Category ►►► Confusticated Conservatives
January 16, 2013
"Republocrats and Demicans?" Think Again...
Let's play Compare and Contrast.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick -- Democrat:
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday laid tax and fee increases and new taxes on the table, including more than doubling the state's gas tax.
He's seeking more than $1 billion a year in new revenue to fund projects designed to fund public transit and highway operations, reduce MBTA debt and borrow money to double infrastructure spending. Beacon Hill leaders reportedly signaled agreement....
According to Boston.com, Patrick listed possible revenue sources including:
- Raising the gas tax from 21 cents to 51 cents per gallon
- Raising the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 7.75 percent
- Raising the state income tax to 5.66 percent from 5.25 percent
- Levying a vehicle miles-traveled tax at 2.4 cents per mile
- New, emissions-based vehicle title and registration fees could raise $175 million
- A payroll tax on workers in regions with transit service could raise $140 million to $207 million
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman -- Republican:
Nebraska Governor on Tuesday became the second Republican governor in the last week to propose ending his state's income tax, saying he wants to make Nebraska more competitive with its neighbors by eliminating the tax on both individuals and corporations.
Heineman said that if a complete elimination of the two taxes could not be passed, he would push to lower rates on both individuals and corporations. He promised to make up the lost revenue by reducing business exemptions to the sales tax.
Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he wanted to eliminate all personal and corporate income taxes in his state. Louisiana's personal income tax rate is 3.9 percent....
Other states in the country's midsection, including Oklahoma and Kansas, have also recently considered lowering taxes.
Np need to vote; the major parties are indistinguishable! No difference. May as well just sit out the next election, as so many did the last one.
To paraphrase M. Twain, there is something fascinating about reductionism and political levelism. One gets such wholesale returns of fatalism out of such a trifling investment of ignorance.
January 3, 2013
Happy New Year, everybody! And if you had any hopes that things might actually get delightfully boring for a change...well, there's always next year. Already we've been treated to the High Drama of the fiscal cliff deal -- freshy passed by both houses of Congress in the dead of night the way that Brother Bluto might cram for a chemistry final -- but look on the bright side: At least we won't have to endure another election cycle until 2014. Time enough to restock the liquor cabinet in any case.
I know there's been a lot of grousing over the the deal (It only cuts $1 of spending for $41 in tax hikes!) and a fair amount of counter-grousing (The middle-class Bush tax rates are now permanent, hallelujah!), but in the end it's probably the best the Republicans could have hoped for given their largely self-inflicted weakness of position and having Barack Obama on the other side of the bargaining table. God only knows what really went on during those closed-door sessions, but with the president constantly moving the goalposts around I imagine that John Boehner must've felt a bit like Lando Calrissian negotiating with Darth Vader.
Boehner: "1.6 trillion? That wasn't part of the deal!"
Obama: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further!"
And for all that trouble, we get to have another go-round in February when the debt ceiling comes knocking again. Nothing like long term vision in Washington politics, is there?
Ah, well. This is what the people voted for, right? Still, I have to wonder how long it's going to take for everyone to get tired of the All-Crisis-All-The-Time schtick that seems to be the administration's modus operandi and want to go back to some level of normalcy. Simply put, people can't deal with this kind of heightened uncertainly for very long before keeling over. On that score, the economy is already way ahead of the populace, having long since curled up into a self-defensive ball while Barack continues to slap it around backhand style. One can only hope that the people will soon tire of the same abuse: Voters, if you don't get help from the GOP, please get help somewhere.
As for me, I get to keep my tax rate -- at least for now. But everybody is gonna feel a little pinch when they get that first paycheck of 2013 and see that their payroll taxes have gone up (all holidays have to come to an end, alas). Consider it a foretaste of things to come -- because, one way or the other, if Washington wants to continue to spend like it has been, they're gonna come after the middle class. That is, after all, where the real money is. The extra $60 billion or so that they're squeezing out of "the rich" with these tax hikes won't even begin to feed the beast.
Bon appetit, everyone!
December 13, 2012
With "Ambassador" Susan Rice withdrawing her name from the sorting hat for the position of Secretary of State, the pundits, pontificators, and presstitutes universally predict that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA, 85%) will be nominated and easily confirmed; most predict by voice-vote alone, without even a roll call.
Does it bother you -- it outrages me -- that (leaving aside the extremely credible claims of the Swift Boat Vets) a man who admittedly lied and perjured himself to traduce his brothers in arms, accusing them jointly and severally of atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, should become the chief secretary of the presidential cabinet?
Or that our incoming Secretary of State could be an American traitor who flew to Paris to engage in secret talks with the North Vietnamese government, where he negotiated an American "surrender" -- with the very people who tortured Kerry's "fellow" senatorial colleague, John McCain?
I am infuriated that he is even in consideration. What next -- should Marc Rich become Attorney General? Should Hannibal Lector head up the National Institute of Mental Health?
If, as the political soothsayers say, the GOP acquiesces to JFK's appointment (presumably for no reason other than that he is a fellow member of the world's most exclusive conspiracy, the U.S. Senate)... then what standing have we to ever again call ourselves the party of national defense?
If we Republicans go along with this vile and grotesque farce, this sucker-punch to the men and women who guard the walls and secure our freedom, I fear we shall never recover from the self-inflicted immolation and degradation.
(Can't we have Jane Fonda instead? At least she partially apologized for posing on the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. Kerry has shown no remorse nor expressed the slightest regret for calling his fellow servicemen baby killers and mass murderers.)
December 11, 2012
A Modest Proposal
So the Conventional Wisdom has spoken on the matter of the "fiscal cliff," and it basically puts Republicans between a rock and a hard place. Neither of the choices they have are particularly palatable:
- Walk away from the negotiating table and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, thus raising taxes on everyone. Some might say that this is the most fair option, but aside from the terrible optics ("See, the Republicans let taxes go up on the middle class just so they wouldn't anger their rich masters!") it also won't make a piff of difference in the long or short run. Democrats will simply fire off a bill to cut middle class tax rates after January 1, which Republicans will have to support -- lest they be cast as the party of tax hikes. As a bonus, Barack Obama once again gets to cast himself as the champion of the little guy.
- Boehner rolls over gives Obama everything he wants. This one is almost as bad as option 1, because it would ruin the Republican base and most likely create a full-scale Tea Party/Club for Growth led revolt -- which is rather the point from the president's perspective.
Either way, it's a lose-lose for the Republicans, which is why they've been desperately searching for some way to make their inevitable defeat on this issue a bit easier to swallow. Right now, they're hoping to squeeze some kind of entitlement reform into the deal -- but with the president thinking he holds all the cards (which, to be perfectly fair, he does), he's unlikely to give Boehner anything. To wit, the Dems have already telegraphed that there simply isn't time to devise any meaningful reforms before the year ends.
This, however, is where the Republicans just might have an opening. Obviously, entitlement reform polls well with a significant chunk of the electorate (otherwise the Dems wouldn't even pay it lip service). So why not use that for a little negotiating leverage? Republicans could propose an interim deal which looks something like this:
- An agreement to raise tax rates on upper-income earners (which is inevitable anyway) by some pre-determined amount -- but only after implementation of needed entitlement reforms.
- An extension of the Bush-era tax rates for another six months so as to avoid the fiscal cliff, and also give Congress enough time to hammer out the details of said entitlement reforms.
Granted, Obama probably won't like the terms of the deal one bit; but such a proposal would seem reasonable to the majority of the American public. Plus it would put the ball squarely back in Obama's court, and force him to prove to the American people that he's putting our interests above his own political position. If he refuses -- well, let's just say it'll go a way toward showing everyone what an extremist he really is.
It's worth a shot, anyway. What say you, Republicans?
August 31, 2012
Son of Akin Breakin' Heart
A week ago, Democrat Claire McCaskill -- formerly the most vulnerable member of the Senate in either party -- was running way ahead of
Claude Akins Todd Akin; she was up by 9 on Mason-Dixon and by 10 on Rasmussen. But in the last poll, they're neck and neck -- McCaskill up a one skimpy point, well within the 3.9% margin of error... and that's on a very Democratic Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll. Who'd'a thunk it?
It's entirely within the realm of possibility that the fundamentals will reassert themselves; voters might recollect whatever it was that drove McCaskill to the bottom of the barrel in the first place. Akin can certainly fundraise on his own, and Missouri isn't a state like California or New York, where you need tens of millions of dollars just to be competitive.
Looking at the actual questions in the PPP poll, Missouri must be a pretty conservative state (which we should've already known): Barack "You didn't build that" Obama's approval is underwater at 39 approve, 55 disapprove; Mitt Romney is doing well, 51 approve versus 43 disapprove. In the presidential race, Romney is way up, 53 vs. 41... twelve points -- much higher than John McCain's razor-thin Missouri victory of 49.43 to 49.29, and more than twice the margin of 49 to 44, which is how Missourians in this poll claim they voted.
McCaskill's and Akin's job approvals are about equally abysmal: 40 to 55 for the former, 33 to 56 for the latter; so it's no wonder they're tied. Nevertheless, Missourians prefer Akin not withdraw by a whopping great margin of 54 to 37. (The parties split evenly three ways between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.)
The race bears watching.
If Akin pulls ahead again, I'm pretty sure that repeated references to Akingate will have less pull than the gravity of Pluto-Charon has on the Earth. By now, everybody and his monkey's uncle has figured out that the inartful phrase "legitimate rape" actually meant "forcible rape," to be distinguished from statutory rape... a crime of which I suspect 75% of males and 67% of females are technically guilty. That leaves us with the odd situation of voters rejecting a Senate nominee solely because he has an infantile grasp of reproductive biology. I wouldn't think that would be much on their minds, given the stakes.
But what about the analogy of the "Macaca" gaffe by George Allen in Virginia, 2006? Doesn't that imply that Akin is similarly toast? I don't think it's really relevant for several reasons:
- Repeatedly calling a campaign volunteer of Indian descent "Macaca" smacked of racism; Akin has said nothing remotely racist... or for that matter, overtly sexist.
- Allen's opponent, James Webb, was a serious and respected figure: Annapolis graduate, former Marine Corps infantry officer, decorated Vietnam Vet, and former Secretary of the Navy. Claire McCaskill, by contrast, is no Jim Webb; she is your basic village idiot, and everybody in Missouri knows it, including the Democrats. Until Akin's gaffe, I think the DNC had more or less written her off.
- The 2006 U.S. Senate election in Virginia was a truly messy one, with no fewer than sixteen major scandals on both sides. Given that environment, anybody could have won. (The outcome was very, very close, with Webb nipping Allen by half a point.)
- Finally, 2006 was a very, very bad year for Republicans; but 2012 is likely to be an excellent one. Romney's momentum might very well carry Akin along in his wake.
Akin could easily pull back into a substantial lead within the next month. All bets are off!
It's still quite proper for the national GOP not to give Akin any campaign cash: We as a party don't stand for ignorant gaffes, and we don't stand for scientific ignorance. (Well, other than rejection of modern evolutionary biology; holding firm on evolution would rule most conservatives out of the Republican Party!) But should Akin win on his own dime, I see no reason why we cannot, at that point, shake hands, forgive, and forget.
Perhaps both candidate and party will have learned something.
July 8, 2012
Conservatism 101: The Principle of the Thing
Most of the time, when regular folks debate politics, the difference between conservatism and liberalism is actually quite simple: it's the difference between the head and the heart. It's the reason why conservatives tend to view the world through the prism of the way things are, whilst liberals approach things from the standpoint of how they want them to be.
The result, of course, is predictable. Conservatives often come off as cold and unfeeling bean counters, content to leave everybody to the vagaries of the market. The best laid liberal plans, meanwhile, always seem to blow up in their faces because they never take into account basic human nature -- which is, not to put too fine a point on it, often oriented toward doing as little as possible in order to get by.
This leads to a rather maddening conundrum. Conservative policies, even though they're more effective, involve taking a more hands-off approach to government -- cutting taxes, reducing regulation, dumping ineffective programs -- which makes them a lot less tangible. That makes for a tougher sell, especially in times of crisis when liberal cries to "do something" are at fever pitch. How do you explain to people that sometimes, doing less is a far better option?
That's why conservatives are always on the defensive. Not only do we have to work a lot harder to get our message out, we also have to rely on principle a lot more. Like Prince getting bogged down in too many side projects, we end up debating so many fine points about why conservatism is the moral choice that we lose the larger ideological battle.
When liberals, for instance, want to stop corporate money from influencing elections, they paint corporations as evil entities out to squash the little guy with their big money and issue ads. Conservatives, meanwhile, have to defend those corporations -- whether they're sympathetic or not -- because they have rights under the First Amendment like anybody else. Inevitably, the headline reads something like, "GOP Backs Acme Corp Over Wile E. Coyote's Citizen Initiative."
See the pattern? Liberals don't care about the law, unless it works to their advantage. Conservatives don't have that option, even when the law works against us.
Nowhere is this split more pronounced than in the tax debate. Even now, Barack Obama is out there trying to convince the public that "the rich" need to shovel even more money into the government maw. Again, the conservative response relies mostly on principle -- the top 25% of wage earners already pay 86% of all federal income tax, nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax at all, blah blah blah -- but even though all these things are true, in the end the argument causes a lot of voters to tune out like they're watching and old episode of Joanie Loves Chachi on Nick at Nite.
So what do we do about it?
As much as I hate to say it, some more hard selling is in order. To wit, what should you do if a liberal comes up to you and says, "We wouldn't have such a big deficit if we didn't have the Bush tax cuts for the rich?" A lot of conservatives would be inclined to hand the person a copy of The Road to Serfdom and debate the finer points of civilizational decline and its relationship to the debt to GDP ratio. Might I suggest a different course?
Try this one on for size: You could confiscate every penny earned by "the rich" in a given year and it wouldn't even generate enough revenue to cover last year's federal budget deficit. Never mind the actual budget--we're just talking about the deficit.
Suddenly raising taxes sounds much like the band on the Titanic striking up a chorus of "Ain't We Got Fun."
The point isn't that conservatives shouldn't be debating principles. After all, there's plenty of room for that in the pages of National Review and The American Spectator. But when it comes to convincing Joe Voter of the absolute necessity of kicking Barack Obama to the curb in November, a little less principle and a lot more Armageddon might be just the ticket.
July 2, 2012
Conservatism 101: Big vs. Big
My father and law were having a discussion the other day over some pretty good scotch, which naturally led to the subject of politics and the private sector. It seems that whenever lefttist politicians are seeking to "do something" about whatever the scare du jour happens to be, they inevitably invoke some corporate boogeyman to create an us-versus-them dynamic perfect for whipping up outrage and hysteria.
It doesn't really matter what the industry is -- Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Insurance -- any one of them will make a suitable scapegoat. After all, all these greeeedy corporations want to do is rip off Joe Citizen and bank their obscene profits at the expense of The PeopleTM. The implicit message is that Big Government is looking out for you, while Big Business only wants to screw you.
History, however, tells a different story.
To wit: How many people has Big Business killed over the centuries? Sure, you've got your various and sundry accidents and fits of sheer incompetence that have caused deaths (anybody remember the Ford Pinto?) -- but I'm talking about incidents when a company has actually gone out and killed somebody on purpose. Outside of a John Le Carre novel, I'd be hard pressed to think of many.
Now ask yourself how many people governments have killed. Communism alone is estimated to be responsible for over 100 million deaths. Throw in the crimes of the Nazi regime, just to name one other, and the numbers go even higher.
This is not to say that corporations are run by angels, because they're not. They are flawed institutions populated with flawed human beings -- but by and large, they exist to serve consumer needs and are responsive to the desires of their customers. Governments, on the other hand, too often exist to serve the needs of those who rule. It's why our Founding Fathers sought to limit the powers that government has, and made the liberty of the individual paramount.
So the next time some lefty tries to convince you that government can be trusted more than business, see if you can set him straight -- after you stop laughing, of course.
April 10, 2012
Look For a Mitt Surge
Just a quick prediction: Now that Rick Santorum, the only viable Romney rival still standing, has dropped out of the race -- that's what "suspending our campaign" means in ordinary English -- look for a rapid jump upwards in Romney's popularity and general-election polling.
Until now, every poll pitting Romney against Barack H. Obama on various issues or general popularity has had two sources of negative responses:
- Liberals and liberal-leaning "centrists" who genuinely like the policies of Progressivism and Leftism, and genuinely hate the policies of conservatism, Capitalism, individualism, and Americanism. These are honest disagreers.
- Disingenuous conservatives who desperately hoped to pull Romney down, so that a "real conservative" could take his place on the general-election ballot. Some such conservatives falsely claimed that they liked Obama, just to tarnish Romney's best argument, "electability," in the primaries. (Call them the Lampooners: "If you nominate Mitt, we'll shoot this election!")
Group B may be sizeable, including supporters of all previous and then-current "not-Romneys" -- Michelle Bachman, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. As Romney rarely won an absolute majority in the sundry primaries, supporters of the other candidates necessarily outnumbered him. But obviously not every member of Group B is a Lampooner, or else Obama would be ahead by a runaway landslide of 25%.
It's impossible to know for sure what percent of the not-Romneys became Lampooners, actually telling pollsters they liked, supported, or would vote for Obama in November; but whatever that percent is, it's unlikely in the extreme that they literally will do so. Why would someone who thinks Romney is too moderate strike back by voting for the ultra-Progressivist Obama? It's absurd.
Therefore, we can expect the Lampooners by and large to vote for Romney in November, except for a tiny handful who are so disgruntled, they will sit out the election. (Arms folded, glowering at their neighbors, truculent faces daring someone to make sumpfin' out of it.)
Can we estimate the size of the Lampooners and their impact on polling? Let's get some ballparking going.
On today's Real Clear Politics newest-polls page (ABC: Obama +7, Rasmussen: tie, IBD-CSM-TIPP: Obama +8, all taken before Santorum's withdrawal), Barack Obama averages 5% ahead of Romney, 47.3% to 42.3%.
But roughly half of Republican primary voters supported a candidate other than Romney; this is Group B. Let's look at two guesses of the size of the Lampooner vote, 10% of Group B and 5% of Group B.
Suppose that one tenth of Group B were Lampooning in those polls; that would mean, in our example, that 4.0% to 4.5% of the pro-Obama responses actually came from conservatives who, in reality, intend to vote for Romney in the general... they only said the opposite to try to influence the primary vote.
If we shift the low end of 4% from Obama to Romney, that would make the new total 46.3% to 43.3% in favor of Mitt Romney.
- If only 5% of Group-B Republicans are Lampooners, then we should expect to see 2.0% to 2.2% switch from Obama to Romney, making the new total 45.3% to 44.3% in favor of Obama, which is well within the margin or error -- that is, a statistically dead heat.
(If we give a higher weight to the Rasmussen survey, which polls likely voters instead of registered voters and has a better reputation than the others, this "nominee effect" is magnified; Mitt would likely then be ahead of Obama in both the 10% or 5% scenarios.)
Taking into account the concerted internet campaigns for conservatives to "false-flag" or Lampoon the pollsters, I think it very plausible that the Lampooners did indeed represent 5% to 10% of the Republican primary electorate. Ergo, I expect that over the next month or so, the polling will shift 2% to 5% away from Obama and towards Romney, putting Romney ahead or at least even.
The national conventions start with the GOP the week of August 27th, in Tampa, Florida (a swing state we'll likely recapture); followed immediately by the Democrats the week of September 3rd, in Charlotte, North Carolina (what could possibly go wrong?) By that point, I expect Mitt Romney will hold a small but statistically significant lead over Barack Hussein Obama. And we'll likely see yet another surge towards Romney in late September or early October, a month before the election, as voters take a long and sober look at the economy.
As Samuel Johnson is reputed to have said (but probably didn't, exactly), the sight of the gallows doth wonderfully concentrate the mind.
February 20, 2012
I Scream Social
I sent this as an e-mail to my favorite blogger; but upon further reflection, I think there is something of more general interest here. Hence I turn it into a
cheap-jack freebie blogpost pithy observation of the unity of social and economic conservatism we need to oust the occupier from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
In John Hinderaker's Rick Santorum post "Are There Republicans Who Think This Is a Good Idea? Seriously?", he quotes Schieffer quoting Santorum:
RICK SANTORUM: But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly, much less that the state government should be running schools is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home school or have the little neighborhood school and into these big factories. So we built equal factories called public schools.
I agree that it's death for the GOP to run a campaign against Barack H. Obama mostly about social conservatism. But if you're interested, the bit from Santorum quoted above is straight out of Alvin Toffler's ten-years-later follow-up to his mondo best seller Future Shock, titled the Third Wave -- meaning the third wave of technology-induced cultural revolution: The first is the post-neolithic agricultural age; the second is the mechanical/industrial age; and the third is the post-industrial information age.
Toffler makes sense to me; it's clear that the modern (modernist) public-school system was indeed set up to mimic the factory setting -- a wonderful (at the time) great leap forward from the paltry and classist education available in the agrarian age. Toffler argues that "manufactory" schools have outlived their usefulness, however, and that we need the more individualized learning that computers now make available to every individual, or would if the teachers unions would get the heck out of the way.
But Hinderaker is quite right that a presidential campaign is not the proper venue for such Newt-like speculation on Santorum's part.
I perhaps part company from him -- or perhaps not, as his response indicated general agreement -- on one implication of the piece, perhaps a conclusion Hinderaker did not intend: That the campaign should be entirely about the economy and jobs, with no shred of social issues intruding. I think that is a great mistake; but it must be handled very carefully to avoid exactly what Hinderaker rails against in his post, that is, letting social conservatism drive the GOP, pushing economic conservatism to the back of the bus.
In particular, we must stay away from any social issue that is divisive -- theology, gynecology, school prayer, same-sex marriage, and suchlike. But we can make great inroads by spending about 15% of the campaign energy on issues that pit Obamunism against Americanism; e.g., arguing that Obama's policies, whether by design or incompetence, are anti-family and destructive of traditional American virtues, such as liberty (including religious liberty), individualism, and individualism's counterpart, civil society (churches, service organizations, and community activities, such as bowling leagues), and Capitalism, which has made us the most prosperous nation on earth -- even as Progressivist ideas have made us, at the very same time, the world's biggest bankrupt nation.
I believe a very effective pitch can be made to Hispanic voters, for example, by sending English and Spanish speaking Hispanics throughout Hispanic areas of the Southwest and Florida with the message that Obama is making war on Catholics and on the traditional family and on small businesses, in which Hispanics are very successful players... said message intended to counter the inevitable leftist attack on the GOP for being "nativist" and "racist" and wanting to deport all Hispanics (yes, I know that's a horrible distortion; but that exact distortion is guaranteed to be flung at us by Big Media).
And a pure pitch can be made for individual and family liberty by advocating, not the complete privatization of Social Security (despite my own preference for that very policy) and Medicare, but rather for collecting the payroll tax as usual... but keeping everybody's taxes in separate, family accounts -- under the citizens' own names -- so that the feds cannot raid the Social-Security funds to pay for more madcap spending; and doing the same with the portion of payroll taxes that currently go to Medicare, so that they may instead go towards paying for post-retirement insurance (like Medicare Advantage) instead of qualifying seniors for crappy medical care as second-class patients.
But unquestionably, 85% of the campaign should be about the collapsing economy, ballooning taxes, skyrocketing energy prices (due to crippling our domestic energy production) and other unconfessed inflation, unconscionable unemployment and underemployment, the cost of Obamacare, the Skimulus, and the arrogant, swaggering ignorance by Barack "Bubble Boy" Obama of the most basic and fundamental economic laws.
85% money stuff, 15% non-controversial social issues (liberty, family, community); that should be the big campaign picture. But not the specific stuff Rick Santorum is inexplicably yammering about.
January 31, 2012
Metaphysical Musings Upon the Cosmic Newtonian Doom
I am completely convinced that, should Newt Gingrich do so well in the remaining primaries that it becomes clear he will be the nominee, then both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney will bow out and clear the decks for Newt's general campaign against Barack H. Obama. In fact, both of them would unhesitatingly campaign on behalf of Gingrich, in the urgent necessity to evict the occupier from la Casa Blanca.
Why? Because both Romney and Santorum are team players who recognize the most important goal is winning -- not picking who gets to be team captain.
But if, perchance -- per very likely chance -- it's Mitt Romney who does so well that after Super Tuesday, it becomes crystal clear that he is going to have sufficient delegates for nomination... I have no confidence whatsoever that Newt Gingrich would concede. On the contrary, I believe Newt would fight on, his attacks on Romney growing more and more vicious as Gingrich becomes more and more desperate.
I believe Newt would fight right up to the convention, and would then make a desperate bid to armtwist delegates into defecting, at least to force a brokered convention. I believe Newt would barnstorm the country, giving impassioned speeches about how evil, dishonest, rich, and corrupt Mitt Romney is (while virutally ignoring Obama), doing his durndest to damage Romney's brand enough that, in Newt's imagination, Romney's delegates realize Mitt can no longer win (now that Newt has so traduced him) -- so they may as well jump ship to the Gingrich campaign. It's Newt or nothing!
Newt's followers will see this as exhilarating, yet more proof that he must be nominated: "Only Newt has the guts to take the fight to Obama, bringing a Newtron bomb to the gunfight at the B.O. Corral, hounding the Occupier in Chief at every stop, willing to say or do anything to win. Why, in the face of Newt's relentless ferocity, surely Obama will drop out of the race in metaphysical terror!"
Of course, those who are not his followers will more likely see the refusal to accept the will of the voters as obsession verging on madness.
In fact, even after the convention, if Romney is nevertheless nominated, I cannot see Gingrich ever campaigning for his rival. Rather, I more easily see Newt, like Teddy Roosevelt, announcing a third-party bid for the presidency -- and with similar results: "I cannot let down all those intrepid, true conservatives who believe in me. We will fight on, and we will win! And even if we don't, at least we will have held true to our sacred principles, which is far more important than mere winning!"
And what if that third-party effort splits the Republican vote, just as it did in 1912, allowing Obama to "Wilson" his way into a second term with a minority of the vote? Well, so mote it be; can't make an omlet without breaking a few legs.
Why do I think this? Because I am convinced that Newt Gingrich sees himself as a rebel with a cause, a holy crusade that transcends all earthly politics: the recreation of the Republican Party and the conservative movement in Newt's own image.
In that sense, he is very like the One he seeks to supplant, seeing himself primarily as a transformative figure in world history, and only secondarily as a Republican. His catachismic incantation of those acts of greatness he will surely perform in his first hundred days is grandiose and more than faintly ludicrous; his skin stretches as thin as Obama's, perhaps thinner; Newt sees himself as the smartest guy in every room, whose ranging brilliance untethers him from party, ideology, principle, and internal consistency. He is large; he contains multitudes. Newt Gingrich stands beyond conservatism and liberalism, beyond Right and Left, beyond good and evil.
Newt is Nietzschean, the mouth of destiny. And if thwarted, he could decide to pull the temple down upon all our heads, to punish Mankind for snubbing its messiah. Now it's personal!
I did not form these musings before he jumped into the race; I've always rather liked him, especially because of his science-fiction connection. I was enthusiastic when first he decared.
But his cosmic campaign comprised little but cataclysmic explosions and excessive CGI. Just as when I watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I was driven by the frenzied roller-coaster ride (who wants to ride a roller coaster for weeks without cessation?) to this conclusion: Newt Gingrich is our Barack Obama.
I hope that, unlike their Barack Obama, Newt returns to sanity and realizes that, especially with the trouncing in Florida, he simply cannot win the nomination. Why? Because it is increasingly clear that Newt could only win the general in the unlikely event that Obama so alienates himself from the entire electorate, even from his own wretched, corrupt party, that the Republican nominee essentially runs unopposed.
We may hope for such a turn of events, but hoping for the best of all worlds is not a viable electoral strategy. Better to nominate someone who has demonstrated not only ferocity but also gravitas, who is not a scrappy, fist-fightin' rebel (with or without) but is instead presidential. That generally works much better for Republican nominees.
January 30, 2012
Just a brief update on our last post, Newtmax.com: Today marks the fourth straight day of Newsmax.com nakedly shilling for Newt Gingrich.
There are a few stories on today's Newsmax page that neither bash Romney nor slather praise on Gingrich (like an overly generous schmear on a bagel). Mirabile dictu! Nevertheless, without exception, every single story that relates to the primary either portrays Mitt as a dimwitted orc or worships at the feet of old Saint Newt.
I used to jape that Newsmax was the National Enquirer of conservative websites. I believe I must amend that: Newsmax has become the ThinkProgress of conservative websites.
January 27, 2012
Heh. Here are the headline story and all of the Inside Cover stories on Newsmax.com right now:
Romney Backed by Goldman Sachs, Bailout Banks
More Stories (highlighted stories immediately below headline):
- Rev. Wildmon: Gingrich Can 'Fix' America
- Mark Levin: Gingrich Is Strong Conservative
- Discrepancies Found in Romney's Finances
- Romney Attacked Ted Kennedy Over ‘Blind Trust’
Smiley picture of Mitt Romney with following caption:
Inside Cover (front-page stories immediately below smiley Mitt):
- McFarlane, Shirley: Newt an 'Enthusiastic' Reagan backer
- Mike Reagan, Rush Limbaugh Blast Romney
- Rush: Romney Camp Behind Anti-Gingrich Stories
- Gingrich Ad: Romney Dishonest
- Palin: Newt 'Crucified' By Romney Allies, GOP
- Romney Backed by Goldman Sachs, Bailout Banks
- Romney Attacked Ted Kennedy Over ‘Blind Trust’
- Bill O'Reilly: Gingrich 'Bona Fide' Conservative
- Rev. Wildmon: Gingrich Can 'Fix' America
- Mark Levin: Gingrich Is Strong Conservative
- Conservative Establishment Gunning for Newt
- Short on Cash, Santorum Hanging on
- Discrepancies Found in Romney's Finances
- Obama: GOP Will Struggle to Defend Economy
- Gingrich:Use Reagan Model After Castro Gone
As Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) might have said, "Mr. President, we must not allow -- a media-bias gap!"
My favorite line in the anti-Romney philippic: After the picture caption quotes Romney as noting that all of his investments are in a blind trust, ergo he had no say over the investment in Goldman Sachs, one of the Inside Cover stories (promoted to More Stories) is the cleverly headlined, "Romney Attacked Ted Kennedy Over ‘Blind Trust’."
Obscur, Monsieur Ruddy; très obscur!
January 18, 2012
A Fig Leaf for Newton
Consider this an entry into the suggestion box for Newton Leroy McPherson Gingrich...
You're a brilliant guy. But brilliance is not a job requirement (or even much of a benefit) for the chief executive of... well, anything. But particularly the chief executive of the United States, the POTUS.
What we need in a president is (a) administrative skills, (b) a presidential mien, (c) charisma, (d) gravitas, and above all, (e) leadership. A dollop of imagination and creativity helps to turn a good president into a great historical figure; but without the bedrock requirements of a to e, a president's nothing but sass misspelled.
I think it's long overdue to burst your bubble: You are never going to be President of the United States... and you would be a dreadful disappointment if you ever managed it, a conservative Barack H. "Bubble Boy" Obama.
But that doesn't alter the fact that you're a brilliant, entertaining, and illuminating guy. So can't we put our heads together and find you a better gig than your current booking? Because, to be honest, man, you're running long.
First, let's identify your forte: What you have going for you more than any other characteristic is a scintillating, opalescent, amethystine tongue; if you were Irish, I'd say you'd kissed the Blarney Stone. So let's run with that for a moment.
Have you ever considered that your enduring legacy, your finest moment, your immortality might come from... just -- speaking? Ponder this: Instead of running for the presidency, a frutile and footless task, wouldn't your time be better spent barnstorming the country, giving pep-talks for conservatism and Capitalism and priming the GOP brand?
I honestly believe that the best way for you to save our country and perhaps Western Civ itself would be to terminate your interminable campaign, and get the Republican National Committee to fund a permanent job for Newt Gingrich, yourself, to spend the next ten years speaking at every gathering of a minyan or more of eager ears; to let the gospel of liberty, individualism, American exceptionalism, innovation, Capitalism, and genius ring from every village and every hamlet.
And, oh yes, to leave administration to the administrators, of greater or lesser brilliance.
At least that's how it looks to me. Mitt for la Casa Blanca, but Newton Leroy for the masses!
And while we're at it, let's talk about that "mining the Moon" idea; I have some colleagues who can give you a goatload of suggestions...
January 13, 2012
Dark "Gingrinchian" Speculation of This Friday the Thirteenth
All right, somebody has to aay it. Why not the guy who has about as much tact as a hungover Sam Kinison on an acid flashback? That is, why not Señor Lizard himself?
If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, as seems likely, then Newt Gingrich can have only one consistent and non-hypocritical response: Newt will be forced to campaign for the re-election of Barack H. Obama.
Given the level of Gingrich's hysteria, vitriol, and angst against and about Romney, any political action he undertakes other than full-throatedly calling for Romney's defeat and Obama's victory would reveal Gingrich as a two-faced, insincere demagogue driven by political expediency and personal vendetta, j'accusing Romney's Bain Capital of gleefully bankrupting companies just for sheer wickedness and nihilism -- like a modern-day George Soros -- and savaging the entire concept of the vital "creative destruction" of Capitalism itself.
As we like to say, Gingrich has painted himself into a hole, where he's busily sawing off the branch he's sitting on. It's long past time for him to drop out of the race (for sake of his circulatory system, if nothing else), go on Wanderjahr for a few months, then resurface no earlier than September, vigorously supporting Romney... with the implausible but irrefutable explanation that Gingrich had been suffering from Attention Surplus Sydrome, generating a negative-campaigning feedback loop.
His consistency/credibility factor will drop through the floor; but there are times when Ralph Waldo Emerson's infamous exhortation must take precedence over defending every attack one has ever made: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
At this point, there's no statesman littler than Newt Gingrich; so what has he got to lose?
January 7, 2012
Does Social Santorum Trump Fiscal Santorum?
It's not an easy question for a non-conservative anti-liberal like myself to answer. First, I enthusiastically support some of Rick Santorum's social positions -- he promotes a more robust civil society; supports restricting legal marriage to traditional, one man-one woman; and he has offered bills to expand funding of adult stem-cell research and application.
But I recoil in horror from others, notably his demand that schools teach the "scientific alternative" to evolutionary biology (by which he means the thoroughly un-scientific and misnamed "intelligent design"); and he is completely opposed to embryonic stem-cell research funding, without consideration that such research can probably be done without destroying the embryos. (I'm using Wikipedia's list of some of his positions, though I did backtrack as much as possible to the primary-source interviews and Santorum's own site.)
But considering the second part of the question -- whether his positions on social issues are so extreme as to drive me away, despite his fairly good fiscal and foreign policies (which are at least somewhat better than Romney's) -- I'm on firmer ground. Santorum supports House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI, 96%) spending-cut plan and pushes for moderate reforms to Medicare and Social Security, but nothing spectacular like privatization (too bad). On the foreign-policy front, he supports the War Against Radical Islamism (WARI) and wants to bomb Iran's nuclear sites (good if he can pull it off, bad if he tries and fails).
So which side wins? Although I am appalled by what a friend of mine refers to as Santorum's "Flat-Earth Catholicism," I just don't think it would ever come up in a Rick Santorum presidency, not substantively. I doubt any state is going to attempt to outlaw "sodomy," adultery, or contraception; and even if it tried, surely the opinion of the POTUS would matter little if any in the ensuing court fight.
Where the social stances might really matter, however, is in the election itself. I'm not worried that President Santorum would install a "Nehemiah Scudder" style prophetic theocracy (though 2012 is the very year the Rev. Scudder takes over, according to Robert Heinlein's "future history" timeline!); but a great many voters might fear just that. Irrational, yes; but elections rarely turn on rational and logical cogitation alone. Would Santorum's goofier social stances so frighten away voters not on the religious right?
Yes, probably some. But how many? Fortunately, most of Santorum's apostasies from the norms of modern thought are fairly technical in nature, such as the distinction between science and so-called "intelligent design," which looms very large indeed within the real scientific community but likely induces nothing from the mass of voters but a puzzled "Eh?" Most of the social positions will just zoom along below the electoral radar.
I believe the biggest danger would be Santorum's suggestion that, contrary to the Supreme Court's decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, Americans have no fundamental right to privacy. Such a stance may make sense in a technical, legal sense, at least as the Court clumsily expressed the thought in the case in question; but the vast majority of Americans passionately believe that there exists a fundamental core of individual liberty, inside of which government may not legislate.
The Court shouldn't have called it "privacy;" and it certainly shouldn't have concluded (in Roe v. Wade) that the right of "privacy" includes the right to abort zygotes, foetuses, and even babies within minutes of being fully born. (Actually, I believe that last position is an abomination even under Roe; my, what progress we have made!) Ne'theless, nearly everybody agrees that there is an irreducible shell of personal liberty surrounding every man and woman that protects him from a totalitarian government run amok.
I can prove my case with a single example: Does anybody believe that it would be constitutional for a state to enact a law proscribing how many times per week a husband and wife are allowed to make love in their own home?
If you answer No, then you necessarily believe that (a) such a law breaches that fundamental core of individual liberty, the irreducible shell; and (b) there are inviolable limits to federal and state government beyond those explicitly written into the Constitiution.
To the extent that voters believe Rick Santorum's dismissal of a "right to privacy" means he rejects the irreducible shell of personal liberty described above, said voters will be very likely to vote for Barack H. Obama over the "theocratic" Rick Santorum.
Santorum's vital task, then, is to reassure Americans that his thinking on what most people envision when they hear the word "privacy" is still aligned within the mainstream of modern thought; that he does not advocate government control over aspects of life that the huge majority believe belong to the conscience of the individual, not the diktats of a Council of Experts.
If Santorum can assure voters -- including the arrogant author of this post -- that he is not a "Flat-Earther" on any social issue that really counts, then we might be persuaded to support him more than Mitt Romney. That is, until and unless Santorum's campaign collapses like all the other not-romneys before him.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
January 3, 2012
Beldar Bells De Baiter
A stand-up comedian was being heckled during his act. He fell silent, staring at the miscreant with a Cheshire-cat smile, while the audience held its breath, expecting bombast and brimstone.
Instead, the performer raised a hand, almost in benediction, and spoke very quietly and directly to the creature horning in on the act. "Do you know what a heckler is?" asked the comic; "a heckler tries to trick a performer into losing his temper... therefore, a heckler is a baiter.
"And at that role, sir, you are a master."
Readers of Big Lizards know that I am loathe merely to point at somebody else's words of wit and say "RTWT," Read the Whole Thing; it seems like cheating to me. But once in a while I read a blogpost so succinct and perfect that I simply must shrug off my own envy and, well, point.
So here it is: To Newt Gingrich, on the occasion of his claiming to have been "Romney-boated", by Beldar.
Newt Gingrich has gotten away with murder in this campaign: He flings out "ideas" without analysis, schemes without strategies for achieving them (and avoiding the pitfalls and pratfalls of real policymaking), and poses as a traditional, staunch, and above all consistent conservative, while bobbing and weaving about his real history of backing and filling, wriggling and flip-flopping, and betimes siding with the Left in the "get along by going along" mode of congressional compromise.
I don't begrudge him his lack of rigid ideological fanaticism; such purity of essence can only be maintained in a faerieland of theory and academe. I love Newt for his energy and willingness to consider the unconsiderable. I would happily invite him to a dinner party.
But it drives me mad when he campaigns by delivering homilies about his own saintliness and conservative constancy with his right hand -- while punching the Right in its collective face whenever convenient to the moment. (In this case, the "Right" includes all anti-liberals and anti-Progressivists.)
Worse, Gingrich -- like that heckler -- likes to bait the other candidates; and yes, he is a master at that form of abuse. But he's too quick to cry foul when he gets back even a little of what he dishes out. Having watched his campaign mode for some time now, he has become my second-least favorite of the notromneys.
I urge all BL readers who don't already read Beldar to being doing so immediately... and you can start with the piece linked above. It's pithy and without pity, but it's fair and balanced.
December 4, 2011
A Very Public Caining
Right. So Herman Cain is O-U-T out, and we still don't know whether all the charges lodged against him, from sexual harassment to sexual battery, with a stop-over on the cheatin' side of town, are true; or whether some or perhaps the entirety are a fusillade of fabrications, phantasms, confabulations, and falsehoods.
But we will know -- and very soon, too. I have in mind an infallible test, one that the Godfather might not even realize he's taking.
There is little that a candidate for public office can do to punish a political operation that is savaging the principal. There just aren't enough hours in the day to (a) push a positive public-policy agenda for the voters, (b) respond to political attacks by competitors and launch his own counterattacks, and (c) chastise third-party liars and libelers clandestinely dispatched by ideological enemies.
He just has to shrug off (c) and hope that nobody believes the slanders anyway; he simply doesn't have the option of nuking the craven dastards properly -- that is, while he's still in the game scrambling for nomination or election.
But it's all topsy-turvey once a candidate drops out of the running. At that point, he has given up all hope of election this cycle... so he has nothing left to lose by crushing his tawdry traducers. In fact, if he is to run again in the future with any hope of success, he is obliged to clear his good name; else his next opponent will cheerfully resurrect the old and unanswered charges, jump-starting the scandal serenade once again. The once and never again candidate would be forever barred from running for president, governor, congressman, or Chairman of the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men's Chowder & Marching Society.
Thus we come to Mr. Cain, who abruptly announced yesterday that he is no longer in play to be President of the United States... who thus is also finally free to fully answer his accusers -- most specifically Miss Ginger White, a longtime "friend" who now claims to have engaged in a 13-year sex romp with the erstwhile CEO of Godfather Pizza.
And so at last we come to the test: Now that Cain has dropped out of the race, if he is an innocent victim of calumny, he must go after Miss White in court.
If Cain sues White for libel and slander, her only defense would be truth. She certainly cannot claim never to have said that they had a long-term affair; she said it on national TV. Nor can she claim that she caused him no damages; arguably, it cost him his shot at the presidency! Neither can she rely upon his status as a public figure (which of course he is), because she certainly knows for a fact whether they had an affair; therefore, if they did not, yet she said they did, then that would certainly satisfy the requirement of "actual malice."
No, no, and no; her only defense is to claim truth. But in such a case, my non-lawyer understanding is that truth is an "affirmative defense"... meaning the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, Miss White, to prove that they did indeed have an affair. Cain would not have to prove they didn't; White would have to prove that they did. If she could not, she would lose her case; White would be slapped with potentially ruinous damages, and more to the point, Herman Cain would be utterly vindicated.
In fact, although there is no logical connection, if a court were to find Miss White liable for libel, or if she 'fessed up and apologized, that verdict would cast grave doubt in most people's minds about all the other accusations against Cain as well; that's just how people think. If the worst charge against him is demolished as a mean-spirited, vicious falsehood, who's going to believe the lesser charges? Only those who never would have voted for him anyway.
Contrariwise, if the dame really can produce the complete cell-phone records she claims to have -- including the content of text messages and e-mails that show it really was an affair, not merely friendship -- then Cain himself would surely know it. In that case, he might make loud noises and wave his hands in the air, but he would never run the risk of actually filing a lawsuit he was destined to lose. Fighting such a high-profile case and losing it would crush his reputation far flatter than raging to the skies but avoiding a court of law like an atheist shies away from a cross.
So that is the acid test of Herman Cain's veracity and fidelity: Simpy put, if he files a charge of libel and slander in court and dares White to claim "truth" as a defense, then he is very likely innocent of the charges.
But if he fumfahs around, rattling the bars of his cage but never actually making a federal case out of it, then I will fairly conclude that he's guilty on all counts.
As I said, I reckon we'll know pretty soon; Cain's lawyer, Lin Wood, has already demanded those records from White; but he hasn't pulled the trigger yet. Now that Cain is a civilian once more, he's going to have to either fish or get off the pot.
And then we'll all know whether he was a man with a mission -- or a man with a secret.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
November 27, 2011
Can somebody please explain to me why conservative bloggers are transcendentally driven to kill and eat their own candidates?
...If you know who I mean (and I think you do).
October 14, 2011
Panic On Infowars
Be not afraid; be very not afraid!
The website Infowars.com has once again gone off the rails on the hysteria train. They sent out an alert today (picked up by Drudge) which was headlined:
House Bill Would Criminalize Satire of TSA!!1!
(I added the prank punctuation at the end, but it's clearly implied by the header.)
Infowars plucks a single, one-paragraph section from the bowels of a bill wending its way through the House of Representatives. The bill appears to be a resolution funding the Transportation Security Agency -- those kind folks responsible for treating us all like dog dirt whenever we make the mistake of moving about the country by means of any public transportation whatsoever; but section 295 of that bill, which elicited the squeal from Infowars, deals with a somewhat different topic:
SEC. 295. PROTECTION OF THE NAMES FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL AND ADMINISTRATION.
Section 709 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--
(1) by inserting ‘or’ after the semicolon at the end of the fourteenth undesignated paragraph; and
(2) by inserting after such paragraph the following new paragraph:
‘Whoever, except with the written permission of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Security (or the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service for issues involving the Federal Air Marshal Service), knowingly uses the words ‘Transportation Security Administration’, ‘United States Transportation Security Administration’, ‘Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘United States Federal Air Marshal Service’, ‘Federal Air Marshals’, the initials ‘T.S.A.’, ‘F.A.M.S.’, ‘F.A.M.’, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, or the likeness of a Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service badge, logo, or insignia on any item of apparel, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or with any play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a matter that is reasonably calculated to convey the impression that the wearer of the item of apparel is acting pursuant to the legal authority of the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service, or to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, software, or other publication, or such play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Transportation Security Administration or Federal Air Marshal Service;’.
(The curious emphasis in the paragraph above is courtesy Infowars; I have no idea why they chose those particular words to boldface. Why not also boldface reverences to the "Federal Air Marshal Service badge, logo, or insignia," which is covered by the same section? Could it be because federal marshals, unlike the TSA, actually test positive in public-opinion polling?)
Here's Infowars' "analysis" of that section:
In the past, satire was protected under the First Amendment, but it may soon be illegal to poke fun at the TSA or use its logo or even utter its name. Notice there is no exception in the above language for parody.
Political satire is as old as the Greeks and the Bible. But it may now become a punishable crime if this legislation is enacted.
I hope nobody gets the mistaken impression that I like the TSA; alas, I'm on their side on this one, teensy, special occasion. Section 295 amends a previous law (USC Title 18, § 709 False advertising or misuse of names to indicate Federal agency) by adding the new TSA/Federal Air Marshal Service paragraph that's got Infowars' twickers in such a knist.
All right, that bumps understanding to the next train station; what does that section say? Section 709 of title 18 comprises, funnily enough, a series of protected names and titles of federal agencies or corporations, making it illegal for other folks or corporations to falsely use those names or titles in order actually to deceive, under penalty of a fine or imprisonment. For example, it makes it a federal crime for someone not authorized by, say, the FBI to send a letter falsely purporting to be from the FBI, or to flash a fake FBI badge, in order to induce the mark to buy some product -- supposed access to the FBI's fingerprint file, for example.
And lo! Check out the shocking coincidence of this earlier paragraph, which has long been found in section 709:
Whoever, except with the written permission of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, knowingly uses the words “Federal Bureau of Investigation” or the initials “F.B.I.”, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; or
Or the very next paragraph:
Whoever, except with written permission of the Director of the United States Secret Service, knowingly uses the words “Secret Service”, “Secret Service Uniformed Division”, the initials “U.S.S.S.”, “U.D.”, or any colorable imitation of such words or initials, in connection with, or as a part of any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, other production, product, or item, in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, product, or item, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by or associated in any manner with, the United States Secret Service, or the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division; or
Sound familiar? The new paragraph from the TSA funding bill simply mimics the previous language, appending the TSA and the Air Marshals to the end of the list of protected agency names (and adding t-shirts to the prohibited media).
In fact, the first fourteen paragraphs of section 709 (soon, perhaps, to be fifteen paragraphs) comprise nothing but the same wording above (or words to like effect), protecting the names of a number of different federal agencies, such as the FDIC, or the Federal Home Loan Bank, HUD, DEA, etc, from actual criminal misuse -- not from satire or parody, or other dramatic depictions. After all the "whoevers," the statute of section 709 ends thus:
Shall be punished as follows: a corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business entity, by a fine under this title; an officer or member thereof participating or knowingly acquiescing in such violation or any individual violating this section, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
In other words, the law punishes people who falsely represent themselves as agents of some federal agency with the actual attempt to mislead. How do we know that? Just read the U.S. Code and pay particular attention to the following language, included (with slight variations) in every parargraph that defines the crime:
...in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet or other publication, play, motion picture, broadcast, telecast, or other production, is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the [agency]. [My own emphasis -- DaH]
As I read the history of the act, section 709 appears to have been first enacted in 1948; the language quoted above protecting the name of the FBI was added in 1954. So the same language that Infowars is freaking out about today has been in federal law for more than sixty years.
In all that time, I'm sure a case or two must have come to court and been adjudicated. Yet writers appear to have written many movies, tv shows, books, and even pointed satires or parodies about the FBI, et al, with nobody going to jail or paying a fine for the crime of lèse-majesté.
I certainly wouldn't demand an apology or retraction from Infowars; the First Amendment gives us all the right to exercise freedom of speech by making utter fools of ourselves -- a sacred right I've wallowed in myself on many occasions!
But at the very least, Infowars (and anyone taken in by them) should turn crimson with embarassment.
September 4, 2011
How to "Outargue" (Frustrate, Stifle, Drive Away) a Radical Right-Winger - the Good Liberal's Guide to Successful Debate Avoidance
In 2005, I was a regular participant on a Yahoo Japan political topic bulletin board. After a couple years of debate (non debate) with internet liberals, I began to observe the debate-avoidance techniques of the liberal mind.
I learned a lot from those master non-debaters; the number of methods they had devised to avoid, sidestep, and duck the actual exchange of ideas is breathtaking and impossible to catalog. But I can demonstrate a few of the most used tactics.
So for the rest of this post, I must channel Farley Resistance Gompers -- former community organ-sizer and current head of the Union of Progressive Youth Opposing Unconstitutional Reactionary Speech, Neo-American Zionist Infiltration, and Capitalist Hogtying of Internationalist Monetary Policies. (One of our lesser-known liberal/Progressivist change agents, to be sure, but overrepresented in the only field that counts for the left side of the aisle: unparalled fundraising for Obama 2012's "Project Vote" campaign -- an eerie echo of the recent past.)
We understand that a number of you feel upset and nervous when confronted by racist, sexist, homophobic and transgendophobic, violence threatening, harassing, rampaging, extremist right-wingers (in urgent need of anger-management classes) in a so-called "debate." Not to worry; we at UPYOURSNAZICHIMP have refined a number of tried and feelgood techniques to avoid such unpleasantness, which can leave you with frustration and hurt feelings.
Please memorize these tactics and begin employing them immediately; you may not "win" these "debates," but at least every casual spectator or internet lurker will think you have -- which is the same thing, of course.
Phase One, red-state baiting for beginners: Never argue -- sloganeer
As an entry-level Progressivist, you cannot possible win an argument against those sneaky, lying liar, right-wing nutballs. It's like "arguing" with a talking dog. (They've never even heard of the Vision!)
So for the time being, the most effective way to stymie one of them and leave him/her/indeterminate grabbing for the supplementary oxygen is to memorize a few short, catchy slogans and phrases... then repeat them aggressively and relentlessly:
- No blood for oil!
- War is not the answer!
- Give peace a chance!
- The survivors will envy the dead!
- Freeze now!
- No peace without justice!
- All you need is love!
- A woman's right to choose!
- End poverty now!
- Health care is a civil right!
- Food for all!
- Land for use!
- Heal the wounds of Gaea!
- Hope and change!
- Yes we can! (or Sí se puede!, depending)
- Four legs good, two legs bad! (or two legs better!, depending)
Or if you're not sure what the secret Klansman is on about this time, try the universal vanilla comeback suppressor:
- Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!
At the same time, it is more effective if you pepper your jingoisms with a few complicated but meaningless statements that feign deepness, such as:
- You can't hug your children with nuclear arms.
- If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
- The majority is the minority; black is the new white; women are the new men.
- When Obama's polls are going down, that's the exact moment they're skyrocketing!
It doesn't matter if even you yourself don't understand what you are saying, so long as you confuse your opponent (since you're unable to convince the radical Right of the joys of liberalism, or indeed anyone of anything).
The important thing to remember is never argue. Don't answer any questions. A mere Progressivist acolyte like you cannot possibly explain the inner profundity of your shallow and contradictory slogan: unity is in the contradiction, the opposite of a great truth is equally true. If anyone asks, announce that it is self evident, and the fact that they even have to ask such a question proves they're too stupid to understand the answer.
"You don't even understand such a simple thing? It's sooooo obvious. You just don't get it!" Then MoveOn to your next demand.
If the opponent won't let you go, escalate to personal attack, such as "Why do you hate poor people? You just want to see children blown to pieces! You seem to have a real problem with people of color -- racist!" That will shut most opponents up. (Possibly because they simply find you intolerably offensive -- but WTF, a win is a win!)
Phase Two, journeyperson level: The Ten-Million-Questions intermediate technique
Once you have sloganeering down pat, try the next level. But before attempting this technique, pick your opponent very carefully: If the he/she/indeterminate is actually knowledgeable, this tactic can backfire on you.
Pick an easily riled or frustrated Fascist Republican who is not used to to liberal Progressivists, one who values so-called "objective truth" and thinks he/she/indeterminate is really good at research. The key is to use their willingness actually to look things up on the internet (at your demand) as the ultimate paralysis beam. Here's how:
- Whatever your opponent is actually saying, pretend you've never heard of such an outlandish idea. Goad him/her/indeterminate into actually pasting a link; when he/she says "here's the proof right here," you're halfway there.
- Do not make the rookie mistake of commenting on any "evidence" your opponent presents! Never argue the contents; ask another seemingly related question that is in fact a complete left turn.
- When he/she responds to question two, ask question three. And four, five, fifty. If you've done it right, he/she/indeterminate will be reduced to doing nothing but answering your insipid and meaningless questions.
- Wash, rinse, repeat until your opponent forgets what they were talking about. If both your opponent and the readers forget the original point of argument, you've won!
For example, if the extreme right-winger says, "The purpose of the Iraq War was to democratize Iraq from the very beginning," you say, "Then how come Bushitler never said any such thing?" After a day or two, he/she/indeterminate posts one of Bush's old speeches; you immediately demand, "What about all the missing WMD he talked about that never existed? What does that lie have to do with democracy in Iraq?"
As he/she/indeterminate posts some nonsense about WMD, you're ready with a few more Herculean research projects:
- Why were we so upset about Saddam Hussein having WMD, when we were the ones who gave it to him in the first place?
- Why did we attack Iraq, when they had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11?
- Since we created and funded al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the first place, isn't 9/11 our own fault?
- You claim we were attacked by Arabs, so why don't you demand we attack Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, and all those other Arab countries? You're a hypocrite!
- If Iraq was a threat to the whole world, why didn't we organize a coalition, like Clinton did against Serbia?
- If only three thousand Americans died in 9/11, why did we kill 600,000 innocent Iraqi children, women, and civilians? Doesn't that make us worse terrorists than al-Qaeda?
- And the Israelis have killed a lot more than 3,000 citizens of Palestine; shouldn't we invade Israel?
- Why did Bush include North Korea in his goofy 'axis of evil'? Just because they weren't white?
- If Saddam Hussein was so evil, why didn't the first Bush overthrow him when he had the chance?
- Who gave us the right to cram "democracy" down everyone else's throat? (The scare-quotes are a bonus, as the radical right-winger will probably spend an extra ten minutes orating (or three screens posting) his "explanation" of why scare quotes are unpatriotic.)
- If you want democracy, why did you overthrow Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, who were both democratically elected?
- Instead of spending trillions of dollars on wars all across the planet, why couldn't Bush use that money to end all poverty on Earth?
When your opponent finally grows weary of wasting his time and energy "researching" his right-wing trash-mags to prove his point and stomps off in a huff instead... you win!
Phase Three trifecta, the expert at the internet: Selectable amnesia, paralogia, and creative paraphrasing
If you can master this technique, you're a full brown Progressivist activist; please apply to Ezra Klein for your membership card to postJournolist. (you will receive the real name after you send in your dues... your union dues; and yes, we really do know how much you still owe!)
The first tactic of Phase Three, selectable amnesia, seems as if it would be easy; but you might be surprised how hard it is to remember to forget:
- Before the Iraq war, nobody was talking about any connection between Sadam Hussein and Bin Laden. How convenient of you to suddenly discover it now!
Choose to forget the fact that media all over the world had been discussing those connections since 1998. Don't forget -- remember to fuhgeddaboudit!
Among these three tactical techniques of Phase Three, selectable amnesia will always be your workhorse: No matter how many times certain facts are proven, no matter how many times you're forced to back away from the ideologically pure position and admit the existence of a fixed "reality," tomorrow is always another
day month year. "Yeah? I don't remember you ever posting that so-called evidence. You're making it up!")
Paralogia, the second tactic of Phase Three, means responding to argument or interrogation with a complete, logical non-sequitur:
- You claimed that Saddam Hussein attempted to buy yellowcake Uranium; but Ambassador Joe Wilson reported that he was completely unsuccessful in those efforts. That completely debunks your charge that he attempted to buy yellowcake!
Creative paraphrasing is the third tactic of Phase Three; if Mr./Ms./Indeterminate Hard Right Turn points out that Bush said, "We cannot afford to wait for Iraq to become an imminent danger;" you paraphrase thus:
- When Bush claimed Iraq was an imminent danger to the United States, that was a flat-out lie, an impeachable offense! Why wasn't he prosecuted? Did Dick Cheney pull strings? Be honest, now!
When the enemy responds that Bush said we "cannot wait" until Iraq becomes an imminent danger, you paraphrase again:
- Darn right he couldn't wait -- he was just salivating to invade Iraq and steal their oil!
"No, no, no! I mean with all the murderous attacks, terrorist connections, and history of WMD, we knew Hussein would never stop voluntarily; it was better to attack sooner, before he had nukes or biological weapons, than to attack later and lose more American soldiers to a stronger Saddam Hussein!"
- You said it yourself: Bush was determined to conauer Iraq "sooner or later;" so he seized upon 9/11, politicized it, and launched a unilateral, pre-emptive strike on the pretext of a handful of lies!
By this point, the hypocritical reactionary will be gibbering and foaming at the mouth with frustration. So long as you cleverly mischaracterize everything he/she/indeterminate says, not only will none of the spectators have any clue what he/she/indeterminate is really trying to say, but you will also likely drive him/her/indeterminate away into the night/day/twilight... and the side of truth, justice, and the Progressivist way will rule.
Your Fascist, racist, sexist, genderophobic, running-dog, imperialist opponents will doubtless try to discriminate against and harass you by claiming you are avoiding debate because you have no arguments -- no evidence, no principles, no point. Do not allow yourself to feel hurt or inadequate.
The Progressivist purpose behind debate-avoidance techniques is not to make up for any supposed "deficiency" on our part; as keepers of the Vision, we have absolute moral authority and a collective intelligence we can tap into; this collective intelligence gives every liberal the functional equivalent of an IQ of 732!
(This is not an estimate; it has been measured in a study by the independent, bipartisan Center for American Progress, funded by the highly respected Open Society Institute, which has never been accused of partisanship. You don't have to take our word; Google it.)
The reason we use these beginner, intermediate, and advanced techniques for dodging debate is that we're so intelligent, so scary-smart, that (a) we don't want to take unfair advantage of the animal-like "intelligences" on the other side, and (b) it would demean us, the anointed, to stoop and "debate" criminals, liars, and fools who reject the spiritual Vision. We would become attainted by treating the dhimmi on the Right as if they were our "equals."
So take heart, fellow Progressivists and liberals; our refusal ever to stand our ground in honest debate is a feature, not a bug; it demonstrates our superiority and actually proves that our side, as expected, was right all along.
To quote one of our greatest philosophers of Progressivism:
(From "The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi;" p. 85, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, ©1982, And/Or Press, Inc. -- first printing.)
August 22, 2011
Bunyan Ryan Says He's Out; Let's Take Him at His Word
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI, 96%), chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, looms like a giant in an election year focused almost entirely on the economy; he is the only person in any branch or chamber of the government not only to craft but actually enact (in his chamber, the House of Representatives) a plan to simultaneously grow the economy and shrink the government, restoring fiscal sanity. Understandably, many seek to draft him for the presidential race -- notably lawyer and blogger Beldar (here, here, here), but the ten-gallon Texan is certainly not alone.
But today, Ryan appears to have finally closed and locked that barn door before the horserace got out; he states without equivocation that he is not running:
"I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party's nomination for President. I remain hopeful that our party will nominate a candidate committed to a pro-growth agenda of reform that restores the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation. I remain grateful to those I serve in Southern Wisconsin for the unique opportunity to advance this effort in Congress."
I personally was never aboard the Paul Ryan bandwagon (neither, evidently, was Ryan himself!) I think he's great where he is right now, and I'd like to see some actual executive experience before dropping him into the maelstrom of the presidency. Beldar tried to answer that charge in the first of the three Beldar links above, but his argument was weak and unconvincing hand-waving; there really is a difference between being a congressman and being a chief executive, and Ryan ain't got none'a the latter.
But clearly, he still has a strong role to play:
Ryan has said publicly he is concerned that those currently running for the GOP nomination are not addressing long-term fiscal and economic issues in a way that makes clear the magnitude of the challenges.
And I'll go further: I would strongly support him playing that role at a higher and more effective level -- for example, as Vice President of the United States. I believe he would tremendously compliment Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who doesn't seem to have much international economic or fiscal experience, and would even be an asset to the much more financially experienced Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; alas, much of Romney's experience is negative, falling into the "fatal conceit" of believing in big-government solutions to problems more properly and effectively solved by Capitalism, rugged individualism, and American exceptionalism. I would hope that Ryan can lead a Romney or a Perry out of the socialist wilderness and into the promised land of liberty.
I think it would be wonderful if both of the two most likely nominees made a joint announcement (after sounding Ryan out, of course) that whichever of them is nominated, he will name Paul Ryan as his running mate. But I'm not going to hold my breath for more than a couple of minutes.
July 28, 2011
Right-Wing Folly, Another Reason Why I Am Not a Conservative
Two epigrams bubble up in my cerebrum at the moment. The first is just a statement of principle that seems to encapsulate the essence of Americanism; too bad so few on the side of goodness affirm it:
- For society's sake, it's best the consensus of the people sticks to the traditional values of monogamy, loyalty, decency, and faithfulness; but for liberty's sake, it's best that the people's government sticks to encouraging, not enforcing, such tradition.
And the other is more flip but equally true in my opinion:
- Extremism in defense of conservatism is -- still extremism.
A momentous civil-liberties lawsuit in Utah pits two opposing forces against each other, forever locked in battle unto the end of time (like that old Star Trek episode). Both sides spin their arguments around the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, like planets orbiting the same sun. On its face, the Court simply struck down all federal and state laws against "sodomy," however defined; it did not make any findings anent marriage.
But each side accepts the same central folly, spinning the consequences of of that supposition in opposite but equally extreme directions. Side A, which we generally call the Dark Side, abuses and twists that case pretzel-like in order to argue that laws banning polygamy are unconstitutional (as the same partisans also argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional); by extension, Side A argues that every state in the United States of America must immediately allow "plural" marriages.
The flip side -- which conservatives ironically call Righteousness -- uses the same argument used by polygamists: Some radical marital "reformers" make paralogical arguments, twisting the principle of simple liberty and "the right to be let alone" into a paeon to perversity; therefore, conservatives argue that liberty itself is suspect and must be curtailed. Side B ripostes that citizens must be legally prevented from doing icky things that might nauseate decent folk and frighten the horses.
But let's get less airy-fairy and more specific:
The suer is Kody Brown, who stars in a TLC "reality" show called Sister Wives, which I've never seen; the dissenter is Power Line's own Scott Johnson. And yes, on this subject, both are equally extreme and impervious to reason.
Brown argues from Lawrence that if a man has the right to cohabitate -- to live with -- more than one woman, then clearly he has the right to marry them all. That is a complete non-sequitur, of course; the principle of liberty means we can do as we please, so long as we're not harming others. In Lawrence, the Supreme Court found (albeit via flawed reasoning from the noisome Griswold v. Connectucut) a principle of liberty that it nevertheless true; it ought to be considered "self evident"... that there is a fundamental right to a zone of independence around each individual, inside of which government cannot intervene save to protect another and non-consenting individual.
That us, under liberty, if two adult men want to have intimate relations with each other, privately and without coercion, then government cannot arrest them for it. Likewise if one man and three women want to have intimate relations, or two men and one woman, so long as all are consenting adults. Prior to Lawrence, trysts of this sort were lumped under the label "sodomy" and were criminal acts under the laws of a number of states. For that matter, the same statutes often criminalized certain types of sex between husband and wife -- fellatio and cunnilingus, for example. It was an extraordinary, pre-modern burst of authoritarianism, now defended only by some movement-conservatives.
I assert that a government with the legal power to dictate what sexual positions a husband and wife, or any other group of consenting adults, can legally perform is a tyranny of the most grotesque and unAmerican sort, where citizens are owned by the State.
Yes, I know full well that the Founding Fathers, to a man, supported such laws against sodomy; they were wrong. They were misled by the emotional and religious baggage of their society and upbringing, which prevented them from seeing that the logic of their own arguments for liberty belied their emotional inconsistency, just as it belied acceptance of slavery and of state-established churches. Either one believes in freedom of conscience; or one believes that ultimately, the State can condemn you for dissent, thoughtcrime, or nonconformity. There really is no middle ground.
But granting the fundamental right to do something perverse does not obligate society to applaud the perversity: The same freedom of conscience that says I cannot stop Brown from living with three "sister wives" in addition to his legal spouse likewise prevents him from forcing me to sanctify such a relationship by calling it "marriage." But that is exactly what Kody Brown demands:
Reality-TV star Kody Brown and his “sister wives” may not intend to be an example of the “slippery slope” in the gay-marriage debate, but their new lawsuit against Utah’s anti-polygamy laws bolsters the argument that legalizing marriage for same-sex couples could open the door to recognition of other kinds of marriages.
Mr. Brown; his legal wife, Meri Brown; and “sister wives” Janelle Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan, who appear with their 16 children on “Sister Wives” on TLC, want Utah’s anti-polygamy laws declared unconstitutional and unenforceable on their “plural family.” [Emphasis added -- DaH]
I readily admit there is a serious problem with the Utah statute, if it's being accurately and honestly reported by the Washington Times (and I have no reason to believe otherwise): The law evidently bans not only polygamy itself, the marrying of more than one wife, but something more sinister:
In the Brown lawsuit, Mr. Turley and Mr. Alba said the Brown family, members of the Apostolic United Brethren faith, has committed no crime except to live together, “motivated by their sincere religious beliefs and love for one another.”
States cannot “criminalize consensual intimate relationships, including homosexual relationships, between unmarried adults,” the lawyers wrote, citing the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas.
And yet Utah has a law that forbids a legally married person from “purport[ing] to marry another person or cohabit[ing] with another person,” the lawyers wrote. [Emphasis added -- DaH.]
With this and other anti-polygamy laws, Utah “criminalizes not just polygamous marriages, but also an array of plural intimate relationships and associations of consenting adults,” Mr. Turley and Mr. Alba wrote.
In other words, the Utah law bans not only plural marriage, it appears also to ban plural living arrangements, even those not legally blessed as "marriage." Only one of the women with whom Brown lives is his legal wife; to the eyes of the law, the rest are just honeys.
The Brown family’s “basic liberties and equal protection” are being violated, they added, asking the court to “preliminarily and permanently” block enforcement of Utah’s laws that ban and criminalize polygamy.
I absolutely agree that the "basic liberties" of Brown and the individual women are violated by the Utah anti-polygamy statute, but only to the extent that it criminalizes living together. But I reject the "equal protection" argument, the ground used in most cases that seek to overturn the traditional definition of marriage; and in any event, the solution to the unconstitutionality of one part of a law is not to toss the entire law out, but to make the smallest possible change consonant with the demands of liberty, as enunciated by the Court.
In this case, toss out the part that bans "cohabit[ation] with another person," but keep the part that bans declaring such relationships legal "marriage." That is, ban polygamy but not shacking up.
This is where the logic of the Left flies to flinders: Under liberty, you can do a great many bizarre, outre, unconventional, kooky, or perverse things; but one thing you cannot demand is that society embrace and ratify your perversities and eccentricities, a democratic State's imprimatur and nihil obstat. You have the right to give yourself a high colonic with Liquid Draino, but it's a stupid idea; and don't expect me to shout "mazel tov" when you finish.
I would have thought it obvious: I am allowed to write what I please; but the State isn't required to support my writing or even give me a prize. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, "duh!" But it appears that Brown believes that anything he has a right to do, he also has a right to demand official praise for doing.
In a freakish twist of fate, contemporary conservatives appear to have locked themselves into supporting the same paralogia, albeit to prove the opposite conclusion.
It seems monstrous to me to argue that any government, even at the state or local level, can put you in prison for using an unapproved sexual position in the privacy of your own home. But when movement conservatives argue that Lawrence v. Texas should be overturned -- as nearly all of them do -- that is precisely the position they stake out: They're all in favor of "individual liberty" -- but not when that means engaging in sex that conservatives don't like. Casual day has gone too far; there oughta be a law!
If it was simple prejudice, t'would a simple task to point out the hypocrisy; more than likely, a fair-minded person would admit being led astray by thinking with his heart, when the proper organ for such cogitation is further north. But our movement-conservatives (with whom I typically ally) buttress their glandular rejection of homosexuality and polyamory with specious, backwards reasoning: They argue that Lawrence must be wrong because it leads to overturning traditional marriage. Or as a pal of mine says, "It can't be true, because it would be so dreadful if it were true!"
In other words, conservatives typically argue that the liberal argument is right: If you have a right to cohabitate with anybody, that necessarily implies a right to marry anybody.
Therefore, you have no right to cohabitate. (Supposed "reductio ad absurdum.")
But the absurdity is not Lawrence v. Texas; the absurdity is inventing a nonexistent and inconsistent rule of inference, that allowing an action means approval of that action... the invalidity of which we surely have proven by now (ad nauseum).
But here is Scott Johnson making that exact argument in the Power Line post:
Now comes Professor Jonathan Turley to the defense of polygamy. Professot Turley represents one Kody Brown, a man, and his four wives and 16 children -- who, he notes in a New York Times op-ed column, are the focus of a reality program on the cable channel TLC called “Sister Wives.” One of the marriages is legal and the others are what the family calls “spiritual.” Professor Turley is lead counsel in the recently filed lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Utah law criminalizing polygamy....
Professor Turley relies for his argument on the logic of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision overturning state sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas. Professor Turley has a point -- indeed, some of us criticized the Lawrence decision on precisely that ground -- though Justice Kennedy’s opinion waltzed away from the question of polygamy. And it didn’t even mention laws against bestiality and incest. Perhaps Professor Turley will undertake the glorious cause of extending Lawrence to them in another case.
The link, supplied by Scott himself, points to a Power Line post of his from 2003, just after the Court decided Lawrence. Here is the smoking gun:
In one sense the Supreme Court’s opinion today in Lawrence v. Texas, asserting the existence of a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, was utterly predictable. Thirty years ago the liberal constitutional scholar John Hart Ely wrote a classic law review article (“The Wages of Crying Wolf”) condemning the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade, and Lawrence is in a sense only a few steps further down the jurisprudential arc that will end, as Justice Scalia notes in dissent, in the constitutional right to homosexual marriage, prostitution, bigamy, and adult incest.
There is a trivial sense in which Scalia could be right; lawless judges can seize upon and twist the language of Lawrence to argue something radically different from the actual findings. However, the true source of Scott's position would seem not to be reason and logic but something more atavistic: a visceral loathing of certain icky kinds of sex (as opposed to other, more privileged positions and partners). He continues in lurid prose:
Among the founders, sodomy was universally condemned as a crime against nature. It was illegal in each of the thirteen states existing at the time the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was adopted. In Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia, it was a crime punishable by death. When Jefferson wrote an amendment to the criminal code lessening the penalty for sodomy, he nevertheless classed it as a crime with rape, polygamy, and incest.
Today the Supreme Court declares that homosexual sodomy constitutes “a form of liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.” Justice Kennedy, the author of this nauseating palaver, is obviously so in love with what he thinks is his own eloquent rhetoric that he fails to notice his laughable double entendre. What is not funny, however, is the destruction of the recognition of the laws of nature and nature’s God on which our true rights depend. The Supreme Court’s opinion today is an act of political destruction that should be recognized as such.
All that -- for holding that private sex between consenting adults is none of the State's damn business! It's a marvel Scott didn't toss in heresy, treason, crimes against humanity and the future, and the ritualistic summoning of the Elder Gods as further indictments. (I can only infer he was so hopping mad, he didn't think of them.)
So what do we have? The same conservatives who are outraged that the government dares tell them what to wear, how much to eat, where to recreate, who to choose as their doctors, how to finance and invest, and whether companies can fly corporate jets, now welcome (with gusto!) government control of sexual relations.
What's wrong with this picture?
The only distinction between the activities above is that the last is the most personal, the most intimate, and lies most thoroughly within the "zone of independence" of them all. Is the conservative argument that the more private and emotionally intimate the activity, the greater the authority of the State to control and regulate it?
Where else does that priority hold? What parents teach their children about right and wrong is surely more intimate and private than what they teach them about fashion and hairstyle; should the former therefore be subject to rigid governmental review and control, with only the latter trivia left to the discretion of individual parents? The argument is risible.
I wish I could call it a straw-man construction, but I can think of no other reason why conservatives argue that the State can tell us who to make love to -- but for God's sake, don't monkey with our Happy Meals!
But lose not sight of the point: Scott Johnson embraces the cri de coeur from fellow movement-conservative, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that the freedom to be intimate with whom you want (rather than with whom the government allows) is logically equivalent to license to legally marry persons of the same sex, close relatives, and persons already married, and license to commit the inhumane crime of bestiality and even the horrific, violent crime of forcible rape! Yes, I can certainly see that those acts are all of a feather.
And where is Scott's argument why this should be so? It doesn't seem facially obvious to me. Would he likewise argue that if government allows nude beaches, we'll be constitutionally required to legalize public orgies in middle school? The route between point A and point B on the "slippery slope" seems no less preposterous than the connection between decriminalizing "sodomy" (in private, among consenting adults) and legalizing bigamy, same-sex marriage, consanguineous marriage, bestiality, and rape.
I don't know about Scott himself, but I speculate that for most conservatives, they have no real syllogism; their "thoughts" on this issue are actually feelings, emotional responses that have no, and need no rational explanation.
Where does this leave us? It's not the only issue on which conservatives can be as mulish and irrational as liberals. Immigration and drug policy are two others, but the worst is modern biological evolutionary theory. The last is the most similar example to conservative allergy to sexual liberty:
- Many dyed in the wool atheists -- including Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Philip Pullman (of the wretched His Dark Materials books) -- insist that accepting the idea of evolution by natural selection requires one to reject God and faith and embrace atheism.
- A large number of conservatives with inadequate scientific schooling -- including Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Michael Medved, Ben Stein -- completely swallow the liberal argument.
- Therefore, being unwilling to reject God, they instead reject modern evolutionary biology, casting overboard more than a century of brilliant and apolitical science.
In fact, there is no logical or rational connection between allowing sexual freedom and requiring the definition of marriage to include any old relationship somebody might want; just as there is no reasoned conflict at all between biological evolution and faith in a theistic God, as Francis S. Collins conclusively proves in the Language of God; but there you are: Conservatives reject both as unthinkingly and reflexively as liberals denounce the Koch brothers, and for eerily similar reasons.
So I say again: Extremism in defense of conservatism is certainly less annoying than the liberal strain... but it's no less extremist -- and no more rational.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
December 22, 2010
Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part IIII - Faster Than a Speeding Pullet
As readers well know (and generally lament), I do support the ending of Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays to serve in the military, so long as they stay in the closet. I believe gays should be allowed to serve openly, but not flauntingly. (Similarly, I believe women should be allowed to serve in any position in the military for which they qualify, including combat.)
But I do not in any way like the way that DADT was repealed. Following the crushing GOP victory in the 2010 midterm elections, it's appalling that the lame-donkey Congress which has just been repudiated has the audacity to vote on major pieces of transformative legislation -- that everybody knows would not pass in the incoming Congress. That's just wrong, and there's no two ways about it.
The previous rants of this ongoing Obamanation are:
- Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part I - a Reader Shibboleth
- Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part II - a Modish Proposal
- Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part III - a Blogger Responds
There's another outrage besides the revolutionary lame-donkey. Back in June 2009, we posted the thoughts of, as I described him, "an upper mid-level commissioned officer who served two tours in Iraq and now commands a training team," and who goes by the name Boss Mongo. Boss Mongo of course completely opposes the repeal of DADT; but I asked him what he would do to minimize the potential damage from the transition that, indeed, is expected to be signed by President Barack H. Obama next week. Here is what Boss Mongo said in that post, Straight Eye for the Queer Guy:
What, I asked him, would you do? He agreed that he would not resign his commission; he's a career guy, and he would stay in the military and obey orders. So with those caveats, here is Boss Mongo's plan -- including how he arrived at it, which is amazing in itself... I think I spawned a series of high-level meetings that may have set-off a policy prairie fire; what power these blog-things have! Here is what we would need to do in order to make such a policy change work, if the government decides to do so:~
Okay, under great protest and not ceding to the premise that the open service of homosexuals would not be prejudicial to good order and discipline, I'll proffer a mitigation strategy for incorporating the policy.
While thinking of the answer, I used the topic, and our e-mail discussions, to conduct a couple round-table discussions with various members of my team and some of my subordinate teams. The demographics of the participants were pretty varied. Tallying it up later, I talked in small groups to: two O4s (one Asian, one Puerto Rican), three O3s (two white, one black), two E8s (both black), five E7s (two black, two white, one hispanic), and one Warrant Officer (hispanic). When I initiated the discussions, the universal first reaction was "Eww."
So it took a while to get the guys to focus on the discussion point; the first X number of minutes were spent getting them off of decrying the policy itself. Most of the senior (ie, ~20 years) guys said that it would be time to drop retirement paperwork (my crew consists of mostly senior guys; my youngest team member is 28 with six years in). Anyway, once we established the constraints of the conversation (and tabled the HIV factor for a later discussion), most of the guys came up with the same concept of response that I had:
- First, tangentially, commissioned officers thought that problems would manifest mostly on the battlefield, NCOs [non-commissioned officers -- the Mgt.] thought that the most serious problems would arise in the barracks environment.
- The service already has a chain training mechanism in place; it is used for annual, biennial, and quarterly training on EO [Equal Opportunity, I presume -- the Mgt.], Family Advocacy, prevention of sexual harassment, suicide prevention, DUI/Drug prevention, etc. This would be the venue for most training. Officers, NCOs, and junior enlisted would probably have different training evolutions, with unit training at the end, conducted by said officers and NCOs.
- The training would have to be tailored to present homosexual service as consistent with the military values -- loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage -- and the military values would have to be the foundation of the training/instruction.
- The service-member support networks, from the Chaplains to the headshrinkers, would have to be a part of it and be consistently available to help members with problems arising from the new strategy.
- Orders would go out giving the officer and NCO corps instructions on how the chain of command wanted adverse or serious incidents handled.
- One thing we all agreed on was that a significant chunk of time and effort would have to be expended on retention, keeping good service members in who are determined to vote with their feet -- or rather, their discharge paperwork -- because of the policy.
That's about it. Everything after that would be adapting to the situations arising and always being ready to call an audible when things go awry, and they will.
This is the sort of thing I was trying to get at in another, more recent post here on Big Lizards, Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part II - a Modish Proposal (linked up top); that was the post in which I proposed a small-scale dry run of repealing DADT. What I had in mind was to give training officers an opportunity to test the Boss Mongo training plan, see where it worked well and where it fell down, then implement the former and restructure the latter.
But in the pell-mell rush to jam through Congress the instant repeal of DADT, I cannot imagine that the Obamunists have the slightest interest in a "go-slow" approach that would give us the time to work the kinks (sorry!) out of the system. Rather, I agree with Paul Mirengoff at Power Line: Obama will shove this revolutionary transformation (which underlying policy I support) down the tracks like a runaway freight train, and any testing policy that tries to slow it down will be squashed flatter than today's GDP growth (which unseemly haste I abhor).
After all, the policy must actually be a done deal before January 3rd; else the incoming House of Representatives might refuse to appropriate or authorize the funds to implement it.
This is exactly what I was afraid would happen: Because conservatives made it clear that they would never, ever, ever vote to repeal DADT, no matter when or how, the "progressivists" rightly concluded that they have only this one brief window, which, if not seized upon, slams shut in just under a fortnight... so the Left must move the policy faster than a cannon-fired chicken. Full scream ahead, and damn the training!
Well, never let it be said that Congress failed to disappoint.
December 17, 2010
Proud of Mel, on the Occasion of Winona's Denunciation
Aaron Worthing at Patterico's Pontifications recently wrote a post about an interview in GQ with Winona Ryder -- who is Jewish; who knew? -- in which she offhandedly charged that, "like, fifteen years ago," she was at a Hollywood party, where she met a drunken Mel Gibson... and that, when she mentioned her religion, he jokingly referred to Jews as "oven dodgers." (Ryder also claims that Gibson "made a really horrible gay joke" to her gay friend.)
We couple this with the iconic antisemitic rant another drunken Mel Gibson made -- rather, the same Gibson during a different debauchery -- while being arrested for DUI, and the pattern is fairly clear: In his heart, Gibson is a raging antisemite.
And as a USDA-certified non-religious Jew, that makes me very, very proud of him.
We pause briefly to allow readers to finish caroming around the room, flapping their arms like emperor penguins trying to take to the air.
Settled again? Good; I can explain what in blazes I mean very concisely...
We all have demons; no one but a saint is so free of evil that he hasn't even a single moral blindness, a single skeleton in his skull. On those issues, the beast screams to be released to rend and eviscerate someone who, while he may be irritating or offensive or even thuggish, doesn't actually deserve the level of irrational vitriol or violence that we feel, in those moments, like dishing out.
How many of you -- be honest -- had flashes of rage following the 9/11attacks that induced fantasies of flattening the entire Arab world with nuclear Armageddon?
But wait, think a second time: Should we really kill hundreds of millions of people, the vast, vast majority innocent of that act of war, out of sick revenge at what, at most, half a hundred people plotted and maybe fifteen or twenty thousand actively applauded? All but the mad among us quickly suppressed that first idea and swallowed our rage, choosing instead to do as George W. Bush said: Find the people who knocked those buildings down and kill them personally, or capture them and hold them indefinitely, crushing every scrap of usable, actionable intel out of them. (Or at the very least, if we couldn't keep silent about our general fury at Arabs and Moslems in general, we confined those ravings of universal slaughter to close friends who wouldn't broadcast our intemperance to the world at large.)
And who here has never, ever, ever been so enraged by some nitwit driver that he hasn't screamed out loud, in his car, that he was going to ram the son of a bachelor and drive his car into a telephone poll? Sure, we yell it... but if we retain our sanity, we don't actually do it.
Civilization is largely a voluntary act of mass repression; and that's a good thing. An awful lot of thoughts and desires we experience throughout a given day should be repressed, jammed down so deep we barely feel them except for a burr in the brain -- notwithstanding that stupid sixties philosophy of "let it all hang out" and "never repress what you feel."
Sometimes it takes a heroic effort to suppress saying or doing something that Seems Like a Good Idea at the Time™, but upon sober reflection would be a horrific and life-destroying indulgence. But that's one of the prices we pay for living in a society, surrounded by other people.
I'd say that the definition of a civilized human being is the ability to look past anger to a later time, when we will have calmed down, and imagine ourselves saying, "My God, what have I done? My life is ended!"... then to return to present time and not do it in the first place.
Those with the loudest demons have the greatest struggle; and quite evidently, Mel Gibson's demons are very loud and vile indeed. But the point is, when not in the madness of strong drink, he does manage to suppress them. He suppresses them so well that until that videotaped, besotted rant during his arrest, I daresay the vast majority of us had no idea he struggled with such internal Hell.
Some Gibson critics have tried to claim that his movie the Passion of the Christ was antisemitic; I believe they do so precisely because they realize that to condemn Gibson, they must show that he indulges his demon even when stone cold sober... as when he is writing and directing a movie.
Yet I watched that movie as a Jew (having been "primed" to believe it would be antisemitic); and while I was unmoved by the story, I certainly felt no stirrings of anxiety over religious persecution, as I did when watching Leni Riefenstahl's the Triumph of the Will, glorifying Adolf Hitler's 1934 Nuremberg rally.
In fact, in the twenty-one Gibson movies I've seen, including Passion and Apocalypto, both of which he only wrote and directed, I've never seen anything to indicate he was a deliberate Jew hater or "homophobe." Knowing as I now do how he must struggle against the irrational illnesses of racism and xenophobia, I am astonished at what a great job he does.
Gibon's conscious, intelligent mind realizes one of two things, the first more creditable than the second but both being acceptable marks of civilization:
- Either that his "feelings" are simply wrong, as feelings frequently are; and there is nothing inherently inferior about Jews, gays, or any other human, even if he believes that some of the things they do -- deny Christ, engage in the "abomination" of homosexual acts -- are sins. He may honestly believe he must hate the sin but love the sinner.
- Or at the very least, he must believe that he cannot live in this American society and express such loathing that is rejected by nearly everybody else here (Europe and the Orient are friendlier to Jew hatred); and Gibson must believe that the benefits of living in the United States outweigh any personal satisfaction he might derive from venting venom at Jews and gays. And that, as I said, is practically the definition of a civilized man.
I don't know which, but either way, Mel Gibson "gets it" -- when he's sober. And he doesn't seem to be a habitual drunkard; such incidents are few enough and far enough apart that they still shock us.
Of course Gibson still has a drinking problem; anytime someone allows himself to get so drunk that he cannot control his inner demons, he is a menace to himself, and what is infinitely worse, to the rest of society. But I feel as proud (as a fellow civilized human being) of his personal achievement as I would of a kleptomaniac who controls himself and does not steal, or a drug addict who steers clear of the needle, or a believing Catholic who is gay, yet who lives a celebate life so as not to commit what he believes to be sin. It must take a mental effort of mind-over-glands more monumental than most of us can imagine -- a true "triumph of the will" -- for Gibson to bottle his imp of rage and hate and cast it into the sea, even if it does occasionally come bobbing back ashore when he's in his cups.
By contrast, I have heard many and many a man or woman of the Left openly, brazenly, almost tauntingly fling antisemitic, anti-gay, and racist ideas and epithets into the maelstrom of his political and ideological madness without having touched a drop of "the creature" all day. Which, by the way, is practically a textbook definition of barbaric savagery.
Even as a Jew, who would you rather luncheon with: Mel Gibson? Or Special Assistant to President Barack H. Obama Samantha Power, head of the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights?
The defense rests.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
December 7, 2010
Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part III - a Blogger Responds
Ordinarily I don't debate blogposts in the comments section; I leave that for the readers to express their opinions. On the other hand, there are a some arguments which merit response. The compromise is to respond with another blogpost in order to answer the many points and questions raised by a previous post in this series... so here goes!
The previous parts of this ongoing series are:
Kill the messenger, not the message
Commenter RRRoark sees a larger agenda in the push to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) and allow gays to serve openly:
I too see merit on both sides, but the deciding factor for me is that the demand is coming from a group that has traditionally hated the military.
But why should we penalize gay service members who only want to serve honorably and honestly in the military, simply because their demand for equal treatment is echoed by a Greek chorus (I couldn't resist!) which hates the military -- and whose support is likely not appreciated by gay service members in the first place?
We could make a corresponding "guilt by association" argument that favors repeal: Why do we take the same position against gays in the military that is echoed by the despicable Westboro Baptist Church, the vile haters who invade military funerals to chant "God hates fags" at grieving widows? The answer is, we cannot decide policy on the basis of which side has the worst unwelcomed supporters; there are fanatics on all sides. As Larry Niven says, "There is no cause so noble that it will not attract fuggheads."
Discrimination is as discrimination does
Is discrimination against gay service members akin to discrimination against black service members before President Truman desegregated the troops? Commenter Mdgiles disputes the notion:
The difference -- and it is a major difference -- between segregation in the old military, and allowing gays in the military; is the difference between appearance and behavior. I am black, a fact that can be ascertained over the proverbial country mile. Just as it can be ascertained whether I am short or tall, fat or lean. It's simply a question of how I look. It says noting at all about my probable behavior.
All right, then let's take another example. Should we enact a DADT-type policy requiring Moslem service members to keep silent about their religion, never mention even casually that they sometimes attend a mosque, that they read the Koran, or that they pray to Allah, on pain of being dismissed from the service with an other-than-honorable discharge?
"Moslemness" is certainly not something that can be detected a mile away, or even five feet away. Worse, unlike with gay service members, we have suffered several incidents in which Moslem service members have gone "jihad" and actually attacked and murdered their fellows in the name of Allah and Islam!
By contrast, even if Bradley Manning is gay -- and I have no idea -- nobody has suggested that he leaked classified information to WikiLeaks in an effort to further the gay-rights agenda.
Would it make our military more effective and efficient if we decreed that Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Atheists could all openly discuss their religion, but Moslems must stand silent, and forever live in the fear that somebody might spot them coming out of a mosque or overhear them praying -- even off base, even on leave! -- leading to disgrace and discharge?
Maybe a little, since we could discharge any radical Islamist unwise enough to let the mask slip -- along with thousands of other servicemen who would only have fought honorably for America and never attacked anyone on our side. Too, doubtless some servicemen don't like Moslems and get nervous when they find out somebody in their squad is one; I daresay more servicemen are worried about Moslems in the ranks than gays in the ranks... just as, during World War II, some soldiers were very uncomfortable fighting alongside American soldiers with names like David Hasselhoff or Norman Mineta. Some service members would surely have better morale if all Moslems are excluded from service (or forced to keep quiet about their suspect religion).
So should the slight increase in "effectiveness" and morale lead us to adopt that policy? The answer is an emphatic No -- and the reason cuts to the very heart of why we have a military in the first place.
What's the Army for, anyway?
The point we should understand is that, Rush Limbaugh aside, the ultimate purpose of the American military is not to "kill people and break things;" otherwise, it would be a good thing if an Army unit sortied out from a base in one of our allies' countries and went on a looting and killing rampage. Violence by itself is not the goal of the military, it is one means, a tool it can use to further a goal that is decided far "above the paygrade" of even four-star admirals and generals.
The purpose of the American military is to advance the national interests of the United States of America. This of course includes, but is not limited to, national self-defense.
Sometimes our national interests require killing and breaking; other times they require delivering food, building schools, saving residents of a distant land from the effects of floods or hurricanes, or negotiating a peace between rival tribes.
But at all times, the goal (accepted by the military) of advancing the national interests of the United States always includes promoting the foundational values of the United States, the virtues that brought us into existence in the first place: Democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, and limited government.
If our government uses the military to assail those values, then both government and military have become anti-American and must be stopped. For example, if United States Marines stood in polling booths and told voters how to vote; or if the Army began making mass arrests of peaceful dissidents; or if the U.S. Navy began seizing people they suspected of being pirates and summary executing them on the spot, without a trial... then our uniformed personnel would have disgraced their uniforms -- even if they acted under orders -- and should be prosecuted under the Universal Code of Military Justice.
(And note, I never specified the nationalities of the above victims. It doesn't matter.)
The reason is that the military is not an end to itself; its function is to promote American interests, which includes promoting our foundational values. If they act to demean those values, they violate the sacred trust we endow them by allowing them to wage war in our name. An army of tyranny cannot fight for liberty.
Back to the Moslem example. Were we to proclaim religious liberty with our mouths, then spit on that very freedom within the ranks -- were we to discriminate within the military service against one religion among all others -- we would be mocking the ideals and the credo of the United States; the paltry gain from treating Moslems in our military service as "dhimmi" would be far outweighed by the message of hypocrisy and fraud, which would drag our country down into the same filth as the very countries we're fighting in the war against radical Islamism.
Note that nothing above prevents us from going after Moslem service members who engage in, conspire to engage in, or call for others to engage in jihad against America or our allies. Why not? Because then we are discriminating, not on the basis of religion or any other statistical class of people, but on the basis of violent and criminal actions committed by an individual.
"Unapproved" is not "evil"
I strongly believe that the same holds true for gays serving in the military. While homosexuality is not a religion, the syllogism is strikingly similar in structure:
- Gays hold certain beliefs and engage in certain actions that make others "uncomfortable."
But those actions are not inherently mala in se, the legal term for activity that is a crime by its very nature, inherent evil such as murder, assault, rape, robbery, theft, and so forth -- within the American culture as a whole.
For an action to be malum in se, it must be almost universally considered so in our society, our entire society (which is what the military is there to protect and promote, remember?) -- not just among a small subset of very religious Americans.
- Yet we have made it a crime within the military, a malum prohibitum -- a crime only because we have declared it a crime, like driving on the left side of a road or painting your house the wrong color as defined by zoning laws.
- And the justification for this malum-prohibitum law is not that anything inherent to homosexuality itself causes a breakdown in morale, good order and discipline, or military effectiveness -- nobody alleges that gays are inherently incapable of engaging in effective combat or standing watch or peeling spuds -- but rather that some heterosexual service members might feel an unreasonable fear or loathing against gays that might stop those heterosexuals from peforming their duties.
That is, the argument is not that "gays can't fight;" the argument is that "some straights are so rattled by the fact of homosexuality that they themselves can't fight." Therefore -- gays shouldn't serve openly? The argument is mad on its face.
-- With liberty and justice for all
Obviously the military can prohibit behavior that quintessentially disrupts military functioning, such as gays aggressively soliciting straights -- or other, non-interested gays -- or straights harassing gays -- or straights aggressively soliciting service members of the opposite sex. And any sort of harassment, oppression, political activism, or evangelism can legitimately be curtailed within the military, whether its purpose is to recruit members into homosexuality or to recruit members into Christianity.
But there is no more reason to single out gays, as a class, for official silencing than there is for singling out Moslems, Democrats, or blacks.
The difference between the American military and, say, the North Korean military is that our armed forces promote freedom and liberty, while theirs promote the whims of the Dear Leader, no matter what those whims may entail.
We engage in the absolute bare minimum restriction of liberty in our culture, even of our soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen; so long as speech or activity does not impede the goal of protecting and projecting the national interests of the United States, we don't treat our servicemen and -women as slaves or prisoners. (After the initial period of training is completed, and lumpen civilians have been turned into fighting men and women, that is.)
We don't tell them who to vote for, or what religion to practice, or even what movies to watch. Heck, we even let them publish blogs, unless those blogs begin to disrupt combat (for example, by giving away our tactics, positions, or objectives). We don't tell servicemen what kinds of girls to date or marry; why should we tell them which gender to date?
There is no mission-related reason to curtail that liberty, especially since the Supreme Court struck down (Lawrence v. Texas) all laws against "sodomy" in the larger culture; it is now only a crime within the military and nowhere else, despite the inability to articulate any reason why homosexuality is inherently incompatible with "good order and discipline."
Personally, I believe it all comes down to irrational hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality. And please do recall that I completely oppose same-sex marriage and support all efforts to promote traditional marriage, even covenant marriage; I'm not a spokesman for the gay agenda.
Who's a sodomite anyway?
In fact, I also think the UCMJ should be brought into line with Lawrence even on purely heterosexual matters; I believe it's still technically "sodomy," under Article 125, for a serviceman to engage in oral sex with his wife, in his own home, on his own time:
Article 125 -- Sodomy
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient
to complete the offense.
(b) Any person found guilty of sodomy shall by punished as a court-martial may direct....
It is unnatural carnal copulation for a person to take into that person’s mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal; or to place that person’s sexual organ in the mouth or anus of another person or of an animal; or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person; or to have carnal copulation with an animal.
When is the last time a straight serviceman was prosecuted and kicked out for oral sex with a woman? Why is there no DADT for BJs? In addition to everything else, gays also suffer disparate treatment under military law; they are unequally prosecuted for doing (or even admitting doing) what is equally illegal under the code if done by a heterosexual serviceman.
So how many servicemen are there right now in the military who demand that homosexuals serve in secret or not be allowed to serve at all -- yet who are themselves "sodomites" under the UCMJ? And how many of those would agree never again to get a BJ or even reveal that they enjoy it?
Fox in the hole
This might not present a problem to some pencil pusher in the Pentagon (where they seem to have concentrated this "survey") because they go home at the end of the day. However at the "sharp end of the spear" it's often 24/7, and 365.
The implication being that the demands of front-line combat make it impossible to accept openly gay service members fighting alongside straights.
But why? Other than appeal to privilege, nobody has given a real argument why a straight soldier would feel more nervous sitting in a foxhole with a gay soldier than with a soldier of unknown sexual preference. It's hard to imagine that in such a tense situation, anybody, gay or straight, would be chumming for sexual partners.
We all agree that there already are gay soldiers, sailors, airmen, and even Marines in service; evidently, they aren't putting the moves on the other guy in the foxhole, or the DADT-discharge rate would be much, much higher than it is.
I would guess that DADT notwithstanding, most gay members of the military service are already known to be or suspecting of being gay by most of their squadmates. In nearly all cases, the latter generally ignore the fact as irrelevant -- unless the gay member actually starts causing a problem, making a spectacle of himself, or hitting on people left and right... which is a separate problem and easily dealt with by disciplinary action, just as it would be in the case of heterosexual or non-sexual harassment.
This is a silly argument, unsourced and unsupported. It amounts to the ancient stereotype of saying that gays just can't control themselves like straights can: Bob bends over to pick up a sandbag, and Nigel just can't stop himself from grabbing Bob's posterior.
But -- in a foxhole? On the deck of an aircraft carrier? In a Boeing 767 AWACS controlling a battlefield? In a fast-attack submarine? For heaven's sake, isn't this argument just a tad ridiculous? It's reaching so far, it topples off the table. If somebody is that oblivious to external reality, it doesn't really matter if he's gay or straight; he's a menace either way.
Now there is one circumstance where this could happen, but it's not strictly confined to gays. If a gay man is living an explicitly "gay lifestyle" -- say in the ferment of the Castro-Street subculture of San Francisco -- surrounded by other, very promiscuous gay men and heading out to the bathhouse every other night with his friends, then yes, his sexual activities could overwhelm every other aspect of his life. But by the same token, straights who fall into the "swinger" lifestyle might find their own sex lives out of control; and Moslems living a strict and fundamentalist Islamic lifestyle might find their religion getting out of control.
Yet the danger in these cases come from radicalism of any kind, not from Moslems, heterosexuals, or homosexuals as a class. I agree that we should not allow radicals into our armed forces, and we should discharge them if we discover their radicalism after enlistment. But radical anything, I mean.
Slip sliding away
Commenter Pam worries about the slippery slope (bracket-notes added for reference below):
Guess I'm a big picture person, but if we allow gays to serve openly, then  couldn't they get married or have a civil union if they so choose? If they can do this,  how can the government deny a spouse all the dependent privileges that current spouses have? If this happens, then  isn't the Federal Defense of Marriage Act pretty much gone, and if that's gone, then we pretty much have to  accept any or all unions from state to state!
- No, just because you are allowed to serve doesn't change the definition of marriage.
- A government cannot deny a spouse spousal benefits; but we do not recognize same-sex marriage at the federal level.
- You cannot "back-door" (sorry again!) a repeal of DOMA by allowing gays to serve openly in the military, because DOMA says nothing about that issue.
- Finally, even if Congress voted not only to repeal DADT but also to repeal DOMA, that would not immediately allow polygamy and sibling marriage; each issue would have to be fought separately, either in the proper venue of Congress and state legislatures, or in the entirely inappropriate venue of the courts.
(This argument is basically, "If we give gays one item from the gay agenda, aren't we obliged to give them every other item?" Of course the answer is No, we're not.)
Brains rinsed while U wait
Commenter Bill Befort raises a jurisprudential point that I've seen from others:
There's a lot more to this than who showers with whom. As Adm. Mullen's comments hint, it means endless brainwashing: the services essentially ordering members to demonstrate acceptance of homosexual behavior, or else.
No brainwashing at all... any more than allowing, say, atheists to serve means endless brainwashing of members to force them to approve of atheism. The answer is that, in order to serve in the military, you needn't approve of homosexuality, promiscuous heterosexuality, atheism, Islam, or even the military culture of orders and discipline: You only need to tolerate those things and be willing (even if you don't like it) to obey orders and do your duty, to support your fellow members, and to be willing to lay down your life, if necessary.
You don't have to like your squadmates, and you certainly don't have to approve of their lifestyles from some cosmic perspective. For that matter, some gay servicemen who happen to be monogamous church-goers might thoroughly disapprove of the lifestyle of a straight serviceman who drinks like a chimney and sleeps with ten different women every month.
But hey, he doesn't have to approve. He only has to tolerate Mr. Don Juan; and both men have to be there for each other when the bullets begin to fly, literally or metaphorically.
Bill Befort continues:
And the services will need to collect data on whether the policy is "working," which among other things will mean Must Ask, Must Tell.
Surely we can tell whether units are coming together (ack, I just can't stop myself!) or falling apart without having to query (sigh) every service member as to his sexuality. The signs would be obvious... just as they are when, for example, politicos dictate unworkable rules of engagement or a bad CO is unable to lead his men.
We need to give the test enough time that units find ways to overcome the inevitable problems that any change brings, but not so much time that a unit that is not adapting is utterly demoralized or rendered unfit for duty.
Measure six times before you repeal
The experiment is to see whether (and how) units can overcome any initial friction and remain melded together. Any change, even a good one like desegregating the troops, brings some dislocation for a while. Let a small number of units experience that and find ways to overcome it, and then we'll have a template for overcoming similar temporary dislocation in the armed forces as a whole.
Alternatively, we may discover that it's impossible to overcome the problems; in which case conservatives have new and potent ammunition to argue against repealing DADT throughout the entire military.
My hackles rise automatically whenever those who oppose some policy on the grounds that it will lead to disaster are unwilling even to support a small-scale test run; I cannot shake the feeling that the real reason isn't that they think a scale run will disclose serious problems... but rather that the scale run will generate solutions that make the policy change easier, less dangerous, and therefore more likely to occur.
But if it turns out that fears of catastrophe are unfounded, yet the same people still oppose the policy, then fear of failure was never the reason for rejecting the policy in the first place.
And then we're back either to irrational hatred of gays, or the inappropriate institutionalizing of specific religious doctrine into military law... or both.
December 5, 2010
Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part II - a Modish Proposal
Liberals demand that gays be allowed immediately to serve openly in all areas of all branches of military service, on grounds of civil rights. Conservatives demand that gays not be allowed to serve openly but only covertly, under the infamous Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy of Bill Clinton, or else not allowed to serve at all -- on the grounds that many-but-not-all front-line soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen believe that unit cohesion would suffer.
And here I am, stuck in the middle again!
I see merit on both sides the divide:
On the one hand, the troops do not "own" the military; service members are told to do many things they don't want to do, including swallowing rules of engagement (ROEs), commanders, and even missions that severely and negatively impact unit cohesion... for example, being ordered to perform "peacekeeping" duty, a monumentally stupid policy that led directly to the 1983 Beirut bombing, in which 241 American servicemen were slain by Hezbollah terrorists.
But do we give service members a vote on whether to be deployed as peacekeepers, or under what ROEs they must fight? Of course not; when you raise your hand and swear to obey orders "according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice," it's not an à la carte menu; you must swallow the whole meal, even parts that never occurred to you when you took that oath, so long as the orders are legal and they're issued to you by somebody in your chain of command.
On the other hand, people, including servicemen and -women, cannot always control how they feel about people who engage in certain activities that many religions consider "abomination." Try as they might not to let their feelings affect their duty to obey lawful orders, troops are nevertheless human. They may treat those fellow members differently, and that would indeed be bad for morale and unit cohesion, not to mention degrading effectiveness and safety.
On the third hand, an awful lot of members of the same services, combat servicemen, strictly heterosexual, seem to have no problem at all serving alongside openly homosexual members. So why can't the others just shrug off the "ick" factor and treat fellow members' sexual preferences as none of their business?
On the fourth hand, some gays join the military for the sole purpose of making a political statement, adopting a flamboyant and promiscuous lifestyle and rubbing it in the faces of their squadmates, and in general turning what should be a fighting machine into a witches' cauldron of agenda-driven experimentation in pushing the sexual limit.
On the fifth hand -- am I starting to sound like John Kerry? -- there are some pretty darned flamboyant heterosexual swingers, fornicators, and irresponsible impregnators in the military, too, like the sailor with the proverbial "three girls in every port." If religious Christians, Jews, and Moslems can learn to work alongside a man who measures the number of his female conquests in four digits, they should be able to show similar restraint towards a man who has just one lover -- who happens also to be a man, but remains always offstage.
On the sixth hand, when gays who ardently desire to defend their country can only serve while keeping a huge, career-killing secret, that is an invitation to blackmail... which could result in terrible damage to the American military, depending on who is doing the blackmailing and what he demands for his silence.
So let me cut this Gordian cheese with a simple suggestion:
- Randomly select a small number of units, some combat and some support, and allow gays to serve openly in them for a period of, say, five years.
- During that time, it will be made very, very difficult to transfer out of (or into) one of those experimental units, and definitely no transfers on the basis of "I can't serve alongside gays," or "I'm gay and I want to serve openly." Members are assigned into and out of those units on the normal bases used in every other unit... no special favors for pro- or anti-DADT activists. (This is to prevent politically motivated "grand gestures" from mucking up the test results.)
- During that time, rules against harassment (by any party, targeting any party), adultery, rape and sexual assault, and sexual-preference discrimination are strictly enforced (as they really should be throughout the service anyway).
- At the expiry of five years, units are evaluated and compared to units still under DADT rules on the usual bases: unit effectiveness (fighting or support), cohesion, morale, problem incidents, and so forth. (Of course, if truly serious problems develop before the five years are up, we can always cancel the program immediately and return to DADT for all units.)
- Finally, nobody in one of those units who served openly is to be penalized after the five year period for having done so, no matter which way the decision goes. Without that legal guarantee, nobody would serve openly, because everyone would be too afraid of retaliation as soon as the testing period is finished.
At that point, everyone should agree that we had tremendously more hard data than we do now, data that particularly pertains to the United States military, not foreign militaries. Congress and the Commander in Chief would be much better situated to make the decision yea or nay at that time, and the American people would have much more information to decide whether they approve of that decision, whatever it is -- or hate it so much that they vote the "deciders" out of office.
In other words, I'm suggesting we perform the experiment of allowing gays to serve openly in the military on a scale-model of the military first, and only proceed to a final, service-wide decision when we see how the scale version worked out. (Afterwards, we could use the same technique to test whether allowing women to serve in combat positions in combat zones enhanced, diminished, or had no effect on those same military standards and criteria.)
Why has nobody suggested this before? It seems pretty straightforward to me.
(If there is some reason why it would be worse to test out such changes on a scale version than to go for the whole enchilada all at once, please let me know; although embarassing to be proven wrong, it's much less embarassing than persisting in some foolish error year after year because everyone is too polite to tell you your idea is full of schist!)
November 9, 2010
What Overprice Christie?
The title of course riffs off of the series of posts about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie titled "What Price Christie?," published by Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker on Power Line from May through August this year.
Last Thursday, Republican darling Christie was as adamant as can be that he will not run for president in 2012:
“I've said I don't want to. I'm not going to. There is zero chance I will. I don't feel like I'm ready to be president. I don't want to run for president. I don't have the fire in the belly to run for president. But, yet, everyone seems to think that I've left the door open a little bit,” he said Thursday in exasperation.
I took Christie at his word, as did many others, that he believed he simply wasn't yet qualified to be president, having served as governor for only a single year (three years by the 2012 election).
But perhaps there is a more disturbing reason. Yesterday, Department of Justice investigators outed Christie as the U.S. Attorney who most abused his travel allowance:
Investigators focused on the cases of five U.S. attorneys -- also not identified by name but similarly assigned letters -- who "exhibited a noteworthy pattern of exceeding the government rate without appropriate justification."
The IG's report says "U.S. Attorney C" [Christie] booked a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington at a cost of $475 per night -- more than double the government rate of $233 per night for the District. He told investigators he chose the room because the hotel was the site of an early-morning speech he was scheduled to deliver -- a justification the inspector general rejected as inadequate.
The report said U.S. Attorney C also booked a room at Nine Zero Hotel in Boston at a cost of $449 per night -- again double the government rate in Boston of $220 per night. Investigators noted that during the Boston trip, he also spent $236 for a car service to chauffeur him the four miles to and from the airport....
The records show that he billed taxpayers more than $400 a night for stays in luxury hotels and exceeded the government's hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.
The travel corruption did become a campaign issue when Christie ran for governor in November 2009, and he just sloughed it off as nothing. Despite the furor, he narrowly beat incumbent Jon Corzine by 3.6%, with 5.8% going to Independent candidate Chris Daggett (who appears, from his Wikipedia entry, to have been a liberal Republican à la John Anderson before turning Independent). But then, Corzine was hardly in a position to point a finger at the corrupt mote in Christie's eye, given the steel I-beam of corruption in his own.
However, I think it possible that Christie has concluded that such low-level, "Sgt. Bilko"-style bilking of taxpayers might fly in New Jersey, but it wouldn't be acceptable in other parts of the country. (And certainly not from a Republican!) In fact, it stinks of the House check-kiting scandal of 1992 and could become the central issue of a presidential campaign against Barack H. Obama, overshadowing Christie's very real achievements as governor.
Will Christie ever run? I think the cheating is minor enough that it won't hold him back forever. If Obama is defeated in 2012, Christie could run in 2020; he will still only be 58, a prime age for a presidential run. And if, heaven forbid, the Obamacle is reelected, then Christie could run four years earlier, when he will be 54.
But either way, he will have to come up with a more contrite answer to the question: Why, as U.S. Attorney, did Christie defraud taxpayers to finance luxurious travel accomodations? In particular, Christie is going to have to swallow hard and admit he did wrong; voters outside the state will never accept the explanation, "Badda bing, badda boom, it's Jersey!"
Especially now, with the rise of Tea Parties around the country, voters -- no matter how much they like Christie's principles and positions and his willingness to fight for them -- are not in a mood to coddle politicians who think they're exempt from the rules that apply to everybody else.
September 24, 2010
The New Girls Network
The Tea Party has always been predominantly a women’s movement, or else they would have called it the “beer party.” Because of the high profile of Tea Party types like Glenn Beck, it is easy to forget that those frequently taking the point in reforming the Republican Party -- and the nation itself -- are outsiders like Sarah Palin and her “constipated grizzlies,” or whatever she calls them.
The latest of eight almost unbroken series of Tea Party victories in Republican primaries -- against candidates endorsed by the National Republican Senate Committee -- was racked up last week by Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, who is reminiscent of Palin, but without her laserlike intellectual firepower.
But you don’t need a big brain -- although perhaps a big mouth helps -- if your message is simple: cut spending, get big government out of our lives, and cut taxes.
It is becoming obvious that we are witnessing a movement that comes along once a century; and like most such movements, it will wreck anything that stands in its path.
It is vastly entertaining on several levels. One is the obvious discomfort of old time feminists who just can’t understand how a feminist could be a) a Republican, and b) a conservative. It’s been Democratic Party doctrine for ages that the GOP is just a "good old boys" network. How can women, of all people, run as conservative Republicans? I mean, ewwwwwww!
In a sense the GOP is a good old boys network, as one can see by watching notable political hacks like Karl Rove having fits on TV about outsiders like O’Donnell challenging establishment candidates.
For me, finding something nice to say about Rove is like trying to pick up the poo by the clean end; under his firm pilot’s hand, Republicans drifted into being as much a big-government party as the Dems. But one thing he has always had going for him was that he is an incredibly savvy (if totally amoral) political operative. Rove is obviously flummoxed by the pitchfork and guillotine quality of the Tea Party movement; but let’s face it, there is nothing that has more righteous indignation and pure, electric fury than a female on the rampage... hence Palin’s grizzly-bear metaphor.
But the Tea Party isn’t just anger; it is sophisticated, supple, and as net-savvy as a ‘Droid.
Two years ago political pundits remarked about the online organization of the Obama team and its remarkable exploitation of the net. However, today’s organizational effort by the Tea Party defies the term organization. It has been described as being like a “hive,” without a central guiding hand, with each individual party in contact with each other, but run independently. It runs rings around the old style organizations.
[I have been calling the Tea Party movement the "popular front for Capitalism and against government expansion and intrusion; students of history will understand the nuclear fusion packed into the phrase "popular front." -- DaH.]
It is a true grassroots movement, with the impetus moving up from the bottom. Democrats who think there is some conservative Soros as its Wizard of Oz are delusional.
I have a liberal friend who buys into that comforting fantasy. He keeps repeating the mantra, “Well, why weren’t they complaining eight years ago when Bush was running up all those deficits?” The answer to that, of course, is that they were, and the Republicans didn’t listen to them; and that was, in part, why the Republicans were kicked out of power in 2006 and 2008.
But that didn’t mean that the disaffected Independents and outraged Republicans wanted big government solutions. The Democrats decided to party like it was 1932, and they are about to pay in a big way.
As columnist David Paul Kuhn wrote this week: “The political establishment's reign has finally ended.... One week ago, the primary season closed with the most suitable of metaphors: The tea party movement sacked GOP’s Castle.” I wish I’d written that; if I were Joe Biden I eventually would have.
September 23, 2010
The Pledge Report
Today, the Republicans released what they call, with obvious reference, their Pledge to America. Many fiscal conservatives and TPers are savaging the Pledge on grounds that it doesn't go nearly as far as necessary; a good example is Karl, a too-infrequent guest poster at Patterico's Pontifications. (Note to Patterico: More Karl, please!)
Karl inexplicably sees the Pledge less as a political campaign document than as a roadmap (if I may use that term) to how the new GOP majority will govern... and by this analysis, the Pledge comes up wanting:
This year, with the odds already favoring the GOP regaining a House majority, it is again better to judge the new “Pledge” -- which this year’s candidates are not even formally agreeing to support -- on the basis of how well it serves as a governing document and potential confidence builder....
The rise of the Tea Party was driven in no small part by failures in political leadership, particularly Republican leadership. The political task of Republican leadership now is to reconcile the demands of the Tea Party (and, more broadly, the small-government base of the GOP) with the limits imposed by a divided government and the need to attract swing voters who are voting more for gridlock than they are for Republicans. There is not much in the Pledge to suggest the House GOP has figured out how to square that circle.
I don't follow Karl's logic. The main beef every other detractor has against the Pledge is that it comprises nothing but vague generalities; how can that be a governing document, when governing documents tend to be tortuous, byzantine exercises in lawyerese? At best, the Pledge to America is a restatment of the foundational principles of the United States of America, axioms which the GOP now pledges to rededicate itself to restoring.
I have a very different take than Karl: Pledges are useful distractions; by nature, they're all nothing but campaign broadsides:
- Pledges always materialize before the election, never after. Obviously they're intended to affect the outcome in a way favorable to the pledgers.
- It's impossible to know exactly how the new majority will govern, because you never know in advance the contours of victory. Will the new Squeaker of the House have enough hegemony to control the agenda? Will the Senate majority be filibuster-proof? Will the president decide to cooperate with the new Congress in order to leave a legacy -- or fight hammer and tooth out of quixotic principle, quasi-legal bribery from special-interest lobbyists, or out of sheer cussedness?
- Nobody knows for sure how the new majority will vote in the congressional leadership elections, hence who will be running the show.
- Nobody knows what unexpected crises will derail the entire agenda. Think of mid-September 2001 for an extreme example.
- Nobody can say for sure how the judiciary will respond, and how that might reshape the majority's governance.
Once in power, the majority will decide and revamp its own agenda on a continuing basis, and it may or may not resemble any previous pledge. Furthermore, voters will approve or reject it based upon its ongoing content -- not whether it conforms with a campaign promise.
I mean what I write: I don't believe significant numbers of voters really care whether an elected representative does what he said he would do; they care that he does what they (now) want him to do! On some occasions, voters may actually demand that an earlier pledge be broken; think of those hapless Democrats elected in 2008 on a pro-ObamaCare platform, who today feel compelled to run away from the very package for which they voted, threatened by the very constituents who were for it before they were against it!
For that matter, think of Barack H. Obama in the 2008 elections: The only people who cared that he broke his solemn oath to accept public funding -- were those who never had any intention of voting for him in the first place. His supporters didn't give a rat's badonkadonk.
In any event, earlier pledges are far less important than what the majority does in office. Case in point: Tea Partiers will be furious if the new GOP majority doesn't cut the budget significantly below its level in November 2008; but their anger will be just as great given the Pledge to America -- which only promises a cutback to the last George W. Bush budget, which in this scenario the GOP fulfills -- as they would have been had the GOP promised to cut back to, say, the 2004 budget, then broken that promise.
The anger is the same; they would just use different words to describe it... "fiscal irresponsibility" in the first scenario, "a broken pledge" in the second.
As a campaign tactic, I think the Pledge works just fine. It aligns the GOP with the midpoint on the anger scale... going not as far as Tea Partiers would want but probably further than many Independents and "moderate" Democrats (Jim Webb, e.g.) prefer.
(I called pledges "useful distractions" above; they're useful because they can help boot Democrats out of office; they're distractions because they discombobulate the multitudinous liberal talking heads, since a good pledge must be answered by some handwaving -- time those master debaters could have better spent going on the attack instead of playing defense.)
As far as governing, the test will be who gets the chairmanships of which committees, and what they do once ensconced in their new chairs. We need to see some significant shakeups in the current heirarchy to be reassured it's not just business as usual. If every financial, banking, taxing, and spending committee chairmanship slides automatically to the ranking Republican, and if the current Republican leadership moves seamlessly from minority to majority, then we'll know that the tin-ear GOP has done it again -- and 2012 may become another 2006.
But if a few ranking old toots on critical committees find themselves passed over in favor of younger, more dynamic, and more economically conservative members, we should be optimistic that Republicans have finally learnt their lesson.
August 27, 2010
What's in Your Wallet... That Won't Be There Tomorrow?
The Republican leadership still can't absorb the new reality of the popular front for Capitalism and against statism; surprise, surprise on the Jungle Riverboat Cruise tonight. They're running away from the vital spending cuts offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI, 96%), afraid to embrace them -- unwilling to debate them. Once again, the people must lead their putative "leaders":
Rep. Paul D. Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" - which proposes major changes to taxes, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - has attracted support from some of the GOP's most conservative members, but top leaders have kept their distance....
The plan has attracted just 13 co-sponsors in the House, and a handful of candidates running for the House and Senate have also embraced it. But no congressional Republican leader has signed on, drawing a rebuke from former Rep. Dick Armey, an architect of Republicans' 1994 electoral success.
"The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats," he said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press." "The difference between being a co-sponsor with Ryan or not is a thing called courage."
For those of you saying "roadmap... huh?" -- here's a pointer. The Roadmap for America's Future, developed by Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is a fully integrated plan for eliminating debt and sustaining economic growth via spending cuts and transferring some government and employer benefits to individual ownership. Here are the major planks; descriptions come straight from the website, where there is of course more detail:
- Health care - The plan ensures universal access to affordable health insurance by restructuring the tax code, allowing all Americans to secure affordable health plans that best suit their needs, and shifting the ownership of health coverage away from the government and employers to individuals.
Medicare/Medicaid - The Roadmap preserves the existing Medicare program for those currently enrolled or becoming eligible in the next 10 years (those 55 and older today); [f]or those currently under 55 -- as they become Medicare-eligible -- it creates a Medicare payment, initially averaging $11,000, to be used to purchase a Medicare certified plan....
The proposal also fully funds Medical Savings Accounts [MSAs] for low-income beneficiaries, while continuing to allow all beneficiaries, regardless of income, to set up tax-free MSAs.
Social Security - Preserves the existing Social Security program for those 55 or older.
Offers workers under 55 the option of investing over one third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to Federal employees. Includes a property right so they can pass on these assets to their heirs, and a guarantee that individuals will not lose a dollar they contribute to their accounts, even after inflation.
Makes the program permanently solvent -- according to the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] -- by combining a more realistic measure of growth in Social Security’s initial benefits, with an eventual modernization of the retirement age.
Tax reform - Provides individual income tax payers a choice of how to pay their taxes -- through existing law, or through a highly simplified code that fits on a postcard with just two rates and virtually no special tax deductions, credits, or exclusions (except the health care tax credit).
Simplifies tax rates to 10 percent on income up to $100,000 for joint filers, and $50,000 for single filers; and 25 percent on taxable income above these amounts. Also includes a generous standard deduction and personal exemption (totaling $39,000 for a family of four).
Eliminates the alternative minimum tax [AMT].
Promotes saving by eliminating taxes on interest, capital gains, and dividends; also eliminates the death tax.
Replaces the corporate income tax -- currently the second highest in the industrialized world -- with a border-adjustable business consumption tax of 8.5 percent. This new rate is roughly half that of the rest of the industrialized world.
There are some other elements, but that is the gist.
The Roadmap doesn't just nibble around the edges of the federal budget; it sets its sites squarely on the real spending blockbusters, the so-called "entitlement" programs that comprise, all by themselves, about 40% of the budget -- and are responsible for many tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liability. Every economist agrees that without somehow reforming entitlement programs, they will continue to grow out of control until they gobble up the entire federal budget, and sooner than most of us realize.
So naturally, you can see why Republican "leaders" seemngly have no interest in signing aboard the Roadmap for America's Future; heaven forbid they should actually take a stand, one way or the other, on the biggest economic calamity facing the United States today. I think Dick Armey has it pegged: "The fact that [Ryan] only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats."
Among those afraid to embrace, but unwilling to debate are House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH, 96%) -- the man who would be Squeaker -- and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY, 96%), the man who would be president (in a sow's ear).
Just two more "profiles in cowardice." Time to light a spur under the pair of them, and the rest of the established Republican establishment. The goal should not be merely to "get more Republicans" into Congress; it should be to get more Capitalists, anti-statists, and defenders of individual liberty.
Most will surely be Republican, as the Democratic Party has been consumed and digested by its most radical wing; but sometimes, a lukewarm Republican is worse than a Democrat... if he's so "moderate" that he can cross the aisle and start caucusing with the Democrats at the drop of a primary challenge, a la Charlie Crist in Florida or the execrable Arlen Specter (
R D-PA, 75%).
May 20, 2010
The Lizards Defend That Blooming Idiot, Rand Paul
Before diving into the substance of Dr. Rand Paul's remarks on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, let's get one thing straight: Paul was a fool for blundering into that tar pit -- or allowing MSNBC's Rachel Maddow to lure him into it like a drunken farmer chasing a corpse candle into a bog. Worse, once hip deep in the big muddy, he contracted a bad case of hoof-in-mouth disease and couldn't defend his position.
But just because one shallow thinker of today was unable to defend the liberty position doesn't make indefensible a principle famously argued by Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election campaign... no matter what Hugh Hewitt says.
It's hard to nail down exactly what Paul's position actually is; I think it's the same as Goldwater's: Where state or federal policy either directly discriminates on the basis of race or else mandates private racial discrimination, it is absolutely appropriate to pass a federal law overturning such "institutional racialism;" however, such a law should not and constitutionally cannot reach beyond that point to purely private and voluntary racial discrimination, which (alas) the final version of the Act did.
That's why Goldwater voted against it after having supported earlier versions that did not outlaw private, volunatry discrimination; and fair warning, that is my objection to the Act, as well.
Here's my best collage of Paul's lengthy, meandering, and unfocused response to Maddow:
MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?
PAUL: Yes. I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.
But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific "gotcha" on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?
I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it.....
MADDOW: I mean, the Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights because they weren't otherwise being protected. It wasn't a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people cannot be served here and the federal government stepped in and said, no, you actually don't have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can't make that choice as a business owner.
Which side of that debate would you put yourself on?
PAUL: In the totality of it, I'm in favor of the federal government being involved in civil rights and that's, you know, mostly what the Civil Rights Act was about.... Most of the things [Martin Luther King, jr.] was fighting were laws. He was fighting Jim Crow laws. He was fighting legalized and institutional racism. And I'd be right there with him....
MADDOW: As I understand it, what you`re saying, [is that] the portion of the Civil Rights Act that said you can't actually have segregated lunch counters here at your private business [is the one title of the Civil Rights Act you reject].... Until the year 2000, Bob Jones University, a private institution, had a ban on interracial dating at their school, their private institution. If Bob Jones University wanted to bring that back now, would you support their right to do so?
PAUL: Well, I think it's interesting because the debate involves more than just that, because the debate also involves a lot of court cases with regard to the commerce clause. For example, right now, many states and many gun organizations are saying they have a right to carry a gun in a public restaurant because a public restaurant is not a private restaurant. Therefore, they have a right to carry their gun in there and that the restaurant has no right to have rules to their restaurant.
So, you see how this could be turned on many liberal observers who want to excoriate me on this. Then to be consistent, they'd have to say, oh, well, yes, absolutely, you've got your right to carry your gun anywhere because it's a public place.
So, you see, when you blur the distinction between public and private, there are problems. When you blur the distinction between public and private ownership, there really is a problem. A lot of this was settled a long time ago and isn't being debated anymore....
MADDOW: Let's say there's a town right now and the owner of the town's swimming club says we're not going to allow black kids at our pool, and the owner of the bowling alley in town says, we're not actually going to allow black patrons, and the owner of the skating rink in town says, we're not going to allow black people to skate here.
And you may think that's abhorrent and you may think that's bad business. But unless it's illegal, there's nothing to stop that -- there's nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 --
It goes on an on, but the basic points are all here. Note that Paul brings up a valid analogy -- should gun owners in a gun-friendly state be allowed to bring guns into a restaurant, even against the will of the restaurant's owner?
Paul says no. But if the owner is allowed the private-property liberty to control who brings a weapon into his facility, then under what principle can he not control who he allows in, period? The analogy was valid, but it was (again) foolishly chosen: No listener not already predisposed to the Goldwater, Paul, and Lizardian point of view will understand his point.
Allow me to help Dr. Paul out of the mire; again, bear in mind I'm defending his position, not the hamfisted way he expressed it.
Rachel Maddow's fundamental confusion is shared by all liberals and about 80% of conservatives (e.g., Hugh Hewitt): Under Jim Crow, the problem wasn't that individual owners "decided" to racially discriminate; state laws required them to discriminate.
In a free market, some-but-not-all restaurants will discriminate, while others won't. Those that do cut off much of their customer base -- not just the potential customers who are black but also those whites who vehemently oppose racial discrimination; their non-discriminating competitors get the extra business instead. Thus, a discriminatory stance creates an automatic "economic penalty": Racism becomes an expensive luxury that most business owners simply cannot afford.
(The same punishment operates whenever an owner makes an economic decision on a completely non-economic basis, such as not serving old people or divesting stock from companies that do business with Israel; that's one of the magical effects of a free market!)
After a while, many racists will decide they need the money more than they need to discriminate; they will take down the "whites only" sign, no matter how much it pains them, or risk going out of business. A few will maintain their discrimination until the bitter end; so it goes.
But wait, what about the other side of the coin? Some dyed in the wool racists would only frequent those establishments that discriminate. They will boycott the integrated businesses and patronize only the racists.
Frankly, I doubt that such persons would have been the majority in any state even back in the days of Jim Crow: If they had been the majority, there would have been no need for laws to force them to do what they wanted to do in the first place. The very fact that the state legislature had to enact Jim Crow laws testifies that residents weren't discriminating, they weren't keeping blacks "in their places."
Walter Williams writes about this in his wonderful book, South Africa's War Against Capitalism: The Afrikaaners enacted Apartheid laws precisely because at the turn of the twentieth century, businesses (from railroads to mines to hotels), left to their own free will, were rapidly integrating the races. Economic necessity was breaking down the barriers; blacks offered their services for lower wages than whites, and employers snapped them up to save labor costs. Soon the whites had to lower their own wages to compete; at the same time, as blacks gained more experience, they raised their demands... eventually, the two races met in the middle, more or less.
Funnily enough, one of the first bills the Kreugerites enacted forced businesses to pay blacks and whites exactly the same wages, "equal pay for equal work." Sound familiar? The effect was to remove the financial incentive to hire blacks, because their labor was no longer any bargain.
With the market mechanisms removed, it was easy to threaten or bully businesses into hiring and promoting only whites. (Most of the racist coercion was committed by the socialist labor unions, by the way... quelle surprise!) Thus, even in Apartheid South Africa, the free market acted to integrate and equalize the races, while the government -- "for their own good" -- acted to segregate and discriminate between them -- "Apartheid" literally means "apart-ness".
In any event, I steadfastly believe that even in the deep South in the 1950s, far more potential customers would choose to patronize a business on the basis of quality and price -- than on the basis of whether that business segregated black from white. Over the long run (which would likely be only a few years), that would drive out the adamant racists: Businesses operate on such a small margin that even a small economic advantage towards race neutrality would have an oversized effect on a business' viability.
Unless, that is, the state steps in and makes such racial discrimination mandatory; that is what we mean by "Jim Crow." If the state interferes with the market, forcing everyone to discriminate, it kills the market's ability to drive behavior away from irrelevant (and offensive) absurdities like racial discrimination: I can no longer compete with a "whites only" lunchcounter by advertising "we serve everybody!" I would be arrested and my business shut down if I tried.
That robs me of my liberty, my property rights; and that is the ground on which the Civil Rights Act should have been fought. Let freedom reign, and allow the market to do its holy job of driving the fools and haters out of business.
Of course, there will always be pockets where there really are more racists than sons and daughters of liberty; in those dark nooks, they will open their whites-only swimming pools and bowling alleys and ice-skating rinks. What do we do about that?
We let them. If they want to segregate themselves away from the rest of society, let them huddle together and fester. So long as we all have freedom of mobility and association, the 99% of the country that is decent will isolate the tiny fraction who are morally putrid; and the good citizens will open their own pools, alleys, and rinks open to everyone. After all, there's gold in them thar businesses.
The racist kooks will become curiosities, monkeys in a zoo: We'll point and laugh at the funny and now-powerless haters, just as we do whenever the Ku Klux Klan musters its eight or nine hoodwinkers to stand on the corner holding up racist, and typically illiterate signs.
That's the American way, the path of liberty. Just as we don't deny Klansmen, Black Panthers, or MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) their freedom of speech, we should also not deny them their right to serve only "their own kind," if that's what they want.
Nor do we prevent the rest of us from expressing displeasure by patronizing their competitors instead.
Had Rand Paul really thought this all through aforehand, he could have answered Rachel Maddow much more powerfully and directly, like this:
MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?
LIZARDS: Sure -- if they want to cut their own economic throats.
MADDOW: What do you mean? The Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights because they weren't otherwise being protected. It wasn't a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people cannot be served here and the federal government stepped in and said, no, you actually don't have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can't make that choice as a business owner.
How about desegregating lunch counters? Lunch counters. Walgreen's lunch counters, were you in favor of that? Possibly? Because the government got involved?
LIZARDS: The problem wasn't that Jim Crow wasn't protecting civil rights, Rachel. The great evil of Jim Crow laws was that they forced even non-racists to racially discriminate.
In a free market, I could open a lunchcounter right across the street from a "whites only" Walgreens; and in my front window, I could put a sign that says "we serve everybody!" I have faith in the American people, Southerners included. Let me compete with the racists without the state government or federal government stacking the deck, and I guarantee you I'll drive the racial haters out of business and out of town.
That way, we'll lose the racists -- good riddance -- but we'll keep liberty and the sanctity of private property, the cornerstone of America. That's the same sanctity of private property, by the way, that allows a homeowner to sell his house to a black family, no matter what the ancient, entrenched political class in the state capital demand.
MADDOW: Mr. Reptile, until the year 2000, Bob Jones University, a private institution, had a ban on interracial dating at their school, their private institution. If Bob Jones University wanted to bring that back now, would you support their right to do so?
LIZARDS: Bob Jones University didn't drop its policy as a result of the Civil Rights Act; President Bob Jones dropped the policy in the year 2000, because the adverse publicity of its racist stance was hurting the university. That's an important point, Rachel: The market was hurting Bob Jones badly enough that it forced them to change their stupid, evil policy.
The most the feds ever did to BJU was to take away its religious tax exemption. I've long argued that when an insitution requests special dispensation that amounts to an endorsement of that institution -- such as a religious tax exemption that secular private universities don't get -- the government has every right to make that privilege contingent upon meeting the base-level standards of decency that American society demands. I would just as vigorously oppose giving a tax exemption to Mohammed Atta Martyrdom University, no matter how sincerely held was its jihadist religous curriculum.
MADDOW: Let's say there's a town right now and the owner of the town's swimming club says we're not going to allow black kids at our pool, and the owner of the bowling alley in town says, we're not actually going to allow black patrons, and the owner of the skating rink in town says, we're not going to allow black people to skate here.
And you may think that's abhorrent and you may think that's bad business. But unless it's illegal, there's nothing to stop that -- there's nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
LIZARDS: Nothing but the justice and common decency of the American people! In the first place, this isn't the 1950s. The whole world has come a long way in the last half century, wouldn't you say? And no country in the world is less racist than the United States: Not a single state in the Union has even one pair of racists in its legislature to conspire together to re-segregate the country.
But frankly, Rachel, I don't even believe any state in the deep South had a majority of racist citizens even in 1964. What they had was an oligarchy of bitter, hate-filled, septuagenarian racists who occupied state legislatures like the Nazis occupied the Reichstag. They were corrupt, elections were rigged, and they couldn't be ousted from their seats except perhaps by dynamite... or by joining Republican Party!
But that's no longer true, and it hasn't been since I was in grade school. Oh yes, there is still racial discrimination in the United States; but today, as in the 50s and 60s, it comes from the left side of the aisle, from race-obsessed Democrats and leftists allied with radical Islam. But so long as we can keep the Left away from the levers of power, I'm confident America will never re-segregate.
I am quite certain this would have been much, much harder to spin as racist, pro-segregation, and anti-civil rights. And in any event, it sure would have made more exciting political theater!
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
April 17, 2010
Crist Vetoes Merit Pay: "Best" Enemy of "Better?" Or Something More Troubling?
On Thursday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the education reforms passed by the Republican state legislature; the bill would have eliminated grade-school teacher tenure and instituted merit-based pay in its place:
The veto puts Mr. Crist, a moderate Republican, at odds with his party base in the Republican-controlled Legislature. His decision has also renewed speculation that he might drop out of the Republican primary for a United States Senate seat and run in the general election as an independent. For months, he has been trailing the more conservative Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, in polls.
Mr. Crist said Thursday that his decision was not political. He cited "the incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators."
Crist is likely trying to stake out a position as the "third way" candidate in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL, not yet rated), Crist's former chief of staff, whom he appointed to fill the remainder of Mel Martinez's Senate term.
Crist trails conservative Marco Rubio by a Real Clear Politics average of 23 points in the Republican primary; either Crist or Rubio would beat the probable Democratic nominee, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL, 95%); but a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday indicates that if Crist ran as an independent against both Rubio and Meek, he might squeak out a narrow victory -- Crist 32%, Rubio 30, and Meek 24.
Three caveats might cause Gov. Crist to hesitate before setting off down that road:
- 32-30 is easily within the margin of error; and Rubio's lead has been growing, not shrinking. If Crist abandons the Republican Party to run as an independent and loses anyway, he has pretty much immolated his political career.
- A Rasmussen poll from late March -- which polls likely voters, rather than Quinnipiac's registered voters, hence is more likely to be accurate -- finds a very different picture: Rubio 42%, Meek 25, and Crist 22. Has Crist actually surged against Rubio and Meek? Or is the Quinnipiac poll fatally flawed by surveying registered voters who may not be likely voters?
- In 2012, Florida's other Senate seat, currently held by Bill Nelson (D-FL, 95%), comes up for election. If Crist remains within the GOP and even campaigns for Marco Rubio if (when) Rubio wins the primary, then Crist can reasonably expect strong party support for him to challenge Democrat Nelson. But if he breaks with the party, runs as an independent, and loses, odds are slim that the party will welcome him back and support him two years hence.
In the end, I don't think he'll do it. But the New York Times article above speculates this is a last-ditch effort to move the meter in his direction for the Republican primary, since the education reforms he vetoed are fairly controversial.
Which is, of course, why Crist claims he vetoed them:
The bill was supported by the Florida Department of Education and statewide business groups, which expressed disappointment in the governor’s decision, saying that teachers should be held more accountable.
But the governor, announcing his veto in the Capitol in Tallahassee, said the changes envisioned would put "teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and teaching certificates, without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured."
Linking teacher pay to student achievement has long been a goal of some education reformers. They are mostly conservatives, but their ranks also include people in the Obama administration.
They argue that teachers should be treated like people in most professions, and paid based on how effective they are.
Let's take Crist at his word; assume he vetoed the bill because he fretted that teachers would lose their jobs "without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured." Has the governor pondered the point that no matter what anti-tenure, merit-based system is concocted, it will always be possible that some teacher might lose his job because he had no control over students' home lives and family relations? That the only realm where we can be sure that no teacher would be fired (or not given a raise) unfairly would be -- paradise itself?
In this case, "the best" may well be enemy of "the better." Assuming (for sake of argument) that Crist is not a closet liberal, unwilling under any circumstances to eliminate tenure -- a dream come true for the teachers' unions -- or pay based on actual achievement (a nightmare for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers)... mustn't Crist at some point be willing to sign onto a conservative, market-based education reform, even if imperfect?
If so, then what is so wrong with this one?
I fear that the most obvious conclusion is correct: That Gov. Charlie Crist really is a liberal Republican, not a moderate; that he really does believe in big and bigger government; and that he has no intention of ever approving any reform that shatters the union monopoly and inviolability of teachers in the great state of Florida, fourth largest state in the union.
Ergo, it's time for Mr. Crist to return to the private sector for a refresher course in Capitalism. Any scheme to bypass the market is not only counter-economic, ushering in rising costs without a ceiling and deteriorating services with no floor, but also doomed to failure in the long run: In the long view, I believe Americans will always detect the scent of protectionism and special pleading, and vote against it.
That's why I am a political optimist; and that's why I say, it's time for Charlie Crist to go.
Cross-posted to Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
March 7, 2010
Palin and Reagan: Together Again for the First Time
Paul Mirengoff of Power Line, who seems as conflicted as can be about the aspects and auspices of Sarah Louise Palin, ponders them deeply in a recent post, Would Reagan vote for Sarah Palin? (Answer: Yes.)
Paul quotes from Steve Hayward writing in the Washington Post (I supply the missing link here); Hayward is the chap who answered Yes to the question above... then added what Paul calls a "cautionary note":
But while the parallels between them are evident, it is far from clear that Palin appreciates Reagan's discipline and substantive grand strategy. In many of her speeches and media appearances she tends to ramble on, with none of the crispness and rhetorical force of Reagan's formulas. With the partial exception of energy, she has yet to identify a set of signature issues that can carry her particular stamp, as Reagan did in the late 1970s with his relentless attacks on detente and his championing of supply-side economics.
I rise only to note a peculiar point in defense of a lady: Sarah Palin is only... well, as a gentleman, I won't bandy a woman's age; but note that when our fortieth president was the age she is now, Ronald Reagan himself had "yet to identify a "grand strategy" or "set of signature issues that can carry [his] particular stamp."
All that we knew about Reagan's politics in 1957 was that he had been a New Deal Democrat when New-Deal Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was in power; an anti-Communist Truman-Democrat when Truman was in power; and an Eisenhower Republican when (you guessed it) Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president.
He did not identify his "signature issues," as Hayward put it, until he was well into his 60s; heck, he didn't even deliver his electrifying introduction for Barry Goldwater until he was 53, significantly older than the Thrillah from Wasilla.
In '57, Reagan had just begun his stint hosting General Electric Theater. The job required him to travel the country giving speeches; that very activity induced Reagan to develop his own peculiar and wonderful political philosophy. (Note that he was still a private citizen at this time; he would not enter actual elective politics, as opposed to being elected union boss, until 1966, when he was 55 years old.)
Thus have I given the gracious lady my advice to tour the "lower 48" and speak, speak, speak -- and listen, listen, listen: Great wisdom can be found among the uncommon common American. (Advice sent but probably never delivered; Big Lizards is notoriously less reliable even than the Post Office -- though significantly cheaper.) If Palin follows the Reagan model, this is her time to introduce herself to America on her own terms, not as the perhaps ill-considered shadow of John S. McCain.
The VP run was premature, but I suspect Sarah Palin was as surprised by the invitation as were the rest of us. Kudos to McC for thinking outside the box; but there is a reason why nobody is outré all the time: "The box" is actually defined by what usually works!
And now is the moment for Sarah Palin to decide what she thinks "works" in America and why, what doesn't and why not, and to answer the most important question: How do we get there from here? She is not yet tardy, but she'd better hit the ground speaking.
By the way, I am pleased once again to be a harbinger of trends to come. Hayward had this to say about the Tea Parties:
Reagan typically described conservatism in populist terms rather than formal ones. In his "Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater during the 1964 presidential campaign, he sounded almost exactly like Glenn Beck does today. "This is the issue of this election," Reagan warned: "Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that an intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."
This populist undercurrent is why I am certain that Reagan would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the tea party movement. While the tea partiers confuse the media and annoy the establishments of both political parties, Reagan would have seen them as reviving the embers of what he called the "prairie fire" of populist resistance against centralized big government -- resistance that helped touch off the tax revolt of the 1970s. That movement was often dismissed as a tantrum, but when The Washington Post called California's 1978 antitax Proposition 13 "a skirmish," Reagan replied that if so, then the Chicago fire was a backyard barbecue.
Now compare it to this point made by an obscure blogger and minor crank:
A popular front is an extremely broad-based coalition of political forces that normally oppose each other. In rare moments, the stars align, and so do the groups; what results is a mass movement that can wash away the status quo like a burst dam. The movement doesn't have to include all or even a majority of the citizenry; but it is large enough to push aside any countervailing coalition -- which means whatever the front wants, it gets....
The Tea Party front is the worst nightmare of the hard-core Left -- a patriotic, small-government, capitalist popular front. While Tea Partiers are not specifically Republican, leftists realize that GOP leaders (Sarah Palin) and candidates (Scott Brown) are far better positioned to appeal to Tea Partiers than are Democrats: All Republicans must do is match their words with deeds; but Democrats would have to (a) repudiate everything they have said and voted for in the past four decades, then (b) convince Tea Partiers that this time they're sincere!
I think Hayward and I are seeing the same structure but describing it in slightly different terms, he from his Reagan scholarship and I from my "forces and fractures" methodology.
Of course, I said it first...
February 21, 2010
George Bush's Five Worst Mistakes
President George W. Bush famously refused to answer the asinine and offensive demand that he iterate all of his worst mistakes as president. I applaud him for that firm refusal.
But I'm happy to enumerate them here myself.
I do this for remedial and salutary reasons; I want future GOP presidents not to make the same mistakes, lest we suffer the same horrific consequences... the election of a leftist to the presidency and left-liberals to Congress, followed by years groaning under the yoke of Euro-socialism.
In general, I think Bush-43 was America's best president since Reagan; but that's not a very high standard. I'll go farther: He was America's fourth-best president since Abraham Lincoln. (The three presidents who were better during that period were, in chronological order, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.)
But he had five nigh-catastrophic whoppers that left his presidency flawed and incomplete:
I Spree live spree
He failed to veto even a single Republican spending bill. Bush had it within his power to save the GOP from itself: Had he vetoed the first few spending bills that exceeded rationality, I think the party would have pulled itself up by its own bootstraps -- and we (and Bush himself) would have been spared the ignominy of the 2006 and 2008 election defeats. Further, America would have been spared Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%), Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 70%), and of course President Barack H. Obama.
Alas, the president used up all his courage facing down al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, leaving nothing left to face down Denny Hastert, Trent Lott, and Bill Frist.
II Speech screech
In a fit of insanity, Bush signed the McCain-Feingold conspiracy to suppress political speech shortly before elections. Bush claims that he signed it expecting that the Supreme Court would strike it down as patently unconstitutional; but that's such a transparent evasion that it embarasses Bush's legacy.
(Eventually it did; but only after first upholding it, allowing the partial repeal of the First Amendment to wreck havoc on Republicans, as Democrats leveraged their paid union "volunteers" and "apolitical" news media into electoral gains.)
Bush should have vetoed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and warned the Republican Congress not to try to legislate away America's most precious constitutional rights.
III A cathartic constitional crisis
The Hamdan and Boumediene cases -- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) and Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. ___ (2008) -- sparked the mother of all "separation of powers" decisions: For the very first time in American history, a sharply divided Supreme Court held that Article III civilian federal courts had actual jurisdiction over military commissions and tribunals during wartime (Hamdan), and that prisoners and detainees of war, captured on a battlefield in the midst of a war, enjoyed habeas corpus rights (Boumediene)... even foreigners held on foreign soil. That is, unlawful enemy combatants can now challenge their military detention in civilian courts; and when tried by military tribunals must receive all the same rights as would American military personnel being tried at courts-martial.
This is insanity on stilts. Under this reasoning, even ordinary prisoners of war captured in combat can file writs of habeas corpus, and some federal judge could order them all released back to their military units (since no arrest warrant was issued), whence they could take up arms again and kill more Americans! Also, any federal judge can curtail any interrogation of unlawful combatants, because that violates the Fifth Amendment -- which evidently now applies to foreigners living abroad.
Such supposed rights had never been found or even imagined since 1787; but perhaps every legal scholar prior to the coming of the Lord of Light, Justice Anthony Kennedy, was a dope and a dupe.
But back to the president. George W. Bush had before him a principled (though ballsy) option: He could have announced, in response first to Hamdan, then again after Boumediene, that:
- Civilian federal courts have no power to strip the President of the United States of his constitutional authority to be "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States;"
- That the disposal of prisoners of war and other wartime detainees is an essential function of the Commander in Chief;
- And that therefore, the president alone has authority over such detainees, subject only to the constitutional power of Congress to impeach and remove the president from office.
He should have told the Supreme Court, in the immortal words of Horace Greeley (claiming to be quoting President Andrew Jackson), "[The Chief Justice] has made his decision, now let him enforce it!"
Or even more succinctly, paraphrasing either Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Napoleon Bonaparte (depending who you ask)... "How many battalions does the Court have?"
Would such a direct rejection of a Supreme Court ruling have triggerd the much-dreaded "constitutional crisis?" You betcha! Is that a good thing? You betcha! Constitutional crises yield constitutional comprehension: Sometimes a crisis is vital in resolving whether the separation of powers really is an essential element of Americanism, or whether one branch of government should rule über alles... in this case as a modern-day kritarchy.
Oh... and it would also have serendipitously sharpened the ability of the president -- including successors to George W. Bush -- to fight and win the war against the Iran/al-Qaeda Axis.
IIII Nuke nuke... who's there?
This one is simple and heartbreaking. Bush promised that one thing he would never do is pass along the Iranian nuclear problem to his successor.
Worse, he passed it along to a habitual appeaser and waist-bower who has no intention of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear warheads to go along with its intermediate-range ballistic missiles. As Beldar, among others, points out, this virtually guarantees that we'll see a nuclear attack within our lifetimes.
Bush had a beautiful opportunity to implement the Herman Option, which we discussed before: Blockading Iran's importation of gasoline and seizing control of their few gasoline refineries, thus bringing the mullahs' government to a grinding halt in just a very few days.
We needed no U.N. vote, no sanction, no mandate from Congress, and no help from our allies; we already had the forces in the Straight of Hormuz. We lacked but the will for presidential action.
(We could have prevented Iran from undertaking its only defense -- blowing up and sinking an oil tanker in the Straight, thus blocking all oil exports to other nations -- by escorting all tankers in convoys with cruisers, minesweepers, and fast-attack subs.)
In any event, no matter how successful or un-, it sure would have beat doing nothing and letting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei get a pocketful of nukes to sprinkle around the civilized world.
V The Mary Poppins syndrome
Finally, Bush's greatest failing: Like Mary Poppins, he made it a practice never to explain anything!
Where Reagan was the Great Communicator, Bush was the Great Obfuscator. He never quite got the point that one of the primary duties of the POTUS is to explain to the American people what he and his administration are doing... and why they're doing it. In detail: Here is the problem; here are the options; here is one we've chosen; and this is why we chose it. Here are the potential upsides and downsides; and this is metric by which we'll judge its success.
I don't mean going to the U.N. for permission to overthrow Saddam Hussein, or testifying before Congress, or filing amicus briefs in the federal courts. I refer here to going before the people themselves, as Reagan loved to do, and speaking directly to them to explain the overall strategy and how all the niggling details fit into the big picture.
But Bush rarely did it, if ever. Rather than define himself and his tenure, Bush allowed his political enemies to define him in their own misleading terms. Needless to say, Bush came out the loser in that exchange.
Even such easily explained actions as invading Iraq and deposing the monster (and his monstrous spawn) were never really made understandable. It was left, too often, to us unrelated third parties, from politicians to journalists to bloggers, to explain Bush ourselves; and after eight years of such Delphic interpretation, I can tell you I grew damned tired of it!
Past performance no guarantee of future results -- thank goodness!
Let us hope -- no, let us demand -- that the incoming Republican president in 2013 reviews these great errors in the administration of George W. Bush... and resolves not to make the same stupid missteps. If he is vigilant against such apostasy to American ideals, I predict the New Republican Party, the Tea Partiers, and the American voters themselves will reward him with renewed financial support and reinvigorated poll numbers.
I think that the most common-sense principle that most Americans demand of he President of the United States is that he remember that he is the President of the United States, not the Compromiser in Chief or the CEO of the International House of Pandercakes.
Just stand up for common-sense and traditional American principles, and we'll understand if sometimes you lose the fight. At the very least, we want to see you go down swinging -- but swinging for us, not for the klepto-spenders, the silencers, the terrorists, or the candlelight vigilantes.
November 9, 2009
The Forgotten Architects
What is missing from these two articles?
The first is from the Associated Press, commemorating the anniversary of the historic day when the Berlin wall came a-tumblin' down:
Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev crossed a former fortified border on Monday to cheers of "Gorby! Gorby!" as a throng of grateful Germans recalled the night 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall gave way to their desire for freedom and unity....
Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and was one of thousands to cross that night, recalled that "before the joy of freedom came, many people suffered."
She lauded Gorbachev, with whom she shared an umbrella amid a crush of hundreds, eager for a glimpse of the man many still consider a hero for his role in pushing reform in the Soviet Union.
"We always knew that something had to happen there so that more could change here," she said.
"You made this possible -- you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect," she told Gorbachev in front of several hundred people gathered in light drizzle on the bridge over railway lines.
And here is the New York Times' take on the same meeting:
Mrs. Merkel’s symbolic walk across the Bornholmer Strasse bridge, accompanied by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and Lech Walesa, the former shipyard worker who led a fight against Moscow-backed Communism in Poland, came as Berlin prepared for an evening of celebration to mark the moments on Nov. 9, 1989, when the wall began to crumble....
She said that a “new generation is growing up who are embedded in Europe, for whom the world is much more open than for our generation.”
“That is worth fighting for,” she said. The bridge was packed shoulder to shoulder with people, and the biggest cheer came when Mrs. Merkel thanked Mr. Gorbachev for the reforming attitude he brought to the Soviet leadership. The crowd chanted, “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby....”
During the celebrations, a long line of 1,000 oversized painted dominoes are to be toppled along the route of the wall as a symbol of its collapse in the heady days of 1989 when dictatorships tumbled across eastern Europe. German television said Mr. Walesa would push over the first domino, reflecting Poland’s lead in Eastern Europe’s campaign against Communism.
What is missing? How about even a single mention of the true architects of the fall of the Berlin wall? The wall was not brought down by Mikhail Gorbachev; he desperately wanted to preserve the Soviet Empire... all of it. Nor was it brought down by Lech Walesa, who wanted only for Polish authorities to allow trade unions and strikes in that country.
German citizens did not just wake up one day and begin dismantling the wall, out of the blue. And American protesters were not protesting against the Berlin wall in 1989 -- they were too busy protesting against the efforts to dismantle it!
Forgotten -- or more accurately, airbrushed out of the picture in an American instance of "the Commisar Vanishes" -- are the two men who actually wrought that change in the face of strident, almost hysterical opposition by virtually the entire world: Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan. Neither receives so much as a mention in either article -- nor in the articles by the Washington Post or Reuters.
Only the Wall Street Journal reluctantly brings up Reagan, almost as an embarassment; he sneaks in through the back door in a single throw-away line in the eleventh paragraph of a 15-graf story. And the reference is preceded by the following expurgated history:
Ms. Merkel, then a 35-year-old physicist living in East Berlin, was among those who walked through the open gate into democratic West Berlin that night. On Monday she led former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and Lech Walesa, leader of Poland's Solidarity movement, across the bridge, through a chaotic throng that Ms. Merkel said reminded her of the real event 20 years ago.
The chancellor thanked both men for their contributions to the democratic revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989. The independent trade union Solidarity challenged Communist rulers who claimed to speak for the workers, while Mr. Gorbachev "bravely let things happen" in Poland, East Germany and other former Soviet satellites, Ms. Merkel said to cheers from onlookers. For 28 years the Berlin Wall stopped East Germans from visiting or escaping to West Berlin, an enclave of the democratic, capitalist West inside the Communist bloc during the Cold War. The fortified and guarded Wall fell to crowds of ordinary citizens 20 years ago after an East German official bungled the announcement of new travel regulations, giving media the impression that the border lay open with immediate effect.
While Germans have celebrated that happy accident in recent days and weeks, Ms. Merkel's government has been at pains to commemorate the wider context of reforms, mass protests and democratic revolutions across Eastern Europe in 1989.
Symbolically, Mr. Walesa and former Hungarian Communist reformer Miklos Nemeth were due to tip over the first of the decorative dominoes on Monday night.
Solidarity led the first non-purely-Communist government in the Soviet bloc following its victory in June 1989 elections. Mr. Nemeth, as Hungarian prime minister, opened his country's border with Austria in May 1989, a move that allowed thousands of East Germans to flee to the West and set off the unravelling of the Iron Curtain that had divided Cold War Europe.
Yeah... that's how I remember it. (One must bear in mind that the only portion of the WSJ that is in any sense "conservative" -- is the Opinion section. The rest could be written by Reuters, and frequently is.)
The Los Angeles Times does deign to mention Reagan, at least; but it saves him for an opinion piece -- in which James Mann of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies argues, in a rather snide and smug tone, that Reagan really had no intention of bringing down the wall or dismantling the Soviet Union; rather, he was anxious to buddy up to Gorbachev and preserve the evil empire, so we could do business with it. (Mr. Mann makes Reagan out to be more dovish than Jimmy Carter.)
Confused? Here's a sample:
But how significant was the speech, really? How important was its seemingly defiant tone in reuniting Berlin and "winning" the Cold War? [Note the scare quotes]
To many American conservatives, the answer to those questions is simple: Reagan stared down the Soviet Union. And the Berlin Wall speech stands as the dramatic symbol of Reagan's challenge and triumph.
But those who say this ignore the actual history and context of the speech. In fact, Reagan's address served the purpose of shoring up public support as he moved to upgrade American relations with the Soviet Union. It was Reagan's diplomacy with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, bitterly opposed at the time by his conservative former supporters, that did the most to create the climate in which the Cold War could end.
The Cold War just... ended. For some inexplicable reason.
It's an amazingly tendentious opinion piece, the only purpose of which is to pooh-pooh the obviously silly idea that Reagan had any animus towards the USSR; rather, all his blustery rhetoric was just cover for a Kissengerian realpolitik. Reagan just wanted to improve our bargaining position -- he never meant for the Soviet Union to fall! One gains the impression that Ronald Reagan might even have been horrified at the loss of a negotiating partner...
Mr. Mann's thesis is a patent absurdity, and I don't care if the entire Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies gives it a hearty thumbs-up. Mr. Mann argues that Reagan spent four decades fighting against the evil that was (and may yet be again) the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and then he abruptly turned a corner in the late 1980s and started liking them, trying to prop them up as long as he could. Mr. Mann is an idiot -- but a useful one for today's American Left. He is not literally unintelligent, in the sense of a Joe Biden or a Barack H. Obama; but by his anti-Right animus, he has allowed the Left to make a fool of him.
Reagan himself famously said that if he succeeded in his goals (one of which was the destruction of the Soviet Union), he didn't care who got the credit. But we, the living, cannot afford the luxury of such magnanimity. We cannot allow the American and Euro-Left to hijack the credit for ending the Cold War, when they were the very ones who tried mightily to perpetuate it, and indeed tried their crooked best to ensure victory for the other side.
Why not? Because the same Left is today beavering away at restoring that same evil empire, this time under the tender mercies of Russia's Vladimir Putin and his sock puppet, Dmitri Medvedev; under the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, in North Korea; under Hu Jintau in China; under Oogo Chavez in Venezuela and los bros Castro in Cuba... and especially under the leveling regime of the United Nations, which treats socialist, totalitarian states that impose tyranny with the same respect as they treat free, independent states that promote individualism and liberty. Hey, who are we to say which is best?
Reagan and John Paul II were not "commisars," and we must not allow them to vanish from the picture. They stood proud and strong for clear principles of freedom, democracy, self-determination, individual responsibility and accountability, and Capitalism -- the great marriage of liberty and economics. Above all, both men, following in Thomas Jefferson's footsteps, had "sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." (Of course, Jefferson would have listed the Church itself among those tyrannies.)
It is long past time for us anti-Leftists to take back the Right.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
November 2, 2009
The Scozzafava Scandals
Ordinarily, I dote on every word writ by Rich Galen, cybercolumnist extraordinaire, proprietor of Mullings, my favorite non-blog blog (neg-blog?) Alas, I think he has really gone off the Newtonian end on the NY-23 race.
In today's Mullings, Rich writes the following:
The Conservatives nominated a guy named Doug Hoffman who does not live in the District, but is true to Conservative principals. [Er... sic, I think! Unless he means Ben Stein: "Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?"]
Nevertheless, the National Republican Congressional Committee and other big-time Republicans supported her on the grounds that the locals know their District and having someone like Howard [sic] in the race splitting the GOP vote might well give the seat to the Democrat Owens.
I agreed. Someone e-mailed me the other day saying that people like me who live in Washington don't understand what is going on out in the "hustings." I responded that upstate New York is as "hustings" as it gets and they picked Scozzafava.
Well, no, Rich. "They" didn't pick Scozzafava. As I documented in a previous post here, she was selected in a back-room deal by eleven county GOP committee apparatchiks. The very fact that she recently plummeted in the polls, to the point where she fell off the radar in this race -- which is the only reason she dropped out, she was afraid of making an utter fool of herself if she stuck around -- proves that "they," the actual residents of that district, did not pick Scozzafava. Her support was probably below that of "don't know/no opinion" when she stalked off in a huff.
But here is the kicker to Galen's piece:
I have spent my adult life helping to elect Republicans all across the GOP spectrum. The only vote I care about is the first one: will it be for the Republican candidate for Speaker (in the House) or Majority Leader (in the Senate)? After that first vote they're someone else's problem.
If that's Galen's lone criterion, he made a very bad decision to endorse Scozzafava. Given her subsequent betrayal of the very GOP that "nominated" (selected) her, endorsing the Democrat in the race and urging all of her supporters (both of them) to vote for Democrat Bill Owens instead of Conservative Republican Doug Hoffman, what makes Galen so sure Scozzafava would have voted for John Boehner (R-OH, 92%) -- rather than Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) -- in that all-important first vote?
I think it would have been a 50-50 bet at best. Clearly, Scozzafava's liberalism trumped her party affiliation by so much that she couldn't even stand neutral; she practically fell over her own feet rushing to endorse the liberal Democrat, Bill Owens.
Given that Hoffman is no more conservative than Boehner; given that Scozzafava's liberalism is as near as makes no difference to Pelosi's; and given the former's eagerness to stab her own party in the back -- I think Galen went all-in on a three-card inside straight when he endorsed Scozzafava.
Alas, he is so off on this call, I just can't keep my lip zipped: A political party must stand for something, or it's nothing but a Alinskyite power grab. What principle (or principal) of the Republican Party does Scozzafava embody?
She's a social liberal and a fiscal train wreck. She evidently hates conservatives, one of the core groups of the GOP, with such passion that she would rather see a liberal Democrat win than a Republican who calls himself conservative, no matter how reasonable. Either that, or she was so enraged at the very idea that some peon dared interfere with her free ride to the Capitol dome, that she decided if she couldn't win, she would make damn sure no Republican would win.
That's a pretty despicable instance of playing dog in the china shop.
I don't believe for one second Galen's claim that "the only vote [he] cares about is the first one," the organizing vote. When he wrote that, he included a huge bunch of implied but unstated caveats:
- He certainly would not support a Republican who was also a Ku Klux Klansman, such as David Duke.
- Nor would Galen support a corrupt politician just because he was the Republican.
- And I suspect there are policy positions that are so outrageous, Galen would hold his nose and vote for the Democrat rather than a Republican who espoused them; for an obvious example, suppose a "Republican" ran on a platform of ObamaCare, the energy cripple and tax bill, declaring defeat and withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, doubling all federal taxes, and enacting a federal law reimposing racial preferences on all those states that have repudiated them. I would be shocked if Galen could possibly imagine supporting such a nominee... even if he promised faithfully to vote for Boehner in the organizing bill. Oh, wait...
A political party must stand for something; and when the "nominee" (selectee) is as far outside the foundational principles of the Republican Party as Scozzafava appears to be, then even if it throws the election to the Democrat, one cannot in good conscience vote for her. Galen made the same sad error that Newt Gingrich made. Each fell into the sin of thinking of this election as nothing more than a political game and point tally, rather than what it is: a decision that could turn out to be life or death (for our military personnel, for example) and could turn out to be existential for the GOP.
There is a fine line here: We don't want to throw over reasonably good incumbents and establishment candidates running in purple districts; we don't want a policy of always supporting the hardest-right candidate in the GOP, because that could easily end up electing the Democrat, if the district as a whole is not as conservative as the candidate picked by the local GOP. More often than not in politics, the best is enemy of good enough.
But on the other hand, there are some principles that a candidate simply may not violate if he wants Republican support. While Dierdre Scozzafava is nowhere near the sludgey bottom of people who call themselves Republicans (David Duke springs to mind), she is certainly far enough down the pickle barrel -- and Hoffman is a good enough gamble -- that we should leave the DIABLO to ferment all on her own, rather than run the risk of letting her drag the party down to the depths along with her.
Galen and Gingrich should have thought a second time before leaping aboard the Establishment Express.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
October 30, 2009
Rerun of the Perotistas
All of the lovely energy and idealism expanded this summer by the national tea parties and the general angst that is building up against the ruling Democrats and President Obama will be for naught if the populist fervor gets sidetracked into a third party.
Remember that weird, ugly, loony, fruitcake that half of the country swooned over in 1992? Like drinking a particularly vile Thunderbird or Mad Dog 2020 and waking up in some strange bed, most people who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 would probably just as soon forget about it.
Half mad, completely self-absorbed, totally won over to his own messiah-hood from reading the adoring clippings about himself (goodness, this reads like today’s headlines!), Perot energized America’s populist core because he attracted conservatives and malcontents from both parties... and he ensured that Bill Clinton won two terms as president.
While the Democrats are busy blaming the Republicans for the hurricane of protests that they reaped over the summer and have convinced themselves that it was all orchestrated by the Republican National Committee (which couldn’t competently organize a sack race), it is becoming increasingly clear that the protesters are actually the Perotistas reincarnated. Which is appropriate, given the time of year.
This is both an opportunity for Republicans and a big train wreck waiting to happen to them.
As much fun as it is to see the Democrats walking into the mouth of a volcano and calling it a nice warm bath -- and as a much fun as it is to fantasize about how next year will be a replay of 1994 and that Obama is like Jimmy Carter, only even more hapless -- the fact is that the Republican hierarchy is made up of people who are embarrassed by true conservatism: the conservatism that wants a solid dollar backed by something other than someone’s promise; the conservatism that wants something like a balanced budget; and the conservatism that doesn’t want the government to run health care.
These country-club Republicans prefer to be “Obama light;” and if they get back into power, they would probably revert to the spending ways that got them kicked out of power in the first place.
But unless they purge that mind set, they are going to find that the Perotistas have formed a third party. And then we would be doomed to Democrat rule for many years to come.
October 29, 2009
NY-23: Hoffman Leads - and Now It Looks Like He Really Does!
Politico now reports new polling in the NY-23 special election that shows that the previous poll by the Club for Growth, which we talked about in an earlier post, was no fluke: Even the Daily Kos's polling now sees a huge surge towards conservative candidate Doug Hoffman in the last week before Tuesday's vote.
And just as we predicted, DIABLO* (Democrat in all but label only) Dierdre "Dede" Scozzafava, the liberal Republican hand-picked by eleven GOP committee apparatchiks, as we reported in More On Dierdre "Dede" Scozzafava, has all but fallen off the radar. The race has come down to a face-off between Hoffman and Democratic candidate Bill Owens:
The latest round of polling gave evidence that Hoffman is on the rise and has pulled even with, or ahead of, Owens as Scozzafava has fallen into third place. In a newly-released poll commissioned by the liberal blog Daily Kos, Hoffman is within one point of Owens, 33 percent to 32 percent, with Scozzafava lagging well behind in third place with 21 percent....
Even more encouraging to Hoffman’s backers, the Daily Kos poll shows Hoffman is winning over more Republican voters than the GOP’s own nominee. He leads Scozzafava 41 to 34 percent among Republicans -- a sign that GOP voters are increasingly identifying with Hoffman as the true Republican candidate.
And he holds a 19-point lead among independents over Owens, 47 percent to 28 percent, suggesting that his outsider message is resonating, and that his support isn’t confined to the conservative base.
Evidence is mounting (a favorite liberal-stream media word) that far from making a "blunder," Sarah Palin had her finger on the crystal ball: Hoffman looks like a winner now, and Palin was the first Republican heavy-hitter to come out for him. (Fred Thompson was an earlier endorser; but Thompson is a spent force. As great a guy as he usually was, he is the GOP's past, not its future.)
And at last, Hoffman is getting some lovin' from "mainstream" (that is, more conservative) Republicans: Politico reports that National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX, 92%) is making it clear that the Republican conference would be very pleased if Hoffman is elected:
“He would be very welcome, with open arms,” Sessions told POLITICO in an interview off the House floor.
And former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK, 88%) now supports Hoffman's insolent campaign against Democrat Owens and formal Republican candidate Scozzafava. Meanwhile, Hoffman's popularity is still growing among the rank and file:
Hoffman, whose campaign barely had a presence in the district as recently as two weeks ago, is getting help from a well-oiled conservative ground game, with hundreds of volunteers from tea party groups and leading conservative organizations working in upstate New York to help him get out the vote next Tuesday.
Hoffman’s campaign now has five campaign offices teeming with volunteers across the sprawling district. By contrast, Scozzafava’s campaign has just one office in her home base.
The anti-tax Club for Growth, pro-life Susan B. Anthony’s List, Eagle Forum and anti-illegal immigration Minuteman PAC all have staffers on the ground knocking on doors, making calls to Republican voters and delivering pro-Hoffman literature to churches.
You may or may not have read it here first, but I think I might have been the first among all those blogs I personally follow -- that would be three, counting Big Lizards -- to flatly predict that:
- The race will, in the next couple of days, come down to a two-way between Doug Hoffman and Bill Owens;
- And that Hoffman will win -- and win convincingly. Perhaps not with an outright majority, unless Scozzafava sees the "mene mene" on the wall and drops out; but a solid victory of 5-8 points over Owens, with Scozzafava in third by double-digits.
As usual, when Big Lizards predicts, we invite everyone to track our predictions and see if we know what we're talking about... or whether we fall flat on our egg.
* The term DIABLO does indeed appear to have been minted by Mark Steyn; Charles "the Sauerkraut" Krauthammer was merely the fence.
Cross-posted to Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
October 7, 2009
Confusticated Conservatives in Congress
Why is it that Republicans and conservatives in Congress are so easy to bamboozle with Candyland promises of government largess? Honestly, it drives me nuts (which may not be that far of a trip).
Here, riddle me this: How many things are wrong in this picture?
The idea of a tax credit for companies that create new jobs, something the federal government has not tried since the 1970s, is gaining support among economists and Washington officials grappling with the highest unemployment in a generation.
The proposal has some bipartisan appeal among politicians eager both to help their unemployed constituents and to encourage small-business development. Legislators on Capitol Hill and President Obama’s economic team have been quietly researching the policy for several weeks.
“There is a lot of traction for this kind of idea,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip. “If the White House will take the lead on this, I’m fairly positive it would be welcomed in a bipartisan fashion.”
You see, this is why I'm loathe to support a congressman running for president: Even when he's (relatively) conservative, as is Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA, 92%), Washington D.C. exudes a magical corruption field that sucks him into the Big Government maw... and like the Borg, assimilates him. Resistance is futile.
Here's the syllogism in a nutbag:
- Jack up business taxes to be the highest in the civilized world. (Republicans will cheerfully help if you tell them it will "reduce the deficit!")
- Announce highly selective tax credits for businesses who toe the federal line.
- Bully putative "conservatives" into supporting these temporary selective tax credits -- hey, it's almost like a tax cut! -- by threatening to tell on them to their constituents. (Note: Some conservatives are already so corrupted or senile that they don't need any bullying; they bully themselves, like good "citizens of the world.")
- Use the credits (and the threat of cutting them off) to manipulate businesses, thwart the workings of the market, and cripple Capitalism.
- When the scheme explodes in America's face like a trick cigar, blame the Republicans in Congress who voted against it (they voted for high taxes!), the ones who voted for it (they offered amendments to the bill!), and the "previous administration." Laugh all the way to the polls.
How long do the tax credits last? Guess what: That's how long the jobs last, too. Since they're fake jobs -- by definition, a job created by a tax credit is a job that would be uneconomic without the credit -- as soon as the distorting factor (the credit) disappears, so too does the job.
You really want to create jobs, permanent jobs? Try this approach instead:
- Dramatically reduce business income tax.
- Repeal the capital-gains tax: We want to encourage investment, not discourage it by taxation.
- Repeal the estate tax -- at all levels. There is no moral reason why the government should get a cut when a parent leaves money or property to a child, or an uncle to a niece or nephew, or anybody to anbody else; that money has already been taxed.
- Meaningfully reform the tort system.
We already know that reforming the medical malpractice tort system would save the medical industry between $60 billion and $200 billion per year; taking the mean average, that's $1.3 trillion savings over ten years -- more than enough to subsidize medical insurance for the deserving poor. And that doesn't even count how much would be saved by the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries.
(Don't be misled; the big savings don't come from reducing medical malpractice judgments and settlements; that's only a small portion of the cost of "jackpot justice." The real savings come from eliminating ludicrously wasteful "defensive medicine" practices, whose only purpose is to cover the backsides of doctors in case they get sued by John Edwards.)
Now magnify that savings across the other 7/8ths of the American economy; let's say that non-medical businesses would only reap half the savings of doctors and hospitals. Even at that, a real and significant tort reform for all cases would likely save our private sector more than half a trillion dollars each and every year. That's over $5,000,000,000,000.00 in that same ten-year window. And it would still protect consumers and innocent (or not so innocent) victims.
Sorry for the digression; back to the plan.
- Reduce government business regulation; much of it (not all of it) is really designed to drive small competitors out of competition with big corporations -- since the latter have full-time legal-compliance staff.
- For banks and other financial corporations, get rid of mark-to-market accounting to increase reserves and free up credit; I think this may already be easing, but let's kill it off entirely.
- Strangle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac like Hercules throttled the twin serpents in his cradle.
- Refrain from passing any health-care bill that includes mandates, government options, or any other intrusive government meddling.
- Refrain from passing a huge tax on energy.
- While you're at it, make the personal income tax completely flat -- and set it fairly low. This gives consumers more money to spend buying products. Which, you know, helps businesses that sell those products.
I guarantee this will improve the economy, get credit flowing to businesses again, ramp up consumer spending, and cause a much greater increase in hiring than would some targeted, temporary tax credits from the feds... especially since the latter will be accompanied by the hammer of massive tax increases on those same businesses.
Yeesh; why can't Eric Cantor suss this one out? This is Economics 101, for heaven's sake.
Post-Toasteed to Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
September 5, 2009
Raucous Baucus Caucus
In a sure sign of a looming crackup in the health-care reform debacle, Sen Max Baucus (D-MT, 80%) says that he is sick of the deadlock among the putative "Bipartisan Six" senators, and that he is going to circulate a more or less final compromise position; if it fails to get four of the six votes -- as I suspect it will -- it will prove that "further bipartisan negotiations would be futile."
If that happens, I believe it will be the end of any significant health-insurance overhaul, as the Senate does not have sixty Democratic senators willing to vote for a Democrats-only ObamaCare bill; and all the Republicans will vote against cloture (including the Maine twins).
Finally, I do not believe, in the end, that the Democratic leadership will be able to pull off the "reconciliation" trick, where they enact a bill in the Senate that doesn't have, say, the government "option," but then add it in during reconciliation -- and claim that they only need 51 votes to pass the reconciled bill. The Byrd Rule would preclude that; and I believe Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV, 79%) himself would rail against it. A bunch of Blue Dogs would be outraged... particularly since they would be tarred by the bill even if they voted against it. The damage such a maneuver would do to the Democratic caucus itself would shred the party. Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 70%) won't fire that Rubicon.
I think that liberal Democrats and Baucus himself have concluded that there will be no bipartisan compromise: Republicans have no incentive to take the electoral heat off Democrats pushing a wildly unpopular bill that will bankrupt Medicare and put an onerous health-care mandate on all Americans without any significant reforms to lower the costs, such as tort reform, removing barriers on cross-state competition for insurance companies, expanded medical savings accounts (MSAs), health-insurance portability (attaching insurance to the person, not the job), and so forth.
On the other hand, liberal Democrats in safe seats have no incentive to take the heat off their more moderate colleagues to pass a radical government takeover of health care. Instead, both the GOP and the Progressive Caucus see more gain to themselves in blowing up the negotiations than finding a "compromise" that everybody hates: Republicans expect the collapse to hurt Democrats in 2010, while liberals believe that if they agree to a compromise, their radical constituents will abandon them in the election -- whereas their own personal reelection is guaranteed if they hold firm to "progressive" principles, even if that means ObamaCare dies an ugly death.
Baucus sounds desperate:
The chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, signaled his intentions in a telephone conference call with five other committee members who have been struggling for months to forge a bipartisan bill and break a partisan stalemate in Congress, an official familiar with the call said.
The official said Mr. Baucus had told the group that he would circulate a detailed proposal as early as Saturday. In doing so, he would be taking a big step toward forcing a final decision by the group as to whether it sees any realistic prospect of a deal.
Many of the ideas expected to be included in the Baucus plan have been aired for weeks among the negotiators and by other lawmakers. But if Mr. Baucus follows through, it would be the first time he had assembled a complete package, an indication of the pressure he is under to produce an agreement.
It was ever thus: Republicans see American health insurance as mostly in good shape with a few problems that can be handled with minor tweaks; liberal Democrats see a "crisis," whether real or fabricated, that can be whipped into an opportunity to do what they have dreamt of for decades: nationalize American health care, à la the British National Health Service... and they are pushing the Democratic moderates to hold firm, even if it costs them their jobs, to principles they don't even fully support. The negotiators are thus speaking at cross purposes; there is no "meeting of the minds," hence no "contract" is likely.
The Baucus compromise in the Senate Banking Committee gives neither side any of its bottom-line essentials:
- There is nothing to strengthen or expand the invisible hand of the free market in health insurance, so Republicans will reject it;
- There is nothing to stick the invisible foot of government into the Capitalist system, so the "progressives" have nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting it.
- Thus, only a small handful of actual moderates would support the bowdlerized "compromise."
As I wrote last Tuesday:
Compromise is a great strategy when negotiating the price of a new car, but it makes lousy politics; usually nobody likes the result, and all the collaborators end up running for cover. Far better to compete instead of collaborate... to put our own vision of health reform out there, then let the people decide.
Note that this syllogism applies equally well to the GOP and the Progressive Caucus: Each side is better off rejecting an unworkable sausage of a compromise and instead pushing its own alternative plan, heading into next year's campaign.
La Casa Blanca agrees with this assessment -- gloomy to them, bright and sunny to me and anyone else who supports liberty, Americanism, Capitalism, and the market:
For all the interest on all sides of the debate about what occurred in Friday’s conference call, the White House and Congressional Democrats have already concluded that a bipartisan alternative is probably doomed after recent public attacks from Mr. Grassley and Mr. Enzi.
That leaves the administration with a new and highly charged political dynamic -- balancing the conflicting desires of liberals and moderates in the president’s own party -- as he tries to pass a bill with Democrats’ votes alone, perhaps, and at best one Senate Republican, Ms. Snowe.
But Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME, 12%) supports only a potential government option that would be triggered by absolute private-insurance company intransigence, which is unlikely in the extreme; much more probable is that under such a plan, insurance companies would make some appearance of cooperation, thus avoiding triggering the entrance of government health insurance.
All sides understand that a government option hinging on a trigger is either (a) the same as no government option at all, or (b) equivalent to a full-time public option from Day-0. There will be no "in between" state in which we're already not certain whether the trigger will or will not be squeezed. But the lefties in the Democratic Party won't accept (a), while Snowe and the other moderate Republicans will not accept the latter.
Further, the progressives demand an actual government "option" for health insurance from the git-go; anything less will not allow the destruction of private insurance... thus allowing a good crisis to go to waste. The Left has too much power within the Democratic Party now to be rolled into a compromise that even Snowe could live with.
Similarly, moderate Democrats are balking at the Left's demands:
The president must reach out to moderate-to-conservative Democrats like Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who will continue to push for a measure that spends less and does not include a public insurance option as liberal Democrats demand. The same is true for the Blue Dog Democrats in the House.
But liberal Democrats, who dominate in the House and include Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have become emboldened by the prospect of passing a bill solely with Democratic support.
- Moderates may want a compromise, but there aren't enough of them to pass it;
- Conservatives and liberals alike would much rather have a head to head competition than "compromise" their principles by agreeing to a compromise;
- Thus never the twain shall meet.
I predict there will be no compromise; rather, one side will win, and the other will lose. And given the mounting skepticism and even downright fear among the electorate about the specifics of radical health-care "reform," there's no doubt in my mind that the winner will be the GOP, the minor loser will be the Progressive Caucus -- and the big, fat, hairy loser will be Barack Obama himself, whose presidency will be gutted in his very first year in office.
July 29, 2009
Senate Democrats: Caving - or Bushwhacking?
AP breathlessly reports that the Democratic leadership has "reached a shaky peace" with the somewhat moderate Blue-Dog Democrats (which AP calls "the party's rebellious rank-and-file conservatives"):
The House changes, which drew immediate opposition from liberals in the chamber, would reduce the federal subsidies designed to help lower-income families afford insurance, exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance to their workers and change the terms of a government insurance option.
What does "change the terms" mean? A New York Times story clarifies that the shaky peace retains the most odious element of ObamaCare, the government so-called "option" -- which won't be optional at all, if your employer dumps his plan in favor of heavily taxpayer-subsidized government-controlled health care:
While the federal government would still establish and run a new public health insurance program, to compete with insurers, the new entity would not use Medicare rates to pay doctors and hospitals. Instead, the government plan would negotiate rates with health care providers, just as private insurers often do.
On the Senate side of the Capitol rotunda, however, the deal being cut in the Senate Finance Committee omits the government option in favor of "non-profit cooperatives" -- which the shaky House peace also includes... another provision that might undercut private health insurance and employer-offered health insurance, if those co-ops are allowed to operate at a loss, then receive regular bail-outs by the feds (as happens with Amtrack, for example). From AP:
More problematic from the Democrats' point of view is a tentative agreement [in the Senate Finance Committee] to omit a provision in which the government would sell insurance in competition with private industry. In its place, the group is expected to recommend non-profit cooperatives that could operate at the state, regional or even national level.
Let's suppose, for sake of argument, that this is how it's ultimately passed in each chamber and sent to the Joint Committee for reconciliation: The House enacts government-controlled health care plus non-profit co-ops, the Senate only enacts the co-ops. Suppose further, as would almost certainly be the case, that Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 70%) appoints to the joint committee a strong majority of senators who support the government "option." This would of course result in that provision being reinserted into the joint version of the bill, which is then sent to both chambers of Congress.
Can the resulting bill be filibustered? If not, then of course it will pass; there is no way that Republican senators plus Blue-Dog democrats equals 51 votes against it. But if it can be filibustered, then there is a very good opportunity to kill the bill: If, say, 37 of the 40 Republicans vote against cloture, then it would only take four Blue Dogs to get to 41, which means the best the rest of the Democrats (and the defecting Republicans) can get for cloture is 59 -- which is not enough. I suspect that at least four moderate Democrats in normally Republican states will be afraid to thwart their constituents, so will vote against cloture... knowing that the other Democrats will eventually have to compromise, so there will be a bill -- just not the current bill.
So it's an important question to analyze: Can the bill be filibustered?
In theory, if a bill enacts a provision that was already included in the budget resolution, and if the budget resolution includes "reconciliation instructions" prohibiting amendments and limiting debate, then the bill cannot be filibustered; it only takes a simple majority to enact it. But there is an exception, which I'll get to in a moment.
On April 29th, the Democrats (with no Republican votes) enacted the budget resolution for fiscal year 2010, which begins on October 1st; and they did indeed include health-care reform and "reconciliation instructions":
The budget resolution also includes reconciliation instructions for healthcare and education overhaul proposals, which Republicans lambasted. Under reconciliation, healthcare and education legislation would only need 51 votes, thwarting any Senate filibuster.
At a meeting of conferees Monday, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., characterized the move as a power grab and likened Democrats to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for including reconciliation in the budget resolution. Obama was criticized by some lawmakers recently for shaking Chavez's hand in a visit earlier this month to Latin America.
"I can understand shaking Chavez's hand, but I can't understand accepting his politics, and basically shutting down the minority," Gregg said. "It will harm the final product."
So facially, it would appear the Senate Democrats can "bushwhack" their own Blue Dogs by tricking them into voting for a health-care "reform" bill that does not include government insurance, then sneak it back in during the joint conference and pass it over the objections of Republicans and even the Blue Dogs themselves.
But in that same passage quoted above, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND, 95%) opines that he does not believe the nervy tactic will work:
Conrad, who opposed the use of reconciliation to pass major legislation, said he did not believe that healthcare legislation would be written with its use.
"I believe, as people get into it, they will find that it just doesn't work well for that purpose," Conrad said. "I believe health care will be done under the regular order."
What did Sen. Conrad, a Democrat, mean by that? Why wouldn't it work?
There's one potential fly in the Democratic ointment: There is a provision of law called the Byrd Rule which allows, under certain circumstances, any senator to raise a "point of order" and object to any provision of any bill that falls under the reconciliation rule of no filibustering... so long as the Senate parliamentarian determines that the provision violates any one of the six "tests" the Byrd Rule sets up. In such a case, the provision is called "extraneous," and it is stripped from the bill -- unless it's waived by the full Senate. And the Byrd Rule can only be waived by (you guessed it) a cloture-like vote of 60 senators.
In other words, a filibuster is ordinarily not allowed for a bill that is covered by reconciliation; but if a provision of that bill violates the Byrd Rule (any one of the six tests), and if any senator objects to it on those grounds -- and if the parliamentarian agrees that the provision breaks the rules -- then that provision will be stripped from the bill unless 60 senators vote to let it stay.
(The only other person who could stop that process would be the Presiding Officer of the Senate, I believe, who could in theory overrule the Senate Parliamentarian's decision about whether the provision violates one of the Byrd Rule tests.)
The purpose of the Byrd Rule (named after Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, 79%) is to prevent the budget resolution being used to shield non-budgetary bills or provisions of bills from filibuster. For example, you couldn't push handgun prohibition or a repeal of the ban on partial-birth abortion through the Senate without being subject to filibuster merely by first including it in the budget resolution, because neither of those has anything to do with the federal budget, except incidentally. (Unless you had a pliant parliamentarian or a tyrannical Presiding Officer of the Senate.)
Here are the six tests:
Byrd rule tests - Section 313(b)(1) of the Congressional Budget Act sets forth six tests for matters to be considered extraneous under the Byrd rule. The criteria apply to provisions that:
- do not produce a change in outlays or revenues;
- produce changes in outlays or revenue which are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision;
- are outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure;
- increase outlays or decrease revenue if the provision's title, as a whole, fails to achieve the Senate reporting committee's reconciliation instructions;
- increase net outlays or decrease revenue during a fiscal year after the years covered by the reconciliation bill unless the provision's title, as a whole, remains budget neutral;
- contain recommendations regarding the OASDI (social security) trust funds.
In the case of ObamaCare, the two important tests are numbers four and five, highlighted above in blue: If the government-option provision increases spending (which of course it does) and the ObamaCare bill as a whole fails to conform to the instructions in the budget resolution; or if the government-option provision continues to increase spending even after the period covered by the budget resolution (ten years) -- unless the entire ObamaCare bill can be shown to be "budget neutral" -- that is, it doesn't increase the deficit any more than the budget resolution allows it to do.
But here is the problem for Democrats: In order to shoehorn the government takeover of health-care into the budget resolution last April, they had to declare that it would pay for itself... that ObamaCare would be deficit neutral. From the House Committee on the Budget "fact sheet:
Assumes Health Reform Will Be Paid for so that it Does Not Add to the Deficit -- Our budget leaves it to the authorizing committees to determine both the policy and how to pay for health care reform.
So any provision of ObamaCare that spends money is subject to the Byrd Rule, unless (a) the Democrats can get the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to declare that, contrary to their earlier claim that the bill would add an extra several hundred billion dollars to the deficit, it's really going to add nothing at all to the deficit; and (b) that the provision in question won't cost a dime beyond the year 2020.
Each of these assertions would be risible, of course; the bill grossly expands the deficit, and the provision in question will require spending for as long as it exists. Since the Democrats certainly don't want to enact ObamaCare with a "sunset" clause, so that it automatically ends after ten years, they're going to have to live with the Byrd Rule.
I do not believe that the CBO will go along with either of these preposterous fantasies... in which case, as soon as the bill comes back from the joint committee, and the Democrats try to claim that under reconciliation, it cannot be filibustered, any single Republican -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY, 80%), for example -- can rise to a point of order, object to the goverment "option" and any other odious measure under the Byrd Rule, and force a vote where the Dems need to get 60 votes to prevent those provisions being stripped out.
That is what Michael Barone meant yesterday when he said, on Hugh Hewitt's show, that under the Byrd Rule, Democrats will be unable to prevent filibusters of the health-care reform act. That's what Sen. McConnell meant when he said today on the same show that the bill "would be subject to filibuster."
But wait! What if the Senate Parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, simply ignores reality and declares that the Byrd Rule doesn't apply? Sure, in theory he could do that; and in fact, he has been heavily lobbied by both sides of the aisle since it became clear that the Democrats were going to taint the budget bill with reconciliation instructions for ObamaCare, to try to prevent a GOP filibuster.
But according to the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper that is considered quite authoritative, if the Democrats expect the parliamentarian to back their partisan power grab, they picked a horse that is backing up the wrong tree:
“I talk to him regularly. He is not looking forward to this,” [former parliamentarian Robert] Dove told The Hill. “All I can tell you is he’s a very good man. He will call it straight. He will make all kind of enemies....”
Both parties are already lobbying Frumin. Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee and Senate aides from both parties have met with him to discuss the Byrd rule, named after initial sponsor Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Frumin told Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) a few weeks ago that legislation passed through the reconciliation process may end up looking like “Swiss cheese,” because certain provisions of a bill may survive while others are stricken, Conrad said....
“He’s known for being substantively rigorous and he understands the value of precedent,” said Stan Collender, a partner at Qorvis Communications and a former Democratic budget aide. “He’s not likely to just come up with a ruling that’s completely off the wall. He’s known to do his job really well and tries to call it pretty straight.”
The upshot of bottom line of this analysis is that I do not believe the Democrats will be permitted by the parliamentarian to abuse the reconciliation process to jam ObamaCare through the Senate; nor do I believe the Presiding Officer of the Senate would be so reckless as to overrule the parliamentarian... as that might cause Republican and Blue Dog senators to bring the entire body to a screeching halt, thus imperiling not only certain provisions of ObamaCare, but the entire bill, plus every other element of the radical agenda of President Barack H. Obama.
It would also hand a powerfully effective issue to GOP senatorial challengers next year: "Democrats stifle the Senate's own parliamentarian in order to take away your health insurance!"
One way or another, they are going to have to get 60 senators to agree specifically on the government "option," on taxing your health benefits, on employer mandates, and on every other controversial element of the Obamacle's attempted government hijacking of Americans' health care. Further, I do not believe that those 60 votes currently exist, and support will only weaken as we pass into September and October. So I don't believe the Democrats will be able to pull this off.
July 20, 2009
Free Speech: Threat, or Menace?
This is more or less an open thread. I solicit your opinions in the comments; don't disappoint me!
Resolved: There is no general "right" to nonverbal "speech," and indeed, some should be banned.
Freedom of speech has always historically meant the freedom to express ideas in words; the modern fancy that any action whatsoever can be considered "speech" if it conveys, however indirectly, a message is unsustainable in logical argument.
Mere outrage is not by itself a message; at best, it's a medium... and freedom of speech does not imply freedom of every medium of expression. For example, does freedom of speech include the "right" of two high-school students to strip naked in the classroom and have sex? But they may thus be expressing the "message" that they are in love. And does it include "selling" property that doesn't belong to you, without the real owner's permission? But that may express your belief that all property should be distributed equally among everyone.
Speech literally means speech -- talking, words, sentences -- not anything that moves anyone to do or think anything. Granted, some nonverbal communication might be accorded the brevet status of speech; "flipping the bird," for example, or maybe even something as rude as mooning a speaker you hate. But those are privileges, not rights, and they can be allowed or forbidden on the whim of the authorities... so long as those authorities are even-handed in their judgments and don't use their power to advance one cause while restricting or retarding another. (But that can be a separate cause of action -- you can go to court and argue that the government is abusing its power to suppress nonverbal speech.)
Finally, there are some images and other nonverbal communications that are so vile and degrading that they literally harm people -- permanently and irrevocably -- either through encouraging horrific and ghastly behavior, or simply via psychological scarring and moral numbing. The victims include children, of course, but often adults as well.
Consider snuff films, even those that do not actually kill or harm any of the actors (adult or child), but create an amazingly realistic depiction of such sexual violence and murder. If we cannot ban a film, for example, that graphically depicts the sodomistic rape of a child (even if faked) -- and revels in such behavior, depicting it as normal and pleasurable -- then we are no longer a civilization, just a gathering of atavistic voyeurs and beastial bipeds.
At least "mere words" haven't the power to move people towards the soulless night of absolute amorality, as graphic or other nonverbal communication can. Can we not at least restrict "freedom of speech" to actual speech, words, which can be countered... and allow communities to ban some types of nonverbal "speech" that simply cannot be counterprogrammed, no matter how many wholesome, family-value programs are made available in response?
Sometimes, mere words are not sufficient to express a powerful, important idea in its fullness. For thousands of years, human beings have used nonverbal media -- everything from music to art to sculpture to dance to what today we would call protest and passive resistance -- to communicate and advance ideas that simply cannot be adequeately conveyed by words... either because the authorities won't allow the words to be spoken, or because the idea itself is ineffable.
For only one example, can religious experience be reduced to mere words? Suppose some government banned the Catholic mass -- but allowed a transcript to be printed and distributed. Freedom of religion aside, would that satisfy the intent of freedom of speech?
Great Britain at one time banned the singing of Irish revolutionary songs in the six counties (Ulster) in northern Ireland. Presumably, one could recite the words, but not sing them. Is that an acceptable limit on freedom of speech? Who, besides the government itself, benefits from such censorship of music?
If Iran bans the act of displaying an American flag on Iranian soil, doesn't that violate Iranians' freedom of speech? Could anything, words or actions, be more eloquent in expressing how a Persian might feel about what the mullahs have done to Iran, and the fights they have picked, than hoisting the flag of the freest country on Planet Earth, which is of course Iran's Great Satan?
Some ideas are ineffable: They cannot be fully described verbally, but only approximated; they cannot be properly argued or advanced with mere words. If we allow governments to ban nonverbal communication, they will inevitably use that authority to suppress those ineffable ideas that threaten their own hegemony or power (such as freedom, liberty, democracy, and disfavored religions), while blithely allowing nonverbal "speech" supporting those ineffable ideas that the government likes (like obedience to authority, or the singular divinity of Allah). That is certainly the pattern in every country that suppresses nonverbal "speech"... suppression is never "even-handed!"
Our only defense to vile and degrading nonverbal speech is to produce moral and uplifting speech (verbal and nonverbal) to combat the former. It can never be right for government to decide what types of speech, verbal or nonverbal, shall be allowed; suppressing the one is no different from suppressing the other: Both boil down to thought control, which is just another word for tyranny.
No matter how irredeemable some communication is, suppressing it comes at too high a moral cost.
My thoughts on this topic are driven in part by this story, but also by some of the bizarre and nauseating "installations" and "performance art" that has littered the fine arts for some years now... works that serve as defining examples of charlatanism, such as segmented human corpses, sexual self-mutilation, and the antics of people like, e.g., Lisa Suckdog.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
July 13, 2009
Who's an Embryo? St. Francis of Genomia at the NIH
Those who follow Big Lizards religiously (have you all put on your phylacteries before reading?) know that we're big on Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the evangelical Christian who headed up the Human Genome Project -- and especially on his book the Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In fact, we've spoken in favor of his ideas (and highly recommended his book) in the following Lizardian posts, from the oldest (August 28th, 2006) to today:
- Jury Nullification Or Nullifying the Jury?
- I appear to have become a Nazi...
- Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 1 (Win Ben Stein's Monkey Trial!)
- Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 2 (Ben in the Dock)
- The Nuclear Winter of Conservative Discontent
- The Membrane Connecting Science, Morality, and Aesthetics - More Thoughts
- Who's an Embryo? St. Francis of Genomia at the NIH
But who is Francis Collins? This post is going to be long, so I'll tuck the rest away behind the Slither on...
Collins' main thrust in his first book (he is secretive about the subject of his second, but he had to resign from his government position at the National Institutes of Health -- NIH -- to write it) is that there is no essential conflict between Christian faith and evolution by natural selection (hence, "evolutionary biology"). Collins uses the term "BioLogos" for the particular branch of theistic evolution he supports, the "wind up the universe and let it run" thesis: God created the universe and all its physical laws and constants, set the initial conditions, and then allowed it to evolve naturally.
Being omniscient and omnipotent, God deliberately set everything up so that moral human beings (and perhaps other sentient, moral creatures elsewhere) would eventually evolve; so in that sense, you could call it a version of creationism. But it's quite distinct from the Biblical creationism that ruled the creationist roost until a series of legal setbacks in the 1980s, and also from "Intelligent Design," the current method of back-dooring creationism into the public schools by not using certain words -- e.g., "God," "Lord," "Creator" -- and using code words instead ("Designer"): BioLogos requires no direct intervention or manipulation, no "fine tuning," to run its course; in Collins' view, God got it right at the first time and doesn't need mid-course corrections.
So it likely comes as no surprise that we soundly applaud, and even jump up and cheer a bit (in a dignified way, you understand), President Barack H. Obama's announcement last Wednesday appointing Collins to head up the NIH, subject to Senate confirmation. This will put Collins in control (along with the Advisory Committee to the Director) of all federal funding for medical, biomedical, and health-care research, both direct -- "intramural research" at the NIH's main campus in Bethesda, MD -- and indirect, by funding "extramural research" conducted by private universities, hospitals, and other medical research facilities outside government.
I myself am also unsurprised that some more absolutist members of the evangelical community are upset by the appointment; they fret that he will not be as -- all right, I'll say it -- not as doctrinaire as they themselves would be, particularly regarding stem-cell research:
President Obama's nomination of Francis Collins to be director of the National Institutes of Health has resulted in pro-life advocates expressing concerns about the views regarding unborn life held by the world-renowned scientist and evangelical Christian....
In announcing his intention to nominate Collins, the president described him as "one of the top scientists in the world," adding "his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease...."
Since Obama announced Collins' nomination July 8, some evangelical and pro-life spokesmen have taken issue with the nominee's comments about embryonic stem cell research and cloning.
A Southern Baptist philosophy professor at Union University said Collins needs to make his views clear before he takes over as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Extraction of stem cells from an embryo requires the destruction of a tiny human being less than a week old.
Whoa, stop right there; that is not, strictly speaking, true, as we have discussed here. There is already a procedure for extracting stem cells from human embryos non-destructively, utilizing the same procedure used in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to extract cells from living embryos to test for various genetic diseases... extractions that leave the embryo intact and still growing normally.
Besides non-destructive ESCR, there are also other types of stem cells, of course; they can be found in somatic (bodily) cells of various types: uterine cells, placental cells, amneotic fluid cells, testicular cells, dental cells, mammary cells, and so forth. Many of these latter have already been used extensively in medical therapies; embryonic stem cells have barely been used so far, but they still show tremendous promise.
President George W. Bush had issued an executive order (EO 13435) on June 20, 2007 that specifically funded:
[R]esearch on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.
We posted on that, too... in a post noting that one of Obama's earliest EOs (March 9th) after assuming office was to revoke EO 12435, killing the requirement to fund non-destructive stem-cell research, even as he lifted the federal-funding ban on destructive ESCR. (Anything you need to know, you can learn from Big Lizards.) The natural conclusion most drew was that Obama supported destructive ESCR and was uninterested in or even hostile to non-destructive stem-cell research, either embryonic or somatic... both of which positions comport with his ultra-liberal base.
Federal stem-cell research funding policy is still governed by President Obama's EO 13505, according to the NIH website; I doubt that NIH's "final regulations," issued last Monday, July 6th, 2009, differ from this, since federal agencies are bound by relevant executive orders.
But it's important to note that Obama did not order a ban on future funding of non-destructive stem-cell research; he just revoked Bush's EO that ordered NIH to actively seek out opportunities to fund such research. Bush asked NIH to conduct research in non-destructive stem-cell therapies; but it seems Obama would not particularly care if all that research withered on the vine.
(There is also a federal law, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, preventing NIH or any other federal agency from directly funding the killing of embryos to create new lines. But once such lines are created privately, under Obama's EO 13505, they are fair game for federal funding.)
Still and all, the technique for non-destructive ESCR, somatic cell nucleus transfer, exists; it simply is not necessarily federally funded, now that the Obamacle presides. So the statement in the Townhall.com article above is at a mimum misleading, and might even be called fraudulent -- unless it "stems" from simple ignorance, which itself is not very reassuring. But we continue with the attack on Collins:
Collins was mistaken or misleading in comments about Obama's position on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, said Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Intellectual Discipleship at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
At Obama's direction, NIH issued final regulations July 6 governing federal funding of stem cell research. In a May interview Collins said Obama's position "is not very radical" because Obama basically said "what Bush said in August of 2001" when the former president announced his policy. But that is not the case, Barnard says. The new NIH guidelines allow research not only on lines that were in existence when Obama made his announcement but new stem cell lines, Barnard wrote in a July 13 commentary for Public Discourse. Obama's position in fact is a "dramatic shift" from Bush's, Barnard said.
In these and other comments, Collins "is less than clear" regarding "the metaphysics and moral value of human life," Barnard wrote.
Perry Mason for the defense...
"Less than clear" is a term that can be equally applied to Barnard's attack: Is he saying that Collins supports the creation of new stem-cell lines from existing human embryos, or from other kinds of stem cells? And even if the former, does he mean embryos created for the purpose of research -- or embryos that were already created for reproductive purposes (in vitrio fertilization), remain unused, and are already slated to be destroyed? Barnard's deliberately vague wording leaves his accusation a complete muddle.
He does make one charge very explicitly in his Public Discourse article. First, a little background from Collins himself, quoted by Barnard:
Basically, what the president’s executive order said and what the NIH in its draft guidelines has now made more clear is that federal funds will be allowable, assuming these draft guidelines get finalized, for stem cell lines that were developed from leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics. And in a way, this is not very radical because that’s what Bush said in August of 2001 when he became the first president to authorize federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Remember, it wasn’t allowed at all before his statement. But he said only lines that were developed before 9 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2001, could be used, which obviously seems like a bit of an arbitrary deadline.
Now Obama is saying, what about the 700 lines that have been developed since then, which are actually scientifically more useful? The early lines had problems. These new lines will now be allowed as well. Remember, though, that just means the funds will be allowed for the study of those lines, not for creating new ones. That is prevented by the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which people expect will probably remain there unless Congress decides to take it away. My bet is that they probably won’t, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary for them to do so in terms of supporting research. The use of private funds to develop new lines might be sufficient.
Barnard then pounces, flattening a very difficult, complex question into an easy soundbite of utter moral certitude, an "eternal verity":
Collins’s comments here are remarkable on several different levels. To begin, it is unclear whether Collins has any moral qualms about the wanton destruction of innocent human life given his apparent optimism about the sufficiency of private funds for the doing the federal government’s dirty work. [There's that weasel-word "unclear" again! -- the Mgt.] But even if one supposes that he’s not happy about it, his analysis of the difference between the Bush administration policy and the new Obama guidelines is mistaken at best, misleading at worst. For the August 9, 2001 deadline under the Bush administration was imposed precisely to take away the incentive for private entities to engage in more embryo destruction. Of course, as Collins’s remarks make clear, this did not prevent private entities from doing so. And apparently, they did so at least 700 times. (Of course, who knows how many embryos it actually took to get the 700 lines to which Collins refers!) And if the Obama guidelines were written so as to allow funding for these 700 lines and only these 700 lines, they would, in that respect, be similar to the Bush guidelines. But the new Obama guidelines do not limit the use of NIH funds exclusively to these existing, additional 700 lines.
Knowing this, Collins chose his words carefully when he said, “Remember, though, that just means the funds will be allowed for the study of those lines, not for creating new ones.” By the letter of the law, what Collins here claims is true. The new NIH guidelines do not permit the use of federal funds for creating new human embryonic stem cell lines. This is because, as Collins points out, such activity is prohibited by the Dickey amendment. Moreover, the guidelines do allow for the study of those 700 lines that have been produced since August 9, 2001. What Collins does not say, however, is that the new NIH guidelines also allow for federal funds to be used in studying new human embryonic stem cell lines that are created (by private entities, of course) beyond the 700 currently in existence. This represents a dramatic shift in policy from the previous Bush administration regulations. And Collins is doing nothing more than engaging in rhetorical subterfuge to suggest otherwise.
Collins in the dock...
This really boils down to one philosophical question: Do we admit the reality that:
- In vitrio fertilization will continue
- Excess embryos (beyond those that are implanted in a womb) will continue to be created, and
- Those excess embryos will either be destroyed outright or frozen in suspended animation for eternity (or until someone pulls the plug)?
If so, then neither Obama's EO or the new NIH policy provides an "incentive" to create embryos for purposes of research; the incentive already exists (via fertility therapy) to create far more embryos than could ever safely be implanted, and far more than could ever be used in research anyway -- a point that Barnard himself glosses over. (Just as he imputes pejorative motives and moral beliefs to Collins that Barnard could not possibly know unless he's a telepath.) The embryos are there and will continue to be there, with or without federal funding.
If we accept that such lines will be created willy nilly, entirely privately -- as Barnard himself admits -- then the only question is whether we allow federal funding to research those new lines... or only to research the old, degraded lines created the exact same way, but prior to 9 PM, August 8th, 2001.
This is certainly not the black-and-white issue that Barnard pretends; it's both more nuanced and more profound. But Barnard demands utter conformity to the most restrictive possible moral interpretation, or he launches a crusade against the heretic.
He has chosen his target well. Barnard knows that such high-level, future funding decisions are generally made by the Director of the NIH in conjunction with his Advisory Council; and he knows that director is going to be Francis Collins; there is no serious senatorial opposition to the appointment.
So what are Collins' thoughts on ESCR -- destructive and non-destructive -- and other kinds of stem-cell research? Fortunately, we have the answer to that question in his own words, from a series of interviews he gave, excerpts of which have been collated by a Christian blog.
First, on the precise moral question above, from an interview in Salon (the interviewer's questions are in blue):
Geneticists are sometimes accused of "playing God," especially when it comes to genetic engineering. And there are various thorny bioethical issues. What's your position on stem cell research?
Stem cells have been discussed for 10 years, and yet I fear that much of that discussion has been more heat than light. First of all, I believe that the product of a sperm and an egg, which is the first cell that goes on to develop a human being, deserves considerable moral consequences. This is an entity that ultimately becomes a human. So I would be opposed to the idea of creating embryos by mixing sperm and eggs together and then experimenting on the outcome of that, purely to understand research questions. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of such embryos in freezers at in vitro fertilization clinics. In the process of in vitro fertilization, you almost invariably end up with more embryos than you can reimplant safely. The plausibility of those ever being reimplanted in the future -- more than a few of them -- is extremely low. Is it more ethical to leave them in those freezers forever or throw them away? Or is it more ethical to come up with some sort of use for those embryos that could help people? I think that's not been widely discussed.
So your position is that they should be used for research if they already exist and they're never going to be used to create a human life?
I think that's the more ethical stance. And I say this as a private citizen and not as a representative of the U.S. government, even though I'm employed by the federal government at the National Institutes of Health. Now let me say, there's another aspect of this topic that I think is even more confusing -- a different approach which is more promising medically. It's this thing called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is where you take a cell from a living person -- a skin cell, for instance. You take out its nucleus, which is where the DNA is, and you insert that nucleus into the environment of an egg cell, which has lost its nucleus. Now think about this. We have a skin cell, and we have an egg cell with no nucleus. Neither of those would be things that anybody would argue has moral status. Then you give a zap of electricity and you wait a couple of days. And that environment convinces that skin cell that it can go back in time and it can become anything it wants to be. That is an enormously powerful opportunity because the cell would then be received by that same person who happened to need, say, neurons for their Parkinson's disease or pancreas cells for their diabetes without a transplant rejection.
Isn't this the process that is otherwise known as cloning?
Yeah, it's called cloning, which is a very unfortunate term because it conjures up the idea that you're trying to create a copy of that human being. And at this point, you're doing nothing of the sort. You're trying to create a cell line that could be used to substitute for something that a person desperately needs. It would only become a cloned person if you then intentionally decided to take those cells and reimplant them in the uterus of a recipient woman. And that, obviously, is something that we should not and must not and probably should legislate against. But until you get to that point, it's not clear to me that you're dealing with something that deserves to be called an embryo or deserves to be given moral status.
Let an urgent point not be forgot...
This is a much more sophisticated response than Barnard's; Barnard wants to anwers this... but the only way he can do so is to deny there is any moral distinction between the union of a human egg and human sperm -- and the union of a denucleated human egg and a human skin-cell nucleus.
His thesis appears to be that anything that could conceivably grow into a human being -- even if that would require future intervention by doctors, and even if it has never been demonstrated in the lab yet -- is a human being. But of course, once egg and skin-cell nucleus are combined but before electricity is added, I can still say it "could conceivably grow into a human being"... assuming "future intervention by doctors," including the spark. Does that mean such a union is already a human being?
In fact, I can still say the same after two cells have been extracted but before they are combined. This oddball definition not only entirely removes the necessity of sperm, its structure disturbingly reminds me of Roe v. Wade's test of whether a foetus can survive outside the womb: In both cases, the test of human personhood depends upon the state of medical technology du jour:
Nobody ever has cloned a human being; we don't even know if it would ever be possible to grow such a "cloned" embryo into a human.
- So if we're not actually able to clone human beings in 2009, then a cell created by somatic cell nucleus transfer is not a human person by Barnard's thesis.
- But if ten years later, we are able to clone humans, then those same, exact cells from 2009 magically transmaugrify into human beings by 2019 -- even though they are utterly identical in every respect to what they were ten years ago, having been kept on ice all that time.
(If an old growth spotted owl leaves its old-growth tree, flies a few feet away, and nests in a young tree, it becomes a member of a whole new species!)
I'm with Collins on this: I consider such a definition preposterous and unscientific. We must have a definition of "human person" that doesn't change with every advance in medical science, one that seeks a deeper element of humanity than superficial morphological characteristics -- what I refer to as a "movable verity," rather than an "eternal verity," because it's robust enough to remain consistent even as technology changes around it.
When, for example, does the soul enter a human body?
- If you believe that occurs sometime after conception, then is the developing embryo still a human being even before being ensouled?
- And even if you believe that occurs "precisely" at conception, then when "precisely" do you define conception itself to have taken place? (a) When the soon-to-be successful sperm starts to penetrate the egg's cellular wall? (b) When it works its way fully inside the egg? (c) When it contacts the egg nucleus? (d) When it combines chemically? Or (e) when it first divides into a blastocyst? Conception is a continuum, like everything else in biology -- conception, gestation, birth, and even death.
- Finally, no matter how one defines conception in the normal circumstance -- does the soul also enter into a cloned cell at the moment of transfering the nucelus of a non-sperm cell into the egg, even though no combining of DNA occurs?
- Does it occur after the electrical charge is applied?
- Or does it not occur at all, since there is no bisexual reproduction taking place in any event?
Is a human body a person, absent a soul?
These are not easy questions; but without answering them, we cannot decide "who's an embryo" -- and what isn't.
Shouldn't we then, just for safety's sake, accept the Barnard thesis that anything that could conceivably grow into a human is therefore automatically a human person from the moment of its creation, no matter how? Shouldn't that be the default presumption?
Not necessarily... because such a presumption is not cost-free in the realm of human life. Making that presumption will inevitably kill people -- people already living, breathing, thinking, and feeling.
Collins understands, as Barnard gives no evidence of understanding, that ESCR comprises more than just the rights of human embryos; it also includes the rights of those already born and suffering, even dying, from potentially curable diseases. As often happens in law, the two rights must be weighed against each other in individual cases and a just decision reached. From part 2 of an interview of Collins for a PBS television show titled Think Tank:
So I think one thing we ought to do is, sort of, tone down the rhetoric and try to get our scientific facts straight. So stem cells-- there's lots of different kinds of stem cells. The kind that I think many people are most concerned about are the ones that are derived from a human embryo which is produced by a sperm and an egg coming together. The way you and I got here.
There are hundreds of thousands of those embryos currently frozen away in in vitro fertilization clinics. And it is absolutely unrealistic to imagine that anything will happen to those other than they're eventually getting discarded. So as much as I think human embryos deserve moral status, it is hard to see why it's more ethical to throw them away than to take some that are destined for discarding and do something that might help somebody.
Reality and the limits of dogma...
Morality is never a lightswitch; it's never either all-the-way on or all-the-way off. Morality always exists on a continuum, because human life and the human condition exist on a continuum (recall my example of conception above). That's why each case must be judged individually -- under general guidelines.
(It's a terrible and dangerous error to try to write too much specificity into a guideline; that's how you end up with "zero tolerance" drug laws that expel a girl from high school for taking Mydol for her menstrual cramps.)
Even if one believes that a human zygote (fertilized egg) is a human being, not even the most ardent pro-lifer argues that a zygote can feel the pain of its own destruction; that capacity clearly comes much later in ontogeny. But a person suffering from Cystic Fibrosis certainly does feel the pain as that disease destroys him by inches until he finally dies an agonizing, suffocating death. Is it black-and-white that each zygote is morally equal, on a one-to-one basis, to every already-born person?
I see a whopping huge moral distinction between killing a zygote to save a teenager -- and killing a newborn baby to save that same teenager. Perhaps it's just sentimentality; but sentiment is as much a part of humanity as rigorous logic. Sentimentally, I attach far more value to a newborn, or even to a seven month old foetus, than to a human zygote... let alone to a cell produced by somatic cell nucleus transfer, a.k.a. "therapeutic cloning."
Professor Justin Barnard sees no moral distinction whatsoever. Early in his Public Discourse article, he refers to the destruction of human embryos as "the wanton destruction of innocent human life;" then towards the end, he adds the following tendentious codicil:
[T]he embryo produced by cloning enjoys the same moral status, whatever one judges that to be, as the embryo produced the old-fashioned way.
Since we know what Barnard "judges that to be," he must see no moral distinction at all between a skin-cell nucleus stuck into a denucleated egg cell and given a spark of electricity -- and a teenager dying of CF.
I consider that position vile and thuggish if he holds it merely for political purposes, and monstrous if he holds it honestly. (A lack of hypocrisy doesn't necessarily ameliorate a grotesque idea; I'm sure that many advocates of eugenics were quite sincere in wanting to eliminate inferior humans.)
But why can't we just use the stem-cell lines for which even George W. Bush approved federal funding, those generated before 9 PM, August 9th, 2001? Simple: Because they are old, degraded, and no longer work very well. In the interview linked above, Ben Wattenberg asks whether Collins agrees with the Bush decision to restrict federal funding for ESCR to those lines that already existed. Collins responds:
But as a scientist -- I would say we are currently not making as much progress as we could if we had access to more of these stem cell lines. The ones that are currently available for federal funding is a very limited set and they clearly have flaws that make them hard to use. But you know what? I think that kind of stem cell research is actually not the part that's going to be most interesting.
The part that's really showing the most promise is to take a skin cell from you or me and convince that cell, which has the complete genome, to go back in time and become capable of making a liver cell or a brain cell or a blood -- cell if you need it to. That reprogramming. That's called somatic cell nuclear transfer in the current mode. And yet people still refer to those products as an embryo. Well, there's no sperm and egg involved here.
And that's where I think we've really gotten muddled. That the distinction between these various types of biology has been all murkified. And people are beginning to argue in very irrational ways based on a lack of understanding what the science says. If we could back off from all of the, sort of, hard edged rhetoric and really say, okay, what is science teaching us, I suspect that the moral dilemmas are not nearly as rough as people think they are.
Finally, I think this response in a third interview for Christianity Today sums up and clarifies Collins' beliefs (which Barnard claims are "less than clear"), not only as to ESCR but human cloning as well (see p. 5):
[E]ven if the safety issues were solved, would human reproductive cloning be an acceptable practice? It wouldn't be for me. I believe that human beings have come into this world by having a mother and a father. To undertake a different pathway of creating a human being is a profound departure from the normal state of things. I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why we need to do that.
It is a classic example of a collision between two very important principles. One is the sanctity of human life and the other is our strong mandate as human beings to alleviate suffering and to treat terrible diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's, and spinal-cord injury. The very promising embryonic stem-cell research might potentially provide remarkable cures for those disorders. We don't know that, but it might. And at the same time, many people feel, I think justifiably, this type of research is taking liberties with the notion of the sanctity of human life, by manipulating cells derived from a human embryo.
It's rare that we get a presidential nominee to an important scientific (or legal) position who has thought as deeply and consistently about the great moral dilemmas as Francis Collins has. It's even rarer that after such thought, he remains so close to what I would call the best conservative principles of individualism, respect for human life and dignity, and ethical scientific inquiry. (And it's especially dumbfounding that a president who would call himself "the One We Have Been Waiting For" would make such an appointment. One would think that the One would be more apt to attempt to use somatic cell nucleus transfer to appoint an exact clone of himself to head up NIH.)
But for heaven's sake, let's grab this one while we can. Let's not make a big stink just because Francis Collins' evangelical Christian position on stem cells is an angstrom apart from that of the most dogmatic true believer, such as Professor Barnard. For God's sake, Obama could have named Peter Singer!
Collins is an amazingly good choice for NIH Director. He will be sensitive to human-life issues, a strong advocate for scientific inquiry, and not only not hostile to, but actually embracing of issues of faith, religion, and morals in federal funding of biomedical and health-care research.
Cross-posted in Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
June 15, 2009
The "Big Try" Country
The state of Montana is trying something very interesting. It will fail... but by igniting the debate, it may ultimately lay the groundwork for a successful pruneback -- one can hope for a chainsaw slashback -- of federal intrusion into state affairs. From the Washington Times:
In May, Montana became the first state to approve the Firearms Freedom Act, which declares that guns manufactured and sold in the Big Sky State to buyers who plan to keep the weapons within the state are exempt from federal gun regulations.
According to the act's supporters, if guns bearing a "Made in Montana" stamp remain in Montana, then federal rules such as background checks, registration and dealer licensing no longer apply. But court cases have interpreted the U.S. Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause as covering anything that might affect interstate commerce -- which in practice means just about anything.
So if this law sounds ripe for a court challenge, well, that's the idea, said Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Sports Shooting Association, the state's largest pro-gun group.
Well I'm glad that somebody at least is trying to correct the Great Misinterpretation of the New Deal era, where anything and everything was declared to impact interstate commerce (including growing your own vegetables in your own garden) -- and therefore could be regulated by Congress under the enumerated power called the "Commerce clause." That misinterpretation gives the federal government virtually limitless power to trample state authority underfoot.
The Big Sky Country state is not alone; it's joined by the Lone Star state and the Seward's Folly state:
Two other states -- Alaska and Texas -- have had favorable votes on laws similar to Montana's, declaring that guns that stay within the state are none of the feds' business. More than a dozen others are considering such laws, and more-general declarations of state sovereignty have been introduced this year in more than 30 legislatures.
The federal courts may not respond well to these laws in the short term, but backers who acknowledge this say that regardless, they intend for the laws to change the political landscape in the long term. They hope these state laws will undercut the legitimacy of contrary federal law -- as has happened with medicinal marijuana -- and even push federal courts to bend with the popular wind.
As with every politically controversial issue that splits along partisan lines, if the Supreme Court eventually accepts cert from an expected Ninth Circus affirmation of the probable decision by the United States District Court for the District of Montana to strike down the Firearms Freedom Act sometime in the future, the SCOTUS decision will be easily predictable for eight of the justices: Justices Stephens, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Clinton will vote to strike down the FFA as infringing on federal authority; Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts will (I hope!) vote to uphold it, trimming back the insane expansion of the authority of the federales to the point that they can enact anything, anywhere, any time they want, without regard to the "limitations" of their enumerated powers.
And as usual, it will all come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court swinger. I remain skeptical that Kennedy will buy into the cockamamie argument that "interstate commerce" means commerce that is inter-state; but I hope he will at least try one of his "split the baby" balancing acts... and we may get a partial movement in the right direction.
Then with some more laws, more cases, and more judgments -- and perhaps in 2014, when Kennedy retires and is replaced by a judicial conservative -- we can actually make the point that activities entirely within a state should be entirely the business of that state, unless they conflict with the fundamental rights self-evidently immanent among all lawful American residents.
May 17, 2009
What's a Conservative Anyway?
As before, I'm not looking for every possible policy position held by conservatives, but rather the core principles of conservatism. Particular policies should be derived from the principles of the ideology; we must never again allow the arrow of causality to point in the other direction. That, in a nuthouse, is what happened during the Bush years in which the GOP controlled Congress: Ideology was rewritten to retroactively justify the grab for power, sex, and money engaged in by Republicans, conservative and non-conservative alike.
Bear in mind that non-conservatives don't automatically hold the opposite of every principle below. Liberals are not obliged to reject all traditions, embrace all radical change, deliberately enact laws designed to encourage evil, and be atheists. My point in this list is that liberalism does not demand any of the following virtues. The liberal can reject tradition, embrace radical change, push for the mandatory abortion of "defective" foetuses, and write books entitled Atheism, unGod's Great Gift to Mankind, yet still remain a liberal in good standing among other liberals.
A conservative who did the same would be shunned by his erstwhile fellows; that is the sort of principle I try to deduce here... what would get you drummed out of the club if they caught you at it.
But remember, I am not myself a conservative; some of these principles I more or less support, though perhaps not exactly as a conservative would understand them; others I completely reject; still others seem "orthogonal" to my own principles (oh, look it up, for Pete's sake.) If any actual conservatives take issue with some of these principles, well, the comments section is your friend; argue away! (Just always bear in mind the commenting rules.)
I'll try to put these in order of increasing specificity (or decreasing generality):
Support for tradition and established order
This is the most fundamental, basic definition of conservatism: the wish to conserve what is already here, except for those elements that are completely incompatible with other principles of conservatism (e.g., slavery, which conflicts with human liberty).
Resistance to fundamental change
This flows from the first principle, but it's such an innate characteristic of conservatives that I think it deserves its own bullet point.
There is a tradition that, on his return from France, Jefferson called Washington to account at the breadfast-table for having agreed to a second chamber. "Why," asked Washington, "did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," quoth Jefferson. "Even so," said Washington, "we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."
Resistance to change can be good, as when conservatives vigorously oppose the radical changes envisions by the One We Have All Been Dreading. But it can also be bad (to my way of thinking), such as when conservatives fight against cultural changes that enrich the American Borg culture: interesting new forms of music and art; cultural elements imported from other countries via immigration; scientific innovation (genetic research, for example, even when they do not require killing human embryos, as with cloning); fundamental change towards something positive, such as more Capitalism; and so forth.
Clearly not every conservative takes everything to extremes; but there are forms of conservatism that do, such as the Amish. And the tendency is there and must be fought in cases where fundamental change is good or even necessary.
Belief in God
I suppose it's technically possible to define conservatism such that an atheist can be a conservative; but it would be a conservatism unrecognizable to nearly everyone who calls himself a conservative, hence a useless exercise; when a label means anything at all, then it really means nothing at all.
Conservatives must believe in God, and He must be the God of the Book, more or less... some aspect of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. It's very difficult to have a conservative polytheist, for instance, because by its very nature, polytheism does not lend itself to universal morality -- a signal attribute of conservatism (see below); if you worship Hermes, god of thieves, then thievery is not only acceptable, it's a sacrament! Likewise, a Buddhist could easily be a fatalist, but not a conservative, I believe; I won't argue the point here, but perhaps in the comments, if anyone takes issue.
Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life
Because God created humans in His own image, each person has an implicate holiness. It may be unrealized, it may be brutally suppressed by the personal evil of the individual... but no person is beyond the reach of God's grace. Hence every person must be accorded certain "unalienable rights," until and unless he forfeits them by his actions.
Of course, conservatives can and do differ on the specifics; does "human dignity" require society to guarantee a "living wage" to every worker, or does the "human liberty" of employers to set their own wages and conditions of employment trump dignity? But those who would deny liberty, dignity, or life altogether, such as the Khomeiniists in Iran or the unholy warriors of al-Qaeda, cannot qualify as "conservatives." They are radicals... in this case, radical, militant Islamists. (For heaven's sake, you can hardly call a man a conservative if he leads a Jacobite revolution against a somewhat functional democracy.)
Strong version of pro-life position, along with traditional morality
The strong version says that abortion is always morally wrong, even evil, except in the narrowest case: when absolutely necessary to preserve the life (not merely the "health") of the mother. (The weak version would ban abortion after some point later than conception, or would only ban some types of abortions.)
Traditional morality presupposes that a universal morality exists -- some things are absolutely right, others are absolutely wrong, and humans can determine what those things are -- and the belief that it is the duty of the government to enforce the most vital elements of that universal morality.
Beyond that point, there is much disagreement among conservatives. Some grudgingly allow that abortion should remain up to the states, believing that Federalism (liberty) trumps life; others believe in a constitutional amendment banning all abortions, believing that life trumps the liberty of Federalism. But every person I've met who calls himself a conservative fits one of two patterns: Either he believes abortion is always a great evil, or else he has many other facets of what I would call liberalism... he is a "CINO."
There is even more disagreement about what exactly "traditional morality" entails; a few conservatives (e.g. Patterico) reject privileging traditional, opposite-sex marriage over same-sex marriage; but most are more like the lads at Power Line, however, rejecting both same-sex marriage and also court rulings like Lawrence v. Texas, which found laws banning "sodomy" to be unconstitutional; they believe the State can and should legislate many more aspects of morality than it now does, or than libertarian-conservatives would tolerate.
(A few conservative Moslems and Mormons privilege polygamy over monogamy; but most who hold that position simply cannot be shoehorned into "conservatism;" they are radicals, and not just on the marriage question.)
Typically in the West, "traditional moral values" is adequately described by the Ten Commandments -- or Ten Mitzvahs, "blessings," to Jews -- plus whatever Talmudic dicta is necessary to flesh out the broad rules.
Government policy should encourage moral behavior and religious belief and discourage the opposite.
This is a stronger version of "the rule of consistency" than found in the Republican version; the latter requires only that the government not violate principle, while the former requires active legislation and regulation to enforce principle. Thus there may well be conflict between a conservative and the Republican Party, especially over libertarian issues; this is why some conservatives (especially "single-issue" cons) can also be found in the Democratic Party, the Reform Party, various nationalist parties, and suchlike -- not just in the GOP.
Again summing up, I believe the core principles of conservatism (in order of increasing specificity) are:
- Support for tradition and established order;
- Resistance to fundamental change;
- Belief in God;
- Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life;
- Strong version of pro-life position, along with traditional morality;
- Government policy should be consistent with conservative ideology.
But as I said before, this is to a much larger extent "terra incognita" to me than was the previous post; because, while I am not a conservative, I am a Republican.
Working and playing well with each other
So conservatism and the Republican Party are not synonymous, nor is one a subset of the other; there is, however, a very large insection between the two sets. There are a number of points of agreement; and if we focus on these, instead of the few areas of disagreement, both conservatives and Republicans will benefit -- as will the nation itself.
First, because the American tradition is more fiscally conservative, supports a very strong national defense, and has generally been more pro-trade than anti, a conservative's orientation towards a traditional understanding of hot-button issues will tend to drive him towards the GOP, rather than the Democratic Party (currently on the leash of the radical Left).
Second, both sets include the principle "Belief in essential human libery, dignity, and life," albeit not for the same reasons: Republicans deduce it from the necessity of free, reasoning individuals to run an enlightened government, while conservatives tend to profess it as deriving from the implicate Godliness of Man.
By contrast, neither liberals nor Democrats demand support for any of those three qualities as a prerequisite of membership in "the club." Thus again, conservatives will naturally feel more comfortable with the morals of the GOP, rather than the morals of the Democratic Party (which are those of an alley cat).
Third, most conservatives mistrust the government. But the Democratic Party demands far more trust in the Capo di Tutti Capi than does the GOP. Again, conservatives are nudged rather strongly towards the Republicans.
In fact, conservatives are so strongly identified with the Republicans, now that we're at least two generations past the terrible division of segregation, that some conservatives mistakenly believe that they are the Republican Party... or at least that they should be the only drivers on that bus.
We very much need to distinguish between commonplace and truly universal positions among Republicans; in other words, which is actually a shibboleth to identify who is and who is not a bona fide member of the party. There are a lot of fights we must join immediately which are fought entirely within the realm of core GOP/conservative principles; for instance, Obama wants to radically remake America (anti-conservative) into a Eurofascist welfare state (anti-Republican).
If we stick to those battles and set aside, for the moment, our internecine squabbles, we shall have a very good chance to make great gains in 2010 -- and maybe even take back the House of Representatives. But if we spend more time going after the heretics in the hall than the barbarians at the gate, we can kiss the next twenty-plus years goodbye.
I'm very interested to see where this finally goes; please comment to your heart's desire.
April 16, 2009
Sarah Palin and Guilt by Disassociation
Ah, the distinctly noisome bouquet tells me that the 2012 presidential campaign has been uncorked early this year...
The attacks on Sarah Palin have begun again; and as before, since none of Palin's enemies can find anything troubling or disturbing about the woman herself, they're targeting her family, especially her children, once more:
Teen pregnancy, drug charges, burglary arrests. Appearances on the "Tyra Banks Show" that resembled a Jerry Springer segment. Charges of being publicity hounds and not paying for the diapers.
The family foibles continue to play out in tabloid fashion for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, adding unwelcome public drama for the former vice-presidential nominee as she seeks to solidify her clout within a Republican Party that is smarting from the November election and sorely in need of a leader.
But wait... before proceeding further, let's get a little mroe specific on exactly what charges Palin's opponents within the GOP and her enemies among Democrats have leveled:
- We all agree that Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol got knocked up; but that's last year's news, and it wouldn't cause a stir today, let alone in three more years.
- What's this about drug charges? Oh yes, "somebody" in Bristol's former boyfriend's family -- not Palin's family -- was arrested for something involving drugs. That somebody was Levi Johnson's mother, Sherry Johnson.
- "Appearances on the 'Tyra Banks Show',"charges of being publicity hounds and not paying for the diapers" all refer to the aforementioned Levi Johnson, Bristol's ex; he and his mother and sister decided -- without the blessing of Todd, Sarah, Bristol, or the infant Tripp Palin -- to appear on the tabloid show, goodness only knows why. (I have my suspicions, and they do, in fact, include the Johnson family being publicity hounds.)
- After the appearance, during which Levi retailed lurid accounts of his sexual exploits that are hotly denied by his former girlfriend Bristol, Sarah Palin's father accused Johnson of not supporting Tripp Palin -- his legal obligation -- and suggested that he should take some of the money he's now making off of his former association with Alaska's first family and use it to "buy some diapers."
- And burglary? That appears to be the half-sister of Sarah Palin's husband Todd. Diana Palin is married and has her own two children; she does not live with Todd and Sarah Palin.
So out of all the smoke of the allegations -- both the Democratic Party and Republican Party spokesmen puckishly decline to comment -- only one charge actually involves Sarah Palin's family. The rest involve Bristol's former boyfriend, his family, and Palin's husband's married sister.
Yes, I can see how the foibles of people distantly connected to Sarah Palin logically should damage her candidacy; after all, the bad behavior of her daughter's ex-boyfriend's mother certainly demonstrates that Sarah Palin is the hillbilly so many sources (on both sides the aisle) have insisted she is. And we certainly never see any relatives or family members of Democrats having problems... especially not the Democrat current occupying the White House; this situation is something utterly unique to Palin.
When Democrats (with GOP complicity) finish off Palin, they will surely start in on Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. Did you know that he's a hillbubba? And he has a funny name... what's up with that?
I will certainly admit one solid slam against Palin: She clearly was not firm enough in teaching her daughter the sort of boys to avoid. If that's enough to turn you away from her future candidacy, so be it.
March 19, 2009
Obama's State-Ownership Society
Back in the precambrian era -- in fall of 2008, I of course mean -- we warned in several posts that when the federal government takes an "equity interest" (ownership in whole or in significant part) in private companies, it creates a grave threat to the capitalist system:
- Democrats Channel Hugo Chavez in Rescue Demands
- While Washington Wilts, Soros Schemes
- Is It Adios to Capitalism - or Only Au Revoir?
When government buys a significant stake in private companies, it creates a terrible conflict of interest; decisions that should be made entirely on economic grounds -- attempting to maximize the long-term profit for the owners of the company, whether stockholders or private consortia -- are made instead by politicians pushing a particular political ideology, or else trying to benefit big campaign donors.
Corporate management is ultimately accountable to the owners (though owners can be derelict in their fiduciary duties), while politicians are accountable only to voters and donors, neither of which may have any particular concern about the financial viability of particular private companies in the government's stock portfolio.
This is how we explained it in the first post linked above:
The latter especially is a key element of Woodrow Wilson, Benito Mussolini style fascism; it invariably leads to the State, as the $700 billion gorilla on the board of directors, exerting overwhelming control over corporate decisions... which it will exercise on the basis of politics, not profits.
When people read "fascism," they immediately tend to envision concentration camps, jackboots, and Nazis goosestepping at mass rallies; but the real danger of fascism, especially liberal fascism (fascism with a smiley face, as depicted -- against author Jonah Goldberg's wishes -- on the cover of his book Liberal Fascism), is government control of corporations. The more control is handed over to politicians and bureaucrats who have no hand in actually producing the product (loans and securities, in this case), the more critical decisions will be made on irrelevant political considerations, often leading to financial disaster... and another bailout, leading to even more government control. Eventually, the State completely hijacks the corporation for political purposes... and we're well on our way to Hugo Chavez-land.
The threat posed by the government taking an equity interest in private companies can be minimized by making it a matter of law that the holdings are fully divested as soon as buyers can be found at market prices -- either the company buying back its own stock or private third parties taking it off government's hands; in the third Big Lizards post linked up top, "Is It Adios to Capitalism - or Only Au Revoir?", we discussed this possibility:
With the long-expected decision today by President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke that Treasury will spend $250 billion of the $700 billion buying equity stakes in nine top banks, thus injecting "liquidity" directly into the industry, we stand at a crossroads. The question is whether this is "goodbye" to Capitalism or just "see you soon"... whether this is a permanent break from free markets or just a necessary but temporary bank holiday....
The direct injection of liquidity by Treasury buying equity is also outside the market, because that money is extracted from people by force, in the form of taxes. But at the core, even this direct investment is an attempt to buy time to complete the "transparentizing" (horrible neologism, I know) of the toxic assets -- the recreation of the information that was lost by multiple unregulated securitizations of massive collections of mortgages.
Once the [timely, honest, accurate, and believable information] has been restored to the mortgage-backed securities and other instruments, the market can reboot itself...
With the restoration of the missing THABI information, the market can reboot, and the catastrophe will be averted. So long as partial-nationalization of the banking industry lasts only long enough to retransparentize the toxic assets, thus allowing the market to begin functioning again, it will be an acceptable, even necessary intervention.
Alas, there is nothing in the Obama administration's bailout that implies they will, in fact, consider this a temporary expedient; from everything I've read, they see it as a permanent "reform."
There are two classic anti-capitalist examples of divesting funds for political reasons; together, they point out the very real danger when government becomes a part owner of the private sector through enforced or distressed nationalization (we have seen both in the present crisis):
- When universities, big corporations, and of course government programs in the 1970s dumped all their investments in companies based in South Africa or doing business in South Africa, even if they were based elsewhere, to protest Apartheid; this was in response to purely political pressure from black activist groups here in the United States.
- And when the usual suspects more recently dumped all investment in Israel, Israeli companies, or companies that did not ritually denounce Israel, in response to purely political pressure from antisemitic, anti-Israel, and generally pro-Palestinian and Islamist activist groups.
Both are examples of government trying to use equity ownership to bully the private sector into purely political actions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the companies in question.
When the government is a significant investor in a company, it cannot help running those companies; government funds never come "string free." Worse, the State runs those companies not to make profits, but to score political points.
In fact, that is exactly what is happening in the case of American International Group (AIG): We have such a huge investment in that company now, $80 billion, that how much they pay employees in retention "bonuses" (inducements to continue working for AIG, rather than jumping ship to some less shaky company) has become a political football.
In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives has just voted overwhelmingly, 328 to 93, to enact a confiscatory tax on AIG employees -- almost by name! -- if AIG fulfills its contractual obligations by paying the employees who stayed on for the work they did (reducing AIG's liability from $2.7 trillion to $1.6 trillion):
Spurred on by a tidal wave of public anger over bonuses paid to executives of the foundering American International Group, the House voted 328 to 93 on Thursday to get back most of the money by levying a 90 percent tax on it....
But there was no doubt after the House vote that the lawmakers were keenly aware of their constituents’ anger, which was focused on A.I.G., although the House measure would apply to executives of any company getting more than $5 billion in federal bailout money.
Hours after the vote, the office of Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York attorney general, said A.I.G. had turned over the names of employees who received bonuses, in response to a subpoena.
Before releasing the list, the attorney general’s office plans to review it and assess whether individuals on it might have reason to fear for their safety.
“We are aware of the security concerns of A.I.G. employees, and we will be sensitive to those issues by doing a risk assessment before releasing any individual’s name,” Mr. Cuomo’s office said in a statement.
Well that's mighty decent of them.
So the bill was openly and unabashedly driven by constituent anger -- anger that cannot possibly be based upon a sober and detailed consideration of whether those particular employees deserved those particular bonuses; in fact, the most likely culprit in ginning up such rage and fury is Congress itself, along with the president, who have been demonizing AIG and its employees for months now. It happened again in the debate on this very bill:
“The people have said ‘no,’ ” Representative Earl Pomeroy, Democrat of North Dakota, shouted on the House floor. “In fact, they said ‘hell no, and give us our money back.’ ”
“Have the recipients of these checks no shame at all?” Mr. Pomeroy continued. Summing up his personal view of the so-far anonymous A.I.G. executives, he said: “You are disgraced professional losers. And by the way, give us our money back.”
Great leaping horny toads. I had to wipe spittle-spray off my face after just reading it! "Disgraced professional losers?" Is Earl "Elmer Gantry" Pomeroy (D-ND, 85%) under the impression that these bonuses are going to the actual folks in the credit default swap area, who are the ones who brought AIG down? Or is Pomeroy just blindly striking out against anyone who makes more money than he?
And while we're on the subject, I think there is not a single Democrat in Congress to whom I could not say, “You are disgraced professional losers; and by the way, give us our money back.” And with a damn sight more justification, Earl.
Contrariwise, John Hinderaker -- my favorite blogger on my favorite blogsite, Power Line -- makes a compelling case that the bonuses were in fact perfectly proper:
- They were retention bonuses, not performance bonuses.
- They were paid, not to the employees responsible for the collapse, but to other employees who have worked hard for months after the collapse to rescue AIG... rather than jumping ship with their expert knowledge of AIG's exact portfolio problems, taking jobs with other companies that had better futures.
- As John writes, "[the employees] satisfied the terms of the bonus by wrapping up a portfolio for which they were responsible and/or staying on the job until now. As a result of the efforts of this group, AIG's financial products exposure is down from $2.7 trillion to $1.6 trillion.
- They stayed at AIG precisely because of those bonuses; but now the government, having eaten the fruit of that labor as an equity holder, wants those bonuses to go, not to the people who earned it, but to the government itself!
But note how carefully the Times dances around the question of who exactly is getting the bonuses, and what those people's roles were in the collapse:
The $165 million in bonuses has spawned rage in part because it was paid to executives in the very unit of A.I.G. that arguably turned a stable, prosperous insurance company into a dice-rolling financial firm in search of quick profits.
But there must have been hundreds of employees working in the financial products division! Does the Times think that every employee, from vice president down to secretary, was personally responsible for the foolish decisions that nearly killed AIG? Do liberals fantasize even that every executive in that division was responsible?
If new (post-collapse) AIG CEO Edward Liddy is telling the truth, and so far no current or former employee has come forth to contradict him, then the bonuses are going to people who were not responsible for the collapse, but are responsible for helping AIG deal with the collapse after the fact.
These are the people that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA, 100%) calls corrupt:
Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House Financial Services Committee and has been among A.I.G.’s fiercest critics, spoke contemptuously of the bonus recipients as people “who had to be bribed not to abandon the company” they had nearly ruined.
Wouldn't that same language, "bribed not to abandon the company," apply to every employee who ever demanded a raise?
It's another example of liberals' inability to deal with complexity; for all their protestations of having more subtle minds, they are really quite simplistic: The poor (and the rich who "represent" them) are always good; the productive core are always bad; and every moral question is the same shade of neutral gray.
John makes the same point as we anent this ridiculous 90% "tax," which is actually a deliberate attempt at confiscation, as the president made clear yesterday in Orange County. John writes:
The legislation introduced by the Democrats today to tax these bonuses (and possibly a few others, although it isn't clear that any others have been or will be paid that are covered by the statute) at a 90 percent rate is an outrage. It is, in my legal opinion, obviously unconstitutional. It is evidently intended to calm the current political firestorm and not to achieve any real objective.
John refers to the legislation as "introduced by the Democrats;" while that's technically true, it's only a half-truth: Democrats may have proposed it, but the House GOP split almost 50-50 on what Hinderaker (a lawyer) and I (a "sea-lawyer") see as an obvious bill of attainder.
In fact, the AP version of the Times article demonstrates Republican cowardice in the House: 87 Republicans voted against the "tax"; but 85 Republicans voted with the Democrats, blaming those retained employees for all of our woes... most switching at the last minute:
Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill was "a political circus" diverting attention from why the administration hadn't done more to block the bonuses before they were paid.
However, although a number of Republicans cast "no" votes against the measure at first, there was a heavy GOP migration to the "yes" side in the closing moments.
This is out and out pandering by the GOP... and it's vile. If we cannot even count on the House Republicans to stand up to liberal demagoguery, to stand up for Capitalism, then what is the point?
It's time for Minority Leader Boehner (R-OH, 100%) to fish or get off the pot: Does he lead a party that is distinct from the liberal Democratic majority, that is center-right, and that still believes in Capitalism, the rule of law, and conservative principles of governance? Has he learned the lessons of 2006 and 2008? Or does Boehner believe that the GOP's best shot at returning to power is to morph into a quieter, gentler version of the Democratic Party, pushing a slightly more restrained version of Obamunism?
I'd really like to know the answer to that conundrum before the next election.
March 2, 2009
A Specter Is Haunting America
Kudos to W. James Antle, III, online editor of the American Spectator, for the absolute best Sen. Arlen Specter (RINO-PA, 40%) title of the week-end: "the Specter That Haunts Conservatives."
Alas, Antle got it slightly wrong; I have corrected it in the title to this post. Antle blew the obvious because he was unable (or afraid) to draw the obvious conclusion: When a Republican ceases to vote with the party even on the most critical, bedrock, GOP issues -- such as the porkapalooza "stimulus" package and TARP II (pure, unadulterated socialism possibly leading to Venezuela-style nationalization of the banking system) and potentially even the "card check" legislation (forced unionization of workplaces, whether the workers want it or not) -- then it's time to dump that Republican in a primary, even if that means a more liberal Democrat is elected.
Why swap King Log for King Stork? Four reasons:
- Even if Specter votes with us on a small handful of less important issues, his presence so muddies the GOP message that it will sap the strength of the party for many election cycles, resulting in a much more catastrophic ultimate collapse than if we simply amputated the gangrenous limb right now.
You can't beat something with nothing. Socialism has a well-defined philosophy of governance -- "Everything inside the State, nothing outside the State," as Mussolini put it -- and their agenda flows directly from that. They have their economic theorists (from Keynes all the way to Marx), their military theorists (from Pelosi all the way to Murtha), and their political theorists (from Ayers and Alinsky to Hillary to Samantha Power to Rahm Emanuel).
If Republicans present muddled messages; if they talk about fiscal responsibility but vote for wildly irresponsible budgets; if they say they support freedom of choice but vote to eliminate the secret ballot in union elections; if they say the most urgent foreign-policy task is to defeat terrorists and Communist extremists, but then they vote to confirm cabinet officials who attack Israel, who apologize for America acting in America's interest, and who kow-tow to Iran, North Korea, and Russia... then how can we possibly ask voters to throw out the Democrats and vote for us? Voters don't even know what Republicans stand for, other than saying No to all the "free money" that Democrats want to give everyone (well, everyone who is a reliable Democratic voter-donor, anyway).
Republicans like today's Arlen Specter make it virtually impossible for the GOP to get its message out -- because nobody within the GOP can reconcile the dichotomous messages of the different Republican factions. Some "diversity" of opinion is fine -- but not on bedrock Republican issues, such as a strong national defense, individual freedom, limited government, traditional moral values, and Capitalism. One by one, we must send the thunderous herd of RINOs packing.
- If Specter moves hard left yet still retains support from the Republican establishment, then won't he do it again and again, with every vote? If he's Arlen Specter today, he'll be Lincoln Chafee next year -- and Jumpin' Jim Jeffords the year after that.
Like in Texas Hold 'Em: If you've got nothing, but you call a raise anyway -- hoping to improve with the next card -- then what are you going to do the next round of betting, when your opponent raises again? You have fewer chances to win, but you're much more deeply invested than the last round, and you may feel even more desperate to defend your rotten hand.
At this point, the entire Republican establishment is lining up behind Specter; they have an awful lot invested in that one senator, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and number-two Republican on Appropriations. So if next month, he is the swing vote that takes away free and fair union elections or opens the door to a return of the inaptly dubbed Fairness Doctrine, the GOP establishment will probably remain behind him.
And if later in the year, Specter provides the critical vote that brings about socialized health care, overturns the ban on partial-birth abortion, overturns the Defense of Marriage Act, or enacts a full-blown amnesty for illegal immigrants (not merely the plea-bargain authored by McCain), well, the committee heads, the minority leader, and Party Chairman Michael Steele will probably be "pot committed" to back him even then. They'll tell Pat Toomey, Specter's likely rival in the GOP primary in Pennsylvania, to go boil his head... despite the fact (or because of it) that Toomey nearly bumped off Specter in the 2004 GOP primary.
And then what do they do when, immediately after winning reelection in 2010, Specter turns his coat and becomes a Democrat -- but doesn't change any of his positions? How can the Republican establishment justify dropping their support for old Arlen?
Specter must be sent packing now, in the 2010 primary... even if the Republican candidate loses. We won't be any worse off on the most critical issues than we are right now.
- The establishment likes Specter because they believe he will be more electable than any conservative replacement on the ticket; but it's actually an open question whether Specter is electable at all today.
For one thing, he has so alienated Pennsylvania Republicans that he will almost certainly get a much smaller percentage of the GOP vote this time than back in 2004. At the same time, the Democratic registration edge over Republicans in that state has doubled. Even if Specter goes heavily liberal, he won't be as acceptable to the Left as whoever is the Democratic nominee: In a race between a Democrat and a "Democrat," the Democrat usually wins.
I think it boils down to this. I believe 2010 will be an expectedly unexpectedly Republican year: Expectedly because it's an off-year election, and those usually result in election losses for the incumbent party; unexpectedly because everyone and his monkey's uncle seems to believe that Democrats are now and will remain invincible for the next thirty years.
I don't accept the latter meme. I believe that public reaction will be very strongly negative to the socialist agenda of President Barack H. Obama and the corrupt and incompetent congressional Democrats. I believe we will end up winning a number of races that are written off as hopeless now... but only if we have a candidate who is not compromised by his own complicity.
If, on the other hand, I'm wrong, and it's not a Republican year -- then Specter is toast as well. So what difference does it make? We need to give Specter the boot in the primary, and the Republican leadership should lead the way; thus we'll be ready if 2010 is a better year than expected -- and poised if the turnaround year is 2012 or 2014, instead.
- "Pour l'encouragement des autres," as I believe Voltaire said.
This one is really simple: If we can knock off an old warhorse like Arlen Specter for deviating too far from mainstream Republicanism -- even if his conservative replacement on the ticket loses the general election -- that will put the fear of God (or at least the fear of GOP) in other putative "moderate" Republicans. If Lisa Murkowski (R-AK, 67%), or Dick Lugar (R-IN, 60%), or Susan Collins (R-ME, 30% !), or Olympia Snowe (R-ME, 28% !!!) is defeated in a primary election, it doesn't help the dumpee if the Democrat subsequently wins the general election; dumpee is still out pounding the pavement, perhaps holding a sign reading "will compromise ethics for praise in the Times."
To quote Bill Clinton (talking to some other jackanapes), It's time for Arlen Specter to go. It's time for the Republican conference to grow a spine and back strong challengers, whenever the incrumbent Republican does nothing but give ammunition to the Democrats. It's time for Republicans to pay as much attention to party loyalty as the Democrats do: We should not allow officeholders to call themselves Republicans when they disagree with American GOP voters on the most fundamental aspects of Republicanism.
It's time, in short, for Republicans to stop being the "party of orderly succession" and become "the party of consistency, clarity, and honesty."
It's only then, I believe, that we can become "the party of winning elections" once more.
November 24, 2008
Go West, Young Man
I don't believe anybody has yet noted that President-Erect Barack H. Obama, by choosing (as it now seems clear) Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as his Secretary of Homeland Security (!) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as his Secretary of Commerce, has opened the door a crack for Republicans in those states.
Both governors are very popular... and both states are up for grabs. It's not like selecting Joe Biden as running mate; there was never any danger that Biden's Senate seat would end up being filled by a Republican. But both Arizona and New Mexico are battleground states, up for grabs in the 2012 presidential election.
Arizona voted for John S. McCain in the election, of course; but that's hardly surprising, with a favorite son running. However, it was a disturbingly close: 52.5% for McCain to 45.1% for Obama, a margin of 7.4%. New Mexico was a bigger win for the Democrats than Arizona was for the Republicans: Obama took it by 56.9% to McCain's 41.8%, a 15.1% Democratic victory. I believe in both states, a popular Democratic governor wooed a significant portion of the voters to the left (and of course, in both states, a very large percentage of the voters are Hispanic, and Hispanics lined up behind Obama this year).
In the previous election, New Mexico went to the GOP by the slim and unconvincing margin of 49.9% for George W. Bush to 49.0% for John Kerry, a difference of less than one percent; while Arizona went to the GOP by double digits, 54.9% Bush to 44.4% Kerry (Bush +10.5) -- considerably more robust than it went for Arizonan John McCain this election. Had McCain been from somewhere else, I suspect Arizona would have teetered on the knife-edge and might well have fallen to the Democrat.
Clearly, Obama thought that selecting the two governors for his cabinet would advantage the Democrats: Both Richardson and Napolitano are term-limited out in 2010; they would have to leave anyway. But their successors will get to run for reelection in 2010 as incumbents, instead of duking it out for an open seat.
In New Mexico, the successor to Bill Richardson is a Democrat, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish; but in Arizona, the successor to Janet Napolitano is Secretary of State Jan Brewer -- a Republican (Arizona has no lieutenant governor, so the secretary of state succeeds the governor upon the latter's resignation). Thus, Napolitano's selection immediately puts a Republican in the Arizona statehouse and sets her up as an incumbent to win in 2010.
But what about Denish in New Mexico? It's clear that she is given a boost by getting to run as the incumbent; but even so, I cannot see her as anywhere near as strong a candidate as Richardson was in his two elections. Though Obama has done what he could to help out in that race, the GOP has more of a chance there than they did in either 2002 or 2006.
It may seem a small thing, having a chance to convert two Democratic governorships to Republican hands. But it's of such "little things" that big results can flow. If Brewer can hold Arizona, and if a Republican can defeat Diane Denish in New Mexico, then it's somewhat more likely that in the presidential election of 2012, the GOP can once again hold Arizona's ten electoral votes (which had seemed dangerously close to flipping) and might even return New Mexico's five back into red territory.
Without the "rage against the red" that characterized 2006 and 2008, its unlikely that former red states such as Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada will remain blue; while even states that have been drifting a bit leftwards (such as Virginia and Colorado) will be more winnable by the Republican nominee... particularly if the nominee is someone exciting, like Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal, running against a Barack Obama who has lost his aura of newness, change, and hope in the crush of day to day governing.
Add in a possible New Mexico, and we have the nucleus of victory in 2012. Every little bit helps.
June 4, 2008
Talking Islam 3.5: Response to Thomas Joscelyn (and Wolf Howling)
The proprietor of Wolf Howling ("GW") left a cryptic comment on Big Lizards wondering whether I would like to respond to his post... in which he critiques both a Big Lizards post and (wait for it) the response to that post on the Weekly Standard website.
Needless to say, I had no idea the Weekly Standard had done such a thing. But it made some sense, as my earlier post had attacked a small section of a book review by Thomas Joscelyn of that revered magazine. For some unfathomable reason, he chose to respond there, where he has an audience of tens of thousands, rather than commenting on our rather obscure blog with its audience of tens of hundreds.
I was going to respond to Joscelyn first, as befitting his august personage; but after reading the relevant post at Wolf Howling -- Much Lizardly Ado About . . . A Little Something -- I realize that GW's point is a necessary precursor to my response to TJ: It gives me the nudge to expand upon what I meant by an "ideological counterinsurgency" -- that it's not merely some minor linguistic changes suggested by a couple of memos, useful though they may be, but a much larger enterprise that will require total committment by our government and many other allied governments.
But every journey starts with a single crawl... and it's self-defeating to hoot and jeer at the crawler because he didn't start with a sprint.
So let's start with Wolf Howling. Here, on a nutshell, is Mr. Howling's critique of (what he believes to be) my position:
Dafydd is right, we absolutely need an ideological counterinsurgency. Defeating al Qaeda physically and stopping Iran’s deadly meddling throughout the Middle East are only treating the symptoms. Both could go away tomorrow, yet our nation will still not be safe from terrorism in the long run at the hands of radical Islamists. That is because the ideology underlying "radical Islam" is what has to be countered. And on that issue, we have failed utterly because have never defined "radical Islam...."
Understand that among those who favor Dafydd’s approach are most of the Wahhabi / Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the U.S. Those organizations have spared no expense and no effort to get the U.S. to stop making a connection between Islam, terrorism and jihadism. I fully realize this is not what Dafydd is advocating, but the danger of only going forward on the semantics is that you obfuscate the true nature of the problem and allow the Wahhabists and Salafists off the hook. Their goal is simple -- they want to metasticize in the West without challenge. Without the first step of utter and absolute clarity about the Wahhabi / Salafi / Khomeini sources of Islamic terrorism, mere semantic changes will only further obfuscate the issues -- with a net gain to the Salafists.
My only response to this is that, when I said the semantic changes out of DHS and the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) were a good first step, I meant a good first step for them: That is, I'm glad they have finally realized that an ideological counterinsurgency is just as important for winning the Long War as a military counterinsurgency... both are necessary, urgent, and long overdue.
On the larger issue, I agree with Wolf Howling completely; these linguistic changes cannot be the sum total of the ideological counterinsurgency, and I certainly never meant to imply that they should. He's also right that if they become the entirety, if we fail to confront directly the terrorists' arguments that Islam demands (their understanding of) jihad, then we're in for several very grim decades indeed, with no guarantee that we will win.
But I don't for one moment believe that even the State Department thinks that these minor (but helpful) semantic changes fulfill our duty to respond to the ideology of death. I'm sure they understand we need more... but I'm not at all sure they're on board the full campaign I (and probably you) envision -- and that is definitely a problem.
I believe we need to undertake a full-scale propaganda campaign:
- We -- by we, I mean everybody who opposes the radical militant Islamists -- must clearly identify the schools, both physical facilities and schools of thought, that teach/preach the radical interpretations of Islam that theologically underpin the Islamic death cults;
We must counter those schools and their arguments with alternative interpretations that are just as theologically sound... which means, I am convinced, working with Islamic scholars and clerics who have already been doing this for many years, including (a non-exhaustive list):
- The "Quietist" school of Shiism, whose spiritual leader at the moment is Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf;
- The Indonesian Sunni organization Nahdlatul Ulama -- the largest Moslem organization in the world with perhaps as many as 40 million members -- which is headed by Abdurrahman Wahid, a.k.a. Gus Dur;
- And the Turks, who are currently opening schools around the world that are teaching a non-violent (or at least much less violent) sect of Islam to counter the influence of the Salafist/Wahhabist schools financed and run by radical Saudi clerics.
They have far more credibilty than we; but we must be careful not to buddy up to them too closely, lest we create an obvious line of attack against them by our enemies. Nobody trusts a sock puppet (except maybe Glenn Greenwald).
- And most important, we must get both State and Defense on board with the program... and also Congress. I'm afraid this will be the hardest task, but it's vital if we're to present a unified front against the enemy. About the only hope would be if the Senate would confirm a "John Bolton"-like nominee as Secretary of State, one who could actually clean house in that wretched, out of control bureaucracy, whose Statethink has swallowed up my second favorite gal, Condoleezza Rice.
(Note that the memos also caution against using the word "Islamist" because it's too easily confused with "Islam," especially by listeners whose native language is not English. But I'm addressing an English-speaking audience of above-average intelligence here, so I'm not going to avoid the term.)
I certainly never meant the linguistic changes to be the entirety of our ideological counterinsurgency; but I do welcome them as an indication that both DHS and State are finally, belatedly, realizing that we desperately need a propaganda offensive (and that there is nothing inherently offensive about propaganda) -- one that is always truthful, because a lie discovered is catastrophic; always respectful of contrary opinion, because a challenge unanswered is a challenger unpersuaded; and relentlessly pro-American and pro-West, because we should never pay for the privilege of being smeared. (I wish VOA followed this rule!)
They see the need for a propaganda offensive; I don't think they're ready yet for the propaganda offensive that we actually need. Just as Moslems can change, so too can bureaucrats.
But it won't be easy, because one characteristic of the West is the reflexive self-destructive tendencies of large portions of it... mainly the Democratic Left, which includes many elements within America and our government. The last time the Democratic Left was solidly behind America was during World War II... when we were allied with the Soviet Union. Most European countries will not follow us down the road of a pro-West propaganda blitz; they're too busy gnashing their teeth about the failings of Capitalism, democracy, and liberty to notice that we're in an existential war with Islamic death cults that want to obliterate us -- and raise in our place a world-wide sharia-state.
So we'll have to go it more or less alone; the U.K. might help, and we'll get sporadic aid from this or that European country that happens to be somewhat more conservative at the moment (France, perhaps, or Italy now that Berlusconi is back; maybe Germany). What we really need is a president who is a hugely effective communicator, and who is on board for the propaganda campaign.
I'm not sure that John McCain is up to the task; but after Barack H. Obama's liberal-fascist moment yesterday after the last primaries, I doubt he's even sure which side he's on.
Regardless, the last thing in the world we should do is heap scorn and mockery on the heads of those professionals at the Department of Homeland Security or the National Counter Terrorism Center who are actually trying to get the ball rolling on such a project. And that segue brings me to the response by Thomas Joscelyn to our Big Lizards post...
Joscelyn was evidently -- annoyed? ticked off? incensed? -- perturbed by our post here, where I rhetorically took him to the woodshed for, in my opinion, unfairly attacking civil servants who were "finally doing something right on the urgent task of confronting the terrorist ideology," as I put it in our first post on this subject. He defended himself hotly in a post on his Weekly Standard blog yesterday.
(Since I cannot imagine that he ordinarily reads Big Lizards, I presume someone sent him a link.)
Let's get one point out of the way immediately. Joscelyn wrote:
First, he claims that I misrepresent this January 2008 memo from the Department of Homeland Security. He says that I "never actually read the memo itself" and that the term "'jihadist' was not banned"; instead "the memo suggests caution." Here is what I actually wrote: "Just as Willful Blindness was released, the State Department and other agencies published an edict banning the use of the word 'jihadist' (as well as similar terms) from the government's lexicon."
And here's the problem: I never referred to this DHS memo Dafydd cites either directly or indirectly in this sentence or anywhere else in my review. (And, by the way, I actually had read this DHS memo, which is logically and factually flawed in many ways.) I was referring to an even more recent memo accepted by the State Department, which endorsed the ban--that's right, ban--of the use of terms like jihadist.
I accept the correction; I was wrong to leap to the conclusion that he was responding to the memo from the Department of Homeland Security we already linked in previous posts, when in fact he was responding to a memo written by the Extremist Messaging Branch at the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), and released through the State Department. I apologize to Mr. Joscelyn, and I have corrected our earlier post to take this into account.
However, the NCTC memo makes exactly the same argument as the DHS memo as to why we should use certain words and not use others. This is the argument that Joscelyn fails to engage, and indeed does not appear even to understand. Thus, all of my points still apply with minimal modification.
And as to this supposed "ban," he is correct that the NCTC memo says, "Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahideen' in conversation to describe the terrorists," which sounds pretty emphatic.
But not so fast; on the very first page, that same memo says this:
The following set of suggestions regarding appropriate language for use in conversations with target audiences was developed by the Extremist Messaging Branch of the National Counterterrorism Center [NCTC] and vetted by the interagency "Themes and Messages" editorial board at the CTCC. This advice is not binding and is for use with our audiences. It does not affect other areas such as policy papers, research analysis, scholarly writing, etc. The purpose of this paper is to raise awareness among communicators of the language issues that may enhance or detract from successhl engagement.
Joscelyn writes, "Sounds like a ban to me;" I say, sounds like a non-binding suggestion.
The blunting of the snark
The next matter appears trivial, but in fact, it cuts right to the problem I have with Joscelyn's response to the memo(s) -- and with the responses of Bruce Thornton at the National Review and Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch. Joscelyn tries to score a "touch" against me, but in fact reveals that he simply doesn't get my point:
Second, Dafydd apparently believes that we should call this conflict the "war against global caliphism," or some such. He uses the phrase repeatedly. (Ironically, the web link to his posts on the "war against global caliphism" contains the phrase "war on global jihadism)." [Not ironic; easily explained by the time evolution of that category title. See below.] In that case, he should not be too fond of the NCTC memo, which was approved by State and other agencies, either. For example, the NCTC memo notes:Avoid the term "caliphate," which has positive connotations for Muslims, to describe the goal of al-Qaida and associated groups. The best description of what they really want to create is a "global totalitarian state."
Will Dafydd submit to the NCTC's will, and avoid using the phrase "war against global caliphism"?
I feel such a temptation to say, "well there's yer problem right there!" (I never resist temptation.)
Yes, I have been using the phrase "war against global caliphism." Up until about a year ago (June 29th, 2007), I used "war against global jihad." But that month, I read articles by Col. David Kilcullen, then the senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen. David Petraeus (then commander of MNF-I) and by Jim Guirard (following up on the Kilcullen article), both on Small Wars Journal; together, they called for "a [new] lexicon to better describe the threat" America and the West face from militant Islamist terrorists and what the DHS memo suggests we call Islamic "death cultists."
I saw where Giurard was heading with this and thought it an excellent idea. So as a first cut at not using bin Laden's vocabulary to describe bin Laden, I changed our category title from "war against global jihad."
Nota bene: Changing the title only changes the title; it doesn't automatically go through thousands of blog posts changing any earlier reference to "global jihadism"... which is why Joscelyn found earlier posts that contained that phrase.
He thought this anomalous somehow, as if it would have been more proper for me to scrub the site of all evidence of my evolving thinking. That's not how we work here at Big Lizards; we believe in transparency... when we change our minds, we don't make stealth corrections: I actually blogged about making this change before I did it.
I hope this clears up the supposed "irony" that puzzled Joscelyn.
I first changed the category title to "war against global hirabah," (unholy war); then I decided that was was too obscure: Calling them "hirabis" was akin to calling them "disestablishmentarians" or "vampires;" you can't just say it, you have to take ten minutes explaining.
I was still looking for a pithy but entirely accurate and truthful phrase to describe who -- and what -- we were fighting. I settled (with misgivings) on the "war against global caliphism." I figured the most salient feature of the revolutionary, radical enemy I was trying to name was that he wanted to overthrow all existing order, particularly democracies where people could choose their own lives, and impose a world caliphate. But I've never truly been satisfied with that term either.
But the point is that I'm not encased in amber; I'm not eternally wedded to any particular term -- nor should any of us be, including Thomas Joscelyn: We should use whatever term best describes the enemy, without adding to the neurolinguistic problem by using his own, self-congratulatory vision of himself as a "holy warrior" (mujahideen) fighting a "holy war" (jihad) against the Great Satan (us).
Far from being "not... too fond of the NCTC memo" because it suggests not using caliphate, I appreciate the guidance by actual experts (as should Joscelyn); I didn't know that it was also flattering to the terrorists; now that I do, I'll stop using that, too.
It has nothing to do with "submit[ing] to the NCTC's will;" submission is the hallmark of Islam, not Americanism. (In fact, I believe the very word "Islam" translates to submission.) But as a patriotic American -- and out of pure self-interest as a person who really prefers living in a free democracy than a sharia state -- I will freely choose to use a better term, as soon as I can think of one. (And when I do, you'll still be able to find earlier posts that use the old phrase. C'est la guerre.)
But I cannot imagine Joscelyn switching for any reason. He and many other conservatives are locked in embrace with whatever terminology they first learned; they act exasperated, even infuriated, when told they should change it, no matter how good the reason.
I believe Joscelyn objects to the memos not because the suggestions they made were inherently bad; rather, his main objection is having to switch at all! That would explain why he never articulated any actual argument against the terms themselves: His core objection is that they're not the ones he's always used (or at least used for so many years).
This may well be the defining difference between us: He wants to continue using the familiar term he's comfortable with, whereas I want to use what works best today, in this conflict. Even if that means change.
Jihad or not jihad, that is the question
And that brings us to Joscelyn's non-response, where he doesn't engage the root of my first post:
Third, and most importantly, "jihadist" and similar terms are appropriate. The government's argument to the contrary is simply wrong. For example, the authors of the NCTC memo argue that using "jihadis" to describe our enemies "unintentionally legitimizes their action." Dafydd picks up on this argument (via the DHS memo I didn't cite [which is also made by the NCTC memo Joscelyn did cite]) when he writes that calling our enemies jihadis is not a smart move "because it confers upon the militant Islamists exactly the legitimacy they crave."
This is wrong for too many reasons to list here. [Oh please, give it a stab, Mr. J.] U.S. policymakers are not granting unintentional legitimacy to the terrorists by calling them jihadis. The jihadis already have legitimacy in the eyes of many because their actions are explicitly endorsed by leading Islamic clerics. [Parenthetical comments and emphasis added.]
All right; "in the eyes of many." But what about the millions of other "manys" who do not look to radical Islamic clerics (leading or not) for moral guidance on jihad? What about those sitting on the fence, with their mugs on one side and their wumps on the other, unsure what to think? They may notice that the terrorists always seem to have their theological enablers (Zawahiri, Khomeini, Sadr), but they also their opponents -- who are also respected clerics. So who's right?
Linguistical tactics can certainly change the dynamic of a debate; but they only have a determinative effect on a small subset of listeners. Most people have already made up their minds, and they only listen to confirm what they already believe. But there are always those who really aren't sure, and they can be won over by the right word -- or lost by the wrong.
That subset may be critical, depending on how near a philosophical tipping point we are. Anent Iraq, for example, it didn't take many passive supporters to create the ratline of safe houses and supplies, informants and intelligencers, that the terrorist groups needed to operate. Consequently, it didn't take a large conversion to flip al-Qaeda or Iranian hegemony into American victory.
In Anbar, Baghdad, Baqouba, Diyala, and other Iraqi provinces in late 2007-early 2008, we contacted Sunni "Salvation Councils," connected them to each other, and supported them in an uprising against al-Qaeda: We turned enough Sunni Iraqis that AQI finally collapsed into ruin. Later, we did the same with the Shia in Basra and the Sadr City slums of Baghdad City, and the Iran-backed militias in Iraq are steadily losing ground as well. We're well on our way to complete victory in Iraq, what Osama bin Laden called the central front in the war between al-Qaeda and the West.
We didn't do this by a mass conversion of radicals to mainstream Islam; the Sunni and Shia are likely just as religiously Islamic as they ever were. Rather, this fight was fought on the definitions: They had to convince themselves that the terrorists were not fighting on the side of God but on the side of their own ambition, or on the side of external, power-mad nations like Iran.
Again, such a paradigm change doesn't occur as a mass movement; it begins with a small cadre of respected insiders, who then, over the space of time, persuade their tribes and their coreligionists. But we may have helped them along by not undercutting them, by not routinely calling their al-Qaeda enemies "holy warriors" fighting a "holy war" against the Great Satan, thus contradicting what tribal leaders and members of the Salvation Councils were arguing.
If changing our lexicon, as Col. Kilcullen and Jim Guirard suggest, can help turn a small cadre away from the terrorists and towards us, help even a little, then why try to laugh it off the stage?
To attack the linguistic approach of the DHS and the NCTC, Joscelyn needs to demonstrate (not simply assert) one of three conditions:
- That the new approach will have little good effect. But if it will do no harm, either, why not do it -- along with other things?
- That it may have a good effect; but there is something better we can do, which will have a much greater good effect, yet is fundamentally incompatible with the linguistic approach. If this is his argument, then what is this "something better," and why is it incompatible with the memos? Joscelyn is mum on both these questions.
- Finally, he can argue that the government's approach will actually have a negative effect. But if that's his argument, shouldn't he be prepared to explain exactly what that bad effect is? Again, he enunicates no downside to this approach.
Those are the only rhetorical options; all else is mishnah.
Now getting back to Wolf Howling's point, I certainly agree that the linguistic changes suggested by the memos are not enough to qualify as an ideological counterinsurgency.
Heck, they're not even enough to fully meet Col. Kilcullen's call for a "new lexicon." He was primarily talking about a new way for our military to approach the sort of counterinsurgencies we're fighting against ideological Islamic terrorist groups... for example, Kilcullen objects that the phrase "major combat operations" -- or as the doctrine was actually termed, Phase III Decisive Operations -- "actively hinders innovative thought" by misleading commanders into thinking that the tank, artillery, and massive infantry actions of early 2003 would literally be "decisive;" when in fact, as Kilcullen puts it, the most critical phase would actually be the post-conflict nation-building and counterinsurgency.
Kilcullen's new lexicon would go far beyond what the memos suggest; but it surely encompasses such a minor linguistic change as well.
Hearts, minds, and stomachs
Joscelyn argues that "many" Moslems have already made up their minds that terrorism against the West is holy war. This is certainly true... but it's also a non-sequitur, since nobody has ever argued that there is not a large group of Islamic clerical terrorist enablers. Even the militant Islamists and terrorist collaborators in CAIR admit that much!
But does Joscelyn accept, even now, that there are many Moslem mugwumps? That for many of them, "jihad" and "mujahideen" are entirely positive terms that help legitimize the death cultists and human sacrificers?
If he doesn't accept this premise, then does he believe there are no undecideds? Does he dispute that for these undecideds, words like "jihad" and "mujahideen" have mostly positive connotations -- as they do for most Moslems, according to the DHS memo (which Joscelyn has also read)?
Or does he believe -- most likely, I think -- that nothing we say or do can possibly have any effect on these undecideds; that they pay attention only to Moslem clerics? If so, then I wish he would straightforwardly make that argument... because I simply don't buy it as is.
We have always insisted that a critical element of warfare is to win the "hearts and minds" of those on the enemy side who are not totally committed to his cause; that tactic presupposes that such persuasion is at least possible.
It seems to have been possible among some Germans in Nazi Germany, among some citizens of Warsaw Pact nations, and among many North Vietnamese: In all of those conflicts, we had many allies within the enemy ranks, just as they had a number of their own allies within ours.
Are Moslems uniquely immune to the lure of such Western -- and not necessarily anti-Islamic -- concepts as democracy, security, and tolerance of individual opinion? I don't believe this, and I'm sure that Thomas Joscelyn doesn't either. But if we agree that such propaganda is sometimes effective, and that there is no inherent reason why that general rule wouldn't apply within the Islamic world... then why not try using it?
What can we possibly lose by refusing to call terrorist butchers and their depraved human sacrifices "holy?" Why should we continue to provide four-part harmony to their self-serving song of themselves? If Joscelyn will answer that question, I promise to ponder his argument deeply (as deep as I'm capable of being).
The only remaining question is whether we have the will -- the stomach -- to inaugurate an all-out propaganda campaign to win whatever hearts and minds we can, hoping they will form the nucleus of the only real, long-term solution to our problem: an Islamic Enlightenment, similar to what Christianity went through in the eighteenth century.
I cede Joscelyn his first point, that he was thinking of a different memo (NCTC's) -- whose argument was nevertheless identical to several decimal points to the one I thought he meant (DHS's).
On his second point, he is correct that I have changed my own use of language as I read new arguments why our lexicon matters; but the reason is not that I obey orders and "submit" to the will of my masters, but rather that I don't consider some phrase I'm currently using to be an "eternal verity" that can never change. I always consider the opinion of those more expert than I that there may be better terminology to use... and so should everyone, including Mr. Joscelyn.
Rhetoric should be a movable verity, one that changes as circumstances change... yet always strives toward the ultimate goal.
But Thomas Joscelyn loses the most important point by default: There is no reason to mock these memos as mere semantics -- when semantics can have such a large impact on a small but critically placed group of Moslem mugwumps. The linguistic change may do some good; it fits in well with what a recognized military expert on the pointy end has suggested; the changes were designed by other recognized experts within the government bureaucracy; and not even Thomas Joscelyn has articulated any bad effects such a change would cause... other than repeating his mantra that we have "fail[ed] to name the enemy" because we use a different name than the familiar, comfortable one Thomas Joscelyn prefers.
Color me unrepentant, unregenerate, and uncowed.
June 3, 2008
Talking Islam 3: the "Jihad" Watchdog
Frequent commenter Wtanksleyjr challenged me to respond to this blogpost by Robert Spencer. Spencer attacks a State Department memo -- actually prepared by the Extremist Messaging Branch at the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) and released through the State Department -- that urges the U.S. government to change the lexicon by which it refers to militant Islamists and terrorists.
In fact, Spencer does not respond to the memo itself, which he neither links nor quotes. He responds only to the Times op-ed by P. W. Singer of the liberal Brookings Institution and Elina Noor of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia, and what the op-ed says about the memo. But his attack is no more effective than earlier attacks on the earlier DHS memo with which we've already dealt....
Our previous posts on this issue are:
- Talking Islam 1: Why Bret Stephens Acted the Fool, and Why Heather Wilhelm Needs a Neuron Infusion;
- Talking Islam 2: A Bad Meme Infects the Conservative Meme Pool.
Spencer is often cited as an authority on Islam, but he is actually just a pundit like the rest of us. (If you want an actual Islamic scholar, try Bernard Lewis.) He writes columns for some magazines -- and several of them are quite good. This isn't meant as a fisking of Spencer, whose heart is in the right place. Alas, I just don't think his rhetorical abilities are up to the task.
Spencer has very rigid, unchangeable views on Islam... which he sees (surprise) as rigid and unchangeable. Reading the Truth About Muhammad, Spencer's best known book, Sachi found numerous examples of verses that Spencer insisted could only possibly be read one way, as commanding eternal war against the infidel; yet she, herself thought of several contrary yet equally apropos ways to read the same verses. She was not impressed by his critical thinking.
And neither have I been, when I've read his articles... even when I agree with him, as with his attacks on Iran appeasers and on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-CAIR, 100%). Alas, this piece is no exception.
At first, I thought Spencer was going to give us a different argument:
At issue here is whether it is propagandistic, and playing into the hands of the enemy, to call Osama bin Laden and others like him "jihadists," or whether it is merely descriptive to do so -- in which case avoiding doing so would be playing into the hands of the enemy, for if we cannot name the enemy correctly, we certainly cannot defeat him.
This sounds like he correctly understands that the point of the memo is not to assuage the hurt feelings of the terrorists in the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), but rather to deny a propaganda victory to the terrorists. But reading further, he switches to making exactly the same mistake as the other conservatives who have attacked that memo (or in Spencer's case, a New York Times op-ed on the memo in place of the memo itself):
Here is the fundamental assumption of the new State Department guidelines, as well as of Singer and Noor: that the jihadists are twisting the meaning of jihad within Islam, appropriating for their own purposes what is in traditional Islam a spiritual struggle or a struggle for justice. Singer and Noor appear unaware that the term jihad fi sabeel Allah in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition refers specifically to warfare. They also probably do not realize that in Islamic theology justice is equated with Sharia, such that an "external fight for justice" is a fight to impose Islamic law, with its denial of the freedom of conscience and institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims.
No, no, no! Nobody I have read -- including liberals Singer and Noor -- argues that the word "jihad" cannot mean armed conflict to advance justice and godliness; this is the mother of all straw men in this debate. This is the "bad meme" I referred to in Talking Islam 2.
The underlying assumption behind the memo is that language influences how people think; this is a core conclusion of neurolingistics. If we agree publicly with al-Qaeda that what they're actually doing -- bombing their way across the ummah -- constitutes "armed conflict to advance justice and godliness," then we have lost the propaganda campaign.
Let's take a cleaner example: We all know what Hezbollah is; it's a bloodthirsty death cult that butchers people by the thousands, without regard to race, religion, or even creed... just anybody that the Iranian political leaders tell them to bomb, shoot, or otherwise slay.
But what do they call themselves? Hezbollah literally translates as "army of God." Every time we say Hezbollah this or Hezbollah that, linguistically, we're agreeing with the gangsters that they're God's holy army on earth.
If instead we relentlessly and mercilessly called them "Iran's mercenaries," "Iran's gangsters," or "Iran's enforcers" -- which, by the way, is much more accurate and (Spencer's term) "descriptive" than calling them the army of God -- we use linguistics to drive home the point, to anyone who hears or reads what we say, that they're not a "holy force" trying to unify the ummah behind the true Islam, but rather just a brutal and thuggish army-without-uniforms that does the bidding of whoever currently runs Iran... whether that's Ali Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or perhaps tomorrow, Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.
Whether such neugolinguistic tactics work, they certainly cannot hurt. And it's hardly "PC" to refuse to call these terrorists the "army of God" and instead call them "Iran's enforcers."
In his blogpost, Spencer writes:
Al-Qaeda and other contemporary jihadists did not originate this definition of jihad from Ibn Arafa, a scholar of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, who explains that jihad is "fighting by a Muslim against a kaafir [unbeliever] (who does not have a treaty with the Muslims) to make the word of Allah the highest."
But that begs the question, for this is not what al-Qaeda is doing. They're not trying to "make the word of Allah the highest;" they're trying to make the word of Osama bin Laden (or perhaps his spritual mentor, Ayman Zawahiri) the highest. Most of their energy is spent in murdering "fellow" Moslems with whom they disagree over politics. At best, they're sectarian killers trying to assassinate their way into control of the ummah. How is it "PC" to consistently and relentlessly point this out -- and to deny them their preferred, self-congratulatory term for themselves?
The problem with Robert Spencer is that he is utterly locked into the belief that we are basically at war with Islam itself; that Islam is irredeemably evil; that the Koran can only be read to authorize -- nay, command! -- eternal, bloody war against the West. He insists that Islam must change; but the change he appears to envision is not an Islamic enlightenment but a mass Islamic conversion... which I think he knows isn't going to happen.
Spencer simply does not believe that contemporary Moslems will ever turn against this so-called "jihad." How, then, does he explain the fact that many Moslem nations and the largest of the Moslem religious organizations disagree with him? Simple: He doesn't.
For Spencer's point to carry, he must deny that this is so:
- He cannot admit, for example, that Turkey is a functioning democracy that has not attacked its neighbors (or the West) since the the Ottoman Empire fell and, a few years later, the Republic of Turkey was created.
- He must pretend that Iraq can never be a functioning democracy that supports the West (despite the fact that it already is).
- He must insist that he knows more about the Koran than Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Abdurrahman Wahid, a.k.a. Gus Dur, and any other Islamic scholar or cleric who comes out foursquare against what Spencer calles "jihadism"; either that, or else he must accuse everybody who has ever reported on any of these "mainstream," nonviolent Moslems of lying and fabricating quotations to make them look good.
Spencer is an absolutist -- which means that it's impossible to disagree with him unless you're either a fool, an appeaser... or a "jihadist" yourself. He often doesn't even understand the arguments arrayed against his position; and he sometimes replaces them with superficially similar arguments he has already rejected.
For example, I have long derided the term "Islamofascist," or the even stupider term of Michael Medved, "Islamo-Nazi." Spencer later published an article that attacked my position (not because of me; I doubt he's ever even heard of Dafydd ab Hugh or Big Lizards... but others have objected as well); you can find it here.
Now there have been historical examples of Islamic forms of fascism; the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, as well as the political philosophy of Gamal Abdel Nasser, president-for-life of Egypt from 1954-1970. But the term is not used that precisely; in fact, it's flung willy nilly at any Islamic group that practices terror, whether they're religious or socialist, pan-Islamic or only pan-Arabic, a putative "jihadist" group or a revolutionary group. The phrase Islamofascist is therefore utterly useless, because it has no set meaning other than "I don't like you."
Here is Spencer defending the term "Islamo-Fascism" as its used, without even looking into the different kinds of groups that acquire the epithet:
First things first: "Islamo-Fascism" has connections to fascism, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, because “both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind.” Both are nostalgic for past glory, obsessed with real and imagined humiliations and thirsty for revenge, filled with anti-Semitism, and committed to sexual repression and its subordination of the female.
Hitchens is a great guy in some ways; but as a critical thinker, he leaves much to be desired. He opposes Islamist terrorism -- but he equally opposes Capitalism (Hitchens is a proud socialist). These similarities exist... but few besides Robert Spencer would use the Hitchens equation as the definition of fascism. Spencer continues:
There is nothing artful or contrived in the term “Islamo-Fascism.” It is derived from history itself. Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (from which today’s radical Muslim groups descend) was, after all, an open admirer and supporter of Adolf Hitler -- as was the principal theorist of the modern jihad, Sayyid Qutb. During World War II, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, cousin of Yasir Arafat and spiritual godfather of Palestinian nationalism, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, pronounced his pro-Nazi sympathies openly and proudly. In May 1941, he issued a fatwa calling upon the Germans to bomb Tel Aviv, and in November 1941 traveled to Berlin and met with Hitler. He implored the Nazi dictator to help implement a Final Solution in the Middle East. Then he went to the Balkans, where he spearheaded the creation of Muslim units of the Waffen SS.
Does it occur to Spencer that this is nothing but an alliance for common cause? Hitler wanted to obliterate Judaism; Islamic radical militants want to obliterate Judaism. But that does not mean that Islamic terrorism is best described as "Naziism." For one major difference, very few Islamic terrorist groups are avowedly atheist. (And even fewer worship the Germanic pagan god Wotan.)
But such public German paganism (and private atheism) were just as central to Naziism as was Jew hatred. And of course, Italian fascism had nothing to do with race-based Jew hatred... at least not until it was taken over by the Nazis, relegating the founder of fascism, Benito Mussolini, to the status of sidekick.
Finally, Spencer gives us yet another definition of Islamofascism:
In terms of the specific terrorist groups and entities mentioned in the MSA packet, all of them -- along with many others -- have indeed made clear that they wish to destroy the United States and dominate the world under an oppressive caliphate – that is, a unified Islamic state ruled by Islamic Sharia law
Rule by theocracy under the supposed direct word of God... how is this the least bit like actual fascism? Is Spencer saying that any empire that sought to "dominate the world" was fascist? Alexander, Caesar, the British Empire -- was Napoleon a fascist? If so, then that word no longer has any meaning.
What Spencer has done here is replace the initial argument -- that we shouldn't use the term "Islamofascism" because it's a poorly defined and misleading neologism -- with a much easier, straw-man argument: That we shouldn't use the term because it's insulting to peace-loving "jihadis." The second argument can be knocked down by simply showing that militant Islamism is, well, militant; while that may be a necessary condition to being "fascist," it's by no means sufficient. And the term fails the other required test... showing that fascism is the correct brand of militarism to use as an analogy to militant Islamism.
This technique is classical Spencerism.
My argument against the term Islamofascism is twofold: First, the second part of the term, "fascism," is so powerful linguistically that it utterly overshadows the first part, "Islam;" yet the most salient fact about militant Islamism is its Islamic character and pretensions... not any putative connection to the economic theories of Mussolini (or Hitler, for that matter).
Second, associating contemporary Islamic death cults with the Fascists or the Nazis fails to note how incredibly primitive and reactionary the former are... fascism and Naziism are twentieth-century heresies of modernity; but radical militant Islamism utterly rejects modernity and civilization, urgently demanding a retreat to the barbaric absolute monarchy of the dawn of the seventh century in the Middle East. "Sharia" terrorists don't even rise to the civilizational level of Nazis.
Fascists would consider such a position even lower on the evolutionary scale than "capitalist imperialism." Calling such human-sacrificing throwbacks "Islamofascists" is like dubbing some aggressive, stone-age warrior-tribe in Melanesia "cannibal-fascists."
Spencer never addresses either of these two points; instead, he fixates on the idea that it's not politically correct and might insult Islamic terrorists... a pair of straw men easily brushed aside with a minimum of intellectual effort.
Back to the core argument. What Spencer does not appear to understand is that religions really do change; but they change internally when their earlier paradigm ceases to work. We have good evidence that Islam hit that point of non-viability in its present form some time ago; Bernard Lewis wrote an entire book analyzing that historical fact: What Went Wrong? There is some evidence that the current (ca. 1920s) so-called pan-Islamic reactionary caliphist movements (as well as the more modernist, socialist movements of, e.g., Nasser of Egypt) are floundering attempts to respond to that failure.
(The collapse is manifest even from within Islam: They have only to compare the economic state of the ummah to that of the West. Why would Allah permit such destitution and backwardness, unless they were doing something wrong?)
So Islam is poised to change. And the only change that will stick is one that is more successful than the current paradigm. But that cannot be one that locks them into perpetual warfare with an enemy that is bigger, richer, and more powerful... and which would crush the ummah like a grape in any direct confrontation.
Most Moslems today do not materially participate in this putative "jihad;" even Spencer agrees. He argues that a majority are either passive supporters or apathetic. But even there, he relies upon polls of dubious authenticity or accuracy; we have no idea how many Moslem respondents honestly believe what they say in such polls, vice how many answer a certain way because they think they're supposed to do.
That polling effect arises even here; we often see polling that is much more PC than the actual vote. In a poll, the respondent is actually talking to a person he imagines might disapprove of his opinion; so he says what he thinks the pollster wants to hear. But later, when he is alone in the voting booth, he is free to vote his actual belief.
That is one of several reasons why I do not believe polling that says some enormous percent of Moslems support "jihad." Another reason, as even Spencer agrees, is that respondents may be thinking of jihad in its "spiritual improvement" sense. A third is that the poll itself is usually conducted by "stringers," who (a) may be agents of jihadist groups (and may let the respondents know what will happen if they answer wrong), or (b) may simply get bored, stop knocking on doors, and just make up the numbers.
And a fourth reason for polling skepticism is that pollsters often ask questions that would cause even me to sound like a "jihadist," such as asking whether a suicide bombing is "ever" justified. Anyone who has the least bit of historical knowledge -- and I proudly admit that "the least bit of historical knowledge" is exactly what I have -- remembers that Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in Adolf Hitler's briefing room in the Führerbunker. As it happens, von Stauffenberg left before the explosion; but had he stayed to ensure that Hitler actually died -- thus making it more likely the plot would have succeeded -- wouldn't that suicide bombing still be "justified?"
I would have to answer "Yes," which means the poll would have marked me down as a jihadist!
Instead of fixating on hard-to-interpret polling, look at what happens when we make secret contact with people who actually live under the control of al-Qaeda or the Taliban or Shiite militias... and we offer our help to free themselves: A huge percentage take us up on the offer and fight for freedom. That sure doesn't sound like people who cheer on al-Qaeda.
According to Spencer, however, none of this is happening. From his blogpost:
It consequently may seem wise for us to try to impugn that legitimacy [of being on God's side] by calling them other names, but then we must ask ourselves: which authority carries more weight for a pious Muslim -- an Islamic scholar renowned for centuries, or the non-Muslim American government?
According to Spencer's theory, Moslems will believe Islamic scholars rather than the non-Moslem American government.
According to the eyewitness accounts of our soldiers in Iraq, Moslems threw in with the non-Moslem American government and actually went to war against al-Qaeda, against Muqtada Sadr, and against the theological teachings of Iranian scholars in Qom.
Which source I should believe?
As Robert Anton Wilson used to say, "convictions make convicts." Spencer's convictions cause him to turn his back on the evidence of his own eyes:
If Muslims really reject the worldview propagated by Al-Qaeda, they can show it best not by getting huffy about Western nomenclature, but by actually fighting against the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism in their communities. Where is this happening?
In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Indonesia, in Turkey, in Somalia, and elsewhere. There are many places where Moslems are actually bearing arms against al-Qaeda.
Where in the world are mosques preaching against Osama's Islam, and presenting a viable Islamic alternative that advocates peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims as equals on an indefinite basis? Why, nowhere.
In Indonesia (Nahdlatul Ulama), in Iraq (the "Quietist" school of Sistani), in Turkey (where their madrassim teach exactly that -- and they're exporting that alternative to Wahhabism/Salafism around the world).
Do I think Robert Spencer has never seen or heard of any of this? No, it's impossible, given his interests. Therefore, he must simply reject it all out of hand, because it violates what he "knows" must be true. How is this any different from what Thomas Sowell calls the vision of the anointed?
I understand that many people revere Spencer for (this should make you cringe) speaking truth to power. And I don't deny that he is courageous in sticking to his principles. But I cannot be impressed by Robert Spencer's analytic ability: He begins with his conclusion and reasons backwards... as do most people.
To impress me, however, a person must rise above that average level of mentation and show me that he can break free of his own preconvictions. I want to see an example where Spencer arrives at a conclusion he never expected, merely because that's where the evidence leads. That would make me sit up and take notice.
May 31, 2008
Talking Islam 2: A Bad Meme Infects the Conservative Meme Pool - CORRECTION
In our previous post about Bret Stephens' ham-fisted misinterpretation of a memo from the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Department of Homeland Security -- which urges the U.S. government to change the lexicon by which it refers to militant Islamists and terrorists, in order to open what I dubbed an ideological counterinsurgency -- I noted that the usually solid and dependable Bret Stephens had utterly misunderstood the purpose of the memo... which is a neat trick, since it nakedly declared its real purpose right in the memo itself. Heather Wilhelm at Real Clear Politics negligently accepted Stephens' misunderstanding and acted as the first carrier.
We're beginning to see a full-blown epidemic of destructive memes (a meme-idemic?): The bad Stephens memes spread through the body politic (the "dextrosphere," in this case) with the speed of a bacterial epidemic in the real world, as each new person infected by the Stephochete spreads it further through the conservative intellectual domain.
Now, Power Line points us to the most recent outbreaks: Two reviews of the book Willful Blindness, by Andrew McCarthy, hijack the book to bash DHS anent this memo; and both give all appearance that the authors never actually read the memo itself... just Bret Stephens' bad caricature of it.
The first review is by Thomas Joscelyn for the Weekly Standard, the second (subscriber only) by Bruce Thornton for the National Review.
Throughout Joscelyn's review, he consistently refers to the terrorists as "jihadists." But to Moslems or Arabic speakers, the word "jihad" means "holy war": To call someone a "jihadist" is the same as calling him a holy warrior... which is precisely what the death cultists and human sacrificers pine to be. Using the word thus accepts their self-designation at face value without demanding a single concession in return.
This is precisely the argument the memo makes: Why add legitimacy to terrorist claims of holiness? Yet Joscelyn seems not to understand this straightforward point; instead, he imagines a very different (and monumentally silly) basis for the objection to the word "jihadist":
The strategic failure McCarthy exposes is ongoing, and extends even to something as basic as naming the enemy. Just as Willful Blindness was released, the State Department and other agencies published an edict banning the use of the word "jihadist" (as well as similar terms) from the government's lexicon. The thinking is that the terrorists like to call themselves "jihadists," thereby appropriating an Islamic term which can have far more benevolent meanings, such as the struggle for spiritual betterment or simply to do good.
It is true that, in some Islamic traditions, "jihad" has been endowed with such inoffensive meanings. But as McCarthy rightly argues, "jihad" has far more frequently been used to connote violent campaigns against infidels since the earliest days of Islam. When Sheikh Rahman called on his followers to wage "jihad," they knew that their master did not mean for them to become absorbed in prayer.
Moreover, Washington is apparently too obtuse to notice that Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda's terrorists, Tehran's mullahs, and Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics have called for a militant brand of jihad persistently over the past several decades. All of these parties know how their words will be interpreted by the Muslim masses, and no fiat from the Washington bureaucracy will undo this widely accepted meaning.
In this clumsy tirade, Joscelyn makes it quite clear that he has never actually read the memo itself, which certainly does not make the argument that "jihad" shouldn't be used because it really means a struggle for spiritual improvement. Joscelyn appears simply to have made that up. [Joscelyn insists he did so read the memo; very well, then he did not read closely -- because again, even the correct NCTC memo does not make the argument he attributes to it.]
Here is what the DHS memo actually says about the word "jihad":
What terrorists fear most is irrelevance; what they need most is for large numbers of people to rally to their cause. There was a consensus that the USG should avoid unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers, or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims. Therefore, the experts counseled caution in using terms such as "jihadist," "Islamic terrorist,'' "Islamist," and "holy warrior" as grandiose descriptions.
And here is what the NCTC memo says:
Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahideen' in conversation to describe the terrorists. A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means "striving in the path of God" and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement a global jihad unintentionally legitimizes their actions.
First, "jihadist" was not banned [by the DHS memo]; the memo suggests caution.
[Joscelyn has a better argument with the NCTC memo; but even there, on the first page, it says:
The following set of suggestions regarding appropriate language for use in conversations with target audiences was developed by the Extremist Messaging Branch of the National Counterterrorism Center [NCTC] and vetted by the interagency "Themes and Messages" editorial board at the CTCC. This advice is not binding and is for use with our audiences. It does not affect other areas such as policy papers, research analysis, scholarly writing, etc. The purpose of this paper is to raise awareness among communicators of the language issues that may enhance or detract from successhl engagement.
Joscelyn writes, "Sounds like a ban to me;" I say, sounds like a non-binding suggestion to me.]
Second, it does not suggest caution because of any confusion over the true meaning of jihad, rather because jihad is not a dirty word to Moslems... it's a heroic term. It's every bit as counterproductive as calling insurgents "freedom fighters," when in fact they are bloody-minded terrorists.
Instead, the DHS memo suggests the term "death cultists" -- which can hardly be faulted for refusing to call the enemy what he is. The DHS memo also suggests dubbing terrorists takfiri (when talking to Arabic speakers); takfir is the act of "excommunicating" fellow Moslems for "apostasy." After declaring them non-Moslems, killing them becomes legitimiate, in the eyes of other militants. Takfir is always a horribly negative term in Arabic... unlike jihad, which is generally a positive term (several different meanings, all good).
[The NCTC memo suggests "terrorists," "violent extremists," and "totalitarian"... which, once again, does not sound particularly PC to me. Does it to you, readers?]
In other words, this memo constitutes one of the first attempts by the government to generate a "new lexicon," as David Kilcullen famously called for in his article in Small Wars Journal a year ago. Jim Guirard expanded on this article in his own piece a week later: "David Kilcullen's Call for a New Lexicon":
The first of Kilcullen's five steps toward an effective antidote -- a worldwide chemotherapy counterattack -- on the raging AQST cancer is his call for "a new lexicon based on the actual, observed characteristics of [our] real enemies ..."
....Although he does not list particulars of this proposed new lexicon, here are more than a dozen of the Arabic and Islamic words of which he would almost surely approve. They are the words, the semantic tools and weapons, we will need to break out of the habit-of-language box (largely invented by Osama bin Laden himself) which currently depicts us as us the bad guys, the "infidels" and even "the Great Satan" -- and which sanctifies suicide mass murderers as so-called jihadis and mujahideen ("holy guys") and "martyrs" on their heroic way to Paradise....
irhab (eer-HAB) -- Arabic for terrorism, thus enabling us to call the al Qaeda-style killers irhabis, irhabists and irhabiyoun rather than the so-called "jihadis" and "jihadists" and "mujahideen" and "shahids" (martyrs) they badly want to be called. (Author's lament: Here we are, almost six years into a life-and-death War on Terrorism, and most of us do not even know this basic Arabic for terrorism)....
takfir (takh-FEER) -- the Wahhabi and al Qaeda-style practice of making wholesale (and largely false and baseless) accusations of apostasy and disbelief toward Allah and the Qur'an. Those radicals, absolutists and judgmental fanatics who engage in this divisive practice of false witness are called "takfiri...."
So, what is the point of this new and improved lexicon of Arabic and Islamic words and frames of reference? In terms of the vital "hearts, minds and souls" aspects of the Long War (or is it the Endless War?) on AQ-style Terrorism about which Dr. Kilcullen is so appropriately concerned, the rewards could be great, indeed.
Just for starters, imagine the khawarij (outside the religion) al Qaeda's great difficulty in winning the approval of any truly devout and faithful Muslims whatever once these genocidal irhabis (terrorists) come to be viewed by the Umma (the Muslim World) as mufsiduun (evildoers) engaged in Hirabah (unholy war) and in murtadd (apostasy) against the Qur'an's God of Abraham -- and as surely on their way to Jahannam (Eternal Hellfire) for their Satanic ways.
In this context of truth-in-language and truth-in-Islam, bin Ladenism's so-called "Jihadi Martyrdom" becomes Irhabi Murderdom (Genocidal Terrorism), instead, with it a hot ticket to Hellfire rather than to Paradise. And is this not precisely the powerful disincentive we need for the unholy cancer of suicide mass murder?
So Thomas Joscelyn assumes that the memo (which he clearly did not read [closely] before critiquing) "bans" the use of the term jihadist out of some exaggerated sense of tolerance for those Moslems who use it to mean spiritual development; while in reality, the DHS memo merely urges "caution" in using the term [while the NCTC memo makes the "suggestion" it be avoided] because it confers upon the militant Islamists exactly the legitimacy they crave. And the memo very closely tracks a call by Col. David Kilcullen to develop an official "new lexicon" to undercut al-Qaeda by changing the language used in discussing militant Islamism.
Perhaps some of you remember David Kilcullen: He is the ex-Australian-Army colonel who was the top civilian counterinsurgency and counterterrorism advisor to Gen. David Petraeus, while the latter was the commander of Multinational Force - Iraq during the so-called "surge." Kilcullen now serves that same role on the staff of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
I think Petraeus' best mate knows a thing or two about counterinsurgency. But perhaps Mr. Joscelyn knows better. After all, he is a "terrorism researcher, writer, and economist," a subject-matter expert unencumbered by the necessity of putting his theories into practice on the battlefield, with lives on the line. (Of course, I myself do not even rise to what George W. Bush would call a "pundent;" so what do I know? Though at least I can parse simple English sentences with clarity and precision.)
Evidently, Bruce Thornton in NR is another such expert. I cannot see his entire review (I don't subscribe), but Power Line quotes the relevant passage:
This jihadist ideology motivated Abdel Rahman and the 9/11 jihadists, and continues to motivate Islamic terrorism today. But, then and now, this obvious traditional belief is ignored or rationalized away by those entrusted with our security: The secretary of state publicly croons that Islam is the “religion of peace and love,” and the State and Homeland Security departments instruct their employees not to use words like “jihad” or “mujahedeen” (holy warrior) in their communications. In contrast to this delusional thinking, McCarthy bluntly, and correctly, states the obvious: “Islam is a dangerous creed. It rejects core aspects of Western liberalism: self-determination, freedom of choice, freedom of conscience, equality under the law.” We refuse to face the truth about Islam, and thus we disarm ourselves before “a doctrine that rejects our way of life and a culture unwilling or unable to suppress the savage element it breeds wherever it takes hold.”
If we assume this is not a complete non-sequitur, then we must conclude that Thornton is under the impression that the reason DHS [and NCTC] give for cautioning against the promiscuous use of "jihadist" is that the word is actually synonymous to the virtues that form the core of Western liberalism. Else how else could that core stand "in contrast to [DHS's] delusional thinking?"
Which means that Thornton also didn't bother reading the DHS [or NCTC] memos, only a careless reader's drive-by mischaracterization.
Is it really too much to ask that intellectual heavy-hitters with much knowledge of Islamic terrorism, writing reviews of an important book for respectable, nationally distributed conservative magazines, at least bestir themselves to read the primary document -- not a secondary source of dubious authority -- before firing their broadsides at the Department of Homeland Security? Good heavens, Big Lizards applies stricter literary standards before publishing a blogpost!
I read much of Joscelyn's online book, Iran's Proxy War Against America, and found it first rate; I don't know who Thornton is, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, subject-matter experts are just as prone to careless reading as the rest of us... especially when the misreading fits their preconceived notions of their enemies (DHS [and State], in this case) as benighted fools and political poltroons.
Yet such outbursts of "I don't need to read them, I know what they're going to say" often prove far more embarassing for experts than for us ordinary folk, who have nothing much to lose by accidentally spreading malicious memes.
May 27, 2008
Talking Islam 1: Why Bret Stephens Acted the Fool, and Why Heather Wilhelm Needs a Neuron Infusion
The Department of Homeland Security is finally doing something right on the urgent task of confronting the terrorist ideology; but some conservatives, quagmired in their "clash of civilizations" nightmare, are unprepared even to listen. Alas, Bret Stephens, writing on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, plays to this crowd (perhaps inadvertently) by mocking a DHS internal memo as "Newspeak" for recommending the language to use to avoid driving mainstream Moslems into the terrorist ideology and instead give them good reason to come over to the side of civilization.
(On Real Clear Politics, Heather Wilhelm dutifully follows suit, parroting Stephens' hilarity with a one-sentence dismissal of the memo -- without, evidently, bothering to read the memo herself or form her own opinion; consider this a rather left-handed hat tip.)
Our government does a lot of stupid, self-destructive things in the long war -- for example, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were once stalwart against negotiating or even meeting with Palestinian representatives (whether Hamas or Fatah) until and unless they both recognized the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and also renounced terrorism... and actually stopped committing terrorist acts. Both Bush and Rice declared this a necessary first step in the "Road Map to Peace."
But now, they appear to have abandoned that precondition and are willing to invite to a Middle East peace conference countries and powers that not only refuse to recognize Israel but actively engage in terrorism against it.
However, that fact that the "invisible foot" of government frequently trips up our best laid plans should not blind us to cases where they really are trying to do the right thing -- and doing a fairly good job of it. I believe this is the case with the DHS memo; we need to see more action (and more sustained effort) in fighting the ideological as well as the military battles.
Stephens' column annoyed me precisely because it may strangle this vital effort in its cradle. Let me explain why that would be so defeatist...
I've been reading Douglas Feith's magnificent but very dense tome War and Decision; one of the most frustrating -- infuriating! -- sections details the attempts by Feith and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to get the State Department to move off of its collective posterior... and actually craft an ideological counterinsurgency (my term) to fight against the ideology of violence, murder, torture, and bombing promulgated by al-Qaeda, Iran, and other terrorist actors... an ideology that strongly attracts and least stable and most disaffected of Moslems around the world, losers who believe they have been marginalized by the tyrannical and unresponsive governments that still characterize the ummah.
State insisted that this fell into their jurisdiction, not the Pentagon's; but then they refused to engage or do anything other than issue a couple of press releases. Engaging the terrorist ideology head-on is vital to the war against global caliphism: Without our own futurist, international front of modernity, individualism, and freedom, how can we hope to confront and overpower the terrorists' reactionary ideology?
They preach bloody human sacrifice, eternal war, brutal repression of the individual, and destruction of every vestige of civilization and the modern world beyond what Mohammed himself knew. Without our own ideological counterinsurgency, we're left with nothing but brute physical force. (Certainly Gen. David Petraeus considers the ideological war of ideas to be as important to the Iraqi counterinsurgency as the military forces added during the "surge;" I assume he knows what he's talking about.)
Feith and Rumsfeld were ultimately thwarted in their attempts to get an ideological counterinsurgency up and running; but now, at least, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the DHS has actually begun the long overdue process: They issued an internal memo -- instantly leaked to the press by disgruntled leftists -- suggesting the language the USG (United States government) should use (and terms to avoid) in speaking about the war. It's actually not a bad first effort... despite Stephens' hooting and braying.
The first page of the memo explains why diction -- word choice -- is so important to winning the ideological war against those seeking to impose a worldwide caliphate:
[T]he terminology should also be strategic -- it should avoid helping the terrorists by inflating the religious bases and glamorous appeal of their ideology....
If senior government officials carefully select strategic terminology, the government's public statements will encourage vigilance without unintentionally undermining security objectives. That is, the terminology we use must be accurate with respect to the very real threat we face. At the same time, our terminology must be properly calibrated to diminish the recruitment efforts of extremists who argue that the West is at war with Islam.
DHS amplifies this message on pp. 7-8:
Bin Laden and his followers will succeed if they convince large numbers of people that America and the West are at war with Islam, and that a "clash of civilizations" is inherent. Therefore, USG officials should continually emphasize a simple and straightforward truth:
Muslims have been, and will continue to be part of the fabric of our country. Senior officials must make clear that there is no "clash of civilizations;" there is no "us versus them." We must emphasize that Muslims are not "outsiders" looking in, but are an integral part of America and the West.
Too many conservatives have fallen in love with the romantic idea of a "clash of civilizations," and they passionately believe that we are "at war with Islam." Of course, we aren't and shouldn't be: The majority of Moslems are at least open to modernity, liberty, and democracy, depending on how they are presented... that is, assuming they are not restricted only to those who renounce religiosity -- a requirement never demanded of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus, who are allowed to be democratic, modern, yet also religious.
I have seen numerous hard-core, absolutist culture warriors roll their eyes in disgust at such "liberal" thinking. The very idea that not every Moslem wants to murder us all!
I do not believe Bret Stephens is among that group; but his cynicism about everything coming out of DHS makes him an unwitting tool of such absolutist conservatives... they use his column to buttress their own loser-philosophy.
They see themselves as hard-headed, reality-based grownups; anyone who believes that Islam and the West can coexist they accuse of being an infantile fantasist. But if they are correct, then we are already lost: If we literally are at war with a billion fanatics, each of whom is just one cartoon away from strapping on a suicide vest and heading off to the local Galleria, then we cannot possibly win such a war without changing the West so drastically, it would no longer be a liberal, democratic zone of the globe. We should have to become a military dictatorship ourselves to have a chance.
Fortunately, there isn't the slightest bit of evidence that this is true. Every Moslem-majority country has an element, exerting greater or lesser control, of global caliphists who are absolutely our enemies; I'll go farther... this is true in every country that has a substantial Moslem minority. But the existence of an insurgent fifth column within every Islamic enclave does not mean that each such enclave constitutes an insurgency.
That would be "liberal thinking" -- or more precisely, liberal fascist thinking... the idea that each individual is utterly defined by his group identity. That's the thinking behind liberal-fascist ideas from "affirmative action" and "hate-speech" codes to the round-up and incarceration of tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II. How is liberal racist and classist dogma any different from saying that "all Arabs" or "all Moslems" are enemies of (and incapable of understanding) Western values such as democracy and freedom of conscience?
The overarching purpose of this DHS memo is to give the USG the language to avoid driving fence-sitting or even mainstream Moslems into the arms of militant Islamism, and instead to drive them towards modernity, democracy, and individualism:
Starting from the premise that words do indeed matter, three foundational assumptions inform this paper:
(1) We should not demonize all Muslims or Islam;
(2) Because the terrorists themselves use theology and religious terms to justify both their means and ends, the terms we use must be accurate and descriptive; and
(3) Our words should be strategic; we must be conscious of history, culture, and context. In an era where a statement can cross continents in a manner of seconds, it is essential that officials consider how terms translate, and how they will resonate with a variety of audiences.
So what, specifically, does the memo suggest? Here are a few of the recommendations:
- They urge USG spokesmen to use "caution" in using terms like jihadist, Islamic terrorist, holy warrior, and even Islamist; the former terms because they "give the terrorists the legitimacy they seek" -- they're not really "holy warriors," for God's sake -- and the last, Islamism/Islamist, because, while it's certainly accurate, "it may not be strategic for USG officials to use the term because the general public, including overseas audiences, may not appreciate the academic distinction between Islamism and Islam."
This is not a slam against Moslems; even many Americans who do not study this stuff night and day get those terms mixed up and may not know they mean different things. Yet these suggestions of words to avoid produces much snorting and pawing by Stephens in his WSJ piece:
In "1984," George Orwell famously created Newspeak, "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year." How things haven't changed. The Homeland Security memo begins by declaring that "Words matter," whereupon it proceeds to suggest that some words matter so much it's best not to use them at all. Instead, the memo proposes a "strategic terminology" to dictate the utterances of public officials regarding the so-called Global Struggle.
But Stephens completely misses the point. The memo does not argue that we shouldn't use such words out of an Orwellian desire to make the concepts themselves disappear, as if by magic.
It argues that government officials shouldn't use them for the same reason that we shouldn't call our military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan a "crusade" -- because it may frighten potential Moslem allies into thinking that we plan to take away their countries and force-convert them all to Christianity. Even suspecting such a thing would stampede many Moslems otherwise disposed towards us and against the terrorists into allying with the bad guys, for the same reason we allied with the Soviet Union during World War II: self preservation.
They warn government officials away from using the term "moderate Moslem," because many Moslems imagine that means a Moslem who doesn't really believe in Islam.
A better term to use for a Moslem who does not support extremism, militancy, and violence against the innocent is to call him a mainstream Moslem, or an ordinary or traditional Moslem: That allows him to be very religious but still locates him within the larger Moslem community that does not sacrifice women and children to Moloch. (That's my analogy; the DHS paper doesn't use the terms "human sacrifice" or "Moloch," more's the pity.)
Similarly, they warn we should be careful using Arabic terms unless we really understand what they mean -- not just the literal text but the subtextual meaning as well.
For example, al-Qaeda adherents are "Salafists;" they believe that Islam was perfect in the days of the prophet Mohammed and the two generations that followed, and that should be the model for Islam even today. But that doesn't mean that all Salafists are al-Qaeda supporters. So if we verbally attacked "Salafism," we would be condemning tens of millions of non-violent Moslems in order to get at the tens of thousands of violent Salafists among them. It's a terrible blunder, a stupid strategy that will lead to defeat, like attacking "Catholic priests" for being pederasts, when we really mean to attack just those priests who engaged in such horrific sins (and anyone who shielded them from exposure).
- Nevertheless, the memo does suggest some Arabic terms that cannot be misunderstood. For example, they recommend understanding the concept of takfir: Moslems who declare other Moslems to be apostates or unbelievers ("kafiri"), making it legitimate (to takfiri) to blow them up or torture them to death. The term is universally used in Arabic as a purely negative concept: Nobody says, "Takfir and proud of it, man!"
- Just as nobody says "I'm a cultist." Militant Islamism is a death cult, and that's a perfectly proper word to use against it: It's accurate -- they have very cult-like recruiting and retention techniques (lies, propaganda, isolation, physical coercion) -- and calling terrorists "death cultists" cannot possibly help them recruit new suicide bombers.
At a conference convened two years ago in Amman, Jordan, by King Abdullah, 200 leading Islamic scholars from 50 countries unanimously issued a fatwah condemning takfir; so it's not even controversial: Takfir is bad, and takfiri are despised:
Strictly speaking, takfirism most accurately describes terrorism by Muslims against other Muslims. But it may be strategic to employ the term in a wider context given that (1) many of the leaders of al-Qaeda are known to have adopted a takfiri ideology, and (2) part of the USG's anti-terrorism strategy should be to emphasize that the majority of the victims of modern terrorism are Muslim. There may also be a useful nexus to cult terminology; regarding takfiri indoctrination. French terrorism expert Roland Jacquard states: "Takfir is like a sect: Once you're in, you never get out. The Takfir rely on brainwashing and an extreme regime of discipline to weed out the weak links and ensure loyalty and obedience from those taken as members." Thus the phrase "takfiri dearh cult" may have some relevance.
Again, I don't think Stephens advocates a war of Islam vs. the West; he wrote a very penetrating article about Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Moslem organization in the world with more than 40 million members... and which is unabashedly pro-West, pro-modernity, and even (yes, really) pro-Israel. I read and posted about it at the time: We Found the "Moslem Methodists!"
But I sure wish Stephens could have thought a second time before firing off today's ill-advised and remarkably unhelpful column. We actually need to get on the same page here: Without a strong ideological component to the war against the takfiri death cults, we are not going to win. The DHS memo is at least a very good first step... and it's unfortunate that some folks are so stuck in the mode of knocking anything DHS or State does that they cannot even notice when they do something right for a change.
April 18, 2008
I appear to have become a Nazi...
...Along with everyone else who accepts the modern theory of evolution by variation and natural selection.
I was just listening to Ben Stein on the Michael Medved show. Stein has a new documentary out, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argues that "Big Science" has systematically suppressed all the evidence showing that God exists, that He specially created all live on the planet, and that Darwinism is the great hoax of the 19th century.
One paragraph in, and already I'm getting sidetracked! This reminds me of a story Fred Pohl tells. When he was hosting the Long John Neville show, during one of his frequent episodes debunking UFOlogy, an angry believer in alien abductions demanded of Pohl, "How much evidence do we have to present before you admit They're here?"
Pohl's response was brilliant, though I must paraphrase: "A million pieces wouldn't be enough, because you and I have completely different ideas of what constitutes 'evidence.'"
Alas, just a few minutes into Stein's stint on Medved, I discover something unsavory about myself: Stein and Medved, both of whom reject evolutionary theo-- excuse me, "Darwinism" -- spent some time reassuring each other that the entire Nazi movement was founded on Darwinism, and that Hitler saw Darwinism as an integral part of Naziism. Ergo, I appear to have become a "Nazi" as well as an "atheist" "Darwinist".
Now a purist might note that Hitler was far more interested in "social Darwinism" -- by which he meant his prepenultimate bête noire Capitalism, rather than biological "Darwinism" -- and that Hitler railed against Capitalism for its social Darwinism, among other reasons... what fascists call inefficient and unjust competition. Even today, the term "social Darwinism" generally means Capitalism to everyone but Ben Stein. (Hitler's three biggest bugbears were, in reverse order, Capitalism, Communism, and Jews.)
Think I'm exaggerating about Stein's argumentum? From Ben Stein's own blog, here is his conflation of "Darwinism" (he never calls evolution by its actual name) with imperialism (if the first link doesn't resolve, try this one):
Let’s make this short and sweet. It would be taken for granted by any serious historian that any ideology or worldview would partake of the culture in which it grew up and would also be largely influenced by the personality of the writer of the theory....
In other words, major theories do not arise out of thin air. They come from the era in which they arose and are influenced greatly by the personality and background of the writer.
The Stein thesis is already misleading and boorish. Evolutionary theory is not an "ideology or worldview;" it is a scientific theory. And science uses the word "theory" differently than do other disciplines.
As Stein understands the word, it means any supposition, no matter how airy: the theory of Progressivist economics, the theory of deconstructionism. But in science, a theory is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly vetted, for which a tremendous amount of favorable evidence has been produced, and against which there is no significant contradictory evidence... a hypothesis or model doesn't become a theory until there is a consensus of well-respected scientists in relevant fields -- including previous dissenters -- who now support it.
Of course scientific ideas are affected by the cultures in which they arise, but primarily because different cultures generate different problems to solve and produce different technologies by which to measure the real world. Science itself, however derived, works equally well in every culture, every country, every continent, and (we presume) on every planet in the universe.
It is thus truly universal in a way that faith, morals, and philosophy can only dream about. But the price paid is that science is strictly limited to explaining how the natural world works; it cannot, even in theory (there's that pesky word again), be used to prove or disprove the existence of a being outside the natural world, such as God -- Richard Dawkins notwithstanding.
Stein is already off on the wrong track, through a combination of half-grasped science and misappropriation of terms. We continue:
Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism. [This is a bizarre misapprehension of the theory even when the Origin of Species was published in 1859, let alone today. How "dominant" is a shrew or a sponge? "Fittest" means best able to survive and reproduce in that environment.] When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed -- i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism “…outdoor relief for the upper classes?”) [I don't know. Was it? What makes Mr. Stein believe Shaw said or wrote that? I certainly can't find it in any standard book of quotations or on the internet.]
But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. [And this is nonsense on stilts; evolutionary theory has nothing whatever to do with "imperialism" or racism or Naziism; this is cotton-candy reasoning that dissolves upon contact into nothing but a bad aftertaste.] By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out, Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. [Wrong again; the better-reproducing weak will wipe out the less-reproducing strong.] It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.
This is so wrong, it's maddening. Charles Darwin never used his evolutionary theory to pitch or even justify imperialism; nor did he ever agitate for eugenics programs. His cousin, Francis Galton, invented the idea of eugenics by applying Darwinian ideas to societies... but even he never proposed the government eugenics programs that riddled fascist, Marxist, Nazi, and Progressivist societies. And Darwin himself was skeptical of the expansion.
The philosophy (not science!) of "social Darwinism" was created after Darwin's death by Progressivists, as our hypothetical purist noted; liberals appropriated the term during FDR's administration to attack Capitalism, conflating it with racism and imperialism. Darwin himself was not an imperialist, certainly not in the mold of, say, Rudyard Kipling or Winston Churchill.
But to Ben Stein and Michael Medved, evolutionary theory equals "Darwinism" (similarly, one must presume that quantum mechanics and special relativity are aspects of Newtonism, and I got my graduate degree in Euclidism); Darwinism equals social Darwinism; and social Darwinism is Naziism; ergo... Seig heil!
Evolution by natural selection is the most maligned theory in history; every political hack or philosophy monger twists the science to suit his own prejudices: The lefties twist it to indict Capitalism and individualism; Stein twists it to indict scientific "imperialism" that stands in the way of teaching Judeo-Christian religious precepts as science in the public schools. This saddens me, because I love so many other aspects of Ben Stein's conservatism.
An even purer purist than our previous purists might note -- as Jonah Goldberg did -- that socialists in general, including Progressivists and liberals but not Capitalists, were the real "social Darwinists;" they believed in abortion or sterilization of "defectives" and euthanasia for the handicapped, and suchlike examples of eugenics programs. You can hardly get more "socially Darwinist" than that.
Said purer purists would also argue that the Third Reich in general and Adolf Hitler in particular were not noted for their comprehensive understanding of basic science... you know, that whole "the earth is a hollow sphere and we live on the inside of it" thingie, and the moon being made of ice, and all that "race-science" stuff with its heirarchy of superior to inferior races, and their weird idea that any scientific theory that had a Jew anywhere among its developers was "Jew science" and must be banned. Therefore they could not possibly be exemplars of biological evolutionary theory. Nazis had no more idea of what evolutionary biology actually held than does my dog Scrimshaw... and he's been dead for twenty years.
Fascists, Communists, Progressivists, socialists, and liberals (and conservatives like Ben Stein) have utterly misunderstood Darwin's original, long supplemented if not supplanted thesis; and they are not even aware of the decades of refinement (even by the 1920s) that reshaped it. When you point it out to them, they see this constant refinement of the model as inconstancy; they contrast it negatively to the constancy of Biblical values and use that as another club to bash evolution: If the theory keeps changing, it's an admission that it was wrong; and there's no reason to believe that the current version is any better! But the Bible never changes (heh); it's very permanence proves its value and truth.
The absolute purest of the pure would point out that the entire Steinian argument on this point boils down to:
- Nazis were social Darwinists;
- Social Darwinism sounds superficially similar to Darwinism, our misleading pet name for modern evolutionary theory;
- Therefore, evolutionary theory has a disturbing link to Naziism, and those who believe in it are akin to Nazis.
Here, try this one:
- Supporters of Intelligent Design eat carbohydrates;
- Carbohydrates sound superficially similar to hydrocarbons, the principal constituents of petroleum (oil) and natural gas;
- Oil sometimes leaks, producing oil slicks;
- Oil slicks kill baby seals;
- Vicious fur hunters also kill baby seals;
- Therefore, supporters of Intelligent Design have a disturbing link to evil baby-seal clubbers.
I suppose I'll have to see the movie, but I'll tell you in advance what I predict it will show: endless sequences of "atheists" and "secular humanists" being asked rude and scientifically ignorant questions in a querulous, argumentative, and incoherent manner. And when those atheists (meaning anyone who believes in modern evolutionary theory, since Stein appears to believe that faith and mainstream science are fundamentally at odds) and secular humanists (meaning "generic badthing") can't answer the paralogical question, the IDer will proclaim victory and do a triumphant dance.
But just in case I'm wrong, I'll go see the movie. Just in case all the ID books and articles and pamphlets I've read just didn't have the proper killer argument, I'll go. I'll go just so that no one can say I didn't give ID a fair shake -- which, by the way, ID has never given evolutionary theory; I've yet to encounter an IDer who actually understands the (fairly low-level) science behind the basic concepts of modern evolutionary theory and statistical mathematics... and without that background, it's no wonder "Darwinism" sounds weird and implausible. It's like trying to explain viral infection to someone who believes disease is caused by the evil spells of witches. Here, again, is the man himself (Stein, not Darwin):
Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove [to the satisfaction of those who reject evolution for religious reasons] the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life. [But not so striking in a theory explaining how contemporary species of life evolved from earlier species of life. Evolutionary theory makes no claim to explain the ultimate origin of life; that is left for other theories and hypotheses -- as it should be.]
Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. [Imperialism killed tens of thousands during the crusades and the Inquisition, hundreds of thousands in the British, Spanish, and Belgian empires, and millions under Communist imperialism. How many people have been killed by rampaging biologists?] Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process. [Either Stein argues that Darwin approved of such a use -- which would be a complete fabrication -- or Stein must admit that he is deliberately trying to make fools of us all.]
Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be.
Considering that "Darwinism" (evolutionary biology) has already withstood 149 years of hostile questioning by real scientists, I doubt that a few months of interrogation by religiously motivated ID zealots is going to shake the theory's foundations.
The central confusion, as always, is the one so thoroughly refuted by geneticist and staunch Christian believer Francis Collins in his seminal work, the Language of God: Stein and Medved both clearly believe that faith in God is incompatible with belief in evolution... as if God could not have created human beings by the mechanism of evolution. Collins shows the nonsensical theology behind this "argument by personal incredulity," as well as debunking the numerous examples of "well, Darwinism can't explain the evolution of this specific organ or organelle," upon which ID depends for its smattering of vaguely scientific arguments.
Until both conservatives and socialist atheists drop that absurd, self-created dichotomy, which does not exist in reality, we will continue to be subjected to such offensive claptrap as both Intelligent Design -- and books like Richard Dawkins' the God Delusion.
More's the pity.
February 10, 2008
Who Is the Republican Core Anyway?
In a comment on another post, commenter Caustic Conservative gloomily wondered whence would come the electioneering energy for John McCain:
I still worry about who it is that will be financing the McCain campaign, and manning the phone banks this fall. There is an energy gap to his candidacy--you see it in turnout between R's and D's--that maybe no GOP candidate could overcome this year, but given McCains prior antagonism of his conservative base could be very costly to him.
A McCain fan I know says the cure for this comes in two words: Hillary Clinton. I agree to a certain extent, but I no longer believe her candidacy is even likely at this point. If that is the best argument to get out the vote for McCain in the fall, where do we stand in the end?
Many conservatives seem to have an appalling paucity of imagination. Why do they suppose that the core of any Republican campaign must comprise conservatives? Can they really not imagine any other core Republican voters but themselves?
I know for a fact (because I knew many of them) that in 2000, a great deal of George Bush's army of volunteers were moderates, not conservatives. Remember, Bush ran not as a conservative but a "compassionate conservative," which everybody understood to mean a center-right, big-government Republican who was hawkish on taxes and some social issues (such as abortion), but who was not particularly interested in a conservative foreign policy. (That last changed in September, of course.)
Come to that, I suspect I'm far more of a core Republican than the huge majority of conservatives; yet I'm not a conservative. I actually support the Democrats on many issues; and in the past, I usually voted Democratic. But the Democratic Party has become so toxic on certain subjects I consider existential -- the war against global hirabah, for example, but also taxes, spending, same-sex marriage, energy, globaloney, and in general, their increasing captivity to socialism -- that I cannot vote for any Democrat, anywhere, anytime, until the party changes drastically.
I'll note that in 2004, I remained optimistic and encouraged people to get out and vote and even converted many of my more libertarian friends to being GOP voters -- while at the same time, hard-core conservatives (most of you know who I mean) spent the whole summer predicting utter ruin for the GOP, being roundly pessimistic, and doing their best to depress Republican turnout by saying, in essence, that Bush couldn't possibly win reelection.
With conservatives like that, who needs RINOs? (They came around later in the year; but I was consistent in my optimism and American spirit all year.)
Ever since Reagan in 1980, conservatives (with very bad memories) have flattered themselves that they are the true core of the GOP. I say "bad memories" because it wasn't even true back in 1980: the very term "neocon" originally meant a Democrat who was converted to Republicanism by the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Remember "Reagan Democrats?" Those were Democrats disgusted by the leftward lurch their party had taken, and especially revolted by the anti-American, feckless, belly-crawling, malaise-spreading surrender monkey, Jimmy Carter, who therefore voted for Ronald Reagan instead. This, by the way, describes many of the people crowing today about their "true core" status.
(I find it particularly surreal when neocons in the original sense like Michael Medved and much of the current dextrosphere -- including many of my favorites -- rail against people like Mitt Romney for being late converts to conservatism.)
As I said earlier in comments to another post, this is a mistake: The "core" of any party comprises all those who always turn out to vote for that party, who campaign for it, and who donate to it. That is the basic definition. In some elections, nearly all of those people called themselves "conservatives." But more commonly, that core group includes both conservatives and other Republicans -- who are just as much the "base" of the party as conservatives.
From 1900 through the entire FDR era (including Truman), the GOP was more what we would today call "country-club conservatives," who had more in common with "limousine liberals" than they did with entrepeneurs, working men, and soldiers. They opposed Roosevelt's economics not on free-market grounds but on the principle of conservation of the wealthy elite; and they certainly didn't have a more aggressive foreign policy than President Roosevelt! Even the William F. Buckley of that era was quite different from the later Bill Buckley, who called himself a libertarian conservative. It was a different universe.
In the Dwight Eisenhower administration, the GOP was quite moderate. Richard Nixon was a committed anti-Communist, but he was never a conservative; that's why the election of 1960 was a dead heat: There wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Nixon and JFK on foreign policy, and the only difference on domestic policy was that Kennedy was marginally more conservative (on taxes, for example, where Kennedy was somewhat of a supply-sider; Nixon, by contrast, famous remarked, "We're all Keynesians now" in 1971.)
Thus, for practically the first three quarters of the twentieth century, until 1972 (with the exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a candidate for conservatives only), conservatives were on the outside looking in. The GOP was pretty much dominated by establishmentarians, moderates, Realists, anti-Communists, and what we would today call RINOs -- liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller. This was "the great silent majority" that Nixon relied upon.
Conservatives like Bill Buckley spent as much time bemoaning the Republicans as the Democrats. They didn't like the GOP, but they certainly weren't going to move en masse to the Democrats, where they would have to link arms with Southern segregationists, which movement conservatives refused to do. The probably held their nose and voted Republican most of the time... but they were not the party's core; they were estranged stepchildren.
But in 1972, when Nixon was running for reelection, the Democratic Party lurched to the hard left and nominated George McGovern, a peacenik who was soft on the Soviet Union... resulting in a massive landslide for Nixon. This remained the Democratic position right up until Bill Clinton in 1992... thus, the conservatives -- terrified of the alternative -- had no choice but to join with anti-Communist moderates -- and that coalition was the core of the party for eight election cycles, from 1972 through the 1988 presidential election.
In 1976, Nixon's so-called "corruption" (it's worth reading Silent Coup, by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, for a revisionist history of this subject), coupled with the Andrew Johnson-like weakness of the appointed President Gerald Ford, led to the very narrow victory of another peacenik Communist appeaser (who sailed during the election under false colors as a foreign-policy hawk). But when voters realized who Jimmy Carter really was, he was crushed the next election by Ronald Reagan.
Yet even then, the "core" of the GOP in 1980 still included a lot of moderates and even some converted liberals. In fact, we can make this into a general rule, which should be obvious: Whenever a party has a "big tent," its core is necessarily heterogenous. But when the core is homogenous, that typically means the party is not attracting any but true believers; hence it typically loses a lot and wins only narrow victories.
Reagan's main rival in the primaries was George H.W. Bush, who -- as we all remember -- was the man who first used the phrase "voodoo economics" to describe the combination of huge tax cuts, a major cut in the prime lending rate, gigantic increases in military spending, and draconian spending cuts in non-military spending (the last was killed by Congress, alas) that we now call "Reaganomics."
During the hapless presidency of George H.W. Bush, the moderates decided that there was nothing left to tie them to the GOP: Reagan was gone, and Bush was a poor substitute. Most of them flirted with the bizarre but charismatic H. Ross Perot, in whom some saw a new Reagan; others joined with Bill Clinton. The 1992 election was a muddle; and even by 1996, Clinton still couldn't get a majority... Ross Perot sucked off some of the moderate vote. But in 1992 and 1996, only conservatives really consistently backed the GOP candidate (GHW Bush and Bob Dole, respectively); and of course it was conservatives who led the way in the Republicans' 1994 congressional victory. These three elections, plus 1964, 2004, and 2006, are the only times that the Republican core has really been completely conservative.
In 2000, Bush was the establishment GOP candidate, McCain was the maverick party straddler, and the conservative vote was splintered between Gary Bauer (religious Right), Steve Forbes (free-market conservatives), and Alan Keyes (social conservatives), with the last being the last man standing. (Pat Buchanan was a relict even back then; his heyday was as Ronald Reagan's speechwriter.)
I can make a good argument that conservatives were the core of the GOP in 2004, as most of the Bush moderates jumped ship to John Kerry; had they not, then Bush would have enjoyed the usual incumbent's advantage and won by 56% to 43%. And of course, in 2006, conservatives were the only ones to vote Republican -- which is why the GOP lost a bunch of seats.
And there you have it: Conservatives have been "the core of the Republican Party" only six times in this century or the last: 1964, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2004, and 2006; on four of those six, the GOP lost.
In all the other elections since 1900, so far as I can determine, the Republican "core" comprised a coalition between two or more groups -- sometimes including the conservatives, but sometimes not (I think a lot of conservatives probably supported the somewhat more conservative JFK over the liberal Richard Nixon). Thus, conservatives are not "the core" of the GOP except occasionally, or when they join with other groups in a core coalition.
So back to the original question: Who is going to work energetically for John McCain? For heaven's sake, he has an army of people who dote on him, and have done since at least 2000. Many of them are moderates who sometimes vote Democratic; but this time, they'll throw everything they have into getting McCain elected president.
Well, this year, just as in 1980, we're going to have another anti-American, feckless, belly-crawling, malaise-spreading surrender monkey as the Democratic nominee, no matter which of them wins. In addition, the Democrat will be either corrupt to the core -- or else a complete vapid naif with no experience whatsoever. Arrayed against her or him, we'll have a charismatic leader with a very compelling personal history of almost unimaginable courage under torture, and with a whole warehouse full of substantive ideas (which everyone will applaud partially and reject partially).
I think we're going to have a huge passel of volunteers... it's just that many of them won't be hard-core movement conservatives. Just as with Reagan.
Alas, this is all played out against the backdrop of a successful war rendered unpopular by the relentless misreporting and deliberate lying of the elite media and the Democrats. I suspect the war will be nowhere near this unpopular by November; but it won't yet be remembered fondly (that comes later, after some time for the American people to reflect). Plus, the economy will be thought to be shaky, even if it's improving: Public opinion is always a lagging indicator.
I believe, in the end, the voters will choose the charismatic leader with real ideas (love them or loathe them) over either the dull as dishwater candidate espousing the tired, old policies of yesteryear, or the charismatic but content-free orator whose politics is just as far to the left as Jimmy Carter's (and I mean the Carter of today, not the Carter of 1976).
And if McCain does win, he will win because the core of the Republican Party is once again a coalition of many different kinds of Republican.
December 21, 2007
I've spent a few posts blasting Mike Huckabee for various infelicities and absurdities that have bubbled forth from his campaign; it's only fair that I go after Mitt Romney as well for his increasingly irritating (verging towards disturbing) tendency to take a kernal of truth and stretch it like taffy to make a political point -- a process I'm dubbing Mitthausen's Syndrome.
- He called himself an avid hunter, while later having to concede he had only hunted twice;
- While explaining the above, he said he frequently shot rodents in the woods with a pistol, clearly implying that he owned guns when he did not;
- He recently claimed that during his 2002 gubernatorial election, he had been "endorsed" by the NRA -- when what he meant was that an NRA phone back supported his campaign, but he never received any formal endorsement.
The exaggerations are all minor; and the points they support are themselves reasonably accurate; but they open the candidate to distracting accusations and force him on the defensive.
The most recent example, of course, is that during his excellent "religion speech" earlier this month, he said (it seemed) that he had personally watched as his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, jr.:
"These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord's words: 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me...'
The Romney campaign subsequently clarified that, while Mitt Romney may never have personally witnesses such a march -- if it happened, it would have occurred while he was in class in high school -- that George Romney did, in fact, march with King through Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit, in 1963.
However, an ultra-liberal (and likely very anti-Romney) newspaper, the Boston Phoenix, claims that King never marched through Grosse Pointe:
Asked about the specifics of George Romney’s march with MLK, Mitt Romney’s campaign told the Phoenix that it took place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. That jibes with the description proffered by David S. Broder in a Washington Post column written days after Mitt’s College Station speech.
Broder, in that column, references a 1967 book he co-authored on the Republican Party, which included a chapter on George Romney. It includes a one-line statement that the senior Romney “has marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit.”
But that account is incorrect. King never marched in Grosse Pointe, according to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, and had not appeared in the town at all at the time the Broder book was published. “I’m quite certain of that,” says Suzy Berschback, curator of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. (Border was not immediately available for comment.)
Berschback also believes that George Romney never appeared at a protest, march, or rally in Grosse Pointe. “We’re a small town,” she says. “Governors don’t come here very often, except for fundraisers.”
In fact, King’s only appearance in Grosse Pointe, according to Berschback, took place after Broder’s book was published.
That was for a March 14 speech he delivered at Grosse Pointe High School, just three weeks before King was assassinated. But there was no march, and George Romney was not there.
Contrariwise, Mike Allen at the Politico quotes a couple of witnesses, both residents of Grosse Pointe in 1963, who insist they clearly remember King marching there -- and Gov. George Romney "joining him in shirtsleeves":
Shirley Basore, 72, says she was sitting in the hairdresser’s chair in wealthy Grosse Pointe, Mich., back in 1963 when a rumpus started and she discovered that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and her governor, George Romney, were marching for civil rights -- right past the window.
With the cape still around her neck, Basore went outside and joined the parade.
“They were hand in hand,” recalled Basore, a former high-school English teacher. “They led the march. We all swung our hands, and they held their hands up above everybody else’s....”
The campaign posted citations quoting one author as writing that “George Romney made a surprise appearance in his shirt sleeves and joined the parade leaders....”
Another witness, Ashby Richardson, 64, of Massachusetts gave the campaign a similar account.
“I’m just appalled that the news picks this stuff up and say it didn’t happen,” Richardson, now a data-collection consultant, said by phone. “The press is being disingenuous in terms of reporting what actually happened. I remember it vividly. I was only 15 or 20 feet from where both of them were.”
At this point, pending further data, I have to conclude that the argument is inconclusive: I seriously mistrust such recollections of "my brush with greatness," but I also seriously mistrust the Boston Phoenix to do a fair job of researching a King march in Detroit that might have included an impromptu swing through Grosse Pointe.
However, Romney does now admit he did not literally witness his father marching with King, whether or not such a march actually occurred.
Now, this is not a "lie" in the ordinary sense of the word; even the Phoenix admits that George Romney had a strong pro-civil-rights record, leading his own 10,000-person civil-rights march through Detroit; it's virtually certain that George Romney would frequently have praised King in Mitt's presence. This, plus George's status as governor Michigan at the time, could easily give rise to a false memory of actually witnessing the two marching together... especially if they did so march, and if young Mitt heard all about it that night over the dinner table.
Still, it was unquestionably an exaggeration -- an instance of Mitthausen's Syndrome -- for Mitt Romney to say he saw his father march with King; he should have done some research first to make sure his memory wasn't playing him false.
Now, it is possible to read Romney's words somewhat more charitably -- that he "saw," as in knew that, his father marched, rather than that he personally stood there and witnessed it with his own eyes. Romney himself offered that explanation... which we all know, in PR terms, sucks rocks as a defense against the charge of being a serial exaggerater.
The basic point Romney was getting at in his speech was to refute the paralogical claim that, since the Romneys were devout Mormons, and since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had a racist policy at the time not to ordain blacks, that therefore the Romneys themselves must also have been racists; and indeed, George Romney's record (as well as Mitt's own) clearly refute that liberal canard.
Still, having worked so long on that speech, he should certainly have "bullet-proofed" a claim that he used as a central argument against the vile and false racism charge. As we all know -- including Mitt Romney, I must presume -- those on the Right simply cannot get away with exaggerations, evasions, circumlocutions, or fibs, no matter how trivial, the way those on the Left can.
Because of animus from the left-leaning press, we anti-liberals must scrutinize every word before we speak or write... because the nattering nabobs of negativism will certainly do so afterwards. Romney could simply have said "My father marched with Martin Luther King" or "my father led a march for civil rights" and left out the confusing bit about personally observing him.
Mitthausen's Syndrome is not an ethical failing, as was Bill Clinton's penchant for literally lying -- saying the opposite of what really happened, shifting blame from himself to innocent others, and bearing false witness against honest accusers; but it is a communications failure. This bothers me because the inability to communicate is the biggest failing of the Bush administration, starting during the campaign with Bush's failure to disclose his DUI arrest
I demand a president who can talk to the American people and persuade them to stick to the high road, the difficult road, the necessary road -- in economics (privatization of "entitlement" programs), immigration policy (reforming legal immigration to make it rational, just, and predictable), and especially in matters pertaining to the war against global hirabah.
My biggest objection to Mike Huckabee's strange ramblings is that they demonstrate disordered thought processes. Romney isn't that bad, but his serial exaggerations do demonstrate too great a willingness to "put a head" on a good story to make it just a little better. That is a quality highly prized in a raconteur -- but which can come back to bite a presidential candidate in the end.
November 3, 2007
The "Flag-Burning Professor" - This May Surprise You
Drudge linked a provocative article from the Bangor Daily News today; the opening paragraph is certainly an attention grabber:
A University of Maine student alleges her former professor offered extra credit to class members if they burned the American flag or the U.S. Constitution or were arrested defending free speech.
On the first day of class, associate professor Paul Grosswiler offered the credit to members of his History of Mass Communications class, according to sophomore Rebekah McDade. Disturbed by the comment, McDade dropped the class and intends to take the course again next semester with a different professor.
Now, I must confess that I always begin reading such articles in a conflicted state of mind:
- I have a natural skepticism about extreme claims like this, stemming from the fact that I have a natural, inborn skepticism about, well, everything;
- I have learnt from bitter experience over the aeons that an awful lot of stories about acrid academia that are too insane to be true -- turn out to be true.
So I typically read in a state of trepidation, because whichever way it goes, one of my deep and cherished beliefs will be crushed. Usually I just shy away and pretend I read it, so I can impress people, but really just move my eyes back and forth and think about England.
But I actually read this one; and despite the fact that at least one other student, Kathleen Dame, possibly two (an unnamed "second student"), also say they think Prof. Grosswiler offered extra credit for such, I actually find I believe the professor himself instead:
In an e-mail responding to a request for comment from the Bangor Daily News on Friday, Grosswiler said he thought McDade misunderstood the class discussion, which was intended to elicit thought about the First Amendment. He said he has held this same discussion for years without incident.
"I don’t intend for students to burn either the Constitution or the flag, and over the years hundreds of students have understood that," Grosswiler wrote.
The thing is, I can easily see how a discussion could seem clear one way to Grosswiler and equally clear the opposite way to McDade and Dame... even in a fairly precise language like English, miscommunication is the norm, not the exception.
Suppose Grosswiler said something like this. I am just now making this up; this doesn't come from any transcript, and I have no idea what he actually said -- save only that I'm sure it was less persuasive and brilliant than my own fantasy lecture below. I only offer this monologue as an illuminating "f'rinstance":
Class, I don't want you just sitting back, listening to the lecture, nodding, and regurgitating what I said. I want you to really understand how important freedom of speech is... and how sometimes you must stand up and protect it, even if it means suffering the consequences.
Our Founding Fathers understood that; when Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty or give me death," at the Virginia Convention of 1775, he wasn't being metaphorical -- he meant it quite literally. The British considered what he said about liberty to be treason and sedition, which were both capital offenses in colonial America.
Over the years, people have chosen many methods of fighting to preserve freedom of speech: Back when flag-burning against the law, many people believed the prohibition, whether state or federal, violated the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech. The most obvious way to protest was by burning the flag and getting themselves arrested; in court, they argued their cases, and eventually they won: The Supreme Court overturned the laws against flag burning.
(Other protesters only burnt the Constitution, which wasn't illegal to do; they made the same point but didn't want to risk jail time.)
Through the centuries, people have been jailed, flogged, tortured, and hanged trying to preserve the precious freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press; and that's what this communications class is about. I want you to experience this material, not just read about it. I want you to go out there and demonstrate a committment to our American liberties, which so many brave men and even women have fought and died to preserve.
Therefore, I give extra credit to students who don't just swallow what I say and spit it out onto a test paper, but actually demonstrate their understanding of the importance of speech and a free press by going out and acting on that understanding.
I don't care what approach you take, whether it's giving a speech, writing an article, or storming the Bastille. You can burn the flag or the Constitution, or you can organize a protest against Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- but do something.
And don't think you can get away with an insincere gesture that's only meant to shock and offend. Whatever you do, it must sincerely come from your heart... and believe me, after twenty years in higher education, you can't fool me: I'll know if you're just faking it, and you won't get any credit.
So whatever you choose to do, go out and show me that you really understand the importance of our essential liberties -- and you'll get extra credit. But much more important, you'll understand just a bit of what so many people have suffered for our vital -- and very American -- freedom.
Yes, I can easily picture it. Of course, Grosswiler wouldn't be as eloquent as I; on the other hand, he would know how to spell "commitment."
Such a speech might easily be misinterpreted by hysterical females (or by hysterical males, of course; I just like scandalizing the proto-feminists) as "I'll give you extra credit for burning the flag." But it would very likely also be true that no student has ever decided to burn the flag to get extra credit... or that maybe someone did, but Grosswiler thought it was completely insincere, and he denied the credit.
In any event, he is absolutely right that there was a whole freedom-of-speech crisis over flag burning, and the Supreme Court did resolve it by ruling that burning the flag was protected speech -- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990). And for once, I agree with the Court's expansion of liberties; I'm not one of those who believes that "speech" means only the verbal conveyance of ideas. The very fact, as argued by those supporting the anti-flag desecration constitutional amendment, that the American flag is a cherished national symbol means that burning it is a very effective way to demonstrate hatred of America -- or at least hatred of something the firebug thinks America is doing. There is almost no getting around the fact that this is a clear political message.
Of course, so is giving money to a political campaign; the Court disgraced itself when it upheld McCain-Feingold, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The decision was 5-4 on the most odious provisions, and goofy Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was in the majority, joining liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter.
I strongly believe that if the case were decided under today's Court, with Justice Samuel Alito instead of Sandra Day O'Connor, the BCRA would be struck down. As evidence, look at the decision in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. (2007), where Chief Justice John Roberts' harsh opinion striking down some provisions of the BCRA (related to issue ads within 30 or 60 days of an election) and expressing contempt for campaign finance regulation was joined by Justice Alito. Alas, O'Connor was still on the Court in 2003, else we would live in a freer society.
(However, I would not go so far as to say everything, including stripping and lap dances, is protected speech, however; I would look at intent, how it's exercised, and whether others were allowed their own freedom of speech -- including the freedom not to listen to your speech. Thus, if you walk into a church during services and take off all your clothes to protest the Iraq war, I say you should be arrested: First, there is no rational connection between nudity and pacifism; second, you interfered with other people's liberties -- both freedom of religious worship, obviously, but also freedom of speech... which includes the freedom not to experience someone else's "speech.")
I appear to have wandered far afield, but it's a false apparition: What constitutes "speech" is at the very heart of this controversy. Judging solely from what I read in the Bangor Daily News article, I suspect this is more or less what Professor Grosswiler was trying to convey... albeit clumsily, since he's sure to be a liberal.
I don't think he was seriously encouraging college brats to go out and burn the flag or Constitution. I think McDade overreacted; a partisan group (The Leadership Institute, which I would probably join if I were the joining sort) seized the opportunity to make hay while the iron was hot; and a newspaper saw a chance for a sensational headline.
Ergo, I wanted to put my $58,712.16 worth in before the chorus of conservatives attacking poor Prof. Grosswiler became deafening.
June 20, 2007
Brave Old Newt World
Newt Gingrich has started a new organization called American Solutions for Winning the Future. It has a website. It promises "transformational change and long-term solutions in Washington," for which new polls show "widespread support":
Through a series of workshops on 9/27 (and again 9/29), we will make these solutions available to activists, volunteers and every candidate from both parties in every elected office in the country. If you would like to help host a workshop in your neighborhood or simply attend, please Click Here.
Alas, they don't make them available today, 6/20, so it's a bit hard to judge; but in what I've seen, both at the site and in Gingrich's 21st Century Contract With America, Newt's "solutions" do not include anything about the seminal threat of our age, the war against global jihadism. In fact, his new contract barely even mentions defense at all, restricting itself to a mere platitude so bland and non-committal that anyone -- even Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%), Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%), and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) -- could enthusiastically applaud it:
Defend America and our allies from those who would destroy us. To achieve security, we will develop the intelligence, diplomatic, information, defense, and homeland security systems and resources for success.
There are many other platitude planks in the new contract; I define a platitude as a statement that sounds great, tells you nothing at all, and leaves you shaking your head and asking, "how?":
Math and science learning equal to any in the world and educating enough young Americans to both discover the science of the future and to compete successfully in national security and the economy with other well-educated societies....
Investing in the scientific revolutions that are going to transform our world—particularly in energy, space, and the environment.
Transforming health care into a 21st Century Intelligent Health System that improves our health while lowering costs dramatically. In the process, American health care will become our highest value export and foreign exchange earning sector....
Use the new technologies and new scientific knowledge to turn disabilities into capabilities and change government regulations and programs to help every American achieve the fullest possible ability to pursue happiness....
Change the mindset of big government in Washington by replacing bureaucratic public administration with Entrepreneurial Public Management so government can operate with the speed, effectiveness, and efficiency of the information age....
Ensure an election process that is honest, accountable, accurate, and free from the threat of illegal votes or subsequent litigation.
It appears that Newt Gingrich -- who I have always liked, and whose original Contract With America drew my enthusiastic cheerleading -- lives in a weird, pre-9/11 bubble, where our top national problems are the economy, health insurance, and reforming Social Security. While I agree with what few specific solutions he has discussed, I wonder...
- Where he stands on the war (and its two main battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan);
- How he thinks we can -- and whether he thinks we should -- raise up the Non-Integrating Gap discussed by Thomas P.M. Barnett's the Pentagon's New Map, which may be driving the surge of militant islamism sweeping the ummah, to the level of the Functioning Core;
Exactly what he means by "investing in... energy, space, and the environment." What energy investments, for example? Is he talking about modern Integral Fast or Pebble Bed Modular Technology nuclear plants? Hydrogen-powered cars? High-temperature ceramic engines? Broadcast power? Better battery technology?
In space policy, does he support the manned Mars expedition, or any manned space exploration at all? Is he a fan of runway-to-orbit routine access to space for passengers and cargo? How about Shuttle II, orbital transfer vehicles (to transition from low to high earth orbit, for example), space-based weaponry, solar power satellites, SDI, permanent space colonies (or even O'Neill colonies)?
And where does he stand on global warming, cooling, and staying-the-saming? What woudl he do, what would he block, and about what is he uncertain? (Considering that we're talking about Newt Gingrich, the answer to the last question is probably "nothing at all!")
Reading all this, I sincerely believe that Newt Gingrich has no plans to run for president anytime soon: If he were serious about running, he would be addressing real issues, not spouting meaningless truisms and tautologies that would draw the support of everybody from Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Ayn Rand to Hugo Chavez and Josef Stalin. Where is the specificity? Newt is not a Democrat, for heaven's sake!
I don't know whether this is just promotion for his new books, Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America and a Contract With the Earth. or just a bizarre exercise in egotism and narcissism. But whatever causes it, such maunderings diminsh the stature of a politician who, in the past, demonstrated both great flaws and gigantic achievements.
Either give it up, Newt -- or else actually apply the same level of mental energy and sideways thinking to your new contract that you poured into your old... especially to the question of how we are actually to get such programs enacted in today's Congress, which is the most urgent question of all; and without which, all the rest is mere dicta.
May 29, 2007
Nowadays, it seems that whenever President Bush says or does anything, conservatives hunt like crazy for the most disreputable, disloyal, and cowardly possible interpretation -- then cling to it like a sick kitten to a warm brick, even when perfectly reasonable (and much more likely) interpretations are available.
Each excursion into spurious accusation becomes more "evidence" to buttress the next, until they build a gigantic "indictment mountain" of tapioca, which they treat like Mount Rushmore. Every absurd attack makes the next, equally absurd attack easier to hurl: Today, even a single word in a notoriously left-leaning newspaper is enough evidence to prove another Bush betrayal. Hey, where there's smoke...
This must be a relative of the normal Bush Derangement Syndrome, or BDS, suffered by lefties; Bush Betrayal Syndrome (BBS), perhaps. It is rapidly becoming an epidemic among American conservatives...
Rich in Iran-y
Case in point: Scott Johnson, writing on my favorite blog Power Line, sees the complete collapse and betrayal of the Bush administration position on one member of the Axis of Evil, Iran:
The Bush administration appears to me to have thrown [away] its stated policy for dealing with Iran in favor of beseeching the mullahs for "a decent interval" in which to withdraw American troops.... [To avoid confusion, let me note that Scott's term "decent interval" quotes Henry Kissinger, not President Bush or US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.]
Perhaps yesteday's meeting is to be followed by one in which we ask the mullahs politely to give up their beloved nuclear program....
I would love to know what the Bush administration has in mind for the mullahs' nuclear program. My guess is runs more along the lines of a whimper than a bang.
Scott bases this entire impeachment of the president's policy upon a single source -- in fact, a single line -- or rather, a single word in a single line of a single source... and that source is the Boston Globe. Here is the evidence of betrayal:
In the highest-level public talks between the United States and Iran in nearly 30 years, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker yesterday reached out to his Iranian counterpart for help in improving Iraqi security and asked that Iran stop supplying arms to Iraqi militia groups.
Note that this is not a quotation; it's is a characterization offered by the Globe reporter, Farah Stockman; based upon other articles of hers I skimmed, she seems to have the political viewpoint typically associated with that far-left newspaper. Yet this one word is the only one that could possibly give rise to Scott's own characterization of the exchange as "beseeching." Scott continues:
Is a story like the Boston Globe's account of yesterday's meeting between Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart to be taken at face value? The Globe reports that Crocker asked that Iran stop supplying arms to Iraqi militia groups. I trust that Crocker remembered to say "please."
Alas, Scott never answered his own question... and of course, the answer is No, a political characterization by the Boston Globe which just happens to fit perfectly with the Democratic agenda of making Bush look feckless and cowardly is not to be "taken at face value;" just as I wouldn't take at face value the declaration by an ardent Evangelical Christian that Mormonism is a cult.
But this accusation of pending betrayal against Bush is even more puzzling; further down on the very same page, the very same exchange is characterized very differently:
On the American side, Crocker reiterated the US demand that the Qods Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, stop funneling weapons to Sunni insurgent groups and extremist Shi'ite militias, particularly factions of Madhi Army, which is loosely controlled by radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
US officials previously had been reluctant to make the claim that Iran supports Sunni as well as Shi'ite insurgents. But yesterday Crocker said he made the case forcefully.
Isn't demanding that Iran stop fueling the terrorists (on both sides) and stop killing Americans exactly what we want our ambassador to do? This seems a far cry from merely "asking" them to give us a Kissingerian "decent interval" in which to surrender. Why is Scott so angry?
But BBS appears to be a much larger problem than just this possible instance would imply:
A mighty hot wind
Conservatives now regularly refer to the "complete collapse" of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
This has been a Democratic talking point since before the hurricane even struck. It was fueled by monstrously misleading media messaging during the crisis -- crazy talk of dead bodies stacked like cordwood in the Superdome's freezer, of cannibalism, of roving rape gangs, of rescue workers being shot at, and of as many as 10,000 people drowned because of "Brownie's incompetence," referring to former Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael D. Brown.
We thoroughly debunked this Democratic fairy tale in 13 Ghosts. But that hasn't stopped a number of conservatives I've read recently from slapping it onto the gooey mountain of "Bush betrayal."
Miers-ed in betrayal
When President Bush nominated Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, conservatives went from "we don't know enough about her" to "she's a stealth liberal activist that Bush is sneaking onto the Court to undo the Reagan revolution" in about 2.4 seconds.
It was a perfectly legitimate point to say that Miers didn't have enough of a track record for us to be sure she would practice judicial restraint. Even Hugh Hewitt, who, alone among conservatives, defended her nomination, admitted that he was troubled by her lack of a paper trail.
But that is a far cry from the increasingly bizarre and unsourced accusations that she was a closet fan of expanding affirmative action, that she would "absolutely" vote to expand abortion, and that her main function was to overturn the Patriot Act. When I pointed out that Bush said he knew her well and she was a conservative, rather than partially exonerate Miers -- the response was to push Bush into the same quagmire... it proved he was the Great Betrayer!
The nomination was revealed to be part of Bush's secret plan to betray conservatism.
Bush is selling our ports to al-Qaeda!
The administration approved a deal for Dubai Ports World, an international port-management company headquartered in the United Arab Emirate nation of Dubai, to purchase the company that was managing cargo operations at most large American ports. Initially, the sale didn't even rise to the level of direct presidential decision-making.
The hue and cry from the Right was immediate and almost hysterical. At first, and for some time before it was finally debunked, conservative commentators and bloggers charged that Bush was "handing over port security" to the A-rabs. Once it was finally made clear this affected only cargo handling, not cargo inspections or any other aspect of port security -- and it only changed the managers, not the actual workers (who would remain American dockwallopers) -- then the same voices beavered away finding some obscure reason why this really was a terrible betrayal of American national security anyway. (The conclusion remained the same; they just jacked it up and ran a whole new structure of fact beneath it.)
Honestly, it seemed to me that proving another "Bush betrayal" had become more important to the disputants than than the truth: Evidence that the deal would not affect security at all was rejected out of hand, while even the faintest rumor that Dubai Ports World was infiltrated by al-Qaeda was cited with the same confidence that one might say the Taliban was infiltrated by al-Qaeda.
The rallying cry became 'American ports must be controlled by Americans, not by foreigners.' Lost in the cacophany was the fact that no American port-management company was big enough to take on the job... and also that the company that had been running port ops earlier, the company bought out by Dubai Ports World, was the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O)... chartered in Great Britain, not the United States.
Bush had to be guilty of yet another ludicrously "betrayal" (the most urgent task): this time, that he wanted to turn American ports over to jihadists.
The United States Attorney betrayal
Conservatives have searched high and low for occult signs of "Bush betrayal" in the case of the "fired" U.S. Attorneys (none was fired; the administration chose not to renew their contracts when they ran out).
At the beginning, the dextrosphere rightly noted that there was nothing illegal about the firing; and that the miscommunication by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his staff, while irritating, was also not a deliberate attempt to mislead Congress.
But the longer Sen. Pat Leahy's (D-VT, 95%) Judiciary Committee hearings pounded on Gonzales and on Pat McNulty, Monica Goodling, et al, and the more the elite media gleefully covered the fishing expedition (which has caught so few fish, they're already digging into the Spamwiches they brought along) -- the more conservatives, smelling blood in the water, turned on Gonzales and Bush.
Now we have the odd spectacle of conservatives using liberal code words to indict Gonzales and the president without actually having to produce evidence of wrongdoing: They say the "timing" of this or that non-renewal of contract was "suspicious," then cast a significant look, as if to say 'if you know what I mean, and I think you do.'
Thus again, conservatives, acting on a strange agenda of their own, lend gravitas and support to the wildest liberal charges against the Republican president. (How long until conservatives begin decrying the "stolen election" of 2000?)
The obsession with finding some way to declare that Bush is the Great Betrayer has hit its apocalyptic apogee -- so far! -- in the response by the Right to the immigration bill. There are certainly elements of the compromise that could be changed for the better; but good heavens, conservatives have accused Bush of everything from wanting "completely open borders" to plotting to merge the United States, Canada, and Mexico into some fantasy nightmare called "the North American Union" (whose currency, tied to the peso, of course, would be the "amero").
The most common wild exaggeration is to say that the bill contains "no border security provisions whatsoever;" this utterly discounts the triggers, including the fence, the doubling of the Border Patrol, the tamper-resistant SSN card, and the increase (by orders of magnitude) of employer penalties for hiring illegals... none of which evidently counts. Some of those who oppose any comprehensive bill whatsoever argue that these programs would be good; but it is a "fact" that they will never be implemented. Bush plots not to enforce them, allowing "a hundred million" illegals to swarm in for "amnesty."
The word "amnesty" itself is conveniently redefined to include a plea bargain with a legal penalty -- while still retaining the frisson of the original meaning of forgiveness without any penalty. Argument by redefinition is a tactic pioneered by leftists, who routinely say, for example, that we have "murdered" 30,000 civilians in Iraq... redefining "murdering civilians" to mean "undertaking an invasion to which terrorists respond by killing civilians."
Just a few moments ago, Carol Platt Liebau, sitting in for Hugh Hewitt, accused Bush of saying that anyone who opposed the bill doesn't "want to do what's right for America." Translation: Bush has become as great a betrayer as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ, %), to whom she explicitly compared the president.
Perhaps she didn't read very far into the AP story before her blood began to boil and her vision clouded up; what the president actually said was this:
"Those determined to find fault with this bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like," the president said. "If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it.
"You can use it to frighten people," Bush said. "Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all."
One may agree or disagree with the compromise bill; but there is no question that the subject of the paragraph is "those determined to find fault with this bill," not everyone who doesn't accept it or is skeptical that it can succeed. Plenty of people oppose this particular bill but are willing to consider other realistic solutions, rather than making demands they know are impossible. They are not included among those who "don't want to do what's right for America," according to President Bush.
He attacks those for whom no bill is acceptable -- other than pure enforcement and deportation, which they know very well will never pass Congress. He castigates people who want to see any regularization plan crash and burn, even if it takes the entire Republican Party with it, leaving the Democrats with total power. "At least then," such bitter-enders say, "we'll know who to blame when the country is destroyed!"
Feeding the energy creature
This is not simply a distasteful and vulgar repudiation of a man who has done, on the whole, a very good job making very tough decisions in response to a terrible national threat. It is also a tragic example of political self-euthanasia.
Conservatives appear determined, if unknowingly so, to put the GOP out of the Democrats' misery: They act as if they can surgically destroy George W. Bush and the "neocons" (however they define them), while leaving the rest of the Republican Party intact. In fact, they seem to believe that once they thrash the president to death, the country will rally behind a "true conservative."
I'm not sure who they have in mind, and I don't think they know, either. The only option offered is to exhume Ronald Reagan.
"Politics is the art of the possible" -- a saying often attributed to Otto von Bismark, though I doubt he ever actually said it. If one rejects that, one is left saying that politics should include elements that are impossible... which, by definition, is impossible. For whatever reason (and I think it likely that BBS played a great role), we lost the 2006 elections; Democrats captured both the House and Senate, albeit narrowly.
But however narrow their majority, they still control both the committees and the agenda; and they can stop cold any of the GOP's remaining agenda items... unless Republicans stick together and peel off a few Democrats. Republicans alone, without a single Democratic defection, can prevent Congress from enacting a Democratic agenda: But they must rely upon a presidential veto (from the man they are determined to call the Great Betrayer); and again, they must stand firm and united, retaining even the votes of moderate Republicans, who are easily disgusted by the disloyalty of their fellow party members.
We court catastrophe when we join the Democratic dogpile atop the president; and we make fools of ourselves when we imagine we can isolate the damage just to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, without having it slop over onto the 2008 Republican nominee for president and Republicans running for election or reelection to the Congress. You don't win a fight by clubbing your own head.
It is time for conservatives to focus on the areas where they agree with the fellow Republican in the White House, and on areas where a change can make a compromise bill better, yet not act as a poison pill to kill it altogether. I beseech you, in the bowels of Oliver Cromwell, to leave the Bush bashing to the professionals in the other party.
Unless, that is, conservatives actually crave the freedom from responsibility of the New Deal era!
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