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Assuming Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, and she wants Barack Obama to fill out the ticket, will he accept?

The question is predicated on two BIG assumptions, especially in the midst of a campaign in which nobody knows anything--but here goes nothing...

Some things to think about:

1. As a general statement, nobody turns down the vice presidency. Off the top of my head, I can think of only two American statesmen who have demurred. Gerald Ford in 1980. John McCain (from Kerry) in 2004. Both of those instances were extraordinary cases: Ford a former president and McCain a member of the opposition party with presidential aspirations within his own caucus. Any others?

An Update: Thinking about things, Silas Wright declined to run with James K. Polk in 1844. Surely there must be others who famously declined. Help me out. Let's make a contest of it.

2. Why do American statesmen so often accept the VP?

--most American statesmen are committed to service above self aggrandizement (that's their story anyway). The VP is a lowly job but somebody's got to do it. Turning the job down smacks of too much ego and seems almost unpatriotic. Turning the job down would also be seen by many partisans as betrayal of party.

--the VP is a lowly job (John Adams called it "the most insignificant office that ever the Invention of man contrived or his Imagination conceived"). Having said that, the VP is a heart beat away from ultimate power.

--the VP is a platform for ambitious men. True, the office is a gamble. Sometimes the VP prospers and sometimes he fails miserably. But the potential for elevation (both literally and metaphorically) strikes most young men in a hurry as an irresistible gambit.

3. Even in the case of Al Gore, whom both the Gardener and I cite as a person damaged by the administration to which he attached himself, the VP opened up a plethora of opportunity for the former senator from Tennessee. Gore is Gore, Inc. today because he was VP. His association with the Clintons may have lost him the presidency in 2000 (or it may not have), but it is hard to argue that Gore would have even made a run for that nomination without his VP connection. The cult of Gore depends mightily (albeit indirectly) on his eight years in the second slot.

In closing, the VP is hard to turn down for a number of reasons, especially for a young man. If Hillary wins, and if she decides to tap Obama (two big ifs), I say he takes it. He has no real choice.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Okie Gardener points us to this story in the Washington Post : "Religion Looms Large Over 2008 Race" (read here).

The article attempts to make two basic points:

1. Religion plays a much more important role in electing a president than it did four decades ago. All candidates (both GOP and Dems) feel that they need a religious public persona.

In essence, this is correct. However, there is a bit of journalistic leger demain in there. The story pivots on the Election of 1968, in which Mitt Romney's father, George, a practicing Mormon like his son, did not face much animosity or even curiosity about his religious beliefs in his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination.

What changed? The Post calls on pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, who avers that "between the late 1960s, when Romney's father ran, and now there has been one of the great transformations of our era."

Kohut asserts: "There is more mixing of religion and politics than there was then."

The attention to 1968 seems to imply that there is an unprecedented concern for religion in politics today, which perpetuates the modern myth of an American electorate historically dedicated to preserving a strict separation of religious culture and political culture. As we have discussed time after time on this blog, such a "wall of separation" was never the reality in the American tradition.

Although the Post assumes the importance of JFK and his Catholicism in 1960 as precedent, they don't seem to make the logical connection to an electorate concerned with religion in 1960 (not to mention 1928). Nor does the Post ask the perfectly reasonable question: if religion were not a factor in selecting national leaders, why has a Mormon candidate not won the presidency over the past 150 years? A Jewish candidate? The truth is that 1968 is the aberration (for a lot of reasons that I will not go into here). No matter, by neglecting to mention the context of 1968, the Post is sloppy (at best).

UPDATE: Something for another time: I agree with the Post that we are in the midst of a religious revival in that faith is increasingly essential for candidates; on the other hand, our corporate religious personality has become so diverse that minority religionists today have more viability than ever before. More at some later date on this paradox.

The other theme of the Post article:

2. The Religious Right and their prejudice against Mormonism still presents Mitt Romney with a formidable obstacle to overcome in winning the Republican nomination.

This one strikes me as based on a false assumption at worst, and a bit overblown at best.

The power of the Christian Right in the GOP is limited

It is a mistake to assume that the Christian Right plays the ultimate "kingmaker" role in GOP primaries. Just ask Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Sam Brownback, and a myriad other failed aspirants who built campaigns around appealing to the tastes of religious conservatives. Since the advent of the so-called Religious Right, the GOP has nominated Ronald Reagan, George Bush (41), Bob Dole and George Bush (43). None of those candidates were anathema to religious people--but, with the possible exception of the latter George Bush, neither were they simpatico with conservative evangelicals.

An aside: the continued success of Rudy puts the lie to the notion that a candidate offensive to the Southern Evangelical power structure is not viable within the Republican Party.

Evangelicals can be quite ecumenical when the situation dictates

More importantly, the continued speculation centering on Romney's Mormonism ignores the propensity of the evangelicals to compromise and coalesce. Regardless of how powerful the Christian Right may be within the party, there is no doubt that evangelicals have been more than willing to join hands with other like-minded people of differing faiths. Part of the strength of modern religious voters is that they transcend denominations. Conservative Jews, Catholics and Protestants are now quick to make common cause. As for the General Election: faced with a big-name opponent whom they don't like very much (Hillary Clinton), religious conservatives will be happy to support Mitt Romney, a person of faith who enunciates shared conservative values.

My hunch is that Romney does not need to overcome a religious hurdle. Romney needs to prove himself a stimulating candidate with a message and a good chance to win in November. Once he does that (and I must admit that he is even making some headway with me in that regard), he will be plenty palatable to the Richard Lands of the political world.
From the Washington Post this story.
I try not to do a lot of "I told you so" on this blog; such egocentric triumphalism is boring and boorish. On the other hand, the buzz concerning Newt's prediction that Clinton and Obama will form the Democratic ticket for 2008 makes this late post newly relevant.

From last week:

A Likely Scenario

Right now Mrs. Clinton holds a comfortable lead. Most likely, Obama will continue to rise in the polls until he is even with Clinton, possibly even surpass Clinton, and then peak. These will be tense moments. Both camps will develop a deep dislike for the other. Then Mrs. Clinton's experience and superior organization will take over, the adults in the Democratic Party will exert their influence, Clinton will pull back ahead of Obama, and then pull away from him down the stretch. Then Mrs. Clinton will extend a gracious hand of friendship to Obama and offer him the VP. Obama will seize the opportunity to further his political education and prepare for his ultimate elevation to the Chief Executive. And they both shall live happily ever after.

You may review the entire post here.
A very quick thought:

Perhaps the thing I love most about George Bush is his peace.

Politicians and campaign managers have always admired (or coveted) his ability to be "comfortable in his own skin."

The familiar questions that have generally accompanied that cliché:

Who would you rather have a beer with? Bush, Gore, or Kerry?

Who seems more genuine? Who connects better with the heartland? Who has more core convictions? Who actually means what he says? Who is less likely to set policy based on transient public opinion polling?

Bush always wins those questions.

Granted, those are not the end-all, be-alls to attaining greatness (or perhaps even competence) as President of the United States.

However, I admire our President for his placidity in the midst of the sound of the fury of low approval ratings, a hostile Congress, and a media deliriously in pursuit of a weakened Chief Executive.

Amazingly, President Bush has not made any excuses. Can you imagine if you or I (or Bill Clinton) were in this mess? Can you imagine the tortured explanations and protestations we would have heard by now? Think about the elaborate public demonstrations of intrinsic goodness that we would have been subject to by this point to convince us the man in the Oval Office really was a good-hearted fellow.

Thankfully, President Bush has spared us all that dramatic emotional unburdening. He just goes on. He continues to show up, doing his job, smiling at us, encouraging us and not once complaining about the raw deal he is getting.

Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
Very thoughtful essays well worth reading from Commonweal. Here.
The Episcopal Church's actions continue to trouble the rest of the world-wide Anglican communion. As posted earlier, the Lambeth conference is coming up. Some English bishops may boycott if their American cousins, the Episcopalians, have not met the demands of the Dar es Salaam Primates' Meeting. The troubles began when the Episcopalians ordained a practicing gay bishop. Story here.
Category: Campaign 2008.4
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Important Caveat: The following paragraph is not offered as a veiled prediction.

I remember distinctly watching the Today Show at some point during the early stages of the Republican primary in 1980 when Tom Pettit of NBC News pronounced the political career of Ronald Reagan officially dead. Not too long after that, Reagan fired John Sears as his campaign manager, went back to being Reagan, and won the nomination easily.

Even before his latest troubles, I had counted out John McCain with sincere regret. I would not be at all surprised if he bowed out of the race in the very near future (hours not days; days not weeks). On the other hand, it would not surprise me if McCain persevered through Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, he is tough as nails. It would SHOCK me, however, if McCain re-emerged as a viable candidate a la RR.

Here are a few reasons why McCain is not Ronald Reagan:

1. Charisma. McCain lacks the movie star good looks and stage presence, not to mention the Reagan gift for communication. Of all the candidates for president, McCain is the most ardent and spot-on regarding the war. No matter, he seems incapable of delivering that message to a wider audience.

2. True-blue believers. I know a lot of people who like McCain, but I cannot think of anyone who worships him. Back in 1976 and 1980, a whole host of us saw RR as a political messiah.

3. The Kitchen Cabinet. In addition to an army of awestruck admirers out in the heartland, Reagan enjoyed an intensely loyal coterie of really smart and sophisticated political operatives who believed in him completely. McCain had the best staff money could buy. Now he has no money and no staff.

4. The Base. Reagan always had his detractors--but they were on the other side of the political divide. The most virulent hatred for McCain comes from within the GOP.

5. The Message. Reagan articulated core convictions he had rehearsed and perfected over the course of three decades. Even when adopting a new position (right to life, for example), Reagan hammered it home like a lesson he learned in Sunday School back in Dixon, Illinois. McCain, exceedingly principled and full of core convictions, ironically, strikes voters as an opportunist. Too often GOP loyalists see McCain as prone to adopting trendy positions to impress the Washington intelligentsia.

Much of this is unfair--but sometimes the ball bounces that way.
Category: Campaign 2008.3
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Is this a race to be the Adlai Stevenson of 2008?

I have said often that there are no precedents or models for the 2008 primary races; they are completely unlike anything that has ever come before.

On the other hand, the general election seems to be pretty standard fare. It occurs to me that we have plenty of historical resources upon which to draw. The two most compelling parallels are 1952 and 1968. Both modern contests transpired in the wake of extended, frustratingly expensive and unsuccessful wars of choice. Both elections featured surrogates for severely distressed sitting presidents. And both canvasses netted an out-party victory.

Contrary to the popular misapprehension, history never repeats itself. Sometimes, however, general patterns of human behavior, which can be deduced from a careful study of the past, exert great influence on current events, especially when present exigencies resemble past situations.

Here is the present political landscape. The United States is engaged in a military action, which a vast majority of Americans either believe was a mistake from the outset or egregiously mishandled at some point. These dissatisfied American political consumers are mad, dispirited, and they blame the President. Americans want a pound of flesh. How to exact revenge on a lame-duck President? Public opinion ratings. Vitriolic calumny as a new pastime. Derision. The mid-term election of 2006. The Election of 2008?

Unlike George Bush, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, the sitting presidents in 1952 and 1968, did not face constitutional barriers to reelection. That is, under the law, they were more than welcome to seek a second elected term. However, as commanders-in-chief of failing wars, Korea and Vietnam respectively, Truman and Johnson found that vehement public disapproval blocked their path to another four years at the helm of the United States government. For all practical purposes, we are in a similar situation this cycle.

The Democrats, the party of Harry Truman, desperate for a David-like champion to face the American hero, Dwight Eisenhower, selected Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Stevenson was an erudite candidate who thrilled loyal Democrats with his urbanity. Nevertheless, he lacked broad appeal, and he went down to ignominious defeat.

In 1968, the Democrats, once again in dire straits, chose President Johnson's VP, Hubert Humphrey, to carry the standard against a resurrected Richard Nixon. That election, despite the myriad disadvantages associated with the Johnson administration, proved extremely close--but, nevertheless, once again a loss for the candidate saddled with the war and the accompanying aura of incompetence and impotence.

Is the GOP primary the race to be the contemporary Adlai Stevenson? Actually, I expect this election to more closely resemble the 1968 model. I expect the challenger (no matter who she is) to emerge from the Democratic convention with a thirty-point lead. The Republican nominee will get some of that back at his own convention--and then struggle mightily to close the gap by the first Tuesday in November 2008, which he will do, either squeaking by with a razor-thin victory--or falling a few million votes short.

Does it matter who is running? A little. But not too much. Although there are undoubtedly some Americans out there who are up for grabs and can be swayed by personality, performance, and/or momentum (although probably not by ideas at this point).

Now a few random thoughts in re the Republican Canvass:

» Read More

Category: Campaign 2008.3
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
My Mantra?

Nobody Knows Anything.

What does that mean?

This is a campaign like no other. Already, we have had more debates than I can count; the candidates have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, political fortunes have risen and fallen and risen again, and we are still fifteen months out from the election. We have never seen a canvass such as this; therefore, no one can predict what will happen between now and November 2008.

Having said that, here are a few more half-baked thoughts concerning where we are right now.

Clinton clearly on top; Obama still a threat

I don't say I coined "Clinton-44," but I started referring to Hillary in that fashion well over a year ago. For a long time, I have seen Mrs. Clinton as the odds-on-favorite to be the forty-fourth president of the United States. This week as the conventional wisdom seemed to gel around that idea, however, I began to get a case of cold feet on that prediction. I am the ultimate contrarian. And, sure enough, Barack Obama seems to suddenly "connect" in the You-Tube debate.

While the insiders scored one for Hillary and her mature foreign policy statement, the focus groups went wild over Obama's sincerity, authenticity, and "freshness." Go figure.

Some perspective: as sure as I am that Hillary has a nearly insurmountable organizational advantage at this juncture, I must admit that at the same point four years ago I was equally positive that Howard Dean had the Democratic nomination in the bag. Of course, I was in good company, as Karl Rove reportedly thought the same thing. But so much can go wrong.

To repeat, for a number of reasons, I see this as a Democratic year. Almost any Democratic candidate can and should win in November. That doesn't mean that a Democratic win is a sure thing. Villanova beat Georgetown in 1985. Baylor beat USC in the Coliseum later the same year. Hickory beat South Bend Central in Hossiers. Jets and Colts, Super Bowl III. We'll play the game. But we'll go into the contest as big underdogs.

For years now, Mrs. Clinton has been laying the foundation for a run for president as a moderate. But life is funny, and so much can go wrong. For Mrs. Clinton Iraq went wrong. With the possible exception of President Bush, no one was more surprised that there were no weapons of mass destruction. With the possible exception of President Bush, no one should be more frustrated with the unforeseen protracted and bloody campaign to pacify Iraq. These developments have proven extremely inconvenient for Mrs. Clinton.

Because things are so dreadful in Iraq, and the American people are so frustrated, angry, and sour, political rookie Obama emerged as a surprisingly viable alternative. Having said all that, none of this is unrelentingly terrible news from Mrs. Clinton's point of view. Someone had to emerge. The political laws of the universe dictate that a candidate on the way to the nomination must face some resistance.

A Likely Scenario

Right now Mrs. Clinton holds a comfortable lead. Most likely, Obama will continue to rise in the polls until he is even with Clinton, possibly even surpass Clinton, and then peak. These will be tense moments. Both camps will develop a deep dislike for the other. Then Mrs. Clinton's experience and superior organization will take over, the adults in the Democratic Party will exert their influence, Clinton will pull back ahead of Obama, and then pull away from him down the stretch. Then Mrs. Clinton will extend a gracious hand of friendship to Obama and offer him the VP. Obama will seize the opportunity to further his political education and prepare for his ultimate elevation to the Chief Executive. And they both shall live happily ever after.

On the other hand, so much can go wrong. If Obama catches fire, and wins the nomination (still an entirely plausible potential outcome), all bets are off. Obama is the one viable candidate of inexperience. As we saw the other night, inexperience means promises to meet with Castro and crazy Middle Eastern dictators. More importantly, an inexperienced candidate of the people means a firm commitment to rapid withdrawal from Iraq and the Middle East.

An Important but often Overlooked Point

Faced with the actual prospect of "retreat and defeat" and "cut and run" (and I use those terms because they will be plentiful in the fall of 2008, if Obama is running for president), I am convinced that the American people will hesitate. It is one thing to tell a pollster you are dissatisfied with the war. It is another thing entirely to actually have the responsibility of determining the future of American foreign relations in a national election.

Such a momentous decision will be hard fought and closely contested. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, he will be locked into a position extremely difficult to defend in a logical way. In such a situation any Republican candidate has a decent chance at knocking off the inexperienced Obama.
Category: Courts
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today RCP links to a Nicholas Lemann essay in the New Yorker, which condemns a recent Supreme Court ruling as "a complete departure from more than a half a century of jurisprudence on race."

Professor Lemann, dean of the Journalism School at Columbia University, asserts that President "Bush’s legacy" includes "one wholesale change that will likely endure for a generation: the construction of a distinctly right-wing Supreme Court."

Specifically, on race, the right-wing Court wrought by Bush has "abandoned the twin goals of black advancement and racial harmony."

Such hyperbole is embarrassing.

No matter, similarly exaggerated accounts warning of a return to Jim-Crow America have been ubiquitous since the Court released its holding in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 this June (2007).

The case revolved around the practice of school districts deciding admission to popular schools based on race--in order to achieve integration and diversity.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority in a five-four decision to strike down the practice, famously declared:

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

This all makes Mr. Lemann and a host of other concerned citizens very unhappy.

Lemann again: "The Court would do well to contemplate the landscape of the Administration’s wreckage before it considers any other radical solutions, and sweeps away an accumulated body of law and experience."

Reality Check:

Wreckage? Radical? Sweeping Change?

All of this hand-wringing flows from the assumption that only court-ordered integration and other forms of coerced civil rights enforcement stands in the way of a return to our egregious racial past. More importantly, these gloomy scenarios ignore the dramatic transformation of American life between 1954 and the present.

Much has changed since Brown v. Board. While it is true that every African American citizen of the United States does not have total equality, black Americans of 2007 have great opportunity.

Who can deny that race is more often than not a significant advantage (not a disadvantage) for African Americans seeking employment in academia, corporate America, or even the presidency of the United States? That is, all things being equal, who among us would not prefer to check a favored-minority box when applying for admission or seeking employment at the finest institutions of higher learning or the best jobs in this country?

An aside: We are irreversibly pointed toward a re-evaluation of racial politics in America. In the simplest terms, our current cultural standard rests on according preferences to descendants of victims of past racial discrimination and abominations at the expense of other Americans increasingly less different from the protected class and more and more unconnected to the sins of the fathers. Such a system cannot survive the coming reconciliation with basic principles of American justice and equality.

The other outlandish assumption on the part of Lemann concerns the transformation of the Supreme Court into a disciplined, powerful, and permanent arm of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Reality Check #2:

After nearly four decades during which Republican presidents appointed eleven Supreme Court justices, while Democratic presidents nominated only two, the high court may have finally achieved a tenuous 5-4 majority that depends on the frighteningly fragile conservative vessel, Anthony Kennedy. I emphasize may, for only a fool completely ignorant of history and politics (any nominations?) would pronounce this current configuration, admittedly leaning right for the moment, a permanent institution. One stiff wind, many conservatives fear, and Kennedy is gone.

Another side note: More on this in the coming days--but Kennedy is under assault on one hand (“Scalia-like conservative cretin”) and intense friendly pressure on the other ("Kennedy is evolving; Kennedy is now the swing vote"). This good-cop, bad-cop routine is designed to flip Kennedy into the liberal camp.

But, even if Kennedy holds to his life-long judicial leanings in the face of Beltway celebrity, there is no indication that the conservatives are likely to gain another seat on the Court in the near term. Barring an unforeseen and untimely demise, the older liberals are intent on waiting out the Bush administration to retire. And it seems more than likely that a Democratic president will have an opportunity to appoint at least two nominees during her next term.

Shame on Nicholas Lemann and his fellow travelers for their disingenuous diatribes designed to scare the uninformed and whip up partisan fervor.
This summer I have been teaching an American Government course for the first time in my life. The book, ordered by the university for all adjunct classes, is Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy, brief 8th edition, by Edwards, Wattenberg, Lineberry, published by Pearson Longman. By and large I think it is a good text.

Every so often the authors will write something that surprises me. That is, it surprises me to find it in an academic textbook. Take these two paragraphs from the chapter on the presidency.

We learned in Chapter 6 that the news is fundamentally superficial, oversimplified, and often overblown, all of which provides the public with a distorted view of, among other things, presidential activities, statements, policies, and options. We have also seen that the press prefers to frame the news in themes, which both simplifies complex issues and events and provides continuity of persons, institutions, and issues. Once these themes are established, the press tends to maintain them in subsequent stories. Of necessity, themes emphasize some information at the expense of other data, often determining what information is most relevant to news coverage and the context in which it is presented.
. . .
News coverage of the presidency often tends to emphasize the negative (even if the negative stories are presented in a seemingly neutral manner), a trend that has increased over the past 20 years. In the 1980 election campaign, the press portrayed President Carter as mean and Ronald Reagan as imprecise rather than Carter as precise and Reagan as pleasant. The emphasis, in other words, was on the candidates' negative qualities. George Bush received extraordinarily negative press coverage during the 1992 election campaign, and the television networks' portrayal of the economy, for which Bush was blamed, got worse as the economy actually improved to a robust rate of growth!

So, the next time you are arguing media bias with liberal friends, you need not quote Rush. Instead quote these political scientists.
You can't outsource forever on a small planet.

For several years now we have been outsourcing our pollution. Why do you think MADE IN CHINA is cheaper than MADE IN USA? Wages are only a part of it. A much bigger part is that China manufactures without the concern for the environment we have. With no need for expensive pollution control equipement (and worker safety practices) products are cheaper.

We have been outsourcing pollution.

But, on a small planet, you can't outsource forever. From the science section of the Wall Street Journal:

One tainted export from China can't be avoided in North America -- air.

An outpouring of dust layered with man-made sulfates, smog, industrial fumes, carbon grit and nitrates is crossing the Pacific Ocean on prevailing winds from booming Asian economies in plumes so vast they alter the climate. These rivers of polluted air can be wider than the Amazon and deeper than the Grand Canyon.

"There are times when it covers the entire Pacific Ocean basin like a ribbon bent back and forth," said atmospheric physicist V. Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.

On some days, almost a third of the air over Los Angeles and San Francisco can be traced directly to Asia. With it comes up to three-quarters of the black carbon particulate pollution that reaches the West Coast, Dr. Ramanathan and his colleagues recently reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Full story here. Link from Drudge.

Nearly thirty-five years ago I read a science fiction story in which air pollution from Asia finally reached North America, signalling an end to breathable air on the planet. ("East Wind, West Wind?) Since the early 70s we have made considerable progress in our country in cleaning up the air. Now we are losing the results of our efforts thanks to the American consumer preference for cheap at any price. Buy American.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my life revolved around football. As a kid, I never turned down a neighborhood game. For most of my young life, in a time before internet, cable, or direct TV, I listened breathlessly on fall Saturdays to the radio (KNX and KFWB news stations in LA) awaiting updated scores on the quarter-hour concerning my beloved Baylor Bears. On Sundays, I followed the greatest professional football team in the history of the game, "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys. I dutifully and happily played football for my school in junior high and high school.

For me, football wasn't everything, it was the only thing. Bob Lilly was my first hero. Sports biographies were the first works of literature that piqued my interest. During my adolescent years, Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson thrilled me, Mike Singletary and Earl Campbell amazed and inspired me, and Tom Landry and Grant Teaff modeled for me impeccable civility and character.

Over time, however, I progressively lost interest in the gridiron. Why? Part of it is fatherhood. My oldest son is eight years-old, and I cannot recount much that has happened in the NFL since 1999. I have been busy with more pressing matters. Part of it goes back much further than that. If truth be told, my alienation with professional sports probably dates back to February 1989, when Jerry Jones fired my boyhood hero, the man in the hat, Tom Landry. The game irrevocably changed for me on that chilly day.

More than any of that, though, I have lost faith with my erstwhile religion.


1. Football is no longer democratic. The NFL is populated with persons who are completely unlike anyone I know. The NFL is meritocratic, which is good. The best and most resilient athletes make it to and succeed in the League. But the problem is that ball players are not just bigger, faster, and stronger than normal people, they are a race of superhumans.

Fifty years ago, college recruiters were interested in my dad as an offensive guard. He was 5'9" and 180 pounds. This was a period in which almost any kid in America could play football. Size mattered, but not nearly as much as speed, agility, and, most of all, grit.

Today, most kids are not candidates to play college ball. The guys on the field are not like me. Football is not representative, even on the college level. Wasn't there a time when a college football game was supposed to match the best athletes from Baylor versus the best athletes from A&M? Wasn't it implied that these were student athletes? Undoubtedly, this harkens back to a fleeting moment of collegiate athletics that has probably been extinct for 100 years--but, if college athletes are NOT viable students from their respective schools, what is the point of college competition? It is no longer exciting for me to watch the best athletes Baylor can hire play the best athletes UT can hire (and not merely because UT is so much more adept at headhunting).

My silly and naive lament: It is no longer imaginable for some coach to tell some kid from the stands to go under the bleachers and get suited-up. The tradition of the 12th Man is still alive as cherished myth in 2007--but it is empty of any possibility and merely mocks our current age.

2. Even worse: Too many Michael Vicks.

Maybe the dog-fighting charges and the federal case against Mr. Vick will unfold in a way that exonerates the superstar quarterback. Time will tell.

Regardless, I continue to ask:

Why are we paying bad people enormous sums of money to play a sandlot game?

What redeeming cultural value does the NFL embody?

Why do our communities (municipalities, school districts, major universities) continue to devote mammoth resources to aiding and abetting this pastime?

Role models? Character building? Metaphor for life?

I am no longer satisfied by those answers. This is not to say that I am bereft of tenderness for the game. If someone knocked on my door this afternoon and asked me to get out in the street and play ball, I would jump at the chance to squeeze the pigskin one more time.

Moreover, it is likely that at some point this season I will be in the stands at Floyd Casey Stadium yelling "Sic 'em Bears!" at the top of my lungs.

Having said that, to paraphrase Howard Cosell, I am merely “a shell of the fan I used to be.” More to the point, without a doubt, I am just about finished supporting the lifestyles of the Michael Vicks of the world.

Addendum: We have a lot classic fans in our reading community. The Gardener's comments make me wonder where some of you are on football today. Comments?
We cannot fight the war against militant Islam by ourselves. We need allies. The allies we can count on most will have their own reasons to fight militant Islam. One such nation is India. They have been on the frontline for centuries, and will continue to be as long as this war lasts.

Recognizing their own needs, the Indian military has quietly begun developing a military presence in Central Asia. The Times of India has the story on the patient military buildup by India in Tajikistan.
Here is a list of the 50 most influential churches in the U.S. "Influence" in this article means influence with other churches and pastors. These are the churches that many, many pastors look to when trying to lead their own congregations.

The top 3:

1. Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois web site
2. Saddle Back Church, Lake Forest, California web site
3. Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas web site

The highest ranking church with a black pastor:
9. The Potter's House, Dallas, Texas web site

Highest ranking mainline church
15. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas web site

Fifteen of the top 50 are independent congregations. Twelve are Southern Baptist.
Category: US in Iraq
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Republicans remain over the top in their criticism of the Democratic leadership in staging the all-night Senate debate. In truth, we ought to be thanking Harry Reid and his gang that cannot shoot straight.

The Good News:

1. Republicans ought to have their mouths washed out with soap for every time they even intimated that a debate regarding the War in Iraq was a waste of time. We need more all-night sessions in which Americans get a front row seat to a serious conversation about the war and the consequences of failure. The President does not have the ability to take that discussion to the American people. I am happy that Reid does. Regardless of his intentions, which were not honorable, Americans are talking about Iraq again.

2. More importantly, Republicans are talking about Iraq again. A few weeks ago Republicans were sniping at one another. Thanks to Harry Reid we are focused once again on how serious a predicament we are in and aware once again that we only get out of here alive, if we stick together. We could not have asked for a greater gift.

The Bad News:

1. Our latest victory only buys us a few weeks. In truth, we need a long-term Iraq strategy and commitment. Ten years maybe?

2. To do that, we need to take drastic steps to save and rebuild our depleted military. We need to go figure out how to secure peace and stability in Iraq without busting the treasury. We need to take our case to the American electorate and convince them that this action is worthwhile and doable.

3. Those are tall orders.
A few thoughts from a conversation with Bosque Boys reader and contributor, Coach, which further points to a Hillary Clinton presidency:

I said: Americans vote FOR people more than they vote AGAINST them. I agree that Hillary’s negatives are big—but I don’t think they will sink her. Her negatives are part of the landscape (a lot like Nixon). They strike me as obstacles that sharp operators can navigate, having the advantage of knowing where they are from the outset.

I continue to think Hillary can win in November. I tend to think her biggest problem is that Democrats might panic in January and decide she can’t win in November and look for a more conventional candidate.

Coach agreed and added that "the Democrats don’t have a good conventional candidate to fall back on."

And he ticked off a few other elements in Hillary's favor:

--The Republicans don’t have a candidate for those who would most oppose Hillary. Neither Giuliani or McCain (moderates) or Romney (a recently converted conservative) are especially fitted to the needs of conservative Christians, who seem to find the most fault with Hillary.

An Aside from me: I am not sure how Fred Thompson fits in to that equation.

--Hillary will run as a moderate, advocating positions very close to the Republican candidate.

--The Republican candidate will be fighting an uphill battle. This is a Democratic election year. See the results of the recent Congressional elections and the approval ratings for the President.

--The electorate is restless. The public has unrealistic expectations about what the president can actually do, and they are disappointed when those expectations aren’t met.

--Hillary will have the discipline to stay on message and listen to her magnificent brain trust. Part of the political genius of the Clintons is that they never slip up during elections. They are criticized for being phony or “canned”, but there are never any gaffes.

Good handicapping, Coach.
Some, such as Ted Kennedy, apparently do not think so. President Bush's recent nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. James W. Holsinger, is under attack in Senate hearings because his denomination, the United Methodist Church, officially disapproves of same-sex sex. Story here.

Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop also did not affirm same-sex sex, referring to gay sex as "sodomy." But, the gay community came to respect him because of his advocacy and actions on behalf of persons with AIDS, and his push for prevention. Asked about this issue and his personal beliefs, he once replied that he was the national's Surgeon General not the nation's Chaplain General.

Apparantly a lot of people do not understand that a Christian commitment to justice, which includes striving to be fair to all, means that we Christians can "do right by" the very people we disagree with.
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
The narrative of the Book of Jeremiah has gotten an affirmation from a recent find in the British museum: the name of a Babylonian official mentioned in Jeremiah has been found in a Babylonian tablet. Enough detail is given to establish that the same person is mentioned in both. Story here.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Does it matter that public approval of Congress is at historic lows?

The dreadful numbers for Congress, even lower than the President's dreadful numbers, is an increasingly ubiquitous talking point in the conservative media. Does this mean that Americans are disgruntled with Democratic leadership in Congress? Should Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi read this polling data with alarm? Should we take heart from these polls?

Not really. Congressional approval ratings don't mean much.

Elections 101: Traditionally, the American people hate Congress but love their Congressman. While only 14 percent of voters voice approval for Congress, we can rest assured that no incumbent will go down to dramatic defeat in the next congressional election. Most of the incumbents will win easy victory, and the handful that will lose in November 2008 will run very close races. That is, you can bet the house that there will not be any incumbents polling within 30 points of that 14 percent mark on Election Day.

Most Americans cannot even identify their Congressman. Here is how it goes: "we hate Congress, but our guy is okay." Who is your guy? "Let me think...."

The President personifies American government. When voters get mad at government, the President is in trouble. I have not seen any polling data with this question, but my hunch is that a shockingly low percentage of Americans understand that Congress is currently in the hands of an opposition party.

Americans are frustrated and angry right now. They dislike the President, and they dislike his government. That brand of thinking is neither fair nor rational, but, I suspect with a high degree of certainty, that it is prevalent.

My point: don't hang your hat on low numbers for Congress. Dissatisfaction with Congress is closely linked with dissatisfaction with government, which is embodied by George Bush.

UPDATE: One more thing. Having said all that, I am convinced that if the shoe were on the other foot, and a Republican Congress had these kinds of public opinion numbers, they would be front-page news for the mainstream media.
Category: Senate Iraq Debate
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Back in the late spring of 2005, I wrote an op-ed piece for the local Waco paper regarding the so-called Gang of Fourteen and the then-controversial compromise over President Bush's judicial appointments. Back then the Democrats (in the minority) were filibustering, and the Republicans (in the majority) were bemoaning obstructionism and chicanery. This week the roles reversed--but I think this piece remains helpful toward placing the Senate filibuster in perspective.

From May 2005:

Last week, a bipartisan collection of fourteen moderates in the United States Senate caucused together to defuse an impending showdown over the ideological composition of the federal judiciary. Striking an eleventh-hour deal on the brink of political holy war, the self-selected centrists likely averted an injurious redefinition of established practice.

At the center of the controversy was the filibuster, a long-running Senate tradition designed to temper the will of the majority. The practice allows a minority of Senators to debate an issue indefinitely, preventing an “up or down” vote on a question on which they are certain to lose. Southerners in the antebellum era developed the filibuster to protect their “minority rights” in a nation increasingly uncomfortable with slavery. Conservatives from the South during the twentieth century seized upon the practice and repeatedly employed the filibuster to defeat civil rights legislation.

The most famous and perhaps most honorable use of the filibuster was actually a Hollywood creation. In Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a courageous and scrupulous everyman spoke in the well of the Senate for almost twenty-four hours, and, in the end, triumphed over the corruption and institutional apathy he railed against.

The filibuster has always been controversial and a painful annoyance to the majority but, nevertheless, generally accepted as a helpful check to power. In this latest episode, the minority brandished the filibuster to deny appointments to ten of the President’s nominees to the circuit court. The majority party argued vehemently that “filibustering” judicial nominees was without precedent, which was not accurate. In 1968 the minority filibustered a Supreme Court nomination (Abe Fortas), and there are also some nineteenth century examples that may be precedents for the current use. However, the majority correctly asserted that the practice of regularly filibustering the President’s judicial nominees marked an extraordinary departure from Senate tradition.

In the strident battle that preceded last week’s dramatic cease-fire, both sides of the filibuster debate erroneously claimed the mantle of the Constitution and freely conflated cinematic legend and American history. Although the practice stands today as a legitimate piece of the procedural landscape in the Senate, the Constitution does not mention the filibuster. In fact, the minority tool came into use a full half-century after the founding.

The strained “constitutional” arguments, however, should not be dismissed completely. Many of them are, in fact, hypothetical extrapolations based on what we think we know about the intentions of the framers. For example, the founders designed the Senate to move cautiously, and they insulated the institution from unbridled majority rule. The filibuster springs from that tradition.

On the other hand, the Constitution provides specifically for super majorities on several separate occasions (one of which comes in the same sentence that contains the confirmation of “Judges” clause), but the document prescribes no such super majority for judicial nominations. Moreover, the Constitution gives authority to the Senate for “Advice and Consent” on judicial nominations in a section dedicated to establishing executive power (Article II; Section 2).

The principals involved in this current conflict admit that this episode is only a piece of a much bigger ideological battle. This impasse concerns the balance of power in the judicial branch and is a crucial prelude to the approaching confrontation over the next Supreme Court nominee. The issue animates the most devout and uncompromising elements from both ends of the American political spectrum, for the issues at the heart of the debate tread on their most sacred core convictions.

With the stakes so high, and the partisan rancor escalating, the majority threatened to change the rules and disallow the filibuster in the cases of judicial confirmations (the so-called nuclear option). The minority protested loudly and promised to retaliate in kind with procedural weapons that would bring the Senate to absolute gridlock. Negotiations failed and both sides prepared for a ferocious political clash.

Into this breach rode the defiant moderates. Their decision to step back from the brink and seek compromise guaranteed a vote on most of the President’s embattled nominees and accomplished great good on several other fronts. The agreement forestalled the further politicization of a process that is already too politically charged. Perhaps most importantly, the compromise seriously challenged the destructive precedent of filibustering judges and repudiated obstruction without rewriting Senate rules.

In addition to defending minority rights, the compromise promotes consultation and encourages consensus governance in the future. The episode made clear that the Executive must pay a price for spurning “Advice” and assuming “Consent.” The agreement also proves that Senators can cross the aisle and bridge the chasm of ideological animus. Choosing comity over war is a positive good in itself at this juncture in Senate history.

A very similar version of this essay appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on 3 June 2005.
Category: Senate Iraq Debate
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
More comments on the all-night Senate debate over the Reed-Levin amendment; Wednesday, AM:

I am a fan of Senate debate, as it is brimming with tradition and pageantry. However, it is mostly theatrical (as Republicans pointed out again and again over the course of the long night). Of course, that is not the point. A presidential inauguration is mostly theatrical. So many of our most cherished rituals are purely theatrical. The assertion of theatrics misses the importance of national political theater and ritual.

No matter, what detractors really seek to convey is that Senate debate is rarely productive in terms of accomplishment. Senate debate is a last resort when action is impossible. The business of the Senate is done off the stage. Deal making and consensus happens off the floor behind closed doors. The Senate works on consensus and compromise.

What does debate do for the Senate? Debate generally reinforces formerly held positions. Senate debate facilitates intransigence.

Personal example: if ever I am wavering on supporting the President, General David Petraeus and the troops, all I need to do is listen to Carl Levin and Dick Durbin, and I am ready to shoulder a weapon and march off to Iraq.

What we really need is a consensus to save ourselves. As I have said often as of late, the great question today is whether the Democrats are willing to forego political advantage to save the nation? Time will tell.
Category: Senate Iraq Debate
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
More comments on the all-night Senate debate over the Reed-Levin amendment; Wednesday, AM:

Good Morning America. The Senate did it. Bully for them. They debated a serious issue over night, calling America's attention to the most crucial decision of our generation.

Is that what Harry Reid intended? Yes and No.

Some random thoughts:

I did not watch the full proceedings over night. I slept some. But I left C-SPAN2 on all night, and I would wake up and groggily listen to various senators speaking to this national decision (Orin Hatch, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, etc.). Good for them.

Of the speeches I actually watched, Tom Coburn was the surprise of the night. He was low key and thoughtful, admitting mistakes--but asking the only pertinent question: What Now?

Coburn did not allude to this famous assertion, but I was reminded of then-Secretary of State Collin Powell's famous caution to the President: "You break it; you own it."

At this point, taking into account all our mistakes, what are our responsibilities to the people of Iraq, the people of the Middle East and the citizens of the world?

What are our moral obligations?

The Reed-Levin supporters continue to assert that this withdrawal plan is our best bet to secure peace and stability in Iraq. But, as John McCain asked yesterday afternoon: "if retreat does not work, what is Plan B?"

For the most part, with very few exceptions, the GOP speeches struck me as uninspired. The Democrats cornered the market on glee and enthusiasm for the rhetoric of this debate. My hunch is that the Democrats are certain that they are on a roll. On the other hand, the Republicans are convinced this is a political loser. Most likely, these seasoned political hands have it right.

Back to Coburn: he came up with the best metaphor of the night. Coburn, the physician, depicted Iraq as a cancer patient that could be saved--but the treatment seemed too rigorous and painful; therefore, weary, frustrated and slightly irrational, we are ready to let the patient die. Powerful.

More to come...
MSN has this article online entitled "Broken China: A dysfunctional nation." According to the analysis offered, China may never become a true economic superpower due to structural problems in its economy. And, may face increasing social problems as a result.
The Anglican Journal has the story. The schism in world-wide Anglicanism continues to be felt following the action of the Episcopal Church (Anglicanism in the U.S.) in consecrating an openly gay bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has invited all bishops in North America, except Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, to the Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops scheduled next year in the United Kingdom.

The Lambeth conference is a regular gathering of Anglican bishops world-wide held every ten years. Official Lambeth website.

Comments on the all-night Senate debate over the Reed-Levin amendment; Tuesday, PM:

Admittedly, I have argued this case both ways.

Did the Founders intend the Senate to be the "saucer that cooled the dangerously hot liquid of American democracy"? Or is the procedural trump card that requires sixty votes to move legislation an egregious violation of the clear intention of the constitutional framers?


A sixty-vote threshold is not in the Constitution. And I have bemoaned the time-tested obstructionist tool employed periodically by the minority to thwart the majority. On the other hand, the Senate rules and more than a century-and-a-half of tradition sanction the procedure. The Senate moves deliberately and by consensus in accord with the spirit of the original intent of the founding generation.

All too often, we are strict constructionists when it fits in with our legislative goals, and we are for common-sense interpretations and extrapolations of the Constitution when it suits our political interests. We are a slippery species.

But the bottom line is that the sixty-vote hurdle is what it is--and it here to stay.

Currently Speaking: Bob Menendez is a small man. Rookie senators so often overact trying to live up to the traditions of Webster and Clay. Menendez falls into that trap and is embarrassingly not ready for prime time tonight. In truth, I am not overly optimistic that he will ever grow into his role.

UPDATE: More random observations...

1. Is this a Democratic Party publicity stunt or a serious debate concerning the most important national decision of our time?


2. Vive C-SPAN2!

3. Kudos to Majority Leader Harry Reid for keeping these folks on the floor all night (so far--1:00 EDT). They ought to be listening to one another. Of course, that is not why the Majority Leader is pursuing this strategy. Nor am I confident that anybody will actually listen to the other side.

Having said that, the late Republican majority never had the grit to make the Democratic filibusters pay the price of inconvenience. Give Reid some credit for his absence of sympathy for the sleeping and work habits of his fellow senators.
Category: Senate Iraq Debate
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Comments on the all-night Senate debate over the Reed-Levin amendment; Tuesday, PM:

Watching intermittently. Some highlights:

Mary Landrieu adamantly pounding the lectern asserting that this is "not a stunt." This is no "Hollywood" show. This is serious. This right before her aide places a made-for-television poster with the American flag in the background and the slogan "Let Us Vote" displayed prominently on an easel over her left shoulder. Very persuasive.

Granted, Joe Lieberman plays to all my biases, but he is a great man. With his haircut and fleshy face, he looks more like a senator from the golden age of the Senate than any other member. And, more often than not, he lives up to his visual.

More to come...
Category: Senate Iraq Debate
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Responding to my assertion:

Politicians in Washington need to put down their partisan daggers and take up arms and work in concert to save America.

...from my previous post (view here), the Okie Gardener asks:

"Any suggestions on how to make them do that?"

American political history during times of crisis has always turned on the tension between lethal threat and partisan opportunity. Political parties tend to take advantage of opposition blunders. Moreover, political parties tend to characterize every program, promise and policy offered by the opposition as disastrous and invidious. Oftentimes self interest disguises itself as a desire for the greater good, which is not a condition unique to American politics--it is, in fact, a universal truism. Even in times of war, this basic human calculation rules the affairs of men.

Having said that, we have seen times when American politicians became statesman, choosing patriotism over party advantage. Stephen Douglass and Edwin Stanton during the Civil War come to mind. From my perspective, Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman and Ed Koch stand out as modern-day examples of stalwarts in the face of party loyalties. But these are exceptional individuals.

Back to the Gardener's question: how can we make this happen on a larger scale?

Beats me.

Why does partisan opportunity seem to outweigh patriotism at this particular moment?

The American people are frustrated and disheartened in some cases and just not very interested in some others, which means there is no constituency to "hold feet to the fire." The opposition party is convinced that there is no downside to opposing the President and this war. They are convinced, through extensive polling I suspect, that there is no political disadvantage to abandoning this military commitment.

How do we change that?

1) Take the case to the people and 2) win the war.

As Aesop's wise old rat would say: "easier said than done."

A desperate measure: Perhaps the Byrd-Clinton resolution to re-authorize the war is not a bad idea. Perhaps a full-throated debate on the war might wake up the citizenry. If the responsibility fell on us (we the people) to decide our own fate, perhaps we (the people) would act responsibly. Perhaps.

Big gamble? Yes. But democracy has been a roll of the dice from the very beginning...
In June our family spent a few days together in Kansas City, staying at the home of my sister and her husband.

I love Kansas City. We all went to a Royals baseball game in beautiful Kaufman stadium. (Pictures here.) While both the baseball and football (Chiefs) stadiums ( pictures ) were built in an era when tacky was in, they instead have graceful lines, eye-pleasing features, and have held up very well.

My Dad and I toured the Liberty Memorial, which I had not seen since the mammoth renovation project. The Liberty Memorial is a museum and memorial honoring those who fought in World War 1, and is our nation's official World War One museum. Well worth a visit.

We also listened to some good jazz music. Kansas City has a great jazz tradition, honored in the American Jazz Museum (which I have yet to visit). Have I mentioned that Kansas City is a great jazz town? Even the happy-hour live music in the hotel lobbies is good.

We also had to eat: Kansas City is a great place for steaks, barbeque, and chili.

Not on this summer's list, but also in the metropolitan area are: The Harry Truman Presidential Library and The Steamboat Arabia Museum and The Nelson Art Gallery.

Throw in the amusement park and water park and it's a great vacation city.

Also in and around Kansas City are historical sites dealing with Westward Expansion (the Santa Fe and other trails started here), Mormons, Jesse James, and north in St. Joseph the Pony Express Museum.
Category: US in Iraq
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Democrats are shameless showboats, demagogues and trimmers.

Having said that, there are serious problems with the Iraq War:

1. We are breaking the bank. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this war. No matter what we do, we will spend hundreds of billions of dollars more on Iraq. A hundred billion here and a hundred billion there and before you know it, it all adds up to real money. We have spent real money on this military engagement, and we will have to pay the piper at some point.

2. We are breaking the army. We have the best army in the history of mankind--but we are stretching our military past reasonable expectations. How much longer can we keep these same fellows in the field? Why have we not moved to reinforce our military? What happens when we finally burn all these guys out?

3. We are breaking the patience of the American people. We are stretching the basic assumption of competence in government that provides social glue for American culture.

Politicians in Washington need to put down their partisan daggers and take up arms and work in concert to save America.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Pew Forum has the results of polling on support for same-sex marriage in the U.S. and in Europe. Here in the U.S. the numbers have remained about the same over the last few years, 55% oppose, 37% favor. Support for Civil Unions has increased to 54%.

In Europe strongest opposition is found in Eastern Europe.
This article from the Chicago Tribune highlights persecution of Hindus. Most of the persecution, and almost all the vicious attacks, occur in Muslim lands.

A new report from the Hudson institute surveys religious freedom and unfreedom.

From Frontpage

The greatest persecutors of religion are Islamist and communist regimes, according to a just released report from the Hudson Institute's Center on Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. Regimes that respect religious freedom also have more civil liberties, more prosperity, better health for their people, and less militarized societies.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Newsmax has the story.

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore will no longer seek the Republican presidential nomination.

God bless America. Anyone can try to get the nomination. So, who do you think will be the next to drop out?
For Part 1 click here.

The Reformed Church also demonstrated our two-winged character during debates over social issues.

On the one side, we voted
*65% to 35% to urge our congregations and the General Secretary to "sign the Church World Service petition calling for the reversal of the new policy restricting emergency aid through the Cuban Council of Churches, to engage in letter writing campaigns, and to contact their representatives to call for the United States to 1) lift all aspects of the trade embargo, . . . "
*60% to 40% to encourage "members, churches, and staff to extend the welcome and love of Christ to the illegal immigrant populations in the United States and advocate for legislation that will protect and serve them."
*about 60% to 40% "to encourage congregations to join the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign and to visit the website regularly for updates . . ." and "to encourage congregants in RCA churches to contact their state senators, asking they accept the proposed increase in the minimum wage recently passed by the U.S. House . . ." and to "call RCA employers to review the compensation packages they offer their employees with an aim to provide a just living wage."

On the other side, we voted
*down a proposal to "explore strategies for further diversifying the General Synod body, . . ."
*to refer a proposal to the 2008 General Synod to "make the Reformed Church in America a member denomination in "The National Religious Campaign Against Torture" and to make the opposition of all United States policies that allow or encourage torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners a high priority of the denomination."
*down a proposal that our denomination make known to "U.S. President George W. Bush, . . . our support for "1) the propositions that the United States pursue non-military political solutions to the hostilities in and occupation of Iraq, 2) the quick disengagement of military hostilities in that country, 3) the speedy return of American troops, and 4) the United States to direct its efforts toward economic, social, and humanitarian aid toward Iraq and its citizens; . . ." (more below)

» Read More

Last month I was a delegate to the national meeting of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. Yes, I did speak often from the floor--for the second year in a row I was quoted in our church magazine's coverage of the meeting.

We have a saying in my denomination: we are a bird with two wings--left and right, East Coast and Midwest, evangelical and mainline--yet somehow we fly. Both wings were evident in Pella, Iowa, last month as we met on the campus of one of our schools, Central College.

Fireworks began immediately during our time of opening business. A motion was made from the floor to "dis-invite" the pastor chosen to lead worship during our several days of meeting, The Rev. Jacqui Lewis. Lewis is Senior Pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Middle Collegiate is in the forefront within our denomination in pushing for recognition of same-sex marriages, etc. (website here) After debate she was not dis-invited. In our way of doing things our president is elected to serve a one year term as moderator of General Synod and has the privilege of choosing that year's worship leader, so the invitation was not an official denominational action. But, I think it was a bad choice politically. And, a contradiction of our denomination's stated position on same-sex practice. Some of us boycotted the following worship services. Most of us attended. (more below)

» Read More

John Updyke has a new book, The Terrorist. Well, in truth it was released last year but I only became aware of it recently.

I've not yet gotten a copy, but intend to. Updyke writes with immense power, including spiritual power. Perhaps no one has been better at portraying the moral wasteland of middle age when divorced from religious truth.

In his new novel, according to the review I read, Updyke writes of a young man, of mixed Irish-American and Egyptian origin: a young man estranged from his American surroundings, who longs for something deeper. This hunger drives him to a local mosque where he comes under the tutelage of an imam who shapes his longing into a desire for purity. Meeting jihadis, their vision of purification through violence begins to make sense to him.

It sounds like this novel provides a needed corrective to the notions, given by our secular society, that "root causes" of terrorism are always to be found in material circumstances such as poverty and politics. Humanity's deepest needs are religious.
A friend and colleague forwarded this email to me this morning, and I agree with his endorsement:

"Regardless of your political affiliation, this is a beautiful tribute to Lady Bird Johnson."

Although some might quibble with the political assumptions or the attempt to rally partisans around the death of an important Texan, on this day I will not.

From the Texas Democratic Party:

Moving Texas Forward

"Dear Fellow Democrat,

"All Texas Democrats are deeply saddened today by the death of Lady Bird Johnson, a revered public figure in Texas politics. A proud daughter of East Texas, she represented the highest ideals of our state, our country and our Party. One of the most effective leaders and campaigners the Democratic Party has ever seen, she worked tirelessly to support her husband, President Lyndon Johnson, and promote the Democratic message. Robert Kennedy proudly stated that "Lady Bird carried Texas" for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket, an electoral victory that paved the way for monumental changes in American government from Medicare to Civil Rights.

"For decades, she stood by her husband's side and played a critical role in promoting Democratic initiatives like Head Start and the War on Poverty. Upon assuming her duties as First Lady, she helped comfort Americans during a time of national tragedy. And through her beautification and preservation efforts, she helped bring environmentalism to the forefront of America's consciousness.

"Her legacy can be seen across the Lone Star State, from her beloved wildflowers along Texas highways to her beautification projects in Austin to the University of Texas, which she attended and later served as a member of the Board of Regents. Both our state and nation are fairer and more beautiful because of her leadership and commitment, and she will be deeply missed.

"I ask you to remember Mrs. Johnson and her family in your thoughts and prayers and join me in rededicating our Party to the ideals of justice, progress and beauty for which she stood.

"Your friend and fellow Democrat,

"Boyd Richie
Paid for by the Texas Democratic Party"

End Quote.

God Bless Lady Bird Johnson. Good luck to the Democratic Party in living up to the ideals stated above.
Category: Texas 17
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
From Reuters via the Washington Post :

House passes bill to withdraw troops from Iraq

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defying a White House veto threat, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved legislation to bring combat troops out of Iraq by April 1, 2008.

"By a vote of 223-201, the Democratic-controlled House approved the legislation in the hope it will pressure the Senate to attach a similar mandatory troop withdrawal timetable to a military policy bill it is debating."

Abbreviated story here.

Texas 17 Representative Chet Edwards voted for the bill, which is not expected pass the Senate.

As of now, no comment or explanation from the Congressman: his website here.

11/07: Why Hillary?

Yesterday, I wrote once again that Hillary Clinton is the most likely person to become the 44th President of the United States.

As a counter-weight, I will also repeat, once again, my mantra for Campaign 2008: Nobody Knows Anything. Almost anything can happen between now and November.

Having said that, why does every day seem to bring Mrs. Clinton one step closer to the Democratic nomination?

The three-way race is turning into a two-way race. Although always a long-shot in my book, many learned observers saw John Edwards as a real threat to win the nomination. But the former senator from North Carolina and 2004 Democratic nominee for Vice President seems to be falling farther and farther off the pace. Last week Barack Obama and Mrs. Clinton posted record campaign fundraising revenues. Edwards did not. Running a campaign designed to appeal to the "disinherited of this land," a poll today showed him garnering only 10 percent of American voters who live in households with a combined income of $20,000 or less. Who is the candidate of the poor? Mrs. Clinton overwhelmingly. Obama is a distant but respectable second. Edwards is betting it all on Iowa--but Clinton has the money and organization to wage a national campaign during a primary season in which more than thirty states will pick delegates over a fortnight.

What about Obama? As noted above, the first-term senator turned in unprecedented financial numbers last week. He continues to draw large crowds and avoid lethal gaffes. But the buzz seems to be abating.

Democratic primaries (all primaries) are about picking a winner in November. Could Obama win the general? I think he could. Absolutely. But Democratic voters may be getting a case of the cold feet. What do we know about Obama? How will he do in a debate against Fred Thompson on national TV? What does he really have to offer in the way of ideas and experience? Of course, these are not insurmountable problems. As I say, Obama can win this nomination--if he gets the right breaks.

But Democrats are beginning to think that it would be easier (safer) to hand the ball to Hillary Clinton. We know her, they say; sure, a lot of people don't like her, but we know who they are. We also know that Hillary is not going to lose anybody that she has not lost already. No one in America is going to wake up after Labor Day and realize that Hillary was the not the knight in shining armor that they once thought.

Hillary is not going to crater under the pressure. She is probably not going to rise above herself to meet this new challenge either--but that is okay. Hillary is going to give us the same measured performance she has delivered for the last twenty years. Combine that with perhaps the best political organization ever crafted together, and she is probably more than good enough to win. In this case, the devil they know may be superior to a promising wild card.

One other thing going against Obama: Race. I am not convinced that race would hurt Obama in the general election. In fact, I think race for Obama is, at worst, a wash. My hunch is that race would actually play to his advantage. Undoubtedly, there are still some Americans who would not vote for him because he is an African American. But most of those folks live in states that are not likely to go Democrat anyway. Maybe he will lose Alabama by a few more votes than a white Democratic candidate would have, but nothing from nothing leaves nothing. No net loss. On the other hand, I think there will be some voters of all races who will vote for Obama because he is black, and my hunch is that many of those voters may be in swing states where every converted vote counts.

So, why does race play to Obama's disadvantage? Democrats do not buy the scenario I just laid out. In their heart of hearts, according to their world view, fly-over America is racist and will not vote for a black candidate. I hear Democrats (especially African American Democrats) say this all the time. So, in calculating a candidate who can beat the Republicans in 2008, Obama and race nag at their optimism. He becomes an increasingly risky choice for more and more Democratic primary voters.

Add in Bill, organization and battle-tested hired guns, and Hill looks more like a winner every day.

UPDATE: Yesterday "Barry-Bonds Head" asserted that Hillary needed a transcendent, human, funny, ice-breaking, "Bill on Arsenio playing the saxophone" moment. Is this it? Although it is by surrogate--this little video is pretty cute (and sexy). You may view here via YouTube.

Previous Campaign 2008 posts from the Bosque Boys:

"Another Bad Hair Day for John Edwards: is the jig up?" here.

"Is Obama Losing his luster?" here.

Even more here (click and scroll down).
I attend an evangelical church (although some of my church brethren might recoil at that characterization, as it is freighted with many connotations).

A note on meaning in re evangelical: I am using a variant of the Bebbington definition of evangelicalism, which includes a belief in the centrality of Christ and his redemptive mission as fulfilled in his crucifixion and resurrection, the necessity of conversion, the centrality of the Bible as God's word for his people and the necessity of activism (bringing the message and work of Christ to the world).

This Sunday the preacher encouraged us to think of our church as a "seminary," although not in the technical sense of an institution devoted to the formal training of professional ministers. Leaning on the Latin origin of the word, literally "seed bed," our pastor quoted Elton Trueblood, who believed "every church ought to be a seminary." That is, churches should always be places of training.

All of us are learning all the time. More significantly, churches are places to which we bring our children to learn. Even more daunting, our children are constantly learning from us. We are modeling behavior for them at all times. Our children will know Christ in large part through the lives we lead. We can tell them much--but we will show them more. We may speak of grace--but our practice will rise above the cacophony of commands and instructions.

Inarguably, one reason Alexis de Tocqueville found America such a seedbed for democracy was the evangelical ethos that was already so pervasive during the 1830s. Americans were activists, so many of them busily attempting to bring about a better world through the power of Christ.

Certainly, I recommend no official religion or denomination for the United States of America. I do not advocate breaking down the separation between secular government and American religious culture, but the preacher's message transcends the realm of the church. I cannot help but believe that the body politic is in need of some old fashioned revival. May we embrace our secular duties as citizens with a bit more fervor, turning our eyes toward the prize of strengthening our institutions and perpetuating our American values through the instruction of our posterity through our own activism. Let us be doers of the American word.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
What ants and bees can teach us about the benefits of a free society.

The July issue of the National Geographic contains a great article entitled "The Genius of Swarms." It presents scientific findings on the behavior of swarming animals such as the movement of shoals of fish, herds of caribou, and flocks of birds. None of these groups has a leader coordinating the response to a predator, yet the groups respond with movements that confuse the attacker, giving a better chance of escape. It seems that each individual, while unaware of the "big picture," moves in response to those around it according to certain simple ingrained rules.

Even more amazing is the swarm behavior of social insects such as ants and bees. Without leaders giving commands, the hive or hill functions efficiently through the choices of each member. While an individual ant or bee is not smart, the group behaves in an intelligent way.

One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all--at least none that we would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb. Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.

Scientists are creating mathmatical/computer models of swarm behavior and finding fruitful applications. For example, a large company in Texas uses a computer model based on ant behavior to schedule delivery routes for its trucks--the money savings has been significant. Southwest Airlines is testing a similar model to manage plane traffic at the Phoenix airport.

Even more interesting, for the point of this blog, are the applications for human society. For example, bees choose a new hive during swarming based on the choice of a critical number of scouts: a bottom-up not a top-down decision making structure. One bee researcher has applied bee decision making methods to human choices.

The bees' rules for decision-making--seek a diversity of options, encourage free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices--so impressed [the researcher] that he now uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department.

So perhaps those who wish to create a command-economy and a society led by elites in a top-down manner, are the ones fighting nature. Free societies and free economies may be naturally more intelligent than elite managed ones.
Quick Thought on Campaign 2008:

Why I continue to predict "Clinton-44" with confidence:

Conventional wisdom and tradition seems to indicate that the "candidate of change" has the advantage in presidential elections.

For the most part, this is true during times of upheaval, real discontent and/or uncertainty:

Abraham Lincoln in 1860
FDR in 1932
Nixon in 1968
Ronald Reagan in 1980

It is also true that an adept challenger exaggerates a sense of crisis and manufactures a certain amount of discontent to win elections:

JFK in 1960
Bill Clinton in 1992

And it is also true that sometimes we the people grow restless with a pretty good thing, which is also a part of the explanation for 1992.

Do we really want change in 2008?

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton will advertise herself as the "agent of change" in the upcoming contest--but, realistically, that assertion is a hard sell. No one in this race (Republican or Democrat) seems more battle-hardened and grizzled than the Senator from New York.

The real question for Hillary is this: do Americans want real change or do we want to return to the status quo antebellum? I think the answer may surprise most of us.

If you visit the Clinton Library in Little Rock, you may purchase "I Miss Bill" bumper stickers. I am told they are top sellers.

If Hillary gets by Barack Obama in the primary, and I think she will, Mrs. Clinton represents a very appealing notion of nostalgia for our recent past--and even our present sans Iraq.

Forget about the facts for a moment. Perception is more important than the truth when it comes to politics and history. Most Americans are very angry and frustrated with George Bush at present. Mrs. Clinton will have the luxury of lambasting the sitting President, which should prove quite popular, but she will also offer an implicit promise of returning to the good old days of peace and prosperity and Clinton management.

Do we really want change? Americans are furious about Iraq and slightly discontented with some other things (it is the human condition to be less than satisfied), but most of us, if we took a moment to look hard and deep at our lives, are surprisingly content with our world as it is.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton will give lip service to global warming, universal healthcare and a fairer and more compassionate society--but, in essence, she will be selling more of the same with less incompetence.

My hunch is that it will be a winning pitch.

Previous Bosque Boys posts on Hillary-44:

From last September, "Clinton-44: Part I: If elected president of the United States in 2008, Hillary Clinton will make the least attractive and least affable chief executive of the modern media age. From the piercing laugh (oftentimes when nothing is funny) to the menacing scowl when the TV cameras catch her in unguarded moments, Mrs. Clinton tends to come across unnervingly manufactured, even soulless at times."

Nevertheless, "Why she's probably going to win..." (full post here).

UPDATE: Regular reader and commenter, Lily, directs us to this provocative piece on selecting a president: "Elect Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now" here. Thank you.
A man who was a significant evangelical force in the pro-life movement from its early days died recently. This article from Christianity Today highlights his accomplishments.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the opposite corner of the state from me, is a small-sized city with a lot of tension over illegal immigration. This article from MSNBC captures the current mood of the town.
Category: Courts
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Some of the most aggrieved criticism of the Libby commutation last week came from sentencing guideline experts. Expressing outrage over special treatment, a number of legal specialists castigated the President for showing mercy to his subordinate after turning a cold shoulder to so many others over the course of his administration.

Is it hypocritical for the President to show leniency toward a loyal member of his administration--and not to others? On its face, we are hard-pressed to conclude anything other than blatant favoritism. Inarguably, these experts on sentencing practices have a point, especially in terms of the larger issue that they are attempting to spotlight.

On the other hand, the Libby case may tell us much more about Washington politics than it reveals about the American justice system in general. Rhetoric aside, Scooter Libby is no "ordinary Joe" convicted under normal circumstances.

Why is this different?

Customarily, an ordinary person does not contend with a top-flight US attorney, appointed as a special prosecutor with unlimited resources, instructed to devote all his energy toward investigating a specific incident, which may or may not have been a crime, and under intense pressure from the media and much of the political establishment in Washington to produce a public scalp.

In the end, the Prosecutor obtained a conviction. Nevertheless, the extraordinary nature of the case was exacerbated by the fact that the prosecutor did not charge Libby (or anyone else) with violating the law that originally precipitated the investigation.

Should the President treat Libby like just another convicted criminal under these circumstances?

It occurs to me that the proponents of sentencing reform are asking the wrong questions and scoring a few cheap debating points on an intensely political but not necessarily analogous event.

If, in the end, the President takes extraordinary action to spring a person of good character caught in a trap set through extraordinary means—then, that is the way the game is played. The constitutional power of the President trumps that of his tormentors. From check to check-mate on the Washington chessboard.

Other Bosque Boys thoughts on Scooter Libby:

"Bush and Libby: The Morning After" (ramifications) here.

"A Judicious Use of the President's Power: in his own words..." here.

The entire Bosque Boys file of posts pertaining to Libby here (click and scroll).

You may "bookmark" the Bosque Boys by clicking on the icon in the upper right corner.
Category: Same-Sex Marriage
Posted by: an okie gardener
I attended the national meeting of my denomination as a delegate last month. I hope to have a post covering that soon. But, for now, a bit on Canada and same-sex unions.

Our Canadian delegates usually were in the lead in opposition to any support for same-sex unions. I asked one of them about this. He told me that the churches in Canada felt under pressure from their society and government to conform to a mandate accepting same-sex unions.

He referred me to this article and this article.

The Canadian courts have mandated acceptance of same-sex unions. And, while religious institutions are exempt, the pressure continues. For example,

A Christian camp in Manitoba is facing a possible human rights complaint because it refused to rent to a gay and lesbian group. A British Columbia Board of Inquiry's recent ruling that the Knights of Columbus may refuse to rent their hall for a same-sex wedding reception because it violates their "core beliefs" as a religious organization is relevant to all churches that rent their facilities. While the tribunal ruled in the Knights of Columbus's favour, they were still fined "for injury to the lesbian couple's dignity, feelings and self-respect."

Here in the U.S.
the Methodist Camp at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, faces a simliar situation. Perhaps churches and church camps in the U.S. may need to restrict public access to their facilities in order to avoid lawsuits from gays and lesbians.
Category: US in Iraq
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A few weeks ago, I suggested that the Lugar "rupture" might not be a full-blown revolt at all. As I said then, I suspect the hand of [Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates in all this.

Recent reporting has hinted at Gates's inclination toward a revised role for American forces in Iraq, angling toward a reduced US presence in the near term. Read between the lines of this New York Times story here for some of that.

An aside: it is worth keeping in mind that Gates was a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

You may re-read my 25 June summary of Lugar's speech here. As I said then, Lugar's analysis does not ignore the reasons why we are where we are. Moreover, his plan acknowledged that an irresponsible "redeployment" will prove disastrous to us and the world.

But his statement also acknowledged one undeniable, irrefutable, irresistible fact of life: No American President can fight (much less win) a war without the support of the American people. We can argue all day long about whether the people and politicians were right to abandon the President on this war--but those debates are completely irrelevant to the reality that the people have soured on Iraq, and retreat, at this point, is merely a matter of when and how.

My other question from that previous post, however, is actually the most crucial to our future:

If this signals that the President is willing to consider a "thoughtful Plan B," are the Democrats willing to forego political advantage to save the country?
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has released its findings on positions taken by the presidential candidates relating to LGBT issues. Here is the information in chart form (Adobe needed). Here is the press release (Adobe not needed).

No real surprises in the information. In general, the Democrat aspirants are much more committed to LGBT issues than are the Republican, though only two of the Dems explicitly support same-sex marriage--Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. On the Republican side Rudy is in a weak first-place with his support for Civil Unions and opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Once more the modern Democrats show themselves to be the party committed to social change, and modern Republicans to be more committed to tradition.

I wrote this last year on the President's birthday. Back then his approval ratings were in the mid-30s. As he said recently, those were the good old days. My sense is that things won't always be this bad for Bush. We'll see. No matter, for all his faults, I continue to like the President and believe that he is a good man.

From this time last year:

My heart goes out to George W. Bush. I understand his “compassionate conservatism” in a way that defies reason or logic. That is, I share the President’s susceptibility to a lump in the throat.

Many of his critics see him as insincere (among other things), but I have no doubt that George Bush’s most powerful emotion is empathy. The President often gets into trouble with conservatives when he identifies too emotionally with people. “No Child Left Behind” was the product of his earnest belief that every child is important and deserves better. The “soft bigotry of low standards” was for him incredibly real.

One presidential psycho-analyst, published on the subject, avers that George Bush grew up fearing that he was the child being left behind. Maybe, this is the key to Bush the man.

For all of us who look at the world and see it as a scary, cruel place and feel damn lucky to have a good job and a loving, wonderful family, the “lump” comes rather easily. If you spent a great deal of your life worrying about screwing things up (I warned you this would be personal), and then one day the clouds open and you realize that you have been greatly blessed beyond anything you deserved, the “lump” is always in there, lurking just below the surface.

You can scoff at George Bush. Ann Richards famously said of his father: “George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” You can easily apply that kind of mean-spirited analysis to Bush the son. But it misses the point. In America, it is rather easy to get “picked-off” third base, and that is exactly what almost happened to George W. But he survived. For all the “swagger” and confidence, there is also the humility that comes from barely dodging a perilous bullet.

George Bush has the ability to look into the eyes of an immigrant family attempting to gain access to an American life and be moved. Or look at two young people on their wedding day and feel misty, knowing the joy of finding a soul mate but also the daunting task that awaits them. There is a depth of understanding in the President that comes only from a certain amount of personal pain and fear and inner struggle.

In many ways, Bush is the most human of the modern presidents. And on this week of his sixtieth [sixty-first] birthday, I offer a very personal thanks for his compassion and his attention to duty.

In closing, please consider my absolute favorite Bush line, which is also an excellent set of principles for Christian leadership (from his 2000 Acceptance Speech in Philadelphia):

I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it.

I believe in a God who calls us, not to judge our neighbors, but to love them.

I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it.

I believe true leadership is a process of addition, not an act of division. I will not attack a part of this country, because I want to lead the whole of it.

Other nice things I have said about the President over time:

"The Pain of the Presidency" here.

"Don't Feel Like the Lone Ranger" here.

"Pray for George Bush" here.

"Ranking Bush" here.
Category: Courts
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Kudos to Tocqueville, who predicted, way back when, that the ACLU had no standing in this case contesting the government’s use of warrantless surveillance to monitor suspected terrorists.

Full story via the Washington Post here.

Earlier Bosque Boys coverage here.
This has been around for a few days--but it is worth noting belatedly:

Put away the flags!

"On this July 4," says Howard Zinn, "we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed."

The gist?

A false belief in American exceptionalism leads us into all manner of self deceptions--many of which are dangerous to ourselves and others.

What is American exceptionalism?

The belief the United States of America as a "nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history."

Zinn asserts that America is not "uniquely moral." But we are adept at framing our self-interested forays "into other lands" as noble crusades to "bring civilization, liberty, democracy" to the less fortunate.

Zinn asserts that this view is dead wrong. The peace-seeking brotherhood of man all over the world, as well as the naive in America, are "victims," casualties of our "government's lies."

Zinn's prescription:

We need to refute the idea that our nation is unique and disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are a force for good in the world.

"We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation."

The full essay in the Progressive here.

Although Zinn was a World War II bombardier--he makes no mention of any of the folks to whom we are not morally superior: the Axis powers he fought against, the Soviet Empire that filled the vacuum of power in Eastern Europe after the defeat of the Nazis or the current threat: Islamism.

In the crudest sense, Howard Zinn embodies the moral equivalency of the "blame America" crowd. Noting flaws and egregious mistakes in American history, which Zinn has done so expertly and lucratively over his career, is not tantamount to saying our system and ethos is fraudulent and malevolent.

For this week dedicated to celebrating American independence, I prefer to think of the myriad heroes who understood the uniqueness of our nation in their souls.

I prefer Lincoln over Zinn:

"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."
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I am extremely reluctant to comment on the current Gore family crisis. I am a father of two sons, and my heart goes out to Al and Tipper. There But for the Grace of God go I. With all sincerity, I wish the Gores the best. Politics aside, I ask God to bless the Gore family with health, security and happiness in abundance.

However, by his own design, Al Gore is a crucial figure in our national political culture. He has inserted himself in to the very fabric of our national conversation. Why is the arrest of Al Gore III in play? The incident speaks to the cloud of hypocrisy and artificiality (and perhaps rotten luck) that perpetually swirls around the Gore campaigns.

Some brief comments:

The best laid schemes of Mice and Men, gang aft agley. Someone in the Gore camp was media savvy enough to arrange for Al Gore III to drive a hybrid Toyota Prius. However, running your environmentally friendly Prius at 100 miles-per-hour on the freeways of Southern California during the wee hours of the morning while smoking marijuana negates a multitude of forethought and pre-planning on the part of your dad's PR staff.

Reaping what he sowed? We may never know who made the decision, on the eve of Election Day 2000, to release the news that twenty-four years earlier, on a July 4th weekend in 1976, the Kennebunkport Police Department arrested a thirty-year-old George Bush for operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol. However, the irony (or perhaps the karma) of Al Gore's current embarrassment on the eve of his big moment seems thick.

Previous Bosque Boys musings on the "Strange Career of Al Gore" here.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
On the Fourth of July, my family went to the movies to watch Ratatouille.

For an insightful review, let me direct you to Thomas Hibbs via NRO here.

For the most part, I agree with Hibbs (a friend and an authority on American cinema), who called Ratatouille "a smart, funny, well-made film." However, I must admit that I liked it slightly less than he did.

Even Hibbs complained that the film "dragg[ed] a bit toward the end." I rue the day filmmakers decided that all fine films must be two hours long. Sometimes a story about a rat who can talk and cook and transform a sagging Paris restaurant just might be more appropriately told in ninety minutes.

Perhaps the length is my main gripe. Or perhaps the movie lost me when the whole colony of rats took over the kitchen to save the day. One cooking rat I can buy. A whole army of cooking rats stretches my credulity.

Anyhow, I have not walked out of a Pixar film less excited since Monsters, Inc. I will not be counting the days until the DVD release.

Having said that, a less-appealing Pixar film is still magic.

I wholeheartedly agree with Hibbs in his interest in and admiration for director Brad Bird (The Incredibles).

Hibbs writes:

Like The Incredibles, Ratatouille is really about nobility or excellence in a democratic setting: Not everyone has equal talent or ability but there is no predicting, on the basis of class or nationality, where talent might arise. Fortunately, for moviegoers, there is still some talent left in Hollywood.

Well said.

Read here for other Bosque Boys thoughts on the Incredibles, Cars and Pixar.
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In terms of disdain generated from the mainstream media and the liberal establishment, Matt Drudge ranks second only to Rush Limbaugh. The Left hates Drudge; they have parodied him, slandered him and attempted to reduce his readership by brutally disparaging his audience.

None of it has worked.

Why? What is the value of Drudge?

Like most of America, I had never heard of the Drudge Report before January 21, 1998. As we all remember, Drudge entered the American political lexicon by breaking a huge story that Newsweek refused to publish: the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Once I realized that Drudge readers found out on January 17 what I didn't learn until four days later, I decided that Drudge was a necessary supplement to my news diet.

Drudge cuts to the chase with sensational political stories. The recent Al Gore III and John Edwards dust-ups are cases in point. While the establishment outlets wringed their hands and waited for the sensational to become news (because others were reporting it), Drudge reported. Drudge became the one-stop center for Gore news this morning.

Similarly, when George Stephanopoulos mentioned John Edwards's latest hair gaffe this morning on GMA, I clicked around a bit to no avail--and then went to Drudge. Of course, there it was: Top-Right Corner. Easy.

Most times, as in the case of the Edwards story, Drudge is not an investigative reporter; he is not a newshound in the sense of a muckraking journalists, but he is a newshound in terms of highlighting interesting but obscure stories already in play. In the case of Edwards, the story came from an incredibly elite source, the Washington Post. But Drudge made it the story of the day.

Although the field is congested now with imitators on both sides of the divide, Drudge continues to play a vital role in electronic politics. Slap me if I ever get too cultured for the Drudge Report.
Category: Campaign 2008.3
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
~~attributed to Abraham Lincoln

A lot of the people seem to be catching on.

Today the Washington Post ran another Edwards "hair" story--but this time the cumulative damage strikes me as edging toward lethal.

Following up on the original $400 haircut, Post staff writer John Solomon reports:

"Beverly Hills hairstylist, [Joseph Torrenueva] a Democrat...has cut Edwards's hair at least 16 times."

Evidently, the stylist met the candidate at a fashion summit back in 2003, which brought "several fashion experts together to advise the candidate on his appearance." According to the story, Edwards and Torrenueva "hit it off" and began a mutually satisfying business relationship.

Over the course of the next four years, the stylist made arrangements to meet the candidate in various locales all over the country, charging as much as $1250 for his services (full story here).

Why is this a big deal?

Initially, back in May when the $400-haircut story broke, the Edwards camp tried to laugh it off as an oddity. Edwards had stumbled in for a haircut somewhere; he didn't know the price; someone on his staff paid. Embarrassing but harmless. A country boy in the big city taken for a ride by some fella in Beverly Hills. It was almost endearing.

But, evidently, that was not the case. Sixteen haircuts. Warm relationship. The celebrated four-hundred-dollar bill was on the cheap side.

This story digs at the festering concern that something about Edwards is not quite right. There is the vanity issue. Rush famously labeled him the "Breck girl" years ago, which the ubiquitous YouTube classic (here) so humorously reinforces. There is the the question of hypocrisy: he poses as a populist everyman but acts like a high-rolling dandy. And, perhaps even more damning, this revelation also speaks to the issue of basic integrity. Either he tells the truth--or he doesn't. In other words, if he lies about his hairdresser, can we trust him to tell us the truth on matters of state.

Even worse news for Edwards:

The other revealing part of this story is the lack of cover accorded Edwards from the mainstream media, historically friendly to Democratic politicians.

As Robert Novak wrote a month ago:

"Edwards now is massively unpopular among party regulars, who neither like nor trust him." According to Novak, the "Democratic establishment" is convinced that an Edwards nomination would mean a "catastrophe" in the general election (full Novak column here).

Perhaps that explains the "unfriendly" press coverage from unlikely places such as the Washington Post and ABC News (George Stephanopoulos made note of the flap this morning on GMA). This is not exactly the George Allen treatment, but when the Washington Post starts sending real reporters to investigate your hairdresser, you are in for a long and bumpy ride.

This race is taking shape, and Edwards certainly looks like the odd man out.

Other Bosque Boys thoughts on Campaign 2008 here.

Don't forget to bookmark Bosque Boys.
Category: Immigration
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Tocqueville points us to the latest essay from Thomas Sowell, who applauds "democracy" for defeating the so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill.

He charges that the "elites" who supported the bill employed "fraudulent procedures to rush this bill through the Senate." This is an accusation that may have been true for the first few days of the "grand bargain" campaign--but it is certainly overblown in the context of what actually transpired: an extended floor fight in which opponents won a very public battle for the hearts and minds of the American electorate.

He also charges the elite compromisers with "fraudulent arguments." He is right on that accord--but, of course, on this issue, he is living in a glass neighborhood. There was plenty of outrageous and unsubstantiated rhetoric from both camps.

Having said that, I do not dispute his catalog of false assertions on the part of proponents or his correctives:

--if we paid high enough wages, we could find citizens to do traditionally low wage jobs

--admittedly, deporting 12 million illegal aliens is impossible--but we should be concerned with the next wave, if we choose to do nothing

--the last bill really did not address the real problems

--elitists like to smear conservatives

All true enough. But my real question for Professor Sowell goes something like this:

If "democracy" saved us from a bad bill, how does he envision "democracy" solving our problem?

In other words, now what?

Read Thomas Sowell's article in its entirety here via NRO.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Some quick thoughts in re the commutation:

1. There are real downsides to this action:

--Too Much Mercy? As the Washington Post, an undeniably moderate voice throughout this entire imbroglio, opined this morning,
"commut[ing] the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense." Perhaps the President was right that the sentence was excessive, the probation office recommended significantly less time, but as the Post points out, the President "moved from excessive to zero" (editorial in full here).

--Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right. One can reasonably argue that this commutation makes Libby's punishment more commensurate with other high profile cases, namely President Clinton and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. But every schoolboy knows the chant: "two wrongs don't make right." Either you are for the rule of law--or you are not. This kind of nuanced thinking on law and order, crime and punishment hurts Republicans--not so much with the electorate--but with our own self image. This process does painful internal damage to conservatives.

--The Lingering Question. And for as long as anybody cares to think or write about this story, we will face this question: was the commutation offered to silence a potentially destructive witness for the prosecution? Was this quid pro quo? Was this part of cover-up that went all the way to the Oval Office?

2. An Observation: This President will never win with the media. Two weeks ago, I took issue with the banal speculation that President Bush would not pardon "Scooter" Libby because of the intense political fallout, which would emanate from such a move.

My point then: how can anyone say this President fears a firestorm?

You may review that post here.

Today the common storyline asserts that President Bush granted clemency because he feared that his remaining supporters might desert him, if he let Libby go to jail.

As I said two weeks ago, riding to the aid of Libby is good politics--it will temporarily buck up his flagging base a bit--but, again, who can say with a straight face that this President operates with that brand of political acumen or calculation?

But my point is: "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It is either Bush doesn't have the grit to save his loyal subordinate for fear of political backlash or Bush intercedes on behalf of his loyal minion to stave off political backlash. Pick your poison.

3. We were promised the "Paris Hilton talking points"--and we have them. Everybody from Dick Durbin to Chris Mathews wants to compare Scooter Libby to Paris Hilton. It is a ridiculous analogy. Conservatives prefer Clinton and Berger as points of reference, but that brings us back to "two wrongs..." (see above).

4. Ramifications overblown. George Stephanopoulos on GMA this morning predicted a potential backlash for the President and Republican candidates for president. He noted that already Democratic candidates are making hay of this Executive Order, which polls indicate the American people disapprove of in large numbers.

I disagree wholeheartedly for two reasons:

--I am not convinced that this is a story that will penetrate the consciousness of the American people. No matter how many times Democratic politicians and pundits bring up Paris Hilton, the sad truth is that only a fraction of the population who followed the Hilton story can even identify Scooter Libby.

--More importantly, I will bet the house right now on the certainty that Mrs. Clinton will not run a presidential campaign that centers around presidential pardons and perjured testimony before a grand jury.
The Good News: Please take note of the excellent Richard Brookhiser historical perspective piece on New York politicians and American presidential races. With great skill and perceptive analysis, Brookhiser covers Jefferson's "botanizing" trip up the Hudson, which sowed the seeds for the first two-party system in American political history, to the Mario Cuomo candidacy that never materialized and everything in between. It is first rate. Read the TIME story here.

The Bad News: And this may be too petty--but TIME is on my list right now--you will need to look hard for this very fine history, as it appears sandwiched in between teen-aged girls and their woes at the mall, trash-talking wine salesmen, wedding gifts and extreme vacations in the "LIFE" section.

Come on, TIME mag. History just don't get no respect over there in Rockefeller Plaza at the Time-Life Building.
Category: Campaign 2008.3
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
From the Washington Post:

"Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign today announced widespread cutbacks and said it was considering whether to accept public campaign funds after another disappointing fundraising effort that has left the Arizona Republican with only $2 million in the bank" (full Post story here).

So long, John.

Prior to the immigration barrage, insiders refused to count out McCain. The oddsmakers focused on his loyal and talented campaign staff, which was exceedingly confident, competent and convinced. Everyone knew the scrappy McCain was fearless and could take a punch--and, with an exceptional team of true believers in his corner, many wondered if he just might not have a shot in the later rounds of the nomination battle.

But that is not to be. The already beleaguered McCain sustained a ferocious flurry of heavy blows on immigration; a mean right hook stopped him cold. Cutting staff at this point deprives him of his one remaining potent weapon and renders him defenseless. It is over for McCain, "throwing in the towel" officially cannot be too far off.

Too bad. A break here and there and a few different decisions, and he could have been a contender.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Quoting the President (excerpted):

"Critics of the [Plame] investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak.

"Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation.

"Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime: Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury."

On the other hand...

"[A] jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice.

"[Critical observers] argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place."

A Solomonic Compromise.

"Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

"I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

"My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby [which has inflicted great damage to his reputation and his family].

"He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.

"The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power."

Statement by the President in full here.

My Analysis: Not an easy call, but the President has it right this time.
Last week, the CIA declassified and released a large chunk of 1970s-era documents gathered as part of an internal review designed to assess and prepare for possible public embarrassments in the midst of the Watergate investigation. In response to an order from then-chief James R. Schlesinger, as the Washington Post wrote last week, "the agency combed its files for what it called delicate information with flap potential. The result was a collection of documents [at least some CIA analysts] called the family jewels" (read the Post story in full here).

I hesitate to call this huge event an under-reported story (the news was everywhere last week; below you will find extensive treatment from the NYT). On the other hand, for historians this is a coup of great significance. Some of these "Freedom of Information" requests went back three decades. More than that, cataloguing newly released documents is the essence of "doing history." As the old guys say: "no document; no history." This is the exhilarating part of the business. In a word: poring over newly released primary sources is fun.

You would think that the news media would feel the same way. But I sense an awkwardness in regard to reporting this story. Although it is hard for me to put my finger on exactly, the coverage is less than fully engaged or even highly interested. In other words, the reporting lacks the joy you might expect in uncovering this treasure trove.

Why the lack of enthusiasm? Some speculation in brief:

1. The story goes against the template that the Bush administration is the most secretive White House ever. It is hard to reconcile this essential core assumption with the unprecedented access to secrets that four previous administrations (two of which were Democratic) denied.

2. The documents themselves also play against the template that all dirty tricks began with Richard Nixon. This assumption is perhaps even more sacred (although eminently less defensible) than the first.


--Although a gunman assassinated Martin Luther King the spring before Richard Nixon won election as president, we see in our mind's eye the Nixon White House harassing and surveilling the civil rights icon.

--John Kerry famously remembered spending Christmas Eve 1968 on a gunboat in Cambodia while the President of the United States [presumably Nixon] was telling people we were not in Cambodia. Again, Nixon did not take office until the next month.

Lies and deception are Nixonian and Republican. We do not enjoy hearing reports that Bobby Kennedy oversaw the project to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Having said all that, here are some nuts and bolts on where to start in terms of engaging this new information:

The New York Times offered an interesting series of commentary and expert analysis on their NYT blog, which you can access here (membership required).

The Actual Repository: The agency actually released the documents to the "National Security Archive," a self-described "independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University." You may access the archive here.
Trivia Question: What is the least-read edition of any daily newspaper?

Answer: Saturday

This Saturday in the Washington Post:

Christina Shelton, an intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1984 to 2006, writes of her role in determining the existing links between Saddam's Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist organization during the summer of 2002.

Quoting Shelton:

"[Back then] I summarized a body of mostly CIA reporting (dating from 1990 to 2002), from a variety of sources, that reflected a pattern of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda, including high-level contacts between Iraqi senior officials and al-Qaeda, training in bomb making, Iraqi offers of safe haven, and a nonaggression agreement to cooperate on unspecified areas."

The Shelton piece is a curious article (in full here), as it comes without editorial comment or context--but clearly radiates resentment for the way in which George Tenet, the media and the swirling "politics of the Iraq war" have clouded the study of an extremely complicated issue.

Notwithstanding, she optimistically predicts that "a more complete understanding of Iraq's relationship with al-Qaeda will emerge when [future less politicized] historians can exploit the numerous seized documents."

We can only hope.

For now, the template of the mainstream media, who often bemoan the lack of nuance in political discussions, demand "black and white," "right or wrong" answers when it comes to pre-war intelligence.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This Friday, I finally found the time to see Knocked Up, which, by the way, exceeded the 100-million-dollar threshold in box office receipts this weekend.

I approached the film with great expectations, having read the reviews that praised it as something of a morality tale. It is in some ways a traditional story: boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girl and then wins her back, and they drive off together into the sunset.

Much has been written about the plot of the story in which an unmarried couple opt to make room for an unexpected new life in the midst of a relatively happy if self-centered existence (in the case of the father) and a promising career at a crucial juncture (in the case of the mother). Even more surprising, the parents, who make an unlikely couple, take great pains to fall in love and form a family in hopes of providing a secure and wholesome home for the impending child.

My review in a nutshell: funny, provocative and entertaining.

However, I have one caution: what may get lost in all the talk of high moral lessons and new traditionalism is that the movie is an R-rated ribald comedy. That is, if you are thinking about taking your wife (and meeting church friends) and seeing the movie at a very public theater on a Friday night in Waco, Texas, you should know that the content of this film is exceedingly raunchy and sexually explicit.

Consider yourself warned.