Last month, I guessed that the House would swing Democratic, but the Senate would not quite. That looks pretty close, but I didn’t make any kind of fancy prediction with numerical probabilities. I just looked at 2006, which seemed similar, and asked myself what seemed different this time.
There is still some settling to happen in the results. Arizona’s senate race was very close at first, and as votes were counted the Democratic candidate has strongly pulled into the lead.
Rising through Humiliation; House; Quiverfull; Einstein
American conservatism is suffering from the worst kind of nostalgia, the kind that distorts the recollection of the past that it idolizes. We see an example of this syndrome in this comment from National Review Online, New Age Conservatism:
Last Tuesdayís elections were, as widely expected, a solid thrashing for the Republican party. But the real loser was classical liberalism. And the winner was conservatism but of a relatively new and perverse kind. ... The Republicans had governed as Democrats, and the voters unsurprisingly decided to get themselves the real thing.
The Republicans have been strongest when they have adhered to classical liberal principles and articulated them boldly, as in the Reagan years and New Gingrich's Republican revolution. They have been weakest when they have attempted to be New Age conservatives, as during the two Bush administrations when they have governed as Democrats Lite.
In reality, the Republicans were at their strongest when they were the party of reform, and they had a specific agenda for the deregulation of certain industries. That agenda was largely carried out, successfully. The measures were popular. They were seen as part of a reform movement that included the end of patronage-spending and influence-buying in Congress. The articulation of classical liberalism helped in some quarters, perhaps, but at this point one suspects that any gesture toward consistency would have served as well. Reform, for electoral purposes, is an end in itself.
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There should be a public-relations version of the Peter Principle, perhaps something like: "Celebrity tends to increase to a point where biography becomes an embarrassment." That seems to be the problem with Congressman John Murtha, the apple of the eye of House-Speaker presumptive Nancy Pelosi. He played very well as a gruff old Marine uttering blunt criticisms of the Bush Administration's military policy. Unfortunately, the attention he attracted to himself revealed a career that has not been invariably flattering. Whatever else happens, we can be sure that the new Congress will not be esteemed for reformist leadership.
Of course, the Democratic leadership seems in little danger of being upstaged by the Republican minority, as Dean Barnett notes (by way of Hugh Hewitt through Instapundit):
Trent Lott has won the number two job among Republicans in the Senate! Whoopee! If there's one message that the electorate sent the Republican Party last week, it's that we hadn't given them enough of Trent Lott. I cannot adequately express my delight that Senate Republicans have moved with such expediency to right this egregious wrong.
Is it just me, or is it becoming increasingly apparent that the Republicans and Democrats are determined to engage in a two year dumb-off? If it weren't for the fact that there are some very determined lunatics out there trying to kill us, this would be funny.
But they are out there, so it isn't.
One may doubt whether they will have two years to be stupid in. The United States after the Cold War became a little like Earth in The Seafort Saga. We have attracted the attention of the Fish. History thereafter becomes almost a cybernetic process of action, reaction, and action again.
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I try to watch as many episodes as I can of House, the Fox surrealist drama about a misanthropic diagnostician and his exasperated staff. The star is the British actor, Hugh Laurie, who may have been new to many American viewers, but has actually had a long career:
Laurie plays Dr Gregory House, a cranky hospital doctor lacking a bedside manner, with a flawless American accent. It is a far cry from his upper-class twit roles in Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, which helped to make his name in Britain.
Watching the most recent episode on Tuesday, however, in which Dr. House conspired with his friend the oncologist to abet the suicide of a patient in order to get a heart to transplant into the patient's son, it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of scrape that Bertie Wooster would get into. The merriment is set in a casino in Atlantic City; the oncologist friend, as loyal as Jeeves, creates an ingenious alibi by making a disgusting proposal to a player at a gaming table. For that matter, the administrator at House's hospital might easily be seen as the most terrifying of Great Aunts, whose displeasure House is chiefly concerned to avoid.
I can't catch every episode, so if the series actually starts to allude to the Wodehouse books, please let me know.
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Meanwhile, on the Mewling Infant Front, there have been several pieces in the media recently about the Quiverfull movement, of which the most horrified may have been this one in The Nation:
There are signs of denominations and churches picking up the Quiverfull philosophy, not least among these the statements made by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler last year, who wrote that deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is "moral rebellion" and "an absolute revolt against God's design." Meanwhile, Phillip Longman hardly offers a left-wing counterpoint. Instead, he's searching--at the request of the Democratic Leadership Council, which published his policy proposals in its Blueprint magazine--for a way to appeal to the same voters [Allan ] Carlson [an economic historian who heads the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society] is organizing: a typically "radical middle" quest to figure out how Democrats can make nice with Kansas....Longman says that no society can survive to reproduce itself without following patriarchy. "As secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default..."
I do know people sort of like this, but they all have advanced academic degrees, are multilingual, and travel widely. If there is another babyboom, the "philosophy" will be a symptom rather than a cause.
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I received Denis Brian's Einstein: A Life, a few years ago as a review book, but there was no venue for a review, so I had not gotten around to reading it until now. The book is heavy on detail and short on analysis, which is probably just as well. In any case, I noted this anecdote from an interview that Einstein gave around 1920:
Moszkowski wanted to know if the twins paradox was true. Einstein said that the effect illustrated by the paradox had been wildly exaggerated. The reason for this is that the speeds attainable by humans are so much less than light-speed that the resulting age difference would be insignificant. If, for example, the young space traveler had covered 19 billion miles as 600 miles a second (which is about 100 times faster than the greatest speed yet attained in space flight but still only 1/320 of light-speed), when he returned to earth he would be just one second younger than his brother.
I have garbled lesser subjects more thoroughly than this in speaking to the press, but I cannot help but note that this response avoid the issue. The paradoxical thing about the twin paradox is that , once both twins are back in the same frame of reference, both will have an equal right to say, "You were the one who was moving; I stayed here."
Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly