Saturday, December 31, 2005

Twin Cities Musings

I’m sitting up in the Marriott City Center hotel facing the Target Center on the 16th floor having my AM coffee and getting moving. Very nice room for $109 AAA rate considering being in the center of a decent sized urban area (of course $15 of state and local taxes added don’t help very much, but that isn’t really the hotels fault). It is one of the ones on the corner of the triangle, for those familiar with the building, so lots of room, and a somewhat unique setup. Unbelievably they thought they would charge $10 for a 24hr internet service. Considering that it is free at Super-8 and that people that are going to use it generally know what it is worth, it seems amazing that they think they are going to make many sales there, and they do little else than mar an otherwise excellent experience.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday and we celebrated as we have most every year for the past 15 or so by having a 24-hour period away from the kids. The boys are the greatest blessing of our lives, but that one day a year spent away has been a good tradition, and as we see a time when we won’t have them with us on a daily basis, it seems that the tradition may have even been a bit of a good investment as well.

Most of the day was spent at the Mall Of America. I made my usual stop at the Apple store to gaze at the larger monitors. A friend of mine recently got the 31” and went through the hassles of getting it to work with a PC, it looks great, but not yet for me. I dream of going Apple for my “interface machine” and having 1GB LAN machines for Windows and Linux running that would generally only be accessed via virtual screen solutions (VNC) through the big Apple monitor. It was going to be the Apple 21” which is now down to $1,200, but I’m thinking that the 31” is the right solution, so will wait awhile longer on the technology curve or if my current 19” would die or something.

Last night was a great meal at Murray’s, a Minneapolis steak tradition since 1946, and right next to the hotel. They are famous for the “Silver Butter Knife Steak for Two”, and I’d have to say that it took the position of the best steak ever by a reasonable margin. It looks like a roast, and it is carved at your table. I suspect that they send the beef animals on cruises to the Caribbean to get them that tender, but whatever they do, it works. It was the first time we had dined there, and goes down as one of the top picks of a long and storied birthday dining tradition.

I continue to have a great time reading through “The Conservative Mind”, and realize that I’ve allowed my reading to get ahead of my Blog writing a good bit. “The Singularity Is Near” hasn’t even been commented on, I suppose that I will need to consider some 2005 retrospective, and I’d rather just read the current book. Besides all that, a new Polaris Fusion 600 HO sits in the garage ready to head for the Keweenaw next Wednesday. I do need to get back to work for a whole day and one half (officially) and I suspect a decent amount more to get the work that has piled up down to a dull roar.

On top of all that, it is New Years Eve, and there needs to be a party attended tonight. Oh, the difficulties in life! Other than Church tomorrow, work is officially off on Monday, so maybe I’ll get some “excessive writing in. Oh yes, there is the Palm T|X received for Christmas, and the Canon Powershot S2 1S, the “Mom and Dad” Christmas present in prep for a Confirmation, Graduation, and cruise to Alaska upcoming in 2006. I might have been born a little late, and it doesn’t appear that 2006 will be the year that I catch up either! Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Christmas Difference

There is no doubt that I will be writing on for some time about the differences between conservatives and liberals, but I strongly suspect that all the text in the world has less meaning that the state of the individual soul relative to the true Christmas. Those that come to a God of order by the Son freely given and sorely needed by an imperfect mankind will never be able to brook the "liberal" path that believes in the basic goodness of man and cries out for the imposition of a godless totalitarian state by all means possible.

I, as all Americans, have been strongly taught that politics and religion are two solidly separate elements, and those that taught us such had a very strong and ancient reason for doing so. How strong and how ancient is like most of such things, a matter of faith. One’s belief in God, or not, is to be a private matter as is the name one chooses to apply to that God and what means one decides on for worship. All fall under the dogma of “separation of Church and State”, which as become so specific that much of our country finds it fine for a man to hold public office and religious views as long as those religious views have no impact on his actions. (e.g. Kerry, Catholicism, and abortion). Religion that has no impact on actions is as dead as a toy puppy.

The founding fathers never intended any such dogma. They found it important that the US not have a FEDERAL church, meaning only that it not be official and state supported, but a number of the states, including Massachusetts had a State church that was tax supported for a good long while. They had no problems at all with Christian holidays like Christmas being national, and created “Thanksgiving” which was not intended to be “thanks to randomness and a lucky roll of the dice for allowing us to be Americans”.

I’m a couple of books behind on book reports to the blog, but I’ve made a solid start on “The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot” by Russell Kirk, and can tell it will have a fairly significant impact on my knowledge of the roots of today’s ideas. A key item made clear in the book is the explicit connection between conservatism and religious faith. If there is no “Divine Plan”, then ideas ultimately come down to “what works” (utilitarians), or worse “what we hope will work” (romanticism), and “works” ultimately becomes “power”. Apart from a higher power the validity of the ideas ends up completely defined by who has the power to make the ideas real and declare them to be “right”. Might is right.

Christmas Eve at the candlelight service has become one of those spiritual touchstones of each year for me. I was raised with the idea that “Christmas is for family”, and noted a number of the “mega-churches” weren’t holding services on Christmas. The family is important, but it isn’t of prime importance, God comes first. The position and makeup of the family streams like that holy light from heaven above, or it streams not at all. Take away the divine and “family” becomes a bumper sticker, as in the common one I see; “I value ALL families!”. Given the word “all”, one can assume that would include some number mommies and some number of daddies in any possible combination, along with what? One can only begin to guess, certainly eventually whatever other relationship the human imagination can proudly imagine, and announce equally proudly that they "value" it on their bumper.

Standing in a beautiful candlelit church decorated for the holiday singing Silent Night with a wife and two healthy sons makes the peak of the holiday come early, all the rest is just “icing” by comparison. Having one Christmas to do that is a gift beyond measure, having had over ten is wealth of the obscene level. The deep and the important is simple however, and has been handed down over now two thousands of years. God is a God of order, he wants it to work that way, and it often does.

When it doesn’t though, when there is no family, or even no friends, then he is still in the primary position, and always has been and always will be. Not on our terms, but on his terms which require the one thing that is generally impossible for those of the left. The recognition that man is not primary, and the way to God is one person wide and through the person of Jesus; those are the stumbling blocks to those intent on the deity of man.

The basic of our thought is that leap of faith, and if that leap is made, then the universe and values are suddenly no accident. Fall the other way, and the meaning of existence is random, so it may as well be “what feels best” or just “whatever”.

May I never lose my faith and fall into that pit!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Framing the Argument

I managed to get the Lakoff “Don’t even think of an elephant!” book back and I think it is important to dive into in some significant detail. This is a key liberal writing with a foreword by Howard Dean, and is recommended and read by many liberals (oh, excuse me, “progressives”). This is modern liberalism in it's own words, with the complete assumption that no conservative would ever read the book.

The core idea is that human thinking is made up of “frames” which are sets of ideas that fit together and define how we think. Lakoff points to too key ones “The Strict Father Frame (SFF)” where; “the world is a dangerous place, there is evil out there, there are winners and losers, there is absolute right and absolute wrong, children are born bad and have to be parented with discipline in order to create self discipline. If you learn that self-discipline, you learn to be self-reliant, and are likely to be prosperous, and it is “good” to be prosperous. Self interest is “good”, strict father model people believe in the Adam Smith model.

The second major model is what George calls the “Nurturing Parent Frame” (NPF), but what I like to think of as the “Permissive Mommy Frame”. Of course, once George heard that, he may well re-think his ideas on there being evil in the world ;-) Essentially, the NPF is the opposite of the SFF, but George wants to make it sound better than that so he tries very hard. The core NPF values are “empathy and responsibility”, empathy is figuring out what your child wants so you can spoil them, responsibility is teaching them that there ought to be a lot of government rules on smoking, food additives, and protecting the environment. Another key responsibility is to be “happy and fulfilled” as taught by the Dali Lama, being “happy and fulfilled” is your MORAL responsibility, it just doesn’t get much tougher than that. (you may think I am joking, I am not … see pages 12 and 13).

Your “values” are freedom, opportunity, prosperity, FAIRNESS, open two-way communication, community building, cooperation. These are NUTURANT values, and they are the kind held by all progressives. We also learn there are 6 types of progressives:

  1. Socioeconomic – It is all about economic class.
  2. Identity politics – Time for their oppressed group to get their share.
  3. Environmentalists – “Sacredness of the earth, protection of native peoples”.
  4. Civil libertarians – maintain their freedoms.
  5. Spiritual Progressives – liberal Christians, Muslims, Jews, Goddess Worshipers, pagan members of Wicca (witches! … it is HIS list, not mine)
  6. Antiauthoritarians – against all “illegitimate” forms of authority … especially big corporations.

So there you have the “really good guys”. Interestingly, these kind folks just don’t get along, but the darned conservatives do. Why? Because William Buckley told them to. William Simon convinced wealthy people to create "Think Tanks", which provide evil conservative thinkers a place to work, and liberals have no such home (even though he teaches at Berkley, apparently George is unaware that professors at places called "Universities" are often quite liberal).

The BIG reason for the smoothness of the conservative movement though is that Grover Norquist holds a weekly meeting. I kid you not, it is that easy to keep the evil individualist conservative SFF wackos working together, but not even a decent Wiccan spell can get that wonderful NPF family together. It is a mystery that George has some trouble with, but more money, more cognitive scientists (he just happens to be one), a couple more books, and they will be marching to wherever it is that liberals march (the random abyss?) hand in hand singin' kumbaya, but I digress.

A lot of time is spent pointing out "faulty Republican frames" … “tax relief”. Much like “What’s the Matter With Kansas”, it is an article of faith for George that there is NO WAY that voting for a Republican could EVER be in the “self interest” of anyone but the top 1 or maybe at MOST 10% of the economic earners. The idea that the economic pie isn’t fixed in size, and growing it is far more important than dividing a dwindling pie if the incentives to grow are removed. Pay no attention to twenty five years of top economic growth after improving the tax rates, there is just no way that anything but taxing the top and giving to the bottom works. The idea "opportunity" is really a cruel myth.

There is a discussion of “Orwellian Language” which means the opposite of what it says. “Clean Skies” bill is “Dirty Skies”, “Kill Public Education Bill” would be anything to do with vouchers. Conservatives hide their “real agenda” and work to be “radical”. Naturally, things like Gay marriage are completely not readical, or even new. They are natural things that any nurturing reasonable American would want if not mislead by the conservatives.

Conservatives "need division", they have "created the culture war" ... things like abortion on demand, removal of religion from the schools and public square and all the gay rights issues are nothing but "wedge issues", completely created by conservatives to cause the conflict they need to get people to vote against their "self interest" (high taxes on the "wealthy").

There is a lot of meandering around on how wrong the SFF is, but finally he gets to the following table.

Stronger AmericaStrong Defense
Broad ProsperityFree Markets
Better FutureLower Taxes
Effective GovernmentSmaller Government
Mutual ResponsibilityFamily Values

Is there any “progressive value” that really tells you what it means? They are all “good”, but they are all so fluffy that they defy anyone to explain what it is that they actually are. Essentially, they are are saying "we are for good things", but when it comes to means, they simply haven't declared, other than to say (we assume) that the conservative ideas, which are actually somewhat specific, are "wrong". Although, we have to assume even that. Do free markets create broad prosperity? Apparently not to a liberal, but according to economists and the results of the last 25 years, they do. What IS it that WOULD create that “broad prosperity”? It is undefined, and thus, it can’t be wrong … or unfortunately, right either.

There is a core of the liberal mind here “abstract and wishful thinking with no specifics”. We will leave the analysis here for the night.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why Hate Bush?

I’ve been busy finishing up things at work in prep for being off for the remainder of the year and also doing a truly senseless thing. The problem began when one of the guys that I ride snowmobile with purchased a 150HP Yamaha Apex sled and let both my wife and I ride it. My 2000 Polaris was no longer acceptable, so tomorrow I pull the trigger on a ’06 Polaris 600 HO Fusion. It is pretty senseless to live in MN with the combination of climate and taxes, so one may as well go do even more senseless things I guess.

I’m going to finally start on what is likely to be a reasonably long slog through understanding of people of the leftward persuasion as I promised a few Blogs ago. I thought I’d start with a man that is a lightning rod to huge segments of the left, George W Bush. They absolutely hate him, and I believe that they have good reason to, since for a person of the left he is as close to the ultimate embodiment of evil as they are likely to see.

Bush claims to have been redeemed by Christ and evidences an actual life change as a result of it. From the left, that is as bad as it gets. While not every person on the left will admit to being an actual atheist, they certainly don’t believe in a God that is “involved”, definitely not one that would be “dying for the sins of man”. They see man as the measure of all things, and human nature as good to begin with. While humans may not always be perfect, they are not really “sinful”. All problems are due to some failing outside the person … parents, society, legitimate angst due to the impoverishment of life caused by the corruption of the Western capitalist system.

The idea that an encounter with a specific higher power, the named higher power of Jesus Christ would change a life is a horror beyond any other. It certainly isn’t privilege that they hate … see Kennedy, Kerry, or even Gore. Obviously it isn’t Southerners … Clinton was at least as Southern. One could go through a long boring litany, but I don’t think there is anything special to for them to hate about Bush over say, Reagan.

It is true that they hated Reagan as well, but it never quite had that blind consuming rage that the Bush hatred has for many of the lefty faithful. It is true that hatred becomes them and tends to come naturally to them, but that will be a subject of later discussion.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

National Secrets

I got to hear most of the Bush speech tonight and I’m thinking that he may need to be investigated for disclosing top secret information. Apparently there was an election in Iraq last week that went somewhat well and there is absolutely no reason that Americans should know about this, it could confuse reasonable Americans about the situation in Iraq.

I took this screen shot off CNN last week Thursday at one point in the PM:

Our MSM is doing a solid job of keeping Americans focused on what is important. The headline on that page showed that Bush had finally reached an agreement with John McCain that foreign terrorists should be treated with the utmost of care, no matter how many American lives that may cost. The media lets us know that terrorists may torture Americans they capture if we are keeping their compatriots awake at night or playing any Brittany Spears around them. I was shocked; I thought they would remain perfectly civil and just behead them with an appropriately humane dull knife.

I was also glad to see that while the double-secret elections were going on it was critical that we be treated to more key information about how good a job the MSM has been doing about making sure Americans have the right answer to Bush’s “lack of a plan” in Iraq. Not to mention the progress that they have been making with getting rid of the Patriot Act. The courageous disclosure that calls were being monitored was an impressive act to help level the playing field for any “insurgents” that may be acting in the US.

We have spent a long time in important analysis of how national security is damaged by the outing of a CIA employee that drives to work at the CIA every day. Disclosure that people that work at CIA headquarters actually work at the CIA has given opposition forces a huge insight into the workings of the US Intelligence services otherwise denied them. Hopefully “Scooter” does some very hard time for this horrible breech.

On the other hand, the media has really aided our security by making it clear to any countries that had mistakenly thought that deals with the US Government on holding foreign “freedom fighters” were somehow “secret”. It is obvious to the casual observer that Scooter’s disclosure of people driving into the CIA as being employed by the CIA was a “leak”, and requires investigation and punishment. Disclosure of information labled “Top Secret” or other bogus classifications relating to “secret prisons” or “monitored calls” is an example of “patriotic whistle blowing”.

While parts of the speech tonight may have been misleading to some, I was fortunate to hear the analysis of the speech on NPR afterward. Bush is again “cherry picking” the information at hand. The Democrats have the right answer as presented by Nancy Pelosi, which is that there is no reason to have a position on Iraq. Many media sources are calling for an investigation of the Wall Street Journal for disclosing that Joe Lieberman has gone insane … actually, they just printed an article that he supported victory in Iraq, when the only sane position is no position, but there is no excuse for that kind of shameless exposure of items that could confuse decent Americans.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Loved Liberal

MPR is in full eulogy mode for Eugene McCarthy. A Minnesotan, a man who ran for president, and one who did much to shape the modern anti military flavor of the Democrat party.

The first point that strikes me is just how much they love and respect the man and what he stood for. There is  nothing at all wrong with that, it is just such a great contrast to how they talked of Reagan during the funeral week in ’04. Their love and respect for McCarthy is palpable, they KNOW he was right, they feel it in their souls, and it is impossible for them to question his legacy … not in a normal “reasonable respect for the dead” way, but because they just don’t have it in them.

For Reagan, they covered the his death because it was a story. They were careful to point out the “things that were claimed” for his legacy, but also wondered about all the time that was spent on remembering him, and felt that it was “important” to dwell just a bit on “deficits”, “Iran Contra”, or maybe that ‘80s had a “darker side”. It was clear that they really didn’t respect him and what they felt in their souls was a return to negative feelings of the era that they really didn’t want to revisit.

It is said that people want to be liked, but I often wonder if it is more true to say that “people want to be liked by the right people”. I suspect that most of us don’t want to be liked by terrorists for example. A good deal of my reading and the events of this past fall have led me back to the thought of the fundamental differences between those that end up on the left and on the right. There exists a vast middle of people to which concerns of world view are of no concern. They have decided to largely ignore politics, and while they may cheer for the winners or follow whatever line is currently popular, they have no real identification with any of the core ideas or values. I’d like to think that one of the objectives of a “good society” would be to have few enough serious problems so it is just fine for a huge majority to be blissfully in that class.

As I re-launch into this mental exercise yet again, I point out what I would assume is the obvious. Any activity like this is a generalization. The set of people that precisely fit any of the labels, thoughts, viewpoints that I assign to “liberal” or “conservative” is probably null. I maintain the thought is still useful though. The average life expectancy for a male may be 78, but the set of males that dies on their 78th birthday at the same time of day they were born is  small … but the generalization still is useful.

A second point that I consider to be equally obvious is that while I may assign some specific thoughts or motives to people of a general class, my guess would be that very very few have such conscious thoughts. Most people don’t think very much of “why they think some way”, the meta-recursion makes their head hurt. One of the books that has driven me to return to this path of thought is “Don’t Even Think of An Elephant” by George Lakoff which I had read last fall, lent out, and have recently been lending around to a number of reading friends.

George is a very intelligent man, and his exact focus is on differences between the ways that liberals think and how conservatives fail to think. He couches it all in “Frames”, and thus the title … the more classic rendition of which would be “don’t even think of a pink elephant”, at which point of course you DO think of a pink elephant. He argues that there are two basic frames in the world, the “stern father frame”, and the “nurturing parent frame”. Dishonesty shows its face immediately. Clearly he means “nurturing MOTHER”, the obvious counterpoint to Father unless you are a lefty I guess.

He is writing it to “progressives”. Note the frame, we don’t even want to say liberal, although that term itself is yet another obfuscation picked up when “National SOCIALIST” (or better known as Nazi) developed some poor connotations in the ‘30s. Since he is writing it to the faithful and assumes that no evil, incurious, set in their ways, unable to take in the other side, conservatives would ever read it, he can be "honest".

At some point I’ll get the book back and comment on it more, but at this point I’ll stop for the night and hope to get a few days of writing on this topic without too much intrusion by world or personal events.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Avoiding the Cheer

There has been a significant amount of good news both locally and nationally of late, but one has to pretty much be a news hound to be aware of it. It might show up for a brief instant, but it doesn’t last very long. Here in MN we have a $1 Billion budget surplus. Last summer the Democrats shut down the Government to demand tax increases as the only way to come close to a balanced budget. They accused the Pawlenty administration of “lying” (Democrats are huge on “truth”) in claiming that he had balanced the budget, and that real deficits would be over a Billion for the biennium. Weeks after the agreement, the State and the media stealthily announced a $300Million SURPLUS for the first 6 months of the year. Now they have announced a $700 Million SURPOLUS for the 2nd half of the year. The big tax increase? A .75 a pack cigarette tax, which of course the Democrats chastised the Governor for.

Is this a newsworthy item? Barely. The shutdown was top billing for weeks, the fact that it was all a sham, Pawlenty and the Republicans were right and we are now running a surplus? Barely a whisper. Wonder what the headlines would say if the predictions had gone the Democrats way, let alone gone their way by $1 Billion worse than their projections? No doubt it would be the apocalypse.

Nationally it is much the same. The 3rd quarter growth rate, projected by the media and Democrat prophets as “hopefully doom” was 4.3%, meaning that we have grown faster than 3% for 10 straight quarters, the longest such string of growth over 3% since the 13 quarters which ended in March of 1986. November job growth came in a 215,000 another nice number. Is this all good news? Not really, Bush is in the WH so the media finds nothing but negatives in it, refuses to report it anything but minimally, and then proceeds to see if they can mention low poll numbers again. There can really be no good news at all with a Republican in the WH.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Murtha Lieberman Contrast

This is a time of the year for celebration and joy, not for Blogging and politics in general, so my writing will be slow by design. I have better things to do.

A short follow-up on the Lieberman “stealth column”. A LEADING Democrat, Vice Presidential candidate in 2000, Presidential candidate in 2004, writes a major piece for a major US Newspaper, and one has to be a news junkie to even find it. A relatively obscure Congressman (Murtha) says “bring the troops home now”, and it is headline news all over. The difference? The MSM agrees with Murtha, they want Lieberman dead.

Lieberman is getting exactly what would be expected from the left. They are talking about running someone against him in his primary, raising money for anyone that will oppose him, and calling him “nuts”, “Zell Miller”, “traitor”, and a lot worse. As Howard Dean has pointed out, the Democratic Party is staking their future on the defeat of America and the success of terrorists, and they are out to purge dissents in their ranks.

Murtha is a hero for the MSM. "Truth" (their brand) to power. Murtha is "the brave", Lieberman is the dangerously insane that must be ignored.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Courage is Named Joe (Lieberman)

If such a thing as "the middle" exists in the US today it would be represented by Joe Lieberman from the Democrats and John McCain from the Republicans. Since the media is 80% hard left it takes a giganticly greater level of courage for Lieberman to speak "truth to power" (a favorite lefty phrase) than it does for McCain, but both generally agree on the situation in Iraq.

I've copied Lieberman's WSJ column in total so it doesn't get lost in "link land". If Lieberman would run for President against McCain I suspect I'd be voting for the second Democrat of my lifetime. THIS is what a "profile in courage" is all about. Freedom, the USA, the Iraqi people, and true guts taking precedence over ideological politics and Bush hatred, way to go Joe!

Our Troops Must Stay
America can't abandon 27 million Iraqis to 10,000 terrorists.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.

Progress is visible and practical. In the Kurdish North, there is continuing security and growing prosperity. The primarily Shiite South remains largely free of terrorism, receives much more electric power and other public services than it did under Saddam, and is experiencing greater economic activity. The Sunni triangle, geographically defined by Baghdad to the east, Tikrit to the north and Ramadi to the west, is where most of the terrorist enemy attacks occur. And yet here, too, there is progress.

There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is growing. And Sunni candidates are actively campaigning for seats in the National Assembly. People are working their way toward a functioning society and economy in the midst of a very brutal, inhumane, sustained terrorist war against the civilian population and the Iraqi and American military there to protect it.

It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.

Before going to Iraq last week, I visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has been the only genuine democracy in the region, but it is now getting some welcome company from the Iraqis and Palestinians who are in the midst of robust national legislative election campaigns, the Lebanese who have risen up in proud self-determination after the Hariri assassination to eject their Syrian occupiers (the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias should be next), and the Kuwaitis, Egyptians and Saudis who have taken steps to open up their governments more broadly to their people. In my meeting with the thoughtful prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, he declared with justifiable pride that his country now has the most open, democratic political system in the Arab world. He is right.

In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.

None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country.

The leaders of Iraq's duly elected government understand this, and they asked me for reassurance about America's commitment. The question is whether the American people and enough of their representatives in Congress from both parties understand this. I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.

The leaders of America's military and diplomatic forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey and Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, have a clear and compelling vision of our mission there. It is to create the environment in which Iraqi democracy, security and prosperity can take hold and the Iraqis themselves can defend their political progress against those 10,000 terrorists who would take it from them.