Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Choice

Time to make up my mind about who I want for president and I’ve narrowed it down to two. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter drove himself from Manchester to Conway while campaigning in New Hampshire last week. He was doing the best he could with his limited budget and staff. A few days later, former Republican governor Mitt Romney came to Conway with his driver. Two advance men were at The Conway Daily Sun (one of the papers running my column) when I arrived last Saturday morning, twenty minutes early for the interview by the Sun’s editorial board. It’s an example of what it’s like for Hunter as a back-of-the-pack candidate. Romney is among the leaders.

Hunter answers questions with a yes or a no, then explains his position. I interviewed him over the phone last July for the web site Family Security Matters. He knows what he thinks and I agree with him on nearly every issue. He’s is a conservative and always has been - no question about that. I also agree with Romney on nearly every issue, but on some issues important for a conservative like myself, he’s only recently come to the right. Abortion, illegal immigration and gay “marriage” are the biggest examples. That troubles me about Romney just as it does many conservatives when deciding who to support. Then I consider how I’ve moved right myself over the years. I’m an unwavering conservative now, but who am I to doubt Romney? Perhaps it’s an advantage to know how the other side thinks so as to be able to work with them when hammering out deals in congress? On the other hand, having a president whose conservative principles are bred in the bone the way Hunter’s are is comforting, especially after seeing what President George W. Bush has done with the growth of government and illegal immigration.

Hunter is a former soldier. He served two combat tours in Vietnam jumping out of helicopters. He’s served on the House Armed Services Committee for twenty-two years. When Republicans controlled the House, he was chairman. We’re at war and will continue to be for the foreseeable future and we need experience like his. Hunter’s son served three terms in Iraq as a Marine. There’s little question that Hunter would make an effective commander-in-chief. Romney’s military background? He doesn’t have any. That doesn’t disqualify him, but it’s a weakness if you’re going to lead a country in wartime. As governor of Massachusetts, he ordered the state police not to guard former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, a supporter of Islamic terrorism, when Harvard foolishly invited him to speak in Cambridge. Good move, but that’s about the extent of Romney’s foreign policy experience.

Hunter has a determination about him that shows in his face and in his manner. He looks like a warrior. Romney looks like he was sent over by central casting. That can be an advantage, but it can also be off-putting. Hunter has little administrative experience except as a junior officer in the army. He’s a legislator. Romney, however, has had vast experience as a business executive, running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and as governor of Massachusetts. In all three capacities, he’s been extremely effective. This is a clear advantage for Romney because the president is, after all, the chief executive.

Both men speak well. Hunter is direct. Romney is smooth. Each has his strength and we’ve seen how important communication skills are over the past seven years by observing George W. Bush’s lack of them. The president of the United States leads the most powerful country in history and is a major world leader as well. It’s important for him to explain things to the American people and encourage them to follow his lead during troubled times. Watching President Bush trip over his words when he wasn’t reading from a script has been embarrassing at times. Both Hunter and Romney would be improvements, but again, Romney has an advantage here as well.

There are more candidates in this presidential election than I can remember in my lifetime and I’ve been voting for thirty-five years. It’s also been one of longest elections in our history and it’s still almost a year away. We’ve seen and heard commercials and debates by candidates for both parties, so there’s been ample opportunity for us to make up our minds about whose name to put a check next to. I’ve had the opportunity to personally speak to and ask questions of six - four Republicans and two Democrats. All are good at relating to people. I’m finally mature enough to realize that I’ll never find a perfect candidate on everything. Each is flawed in some way just as we all are.

Though Hunter is the most conservative candidate and a good, courageous man as well, would I be wasting my vote for someone who has never risen above the low single digits in opinion polls? Shouldn’t I vote for Romney and help him get by Huckabee, McCain, Giuliani and Thompson who are leading the pack? Maybe, but there’s only one poll that really matters - the one in the voting booth. If I don’t vote for the man I believe would make the best president, wouldn’t I be further corrupting the process? Each of us had to use his brain and his gut to determine whom to vote for. I have. Maybe I’m a sucker the underdog, but I’m voting for Duncan Hunter. I urge you to do the same.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bethlehem, Then and Now

Political Poster in Bethlehem

The Bethlehem of 2007 years ago when Jesus Christ was born bears little resemblance to the Bethlehem of 2007, which I visited last May. Or does it?

Growing up in New England - land of the white Christmas, I sang carols in the snow outside my neighbors’ houses. I got cards with shepherds, Persian kings and manger scenes depicting that first Christmas in Bethlehem. How authentic were those images? That’s hard to say, but they were imprinted in my imagination nonetheless, just as they were for millions of others. Bethlehem in 2007, however, didn’t look anything like that.

It’s is a depressing place - literally walled off from greater Jerusalem where I was staying. The wall is about 20 feet high with barbed wire above that. It’s black and ominous with guard towers at regular intervals. From the bus window, I saw it snake down the valley and over the hill in the distance as we inched up toward the security checkpoint. Graffiti, including a large lion devouring a dove, were painted on the wall. The message was anything but “Peace on Earth” or “Good will to men” as we entered the “little town of Bethlehem.” Administered by the Palestinian Authority, Israelis are not welcome there. Tourists are allowed only if guided by Palestinians, which we were. Our bus driver and our guide were Palestinian Christians - a dwindling minority in Bethlehem after comprising the majority for centuries. That’s because the Palestinian Authority is made up of radical Muslims intolerant of other religions. Christians are ruthlessly harassed and are moving away in great numbers. If present trends continue, there won’t be any more Christians in Bethlehem before long.

Inside Bethlehem were overflowing dumpsters and graffiti on the ground-level walls of nearly every building down the main road through town. Men - young, old and middle-aged - loitered on street corners and stairs and smoked. Nearly every one had a cigarette going. Aside from cab drivers and waiters at the restaurants where we ate, I saw no one working, though there was obviously plenty to do just cleaning up trash. There were posters of the late scumbag terrorist Yassir Arafat and, here and there, posters of Hamas terrorists holding AK-47s. The approach to “Shepherd’s Cave” where the carols proclaim that “shepherds watched their flocks by night,” was lined with barbed wire. The bathrooms had no water and the cave entrance, which had been a natural limestone formation, was bricked up with bars on windows. The site of the manger is now inside the Church of the Nativity, which was occupied by Palestinian Muslim terrorists for over a month in 2002. They urinated on the floor, set an adjacent Franciscan study afire, and a statue of Mary was hit by a bullet. Israeli security forces had come to arrest them, so they holed up in the Church of the Nativity and effectively held the holy Christian shrine hostage. The terrorists threatened to blow up the church, which is the oldest in Christendom, unless the Israelis withdrew. The siege broke when Israelis did withdraw and terrorists melted back into Bethlehem’s population.

No. Today’s Bethlehem bears little resemblance to the Christmas cards. Thinking about this for the past few months as Christmas approaches for the the 2007th time, I’m realizing that the Israel Jesus was born into was full of conflict too. Romans occupied it and the Jewish king Herod, who the Romans allowed to stay in power, was no prize. Was he as bad as Arafat? A case could be made. He ordered the slaughter of every male infant in Bethlehem after hearing that a king had been born there. Hamas? Yeah, they’re terrorist scumbags too. They’re rocketing Israel every day from the Gaza strip. When I was there, Hamas and Fatah (considered the “good” Palestinian terrorists by President Bush) were killing each other. During Christ’s time, Jews were chafing under Roman rule. Some kissed up to the Romans while others conducted hit-and-run attacks against them. Romans practiced pagan rituals which were insulting to pious Jews. There was religious and political violence aplenty. John the Baptist was later beheaded by Herod’s son and his cousin, Jesus, was crucified by the Romans after being set up by some Jewish religious leaders.

Though it doesn’t resemble the Christmas cards, the Israel Jesus was born into 2007 years ago wasn’t too awfully different from the country I visited. Political and religious conflict - which were often the same thing, then and now - were either playing out in violence or brewing under the surface waiting to erupt again. Shortly after Jesus Christ’s time, there was a large-scale Jewish revolt. Romans slaughtered a million Jews, destroyed their temple, and scattered the rest in the Great Diaspora. Two thousand years later Israel exists again, but for how long?

One in five people on earth believe the most important lifetime in history began in Bethlehem and ended eight miles away in Jerusalem - so important that we measure time according to what happened before it and what happened after it. Though many try to obsure this by calling our time the “Common Era,” we know that it’s 2007 AD - Anno Domini - the “Year of Our Lord.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is a generally unsavory principle I use as a history teacher to explain why our country has associated with scumbags at various times. Practical politics dictate that it’s sometimes necessary to do business with a person, a group, or a country with whom we would never associate otherwise. When at war with Hitler’s Germany, for example, we sent military aid to Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union - a country which had murdered more people than the Nazis. We helped Saddam Hussein when he was at war with Iran and we helped the “Mujahideen” who were allied with Osama Bin Laden’s cause when they were at war with the Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan. My students grasp the realpolitik behind those unfortunate alliances as a “lesser of two evils” thing. Once our common enemies were vanquished, alliances ended.

Lately, I’ve been using the principle to shed light on the unlikely alliance between the Western political left and Islamofascism. Who could have predicted that leftists, whose most cherished causes include women’s rights, homosexual rights, abortion and pacifism, would be apologists for Islamofascists who are against them all? There’s only one explanation: they both hate Western Civilization and the United States as its epitome. They have a common enemy and it’s us. Islamofascists call us “The Great Satan” and the left calls us “The Evil White Patriarchy.” Islamofascists see us, correctly, as the biggest obstacle to achieving their goals of converting everyone in the world to Islam, restoring the Caliphate, and the universal application of Islamic law - Sharia. Leftists see us, also correctly, as the biggest obstacle to achieving their goals of one-world-government socialism with taxpayer-funded healthcare including abortions, homosexual marriage, and state-mandated multiculturalism.

For example, the liberal ladies on “The View” declined to criticize Sudan for arresting British school teacher Gillian Gibbons whose class named a teddy bear “Muhammad,” even when she was about to get forty lashes and Muslim mobs were literally calling for her head. Co-host Sherri Shepherd said, “. . . you would think that with her being in Sudan, she would know the rules and customs . . .” whereupon Whoopi Goldberg responded, “ . . . you’d think if you were going overseas [you’d be] learning the customs and knowing what is cool and what isn’t cool . . . It’s just one of the reasons we’re called the ugly Americans.” The National Organization for Women declined comment entirely.

Leftists who dominate our universities act as apologists for bizarre Islamofascist practices like female genital mutilation. Referring to a debate at the American Anthropological Society’s Annual Meeting, a New York Times article asks: “Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?” Hey, maybe it’s okay to snip off a girl’s clitoris, right? What do you think Whoopi? Sherri? Barbara? Let’s hear your views. I’d even listen to Rosie O’Donnell on this one.

How about 200 lashes for the victim of a gang rape in Saudi Arabia? You read that right - the victim. She was raped 14 times by seven men, but she was guilty of getting into a car with a man who was not her relative. Can’t have that.

How about Muslim “honor killings”? In certain Muslim communities, a young woman may be killed by her brothers or her father if she “dishonors” her family by having sex with someone not her husband, even if she’s raped - even if the rapist is one of her brothers. I’m not making this up. This would be an “honor killing” and it’s practiced not only in Muslim countries, but in expatriate Muslim communities in Europe and the United States as well. Occasionally, feminist groups have condemned the practice, but when scholars are invited to college campuses to discuss it, they’re shouted down and accused of “hate speech.” Often discussion of such horrible Islamofascist practices (be warned: this link is disturbing) is banned altogether at our universities because talking about them may be offensive to Muslims. Women’s Studies Departments virtually ignore them.

Then there’s the execution of homosexuals. Records are scant, but some claim reports of 200 to 4000 killed in Iran since the Ayatollahs took over, which could be why Ahmadinejad claimed there were none in his country when he spoke at Columbia recently. Why don't homosexual activists and other leftists protest? Heck, Columbia University won't let our military on campus because of “Don’t Ask - Don’t Tell” but they invite a leader of a country that kills them? Doesn’t make sense unless you apply “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” principle. Both hate America, therefore they’re on the same side.

The only other explanation is that the American and European left is too cowardly to criticize Islamofascists because, unlike Americans, they don’t tolerate criticism. They kill you. It's okay to throw the Eucharist on the floor at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but stay away from mosques. Boy Scouts don’t want homosexual leaders in their tents on camping trips? Go after them. Leave Islamofascists alone.