To Serve Man

February 27, 2012

Shortly before he took the role that made him a star, as the towering out-of-time caveman in Eegah!, actor Richard Kiel starred in one of the most famous and well-constructed episodes of The Twilight Zone. Kiel played a gigantic alien who came to Earth, addressed the United Nations, and promised that his people would turn Earth into a paradise. They provided cures for cancer, new sources of cheap energy, and even interstellar tourist flights. They were guided by a book, written in the alien language, whose title codebreakers finally translated as To Serve Man. Of course, just as the human protagonist was about to go on the alien spacecraft for a trip to the alien home planet, his dreams of seeing the alien paradise were crushed when his assistant rushed to the gate and told him that the codebreakers had finished decoding the book: To Serve Man was a cookbook.

Cue the creepy Twilight Zone music.

As twist endings go, “To Serve Man…it’s a cookbook!” ranks right up there with “Soylent Green is made of people!” and Kevin Spacey’s disappearing limp. For me, the punchline is that title. Aliens that promise us good stuff but really want us for dinner is a time-honored trope of science fiction, most recently seen in the television series V. But it took the Twilight Zone to sum up the heart of it all in three words: to serve man.

This is the direction my mind wanders when politicians start talking about the wonderful things they are going to do for us. “Vote for me and I’ll set you free!” sang the Temptations in “Ball of Confusion.” But the contradiction is stark. A politician can not “set you free” unless he is abolishing laws. We are born free and, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, endowed by Our Creator (i.e., God) with rights. All laws put restrictions on the idea of being totally free.

Many times, these restrictions are necessary. We have laws against murder that restrict my freedom to go around killing people…and that’s a good thing. Absent law, society swings into anarchy. While the V for Vendetta crowd at Occupy Wherever may wear the anarchist A symbol and punk rockers love to promote the idea of anarchy, the reality is far different. You want to know what anarchy looks like? Go to a riot. Go live in Somalia. Anarchy is as frightening a concept as totalitarianism. In either case you are living under a jackboot of fear: fear of your neighbors in one, fear of the state in another.

The difficult part of threading the needle is knowing where to stop when creating new laws. At what point does a law become a genuine abridgement of freedom, as opposed to a societal blockade against crime and anarchy?

It’s a point we long ago passed in America. We’re not as far along as Canada, where writing a legitimate criticism of Islam can land you in front of a Human Rights Council, and we’re nowhere near the totalitarian regimes of China, North Korea, or Cuba. But make no mistake, many of the laws being passed in this country serve no purpose except to empower an already bloated governmental bureaucracy. These laws are not designed to hold off encroaching hordes of Vandals or Visigoths. No, they are to help us lead better lives.

These laws are designed to serve man.

Listen to Barack Obama, or any one of dozens of politicians from either party. They promise to make things better for us. They speak of the helpless in society and pass laws that affect everyone, helpless or not. Obamacare was originally meant to address the problem of people who did not have health insurance, but it spun into a near total takeover of everyone’s healthcare choices. In 2008 candidate Obama famously talked about his election as the moment when the oceans would begin to recede as he would enact laws that would stem the approaching tide of global warming. They promise to take care of us.

There was a moment in the 1992 Presidential Debate that Rush Limbaugh used to mercilessly mock. A man from the audience asked messers Clinton, Bush, and Perot a question:

The focus of my work as a domestic mediator is meeting the needs of the children that I work with, by way of their parents, and not the wants of their parents. And I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the two of you, the three of you to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties?

This man, and I use the term loosely, would be the first one on board the spaceship, and the first to end up as alien gruel. He hammered his point home about how much of a child he really is by asking the candidates to “cross our hearts” in their promise not to talk bad about each other.

Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we’re not under oath at this point but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs, and we have many, and not yours again? I repeat that. It’s a real need, I think, that we all have.

What’s telling here, though, is that none of the candidates stepped down from behind his podium, grabbed this dude by the shoulders, and yelled “You can ACT LIKE A MAN!!” like Don Corleone shaking some spine into Johnny Fontaine. Too bad, because a largely forgotten debate moment would be legendary today if one of them had done that. And that moment should not be forgotten, because it speaks to the way that too many people view government: as a provider of goods, services, safety. Government’s job, many people believe, is to care for the citizenry. This belief is a complete subversion of what the relationship between citizen and government was intended to be.

The fact of the matter is this: government does not care. It is not a human being, it is an institution created by people, empowered by people, and ultimately controlled by people. Politicians are public servants. They are not smarter than the average person, they are not more enlightened, more trustworthy, or more beneficient. Yet, they seem to believe that it is their job to make sure that no harm comes to us. We are the symbolic children of government, they believe, and they are becoming more protective parents every day. Pretty soon we’ll be living in bubbles, lest we come into contact with some airborne chemical that they believe is harmful to our growth.

You can hear it loud and clear in the debate over entitlements, when the Republicans manage to find their cojones and actually talk about this stuff. The very concept of a government-supplied “entitlement” speaks volumes. The documents that created this country, from the Articles of Confederation to the Declaration to the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers to the Constitution to the Bill of Rights, make clear that the only thing we Americans are entitled to is freedom. Any mention of rights in these documents is only to stress that the government can not infringe on those self-evident rights.

By referring to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as “entitlements” you are putting yourself squarely on the road to serfdom. You have established your relationship with the government as being one in which the government provides for you, and you are now the child waiting to be fed. The public servants have now become the public’s masters.

Politicians like to talk of these “entitlements” as providing a “social safety net” so that the elderly won’t have to eat cat food, and the poor will have healthcare. But what they are really doing is creating a system of government where politicians get to decide what rights we have, and how they are exercised. By being the Great Provider, government assumes total control over our lives, and the freedom that truly is our national entitlement becomes just one more item to be controlled, legislated, and regulated. Some politicians do this because they truly mean well. Some do it because they seek expanded power. The result is the same: the average American ends up living where every action and thought is regulated, and some actions and thoughts once considered perfectly acceptable, are now illegal. We are not there yet, but we are on the road, heading in that direction.

Politicians who promise to pass laws that provide for us for our own good are no different from the alien Kanamit in The Twilight Zone. Instead of “To Serve Man” they instead talk about building a safety net. But if the alien book is full of recipes, the social safety net is a spiderweb. Once we are in it, we are stuck, as a ravenous governmental Shelob descends on us. And as the web grows larger and stronger, the chance of breaking free and embracing our national birthright becomes smaller and weaker.

Today’s Lesson In Progressive Politics: Rick Santorum (?!)

February 17, 2012

The Republicans are really not making it easy for conservatives like me in this election year. We don’t trust Romney, we don’t like Newt, we think Paul’s nuts. But generally speaking we like Santorum. Then he goes and gets all Progressive on us.

Rick Santorum on Internet gambling:

I’m someone who takes the opinion that gaming is not something that is beneficial, particularly having that access on the Internet. Just as we’ve seen from a lot of other things that are vices on the Internet, they tend to grow exponentially as a result of that. It’s one thing to come to Las Vegas and do gaming and participate in the shows and that kind of thing as entertainment, it’s another thing to sit in your home and have access to that it. I think it would be dangerous to our country to have that type of access to gaming on the Internet.

Freedom’s not absolute. What rights in the Constitution are absolute? There is no right to absolute freedom. There are limitations. You might want to say the same thing about a whole variety of other things that are on the Internet — “let everybody have it, let everybody do it.” No. There are certain things that actually do cost people a lot of money, cost them their lives, cost them their fortunes that we shouldn’t have and make available, to make it that easy to do.

Oh, brother…

First off, Rick, the Constitution does not grant us rights. It limits the government from infringing on the rights that are our birthright, that are given to us by God.

I’ve been pretty consistent in my support for Rick Santorum during this process, going so far as to officially endorse him on my Twitter account. But my support has also always been fairly tepid. Of the four remaining candidates, I think he’s the most conservative in his core beliefs. Romney has been saying all the right things, but he gives the impression that he’s spent the last few years with a Rosetta Stone of conservative speech. Catch Romney off the cuff and he’s liable to tell you that he believes the minimum wage should go up every year indexed to inflation, a mind-bogglingly unconservative sentiment.

Still, my tepid support for Santorum is being strained to the limit with this latest dose of Progressive inanity.

The rap against Santorum from the Left is that he is a wacko Christian Papist who wants to establish a theocracy, ban birth control, and force everyone to go to Church on Sunday. It’s a bogus charge. Santorum is a Catholic and has firmly held beliefs that are rooted in his faith. But the idea that he is getting his marching orders from Rome is as offensive today as it was when John F. Kennedy was accused of the same thing. Kennedy! A man and, indeed, an entire family that wouldn’t care about Catholic doctrine if it bit them on their collective fanny. But there is still a strain of anti-Catholicism in politics and the media, and many of the charges against Santorum are the result of it.

My main concern with Santorum has always been that he is an acolyte of George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism.” When Bush said “When people are hurting, the government’s got to move” he stuck a dagger into the hearts of conservatives everywhere. Conservatives believe that when people are hurting the government’s got to move as far away as possible. Santorum, on the other hand, sees absolutely nothing wrong with feeding Leviathan to promote conservative philosophies. The problem with that, of course, is that the first rule of conservatism is to stop feeding Leviathan.

There are a lot of reasons to be opposed to internet gambling, but Santorum’s reasoning is no different than the reasoning of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he tries to ban trans-fats, or Michelle Obama when she wants school cafeterias to stop serving food kids actually like, or Barack Obama when he wants to the government to provide health care for everyone. In this stance, Santorum is just another Big Government Nanny State-loving Progressive. There is, in fact, more Progressivism packed into these two paragraphs than in anything Mitt Romney has said during the campaign. Social engineering from a conservative is no less odious than it is from a Leftist, even though I may agree with the desired result.

A political philosophy that tries to dictate to the people based on what politicians believe is “for their own good” is not conservative. It speaks to the same sort of arrogance and elitism that are the hallmarks of Progressivism. Sadly, Rick Santorum has stepped through that door. If he doesn’t backtrack on this, and explain that he really meant something he didn’t say, I may end up swinging my support over to Romney. And good Lord, I don’t want to do that.

Pep Talks And The Need To Fight

February 15, 2012

Well…many thanks to National Review‘s Jim Geraghty for posting a link to my depressing rant “The Death Of A Thousand Cuts” in both National Review‘s Campaign Spot blog and in the pole position for his Morning Jolt newsletter. That was a nice, umm, jolt to my morning routine.

In a very welcome pep talk, Geraghty rightly points out that it’s easy to miss the positive things in the avalanche of bad news. He lists, for example, a slew of conservative writers and bloggers that would have been unthinkable when William F. Buckley was starting his magazine. He lists Adele as a pop singer who sings mature songs in an old-fashioned style that borrows from Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. He even mentions a movie about Navy SEALS that stars actual Navy SEALS…and just how cool is that? When the man’s right, he’s right. I alluded to all of this in the last paragraph of my piece when I conceded that there is still much good to be found out there. Nevertheless, the depression comes from the fact that we have to look for the good, while the negative bombards us on a daily basis. I doubt Jim Geraghty would disagree that “the worst are full of passionate intensity” (as Yeats said).

He addresses this in a Campaign Spot post about this issue, mentioning that it’s something Jonah Goldberg has also discussed: in the realm of politics, conservatives and libertarians are more likely to shut off the lights and go home to their families when the day is done, where for progressives and liberals politics is a holy calling. I think this is largely true. Yet it is also sad.

I’m not suggesting that conservatives should treat government and politics as a mission from God (as The Blues Brothers said). Conservatives understand that politics is important, but is only part of the fabric of life. But we conservatives also need to understand that progressive politics and liberal (or is it libertine?) culture are ripping apart the fabric of our lives. The tax code has made a one-income family almost impossible, leaving latch-key kids in its wake; no-fault divorce laws have made leaving your spouse after an argument an easy reality; our children are listening to Adele, but also to Chris Brown, M.I.A., and a million other noisome vulgarians; one click of the mouse can expose you and your children to a world of things that are definitely not ready for prime time. In his pep talk, Geraghty is right to point out the advances conservatives have made, but his exceptions prove the rule: it’s the Left’s culture, and it would behoove conservatives to remember that while politics should never be the main focus of a healthy society, we face an implacable foe that works while we picnic, that seeks to subvert the will of the people while we attend Little League games.

The conservative philosophy rightly stresses the idea that government should not be all that important to our daily lives. But progressivism, which holds the opposite philosophy, never sleeps, and is always watching for weakness. Kind of like the eye of Sauron.

We should take cheer in the advances we’ve made. The internet has given conservatives, like myself, a platform on which to speak. Fox News has landed a serious blow to the monopoly of liberal news on television. A well-made, well-written, intelligent show like Downton Abbey is the talk around the water coolers, while almost no one talks about Survivor anymore. Most recently, the Washington Free Beacon is taking on the Left at their own game. But while we should acknowledge and take cheer in our progress, we should also be cognizant of the fact that progressivism may be wounded, but nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal (as Captain Kirk said).

So as Brother Geraghty wisely counsels, take cheer, my fellow conservatives. Against overwhelming odds we are putting points on the board. But as the game is far from over, be ready to fight, fight, fight (as Knute Rockne said).

The Death Of A Thousand Cuts

February 13, 2012

I was watching the Super Bowl when an ad for an online flower delivery service came on. The ad featured a very attractive woman, vases of flowers, and the tagline directed to men for Valentine’s Day: “If you give, you’ll receive. Happy Valentine’s Night.” When the ad was over, I thought to myself, “I’m tired.”

And it was true. I wasn’t really physically tired, nor mentally. I just suddenly felt drained, and as the commercials rolled on I began a mental checklist of all the things of which I am simply tired.

I don’t know how some people can remain so chipper and perky these days. There are a few…I work with some, I’m friends with others. As for me, I’m depressed. Every day it gets a little harder to lift my head from my pillow and go about my business.

My mental checklist began with the obvious stuff, but gradually started going backwards in time.

The President of the United States had an affair with an intern young enough to be his daughter. Nothing new there. Unlike Kennedy’s affairs (and if Mimi Alford is telling the truth, Kennedy was monstrous), Bill Clinton’s sleaziness was splashed all over the media. Suddenly discussions about oral sex and “oral-anal contact” were on the nightly news and in 90-point type on the newsstand. Serious commentators talked of blue dresses and semen, while the President and his charming bride rose in righteous indignation and accused their political opponents of fabricating the entire thing. And when the allegations were proven, and Bill Clinton made a sheepish and half-hearted apology the cry went up from the media and from the Democratic party that none of it mattered because the lies (under oath) were about sex, and everybody lies about sex. Everybody in high school, at least. And I began to tire.

In 2000 the Presidential election culminated in a 30+ day circus act of people holding ballots up to the light to see if the chads were dimpled, hanging, pregnant, or loose. Lawsuits were filed as Al Gore, a man who once said that he would do anything he needed to do to win the Presidency, attempted to steal the election. People talked of third parties determining the intent of voters. The Gore campaign attempted to suppress military votes based on a technicality (and because the military tends to vote for Republicans). The Bush campaign filed countersuits, and the media launched their own recounts. Finally the Supreme Court weighed in and the matter of Bush v. Gore was settled in favor of Bush. Every recount, and there were many, confirmed the fact that Bush won Florida and, therefore, the election. For over a month, though, America was faced with the idea that the election would be decided by bureaucrats in Florida and whichever candidate had the best lawyer. It was a Constitutional Crisis, now largely forgotten. Since then, virtually every election night has been a job opportunity for lawyers who wait for close results so that they can accuse the other party of stealing the election. I was exhausted.

September 11, 2001. ‘Nuff said.

The stock market crash that followed September 11, which came on the heels of the dot com bubble bursting, wiped out years of interest on my investments, cutting the money I’d been saving in half. Corporate scandals rocked everybody: Enron, Global Crossing, and many others. The odious link between Big Government and Big Business was on display, as people lost their entire savings.

War, war, war. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. The news filled with the stories of dead American soldiers. An intifada in Israel as Hamas terrorists launched their suicide bombers. People were blowing themselves up in order to kill others. It’s been so common for so long, but take a moment to seriously think about that. These are people so filled with hatred that they will strap explosives on their own bodies in order to kill innocent civilians. They are so filled with hatred they view the murder of Israelis as an honorable obligation for their children. Iran began its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The program designed in the 1990s to allow Iraqi citizens to get food in exchange for oil turned out to be a financial windfall for Saddam Hussein, aided by corrupt friends in the United Nations. We thought we were giving money for food, and turned out we were buying the guns used to kill American soldiers and innocent Iraqis. Are you tired yet?

In 2008 the Hindenburg-sized bubble of the housing market exploded. House values plummeted. Stocks were wiped out. Unemployment skyrocketed. America teetered on what we were told could have been a second Great Depression. The outgoing President attempted to solve the problem by “abandoning (his) free-market principles” and embracing nascent socialism. The market dropped some more. Americans were so frightened, and so disheartened by what they saw (rightly) as a collapse of our economic infrastructure that they elected a man based on vacuous platitudes of “hope” and “change”, a man with no experience in the free market, and precious little experience in government, whose resume for President of the United States included the non-job “community organizer”, whose worldview allows for the horror of socialism as just another valid way of doing things, and for whom a crisis is an opportunity that should not go to waste. He followed the Progressive New Deal playbook to get the economy out of recession, and it sank deeper. The unemployment rate stands now at 8.3%, though when you factor in those people who have dropped out of the job market, the actual rate is closer to 11%. When you add in those people working part-time but looking for full-time, and those working menial jobs just for a paycheck (the underemployed), the rate is nearly 20%. I doubt there’s a person in America who doesn’t know someone who has lost a job. We are now in Year Five of the Great Recession.

Meanwhile the culture savages traditional values at every turn. When a Super Bowl ad implies that a gift of flowers is the ticket to a blow job (the operative word in the ad was “receive” which, when discussing sex, is what is called a “dog whistle” for men), it speaks of a worldview where women are prostitutes, doling out sex for a dinner in a nice restaurant or a bouquet of flowers. Men are relegated to the status of zombies, not interested in love and sharing, just doing what needs to be done in order to satisfy their sexual needs. Another ad shows a young boy urinating in a pool, and smiling knowingly as his sister jumps in. A credit card commercial (Citi) features a woman who would rather climb to the top of a rock than marry the man she loves. A car commercial portrays a woman who agrees to marry, but only after she finishes a list of tasks she had set for herself, like learning to play the drums. Priorities, you know? Marriage and love? Just items on a To Do list, no more or less important than anything else.

The culture coarsens and gets cheaper every year. On a recent trip to Barnes and Noble I saw the following books: Go The F**k To Sleep, Assholes Finish First, E-mails From An A**hole, A$$hole, Sh*t My Dad Says, Why Sh*t Happens: The Science Of A Really Bad Day, Fuck, Farts: A Spotter’s Guide, and, last but not least, Images You Should Not Masturbate To (the cover is a photo of a naked, elderly man swinging an ax). A popular children’s book is called Everybody Poops. I’m not sure what the purpose of the book is since even children understand the reality of digestion, but the message is that human beings are no different from any other animal. It reduces humans to their basic biology and strips them of higher principles. The message to children: We are just animals, no different than that mouse or that elephant. Well, I beg to differ.

My questions: When did this become acceptable? When was it deemed okay to put these titles on display where children can see them? I’m no prude, and can appreciate a good dirty joke with the best of them, but none of this is funny. It is vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity.

I’m tired of movies that trade imagination for CGI effects, or that sucker punch the audience with political ideology. I feel like Hollywood is speaking down to us: give them explosions, maybe a spaceship, and the mindless riff-raff that pay our bills will ooh and ahh while we tell them that their bourgeois suburban lifestyles are passe. During the Super Bowl there was an ad for the movie Battleship…some kind of sci-fi CGI wonderland based on the Hasbro game of the same name. There are so many classic novels that could be turned into great movies, but Hollywood instead draws inspiration from board games, video games, and comic books. I’m tired of seeing women in movies acting like men in movies, beating up people twice their size, shedding any trace of femininity as if somehow men are the norm and that women need to be more like them. I’m tired of seeing men on television who are unable to tie their own shoes, acting like overgrown children, while their beautiful TV wives hector and nag them, emasculating them with sarcasm.

I get exhausted listening to the music of today where words like “bitch” and “nigger” get casually thrown around, where a woman I’ve never heard of (not Madonna), can sing “I don’t give a shit” and flip the bird to 100 million people during a Super Bowl halftime performance that looked like a cross between Gay Pride Night at Studio 54 and Army Of Darkness. So very, very tired.

I’m weary of flicking through television channels and seeing things like “Teen Mom” which glamorizes teenage pregnancy as just a difficult lifestyle choice, “My Super Sweet 16” which showcases the most spoiled brats on the planet, or the nightmare that is “Toddlers And Tiaras” featuring little girls tarted up to look like cheap prostitutes while their mothers look on approvingly. It’s horrifying, bordering on child abuse. These mothers should be deeply ashamed…but that would require living in a world where shame exists. That’s not where we’re at in 2012 America. I cringe at reality television, even the “good” stuff like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”, with their deceptive editing designed to portray people as heroes or villains, where lying and backstabbing is just another part of the game.

I’m sick to death of the American news media that, as Europe is poised on the verge of bankruptcy, as Iran gets closer to their dream of wiping Israel off the map with nuclear weapons, as our yearly budget deficit crosses the one trillion dollar mark and our total debt approaches 16 trillion, as Medicare and Social Security approach insolvency, and as the US Attorney General blatantly lies to Congress and attempts to cover up a scandal that has left hundreds of people dead, asks the prospective Presidential candidates questions such as “Deep dish or thin crust?” and if they’re in favor of banning contraception. These are questions designed to belittle the candidates, or to make them seem like religious kooks. Their questions of the sitting President generally amount to: “What’s it like to be so super terrific?” The guardians at the gate are sound asleep.

I get exhausted seeing the scabs of a nation “occupying” public areas, urinating and defecating in the street (or on cop cars), demanding handouts for others be stopped, while insisting that government accede to their inchoate demands. I see them rioting in various cities, smashing windows, throwing bricks at the police, all the while demanding that society cater to their desires. They’re vermin, living in what Iowahawk calls “lice-infested, Nazi-endorsed rape camps” yet they are treated seriously by the media and the Democrats. Even Republicans like to say that the Occupy forces have some good points in their critique of society. Maybe so—a stopped clock is right twice a day, after all—but they are still vermin.

Most recently the President of the United States has demanded that Catholic organizations ignore their own religious beliefs in order to provide contraception and abortifacients to women via health insurance. In the face of an enormous backlash, the President took to the airwaves to announce a change: the Catholic organizations still had to provide this, but now it would be provided free of charge so they wouldn’t have to pay for it. If you needed any further evidence that Barack Obama believes the American people are idiots who need guidance from an intellectual elite, this decision should be plenty. He honestly expects this frontal assault on the Constitutional provision of freedom of religion to be accepted because he shifted the cost burden from one group (Catholic organizations) to another (insurance companies who will, of course, shift the cost back by increasing premiums). It’s a political Three Card Monte game, but in 2012 the President of the United States has nothing but contempt for any American who doesn’t happily walk into the waiting jaws of Leviathan. The disdain Obama feels for those who disagree with him is palpable. A lot can be said about Jimmy Carter, the President whom Obama most resembles, but I don’t remember ever thinking that Carter hated a majority of Americans.

Politically, culturally, socially…you name it, I feel like we’re under attack. The weapons being used are mockery, scorn, and condescension. It’s almost everywhere you turn: television, movies, music, newspapers, magazines (a recent issue of Newsweek ran a cover story called “Why Are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” which was written by a man who insists that Sarah Palin’s son Trig was actually born to Bristol Palin), politics, the internet.

Of course it’s not all bad. There are good movies, good TV shows, good songs. There are even some decent politicians. But the cumulative effect of fifteen or twenty years of scandal, war, depravity, terrorism, recession, and corruption…well, it’s enough to make a man want to stay in bed with the covers over his head.

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