Another Beatles anniversary today: Their “Beatles 1967–1970” album (also known as “the Blue Album”) reached number one today in 1973:
Today would have been the 100th birthday of a sports announcer you may not have heard of recently, but could be heard all over your TV — Lindsey Nelson, as chronicled by David J. Halberstam:
Beginning in the 1950s, Nelson graced play-by-play television and radio microphones nationally and locally for four decades. He is one of only four men to receive the Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s Rozelle and Baseball Hall’s Ford Frick Awards, (Curt Gowdy, Jack Buck and Dick Enberg).
In New York, Lindsey will always be remembered as one of the three initial voices of the Mets. In the rest of the country, Nelson was known for his football broadcasts. He did tons on network television and radio, and was used often by NBC and CBS on both the NFL and college football.
From 1962-78, 17 Mets seasons, Nelson was joined on both radio and television by Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner. They were a beloved threesome. Nelson said, “We never had a cross word.” The Mets broadcasts were structured and predictable. Kiner clutched his cigar, Murphy his cigarette and Nelson his inanimate object, generally a pencil. Each called their innings with a seductive charm.
During their early overlapping years in the Yankees booth, Red Barber pontificated, Mel Allen emoted happily, Phil Rizzuto brought a neighborly warmth and Joe Garagiola blamed the Yankees demise on “termites in the bat rack.” Nelson said, “We didn’t have to be funny. Our jokes were down on the field.” The Mets were notorious for futility until the late 60s.
The Mets trio out-survived eight managers from Casey Stengel who rings a bell with everyone to baseball’s Joe Frazier who rings a bell with no one.
While Nelson was excellent on radio, his strength was television. Lindsey said, “On television, you simply write cutlines for the pictures. On radio, you paint the whole canvas with words, pace and information.”
On television, the Mets were an immediate hit. When Lindsey learned that the Mets were planning to carry 120 of their 162 games on the tube their first year, Nelson took advantage of the growing number of color television sets. He started wearing garish and lurid sports jackets that he bought off the rack. It drew attention away from the staid air crew at Yankee Stadium. You’d mention Nelson and many would say, ‘Oh, the guy with those loud jackets.’
When Lindsey was honored with the Frick Award, the Hall’s spokesperson Bill Guilfoile aptly said of the jackets, “They clashed with his soft southern drawl.”
Nelson said that the two New York baseball teams “were a clash of competing cultures. The Yankees represented dignified efficiency and the Mets represented futility but were unwilling to recognize and admit it.”
When Nelson was a Mets announcer, NBC-TV’s World Series coverage always included an announcer from the participating teams. And so when the Mets inexplicably won the 1969 World Series and got to the 1973 World Series …
Like other human beings, Nelson dealt with family issues. His older daughter, Sharon, was born retarded. His beloved wife Mickie died suddenly while on vacation in Spain. His longtime Mets statistician Art Friedman said, “Lindsey couldn’t handle booze. He had been on the wagon for twenty years. But when Mickie died, he was off the wagon for a while. One drink and he was out”
Nelson was very private. Kiner said, “As friendly as we were, I never felt I really knew him.”
After the 1978 season, Nelson left the Mets unexpectedly and joined the Giants broadcasts where he followed legendary announcers like Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons and Al Michaels. After three short seasons in San Francisco, he told a writer, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” He was gone. It was the last baseball he did.
Longtime Notre Dame fans remember the years when live college football on network television was limited. So on Saturday nights, Fighting Irish games were shown in a recorded, condensed version of one hour. Lindsey voiced them and is often heard saying, “As we pick up the action later in the quarter…”
Nelson passed at age 76 in 1995, after suffering for years from Parkinson’s. Like many other early network television sportscasters, Lindsey was a member of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. He grew up during the depression and served the country in the European theater during World War II in a correspondent’s and communication role. He was always fascinated by the military. In his seasons doing the Mets, he was known to often have a military related book with him on airplanes and bus trips.
In one of the great coincidences in sports broadcasting history, Nelson and legendary announcer Jack Buck were both injured in the Battle of the Bulge.
Nelson was born and reared in Columbia, Tennessee and was hardly a child of the privileged. His dad was a traveling salesperson and Lindsey’s mom was in his words, “the greatest influence on me.”
As a student at the University of Tennessee, he “devoted every waking moment to thoughts of the Vol fortunes on the gridiron.” He tutored athletes in freshman English, spotted for the radio announcer and was a stringer for newspapers. In other words, he got hands-on experience early.
When the Vols advanced to the 1940 Rose Bowl, Nelson, a student at the time, traveled to Pasadena and served as a spotter for NBC Radio’s Bill Stern. Ted Husing and Stern were then America’s top two sports announcers. In his early years on-air, Nelson considered himself a protégé of Stern. Their play-by-play styles were somewhat similar. Both were upbeat, called games enthusiastically and did so with a sense of urgency.
After the war, Lindsey returned to Knoxville where he broadcast minor league baseball and University of Tennessee football games. In 1950, for that matter, Nelson met Vin Scully who was in Knoxville to cover the Alabama-Tennessee game for CBS Radio. Scully had begun doing the Dodgers the summer before. Lindsey was also an announcer for the Liberty Network which recreated baseball games. In one thirty-day span, he recreated 62 games. It’s nice to be young!
A big break came in the early 50s, when he was hired by Tom Gallery who was the first ever administrative director of NBC Sports. In a hybrid role, Lindsey did lots of supervisory work for Gallery, called college football games and beginning in 1957 teamed with Leo Durocher on NBC’s Game of the Week. He also was the play-by-play announcer for the network’s NBA broadcasts.
Nelson went through mostly ups in his career and a few downs. On network TV, he did Cotton Bowls year after year, the Rose Bowl and two World Series when the Mets qualified, in 1969 and ‘73.
Here is a down:
In his wonderfully written autobiography, Hello Everybody, I’m Lindsey Nelson, he writes “Networks have a unique way of dealing with situations in which they have people that they have decided for some reason or other not to use. The weapon is silence. You just don’t hear from anybody.”
Bob Costas labeled Nelson, “a cheerful chronicler.” One of Nelson’s later assignment was doing the NFL on CBS Radio. Lindsey would always paint an environment of infectious enthusiasm. Fans got a sense that he’d rather be nowhere else other than the ballpark. I can recall a game he did from old Candlestick when the Niners were dominating the NFL. Lindsey: “Wherever you went around San Francisco this morning, the subject of conversation was this 49ers team. Whether it was the hostess turning over the tables at a restaurant, the cab driver or the doorman, they all wanted to talk about Joe Montana and today’s big game.”
He never changed. Early in his career as he was just beginning to surface on the national scene, Variety wrote, “Lindsey Nelson has been touted for many years as one of the tip-top grid casters. Precise, methodical and efficient, he may not have the color of Bill Stern, the heartiness of Mel Allen, the analytic powers of Red Barber or the glamour of Ted Husing, but as an information purveyor who’s right on top of the play, he’s almost prescient, the peer of any and the superior of many.”
As time evolved, Nelson developed his own friendly personality on-air and was loved by many throughout the country.
The baseball stadium at the University of Tennessee is named in Lindsey Nelson’s honor.
Packer fans of, uh, long experience are familiar with Nelson’s work:
Two unusual anniversaries in rock music today, beginning with John Lennon’s taking delivery of his Rolls-Royce today in 1967 — and it was not your garden-variety Rolls:
Ten years to the day later, the Beatles released “Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962,” which helped prove that bands don’t need to be in existence to continue recording. (And as we know, artists don’t have to be living to continue recording either.)
Meanwhile, back in 1968, the Rolling Stones released “Jumping Jack Flash,” which fans found to be a gas gas gas:
The skies are partly cloudy and temperatures comfortably in the 70s as the sun sets on Gallatin, Tennessee, on a Monday evening in late April. In other words, perfect baseball weather.
Accordingly, Brent High is doing what he does most often on nights like this: watching kids play, in this case the local Lipscomb Academy middle-grade squad. High is an alumnus of the private, Christian institution and even used to call play-by-play for the team’s games, in addition to driving the creation of Lipscomb’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter 22 years ago. And he has never wavered in his belief that sports and spirituality soar on the same plane. It’s a mindset that also makes him uniquely qualified to assess whether the culture and doctrine of Christianity has become increasingly influential in American baseball, including at the major-league level.
“I think the last five years, maybe going back 10, a lot of the most successful on-the-field athletes have been outspoken [about their Christian faith],” High observes. “It’s almost become not only comfortable, but maybe even encouraged for the guys that do have the platform to use it.”
High might have a little something to do with that. The Nashville native and father of two is reasonably famous in his own backyard and beyond as a co-founder of Third Coast Sports, which aims to spread the message of Christ by partnering with sports teams and entertainers and staging popular Faith Night events at Major League Baseball venues.
“For a guy like me, who does have the heart for it, in addition to understanding the business side, that’s a double win,” he exclaims of any symbiosis between MLB and the Christian church. “Not only do I have a happy team and happy sponsors, but the ministry side of why we exist is being activated when guys like Charlie Blackmon for the Colorado Rockies gets up there and boldly proclaims his faith right after he’s gone 3-4 in the game with a homer and a double.”
Starting in the mid-2000s, Third Coast began partnering with MLB clubs including the Rockies, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals on what would grow into Faith Nights. They were essentially a scaling up of grassroots promotions High conceived of while serving as VP of Sales for Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate Nashville Sounds between 2003-’05. The events — typically occurring inside a team’s stadium after the conclusion of a game — are equal parts outdoor megachurch service (often featuring testimony from home-team players, such as the aforementioned Blackmon, along with John Smoltz and Lance Berkman, to name a few) and Christian rock concert. And they have translated to big business over the past decade-plus for MLB.
“You’ve gotta put yourself in the shoes of these executives at these teams we partner with,” says High. “They care about one thing: butts in the seats. If they can have realtor night, scout night, little-league night — if it can move ticket sales, they’ll host it.”
Third Coast and MLB’s partnership is an emphatic confirmation of what High describes: that Major League Baseball, more than any other major American professional sport, has mirrored the mainstreaming of evangelical Christian influence in particular on our culture at large. (High prefers to eschew labels, saying he simply follows “The Way.”)
Throughout MLB’s 150-year history, there have been stars who practiced the gospel as religiously as their on-field fundamentals. New York Giants legend Christy Mathewson is still hailed among the similarly pious as “The Christian Gentleman.” Longtime Dominican-born player/manager Felipe Alou (whose brothers, Matty and Jesús, and son, Moises, were also successful major-leaguers) famously converted from Catholicism to an evangelical strain of Christianity. And the list goes on. But none of them had social media.
That’s why in early 2018, Eastern Illinois University Political Science professor Dr. Ryan P. Burge conducted an analysis of players’ Twitter accounts across MLB, the NBA and NFL, finding that nearly eight percent of subscribed MLB players referenced a New Testament passage in their bio, fully double the percentage of NFL players and more than sevenfold that of NBAers. And that eight percent (a number that increases when expanding to broader allusions to Christ himself) isn’t exactly a compilation of mid-level roster guys with nothing to lose by laying their faith on the line. Perennial All-Stars and bright-up-and-comers alike ranging from Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter to Trevor Story, Ben Zobrist, Scooter Gennett and Steven Matz all ostensibly use their public platform to evangelize. Which is their want and Constitutional (some might say God-given) right. But is this marriage of missions — winning and wooing potential religious converts — anathema to the wider, secular appeal of baseball, or more problematically, alienating to non-believers?
“Baseball, historically, has acted as a secular religion in the United States more than any other sport, almost a sacred space,” argues Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation and host of the Edge of Sports podcast. Back in 2006-’07, Zirin contributed a series of Nation columns regarding the Colorado Rockies organization’s fairly unabashed Christian ethos. He was wary of the team’s mixing sports and spirituality then, and is equally uneasy about how evangelical value share seeped into the game since. “It’s cliché,” he continues, “but [baseball]’s acted as the great sports-as-melting pot, a place where people come in as specific ethnicities and emerge as heroes, from Joe DiMaggio to Jackie Robinson to Roberto Clemente. It always has had an air of equity, and when you start imposing Christian dogma on this space, there’s something about it that rings more tinny, false and dangerous than other sports.”
As it turns out, turn-of-the-20th-century Protestant leaders might have agreed with Zirin. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the concept of Muscular Christianity — essentially, a social construct within the church focused on raising generations of strong and athletic men — took root in Protestant communities, coalescing into an organized movement via the YMCA. But it was not especially concerned with placing its young disciples on a track for professional acclaim.
“The difference between the Muscular Christianity of the late 1800s and the Muscular Christianity of today is I don’t see that social gospel component,” says Clifford Putney, author of Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America 1880-1920 and current associate professor of history at Bentley University. As that earlier iteration of Muscular Christianity fell out of favor post-WWI, Muscular Christianity evolved into a resource for coping with material success among athletes rather than a manual for how to be righteous without it. “Today, the [Christian] players are very concerned about maintaining equilibrium amidst their stardom,” adds Putney, “so it’s a very therapeutic thing.”
And in the latter half of the 20th century, it was also a locker-room taboo. Rob Maaddi, author of Baseball Faith: 52 MLB Stars Reflect on Their Faith and host of ESPN-syndicated Christian sports-talk radio show Faith on the Field, recalls being stunned by an anecdote from his inaugural guest, Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
“He brought something to my attention I had never realized,” explains Maaddi. “In the late ‘70s, early ‘80s when he played, Christian ball players in the clubhouse were considered sissies. The perception was if you’re a believer, you may be weaker or someone teammates can’t count on it.”
Schmidt was not alone in his day. The late Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter was likewise notoriously ostracized for his Christian lifestyle while a member of the rowdy New York Mets teams of the mid-1980s. But over the ensuing two decades, baseball weathered the steroid-era crisis and lockouts and a general erosion of its fanbase’s good faith (no pun intended). Optically, it made sense to put a spotlight on players who might be lower-wattage than Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa but embodied a familiar, understated decency that would comfort purists.
At the same time, groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action — ostensibly more robust variations on the YMCA’s Muscular Christianity of yore — were proliferating in pockets of the country where evangelical and other churches of salvation were prominent, mainlining pastoral practices into ball fields and locker rooms. While MLB was losing ground to the NFL and NBA in urban areas, it had tapped into a well of talent as well-versed in conversion to Christ as they were technique for shagging flies.
“There are a lot of organizations that are even founded as Christian-based travel baseball-organizations that are gonna be about more than just teaching baseball,” says High, who highlights Cross Hit Sports Academy and Make A Difference Baseball Academy as examples. “Some of these teams that are playing at the highest level and ranked in the top three, five, seven teams in the country at their age level, they’re making [Christianity] part of what they teach and do. When you’re talking about the South, the South is traditionally more of a Christian population where baseball is played. Just look at the top 25 rankings right now in the NCAA.”
Taylor Rogers, a faithful Christian who was a minor-league pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization from 2009-2013 and is currently an Advisory Board Member for his local Austin, Texas, chapter of MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, doesn’t view all this as an insidious conspiracy. But he does reflect that at the most formative stages, MLB has backed itself into something of a self-fulfilling corner.
“You look at the guys my age and a little older who had success at the collegiate level and then the professional level, and the rise of select travel teams [and] individual lessons kind of created a gap in the game where people who were excelling and had access to those programs were moneyed Caucasian people for the most part, and I think it became a very suburban sport. And that happens to be, demographically, largely white evangelical Christian. You start catching all your fish in one pond, and all those fish start to look alike.”
Rogers is quick with the caveat that programs like RBI are, in his view, having their desired effect and planting the seeds for future diversity. (And in fairness, Albert Pujols, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Aaron Judge are among those who identify as devoutly Christian but don’t fit the white-guy mold; additionally, per statistics provided by MLB for this story, 41 percent of active Opening Day players were non-white.) The reason that should matter to any baseball fan, no matter their religious affiliation, is it could help repopulate the league with more dynamic personalities. Even if you’re ambivalent about the implications of MLB being in bed with megachurches, most onlookers can agree that the game might benefit from some swagger to even out all the aw-shucks humility in press conferences and media scrums. Only one — one! — MLB player (Bryce Harper, who is Mormon) made the cut in ESPN’s World Fame 100 index of the planet’s most transcendent athletes for 2019. It’s a conundrum that’s bigger than whatever eggs MLB might have in the Christian church’s basket.
“You look at Trevor Story, Matt Carpenter, guys like that, and there may be a little bit of a humble, act-like-you’ve-been-here-before mentality,” offers Maaddi. But on the whole, he asserts that, “I don’t know that has to do with faith as it is the baseball culture. Showmanship in football and basketball is different. You’ve got guys trash-talking in the trenches, and when they score a touchdown or get a sack, they celebrate. In baseball, they’ve always had the unwritten rules where if you show up a pitcher, expect to be plunked, or go in with your spikes high and there might be a fight there. I think it has to do with trying to break down years and years of these codes that Major League Baseball has followed. I don’t know how long it will take.”
Baseball’s slow march toward loosening up and diversifying — whether or not those two things are mutually exclusive — is a work in progress. But in the interim, Third Coast founder High points enthusiastically to that great catalyst for parity: the open market. Beyond acknowledging the bottom-line good sense of MLB going all in for Faith Nights and letting the Christian kids play, he puts some onus on competitors and communities from other sects to seize similar opportunities for preaching and profit. “From the business standpoint, go try to convince a Major League Baseball executive to have a Muslim Night or Jewish Night or Satanic Night or whatever,” High advises. “It’s all about how many congregations are within a five-hour radius of my stadium that I can actively market to with the expectation that I’m going to move enough tickets to make it worth my while.”
High alludes to the roughly 2,000 Christian churches within said range of Nashville, where he originated his Faith Nights with the Sounds. By comparison, a comprehensive 2002 report tallied the number of active Jewish synagogues in the entire country at that time as under 4,000. A separate 2010 report concluded that, as of the turn of the aughts, there were narrowly more than 2,000 Muslim mosques across the U.S. The Church of Satan, of course, does not operate individual chapters or facilities as a fundamental tenet of its beliefs.
MLB does not provide data on religious demographics, but according to Jewish Baseball News, there are less than 10 active Jewish players. And so far, there has only been one Muslim player in MLB history, and he is now retired. It’s hard to see how they’d collectively help foment a fervor on par with Faith Nights, but easy to imagine where fans who celebrate varying faiths — or none at all — might, to Zirin’s point, feel a sense of remove when their team’s standout hitter motions to the heavens after a come-from-behind win and then sticks around to spread the gospel. For that matter, some Christians might as well.
“I’m troubled as a Christian by the whole, ‘I prayed and my batting average went up five points’ kind of thing,” says Shaun Casey, Director of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and former U.S. State Department Special Representative. “There is a sense sometimes that Christianity gets marketed as a solution to all your life’s problems. I have a number of Muslim friends. I never picked up a whiff of, ‘Allah helps me in my field, Allah helps me in my hitting.’ I think there is a stream across American Christianity [of], ‘Yeah, Jesus helps my batting average.’ I just think that’s a bad version of what Christianity’s really about.”
MLB does, to its credit, try and cover as many bases (pun intended this time) as possible by sanctioning league-wide “Heritage Nights” celebrating Jewish, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, African-American and other cultural blocs that complement its recent PR blitz touting unprecedented diversity. For example, the San Francisco Giants’ annual Jewish Heritage Night occurs in partnership with Chabad SF and the Jewish Community Federation and is highlighted by a pregame parking-lot party and limited-edition merch, with partial ticket proceeds set aside for the city’s overall homeless population.
This scans as slightly divergent in scope and charitable intent from, say, the Kansas City Royals’ July 27 Faith and Family Night (the “and Family” addendum is often affixed to avoid appearances of faith-based exclusivity), which is sponsored by Hobby Lobby, the for-profit craft-store chain that adheres to Christian values and was a successful co-plaintiff in a Supreme Court case asserting its right to abstain from providing employees with compulsory contraceptive coverage. The Royals’ site advertises that “players and/or executives” will speechify during the event, which will take place after the game inside the team’s 37,000-plus-capacity stadium and close out with a performance from Christian-music superstar Matthew West.
For some, the idea that MLB offers any kind of level playing field in the pursuit of inclusive representation is hard to swallow, and underscores Zirin’s opinion that the league can’t have it both ways. “I think it is a false equivalency,” says Tom Krattenmaker, a USA Today columnist, author of Onward Christian Athletes and communications director at Yale Divinity School, of likening Heritage Nights to Family Nights. “They’re very different in terms of scale, but also in the degree to which the team is facilitating an evangelism experience. It’s a gray area. They’ll always be able to say nobody’s forced to listen.”
Krattenmaker draws parallels between the swelling evangelical footprint within MLB and evangelicals’ growing influence on societal mores, despite their relative minority status within the total Christian consortium. As recently as last year, the total number of Americans who identify as evangelical was at 15 percent, down eight percent from 2008. Yet in the 2016 presidential election, they accounted for more than a quarter of all votes cast in the nation. If evangelicals’ political motivation was to preserve a particular idyll of American life resistant to modern demographic shifts, MLB’s M.O. might be to sanctify itself as the now-and-forever Eden for pro-sports Puritans.
High assures that’s far from the truth, and that when Third Coast approaches individual organizations about Faith Nights, they often “deal with a lot of hard-headed people” skeptical of the promotion, a leeriness that abates, he says, “when they make half a million dollars.”
Rogers, the former Giants minor-league pitcher and present RBI Austin Advisory Board member, reiterates that MLB rosters represent “an incredibly diverse group of people as a whole.” Still, he recognizes that a conspicuous slice of star players wears its Christianity on its jersey sleeves, and furthermore that “it’s not only accepted but smiled upon to be a good, wholesome, baseball-playing Christian.”
As much as anything, it’s symptomatic of baseball’s prolonged existential crisis. Does the game — and its function as the engine of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise — risk demystifying its quaint, national-pastime appeal as a concession to modernity, or get lapped as it upholds a peculiarly devout status quo?
For now, Rogers places his bets on the latter. “There’s safety in [MLB] putting out that image, just like [how] in basketball, there’s safety in being kind of a bombastic personality,” he explains. “A lot more people who yearn for Mayberry still watch baseball. Baseball has to become more interesting. It needs people to shed a light on diversity in the game. It needs people to market the diversity in the game. Tell me why a guy like Mookie Betts, with a name like Mookie who’s an absolute stud, how can you not make that guy a household name? It basically does the work for you.”
In his estimation, the disconnect between MLB and millions of would-be followers can be overcome with old-fashioned agnostic ballyhoo. “Twenty-five years ago, when I was idolizing Frank ‘The Big Hurt’ Thomas or Randy ‘The Big Unit’ [Johnson] or Nolan Ryan and The Ryan Express, these people were cartoon characters, larger than life,” he says. “The stories are there. The diversity is there. If you want to see baseball with a pulse, go to Latin America. And yet, here we are, playing it like gentlemen. That’s just the image we’ve created for baseball, and I think it’s a shame.”
Two Beatles anniversaries today:
1964: The Beatles make their third appearance on CBS-TV’s “Ed Sullivan Show.”
1969: “Get Back” (with Billy Preston on keyboards) hits number one:
Meanwhile, today in 1968, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful were arrested for drug possession. (Those last five words could apply to an uncountable number of musicians of the ’60s and ’70s.)
Sometimes political revolutions occur right before our eyes without us quite realizing it. I think that’s what’s been happening over the last few weeks around the world, and the message is clear: The populist “New Right” isn’t going away anytime soon, and the rise of the “New Left” is exaggerated.
Start with Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison won a surprising victory last week. Before the election, polls had almost uniformly indicated that his Liberal-National Coalition would have to step down, but voters were of another mind. With their support of Morrison, an evangelical Christian who has expressed support for President Donald Trump, Australians also showed a relative lack of interest in doing more about climate change. And this result is no fluke of low turnout: Due to compulsory voting, most Australians do turn out for elections.
The Liberal Party is the conservative party in Australia, by the way. (I know that because I wrote a term paper about the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis for a UW–Madison class.) Maybe now that they’re back in office the Liberals can discover gun ownership rights for the Aussies.
Or how about the U.K.? The evidence is mounting that the Brexit Party will do very well in this week’s European Parliament elections. Right now that party, which did not exist until recently, is in the lead in national polls with an estimated 34% support. The Tories, the current ruling party, are at only 12%. So the hard Brexit option does not seem to be going away, and the right wing of British politics seems to be moving away from the center.
As for the European Parliament as a whole, by some estimates after this week’s election 35% of the chamber will be filled by anti-establishment parties, albeit of a diverse nature. You have to wonder at what margins the EU will become unworkable or lose legitimacy altogether.
Meanwhile in the U.S., polls show Joe Biden as the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is one of the party’s more conservative candidates, and maybe some primary voters value his electability and familiarity over the more left-wing ideas of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That’s one sign the “hard left” is not in ascendancy in the U.S. Biden’s strategy of running against Trump is another. It’s hard to say how effective that will prove, but it is likely to result in an election about the ideas and policies of Trump, not those of Democratic intellectuals.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has remained strong, and Trump’s chances of re-election have been rising in the prediction markets.
One scarcely noticed factor in all of this has been the rising perception of China as a threat to Western interests. The American public is very aware that the U.S. is now in a trade war with China, a conflict that is likely to provoke an increase in nationalism. That is a sentiment that has not historically been very helpful to left-wing movements. China has been one of Trump’s signature causes for years, and he seems to be delighting in having it on center stage.
The Democratic Party is not well-positioned to make China a core issue. Democrats have been criticizing Trump’s tariffs for a while now, and it may be hard for them to adjust their message from “Tariffs Are Bad” to “Tariffs Are Bad But China Tariffs Are OK.” Their lukewarm support for free trade agreements — especially the Trans Pacific Partnership, which could have served as a kind of alternative China trade policy — also complicates matters. The net result is that Republicans will probably be able to use the China issue to their advantage for years to come.
Elsewhere, the world’s largest democracy just wrapped up a lengthy election. The results in India aren’t yet known, but exit polls show that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling coalition — and his philosophy of Hindu nationalism — will continue to be a major influence.
Modi’s party won big.
In all of this ferment, I am myself rooting for a resurgence of centrist cosmopolitanism. But I try to be honest about how my ideas are doing in the world. And in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of evidence that a new political era truly is upon us.
Well, in all of this ferment I am myself rooting for a resurgence — or maybe “surgence,” if that’s a word (like “disgruntled” not being the antonym of “gruntled”) — of political parties based on individual rights, liberty and free markets, like the pre-Trump Republican Party, and smaller government.. Readers know Trump has been as he should be in many areas (i.e. the tax cut), but tariffs are not a feature of free markets.
Worldwide electoral success isn’t the only place where the right is succeeding over the left, as Ron Ross claims:
You may have noticed that conservatives are blessed with an impressive lineup of intellectual heavyweights. Liberals have none, literally none. A few of those on the conservative side are Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, Dennis Prager, Shelby Steele, Jordon Peterson, and Mark Levin.
Thomas Sowell is an economist, ex-Marine, Hoover Institution scholar, and the author of over 30 books. If you’ve never read one you don’t know what you’re missing. Two of his classics are Knowledge and Decisions and The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. He is well known for his many pearls of wisdom which he terms, “random thoughts on the passing scene.” Those now can be found on Twitter.
Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and Hillsdale College. He is best known for his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Several million copies have been sold. It was even a number-one bestseller in Sweden. If you read that book you will understand life better, and if you follow the rules you will be a better person. The book is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Jordan Peterson is possibly the wisest man alive. Fortunately for the rest of us he shares his wisdom through his books, interviews, podcasts, and seminars. Peterson is despised by the left. That says much more about them than him.
Besides his columns, daily radio show, and books, Dennis Prager is the founder and frequent contributor to Prager University. Prager U presents concise, thoughtful five-minute lectures on a weekly basis, and recently reached a milestone of two billion views. His latest book is The Rational Bible: Genesis.
Victor Davis Hanson is a former professor of classical Greek history and is also a scholar at the Hoover Institution. He writes columns usually once or twice a week and appears on Fox News about as often. The amount of logic and historical perspective he includes in his columns is mind-boggling. His latest book is The Case for Trump.
Mark Levin is founder of the Landmark Legal Foundation, the author of several best-selling books, host of a daily radio show and a weekly hour-long interview show on Fox News. His just published book, Unfreedom of the Press, is the number one best seller on Amazon. Levin never leaves you wondering what he believes.
Shelby Steele is another scholar at the Hoover Institution and the author of The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, and Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country. His essays appear regularly on the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages.
You cannot name a single liberal who has anything approaching the above credentials or intellectual output. Why? There are a number of reasons.
Liberalism is fundamentally about feelings rather than thoughts. Also the left focuses on intentions, the right focuses on results and the ways by which results are achieved.
An advantage of making intentions your goal is that once you choose and announce them, you’re done. No need to follow up to see if your intentions were realized. No need to consider second or third order effects.
Leftism is about force, conservatism is about freedom and voluntary exchange. The use of force needs no theory or ideology. Anyone willing to rely on force to accomplish his or her objectives doesn’t really need to understand how the world works.
The mindset of the writers listed above reflects what is written in Ecclesiastes, “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven… and I gave my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.”
The foremost source of the left’s intellectual poverty is arrogance. Arrogance kills curiosity. Those on the left feel they already know all they need to know. They have nothing left to learn or to bother thinking deeply about. Ironically, they feel intellectually superior to conservatives.
A prerequisite for being a serious thinker is curiosity. It requires being curious about how things work — society, the economy, human nature, for example. Curiosity is the incentive for doing the hard work of study and serious thought.
The left also feels morally superior to any of our predecessors. Conservatives, on the other hand, possess a deep respect and reverence for the wisdom we’ve inherited from, for example, the Greeks, the Bible, Shakespeare, and the Founding Fathers.
Isaac Newton famously said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Even Newton needed to know what those preceding him had discovered. On the left there’s no gratitude for the wisdom endowed to us by our forebears. Rather than gratitude there’s disdain, another reflection of their arrogance.
The opposite of arrogance is humility. As Isaac Newton also recognized, “What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.”
A 2018 study reported in the Journal of Positive Psychology entitled “Links Between Intellectual Humility and Acquiring Knowledge” found that Intellectual humility (IH)
was associated with a variety of characteristics associated with knowledge acquisition, including reflective thinking, need for cognition, intellectual engagement, curiosity, intellectual openness, and open-minded thinking.… These links may help explain the observed relationship between IH and possessing more knowledge.
The entire study, by Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso, Megan Haggard et al., is worth reading.
As long as the left holds on to its arrogance it will never match the richness of the right’s intellectual offerings. It’s another reason why being a conservative is a whole lot more fun than being a liberal.
Liberals think having more college degrees and postgraduate degrees makes them smarter. The People’s Republic of Madison is full of taxi drivers and waiters with master’s degrees and doctorates. There is nothing wrong with taxi-driving or the restaurant industry, but intelligence is not necessarily measured in level of education. Two of the most wise people I knew, my grandmother and my father-in-law, got no farther than the eighth grade in school.
Margaret Thatcher was fond of saying that the facts of life are fundamentally conservative. Dennis Prager expands on that:
At the core of left-wing thought is a rejection of painful realities, the rejection of what the French call les faits de la vie, the facts of life. Conservatives, on the other hand, are all too aware of these painful realities of life and base many of their positions on them. …
Liberals find it too painful to look reality in the eye and acknowledge that human nature is deeply flawed. This is especially so since left-wing thought is rooted in secularism, and if you don’t believe in God, you had better believe in humanity — or you will despair.
Another fact of life that the Left finds too painful to acknowledge is the existence of profound differences between men and women. There is no other explanation for the rejection of what has been obvious to essentially every man and woman in history. It is certainly not the result of scientific inquiry. The more science knows about the male and female brain, not to mention male and female hormones, the more it confirms important built-in differences between the sexes.
Why then would people actually believe that girls are as happy to play with trucks as are boys, and boys are as happy to play with dolls and tea sets as are girls?
Today in 1969, the Who released their rock opera “Tommy” …
… two years before Iron Butterfly disbanded over arguments over what “In a Gadda Da Vita” (which is one-third the length of all of “Tommy”) actually meant:
The number one British album today in 1970 was “McCartney,” named for you know who:
“Democrats are aggressively pushing late-term abortion, allowing children to be ripped from their mother’s womb right up until the moment of birth,” President Trump said at a Florida rally earlier this month. “The baby is born and you wrap the baby beautifully and you talk to the mother about the possible execution of the baby.”
For cable news talking heads and leading Democrats, this is a demagogic lie. The fact-checkers mostly say it’s a distortion and exaggeration — and it is. It’s a distortion of something Virginia governor Ralph Northam said days before revelations that he dressed in blackface (or in a Klan outfit) during medical school eclipsed the Virginia abortion controversy.
Trump has been referencing Northam’s remarks since January, when Kathy Tran, a Democratic Virginia delegate, introduced legislation to liberalize abortion in her state. During a colloquy with a Republican lawmaker, Tran said her bill would legalize abortions through the 40th week of pregnancy, including during labor. (She later said she misspoke when it was pointed out that this would violate infanticide laws.)
The next day, Northam — a pediatric neurologist by training — appeared on a local radio station to support Tran and her bill. He explained how, in cases where a fetus was not viable, “the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if this is what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother.”
Now, Northam never said anything about “executing” babies. But Tran’s legislation would have allowed late-term abortions of viable, non-deformed babies solely if the mother’s mental or emotional health was threatened.
Tran’s bill didn’t pass, but it was part of a trend in liberal states to loosen abortion laws even further. Earlier in January, Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo had signed similar legislation.
All of this is worth keeping in mind amid the furor over Alabama’s near-total abortion ban. If we go by the attitudes of the American people, both the New York and the Alabama laws are extreme. Polling on abortion is notoriously fraught. Wording matters enormously because many Americans are conflicted on the issue. But generally, most Americans support early-stage abortions, and opposition grows along with the fetus. According to Gallup, 60 percent of Americans support abortion rights in the first trimester, but only 13 percent do in the third trimester.
That the media yawned over New York’s law but remain in a frenzy over Alabama’s says a lot about where the press comes down on the issue. But it also speaks to the legal and political landscape. Even Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a strong defender of abortion rights, has called the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision a “heavy-handed judicial intervention” and said she would have preferred that abortion rights were secured more gradually, with greater buy-in at the state level.
Under Roe v. Wade (and later Planned Parenthood v. Casey), the court not only imposed one of the most permissive abortion regimes in the world, it foreclosed state-level compromise, galvanizing the pro-life movement and causing both pro-choicers and pro-lifers to take more absolutist positions.
Alabama’s law is clearly unconstitutional under current precedent. But that’s the point. Alabama’s GOP legislators deliberately passed an unconstitutional law in the hope that the court’s new conservative majority would overthrow Roe and Casey. New York’s Democratic lawmakers weren’t trying to test Roe or Casey, but to create a post-Roe abortion “sanctuary” in case the court does reverse Roe. In other words, Roe is not a “moderate” ruling. Purely in terms of public attitudes, it permits pro-choice extremism (abortions in the 40th week!) but not pro-life extremism (total bans).
Hence, Roe made it necessary for the pro-life movement to embrace an incremental strategy, working to change attitudes, chip away at Roe at the margins, and reduce the abortion rate (with considerable success). But now that some think the brass ring is in sight, the movement has split between incrementalists and those — like the sponsors of the Alabama bill — who think it’s worth going for broke. (I think the go-for-broke crowd is miscalculating.)
The underlying political reality is that most Americans want a compromise, but the parties are more responsive to the activists and donors. As a result, Democrats have abandoned their “safe, legal, and rare” rhetoric, while Republicans are downplaying a “culture of life.” Instead, each seeks to cast the other party as extreme. Republicans highlight rare late-term abortions, and Democrats focus on the also-rare cases of 12-year-olds impregnated by their rapist fathers.
Roe created this polarized — and polarizing — dynamic in which the debate is dominated by the extremes. Overturning Roe and allowing states to pass laws that reflect majority opinion might not defuse the political passion, but at some point we are likely to find out.
The federal debt is one of those political issues brought up by the political party that is not in power, because it makes the party in power look bad.
But even with Republicans controlling the White House and the Senate, the Heritage Foundation brings it up:
President Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” remains true today. Yet during times of great prosperity, it’s easy to take things for granted and assume that the good times will remain forever.
Today, despite the present economic boom, two types of bankruptcy threaten America’s fortunes.
The second bankruptcy is more literal: America’s skyrocketing national debt.
Even though economic booms are usually a time to bring deficits under control, the federal government is increasingly relying on the national credit card to pay the bills.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the current fiscal year deficit will be $896 billion, or more than $2,720 for every American (including children). With a disaster spending bill in the works and Congress discussing another possible caps deal, the deficit could surpass $1 trillion this year.
The last time America incurred such high deficits was in 2012, following the Great Recession. We have no such excuse today.
And it gets worse. The deficit is projected to climb to $1.4 trillion in 2028, which means we would be about $4,000 deeper in the red per person, unless Congress acts to control spending.
All that is on top of the current gross debt of $22 trillion. Each person’s share of today’s debt is already a staggering $67,000—exceeding what the typical American household earns in a year by several thousands of dollars.
This high and rising debt burden has many harmful effects.
For starters, the government will pay $382 billion in interest this year just to service the debt, or $1,160 for each of us. That kind of money would go a long way for most American families, but instead we send it to our creditors—many of whom are foreign nations. China alone owns over $1 trillion in U.S. treasuries.
As the debt increases and interest payments rise, that creates a heavier drag on the economy. Although it is hard to measure how much economic growth we miss out on because of the debt, even relatively small growth effects add up to thousands of dollars lost per year for every worker.
This is maddeningly unfair to younger and future generations. Not only are today’s children being saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in national debt, but they may also have to navigate an economy that offers them less opportunity than they would have if political leaders were more responsible with the nation’s finances.
It is tempting to look at all of that bad news and throw up our hands. But that is not how Americans respond to a challenge.
The Heritage Foundation has the solution to big deficits and a slower economy: the “Blueprint for Balance.”
Drawing on the work of dozens of policy analysts, the blueprint provides policymakers with a comprehensive approach to taxing, spending, and protecting vital liberties.
The impact of adopting the blueprint’s 250-plus specific policy proposals would be enormous. Over the course of a decade, the blueprint would:
- Shift the budget from annual deficits to a surplus.
- Achieve over $30,000 per person in accumulated savings by eliminating wasteful programs, reforming Social Security and Medicare so they are sustainable, and returning control and responsibility for programs best administered by the private sector, states, and local governments to those entities.
- Reduce taxes by roughly $2,500 per person through making the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent, while eliminating many tax subsidies for politically-connected groups and businesses.
- Shrink the national debt as a share of the economy by over a third from current projections, making it manageable.
- Ensure that America’s military has the resources it needs to keep the nation secure.
Enacting the blueprint will require a sustained effort and political courage. At a time when the Senate seems unable to legislate and the House would rather spend than budget, this seems like a daunting task.
Political leaders must make a choice. They can choose to do nothing—in which case debts will continue to pile up, Social Security will run out of money to pay benefits, and the federal government will remain too big to be managed properly—or, they can choose to move toward socialism, which would concentrate power and money in Washington, D.C., while throttling the economy with high taxes and reducing freedom and choices for Americans.
By following the “Blueprint for Balance,” though, lawmakers can secure more economic growth, a solvent retirement system, and a federal government focused on its core constitutional priorities, such as protecting the nation.
The choice is clear. America’s present and its future depend on a commitment to the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, and a strong national defense. These are the principles embodied in the “Blueprint for Balance.”
I thoroughly disagree with the number one song today in 1961:
Today in 1965, the Beatles found that “Ticket to Ride” was a ticket to the top of the charts:
The number one album today in 1971 was the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”: