Current Events for $100

I have been busy, busy, busy these days. A combination of work, church, and family has kept me away from the computer for long stretches. For you political types out there, here are some links from the past week or so that I have posted at Right Shelf. They are also reviews, interviews, and/or discussions of some of the political books that are in my TBR pile. So look for my take on many of these titles in the future.

– A hot topic of late has been whether the GOP is better off losing the House this year in order to position itself for 2008 and to regain its conservative limited government focus. Much of this debate was kicked off by the release of Stephen Slivinski’s Buck Wild (BTW, look for a review here in the coming days. I know, I know, promises promises) a description of how the GOP became the party of big government and an argument for divided government. The American Spectator has posted a mini-debate of sorts on this interesting and important topic.

Last Wednesday David Hogberg wondered if this strategy wasn’t “too clever by half.” Hogberg fears the GOP will learn the wrong lessons in defeat, spend to much time in ugly post-loss internecine battles, and that the Democrats will use the majority to cut deals with President Bush in ways detrimental to the country and the hopes of regaining the Republican majority. He concludes:

Yes, conservatives, myself included, are rightly disgusted with Congressional Republicans’ profligacy. But that disgust is beginning to get through, with Congress recently approving an online database to track spending and the House passing the aforementioned earmark reform. Such efforts will surely stall should Democrats win control of the House. The answer is to keep up the pressure through the grassroots and blogosphere efforts like Porkbusters. A GOP loss of the House in November is just as likely to create more problems for conservatives than it is likely to solve, proving once again that, in politics, there is little virtue in losing.

Slivinski responded by arguing that partisanship is the one thing you can count on in DC:

One thing we have seen, however, is that Bush, like all politicians, is a political animal. On domestic policy, he usually cares more about scoring one for his own team than upholding a coherent position on the role of government in a free society. I suspect the president would go hunting for his veto pen more often if he were faced with a Democratic House. And imagine how congressional Republicans would fight the sorts of big government schemes they currently push if those proposals came instead from the mouths of Democratic majority leaders.

Divided government isn’t a cure-all. But I’m willing to entertain the notion that those who value limited government would be at least no worse off under it than they are now.

More on Buck Wild, this time from W. James Antle III at TCS:

In his new book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, Stephen Slivinski sets out to determine what went wrong. Buck Wild doesn’t just rehash the same old sad statistics about Bush-era budget-busting. Slivinski, the director of budget studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, looks back in impressive detail at past attempts to limit government — recalling the successes and failures.

[. . .]

Slivinski detects patterns that might suggest potential cures for the Republican majority’s Potomac fever. Reagan’s popularity was partly a reaction to the spending habits of Nixon-Ford Republicans while Gingrich’s rise was fueled by George H.W. Bush’s 1990 tax increase. The current wave of big-government conservatism may spark the next budget-slashing insurgency.

The author also contends there is nothing to fear from divided government. The 1981 Reagan budget cuts, the rate-flattening Tax Reform Act of 1986 and welfare reform all passed when the parties split control. And while several Republican government-cutters have prospered politically, overall the experiment in unified GOP government has been a failure for fiscal conservatives.

– Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership By Jim Geraghty is a book I hope to get to in the coming weeks. The Center for Individual Freedom has posted a review by Marshall Manson, How American Politics Have Changed Forever:

These days, it seems that there are as many books about politics as there are opinions. And the more hysterical, the better. After all, hysterical sells. It’s rare in such an environment that a book comes along that manages to present a thoughtful point of view that won’t be irrelevant in 9 minutes.

Happily, Jim Geraghty has penned just such a book.

Indeed, Geraghty’s book may turn out to be the most insightful and important book of political analysis of the year. And the fact that it is well written and a pleasure to read is an added bonus.

Geraghty, of course, is best known for being the author of National Review’s TKS blog. From that perch, he was a keen, continuous observer of the 2004 election.

But it’s not that perspective that makes Voting to Kill indispensable to any student of American politics. It’s the extraordinary depth of research and the quality of his argument that make it a must read.

– Speaking of TCS and Geraghty, TCS has a podcast with the author available here.

– Paul Beston reviews Honor: A History by James Bowman at TAS, X-Ray Vision:

ANYONE WHO HAS READ Bowman’s film reviews (he is TAS’s film critic) knows that he specializes in identifying deep-seated cultural assumptions beneath the surface of even the most innocent-seeming popular fare. He can take apart a romantic comedy or a crime drama in a way that leaves the reader wondering about manners, history, the roles of men and women, and other subjects not normally on the marquee at multiplexes. Often, the assumptions he exposes have to do with the idea of honor.

In his new book, Honor: A History, he crafts an intricate scholarly argument that takes the decline of Western honor far beyond a phenomenon of changing manners into an underlying force of much of 20th-century history, as well as a crucial signpost on the road ahead. His sources range from military and political history to psychology and religion, from the pages of Sir Walter Scott to the latest barbarism uttered by Madonna. There is so much to digest here it is dizzying.

– NRO’s Kathryn Lopez has had a number of Q&A’s with authors lately. Here she talks with Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, author of The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism:

Lopez: And just to clarify, you’d not call Bush Wilsonian in the least?

Spalding: Wilsonian means embracing the progressive view of government and world affairs, believing that one man at a given time is destined to steer events along an inevitably unfolding path of history, transforming sovereignty, and vesting legitimacy and authority in the community of nations. It means collective security, rather than collective defense. Having ideals doesn’t make you Wilsonian; expressing and acting on those ideals doesn’t make you Wilsonian. Like Truman and Reagan, Bush expresses and acts on his ideals. Also like them, he is not Wilsonian.

Lopez: What can the Democratic party, in particular, learn from Harry Truman in the early days of the Cold War, as they approach the war on terror?

Spalding: Truman acted from permanent principles, and he understood the character of the regime — its government, constitution, and principles — as central to foreign policy. He was no relativist (like realists, whether liberal or conservative), nor was he a wishful idealist (aiming to replay Wilsonianism after World War II). Truman was a liberal internationalist — not an inflexible multilateralist. Like Bush, Truman was pro-international institutions when it came to trade. He was focused on key bilateral and regional relationships and created perhaps the most successful regional alliance: NATO, which was grounded, in a revolutionary way, in collective defense, rather than collective security. This sets Truman apart from Wilson, and it’s what many Democrats today fail to see.

– She also spoke with Alvin Felzenberg, author of chat with Bill Gertz, author of Enemies: How America’s Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets—and How We Let It Happen:

Lopez: How significant a threat is China to our national security? Are we taking it seriously enough?

Gertz: China today represents the most serious long-term threat to our national security. Beijing is rapidly building up its military forces with one aim: To prepare to win a future military conflict against the United States. China’s intelligence services, both its Ministry of State Security (civilian) and Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, known as 2 PLA, are the leading edge of a secret war by China against the United States. They are following the dictum of ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who said he acme of skill is defeating your enemy without firing a shot. Unfortunately, China, through intelligence operations and related influence operations have fooled major portions of the U.S. government, from the White House National Security Council to the higher levels of the military services into believing that China poses not threat to the United States.

The civilian part of the Pentagon alone among U.S. government agencies is taking the threat from China seriously and has begun quietly implementing a so-called “hedge strategy” that involves a build up of military forces in the Pacific and Asia that will better position the United States to deal with a China that in the future drops the facade of friendliness and openly declares its hostility. Our intelligence and security agencies remain woefully unprepared to deal with China’s intelligence assault, as I reveal in Enemies in the case of Katrina Leung, China’s mole in the FBI in Los Angeles, and in the case of Tai and Chi Mak, two brothers who passed valuable defense technology that has helped China’s military.

The chapter on the spies who got away reveals that either gross negligence or a Chinese spy in the highest levels of government, or both, can explain why so many recent Chinese spy cases were mishandled.

– Last but not least she spoke with fellow NRO blogger Jim Geraghty about Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: “Voting to Kill”? Explain the title.

Jim Geraghty: The phase, in three words, explains the book’s two topics — terrorism and politics, and how the former affects the latter; it also encapsulates that view of a majority of Americans on this matter. We don’t want someone who will “manage the threat” or “reach common ground” or reduce rogue states to “states of concern,” to use Madeleine Albright’s preferred phrase. We want to kill ‘em. There are many Americans who have never asked, “Why do they hate us?”; they just accept it as a given and want to go about the business of killing those who would threaten us, ruthlessly and effectively, until the concept of attacking Americans is seen, in the farthest corners of the Earth, as synonymous with self-destruction as a policy. I note that there are no Islamists, or Islamo-fascists, or jihadists — or whatever your preferred term is — who ask, “Why does the West hate us?”

It also evokes, “shooting to kill” and is, I hope, just a good, memorable, eye-catching title. Plus, you know, “Peace Mom” was taken.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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