07 Sep 2012

Reviewing the DNC

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Peggy Noonan, undoubtedly like many viewers, found the democrat convention extremist. Few national American conventions historically have devoted several minutes to booing God.

Beneath the funny hats, the sweet-faced delegates, the handsome speakers and the babies waving flags there was something disquieting. All three days were marked by a kind of soft, distracted extremism. It was unshowy and unobnoxious but also unsettling.

There was the relentless emphasis on Government as Community, as the thing that gives us spirit and makes us whole. But government isn’t what you love if you’re American, America is what you love. Government is what you have, need and hire. Its most essential duties—especially when it is bankrupt—involve defending rights and safety, not imposing views and values. We already have values. Democrats and Republicans don’t see all this the same way, and that’s fine—that’s what national politics is, the working out of this dispute in one direction or another every few years. But the Democrats convened in Charlotte seemed more extreme on the point, more accepting of the idea of government as the center of national life, than ever, at least to me.

The fight over including a single mention of God in the platform—that was extreme. The original removal of the single mention by the platform committee—extreme. The huge “No!” vote on restoring the mention of God, and including the administration’s own stand on Jerusalem—that wasn’t liberal, it was extreme. Comparing the Republicans to Nazis—extreme. The almost complete absence of a call to help education by facing down the powers that throw our least defended children under the school bus—this was extreme, not mainstream.

The sheer strangeness of all the talk about abortion, abortion, contraception, contraception. I am old enough to know a wedge issue when I see one, but I’ve never seen a great party build its entire public persona around one. Big speeches from the heads of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, HHS Secretary and abortion enthusiast Kathleen Sebelius and, of course, Sandra Fluke.

“Republicans shut me out of a hearing on contraception,” Ms. Fluke said. But why would anyone have included a Georgetown law student who never worked her way onto the national stage until she was plucked, by the left, as a personable victim?

What a fabulously confident and ingenuous-seeming political narcissist Ms. Fluke is. She really does think—and her party apparently thinks—that in a spending crisis with trillions in debt and many in need, in a nation in existential doubt as to its standing and purpose, in a time when parents struggle to buy the good sneakers for the kids so they’re not embarrassed at school . . . that in that nation the great issue of the day, and the appropriate focus of our concern, is making other people pay for her birth-control pills. That’s not a stand, it’s a non sequitur. She is not, as Rush Limbaugh oafishly, bullyingly said, a slut. She is a ninny, a narcissist and a fool.

And she was one of the great faces of the party in Charlotte. That is extreme. Childish, too.

Something else, and it had to do with tone. I remember the Republicans in Tampa bashing the president, hard, but not the entire Democratic Party. In Charlotte they bashed Mitt Romney, but they bashed the Republican Party harder. If this doesn’t strike you as somewhat unsettling, then you must want another four years of all war all the time between the parties. I don’t think the American people want that. Because, actually, they’re not extreme.

Read the whole thing.

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Yuval Levin analysed Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, and identified two themes: one defensive and the other offensive.

The defensive theme was an attempt to roll back his “you didn’t build that” gaffe by simply asserting that he and his party do believe in individual initiative, self-reliance, and earned success. He said there were some problems the government couldn’t solve, though he declined to name them. (Later in the speech he also acknowledged that he, not unlike Abraham Lincoln, actually had some failings, though he declined to name those too.) But even as he said this he persisted in the dominant trope of this convention—and, it seems, of contemporary progressive thought: the jump from the sheer fact of human interdependence to a defense of every federal program in precisely its current form. It’s the liberal welfare state or the law of the jungle, and no other alternative is imaginable. This mental gesture—which simultaneously offers an excuse for ignoring the imminent collapse of the liberal welfare state and for ignoring what conservatives are actually saying and offering—really deserves to be thought through. It is a fascinating indicator of the contemporary Left’s intellectual exhaustion.

The offensive theme was, however, far more ably developed, and it seemed to be the only part of the speech that the president really cared about. It was in part an outgrowth of the same self-righteous progressive error—of the sense that the Republicans are offering radical individualism and a cold and selfish you’re-on-your-own philosophy of government. And to this extent it was answered by a very revealing display of the left’s tendency to collapse all of society—all that stands between the individual and the state—into the state. Different speakers this week took this up in different ways (starting with the opening video in which one of the speakers said that government is the only thing we all belong to), and Obama’s way was to say that his party’s alternative to the every man for himself philosophy of the Right is an idea of citizenship. “We believe in citizenship,” he said, “a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy.” It’s an odd claim, as the word “citizenship” doesn’t appear in any founding document (and to the extent that “citizen” does it describes a legal resident, and never seems to be assigned much significance) and the term citizen actually had a rather complicated place in the parlance of late 18th century Anglo-American politics, often used to refer derisively to radicals. Hamilton’s friends in the newspapers frequently referred to Thomas Jefferson as “Citizen Jefferson,” to Jefferson’s very great displeasure, to highlight his affinity for the French revolutionaries. For Obama, the term seemed to be useful as a way of identifying our commonality with our membership in a political community defined by its government. It is, again, a fascinating instinct, conveying at once both the best and the worst of the old progressive outlook but (it seems) without much reflection on its serious limitations. There is rich potential in the notion of citizenship, but only if it is seen as denoting membership in a society that consists of more than a government. Obama gave no real indication that the word has this meaning for him.

Read the whole thing.

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Charles Krauthammer devastatingly panned Obama’s speech.

I was stunned. This is a man who gave one of the great speeches of our time in 2004, and he gave one of the emptiest speeches I have ever heard on a national stage. Yes, it had cadence, and yes, there were deceptions in it, but that is not what is so striking about it. There was nothing in it. This is a man who believes that government can and should do a lot. There is nothing in here that tells us how he’s going to go from today to tomorrow. For any of the so called goals and what government is going to do, what is he going to enact?

At least Romney had a five point plan. What we heard from Obama was a vision. And he pulls numbers out of a hat. 100,000 new math and science teachers. 600,000 more people working in natural gas. Two million more trainees, and he doesn’t say how we get from A to B. It’s a vision. I have a vision of an America where there is no disease and everybody has a private airplane, but unless I tell you how we get there, I’ve said nothing. And what is so surprising, is that – all he had left – he can’t speak about his record on the economy, and it’s not a good one. As we heard, he didn’t speak about achievements, the one that’s liberals like, ObamaCare, stimulus and etc… they’re unpopular.

So, at least he would talk about the future, what he’s going to to. There was nothing there. I’m amazed that he was — it was like this is a guy who is the A student in the class turning in a paper clearly a C, and the teacher says, “How could you do this? Why did you mail it in?” I felt the Biden speech was infinitely better, because it was empathic and carried a message, but the Obama speech, I thought was flat and had no content in it. Otherwise, I loved it, really…

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