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Michael Ubaldi, April 28, 2013.

Danny O'Brien alerted me to this article by David Patten.

I'm a former student of Patten's (7th-8th grade, early 1990s). Patten was and remains sui generis among my K-12 teachers: no one was as boldly unorthodox as he, nor as effective.

Upon meeting our class that first August, Patten asked if we students wished to be treated as adults, thus entering a contract of mutual expectations (toward the end of that school year, my misbehaving class regrettably defaulted). Then he issued us each a curriculum-advised history book; to be returned in June, never purposefully opened. Finally, he handed out the beginning of a torrent of his own, hand-typed, meticulous, all-caps outlines.

It was from these stapled Xeroxes that my classmates and I learned the events, locations, actors and concepts deciding American history. We took tests, of course — but they were to affirm receiving the knowledge impossible to have been prepared by someone other than the whip-smart man in the three-piece suits.

My only regret is that I was, despite "advanced" academic standing, too young to fully appreciate the course — that I daydreamed so much. Where else can an early adolescent be invited to study Colonial precepts for revolution so as to argue — and win — against them in a debate? Or have historical trivia slowly revealed as the latticework of a people and nation? Surely not under the centripetal dictates of
"proficiency testing."

On occasion Patten courteously referenced "Firing Line," the political-discussion television program hosted by the late William F. Buckley, Jr. Of teaching, Buckley once wrote, "The trouble with the search for quality is that if you discover it, at the same time you discover that which is not it." Would that American education had tried to make a hundred-thousand Pattens, but Patten and the few others like him are exceptional, perfecting their craft in spite of convention — and that isn't how top-down works.

Michael Ubaldi, August 8, 2012.

"Obama's numbers," writes Peter Kirsanow, "consistently — stubbornly — crest below 50 percent."

Romney's doing fine — and I offer that atop a history of harshly criticizing the former governor.

The novelty and anticipation lifting Obama to victory four years ago have expired. Economic success has eluded him: all parallels to Bill Clinton end there. Strikingly, the president hasn't offered any redefinition of his platform; nor has he promised anything new. It has the effect of mitigating the weakness of Romney's round-edged political values. That could be electoral resignation in the air; or maybe annoyance instead. Obama's message has the cadence of a contractor who's behind schedule and over budget — you can't hate the guy, but you're not sure how much longer you want to deal with him.

Michael Ubaldi, October 12, 2011.

I hadn't tuned into a presidential debate before last night's, and just as well. For the first time this political season, hopefuls would stop burnishing their personal credentials as if through a storm door, and wrestle over a single topic. Maybe sincerely? Even better, the evening progressed as not so much a scrimmage between candidates as it did an ideological siege waged — and, in vain, lifted — by three liberal journalists.

Herman Cain, vanguard, set a good rhythm. Asked by moderator Charlie Rose how he would repair economic distress, he didn't a) thank anybody or b) revert to backstage handling. Cain identified two points in his sketchbook plan, explained them, and finished well before the end of his 60 seconds allotted. The pizza mogul stands apart from the bunch; whereas the waspish Rick Santorum had to remind everyone, including himself, that he grew up in a steel town, Cain sweat blue-collar tenacity all night. There are limitations. In defense of his "9-9-9" tax plan, he showed the pat deference of a board chairman unveiling what the boys in the lab cooked up. But Cain says things like "the capital gains tax is a big wall between people with ideas and people with money" without blinking, and no one else does that.

Karen Tumulty, whose face requires twice the anatomical standard of muscles to smile, turned to Michelle Bachmann and asked the first of half a dozen loaded questions: Congresswoman, after confirming my anthropomorphization of Wall Street as a pinky-ringed, comic-book supervillain, for whom on the trading floor would you issue summary arrests? Bachmann could have satisfied honor simply by noting that punishments need crimes, thank you and good night. But she continued, delivering a confutation on the order of Robert L. Bartley's most indignant editorials from back in the Aughts. Bachmann is widely disparaged in secondhand accounts, but to hear the woman speak you have got to wonder if anyone listens to what she says, instead waiting for whatever is easily construed as kooky.

No other description can be offered for Julianna Goldman but dully tendentious. Before, however, going on to accuse Cain of raising grocery prices, apparently because payroll, property and income taxes are invisible and painless, she drew out the Mitt Romney we all know and dread. What would you do differently than what President Bush, Henry Paulson, and Ben Bernanke did in 2008? Well, you're talking about a scenario that's obviously very difficult to imagine. If we go to the movies on Friday, Mitt, would you like extra butter on your popcorn? I'm afraid it is a hypothetical. Good Lord.

After the first commercial break, Rose and company took a clip of Ronald Reagan's coaxed August 1982 appeal for higher marginal income tax rates, and then wheeled it at Romney like a ballista. And missed. Romney is a nimble polemicist, exhibiting the perfectly adversarial combination of confidence and thin skin. But nothing has changed in three years. The former governor speaks not of methodology. He prefers process: Romney will tell you how he will accomplish what he can't discuss at the present time. The man should be in the running for dean of a school of business management.

What kind of alchemy might marry Rick Perry's directorial acumen to Romney's hardnosed percepts? None in sight, apparently, as Perry began as insistent about, then grew to weirdly preoccupied with, an energy policy or something or other. Now, this Texan isn't George W. Bush. When challenged directly, even unfairly, Perry was commanding and fluent. When David Cote of Honeywell and Simpsons-Bowles appeared in a whirl of self-importance, all present mercifully ignored his question — What would the architecture of your collectivist, "competitive agenda" look like? — before Perry answered it indirectly by calling the states "fifty laboratories of innovation." If only all of his campaign's wires were connected.

And so it continued. The superfluous candidates, this time, contributed mightily — most of all Newt Gingrich, who should be allowed to pretend to run for president every four years. Mostly old and white, the Republicans became energetic when asked how they would welcome back free enterprise; so different from the aging philosophy across the table. Rose and Tumulty remained monophonic, Goldman's youth ironic in her embrace of the démodé. Charlie pronounced "LinkedIn" as "link-uh-din." GOP partisans may have watched a horserace, but as Cain said, "the problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect."

Michael Ubaldi, August 23, 2011.

Thank Barack Obama for making 2012's presidential election a genuine referendum on federal polity and the course of our nation.

In select quarters, the White House is exculpated for everything save pushing Keynesian machinations hard enough. An old college acquaintance of mine recently celebrated a claim by The New Republic that public indebtedness is George W. Bush's doing. This was hilariously depicted by dueling, striated bars in which eight years of Forty-Three were compared to three years, plus an imaginary second term, of Forty-Four. "The Bush Tax Cuts" constituted a third of Bush's rectilinear offenses, but appeared nowhere in Obama's, presumably because a) times are tough for even the sinfully wealthy, and b) Obama will be coming for that money retroactively. I do not discuss politics with my liberal friends.

For the rest of the country, the president has disappointed by emerging to assume power and repel adversity, but instead inviting a whole hell of a lot more of it. Gallup shows 53 percent down to 40 percent up; Rasmussen shows 55-to-45, plus a side-by-side comparison of the most extreme ends of the spectrum, which currently tilts pollice verso, 2-to-1.

I maintain that talk of intractably weak markets and employment is quackery on the order of physicians applying leeches to flu patients. The moment businesses aren't terrified of Washington, they will profitably risk once again. But — for the next thirteen months, at least — quackery remains popular practice. The kind of economic setting that buoyed Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and even Ronald Reagan isn't likely. Republicans have the rare opportunity among politicians to campaign when hyperbole reflects daily life.

What we are doing a lot is supplicating, which the elected class can overhear. Michele Bachmann's land of milk and honey pumps gas at two dollars a gallon. Before the congresswoman made her eudaemonic promise she struck me as a born-for-television conservative and counterpart, in executive inexperience, to Barack Obama. Staff is only distantly akin to country in terms of management. But she said what she did, and I still think: Why not?

Every ten years we realize liberals warned us oil exploration wouldn't pay off for ten years; about four decades have passed since the petroleum industry didn't face daily harassment. Scorn for Bachmann is unfair, too, in consideration. Fantastic means shouldn't shock: aren't motorists coaxed to purchase expensive electrical cars they don't want because, heroically, men walked on the moon? And besides, the current presidency's foundation isn't even corporal. Do you know the odds on "winning the future"?

Bachmann distinguished herself from four-fifths of the GOP field by bursting from the stasis of political life: if the district or state is secure, there is no layoff, no market-spoiled nest egg, and you may proceed as normal. Messrs. Pawlenty, Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Huntsman tied Bachmann's Iowa straw poll only when combined because these men, however laudable their positions or platforms, could be transplanted to any other contest along four-year intervals, as if the advantage of "generic Republican" were taken literally. Would any of them perform better than Obama? Almost certainly, but none of them has quite contrasted their would-be term with the president's along the lines most important to voters. American business will not recover because you abhor Iranian nukes and oppose abortion. Ron Paul understands this, but is not electable; Rick Perry understands, too, and is.

"It's time to get America working again," Perry says. Think him facile or trite, one-fifth of the labor force is either standing on the curb or, for half-pay, sweeping it — exactly where they were in 2009. Whereas his predecessor was merely terse, the man has the gift of cogency. Three guiding principles, shown off at a recent speech in Austin: "We didn't spend all the money," "We kept taxes as low as we could on job-creators," and "We had a regulatory climate that did not stifle jobs — and was predictable."

That addendum is poignant: the private sector fears the Obama administration as a front for predatory caprice. Will the president anathematize you as he did the oil or jet industries? Or will he quietly dispatch a czar? Campaign contributions now look like Danegeld: Barack got your money but he might be coming for you, anyway. Bill Clinton might've gotten away with looks askance, but those were headier days. The current president was named to solve a crisis yet unabated, and which by all appearances will worsen — even the well protected have reason to worry.

Perhaps they'll telephone some Lone Star colleagues. "The truth of the matter is this," said Perry. "Texas has been the engine of job growth." This governor will lay his portfolio alongside Obama's, and we already know that Americans are still in search of someone capable of a turnaround.

Michael Ubaldi, July 1, 2011.

Deliberation, debate, whatever, the Supreme Court finally concluded and ruled 7-2 last Monday to uphold the decision of the Ninth Circuit that video games enjoy broad protection under the First Amendment. The preceding decade, instantly, becomes a discrete block on a historical timeline: an interregnum of legislative roving in the absence of constitutional certitude. As expected, California's Leland Yee — catalyst for the legal kinetics ending in Washington — aspersed, Wal-Mart this and corporate interests that. The eleven state attorneys general sending along an amicus brief might insist, We only wanted to do good, but that will be their last quote on the subject for a generation.

Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by four of his colleagues. Samuel Alito arrived in concurrence by parallel conclusions, joined by John Roberts. Clarence Thomas refused to accept the premise on which the majority rested, delivered in the studious idiom that is his. Stephen Breyer dissented, too, in what can be defined better as a proclivity.

The majority's point was made evenly: 1) video games are considered protected speech, and even Yee agrees; 2) precedent insulates the principle of free expression against confusion from all the modalities proffered by science; and 3) to those ends, simulations of violence in video games cannot be transposed to either actual violence or sexual obscenity, both of which may otherwise be regulated. "[S]peech about violence is not obscene," and thus the state has no place to proscribe it — not for children, not for anyone.

Alito and Roberts targeted expansiveness. Prohibitions, they warned, ought be plain to the least common denominator. Obscenity, a belligerent near enough to free speech to require a cordon sanitaire, requires Miller v. California's test to be identified — patent offense to prevailing standards, lacking merit of any kind, serving only a prurient interest. The problem is that you or I can truncate for the sake of conversation, but the legislature cannot. "The terms 'deviant' and 'morbid,'" Alito probed, "are not defined in the statute, and California offers no reason to think that its courts would give the terms anything other than their ordinary meaning." Yee's bill wasn't law; it was an incantation studded with magic words.

Then there is the matter of why violence is not implicitly poisonous to the mind. "Although our society does not generally regard all depictions of violence as suitable for children or adolescents, the prevalence of violent depictions in children's literature and entertainment creates numerous opportunities for reasonable people to disagree about which depictions may excite 'deviant' or 'morbid' impulses." Why do networks omit a film's sex scenes but pick shootouts for the teaser played a week in advance? . . . if you have to ask, reassess the obvious.

Thomas dissented because his reading of the Constitution yields nothing to guarantee communication with young people. "The historical evidence shows that the founding generation believed parents had absolute authority over their minor children," he wrote. "It would be absurd to suggest that such a society understood 'the freedom of speech' to include a right to speak to minors." But as Thomas contemplated the world producing the central document, he appeared to conflate mores with deliberate legislative intent.

After all, if citizens under the age of twenty during the late eighteenth century lacked exposure to forms of expression, couldn't it have been due to, say, the absence of such? What percentage of colonial children and teenagers were literate? Of those who could read, outside of schooling, how many libraries were within their reach? What speech was madly trying to get at them? Mass-media amenities — radio, periodicals, film, television and the internet — have enjoyed an acceptance in American households nearing ubiquity. Thomas would have us believe that this is so, and responsible parents allow their children to use the computer or watch TV, because it hasn't been outlawed there yet. "[I]t does not follow," the majority added in footnote, "that the state has the power to prevent children from hearing or saying anything without their parents' prior consent."

Breyer's claims are perhaps more readily apprehended if you simply climb the legal scaffolding and grasp the shaky, arbitrary conclusion behind it. "In my view, California's statute provides 'fair notice of what is prohibited.'" Right off the rails and into the determination of exactly how and where violence "causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors."

Is there any title, past or present, that could be identified to, like pornography, serve only a specific biological appetite? Now, if we all know the meaning of "titillate," we may also wish to consider that we frame compulsions for violence in terms of concupiscence (hence the distinction in law) or hunger (tellingly nonsensical). But say there was such a game, on which Yee and I could agree. All right: where is the state's compelling interest to keep it away from a 15-year-old? Whatever research Breyer adduced, the majority noted, most of it is external to the case — but not least, in Breyer's own words, "Experts debate the conclusions of all these studies." Then where in the world is the rush?

One thought arising from the jurisprudential finality: what new medium, what novel pique of culture, will be pursued next? If it's inevitable, a second thought should calm: law and constitution have yet another precedent.

Michael Ubaldi, November 11, 2010.

In a banana republic, last Tuesday's election results would be considered a rising up. Fitting for Barack Obama, who turns out to be a banana republic kind of president. Note the man's very public correction of a very public statement made in front of the weirdly ethnically discrete audience Democrats seem to prefer: Obama conceded he "shouldn't have" described Republicans as "enemies," not that he hadn't meant to.

A chief executive personally and politically incompatible with America today, at half-steam and listing, isn't lost on voters. The electorate conferred a mandate in one chamber of Congress to a centennially large number of freshmen in a party flatly opposed to the president on all matters save, perhaps, pardons for would-be Thanksgiving turkeys.

What to do with that permission? Begin with examining polling data borne out by cast ballots. Nothing philosophically profound occurred this past week; Republicans cleaved to their candidates and Democrats, to theirs. Independent voters, on the other hand, heavily favored the respective Republican — not on account of party but because he wasn't the incumbent who had supported policies failing their 18-month trial. In my local precinct during Ohio's May primary, I overheard a man echoing the unaffiliated voter's protest: less passionate than pragmatic, less equanimous than agnostic.

Democratic ballot or Republican? The man had selected the former last time. Which one now? He reflected. He wasn't really a Democrat in the first place, nor did he care for the party's performance so far. "I figure I ought to give the other guys a chance," he shrugged, and six months later was joined in spirit by several million of his fellows, delivering John Boehner to congressional primacy and Nancy Pelosi to ranks of emeritus, pending.

Affirmation notwithstanding, we do not see minted Republicans having emerged: this general election was on the order of a motorist driving an elbow through his car's rear-passenger window because the keys are inside and it's late outside. Don't care what, goes the sentiment in operation here, so long as it works. Military and psephological polemics of the last decade have been displaced by more to-the-point exchanges on how to keep the electric company from killing the lights. Are you unemployed? You are hardly alone, nor will your status become unique tomorrow or the week after. Are you employed? You may have developed a tic bringing your head around for over-shoulder glances.

Words flit in the national consciousness: economy, jobs, deficit, taxes, bipartisanship.

Gross domestic product growth remains languorous and, two years since presidential epiphany, cannot be imputed to a refractory period. Assertions from the White House and associates of "jobs created" are brummagem, reaching for totals incongruent with measurable figures of a) Americans without a paycheck or b) businesses willing to provide them with one. Handing somebody a sinecure in the Census Bureau, laying him off, penciling him back onto the payroll, then crossing his name off again creates two jobs and zero livelihoods. That is statistical alchemy.

Why aren't companies hiring? Read the president's teleprompter, mental or mechanical. We knew he wanted to "share the wealth." But Obama also warns that "at a certain point you've made enough money." Health insurance for everyone over every little thing costs money: if overhead for existing employees increases by 10 percent, allocations for new employees drop accordingly. Businesses not allergic to profit recognize wage inflation when semi-skilled factory workers demand what should be otherwise earned with a master's degree — but if they attempt to reduce liabilities, Obama is poised to enjoin. What about those cheap amenities from the Third World that increase discretionary income, or maybe free up capital for a startup? Leftist economics isn't for thinking that far ahead, and CEOs know it.

The deficit remains an abstraction in concept and a rhetorical yoke in practice. Could borrowing for federal extravagance result in a colossal default someday? Athens says Yes. What weighs the most in Washington's current budget? The 2009 Keynesian adventure ending as well as Robert Falcon Scott's 1911 Antarctic expedition. Is that worth prolonging? — OK, rhetorical question. What would close the rest of the gap? Money confiscated from private hands. Would a solvent government return its surpluses? Unlikely. So impelling taxpayers to sustain government spending that is a) ineffectual and b) perpetually excessive sounds like upending a freshwater lake to quench a volcano.

As for those taxpayers whom providence, heritage, skill and luck have left better endowed — why, again, is it advisable to deny them more cents on the dollar than others? Headlines today broadcast the president's accession — not assent — to prevent income tax rates for the federal governments underwriters from rising to the higher and arbitrary pegs they hung on before President Bush wrestled the Senate for it and won. There is nothing wholesome or productive about class warfare: even if it were any of our business, the rich (high income) and wealthy (immense worth) assist others with every purchase and investment. But why stop here? Lower rates; synchronize them; pursue a flat tax. If I want the income of a lawyer or a banker or a university chancellor, I ought not leverage the state to grab it in hopes that a few bills come within my reach, but go out and earn it myself.

So, then: with all the talk of cooperation, harmony could not be in any lesser repute. The American people seek results from someone, anyone. John Boehner et al. will not be forgiven for failure any more than they will for compromise. President Obama must know that a lot of buyers are fishing for their receipt, so he may try the steps of a president once removed. Bill Clinton is a good old boy, however, a kind of conservatism; and he held the office of governor in a southern state. Obama was an editor and a lecturer and community organizer, inarguably liberal semi-vocations. But he is welcome to try and go along with it.

Michael Ubaldi, April 27, 2010.

Stephen Hawking made his name talking cosmology to laymen. This weekend he made headlines with a pronouncement on xeno-sociology, which is on the order of Roger Ebert musing over technical details of digital film 50 years from now. In an episode of the upcoming Discovery Channel series Stephen Hawking's Universe, the theoretical physicist claims that Earth is best left blissfully ignorant of extra-terrestrials.

"We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet," says Hawking. "I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

What articles on Hawking don't say — perhaps discussed in the documentary — is that an unfriendly civilization would almost certainly be authoritarian.

Democratic post-industrial cultures unanimously lose interest in conquest. Where are the empires of Elizabeth and Napoleon? Divided and divested, turned over to the natives for better or worse. American manifest destiny stopped at the West Coast, and the United States' territories are welcome any day to set off on their own.

If we extend political constants to little green men several thousand light years away — and we may as well, already presuming expansionism — then the battleships swooping into orbit will only bear flags of a tyrant. One problem: we've watched the scientific potential of dictatorial societies level off. The old Second World hasn't beaten the First World to a significant invention since the middle of the Cold War. Beyond heavy machinery, information is the currency of progress, and in closed societies . . . well. Today's "developing countries" are relatively unstable, poor, squabbling states riding the technological coattails of the West. Sure, they manufacture and export a lot. But who taught them how to mass-produce?

What seems more plausible is that democratic powers — let alone dominant ones — are miraculous. If that is the case, then the majority of worlds inhabited by sentient beings wouldn't be Coruscants but instead far-flung, alien Africas — abject, stagnant and isolated sites of endless conflict. Terrible places to visit, but hardly a threat to us.

Could a liberal republic or federation of the stars succumb to rule by force? Possibly, although according to this line of thought, not by action of an external threat; and the deterioration resulting in a decline, not to mention the resources necessary to regulate an iron order, might lead to the abandonment of starflight and the same isolation of destitute worlds. Just how plausible is a galactic evil empire? We ought to be careful not to run away with the imagination of science fiction.

President Obama prepares us for another one of those years.
Michael Ubaldi, January 28, 2010.

What an oration that was; a cross between a Protestant sermon and a presentation before the board of directors. For ninety minutes it proceeded in a shuffle, unmusically, swinging from loftily austere to slangy, then disciplinarian, and then to mundane fact-studded stuff. Insofar as these yearly addresses register with the public, the president shouldn't suffer too badly from what early commentariat analyses measure to be a poor speech. But the country's appraisal, if gradual, is cumulative; and the White House's asseveration of statist economics, social engineering, and international mousiness foretell a year much like the last one. So you have to wonder what Mr. Obama will have left to say in 2011.

To his credit and that of his political strategists, the president chose to go long on employment and gross domestic product over the next four quarters — he did this because, right now, he can. Take pollster Scott Rasmussen, who made his name by predicting everything the right did not want to hear in 2006 and 2008. Consistently, Rasmussen's surveys show that 1) Mr. Obama profits from resentment of the Bush administration even though 2) White House policies diverge from the electorate's expectations, particularly because 3) most people still believe the president will fulfill public wishes. About three-fifths of respondents oppose the health care salient in Congress, another 60 percent would rather companies pay lower taxes to improve business, and only one-third is pleased with the country's direction. How many approve of the president? Statistically, almost no fewer than the majority that elected him.

From that came high-water marks. "The markets are now stabilized," and "the economy is growing again." The president wagers against backsliding, or else assumes that if the last threshold breached — 8 percent unemployment in lieu of the stimulus bill — made no difference to voters, another won't. As long as he is perceived as trying, read the polls, can anyone blame him?

President Obama's efforts will begin with giving to Paul from Peter what both Peter and Paul earned because Paul deserves it most. "Financing remains difficult," Obama chided, "for small business owners across the country, even those that are making a profit." Because? "Banks on Wall Street" are "mostly lending to bigger companies." Thus $30 billion of taxpayer take, a massive body of capital dwarfed to a starry pinpoint in the cosmic federal budget, will infuse the lending of "community banks." Perhaps the worst is over, as whatever artificially easing credit did to rive the market in 2008 no longer troubles the president.

Three other proposals were imitative of supply-siders: tax credits for small businesses that hire, capital gains holidays for small businesses, and incentives for companies to build plants and fill them with machinery. Woe to those not hiring or laying a new assembly line. Why not lower corporate rates, blind, and let those entrepreneurs and rainmakers figure the way out themselves? For the command economist, it's always contingent.

Characterizing the years 2000-2009 as "the lost decade" — the last twelve months slipped in as a lost year for handy exculpation — the president rhetorically put his hands on his knees. Please stand: China, India, Germany. "These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs." America, why can't you be like your little brother? China's leaden, dictatorial stumbles; Germany's rightward push; and India's stultifying regulation, corruption and discrimination may be relevant to the argument; but the expectant unemployed aren't concerned about an international side-by-side.

With a slight wobble — looking forward to nuclear energy and accessing oil and gas prospecting, then staring at Republicans while standing firmly on the buckling, decline-hiding creed of global warming or climate change or whatever — President Obama began to channel Huey P. Long with a touch of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Careers? Too dependent upon degrees. Solution: money to community colleges. College? Too expensive. Solution: federal loans. Loans? Too onerous. Solution: apparent creation of a modern thane by way of forgiving debt in ten years for public servants. "In the United States of America," he declared, "no one should go broke because they chose to go to college." Or go into the private sector.

After entering a plea for socialized medicine, incriminating the average American as an entitlement-seeker — "What's in it for me?" we are supposed to be asking — the president drew one laugh from roughly half his audience, both immediate and remote. There is going to be a spending freeze, you see. "Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected." Ah, but the remaining one-half of one percent . . . "this freeze won't take effect until next year — when the economy is stronger." President Obama stared at the Republicans again. "That's how budgeting works." Off-camera, the minority party guffawed. This made the president visibly unhappy.

In time came reproof of the Supreme Court and a mildly disorienting transition to national security, which was capped by the president twice pronouncing the "end" of "this war," presumably Operation Iraqi Freedom, but not entirely clear, given the Democratic supplication that bad men might please go away. Then followed advertisements for a revival of acronymic arms treaties intended to deactivate mind-blowing nuclear arsenals so as to avoid confronting the reasons why, say, Washington has never worried about London's megatons.

With visions of left-liberalism as the philosophical bellbottoms and beehive of our time, I was listening to the president's reprimand of, in order, corporations, media, government, CEOs, bankers, doubts, lobbyists, politicians, TV pundits, and sound bites; and realized something. "No wonder there's so much cynicism out there. No wonder there's so much disappointment. . . . And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change — or that I can deliver it. " My God, I thought, President Obama is talking about a malaise. Two years passed before Jimmy Carter resorted to pietism; Obama needed only one. Vitally, Americans do not expect delivery from one man of anything except license.

Several minutes later, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell appeared on television, live from Richmond. To a country for whom the GOP's brand equity is guarded, he was a cipher: waspish, southern, staid, terribly practiced, and armed merely with platitudes. It isn't exactly what Republican luminaries say so much as how they say it, and for the unconvinced McDonnell would have been a swift tune-out. Libertarians like Nick Gillespie extol liberty with wit and genuine appeal, and in less than three minutes. But, see, Mr. Gillespie runs magazines and movements, not for public office. The saving grace: no one really listens to the minority response.

The president sounds serious about his policy, so elections may as well occur next Tuesday as on November 2nd. Democrats stand to lose; Republicans stand to gain some proportion of power, and if the present can so indicate, sufficiently unsure of what to do with it. And Mr. Obama, bless him, will still be around.

Michael Ubaldi, November 10, 2008.

Well, then: election polls for the presidential race were mostly right. Only mostly right, because three states halted runaway courts, some US senators hung on, and Republicans took majorities in assemblies here and there; fuses athwart the national overcurrent. But the prize was the White House, and it is going to Barack Obama, President-elect of the United States.

These are weightless days. To look at the United States is to see it aglow. Maybe inasmuch as the race ended so quickly, and prospects for John McCain snapped off so cleanly, that catharsis brings relief. For we oppositionists, pride enters humbly. Not without delusion can one deny Obama his victory, nor can a patriotic American deny the man dignity of his elected office. And whatever the day's news, its reporting will be markedly cheerier for at least four years. Liberal journalists, party faithful, are eudaemonic, professional misfeasance serving the country's mood. The brats got their way this time, though the happy consequence is regnant optimism.

Does the executive match his nation's temperament? Have we shifted leftward? Pollster Scott Rasmussen, whose perspicacious operation asked voters why they wanted Barack Obama, says no.

"Mr. Obama followed the approach that worked for Ronald Reagan," writes Rasmussen in The Wall Street Journal. Yes, the senator was recognized as a spiritual nephew. But rather, for the left? Not so: "Mr. Obama's tax-cutting promise became his clearest policy position. Eventually he stole the tax issue from the Republicans. Heading into the election, 31% of voters thought that a President Obama would cut their taxes." Only one in ten, according to Rasmussen, believed the same of John McCain. And when invited to compare Reagan's hallmark position — "government is the problem" — it was Obama with 44 percent, and McCain with four percentage points less.

Good and bad for Obama. Good, since prevailing opinion confirmed his presidency. And bad for many reasons, chief among them the fact that Barack Obama's actions in lower office give poor testament to Barack Obama's more corporeal campaign promises. The president-elect has been quiet about past statements; his older repertoire is played una corda or not at all. Now, lifting tax burdens is laudable, less so for the generally unencumbered; and especially less so when increasing burdens on others debilitates economic activity, and the unencumbered get impoverished anyway. If he is viewed as authentically Reaganite, Obama may be surprised by his poking around, say, the coal industry. There are sectors of the American body public kept inviolate but not, thrills aside, erogenous zones.

Another challenge: the president-elect must substantiate what has hitherto been ethereal. Any skeptic of theatrics in the presentation of Obama would have to have been so caught up in the moment on Election Night that they did not stop to wonder why the president-elect appeared with his family, then his running mate, then both groups; but observed his victory alone and way out front. Taken in with that stage, bisecting the audience with a radial platform at the end of a catwalk, it was a little much. The only other celebrity immediately coming to mind to have done this is Bono, and the last time I heard of him before that, he and U2 were nightly exiting a giant lemon as if from a spaceship.

Campaigns can employ lots of thaumaturgy. Administrations less so. Remember the caterwaul in response to George W. Bush's 2005 call for American foreign policy to bring an end to dictatorship — and yet the president had a sound concept and several working models. Obama, as president, could very well realize policy goals. But so many of them reach into figuration. Yes We Can: exactly what, and for whom? If good can come of his administration, it will be my acquaintances — many who affirmed the winning candidate by speaking in tongues — accepting that the man is indeed mortal, plus a partisan Democrat.

The one most qualified to restrain the politics of velleity is Barack Obama. During the victory rally on Election Night, there was that welling admiration — which an American simply feels — but the speech begged scrutiny. Obama's narration of the 20th century denuded American trials. "A man touched down on the moon" thanks to nationalistic and ideological competition; because Yuri Gagarin flew into space first and the United States would've been damned to have let the hammer and sickle fly on Luna before the Stars and Stripes. First, or ever — "a wall came down" several years after Ronald Reagan told a disdainful House of Commons and a jaded world that free societies would "leave Marxist-Leninism on the ash heap of history." Barack Obama's first act as president should be to learn more about the country he will be ordained to lead.

Michael Ubaldi, October 26, 2008.

Who reclassified elections with death and taxes? Prophecy is, in the economics of uncertainty, that invisible hand which guides money and volition away from willing consumers. I remain as I have since before spring of this year: I will be surprised if John McCain does not win the presidency.

Past a certain point, insistence has the purpose of convincing the advocate. Barack Obama is, with his perfervid support and media sympathy, an infectious candidate; but not an unstoppable victor. Information supplied to the electorate is suspect; those confident of Obama must deal with the irony that because the press has, with growing ostentation, traded journalism for politicking, the press' reporting on its efforts to contrive a Democratic White House is in turn exaggerated.

Presidential debates, celebrated as junctures in the race track, are this season's plainest example.

John McCain spent two-thirds of the first debate building momentum until he could prod Barack Obama on his enthusiastic concept of Iranian detente and see what bromides flowed out. The Arizona senator hesitated in the second debate, more than his opponent, from indecision over ingratiating himself with the audience or treating the town hall to bloodsport. Obama, perhaps because it's been decided he can and should, did both. McCain uncovered another choice when he shook the outstretched hand of an erubescent retired chief petty officer, tracing a long line back to his Navy beginnings and going where Obama couldn't. In the third debate he spent an hour and a half pushing Obama from redoubt to redoubt, the Democrat caught telling a member of his blue-collar constituency that a proletariat is a proletariat.

And? Sponsored focus groups, polls, and pundits contradicted this and pronounced Barack Obama winner of all three debates on account of — showing up and sounding pleasant.

Unanimity to make you wilt. But there is a yawning divide between the objective and reported records. Barack Obama is not good extemporaneously; pressed, he doesn't know exactly what to say. He emits malapropisms. On the first night of the Democratic convention, appearing to his wife and children on the upstage jumbotron like Orson from Mork and Mindy, Obama stammered and tried to disentangle an inverted object and subject when his youngest daughter strayed from script. In Debate Two, his defense of strikes in Pakistan's lawless corridors began, "Now, Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible."

Most lack the address to speak flawlessly under pressure. But we are told that the Illinois senator's elocution is irreproachable, behind the podium or not; a "superb debater." Barack Obama took "wet behind the ears," "green around the gills," "sober" and "solemn," skewered with a line of reasoning and served up as shish kebob. You know, just spouting off. Not reported but recorded; and remembered, since it didn't match the advertisement.

Barack Obama's promotional strengths make him an unattractive executive. Word is that John McCain's tacks, right before the first debate, delivered him from electoral favor. Obama is regarded to have been equanimous then and since, thus presidential: when in fact he proposed and endorsed nothing; committed and imparted little while debating; and has maintained a "stable lead" by a) smiling, b) shrugging, c) professing innocence, d) hiding his running mate, and e) allowing his campaign to excommunicate local television stations that disrupt national uniphony by asking said running mate about economic policies. This, too, is not lost on observers.

A friend's septuagenarian friend has graced every occasional lunch over these years with the ribbing of a partisan Democrat. Bill Clinton? His good friend. George Bush? Ruined everything. Barack Obama? He . . . wasn't sure he could support the man. May have to vote Republican. Not race in question; character. That was in September, the shallow nadir of Obama's polling, so perhaps a transient reluctance; and either way unheard of in the news. Yet real, and felt by the least likely.

Similar firsthand observations convinced the American Thinker's Steven Warshawsky that Barack Obama will lose. "There are numerous websites and blogs written by Democrats touting McCain's candidacy," Warshawsky writes. "There are pro-McCain grassroots efforts being led by Democrats. And we all know friends or relatives who are Democrats, who voted for John Kerry in 2004, and who are no fans of President Bush — but who are going to vote for John McCain this year."

Obama's weak spots in the Democratic primaries foretell a slight electoral shift that would confirm John McCain as President. Virginia has taken in suburbanite workers from Washington, D.C., devotees of government's retainer party; and Tri-State retirees, who on balance do not vote Republican. So it is not John McCain's to win; but neither is it a meaningfully bellwether state. Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina stay put. Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada turn blue, but John McCain won't need them. New Hampshire, won by Hillary Clinton in January, was visited by a certain inevitably graced campaign recently, does not poll reliably for Obama; and affirms libertarian roots by returning to its 2000 position.

Congressman Jack Murtha, who carries a large bucket of ignominy and enjoys painting people with it, called western Pennsylvanians "racist," later euphemized as "redneck." Murtha meant to be dismissive, but denizens of the Commonwealth likely take the second word as a mark of authenticity. Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Barack Obama is not perceived as a black man; but a suit and a salesman. If rallies in the state headlining Sarah Palin are as broadly ebullient as they sound, then Obama will perform as he did in April, losing the state to his opponent — and the White House, by six electoral points.

William F. Buckley Jr. saw Jimmy Carter spend the final days of October 1976 in a state of "serenity that is the result either of fatalism, or of an objective optimism as he looks down the road to the last week." Barack Obama has abided the last six weeks in stasis. A national media and intellectual class want us terribly, so terribly, to believe it is because all has been preordained. Too terribly, so the rational mind resists that anesthetic, and votes, intrepid.