Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday Reading

Whacked Off: L. Brent Bozell, the doyen of the far right wing, says that the conservative are not mollified by John McCain’s nomination.

The conservative talk-show community? Don’t mind them — they’re irrelevant.

This message from John McCain surrogates and other members of the political class is filling the airwaves and op-ed pages. In the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes recently wrote that McCain needn’t worry that conservatives are uncomfortable with his candidacy, because “while they love to grumble and grouse, conservatives tend to be loyal Republicans who wind up voting for their party’s candidate.”

In the same pages, novelist Mark Helprin, a former adviser to Robert J. Dole’s presidential campaign, savaged conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin for daring to speak out against McCain. “Rather than playing recklessly with electoral politics by sabotaging their own party,” he wrote, “each of these compulsive talkers might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man.”

I know the conservative movement. I’ve been in the trenches fighting for an alphabet soup of conservative causes for 30 years. I’ve raised hundreds of millions of dollars for it. And I earnestly hope that McCain isn’t listening to the advice he’s getting from these folks. Their thinking betrays a fundamental misreading of the conservative pulse in America today.

Conservative leaders, particularly those in talk radio, cannot and will not be silent. They will not betray their principles and their audiences. Tens of millions of activists turn to them for guidance. These activists could be, and need to be, McCain’s ground troops, but unless and until conservatives believe him — and believe in him — they will not work for his election. McCain may have the Beltway crowd in his corner, but grass-roots conservatives aren’t sold.

Yet through his surrogates, McCain is attacking these leaders. This is beyond folly. It is political suicide.

For 20 years, the moderate establishment of the Republican Party has told conservatives to sit down, shut up and do as we’re told. History shows that sometimes we bite the bullet. But not always. I absolutely guarantee that this year we cannot be taken for granted. This is a movement fed up with betrayals, and they’ve come one after the other.


This is what conservatives call on him to do:

McCain must present a strategy to defeat the threat of radical Islam. He needs to call on the United States to rebuild its military infrastructure, so devastated by the Clinton administration. He should secure our borders by a date certain. In every great struggle, the citizenry — everyone, not just the country’s military — has been challenged to participate. McCain could make this the clarion call for volunteerism, for national service.

If McCain believes in freedom, he should promise to take the yoke off the American taxpayer. He has embraced making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Good. Now he should pledge to end the estate tax and lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. In fact, he should call for an overhaul of the tax system. The flat tax or the fair tax — either is preferable to the monstrosity that is the Internal Revenue Service.

The federal government is out of control. Conservatives don’t want to hear talk about “reining in the growth of government.” Those are empty words. McCain needs to call for the elimination of entire sectors of the federal leviathan. He should pledge to turn back to the states that which is their responsibility and which comes under their authority. We want to see how he will deregulate the private sector and how he will once again unleash the economic might of the United States. He should champion private retirement accounts and health savings accounts.

McCain should place the left on notice — now — that if elected, he will not tolerate congressional obstructionism of his nominations to the federal judiciary.

Our culture is decaying from within, and most Republicans have been shamefully AWOL on this issue. McCain could begin a national conversation about parents, not the state, taking responsibility for their children and their communities. He should call on the entertainment industry to stop polluting America’s youth with its videos and its music and on the Internet. We wait to hear him call for the United States to honor the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage and family, and to return God to the public square.

If McCain offers this kind of vision, Washington elitists will scoff. But he should remember that they also scoffed and dismissed Ronald Reagan, all the way to his election. And his reelection.

Let’s see, the conservatives had Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, and Duncan Hunter run in the Republican primaries. All of them have impeccable conservative credentials, and all of their campaigns cratered before Groundhog Day. It’s obvious that none of them or their platforms are acceptable to the majority of Republicans, let alone the rest of the country, so for Brent Bozell to start dictating terms to John McCain is an amusing exercise in chutzpah, if not overblown ego on his own behalf. Fanatics always think they have a large army behind them when they’re backed into a corner.

Abbey Road: Want to get away from it all? The Blade looks at the monastic life in Indiana.

ST. MEINRAD, Ind. – Take a drive through the rolling farmlands of southern Indiana, along roads that wind past the Possum Junction convenience store and the towns of Santa Claus and Siberia, and you’ll come across a scene that seems strangely out of place.

High on a hill overlooking the tiny town of St. Meinrad (population 820) sits the imposing Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, a towering sandstone structure that would look more at home in a Medieval European village than rural, 21st-century America.

But the 101-year-old, Romanesque-style church is just an outward sign that something is different about St. Meinrad. There is more to the perception than meets the eye. A sense of peace, reverence, and tradition permeates the air, flowing from St. Meinrad Archabbey, a historic monastery adjacent to the church that is home to 100 Benedictine monks, including seven from northwest Ohio.

Four times a day, the bells of Archabbey Church summon the monks to prayer – vigils and lauds at 5:30 a.m.; Mass at 7:30 a.m.; midday prayers at noon, and vespers at 5 p.m.

Wearing simple habits of black tunics, hooded scapulars, and long-sleeved cuculas or robes, the monks walk reverently through a glass-lined hallway – called a slype – that connects the monastery and the church, then bow before the altar, and take their places in high-backed choir stalls where they pray, sing, chant, and recite the liturgy.

In the back row, with a crozier, or shepherd’s staff, at his side, sits Archabbot Justin DuVall, a Toledo native who was elected head of the monastery in December, 2004.

Visitors are welcome at all services and sit in chairs lined up parallel to the choir stalls – symbolizing that monks and visitors worship in unison.


One thing about monastic life that sets it apart from modern-day America is the emphasis on silence.

“There are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence,” St. Benedict wrote 1,500 years ago in The Rule. “Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk.”

That strict rule has been loosened over the centuries, part of the monks’ concept of conversatsio – keeping in touch with, and adjusting to, changing times, according to Archabbot DuVall.

But even today, idle conversation is discouraged and complete silence is expected in the monastery from 10 p.m. until after 7:30 a.m. Mass.

“Silence is not a vow, it’s a discipline,” Brother Francis said. “You learn to be interior-minded, to internalize what’s going on. The silence is intended to foster an atmosphere in which you can rest in God’s presence and focus on the Word of God.”

I wonder if the monks will take nominations from the outside for novice candidates; I can think of a whole bunch of pundits and talking heads that could use a vow of silence.

Moving On Up: Theatre companies are finding new spaces thanks to generous boosters, but what is the cost?

It isn’t every day that a busy portion of Philadelphia’s longest thoroughfare gets shut down, at least not on purpose. But one scorching morning in October, the block of Broad Street from Pine to Lombard, part of a stretch somewhat grandly called the Avenue of the Arts, was taped off, tented, festooned with mums and Mummers. While hundreds of guests sat wilting before the dais, awaiting words from Mayor John F. Street, Gov. Edward G. Rendell and Senator Arlen Specter, a clown on stilts entertained. It was all so quaint and civic, you’d have thought President Taft was coming to town.

But no, the worthies were there to cut the ribbon on the $25 million new home of the Philadelphia Theater Company, which for 25 years had rented a charming but dysfunctional theater a few blocks away. That 1912 building was called Plays and Players; it often seemed that the word audience was omitted deliberately. Sara Garonzik, the company’s producing artistic director, said that many of its 324 seats were broken, that the lobby was too small to shelter patrons, and that the two hideous little bathrooms were barely accessible even to people not in wheelchairs. “That facility was a very trying situation,” Mr. Street recalled.

And not the only one, apparently. In recent years many of the 75 companies that form the League of Resident Theaters have looked at their aging or unaesthetic homes and joined what amounts to a nonprofit theatrical building boom. Since 2000 they and other institutions coast to coast have initiated dozens of construction projects whose combined tab is approaching $1 billion. The size of the scrums of dignitaries and donors who inevitably attend the groundbreakings and galas (and whose names seem to serve as wallpaper inside) suggests what it takes to get these buildings up. What’s less evident is what it really means to operate them once they’re built.


They were not wrong to take that boosterish approach; public culture is based on the put-something-in, get-something-out model. Because government had a financial stake in the Philadelphia project (the state contributed $5 million and the city $3 million), it made sense for its representatives to justify the investment in terms of the economic return promised by well-heeled new neighbors and liquor tax receipts. But art is different from culture — it is culture’s subtext, in a way — and one can’t help sensing, among the actual artists at events like this around the country, a plaintive question behind the platitudes: Who are these buildings for?

Others have been asking that question too, wondering if the regional theater movement, which began in the late 1940s, has lost sight of its founding mission. As described by the monologist Mike Daisey in a recent article for the alternative Seattle newspaper The Stranger (and in a new piece called “How Theater Failed America” to be performed at Joe’s Pub in New York next month), that mission was “to house repertory companies of artists, giving them job security, an honorable wage and health insurance.”

“In return,” he continued, “the theaters would receive the continuity of their work year after year — the building blocks of community.”

For Mr. Daisey that dream is dead. “When regional theaters need artists today, they outsource,” he wrote. “They ship the actors, designers and directors in from New York and slam them together to make the show.”

And it’s true that the building boom, particularly among the aging lions of the regional movement, is partly about creating whiz-bang “destination” theaters that will attract national talent. (Also, younger audiences.) But the companies say they are doing this to enhance or recapture their mission, not discard it.

Happy Birthday, Mustang: On March 9, 1964, the first Mustang was built in Dearborn, Michigan, and rolled out at the New York World’s Fair a month later.

Doonesbury: Name it.

Opus: Dream a little dream…

Check your clocks.