’s principal themes—namely, that flag flaps are actually surrogate conflicts over the meaning of the history allegedly symbolized, and in particular that of the Confederacy and the Civil War. This truism would seem to require no emphasis, except that the “history” invoked by the warriors for and against the battle flag is often of a quality so inferior as to make so-called “law office history” seem real.

One comes away from The Confederate Battle Flag with two signal reactions. One is that the warring parties need a cram course in semiology, the better to grasp the mundane truth that responses to signs and symbols vary with the beholder. I personally would enjoy dispatching to my remedial cram school some of the more volatile warriors—notably former senators Carol Moseley Braun and Jesse Helms, who conducted an emotional quarrel on the floor of the Senate in 1993 when Senator Moseley Braun persuaded her colleagues to deny the poor old UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) a continued courtesy patent on its flag logo.

Does this mean we’re still essentially fighting the Civil War? In a large way, yes. When Coski talks about “law office history” he’s speaking of the broad brush approach to history most people take when talking about the Civil War. The North fought for “freedom for the slaves” while the South fought to keep their “peculiar institution. In fact, the war was about neither and both. Most of the Northern boys (with the exception of a few New England regiments where abolitionism was strongest) would have been shocked to discover they were fighting to free the slaves. As an example, when Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, several Northern units deserted vowing not to fight to free the black man.

Similarly, according to James McPherson nearly 95% of Lee’s army that fought at Gettysburg did not own a single slave.

Why all the shouting then? It comes down to perception and, in the end, an empathy with those who have suffered:

We hardly need to be reminded that we Americans squander much time, words, and emotion on phantom battles over vaguely defined symbolic issues, while avoiding dispassionate study of the past. I do agree with my old friend, the witty Chapel Hill sociologist John Shelton Reed, who usefully suggests that white southerners ought to learn from St. John Calhoun that his famous theory of the “concurrent majority” requires due consideration of minority views; that is, some consideration of the sense of black southerners that this flag is a symbol of servitude and oppression.

Personally, I can understand the symbolic power of the Battle Flag in that it remains to this day a potent talisman and touchstone of southern pride and patriotism. But in the clash of history versus heritage, the sheer ugliness associated with the chronicle of slavery must win out and the battle flag must be relegated to the dusty attics and dank cellars of southern homes perhaps to see the light of day again when its symbolism does not cause so much pain and anguish.

By: Rick Moran at 12:28 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (15)

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You’d think by reading the title of Byron York’s new book “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy” that the author, NRO’s White House correspondent, would be delving into some kind of evil, secret society with vast numbers of minions scurrying around the country to undermine democracy and overthrow George Bush.

Not hardly. Reading this review by Opinion Journal’s Jacob Laskin we find what most of us have suspected all along; the left is just plain dumb:

It was several months before Election Day. George W. Bush and John Kerry had pulled to a statistical dead heat, and the pundits were poring over the polls in an effort to divine the reasons for the latest shift in public opinion. But had more pressing concerns. It was moved to ask its network of true believers: “Why aren’t we talking about a landslide in November?”

Such groundless conviction “was not at all unusual in the world of MoveOn,” writes Byron York in “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.” The triumphalism flowed, he notes, from a deceptively simple rationale. Feeling a passionate contempt for the president and his policies, the MoveOn rank-and-file labored under the illusion that they represented the majority of the American people.

This insularity and plain old hubris is, of course, not confined to the denizens of the left. Conservatives of a certain stripe have been known to sip the kool aid from time to time. But the left has a history and tradition of rationalism that should keep this kind of battiness from taking over its institutions. Philosophers like John Stuart Mill and T. H. Green preached an open-mindedness and reflective intellectual discipline that seems to have been lost on their modern day inheritors.

What passes for rationality on the left today has more to do with updating the latest conspiracy theory on 9/11 or flagging some kind of dead horse like Jeff Gannon rather than attempting to learn from their mistakes and trying to do better next time.

Laskin, in reviewing Mr. York’s book, shows how the Emperor not only doesn’t have any clothes on, but also doesn’t have a clue about where to buy any:

Beneath the patina of confidence, however, the left-wing conspiracy often seems pitiable, as desperate as it is determined. Above all, its members are angry—at the perceived injustice of the 2000 presidential election, at the prospect of long-term Republican governance, at John Kerry’s inept campaigning. Even, it appears, at being called angry.

It is the anger that does them in. Resting his case on much original reporting, Mr. York convincingly shows that the activist left mistook its base—2.5 million strong and anti-Bush to the (mostly white) man—for the mainstream electorate, as if fury and contempt were the only logical responses to the Bush presidency. Reciting the mantra that it was “too big to fail,” the left wing bought into the conspiracy of its own vastness. An inability to connect with swing voters followed, and electoral defeat.

What Mr. Laskin points out is that “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy” isn’t very vast and by nature, not very conspiratorial. It is, however, filthy rich. And the Soros Circle (which includes some of the wealthiest human beings on the planet), five members of whom gave more than $78 million dollars to various “527” groups all to defeat George Bush, do in fact have a shadowy agenda not readily discernible. It can’t be that they see a threat to their immense wealth. Surely, it must be something else, something beyond altruism that drives these donors to spend the time and money to destroy the President.

Soros is the key. Mr. York lists the contributions by Soros to the various 527’s”:

Malcolm told me that she and Rosenthal walked away with commitments for a total of $23 million from Soros, Lewis, and a few others at the meeting. Within weeks, Soros began writing checks to ACT. First came $1 million on August 19. Then $2 million on September 12. Then another $2 million on December 23. And then $4.55 million to the Joint Victory Fund, an umbrella organization that then distributed the money to ACT, on April 15, 2004. In the beginning, Soros had pledged $10 million to ACT and other Democratic 527s. Then the number became $15 million. Then $20 million. Then $25 million. And then more. The 527s had never seen that amount of money come in from one person at one time. Soros would become the biggest donor in history.

What then does Mr. Soros want? Control of a political party through would be gratifying but an empty gesture given that much of the Democratic party in the person of labor unions is anti-globalist. Here are some thoughts from “Sartre,” a commenter at Frontpage Magazine:

While it is reported widely that Soros funded groups that support increased government spending, tax increases, oppose the death penalty and President Bush’s judicial nominees; there is a far more sinister scheme. In report by Neil Hrab – George Soros’ Social Agenda for America – drug legalization, euthanasia, immigration entitlements and feminism are examined. Mr. Hrab points out that in the book Open Society: “Reforming Global Capitalism”, Soros wrote that he is: “rather leery of self-appointment, self righteous” international NGOs. From his own site Soros proudly claims that his foundations are dedicated to building and maintaining the infrastructure and institutions of an open society. They work closely with OSI to develop and implement a range of programs focusing on civil society, education, media, public health, and human rights as well as social, legal, and economic reform. In recent years, OSI and the Soros foundations network have spent more than $400 million annually to support projects in these and other focus areas.

It sounds as if Soros is like one of those later James Bond villains; fabulously wealthy men whose ambitions are fueled by a combination of insecurity and a Napoleonic complex. The mystery to me is why this secretive man has chosen the Democratic party to be the vessel for his ideas on “open societies” and globalization.

It could be that the proprietors of the party are just plain dumb. And Soros, like a lion lying down with lambs, has decided he can take advantage.

Mark Noonan from Blogs for Bush takes the questioning one step further:

The only question which remains with me today about it all is: where did we get such people? Where in the overwhelmingly rich, powerful and peaceful United States did we create a political species which looks upon us all as crass, evil and stupid? It is one thing to say that you like Social Security as is or that you think that war is just not the answer…it is quite another to actually say that you believe Social Security reform and the war are both mere devices of President Bush to enrich his corporate buddies. This isn’t just a different take on events, its a sick fantasy at odds with easily ascertainable fact. After dealing with the left all through 2004 (and we got comments from them of a much stronger and stranger variety than we actually allowed on the blogs; think of the worst leftwing comment you saw last year, magnify it a dozen times and you’ll start to approximate the worst of the deleted comments) it still makes my jaw drop a little when I think of what they say and do

Mark, you’re not the only one.