The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

Triumph and Decline of America’s Protestant Ascendancy

By 2.3.15

Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington, by Gregg Herken, is about the social and political elites who crafted U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War over their dinner parties and cocktails in the historic, tony neighborhood of Washington, D.C. But it’s also, if unconsciously, about the apex and decline of America’s WASP aristocracy, whose wisdom laid the groundwork for survival and victory against the Soviet Union. The story concludes with by then aging columnist Joseph Alsop resignedly admitting that the class that his own New England family embodied had become irrelevant.

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The Copycat Culture

By 1.30.15

Sam Smith backed down.

The current Rolling Stone coverboy agreed that his testosterone-free #2 hit “Stay with Me” sounded enough like Tom Petty’s #12 charting “I Won’t Back Down” to give the frontman of the Heartbreakers and collaborator Jeff Lynne songwriting credit. Smith’s camp claims his youth and ignorance of a song born three years before him make the similarities purely coincidental.

The age, rather than the singer’s, seems a more plausible excuse. We live in retread times.

Remakes, sequels, and films based on old comic books, fairy tales, and toys comprised fourteen of the fifteen top box-office draws for 2014. Hollywood sells brands, not entertainment.

The outlier, American Sniper, demonstrates the jonesing for anything remotely different. And the fact that films grossed less last year than they did five years before should shake Tinseltown into the epiphany that the formula for success for an individual movie drives down the entire industry. But it won’t.

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Up From Superficial Christian Compassion

By 1.9.15

There’s a refreshing Christianity Today article in which an Evangelical academic who once thought border security “callous” now argues that a “porous border is not compassionate—it is just chaotic…” He urges more funding for securing the border, explaining:

Caring for illegal immigrants is certainly a grace to the individual. But it doesn’t address the underlying problem. Indeed, when replicated on a large scale, it exacerbates the crisis. The more the church is viewed as welcoming any undocumented immigrant with open arms, the more it spurs undocumented immigration: more Central American families are broken apart, immigrants are forced into self-protection in our dangerous inner cities, and ties are strengthened between US gangs and Central American narco-networks. Moreover, Central American countries become increasingly dependent on foreign remittances at the cost of their development.

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Time to Close the Government to Close the Government

By 12.30.14

The year is drawing to a close and we are supposed to be happy that the lame duck Congress survived its usual year-end brinkmanship and threats of a government shutdown. Horrors! What would the helpless people do if politicians weren’t able to legislate, regulate, and dictate in the “public interest”? Why, the republic would collapse.

Not!

The traditional civics book notion of government at all levels is that the state does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That’s typically seen as creating the framework for a free society—police, courts, defense, basic health and safety, “public” goods which otherwise wouldn’t be provided. 

If the state was this focused on its most important and basic tasks, we might notice if it closed. If you rely on government as a matter of necessity for something that truly matters, then it’s obvious when it’s not there.

Unfortunately, the state has turned into something very different. It’s now a welfare agency for the wealthy, a vast soup kitchen for special interests, an engine for social engineering at home and abroad, and a national nanny determined to run citizens’ lives. 

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The Stupidest Year Ever

By 12.29.14

The stupidest year in the history of the planet spins to a merciful conclusion in a few days. Too close to the photo of Kim Kardashian breaking the Internet to see the big picture amidst the little dots, we remain blissfully ignorant that we live in the golden age of dumb.

In January, Pew reported that a quarter of the American population hadn’t read a book in the previous year. Many among the remaining three-fourths confirm the suspicion that people lie to pollsters. The percentage of non-readers has tripled since 1978, a year that witnessed 900 Americans poison themselves in the jungle because a guy wearing sunglasses told them to and Clint Eastwood fill theaters by co-starring alongside a monkey.

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The Real Meaning of ‘Merry Christmas’

By 12.23.14

Just days days until Christmas, and I’ve heard enough “Happy Holidays!” greetings to last a a few lifetimes. 

So, Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, that’s right, Merry Christmas! I’m done with that PC “Happy Holidays” greeting that has dominated over the past several decades. I haven’t heard a hearty Merry Christmas in years. Why, even Santa has succumbed to the generic mantra, “HO, HO, HO, Happy Holidays!” Bah, humbug. It’s just not right.

I don’t know when the “Merry Christmas” greeting was first trumped by the bland, generic “Happy Holidays” substitute. It was probably at some point in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when diversity initiatives began to take hold in American industry and sensitivity to any minor affront reached its zenith.

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Mayor De Blasio’s Bloody Hands

By 12.22.14

“Hatred and fanaticism, the flabby spirit of complacency that has permitted the preachers of fanatical hatred to appear respectable, and the self-righteousness that labels all who disagree with us as traitors or dolts, provided the way for the vile deed that snuffed out John Kennedy’s life.” 
— The editor of the Austin American writing in November 1963

“De Blasio, Sharpton and all those who encouraged this anti-cop, racist mentality all have blood on their hands. They have blood on their hands.”
— Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to Newsmax, December 2014

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Blessings Go Uncounted

By 12.15.14

According to the Wall Street Journal, “construction of church buildings in the U.S., has fallen to the lowest level since private records began in 1967.”

That’s not a surprise. The Fifties and early Sixties saw a great surge in church attendance so these data don’t account for the likely building of many new churches in those years. Such structures are usually built to last for a long time, so it’s also not surprising that the number of new religious buildings has declined.

The WSJ concedes that with the recession more-or-less over, renovations and new building may move ahead again; however, its writers have decided that the decline “is a confluence of trends: a drop in formal religious participation, changing donation habits, a shift away from the construction of massive megachurches and, more broadly, a growing taste for alternatives to the traditional house of worship.”

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Our Competitive Entitlement Economy

By 12.11.14

It’s not unusual for non-Americans, and many Americans of a center-left disposition, to portray the United States as a dog-eat-dog society: one in which the poor are left to fend for themselves and where a night-watchman state doesn’t intervene, save in extreme circumstances and often not until it’s too late. It’s a mantra that’s endlessly repeated, from the academy to the pulpit, from Congress to your local council.

Judging, however, from the latest update on global social expenditure released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—hardly a den of infamous “neoliberal” bogeymen—this portrait simply isn’t true. In fact, as the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson notes, it turns out that America is the world’s second-biggest social spender, right after that global exemplar of fiscal rectitude and economic prudence: France.

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America’s ‘Other’ Inequality

By 12.8.14

There is a highly unequal distribution of common decency between most Americans and those who abuse the welfare state. But amid the ongoing hubbub about income and wealth inequality, this disparity of propriety gets short shrift. Forget the monetary cost. It’s the social price tag—and its polarization of politics—that’s killing us.

Let’s be clear, I do not mean to single out Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” of the U.S. population that receives some form of government benefit. Rather, I mean to focus upon those who abuse Uncle Sam’s generosity.

Although waste, fraud, and abuse isn’t breaking the bank, it’s no small line item. According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, 5.2 percent ($98.7 billion) of its social program payments are “improper”—meaning that the payment went to the wrong person, the payment amount was incorrect, there was no documentation justifying a payment, or the beneficiary used the payment on something for which it wasn’t intended.

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