I have a bet for famed neoconservative pundit and television personality Michael Barone. He has a new book out that's barely longer than its title: Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future.
In it, Barone comes out strongly—you'll be amazed to learn—for competition and against coddling. He blames the "Soft" public sector for pampering children, while the "Hard" private sector plays for keeps and pays for performance.
Although you probably heard these exact same insights from your grandfather back in 1977, Barone describes his own book as "stunningly original"—which suggests that he doesn't hold himself to terribly Hard standards.
Barone does seem to grasp that there's something contradictory about his "Life is real! Life is earnest!" philosophy and his infatuation with George W. Bush, whose feckless first 40 years of life were completely cosseted. Barone handwaves:
"It may seem odd that Bush, whose success in the private sector was at best mixed, should promote competition and accountability; perhaps it is because he has gained satisfaction from his greater success in the Hard competition of electoral politics and public-sector governance."
This is hardly a good moment for Barone to trumpet the President's success in public-sector governance. Ahmed Chalabi—the convicted embezzler who hoaxed the Administration into believing in Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction—has been revealed as an Iranian agent.
Even worse, there's informed speculation about what I call "The Manchumpian Candidate" scenario: that Iran's Vevak intelligence agency helped Chalabi fabricate WMD evidence in order to trick Bush into overthrowing the Sunni Saddam, thus opening up Iraq to long-term domination by Shi'ite Iran.
Granted, unlike certain other neocons, the FBI is not investigating whether Barone handed to Chalabi the American secrets that ended up in Tehran. Barone has simply been one of Chalabi's cheerleaders. For example, last July Barone produced a steaming pile of punditry called "The Good News Coming from Iraq" based on what Chalabi told him after a Dick Cheney speech at the American Enterprise Institute. (I know that sounds like it's from The Onion, but I'm not making it up.) Barone's conclusion:
"All this is tremendously encouraging. Many of these things might have happened earlier had planning not been conducted on two tracks, by the State Department and the Defense Department, until George W. Bush ordered January 20 that Defense would be in charge. State planners had envisioned a very different process, one which would not have put Iraq on the track toward democracy and the rule of law. Fortunately, Defense has been able to do that, with critical help from Chalabi and other Iraqis who share those goals."
Barone has been also an important intellectual spokesman for the second half of the Bush Administration's peculiar Invade-the-World/ Invite-the-World platform. Barone's shallow 2001 book, The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again, which I reviewed for VDARE.com, constituted about as much scholarly support as Bush's obsession with increasing immigration could muster.
Barone's particular expertise is voting patterns, but his amazing knowledge of electoral arcana is no match for his emotions. As I wrote in 2001, Barone trumpets two contradictory opinions. The first is his sunny optimism that his beloved Republican Party will ultimately triumph: 'Demography is moving, slowly, toward the Bush nation,' he gloated in that year's edition of his Almanac Of American Politics. The second is his cheerleading for immigration.
How does he attempt to logically reconcile his two passions? Well, as far as I can tell, Barone doesn't even try.
Barone has claimed that the Hispanic vote will reach eight or nine percent of the total in the 2004 election. This, he argues, requires the GOP to cave in on amnesty.
"the total Hispanic vote grew from 3.6 in 1988 to 4.7 percent in 1996 to 5.4 percent in 2000. It likely will be about six percent or slightly higher in 2004."
Last week, my forecast received unexpected support:
"The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a nonpartisan [!] group representing about 6,000 Hispanic officials, expects a record 7 million Hispanics to vote in November, or 6.1 percent of the total electorate, according to its voter projections, released Tuesday." — Reuters, May 27, 2004.
So, contra Barone, there's still time to do something about immigration.
Let's inject a little Hard competition into Mr. Barone's Soft life.
I hereby declare that, in the tradition of the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich, I will wager $1,000 that the Hispanic share of the 2004 Presidential vote—according to the November 2004 Census Bureau survey—will be closer to my prediction of 6.1 percent than to Barone's prediction of 8.5%.
Mr. Barone can reach me here.