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18 November 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: What a Coincidence

Wow. I guess my blog has a lot more clout than I thought. Major Garrett of Fox News sat down with President Obama in China. The interview was featured on tonight's episode of Special Report with Bret Baier. This is, to my knowledge, the first time Obama has appeared on a Fox News program since his election.

There's not much on the Fox News website right now, but there's a page here.

The Portly Politico strikes again!

***UPDATE: Video clip available here: http://video.foxnews.com/11711018/ ***

***UPDATE 2: You can find a transcript of the interview here: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/18/transcript-fox-news-interviews-president-obama/ ***

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: President Obama Should Go On Fox News

By now this is old news, but President Obama steadfastly refuses to appear on Fox News. In fact, his administration is waging war on the network, arguing that it is unpatriotic and accusing it of disseminating false information, primarily about government-run healthcare.

Of course, the network itself has covered and discussed and debated the President's unprecedented stance toward the network at length. Commentators like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both harsh critics of Obama's plan for universal healthcare, point out the difference between legitimate news coverage--the bulk of Fox's daytime material--and opinion shows, which make up most of Fox's primetime programming. Besides, it's common knowledge that Fox's coverage tends to the right and other networks, especially MSNBC, tend leftward. Perfect objectivity is impossible, especially when covering politics and government. Reporters can't perfectly stifle their viewpoints and ideals.

Regardless, the Obama administration shouldn't wage war on any legitimate news outlet. A great article from The Root summarizes why perfectly, as well as giving reasons the President should seriously consider going on the network (as he did several times during his campaign, including his famous interview with Bill O'Reilly). You can find the article here: "Top 5 Reasons Why President Obama Should Go on Fox" by Sophia Nelson.

More updates to come. Check out Sean Hannity's interview with Sarah Palin tonight at 9 PM Eastern on Fox News. Should be interesting, although we're going to get all of the usual questions: "are you running for President in 2012?" as well as the usual coy responses: "I'm just going to do what's best for America." Still, I'm looking forward to what Palin has to say and how rigorously Hannity grills her.

15 October 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Personal Responsibility in the African-American Community

As some of you may know, radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh has been under more scrutiny than usual from the Left lately because of his bid to buy the St. Louis Rams with a group of other investors. Race-baiters of all stripes are coming out of the woodworks to criticize Limbaugh for past statements that are allegedly racist.

I'm not going to comment on whether or not Limbaugh has or has not said racist things. Instead, I want to share a great article by LZ Granderson in which he argues that, regardless of whether or not Limbaugh is racist, the African-American community has to take stock of its own failures.

Here's a key passage from the article:

Limbaugh may be a racist, but he is not the reason there are more black men in prison than in college. We are.

Our issues did not germinate in a vacuum, but I believe the best way to get out of our socioeconomical malaise is to spend less time looking at what white people like Limbaugh are supposedly doing to us and more time looking at what we're definitely doing to ourselves. More time charting a new course based on personal responsibility, not victimhood and the retelling of stories, because let me tell you, some of those stories have been touched up so many times it's hard to know what's true anyway.

You can read Granderson's article here: "Commentary: Don't blame Limbaugh for our faults."

14 October 2009

A Portly Politico Video Update: Glenn Beck blames godlessness for America

I found this video on a website called www.personalliberty.com. The site itself can be a bit overboard sometimes (when I took a poll on the site, I was sent e-mails about a book giving tips for surviving the downfall of civilization after an EMP terrorist attack), but this video is incredible. I recently read Glenn Beck's Common Sense (see another recent post for more--and be on the lookout for a review in the near future) and I am now convinced that, despite his occasional emotional breakdowns and outbursts, he has one of the clearest, most powerful visions for what Americans need to be doing right now to rally against an out-of-control, increasingly totalitarian government.

You can find the video here: Glenn Beck blames godlessness for America’s problems

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09 October 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: The Nobel Piece of Crap Prize

Shock and awe isn't just a term that applies to Iraq anymore. Now that phrase, minus the "awe" part, works for today's announcement that President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I thought it was bad when Al Gore won the signature prize for "raising awareness" about global warming/cooling/climate change/lack of climate change, but now this? Evidently Obama was nominated after being President for only two weeks. Heck, I didn't even know that he had been nominated. Now he's walking home with what once was the greatest honor in the Nobel pantheon. Nobody has cared about the Nobel Physics winner since Einstein. Everyone, however, loves a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The stated reason that Obama won the prize is that he has set a new tenor for global cooperation and is attempting to ease tensions between the United States and the Islamic world. I'm willing to concede that he has a set a new tone for foreign relations, albeit an unrealistically idealist one, but "setting the tone" and actually doing something are entirely different things.

Another point--how are we gauging this "new tenor" of international relations, anyway? Maybe Europeans don't automatically think that we're all imperialistic pigs who love to spend money and watch television anymore, but so what? None of Obama's foreign policy initiatives have borne fruit yet. They may very well in time, although I find that unlikely except in a few instances. If nothing else, awarding a rookie president with less than a year of experience in office with the most distinguished prize in the Nobel family is premature. And that's the best case scenario. At worst, this smacks of just another feather in the cap of the Obama ego machine. Fortunately, we've all come to our senses, even if we did a year too late.

Even readers on MSNBC.com, who tend to be more liberal than not, are overwhelmingly outraged, or at least perplexed, by Obama's win. An unofficial MSNBC poll with comments demonstrates these feelings. You can see it here: Poll: "Is President Obama deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize?"

25 September 2009

The Portly Politico Returns!

Hello loyal readers (meaning my girlfriend and my old roommate from college)!

After a hiatus of slightly over two months, The Portly Politico is back! I just finished Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, which blew all of my preconceived notions of what a book by a conservative pundit can be. In conjunction with that reading, I will be writing an entry in the next few days concerning the potential for a viable third party to arise, which is something Beck devotes a significant amount of space discussing.

I have also started work as the Cultural Coordinator for the City of Sumter, South Carolina, where I manage the Sumter Opera House. Working in local government is a great experience. I know I talk a lot here about the problems with government spending and expansion, but local government is forced to think like a business: it has to be lean and efficient, and it must provide quality service to the public, and we do that everyday in Sumter. We avoid the sluggishness of the federal government and we don't go around raising taxes willy-nilly (and, of course, we can't print more money, either). In fact, the only rate increase instituted since the recession began last year was charging $8 a month for garbage pickup, a service that was provided free-of-charge previously.

One last update: Nikki Haley tore up the competition at the first Republican gubernatorial debate that was held recently at the Newberry Opera House. You can see a great clip here (be sure to turn up the volume--it's a very quiet clip): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqa4w-NUq1k

It's great to be back!

--The P. P.

22 July 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Talk Radio

I neglected to mention in my last post that, despite having listened to very little talk radio lately, I recently called in to a talk radio program for the first time ever. I was very tempted to say, "Hey, Keven, first time caller, long-time listener." The program was hosted by Keven Cohen and the topic was space exploration because it was the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. I just happened to be driving through Columbia when the show began and I knew I had to call in.

My main point was that the United States should attempt to establish lunar colonies--or at the very least another moon landing--before China has a chance to get to the moon, mainly because the United States will make sure that the moon remains open for the whole world to visit, to enjoy, and to business upon. I also argued that the moon is a possession of humanity and should therefore be treated unilaterally.

One point I wish I had made was that the future of lunar exploration might lie with private enterprise. Space exploration requires huge resources and coordination, but if commercial value could be demonstrated on the moon, on Mars, or beyond, private corporations might pick up some of the slack for the government. In times like these it might seem questionable to spend money on the space program, so projects like the Google Lunar X Prize might hold the key to future private ventures into space.

Corporations aren't the only entities that can get involved. Non-profit organizations could make substantial contributions to additional research.

Regardless, I have written an essay on lunar exploration that I have never published, so I might run it as a four-part series over the next few days. Stay tuned for more.

Vacation Time (Part II)!

Well, I have been fairly deficient the past few weeks in updating this little blog. Even my last blog entry on the Fourth was pretty much a cop-out. Speaking of which, here are my reasons for being so delinquent in my updating duties:

1.) The week after Independence Day I was in Fripp Island, South Carolina, for a few days before heading up to Banaslam in Cornelius, North Carolina at D. Rowland's place. My girlfriend and I stopped in Beaufort, South Carolina on our way to the beach where I picked up the twice-monthly The Lowcountry, which included a fantastic article about the recent Mark Sanford affair. The author, Margaret Evans, places Sanford in a very tragic--and very human--aspect, pointing out his honesty, however belated, during his unusually sincere press conference. You can find it here: "The Bigger They Are..."

2.) I've had three interviews at two different employers, both in Sumter, South Carolina. I have had two interviews with the City of Sumter for a position there as their Cultural Coordinator (more on that later) and had a second interview with Thomas Sumter Academy, a private school, for a teaching position in English and History. Therefore, I've been spending a good bit of time traveling to and from Aiken, Florence, and Sumter, as well as doing research for these positions (these days, you can never be too prepared).

3.) I've been playing a lot of games on Steam, especially Half-Life 2 and some unique, five dollar games that I have ordered from Steam--Chains, a pretty colorful, highly-original puzzle game, and Blueberry Garden, a whimsical but subtly sinister game about a living and temporarily breathing garden suffering from a mysterious peril.

4.) I am exercising! My girlfriend and I walk three miles a day and we have--over my objections--started to jog lightly. Weight loss, here I come! Maybe I'll have to change the name of this blog....

5.) Despite all of my traveling, I actually haven't been able to listen to news talk radio that often. I only really listen in the car alone, so for about a week or a week-and-a-half I didn't get hardly any news from my usual source; ergo, I have fallen woefully behind on the current events of the day.

All that being the case, I do have a quick topic to discuss. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested the other day for ambiguous reasons. He arrived back from a trip and basically had to break into his own house. The issue is that Professor Gates is black, and he and others are saying that the Cambridge police department is racist.

Yeah, yeah--this is the same old song and dance. The arresting officer probably was motivated by race when he (allegedly) treated the professor roughly. Of course, the professor was probably being a smug, elitist punk when he (allegedly) talked down to the officer. They were probably both at fault.

I'm no big fan of cops, although one of them was very nice to let me off with a warning on my way to the beach the other week (and I was going fifteen over--thank you Officer DeLoach of Allendale). I recognize that they are necessary in our society to maintain order--the thin blue line and what-not--but police organizations can harbor some fairly dangerous and even racist contempt for the people they are charged to protect. I suppose this is the eternal problem facing police, who must constantly protect citizens that don't entirely appreciate them and who they don't entirely respect.

In fact, I don't even care if this arrest was racially motivated or not. Here's what upsets me: the way AP writer Jesse Washington covers the arrest in this piece: "Scholar's arrest is a signpost on the road to equality." Read the opening paragraphs: Washington is essentially arguing that because Professor Gates is well-educated and distinguished, he should be treated better than others who commit crimes. On the surface his argument is that because Professor Gates, a well-known African-American scholar, is treated poorly by the police, it just goes to show how much more poorly regular African-American men are treated by police.

That's not the point I see at all. I am enraged at the assumption that a Harvard professor deserves better treatment than others. Yeah, a lot of cops are probably anti-intellectual as well as racist. That doesn't matter. Professors contribute a great deal to society; they also sit on their butts quite a bit, too, especially the established ones. And honorary degrees, of which Professor Gates has over fifty, Washington tells us (probably due some extent to the fact that Professor Gates is a pioneering black scholar) are purely symbolic.

I'm not the only one. Dr. Boyce Watkins, an African-American, expresses some similar sentiments. I encourage you to read his article here: "Consider this before crying 'racial profiling.'" Maybe he has more cache than I since, in this color-blind society of ours, he's black.

Yes, there are plenty of white people who do despicable things to blacks and other minorities. Yes, there are a lot of elitist, ivory tower types in our universities. There are also tons of race-baiters out there who are all too ready to play the race card. In this instance, Professor Gates is probably right to do so, but he shouldn't expect better treatment because he's a distinguished professor at Harvard.

And, c'mon--how many skin-headed cops are really going to know a professor by sight? I don't know what Bernard Bailyn looks like, and I studied history at the graduate level and read several of his books.

So, yeah--welcome back.

04 July 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Hey everyone!

Happy Independence Day! The Fourth of July really is a time for celebration. It's a time to gather with friends and family, eat some barbecue, and--if you're in my family--debate politics. I know, I know--in polite (read: Southern) society you're supposed to avoid three topics at the dinner table: sex, politics, and religion. Well, we somehow manage to break the rule as it pertains to the second of those three items.

Of course, this holiday probably won't be so contentious since my left-leaning brother and sister-in-law will not be present, which also means it won't be as fun. My younger brother's ultra-conservatism and my socially conservative pseudo-conservatism usually butt heads with them, and while things can get a little heated, it's all in good fun. We might leave the table without having changed any minds, but there's still a vigorous, if occasionally heated, exchange of ideas.

Debate is one of the things that makes this country so great. It's also something that we as Americans need to be careful about. My family debates politics a great deal, but sometimes we might cross the line in our passionate defenses of our viewpoints. So in the spirit of magnanimity and reasonable discourse, let me issue an apology to my older brother and sister-in-law, in the event that I have ever offended you while defending any of my positions. I am not apologizing for what I believe, but instead for those times when I may have gone overboard.

And we all go overboard sometimes. That's okay every now and then, but we need to maintain a civil level of discourse as often as possible. Getting into arguments around the dinner table with close friends and family is one thing; doing it on national television is another. Conservatives and liberals alike are guilty of incivility in our national discourse. While conservatives tend to get a bad rap because of talk radio and confrontational interviewers like Bill O'Reilly, I would dare say that the most vicious, unfounded attacks come from the Left. Bill O'Reilly might yell at and talk over his guests, but it's usually because he's frustrated with liberal double-speak and the unwillingness of his guest to say what they really mean. Sometimes you have to get a little rough to get to the truth.

I'm sure there are plenty of conservatives out there who call President Barack Obama names or who wish aloud that Michael Moore was dead, but the shrill, non-stop hatred coming from liberals is staggering. It's also extremely hypocritical. Hate speech legislation and university hate speech codes are almost exclusively leftist measures that, ironically, limit free speech. I'll admit--conservatives and Republicans take a pretty unpopular stance on these kinds of things. We tend to believe that people should be able to say what they think and and believe, even if it is repulsive. That's why we let liberals get away with so much. Ever wondered why liberal college kids weren't tossed in prisons in droves for saying such asinine things as "Bush lied, kids died"? It's because their right to say those things, regardless of how slanderous or treasonous they were, is protected in the First Amendment.

What about when the shoe is on the foot? Everyone hates the Ku Klux Klan and their message. It's morally reprehensible and offensive--much like anti-Bush protestors (I'm not trying to imply moral equivalency--the KKK is far worse than a handful of misguided New York Times columnists). But just because we disagree with what they say does not mean they lose their rights to say it. Liberals, for all of their fawning over the ACLU and the First Amendment, have a hard time grasping that simple constitutional truth.

Free speech is for everyone. Our Founding Fathers intended it that way. Also, I'm pretty Thomas Jefferson would have loved blogging.

Happy Independence Day!

01 July 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: A Message from Mark Sanford

Governor Mark Sanford regularly sends out an e-mail to those who are on a mailing list, I believe as part of www.sanfordforgovernor.net. The governor writes short e-mails to his supporters on a regular basis, informing them about certain issues being debated in the General Assembly or about up-and-coming politicians (I found out about Nikki Haley because Sanford sent out an e-mail linking to another blogger's post about her).

For those of you that do not receive these messages, or in case you missed the governor's speech last week about his marital indisgressions, I am including the full text of Governor Sanford's e-mail here. You can also find it at www.governorsanford.com. More commentary to come.

A Message from Mark

Dear Friends,

I write to apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

Well beyond the personal consequences within my own family, I know that at so many different levels my actions have upset, offended and disappointed friends and supporters and for this I am most sorry. As I mentioned in last week's press conference, I've always believed God's laws were there to protect us from ourselves, and what has transpired over this last week vividly illustrates the damage that comes personally, and to those you love and respect, in doing otherwise.

So in the aftermath of this failure I want to not only apologize, but to commit to growing personally and spiritually. Immediately after all this unfolded last week I had thought I would resign - as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise - that for God to really work in my life I shouldn’t be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride. They contended that in many instances I may well have held the right position on limited government, spending or taxes - but that if my spirit wasn't right in the presentation of those ideas to people in the General Assembly, or elsewhere, I could elicit the response that I had at many times indeed gotten from other state leaders.

Their belief was that if I walked in with a real spirit of humility then this last legislative term could well be our most productive one - and that outside this term, I would ultimately be a better person and of more service in whatever doors God opened next in life if I stuck around to learn lessons rather than running and hiding down at the farm.

They have also made the point that a good part of life is about scripts - that the idea of redemption isn't something that Marshall, Landon, Bolton and Blake should just read about, it's something they should see. Accordingly, they suggested that there was a very different life script that would be lived and learned by our boys, and thousands like them, if this story simply ended with scandal and then the end of office - versus a fall from grace and then renewal and rebuilding and growth in its aftermath.

I won't belabor all these points, but I did want to write as expressed earlier to say that I'm sorry and that more than anything I personally ask for your prayers for me, Jenny, the boys and so many others who have been impacted by what I have done.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Take care.

Mark


Mark Sanford

29 June 2009

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Effective Health Care Plan - Larry Kudlow

I just read an excellent piece by economist Larry Kudlow discussing an alternative to President Barack Obama's disastrous socialized health care plan. You can read his article for more details (link at the end of this post).

Kudlow makes two major arguments in this piece. First, he lays out in brief a cost-effective way to provide affordable health care to the tens of millions of Americans who legitimately need it (he also points out that several million Americans who qualify for Medicaid simply haven't signed up for it yet). Second, he points out the disastrous consequences government-run health care, arguing that people spend their own money the most wisely.

It's a classic point straight out of Milton Friedman. Imagine if you are given $1000 that belongs to someone else and are told to spend that money for the anonymous person. How would you spend that money, knowing that it was given to you without doing anything to deserve it and knowing that you will never have to face the mystery money-giver in person? You might be able to invest it, but chances are you're going to squander a good bit of it.

Now imagine it's your own $1000. You had to work for it. You know exactly what you can and cannot do with that money. You know your own needs and desires better than anyone else. Chances are you're going to spend that $1000 pretty efficiently. Yeah, you might "waste" it on something you don't need, but at least you had a say in the matter, right?

As Kudlow witheringly points out, the Democratic Party wants to control the American health care system, plain and simple. He offers a viable alternative to socialized health care, an alternative that won't break the bank, will cost a fraction of Obama's current plan, and, most importantly, will provide health care benefits to the Americans who actually need it. The only reason the Democrats would object to such a reasonable alternative is because they don't really care about the uninsured in the first place. They just want the government to have more power and more influence.

Conservatives do care. We aren't just monsters who want to leave the uninsured, well, uninsured. Our health care system is in pretty bad shape financially and health care has become prohibitively expensive for those who lack insurance. I myself have been screwed over by high health care costs, as my last job did not provide a group health plan. Buying health insurance privately is ridiculously expensive, and cheap plans have high deductibles and basically cover catastrophic events.

Conservatives aren't opposed to change. We just oppose change that is going to lead to government largesse, inefficiency, and monopoly.

Transformers 2: Conservatives in Disguise?

Earlier today I saw Michael Bay's highly-anticipated (and critically-panned) Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Prior to seeing the movie, I had no intention of writing a blog about it. Although films are occasional inspirations for my essays (see my article about the lack of strong African-American fathers, which I wrote after seeing Boyz n the Hood), I never imagined that Transformers 2 would be the subject of one of my blog entries because I don't write straight-up reviews. Honestly, I figured it would be exactly what it is: a steady stream of explosions, robots, and mass destruction.

What I didn't count on was that it would only be what I expected 99% of the time. That other 1% is the focus of this essay. Like the first Transformers film, Transformers 2 spent a great deal of time covering the U.S. military and its interactions with and against the various transforming automatons. Generally speaking, the soldiers are characterized as normal and basically decent--they want to do what is best for their country and they want to protect the weak and innocent, but they will follow the civilian authority of the Constitution.

In Transformers 2, however, I noticed a more overt, though still very, very subtle, endorsement of conservative politics--or, at the very least, a critique of modern liberalism. I don't want to read too much into this (well, actually, I do), but there are several moments during the movie when the misinformed meddler, the entity trying to put the kibosh on the Autobot-military alliance, is a mealy-mouthed government bean-counter who sees the Autobots as an alien menace that constitutes a risk to national security. Now, sure, action movies are overflowing with literal-minded government stooges and opportunistic politicians who are always putting up a wall of red tape that is harder to break than the concrete bunker our hero just crashed through on his motorcycle. The key difference in Transformers 2, however, is that the government stooge in question is acting under direct orders from the president, who is explicitly identified as... Barack Obama (one news report states that "President Obama has been relocated" to a bunker somewhere in the Midwest).

Not evidence enough? At one point, this pencil-pusher makes a point straight out of the Obama foreign policy playbook: let's try to negotiate with the bad guys. Maybe we can talk out our differences and everyone can live in peace. When the bureaucratic boob said that, I almost fell out of my seat. I don't know if Michael Bay or the writers of Transformers 2 were intentionally making this point, but for this chubby conservative the implications were loud and clear: Obama and other liberals who demand negotiations before resorting to force against overtly hostile, dangerous opponents are fatally off base and out-of-touch. The president's puppet makes the point that the United States should not be involved in the civil war of an alien race in the first place, but that doesn't change the fact that it is anyway. The United States, the filmmakers seem to be suggesting, has a responsibility to aid the Autobots against the new Decepticon menace, whether it likes that obligation or not, and the proposed policies of Obama and other liberals in foreign relations are potentially devastating.

Besides a subtle endorsement of a neoconservative foreign policy--or at least a more realistic approach to foreign threats--Transformers 2 is, as I have mentioned, heavily pro-military. The film depicts soldiers as law- and order-abiding citizens who, even if they don't like it, abide by civilian authority. This is a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood fare, which casts soldiers in the light of threats to democracy and as right-wing gun nuts who want nothing more than to seize control of the government themselves. While we should have a healthy wariness of the military as a potentially repressive arm of the federal government--a wariness that dates back to colonial America and that is most evident in the writings of Thomas Jefferson--Transformers 2 makes it clear that the U.S. military is a military of dedicated civilian volunteers who value and fight for freedom. They are not professionals who ride roughshod over the freedoms of others, be they Americans or foreigners. In fact, the U.S. military works closely with several Middle Eastern governments in the film, including the Egyptian and Jordanian militaries. In one scene, when a Jordanian helicopter is grounded by a Decepticon, American soldiers aid the fallen foreigners. This is not the unilateral, oppressive, quagmired military we hear so much about in the media; this is a dynamic, humane force made up of regular, freedom-loving Americans.

This brings me to one final point, a point I've been mulling over for awhile. We are constantly told that wars are started by the elite and fought by the poor; that wars are little more than opportunistic struggles or, even worse, the effect of some perceived slight or random occurrence; that war is rarely right or even necessary. In different times and in different places, many of these assumptions were true. Wars in the past were started by absolute monarchs or power-hungry tyrants, while they were fought by loyal vassals or downtrodden peasants.

In the United States, however, this is not the case. We live in a society where the people, at least in theory and, cynics aside, very much in practice, have a say in the functioning of government. Whatever slogan-spouting liberals will tell you, their bumper-sticker philosophy is severely flawed and misinformed. If the United States goes to war against a hostile power or terrorist group, it is because the people have given their approval. Foreign policy is, admittedly, concentrated in the executive branch of the government, which means that the president and the Secretary of State have a great deal of influence in deciding its direction. Any president hoping to keep his office, however, is going to be careful in how he deals with foreign policy.

Therefore, the traditional criticisms levelled against war are at best incomplete and at worst obsolete, at least when applied to the United States. There is still a great deal of debate about whether or not the United States should be the world's police officer; regardless, wars are not foisted on unwitting dupes by a greedy elite in America.

This claim is a bold one, but I stand by it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been fought and would not have endured so long without significant support from the American people. Now that support is beginning to wane, serious questions are being asked about America's future role in those countries, but we are seeing a huge amount of popular outpouring for the people of Iran, who are currently struggling against their sham of a government. President Obama's "let's-talk-it-out" approach to foreign policy is not enough when facing a regime of authoritarian thugs.

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Backstabbing Bauer

In light of Governor Mark Sanford's recently revealed affair, it seems that long-time Sanford rival Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer is seeking to oust the wayward libertarian from office.

More commentary to come. For now, I'm off to see Transformers 2.

25 June 2009

The Most Eventful Week Ever

Wow... what a week to take a vacation. This week has been one of the most eventful in recent history. It seems that everyday--honestly, every hour--some major event or turning point takes place. And, naturally, this is the week that I am lax in my updates.

Monday and Tuesday I was in Florence, South Carolina, where I was supposed to be getting things packed for my eventual move out of there. Instead, I spent most of both of those days listening to WJMX News Talk 970 AM while playing Pac-Man Championship Edition and Hexic on my XBox 360. It was actually an enlightening odyssey--I learned about Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels thanks to his mildly obnoxious show--and I was kept up-to-date with the major issues of the day.

So here, in a brief, annotated list, are what I consider to be the major events of this past week (in no particular order):

1.) The Health Care debate

As you can probably guess, I am opposed to government-run health care for a variety of reasons. Regardless of whether or not it's a good thing (and I don't think it is, even though I openly cede that health insurance is way too expensive), it's simply not the government's responsibility to run the health industry anymore than it should run the financial or automotive industries. I don't know what the solution is, but it's definitely not government-owned and -operated health care.

2.) The Iranian Revolution (2009)

There has been a huge amount of discussion about this issue, most of it circulating around President Obama's rather cautious and lukewarm way of addressing the revolution taking place in Iran right now. While I don't agree entirely with the way the President has handled things, I can definitely see the wisdom in his "wait-and-see" approach, unlike most conservative commentators. I do think Obama should have given moral and verbal support to Iranian protesters sooner and more decisively, but it's an immensely complicated situation. Then again, as Newt Gingrich pointed out, when former President Ronald Reagan gave his support for the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s, it significantly and markedly improved the morale of those fighting against the Soviet Union. Words can be extremely powerful. Obama knows this better than most anyone else. I just wish he had used them a bit more forcefully for something that really matters.

3.) The Waxman-Markey Bill - A.K.A. "Crap 'n' No-More-Trade"

I have to be honest--I have no idea why this ridiculous energy bill is called "cap-and-trade." I should probably do more reading on the issue, but I know a bad idea when I see one.

Look--I'm not saying that global warming (or cooling) isn't happening. I'm not saying that we should go out and trash the environment and dump toxic waste into rivers. We as a society decide what is an acceptable level of pollution and we have to manage our resources wisely.

But think about it this way: there is, by no means, a concensus on global warming. Also, global warming and cooling have occured naturally for thousands of years. For example, around the year 1000, much of Northern Europe was coming out of a small-scale Ice Age that led to gradual warming and improved crop production. In fact, the increase of crop production allowed for the growth of an urban, merchant class, which very slowly led to capitalism.

If global warming did something that great, maybe we should consider it in a more positive light. The Arctic Ocean is becoming the next geopolitical playground. The opening of the Arctic will create some conflict and some new headaches, especially because Russia is involved, but it will also give access to untapped natural resources, namely oil and natural gas. And those National Geographic nuts will have tons of barely-explored ocean to photograph.

And, again, no one is even sure if global warming is happening. Slick green advertising and feel-good carbon offsets have many fooled, and panicky scientists and former vice-presidents can't wait to tell us how quickly Manhattan is going to be submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean, but we've been hearing alarmists predict doom for decades. The only difference is that now it's finally become fashionable. The intersection between the environmental movement and pop culture would be pretty fascinating to consider, but I won't go into it here.

That's all to say that we probably shouldn't be doubling the price of energy to fight against something that is perfectly natural and might not be happening, anyway. But, you know.


This bit of news really disappointed. All weekend and earlier this week I had been hearing about Governor Sanford's mysterious disappearance. As you all know, I am a huge fan of South Carolina's governor and have followed his political career with a great deal of interest. So at first I was willing to give our wayward governor the benefit of the doubt. I initially suspected that he had gone to blow off some steam after experiencing a tough session of the legislature and heaps of national scrutiny. In fact, I figured the only reason that anyone even noticed is because he's caught so much flak lately for his resistance to the federal government's stimulus money--a step I still applaud, especially in light of the fact that the States are losing more and more of their power in our federal system. Anyway, it was a dumb move not to tell anyone where he was going, but, hey--this is South Carolina. If someone doesn't go on a spontaneous camping trip it's odd.

Then we found out he went to Argentina. Oh, okay--our governor is gallavanting down Mexico way without telling anyone or leaving anybody in charge. The press is going to have a field day with that. So imagine my shock when my older brother sent me a snarky e-mail with one of the governor's lurid (and clumsy) love e-mails to his spicey señorita.

Naturally, there's a lot of speculation about what the governor is going to do. Is he going to resign? And, naturally, the liberal news media is slobbering more than they do over Obama about the whole affair (pardon my wording), pointing out with disgusting glee the fact that Sanford argued that former President Bill Clinton should have been impeached on moral grounds in addition to the rather small crime of lying to the American people and committing perjury.

But I'm not going to defend Sanford. What he did is absolutely wrong and I do feel betrayed. Sanford is exactly the kind of politician America needs right now, the kind of politician who can and will stand up against overweening government control. But we need our leaders in the fight against federal oppression to be legitimate, upstanding leaders. They can't be flawless, because they aren't, you know, Jesus, but they need to refrain from fooling around while married or from taking kick-backs or any number of things that always seem to seduce politicians.

Honestly, I don't know what to think. I still completely agree with Sanford's political and economic philosophy. In this case, his personal actions actually don't have any bearing on those ideals. At the same time, the honorable--if foolish--thing to do would be to step down as governor. But I'm a realist--while that might be the best move ideologically and morally, it would be disastrous in the larger scheme of state and national politics. Sanford might lose a great deal of his moral legitimacy, but his political credibility, at least when it comes to balancing a budget, is still untarnished. After his term is up, though, that should be it.

Ultimately, Sanford came clean and never explicitly lied to the people of South Carolina, although one could certainly make the argument that he implicitly mislead us by maintaining his public persona as a family man and loving husband. He did not lie on the stand or before a grand jury. It's a small detail, I know, and I am not making any excuses for his behavior. I lost a hero today.

5.) Michael Jackson Died

This event was what prompted me finally to write this overview of the week's happenings. I found out about this around 8:45 tonight. The sad thing is, I was more shocked and dismayed by this news than I was about Mark Sanford's infidelity. That probably says something negative about where our priorities lie as a nation (or, more accurately, where my priorities lie as a person), but maybe not. Michael Jackson made millions of people happy--and he made millions--and that's pretty significant.

It's weird, though, because I'm not a huge Michael Jackson fan. Yet I had a more visceral and emotional reaction to his death than I did to Brad Delp's, the former lead singer of one of my favorite bands of all time, Boston. Boston was one of those bands that has autobiographical significance for me, as I really got into the group during my transformative years--college. D. Rowland and I listened to "Billie Jean" while getting ready for church in the morning, which was one of those random and odd college rituals, but it was never like Thriller was the soundtrack to my life. I probably spent more time philosophizing internally while listening to "More Than a Feeling" than any other song in existance (and it's a little sad that such an overplayed AOR hit was one of the most important songs in my life). Heck, I've probably listened to Kansas's Leftoverture more hours than I have to all of Michael Jackson's discography combined.

So it's kind of weird that I was so schocked, but I think I know why: Michael Jackson was a cultural force unto himself. His death is like the death of Elvis or John Lennon. It almost marks the end of an era. In many ways, Jackson is the last great superstar. Think about it--who else alive right now was more influential, or even well-known? There are no more rock stars. Michael Jackson was the last great performer. Oh, sure, Taylor Swift is cute and popular right now. The guys from Def Leppard are still doing stuff, and they sold a ton of records (see also: Taylor Swift). But Michael Jackson was special in a way that I can't articulate. I'm sure Chuck Klosterman will have something to say, so I'll leave it to him.

That, in a nutshell, is the week in review. I will try to make up for some lost time this weekend with some original material as well as some great articles D. Rowland submitted--like the African-American legislator who proposed a bill outlawing all flavored cigarettes... except menthols.

Only in America.

19 June 2009

Vacation Time! (Part One)

Hey everybody!

In about an hour I will be leaving for beautiful Cornelius, North Carolina, to visit my good friend D. Rowland at his palatial pond side home. Therefore, new posts this weekend will be infrequent at best.

Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up. Have a great weekend!

18 June 2009

New Poll

Hey everyone.

To the right you should see a brief poll about our current First Lady, Michelle Obama. The poll will be open until 1 July 2009. Please take a moment to vote, as I will be using this highly unscientific data to write a blog entry.

Thanks again and enjoy!

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Sir, Yes, Sir!

Now, I'm not the type of conservative who spends all of his time nit-picking over ever verbal faux-pas that a politician makes--after all, I did support George W. Bush--but my good friend D. Rowland sent me a link to a news item that I can't resist sharing: Senator Barbara Boxer got her shorts in a wad when a brigadier general addressed her as "ma'am" instead of "senator."

It's obvious from a short YouTube clip that Boxer was already fed up with this guy, Brigadier General Michael Walsh, probably because he's a.) in the military and b.) because he has something to do with the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

This incident is barely worth noting, other than as another example of a liberal elite reveling in her power--and striking an insincere pose as some kind of feminist. I have nothing but respect for female politicians (see my recent post on Nikki Haley of Bamberg, South Carolina), but this time Boxer has just made a spectacle of herself.


Note: This post is being made a few hours after it was written due to Internet connection difficulties. Please let me know if you have any additional updates.

A Portly Politico Two-Minute Update: Mark Sanford on Sean Hannity; President Obama=FDR or Peanut Farmer?

Last night South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford appeared on Hannity, Sean Hannity's nightly program (some of us remember when it was Hannity and Colmes, and even though Alan Colmes was usually wrong--and pretty much admitted it--it was nice having a balance of points of view), to discuss the stimulus money the South Carolina Supreme Court is forcing him to accept. He also talked about the state of the nation and even fielded a few questions about a possible presidential run in 2012. At this point, unfortunately, it seems that Sanford will return to the Lowcountry and to the world of business after his term ends in 2010.

Of course, as much as I admire Sanford, he is unlikely to be a viable presidential candidate, at least not right now. Sadly, his commitment to limited government and fiscal responsibility traditionally do not fare well in American politics since the Second World War. He may be picked up as a vice-presidential candidate on a future Republican ticket, especially because of his status as a prominent Southern politician, but this seems unlikely, too.

Then again, if government spending continues to get out of hand--and if the American people continue to express their displeasure with it--we could see a dramatic shift in Americans' attitudes toward the role of the government in the economy. I don't think this about-face is terribly likely, but it is possible. President Barack Obama could be end up being more Jimmy Carter than Franklin Roosevelt, although I'm afraid that's pretty unlikely, too, even if their approaches to foreign policy are essentially the same. Regardless, if something like this did happen, Mark Sanford would be a logical choice for a presidential run in 2012.

One last thought: has anyone else noticed that Obama is always compared or contrasted against past presidents? Sitting presidents are usually held up against their predecessors or past presidents with similar philosophical and political leanings, but it seems that these comparisons are made between Obama and past presidents more than other presidents. George W. Bush, love him or hate him, was rarely compared to past presidents, either Republican or Democratic. He was always judged on his own merits. Obama is constantly compared to, most frequently and depending on your side, FDR or Jimmy Carter (although Kevin Baker compared him quite favorably--and then quite unfavorably--to Herbert Hoover).

I'm willing to cede that maybe this is the case because Obama is the new kid on the block, but it's more likely because we don't really know that much about him. Sometimes I wonder if he knows much about himself. I know it's horribly cliched to question the curret President's motivation, but it's something that needs to be done for every president. Obama, however, has defied classification, which is both brilliant and disturbing: brilliant, because he made himself all things to most people; disturbing, because he ran the slickest advertising campaign in contemporary American history. People "bought" Obama like an uninformed teenager at a used car lot--they chose the shiniest package but didn't check the air in the tires or the quality of the engine.

And so there is a desperate need to pigeonhole Obama, and the next best equivalent is either as a well-intentioned failure (Carter) or a manipulative pragmatist (FDR). Of course, Sanford is the 21st-century Barry Goldwater, and we all know how that worked out for the Senator from Arizona. Sanford, a legitimately committed politician who is willing to make unpopular but necessary decisions, is almost always going to lose out to slippery conmen who relentlessly push their own agenda. That in a nutshell is what's wrong with American politics today.

17 June 2009

A Porty Politico Two-Minute Update: A New Hope

I was pleasantly surprised to read about a fresh new face in South Carolina politics, gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, a State Representative from Bamberg. The daughter of immigrants, Haley appears to be the philosophical heiress-apparent to Governor Mark Sanford's brand of fiscal conservatism. While it's still pretty early in the game--the next gubernatorial election isn't until 2 November 2010--Haley looks to be a promising candidate for supporters of Sanford's commitment to limited government and political responsibility.

Again, it's too early for The Portly Politico to give its support to any one candidate, but I will certainly have my eye on Haley's candidacy over the next seventeen months. Hopefully she will be spared the ire that is so often heaped upon conservative female politicians by the liberal news media (see also: Sarah Palin).

For more information on State Representative Haley, check out this excellent write-up by Moe Lane at www.redstate.com: "Speaking with Nikki Haley - (R-CAN, SC-GOV)."

16 June 2009

The "Real" Aiken

For some time now, I've had an idea for a short book that takes a look at the City of Aiken, South Carolina, from the perspective of someone who a.) grew up in the town and b.) is not a Northerner or tourist. Most books written about Aiken tend to cater to Aiken's tourists or to people who have an idealized vision of Aiken as a quaint little town. They focus on Aiken's many historic landmarks and public events, such as Hopeland Gardens or Aiken's Makin', the annual craft festival, which are all important parts of what makes Aiken such a unique place.

These books are excellent for their market--people visiting Aiken or people who are new to the area (the two are essentially one in the same; the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce reports that most visitors to the Chamber are those looking to move to Aiken). Being a town that relies heavily on tourism--restaurants in Aiken receive about 60% of their business from tourists annually--this situation simply makes sense. Aiken is also a Southern town with a large, non-native population. I don't have exact numbers, but Aiken attracts a large number of Northerners--we call them "transplants" around here--every year, either as retirees or as engineers who work at the Savannah River Site. Tourists and transplants come or move to Aiken because they want it to be a quaint, adorable Southern town, a la Mayberry, so the books they purchase about Aiken reflect this desire. It's economics, plain and simple.

While these books offer a fine introduction to Aiken, however, they also ignore a great deal of what makes Aiken such an interesting place. Yes, Aiken is a wonderful place to live (or to retire, as the case may be), but it's not just great for trendy local restaurants or award-winning golf courses. Aiken is a living, breathing community that embodies the best--and sometimes the worst--of the New South.

Therefore, I've been knocking around the idea of a book that would explore, through extensive oral interviews and background research into Aiken's history, the multifaceted, complicated nature of Aiken. Aiken is not just a city of wealthy Northern retirees or prominent Southern business leaders and politicians. It is a town with a striking range of socio-economic conditions, races, philosophies, religions, and creeds. I wouldn't say it's some kind of multicultural mecca--most everyone is white, middle-class, and Republican--but it's more varied and alive than its retirement community status would suggest.

Also, it's dangerous to assume that Aiken is just a haven for Northern retirees and engineers. One group in Aiken that has come to wield significant influence is the so-called Smart Growth organization, which would more aptly be titled "No Growth." Smart Growth proponents claim they want Aiken to grow, well, more intelligently, but there's very little hard evidence of how they want to achieve that goal. However, it has become apparent that many supporters of Smart Growth are recent immigrants to Aiken from above the Mason-Dixon who want to shut the door behind them. They want to keep Aiken exactly as they have found it.

Here is where these white-washed depictions of Aiken become problematic, if not out-and-out dangerous: they encourage newcomers to view Aiken as a town caught in an ideaized stasis, simultaneously ignoring the fact that Aiken is a living, growing community of small businesses, growing families, and hard workers. I hope, should I ever undertake my work on the "real" Aiken, that I can demonstrate that Aiken is not just a huge retirement community, but that it is in fact a growing, evolving town that needs the flexibility and cooperation of its citizens to expand.

Aiken can still be a great place to live and vacation, but we need to remember that many Aikenites are still trying to make a living, and aren't just sagging a few balls before they kick the bucket.

14 June 2009

Rustics Have Opinions, Too

I've noticed something about the American Left, specifically those members who claim to be "cultured": they share a distrust and even hatred for rural Americans. They constantly mock the values, feelings, and politics of this oft-derided constituency, framing them as stereotypical "rednecks" or "good ol' boys" who spend most of their time polishing their guns drunk while watching NASCAR.

Let's face it: stereotypes exist for a reason. Think of any offensive stereotype and there's a kernel of truth to it. But that doesn't mean we should go around judging people based on those stereotypes. Liberals are making that point all the time, and in this case they're actually right. As usual, though, they fall back into their old, hypocritical ways when it comes to rural Americans. It's "hate speech" if someone insinuates that an Asian is good at math, but it's perfectly acceptable to laugh at someone who's only skin pigmentation is on the back of his neck.

I'm not saying that having a sense of humor is wrong. Maybe white guys really aren't as cool as black dudes when they drive. Dave Chappelle had tons of great material and Boondocks deals with race relations in the United States today better than any other show out there. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against humor. By laughing at stereotypes, we rob them of their power, rather than adding to it.

The same holds true for "rednecks" or "white trash" or whatever label one uses. If it weren't, Jeff Foxworthy would be out of a job. The problem arises, however, when we start to marginalize those Americans because of the stereotypes that exist. Such marginalization of African Americans, for example, would be roundly denounced by the left, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, liberals often celebrate when such marginalization is applied to the rural white American.

In an otherwise excellent article in Harper's Magazine entitled "Barak Hoover Obama: The Best and the Brightest Blow it Again," Kevin Baker indulges in this marginalization to a sickening extent [Note--at the time of this writing, the full text of the article is only available to Harper's subscribers]. The bulk of the article draws historical parallels between Presidents Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama. Baker's research is impeccable and his understanding of an oft-maligned (and extremely intelligent) former president is refreshing. He implicitly challenges the more common "Obama-is-to-Roosevelt-as-Bush-is-to-Hoover" analogy and draws some pessimistic conclusions about Obama's approach to passing many of his long-promised, radically liberal reforms.

A large part of Baker's argument is that President Obama is proceeding with excessive caution and is relying too heavily on Congress to enact the changes he seeks for the nation (naturally, many conservatives would argue that the opposite is true, but suffice it to say that Baker is approaching Obama's proposed reforms from the point of view of a liberal supporter--he actually thinks that cap-and-trade is a good thing). Baker maintains that congressional Democrats from states with small populations like Montana are stepping up after years of quiet service to challenge many of Obama's efforts.

The language Baker uses to describe these representatives and senators is thick with disrespect. He talks about their states as filled with tumbleweeds and ignorance. He implicitly challenges the notion that these congressmen--and by extension their constituents--have no place in contemporary American politics and that they should be brushed aside and ignored, all because they're impeding Ossiah's democratic-socialist vision. This viewpoint is shared implicitly and explicitly by most liberals and leftists. The thinking is that because these states have small populations--and don't have a good place to get sushi or gourmet coffee--they don't deserve to have a place in the American political system (not to mention the fact that Baker is encouraging Obama to squelch dissent and open discussion, supposed bedrocks of modern liberalism).

What's most disturbing about this reasoning is that it is anathema to the very structural philosophy of the United States Constitution. The Constitution clearly sets out to create a structure that gives states with large populations more power in the House of Representatives, while allowing states with small populations to maintain an equal footing in the Senate. The same theory exists behind the Electoral College. If our system was not balanced in this way, New York and California would always pick the next president and would exert a dangerous amount of control over national politics (with only conservative Texas able to balance things out a bit). Regional interests do not necessarily coincide with national interests, and what's good for New York may not be good, and may even be bad, for Iowa.

Yet liberals consistently ignore this inconvenient truth and view it as a stumbling block to their pet projects, whatever they might be. At the risk of sounding like a blowhard conservative talk show host, leftists in America today have no respect for the Constitution except when it is politically advantageous or convenient. Now, I am willing to admit that there are plenty of conservatives who probably treat the Constitution in the same way, but they are much, much harder to find. This disrespect cannot endure for long, regardless of the side.

Therefore, I applaud what these rural Democrats are doing. Maybe they are dusty old relics of the party, but that's for the Democrats to sort out themselves, and that should not invalidate what these men have to say. Maybe most of them are blowhards and are simply seizing their moment to be in the spotlight or to play to their base, but some of them have useful objections and suggestions. I don't want to give liberals any additional aid, but it seems to me that they could use all the help they can get in the more rural parts of the country. Taking the interests of rural Democrats more seriously would be a great start.

Kevin Baker and his ilk live in a world of trendy green advertising and mocha lattes. They have no respect for hard working rural Americans--oh, heck, we'll call them "rednecks"--who help make this country into the wonderful tapestry of ideas and cultures it is today.

Besides, who wants to watch Jeff Gordon race in a Prius?

Sanford Piece Published

Hey everyone.

It's been quite awhile since my last post. I promise more regular posting! I am in the process of looking for work, so if you have any leads, let me know. Of course, this means my time for writing is somewhat diminished, but I'm going to make a conscious effort to write more often over the next few weeks.

Also, I have an update that I should have posted a month ago: my piece on Mark Sanford was finally published! When I decided to post the letter in April, I assumed that it would not be published, as a few weeks had already passesd at that point. However, the letter was finally published on 17 May 2009 (the Aiken Standard's website mistakenly says that it was printed on 16 May in the URL) and has received positive response--for the most part. Governor Mark Sanford even wrote a letter thanking me for my piece.


Enjoy!

27 May 2009

Conservatives and Country Music

Hi again. I apologize for the delay between posts, but the last few weeks have been absolute murder. The school where I teach is finally in exam week, but I had a glut of papers to grade last week. Now I find myself with an abundance of free time, and that means another blog entry from your favorite chubby pal.

I am an avid fan of talk radio. Therefore, I am a fan of conservative talk radio. When one speaks of talk radio, it's pretty much understood that one is speaking of conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, etc. Despite their best efforts, liberals have never been able to establish much of a foothold on the radio, although Alan Colmes does have a show that airs pretty late at night on 560 AM in Columbia. Air America, the one serious attempt at a talk radio network with a stable of liberal hosts, has filed for bankruptcy at least once, if not more, and I have honestly never heard an original Air America broadcast.

Of course, I could go off on a whole discussion of the ridiculous Fairness Doctrine and the recent attempts to get it reinstated (for the unfamiliar, the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC abolished in 1987, stated that those holding broadcast licenses were required to give contrasting views of controversial issues), but I won't. It's painfully obvious that liberals want the Fairness Doctrine back because they aren't being heard anymore because, for whatever reason, most listeners don't want to hear what they have to say. In fact, since the Fairness Doctrine was abolished the spirit of the doctrine--to engender open debate--has been fulfilled in a way it never was while the doctrine was in effect. Whether we want to admit it or not, the mainstream news media is basically left-leaning and pro-Obama, and talk radio is basically right-leaning and pro-limited government. The left-leaning news media reports on events with its bias built-in, and right-leaning talk radio hosts ferret out the liberal bullcrap.

I'm not interested in any of this debate, however, at least not for this discussion. Suffice it to say, I know talk radio, and there's something that has struck me as rather odd: conservative hosts love country music. They absolutely adore it, and I don't know why.

Well, that's a lie. I have some theories and, naturally, I'm going to offer them up for your consumption. But first let's take a look at some talk radio hosts. Sean Hannity is probably the most obvious example. While taking a class in Columbia this past semester, I listened to Sean on 970 AM in Florence on my weekly drive down, and at the top of every hour his show would lead in with Martina McBride's "Independence Day," a soaring, super-patriotic ode to the American way of life. Okay, one song, no big deal. Then, about a week ago, Sean started promoting a series of pro-American, pro-limited government concerts that he has helped to organize, featuring, among others, Billy Ray Cyrus and Charlie Daniels. Add to that the occasional visit by a country music artist, and The Sean Hannity Show is a veritable hee-haw of country music royalty.

One show doesn't say much, though. Maybe Sean Hannity, a New Yorker, just loves country music. I'll even admit that I'm biased in thinking that Northerners aren't country music lovers, and that Sean has proven me wrong.

Then something happened that made me rethink this whole issue. This week the students at the school where I teach are taking their final exams, and so teachers are permitted to leave school early if they have nothing to do. I finished up my various tasks and hit the road around 11 this morning, and so I tuned in to 970 AM as always. At this time Laura Ingraham broadcasts her show, which I had never heard before because I'm usually knee-deep in lesson plans at 11 in the morning. So I'm listening to Laura when, all of a sudden, she starts talking about how much she loves country music. Can't get enough of it.

Sean Hannity was a hardworking construction worker in a former life. I can completely buy Hannity standing over his sledgehammer, wiping the sweat from off his brow, and listening to Garth Brooks. But Laura Ingraham? Besides the fact that she's a woman--and chicks love country music, for whatever reason--it makes no sense. The name "Ingraham" is probably the least countrified name in the world.

Now, I'll admit that I don't know much about Laura Ingraham and that I'm probably being a little sexist when I write things like "chicks love country music," but there is an undeniable trend on the right toward country music. In fact, there's a corresponding trend on the left toward rock music. How else can you explain this sudden glut of conservatives espousing their love of country music? At the same time, observe all of the activist, left-wing rockers out there: U2, The Clash, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, etc.

This is not an original revelation. South Park did an entire episode on pro-war country music lovers and anti-war rock 'n' roll protesters. I mention it because I find it all a bit disturbing--and, in a way, potentially dangerous. First of all, I really don't like country music. There are always the obvious exceptions, and I should probably qualify that by saying that I don't like new country music, but generally speaking I can't stand it (the odd thing is, most of it is just classic rock with banjos and twangy vocals).

Secondly, why should conservatives give up rock music? Chuck Klosterman, author of Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey of Rural North Dakota,argues that glam metal in the 1980s "latently adopted the Republican persona of the 1980s," which was "an incredibly popular way of thinking, especially (and surprisingly) among young males" who made up the bulk of heavy metal's listeners. Heavy metal in its biggest, glammiest, most capitalistic form has fallen by the wayside, but for its time it was a musical movement that, according to Klosterman, was completely in-tune with the prevailing conservative sentiments of the Reagan era. Sure, heavy metal was an exaggeration of the already-exaggerated excesses of the 1980s, but it was the popular music of the time and reflected the mood of the nation and the political establishment, something that is pretty rare as far as pop music goes. Just look at the pop music of the 1960s and 1970s, which cast itself in a light that was decidedly anti-establishment.

So, why is this dangerous? Because I get the impression that most conservative talk show hosts are being a tad disingenuous when they talk about their love of country music. They're playing to their audience--or so they think--which they assume is made up largely of pro-war, pro-limited government, anti-Obama listeners, which is true. However, they're making the assumption that most of those listeners love country music because those are the things they believe, and I don't think that's the case. I believe in all of those things and I much prefer rock--even crappy modern rock--to country music.

The danger also comes in the increasing fragmentation of American political life geographically and culturally. I think it's safe to assume that most fans of country music are, well, those who live in the country (although every good ol' boy I've ever known has been a fan of country and rap simultaneously). But when country music becomes synonymous with one political ideology and rock music with the other, it serves to intensify political fragmentation. Suddenly, McBride's "Independence Day" becomes a post-9/11 rallying cry for anti-Obama revolutionaries instead of a genuine appreciation for the United States and its freedoms.

Instead of looking at genres of music as inherently politicized, we should be using music as a way to bridge the ever-widening gap between different ideologies. I love my talk show hosts, but if I'm right, I have to fault them on their constant peddling of country as some kind of conservative alternative to mainstream music. At the same time, liberals deserve much more of my ire, as they've effectively hijacked rock music and have been using music politically for much, much longer than conservative radio personalities. Woodstock, anyone?

08 May 2009

Fatherhood and the African-American Community

NOTE: I apologize for the lateness of this posting. I have been working diligently this past week to finish a paper for a graduate course in which I was enrolled; now that that is done, I should have more time to come up with article ideas and to post to the blog.

Tonight, for the first time, I watched the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, starring Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding, Jr., among others. The movie, for those of you that might not know, is essentially the story of three young men living in South Central Los Angeles during the early nineties and how their lives are different. One is a promising football star, while his best friend is a hardworking student and his brother is the leader of a local gang. Through a great deal of loss and tragedy, the viewer gets an honest depiction of the gangland violence and unfortunate despair that grips many of America's urban centers.

It also addresses an important issue facing Americans today: fatherhood, or, more accurately, the absence of it. Gooding's character, Tre Styles, is the only character in the movie who is raised by his father. His father, Furious Styles, is a stern disciplinarian who seeks to keep his son off the streets and out of the gangs of his neighborhood. It is no coincidence, then, that at the end of the movie Tre makes it to college, whereas both of his friends have been murdered, one unjustly, the other as part of a gang vendetta.

Strong parenting is something that is sorely missing in the African-American community. Several months ago a student of mine gave a presentation on this very same issue, and his classmates responded with a firestorm of denunciations. He very simply pointed out the number of African-American men in prison, as well as the number of single African-American mothers, and drew the conclusion that many of the problems African Americans wrestle with stem from the absence of strong fathers or father figures in their lives.

His fellow students reacted immediately and violently to his conclusions--and they made some good points. Yes, the lack of strong father figures alone does not account for the vicious cycle of violence and crime that traps so many young black men in a life of gang warfare and murder. There are some deep economic and social problems facing the African-American community today, and to say that a dearth of fathers is the root of the problem is overly simplistic at best and, at worst, draws attention away from other, more sinister factors.

The students, however, were ultimately more concerned about not appearing racist than they were about making these points. This fear is one of the central problems of any discussion of race in America today: it has become virtually impossible to talk about rationally. And this was in a classroom full of white, upper-middle class private school students.

That is an entirely different issue, though, and one that will have to be addressed later. While this young man was probably oversimplifying the broad range of issues that have created such unfortunate conditions within segments of the black community, he still had a compelling point. And this point is not just one that affects black families in inner city areas. Strong parenting is facing changes in all parts of society, regardless of race, socio-economic condition, or any other inherited or ascribed condition. Fatherhood especially has come under blows in recent years, Bill Cosby's excellent book notwithstanding.

This crisis of fatherhood is felt most strongly, however, within the African-American community. African-American culture--to the extent that one can discuss something as broad and protean as "African-American culture", which is by no means monolithic or uniform--has minimized the role of the responsible father. This situation is due largely to circumstance, as the economic conditions facing many young black men offers them the choice between glory in athletics or (false) security in gangs. Also, certain segments of African-American culture have adopted an unfortunate anti-intellectual attitude that discourages learning or any attempts at bettering one's condition. Add to these problems a hypermasculinization and the glorification of violence and money in hip-hop and rap today, and conditions are ripe for a culture that denounces responsibility, encourages quick financial gain through illegal means, and disrespects women. (I should note that old school rappers like Ice Cube and N.W.A. were not glorifying South Central L.A.--they were actually talking about how bad it was.)

Ultimately, however, parts of African-American culture ignore or even denounce fatherhood because the role of parent has been assumed by the federal government. If we look back through history, every major gain on behalf of African-American rights and liberties has been bestowed on behalf of the federal government. The Emancipation Proclamation; the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments; various pieces of civil rights legislation; affirmative action: these were all spearheaded and enforced by the federal government.

And, certainly, many of these had to be enforced by the federal government. It took a war to end slavery in the South. National Guardsmen, under the orders from U.S. presidents, had to escort little black children to school to make desegregation work. I do not mean to downplay the important role of activists, both black and white, in the Civil Rights Movement, but even their efforts eventually led to action on behalf of the federal government.

Therefore, all throughout African-American history major support for blacks has come almost exclusively from the federal government, which, on the whole, has treated African-Americans very paternally. Who needs a strong father figure when Uncle Sam is there to feed your children?

Regardless of why it is absent--and I will admit that my theory is a bit of stretch--the presence of strong, authoritative, and supportive fathers could profoundly benefit young African-American men and women and could help to improve the state of many African Americans today. This improvement would come not from a paternal federal government but from individual incentive and action. Blacks would still face many problems, but with strong fathers--and mothers--they could approach those deeper issues with confidence, intelligence, and vigor.

And I'll be there to help, even if I am as white as a reflective road marker.

28 April 2009

Mark Sanford's Ideology

There has been much discussion lately about Governor Mark Sanford’s resistance to accepting federal stimulus money.  In the face of enormous public and political pressure, the governor has accepted these funds but will exercise considerable authority in determining who gets it.  For the purposes of this letter, I am not interested in whether or not this was the right thing to do.

I am more concerned with how the governor’s opponents have characterized his decisions.  Sanford’s rivals have accused him of political posturing.  Ignoring the vehement protestation against the governor’s actions, I find this interpretation lacking.  While the cynic in me is willing to acknowledge that there might have been an element of posturing to Sanford’s resistance, it seems highly unlikely that this was his only, or even a major, motivator.

His month-long battle against the federal stimulus, however, is much more readily explained by taking a look at his ideology and his record both as governor and as a congressional representative.  Sanford is perhaps the most ideologically consistent politician in contemporary American politics.  Since entering the political arena in 1994, Sanford has been the quintessential Republican; at least, he has been what the quintessential Republican should be.  By this I mean Sanford has sustained an unwavering faith in free enterprise and the free market while also endorsing socially conservative measures.  He is not quite a libertarian, but he has the general ideological bent of Ron Paul when it comes to the economy without the gold standard baggage.

A cursory glance at a website like ontheissues.org demonstrates how consistent Sanford’s ideology is.  In fact, the only inconsistency in his voting over the past 15 years is on affirmative action in college admissions.  While in Congress in 1998, Sanford voted against ending preferential treatment by race in college admissions, but in 2002 he said that affirmative action was acceptable in state contracts but not in colleges.  A closer examination of his voting history in Congress might reveal a few more inconsistencies, but I would wager any additional irregularities would still be far less than the typical congressman.

Regardless, Sanford’s commitment to fiscal conservatism and government accountability is astounding.  Sanford has repeatedly supported term limits (for example, he imposed one on himself while a representative to Congress), a balanced budget, and lower taxes, as well as pushing for choices for citizens in education.  Therefore, if we view Sanford’s struggle against the federal stimulus through the lens of his voting record and his statements as a congressman and governor, it is clear that his position derives from his sincere belief in his ideals.

Whether or not the governor is right is another matter.  That is not the point I want to make.  Agree or disagree, Governor Sanford is not taking a stand for political attention.  He is taking a stand because he believes it is right.  And, after all, isn’t that the important thing?

Aiken's Unfortunate Consensus

On 18 July 2008 the Aiken Standard ran a piece of mine, a simple letter to the editor.  Aiken's City Council had recently passed a smoking ban in restaurants and bars downtown, a measure I opposed.  I was therefore prompted to write this--admittedly polemical--piece.

Please note:  I myself am not a smoker.  I believe that it is a repulsive habit and has serious health risks.  At the same time, there are many establishments that thrive on smokers' business.  Additionally, smokers are well aware of the risks they are taking.

Smokers have been villainized for far too long.  This villainization has cut across political boundaries and has become a bipartisan issue.  The problem with this state of affairs is that we are now seeing the same attitudes toward the obese as we have been seeing toward smokers.  Obesity, like smoking, is simultaneously being treated as a disease and as a moral shortcoming.  As a portly fellow myself, I recognize the long-term health problems that come from obesity; however, I also recognize that being overweight is not some sort of disease.  With hard work and determination, an obese person can lose weight and a smoker can quit smoking.

Cancer is a disease.  You can't just work your way out of cancer.  Obesity and smoking are not diseases, and should not be treated as such.

And now, without further adieu, the unfortunately-titled "Can different people co-exist?" (Kudos to the Aiken Standard's terrible copy editing):  http://www.aikenstandard.com/results/cook-letter2008-07-18T13-21-20

In the beginning...

Hi there.

I never thought I would start a blog.  I enjoy writing and I do dash off the occasional letter to the editor of my hometown paper, the Aiken Standard, but I never thought that I would start "blogging."

In fact, the whole concept still irks me.  And yet, here I stand at the crossroads of public discourse.  Why have I, who have forsworn blogging until now, decided to start a blog?  I am not entirely sure myself, but I will say this:  we are living in trying times.  This is not an unusual observation; humans have been living in trying times for thousands of years.  Regardless, these times are my times, and I fancy myself somewhat educated, so I figure I should offer my interpretation of the major events of the day.

Despite the presence of excessive first-person in this (and most other) blogs, I will not be making this blog one of those self-indulgent love-fests.  I will write about topics that interest me and topics on which I believe I can offer some unique insights.  Otherwise, I will refrain from devolving into bloated descriptions of the sandwich I ate for lunch.  No one wants to read that, not even me.

The Portly Politico will, however, be a blog about contemporary American politics and foreign policy.  I will state my biases upfront:  I am socially and fiscally conservative.  I strive for an underlying consistency to my political and economic philosophy, although I recognize that this goal is impossible for anyone of any creed or inclination.  While I am conservative, I am mainly interested in economic and political issues, not social ones.  I am not entirely comfortable calling myself a libertarian, although I am certainly sympathetic with the overall thrust of modern American libertarianism.  But many social issues simply seem beyond the pale of government authority.

To give an example:  should abortion be illegal?  I think it is morally questionable, if not reprehensible.  Personally, I believe that, since we cannot be sure when life begins, we should play it safe and assume it begins at conception (although it is interesting to note that many medieval and early modern theologians believed that the soul did not enter the fetus until the fortieth day).  But to what extent can the government legislate for or against abortion?  I do not pretend to have the answers.

I do, however, have very strong and--I like to think--reasonable arguments in favor of free enterprise and free market capitalism.  I consistently vote Republican in national elections.  I generally oppose the more leftist and extremist contingents of the Democratic Party.  But I am not an ideologue--I want to hear what all sides have to say.  I am a firm believer in reasonable, rational debate, not name calling or yelling.  Even though many Enlightenment thinkers were guilty of such things themselves, I believe in the ideal of Enlightened discourse:  the rational, unemotional discussion of topics to arrive at greater truth.  I recognize, too, that this is an impossible ideal, but I will do whatever I can to fulfill it.

And so my little adventure in blogging begins.  I promise, future posts will not be nearly so self-indulgent.  But now that we know each other, I hope you'll come back--and perhaps join me in the great collective discourse of our age, a discourse that can only come from the freedom of information found on the Internet.