Friday, September 28, 2007

More Mahmoud

Not sure what I think of this piece from Peggy Noonan. She remains one of my favorite writers, but I'm always a bit wary when she gets into scoldly/nostalgic mode. Especially when she sounds just like Barack Obama in the process.

She's on to something, however, in scolding Columbia President Lee Bolinger for "introducing" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an angry condemnation. Not that it wasn't deserved, but it gave A-jad his one legitimate point of the entire circus: "In my country, when you invite someone as a guest, you treat him with respect." A lot of people thought Bollinger redeemed himself by sticking it to A-jad. "He really stood up to the dictator" and all that. I thought the whole thing was unseemly -- if not plain dishonorable.

And William F. Buckley agrees with me. At least he did in 1962, as the folks at NRO's The Corner dug up a few days ago. This is worth reading. Money quote: "Fight the tyrants everywhere; but do not ask them to your quarters, merely to spit upon them: and do not ask them to your quarters if you cannot spit upon them."

More broadly: What's with the notion these days that sticking your tongue out at a bad guy constitutes some great act of courage? I got the same kind of feeling a few months ago, when A-jad released those captured British sailors, who went on to sign book deals as soon as they got home. The woman among them bragged about her real snappy comeback when A-jad asked her about her family during his "amnesty" ceremony. Not to minimize their travails, but that aspect was particularly lame.

A theory: Is it a matter of confusing the nature of evil? The belief that genocidal dictators can be embarrassed as if they were run-of-the-mill unscrupulous politicians? Say Bush = Hitler enough, and you'll get some seriously mistaken ideas about who Hitler was.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The opener to this column is the reason George Will remains one of my favorite writers. The rest of the piece ain't bad, either.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My first byline

I have a short op-ed in today's Post about Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia. My basic thesis is that it was a lot more philosophical and rhetorically clever than he's given credit for -- and still dead wrong. Please forgive my lack of nuance. A millenium of philosophical and theological thinking on two continents is a lot to squeeze into 350 words.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Johann Tetzel rolls in his grave

Jokes about this story have been flying around the office all day.

For the record: (1) I like trees, and (2) Yes, JP2 has said some wonderful and nuanced things about the Christian duty to care for the environment, an idea I'm completely on board with.

But just for the sake of snarkiness: Who at the Council of Trent would have imagined that 500 years down the road, the Chuch would actually be buying indulgences?

Sola power, anyone?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I was a teenage supply-sider

Few know this about me now, but during my intellectually formative high-school years, my passion was economics. And not just plain economics, but specifically the supply-side theories of folks like Art Laffer, George Gilder, Jude Wanniski, and Larry Kudlow that formed the intellectual foundation for the Reagan and Bush 43 tax cuts. For my young and romantic mind, supply-side economics was sexy, sweeping, and (I still believe) fairly commonsensical.

I mention this because Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has a colorful survey of the movement's history in the latest New Republic. It's a shrill hit-piece, but it was still fun to read, given that I actually lived firsthand through some of the intellectual history he's narrating.

The piece itself is unimpressive. Its thesis is that this cabal of "economic crackpots" has hijacked the conservative movement--and American politics in general. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that someone's hijacked the conservative movement (it typically alternates between the neocons and the religious right, though)... I'd have quite a few nickels.

Chait also--while acknowledging that there's a grain of truth to it--wrongly minimizes the applicability of supply-side logic. The plain fact is that taxes affect economic behavior in all sorts of ways, and in that vein, Wanniski's The Way the World Works is a lot more nuanced than he gives it credit for in fleshing those out.

That said, he has some good points when he talks about the, umm... excesses in enthusiasm of the supply side crowd. I was there--and had them myself. In fact, as someone who subscribed to--and loved--The American Spectator when George Gilder ran the show, I can add a few more datapoints of my own.

Like Larry Kudlow's 2001 prediction that the Dow would hit 35,000 by the end of the decade.

Then--to show that the supply-side cabal hasn't completely taken over the conservative movement--there was the scoffing (pre 9/11) editorial about how Bill Kristol and the "national greatness" crowd at The Weekly Standard "would love another war."

Of course, once 9/11 hit, most of the supply-side crowd (with the exception of the oddball Wanniski) was pretty hawkish. Supply-side economics was never just about marginal tax rates, but about the societal and personal virtues cultivated by entrepreneurship and freedom. That a repudiation of all those things would appear in the form of Islamic fundamentalism, then, offered no ideological difficulty. And for folks like Kudlow and especially Michael Novak (both devout Catholics), free market entrepreneurship, done well, can even take on a great religious dignity. (John Paul II, too, has said as much.)

The lesson here for all those (mostly liberal) pundits predicting a crack-up of the conservative coalition, or its hijacking by one faction or another, is that on a fundamental level (and speaking very generally), conservative ideas on social, economic, and foreign policy actually fit together quite well.

Even on matters of war, however, supply-siders' particular and exaggerated ideological optimism was evident. Kudlow (whom I have enormous respect for, by the way) predicted that the Dow would jump 1,000 points the day Baghdad fell. Needless to say, that didn't quite happen.

Chait's other quasi-legitimate point is about deficits. Supply-siders have always been fairly dismissive of big budget deficits, at least on the federal level. The reasoning goes that 1) they won't be as big as predicted anyway, because tax-cut spurred economic growth will bring in more revenue, and 2) even when they're there, their negative effect on the economy isn't that big. This is essentially because tax-cut produced economic growth eats up the inflation deficits are supposed to produce.

This, say supply-siders, is why the huge deficits of the Reagan years were accompanied by an economic boom and low inflation (yes, yes, Volcker helped too)--and why the low deficits of the Carter years coincided with serious stagflation.

One of my favorite Reagan quotes, along these lines, is "I don't worry about the deficit; it's big enough to take care of itself." There's wisdom here. But going forward 20 years, you get Cheney's gloss on the principle: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." And that's a problem, at the very least on a moral level. Because when you have a government that automatically assumes it can spend more money than it takes in... well, you pretty much get Bush's domestic spending.

And that's all I have to say about that. Anyone looking for a more reasonable take on the virtues and follies of supply-siderism should check out Bruce Bartlett, one of the original crew, on why the entire term has overgrown its usefulness.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Green Jihad

Osama Bin Laden's got a new 'do and a new video, and my good friend Robert A. George has some thoughts about the mess he just stepped into.

I, however, found the following section the most revealing. Quoth Bin Laden:

"In fact, the life of all mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations, yet despite that, the representative of these corporations in the White House insists on not observing the Kyoto accord."

In other news, Al Gore just started filming his latest documentary: "My Inconvenient Ally."

It also makes you wonder: Just how much could al Qaeda reduce its carbon footprint by, I don't know... not blowing things up?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Village surprise

One finds all kinds of wonderful things while wondering around New York. Take the following quote, from a monument in, of all places, Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park:

"Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hands of God."

That's from George Washington, addressing the Consitutional Convention of which he was just made chairman. What I love about this quote is what one might call its steely hope. Any venture, no matter how well-intentioned, Washington says, may certainly fail, but this is no reason to sacrifice principle to convenience. It is possible to build something both noble and lasting, as the Founders were trying to do, and their hopes are founded upon the kind of people it can rally and inspire.

Or maybe those aren't the right words. I especially love Washington's use of the word "repair," which evokes images of rest or renewal. In other words, the standard Washington wants to raise is not just a cause for which the wise and honest can recognize, fight for, and get worn out, but a cause based on a principle that somehow refreshes the soul.

Worth pondering, for sure.