Keep AP History in Oklahoma!

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Among the many stories of bad weather, America’s Mayor questioning the president’s love of America, and the general problems of life, one story really stood out for me this week: an Oklahoma legislative committee voted to ban AP US History courses because these courses apparently only emphasize the “bad things” about American history. Not surprisingly, my liberal friends jumped all over this and accused Oklahoma of “censoring” history, ensuring that their citizens are the dumbest, and so on. In this case, I think they are absolutely right.

American history is complex, fascinating, and consequential.  If the course only emphasized America’s faults, then that would be disconcerting. I suspect, however, that the curriculum is probably fair, and the senators are only focusing on the instances where America is held at fault for something. In other words, I would wager that this is an example of the telephone ringing while we’re in the shower. We care about those few instances, but not the instances where the phone doesn’t ring while in the shower. That was my experience with AP US History; we talked about problematic periods and decisions in US history, but it was never a commie rage fest.  In short, I question the extent to which the course really demonizes America.

America is not Mordor. Anyone who suggests otherwise is wrong. But neither is America the Garden of Eden. As always, the truth falls somewhere in between. I do not believe America deserves to be demonized nonstop in these courses, but it is dumb to pretend that our history is spotless. To the contrary, we have a history marked by slavery, racial caste systems, corruption, and some imperialism. BUT, how many countries are innocent of any of this? Slavery has existed in all places in human history in some form. Racism is hardly unique to America, and the same is true of corruption. As for imperialism, the American Empire was far less extensive than our European brethren. All of these factors need to be considered in an honest history class. We have many spots on our record, but it is not correct to assume that America is all bad.

Another charge the senators raise is that the course didn’t even mention the notion of “American Exceptionalism.” Now this is an interesting charge that, if true, should be corrected. I do not really believe in “American Exceptionalism” in its most dominant, historical sense. I do not believe, for instance, that America is a “New Jerusalem”, specially designated by God to usher in the Millennial Kingdom. However, I still think it is an important concept to mention in a history course because it was a dominant belief in the 18th Century and other periods in our history. Moreover, I do believe America is “exceptional” in that the Constitution was a stroke of pure brilliance among the Founders and I believe America is one of the only places on Earth where anyone can make it if they try hard enough.  Also, America is one of the only countries where you can become an “American.” You cannot just become “French” or “Russian” by choice, but you can become an American. I think it is important to mention these ideas in a history course, but I would not ban a course that did not include these concepts.

AP History played a huge role in my academic development (maybe not as much as collegiate courses, but it was one of the factors that pushed me in that direction!) and I am dismayed that Oklahoma politicians want to take away these opportunities from their students. Since America is neither perfect nor evil, these courses are a lot of fun and help to develop key analytical and critical thinking skills as students grapple with the complexities. I do not believe one has to believe America is perfect in order to be “patriotic,” nor do I believe one has to curse America in order to be “scholarly.” American history is rich and complex and it is shameful to deprive talented students of the opportunity to debate and consider these complexities in an AP History class.

My (Not-So-Definitive) Ranking of the Presidents

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Presidents Day. The one day a year when it is totally acceptable to be a political science geek and make a list like this. Anyway, my rankings are completely subjective and are based on their accomplishments, reputation, and how positive I believe there impact on the United States was. I did not include W.H. Harrison or James Garfield because they were not in office long enough to really assess.

  1. George Washington- America’s first president made the institution possible by willingly relinquishing power and choosing not to become a king. He also ruled as America’s only truly nonpartisan president. No other president comes close to his statesmanship, humility, and service. 
  2. Abraham Lincoln- Although he made violated the Constitution, at times, he ultimately saved the Union, made the extinction of slavery possible, and relinquished his powers when the war ended. He may have hacked off some limbs of the Constitution, but he ultimately saved it. I also respect his willingness to stand for reelection in the middle of a war effort. He may have been a mild despot, but he never lost sight of what he was trying to save. 
  3. Franklin Roosevelt- I may not like his policies, but he was the right leader for the right time. He guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II by being a calming and optimistic leader. He fundamentally reshaped American politics for half a century and some of his legislative achievements remain important features of American politics (none more than Social Security).  
  4. Teddy Roosevelt- Again, I’m not a huge fan of progressives, but Teddy made the most of his bully pulpit. Between trust-busting, conservation, and his Great White Fleet, TR certainly made his presence felt across the country while serving as president. He is an American icon and deservedly so. 
  5. Dwight Eisenhower- I like Ike. He was a consensus builder and presided over an era of relatively good feelings (at least when the Soviets were not involved). He also was more of a “hidden hand” president than his critics are willing to admit. In other words, he was not merely a figurehead; he was a leader in every sense of the word. 
  6. Harry Truman- He finished off the fascists and was a strong anti-communist. The Marshall Plan probably saved Greece and Turkey from communism and helped to ensure that Europe would be rebuilt. 
  7. Ronald Reagan- The Great Communicator who made conservatism fashionable, again, and contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. But for Iran-Contra, Reagan would be higher on this list. 
  8. Andrew Jackson- A demagogue who built the first mass party in American history, Jackson does belong among the “greats” in American history, in spite of his racial attitudes and decisions. Jackson’s presidency made complete sense in the context of his time period. 
  9. Thomas Jefferson- A rather overrated president (which is heresy to say at UVA!), he nonetheless belongs in the top 10 for the totality of his contributions to the American political system. 
  10. James Polk- Polk is one of the nation’s most unappreciated presidents, given his achievements in his one term in office. Polk expanded the nation’s boundaries to the waters of the Pacific Ocean and led America to victory in the Mexican-American War. 
  11. John Adams- Thanks to David McCullough’s masterful biography and the HBO miniseries of that book, Adams’ reputation has undergone a renaissance. He deserves recognition for keeping America out of war and adequately carrying out the beyond-Herculean task of being the successor to George Washington. 
  12. James Monroe- When you win reelection unopposed in a democracy, you know you have done something right. For presiding over a period of peace and prosperity, Monroe deserves a high ranking. 
  13. Calvin Coolidge- Another vastly underrated president, Coolidge is the model of a president who understands that Americans function best when government is off their backs. In spite of his nickname (“Silent Cal”), Coolidge actually held numerous press conferences and was a media favorite. Coolidge presided over the last truly stress-free time period in American history.
  14. Bill Clinton- His dalliances with women, notwithstanding, Clinton was probably the best president of my lifetime. His competence, pragmatism, and respect for free market economics make him palatable to someone like myself. I do not know if I will ever see another politician as talented as Clinton. 
  15. William McKinley– McKinley won a realigning election and paved the way for the rise of Teddy Roosevelt. He was a wise leader who did not allow the tactics of yellow journalists (like Hearst) to rush him into war with the Spanish. When he did finally send us to war, he was a decisive and resolute leader 
  16. Woodrow Wilson- I do not think he is as great as many of my colleagues would say he was. My main beef with Wilson has to do with the sheer volume of power he assumed during World War I and the maniacal way in which he used this power. Waging total war is one thing, but ordering that German music and literature be burned is just absurd. He even imprisoned one of his opponents in the 1912 presidential race (Eugene Debs) for refusing to promote the draft. After the war, Wilson acted like an arrogant prick by believing his Fourteen Points to be a Messianic Plan and refusing to concede anything to the Senate, whose blessing he needed for America to ratify the Versailles Treaty. Wilson is, in my opinion, a rather overrated president. 
  17. John F. Kennedy– Vastly overrated, in my opinion, is the Crown Prince of America’s Royal Family. I admire Kennedy’s abilities as a Cold Warrior. He deserves credit for not pushing the button during the Cuban Missile Crisis and for accepting responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but his other accomplishments are few and far between. I do not believe he deserves to be the American icon he has become.
  18. Grover Cleveland- He had the potential to be a refounding president, but he didn’t really manage to do it. With Cleveland, I most admire his devotion to sound currency and his ability to win non-consecutive terms.
  19. George HW Bush- “Read my lips” was a disastrous promise to make and breaking that promise carried enormous political consequences. However, Bush is enjoying a rehabilitation of his reputation and many are now lauding his decision to break that promise as an example of “political courage.” Winning a quick and decisive war is another way to boost your favorability. 
  20. Gerald Ford- He made the right decision by pardoning Nixon and was a better president than his narrative indicates. 
  21. James Madison- He was a better political scientist and member of the House than president.
  22. John Q. Adams- He probably should not have won the Election of 1824 and presided over a tumultuous presidency, as a result. Like his father, his presidency was a “disjunctive” presidency (to borrow from Stephen Skowronek) at the tail-end of a dysfunctional regime. Adams’ good political legacy is the result of his extraordinary statesmanship as a member of the House after his presidency.
  1. Lyndon Johnson- One of America’s most fascinating presidents, LBJ experienced some enormous successes and spectacular failures. Ultimately, his supporters cling to Medicare and the Civil Rights Act as his great contributions, while his detractors point to Vietnam and his inability to transform America into a truly “great” society.
  2. Rutherford Hayes– He won a controversial election that prematurely ended Reconstruction, but had a moderately successful presidency, especially in the realms of civil service reform and sound currency.
  3. Chester A. Arthur- Mark Twain said that “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.” That’s good enough for me. His victories were hardly monumental, but he ended the presidency on a high note, a truly rare quality for a president.
  4. Ulysses S. Grant- Reconstruction was a monumental failure and Grant was a better general than president. 
  5. Benjamin Harrison- He had a forgettable, but generally well-regarded presidency. In short, he was the quintessential nineteenth-century president: a fairly competent creature of the party system. 
  6. Barack Obama- Being the first African-American president is a plus, but there’s little else I can positively say about the man. His signature legislative accomplishment (the ACA) has never earned a single Republican vote of support and has really screwed over the people who liked their health plan and thought they could keep it. In the realm of foreign policy, he has had few victories and he has shown himself to not be the great diplomat he thought he would be. He has been a rather divisive president and a vastly overrated politician. 
  7. Herbert Hoover- Hoover may have a reputation for “doing nothing” in the face of the Crash of ’29, but that reputation is false and unfair. If anything, Hoover should be criticized for intervening too much in the economy during the crisis. Even FDR accused Hoover of favoring “big government solutions” to the crisis (while at the same time not spelling out what exactly he would do differently). His presidency is a sad tale, especially when he is vilified for all the wrong reasons. 
  8. George W. Bush- Bush pushed neoconservatism to an unbelievable extreme and championed big government “conservatism” that ultimately pushed us into debts that will take decades to repay. During and after September 11th, however, he displayed exemplary leadership and guided America through some of the darkest days in our nation’s history. 
  9. William Taft- He never wanted to be president, but he was competent. Taft was a constitutional conservative who continued some of Roosevelt’s progressive policies, but not enough to appease his predecessor. His term as Chief Justice was FAR more successful. 
  10. Martin Van Buren- He was the architect behind the Jacksonian Democratic Party, but only did a mediocre job as Jackson’s successor. His most glaring failure, the Amistad fiasco, severely damages his legacy (and deservedly so). 
  11. Zachary Taylor- Taylor didn’t really have too much time to do much, but he was an okay opposition president. He went out of his way to not antagonize anyone too badly and his death ensured that he would not have to shoulder the blame for another disastrous attempt to appease everyone on slavery. 
  12. John Tyler- Tyler’s great contribution to American politics is that he ensured that the Vice President’s right to assume the presidency upon the death of the president is absolute. However, he was an awful president who was always at-odds with his own party and tried to dictate policy. Perhaps his greatest failure was his support for the Confederacy in the Civil War after his presidency. 
  13. Richard Nixon- Watergate ruined his presidency and will forever harm his legacy. Maybe one day, opening the door to China will be the first thing to come to mind when Nixon’s name is mentioned, but I am skeptical. He was a brilliant foreign policy president, but he just could not overcome his personal issues. 
  14. Jimmy Carter- Carter was weak, naive, overly ambitious, and completely unskilled in the art of Washington politics. Carter’s presidency, in short, marked a low point in American history. 
  15. Warren Harding- Although not a bad president, per se, Harding’s “Ohio Gang” of friends completely destroyed his legacy. 
  16. Millard Fillmore- That he joined the “Know Nothing” Party is telling. Fillmore may be known for Kia’s “Soap on a Rope” commercials, but his legacy is forever tied to the disastrous Compromise of 1850, one of the half-hearted attempts to solve the slavery issue. 
  17. Franklin Pierce- Like Fillmore, Pierce’s legacy is tied to a half-hearted, and disastrous, attempt to solve the slavery issue: the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 
  18. Andrew Johnson- Johnson allowed Confederate states back into the Union far too quickly and allowed the South to reestablish in all, but name only, a de facto system of slavery and racial hierarchy that would last another century. His presidency was a disaster in every respect. 
  19. James Buchanan- He tried to manipulate the Supreme Court in Dred Scott, believing that he could put an end to the issue of slavery, once and for all. He could not have been more wrong. Instead of settling the issue of slavery, Buchanan amplified it and ensured that a Civil War would soon follow. 

Brian Williams Needs to Resign

For the past decade or so, I have entrusted Brian Williams with the task of informing me about the state of our world as the anchor of NBC Nightly News. Although he never sounded as interesting or authoritative as his predecessor, the great Tom Brokaw, I generally trusted what he said and found him to be a rather capable journalist.

All of that changed last week when he announced that he had…embellished… to say the least, a story of his field reporting in Iraq by making it sound like his plane had come under RPG and AK-47 fire, while he was actually in the plane that followed, and had repeated this fabricated story on more than one occasion.

Since that bombshell was released, some of his other reporting (especially his field reporting of Hurricane Katrina) has come under scrutiny and he has gained a reputation for inserting himself into stories where he doesn’t belong. In other words, he has lost much of his credibility.

NBC has responded to this series of unfortunate events by suspending Williams for six months without leave. Reading between the not-so-subtle lines, they are giving Lester Holt (or perhaps Savannah Guthrie) a six-month audition for Williams’ job. I would be very surprised if NBC actually let Williams return to his desk (because, really, in any profession, if you are “suspended without pay” that is usually a nice way of saying “we will fire you soon, just quietly.”) To save face, Brian Williams should just resign and allow everyone to move on.

Some, such as Jon Stewart (who incidentally announced yesterday that he is leaving The Daily Show), have tried to make the case that Williams is being unfairly railroaded for a relatively minor offense.  While I get that the think the media failed the public in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I do not think the comparison is quite fair. There is a difference between publishing a story that ultimately proved to be wrong because you relied too heavily on government sources and inserting yourself into the news ten years late by fabricating your story. It would be like if ten years from now, Lester Holt tried to claim that he was on the Seahawks’ sideline in the Super Bowl and insisted that the Seahawks give the ball to Marshawn Lynch, but the offensive coordinator didn’t listen to him on that fateful play, and people tried to defend this lie by noting how the OC made a dumb play call. Maybe that’s not a perfect analogy, but it is close enough. The point is simply this; I am willing to give the media some slack in the present if they make some mistakes like they did with Iraq in 2003. But, a true journalist caught lying about something ten years after the fact has committed, in my view, a far greater mistake that deserves punishment.

Still others have tried, yet again, to note how inaccurate FOX News pundits can be. I think I am going to start calling this fallacy Reductio Ad Foxium. Look, FOX News pundits are generally not journalists. They are talking heads, paid to spout out opinions that will get them viewers and clicks. I would hope that the person who succeeded Tom Brokaw is held to a far higher standard than Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. I would expect the anchor of NBC Nightly News to be the remnant of a bygone age of journalism- the age of Cronkite. The anchor for “America’s Most Watched Newscast” should be an objective reporter, whose first loyalty is to truth and whose profession is a discipline of verification (see Kovach and Rosenstiel). In my view, cable pundits can say whatever the hell they want- they are entertainers and panderers to their partisan audiences, but the anchor of such a vaunted, trusted news program has to be trusted in order to be effective. So, the Reduction Ad Foxium arguments are nothing more than red herrings to distract from the real issue: America’s lack of trust in Brian Williams.

Brian Williams must resign now. Even if he somehow could come back in six months, he would be harming his network and profession by being a discredited journalist. He should resign quietly and turn it over to Lester Holt so that everyone can move on.

The GOP of the Future

The GOP is in a period of transition, right now. Losing five of the last six popular votes in presidential elections has, justifiably, resulted in calls for the party to at least modernize some views, if not moderate. Based on my own observations, here is what I think the GOP will look like in the future (at least if they want to be a competitive party).

Social Issues

The Republican Party must remain pro-life. This is non-negotiable. The Republican Party is the party of life. If I believed in the “right side of history” argument, I would use it for the GOP on this issue. Eventually, abortion will be mentioned in the same veneer as slavery. I truly believe that.  On a baser, more political level, it is also the issue that tethers the South and Midwest to the GOP.

I am willing to bet that many Republicans in the future will oppose the death penalty. For both economic and moral reasons, I believe many Republicans will switch positions in the decades to come. Economically, the cost of endless appeals is a good reason to oppose the death penalty. Morally, I think many Republicans will recognize the dilemma of being pro-life and pro-death penalty (which I think is an easier position to hold than being pro-abortion and anti-death penalty) and opt for life in all cases. Especially as more Death Row inmates end up being exonerated by DNA evidence, I think many will change their positions.

Gay marriage will no longer be an issue. After the Court legalizes gay marriage nationally, it will cease to be a political issue (it might stick around as long as the 2016 elections, but after that, it will no longer be relevant).

As for marijuana and the Drug War, I think most Republicans will eventually support the legalization of marijuana and favor relaxing some of our extreme sentences for drug offenses.

Fiscal Issues 

I really do not the future GOP will change too many positions.  I think the party will still be the party of the free market, deregulation, and free trade. If there is one way that the party can improve in this realm, it is to stop support corporate welfare/cronyism.

Foreign Policy

Although the party could go either way on this, I think the GOP of the future will return to the realist roots of the Cold War, rather than the neoconservative path of the last decade. Our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan will carry over for years and make many Republicans (especially younger Republicans) less willing to actively intervene in conflicts around the globe. I doubt Republicans will be mini-Ron Pauls, but they certainly will not be as trigger-happy as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Pete King still are.

I think the party will continue to support Israel, but perhaps in a less-unconditional way, and certainly in a manner supporting a two-state solution to the quagmire that is the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

As for immigration, Republicans will be forced to adopt a softer tone on amnesty if they wish to see the party survive. The demographics do not favor the GOP if they do not stop equating all immigrants with terrorist organizations. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Conclusion

These are the stances I think the GOP will take in the future. In some ways, this platform looks similar to the Libertarian Party, but a pro-life version of the Libertarian Party. I think freedom from the government is the way of the future, and the GOP should be at the forefront.

Sorting out the Pack

Every other day, now, it seems that another Republican is forming an exploratory committee or at the very least, announcing their intention to explore the possibility of running for president. At this point, there are already far too many candidates who have expressed interest in running. The twist this time, however, is that we could see gladiator battles among both the conservative AND “establishment” wings of the party during the primary. Unlike most primaries, the political/donor class will not rally behind one figure and wait for conservatives to destroy each other. They too, will have to battle it out and see who emerges. I think the time has come where we can establish realistic tiers of candidates.

Top Tier (The Strongest of Each Faction)

Scott Walker (WI)- If conservatives really hope to avoid nominating another so-called “RINO” (a term I thoroughly loathe), Walker is the champion they seek. He has won three elections in a blue state in four years AND ruled more conservatively than anyone else in memory. He has beaten the unions, even though they launched the most vicious attacks I have ever seen in America (trashing the capital, evacuating Democrat senators to another state to force a standoff, etc…) and still won reelection TWICE! In Scott Walker, I see a leader with the strength and courage to challenge Hillary and perhaps pull off an upset. I really believe he would make a great president.

Jeb Bush (FL)- Honestly, if his last name was not “Bush”, Jeb would be the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican Party, at least among the “establishment” candidates because of his popularity and success in Florida. As it is, Jeb may be popular among the donor class, but I think most Republicans rightly fear the bad karma associated with the Bush Family thanks to W’s disastrous second term. Now, the handicap associated with Jeb’s last name would be partially neutralized in a contest against Hillary Clinton, but it would also deprive the GOP of one of their only advantages over Clinton (the ability to put forward a new figure). Jeb’s stances on Common Core and immigration, moreover, make him a hard sell among the base right, but those concerns pale in comparison to the issue of his last name. *Update* Now that Mitt Romney has dropped out, I am moving Jeb to the top tier since he is the logical next choice for Romney donors. My guess is that Jeb offered Mitt a future cabinet position if he agreed to drop out and not stand in his way.

Rand Paul (KY)- I think Senator Paul is the best of the Tea Party candidates because he gives the GOP a chance to build a new coalition with younger voters that may revive an aging Republican Party. Rand already has his father’s army of young libertarians in his corner (not all of them, certainly, but many) and he has built upon that foundation. Should Paul win the nomination, he may be able to win over far-left doves who distrust Hillary for her support for the War in Iraq and generally interventionist stances. He also might be able to crack into the left’s stranglehold on African-American voters because of his active support for prison reform. Paul, in short, can deliver younger voters who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate-liberal that no other serious Republican can, at the moment. Finally, he has proven to me lately that he is capable of running a disciplined, relatively mistake-free campaign by becoming a polished, talented politician.

Second Tier (The Next-Best Option for Each Wing)

John Kasich (OH)- Although it is unclear yet if Kasich is going to run, he could launch a competitive campaign if he decides to run. He is a second-term governor of the most critical state for the GOP to win and his reelection was not even close. He might be a tough sell to conservatives for expanding Medicare in his state, but that primary weakness could be a general election strength. Especially now that Rob Portman has decided not run, the door is open for Kasich to launch a relatively dark-horse bid that surprises everyone.

Marco Rubio (FL)- Like Kasich, it is unclear whether or not Rubio will actually run, since Floridian laws prevent one from running for two offices at once (and his Senate seat is not one that the party is thrilled about risking). If he does run, he can cut into the deficit Republicans currently have with Hispanic voters and he will likely deliver another crucial state for the GOP. I still consider him the Crown Prince of the Tea Party, even if some now deride him as a “RINO” for trying to change the status quo on immigration. But, he is a skilled politician, dynamic speaker, and has the potential to be a superstar on the national stage. It just does not feel like he is there, yet.

Chris Christie (NJ)- In spite of his annoying propensity to hang out with Jerry Jones and the lingering effects of Bridgegate, Christie is  the best of the so-called “establishment” candidates. I know many conservatives do not like Christie, but he is a candidate built for a general election. Despite his moderate reputation, Christie has actually been a rather conservative governor and has had his own victories over public sector unions. His blunt, take-no-prisoners brand of politics may really resound with Americans tired of double-speaking politicians. He certainly has his flaws, but I believe he will resonate far better with blue collar America than Bush or Graham. *Update* Mitt Romney’s decision not to run, however, will make it tougher for Christie to emerge. If he wants to defeat Bush, he will have to start courting former Romney donors very soon. Although Mitt dropping out may have removed one obstacle from Christie’s path, I think Jeb will ultimately have benefited more from Mitt’s decision than Christie will have. As such, I have demoted him to the second tier.

Third Tier (The Longshots)

Ted Cruz (TX)- I have to hand it to Cruz, he is a honey badger when it comes to politics. If he hadn’t shut down the government in 2013 and lost big time, he would be a serious contender. He is as sharp as they come and one of the great debaters in the world today. Unfortunately for him, he has a reputation as a fire-breathing ideologue that spells trouble in a general election. Maybe he should sit out a couple of primary rounds and run in 2020 or 2024, so that he can have time to mend his reputation.

Mike Pence (IN)- Governor Pence is not very well-known, at all, and my guess is that he is going to focus his efforts on winning reelection in the Hoosier State. If he does run, he could make a strong run at the nomination and be a credible challenge to Ms. Clinton.

Lindsey Graham (SC)- With Romney now out of the picture, Graham has been upgraded to this tier from the bottom tier. Even so, I think John McCain is his only fan in the world. Santorum’s interventionism is only matched by Lindsey Graham, who would support military action against London if a fly landed in his soup. Conservatives despise Graham, and I really don’t think he is that popular with the donor class, either. Yes, he just won a third term in the Senate, but that is due more to having too many primary challengers than any kind of popularity on his part.

Bottom Tier (Unknowns, Has-Beens, Also-Rans)

Rick Perry (TX)- His reputation has been repaired, to some degree, but not enough to launch a viable campaign.

Rick Santorum (PA)- Gay marriage will be legalized this year by the Supreme Court. That could either boost Santorum among hardcore social conservatives or make him even more of a pariah among the rest of the GOP. In some ways, it is a shame that Santorum’s career will be marked by his virulent opposition to gay marriage, because he has an alternative economic message that resonates with blue-collar America. As it stands, however, his social and foreign policy beliefs have not adapted from the age of Neoconservative America.

Ben Carson (MI)- He’s a nice guy and dynamic speaker, but he needs some experience in elected office before running for president.

George Pataki (NY)- He was news in, like, 1994. Not exactly the image of a new, vibrant Republican Party. He should have run in 2008.

Robert Ehrlich (MD)- 99% of Republicans- who?

Pete King (NY)- Another figure stuck in the age of Neoconservatism, King’s frightening willingness to use military power in any situation and support for domestic spying programs are incompatible with America’s return to normalcy.

Mike Huckabee (AR)- Huckabee cannot defeat Hillary Clinton while being such an iconic opponent of gay marriage. It also does not help that he has a reputation for being a fiscally irresponsible governor.

Bobby Jindal (LA)- I’ve always been a huge fan of Jindal, but right now he just seems to be treading water. I’m more than happy to upgrade his status if he starts moving in the right direction.

Carly Fiorina (CA)- Had she defeated Barbara Boxer in 2010, she would be a palpable candidate. Unfortunately, she lost big to Boxer and will always be remembered for her iconic Demon Sheep ad.

There are probably more potential candidates down here, but these are the only ones I could think of…

*Groundbreaking prediction*- the 2016 VP nominee is not on this list.

I would like to close by noting that conservatives have a chance this time to actually defeat the establishment in the primaries, something that has not really been done since 1964 (Reagan was the huge favorite in 1980 of all wings, so his nomination was not really an upset of any sort). The big complaint about the GOP has been that they always nominate “the establishment guy,” a “RINO” who cannot excite the base. The reason for that is that often too many conservatives (many of them not exactly the most credible) enter the race and split the conservative votes, allowing the moderate candidate to cruise to the nomination. That was the case in 2012, where Romney simply outlasted Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Pawlenty (none of them were great candidates, but still). In 2008, McCain outlasted Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, and the others. In 2000, Bush was the establishment favorite. IN 1996, only Steve Forbes could really challenge Dole. This time, we could see Christie, Bush, and Graham fight among themselves (although the loss of Romney diminishes the possibility of a long, drawn-out fight among the establishment candidates) while Walker, Paul, Rubio, and Cruz also fight among themselves. If conservatives can coalesce behind either Walker or Paul early on, the chances are good that the base chooses the nominee.  I really do believe Scott Walker is the best option- a man who appeals to all wings of the party. But conservatives have to be willing to work together rather than against each other.

Time to End the State of the Union Address

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Last night, some Americans gathered around their TV to witness the most useless spectacle in American politics: the State of the Union Address. For the next hour or so, they were treated to a series of stump speeches from a lameduck president that have no chance of ever actually passing in Congress and becoming a law. And, as always, I finished watching the speech feeling like I had wasted an hour of my life that I would never get back.

I really think it is high time we ended the silly spectacle that is the televised State of the Union Address.  For the most part, I think the only purpose it serves is to boost the ego of the President.  For one night a year, people actually stand up and cheer every other word the president speaks. Other than this ego boost, what purpose does the address serve?

Yes, the Constitution stipulates that the president should occasionally provide such a report to Congress. It does not, however, have to be a speech. For the first century of America’s existence, the president just handed a written report to a congressional clerk and the report was then distributed to the members of Congress. Woodrow Wilson changed that, and the advent of television has resulted in the pompous spectacle we see today.

The address clearly does not foster much in the way of the actual Congressional agenda. The agenda is controlled by chamber leaders, who may only introduce an item on the president’s agenda if it suits their purposes. As it stands at the moment, Boehner and McConnell have little to gain by putting the president’s agenda on the schedule.  The president is going to try to circumvent Congress by “taking his case to the people,” but this is exactly what Wilson tried in 1918 (for ratification of the Versailles Treaty) and he failed miserably. I really do not see much chance of success if the president tries to go the Wilson route. As such, I doubt very much that the State of the Union Address ever leads to much visible policy change.

Some argue that the address somehow “unifies” America. Anyone watching the address or even following it on Twitter knows that is simply not the case. Inside the chamber, most of the president’s one-liners only bring half of the chamber, at most, to their feet at any given time. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress feel much, if any, kinship with their colleagues of the opposite party? Outside of the hallowed chambers of Congress, the divisiveness is even worse. Every single line the president speaks is dissected and attacked by his political foes. Moreover, most people watching the State of the Union Address are either playing bingo or some kind of drinking game. I’m a political science graduate student and nearly everyone I talked to either didn’t watch the address, played Bingo, or played some kind of drinking game during the speech. If political scientists are not taking this speech seriously, how on Earth can we expect the masses to actually take the address seriously? In short, I find the notion that this address can unify Americans to be silly, at best.

Finally, the State of the Union address is accompanied by a tradition that is probably even worse: the out-party’s response to the address. Unfortunately for the figure picked to deliver this response, this assignment is watched by few and never comes close to matching the star power of the president during this speech. There are many reasons for this disparity; the biggest might be that the poor soul has no audience to feed off of during the course of his or her speech. As such, dynamic speakers like Joni Ernst just do not come across as dynamic, in the slightest when giving the response. Moreover, the response is rarely an actual response since the text is pre-written and the speakers do not really have the chance to prepare formal rebuttals. Ultimately, the response has proven to be a political graveyard for many promising talents- especially Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal. Joni Ernst’s response was better than average, but that is a really low bar to clear.

In sum, I think the American people would be better served by dropping this ridiculous tradition.  Between the empty rhetoric, excessive pomp and circumstance, and the fact that few Americans actually take the address seriously (and watch the response), I think the American people would be just as served, if not better served, by doing away with the televised speech.  Perhaps a non-televised speech would result in the president proposing more plausible proposals (since they won’t be shooting for standing ovations). But hey, that’s just my two cents; take it or leave it.

Je Suis Charlie

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I know, I’m a little late to the party. But I do stand in solidarity with the French in the face of the monstrous events of late.

I do not stand with Charlie Hebdo because I am a fan of their work. Quite frankly I, like most Americans, had never heard of them until the massacre. I stand with them because freedom of speech is the fundamental freedom; it is the freedom from which all other freedoms flow. Without the freedom of expression, freedom of religion is meaningless. Without freedom of speech, mankind can make no advances in science, technology, knowledge, or anything else. Without freedom of speech, people are reduced to mindless robots through either torture (as in 1984) or distractions and mind-altering euphoria (as in Brave New World).

Freedom of speech, as guaranteed in the Constitution, prohibits the government from imposing limitations on speech and expression. However, the spirit of the 1st Amendment means that no individual or group should be able to impose their will and prevent expression through force. As such, short of a few notable exceptions (shouting “fire” in a movie theater, for example), there really ought not be any limit to what one can say or publish.  In my view, satirizing religion does not fall within that category of “notable exceptions.”

One’s view of the sanctity of Muhammad does not matter. Personally, I believe him to be a lying, murdering, pedophile who is a false prophet, but that is not the point. I’m a devout Christian and I have seen or watched countless instances of Christ being blasphemed or desecrated. AND I’M OKAY WITH THAT. One of my favorite shows, South Park, for example, often has Jesus as a character in the show. Usually, he’s a good guy, but on occasion, he uses steroids or does something else that make him less than perfect. I have no idea what God is supposed to be in South Park, and they made one episode where a statue of the Virgin Mary bleeds out of her bottom (as well as a song about Mary being a technical virgin by virtue of performing oral sex on numerous guys). The point is this: there is a lot in South Park that can, should, and does offend me as a Christian. However, I would never begin to entertain the idea of exacting some sort of revenge on Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Nor would I try to hunt down the creator of Piss Christ. Just as I have a right to worship Christ, they have a right to blaspheme because we have the freedom of speech.  They do, of course, have the right to feel offended and to express those feelings. But no one has a right to murder someone over publishing something offensive.

I am glad that Charlie Hebdo responded to the terrorist attack with a cartoon depicting Muhammad. Why? It’s not that I want to insult Muslims, it’s that I do not want to send a message to terrorists that killing people will silence them. I do not want to live in a world where anyone insulted by anything has a tacit right to massacre those who insulted them and find out that they have succeeded in silencing those they don’t like. We’ve already seen enough of that lately, with Sony cowering in fear and not doing a theatrical release of The Interview because of threats from an external enemy. Instances like these are the reasons we don’t negotiate with terrorists- success breeds more success.  By standing up to the forces of terror and violence, Charlie Hebdo became more powerful than they could ever have possibly imagined.

I know my words will fall on deaf ears, as many radicals do not understand the concept of free speech. In a ironic op-ed, radical cleric Anjem Choudary stated outright that “Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression.” I called his op-ed ironic because he used freedom of speech to denounce freedom of speech in a paper that could have refused to print his diatribe, but chose to publish it, instead. Obviously, Mr. Choudary does not speak for the vast majority of the Muslim world, but unfortunately it is those who are like-minded who carry out terrorist attacks.  Those who want theocracy will never accept freedom of speech, but those of us who want and cherish freedom must never surrender the right of free speech to any government, group, or individual.

In closing, I stand with Charlie Hebdo because their fight is representative of the fundamental human struggle for freedom. The forces opposing them are the dark remnant of Dark Ages philosophies. Do I necessarily agree with them? No. But no one should ever back down from saying or publishing anything because of the threats of violent and murderous forces.  Thank you, Charlie Hebdo, for standing up to the murderous cowards who slaughtered your friends and colleagues. Thank you for standing up in the face of terrorism.

A Non-Political Update

So…UVA has been turned upside-down for the second time in as many weeks by another Rolling Stone article– this one retracting its earth-shattering report written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in late November. In the hours and days since this retraction, I have seen all sorts of responses to this retraction. Few, if any, of these responses have been especially helpful.

On the one hand, many of my fellow conservatives have embarrassed me by drawing parallels to the Duke Lacrosse Scandal and claiming that the whole thing was just one giant hoax crafted by nefarious feminists and leftists. I do not believe for a second that this was the case. I do believe that Jackie was raped and the trauma of the event has made her memory of the event hazy. Unless Jackie comes forward and says that nothing truly happened, I will continue to believe her. Trauma does affect one’s memory of traumatic events, so I will choose to believe that she is simply mistaken about some of the details, rather than a lying b*tch. I truly fear for Jackie now that some of my neanderthal comrades are piling on her and kicking her while she is down. I absolutely denounce the notion that Jackie’s story is a “hoax” unless, and until, a police investigation reveals otherwise.

On the other hand, many leftists/radical feminists are doubling down on all of this and saying that we should always believe rape victims without qualification. While I sympathize with their intent- too often rape victims are not believed- I find such sentiments ill-advised, at best, dangerous at worst. By this logic, it is okay if UVA became a modern-day case study of the Salem Witch Trials where the accused have no rights or voice when accused of rape. Similarly, one of the greatest heroes in American literature, Atticus Finch, must be a victim-blaming scoundrel for defending Tom Robinson and tearing apart Mayella Ewell’s account in To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the most offensive aspects of Maxwell’s notion is the idea that falsely accused rapists would not suffer from much more than being defriended on Facebook. We need look no further than UVA to see the deleterious consequences of being accused of rape. Summarily, it is true that false rape claims are occasionally filed, and we must keep a level-head when responding to accusations. In general, my advice would be to trust that the victim was attacked, but take the details with a grain of salt. Gather as much evidence as you can and do not be surprised if the victim’s account changes as time goes on.

The issue of rape is an immensely complex and sensitive issue. Unfortunately, Rolling Stone‘s shoddy reporting will likely set back efforts to bring justice to more victims of this crime. True, Miss Erdely did inflame the campus and get a serious conversation about rape started (that also included punishing the Greek system), BUT her unwillingness to verify the claims will only make future rape victims more unwilling to come forward if they think they will not be believed. She has done a fundamental disservcice to past, present, and future victims who will have to endure more trying ordeals. Some advice for the excessively-self promoting Sabrina Erdely: if you are going to write a piece with potentially devastating consequences for numerous lives, make sure all of your ducks are in a row and all your facts are verified. Any holes in your story will only serve to decrease the impact of your story and put your subjects at risk. One a related note: do not bully or manipulate your subjects. If Jackie felt manipulated by you in this process, you are dramatically failing the most basic ethics of journalism. The muckraking model of journalism is fine if done correctly. You, Ms. Erdely, have not done it correctly.

I remain convinced that politics does not offer meaningful solutions for these problems. Clearly, a rape problem does exist at UVA, no matter what we ultimately learn about that particular event. My courageous student, Alex has been one of many survivors who has come forward and advocated on behalf of many other women who have been violated at UVA, and across the country. The burden for stopping this falls, ultimately, on parents who must raise their children to respect everybody and never force anybody to do anything sexually they do not want to do. There is no simple “political” solution that can end rape- just as we will never be able to end theft, murder, and fraud. Crime will always exist, but we as parents (and future parents) can do our best to teach our children right from wrong. Beyond that, we can empower women to defend themselves easier with the anti-rape drug nail polish, pepper spray, self-defense lessons, and perhaps even guns. Ultimately, these issues are problems of the heart and must be recognized, as such.

In these stressful times (between the Rolling Stone saga and the end of the semester), I have looked back to a song from the early 2000’s that has been immensely helpful in calming me down and bringing some peace. God bless you all.

A Non-Political Post

So… unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware that my graduate institution, the University of Virginia, has been rocked by an article appearing in Rolling Stone magazine that revealed a horrendous gang-rape that took place two years ago, and the extent to which this crime is a common occurrence in the UVA party scene. After my first time reading it, I was horrified and angry. Since then, my anger and disgust has grown exponentially. One of my students, a brave and inspiring woman named Alex, has publicly identified herself as a victim of rape and is leading the charge to make real, substantial changes to the culture at UVA. She and another student of mine this semester have made the statistic that 1 in 4 women is sexually assaulted far less of an abstraction to me, and far more of a reality.

It truly breaks my heart to think that, statistically speaking, one quarter of my roughly 50 female students this semester has been violated in a brutal, dehumanizing manner I could never even imagine. It is equally disturbing to think that one or more of my male students may be the perpetrator of such a horrendous crime, apparently justified as a “rite of passage” to be hazed into a fraternity, or perhaps not even justified at all in his mind (because he may think that no justification is necessary). When rape happens, no one wins. The victim is violated in the worst way possible and the rapist has committed a crime he will never be able to “make right.”

I have called this piece “A Non-Political Post” because I do not believe politics offers any solution to this. The problem ultimately boils down to something that politics cannot fix: how you are instructed to interact with others. Anyone who thinks it is okay to gang-rape a woman as part of a fraternity initiation has been failed by their parents, teachers, and society. I do not consider myself a “feminist” in the modern sense of the word (mostly due to my pro-life principles), but you do not have to be a feminist to love and respect everybody as your equal. The simple notion of treating others as you would want to be treated (which is probably the bare minimum standard, truth be told) ought to be drilled into the hearts and minds of everyone from the earliest days of their childhood. My parents always taught me that. They drilled into me the chivalrous principle of never hitting a woman and always respecting her. The core problem in this matter is a matter of the heart, something that the political process cannot fix.

Now, the university has taken some steps to respond to the story. First, they have launched some investigations at all levels of government. This is a good step, and I hope it results in justice. Second, they have shut down all frats for the time being. I think this is more of a symbolic step, but a necessary one. The fraternities MUST realize that they are not immune to justice. Third, they have outlined plans for dialogues, conferences, etc… to address this topic in the future. I think these are good starting ideas, but will ultimately be insufficient. Concepts like “loyalty to the frat” or keeping the “university’s reputation intact” must be quashed for good. Rapists and any enablers of rape must be subject to the harshest penalties the university can dish out, if not the local PD. Rape, in short, must be treated as the crime it is and we must wipe out the rotten core that perpetuates an environment friendly to rape at UVA. Some of these solutions are “political” in the strictest sense, but there really should be no partisan cleavage here. Rape is rape and must be destroyed from every angle.

Are there any other solutions the university should adopt? Or even the larger political system? Here are my practical proposals for the university: 1.) Arm every woman on grounds with AT LEAST pepper spray, if not a gun. 2.) Provide free self-defense courses and give common-sense party education to all incoming undergraduates. 3.) Provide for free, when the product is available, the anti-rape nail polish that some guys recently developed. 4.) Terminate the Greek system, for at least two or three years (preferably permanently). 5.) Hire a free attorney for anyone who wishes to press charges. 6.) Make rape an “honor offense” that carries mandatory expulsion upon conviction- and investigate these claims more vigorously than plagiarism offenses. 7.) Automatically inform the Charlottesville PD of any such cases. 8.) Upon reinstatement, mandate that all frats be dry. 9.) Hire more University PD and assign them to Rugby Road to keep a closer eye on the frats.

As for the larger political system, I do not know what can be done, other than to lower the drinking age to 18. Doing so would break the monopoly that frats have on alcohol availability and make drinking less taboo.  As a result, I think fewer students would binge drink, more students would seek medical attention when they have had too much, and more students would drink in restaurants or bars where they are probably safer than in a frat house. Moreover, parents would be able to take them out drinking before they leave for college and educate them about common sense measures involving alcohol. By having the drinking age at 21, we are restricting alcohol access (to those who are going to drink, anyway) to frat houses and parties, which is just a recipe for disaster. This will not, of course, stop all alcohol-related rapes, BUT I think if we take away one of the key factors that lures people to frat houses, it will be a safer overall environment.

Ending this series of atrocities at UVA will be like attacking a Hydra. It will be a long, painstaking process that attacks many heads. It will require us to examine ourselves and think long and hard about how we treat our fellow human beings. It will require us to impose some radical new policies empowering women to better defend themselves (because no matter what we do, there will always be rapists out there, just as there will always be murderers and thieves). It will require us to uncover more painful stories that show how much we have failed our students. But will it not be worth it if we can make rape a rare occurrence? Will it not be worth it if we save even one woman from the pain and degradation of this atrocious crime?

At the end of the day, a cultural shift is the medicine that will end these atrocities. Parents must drill into their children the principles of respecting and loving others as you wish to be respected and loved. We, as parents or future parents, must ensure that the idea of harming a fellow human being is unthinkable (wartime, notwithstanding). Parents, raise your children to value the worth and dignity of everyone. Until then, there is not much I can do beyond praying for the victims and being there for my students if I can help them in any way.

I pray that the grace and peace of the Lord follows you all this week. Only Christ’s love can heal and bring peace. Below is a song that I have been meditating on these past few days that has brought me peace, I hope it brings you some, as well. I think it is a beautiful depiction of His love and peace.