Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Month in the Making: SWNID Superlatives for 2008

Our blogging a victim of regrettable cutbacks in recessionary times, we now marshal scarce resources to provide the obligatory, definitive summation of the past year's events, the SWNID Superlatives for 2008, a most momentous year that reminds us more and more of 1976.

So here they are in no particular order, the bestest "ests" of the 366 from January to December:

Best Aesthetic Development: Obama's victory meant that all those "Kerry Edwards 2004" bumper stickers finally got scraped from the backs of Subarus and Volvos across the Republic.

Best Social Development: Obama's victory underlines the message "Yes we can" to marginalized ethnic groups in our Republic and globally. We sense not only pride but determination and calm confidence among many in our acquaintance. We hope the results are lasting.

Most Undercelebrated Event: the American military victory in Iraq. As we blog, local elections are moving forward in that benighted country, with participation of nearly every religious and ethnic faction and little threat of debilitating violence. Things have moved so far along that the public considers it hardly noteworthy that Obama remains entirely opaque on whether his "withdrawl" will take 16 months or 60. SWNID wonders whether a generation from now, veterans of the Iraq War will be seen much as Vietnam veterans: victims of fickle public attitudes whose sacrifices were insufficiently appreciated by their contemporaries.

Runner Up in Previous Category: the return of oil prices to a sane level. It is by now clear that global demand for oil was intensified by a speculative bubble, as prices have fallen to levels more in line with historic patterns. That public policy is still operating on the assumption that expensive alternatives to petroleum are the wave of the future is merely proof of the truism that what goes uncelebrated also goes unnoticed.

Most Demonstrated Political Reality: candidates are who they have been in the past, not who they present themselves to be. McCain never demonstrated a political center except for a sense of loyalty to his country, hardly a basis for shaping consistent policy positions and selling them to the public. When the financial meltdown hit, he sounded like Daffy Duck. Obama has been a creator and preserver of his political image who ceded policy decisions to the key special interests of his party (unions, government workers, environmentalists, pro-abortion groups). After managing cabinet appointments to appear bipartisan, he has delivered nothing but pork, pro-union regulations, subsidies to state governments, "green" boondoggles, and obligatory pro-abortion executive orders.

Before the election, SWNID spent weeks in denial, hoping that McCain could channel clear conservatism. We spent fewer weeks in denial after the election, believing that the Obama whose appointments and public pronouncements articulated moderation of his campaign positions was the real Obama. We have been returned to cold reality on both sides.

Political Figures Most Tiresome to the Public: every member of the Democratic Party's Congressional leadership. To review the roster--Reid, Pelosi, Waxman, Frank, Durbin, Dodd, etc.--is to summon feelings akin to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard, drinking vinegar, sleeping near a busy railway, walking barefoot on hot asphalt, or entering a house where 47 cats make their home.

Political Figure Best Set Aside: John Edwards, whose infelicitous infidelities have apparently sidelined him permanently from elective office. Edwards was always more palpably phoney than the average pol, prompting us to wonder how some people are so willing to be taken in by populist rhetoric from rich guys.

Runner-Up in Previous Category: Al Gore, despite the Obama administration's enthusiasm for Being Green. Gore's Year of Consolation Prizes (an Oscar and a Nobel, the two highest honors bestowed by the leftosphere) ended in a public image dominated by growing skepticism as to the cost/benefit ratio of restraining greenhouse gas emissions and growing awareness that Gore has positioned himself to profit handsomely from various green schemes. The now portly, always sweaty divinity school dropout seems destined never to fulfill his father's expectations for his supreme political success.

General Political Reality Most Obviously on Display: The corrupting power of power is not mitigated by party affiliation. Whatever scandals the GOP suffered during its ascendancy, Spitzer and Blagojevich and Dann have boldly demonstrated their party's frailties. As the new year has dawned, the same can be said for Obama appointees Richardson (so quickly withdrawn), Geithner and Daschele.

Biggest Political Non-Development: the expected rise of the Evangelical Left. Polls have pretty clearly demonstrated that evangelicals voted conservatively yet again, with less shift to Obama than among the population in general. We say again that while many evangelicals may articulate conservative positions out of naive self-righteousness or jingoistic nationalism, others do so because they understand that conservative political principles offer the most benefit to those most vulnerable in a society. Sorry, Jim Wallis and Randall Balmer, but your political Manichean-style dualism doesn't persuade us that virtue resides on the left.

Local Political and Economic Situation Most Enviable in the Present Distress: Cincinnati. With housing prices among the lowest nationally in the midst of the bubble, its real estate decline has been shallow, hardly the crisis seen in boom areas. With a diverse local economy that has strong corporate players in recession-resistant areas, it should weather the next several months well. With a mayor who manages to get stuff done in a reasonable fashion relative to the standards of contemporary politics, the outlook for the future is at least comfortable.

Local Economic Situation Least Enviable in the Present Distress: Answers in Genesis's Creation Museum. After a blockbuster start, we understand that the bad economy is taking a significant toll on AIG's finances. Because we have friends there, we will not indulge Schadenfreude; because the future is always contingent, we will not prognosticate. But every museum must ask what it will do for revenue after its core constituency has visited once.

Most Effective Local Leader: UC Prez Nancy Zimpher. Abrasive, rhetorically opaque, icy in demeanor, Dr. Zimpher has nevertheless charted a clear course for UC that has palpably raised its esteem and effectiveness in short order. One can actually imagine allowing one's loved ones to attend what was once a haven of human disrespect and underperformance.

Least Understood Political and Economic Issue:
the nearly universal benefits of global trade and immigration (tie, as the two are essentially the same). SWNID was happy that the pro-immigration McCain managed to gag anti-immigration Rs for a season, though they have of late returned by attacking what was maybe the least problematic element of the Obama legislative agenda, extending SCHIP to legal immigrants. SWNID was also happy to hear Obama stop demagoging NAFTA after he secured his protectionist-oriented party's nomination, though he has of late returned to protectionism with the problematic "buy American" provisions of the economic stimulus. Meanwhile, we are distressingly reminded of the awful 70s as we see faux-homemade posters adorning utility poles with the motto "Buy Made in America," the awful syntax of which suggests that they were composed in Hong Kong (SWNIDish kudos to the intrepid journalist who first writes on this sobering phenomenon and exposes the labor union responsible for the outrage [posting signs on utility poles is illegal in most municipalities], including the cost to their hardworking members).

Two Political Interest Groups Most Similar in Tactics: casinos and same-sex marriage advocates. Both sponsor referendum after referendum, financed with a seemingly unlimited pile of money, undeterred by previous failures. But once they experience success, the game is over: gambling becomes permanently entrenched and same-sex marriage becomes an inalienable right.

Least Appreciated Global Political Reality: that the United States enjoys extremely productive support from key allies, including Australia, the UK, Colombia, Israel, and a host of others. Tongue-clucking about the Republic's loss of global esteem under Bush has hardly changed the reality that the United States experiences more enthusiastic support from other nations than virtually any hegemon in human history.

Least Appreciated Global Economic Reality: that nearly everyone participated in and benefitted from the economic bubble recently burst. That's what makes them bubbles, after all. For more on this, we recommend the recent article by Henry Blodget in the Atlantic. If there's someone to blame, call him/her "everyman/woman."

Intellectual "Bubble" Most Set to Burst: ascendant atheism. After a spate of books rehashing all the old logical positivism once thought to disprove theism, the public seems to have lost interest in debating God's nonexistence. We hope that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. can find other ways to peddle words, because there's not much commercial juice left in the atheist orange.

Theological Development Most Out of Gas: The Emerg(ent/ing) Church, by now largely exposed as a haven for evangelicals who want to be hip. SWNID is demonstrably not stupid about or uninterested in such matters, but we've never seen why people were determined to love or hate this stuff. Now we sense that observers and participants are deciding that "there's no 'there' there." Die-hard Reformed churchmen will continue to rail against the movement even as it lies comatose, as that's what die-hard Reformed churchmen do. But the rest will continue to re-evaluate the balance of their message and the effectiveness of their methods, make incremental changes to optimize faithfulness to the gospel and the accomplishment of its mission, and try by faith to move forward.

Economic Reform Most Needed: a provision for "competitive bankruptcy" in the NFL. Under such a plan, perennially uncompetitive NFL franchises could be declared competitively bankrupt by their communities, in which case the league would force sale of the team to owners required to provide professionally qualified management of football operations without micromanagement from the fatcat owners. In other words, longsuffering Bengals fans would at last be rid of Mike "Charlie" Brown. Motto of the program: Keep losing and you lose. What could be more American?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Somewhere Walt Whitman Is Slowly Shaking His Head

The best that can be said of this is that it was better than Nikki Giovanni's so-called poetry:

We hereby demand a moratorium on inaugural poems.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Public Square Now Rather More Naked

We carve out a moment to note and mourn the passing of Richard John Neuhaus, whom we affirm as the most insightful and influential Christian political thinker of his generation.

WaPo's Michael Gerson provides a fitting tribute today.

Neuhaus's passing prompts us to voice a question on which we ruminate: why does it seem that the most important voices of faith in the political sphere adhere to the Roman Catholic Church? Or differently, why are evangelical voices so utterly shallow when it comes to political and social issues, as compared to their cousins from Rome?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Encouragement for a New Year's Resolution

If your resolution is to read the New Testament in 2009, here's a video encouragement to do it the proper way: