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There are some issues that you just don’t write about if you’re a conservative blogger looking to maintain or build your site. And one of those issues is torture and this administration’s blatant violation of the law in approving interrogation techniques that are universally recognized (outside of the right in America) as illegal.

I say universally recognized because the “enhanced” techniques that were apparently a topic of conversation many times by Bush Administration aides are clear violations of the UN treaty against torture (as amended) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I won’t mention the Geneva Convention which may or may not apply as a governing instrument in this case.

But we needn’t worry. Those interrogation techniques violated US law as well – war or no war – and only by stretching the executive powers of the president farther than they have ever gone – beyond Lincoln, beyond Wilson, beyond Roosevelt – could even a fig leaf of legality be placed over this gigantic open wound that will continue to fester until we resolve to purge those who brought this evil upon us.

Bill Clinton may have sold the Lincoln bedroom for campaign contributions and used the White House for his carnal romps. But I don’t think that grand structure ever bore witness to the kinds of discussions held by Bush Administration aides as they coldly weighed the options of using various torture techniques on al-Qaeda suspects in our custody:

ABC reported that the so-called “principals” discussed interrogation details in dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House.

Then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by a select group of senior officials or their deputies, ABC said.

“Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects—whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding,” ABC reported.

In addition to Rice, the principals at the time included Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft, the report said.

Ashcroft, in an Albert Speers-like moment of moral clarity, knew perfectly well what future generations would think of those involved in these discussions:
Citing sources, ABC said Ashcroft agreed with the policy decision to allow aggressive interrogation tactics and advised that they were legal but was troubled by the discussions.

Ashcroft argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources were cited as saying.

ABC cited a top official as saying that Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

Marc Ambinder ponders the unthinkable. He titles his post “War Crimes:”
A provocative headline, I know, perhaps needlessly so, but it remains one of those hidden secrets in Washington that a Democratic Justice Department is going to be very interested in figuring out whether there’s a case to be made that senior Bush Administration officials were guilty of war crimes. Stories like these from ABC News—Top Bush Advisors Approved ‘Enhanced Interrogation’—will be as relevant a year from now as they are right now, perhaps even more so.

Michael Goldfarb sees only the politics of the issue:
I’d love to know who’s whispering that in Ambinder’s ear. If this is a secret among Democrats, it certainly is well kept…I’ve never heard a conservative seriously entertain the possibility. But if that’s the plan for an Obama administration, let the healing begin!

I always thought that there would be a Pinochet type move to get at Rumsfeld or Bush if they ever went to Europe after the Administration was out of office. Rumsfeld has already faced such pressure and Bush will be a marked man wherever he goes – if he ever leaves his Texas ranch after his term is ended.

But it is unlikely that any such charges will be brought. JB at Balkinization:

Remember that sections 8 and 6(b) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 effectively insulated government officials from liability for many of the violations of the War Crimes Act they might have committed during the period prior to 2006. Moreover, as Marty has pointed out, there’s a strong argument that a later Justice Department would not prosecute people who reasonably relied on legal advice from a previous Justice Department. Perhaps the Justice Department could argue that the officials’ reliance was unreasonable, but that might be difficult to show.

And putting aside the purely legal obstacles to a prosecution for war crimes, there’s also the political cost. Why would an Obama or Clinton Administration waste precious political capital early on with a politically divisive prosecution of former government officials? One can imagine the screaming of countless pundits arguing that the Democrats were trying to criminalize political disagreements about foreign policy. Such a prosecution would make politics extremely bitter and derail any chance for bipartisan cooperation on almost any significant issue. Obama or Clinton would rather get a health care bill passed, deal with the economy, or try to solve the Iraq mess, than have the first several years of their Administrations consumed by a prosecution for war crimes by officials in the Bush Administration.

JB also points out that any trials in venues like the Hague or other international criminal courts would be resisted by a Democratic Administration for the same reason and others as well.

Now certainly there is a strain of anti-Americanism at work in Europe and elsewhere overseas with regard to this issue as well as a smug, self-righteousness on the part of the European left that nauseates me.

For more than 70 years as the Communists murdered, tortured, starved, beat, and raped their way across Europe, killing upwards of 20 million – people whose only crime was that they didn’t believe they were living in a workers’ paradise, the European left gave the thugs a pass and even supported them in their efforts to cow the populations of Eastern Europe into submission while doing their damnedest to see the west defenseless against communist aggression.

How dare they. They do not have the moral standing of a jackrabbit. For them to all of a sudden get their panties in a twist over American violations of international law when they spent decades ignoring the greatest, most heartless human butchers in world history is an example of monumental hypocrisy and moral blindness that a thousand years from now will be the shame of western civilization. And for the anti-American European left to climb atop this moral high horse now speaks of a selective outrage that should sicken anyone with an ounce of historical perspective and a modicum of human decency.

No. This is an American problem. And we Americans must deal with it. Perhaps it would be worth the political war for a Democratic president to at least initiate an investigation by the Justice Department into the question of war crimes committed by the highest ranking members of the Bush Administration. The results of that investigation may conclude that the principals are innocent or just not prosecutable.

But the consequences of doing nothing are equally problematic. Somewhere along the line, a majority of Americans must be made aware of what these men have done and why what they approved is wrong. The damage is deep. But I disagree with hysterical liberals that our reputation and moral leadership is gone, never to be seen again. How we deal with what has been wrought in our name says volumes about us as a people and how determined we are to clean up our own house.

I have given up trying to convince most of my readers of the necessity in speaking out against what has transpired these last several years with regards to the approval of torture at the highest levels of our government. But I will continue to write about it because it is something about which I feel very strongly. I will not, as many liberals do, berate those of you who disagree with me. This is a matter of conscience. Each of us must examine our own beliefs, our own mind and come to our own conclusions in this matter.

Anything else would be un-American.

By: Rick Moran at 7:28 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (49) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Cheney, Others OK'd Harsh Interrogations ...
CATEGORY: History, Politics

I have a special column up at PJ Media on the passing of Charlton Heston:

Charlton Heston will not be remembered as one of the best actors who ever lived. But he is right up there with the greatest movie actors of all time.

If that sounds counterintuitive, forgive me. The fact is, film acting is, by and large, hugely dependent on others for the quality of an actor’s performance. It is why most Hollywood stars seek to control so many aspects of production when they finally achieve the clout to do so. A bad editing job can be death to a brilliant performance. A bad director can doom a performance from the outset. And few actors can take a bad script and make it work. Continuity, sound design, set decoration, and even the way the film is lit, shot, and filtered can spell the difference between an academy award and a critical disaster.

But Charlton Heston, who died yesterday at the age of 83, could overcome almost any of those drawbacks by the sheer force of his gigantic personality that filled up the big screen to overflowing, making his co-stars, extras and the film itself seem small by comparison. It wasn’t his intensity but it was. It wasn’t his physique, but it was. It wasn’t the tilt of his head, the granite jawed profile, the steely eyed glares he gave everyone from the Pharaoh of Egypt to a “damn dirty ape” but it was.

There are many times over the years I have seen an historical figure portrayed on film and wished they had cast Charlton Heston instead. Heston filled up the screen with his dominant personality and whenever I see George Washington on film I find the portrayal lacking in stature. Heston may have been the only American who ever lived who could do justice to Washington’s presence when in a crowd which was said to be electric and humbling. It’s a shame he never played our first president.

Heston is one of the last of the great Hollywood movie stars of the 50’s and 60’s. His passing is a reminder of what movies used to be and will probably never be again; epic journeys into the human imagination.

By: Rick Moran at 12:29 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

CATEGORY: History, Politics

This blog post originally appears in The American Thinker 

Will they ever learn?

Another anti-war movie is tanking at the box office. Overnights for Friday show the film “Stop Loss” garnering an anemic $1.4 million for a projected $4 million opening weekend. This despite a huge build up and massive ad campaign with great reviews from movie/war critics.Not one Iraq war movie has been anything close to a financial success. In fact, it is fair to say that every single anti-war film to date has lost its shirt:

 In the Valley of Elah (2007) – $6.8 million.
Redacted (2007) – $.06 million.
The Kingdom (2007) – $47.4 million.
Rendition (2007) – $9.7 million.
Lions for Lambs (2007) – $15 million.
Home of the Brave (2006) – $.04 million.
(HT: Cinematical)
“The Kingdom” – a drama about the FBI investigating a terrorist attacks on Americans in Saudi Arabia - ended up getting about half its $80+ million budget back in receipts. It’s actually an exciting film and doesn’t even mention Iraq (although the last scene shows a moral equivalence between terrorism and our efforts to stop it).

But the blockbuster “Lions for Lambs” ($15 million gross) which starred Hollywood heavies Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford (who all agreed to forgo their usual huge salaries for a percentage of profits from the film) earned back far less than half its $35 million production costs.

And director Brian De Palma’s hysterical anti-war, anti-military depiction of the rape of an Iraqi girl and the murder of her family depicted in “Redacted” was so bad it never even made it into general release. And that from an “A-1” Hollywood director.

So why are anti-war films tanking? Here’s one take from an industry analyst:

“It’s not looking good,” a studio source told me before the weekend. “No one wants to see Iraq war movies. No matter what we put out there in terms of great cast or trailers, people were completely turned off. It’s a function of the marketplace not being ready to address this conflict in a dramatic way because the war itself is something that’s unresolved yet. It’s a shame because it’s a good movie that’s just ahead of its time.”

“Ahead of its time?” Moviegoers “not ready” to see Iraq War movies? Allahpundit scoffs at that notion:
They keep making ‘em even though we keep not watching ‘em, which shows you how committed they are to the message and/or fearful of testing that “America’s not ready yet” hypothesis with a pro-war flick. Check out the trailer for this abortion if you missed it last year. One shopworn anti-war contrivance after another, right down to the cringeworthy graphic of a tattered flag. No wonder even the left doesn’t want to sit through this crap.

Allah is off base suggesting that Hollywood places more importance on the anti-war message than on the idea that the film will make any money. If there is one place in the United States where money is worshipped more than in Hollywood, I can’t think of it. When a production company spends $80 million on a film and loses nearly $40 million, the chances of them getting backing from a major studio to make another film is severely reduced.  This alone is motivation to make a film they are pretty certain will make money.That $40 million in losses is real money. Even losing half that is a catastrophe. The exception to this was probably De Palma’s “Redacted” (Cost: $5 million of DePalma’s own money) where the director admitted he wanted to instruct the American people on how to feel about the war and ended up making an incoherent mess of a movie that even anti-war critics panned. 

What’s the problem then? Insularity is one explanation. The liberals in Hollywood believe everyone thinks the way they do about the war because their friends and associates all believe the same things. They think their wildly leftist worldview is mainstream.

Another reason most of Hollywood believes making anti-war films will rake in gobs of money is the success of such films in the past. “Platoon,” “Coming Home,” “Born on the Fourth of July” – all grossed very well at the box office. (If they had noticed that John Wayne’s “Green Berets” did pretty well also, they may have had second thoughts.) In Hollywood, nothing succeeds like success.
Finally, as Allah points out, Hollywood refuses to make any movie that could be construed as “pro-war” or “pro troops.” I am not as convinced as some are that such a movie would do boffo business at the box office. I think Americans just wish the war would go away at this point and want nothing to with either a pro or anti war movie. I may be wrong but war weariness seems to be the dominant feeling about Iraq among the American people and spending $7-10 bucks to watch something they wish would just disappear – even if they are supportive of our efforts in Iraq – just doesn’t seem logical to me.

There are many explanations for why Iraq War films are doing  badly as this article in the Washington Post demonstrates:

Film historian Jonathan Kuntz of UCLA points out that most memorable war films appear many years after a conflict ends, when the nation has had time to reflect on the experience and a historical consensus emerges about the war’s successes and failures.The classic films about Vietnam—starting with “The Deer Hunter,” “Coming Home” and “Apocalypse Now” in 1978 and 1979 and ending with “Born on the Fourth of July” in 1989—came out years after the last U.S. serviceman had left the battlefield. “M*A*S*H,” which was essentially an anti-Vietnam film but set in the Korean War, was released nearly 20 years after the Korean armistice. But the outcome in Iraq remains an open question, with America’s military commitment to the country under constant debate.

There may be something to that. We all may be too close to the political arguments and the emotional investment in defending or opposing the war to be able to see the war as a diversion or as entertainment.

Eventually, we may reconcile our feelings about the war and place it into the context of our national narrative. Until then, it appears that the American people just want to be left alone.

By: Rick Moran at 1:56 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30)


The passing of a great man is sometimes accompanied by the end of an historical epoch. This is usually due to the titanic effect the man had on his times as well as a recognition that with his death, the world will change and that what transpired during the time he walked the earth can never be recaptured.

So it is with the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. who died while at work at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 82 years old.

It is impossible to exaggerate the influence of Mr. Buckley on conservatism, on politics, on political writing, on television and mass communications, and on America herself. That’s why it will be so easy to write this obituary.

The bare bones outline of his life includes his birth in 1925 to a wealthy family of ten children, educated at Yale, a stint in the army and the CIA, a 57 year marriage to a beautiful woman who gave him a son Christopher, also famous in literary circles.

A fierce Catholic, Buckley never allowed his faith and politics to mix but rather had his religious beliefs inform his character and ideology. The only book he ever wrote about religion – Nearer my God – a truly original work that defended Christianity and the Catholic faith by using arguments gleaned largely from ex-protestants who had converted to Catholicism:

Though Buckley quotes large numbers of Protestants in this book, they are mostly Protestants who ‘’poped’’ (converted to Catholicism), like Cardinal Newman, Ronald Knox, Richard John Neuhaus and Arnold Lunn, and whose ‘’poping’’ stemmed more from thoughtful consideration than any sudden access of irresistible grace. The few unconverted Protestants who seem to play a part are Bishop Butler, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King Jr., Charles Colson, Charlton Heston and Buckley’s wife, Pat. Repeating the medieval saw that ‘’nothing contrary to reason’’ is required by true religion, Buckley uses a panel of the ‘’poped’’ to examine in their own words questions Buckley thinks important. These range from the oldest and most fundamental (the existence of God, the unique historicity of Jesus) to the most current and pragmatic (divorce, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women).

Only someone supremely confident in their own beliefs could use Charlton Heston and Reinhold Niebuhr to explain the mysteries of faith.

But this only demonstrates the extraordinary suppleness and depth of Buckley’s intellect. A man fascinated with language, he would use both the spoken and written word to elevate political dialogue, devastate his political foes, inspire legions of political acolytes, and invent, nurture, expand, and explain a political movement that when he started was moribund and something of a national joke.

The chronology of the rise of conservatism in the last half of the 20th century mirrors the growth in popularity of Buckley and his ideas. There simply is no other way to put it; Bill Buckley made it respectable to be a conservative again. The dominant American left in the 1950’s couldn’t dismiss this man and the movement he was building as his writings sparked interest in classic conservative ideas on college campuses across the country.

What Buckley sought to do was unite the traditionalist conservatives with libertarians – a marriage that today is strained beyond measure largely as a result of conservatism’s flirtation with big government and a curious desire to employ moral dogma as a club to try and tell people how to run their private lives. He succeeded in this unity of strange bedfellows by the force of his own vibrant personality reflected in his writings and by inventing a logical coherence that tied together the libertarian ideals of self sufficiency and unbridled personal freedom with the conservative belief in personal responsibility and a just moral order informed by Christian theology. He added a healthy dose of American exceptionalism and beliefs based on natural law to cement the marriage.

His first book, God and Man at Yale,, shocked the literary establishment by daring to criticize the stifling conformity of thought that had captured students and faculty at Yale University. In arguing for freedom of thought on campuses, Buckley was tarred by many critics as a “crypto-fascist,” a klansman, or worse. He shrugged it off and continued his efforts.

In 1955, he, along with another great conservative thinker Frank Meyer, founded The National Review, a conservative publication whose influence always far exceeded the number of subscribers. For the next 53 years and counting, the writings in that publication shaped and animated the conservative movement. Fearless, controversial, never boring, the best conservative writers of each succeeding generation always seemed to have gotten their start at TNR. Some notable contributors over the years have included Whittaker Chambers, George Will, Gary Wills, Russell Kirk, Joan Didion, Ann Coulter, and James Burnham.

Buckley mentored and encouraged several generations of writers and philosophers who argued, explained, and illuminated what conservatism was and what it stood for. In effect, he gave “word to the flesh,” inspiring debate at bull sessions on campus, across kitchen tables in American homes, all the way to the highest councils of government.

Buckley proved that ideas can spread like the plague with a virulence that can overcome powerful opposing forces that seek to stifle or marginalize them. We forget how overwhelmingly dominant liberalism was through the 1960’s. Conservatives were considered kooks – Birchers or Kluxers at worst. Rich, stuffed shirt, Babbitts at best. Buckley’s insurgency against this conformity struck a chord with large numbers of young people who joined the campaign to nominate Barry Goldwater.

Although a disaster, the election of 1964 saw the emergence of Reagan and more importantly, blooded a new generation of conservative activists who continued to be inspired and, in a very real way led, by Buckley and his writings.

To say that Buckley was a prolific writer would be to miss the point. He breathed projects into existence with a seeming ease born of a literary flair and a quick, penetrating mind. It is said he could write one of his 3500 “On the Right” columns in 20 minutes. His more than 50 books revealed a restless intellect as he wrote not only about politics but also culture, sailing, and his always fascinating personal experiences on the stump or on television.

He didn’t preach. He rarely tried to persuade overtly. Rather his writings shone a spotlight on an issue or a cause and forced the reader to evaluate and compare his own arguments against those of a master dialectition. In the end, persuaded or not, there was always a feeling of being uplifted by the arguments themselves.

This description of Buckley comes pretty close to capturing his public personae:

Editor, columnist, novelist, debater, TV talk show star of “Firing Line,” harpsichordist, transoceanic sailor and even a good-natured loser in a New York mayor’s race, Buckley worked at a daunting pace, taking as little as 20 minutes to write a column for his magazine, the National Review.

Yet on the platform, he was all handsome, reptilian languor, flexing his imposing vocabulary ever so slowly, accenting each point with an arched brow or rolling tongue and savoring an opponent’s discomfort with wide-eyed glee.

“I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition,” he wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1986. “I asked myself the other day, ‘Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?’ I couldn’t think of anyone.”

In 1991, he had a falling out with long time friend and TNR contributor Joseph Sobran whose anti-Israeli columns Buckley felt crossed the line and became anti-Semitic. But Sobran never lost his affection for Buckley. This was written last year when Sobran heard the news that Buckley had been diagnosed with emphysema:

Over the years I came to know another side of Bill. When I had serious troubles, he was a generous friend who did everything he could to help me without being asked. And I wasn’t the only one. I gradually learned of many others he’d quietly rescued from adversity. He’d supported a once-noted libertarian in his destitute old age, when others had forgotten him. He’d helped two pals of mine out of financial difficulties. And on and on. Everyone seemed to have a story of Bill’s solicitude. When you told your own story to a friend, you’d hear one from him. It was as if we were all Bill Buckley’s children.

It went far beyond sharing his money. One of Bill’s best friends was Hugh Kenner, the great critic who died two years ago. Hugh was hard of hearing, and once, after a 1964 dinner with Hugh and Charlie Chaplin, Bill scolded Hugh for being too stubborn to use a hearing aid. Here were the greatest comedian of the age and the greatest student of comedy, and Hugh had missed much of the conversation! Later Hugh’s wife told me how grateful Hugh had been for that scolding. Nobody else would have dared speak to her husband that way. Only a true friend would. If Bill saw you needed a little hard truth, he’d tell you, even if it pained him to say it.

I once spent a long evening with one of Bill’s old friends from Yale, whose name I won’t mention. He told me movingly how Bill stayed with him to comfort him when his little girl died of brain cancer. If Bill was your friend, he’d share your suffering when others just couldn’t bear to. What a great heart — eager to spread joy, and ready to share grief!

Compared with all this, the political differences that finally drove us apart seem trivial now. I saw the same graciousness in his relations with everyone from presidents to menials. I learned a lot of things from Bill Buckley, but the best thing he taught me was how to be a Christian. May Jesus comfort him now.

A great light in the firmament of American letters has been dimmed today. Buckley leaves a conservative movement in turmoil, a victim largely of its own success – a success for which he was largely responsible. We must make our own way now, climbing on the shoulders of greats like William Buckley to reach ever higher, bettering ourselves and the human condition while being inspired by the irrepressible and indomitable spirit who passed into legend today.

By: Rick Moran at 3:10 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8)


I was born with every advantage known to America in the 1950’s. I had two white parents who created a loving, nurturing environment in a happy suburban home that never saw hunger or want. The fact that both parents were bibliophiles who fostered a love of learning and a reverence for education sets me apart even further from the vast majority of kids from my generation.

But I knew a lot of kids less well off than I who far surpassed me in academic achievement and in knowledge. This was a consequence of being educated at superior schools – private, Catholic schools – where inculcating a hunger for knowledge in students was seen as a teacher’s duty.

I am not an expert in what is wrong with schools today nor do I pretend to have any answers. I just know that the ignorance of our children as revealed in this study by Common Core is not only appalling but has me fearing for the future of American democracy:

A new survey of 17-year-olds reveals that, to many, the paragraph above sounds only slightly strange. Almost 20 percent of 1,200 respondents to a national telephone survey do not know who our enemy was in World War II, and more than a quarter think Columbus sailed after 1750. Half do not know whom Sen. McCarthy investigated or what the Renaissance was.

It is easy to make light of such ignorance. In reality, however, a deep lack of knowledge is neither humorous nor trivial. What we know helps to determine how successful we are likely to be in life, and how many career paths we can choose from. It also affects our contribution as democratic citizens.

Unfortunately, too many young Americans do not possess the kind of basic knowledge they need. When asked fundamental questions about U.S. history and culture, they score a D and exhibit stunning knowledge gaps.

“Gaps” is an understatement in the knowledge of these 17 year olds:

• Nearly a quarter of those surveyedcould not identify Adolf Hitler; 10 percent think he was a munitions manufacturer

• Fewer than half can place the Civil War in the correct half-century

• Only 45 percent can identify Oedipus

• A third do not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of speech and religion

• 44 percent think that The Scarlet Letter was either about a witch trial or a piece of correspondence

Unfortunately, that’s not the half of it. It gets worse:

  • 38% knew that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, a poem written in Middle English and containing stories told by people on a pilgrimage.
  • 50% knew that In the Bible, Job is known for his patience in suffering.
  • 57% knew that Dickens’ novel ATale of Two Cities took place during the French Revolution.
  • 50% knew that the controversy surrounding Senator Joseph McCarthy focused on Communism.
  • Only 60% knew that the First World War was between 1900 and 1950.

There is a chasm opening up between the old and the young as far as common cultural touchstones that allow us to share national experiences as well as communicate with each other.

If a politician makes the charge that an individual is engaging in “McCarthyism,” how is someone who doesn’t have a clue who Joe McCarthy was figure out what the politician is saying? How is someone who never heard of Oedipus to to understand a host of cultural references that the rest of us acknowledge without thinking?

It isn’t just being ignorant of the Bill of Rights and Constitution that threatens the future. Our national discussions frequently use these shared touchstones as a means of communicating at a deeper level. And, of course, these cultural references are the essence of the shared values of western civilization.

How did this disastrous turn of events come about? The study has some specific causes:

Americans in almost every demographic group are reading less than they were 10 or 20 years ago. The percentage of 17- year-olds who report reading for fun daily declined from one in three in 1984 to one in five in 2004. In 2006, 15- to 24-year olds on the whole reported reading an average of seven minutes a day on weekdays and 10 minutes a day on weekends.7 Meanwhile, in the past decade, the amount of time that teens and preteens devote to television, video games, and computers has increased steadily.8 In a culture suffused by instant messaging and YouTube, leisure reading has increasingly become an anachronism— a bit like polka or bowling leagues.

Another culprit is one of those things in education that is initiated with the very best of intentions and ends up hurting more than helping; standardized testing:

Testing is important, of that we have no doubt. But tests are not the be-all and end-all of education. They are an important indicator, but they are only one indicator of educational progress. Some districts are now spending many weeks of the school year preparing their students to take high-stakes tests. This, we believe, is time that could be better spent reading and discussing exciting historical controversies, scientific discoveries, and literary works. Indeed, reading in content areas, especially if guided by a knowledge-rich, coherent curriculum, would, we expect, produce higher test scores than endless test preparation activities.

I am supporter of testing. But when schools abandon academics in favor of teaching kids how to test well rather than absorb what is being tested, something is amiss. Are so many tests necessary? Would less intrusion by the federal government improve the situation? Those are questions I would ask if I had a kid in public schools today.

Finally, the study makes an eloquent case for establishing “deep knowledge” and “rich curriculum” schools:

Testing is important, of that we have no doubt. But tests are not the be-all and end-all of education. They are an important indicator, but they are only one indicator of educational progress. Some districts are now spending many weeks of the school year preparing their students to take high-stakes tests. This, we believe, is time that could be better spent reading and discussing exciting historical controversies, scientific discoveries, and literary works. Indeed, reading in content areas, especially if guided by a knowledge-rich, coherent curriculum, would, we expect, produce higher test scores than endless test preparation activities.

Thirty years from now those 17 year olds will be in charge of the country. I wonder what it will look like? Some variation of the 26th century in Idiocracy? More likely a less colorful, more conformist society would emerge with little to connect people to a shared past.

One last interesting tidbit from the study; kids who had one parent who attended college scored much better than kids who didn’t. This points up the fact that more than ever, the role of the teacher is vital in inspiring students to move beyond the textbook, beyond the tests and realize that the most rewarding and joyful part of the educational experience is gathering knowledge for knowledge sake; learning for the sheer joy knowing. A teacher who can do that deserves a salary equal to Barry Bonds, Shaq O’Neal, and Tom Brady all rolled into one – a most valuable member of society.

By: Rick Moran at 3:48 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (38)

Neocon News linked with Daily Quick Hits 2/26/08...

It is almost exactly a year since I wrote a post speculating about the “assassination factor” in Obama’s candidacy. And while I may have been one of the first to weigh in on the issue, many since who have written about this potential cataclysm have highlighted aspects of the problem that never occurred to me.

For instance, this New York Times piece raises the question of whether black voters would be so worried about losing Obama that they wouldn’t vote for him:

Not long ago, his advisers worried that some black voters might not support his candidacy out of a fierce desire to protect him. It was a particular concern in South Carolina, but Mr. Obama said he believed the worry was also rooted in “a fear of failure.”

Now that he has won a string of primaries and caucuses in all corners of the country, and built a coalition of black and white voters, failure would seem to be less of an issue. The fears, however, remain.

Having had their hopes raised time and time again only to see them dashed by an assassin’s bullet, black Americans have proven themselves to be resilient enough to embrace Obama while still harboring an unease that the rest of us feel about his safety.

Is that unease justified? Obama himself doesn’t think so:

“I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview, reprising a line he tells supporters who raise the issue with him. “So stop worrying.”


“It’s not something that I’m spending time thinking about day to day,” said Mr. Obama, who has been given the Secret Service nickname Renegade, a way for agents to quickly identify him. “I made a decision to get into this race. I think anybody who decides to run for president recognizes that there are some risks involved, just like there are risks in anything.”

The Secret Service is probably one of the top three protection outfits in the world. Their strength is in taking pro-active steps to protect their charges. Their intelligence gathering and threat assessment departments are by far their strongest areas of protection.

It is the “face in the crowd” or the “lone nut with a gun” that could turn an Obama candidacy from a triumph of American society to an unspeakable tragedy. And as the last line of defense, Obama’s personal protection teams are ready to lay down their own lives in defense of his. Agent Tim McCarthy proved that during the attempted assassination on Reagan in 1981 when he stood directly in the line of fire from John Hinkley’s gun, arms akimbo, and then took a bullet in the gut meant for the President. Obama knows this and is satisfied that the Service is doing all that it can.

Just recently in Dallas, there was some concern raised that the Secret Service had experienced a security lapse at an Obama rally when they reportedly failed to search for weapons among attendees. Indeed, reports from the arena where the rally was held (as well as other reports from other venues across the country) indicate that as the time approached for Obama to speak, the huge crowd still waiting out side to get in were allowed into the arena without going through the metal detector.

In a statement, the Secret Service does not deny this but insist that they were sticking with a plan for the candidate’s security:

There were no security lapses at that venue,” said Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington. He added there was “no deviation” from the “comprehensive and layered” security plan, implemented in “very close cooperation with our law enforcement partners.”

Zahren rebutted suggestions by several Dallas police officers at the rally who thought the Secret Service ordered a halt to the time-consuming weapons check because long lines were moving slowly, and many seats remained empty as time neared for Obama to appear.

“It was never a part of the plan at this particular venue to have each and every person in the crowd pass through the Magnetometer,” said Zahren, referring to the device used to detect metal in clothing and bags.

He declined to give the reason for checking people for weapons at the front of the lines and letting those farther back go in without inspection.

“We would not want, by providing those details, to have people trying to derive ways in which they could defeat the security at any particular venue,” Zahren said.

I am not buying this explanation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign itself put pressure on the Secret Service to get the people moving into these venues. It would not be shocking if this were so simply because there is always this tension between the needs of the candidate/President and the needs of security. The next time Obama works a rope line, watch the 8-10 agents around him and not the candidate. Each is responsible for a particular portion of the crowd while the agents behind him are always prepared to yank him away and cover his body with theirs. If the Secret Service had their druthers, there would be no rope line at all. But the needs of the candidate to press the flesh outweigh the common sense needs of security.

And the reason they may not be checking the last several hundred people is because anyone wanting to take a shot at Obama will probably do so where he is most vulnerable – at the rope line. In order to get that close, an assassin would have to get their early enough to be one of the first one’s in. Someone several hundred feet away, unless they are a world class marksman with a pistol, would have little chance of hitting the candidate.

The Secret Service won’t say this for obvious reasons. But it is one of the tradeoffs made between security and democracy. And it makes the candidate or President that much more open for the plan of an assassin.

But perhaps we worry too much. As I point out in my post from a year ago, what has yet to occur in a likely assassination scenario is the atmosphere of hate that has been the hallmark of past tragedies:

[D]allas seemed to be the capitol city of the unhinged in America at that time. Birchers, Kluxers, radical anti-communists, race baiters, all made Dallas a place that worried many of Kennedy’s close supporters, many of whom strongly urged him not to make the trip at all.

How much of that atmosphere rubbed off on Oswald? According to Ruth Paine, who put up Oswald’s wife Marina following several brutal beatings by her husband, Lee read the News everyday. And Oswald could hardly have been unaware of the Birchers since he took at shot at General Edwin Walker, a notorious extremist just months prior to his killing the President.

But it wasn’t just the Kennedy assassination where we see this hatred explode into violence. Many have pointed to the atmosphere of hate in Memphis when Martin Luther King came to support the garbage workers in their strike for a decent wage and better working conditions. And in 1968, the recent Arab-Israeli conflict and the outrage in the Palestinian community that was felt as a consequence of American support for Israel apparently contributed to the rage of Sirhan Sirhan and his desire to strike back at America by killing Robert Kennedy.

Even John Hinckley, Ronald Reagan’s would be assassin, may have been affected by the unhinged nature of much of the criticism being directed against the President for his budget and tax proposals and most especially for his stated desire to confront the Soviet Union. I distinctly remember commenting to friends at the time that at this rate, Reagan wouldn’t survive; that some nut with a gun would get the idea they were doing the world a favor and kill the President.

So far, Obama’s candidacy has generated a lot of good feelings and none of the unhinged partisanship that marked the Clinton-Bush years. But this could change once the battle is joined during the general election. And it will almost certainly change if Obama is elected president and titanic struggles occur over Iraq, the War on Terror, and national health insurance.

Meanwhile, the candidate himself soldiers on:

That afternoon, Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed Dealey Plaza and the Texas Book Depository building, where the fatal shot was fired at President Kennedy in 1963. Several campaign aides looked out their windows, silently absorbing the scene.

Not so for Mr. Obama, who later said he had not realized he was passing the site. And no one in his car pointed it out.

“I’ve got to admit, that’s not what I was thinking about,” he said. “I was thinking about how I was starting to get a head cold and needed to make sure that I cleared up my nose before I got to the arena.”

If this studied indifference to danger is an act, it’s a good one.

By: Rick Moran at 9:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)


Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River.

This is the story of what could be the greatest day of the greatest American who ever lived. It originally appeared in The American Thinker on February 22, 2005 and was the very first article I wrote for that fine publication.

Today is President’s day – a day as my colleague at AT Ari Kaufman points out that “not only do schools go on as scheduled, but so do many state and government offices. This is not surprising in 2008, and many revel in it.”

Indeed, as the very significance of President’s Day fades out of existence, the need to remember our greatest president, George Washington, by recognizing his birthday as a true national holiday becomes even more urgent.

If any American deserves this singular honor, it is Washington. Quite simply, there would not be a United States of America without him. And even if there were, it would certainly be a much different place.


This article originally appeared in The American Thinker.

The year was 1783. While formal hostilities had virtually ceased between the Crown and the American colonies, peace talks continued to drag on in London. The Congress was broke and in serious debt even though the Articles of Confederation, which required individual states to contribute funds to the Congress, had been approved two years earlier.

The Continental Army was restless. Many of its officers hadn’t been paid in months. Promises made by Congress at the time of their enlistment regarding reimbursement for food and clothing, pensions, and a pledge to give the officers half pay for life were either not being honored or were rumored to be withdrawn. Petitions by groups of officers to Congress asking them to redress these and other grievances either went unanswered or were brushed aside.

As a result of these indignities, a cabal of officers headed up by Colonel Walter Stewart and Major John Armstrong, an aide to George Washington’s chief rival Horatio Gates, were making plans to march to Philadelphia at the head of their men to force Congress to deal with their demands. The implication was clear; if Congress would not address their concerns, the men would enforce their will at the point of a bayonet.

The plotters believed that General Washington would be forced by their actions to become a reluctant participant in a military coup against the government. They believed that by presenting a united front composed of the senior officers in the army, Washington would have no choice but to back them.

To that end, they scheduled a meeting on March 10 of all general and field officers. With the invitation to the meeting, a fiery letter was circulated calling on the soldiers not to disarm in peace and, if the war were to continue, to disband and leave the country to the tender mercies of the British Army.

Washington got wind of the meeting and was deeply troubled. He issued a General Order canceling the gathering and instead, called for another meeting on March 15 ” of representatives of all the regiments to decide how to attain the just and important object in view.” The next day, another letter was circulated by the plotters that implied by issuing the General Order, Washington agreed with their position.

With the army teetering on the edge of revolt and the future of the United States as a republic in the balance, Washington stood before the assembled officers and began to speak. He started by saying he sympathized with their plight, that he had written countless letters to Congress reminding them of their responsibilities to the soldiers, and begged the officers not to take any action that would “lessen the dignity and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained.”

At that point, Washington reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter from a Congressman outlining what the government would do to address the soldiers grievances. But something was wrong. Washington started reading the letter but stopped abruptly. Then, with a sense of the moment and flair for the dramatic not equaled until Ronald Reagan became President, Washington slowly reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a pair of spectacles. There were gasps in the room as most of the officers had never seen their beloved General display such a sign of physical weakness in public. As he put the glasses on, Washington said “Gentlemen, you’ll permit me to put on my spectacles, as I have grown not only old but almost blind in the service of my country.”

Witnesses say that the officers almost to a man began to weep. This powerful reminder of the nearly eight years of service together and their shared sacrifices and hardships won the day. The revolt died then and there.

It could be argued that this was the greatest day of the greatest American who ever lived. And the fact that we no longer officially celebrate Washington’s birthday on February 22 as a national holiday is a travesty that makes this and other deeds of George Washington seem like mere footnotes on the pages of history.

In fact, the third Monday in February is still designated as Washington’s Birthday, not “President’s Day” as it has come to be known. As Matthew Spaulding of the Heritage Foundation points out, several times, legislators have introduced legislation to direct all federal government entities to refer to the holiday as George Washington’s Birthday but to no avail. President Bush could issue an executive order to that effect but has failed to do so.

This doesn’t address the issue of celebrating February 22-no matter what day of the week it falls on-as a national holiday. The argument that no other American is so honored just doesn’t hold water. The fact is, there wouldn’t be any other Americans to honor if it weren’t for the character, the purposefulness, and the determination of George Washington.

For long stretches during the Revolution, Washington was the government; the only recognizable entity for people to rally around. Couple that with Washington’s superhuman efforts in molding and shaping the Presidency and then exhibiting the sublime understanding to step down after two terms to cement the foundation of the new republic to the rule of law and not of men, and you have a strong case to make an exception to the rule of honoring individual Americans.

Currently, Martin Luther King is the only individual American who is honored with his own holiday. And the Fourth of July and Veterans Day are the only federal holidays covered under the Monday Holiday Law passed in 1968 that are celebrated on the day of the week regardless of whether or not it falls on a Monday (Thanksgiving’s date changes yearly. Christmas and New Years day may be celebrated on either Friday or Monday depending on what day of the week they fall on in a given year). Designating February 22 as a national holiday to celebrate the life of someone called “the indispensable man” of the American founding by his outstanding biographer James Thomas Flexner would seem to be fitting and proper.

We owe so much to Washington that it seems almost trivial to deny him this singular honor.

By: Rick Moran at 8:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (7)


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Seven of Bugs Moran’s boys lie riddled with bullets in a Clark Street Garage on Valentines Day, 1929.

All my life, I’ve been asked if I am related to Chicago crime boss George “Bugs” Moran, whose outfit was decimated on Valentines Day in 1929. The answer is no, I don’t think so. Moran was and is a very common name in Chicago, a result of an Irish influx in the 1880’s – the same migration that brought my grandfather’s family here from Ireland to escape another in a series of 19th century famines.

Though not related to him, I, like most Chicagoans feel connected to that bloody past if only because part of the legacy of Capone and the crime organizations that operated with impunity in the city was political. The fact is, the gangsters couldn’t operate as freely as they did without having the political clout to intimidate the police, the courts, and ordinary citizens into tolerating their illegal activities.

And it wasn’t just liquor. Gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, and murder for hire were rampant in the city as Capone’s gang literally ran wild in the streets. They routinely murdered those who stood in their way. They paid off police, judges, prosecutors, and most importantly, they had the Mayor himself in their hip pocket.

William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson was a larger than life character who was extremely popular with white, working class voters due to his bombastic style and pugnacious attitude. His first stint as Mayor (1915-23) was marked by the rise of various crime organizations who battled in the streets for control of the lucrative beer and liquor market. He had it in his mind to run for President so he began to collect $3 a month from city workers in order to build a war chest. It is thought that Al Capone was also giving him payoffs although it was never proven. (After his death, two safe deposit boxes were found in his name stuffed with $1.5 million in cash.)

As colorful as Big Bill Thompson was, he was also a civic liability. Here’s an excerpt from a Chicago Tribune editorial following his defeat in 1931:

For Chicago Thompson has meant filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy and bankruptcy…. He has given the city an international reputation for moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship. He nearly ruined the property and completely destroyed the pride of the city. He made Chicago a byword for the collapse of American civilization. In his attempt to continue this he excelled himself as a liar and defamer of character

Capone assisted Thompson in his 1927 run to regain the mayoralty largely through intimidating opponents and their supporters. This was crucial to Capone’s plans to make Chicago a wide open city where a man with sybaritic tendencies could get anything he wanted, anytime of day or night. As Capone himself often pointed out, he was just supplying a service that the people wanted.

What the people didn’t want were the constant street battles between various hoodlum outfits. Beginning in the early 1920’s, Capone systematically destroyed these organizations through murder and muscle until in 1929, only Bugs Moran and his Northside Gang stood in his way. Hence, the attempt to wipe Moran and most of his gang out by staging a fake police raid at a Clark Street garage and gunning down 7 Moran associates. Moran himself escaped when he spotted the police cruiser being used by the assassins and never went into the garage.

Moran and his gang survived and the gangster hung on to his slice of the action on the North Side. But Capone’s days were numbered. The feds led by Frank Wilson, an agent for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, hounded Capone on income tax evasion and with the help of Elliot Ness and his Untouchables, wrapped up an ironclad case against the gangster for not paying taxes from 1925-29. Capone’s 11 year sentence finished him as boss. It did not finish his organization.

To this day, the old mob still has its tenterhooks in the city. Every once and a while, a connection surfaces between a politician or a policeman and various elements of the Chicago organization built by Capone. No one is surprised. No one is shocked. It’s the way that the “City That Works”

It is a legacy that Chicagoans forget at their peril.

By: Rick Moran at 11:24 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)


When I was about 14 years old, I picked up a paperback box set of The Iliad and the Odyssey that one of my siblings had already abandoned. It was the Penguin Classics edition (Fagles translation) that so many of us would come to know in high school or college in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Iliad mostly bored me, although I loved the character of Patroclus because he reminded me of myself at the time.

But the Odyssey enthralled me. The adventures of Odysseus were exciting, made for a teenager’s imagination. He was a flawed hero, of course. He played around on his wife. He thumbed his nose at the gods. And his hubris got him into trouble more than once – most dramatically when he challenged the might of Poseidon himself by killing his son Polyphemus, the cyclops. This so angered Poseidon that he caused Odysseus to wander many years before he could return to his home in Ithaca.

But of all the adventures and misfortunes to befall Odysseus, the most compelling has to be his journey past the islands where the Sirens sang their songs to bewitch unwary sailors. It was said that mariners went mad upon hearing the achingly beautiful music so of course, Odysseus being Odysseus, he had to tempt fate by finding a way to hear the songs but not come under the Siren’s spell. Circe informed him that if he ordered his men to plug their ears with beeswax while Odysseus tied himself to the mast, giving his men orders not to release him no matter how insistent he became, he might safely traverse the waters near the Siren’s island.

So they sang, in sweet utterance, and the heart within me
desired to listen, and I signaled to my companions to set me
free, nodding with my brows, but they leaned on and rowed hard,
and Perimedes and Eurylochus, rising up, straightway
fastened me with even more lashings and squeezed me tighter.

Odysseus was able to resist the Siren’s call only be being physically restrained by his men. But it appears to some observers that when it comes to Barack Obama’s feel good, cotton candy campaign and its vapid call for “change,” the great mass of his supporters may be better off if the plug their ears with beeswax or lash themselves to a sturdy timber somewhere.

Jack Tapper:

Obama supporter Kathleen Geier writes that she’s “getting increasingly weirded out by some of Obama’s supporters. On listservs I’m on, some people who should know better – hard-bitten, not-so-young cynics, even – are gushing about Barack…

Describing various encounters with Obama supporters, she writes, “Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of ‘coming to Obama’ in the same way born-again Christians talk about ‘coming to Jesus.’...So I say, we should all get a grip, stop all this unseemly mooning over Barack, see him and the political landscape he is a part of in a cooler, clearer, and more realistic light, and get to work.”

Joe Klein, writing at Time, notes “something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism” he sees in Obama’s Super Tuesday speech.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said. “This time can be different because this campaign for the presidency of the United States of America is different. It’s different not because of me. It’s different because of you.”

Says Klein: “That is not just maddeningly vague but also disingenuous: the campaign is entirely about Obama and his ability to inspire. Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is. “

I too feel the magnetic pull of the man. I have expressed my admiration for Obama on many occasions, complimenting him on his political gifts and that rare ability to inspire hope in people.

But c’mon people. Get a grip. Better yet, take another look at Obama not as a “charismatic” politician but as a potential president of the United States. Charisma don’t cut it when sitting in the Big Chair. All one need do is look at the presidency of that other “change” artist and charisma freak John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy is much more consequential of an historical figure when looking at him retrospectively than he was while in office. His apologists in the academy (and the relentless Kennedy PR machine’s 40 year effort to canonize him) have turned a mediocre presidency into some kind of Golden Age of American politics. This is nuts. Kennedy was not much of a reformer nor was he much of a chief executive. His introduction of the Civil Rights Act came only after the standoff between Wallace at the University of Alabama forced his hand. He opposed the Freedom Riders (even though he assigned Federal Marshalls to protect them) and he had no qualms about J. Edgar Hoover bugging Martin Luther King’s sordid private life.

Kennedy’s “charisma” couldn’t move the Civil Rights Act in Congress one inch. Nor could his “charisma” give him the foreknowledge not to increase our commitment of “advisors” in Viet Nam from Eisenhower’s 800 to an eventual 16,000 with “free fire zones,” napalm, and defoliants. Charisma is a fine attribute for a politician to have in running a campaign. But it doesn’t make a dime’s bit of difference when confronting Congress or the truly evil people in this world that Obama has promised to sit down with. I daresay that President Ahmadinejad would probably be immune to Mr. Obama’s charisma as would Baby Assad in Syria and perhaps even Hugo Chavez although the Venezuelan dictator might be eager to share his insights into how to build a cult of personality here in America.

This hasn’t stopped people – young and old – from comparing Obama to JFK and reveling in their ignorance. Here’s Ian Rock trying to break through the hysteria and ask some pertinent questions of the Obamamaniacs:

I have been listening to many of your reasons for supporting Obama. I have watched a good number of interviews on CNN, MSNBC and YouTube to better understand why you think Obama will be great president in 2008, and I keep hearing things like:

“It’s just the way he lights up a room”

“We haven’t seen a candidate this charismatic since JFK.”

“It’s just hard to be objective with this guy”

Obama fans seem to give you the same general answer. Mostly, it has something to do with this charisma. If you want a good example check out a recent interview George Clooney gave explaining his reason; you get the same JFK personality “thing.”

To me, it’s like you are all voting for Obama because of some unexplainable aura he exudes. Everyone is swooning over this almost mysterious attraction he exudes. “Electric” is another word I have been hearing.

Mr. Rock calls these Obama supporters “groupies” which may be a little unfair. “Disciples” may be more to the point. Make no mistake. There is a religious overlay to the Obama campaign. Not necessarily in direct appeals to God but rather in its portrayal of the candidate as savior of America. And Obama himself uses the cadence and imagrey when speaking that calls to mind the Sunday sermon.

I can see where some liberals might find this “creepy” although I think it more pitiful than dangerous. Eventually, Obama is going to have to start filling out that empty suit he’s been walking around in these past months. Or Hillary (or McCain) will do it for him. Either way, his doe-eyed supporters who look at him as the answer to our civic prayers will no doubt become a little less enamored of their hero once his Dorian Gray facade starts to crumble as a result of media scrutiny and opposition attacks.

Vanity Fair writer and left wing hate monger James Wolcott also raises an eyebrow at the Obama supplicants:

“(p)erhaps it’s my atheism at work but I found myself increasingly wary of and resistant to the salvational fervor of the Obama campaign, the idealistic zeal divorced from any particular policy or cause and chariot-driven by pure euphoria. I can picture President Hillary in the White House dealing with a recalcitrant Republican faction; I can’t picture President Obama in the same role because his summons to history and call to hope seems to transcend legislative maneuvers and horse-trading; his charisma is on a more ethereal plane, and I don’t look to politics for transcendence and self-certification.”

There is no way that Obama can transfer this “idealistic zeal” to any policy prescription or grand idea because once he fills in the blanks of specificity on any issue, he is bound to lose support. The press is just now catching up to the fact that even for a politician, Obama is incredibly vague. This, he must be since getting specific will necessarily destroy Obama’s strength as a candidate; the fact that he can currently be all things to all people -an empty vessel filled with the hopes and dreams of millions.

It will be interesting to watch over the next several months whether Hillary Clinton can fill in some of the blanks deliberately created by Obama and thus peel away some of his less enamored followers. It’s one thing to be an agent of change. It’s quite another thing to get specific about exactly what kind of change you are proposing.

I daresay that not all of today’s Obama supporters will be there at the end once that specificity is given life either by a desperate Clinton or a press grown tired of the platitudes and moralizing of the candidate himself.

By: Rick Moran at 8:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9)

CATEGORY: History, Politics

I am sick of writing about Mike Huckabee and his desperate, shameless pandering to South Carolinians. I am sick of politics in general. So today I want to write about something a little more uplifting.

Political oratory is not what it once was in America. This is understandable given the advent of television and the lessening attention span of the voter. Back in the day, a good political speech could run 2 hours or more. And in the days before microphones, that meant the orator would have to really belt it out, usually in a sing-song manner so that the diaphragm did most of the work. There was an art and artifice to oratory back then. Audiences came to expect the classical allusions, the histrionic hand waving, the tears, the posing – all tricks of the trade a good orator would have at his beck and call.

How on earth did people sit still for two hours to listen to a speech, you might ask? With the good ones, the people usually begged for more. Most politicians were proud of their ability to deliver a stemwinder of a speech and sway people to vote for them.

This is an outgrowth of the fact that most politicians began their careers as lawyers. In small town America, going to a courtroom was like going to the movies. Court watching was sophisticated entertainment for high born and low born alike.

There are numerous examples of defense attorneys getting a murderer off by giving a closing argument that blatantly appealed to the pity of the jurors or of prosecutors getting a jury to convict an innocent man by raising the jury’s bloodlust.

There were also traveling orators who, for a fee, would deliver appropriate remarks at funerals and holidays like the Fourth of July. Many times, these orators doubled as preachers – another place Americans liked to go to listen to a good speech.

It seems we Americans appreciated a good speech more than just about anything. Think of the Lincoln-Douglas debates where thousands turned out to hear the two men. And, of course, a half a million turned out to hear a Georgia preacher speak of a dream he had for America.

There are a couple of things that all great speeches have in common. 1.) The moment. The exact time in history where the speakers words will resonate. 2.) The backdrop. The place the speech is delivered amplifies its meaning. And 3.) The words. All great speeches are as inspiring when read as they are when delivered orally.

Here following are my personal top 10 political speeches in American history. The idea came from this list filed this morning in the Washington Post. I felt I could do much better.

I doubt whether any of my choices will be controversial although the ranking I give them will spark a healthy debate in the comments, I hope. Just take this little diversion for what it is – a hope that you are as fascinated with our past and the impact of the spoken word as I am.

10. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural

On March 4, 1865 the Civil War was finally winding down. Abraham Lincoln stood on the Capitol steps underneath the recently completed dome – a symbol of the country’s commitment to the Union.

Lincoln delivered one of the shortest but one of the most memorable inaugural addresses of all time. The peroration haunts us to this day:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Standing 15 feet away from Lincoln was John Wilkes Booth. The two would meet a month later in Ford’s Theater.

9. Patrick Henry “Give me liberty or give me death.”

On March 23, 1775, the British were occupying Boston and had declared martial law throughout the colony. A rabble rousing firebrand member of the House of Burgess named Patrick Henry stood up and, some believe, helped start a war. Others say he gave America a national consciousness that day. What he did was convince some very influential people – George Washington among them – that if the British could take away the rights of New Englanders they could do it to Virginians.

Henry’s bombastic, sneering, inspiring speech was a catalyst for Virgina to support Massachusetts and thus start the country down the road to independence. The peroration from Henry’s speech is what we most remember:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!”—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Gives me the chills reading it today.

8. Washington’s Speech before Congress Resigning his Commission

It was an act that stunned the Europeans and caused them to elevate Washington to hero status. A winning general simply resigning and going home? Such a thing had never been done – going all the way back to the Romans.

Washington, ever cognizant of his place in history and knowing full well what his self-abnegation would mean to the history books, nevertheless was quite sincere about going home. On December 23, 1783, he stood before Congress and with trembling hands, delivered a short, graceful speech that assured the strength of civilian rule and democracy in America:

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.

7. Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address

March 4, 1933 saw the American experiment in ruins. More than 13 million unemployed. Industrial capacity at 50% of what it was pre-stock market crash. Banks closing, soup lines, suicides up – people had lost faith.

Franklin Roosevelt didn’t change things immediately. Indeed, unemployment was still at 10% more than 8 years later on December 7, 1941. But what Roosevelt offered was hope that things were going to get better. And for a people as optimistic as Americans historically are, that’s all that was needed.

Contrasted with the do-nothing Hoover administration, Roosevelt’s activism was a tonic that got America out of the doldrums and blunted much of the impetus for a communist revolution that in 1932 seemed a possibility. Here’s the passage everyone remembers:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

But it is his peroration that inspires:

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

6. Ronald Reagan at Point du Hoc

This speech is consistently ranked in the top 10 of the greatest of the 20th Century. And for good reason. It has all the elements I mentioned above that makes a great speech plus the drama of having the survivors of D-Day present to listen to it.

I challenge anyone – conservative or liberal – to watch this June 6, 1984 speech in its entirety and not get choked with emotion.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers—the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ``lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.’‘

Video here. MP3 here.

5. Roosevelt Declaration of War Against Japan

In a voice shaking with emotion and indignation, Roosevelt threw down the gauntlet to the Japanese empire:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

Given before a joint session of Congress while men were still trapped below decks in many of the ships bombed at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s peroration drew the loudest and most prolonged standing ovation of his career:

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Roosevelt’s words awoke the “Sleeping Giant” by putting the war in terms of a crusade against the Japanese.

MP3 here. Note the applause at the beginning of the speech. Unbelievable.

4. William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold” Speech

You can draw a straight line from Bryan to John Edwards without deviating an inch. The angry populist wasn’t invented by Bryan but he carried the shtick all the way to the Democratic nomination in July of 1896.

Basically, some crackpot had come up with the idea that the problem of poverty in rural America could be fixed if only we had a lot more money in circulation. The way to do that was to go off the gold standard and make silver a sort of substitute. It was called “bimetalism” and would have set off an inflation panic that would have destroyed the economy.

But why let that stand in the way of personal ambition? Bryan, a relatively unknown ex-Congressman, got up to speak to the issue at the convention and quite simply wowed ‘em. A contemporary description of the reaction among the delegates:

His dramatic speaking style and rhetoric roused the crowd to a frenzy. The response, wrote one reporter, “came like one great burst of artillery.” Men and women screamed and waved their hats and canes. “Some,” wrote another reporter, “like demented things, divested themselves of their coats and flung them high in the air.” The next day the convention nominated Bryan for President on the fifth ballot.

The peroration sounds a helluva lot like Edwards at his angriest:

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Bryan was later humiliated at the Scopes Trial by Clarence Darrow and died a broken bitter old man.

3. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

He was invited as an after thought. The great orator of the time Edward Everett was slated to give the dedication with Lincoln invited to make a “few appropriate remarks.” Originally scheduled for September 23, 1863, Horton said he could hardly do justice to the event with such short notice. The organizers rescheduled for November 19th.

Everett’s two hour oration held the audience spellbound. It was a classic 19th century eulogy with allusions to the Greeks and the Romans, biblical quotes, and flowery language – all given in a booming voice so that all could hear.

Then the President of the United States rose and in his high pitched, tinny, nasally voice, spoke the words that redefined America for all time by greatly expanding the very definition of freedom:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

No other speech in American history has accomplished so much by saying so little.

2. Kennedy Inaugural

Many historians believe that the January 20, 1961 Kennedy Inaugural address was the best of all time. I agree. The speech is a masterpiece of writing and Kennedy delivered it magnificently.

Beyond that, it was the time the speech was given that gave it such resonance. World War II vets were moving into positions of authority in business, in labor, in politics. The torch was indeed being passed to a new generation. And most Americans believed that the coming years would see a confrontation with the Soviet Union.

But little noticed by many is that the “young people” who flocked to Kennedy’s banner were not baby boomers. That group was too young. Rather it was the “tweeners” who were born between 1935 and 1945 who were too young for World War II and mostly too young for Korea (the Korean war ended in 1953) who supported him. The baby boomers adopted him after his death for the most part.

But Kennedy’s apparent youthfulness – something he cultivated religiously despite his poor health – inspired the entire population. His enthusiasm or “vigor” also was contagious. After the Eisenhower years, it was like the country woke up from a long nap.

The speech was a challenge to the country and to the Soviets. Reading it, one is struck by how bellicose it was – a cold warrior’s dream come true. And its stirring call to sacrifice for the common good – so often misused by Democrats when they call upon the people to help the poor or pay more in taxes – was actually an echo of the kind of sacrifice the country made during World War II.

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Kennedy is referring to the coming confrontation with the Soviets – that he makes quite clear he wishes to avoid but has no illusions about the enemy.

Echoes of this speech are still heard today making it a truly historic speech that deserves its ranking.

Video here.

1. Martin Luther King “I have a dream”

No speech in American history – and few in world history – had the immediate and lasting impact of King’s words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that 28th day of August, 1963. It electrified both black and white Americans and was the catalyst for passing two extremely important pieces of legislation; the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

But beyond the practical effects of the speech, the uplifting, spiritual nature of the words as well as King’s thundering delivery made the speech almost biblical in its incantations:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

King had the ability to hold a mirror up to white America so that they were forced to confront their shame. In many respects, he was almost like a biblical prophet. And his words, with their spectacular imagery and inspirational message poured over the listeners like a cool, refreshing rain.

The man, the moment, the backdrop, and the words all came together that August day to deliver what I consider the greatest speech in American history.

Video here.

By: Rick Moran at 8:56 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)

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