A couple days ago the Christian world, including those Americans who still cling bitterly to that identity, celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. It follows, chronologically, that this is my last column of the year; as such I thought it appropriate (and much easier, on the day after Christmas) to jot down a few random thoughts to close out 2018:
1) First, an historical aside. I have begun reading Daniel Mahoney’s remarkable new book, “The Idol of Our Age”, in which he argues that society’s steady adoption of Comte’s “religion of humanity” subverts not only Christianity, but the very foundations of our civil society. I was reminded of the derision leveled towards George W. Bush, nearly two decades ago now, over an answer he gave to Tom Brokaw, who was serving as moderator for the third televised Republican debate during the 2000 primaries. Brokaw asked the candidates a question submitted by a viewer: “what political philosopher-thinker… do you most identify with?” After Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes gave rather predictable answers (Locke and the American founders respectively) Brokaw briefly reiterated the question for Bush saying simply “Governor Bush, philosopher-thinker, and why.” Bush’s answer was “Christ, because he changed my heart.”
Well, now. If that answer were to be offered today, there are those – including much of the media, most of what passes these days for academia, and virtually all of the demi-gods of pop culture – who would react as though the response were “Robespierre, because he sure knew his way around a guillotine.”
Back then most of the criticism directed at Bush over his response was more geared towards reinforcing the caricature of GWB as an intellectual lightweight; pointing out that Jesus was not really a political philosopher and implying that perhaps the future president wasn’t familiar with any.
Both propositions are arguable at best, but it is true that the most Christ said about politics directly was summed up in “render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and to God that which is God’s.” And from that time on most of politics, at least in the Western world, has boiled down largely to quantifying what is Caesar’s and what isn’t.
2) We are reminded every few minutes by the media that the federal government remains shutdown. Well, not the military, the courts, the IRS, or the postal service, but there is no one on hand, for instance, to guard the National Christmas Tree. This is a valuable function the Fourth Estate serves, for few would notice if we weren’t told.
The circumstances of the shutdown, as it were, are strictly political; President Trump wants a political victory (funding for the border wall), which the Democrats want very much to deny him. One hopes that “border wall” is a somewhat reductionist euphemism for broader border security, and that Democratic opposition is based solely on fiduciary and utilitarian concerns, but both are lamentably unlikely. In any event the regular game of political chicken known as a “shutdown” could continue for a bit longer, but fear not – there are those who shall dutifully search hither and yon for evidence of it to let us all know it is, in fact, happening.
3) Interior Secretary Zinke’s departure was not exactly unexpected but is unfortunate, as his tenure has marked some of the greatest achievements of this unusual administration and has proven of tremendous benefit to Colorado insofar as opening federal government-owned land back up to prudent development and rolling back the excesses of the Obama administration. Some good people are lined up to take Zinke’s place, and there is little reason to expect a regrettable shift in policy direction, but a few items in particular for Coloradans to watch for: whether a westward relocation of the BLM remains on the table; if advances in sage grouse management (and improvements to the Endangered Species Act in general) stay on track; and if any much-needed reforms to the Equal Access To Justice Act, the well-intended but much-abused provision which has served as the legal avenue for the fanatical environmentalist’s “sue-and-settle” model of halting economic activity on federal land, may still be in the works (an eventuality greatly limited by a Democratic-controlled House.)
4) Governor Polis announced several of his key cabinet appointments on the Friday afternoon before Christmas. That may have been simply a result of the exigencies related to completing such tasks, but this is a business that derisively eschews coincidence. In any event, some of the selections are reassuring, such as the retention of the very-capable Stan Hilkey as head of Public Safety; others are a mildly terrifying harbinger of just how far left Mr. Polis intends to steer Colorado. Other posts, most notably the Department of Natural Resources, remain open, and we apprehensively await his decisions.
5) General Mattis is correct on Syria, and his council will be, ought to be, sorely missed.
Well there you have it. Next week begins a new year, one in which we shall continue the debate over just how much should be rendered to Caesar and what ought to be left, blessedly, well enough alone.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.