The Center of It All

There was a time probably not too long ago where I would have agreed with the notion that New York City was the center of the universe. Like any good native New Yorker, I was never bashful about proclaiming the greatness of the most excellent city in the history of human civilization. I pretty much spent my entire four years of college venting about how awful Atlanta was in comparison. (In fairness, it really is pretty terrible in comparison.)

Now that I’m a bit older and things have changed in my life I no longer view New York with such affection. Sure, there are some things that are unsurpassable. For instance, all pizza outside of the area is just a pale imitation. And even though I will likely live the rest of my life away from New York, I will never become a fan of any sports teams not located in the five boroughs, unless they play in a shared football stadium just outside the five boroughs.

But as I said, things are different now. One thing that’s different is that when I do go home it’s not to the city and to its many bars, but rather to Long Island to see my family. More than that, there’s something about New York and its environs that seems so old and decaying. Sure, the city still has a vitality and life to it, but for some reason it feels different. Maybe it’s the pack of hipsters that I drove through in Williamsburg that made me see the city differently. This is an area of Brooklyn that not even ten years ago was . . .  shady at best, but is now inhabited by horn-rimmed glass wearing white people who are predominantly not from New York City. I’ve never been one to lament the cleaning up of New York, but I sort of miss the old neighborhood.

All that being said, it was good to be back in the city a few days back. For the first time in my life I actually got to spend a night in a New York hotel room. When I made the reservation to stay at “The Milford,” I have to say it didn’t ring any bells for me. Then when I walked up to the building and saw the sign for the Milford Plaza, that’s when it hit me:

If you are over the age of about 35 and grew up in New York, you no doubt are well acquainted with this commercial. If not, well, you missed out on a classic.

Needless to say the lobby didn’t quite look as fancy, and the room was . . . quaint. Throw in a bathroom roughly the size of a closet, and the hotel had a rather cozy feel. Mind you this is not a complaint, as this is what one expects of a hotel located on Broadway.

So New York may not have the same pull for me that it once did, but it’s still a nifty place to visit now and then.

A Question for the Driver In Front of Me This Morning

I’m specifically referring to the guy who had multiple bumper stickers decrying war and climate change, but who most noticeably had a bumper sticker decreeing “Bradley Manning: Whistleblower for Democracy.”

Just curious – what are your thoughts on the Benghazi whistleblowers? Are you still championing whistleblowers for democracy, or is there nothing to see here?

Funny how a press still crowing about taking a president down four decades ago has suddenly lost interest in digging deeper into stories.

Bias? What media bias?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

This has bad idea written all over it.

Internet radio host Adam Kokesh is planning a Washington DC  protest march that will cause quite a scene if it comes to fruition.

According to Salon, Kokesh is trying to get 1,000 people to march from the Virginia side of the Potomac River into DC while openly carrying loaded rifles. The march would take place on July 4th, 2013. The protestors may not face problems in Virginia where gun carrying laws are less stringent, but they would likely run into problems in DC, where carrying guns openly is illegal.

“This will be a non-violent event unless the government chooses to make it violent” Kokesh says on the event’s Facebook page.

Yeah that last sentence couldn’t possibly have bad portents.

 

Misappropriating Burke

One of the most tiresome and repeated tricks I see in political discourse is right-leaning moderates using Edmund Burke’s name in justifying big government conservatism. The latest to use Burke’s name to justify political moderation is Peter Berkowitz in his book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. Here’s a blurb from the book.

The first entrenched reality is that the era of big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping America’s expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role. Consequently, the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality…..the attempt to dismantle or even substantially roll back the welfare and regulatory state reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.”

And here’s a blurb from Harvey Mansfield.

Peter Berkowitz makes a match between Edmund Burke and the American Founders to give ‘political moderation’ a good name on our partisan battlefield. A short, effectual book with shining prose, a telling argument, and a lasting message. –Harvey C. Mansfield, Harvard University

Jeffrey Lord takes on Berkowtiz as well as Jennifer Rubin, Joe Scarborough and others who are preaching the value of capitulation moderation. As usual, Lord does a fantastic job of eviscerating the case for moderation. First, addressing the blurb quoted above, Lord writes:

So the New Deal is now the Founding principle of America? And attempts to “dismantle or even substantially” roll back the New Deal “reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities”?

Really?

Even Bill Clinton waxed Reaganesque when he said in that famous 1995 State of the Union message that “the era of Big Government is over.”

Berkowitz’s thinking — which Rubin shares — is a pluperfect example of what led a couple generations of American leaders to believe the Soviet Union was here to stay. Those were the folks rolling their eyes in their supposed sophistication when President Reagan insisted the Soviets were headed to the “ash heap of history.” Only to watch astonished as the Berlin Wall came down followed shortly thereafter by the Soviet flag over the Kremlin. Precisely as Reagan predicted.

Lord further examines how this bedrock principle and the programs created by the New Deal are crashing around us. As he writes:

The fact of the matter is that the New Deal is imploding all around us. With all manner of experts repeatedly warning the U.S. is being relentlessly driven towards a financial cliff, with entitlement spending on track to eventually consume first the defense budget before polishing off the entire federal budget. The fact that Democrats are tying themselves to the equivalent of an unexploded political IED is their decision.

But what, pray tell, is moderate, Republican or conservative about accepting the idea that America is headed irrevocably to bankruptcy and chaos?

There’s much more at the link as Lord explains how the social consensus keeps moving the left. “Moderation,” therefore, will only lead to more government control and, eventually, less freedom.

Jeff Goldstein also discusses Lord’s article and has more insights as well.

Lord and Goldstein both do great jobs of explaining the problems with Berkowitz’s position, but I want to focus on the admittedly more academic point, and that’s Berkowitz’s misappropriation of Burke.

Those who urge a more “moderate” approach to politics think that Burke is a model for their point of view. After all, Burke preached the values of prudence and political temperance. Indeed one of the guiding principles handed down by Burke is the rejection of hasty change. As he wrote:

But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated is, lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were their entire masters, that they should not think it among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society, hazarding to leave to those who came after them a ruin instead of an habitation – and teaching those successors as little to respect their contrivances as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than flies of a summer.

But citing Burke’s prudence as the center of his philosophy is a severe mistake. Berkowitz is divorcing Burke’s innate conservatism and fear of change from the context in which they developed. Burke advocated a conservative approach to governance precisely because he believed that the nation he lived in and the system of governance it inherited were basically good. Burke was a loyal patriot, and his writings ring with glowing words for the nation he loved. He lamented what happened in France and the revolution because he feared the same thing would happen to Great Britain if the radicals carried the day. As he wrote in the Reflections:

They [the British people] look on the frame of their commonwealth, such as it stands, to be of inestimable value, and they conceive the undisturbed succession of the crown to be a pledge of the stability and perpetuity of all the other members of our constitution.

Therefore Burke’s prudential politics was essentially preservationist. One can’t simply rip that aspect of his philosophy from its context and apply it to the current situation. Burke was trying to preserve the blessings of liberty that he believed the Great Britain of his time promoted and celebrated. He repeatedly warned about schemers who would rip apart the edifices of society in attempt to create some kind of utopian social order. Would Edmund Burke have countenanced or approved of leftist social engineering? Would Edmund Burke have countenanced a leviathan government that interfered in almost every aspect of life? Moreover, would Edmund Burke have tolerated an expansive federal government that overawed the state and local governments? This is the man who wrote,  “to be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” That Edmund Burke would have been okay with the New Deal and massive growth in the government it wrought?

As was written of Burke by an astute scholar:

Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is the work of a Whig who cherished freedom and, in the name of individual liberty, sought throughout his long parliamentary career, in battles with the Tories as well as with fellow Whigs, to limit the political power of throne and altar. But to limit is not to abolish, and can be consistent with cherishing, as it was in Burke’s case. He saw that within proper boundaries, religious faith disciplined and elevated hearts and minds, and monarchy upheld the continuity of tradition, reflected the benefits of hierarchy and order, and provided energy and agility in government. Both institutions, in his assessment, encouraged virtues crucial to liberty’s preservation.

Indeed. And the author of that paragraph – Peter Burkowitz – is spot on.

Unfortunately Berkowitz sees Burke’s innate political conservatism as the guiding principle without seeing that Burke’s political conservatism worked to serve a larger cause. Burke feared the French radicals not simply because they were radicals, but because they were destroying a system of government he felt was superior to the one they erected, and because they were completely overthrowing the social order. The idea that Burkean conservatism can be applied today as a means of critiquing the tea party movement or, dare I say “extreme” conservatives is a terrible misapplication of Burke’s guiding philosophy.

Further, as Lord says, the New Deal edifice is crumbling. We can’t afford to simply stay the course or veer it just a little bit more to the right. We have reached the point where it will take significant change to preserve our society and our constitution. As Burke himself wrote, “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. . . Without such means it might even risk the loss of the part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.” Burke didn’t preach stasis, and he certainly would not have advocated moderation if moderation meant the slow death of the nation.

It’s disappointing that someone as astute as Berkowitz whiffed this badly. Jennifer Rubin and Joe Scarborough are intellectual lightweights with no hint of being able to think beyond conventional wisdom. Berkowitz, on the other hand, should know better. It’s unfortunate seeing him enlist Edmund Burke in a cause he undoubtedly would have shunned.

“Pregnancy is a Choice, Not a Disability”

This and other pearls of wisdom can be found on the comments of this thread. Yes, pregnant women deserve no extra consideration, and it’s really up to them for other people to give up their seats.

Actually, the latter point isn’t totally off the wall. There is a part of you that worries that offering a seat to someone you deem to be pregnant can backfire if that woman is in fact not pregnant. And sometimes passengers don’t pay attention to other riders getting on that deserve the seat more than they do. But that doesn’t excuse the boorish behavior that some are either defending or even exemplifying.

The comments are truly revealing about a certain mindset among urban hipsters. At least this time no one has used the phrase “f$%^ trophy,” though there’s still time.

I’m Back . . . On the Metro Again

About seven months ago my wife and I decided that we needed a new vehicle, so we bought a big hunking minivan. We purchased the car in anticipation of eventually having more kids as our current mini-minivan would not comfortably accommodate a third car seat. As it turns out our family is growing bigger sooner than we thought, so points to us for anticipating that outcome.

We didn’t trade in the old car, so we officially became a two car family. The most wonderful aspect of that transformation is that I finally rid myself of having to take Metro. For many of you outside of the DC Metropolitan area, Metro appears to be a wonderful transit system that takes riders from the outer suburbs all the way into DC. Those of us who live and work in the area know better. In reality, Metro is essentially a glorified public works program that has the added benefit of sometimes delivering other  people to work . . . eventually.

I didn’t care about the cost of parking. It’s not much more than Metro, and I have the added bonus of halving my commute. In fact I estimate that driving lops off about 30 hours of commuting time per month – in another words, 1.25 days a month. That’s like half of my leave time per year. Now there are no doubt certain residents of this fine area who would be tremendously disappointed in my decision and would seek to put me in a re-education camp. These are mostly the same idiots I see biking in the middle of the street and who I have to risk head-on-collisions in order to pass on the road. Ah well.

What has life been like without Metro?  Food tastes better. The air seems fresher. I have more energy and self confidence than I ever dreamed of.

Unfortunately cars are not perfect, and things like DVD players and sunscreens break, requiring a trip to the dealer, which in turn necessitates travelling to work by . . . Metro.

No big deal. It’s just one day, right?

Well, except when I pick up the van the rear window will not roll up. It seems that in fixing one problem, they neglected to complete the other job. It was now past 6, and so there were no rental cars for me. Which means . . .

Another day on the Metro. Okay. Just one more day. How bad can it be?

My alarm clock is set to the talk radio station, and it goes off at just the time they do traffic. And what’s the first thing I hear? Massive delays on the Red Line due to a crack on the third rail. So my reaction was a bit like this:

Fortunately for my sanity the single tracking stopped by the time I hopped on Metro. In fact I even got a call while on the Metro telling me that the car was ready (and this time it really was).

Yet that one extra Metro trip reminded me of why I now drive instead. Which is perhaps a useful enough reminder for the next time I’m stuck in traffic . . .  in other words nine hours from now.

Maryland, My Maryland

My wife received an email today from our state delegate. It’s the sort of thing which makes you wish you lived just about anyplace else. Here’s the sort of fine representation we’re getting in Annapolis.

 In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, progressive Democrats took on the NRA—and we won.  As a Subcommittee Chair on the Judiciary Committee, I was proud to help craft the landmark Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a comprehensive public safety package addressing gun violence prevention in Maryland.

Well, you won in Maryland. That’s not exactly a tremendous accomplishment. But what does this wonderful piece of legislation do? I’m glad you asked.

  • Bans semiautomatic assault rifles like the AR-15 used in the Newtown slaughter;

You’ll note that that’s twice that Newtown was referenced, yet if you point out that this legislation would have had absolutely no impact on what happened in Newtown, you’ll get a kindly”shut up” in response. Even though Newtown is being used as a cudgel by the left to impose further gun control legislation,  in the same breath they’ll tell you that it’s irrelevant that none of this would have stopped what happened in Newtown. Because the kids or something.

   Taking on the NRA wasn’t easy, and the threats and vitriol I received from the gun lobby were unlike anything I’ve seen in politics.

Oh, I could think of worse – like the threats and vitriol hurled at the NRA from those who support further restrictions on gun rights.

I came to Annapolis to stand strong for the progressive values we share.

Who’s “we” kemosabe?

        In William Jennings Bryan’s “Guns and Butter” speech, the butter was the domestic investment our government makes in its citizens.  In Maryland, we invested in our citizens by passing a 100% balanced budget designed to fully fund education, protect safety-net services, and maintain our state’s AAA bond rating.  By reducing spending 20% over the past several years, we have nearly eliminated our structural deficit.  At the same time, we strategically increased funding for:

  • Education, securing a record $6 billion to keep our schools ranked #1 for the fifth (!) straight year;
  • Health care, implementing the Affordable Care Act and guaranteeing that this remains a right, not a privilege for the few;
  • Veterans, ensuring that our heroes have the resources they need to transition to full civilian employment upon their return;
  • Transportation, modernizing our road and transit systems while increasing Maryland’s economic competitiveness and improving our shared quality of life.

We’ll leave aside the gimmickry involved in claiming a “balanced budget” for the moment and simply concentrate on the fact that the state is resorting to taxing freaking rainfall in order to raise revenue. The tax burden has become so burdensome that the state is bleeding residents and businesses. But hey, at least we can celebrate spending $120 million  to subsidize a glorified bus depot that is two years behind schedule and may possibly never open. Yay Maryland!

Our state budget is a moral document, and I believe we fulfilled our moral obligation this year.

So after being informed repeatedly that conservatives want to impose our morality on the body politic, here is a state politician – a Democrat, mind you – proudly proclaiming that a state budget is a moral document? But . . . but . . . I thought we were supposed to keep morality out of politics? Do you mean to tell me that it was all just a lie, and in fact it’s perfectly appropriate to impose our morality on the rest of society so long as it’s leftist, secularist morality?

Well gee, at least we’re not Texas. Things just look miserable there.

Our President in Action

This is the sort of thing that just makes you so proud to be an American.

When asked about second term failures, President Barack Obama responded by saying, “Maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly.”

Do not criticize our Fearless Leader. You will only anger him, and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Because he gets all cranky and frankly it’s a bit embarrassing.

Of course it will comes as no surprise that our incredibly thin-skinned president essentially surrounds himself with nothing but sycophantic yes-men.

A revealing new book from one of the media’s longest serving White House correspondents reports that President Obama surrounds himself only with “idolizers,” and top aides make sure that those whose view might “shake him up too much” are shoved aside.

In “Prisoners of the White House, the Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership,” U.S. News correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh also discloses the extent to which Obama relies on polling for his political decisions including a never-before revealed reelection project to investigate the thoughts and feelings of “up for grabs” voters and another dedicated to helping him build a lasting legacy.

Time, or the Lack Thereof

One of the unfortunate side effects of having a job, two kids, and other interests and pesky little things like blogging have to take a momentary backseat. It’s been nearly a month since my last update, and I’m mainly updating to indicate that I haven’t updated in a while. Surely these are the sort of sizzling reflections that have you coming back for more.

In all seriousness, I do hope to update more frequently. If nothing else, I’m hoping to brew up my next batch of beer, so keep an eye out on the food and booze section. I’m also working on a short story that will hopefully be up in the next month or so.

Until then, enjoy a master at work.