Thursday, January 31, 2008


“We are the showcase of the future. And it is within our power to mold that future-this year and for decades to come. It can be as grand and as great as we make it.
No crisis is beyond the capacity of our people to solve; no challenge too great.”
-Ronald Reagan (January 5, 1974)

“I've always believed that a lot of the trouble in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other.”
-Ronald Reagan (April 11, 1984)

“We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick—professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, ‘We the people,’ this breed called Americans.”
-Ronald Reagan (January 20, 1981)

In last night’s Republican debate the candidates were asked whether or not Ronald Reagan would endorse their candidacy. Mitt Romney said, “Absolutely,” citing his positions on Iraq, drilling in ANWR, taxes, lobbyists, et all. John McCain claimed the mantle, using his time to attack Mitt’s changes of positions over the years. Ron Paul said that he was the Reagan heir because of his support for the return of the gold standard.

This is Mike Huckabee’s response to the question:

“I think it would be incredibly presumptuous and even arrogant for me to try to suggest what Ronald Reagan would do, that he would endorse any of us against the others.
Let me just say this, I'm not going to pretend he would endorse me. I wish he would. I would love that, but I endorse him, and I'm going to tell you why.”

“It wasn't just his specific policies, but Ronald Reagan was something more than just a policy wonk. He was a man who loved this country, and he inspired this country to believe in itself again.”

“What made Ronald Reagan a great president was not just the intricacies of his policies, though they were good policies. It was that he loved America and saw it as a good nation and a great nation because of the greatness of its people.”

“And if we can recapture that, that's when we recapture the Reagan spirit. It's that spirit that has a can-do attitude about America's futures and that makes us love our country whether we're Democrats or Republicans. And that's what I believe Ronald Reagan did -- he brought this country back together and made us believe in ourselves.”

“And whether he believes in us, I hope we still believe in those things which made him a great leader and a great American.”

In the headlong rush to anoint themselves as Ronald Reagan's heirs, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Ron Paul have demonstrated an alarming inability to see why so many Americans are longing for meaningful change and leadership in this election cycle.

Take a couple of minutes to watch the You Tube video at the beginning of this post. I think if you do you’ll see that only one man, Mike Huckabee, in this Republican primary truly understands the legacy and message of Ronald Reagan.

There's Still Fight Left in the Dog

“I know of no such unquestionable badge and ensign of a sovereign mind as that of tenacity of purpose.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I got home too late last night to watch the Republican debate. From the little I read about it early on this morning it appeared that it was a slugfest between John McCain and Mitt Romney. Upon reading the transcript, however, I saw that, while Romney and McCain were throwing bricks at one another, my candidate, Mike Huckabee, was actually outlining policy positions, connecting on a personal level with voters, exhibiting leadership, and demonstrating there’s still a lot of bite left in the dog from Hope.

I admire Governor Huckabee’s tenacity. I think the millions of Americans who have taken his message to heart admire his dogged persistence to get his message out in the face of the obstacles that have been thrown in his path.

I suppose his detractors might try to say that he’s like Don Quixote attacking windmills. All I can say in response is that there are a lot of windmills that need chasing in this country, and they’re not imaginary. While Mitt and John were squabbling about who said what about timelines, Tyson Foods here in Emporia permanently shut down its second shift, two weeks earlier than previously announced. Hundreds here are out of work today. While the federal government is getting ready to send out rebate checks, the value of Interstate Brands stock here in Emporia is hovering at between two and five pennies a share – another 800 Emporia jobs hanging precariously in the balance. While the other candidates are flying around in a 35,000 foot dogfight, Mike Huckabee is down here with hurting folks at ground level.

Windmills? Hardly! This is a fight well worth continuing and I admire Governor Huckabee for his willingness to press on. There’s still plenty of fight left in the dog, plenty of primaries ahead, plenty of voters to speak to. He’s come this far without much money and little or no support from the Republican powerful. The dogged determination that’s propelled his campaign from the beginning will see him, and us, through.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mudsills and Greasy Mechanics

“By the "mud-sill" theory it is assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible. According to that theory, a blind horse upon a tread-mill, is a perfect illustration of what a laborer should be -- all the better for being blind, that he could not tread out of place, or kick understandingly. According to that theory, the education of laborers is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous. In fact, it is, in some sort, deemed a misfortune that laborers should have heads at all.”
- Abraham Lincoln (1859)

On March 4, 1858 James Hammond made a spirited defense for the superiority of the South and its institutions in his famous “King Cotton” speech to the U.S. Senate. His primary argument for superiority was the profitability of the Southern system, which produced a profit of $16 per labor unit (slave) compared to the North’s $12 (free labor). He further contended that it was beyond his comprehension that the North would attack “King Cotton” and the institution that under girded it, involuntary servitude. Slavery was a beneficial institution and the high unit profit was proof of that. Why would the North want to attack something so profitable? To him, the arguments of Abraham Lincoln and the Abolitionists made no sense.

The other thread of Hammond’s argument was that the stark class distinctions, slave versus master, refined versus un-cultured, were necessary elements to a stable, orderly, and prosperous nation:

“In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill.”

Others, like George Fitzhugh and Southern journals and newspapers expanded upon this theme:

“The great evil of Northern free society, insisted a South Carolina journal, is that it is burdened with a servile class of mechanics and laborers, unfit for self-government, yet clothed with the attributes and powers of citizens. A Georgia newspaper was even more emphatic in its distaste: Free Society! We sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists?...The prevailing class one meets with (in the North) is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman’s body servant.”

In the end the mudsills and greasy mechanics won. The North, leveraging the principle of emancipation along with its enormous production capacity, won the battle of competing systems. About six months after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was ratified, stating “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

We’ve come a long way since then. A nation of mudsills and greasy mechanics has become a world super-power. America’s filthy operatives and small-fisted farmers have saved the Europe from tyranny, defeated Japanese imperialism, and won the Cold War against Soviet communism. A nation of moon-struck theorists have banded together to create the greatest democratic social engine since the dawn of man.

It’s amazing how much can be done with so little!

As I sat in a meeting last night here in Emporia convened to develop strategies to deal with the displacement of 1,500 workers at Tyson Foods, our local meat processing plant, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words about mudsills and greasy mechanics. Most of those who’ve become redundant in Tyson’s move to sunnier economic climes are minorities, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Somali, and poor, blue collar whites. The Somalis, being nomadic, will in all likelihood, move to other slaughter houses along with the cows. For the Vietnamese, Hispanics, and Anglos, though, re-location is less of an option. They’ve settled here and want to stay. Some have lived here for thirty years and have nowhere else to go. The question that is yet to be answered is whether or not this desire for permanence and community will be possible.

At first blush the presidential races seem far removed from the concerns of Emporia’s mudsills and greasy mechanics, particularly for the Republican Party. Even with all the dislocation, this is rib-rocked Republican country, and my guess is that the R.N.C is still counting on this.

While Emporia’s soon-to-be unemployed are trying to work their way through all this, the rest of the economy is slowing down. Yesterday morning the Associated Press reported the following gloomy news:

“Soaring home values had made upper-middle class shoppers feel wealthy in recent years, causing them to trade up to $500 Coach handbags and $1,000 espresso makers, but a housing slump has wiped away their paper wealth. The woes are creeping into even the high-end luxury sector, as affluent shoppers are rattled by the turbulence in the financial markets.”

I’m not sure how Emporia’s dislocated are supposed to react? Would “I feel your pain” be good enough?

Rush Limbaugh took the opportunity to mount a vigorous defense for the trickle down economics that’s fueled this consumer-oriented economy:

“Why? Why? Wait, wait, wait! Ripple effect? You mean when the affluent and wealthy stop buying, it hurts people lower down the scale? Uh, so you got... Follow me on this here, folks. You got the wealthy and you got the affluent up here, and they spend, and when they spend, that spending sort of "trickles down" to others below them. Uh, so there is a trickle-down effect? A trickle-down effect! So when you give tax relief, tax cuts to upper income workers, they spend more, and there's a trickle-down effect?”

Limbaugh and other celebrity pundits have been accusing Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama of engaging in class warfare for months now. One’s too populist. One’s too liberal. And, the other is too much a maverick. Are they serious? Do they really want me to believe they’re not pitting the haves against the have-nots? Their message to the proletariat is clear. Just shut up, nominate a conservative in our mold, leave things as they are, and we’ll all be fine. Stop being reactionary, unrefined, and uncivilized. Give us the seat at the head of the table and we’ll let the crumbs trickle down to you.

But things aren’t fine. Their rhetoric is sounding too much like the hollow words of the Southern secessionists to me. Something is fundamentally wrong when all the Party of Lincoln can offer is shut up and let things trickle down.

The winds are picking up here in Emporia, Kansas today, gusting hard from the north. The bare branches of the Mulberry tree outside my window are shaking furiously. A storm is brewing. Politically, too, the winds are picking up in this Heartland. The current of change is in the air. A political storm is brewing. The mudsills and greasy mechanics are no longer satisfied with the status quo. The Republican powerful can’t see it right now, but if they don’t mend their ways they will, too late to prevent it from sweeping them from power. The mudsills and greasy mechanics will be the ones to determine the outcome of this election. They’ll win; they always do!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Smooth Stones

“Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.”
- I Samuel 17:38-40 (New Living Translation)

This morning I had to take a trip to Wichita. The “check engine” light of our Volvo had come on last night. Neither I nor my wife, Nancy, knew what it meant, other than it couldn’t be good. Somewhere in the belly of the beast there’s a fault code stored in a computer that will tell the technician everything he needs to know. By the time I digest the technical jargon I’ll see that it all means big bucks.

Before I left I noticed our neighbor, Jennifer, getting her two kids off to school. Alex, her oldest, and Sydney, his younger sister, are equally precocious. Alex, who’s in second grade, seems almost like an adult to me. He has the face and vocabulary of a college professor attached to the body of a professional wrestler. I told Jennifer a couple of days ago that he looks a lot like an extremely intelligent fire hydrant. Sydney, his sister, is a bundle of charm, one of those incurable learners constantly scanning the world for new and wonderful things. About every hot summer since we’ve lived here we can count on her setting up a lemonade stand in front of her house, selling for all she’s worth to the dry and dusty folks passing by. Her marketing strategy is simple – “It’s really hot today” followed by the batting of her eyes. If the heat doesn’t sell the product, the doe-eyes just melt the hearts of prospective customers. Lemonade’s a big seller on Neosho Street in the summer.

Jennifer’s husband, Rick, works the third shift at Tyson here in Emporia. This past Friday Tyson announced that it was laying off 1,500 of the 2,400 people employed there. For those reading this post from a big city 1,500 people losing their jobs may not seem like much, but to a town this size it’s close to being cataclysmic. By the time it all shakes out one in four families here will feel the direct effects of the shutdown. In a town with an eighteen percent poverty rate, low median incomes, slum rentals, and the proliferation of payday loan shops, the elimination of jobs, low paying as they may have been, will add more salt to an already brackish social well. This city is in for hard times.

I interrupted my departure long enough to ask Jennifer whether or not the layoffs were going to hit Rick. “We’re not sure yet. They’re not telling us,” she replied as she shooed the kids into the car.
“What if he does lose his job?”
“He’s got a relative in Wichita who he can go to work for.”
“He’d commute every day?”
“Nah, he’d drive the ninety miles down on Mondays and come home for the weekends.”

I fumbled with my car keys and my thoughts, trying to put some positive spin on things. “He’ll have a job at least.” Jennifer didn’t respond. She’d probably heard enough from the city’s politicians and political leaders already. “Everything’s gonna’ be okay” doesn’t pay the bills, nor does it keep the kids fed.

About thirty miles down the road I tuned in N.P.R’s morning financial report. It seems that economists are now debating whether or not we’re in a recession or heading into one, whether it’s going to be deep or shallow. There wasn’t much of a consensus. The reporter, Lachmee or Tess or some other exotic N.P.R name, followed with the early morning averages. The Dow was up a tad; the S&P was up a fraction. The national news wasn’t any better. John McCain and Mitt Romney are waging war. Mike Huckabee, my candidate, is being counted out by the experts.

While those in the know may be agonizing over whether or not recession is in our out, deep or shallow, there is little doubt here in Emporia, Kansas. While the bulls and bears on Wall Street continue to fight it out, a lot of folks around here won’t be cuttin’ cows in a couple of weeks. There won’t be any vested retirement plans to lean back on. The 401K’s won’t be there either. For many currently living from paycheck to paycheck with a little help from the payday loan shops at obscene interest rates there will be the indignity of living on the dole. There won’t be the luxury of buying bargain stocks, not even penny stocks like Dolly Madison.

Later tonight the President is going to give us the good news. I suppose I’ll watch it, although I don’t know why. Everyone involved in the circus has their scripts memorized. The President will tell us that the checks are in the mail. The Republicans will hoot and holler. The Democrats will sit on their hands and hiss. That’s politics in our time.

I doubt that Rick and Jennifer will be listening to the State of the Union address tonight. They’re probably going to be spending some time going over their budget, trying to save a penny here or a nickel there, making the necessary adjustments to Emporia’s economic reality.

For a month or so now I’ve heard the experts, the Kudlows, Limbaughs, and Krauthammers, lambaste Mike Huckabee as a know-nothing populist preacher from a backwater state. They say he has no economic plan. Who am I to argue with them when their counsel is so “wise?” In a duel of Laffer curves I’d be no match. I know that. But I really want to know where Rick and Jennifer and their kids fit into this scheme. What could they possibly say to make things better for Alex and Sydney? “Everything’s gonna’ be just fine?” I want to know what they have to say to others here in Emporia who will soon be out of work. I’d like to know what their responses would be to the young woman who wrote this little message in a prairie bottle sometime yesterday:

“I'm 22 yrs old my whole life is here my family. It’s all I know. Relocate? Yea right. Being a single soon to be mother where my only support right now is close family. Yea, come March 25 when my paychecks end. Relocate? I don’t think so. A lot of people love this town and their only income was Tyson and considering that the only good paying jobs other than Tyson are Dolly and Menu which are both not doing any better than Tyson. All of the Tyson team members have poured their heart and soul blood and tears into that plant. I only worked there two years and I can’t even put on my make up in the morning without my hands going numb or losing the feeling in my hands. I feel sorry for the people that have worked there longer and have a bad back, messed up wrists, or whatever the case may be and have to go look for a new job some where else.”

One of the areas of political agreement tonight will be those checks in the mail. Economic stimulus, they call it. Just about everyone in the country is going to get six hundred or a thousand bucks. We’re already being told by everyone from the President to Nanxy Pelosi to the White House baker to spend it quickly so we can turn this consumption economy around and get back to what we do best, which is…consume. Amazing! While this scenario is being played out Mike Huckabee and his supporters are being scorned because we believe that more consumption propped up by borrowed money isn’t going to do the trick. That’s more amazing yet. Wasn’t it debt that got us into this mess to begin with? The country is mortgaged to the hilt. In fact, it’s second mortgaged and sub-primed up over the gunwales. Somehow I don’t think that Rick and Jennifer and those being dislocated by this are feeling real warm and fuzzy about a check in the mail.

The illuminati are telling us their plan makes sense. Just spend, spend, spend! Mitt Romney is saying it’s a great time to buy some bargain stocks. Maybe he could take the lead and buy a passel of Dolly Madison. It’s selling for pennies a share. The folks who work at our local Dolly Madison bakery could use the help. All eight hundred of them are hanging on to their jobs by their collective fingernails right now. If they go under, this town’s unemployment rate will be at Great Depression levels.

A few nights ago in the South Carolina debate Mike Huckabee proposed that we make an investment in infrastructure, roads and bridges instead of sending checks out and then expecting Americans to buy imported goods to prop up the consumption economy. His plan sounded too much like the New Deal for the experts touting the “Buy China” approach to our current malaise. Well, I’m as much a capitalist as they are and I say it’s time for an approach that takes Rick and Jennifer into account, and Mike Huckabee’s seems pretty damned good from my vantage point here in the Heartland. I say it’s time to re-tool, re-invest, and re-educate. I say that Rick and Jennifer, their kids, and the thousands dislocated here mean something in all of this. I say that the young single mother, numb hands and all, to be needs to be accounted for in these schemes. I contend that supply siders like F.A. Hayek would agree with me. In fact, I think if Hayek were alive today he’d say that government’s role in this mess should be more than mailing out checks.

If the Republican Party can’t, or won’t, see the human cost in this, they will richly deserve the electoral beating they’re gonna’ get come November. If they don’t take the blinders off and see things as they really are the folks at the bottom of this trickle down equation are gonna’ rise up and bring on an Old Testament style flood that will sweep them from power. There will eventually be a history written about this campaign. If things continue as they are one of the prominent features of that record will be the demise of the Republican Party. When the pages are all turned those who missed a historic opportunity will see plainly the “why” of it. It will come down to this. The five smooth stones they needed to arm themselves with weren’t tax rebate checks or statistical data. The five smooth stones Mike Huckabee alluded to in Iowa were folks like Rick and Jennifer or the young woman with the bruised body, multiplied by the thousands, who were jettisoned by the deadly effects of trickle down economics and “let ‘em eat cake” politics.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is Hope Enough?

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”
- Hebrews 11:1 (New Living Translation)

I went upstairs last night to watch the returns from South Carolina, thinking there might be a bit of suspense about the outcome. For the days preceding the election the media was reporting that there was a white flight away from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton. As they have been for weeks, the media was wrong. Obama won a stunning fifty-seven percent of the vote. Now in the aftermath the media is trying to explain the landslide. Most experts chalk it up to the African-American vote going overwhelmingly to Obama.

There’s far more to it than that. It’s all about hope and belief, the belief that even the least of us matter, that it’s once again time to bind up a nation’s wounds and heal, that it’s a time for hope to become a reality. For those who cannot or will not understand it the message must seem quite nebulous. The timeless messages often are.

In his acceptance speech, Obama went right to the heart, speaking heart to heart to those gathered. The message was plain for all to hear, for his supporters as well as detractors:
“There are those who will continue to tell us we cannot do this. That we cannot have what we long for. That we are peddling false hopes.”“But here's what I know. I know that when people say we can't overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of the elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day — an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of scripture tucked inside. So don't tell us change isn't possible.” “When I hear the cynical talk that blacks and whites and Latinos can't join together and work together, I'm reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I organized with, and stood with, and fought with side by side for jobs and justice on the streets of Chicago. So don't tell us change can't happen.” “When I hear that we'll never overcome the racial divide in our politics, I think about that Republican woman who used to work for Strom Thurmond, who's now devoted to educating inner-city children and who went out onto the streets of South Carolina and knocked on doors for this campaign. Don't tell me we can't change.” “Yes we can change.” “Yes we can heal this nation.”“Yes we can seize our future.” “And as we leave this state with a new wind at our backs, and take this journey across the country we love with the message we've carried from the plains of Iowa to the hills of New Hampshire; from the Nevada desert to the South Carolina coast; the same message we had when we were up and when we were down - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope; and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people in three simple words:”“Yes. We. Can.”

I’m not an Obama supporter, but I am a great admirer of the movement he’s started. Obama, the medium, and his message have drastically altered the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. There is something very historic happening.

I’m a Mike Huckabee supporter, one of those idle dreamers who is hoping against hope that the message of hope and change will shake the Republican Party to its core in the same way Barack Obama’s has sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party. Fighting against the tide of powerful opinion, lacking the financial resources to do traditional battle, armed only with his conviction and the power of widows’ mites, the man from Hope is waging a shoestring campaign against the entrenched.

Can he win? I don’t know. But I am hoping against hope, believing that the things I cannot see will become realities.

Several weeks ago, upon winning the Iowa Republican caucus, Governor Huckabee, like Barack Obama, went right to the heart of the matter:

“I think we've learned three very important things through this victory tonight. The first thing we've learned is that people really are more important than the purse, and what a great lesson for America to learn. Most of the pundits believe that when you're outspent at least 15 to 1, it's simply impossible to overcome that mountain of money and somehow garner the level of support that's necessary to win an election.”

“Well, tonight we proved that American politics still is in the hands of ordinary folks like you and across this country who believe that it wasn't about who raised the most money but who raised the greatest hopes, dreams and aspirations for our children and their future.”

“And tonight I hope we will forever change the way Americans look at their political system and how we elect presidents and elected officials.”

“Americans are looking for a change. But what they want is a change that starts with a challenge to those of us who were given this sacred trust of office so that we recognize that what our challenge is to bring this country back together, to make Americans, once again, more proud to be Americans than just to be Democrats or Republicans.”

“To be more concerned about being going up instead of just going to the left or to the right.”
“And while we have deep convictions that we'll stand by and not waiver on, or compromise -- those convictions are what brought us to this room tonight. But we carry those convictions not so that we can somehow push back the others, but so we can bring along the others and bring this country to its greatest days ever.”

“What is happening tonight in Iowa is going to start really a prairie fire of new hope and zeal. And it's already happening across this nation because it is about we; we the people.”

“We saw it tonight. We've seen it in other states. And we're going to continue to see it because this country yearns and is hungry for leadership that recognizes that when one is elected to public office, one is not elected to be a part of the ruling class; he's elected to be a part of the serving class.”

Hope…..Hope…Hope! The cynics try to extinguish it, but it remains. Like the volunteer flowers that spring up through the cracks each spring, hope always comes alive in due season. And so it is today. The page has turned and hope is springing forth. As it always has been, the time for plucking must give way to the planting. The breaking down must surrender to the building up. The time for casting away must yield to the gathering together.

Will hope be enough? I cannot say. All I can do is cling to it, to ride its refreshing wave. The cynics may win the battle, but hope will win out in the end. The idle dreamers may lose every battle, but the dreams will never die. They will win out!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Trickle Down Econmics Hits Home

“Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore,
My flashlight’s from Taiwan,
My tablecloth’s from Malaysia,
My belt buckle’s from the Amazon.
You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet.
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin’ thirty cents a day.”

“Well, it’s sundown on the union
And what’s made in the U.S.A.
Sure was a good idea
‘Til greed got in the way.”
- Bob Dylan – “Union Sundown” (1983)

There’s a lot of debate right now about whether or not the country is in a recession. Here in Emporia, Kansas, that debate is probably over. In an announcement that caught our city fathers with their political britches down Tyson Foods issued a Friday press release. In two weeks, approximately 1,500 of the 2,400 of Tyson’s employees will be out of work:

“The discontinuation of slaughter operations will result in the elimination of approximately 1,500 of the 2,400 jobs currently provided at the Emporia plant. This will include people employed in first and second shift slaughter, as well as second shift processing.”

City officials are trying to put as much positive spin on the announcement as possible. City Manager Matt Zimmerman put it this way:

“To me, as the city manager, my feeling is yes, this is going to hurt, and nobody’s saying that it isn’t,” Zimmerman said. “And yes, we’re very concerned for our residents and how this is going to impact them and their families. We understand that.”

“But we also know long-term that these jobs have been absorbed by this community before, and we don’t see any reason to think that it won’t (happen again).”

On the rank and file side of the equation opinion was far less optimistic. Since last night the Emporia Gazette’s on-line forum about the layoffs has been white hot with frustration and anger, as evidenced by the some of the following comments:

“That's what I'm talking about. You've got 1,500 people who are out of work. Where are they going to go? Most of them will HAVE to move. The only places that are usually hiring in Emporia are gas stations, fast food places, and retail stores. Those jobs pay less than the Tyson employees are used to and those wages will be even worse for those who are trying to support families. There will also be competition for those jobs from the high school and college students. There just aren't enough jobs, let alone decent paying jobs, in Emporia. The only options most of these people will have is to take a crappy job in Emporia, move to another city, or work in Topeka and commute, but with the price of gas that's expensive, too.”


“With the shaky job market already in Emporia, this announcement does not make Emporia any more appealing. Modine closing, Birch's downsizing, Lenze closing, Menu announcing more layoffs this month, Tyson's announcement today, Dolly/IBC on a seems like ESU and Wal-Mart are the two companies holding Emporia together.”

While Tyson’s announcement seemed to take city officials by surprise, it shouldn’t have. This was just one small piece of what is a much larger whole. For years the sense here has been that, with our manufacturing base, this little town was (is) recession proof. But, all the while the city was doling out incentives to manufacturers to come here, globalization was moving steadily down the economic tracks. Like the Burlington Northern train whistles that scream out their warnings around here every morning, the omens of globalization’s impact were there for all to see. Wages were declining. Manufacturers were going offshore. Workers were being displaced. Here in small town America the warnings were also there. Payday loan shops proliferated in response to the needs of the working poor. Slum lords ruled. Poverty rates skyrocketed. Household incomes and wages sagged under the weight of the global changes.

The world was fundamentally changing, but those profiting weren’t going to let any populist clamor get in their way. The message to workers in the manufacturing sector or living on the economic margins ranged from the benign to the obscene. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.” “Shut up and keep drinkin’ your cheap wine while we continue to sip on the Chateau Lafite.” “This will all trickle down to you sooner or later.”

Well, the effects of trickle down are now beginning to cascade, like a flash flood, on Emporia, Kansas. Fifteen hundred Emporians will be out of work in a couple of weeks. About twenty percent of Emporia’s households will be affected. Twenty percent!

Not far from the Tyson plant that is downsizing, Interstate Bakeries (Dolly Madison) is on the ropes. For months now the price of a share of I.B.C. stock has fluctuated from a penny to three pennies a share. The company is on the brink of liquidation. The Teamsters, who represent almost half the workforce, are saying they’d rather have the company liquidated than to continue working with current management. Another 800 jobs are at risk!

At the national level the President and Congress have agreed in principle to an economic stimulus package to either stave off or dull the effects of recession. If all goes well the checks will soon be in the mail. All that America will need to do to restore sunnier times is to then spend like a bunch of drunken sailors.

Good God Almighty, is that the best our leaders can do? The plan, if it can be called that, is like subsidizing stupidity. The sad truth is, America isn’t going to be able to continue consuming its way out of this problem. Nor is the city of Emporia going to solve its problems by clinging to its fetish with low wage manufacturing. It’s going to take more than flirting with manufacturers, consuming, or doling out welfare to fix things. For years now Emporia’s desperate need has been a municipal Marshall plan geared toward moving the city into the 21st century. The old, stale formula of low wage manufacturing jobs and the incentives given to bring the manufacturers here has been thoroughly discredited. The old assumption that as long as those at the top succeed and profit that everyone else is fine is no longer viable. The time for bread and circuses is over. It’s time, past time actually, to re-tool and re-invent.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Ostrich Syndrome

“I am not part of the problem. I am a Republican.”
- Dan Quayle

Leave it to Dan Quayle to miss the obvious. The Republican Party’s problem is that they are a big part of the problem and that they fail to see it.

I was one of those Reagan Democrats in 1980. In the ’76 election cycle I’d been an ardent Jimmy Carter supporter. I worked the phones, went door to door, and tried my best to make the Carter case. Like many Evangelical, blue collar Democrats of that era I was tired of Nixon’s chicanery, wage and price controls, and the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons that Gerald Ford and the Republican Party had circulated around the country. As a Democrat I was ready for someone to breathe life back into the politics of the New Frontier. By 1980 I’d seen the light. Jimmy Carter, the man I’d wholeheartedly supported, then, in a few short years, revealed himself to be a man far too small for such a big job. From the Iran hostage crisis to the great malaise speech; from confrontations with killer rabbits to the Arab oil embargo; from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to eight percent unemployment and rampant inflation, I’d seen enough. Hence, I decided to vote for Ronald Reagan along with millions of my fellow Democrats.

Friends thought I’d left leave of my senses. “He’s just a washed up actor.” “Where’s your sense of loyalty?” “He’s too conservative.”

But the die was cast. The election results held little suspense. Reagan won in an electoral landslide. Some Democrats blamed it all on John Anderson, who’d garnered eight percent of the total vote and siphoned what they perceived to be support away from Jimmy Carter. The truth, denied by the Democratic Party, was that America was tired, on the brink, and hungry for change. We wanted once more to be proud to say that we were Americans. And, Ronald Reagan was, as we saw it, the agent of change.

While I was keenly aware of the problems we faced as a nation, it wasn’t those things that made me pull the Republican lever in the voting booth. More than any other thing it was Reagan’s belief in “we the people” that produced the extraordinary change in me. As with John Kennedy in 1960, I was once again inspired to believe in the American possibility, that my role and contribution to this nation’s welfare was valuable, and valued. Reagan’s words, spoken at his 1981 inaugural, hit a deep chord in me:

“We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick—professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, “We the people,” this breed called Americans.”

Many of my friends said I’d been deceived. All I could do was take my place in the ranks of the deceived, un-intelligent, and un-enlightened. What they failed to see was that so many of us weren’t looking for much. We weren’t demanding detailed policy positions, nor were we looking for miracles. What we did seek was someone who would lead us, someone who would tap into the hope, someone who believed in us, someone who would summon us to do the great work needed to turn the country around. Our reasons may not have seemed to be intellectually superior, nor did they seem to make sense to the Party elite.

Almost a generation has passed since the Reagan revolution. Here in 2008 the worm has turned. The same problem that plagued the Democratic Party in 1980 now bedevils the modern Republican Party. The country is ready for change. Eight years of Bill Clinton and eight of George W. Bush have once again brought the nation to the brink. Weary of war, tired of the politics of division, trembling at the economic precipice built on years of uninterrupted greed, many are once more crying out for change. And, as it was in 1980, people are looking for someone who will once more re-kindle the notion that this country isn’t just for the strong and swift or the connected insider.

For many of us, this is what election 2008 is all about. It’s why many of us, swimming against the tide of expert opinion, are supporting Mike Huckabee.

The power brokers in the Republican Party, almost exclusively, have missed this. To them, Mike Huckabee and his little platoons are nothing more than backwater buffoons. It’s a replay of 1980. The only thing different is the party doing the scorning and heaping on the derision.

A few do seem to get it. In the January 28th edition of “The American Conservative” Michael Brendan Dougherty made the following observation:

“The establishment Republicans don’t want some hillbilly preacher to be president.” To Carter and others, the conservative establishment’s contempt for Huckabee feels familiar. It mirrors the liberal establishment’s disdain for conservatives generally. And so just as Beltway conservatives have taught middle America to resent the liberal elites, so Huckabee and his supporters have leveraged evangelical discontent at those who tell them to “sit down and take what the party gives you.”

That’s it! Many of us are tired of being spindled and mutilated by the Republican Party machine. We’re tired of the promise of inclusion, followed by the politics of exclusion and contempt. We’re tired of the power brokers telling us what to think, when to think it, how to express it, and who embodies the things we believe in. We’re tired of them. We’re looking for someone who will speak to…us, and for us. Other than Mike Huckabee, we’ve seen the Republican landscape for what it is – a vast wasteland.

In a recent campaign speech, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama expressed an uncanny understanding of what swept Ronald Reagan into office:

“Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 1960s and ‘70s and, you know, government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think ... he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

My God, even a liberal Democrat gets it. How can it be, then, that Republican power brokers don’t? Like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, they stubbornly cling to the antiquated notion that they are the gatekeepers, that they will be the ones to anoint the heir to the Reagan revolution. In their contempt, and arrogance, they’ve refused to see that it’s us, the men and women who “patrol our streets, teach our children, raise our food, or man our mines” who are the heirs. If they continue to refuse to see that the results of election 2008 will produce the same sort of landslide that propelled Ronald Reagan into the oval office a generation ago. This time, though, it will be a Democrat who is being propelled on the wings of hope and change.

Friday, January 18, 2008

And Down the Stretch They Come

“You know everyone thinks we got this broken down horse and fixed him. But we didn't. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way, we fixed each other, too.”
- Seabiscuit’s Jockey Red Pollard

South Carolina is a frantic place today. Even here in Kansas I can hear the sound of hoofs pounding against the track as the Republican candidates for president make the final turn into the homestretch. No matter what vantage point, no matter the pundit, it appears too close to call. Some see McCain by a nose; others see Huckabee making a furious charge down the stretch. And, laying along the rail are Romney and McCain. Who will have the intestinal fortitude to fend off the competition? It’s anyone’s guess.

I’m placing my bets on the dark horse from Arkansas. He has this history of coming from behind, overcoming the odds, and he’s good down the stretch, when it really counts.

I’m not sure how much more the candidates can say, but their handlers will find something. In a race that appears to be neck and neck any small advantage, a nuance here, a statement there, could make all the difference in the world.

Will South Carolina be the definitive race for the Republicans? I doubt it. As I said yesterday, a brokered convention with four candidates coming to Minnesota with delegates in tow is a real possibility. As Jennifer Rubin noted earlier today:

“Will South Carolina voters give us a definitive frontrunner on Saturday? Certainly a loss by Thompson or Huckabee may cripple their efforts. However, after a display of non-momentum from the earlier contests many are doubtful that South Carolina will crown a winner and even a close second by a “must win” contender may be incentive enough to keep going. Clemson political science professor Stephen Wainscott contends that “the effect of South Carolina will be only to further blur the picture” and the winner “will merely go into Super Tuesday with an edge.”

The candidates will only have a moment or two to breathe after South Carolina, then it’s on to Florida and Super Tuesday. It’s gonna’ be fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Slobber Knocker Brewing

“During a political campaign everyone is concerned with what a candidate will do on this or that question if he is elected except the candidate; he's too busy wondering what he'll do if he isn't elected.”
- Everett Dirksen

The Republican primary in South Carolina is fast approaching. Current polls, for whatever they’re worth these days, show it to be deadlocked. I suspect there’ll be a lot of pandering, distorting, and politicking for the next few days. With three winners in primaries to this point, the Republican prospect of a brokered/divided convention is slowly becoming a possibility. The last time something remotely like that happened was in 1960. John Kennedy had come to the Democratic convention having won the seven primaries he’d entered. The popular tide seemed to be with him, but Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson, and a number of favorite sons also came to Los Angeles seeking the nomination. The arm twisting and cajoling was short and sweet. Kennedy, who was leading in the delegate count, offered Johnson the vice-presidency in a back room maneuver. Johnson accepted. It was a brilliant maneuver. Not only did it win Kennedy the party nomination, it also won him the White House. With Johnson southern name on the ticket, Kennedy won over southern and border states like South Carolina and Missouri by only 10,000 votes. He won Johnson’s home state, Texas, by a mere 40,000. Johnson’s support, coupled with the addition of enough deceased voters in Illinois, propelled him to the presidency.

While it was nothing like the smoke filled rooms and the hundreds of ballots in the 1920’s, it was the closest thing in my lifetime to high political drama. I wasn’t old enough to vote in that election, but I remember it as the most exciting thing I’ve seen other than watching the Boston Red Sox dismantle the New York Yankees and subsequently exorcise eighty-six years worth of demons in 2004.

Some say that the current Republican problem is the viability of the candidates, but I think there’s more to it than that. The glue that once held the Republican coalition of Reagan Democrats, big business, and values voters together doesn’t seem to be holding the disparate pieces together anymore. The Reagan Democrats are too Populist for big business. The values voters are too Evangelical for the Reagan Democrats and big business. Big business is too big for the values voters and Reagan Democrats. The result has been, and may continue to be, a political slobber knocker of the first order. The only question left then will be whether or not the survivor of the battles will have enough left in the tank to do battle with Barack or Hillary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Campaign 2008 - Fault Lines, Fissures and Fractures

“So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.”
- Ecclesiastes 9:16 (New Living Translation)

I suspect the internecine warfare is about to begin in earnest. Newt Gingrich recently appeared on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” In response to a question about the possibility of a brokered convention selecting him as the Republican nominee he said:
“I think the brokered convention would pick one of the people who had filed for president, but I think the process, after all, it was... You know, Abraham Lincoln was running third and won the convention. He didn't come in first on the first ballot, and so, I think there's nothing unhealthy about the Republican Party having a serious discussion. We are at the end of the George W. Bush era. We are at the end of the Reagan era. We're at a point in time when we're about to start redefining -- as a number of people started talking about, starting to redefine -- the nature of the Republican Party, in response to what the country needs.”

I actually like the idea of a brokered convention. The king makers, however, don’t. The day after Gingrich made the comment, Rush Limbaugh took him to task:

“Is there a Gingrich coalition that has replaced the Reagan coalition? For that matter, what is the McCain coalition? If we're going to have a new era, what is the McCain era? What is the Huckabee era? What is their winning coalition? They don't have one. You know, all this sounds like Third Way kind of talk, the triangulation of the Clinton years in the nineties. But I don't know what the McCain era would be, and I don't know what the Huckabee coalition is. They don't have a coalition. They're out trying to get votes of independents and Democrats. They're pandering to moderates and independents.”

A couple of things became very clear to me after reading both transcripts. First, there’s a fissure about ready to pope wide open in the Republican Party. Second, the battle is really less about the heart and soul of the Party than it is about who is going to wield power and call the shots.

Limbaugh made it clear that he dislikes the ideas of Mike Huckabee and John McCain as much as he dislikes the things Newt Gingrich has to say, for principally the same reason. He claims that he wants to move the country, and the Republican Party, to a position left of center. He does everything in his power to paint the three men and those who support them as anti-conservative, anti Declaration of Independence, and anti-principle.

The truth is, conservatism is not a monolithic movement, subject to the dictates of a small, elite ruling class. Conservatives are automatons; they’re people. In 1980 Ronald Reagan rebuilt a movement. He swept into power with the support of blue collar Democrats and social conservatives. Were they his base? I don’t know, but I do know he could never have been elected without them. I suspect a good number of them are Mike Huckabee and John McCain supporters today.

I think Newt Gingrich was trying to express the challenge he sees in the Conservative movement. Like him, I think it would be healthy for the Republican Party to have the discussion about where we’re going. I think the first order of business if, or when, that conversation takes place is to determine what role the Reagan Democrats and social/religious conservatives should play. The great conservative ideas will remain, tried and true. But the coalition, built so skillfully by Ronald Reagan, will not again flourish again until those who call themselves leaders see that conservatives must “endeavor to teach humanity once more that the germ of public affections (in Burke’s words) is ‘to learn to love the little platoon we belong to in society.’ The task for conservative leaders is to reconcile individualism- which sustained nineteenth century life even while it starved the soul of the nineteenth century – with a sense of community that ran strong in Burke and Adams.”

It is that sense of community that is driving some away from the conservatism practiced for far too long. Some years ago George Bush spoke to a gathering of supporters. In thanking them for their support he said, “I see here a gathering of the haves…and the have mores…or as I like to refer to them – my base.” I think what we’re seeing played out right now is a battle of the “little platoons.” It’s the social/religious conservatives and the Reagan Democrats versus the haves and have mores.

I’m hoping that the convention is brokered and we can have the necessary conversation. Perhaps we can reconcile our differences. On the other hand, it may be that our differences are irreconcilable. Whatever the outcome, it won’t be made by Rush Limbaugh or the Party’s king makers. It will be made by the “little platoons” of social/religious conservatives and Reagan Democrats.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Huck's Army - Youth Will Be Served

“People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”
- Douglas MacArthur

I’ve had some friends ask me whether or not Mike Huckabee can win the Republican Party’s nomination or win the general election against what appears to be the Democratic juggernaut. They cite all the things that appear to be negatives to them. He’s too Populist. He’s too Evangelical. He’s not Evangelical enough. He’s not like Ronald Reagan. He’s a traitor to the conservative cause. He’s too folksy; he makes “crass jokes about Metamucil that strip this campaign of its dignity. He doesn’t always hold the Party line. He’s a “librull.”

I’m sure that as this campaign progresses the lists of labels and epithets will grow.

While they don’t say so, they probably think I’m a misguided fool, an idle dreamer, for supporting Mike rather than Fred Thompson or some other rib-rocked conservative. In their minds, the same labels they apply to Mike Huckabee must also apply to dreamy-eyed supporters like me.

Let me mount a defense for idle dreaming.

One of the striking things about the Mike Huckabee campaign is the way that young Evangelicals have become one of his primary support bases. In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Kirkpatrick noted:

“His (Huckabee’s) singular style — Christian traditionalism and the common-man populism of William Jennings Bryan, leavened by an affinity for bass guitar and late-night comedy shows — has energized many young and working-class evangelicals. Their support helped his shoestring campaign come from nowhere to win the Iowa Republican caucus and join the front-runners in Michigan, South Carolina and national polls.”

“And Mr. Huckabee has done it without the backing of, and even over the opposition of, the movement’s most visible leaders, many of whom have either criticized him or endorsed other candidates.”

Well, Hallelujah! Let youth be served.

By the time our next president is sworn into office something seismic will have happened in America. We may have our first woman president or we may have our first African-American president. If/when it happens I also hope something is written about the dramatic shift that’s taking place in the Evangelical movement. The old assumptions about values voters no longer apply, at least for the young. They’re no longer marching to the orders of Pat Robertson or James Dobson, and they’re tuning out Rush Limbaugh. Does this mean that the ideals of the values voters are dead? Hardly. What I believe it represents is a movement coming back to its roots. Young people, as is their wont, are listening with their hearts.

While Republican strategists and king makers criticize the movement, those energized by it or engaged in it see it as something healthy and fresh, a movement that’s come “for such a time as this.” The old guard, too long drunk with political power, is being overwhelmed by something they never anticipated in the heady days of Moral Majority. The new wine and the new politics are bursting the old wineskins and partisan calculations.

I’ve tried for days to let the old guard see what I see. I’ll try once more. The young Evangelical isn’t interested in the politics of division. The young Evangelical is interested in the politics of hope and up. The young Evangelical isn’t interested in the notion of unfettered wealth. The young Evangelical is interested in stewardship and service. The young Evangelical isn’t interested in creating enemies. The young Evangelical is interested in building alliances. The young Evangelical is every bit as patriotic as his elders. He’s committed finding the narrow way where his politics and faith make sense, where they’re in balance. He’s weighing everything not only with his head, but also with his heart.

Giving way to history is difficult. When the new comes, the old often doesn’t want to give way, but give way it must. Dissatisfaction with the old ways, fueled by a youthful faith, has fired the imaginations of a new generation that wants to build a new future. The result is a movement that’s coming alive, like Ezekiel’s dry bones. The passion of youth is being re-kindled. Bone is being knit to bone; flesh and sinew are forming. And breath, a fresh voice, is being heard across the land.

I grew up in the days of Dylan. Even now, at sixty-five, I find myself occasionally humming the old anthem:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a changin’.”

I feel the freeze breeze of change against my wrinkled face and I feel once more young and alive. It feels good. There’s something to be said for being young, for being an idle dreamer; there’s something marvelous in hoping against hope. The actuaries say that I have about fifteen years left. I hope that at that time, whenever it is, it will be said of me that he lived, and died, young.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Parsing the Parson - Campaign 2008, Mike Huckabee, and the Evangelical Vote

“Had I but serv’d my God with half the zeal
I serv’d my king, He would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.”
- William Shakespeare (Henry VIII, Act 3, scene 2)

When campaign 2008 is all said and done there will be, as there always are, enduring fictions that live on. I think one of them will be that a candidate’s religion doesn’t really matter. Those who propagate it will do so quite skillfully. Many of them will be conservatives.

Back in October, eons ago now, Mike Huckabee had this to say to a gathering of values voters in Washington, D.C.:

“It’s important that people sing from their hearts and don’t merely lip-sync the lyrics to our songs,” I think it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.”

There have been two especially interesting reactions to those words. At the grass roots level, the response has been straight from the gut. People who like Mike say they like him because…..they like Mike. In the rarified air of Republican Party power the response to Mike Huckabee has been every bit as visceral. They’ve cloaked their contempt in what they call reason and conservative principles. They claim that it has nothing to do with his religion. But, as they say here in the Bible belt, “That dog won’t hunt.” They’re parsing and rationalizing, which can, for the unskilled and un-knowing, be dangerous. Kinky Friedman once observed that “a rationalization a day keeps the shrink away.” I think that’s where the Republican movers and shakers are right now. They can’t figure this “I like Mike” thing out, so they’ve taken to rationalizations when they should be engaging in a bit of soul searching.

For years now, the Republican Party has presumed upon the values voter, particularly the Evangelical. But Mike Huckabee represents something new. There’s a fresh wind in the air; the days of presumption may be coming to an end. The old appeals from the Party’s center of gravity don’t seem to be working. The scorn (Huckster Mike, Pastor Mike, “librull,”) only seem to be adding fuel to the fire. The frenetic attempts to label don’t seem have enough glue to stick.

What those attacking Mike Huckabee fail to see is that the phenomenon is less about him than it is about his supporters. This is becoming, if it wasn’t already, a movement. Mike Huckabee is simply responding to the sense a lot of us Evangelicals and political populists have been feeling for quite a while. The sense of abandonment and disconnect by the party powerful has been palpable.

How has it come to this? Mike Huckabee’s detractors say that it’s because he and his supporters have betrayed conservative principles. Huckabee supporters like me are saying, “Nonsense. Someone has moved and it isn’t us.” In 1953, Russell Kirk outlined what he termed the “six canons of conservative thought.” They were/are – (1) Belief in transcendent order which rules society as well as conscience (2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence (3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes (4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked (5) Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters, calculators, and economists (6) Recognition that innovation may be a devouring conflagration rather than a torch of progress (see Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind – pages 8 and 9). I’d be willing to wager that the vast majority of Huckabee supporters would agree with those principles.

Why, then, have so many Evangelicals, values voters who adored Ronald Reagan, flocked to Mike Huckabee? Is it all as simple as a matter of common faith? Is all this groundswell nothing more than a religious huckster playing pied piper to his fringe flock? Huckabee detractors can portray it like that if they like, but they do so at their own peril. This movement goes far deeper than that.

The depth of the movement may not be evident on the surface, but it’s there. For example, while we believe in temporal order, our roots sink more deeply into the notion that transcendent order (see principle one) is paramount. The practical outworking of that belief in policy terms means that while we believe that we have a duty to solve the illegal immigration problem and our porous southern border, we don’t believe that firing up the busses and rounding up twelve million souls is, in transcendent terms, an acceptable policy position. When it comes to the notion of “affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence,” we Huckabee supporters stand second to none. We are pro-life, in all the richness the term suggests. We believe in order, and even class. But, we also believe that principle is all too often used as an excuse for economic elitism and obscene profits gouged out from the backs of “the least of these.” We do believe in class, but we also believe in the transcendent idea of conscience. In keeping with principle five, we don’t place abiding faith in “sophisters,” calculators, and economists. We refuse to let them explain away our moral obligation to account for the guy who cuts cows or works bussing tables in our economic paradigms. We believe in the notion of freedom and its link to property. Many of us have read the work of F.A. Hayek, but we’ve also read the Acts of the Apostles. Finally, like our Founding Fathers, we believe that change for “light and transient causes” is all too often folly. But, we also believe that those things that are eternal/immutable should have a profound effect on how we live our lives and on public policy (see Malachi 3).

At our core, we Mike Huckabee supporters are true believers in the conservative cause. We haven’t moved. In fact, we’d like to think that we’re trying to re-introduce the notions of soul and human faces into the movement: We’re conservatives. We believe in Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead.” And, we believe that men ought to “participate in a natural and moral order in which they count for more than the flies of summer.”

Will the Mike Huckabee groundswell continue? I don’t know. Does it matter? Yes! From the grass roots a call for the Party to regain its soul has been sounded. Despiet notions to the contrary, the call hasn’t come from a shallow place. The Mike Huckabee movement goes far deeper than its detractors can imagine. They can ridicule it and laugh it to scorn. They can try to bring it back in line. But, it’s too late. The movement has found its voice. The dry bones are coming to life. The Republican Party would do well to listen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Time for a Metamucil Moment

“Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.”
- Ronald Reagan

I got the following comment on yesterday:

“Please write a post with the title “Why Mike Huckabee Should Be President.” I know you are fond of him, but I don't get why I should be. Sell me. Pitch me. Hit me with your best shot.”

The comment came from Minnesota, land of the erudite and phlegmatic, land of Eugene McCarthy, Garrison Keillor, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, Warren Burger, J. Paul Getty, Winona Ryder, Charles Schultz, Bob Dylan and Walter Mondale.

I can’t tell whether or not the commenter really wanted my best shot, but then, Minnesotans are a hard lot to figure out. Aren’t they the folks who elected Jesse Ventura governor? And wasn’t it Jesse who spent a good part of his adult life festooned with feather boas, prancing around a wrestling ring in leotards? What possible pitch could I make on behalf of Mike Huckabee that would top that?

What is it about Mike that makes him so appealing, anyway? What’s the logic behind his improbable rise?

One of the assumptions that seems to be built into the questions about him is that he’s all personality and no substance. It’s a false assumption. For those who care to, Governor Huckabee has outlined his positions, listed here, on a myriad of issues, including international affairs, sanctity of life, education, taxes, immigration, etc. - nineteen in all. Fred Thompson, by comparison, has only outlined eleven, Rudy Giuliani fifteen, John McCain eleven, and Ron Paul a one size fits all - hide in the closet isolationism.

But, there’s more to Mike Huckabee’s appeal than position papers.

Why do I like Mike so much? For the same reason I prefer Shane over Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns?” For the same reason I prefer “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas time over “Bad Santa.” For the same reason I prefer Michelangelo and Vermeer over Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. For the same reason I prefer Dublin over Paris or Prague over Amsterdam. For the same reason I prefer baseball over football. For the same reason I prefer Pentecostalism over my Episcopal roots. For the same reason I prefer the politics of uplift and inspiration to the politics of axe grinding and sterility.

That may not make much sense to the esteemed and learned in the Republican Party, but I don’t think it needs to. I like Mike! I like his vertical politics. I like Mike! As Forrest Gump said, “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

This morning on MSNBC, Governor Huckabee was asked to comment on Fred Thompson’s attacks in last night’s Republican debate. “I think Fred Thompson needs to take some Metamucil,” Mike responded. You gotta’ love a man like that.

Hopefully, Fred will take the advice. He needs a good “constitutional.” Come to think of it, it might not be bad advice for some of Mike Huckabee’s detractors in Minnesota. A dose or two or ten of Metamucil might help loosen the strangle holds their leotards and feather boas have on them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Breaking News - Our Media is Broken

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’”
- Bob Dylan (1964)

My wife Nancy and I had a few exhilarating moments at the expense of pundits, pollsters, and media darlings this morning. The talking heads got it all wrong in New Hampshire, There’s something refreshing about seeing the experts getting their collective comeuppance. Watching them all scramble in a frenzied attempt to find excuses for their folly just warms the cockles of my heart.

There’s breaking news in America this morning. Bang the drums and sound the trumpets. Our media is broken. Hooray and Hallelujah!

There’s breaking news in America this morning. The people have decided to take the reins of command back.

For far too long now our media have been operating on empty, believing that the American public dangles at the end of their webs and ratings schemes like marionettes. New Hampshire may just be one in what a guy like can only hope will be a long string of media failures proving just how wrong they’ve been. All that we’ll need to make our joy complete then is watch the gut wrenching, hand wringing, and flimsy excuses that’ll surely follow.

The primary beneficiary of our morning delight was MSNBC celebrity Chris Matthews. As reported by the Associated Press, Matthews was downright angry about the failure of pre-election polls:

“Anger expressed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about pre-election polls that pegged the Democratic primary wrong led to an exchange between him and NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw shortly before the end of that network’s coverage Tuesday. Matthews suggested the polls’ methodology should be investigated.”

The more I read the words, the more histrionic they seemed to be. Come on, Chris, join the ranks of adults in America. Stop whining. Get a grip on reality. The last thing we need is another investigation, even if it’s all meant to be in fun or pull a ratings coup. There’s plenty of that going on in Washington already. In fact, there’s so much of it going on that our elected leaders are failing miserably at conducting the people’s business.

Trying to inject some sanity into the whole mess, Tom Brokaw made the following suggestion:

“You know what I think we’re going to have to go back and do?” Brokaw said. “Wait for the voters to make their judgment.”

Well, glory be, someone gets it. Archaic as it may seem to Matthews, our Constitution still means something. “We, the people,” continue to attach ourselves to the nasty old notion that we’re the ones making the judgments. We’re the ones pulling the levers.

You’d think that Brokaw’s advice would have ended the discussion. Wisdom should have dictated that Matthews say something like, “You’re absolutely right, Tom. I’ve been a fool not to see the obvious.” But, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and Matthews somehow decided to prove that he’s conspicuously foolish:

“Matthews responded: “What do we do then in the days before the balloting? We must stay home, I guess.”

I didn’t watch the show, but if I had I think I might have braved the winter chill, opened my windows wide, and screamed a la' Howard Beale, “Go ahead, Chris make my day; make my life! Please stay home. I’ll lobby MSNBC to put you on a ten year paid sabbatical. I’ll even provide the duct tape for your mouth.”

In fairness to Chris Matthews, it needs to be noted that he’s just part of a larger whole. Since the turning of the millennium we’ve been subjected to Bill O’Reilly and his talk of pinheads and popinjays, “el Rushbo’s” mega dittos and theatricals, or Lou Dobbs’ shameless posturing. The truth of today is, America has had enough. If only our media could see it.

Here in Emporia the reality hasn’t sunk in at the Emporia Gazette either. In last night’s edition, Chris Walker, editor, owner, mover and shaker, citizen emeritus professed a sense of puzzlement or amusement at America’s new found fetish for change:

“The latest buzz word is “change,” and all the candidates are trying to sell themselves as bringers of change.”

“If you look back in history, presidential candidates promising change is nothing new.
Historically, politicians have talked about bringing change to improve health care, reduce energy independence, cut taxes and raise the working class. Sound familiar?
It is too bad that politicians promise big changes, but in the end, nothing really changes.”

I’m sure that Chris Walker and the good folks in the Gazette newsroom would dispute it, but I detect a little bit of jealousy in the voice. Americans, including Emporians, are saying that we want change and that we’re seeing through the media masks. It’s almost as though a light has been turned on or an alarm has sounded, like ping of the carbon monoxide detector I plugged in downstairs in my dining room to protect me from deadly, unseen vapors that might be wafting through the air.. We’ve figured it out. Our media is colorless, odorless, tasteless, deadly. The reality has set in. The days of them sifting endlessly through the details, parsing, spinning, and then barking out the marching orders to the public are dying. There’s a fresh breeze in the air right now and it’s not about the media, pollsters, or pundits. It’s about us – “We the People.”

Now, that’s breaking news!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Let the Politickin' Begin in Earnest!

“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”
- E.B. White

The New Hampshire primary is history. The net result on the Republican side of the ledger is that we have an old Phoenix who’s risen from the ashes, an aristocrat with two silvers and a gold, and a populist/preacher who just won’t seem to go away. The Republican race is still wide open.

As it has been since the beginning, experts are still dismissing Mike Huckabee’s chances. He seems too populist in his economic views for the Republican elite and he's too religious and fundamental for just about all the pundits. Mike’s response is the same as it has been since the beginning. He’s moving on to Michigan, where there are lots and lots of blue collar workers who’ve lost their jobs to someone “over there” they’ve never met before. And, then there’s South Carolina, with all those Baptists, Pentecostals, and assorted holy rollers. These are the constituencies, the Reagan Democrats and the values voters, that the Republican Party has presumed upon since 1980. It’s been a dangerous assumption, based on the flawed notion that as long as the powerful occasionally dropped a crumb or two off their table of wealth the folks wielding the assembly line tools and toting the leather-bound King James Bibles would continue to toe the Party line. Well, as Porgy once famously said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

I’d be foolish to say how my candidate will fare when the last “trump” is sounded on election 2008, but I do feel bold enough to proclaim that the high and mighty in the G.O.P. had better wake up to a new reality. They can skewer Mike Huckabee all they want, but that won’t change things. They can dismiss his following as a bunch of Jesus freaks, tattooed assembly line workers, or “ham and eggers” till the cows come home, but the fact is – Mike has struck a chord. His message is hitting the mark.

For weeks now, the Republican elite have been parroting the nonsense that Mike Huckabee is a delusional fool. To them, he’s nothing more than a “smallstate governor who doesn’t believe in Darwin.” That’s not likely to change any time soon. In fact, the attacks on his populism, religion, guitar playing, and God knows what else are probably going to become more intense as the campaign wheels continue to roll. But, that’s alright. As Mike said to Jay Leno last week, “If a fella’ can’t stand the sight of his own blood, he shouldn’t be in politics.”

So, as a Huckabee supporter feeling his oats, I say, “Let the politickin’ begin in earnest.” My candidate has gotten to where he is right now without money or conventional political wisdom. There’s no need for him to start genuflecting to them now. Like David with his five smooth stones, he’s shed the approved Party armor and set out across the valley, armed with a powerful message. In about a month we’ll probably know whether or not David got Goliath or vice versa. But, for right now, as it has been for a couple of weeks, the stars and planets still seem rightly aligned. Mike Huckabee is alive, kickin’, pickin’, and politickin.’ And, the fact that he’s now rattling the cages of the high and mighty makes it all the sweeter. Ain’t politics grand!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Populism 2008 - Revenge of the Cow Cutters and Clerks

“The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of this country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain.”
- William Jennings Bryan

Another day, another primary. Sometime later tonight the good people of New Hampshire will let the rest of us know how they feel about election 2008. If the polls are right, it appears that Barack Obama will win the Democratic primary and John McCain will win on the Republican side. Mike Huckabee, my candidate, is projected to come in third or fourth. Pundits are saying that Mike is going to head to South Carolina, where he has a strong support base made up primarily of foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists and populists like me.

One of the interesting things playing out here is that some of the rules seem to have changed. Gender politics is out. That’s good. If Hillary Clinton wins her party’s nomination it should be on the merits, not her gender. The politics of race is also out, and oh, isn’t it time. If Barack Obama wins it will because he has stirred something in the American soul and because he’s being judged by the content of his character. I suspect that Dr. King is smiling down from heaven.

This brings me to the theme of populism, which seems to be sending shivers up and down the spines of the high and mighty, particularly in the Republican Party. From George Will to Larry Kudlow, the masters of the Laffer Curves and excel spreadsheets have sprung to the attack against the populist rabble. Hence, defending the I.R.S. against the assaults of Mike Huckabee and his barbarian hordes has become mainstream Republicanism.

Pundits are wondering why so many of what used to be Republican Party stalwarts are flocking to a guy like Mike. They can’t seem to see the obvious, even when he tells them what it is. And, this is it. He looks and acts more like the guy in the plant getting laid off than the guy who’s laying him off. He’s speaking to the man or woman who makes cupcakes on the other side of town here or the guy luggin’ beef carcasses around over at Tyson. He’s speaking to the retiree making six bucks an hour up at the Wal-Mart because his pension or social security check just won’t stretch from payday to payday. He’s speaking right to the heart of the matter and they’re responding. He’s not coming armed with spreadsheets, with complicated macros designed to hide some of the wicked truths the working poor here have to face. He’s not being followed by batteries of fawning accountants armed with briefcases. He’s not asking for the seal of approval of the Republican illuminati. Like Obama, Mike Huckabee is talking about change, and the message is beginning to resonate.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the power brokers can’t see this.

Back in my undergraduate days I met a young guy who was quite enamored with Nietzsche and his ideas of “ubermensch.” He really believed that crap, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince me that it was a great idea. Each time he did, I would try as politely as I could to ask him and his friend Nietzsche to come out and play in the traffic for a while.

I think that same advice holds true for those who are now spending an inordinate amount of their time excoriating Mike Huckabee and his populism. Come, you high and mighty, take a walk down Sixth Avenue here in Emporia, Gaze at the hovels owned by slum lords raking in the profits as you do. Come and play in the traffic. When you’re done, take a minute or two to gander at some of the numbers you’ve bypassed in your calculations – 18% poverty rates, low median incomes, low paying jobs. Top that all off by going back out into the streets and you’ll see that it all has a human face. If you really care to see it, you’ll see a curious mixture there. You’ll see dignity in the faces, pock marked by the fear of losing a job. You’ll see furrows on the brows, etched in by the incessant fight against the numbers. You’ll see the things your spreadsheets, briefcases, and Wall Street talk don’t take into account.

When I first moved out here to the Kansas Flint Hills in 1999 I didn’t understand the appeal that populism has in this part of the world. Nor did I understand how deep the loyalty of people here ran in the Republican Party. Nor did I understand how subtly the populist message had been twisted into something it was never intended to be. Oh, there were voices of dissent, like Thomas Frank’s. He saw then what a lot of us couldn’t. Like the slick raking in the money at the three card monte table, the Republican establishment had convinced the cow cutters, farmers, and clerks of the Heartland that everything being done was for their benefit:

“Over the last thirty-five years the Republicans have transformed themselves from an aristocratic minority into the nation's dominant political party, a brawling, beer-drinking buddy of the working man. The strategy by which they have won this triumph is instantly familiar and yet so bizarre it's sometimes hard to believe it's actually happened.”

Well, this is William Jennings Bryan country. Populism still has a great deal of appeal out here. The experts and party elites say that’s Mike Huckabee’s problem. Folks out this way disagree. They say that’s the Republican Party’s problem. Like Dylan, they’re saying that “the times they are a changin’.” The gilded Republicans need to close their briefcases and turn off their spreadsheets long enough to see that populism is back and that it may be back with a vengeance.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Words Really Do Matter

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”
- Luke 6:45 (New Living Translation)

In a New York Times op-ed this morning, Bill Kristol made the following observation about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:

“Huckabee went on to pay tribute to Obama for his ability “to touch at the core of something Americans want” in seeming to move beyond partisanship. And, he added, Senator Obama is “a likable person who has excited people about wanting to vote who have not voted in the past.” Huckabee was of course aware that in praising Obama he was recommending himself.”

The phrase that really struck me was “to touch the core.” I think Bill Kristol got it!

Ever since Mike Huckabee began to rise from obscurity in the campaign, pundits have either been trying to explain him or explain him away. The truth of the matter has been that the phenomenon has been less about the candidate and more about what’s at the core of millions of Americans responding to his message.

In his victory speech the other night he alluded to the prairie fire that’s being kindled here in America’s heartland. For the powerful and connected in this country that may not have meant much, but to many of us it registered powerfully. Something’s being kindled in our hearts. When he says his campaign isn’t about him, but about us, we believe him. When he repeats those wonderful words, “We the People,” something stirs in us. Mike Huckabee’s speaking to our hearts!

The other night I listened to the Democratic debate. Hillary Clinton, in a feeble attempt to ward off the power of Barack Obama’s stirring oratory, said that it is deeds, not words, which matter in this campaign. That’s true – deeds do matter. But, those words, coming from what appeared to be a soul bereft of true belief at its core, fell to the ground. They never hit their mark. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the ability to inspire, if she ever had it at all, and it’s evident in her rhetoric. That’s no match for true belief, being expressed by a true believer. Barack Obama has stirred something in the hearts of the Democratic Party’s faithful, in the same way that Mike Huckabee has stirred the hearts and imaginations of many Republicans.

There’s a powerful truth being played out here. Words do matter. Hillary Clinton can dismiss them. Pundits can try to explain them away. But, words do matter. If they didn’t, why on earth would the prophets of old have spoken from the pits of despair or at the gates of Zion? If words didn’t matter, why did the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah cut so deeply to the quick of a nation that had abandoned its call to be a “light to the nations?” If words didn’t really matter, why on earth did John the Baptist march up and down the Jordan River calling sinners to repentance? Why did the hungry, thirsty, downtrodden, sick, weary, the grieving, the heavy-laden, or the lost respond so overwhelmingly when Jesus uttered simple words like “Come unto me.”? If words don’t really matter, then the Sermon on the Mount is nothing more than a set of flowery catch phrases with no real meaning at their heart.

Words do matter! The words of our Declaration of Independence matter. The words of the Gettysburg Address matter. The words Abraham Lincoln spoke at his second inaugural matter. They’re transcendent. They speak to our hearts.

Words do matter. To a nation gripped by fear, Franklin Roosevelt’s words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” mattered. To a nation on the brink, Churchill’s words, “We shall fight them on the beaches” mattered. To a nation weary of cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation John Kennedy’s words, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” mattered. To America, mired in racial strife, Martin Luther King’s call for us to realize the dream of national brotherhood mattered. Words do matter.

Words do matter, especially when they’re spoken from heart to heart.

What Hillary Clinton and many pundits have not been able to grasp is that this campaign isn’t about them. It’s about us! Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama have begun a heart to heart dialogue with the American people. The communication is direct. They’ve bypassed the chicanery and the political tricks. There’s no triangulating. Their words matter because they seem to understand that we matter. They understand that the stakes in this election are far higher than who is going to be powerful, control the dialogue, or who is going to occupy our national mansion. They understand that this election may well indeed be about our heart and soul.

I suppose that Obama, Huckabee, and those responding to their words can be dismissed as idle dreamers. Those who do so do it at their own peril. From Joseph being sold into bondage by his brothers, to the prophets, to Jesus, to the apostles, to our founding fathers, to Lincoln, to J.F.K, to Martin Luther King, the dreamers and their dreams have always prevailed. Their words have become memorials, testimony to the truth that words really do matter!