Group blog: 2008 preview

"Fred Thompson has done nothing, anywhere, ever," wrote National Review's Rick Brookhiser on their group blog, The Corner, just after Labor Day. "It would be unwise," he added, "to put such a man in the White House at this moment in history." After Kevin Miller, a member of our Backbone advisory board, brought the Brookhiser piece to my attention with his implied endorsement, I sent it around to several other friends, triggering a furious volley of replies.

The whole exchange is reproduced below, starting with the initial NRO posting. Suddenly we have a little "Corner" of our own, out West here. Contributors include Dave Crater, Joshua Sharf, Jeremy Schupbach, Matt Dunn, Brian Ochsner, Dave Petteys, and Fran Miller. Yours truly, for once, stood by in stunned silence.

The Field So Far / Rick Brookhiser: Now that Fred Thompson is officially in the race, it is appropriate to say that he is, on the face of it, by far the weakest potential president of the top tier Republicans.

Strongest is Giuliani who, alone of all the candidates in both parties, has done something. Two things—saved New York City; and led America for two days six years ago. Mitt Romney has been governor of an important, largeish state; has run a business; and saved the Olympics at a dicey moment.

John McCain has spent his political career in the Senate, typically a graveyard of energy. And yet, as everyone acknowledges, he is a leader (even when he is leading in the wrong direction).

Fred Thompson came to the offices of National Review some years when he was still in the Senate. I liked him fine. He has done nothing, anywhere, ever. The Hubble Telescope could not find what he has done, because he has not done it. It would be unwise to put such a man in the White House at this moment in history.


Dave Crater / McCain is a leader, “even when he’s leading in the wrong direction”? I am lukewarm on Thompson because of his record (voted against conviction of Bill Clinton on perjury charge, endorsed McCain for President in 2000, supported McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, opposes constitutional amendment banning gay marriage), but it’s better to do nothing than lead in the wrong direction. Everything Brookhiser says of Thompson could have been said of Reagan before he ran for Governor of California.


Joshua Sharf / Not sure about that. Reagan put himself at personal physical risk to oppose communists in the actors' union, and was a lead negotiator with the studios. Also, he ran for governor of California before running for President. Brookhiser probably overstates the case, but Thompson's pre-Presidential credentials look thin compared to Reagan's. That said, never underestimate the political power of the Q-rating.


Matt Dunn / What do you boys mean Fred Thompson hasn’t done anything? He’s done some fine pro-abortion lobbying for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. He’s lobbied on behalf of Jean Baptiste Aristide, of Haiti. He’s also advised the legal counsel to the Libyan gents involved in the downing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie. As the Texas Tornados sing, “A Little Bit Is Better Than Nada.” Even when it’s in the wrong direction.


Brian Ochsner / Way to go, Fred - not! I'm not a fan of McCain (too old, too moderate, too lax on immigration), Giuliani was mayor of New York, but seems like he's trying to be (as the Onion says) "President of 9/11." Yeah, Rudy, we know you were there, you've only told us that like... oh, 317 times this past year. And... he seems to have little to no regard for the Constitution, just like the current occupant of the White House.

Romney is too slick, implemented de facto socialized medicine in Massachusetts, and has more positions on issues than Travis Henry has kids. Bush was Governor of Texas before becoming President, only redeeming actions were the veto of the stem-cell bill, and nominating Justices Roberts and Alito. There's darn little difference in values and legislation between candidates and Congressmen in both parties. As John Loeffler calls them: Socialist Party (D) and Socialist Party (R).

Hillary or Obama elected President wouldn't be my cup of tea, but Romey, Giuliani or Thompson won't be much better.


Joshua Sharf / Good. Freakin'. Grief. How does one have "no respect for the Constitution," and yet have as two of this three redeeming acts the appointments of Alito & Roberts? And do you really think that health care coming out of an administration with any of the Republicans is going to look anything like what we see after 8 years of Hillary? Look at the damage Tony Blair did to Britain's sense of itself in just that long. I'm all for having realistic expectations of what's possible right now, but let's not just all give up and move to Hong Kong.


Matt Dunn / Greetings from Hong Kong: Alito & Roberts are okay and all – but I’m still sore about Harriet Miers not making it to the bench. Meanwhile, we’ll be finding out later this month if Bernanke is Socialist-R or not. If not, Wall Street will be extremely disappointed. BTW, who’s Travis Henry?


Brian Ochsner / Agree that Hillary will try to revive socialized medicine... but did you forget last November and why we got our butts handed to us? Because most Republicans in DC and Denver were acting like freaking Democrats! The voters thought: "If there isn't much difference between the two parties, let's give the other party a shot." And they did.

Yes, the Dems are basically socialists, but folks in our party aren't exactly promoting freedom and liberty nowadays. Let me count the ways the Bushies are butchering the Constitution:

1) National sovereignty/SPP Agreement/proposed North American Union, and Mexican trucks are now rolling in the US - without the approval of Congress: Bush has NEVER been serious about enforcing the border with Mexico, and he appears to be an internationalist... just like his dad.

2) Bush's hundreds of signing statements on bills passed by Congress:

That's why he didn't veto any bills during his first few years in office, he just put signing statements on them, editing what he didn't like.

3) The Military Commissions Act of 2006, which basically eliminates the right of habeas corpus - that is, a person cannot be held by the government without a valid reason:

It allows 'unlawful enemy combatants' (which are very vaguely defined) to be detained without access to a lawyer. The definition of UECs is so broad, it can be used against anyone the government decides is one.

4) The 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, which overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the regular military within our borders:

We criticized Dems and called them Kool-Aid drinkers for blindly supporting Bubba Clinton, even with all the shenanigans he pulled in office. But Republicans who blindly support this President, or anyone with an "R" behind their name - and overlook how they govern - deserve the same label.

McCain doesn't believe in enforcing the borders, I doubt Romney and Giuliani do either, neither does Brownback (who's a social conservative). I know he's a long-shot, but the best candidate (and who I support) is Ron Paul.

Vox Day reinforces my point with his column:

"The choice is simple. If you want to live under an EU-style regime that is intent on invading and occupying other countries in the name of democracy for the forseeable future, vote for any of the so-called major candidates. It doesn't matter which one. There is no significant difference between President Bush and Sen. Clinton, or between Sen. Thompson and Sen. Obama. If, on the other hand, you wish to live in a nation where the United States government is governed by the Constitution, you had better support Ron Paul. This may be your only opportunity, for it is entirely possible that this will be the last time such a choice is presented to you."

Not to mention Peggy Noonan:

"After Mr. Paul spoke, it seemed half the room booed, but the other applauded. When a thousand Republicans are in a room and one man of the eight on the stage takes a sharply minority viewpoint on a dramatic issue and half the room seems to cheer him, something's going on."

With the exception of Dick Wadhams, national and state party leadership has flipped conservatives the bird. And I'm flipping it right back. I'm tired of the Rockefeller Republicans taking the GOP (and our nation) in a bad direction. I rest my case.


Dave Petteys / Your #4 quote was really from


Joshua Sharf / I think pork had a lot to do with the election loss, but that's different from socialized medicine. I'll also point out that it was almost entirely Republicans that stood against the immigration reform bill. If it took shutting down the switchboard with calls to make it happen, well, it was basically a repeat of 1993 and HillaryCare. Sometimes you need to make a fuss.

1) the NAU and Mexican trucks are two different things, of course. The NAU is a problem. Mexican trucks are a treaty obligation under NAFTA, which was approved by Congress.

2) I think the reason he didn't veto bills is much simpler: he didn't want an open confrontation with a Republican Congress. Really not certain what the fuss is with signing statements. Administrations interpret the nuts-and-bolts application of laws. Better to have those interpretations up front and in black and white, rather than hidden inthe bowels of bureaucracy. I think the signing statements are aimed more at the civil service than at Congress. And certainly an administration isn't bound to enforce laws that it believes to be unconstitutional, in the absence of a court ruling. See the previous Claremont Review for a good discussion of this point.

3) Agsin, the administration has never evaded a court ruling on the subject. The scope here is far less than Roosevelt, Wilson, Lincoln sought - and took - for themselves in time of war. If there's a complaint, it's that the administration hasn't acted aggressively enough to demolish our enemies and limit the time scope of the rules. (BTW, I know you can do better than Wikipedia for legal discussions.)

4) If Posse Comitatus is an act, not a constitutional amendment, then overturning it by statute isn't showing disrespect for the Constitution.

It's important to have Ron Paul, and people like Mike Pence making the points about Constitutional limitations of power. But politics is the art of the possible. Teaching Hubert Humphrey a lesson in 1968 put the Dems in the wilderness for over 20 years.


Jeremy Schupbach / I think that even with Thompson in, we're still at square one in terms of good conservative candidates. Everyone in the field has a couple good mountains to climb. (not that many candidates don't). It's just seems to be a field of near misses - and far misses; and there doesn't seem to be a clearly conservative candidate - let alone a clearly conservative and electable candidate...

I guess I'm cool with Thompson being in because maybe he'll force the rest right somewhat. I think with Bush you have seen the anti-newt softer side of the republican party ... the party of get along and compromise (and has no credible voice in front of the american people). It's a PR problem to a degree, but it's also about vision and values - ideals we as conservatives are having a hard time identifying in a candidate to date.

I'd like to throw out a question: Are conservatives really considered the base of the republican party anymore; or has the party moved on to things more Bush 43ish (i.e. no child left behind, new federal bureaucracies, compassionate conservatism, when people hurt, government must move...).


Dave Crater / Conservatives are still the base. But remember what conservatives are. They are working people and housewives with children. They don't follow politics closely, even closely enough to know how wretched "No Child LeftBehind" was. Work, soccer games, church, and the rest of the elements of normal life occupy most of their time, and this is not entirely bad. They vote, and they have a general sense things aren't as great here as they once were, but they tend to get annoyed by people who are too political.

When they do pay attention to politics or wider social issues, they don't dive deeply enough to really get exercised unless it touches them personally (the mother who becomes a breast cancer activist after she gets breast cancer), and they therefore rarely develop a political philosophy that ties everything together in a way that motivates activism.

They haven't ever read the Declaration of Independence, though they know it says something about "all men created equal" and agree with the sentiment. They believe in God, and very often can be found in some evangelical megachurch on Sunday morning, but they will admit in their most candid moments they aren't as devoutly Christian as their parents were.

They are rightly and healthily irritated whenever Hillary Clinton opens her mouth. They know a liar when they see one, they know Bill Clinton lied, but they aren't angry about it. They occasionally have Rush Limbaugh on in the garage while they change the oil in the car, but they aren't Dittoheads. They don't let their kids watch trash on TV or at the theater, but they aren't trying to be legalistic about it either.

They know at some unconscious level that Rudy's not Reagan, but, heck, he was a hero after 9/11 and there are definitely terrorists who want to kill us. They generally support the war on terror (a truth Dr. Dunn finds hard to believe), are proud to send their sons to Iraq, would prefer not to send their daughters but aren't going to complain too loudly if that's how it has to be, are against abortion but don't want to argue about it, tell the truth to their neighbors and help them dig cars out after it snows.

They are moved by a stroll through Arlington National Cemetery or the funeral of President Reagan, and support having "In God We Trust" on the money and "under God" in the pledge. They know in a general sense that Israel is the good guys and Iran is the bad guys, but it's not something they think about much and, again, let's not argue about it.

It is this broad, middle-class, loosely Christian suburban world that is the base of the Republican Party. It's fair to call it conservative, but like all mass movements, it's a populist conservatism that, without leadership, can easily be divided and led astray, or just simply too easily satisfied, by a weak Republican establishment that has drunk too deeply at the well of power, who have never read the Declaration, who are themselves products of this wealthy, comfortable bourgeoisie, and who lack the character and vision to rise above it.

This in turn works to undermine any traction a genuine conservative can get even with the base in an election year. Life is just too good and secure to be controversial. I'm afraid we must put GWB in this category - so much potential when elected, so little delivered in the end.

So, lacking some major crisis that hits them at home (double-digit inflation, gas lines, a Soviet threat, a series of 9/11's - one more won't be enough), they won't be moved to any sort of sustained rebellion against the liberal drift in both the Republican Party and the larger political culture. All cultures drift liberal unless a series of crises keeps returning them to the truth, which is to say returning them to their deepest conservative instincts. This is the meaning of the Old Testament prophets.

Until the crisis hits, they'll just go on driving their kids to soccer games, voting a GOP ticket, getting up and going to work in the morning, trying to lose a few pounds, playing golf on Saturday morning, and going to church on Sunday morning with football afterwards. Life isn't perfect, but all in all it's pretty good. No need to get all political.

The $99 question in all this is whether, when the crisis does hit, as it always does, there will be a Reagan waiting in the wings to step into the leadership void. The Old Testament prophets seemed to think that, on the whole, when a nation loses its way, the odds are against it.


Fran Miller / In all of this discussion I am influenced by a couple of overriding factors. First, you can expect the Democrats to put together a dream ticket and balance Hillary off with someone like Obama. Should that happen, it will require the Republicans to either concede utter defeat and go out of business, or sacrifice some old Senator or has-been and throw him under the bus, or come up with their own dream ticket.

Now, if you think any of the current aspirants, including Newt Gingrich, the dark horse, can (a) win or (b) would perform if they did, you are kidding yourself.

I am reminded of how Indian tribes dealt with such situations. They had a peace leader and a war chief. We are at war and we need a war chief. I suggest the Republican dream ticket should be David Petraeus and Condoleeza Rice. Good offense and good defense. Woman, minority, beauty, grace, brains. etc.

To sit around and even suggest that the current crop of candidates is going to win honorable mention, much less a blue ribbon, at the fair is ludicrous.

Oh, and by the way, we should be thinking likewise at the state level. If we get down the road and people start cogitating Mike Coffman, Mike May, Tom Tancredo and the other crop of hang-around-the-fort hand-out types you can expect Bill Ritter to be governor for life. Ditto for Bob Schaffer: totally unelectable.

For those of you who think the conservative base is key, I would suggest that you can't win any election unless you can appeal to independents, most of who are totally turned off by politicians who want to hardwire their religion into the body politic, don't do what they say when they get elected; and act like Herbert Hoover. The conservative base means nothing, absolutely nothing if you can't win elections.


Dave Petteys / When we get a pushy militant Islam, demanding more and more accommodation, at some point they will overplay their hand. As they get stronger, they seeless and less reason to "deceive the Kefirs". Rape of Western women is on the rise in Sweden and France, committed mostly by young Muslim men. Muslims will begin to establish "no-go" zones for local authorities, and begin establishing Shari'a Courts -- for "their community," of course. Hapless businesses and citizens on the edge of these zones will be intimidated, beaten, and will flee.

The key is, how much a "tolerant and multicultural" society will put up with. The longer the delay in cracking down, the sooner comes the civil war. Eventually, the liberal tolerant attitudes, prevalent for 100 years, will be washed away by the Islamic violence. Left wing governments, with no theoretical ammunition with which to protect their citizens, will finally be replaced by nationalist parties who will fight.

When your soccer mom's 14 year old daughter is gang banged and half beaten to death by local Muslims, she may decide something must be done. Your conservative base is unlikely to be willing to be led quietly to the beheading block, with the possible exception of the "peace at any price" clergy.