Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nothing is truth therefore anything goes.

Again we turn to Sarah Palin and her frequent associations with Ronald Reagan in her apparent quest for the presidency. Palin recently spoke at a fundraising event at California State University, Stanislaus. The invitation generated considerable controversy over her speaking fee and contractual demands, but it seems to have paid off for the university.

The content of the speech has attracted some interest as well, as have the accidentally recorded comments made by technicians and reporters after the speech. Most reported has been her comment: "perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California’s Eureka College would become so woven within and inter-linked to the Golden State". Eureka College is, of course in Illinois. It does seem an odd mistake if Palin is really considering Eureka as the place to launch her presidential bid next February.

The speech, though, makes some more explicit associations with Reagan, and his view on education. A transcript, which has been written to emphasise Palin's chaotic, rambling delivery, can be found here. Firstly, she recalls Reagan's confrontations with California's revolutionary student body in the 1960s, comparing them to her own attraction of protest and scrutiny on campus. More broadly, however, she echoes Reagan's belief in the need for patriotic, civic education, and the basis of freedom in the generational transfer of American values and wisdom.

And some might say there is a contradiction here perhaps. They’d argue that academic freedom is incompatible with our need for a civic education that instills in young people the wisdom and the patriotic grace necessary for the survival and the success of liberty but I think that they are wrong. I think that they are dangerously wrong. The fact that we allow, or should allow for, a healthy and free academic debate of all ideas doesn’t mean that we have to believe that all ideas are equally valid. Unfortunately, too often, that turns into just one small step away from claiming that, well there just isn’t just one right answer to the question what is right what is good or just or true. To saying that well, uh, there are no right answers to these questions there’s, that’s where relativism comes into play and that turns into nihilism. And then we find people saying well then nothing is truth therefore anything goes. Just, just do it, every things permitted. There’s no truth.

If this cultural relativism is confined merely to just a few individuals, the exceptions to the norm, well that’s one thing but we have seen before what happens when whole sections of society fall into that trap. Take note of this, uh, consider that would the brutality of communism have lasted as long as it did if there hadn’t been a large group of people here in the west who were willing to essentially accommodate it for fear of daring to even condemn it. For a long time, folks it was kinda consider, considered sophisticated to take a position somewhere between freedom and communism.

And it took a supposedly unsophisticated graduate from lowly Eureka College to bring Communism to its knees. And he did it by simply calling an evil empire what it was, evil. There’s an important lesson here for us today. A free republic can only survive if its citizens are willing and able to defend it ideologically and to stand up for its founding principles.
Reagan made a call for the reinstitutionalisation of patriotism and "more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual" in his farewell address. In 1971, he also wrote to his almer mater's newspaper, the Eureka Pegasus, defending his record on education and the importance of tradition:

True ed[ucation] is societys [sic] attempt to enunciate certain ultimate values upon which individuals & hence society may safely build. When men fail to drive toward a goal or purpose but drift the drift is always toward barbarism. You have every right to ask the reason behind the mores & customs of what we refer to as civilization. Challenge we can afford. You have no right & it makes no sense to reject the wisdom of the ages simply because it is rooted in the past.
Palin gave her address in front of the university's motto, "Vox Veritas Vita": "Voice, Truth, Life", or, as wikipedia has it, "Speak the Truth as a way of Life". Irony aside, the concept of truth was a theme of this speech.
Ask parents what they want in their child’s education and they’re probably gonna tell you that they don’t care much for all this political stuff. What a parent desires for their child’s education it’s basic you know they want the three R’s and they want true history taught. Our country, our laws, our traditions, our arts, and our literature, and our heroes, and our statesmen.

This is an appeal for a democratic approach to the content of higher education, not dissimilar from Reagan's stance when he ran for governor. Palin does not ask for an overhaul of the curriculum, though, (nor indicate in any specific way what is wrong with what is being taught) but assumes that "common sense" will result in the identification and promotion of "true history" and the resultant eradication of scepticism and "relativism". I trust that Palin, like Reagan, will be satisfied with merely encouraging the adoption of "common sense" in academia, and not attempt its enforcement.

Incidentally, Palin lambasted nameless "politically correct intellectuals" for considering Osama bin Laden a "freedom fighter". The highest profile person I can think of who considered the mujahideen in Afghanistan "freedom fighters" was Ronald Reagan.

Reagan's Mac and Cheese

The Modesto Bee responds to a reader's request for Ronald Reagan's recipe for his all-time favourite dish, Macaroni and Cheese. Here it is:

• Ingredients:

½ pound uncooked macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

1 egg, beaten

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided use

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

A pinch of paprika

• Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish.

Add macaroni to 2 quarts of boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in butter and beaten egg. Add 2½ cups of the grated cheese.

In a small bowl, combine milk with salt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon macaroni and cheese into the prepared casserole. Pour milk mixture over and sprinkle top with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake on middle shelf of preheated 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until macaroni is firm to the touch and the top is crusty and browned. Serve at once, either as a light entree accompanied by a hot green vegetable or as a side dish with meatloaf.

In related news, July is National Ice Cream Month, as proclaimed by President Reagan in 1984 alongside the establishment of African Refugees Relief Day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ronald Reagan: Citizen Legislator

At the National Review Corner, "A Time for Choosing" is recalled. Bizarrely, Steyn and Long remember Reagan as an opponent of strong, charismatic moral leadership in the presidency. Reagan, of course, is celebrated most amongst modern presidents for strong, charismatic moral leadership. This attack on Obama's pretence to leadership and those who accept it reflects the increasing trend on the right to focus on Reagan's activism in the early '60s. Then, Reagan could most legitimately claim not to be a politician, but merely a citizen outraged with the growth of government and the decline of culture, and spoke more angrily and apocalyptically than any other period. Where his presidency might provide too many lessons in compromise, and too many favourable comparisons with Obama, his first years as a Republican provide a model for powerless, populist opposition.

JeffreyLord, a former Reagan official, also looked back to Reagan in the '60s last week in the American Spectator. Potentially an interesting look at how the NYT reported on Reagan and the conservative movement, and how that compares to modern coverage of the Tea Party, Lord's article swerves towards a rant about an elitist "Establishment". In Lord's understanding, Reagan and the Tea Party are representatives of an American tradition of anti-establishmentarianism which includes George Washington, Sean Hannity and, somehow, Lincoln. This narrative depends on a rigid definition of "Establishment" and a few blindspots: firstly, that the Hollywood political leader and GE spokesman Reagan was somewhat of an established elite himself; secondly the long tradition of leftist anti-Establishment types for which, in the '60s, Reagan was the foe; and thirdly, the fact that Reagan's presidency Established a political dynasty still represented well in the Beltway and the Fourth Estate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Next Reagan and the Next Thatcher

The Daily Mail reports that Sarah Palin has approached Margaret Thatcher in hope of a meeting/photo-op. If a UK trip is really on the cards, it seems typical of Palin's style - vague and symbolic. An unnamed source remarked that "Palin’s people haven’t said anything about meeting Cameron. Their main interest is getting a picture of her with Lady Thatcher. I’m not sure they know who David Cameron is." In other words, if Palin is planning a foreign trip in advance of a presidential run, it will focus on the iconic, rather than the substantial (unlike Reagan's own meeting with Thatcher in 1978, perhaps).

The same, or another, unnamed source goes on to reflect on the purpose of the overture: "Palin’s big hero is Ronald Reagan. In US Republican folklore Thatcher and Reagan brought down the Soviet Union between them. That’s why Maggie is so important." An excitable Washington Examiner columnist has also represented this in terms of Palin's claim on the Reagan mantle. The suggestion of her meeting Thatcher seems to further confirm her as the "heir to Ronald Reagan". There is, though, more than this association to Palin's interest in the former PM. Thatcher is occasionally held up in Going Rogue as both a heroic proponent of the free market and "creative destruction", and implicitly as a model of female leadership. The blessing of the West's most famous and successful stateswoman might bestow Palin with some new gravity and credibility.

Žižek has compared Palin's style with that of traditional female leaders such as Thatcher:
Earlier generations of women politicians...were what is usually referred to as "phallic" women: they acted as "iron ladies" who imitated and tried to outdo male authority, to be "more men than men themselves."...Jacques-Alain Miller pointed out how Sarah Palin, on the contrary, proudly displays her femininity and motherhood.
It is bound to be a curious meeting, if it ever happens.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beinart Thinking Again

Peter Beinart has a new piece on conservative myths about Ronald Reagan at Foreign Policy. Much of this treads old ground about Reagan's relative doveishness and caution in the Cold War, in Latin America, and in confronting terrorism - and the dismay he provoked in contemporary conservatives. The most interesting part is on how Obama compares to him, and can learn from him.
Like Reagan, Obama took office in an environment that severely constrains the ability of the United States to launch new military campaigns. For many contemporary conservatives, being a Reagan disciple means acting as if there are no limits to American strength. But the real lessons of Reaganism are about how to wield national power and bolster national pride when your hands are partially tied. That doesn't mean Obama should mimic all of Reagan's policies, some of which were deeply misguided. But Obama can, and should, be Reaganesque in his effort to project great strength at low risk. That means understanding that America's foreign-policy debates are often cultural debates in disguise.
Essentially, Obama should learn the art of symbolic acts which satisfy the national psyche without creating political obligations. Reagan was not always good at this, considering Bitburg, but it was a definitive theme of his presidency. It has been, and will be different for Obama, who is hampered by the extraordinary symbolism of his race. Moreover, his conservative critics lead the discussion on symbolic issues, most recently over his precedented non-attendance at Arlington for Memorial Day, leaving him little room for personal innovation.