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Mississippi Forgiving

Take note, conservatives, anyone-but-Obama types and apologists for Republicans: the governor of Mississippi’s pardon of rapists and murderers is an example of the danger of mixing religion and government. That he pardoned over 200 prisoners, several of whom are on the lam now that a judge has issued an injunction against the inmates’ releases on the grounds that the pardons may have violated the state constitution by failing to give sufficient public notice that the convicts were seeking clemency, on his last day as governor is an act of cowardice.

The former governor, Haley Barbour, is the epitome of a fatcat. The longtime politician and former Republican National Committee chairman, who made a career of lobbying for political favors, is an anti-abortion conservative who condemned an American pastor’s burning of the Koran in Florida and his despicable pardons are an example of Christian forgiveness. One of the murderers Barbour pardoned is David Glenn Gatlin, who walked free after being convicted of murdering Tammy Gatlin in 1994 by shooting his wife in the head as she held their two-month-old child, and then turning the gun on a man named Randy Walker. Barbour’s turning the other cheek, which has within a lawful stroke of the pen endangered the lives of Mississippi residents, ought to remind voters that politicians who pledge to act like Christians in government and impose their faith-based beliefs in matters of state mean it.

So whether Ron Paul is promising to turn the other cheek from a nuclear Islamist Iran or Mitt Romney is pledging to help others with government intervention or Rick Santorum is demanding an end to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, it must be remembered that they aim to practice what they preach.

Presidential Politics 2012

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, I must say that I find the current field of presidential candidates to be terribly depressing. We are stuck with an American president, Barack Obama, who is hastening the end of freedom in the United States of America. But the pathetic opposition is no real opposition. Besides the crazies and clowns who have already exited or not yet entered, including the dreadful Ms. Palin, Republicans are a bunch of dishonest looters and moochers, to paraphrase Ayn Rand from her novel Atlas Shrugged. They support the status quo; America’s rotting welfare state.

Mr. Gingrich is an infantile fraud, the only Speaker of the House to have been punished on ethical grounds. Archaic Mr. Santorum is an advocate of government based on faith, in other words theocracy, who would target gays, abortion and contraceptives. Whiny Dr. Paul is a Christian anarchist whose only coherent position is that he is maniacally willing to support nuclear weapons for Islamist Iran. Smug Mr. Huntsman worked for and praised President Obama. Befuddled Mr. Perry fumbles, fasts and prays and also seeks theocracy and laws against gays. Smarmy Mr. Romney enlisted the conservative Heritage Foundation and created the model for America’s first totalitarian health care system, ObamaCare. Cumulatively, the candidates are a reminder that America is careening toward the latter part of New Hampshire’s state motto and is probably doomed.

It is a new year, though, so I look to men such as the late new intellectual John David Lewis, a history professor whose writings and teachings and example are positively inspiring, new intellectual Robert Mayhew, a philosophy professor whose courses and books provide rich resources for future artists and scholars, new intellectual Shoshana Milgram, an English professor who is writing a biography of Ayn Rand, the new Ayn Rand Campus, premiering online tomorrow, where students will be able to pursue a course of self-study on Ayn Rand and her writings and ideas and some other individuals, above all Ayn Rand’s torchbearer, Leonard Peikoff, who recently wrote that he’s putting the finishing touches on his new book, The DIM Hypothesis. 2012’s politicians are a reason to fear the government and be depressed. 2012’s new and emergent intellectuals are a reason to fight for the future. Those who lie, cheat and loot deserve our scorn, but those who create deserve our enthusiastic support. Fight every dictate and directive and let us repeal their bad laws one by one, but don’t let the filthy politicians get you down. Let the few good, rational men lift you higher, spread reason and buy us more time.

Newt Gingrich

From my perspective, Newt Gingrich would make a terrible president of the United States. The anti-abortion Christian conservative congressman from Georgia was the darling of the New Right when he rose to power in the early 1980s and his 1994 Contract with America, a promising idea which was a colossal missed opportunity in policy and in action, demonstrates why he’s a failure, not a success, as a legislator. Gingrich wasted the GOP’s historic 1994 House victory and tinkered with a slightly smaller welfare state thereafter and the reality of our collapsing economy speaks for itself in this regard. He squandered enormous public support for capitalism in the wake of the Clinton health care plan debacle with his subsequent initiatives, compromises and statements, not to mention his narcissistic, Clintonian antics.

The former college professor is the embodiment of a self-centered, power-lusting politician and nothing he says is credible. By the time Gingrich became recipient of the most severe penalty ever imposed on a Speaker of the House, the first time in history the House of Representatives punished the Speaker on ethical grounds, he had crucially refused to include expansion of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) in his 1994 policy pledge, effectively killing a potentially powerful hedge against socialized medicine and he had completely, totally failed to articulate a case for capitalism. In fact, Gingrich thoroughly and repeatedly accepted and advocated the moral directive of the left: shut up and obey the state and live for the sake of others. Gingrich is the true paleo-conservative, with a pragmatic streak: bereft of new ideas that advance liberty and capitalism, he pompously draws upon whatever ideals seem popular in order to expedite a return to the traditions of the past.

It’s true that Mitt Romney also fraudulently claims to support liberty and capitalism while seeking more government control of religion and economics. But slick Romney’s desperate willingness to do or say anything to gain power is widely known and acknowledged. There is no doubt that President Obama is ruining the country, and the sooner he goes the better, but for those who seek a secular republic based on individual rights, Newt Gingrich is the ultimate Trojan Horse.

Travel: The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

“I was born in a house my father built.” So said Richard Nixon (1913-1994) about his birthplace in Orange County, California. A recent visit to the home, pictured at right and located on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and museum (which opened in 1990 with a library run by the United States government), was interesting, informative and, befitting his presidency, rather sad. That’s because the place is obviously strapped for cash. The lobby is large, empty and unwelcoming. One pays for admission in, and enters through, the gift shop, where a lone twentysomething with long sideburns printed tickets which no one took and motioned to an older docent who kindly answered logistical questions and waved our party through. Thus began an outing at the museum and library for the nation’s disgraced 37th president. I’ve previously written about Richard Nixon in my review of Ron Howard’s excellent 2008 motion picture, Frost/Nixon.

Here, we learn that Richard Nixon’s paternal great-grandfather, George Nixon 3rd, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, that young Richard, known as Nick in high school, wanted to be a railroad engineer, that he attended Duke University Law School on scholarship, married in Riverside, California, and worked as a bureaucrat for the rationing coordinating section of the Office of Price Administration. As a Quaker, Nixon could have obtained a draft deferment during World War 2, but after the Japanese bombed Hawaii, he decided he could not sit back while his country was being attacked. The lieutenant commander in the United States Navy went on to become a congressman, U.S. senator, and vice-president to Dwight Eisenhower. Richard Nixon was elected president against Hubert Humphrey in 1968, when the nation was in turmoil, and he was re-elected by a landslide in 1972. Throughout the self-guided tour, museum exhibits recall the last American president before the rise of the New Left.

Richard Nixon’s maiden speech in the House of Representatives was a presentation of a contempt of Congress citation against Gerhart Eisler, a man identified as the top Communist agitator in the United States who eventually fled the country and became director of propaganda for the Soviets’ East German dictatorship. In the speech, Nixon spoke for only ten minutes and concluded: “It is essential as members of this House that we defend vigilantly the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press but we must bear in mind that the right to free speech and free press do not carry with them the right to advocate the destruction of the very government which protects the freedom of an individual to express his views.” Nixon was against outlawing the Communist Party in the United States because he thought it would drive Communists, who had infiltrated the highest levels of our government and Hollywood, underground, making it harder to find them. As a legislator, Nixon was among the first to suspect State Department diplomat and United Nations Secretary General Alger Hiss as a Communist spy, which was strongly supported by the declassified Venona Project papers. Harvard Law School graduate Hiss, who had been a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, was convicted of perjury. The Hiss affair had vindicated the young California congressman.

The famous Chicago television presidential debate between candidate Sen. Richard Nixon and Sen. John Kennedy on September 26, 1960, is on display here in its entirety. In the black and white appearance, Mr. Nixon talked reassuringly about how the Republicans were not “extreme” on issues related to health, education and welfare (did he have that right!) and in general he was halting and unconvincing. Sen. Kennedy, who sounds like President Obama in advocating redistribution of wealth, appears as if he is listening to his opponent, but it’s clear that he isn’t. Other parts of the exhibition include displays on President Nixon in Communist China and at the Berlin Wall, which President Nixon visited in 1969.

In the most relevant section, there are panels on the nation’s anti-American and anti-war protests, gatherings and violent mob actions. A timeline features the facts of what happened in 1970 at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, where the Hippies, not all of whom were college students, were protesting the bombing of Cambodia and stopping motorists, breaking windows, and setting an Army recruiting office building on fire. When firemen tried to put the flames out, the Hippies cut the fire hoses. Then, there was a bomb threat. For days, the Hippies broke the law and ran wild. Ohio Governor James Rhodes had promised to “employ every force of law under our authority” to end the disturbances led by protesters he described as “worse than the brownshirts and the Communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes. They are the worse type of people we harbor in America.” After Ohio National Guardsmen dispatched to the scene were struck by stones and rocks, there was a burst of gunfire that killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others. The 1970 Kent State shootings, widely regarded as the fault of the National Guardsmen, influenced federal, state and local law enforcement riot response for decades and shaped how, and whether, police respond to (including whether they stop) riots and crimes in progress to this day.

The Nixon Library and Museum is filled with historical material relevant to our times, though its presentation is often lacking. There’s Mr. Nixon’s Silent Majority speech, featured on a TV set on the floor, making it difficult to watch. Some of the printed material is posted too high or too low from adult eye level, or set too far back inside a display case, and some of it’s printed in red ink making it a challenge to read. The gift display for the shop’s “What Would Nixon Do?” merchandise (pictured at right) is in questionable taste in a government-sponsored operation about the life, presidency and administration of the only American president to resign. But there is an abundance of content, from a Watergate scandal section to the house, presidential limousine, returned to the Ford Motor Company in 1978 and on display, and the helicopter which carried Mr. and Mrs. Nixon off the White House lawn after he quit in 1974.

The Nixon presidency, which lasted just over five years, had better moments, and those, too, are featured. The President’s May 24, 1973, dinner for U.S. prisoners of war back home from North Vietnam was at that point the largest sit-down dinner at the White House. There were hundreds of liberated POWs and their families. According to this exhibit, one guest, actor John Wayne, simply said, “Thank you, Mr. President. Not for any one thing. Just for everything.” Composer Irving Berlin led the guests in singing his song, “God Bless America.” And the Vietnam War soldiers are well-remembered; one section shows that Commander Eugene G. “Red” McDaniel took 900 lashes with a fanbelt over 15 days and was forced by the Communists to hold his broken arm over his head for five days. Asked, during these torture sessions, for military information, he replied again and again: “Shove it.” Another prisoner was hung by his broken arm until he agreed to a staged propaganda meeting with the anti-war activist Ramsey Clark. Upon returning from his “fact-finding” visit, Clark assured Congress that American prisoners were being well treated. Yet another soldier had an arm and a leg broken for refusing to meet with Hippie activist Jane Fonda during her propaganda visit to enemy territory in Hanoi, North Vietnam. She later branded those who claimed they were being tortured as “liars.” During the visit to this section, I met two Army soldiers visiting the museum in uniform (the museum offers a discount for those in active military service). One soldier told me that he’d worn a POW bracelet for a friend who never came back from North Vietnam.

Areas include Pat Nixon, Ambassador of Goodwill, a tribute to Mr. Nixon’s wife. A domestic policy section shows that President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, signed the enviromentalist Clean Air Act of 1970 and proposed new programs in socialized medicine in 1971. I didn’t see references to his other, numerous acts of anti-capitalism, whether wage and price controls, which were devastating to the economy, his racial quotas and special government programs based on race, or his abandoning the gold standard. There is a brief reference without name to his infamous compromise with Sen. Edward Kennedy, the HMO Act of 1973, described here as “promoting development [by force] of health maintenance organizations, arrangements that stressed keeping people well at lower overall costs than simply treating them once they are sick.” What a nice, if misleading, definition of the government intervention that distorted an already half-socialized medical profession and arguably drove the nail into the coffin of free choice in medicine. Other items on display include a letter to President Nixon from baseball player Jackie Robinson in favor of government-controlled public school transportation based on race. On the other side of the glass case: a handwritten note signed by Elvis, sent via Sen. George Murphy, to Mr. Nixon offering help with the Nixon administration’s so-called war on drugs (the penmanship is shaky at best). Around a few corners is an obsequiously inscribed edition of Profiles in Courage, given to then-Vice-President Nixon in 1956. It reads: “To Dick Nixon with the highest regards of his friend Jack Kennedy.”

The helicopter is located far from the museum, behind the house, and there are few if any signs on the property to help visitors navigate the grounds. A tour guide instructed us that the Sikorsky flying machine was manned by a crew of three: the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. The all-original interior features shag carpeting, with olive green and gold seat fabrics, and it was known as Army One when the President was on board, including the day he and Pat Nixon left the White House to President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

But long before he left the White House in disgrace, having imposed major new government controls, lowered the voting age and ended the military draft, Richard Nixon had been a promising young lawyer, anti-Communist legislator and statesman and a visit to his birthplace traces his entire lifetime. The Nixon family had moved from Yorba Linda, California, where the home, library and museum are located, to Whittier, California, in 1922. Mr. Nixon wrote: “Three words describe my life in Whittier: family, church and school.” He grew up talking about politics around the dinner table and he survived two brothers (four Nixon boys shared one small bedroom in the 900-square foot house) who prematurely died. He was on the basketball and football teams at Whittier College, too.

In college, Richard Nixon, a pragmatist with a Puritanical streak, wrote an essay titled “The Philosophy of Christian Reconstruction” that offers a preview of his political philosophy in practice: “The most useful discovery I have made has been that the religion of Jesus is not an entirely personal and selfish religion but that it is a great pattern for social reconstruction. I feel that through the applications of Christian democracy to society the problems which seem insurmountable today can be solved…I have as my ideal the life of Jesus. I know that the social system which He suggested would be a great boon to the world. I believe that His system of values is unsurpassed. It shall be my purpose in life therefore to follow the religion of Jesus as well as I can. I feel that I must apply His principles to whatever profession I find myself attached.” In many ways, Mr. Nixon practiced what he preached.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and on 
Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm and is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Update: 2012 Republicans

As an advocate for secular republicanism, none of the 2012 presidential candidates are acceptable. Each candidate, including the President, who has indicated that he intends to run for re-election, fails to grasp, ignores, or explicitly opposes individual rights, capitalism and a rational foreign and domestic policy. But, unless we suffer a catastrophic attack or descend into anarchy or civil war before November of 2012, someone will be elected president of the United States. So, after watching tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, sponsored by the generic Cable News Network (CNN), with its snickering media celebrity moderator, Anderson Cooper, I’ve decided to update my take on the 2012 Republicans. My criteria for serious candidates: who will be the least opposed to individual rights?

My first summary was posted in August, before businessman Herman Cain was a factor in the campaign. Whatever the merits of Mr. Cain’s candidacy, and I have reached out to his campaign and requested an interview with the talk radio host, he is defined by his 9-9-9 tax reform plan and I must say those three digits represent a more honest effort at solving the nation’s urgent and severe economic problems than all three years of the Obama administration’s schemes combined. From my perspective, he is certainly flawed and he makes mistakes. I’m reading his new book, This is Herman Cain! but I already know that he opposes a woman’s right to an abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and he supported government controls of economics such as the Bush administration’s so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other interventions. He has praised former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, serious errors in judgment, and in tonight’s debate he made a Main Street vs. Wall Street distinction which evokes class warfare, pitches a false dichotomy (which an opponent exploited in reply) and alienates potential donors. The populist line diminishes the record of achievements in Mr. Cain’s business and government experience when he ought to be demonstrating an understanding of finance and economics and proving that he’s capable of defending Wall Street (and capitalism) against New Leftists. Herman Cain should ditch the Main Street vs. Wall Street differentiation and proudly wear the pro-capitalist badge, which fits his ‘happy warrior’ persona. Mr. Cain is generally pro-capitalist, as far as he understands capitalism, and he’s apparently decent on foreign policy. He is also gaining experience in campaigning. When he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier today that he would consider trading so-called hostages for Islamic combatants, he took it back in a post-debate interview on the same network. This candor is what propels Herman Cain, whom polls show is within striking distance of presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney and capable of winning victory over Barack Obama. Despite his drawbacks, and because he seems sincerely committed to fighting jihadist Islam and repealing ObamaCare, I might vote for Herman Cain.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a conservative religionist first elected in the wake of the defeat of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, serves a constructive function in the debates as foil to major candidates. He has some good lines, especially on Iran and jihadism, and he once advocated Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) but otherwise his record is abysmal on rights and capitalism and he insists that the nation is based on faith, family and tradition, so he is an advocate of theocracy and deserves no further consideration. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who adopts a kind of robotic approach to public speaking, has the same problem. She’s good on certain issues, such as her steadfast opposition to socialized medicine (ObamaCare), but she does not follow reason. Like Santorum, and all the major candidates (including Obama), she has no consistent, coherent political philosophy and she take facts on faith. Bachmann’s thinking is seriously impaired. Ditto for Newt Gingrich, a true has-been legislator with a bankrupt philosophy whose time came and went with not a single major accomplishment; as Speaker of the House following an historic House victory after Americans roundly rejected the Clinton health care plan in 1994, Gingrich, heavily hyped by conservatives and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, fully squandered the opportunity to slay Big Government. Mitt Romney was right to point out in the debate Gingrich’s hypocrisy on health care reform, as Gingrich has consistently supported and advanced government intervention in medicine. The narcissistic Baby Boomer, another conservative religionist who proposed faith and prayer as the primary presidential prerequisite in tonight’s debate, is not to be trusted to do anything positive.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who prays and deprives himself of food as a means of governing, is a bully and it showed in the debate. He was shockingly condescending to Mr. Cain, belligerent to others, and I don’t have much to add to what I said about him in August. He is the most anti-intellectual candidate. His sparring partner, Mitt Romney, is a slick, pompous fraud who enacted the earliest incarnation of ObamaCare with the conservative Heritage Foundation, as I have pointed out on my blog (and as early as 2007 in a response to health policy analyst John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). It’s obvious that President Obama is destroying America. But Mitt Romney is not an advocate of capitalism. Speaking of going from bad to worse, there’s Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a rambling, anti-war, Christian libertarian who could win the election and ruin the country. Paul (and his son Rand) seeks to appease the nation’s jihadist enemy and combine the worst elements of various philosophies including the New Left, libertarianism and conservatism. He’s an anti-war hippie, an anti-American appeaser, an anti-abortion rights, anti-Israel, anti-capitalism mongrel mixture of nearly every rotten idea in the last century. His protege, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whom I interviewed earlier this year, might be better, because he’s apparently a secular candidate for more capitalism, but he, too, goes batty on the issue of the war.

With maneuvering by states for early primaries, and widespread dissatisfaction among Republicans with the media, the establishment and the pre-ordained candidates, I think the campaign is active and wide open and, while I am not a political scientist, I see that it is possible under certain scenarios that the Grand Old Party’s nomination may go to the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. These are ominous times and anything can happen: economic collapse, foreign invasion, catastrophic attack, assassination, dropouts, third party candidacies, backroom deals and more. The outcome of the 2012 presidential election will affect the nation at a crucial point in our history and the current field of Republican candidates offers more of the same failed policies and ideals. They are all contaminated and stained with the residue of a bankrupt philosophy, a stew of contradictory ideas, based on bad premises such as altruism and collectivism. Individually, most of the candidates do not think clearly, and whatever decent positions they hold are meaningless because they may be misapplied, tossed aside at the first test of reality, or abandoned in the name of faith, feelings or the spur of the moment. The GOP candidates do not offer what we desperately need: a consistent, bold and realistic vision for achieving a secular republic based on individual rights.