Friday, March 02, 2007


Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), left, heads to a news conference with other members of Republican leadership in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006.
Doug Mills - The New York Times / Redux
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I have lots of conservative friends and often speak to Republican-leaning groups. I have something surprising to report: they're pretty cheerful. They're well aware that President Bush's numbers are terrible--and that Al Gore got an Academy Award. Yet my fellow conservatives and Republicans are pretty upbeat. After a rough 2006, conservative magazines are seeing an uptick in subscription renewals, right-wing websites are getting more hits, and Republican and conservative groups here at Harvard (yes, Harvard!) seem invigorated. What's going on? Here are five reasons conservatives and Republicans might have some cause for their cheer.

1. The surge. Nothing was more demoralizing last year to supporters of the war than the sense that Bush was refusing to alter course out of misguided loyalty to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey. The ouster of Rumsfeld and Casey and the announcement of a new strategy backed up by additional troops and a new commander, General David Petraeus, gave hope to those who still think success is possible in Iraq--which, polls show, is still a healthy majority of Republicans.

2. Congress. The bad news of November 2006 was that the Republicans lost their majorities on Capitol Hill. The good news is that the Democrats are now in control. It's difficult to be in charge of Congress, especially when your grass roots are pushing you to do something about the war, and it's hard to do anything without seeming to undercut the troops or denying Petraeus a chance to succeed. Mitch McConnell's performance as Senate Republican leader has also--for the first time in a long while--given Republicans a congressional leader worth rooting for as he outmaneuvers the Democrats in their efforts to put Congress on record against Bush's Iraq policy.

3. The 2008 Democratic field. Hillary Clinton, as Hollywood chieftain David Geffen has famously pointed out, looks beatable in a general election. Barack Obama is impressive but Republicans find it hard to believe he'll be our next President. The second time doesn't seem to be the charm for John Edwards. And Al Gore, who could be the nominee, still isn't a natural pol. There are serious Democrats who have won in red or purple states: former Governors Mark Warner of Virginia and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. But the first three have dropped out of the presidential race, and Richardson is polling at 2% and looks unlikely to make it into the top tier. Hillary is the least left-wing of the leading Democratic candidates. To a Republican, that says it all.

4. The 2008 Republican field. Republicans look likely to nominate one from a trio of "metro Republicans," to use the term applied to Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney by Noemie Emery in the Weekly Standard. Emery writes, "None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety ... [but] each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few. Each has a way of presenting conservative views that centrists don't find threatening, and projecting fairly traditional values in a language that secular voters don't fear." Each has shown an ability to get independent and even Democratic votes. Democrats won the national vote in 2006 by about 8 points. Republican front runner Giuliani now beats Democratic front runner Clinton in polls by about that margin.

5. Fresh ideas. I don't sense that conservatism is exhausted. There's new thinking on domestic policy that could serve as the basis of an interesting agenda for the G.O.P. nominee. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam explain in their forthcoming book on "Sam's Club Republicans" how the G.O.P. can do a better job of responding to the anxieties of working and middle-class Americans in areas like tax policy and health insurance, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Yuval Levin suggests a complementary policy agenda--"Putting Parents First," he calls it--aimed at those same swing voters. In foreign policy, the U.S. will still be at war in 2008--and despite Bush's travails, Republicans still seem likely to be able to claim to be the party of American strength.

It's worth remembering that off-year elections often aren't predictors of the outcome of the next presidential one. The 1994 Republican off-year sweep was followed by Bill Clinton's easy 1996 victory over Bob Dole. The 1986 Democratic take-back of the Senate and the 1987 Iran-contra scandal didn't prevent then Vice President George H.W. Bush from dismantling Michael Dukakis in 1988. 2006 was a bad year for the G.O.P. 2008 may not be.


One of the clearest measures of a society can be found in its public school system. For example, it is no accident that in totalitarian states, such as North Korea, what may be taught comes directly from the government. Children are indoctrinated early to believe their “Dear Leader” never is wrong even though many do not have enough food to eat. And in war-torn countries or those which are deeply divided by religious differences there are few, if any, functioning public schools.

By contrast the United States has a proud history of public education for all of its children. Or at least it did. I have watched as American public schools have gone from generally good to abysmal because of the many changes in our society and because of government meddling. From forced school-busing to classes taught in every language except English, to removing “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, our State and Federal Governments have been butting into the business of local schools for more than 30 years and the schools are the worse for it.

One of the latest developments in public education is that schools believe they are the de facto parents of the children who attend them. With so many children living with only one parent or two parents who work, with who knows who looking after them, it is no wonder. Now some States are trying to require girls entering the sixth grade to be immunized against something called HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), a virus that only can be transmitted through sex and which causes certain kinds of cancer. What does that say about our public schools and about the state of our culture?

There are so many things wrong with the idea -- and the fact that the immunizations would be mandatory rather than voluntary -- that it is difficult to know where to begin. However, I shall try. First, the obvious: what do we know about the vaccine? We know it is made by Merck & Company, Inc., a very large pharmaceutical firm that has been busy hiring lobbyists and advertising the drug, called Gardasil (registered trademark), in magazines and on television. We know that immunization consists of a series of three shots at a cost of approximately $400.00 per child and that making the vaccine mandatory is a Merck goal. We know that Merck lobbyists have descended upon State capitals throughout the country and created a group called Women in Government, which has samples of the “correct” legislation posted on its website. And we know that the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine late last year.

What we do not know is whether the vaccine is safe. There has been no long-term study as to the possible side effects of the vaccine – which include nausea, headaches and fevers -- and the few short-term studies were on college-age women, not the young girls the legislation is targeting. Unfortunately, many State legislatures appear to have little reluctance and are falling down like bowling pins, rushing to do Merck’s bidding. Among many others, Kansas, South Carolina, Indiana and Colorado all either have bills pending or have already have approved the plan. The latest State to approve legislation to make the vaccine mandatory is the usually sensible State of Virginia, while Texas Governor Rick Perry -- who many believe has aspirations to higher office -- has just signed an executive order requiring the same thing.

Certainly, a vaccine that prevents any type of cancer is the sort of medical breakthrough for which many of us pray. The vaccine against HPV may yet prove to be safe but requiring vaccinations after so little research sets a dangerous precedent.

Of course, there are the obvious cultural and moral implications. What does it say about our society that eleven and twelve-year old girls might need protection against a virus which can infect them only if they are sexually active? Why on earth should young girls be given this vaccine? This sends the message that educators and parents and guardians simply don’t care. More importantly, how do we as parents send a message to our children and grandchildren that they should stay abstinent until marriage when the schools require them to get vaccinations designed for the sexually active? It makes no sense at all. Gardasil (registered trademark) is not a vaccine for polio or even chicken pox, both of which were eventually -- after several years of study and gradual introduction -- required by law for all school-age children. The HPV virus cannot be spread through sneezing, coughing or playing with other children.

Finally, there is the matter of enacting any law that would force all children or all boys or all girls to be immunized. It should not be mandatory for anybody, adult or child, to get a vaccine for a disease that is not a public health threat. Such treatments always should be voluntary, yet over the last few decades it seems many things have come down from on high and citizens were just told, “Deal with it. It’s the law.” What happened to “Opting in” if you wish to go along with a program or a new technology or new medical treatment? When did we decide it was okay to force our citizens and their children to abide by new policies?

Let the parents decide whether or not their daughters should receive this vaccine. And only after there are more studies done on the vaccine itself, about which we know very little except one thing: we do know that a mandatory inoculation program costing $400 per child with approximately 2,000,000 girls in the appropriate age cohort (11-12) currently in the United States would equal an awful lot of money for a pharmaceutical company that is very much in favor of this legislation.


The House Democrats delivered their big-time payoff to the goonions yesterday. They passed a bill through the house that advances the cause of union intimidation techniques and sacrifices workers not inclined to join unions to the abuses of union organizers and pro-union colleagues. This is absolutely shameful. If this bill were to become law workers would no longer be allowed to express their feelings on organizing their workplace in private. This anti-worker bill is expected to run into trouble in the Senate. Bush has said he would veto it ... but recent experience would indicate we can't count on that.