This morning's Washington Post contains a snippet about the return of "compassionate conservatism." Ugh. I've never liked that phrase, not one bit. Conservatism on its own was quite passionate enough, thank you. By compassionate conservatism, President Bush means (among other things) removing some of the legal and administrative burdens placed on faith-based organizations in doing what they do best...delivering human compassion to others. I'm all for that, as it fits in nicely with specialization, division of labor, and all those nice economic ideas. But the use of the phrase "compassionate conservatism" has always played nicely into the hands of those who consider conservatism to be "mean" or "uncaring". "Oh", they say, "so before compassionate conservatism, you really were mean and uncaring". I think it is mean and uncaring to trap people into repeatable cycles of dependence on government, something liberal social policy did quite well in the 20th Century. Conservatism has always had as a central idea the notion that individual human beings can in fact, improve themselves and their situation...and they do so better without the interference of government.
This is one of those stories that get to me. Two kids hop two six-foot isolation fences to gain entrance to the area in which a roller coaster is running. One of them is decapitated as a result of their trespassing--presumably not while riding the coaster, clearly not while riding as a paying customer. This is referred to in the story as the second fatality associated with this roller coaster this year. Putting aside the sadness of a young person's death, this death was not caused by a roller coaster; it was caused by a human being's actions. That he was in the park with a "church group" does not excuse his own culpability.
Responding predictably to increasing reports of Israeli readiness to strike their ongoing nuclear activities, Iran is once again threatening the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Although the US gets less than 20% of its crude through the Strait of Hormuz, approximately half of all crude bound for Asia goes through this strategic chokepoint.
Iran would almost certainly attempt this closure if attacked by the Israelis (or us, for that matter). That said, they would find it difficult to keep it closed very long. The US Fifth Fleet and a considerable armada of coalition naval power is already plying the waters in and around the Persian Gulf. Reopening the Strait would take several weeks, and there would be an ongoing threat of guerrilla attacks for an undetermined period thereafter.
I think the Iranians seriously miscalculate their position on this point. Their chief strategic weapon here is the THREAT to close the strait, hoping that it would bring big, industrialized nations to exert pressure on the Israelis not to attack. If we've learned anything from the sixty years of Israel's existence, when they feel threatened, they don't necessarily care what most of the world thinks. And if Iran did close the Strait, while there would likely be initial condemnation of the Israelis, world oil prices would rise precipitously until the Strait was reopened or the supply was made up from other sources. That shock to the global system would quickly reveal Iran's isolation.
Belgian brewer InBev's recent overtures toward Anheuser-Busch have met with a good deal of resistance from pols in Missouri and St. Louis. This story in today's Washington Post shows Senator Claire McCaskill doing her very best Tom Pendergast impression in giving the InBev CEO a bit of St. Louis machine politics muscle. This is all very misplaced. This isn't the Dubai Ports deal, where there might be national security implications to a foreign purchase of US interests. This is beer. This is the global economy at work, this is a manifestation of a weak dollar. People like Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond need to get out of the way and let this deal proceed or die on its own merits. Political arm-twisting is inappropriate.
Had an interesting chat with my significant other last night about the death penalty. Both of us, mind you, are against it, and mostly for the same reasons. Where we headed down an interesting road was my insistence that it did not matter to me whether or not innocent people had been executed. Well, that's not entirely true. Innocent people being executed would indeed be a bad thing. What matters to me is that now nearly 200 people have had death penalty convictions overturned...demonstrating to me the imperfectability of our system and the concomitant irresponsibility of an irreversible sanction.
She went just one step further, indicating, as many vehement death penalty opponents do, that innocent people HAVE been executed. This was one step too far for me. I am aware of course, of the work of death penalty opponents in trying to "prove" that folks had been wrongfully executed, and I leave open the possibility that in the history of this Republic it may have happened. The problem though, is that it hasn't ever been PROVEN, and by that, I haven't seen or heard of a single judicial/legislative/executive pronouncement in which the responsible level of government has repudiated a past execution.
Like many positions I take, I prefer to base my opinion on truth and fact. I don't need speculatory inquiries into long dead defendants to tell me the system is imperfect. We have folks living their lives now who were once wrongfully sentenced to death. That's enough for me.
VP Cheney's Chief of Staff David Addington and former Justice Department official (and primary "torture memo" author) John Yoo went up to the Hill yesterday for a little grilling by a House Committee. Press reports focus on Addington's surly demeanor and his uncooperative performance. Bravo! Executive Branch witnesses need to continue to remind the legislative branch of its co-equal nature. Kills me that all the emails of all the people who work for the Executive Office of the President must be archived and retained, but NO SUCH PROVISION is in place for Members of Congress or their staffs. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'd like to hang out with David Addington....but his performance yesterday was spot on.
I haven't quite finished digesting all the news from yesterday, but I've seen enough reaction in the conservative press to know that there is some disappointment with the deal struck with North Korea. I think we should be wary of any big diplomatic initiatives struck at the end of a presidency; Mr. Bush may be thinking of his legacy more than tough geo-strategy, and those results could be regrettable. That said, The Bush Administration has been hard at work on this issue for years, and their North Korean interlocutors know that when another administration comes into power, they may have to start again at square one. One should never let "perfect" be the enemy of "good enough", and this deal may just be "good enough". It certainly contains no irreversible concessions on our part, a feature that may indeed become more important as we see how things in Pyongyang evolve.
Tomorrow I will head up to my ancestral homeland in South Jersey for a weekend's worth of 25th Reunion events. I was class president, so I have a big part in the planning and execution of these events. I used to bring a pretty powerful Navy-trained type A personality to the job, but for this reunion, I kicked back and sort of let the process work itself out.
I come from a class of over 400 graduates, and I think we'll be fortunate to have fifty show up (plus spouses/sig others). This is a little disappointing, but it isn't for lack of trying. We really worked the database and did quite a bit of pushing. Bottom line is, it seems like a good many more people seem to want to forget about high school than want to remember it. No, that's probably too harsh. Most don't seem to place any importance on it. I suppose that's a pretty healthy attitude, given the conflicting attitudes that folks have about those four years of their lives.
My brother was also his class president....but not only feels no obligation to participate in his class reunion planning, he doesn't even attend. I had a conversation with him about it, but I simply couldn't get my arms around his reasons for not wanting to go. He says he sees the people from high school that he wants to see. He says he has no desire to spend an evening with folks he doesn't socialize with. Truly, these in and of themselves are sufficient rationale for not attending most social events....but something that comes up every five years? When the drive (for him) involved is about 25 miles? I figure I must lead a pretty bland life if I gear up every five years for monthly organizational meetings for one weekend's worth of fun with people I see very little of the rest of the time. What is it about my brother's life that is so much fun, so interesting, so diverse, so engaging...that getting together with a group of people with whom he shared an important part of his adolescence does not appeal to him? Or better yet, what is it about my pitiful life that leads me to put such importance on it? Any help here?
The Supremes have spoken. By a 5-4 decision, they have struck down provisions of DC law that were inconsistent with the Second Amendment. Nino Scalia's majority opinion is masterful, as always. His takedown of Justice Stevens' dissent is excruciatingly complete.
So, you may be asking, why does it sound as though I am happy with the decision, even though I just blogged my opposition to the Second Amendment? Easy. Because the Second Amendment exists as the law of the land. No amount of my wishing that it were otherwise makes it so. The Supreme Court today did what it is supposed to do; interpret the Constitution, not make its own law. Scalia's opinion is a wonderful lesson in history and linguistics. Words matter, and the words chosen for this Amendment mattered. If the people were do do as I prescribe and amend the Second Amendment, Scalia would be the first to say that the DC law was not unconstitutional. As it currently stands, the DC law IS unconstitutional.
The system works, ladies and gentlemen. If we want to change the Constitution, there are methods of doing so (see Article V, US Constitution). Pronouncements from the bench are not among these methods.
After my blog's debut yesterday, a friend asked me a straight up question--what do I mean by "center-right". To my Democrat buddies, I am about as right-wing as they come. To my seriously right-wing friends, I am an apostate. So here's a try at explaining it.
I am...generally speaking...a conservative with a slight libertarian streak. I am wed to no party, though these days I am a registered Republican. What this means is that if I found a candidate running in the Democratic Party--0r any other party for that matter--whose views reflected my own, I'd vote for them.
I consider most political questions through a fairly simple decision-making framework. The first question I ask, is "should the (federal, state, local) government be doing this?" Important question here, because I believe strongly in federalism. What is wrong for the federal government to do is often quite appropriate for local government. The second question I ask (even if I find that government may have a role in the solution) is "would a market-based solution do the job?" I move then to questions like "are my personal freedoms infringed upon by this initiative, and if so, is what I am giving up worth what I am gaining?" Dangerous question, but one worth asking. Is it an infringement upon my personal freedom to have the federal government monitoring a phone conversation I have with someone at an international number on a terrorism watch list? Yes, it is. Am I willing to give up that personal freedom in order to ensure government maneuver space in a war against an enemy seeking to destroy our way of life? You bet I am. But there must be limits and controls, and so far, I believe both the Bush Administration and the Congress have been sensitive to this.
Where do I deviate from conservative orthodoxy? Couple of places. The Second Amendment is a big one. If ever there were an amendment to the Constitution that clearly reflected the nature of the times it was conceived in, this is the one. We had no standing military force, there were hostile Indians quite close-by (not that they didn't have legitimate beefs), and the nation had in its memory, the image of foreign troops quartered in its homes and public spaces. I'm not for repealing the Second Amendment, just changing it. Here's how it reads:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
To these words I would add "..by the federal government." This would take the feds out of regulation of guns altogether and allow state and local governments to place restrictions on the ownership of guns that more closely represent the views and cultural norms of their people. Would we then have lots of different regimes of gun law? Yep. But they would be regimes that closely track the views of local populations.
Where else do I deviate from conservative orthodoxy? The death penalty. I am against the death penalty for any crime. It really is that simple. Our justice system is not perfect, and so there should be no irreversible sanctions. That said, I am all for incredibly onerous detainment. Twenty-three hours a day of solitary confinement, no TV, no radio, no books, no weightlifting...nada. Nothing but time to reflect on the horrors of the crime committed.
I'm sure there are lots more places where I deviate, and I hope you'll help me raise the inconsistencies as time goes on.
Robert Novak has an interesting column in this morning's Washington Post about a growing number of conservatives and Republicans (yes, there is a difference) who are flirting with the Senator from Illinois' candidacy. Big names among this group are Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell. This is an interesting phenomenon, but I imagine a similar condition existed in the '92 election. There, an intelligent, centrist, affable Southerner with clear political skill was running against an older Republican whose chief claim to the party's nomination was that it was his turn. I've got no data, but I can imagine there were conservatives...burned by George Bush the Elder's tepid conservatism....who were attracted to Governor Clinton, and who maybe even said so in the press.
I think we're seeing some of that today. There is a lot of Republican discontent with the state of the party. Obama is an attractive story....multi-ethnic/racial (I will never call him the First Black (anything), as he is only half-black), product of a broken marriage, intelligent, obviously polished and eloquent...preaching a new brand of politics. The story, the image, is an attractive one. But any real digging....whether into his gold-standard liberal voting record or his vapid, content-less speeches....reveals someone any conservative should be repulsed by.
I have given the Obama candidacy a good deal of consideration, because of the story. The quality of his voice and the loftiness of his rhetoric serves sometimes as an anesthetic to the screeching bloviations of Olberman and O'Reilly. That said, his policies are dangerous to the country and an Obama presidency would be unfortunate.
One additional point about the Obama candidacy that I think appeals to conservatives. Deep down, I think many of us believe that it must have been kinda tough to be a little Barak Obama. Not completely of either the world of black or white, raised primarily by grandparents, he has succeeded, and wildly so. His is an American success story, modern version. His meritorious rise in the world of politics is appealing simply because of what it took to get there. These are traits and trappings of a story for which conservatives have a natural affinity. Smart conservatives will recognize the difference between the story and the candidacy.
I spent the afternoon on Capitol Hill today, at the retirement of Navy Captain Gene Moran, the Navy's Senate Liaison. Gene and I became fast friends a few years ago, and over the course of the past year or so, we had a number of important conversations about whether or not he or I should stay in the Navy. Ultimately, we both decided to leave.
The ceremony was held in the Russell Senate Office building and was well-attended by Navy folks, staffers, well-wishers and US Senators. On the way to the room, I walked past Senator Clinton with gaggle of young folks attending to her as she moved determinedly elsewhere. Up close, she is more attractive than on TV. Present at the ceremony were Senators Warner, Graham, Nelson (FL), Martinez (FL), Lugar, Isakson, and Cochrane--really a great turnout for a wonderful man.
Gene Moran--had he stayed in the Navy--would have been a multi-star admiral....there's no doubting it. But he served his country honorably for 24 years and we are all in his debt.
Yep. No kidding. Rob and Tom are Jacksonian Democrats, Harry Truman Democrats....very patriotic, very smart, often misguided. I love these guys like brothers and would do anything for them....which is why I have tried so hard for nearly twenty-five years to make sure that they have all the facts. Each has moved a bit toward the middle as we've aged, but every now and then I can get them all fired up about some Republican threat the the nation's health. Here's the thing though....we respect each other's opinions. I wish I saw a bit more of that in Washington. Civility doesn't mean rolling over; you can destroy an opponent's ideas with a smile and charm.
In no particular order, I present to you my pet peeves, themes that may repeat themselves in this blog:
1. Inconsistency. Are you pro-life and pro-death penalty? How can this be? Are you pro-choice but anti-death penalty? So I guess its only innocent life you wish to see killed. Inconsistency, wherever it can be found, should be surfaced and evaluated. Sometimes, there is a case for inconsistency. But these cases are rare.
2. The Press. I don't want to be one of those ranting bloggers who denigrates the Mainstream Media (MSM), but I do have a particular problem with one aspect of the press...when it covers itself. The orgy of sympathy to accompany the death of Tim Russert (good guy, but c'mon, was all that necessary?), and the Washington Post's front page coverage of the retirement of its own editor....these offenses are worth pointing out.
3. Don Imus. No, not because of his celebrated on-air miscues. Because he is a pompous, all hat no cattle wannabe cowboy jerk.
4. Reality TV. I simply cannot abide by it.
5. Coffee served in clear glass mugs.
6. Annual stories in the press that attempt to: 1) show that women make 70 cents on the dollar compared to men and 2) what a stay-at-home mom is worth in the marketplace. These old saws have been well fillet-ed elsewhere, so I'll just say they are invariably stupid and annoying.
7. Tax policy that "gets the rich to pay their fair share". The rich do pay their fair share; in fact, they pay a ridiculously disproportionate share.
8. Banal conversation with strangers. I'm a bit of a curmudgeon (ask my family). If you come across me in a train station, airport, doctor's office, metro car, or any other place where it is generally good form to quietly attend to your own business, you will find me doing just this. I am socially gregarious, but usually where I know my interlocutors. Almost as bad as being dragged into banal conversation with a stranger is being trapped (like in a metro car) with two strangers who enjoy banal conversation, and who have just now discovered each other's existence.
9. Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. The other seven justices are OK by me; we got what we expected out of them when they were nominated. Kennedy and Souter are different. With Souter, George Bush the Elder turned to someone with no baggage and he got a pig in a poke. Kennedy on the other hand, has decided that from his position on the court of last resort, he will look at every case that comes to him on its own merits, and devise law as he sees fit. I'm still seething over the extension of habeas corpus rights to the vermin in Guantanamo.
10. Corporate Human Resources offices. I have been trolling for employment lately, spending a good bit of time interacting with HR types. A greater group of no-talent mouth-breathers I have never seen. Staffed largely with folks who can't cut it in profit/loss capacities, these folks have such a strangle-hold on the process that the line types simply sit back and shake their heads. Don't complain though, because the folks in HR are the MASTERS of grievances and petty responses to your complaints. Someone ought to get these folks under heel.
Ok. There are more, but this should be enough to chew on for now.
Well, here it is....my entry into the blogosphere. I have a lot to say, and I hope some of you might find some of it interesting. I am a white male in my 40's, a graduate of the University of Virginia and politically conservative. I served for over 20 years in the greatest Navy on the face of the earth, and I recently retired for greener pastures. My time on active duty was wonderful, but deep participation in the political process cannot be a central facet of a military man's life. Now that I've retired, I look forward to sharing my opinions on politics, world affairs, economics, social issues, pop culture and current events. I look forward to your comments and your comments on my comments. Four rules will govern this blog, and they are 1)keep it civil 2) keep it clean 3) keep it relevant and 4) keep it coherent. I will try to follow my own rules as best I can.
I will try to post daily, but I cannot be held to that.
The Blog: A compendium of thoughts on politics, world affairs, economics, pop culture and social issues, from the center right perspective of me--Bryan McGrath--a University of Virginia graduate who spent a career in the world's greatest Navy keeping my mouth shut about politics and social issues (ok, publicly keeping it shut). Those days are over! I've also invited a few friends to join in, so pull up a chair and chime in where you will. Keep it clean, civil, concise and relevant.
The Fish: The fish is a "coat of arms" for the blog, symbolizing three formative influences in the life of the blog founder. The first is his experience at the University of Virginia--symbolized most importantly by the fish itself, or a caricature of a "Wahoo", the fish we have acquired as an informal nickname. Additionally there is the sword, the sword of a Cavalier. It is not wielded in a threatening manner, as this is a civil blog. But it is there, should it be needed. Thirdly, there is the influence of 21 years in the Navy--symbolized by the anchor on the Wahoo's fin (and again, the sword) . Finally, there is the bowler, tuxedo, and monocle, symbols of a refined, intellectual conservatism, or what I seek to encourage here.
The Policy: I take FULL responsibility ONLY for what I write. I do not take responsibility, nor will I be held responsible, for what my guest bloggers write or for what those who offer comments write. I will occasionally exercise my right to edit/delete both blog posts and comments if they do not meet my view of what clean, civil, concise and relevant mean.