Friday, December 11, 2015

Mr. Steyn Goes To Washington

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to witness Mark Steyn at Tuesday's Hearing on Climate Change
held by the Senate Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee

Writer Mark Steyn had a Mr Smith Goes to Washington afternoon last Tuesday, when he testified in the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee's magnificently ornate Senate Russell Office Building Hearing Room 253 in a hearing chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) titled "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over Human Impact on Earth's Climate".  

In a post on SteynOnline entitled Markey Mark, Steyn was bitter about his confrontation with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) as an expert witness, condemning the U.S. Senate as an institution--despite beating the odds by getting a Senator to answer a question from a witness, a very unusual if not unprecedented occurrence. But that very colloquy shone a spotlight on just how contentious and treacherous the issue of climate change has become--global warming revealed as a political "hot potato."

Intended to showcase climate data analysis from dissenting scientists, just as the COP-21 meetings also known as the Paris Climate Conference were taking place, the afternoon's hearing began  dramatically, when a Greenpeace activist approached noted Princeton physics professor Dr. William Happer for an ambush interview captured on video posted to YouTube:

Apparently there had been a protest rally prior to the hearing, objecting to allowing the dissidents to testify in the first place. So, perhaps this confrontation may have been designed to mau-mau a witness--Dr. Happer had, Wikipedia reported, been "stung" by Greenpeace before. In any case, nerves were obviously raw from the get-go, and there didn't appear to be much staff support for Dr. Happer during the ugly incident.

Seated a few rows behind the confrontation, I noticed a young man standing oddly, pressing his chest firmly against Steyn's. They looked like two wildebeest in a National Geographic nature documentary. The straining duo were soon separated by a policewoman. After watching the video, it turned out that Steyn had been trying to prevent fisticuffs, interposing his person between the outraged witness and his Javert. Steyn was acting as bodyguard. 

It seemed odd that that what ought to have been a cold-blooded discussion of scientific data points could produce so much heat. Who could have guessed that looking at temperature charts and graphs could set blood boiling?

In any case, following this brief clash, the hearing commenced with opening statements from Senators in attendance. 

Immediately, another phenomenon was obvious. 

Apparently, all the Democratic subcommittee members were present and accounted for: Senator Tom Udall, (D-NM), the Ranking Member; Senator Ed Markey (D-MA); Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ); Senator Gary Peters (D-MI); Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). Also in attendance,  the Ranking Member of Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). 

In Washington, as Woody Allen once joked, ninety percent of success is showing up. All the Democrats showed up.  

However, John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the full committee, was a no-show. 

Thus, the most senior Senator present for the hearing, in an institution dedicated to Seniority (hence the name "Senate"), was a Democrat. 

Only one other Republican was present on the dais, Senators Steve Daines (R-MT). All the other G.O.P. members, including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) were absent. Message: I don't care.

So the signal from the G.O.P. was clear: Chairman Cruz was almost home alone, while the Democrats were united. 

Given the rules of the Senate, where question-and-answer time at a hearing is allocated among Senators, as opposed to witnesses, it meant that the Democrats would enjoy a 6-2 advantage during the proceedings. Cruz had obviously failed to garner the support of his subcommittee. While he could chair the hearing as a personal prerogative, he would not be able to control the questioning, nor would he be able to count on the intercession of Republican Senators to  back up witnesses, should they be browbeaten or ignored.

The layout of the witness table revealed serious shortcomings in subcommittee staff work as well. Alongside Steyn were Dr. John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville;  Dr. Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology;  Dr. William Happer, Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics, Princeton University; and Dr. David Titley (Rear Admiral, USN (ret.)), Professor of Practice, Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, Director, Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

While Steyn and Professors Christy, Curry and Happer were Majority witnesses, called by the G.O.P. to raise questions about purported climate change data, Dr. Titley was a Minority witness, called by the Democrats. Given the attendance at the hearing, that meant for every two questions asked by two Republicans of four witnesses, six could be asked by Democrats of one witness. 

The principle of most Senate hearings is that Democrats call on Minority witnesses. and Republicans call on Majority witnesses. So, some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic shows that before one word had been spoken, Dr. Tilley would have  had 30 minutes during each round of questioning (6 Democratic Senators x 5 minutes) versus each of the others, who could be recognized for only 2.5 minutes each, if all were called upon equally (2 G.O.P. Senators x 5 minutes = 10 minutes / 4 witnesses = 2.5 minutes).

While subcommittee staff might not be able to command Senators to attend when the Chairman is unable to persuade them, staff could have arranged separate panels of Majority and Minority witnesses, so that Democrats would not have been able to dominate the questioning of Republican experts. In order to give a hearing to the complainants, Majority witnesses could have been scheduled first, then Minority witnesses on a second panel. It would have been fairer to the experts themselves--two of whom left the hearing room early after being alternately ignored and insulted by the Democrats: Dr. Christy, perhaps the world's leading authority on satellite remote sensing of global temperatures related to climate change; and Dr. Curry, author of Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans.

In the end, unfortunately, the hearing resembled farcical scenes with Senator Dilworthy in Mark Twain's satirical novel of Washington, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.

As someone who has testified before Congress in a similarly controversial debate, I would say based upon my experience that it is likely that poor staff work by the Majority permitted subcommittee witnesses to be abused by the Minority and the hearings to become a circus. 

For example, subcommittee staffers did not even manage to arrange for C-Span coverage of a hearing with a celebrity witness chaired by a Presidential candidate on one of the hottest topics in politics: Global Climate Change. Likewise, there was no coverage in major media such as network news, The New York Times, or Washington Post.

Indeed, during the hearing it was Mark Steyn, rather than either Republican Senator, who came to the rescue of a damsel in distress, when Senator Markey insulted Professor Curry's integrity as a scientist, then wouldn't allow her to respond. Stein demanded that the Senator allow her a right of reply, which resulted in an unusual colloquy, also captured in a YouTube video:

Only later, when Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) denied Steyn a right of reply, did Chairman Cruz recognize the witness himself:

Bottom line: While he deserves credit for raising important issues and inviting climate dissidents to present their concerns before the Senate, Chairman Cruz and his staff failed to properly manage the hearings to insure that expert witnesses were respected and their message communicated clearly to the public.

If Senator Cruz seriously wants to be elected President of the United States, he'll need to show he can do a better job of managing his own subcommittee.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank Sara Josepha Hale for Thanksgiving...

This Thursday, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving with a Turkey dinner and expressions of gratitude. Although the holiday has apparently become a target for the Politically Correct One Percent and Black Friday Capitalists alike, it is still a major US holiday, celebrated with turkey dinner.

Some may not feel very grateful, in the aftermath of recent ISIS attacks on Paris.

However, a look at the history of the Thanksgiving reveals that far from being a triumphal celebration of "white privilege," it is historically a solemn undertaking to demonstrate perseverence in the face adversity,  in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience."  It was established due to a long campaign by an American woman writer and editor named Sara Josepha Hale, author of Mary Had a Little Lambwho personally persuaded Abraham Lincoln to proclaim the national holiday in the middle of the Civil War.

Growing from the roots of Thanksgiving as a tragic festival for a war-torn nation, the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth Massachussets mounted an historical exhibition dedicated to the holiday immediately in the wake of 9/11. 

It was  titled Giving Thanks: The Religious Roots of Thanksgiving. The show ran from November-December 2001 and was curated by Peggy M. Baker, Director and Librarian of the Pilgrim Society. It remains online at the Society website to this day, and makes for interesting reading at this time, when once again the world has faced atrocity and massacre. If anything, Thanksgiving is a holiday of resilience and endurance, and its meaning only grows over time.

In her online catalog, Baker noted that the legendary first Thanksgiving of 1621 was officially unrecorded, although it is alluded to in personal correspondence.  However, within two years it had become official in the Plymouth Colony: 

The Pilgrims’ first recorded religious day of thanksgiving was held in 1623. Plymouth had been stricken with a severe drought. "Upon which," said William Bradford, "they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress." That same evening it began "to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God… For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving."

And concluded: "Today, we still share the religious spirit of those earlier Thanksgivings:

  • an autumn thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the year is proclaimed,
  • our abundance is shared with those who are less fortunate,
  • and many families, before the feast, bow their heads in prayer."
Baker noted that the holiday became a national institution early in the American Revolution, and cited its celebration at Valley Forge as a significant turning point:

The first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in gratitude for the American victory at Saratoga in 1777. The Continental Congress set aside Thursday, December 18th that "the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor." 
On December 17, 1777, the day before the first national Thanksgiving, George Washington was in winter quarters at Valley Forge. He wrote:
Tomorrow being the day set apart by the honorable Congress for Public Thanksgiving and praise, and duty calling us devoutly to express our grateful acknowledgments to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us, the general directs … that the chaplains perform divine service.
In addition to an opportunity for prayer, acts of charity were part of Thanksgiving celebrations, with Baker quoted none other than Sara Josepha Hale:

The Cheerful Giver
Although Providence has blessed our land with an abounding harvest, we must remember that there are among us many who will have but a scanty and insufficient share in this abundance. The civil war has given to our care many maimed and helpless men, many widows and orphans, many destitute refugees… Let us each see to it that on this one day there shall be no family or individual, within the compass of our means to help, who shall not have some portion prepared, and some reason to join in the general Thanksgiving. (Sarah Josepha Hale, in Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864)

"The Widow's Thanksgiving,"
Harper's Magazine, December 5, 1874

However, after the Revolution until the Civil War, Thanksgiving proclamations were largely issued by State Governors rather than the President.

Enter Sara Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, who is credited as "the godmother of Thanksgiving" on the Pilgrim Society website, which says her 1827 novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, for popularized the holiday (although mistakenly placing it in the Massachusetts Bay), as well as her 1835 short story, "The Thanksgiving of the Heart," in her collection Traits of American Life, which published this description:

Our good ancestors were wise, even in their mirth. We have a standing proof of this in the season they chose for the celebration of our annual festival, the Thanksgiving. The funeral-faced month of November is thus made to wear a garland of joy...There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which a whole community participate. They bring out, and together, as it were, the best sympathies of our nature. The rich contemplate the enjoyments of the poor with complacency, and the poor regard the entertainments of the rich without envy, because all are privileged to be happy in their own way.

The website explains: "In these two books are the beginnings of what would grow to be one of Sarah Josepha Hale’s lifelong crusades. The platform from which she would wage her holy war was that of editor of Godey's Lady's Book."

The first year of her editorship, 1837, Sarah wrote the first of her Thanksgiving editorials. Praising the holiday for its domestic and moral influence, she suggested that it “might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have engrafted it upon their social system. It would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of “In- gathering,” which it celebrates. It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart the social and domestic ties. It calls together the dispersed members of the family circle, and brings plenty, joy and gladness to the dwellings of the poor and lowly.”

Sarah did not introduce the topic again until 1842, when she used the example of Thanksgiving to favorably compare New England to “Old” England:

“At this season every family, almost, in our land has the comforts of life, and nearly all have the hope and prospect of living thus comfortably through the coming seasons. In Old England it is not so. Thousands, aye, million of her people are suffering daily from the "want of all things!"

Sarah’s crusade for a national Thanksgiving really began in 1847, when she noted that:

The Governor of New Hampshire has appointed Thursday, November 25th, as the day of annual thanksgiving in that state. We hope every governor in the twenty-nine states will appoint the same day -- 25th of November -- as the day of thanksgiving! Then the whole land would rejoice at once.”

This was followed by editorials in 1848 (there were two that year!) and 1849. After a one-year gap in 1850, Sarah resumed her Thanksgiving editorials, continuing without interruption for more than 20 years.

As Sarah noted in one of her 1848 editorials:

“...the appointment of the [Thanksgiving] day rests with the governors of each state; and hitherto, though the day of the week was always Thursday, that of the months had been varied. But the last Thursday of last November [1847] was kept as Thanksgiving Day in twenty-four of the twenty-nine states -- all that kept such a feast at all. May the last Thursday of the next November witness this glad and glorious festival, this „feast of the ingathering of harvest,‟ extended over our whole land, from the St. Johns to the Rio Grande, from the Plymouth Rock to the Sunset Sea.”

Sarah’s crusade was, therefore, two-fold. She wanted every governor of every state or territory to proclaim a Thanksgiving Day and she wanted that day to be uniform throughout America. Then, as she proclaimed in 1851, “There would then be two great American national festivals, Independence Day, on the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving Day, on the last Thursday in November.” She explained her choice of the last Thursday in November in this way.

“The last Thursday in November has these advantages -- harvests of all kinds are gathered in -- summer travellers have returned to their homes -- the diseases that, during summer and early autumn, often afflict some portions of our country, have ceased, and all are prepared to enjoy a day of Thanksgiving.”

Several strong themes carried throughout Sarah’s campaign. One was the importance of Thanksgiving’s religious connotations:

"THE FOURTH OF JULY is the exponent of independence and civil freedom. 

THANKSGIVING DAY is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings. These two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.” (1852)

Another was Thanksgiving’s role in unifying a geographically far-flung nation:

“ would be better to have the day so fixed by the expression of public sentiment that no discord would be possible, but, from Maine to Mexico, from Plymouth Rock to Sunset Sea, the hymn of thanksgiving should be simultaneously raised, as the pledge of brotherhood in the enjoyment of God‟s blessings during the year.“ (1854)

As years passed, Sarah’s editorials emphasized ever more strongly the unifying role that Thanksgiving could play within an increasingly divided nation. In 1859, she rhapsodized

We are already spread and mingled over the Union. Each year, by bringing us oftener together, releases us from the estrangement and coolness consequent on distance and political alienations; each year multiplies our ties of relationship and friendship. How can we hate our Mississippi brother-in-law? and who is a better fellow than our wife‟s uncle from St. Louis? If Maine itself be a great way off, and almost nowhere, on the contrary, a dozen splendid fellows hail from Kennebec County, and your wife is a down-Easter.”

That year, 32 states and territories, plus the District of Columbia, celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

In 1860, she wrote:

“Everything that contributes to bind us in one vast empire together, to quicken the sympathy that makes us feel from the icy North to the sunny South that we are one family, each a member of a great and free Nation, not merely the unit of a remote locality, is worthy of being cherished.

We have sought to reawaken and increase this sympathy, believing that the fine filaments of the affections are stronger than laws to keep the Union of our States sacred in the hearts of our people... We believe our Thanksgiving Day, if fixed and perpetuated, will be a great and sanctifying promoter of this national spirit.”

Sarah’s hopes were, of course, not to be fulfilled. In 1861, the bombardment of Fort Sumter opened the Civil War.

Sarah reported that, in 1861,“this National Feast Day was celebrated in twenty-four States and three Territories; all these, excepting the States of Massachusetts and Maine, held the Festival on the same day the last Thursday in November. “ The “missing” states were, of course, those of the Confederacy.
Sarah did not give up the fight. Instead, she tried a different strategy. As she suggested in her 1863 editorial:

“Would it not be of great advantage, socially, nationally, religiously, to have the DAY of our American Thanksgiving positively settled? Putting aside the sectional feelings and local incidents that might be urged by any single State or isolated Territory that desired to choose its own time, would it not be more noble, more truly American, to become nationally in unity when we offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year?

Taking this view of the case, would it not be better that the proclamation which appoints Thursday the 26th of November (1863) as the day of Thanksgiving for the people of the United States of America should, in the first instance, emanate from the President of the Republic to be applied by the Governors of each and every State, in acquiescence with the chief executive adviser?”

Sarah’s questions were rhetorical.

On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale had written to President Abraham Lincoln. The letter is preserved in the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Library of Congress. In it she wrote

”As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag -- could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.”

Sarah Josepha’s petition brought the result she was seeking. On October 3, Lincoln issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in Novemberas a day of Thanksgiving. 

Here's the text of Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, as relevant today as in 1863:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. 

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. 

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Thank you, Sara Josepha Hale, for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Revolt of the Elites

Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote The Revolt of the Masses in 1929. In his magnum opus, Ortega was critical of the phenomenon of "mass-man," which he saw as a harbinger of Fascism. Culture would be lowered to its lowest common denominator by the revolt of the masses, and so the achievements of civilization would be destroyed by the mob. 

The work was indeed prophetic, and Ortega had to leave Fascist Spain, living in exile in France and Argentina, until after the end of World War II. He had foreseen the earth-shaking struggle between civilization and barbarism, as in these excerpts:

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveler knows that in the territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made. 

Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason." Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner. The average man finds himself with "ideas" in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideals live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words. 

To have an idea means believing one is in possession of the reasons for having it, and consequently means believing that there is such a thing as reason, a world of intelligible truths. To have ideas, to form opinions, is identical with appealing to such an authority, submitting oneself to it, accepting its code and its decisions, and therefore believing that the highest form of intercommunication is the dialogue in which the reasons for our ideas are discussed. But the mass-man would feel himself lost if he accepted discussion, and instinctively repudiates the obligation of accepting that supreme authority lying outside himself. Hence the "new thing" in Europe is "to have done with discussions," and detestation is expressed for all forms of intercommunication, which imply acceptance of objective standards, ranging from conversation to Parliament, and taking in science. This means that there is a renunciation of the common life of barbarism. All the normal processes are suppressed in order to arrive directly at the imposition of what is desired. The hermeticism of the soul which, as we have seen before, urges the mass to intervene in the whole of public life.

However, today's battle between civilization and barbarism seems to have turned Ortega's analysis on its head. The threat to civilization at this moment appears to come not from "mass-man" but from the elites who govern without any commitment to civilization itself.  From enabling the recent shootings in Paris, and allowing the looting of the Bagdhad Museum in Iraq, to permitting the destruction of Palmyra in Syria, Western elites have apparently abandoned the civilizing mission which once both defined the West and fueled the "soft power" necessary to conquer the world.  

Current campus "uprisings" at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Missouri, are among the latest symptoms of elite barbarism.  Uncivilized, and indeed Fascist, attitudes are obvious to the most casual observer. 

In this lies the heart of the current problem--for if Western elites are in revolt against civilization, then either they must be replaced, asap, or civilization cannot stand.  For elite legitimacy depends upon superior culture as well as character, which justify status.

That revolt in our time comes from the top, not the bottom; from the one percent, not the 99 percent; can be seen from the Ivy League addresses of the latest campus conflicts. 

It can also be seen in the background of former officials in the Obama administration, such as Thomas Vietor, lately reported working for Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign.

Although the former National Security spokesman for the Obama administration was mocked by conservatives as a "former van driver", who said, "Dude, that was like two years ago," when confronted with charges he altered talking points about Benghazi, Vietor is no surfer dude from San Diego. 

Rather, he is a bona fide member in good standing of the American Establishment. His is, by my reckoning, Thomas Vietor, IV. The Huffington Post announced that he became engaged to Michelle Obama's press secretary, Katie McCormic Lelyveld, in Paris.  Mrs. Thomas Vietor's 1939 wedding dress by Herman Patrick Tappe is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  His father's obituary in the New York Times gives some sense of the family's social standing:

VIETOR--Thomas Frederick III, 66 of Katonah, NY died October 1st, 2010 of cancer. The son of Carolyn Raymond and Thomas F. Vietor Jr., Tom was born and raised in Manhattan, graduated from St. Paul's School, the University of Pennsylvania and served in the Air National Guard. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club and a former Board Member of the Orchestra of St. Luke's. He spent his career at Johnson & Higgins and then Marsh. He retired as Chairman of Marsh FINPRO Global. He is survived by his wife Jeanne K. Windbiel, son Tommy Vietor of Washington, DC, daughter Taylor Vietor, stepson John Cunningham, sister, the Reverend Julie (Vietor) Kelsey of Branford, CT and numerous nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to: GU Oncology Research Fund, Dr. David Nanus, 1305 York Ave., Box 403, New York, NY 10021.

Likewise, his grandfather's obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

After a long decline in health, Tom died of cancer on Jan. 14, 2001, in NYC.
Tom graduated from St. Paul's School. At Princeton he was an English major, was on the freshman crew team, the club squash team, and was a member of Ivy Club.
During WWII, Tom was a sergeant in the OSS where he served on General William Donovan's staff in Washington, DC. After the war, he joined Ruthrauff & Ryan, an advertising firm in NYC. Shortly thereafter, he joined Sullivan Stauffer Colwell & Bayless, where he specialized in radio program and television production. At various times he directed and supervised musical, drama, mystery, comedy, quiz, roundtable, and news programs until he retired from advertising. The last years of his working life were spent as the business manager of St. James Church in NYC, where he assisted the rector, Rev. John B. Coburn '36.
Tom's wife, Carolyn, predeceased him in 1995. He is survived by a daughter, Julie Kelsey, a son, Tom III, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, to all of whom the class extends its sincere sympathy.
The Class of 1938.

OSS was jokingly referred to as "Oh, So Social" because of the number of Social Register families represented in the precursor to the CIA. The 1905 Brooklyn Blue Book and Long Island Social Register lists one Mr. Thomas F. Vietor He married Elizabeth Bacon Allen, a descendant of Ethan Allen. His father, George Frederick Vietor, lived at 417 Park Avenue. This great-great grandfather attended Amherst and was a member of the Republican, Union League, Metropolitan, Sea View Golf, Rumson Country, Seabright Beach, and Automobile Clubs. They also had a 27-room mansion, with ten tiled bathrooms, in Rumson, New Jersey. It was designed by Harrie T. Lindeberg, who designed a home for the Rockefeller family in Pocantico, New York.

Strangely, however, Thomas Vietor, IV's hereditary membership in the One Percent Club, goes unmentioned in the official biography on the website of his current public relations firm, Fenway Strategies, which seems focused instead upon a certain alumnus of Punahou School,  Columbia, and Harvard:

Tommy Vietor worked as a spokesman for President Barack Obama for nearly a decade. Vietor served as the President's National Security Spokesman from January of 2011 through March of 2013 where he was the media's primary contact on all foreign policy and national security issues. From January 2009 through January 2011, Vietor was an Assistant White House Press Secretary responsible for foreign policy, education and labor issues.

Vietor joined Obama's senate campaign in 2004 and served as Obama's U.S. Senate spokesman. In 2007, during the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, Vietor worked as the Iowa Press Secretary, and continued his work on the campaign as a rapid response specialist in the 2008 general election. Vietor served as a Winter 2014 visiting fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and was named one of the top ten communicators of 2014 by Campaigns and Elections magazine.

Because of the attitudes of the Tommy Vietors of this world, one may reasonably conclude that if Ortega y Gasset were alive today, he would be writing The Revolt of the Elites, for his words still ring true, just substitute "elite" for "masses":

Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason." Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so. In their political conduct the structure of the new mentality is revealed in the rawest, most convincing manner. The average man finds himself with "ideas" in his head, but he lacks the faculty of ideation. He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideals live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Consolations of Philosophy

Kudos to James Taranto for speaking out in defense of philosophers. He wrote, in a Wall Street Journal post titled The Closing of the Republican Mind:

To our mind, the anti-intellectual undertones of the Republican debate—especially Rubio’s disparagement of philosophers—are all too resonant with the anti-intellectual attitudes that prevailed this week at Yale and Missouri. American higher education has become commercialized, politicized and dumbed down—less devoted to education and, as Nicholas Christakis found out, more to re-education. 

Philosophers are an easy political punching bag because, contrary to Rubio, there aren’t many of them. And anti-intellectualism on a debate stage is relatively harmless compared with on campus, where it does real violence to the life of the mind. John Podhoretz quipped on Twitter: “I wish Rubio had said ‘assistant professors of communications.’ ” It would have been even better if he—or someone—had said a word in defense of Western culture.

One doesn't need to be Allan Bloom to agree with Taranto that the Republican Party seems to have embraced anti-intellectualism. Taranto pointed out that John Kasich and Ted Cruz joined in the philosophy-bashing. As a Doctor of Philosophy myself, with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy as well, it was most distressing.

However, there may be a silver lining to this cloud. 

While Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz were bashing philosophers, they may have been taking swipes at a couple of philosophers on the platform: Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

It turns out that Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson have each published their philosophy, which makes them philosophers, by definition (you don't need to teach at a university to be a philosopher--Spinoza was a lens grinder, Eric Hoffer a longshoreman).

Trump outlined his philosophy in The Art of the Deal. And, unlike Rubio, who seems to think of making money as an end in itself, Trump declares that money has little meaning for him, "except as a way to keep score." 

The book contains an 11-step philosophy of success, summarized by Business Insider as follows:

1. Think Big;

2. Protect the Downside and the Upside Will Take Care of Itself;
3. Maximize Your Options;
4. Know Your Market;
5. Use Your Leverage;
6. Enhance Your Location;
7. Get the Word Out;
8. Fight Back;
9. Deliver the Goods;
10. Contain the Costs;
11. Have Fun.

By any definition, like it or not, that's a philosophy. 

He adds: 

I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do.

Which makes Trump an idealist.  

Likewise, Dr. Carson has published his philosophy in The Big Picture. He shares one proposition with Trump: "My concluding thought today is THINK BIG--my philosophy for success in life." 

However, contrary to Trump, he does not believe in keeping score. Rather, he argues: 

We have to learn that what matters most in the Big Picture is not whether we view ourselves as Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, black or white, tall or short, young or old, smart or dumb, successes or failures. What truly matters most in this world is who we are in relationship to the one who created it. Then our right relationship with him will dictate our right relationship with others.

Again, a philosophical declaration. Which by echoing Kierkegaard's notion of "a Christian in Christendom" would make Dr. Carson a Christian existentialist.

So, there were at least two philosophers, with distinct philosophies, on the G.O.P. platform. In this, there is some hope for the future of the party and the Republic, because the most significant U.S. Presidents have had clear philosophies--stars by which they navigated stormy seas of politics, national and world affairs.

For example, Jacques Barzun wrote Lincoln's Philosophic Vision; Joseph R. Fornieri, Lincoln: Philosopher Statesman; Edward John Kempf, Lincoln's Philosophy of Common Sense. As the Lehman Institute Lincoln website notes, citing William Miller's Lincoln's Virtues, his "personal philosophy was based on reason and respect for the law:"

Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa wrote: “The central idea of our Founding was the equality of man.” This was Lincoln’s central idea as well. The young Lincoln lived out that principle. Miller noted that “in the society around him young Lincoln found two great bodies of opinion with ethical implications. He would respond to both with an unusually high level of seriousness. One was the idealism of the new American republic. The other was the religion drawn from the Bible there in the [Indiana] cabin, and promulgated the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church and by the various gatherings of sects in New Salem.”

Likewise, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a clear philosophy. As the Encyclopedia of Political Thought puts it, he "represents the triumph of welfare-state Liberalism begun by Woodrow Wilson:" 

The philosophical rationale for FDR's Democratic Party Liberalism was that big government was needed to protect the people from big business. National state power could be used by ordinary people to force large corporations to serve the public interest, assist the poor and underprivileged, and preserve individual rights. 

And Donald Devine explained Ronald Reagan's philosophy as "Fusionism:"

How did Meyer, Buckley, and Reagan think about fusionism? Fusionism to them was a philosophical concept. It was a philosophy that considered the principles of freedom and tradition as naturally interrelated in a tension whose resulting moral force created Western civilization and its American offshoot. Tension (the term Meyer preferred to fusion) was a force that could hold traditionalism and freedom together, which made both part of one potential whole. It was not the unitary logic of an ideology from a single principle deducing necessary conclusions, but a synthesis, a synthesis that Reagan said described modern conservatism. Yes, he conceived a city on a hill, but one always fighting to uphold both principles; for he also argued “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

Devine concluded with some advice G.O.P. candidates might want to consider in future debates: 

That was Reagan’s secret to success and the only path forward. He was not a carpenter of stools but a synthesizer of Western wisdom, recognized as such by a sufficient number to be granted power. What the conservative movement needs most today is more philosophical debating clubs and less talk about power. If it gets the former right, the latter will follow.

More philosophical debate, please!