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National Perspective: The Choice of Cleveland

by David M. Shribman

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republicans have made a choice, and it's the last easy one they will have for the next 23 months. They will hold their national political convention in Cleveland.

The last time they went to Cleveland, the Republicans faced a small insurgency. The establishment candidate was Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, an oil millionaire who was genial and wry and, as a pillar of the Topeka business community, not much of a threatening figure to anybody. The insurgent was Sen. William Borah of Idaho, an isolationist and colorful progressive known more for what he opposed than for what he favored and probably too old to pose a real challenge; he was born only two months after the end of the Civil War. Landon prevailed by a large margin — and then lost to Franklin Roosevelt by an even larger margin.

This next Republican nomination struggle won't be nearly as tranquil. In fact, for more than a third of a century the Republican Party — commonly, but erroneously, regarded as a party at social rest — has been a cauldron of political unrest. This election will represent the sixth time in the last half-century that the GOP presidential contest will widely, and accurately, be described as a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party.

This cycle's struggle is more complex than most, with insurgent candidates arguably dominating establishment figures in weight (Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, both serious intellectual figures) and decibel level (though both must compete in volume with some formidable characters, including Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and possibly Rick Perry of Texas, a bombastic figure except at debates, when his silence was deadly in 2012).

Indeed, a Zogby Analytics poll this month showed Paul far ahead of the pack, with 20 percent, followed by two establishment candidates, Christie and former Gov. Jeb Bush, each with 13 percent. Such early polls are mere appetizers, with plenty of palate cleansers coming to the political table before the presidential campaign begins after this fall's midterm elections.

Right now, political strength is assessed in unreliable measures of amplitude and frequency, which may be why Paul scores so well. The senator is the son of former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran for president twice and gained a small but loyal cadre of followers attracted to his libertarian views and his willingness to attack conventional views on central banking and foreign policy.

The presence of Bush in the mix all but assures that 2016 will be another of the struggles-for-the-soul that so delight the mainstream media, complicate Republican presidential campaigns and, at times, endanger GOP nominees. Democrats had such struggles in the years between 1968 and 1992, when the world's oldest political party was barred from the presidency except for the unhappy Jimmy Carter interregnum but, since the ascendancy of Bill Clinton, the Democrats' struggles have been more about personalities than about politics.

This has not been the case in the Republican Party, which had a small identity crisis in the early 1950s — resolved by the nomination of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, who dispatched Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio — and then enjoyed a dozen years of tranquility.

But tensions broke into the open in 1964 with the emergence of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and, despite their electoral success in the last third of the 20th century, the Republicans experienced serious schisms or threats to the established order at least four other times: in 1976, 1980, 1988 and 1992.

Ronald Reagan was at the heart of three of these struggles — in 1964, when his late-campaign speech on behalf of Goldwater gave new hope to conservatives amid certain disaster; in 1976, when his challenge to President Gerald Ford went all the way to the Kansas City convention and was capped by an impromptu speech in which he described the Democrats as campaigning on "a reissue ... of the thing that we have been hearing from them for the last 40 years"; and in 1980, when he prevailed against a panoply of establishment candidates, including George H.W. Bush.

But that wasn't the end of it. The Republicans confronted serious ideological struggles even after Reagan's administration, for the first time in a generation, established conservatism as an attractive rival to New Deal-style liberalism.

In 1988, the struggle was between the traditionalist and evangelical wings of the party. At the New Orleans convention, the Rev. Pat Robertson addressed the session and spoke of "our solemn resolve that the children of this country will once again be allowed to pray to God in the classrooms of America." A week earlier, the Georgia Republican chairman compared religious conservatives to "the people who brought you the Salem witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition."

Four years later, the party was still at war with itself, with blood feuds between those favoring tax cuts and rivals favoring spending cuts; those who advocated libertarian tolerance of gay rights and abortion and rivals arguing for religious-based opposition to both of them. In the background were swirling controversies between isolationists and internationalists, and between protectionists and free traders.

The American political mystery of our time is why the party of social stability is so often a portrait of instability.

The reason may lie in the definition of conservatism itself, in the history of the 20th century, whose political struggles still shape American civic life, and in the structure of 21st-century politics.

One shorthand for American conservatism involves the notion of limited government and free markets, ideas identified in modern times with economist Milton Friedman. Another shorthand for classical conservatism involves skepticism of change, a notion traced to the 18th-century Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke. In an age when New Deal liberalism dominated American life, a desire for limited government and a skepticism of change were in a fateful philosophical collision.

The conflict became inflamed in an age when, for the first time in generations, American politics was shaped by ideologically aligned parties, one liberal and the other conservative.

The Democrats no longer have a vibrant conservative wing and the Republicans have virtually no liberal wing at all. But the Republicans still have the remnants of an establishment, and its personification in 2016 may be Jeb Bush. That's why the Cleveland convention may be no repeat of 1936, a year the Republicans in any case do not want to relive.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has a vacation home in Kearsarge.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00

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Tom McLaughlin: Living on the fumes of greatness


Only men over sixty have ever been subject to the military draft in America. Knowing you could be forced by government to fight in a war focuses one's attention on what's happening in the wider world beyond the peaceful shores of the Unites States. Today, however, our military is all volunteer. Fewer than 1% of Americans serve now and that's been true for decades. If you don't want to, you don't have to. Is that a good thing? I'm not so sure.

Americans under sixty have led a remarkably pampered life by world historical standards. They've grown up in the most powerful country the world has ever seen and have never been forced to seriously consider how brutal other humans can be when they're allowed. The vast majority of people who lived out their lives on this planet did so in walled cities or constantly looking over their shoulders as they moved about with weapons close at hand.

Some of us, though, have paid attention to what goes on outside our borders. Some have studied history and have come to understand that the Pax Americana we've known all our lives is more the exception than the rule. Most, however, never consider Orwell's observance that: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." We don't appreciate how fortunate we are to have been born in late-20th-century America. We still have rough men ready to do violence on our behalf, but we don't have a government that either appreciates them or knows how to use them properly.

I hate to point this out, but we're not just getting fat, dumb, and lazy; we're already here, and have been for some time. Obesity is epidemic. We don't know much about history, geography, civics, or anything else, and more than 90 million of us have dropped out of the workforce. The evidence is overwhelming that our citizenry is in serious decline. Consequently, so is our nation. More and more of us are dependent on government entitlements and, due to our ignorance of simple arithmetic, we are unaware that those expensive programs are mathematically unsustainable. Bankruptcy looms, but we keep on spending as if it weren't.

We keep reelecting a government that is a reflection of us. Paradoxically however, opinion polls indicate that we don't approve of the government for which we keep voting. Why do we continue to reelect congressmen, senators and a president we dislike? Is it because they tell us what we want to hear? Perhaps the lyric in the Sheryl Crow number applies to us: "Lie to me. I promise, I'll believe," she sang. How long can this continue though? When I ponder that, something columnist Mark Steyn wrote comes to mind: "Sometimes societies become too stupid to survive."

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist, penned something last week that also haunts me. Commenting about the illegal alien crisis on the Mexican border, she observed: "America is the house that is both falling apart and under new stress. Those living within it, those most upset by what they're seeing, know America has big problems—unemployment, low workforce participation, a rickety physical infrastructure, an unsound culture, poor public education. And of course discord of all sorts... They know America can't pay its bills. They fear we're living on the fumes of greatness. They want us to be strong again."

"Living on the fumes of greatness." Yes. That is indeed what we're doing.

Noonan was describing Americans who do pay attention, who understand history, who know we cannot go on doing what we're doing. But I'm afraid such people are in the minority now. Remember: 52% of us reelected Barack Obama two years ago in spite of what he did in his first term. The Wednesday morning after that sad election day I was forced to realize that yes, the America in which I grew up has fundamentally changed.

First generation immigrant Dinesh D'Souza just released a movie titled, "America: Imagine The
World Without Her." I haven't seen it yet, but I know what's in it. He sees what I see. I have been imagining such a world and it isn't a pretty one, because I know there are brutal people out there who ponder it gleefully. They smell American decline and they extend their probes further and further to see what they can get away with. How far will that be? I'm afraid to think.

I still choose to believe in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary that it's not too late, that enough Americans are beginning to understand we simply must turn things around. We have to start this November if we're to have any hope of resurrecting the America we used to take for granted.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 22:09

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Joe Lentini: Is it safe?

As a professional climbing guide, safety is something that is constantly on my mind. Back in the mid-70s and early 80s, many of us thought if we marketed climbing as safe we would have more clients. There was a simple reality we had to deal with. Climbing is not safe; life is not safe. Our society has become obsessed with this over the last decade, safety! The simple reality of life is, nothing is safe. There is risk in everything we do. Driving, walking down the street, going to a shopping mall, there is risk. If someone is determined to do harm to others there is little we can do to stop them. Kids who had broken airsoft guns in their car didn't do the shootings that have taken place in schools across our country. The shooters came through the door with a real gun in hand.

In our high school, in the student handbook, there's a rule against "gang affiliation display, student uses gestures address and/or speech to display affiliation with the gang." Are you kidding me? A 6-year-old boy was suspended from his Maryland elementary school for making a gun gesture with his finger, pointing it at a classmate and saying "pow." In January 2013, a 6-year-old, Naomi McKinney, brought a small transparent plastic toy gun to school for a show and tell. The school has expelled Naomi indefinitely, saying in a statement that weapons or replica weapons are prohibited. A 7-year-old boy Baltimore boy was suspended from school after his teacher complained that the boy chewed a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. In our own school, we had a young man suspended for having a broken air soft gun in the back of his car.

I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the administrators of these schools who made these decisions, but I can't. The rules say "zero-tolerance." Common sense is not allowed, there's probably a rule against it? How do we expect children to grow intellectually and emotionally unless we help them understand what is right, and what is wrong. Real life isn't simply a list that you look at and say I can't do that because it's on the list.

As we passed the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy I couldn't help but marvel at, and hold in reverence, those who landed on those beaches. My father fought in the war. Not in the European theater but in the Pacific theater. Amongst other tiny Pacific islands he also fought on Guadalcanal. If you read history, which I do, you see one refrain as to why this is considered the "greatest generation." It was the ability to think on their feet. To make decisions. If your squad leader was killed, the next in line took over. If lost in the jungle you figured out what had to be done and you did it. I learned an important lesson from my father; it was about knowing right from wrong. It was about making decisions based on a moral compass, not on a list of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I fear for the coming generations, I fear they will lack the critical thinking skills that will allow them to look at any situation and make that most critical decision, is it right or is it wrong? I fear, in this day and age, it is easier for parents and those "in loco parentis," "in the place of a parent" to simply work off of a list, a cheat sheet, of what is right and what is wrong. And when we make these lists and add to them seemingly ridiculous rules we erode our credibility. We don't serve our children this way, we damage them.

I know I am an outlier, I've been a professional climbing guide for over 38 years, not a traditional path, but in my world, sitting down with the young man who left a broken air soft gun in the back of his car, and explaining to him why he shouldn't have that in his car makes much more sense than just suspending him. And what danger was he really? Was he going to scare someone with it? What about someone with a baseball bat in their car, or a golf club, aren't those more dangerous weapons? Zero-tolerance applied to what young adults have in their cars does nothing for safety. Explaining to young adult "why" seems to me just simple common sense. I guess that's where I depart from conventional thought. I expect from my children that they are responsible individuals, that they know right from wrong. I've never held them accountable for something that I hadn't explained the "whys" of in advance. I know they will sometimes take the wrong path, do something that is wrong, just as I have. But what's important to me is that they will know it was wrong and will spend a little time soul-searching as to why they did it.

Again, as Christian Szell asked (played by Laurence Olivier) in Marathon Man, Is it safe?

Joe Lentini lives in Conway and is a member of the Conway School Board. The views represented in this column are his own personal views and in no way represent the views of the Conway School Board.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 05:32

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The Latest Skirimish in the War on Women7-10-14

As we get closer to the midterm elections, the rhetoric is ratcheting up. Americans for Prosperity (aka the Koch brothers) is continuing to run their ridiculous ads stating that Jeanne Shaheen cast THE DECIDING VOTE for Obamacare.
In other states, the name is changed to fit the candidate the Kochs are working against. My question is this: why don't the Koch brothers want non-wealthy Americans to have health insurance?

I've never been a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I was unhappy when single payer advocates weren't even given a seat at the table when it was being discussed. I was unhappy there was no public option. I'm downright peeved that this mess was a project of the Heritage Foundation, something that all those who bark about "socialism" either don't know or don't care to acknowledge.

The ACA has meant the end of the pre-existing condition. That is an incredibly good thing. It has given young people the option of staying on their parents insurance longer. It has also meant that a lot of people who couldn't afford insurance before are able to afford it now. The GOP rumblings of "free market solutions" ought to be met with derision. They had decades to create those solutions, and they never did. The only plan the Kochs and their acolytes have for the non-wealthy can be summed up in one word. Die.

The reasons we need a single payer system in this country were made clear in the recent Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case. Hobby Lobby is a family owned company. They have a chain of stores that sell craft supplies. They are apparently a religious family, and they were miffed that the ACA meant they were mandated to provide insurance to their female employees that covered all forms of birth control. It offended their religious sensibilities, they claimed, so they took it to SCOTUS, and the Roberts court, ever happy to rule against women, did so. 

Prior to the ACA, Hobby Lobby stores offered insurance that covered the same forms of birth control that they suddenly got religion over when Obamacare came along. Remember all the people who wailed about putting the gummint between people and their doctors? They are now oddly silent at the ruling that puts employers between women and their doctors. After all, who better to make women's health care decisions than purveyors of cheap craft supplies imported from China?

Good news for men though. Your erectile dysfunction drugs, penis pumps, and penile implants will continue to be covered by all forms of insurance. The religious do not want you to believe that your impotence is God's will. God, it seems, is only intent on legislating the uterus.

There are a number of reasons we need single payer health care. The first is to eliminate employers from the equation. Health care should not be tied to employment. Health care should not be employer approved or supervised

Hot on the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision came the Wheaton decision, where a religious college in Illinois decided they didn't want to fill out waiver forms for Obamacare that stipulated they were too religious to provide whore pills for their female students. Naturally the male members of the Supreme Court thought that was just fine. Now Gordon College in Massachusetts (a small, non-profit Christian school in Wenham, MA) has decided to seize the moment. They've signed on to a letter asking President Obama to exempt them from an executive order (that hasn't been put into effect yet) banning discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. Apparently nothing says, "we are followers of Jesus Christ" quite like discrimination.

I have written before that here in the US, we've stopped thinking about or planning for the future. In fact, our heels are dug in, and a great many of our leaders are working to turn the clock back, to an imaginary time of great happiness for them. The 1950's. (Or for some, the 1800's.) In the 1950's women knew their place. They were at home, cooking, cleaning, caring for the kids, and voting the way their husbands told them to. They didn't have many birth control options. If they got pregnant and couldn't afford another baby, they had back alley abortions and some of them died. Those who favor the 1800's would prefer to go back to the days when women were essentially chattel. They couldn't own property, sign contracts, vote, or have any legal voice in the lives of their children. They were the property of fathers, brothers, or husbands. A number of conservatives these days publicly yearn for the days when women couldn't vote. David Barton the fauxhistorian claims that denying the vote to women kept families together. Ann Coulter doesn't seem to understand that without suffragists, she'd be home birthin' and scrubbin'.

The birth control pill changed everything. That and the decision in Roe v. Wade. Suddenly women had control over their own bodies! They were no longer hostage to their reproductive organs and the men in their lives. Naturally, this displeased a number of men. It still does. They've been trying for decades to turn the clock back, and eradicate any gains made by women. Pretending concern for life is one of the most hypocritical. The same men who rail against abortion are at the borders turning away buses filled with refugee children. The deeply religious folk at Hobby Lobby, Gordon College, and Wheaton aren't filling buses, hitting up the ATM, and heading down to the border to care for those same children. The terrorists and "sidewalk counselors" who harangue women entering health clinics aren't interested in caring for actual children. For all of these hypocrites, it's all about imaginary fetuses. Imagine how much better children's lives would be if the focus were on the born instead of the not even conceived?

As for the ongoing war on women, the question is simple. Are women fully equal human beings with the same right to bodily autonomy and medical privacy as men? Yes or no?


Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 22:09

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Tom McLaughlin: Aliens Are Not Immigrants


Were you to draw a picture of the United States, it would show the familiar outline of our borders with Maine sticking out at the top right, Florida on the bottom right, Texas in the south, and so on. But what's a border? It's a boundary within which people declare, uphold, and adhere to a set of principles. People outside it don't. Principles within are outlined in two founding documents: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It's those principles that have made the United States the strongest, most prosperous, and greatest country the world has ever seen. Without them and the borders within which they're enforced, the United States would not exist.

People outside the boundaries have seen and heard how good it is here and they want to come in. There's a process for that called immigration, and most of us are descended from people who followed it. During the first half of the 20th century, about 12,000,000 did. None got any welfare because it didn't exist. After the Roosevelt and Johnson Administrations there were some welfare programs, but immigrants weren't eligible until they became citizens.

Early immigrants didn't come here for freebies. The opportunity to work and build a new life in a free country is what drew them. Over the past 25 years or so, however, another 12,000,000 or so snuck in here without going through the immigration process and cannot properly be called immigrants at all. They're illegal aliens. There are many more government welfare benefits available now and in most states they've been given to illegals. As word gets around, more illegals are drawn here. Why are we surprised? For more and more illegals, their reasons for coming here are different from those of our ancestors. They're not as interested in building as they are in taking. They're a net drain on the nation.

People dependent on government support are the base of the Democrat Party. That's why they push amnesty so hard, but they don't call it amnesty because they want to change the terminology. They call it "Comprehensive Immigration Reform," as if immigration laws needed reform. They don't. What they need is enforcement, but President Obama the his party don't want to enforce them. They don't like borders and they don't like to obey the Constitution either.

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) went to the Texas/Mexico border last week to say, "We are all Americans, north and south in this hemisphere," as if our borders didn't exist." Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) handed out lollipops. Republican congressman Joel Bridenstine, however, was barred from seeing illegal alien children being housed in his own district at Fort Sill. The Obama Administration isn't allowing media to see the aliens either and threatens reporters with arrest. American medical staff is threatened for talking to media about appalling medical problems illegal aliens have in Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where they're being held. "There were several of us who wanted to talk about the camps," said one, "but the agents made it clear we would be arrested. We were under orders not to say anything," reported a psychiatric counselor quoted by Fox News. Their cell phones were taken away. "They're [the latest illegals] going to crush the system," a nurse told Fox. "We can't sustain this. They are overwhelming the system and I think it's a travesty."

The New York Times reported that the Obama Administration has bussed over 290,000 illegals from the border to locations all across the United States in recent months, sparking protests in communities where they're being dumped. The National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers issued a statement saying, "This is not a humanitarian crisis. It is a predictable, orchestrated and contrived assault on the compassionate side of Americans by her political leaders that knowingly puts minor illegal alien children at risk for purely political purposes."

Meanwhile, Maine Governor LaPage has cut off the 90% state share of welfare costs cities and towns pay to Maine's illegal aliens. Democrats in Portland and other cities are in high dudgeon. Why? Because they'll gladly funnel other people's tax money to illegal aliens, but they're very reluctant to give their own.

Also, the Obama Administration instructed ICE officials (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to stop referring to the flood of young illegals as UACs or "Unaccompanied Alien Children" even though virtually all our case law on immigration uses the term alien. Now they're officially just "Unaccompanied Children" and if you're against bringing busloads of them into your town, you're obviously a racist hardass.

And speaking of language and immigration, the Obama Administration is suing a private Wisconsin business for requiring that it's employees be able to speak English, calling it discrimination based on national origin!

After fed-up citizens in Murrieta, California blocked busses full of illegal aliens ICE agents wanted to dump in their town last week, local police say federal agents will come next time with riot gear and shields to push the crowd back. How will local citizens deal with that? Will ordinary Americans put up with this all over the country? I don't think so.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 July 2014 07:47

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