Archive for January, 2008

51 Via Margutta

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Old movies are new to people who have viewed them for the first time only recently. On the recommendation of friends, I recently saw the movie Roman Holiday when it was broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies network. There were three stars in the movie: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, and the city of Rome. The well-known plot focuses around Princess Ann (played by Hepburn) from an unnamed country who gets lost one night in Rome and literally falls under the protection of a newspaper reporter, Joe Bradley (played by Peck). Princess Ann does not wish to reveal her status and Joe Bradley tries to conceal his occupation because he needs to secure an exclusive story about the princess. They spend a day experiencing Rome and love intervenes.

In the last six months, I have had the opportunity to visit Rome a couple of times, seeing many of the eternal sites of Rome that appear in the movie. During this last visit, I thought it would be interesting to explore the quiet residential area near the Spanish Steps to find 51 Via Margutta where the fictional reporter Joe Bradley lived in the movie.

Below are a few pictures from a short visit to 51 Via Margutta:

Street sign.

Yours truly in front on the entrance to 51 via Margutta.
When some residents of 51 via Margutta showed up, I asked in poor, broken Italian where Gregory Peck was. The question was sufficient to persuade them to let me and my friends into the 51 via Margutta court yard. This was probably a unique concession to winter visitors. There are probably too many interested people in the summer to be so kind. Below are the steps covered with a viney overhang leading to Joe Bradley’s apartment.

Steps to Joe Bradley’s apartment.
The balcony below was featured in the film when Joe Bradley’s landlord looked askance from it as Joe Bradley loaned money to Princess Ann as she left Bradley’s apartment.

Rome is a beautiful city with many sites. This small little corner on via Margutta is one that I will remember because of the hospitality of few Romans.

Romney or McCain?

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

The National Review has adopted a unassailably reasonable criterion for deciding whom to endorse for President each election cycle. They select the most Conservative candidate that has a reasonable prospect of election. Even within criterion, there remains considerable room for disagreement. The National Review decided to endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

At this point there are four Republican candidates with reasonable prospect of receiving the Republican nomination: Governor Mike Huckabee, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator John McCain, and Governor Mitt Romney.

Governor Huckabee can be dismissed as populist whose message is a distortion of Conservatism. He may be pro-Life and pro-Second Amendment Huckabee, but he employs the same class warfare rhetoric as Democrats and has a feel good foreign policy that is eerily reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s. Huckabee has managed to use an avuncular personality and genuine concern about others to win the Iowa caucus and improve in national poll results. However, his strategy is very unlikely to prevail against Democrats in the fall. They and their friends in the press will effectively ridicule Huckabee’s religious beliefs. Moreover, Huckabee does not represent a clear choice against Democrats. To corrupt a phrase from President Truman, when given a choice between a Democrat and a Democrat, the people will always choose the Democrat.

At one point last year, Mayor Giuliani was leading in national polls and it even looked possible that he might defeat prominent Democratic candidates. He is socially Liberal, but had agreed to appoint judges to the Federal Judiciary who adhere to an Originalist interpretation of the law and Constitution. Given this ability to actually win, Conservatives could reasonably overlook some of Giuliani’s positions, and support him for President. However, it presently appears that Giuliani has not caught on with the public. There is no longer the tradeoff between likelihood of winning and being less Conservative that works in Giuliani his favor. Moreover, if he runs against Senator Hillary Clinton, the two New Yorkers will go after each other with a venom that will rightfully sour the general public.

This leaves Romney and McCain to choose from. Romney has the advantage of being a Washington outsider and the aura of competence. He is a policy wonk of the first order and has the ability to explain his policies clearly and succinctly. Whatever, his more Liberal positions were in the past, he seems to have come to the correct Conservative ones now. It is likely that between Romney and McCain, Romney’s executive experience would make a more effective manager than McCain.

However, Romney does not seem to have connected emotionally with the public. His very smoothness and impeccable grooming and the fact that he never gets ruffled separates him from voters. Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg compared Romney to a BMW salesman. If Romney runs against Clinton, they would both have an “authenticity” problem. If he runs Senator Barack Obama, he will be at a significant disadvantage. In a choice between candidates of competence or excitement, the exciting candidate usually wins.

McCain has frustrated Conservatives more than once and he is likely to so if elected President. He sponsored “McCain-Feingold” campaign finance “reform” which many Conservatives and Libertarians consider an affront to the First Amendment. McCain opposed George Bush’s tax cuts which accounted for much of the recovery over the last four years. McCain, along with President Bush, supported “amnesty” for illegal aliens before there was any meaningful success in stemming the flow of such people to the US.

However, on the seminal issue of our time, the War on Terror, McCain has struck a perfect tone. He supported the liberation of Iraq. Before most others including President Bush, he recognized that the US needed a more aggressive strategy against Al Qaeda insurgents. He supported Bush’s surge policy when few others would. McCain’s popularity with independents atrophied as a consequence. In response, McCain said that “I would rather lose a campaign than a war.” Now that the surge has proved successful, McCain looks both wise and principled. McCain is now re-gaining much of his support among independents.

It is interesting to contemplate a McCain-Lieberman ticket. McCain could then seize the mantel of bi-partisanship and rise above conventional politics. The move would anger some Republicans which would put Democrat Lieberman one step away from the Presidency with an elderly president in office. In equal measure, it would frighten partisan Democrats who would find it difficult to attack their own previous vice-presidential candidate. This ticket will not happen, but it does make for interesting speculation.

Finally, McCain has moral seriousness that no other candidate can manage. He suffered as a POW without loosing his dignity. It is impossible to tell whether his POW experience developed or simply revealed McCain’s courage, but he certainly has it.

McCain is not the perfect candidate. Indeed, the much loved Reagan did not seem to be a perfect candidate when running in 1980, but at this point, McCain is the best bet for both Republicans and the country.

Too Happy About Iowa

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Perhaps the most definitive and amusing conclusion we can draw from the recent caucus results from Iowa is that Chuck Norris and Oprah Winfrey are the king makers in the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. Norris endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for the Republican nomination, Winfrey endorsed Senator Barak Obama, and both endorsed candidates won their party Iowa caucuses.

Humor aside, Republicans are far too sanguine about the results from Iowa. The guilty pleasure of watching Hillary Clinton come in not second but third in Iowa masked the fact that results probably reduced the chances of the Republicans winning the presidency in November.

(1) Despite Republicans being constantly beaten by Bill Clinton’s machine in elections, Hillary Clinton carries much of the Clinton baggage without Bill’s consummate political skills. Bill knew how to work a crowd and pulled energy from retail politics. For Hillary, such politics is an enervating grind. Bill had a musical temperament and could modulate his voice and hit the proper note. Hillary oscillates between pedantic is shrill. Hillary Clinton would be formidable candidate in a general election, but may be the least difficult candidate for Republicans to beat. Given the Republican glee at the loss in Iowa, she would certainly energize Republicans.

(2) Mike Huckabee does not come from the heart of the Republican party. Although he has hit many traditional Conservative themes, he speaks with populist tone and appeals to and actually encourages class resentment. His foreign policy is animated by the same feel good rhetoric that propelled President Jimmy Carter into the most humiliating foreign policy in memory. Moreover, Huckabee’s religious beliefs particularly his belief in Creationism will be easily ridiculed by the popular press in the general election. Ridicule is the most destructive political force.

The only positive item that came out of the Iowa for Republicans is that the rise of Obama will likely bring out the Clinton nastiness. Clinton may be able inflict more damage on Obama than Republicans could.