31 May 2009
29 May 2009
The President himself conveyed the judge's reputed regrets while appearing to endorse her position that life experience enhances constitutional jurisprudence. That's even more unlikely to appease those people who take such talk as heresy against the justice-is-blind principle. But if this is going to be controversial we ought to discuss it as a question of fact as well as principle. Idealists can debate whether life experience should inform jurisprudence, but whether it has or not is less debatable. Let's ask why Dred Scott v. Sandford or Plessy v. Ferguson were decided wrong. Was it only because the justices of the age were imbeciles? Or did it have at least something to do with who they were (or who they weren't) and how that influenced their perceptions on subjects of citizenship and equality? Admitting the possibility is little comfort to those who take Sotomayor's view, however, since these cases demonstrate that life experience is a two way street. It can lead one to decide questions of justice wrongly sometimes. That has to be true for everybody. If particular experience gives the wise Latina superior understanding of certain issues, it may cloud her understanding of others, perhaps inevitably. A clever Senator might concede the argument of the judge's speech, yet ask her if she can envision a case in which the white man has superior insight by virtue of life experience. Should she say no, then we should worry about her.
28 May 2009
Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum expresses concern with any analysis of women and presumably again people of color on the bench, which begins and presumably ends with the conclusion that women or minorities are different from men generally. She sees danger in presuming that judging should be gender or anything else based. She rightly points out that the perception of the differences between men and women is what led to many paternalistic laws and to the denial to women of the right to vote because we were described then "as not capable of reasoning or thinking logically" but instead of "acting intuitively."The last sentence is the one most commonly quoted, though some people have ended the quote with the words "white male" without finishing the sentence. Frankly, I worry more about the sentence that comes before. If "there can never be a universal definition of wise," I'm not sure if constitutional government based upon a rule of law is possible. Would it mean that no common understanding of what the Constitution means is possible? If so, then how is anyone to know which is the "better conclusion" between that of the "wise Latina woman" and the allegedly inexperienced white male? Merely saying it depends on the case and the context doesn't suffice. This would be an interesting line of inquiry at the judge's confirmation hearing.
While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving
that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are
in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address....
[B]ecause I accept the proposition that, as Judge [Judith] Resnik describes it, "to judge is an exercise of power" and because as, another former law school classmate, Professor Martha Minnow of Harvard Law School, states "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives - no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging," I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that--it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others. Not all women or people of color, in all or some circumstances or indeed in any particular case or circumstance but enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging....
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life....
But for those who infer from the speech that Sotomayor has prejudged certain cases as a matter of identity politics, here's one more quote as a caution.
I, like Professor [Stephen L.] Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many
issues including Brown[ v.Board of Education].However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the
bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
I might add that the deliberative process of jurisprudence goes both ways, and that Sotomayor should be as open to the perspective of others with different experiences as she would hope they will be to her perspective. I hope she'll clarify her beliefs on these points at the hearings, but that would require Senators smart enough to ask the right questions without deferring to her as a matter of party discipline. Let's see who steps up to the plate.
27 May 2009
Rosen contends that Arabs define themselves by their relationships, including their dependence on others, rather than idealize an autonomous self as Americans do. The archetypal America aspires to a state in which he depends on nobody and owes nothing to anyone. But to Arabs, if I understand Rosen right, the person who has complete freedom of action because he owes no one anything, or thinks that he doesn't, is the epitome of injustice because he denies any concept of reciprocity and thus denies others their proper standing in society.
Without meaning to, Rosen also suggests an answer to the great question of "what went wrong" with the Arab world while Europe and America forged ahead. Arab culture seems to have a problem with the concept of a "rule of law" to the extent that it treats people in the abstract as citizens with equal rights and obligations. By contrast, Rosen portrays Arabs as individualists (or "personalists") to a fault. Any political office, any position of responsibility, is inseparable from the specific person who holds it. Rosen's Arabs are skeptical toward claims of objectivity; they presume that officials make decisions based on their personal interests. "What appears to some as an Arab penchant for conspiracy theories may perhaps be better understood as a constant quest for causes that can be traced back to some person," Rosen writes (p.27). But that reads more like euphemism than clarification, since conspiracy theory is founded on the same sort of "who benefits" questioning and belief in will as the cause of all things that Rosen finds typical of Arabs. In any event, if you believe that the establishment of a "rule of law" favoring abstract rights over personal privileges is a prerequisite for socio-economic advancement, an Arab aversion to the idea, if real, may at least partly explain their apparent backwardness. At the same time, Rosen's account of Arab society might appeal to the more hyper-individualistic Americans for exactly the reasons that may have handicapped it.
I can't help wanting a second opinion about Arabs, but Rosen makes a plausible case against the neocon notion that all people everywhere on Earth aspire to "freedom" as it is understood in the United States. He shows that Arabs can scoff at or simply not comprehend the American ideal, yet still consider themselves free. They may not be free in the American sense of the word, but the more you read about the world, the more you realize that the American sense of that word is just that: one culture's attitude among many cultures. The American may look at other cultures and say they aren't free, but that has no more automatic validity than a Christian's assertion that other religions worship Satan. If we want a global definition of freedom, then we'll need a global culture to define it. Until then, books like Rosen's should knock some sense into people.
26 May 2009
Limbaugh is way out of bounds, however, when he challenges Olbermann and the rest of MSNBC, however frivolously, not to talk about him for thirty days. I get his supposed point, which is that Countdown can't succeed by preaching the positive message of liberalism and therefore must stoke hatred of the Right. But Limbaugh can't get around the fact that he is a public figure and a newsmaker, and thus an appropriate subject for commentary at any time. Olbermann, in turn, is well within his rights to interpret the challenge as Limbaugh's "surrender," an admission that he can't take what Olbermann claims to be accurate and damning criticism. That said, my own opinion is that Countdown has grown just as tiresome as I imagine the Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly programs to be. It seems to have no purpose other than to lambaste a coterie of "conservative" talkers and politicians. Yet it seems to me that on any given day no mere radio or TV talker can be the "worst person in the world," and that, no matter how influential Limbaugh is within the Republican party, true progressives should have bigger fish to fry. But liberals and Democrats have made the talkers the scapegoats for all their troubles since the days of Clinton, as if they think the Republican party might truly collapse if the talkers' hot air didn't keep it afloat.
People like Olbermann may not think that their side has won until the talkers are silenced. I don't mean that they'd like to see the talkers banned from the airwaves, but I do think they have an unrealistic goal of shaming their enemies into submission. At the same time, I wonder whether Olbermann hasn't been driven by some desire to have his antagonists acknowledge his existence or recognize him as an equal foe. My impression had been that they had scrupulously ignored him or avoided uttering his name for the most part until recently. Limbaugh's challenge may indeed be proof of a crucial weakening of the reactionary talkers' position. If so, it would be high time for Olbermann's side to adopt the practices of the position of strength. After all, there's probably no more foolproof way of silencing one's enemies than not listening to them. You'll know the tide has turned when people decide that Limbaugh's opinions are not worth responding to, but Olbermann will probably be behind the curve when that time comes.
Sotomayor is reputed to be a centrist, and has been criticized from at least one quarter for being a mediocre intellectual. At first glance, it looks like reactionaries will fight her on the ground of affirmative action rather than abortion rights. She ruled against white firemen who claimed reverse discrimination back in the 1990s, while deferring to the first President Bush on blocking foreign aid to family planning programs that included abortion.
I'm unimpressed by the President's insistence that "compassion" is required to "interpret the Constitution wisely." The document exists as a check on all passions, and we should expect any judge to appreciate that. The Constitution is an artifact of a less "compassionate" time, and compassion is probably better applied to amending it than to interpreting what's already written. I don't say this to disqualify Sotomayor, but to suggest that the better alternative to reading anachronistic values into the language of the Framers is to affirm explicitly that our fundamental values have changed since 1789. If we continue to argue over what the Framers meant the reactionaries will always have an edge. But if we do what the Framers permitted, reactionary adherence to a skewed notion of the Framers' original intent will become increasingly irrelevant. It isn't up to the Supreme Court to lead any revolution. Its job is to enforce the revolutions enacted by the people. Once we face up to this truth, judicial confirmations should become as uncontroversial as they used to be.
25 May 2009
21 May 2009
For once, the two sides in the dispute over the treatment of terror-war detainees weren't talking past each other. The President returned to "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a moral question and a challenge to national character. Waterboarding is repugnant to mankind, and our resort to it besmirches the country's image abroad, undermining American claims to role-model status. He seemed to conceded that the rule of law couldn't accommodate every prisoner of the terror war. Noting that "people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans" may have to be detained indefinitely, he still thinks that something like a rule of law could be established to deal with such people.
Obama emphasized how we defined ourselves over the past century as the country that didn't torture or otherwise mistreat prisoners or dissidents, the one to whom enemies would rather surrender (compared to, say, the USSR during World War II). If someone hopes to change the President's mind on this point, that individual must argue persuasively that waterboarding and other enhanced techniques do not compromise the country's essential character.
The former Vice-President summed up these moral objections as " feigned outrage based on a false narrative." He notes that only three terror suspects have ever been waterboarded and suggests, not implausibly, that many people have Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib mixed up in their minds, so that they imagine the antics in the Iraqi prison being perpetrated on our Cuban base. "[P]eople who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about 'values,'" Cheney grumbled. He usually defends interrogation practices on grounds of efficiency; if they produced information that thwarted terrorist plots, that's all the justification they need. Today, he dismissed the argument that our publicized interrogation techniques have been a "recruiting tool" for terrorists. They would turn no one against the United States, he said, who didn't already despise the country's core values. He was back to the standard neocon "they hate our freedom" argument. For the most part, he seemed not to realize that critics like the President are concerned with how our conduct appears to third parties, the rest of the world, rather than how terrorists perceive them. He did offer such critics this tidbit.
Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.
Cheney didn't attempt to refute the argument that his policies were inconsistent with the country's conduct toward enemies for most of its history. Some people have suggested that going back to the record would vindicate the pro-torture camp, but that will be a project for another time. Perhaps showing a Republican bias, he characterized objections to torture as solicitude toward the rights of the detainees when it is actually, again, grounded in a notion that Americans shouldn't do certain things. Cheney speaks for those Americans who find such a notion absurd.
A distinction emerges between those we can call "liberals" and those who aren't. The liberals believe in establishing a consistent rule of law through institutions that can function effectively at all times, including crises. The other side finds the liberals' regulatory institutions constrictive of both their ordinary individual freedom to get ahead and their assumed natural right to save themselves by any means in emergencies. History may yet prove the liberals naive in their principled refusal to employ certain means for certain ends, or it may prove most liberal individuals hypocrites during more severe emergencies than the present conflict. But their ideal is something people ought to believe in, even if it only ever amounts to a Utopia. Meanwhile, the other side's position isn't hypocritical as much as it's paradoxical. It's increasingly apparent to me, at least, that their ordinary reactionary defense of "freedom" and their readiness to resort to quasi-dictatorship in wartime are two sides of a single coin. These people remain fundamentally alienated from an ideal of social order that seems totalitarian to them to the extent that it seems to limit their assumed natural right to save themselves first. In peacetime, they assert that right by refusing politically-imposed limits on how much anyone can acquire in money or property. In wartime they have no more objection to ruthlessness in national self-defense than they do to killing someone to defend their own property. From this perspective, unbounded executive leadership is simply yet another expression of freedom. It's a freedom that also thinks of itself as civilization, but some people who also see themselves as civilized may beg to differ.
20 May 2009
The thing that jumps out at you about Hoover is the contradiction between his attitude about the state and his belief in personal power. The Depression seemed only to harden his hostility to the idea of a regulatory welfare state. To the extent that a man of his time could have an ideology, he was an anti-statist, but while many people fear the state because they fear its power, Hoover never seemed to have a problem with power itself. He made his name in public life for genuinely heroic action in organizing food relief for the people of occupied Belgium during World War I. He imposed his will on two warring nations to get his way, browbeating Britain into lifting a blockade of Europe and getting Germany to let him go pretty much as he pleased in occupied territory. When America joined the war, Hoover may have become the first American to be called a policy "czar" when President Wilson made him "food czar." He acquired unprecedented power over food production, distribution and consumption in order to feed the country's allies. Leuchtenburg quotes him saying that a democracy at war "requires a dictatorship of some kind or another," and that "a democracy must submerge itself temporarily in the hands of an able man or an able group of men."
But if he could not persuade businessmen and bankers to do what he thought appropriate to reverse the Depression, Hoover preferred to deny that times were bad enough to require radical action. He created a lot of special commissions to investigate conditions, but balked at systematic reform. He stated his own position most clearly in 1936: "Either we shall have a society based upon ordered liberty and the initiative of the individual, or we shall have a planned society and that means dictation." In the 21st century, many people think that "ordered liberty" means a regulatory state, but to Hoover the regulatory state meant a "planned society." In his mind, apparently, ordered liberty depended on the initiative of the individual. Based on his past, you can infer that ordered liberty left room for individual initiative in an emergency in the form of policy "czars" or the virtual dictatorship of "an able man or an able group of men." Hoover's idea of freedom accommodated the occasional need for extraordinary leadership that should seem inconsistent with any idea of ordered liberty. If any of this reminds you of George W. Bush and his acolytes, it's probably no accident.
I'm reminded of the concept of the "state of exception" concept of sovereignty in a modern tradition that dates back to the quasi-Nazi Carl Schmitt. According to this concept, the sovereign is the power capable of declaring a state of exception to the rule of law that depends upon it. In other word, the power to make the law is the power to break the law, but, perhaps paradoxically, the sovereign's power to break the law is also the power that sustains the law. I wonder whether Republicans approach the problem of freedom in the same way. They pay lip service to the rule of law, but when "freedom" as they understand it seems imperiled, they seem to prefer strong leadership bordering on dictatorship to a defense of freedom according to a rule of law. It's as if the right to become a dictator as a matter of self-defense is implicit in their understanding of individual liberty. If so, then limiting the implicit power of leadership through a strong rule of law or a regulatory state would be seen as an attack on individual liberty itself. At least that's my attempt at figuring Hoover out, and you may find it useful in understanding the way certain Republicans talk and act.
Here's the roll call. New Yorkers, please note that both of the state's Democratic senators voted for this ridiculous amendment, which was introduced by a Democrat (Sen. Inouye of Hawaii) as well. Were I a senator, I'd introduce an amendment demanding the summary execution of all Guantanamo detainees, just to see how many votes it'd get.
19 May 2009
You might think that no one should have to think of self-defense in a national park, but Sen. Coburn thinks differently. Invoking the Second Amendment, his intervention mandates that the right to "keep and bear arms" shall not be infringed in parks unless specific individuals are already prohibited from carrying guns. All of this is debatable in its own right, but what has it to do with credit card interest rates? Apparently it doesn't have to have anything to do with the legislation it amends. There's no test of relevancy for such things apart from that each senator conducts in his or her head before voting on an amendment. So Coburn can polish his gun-nut credentials by piggy-backing his bill on more popular legislation. Interesting, three of the five senators who opposed the amended bill voted for the amendment. That looks pointless unless you're tabulating the National Rifle Association's ratings for legislators.
The House of Representatives has the right to decouple the Coburn amendment from the credit card bill, and is expected to vote on the two measures separately. That, however, would require some form of reconciliation between the amended Senate bill and an unamended House version. I expect the amendment will fall by the wayside at that point, since the gun nuts will have already put themselves on the record. In any event, it should.
A case in point is Rod Dreher, the self-styled "crunchy con." He represents a conservative element that embraces environmentalism and the small-is-beautiful ethic. His conservatism isn't concerned solely with making the world safe for entrepreneurs.In "Becoming Barbarians," Dreher critiques a conservative tendency to build defenses against theoretical "barbarians at the gates" while ignoring a decline into barbarism within their gates in which they're complicit.
"Do I need to believe in the imminent arrival of the barbarians to avoid the hard, tedious and not especially rewarding work of trying to come up with a livable conservatism in the present uncongenial age?" Dreher asks. He had believed that conservatives ought to adopt what he called the "Benedict Option," after St. Benedict of Nursia: dropping out of mainstream society and forming enclaves to preserve traditional culture. He now questions this approach because it presumes that "the barbarians" are always on the outside, or can be kept on the outside. It may be no more that "Romantic escapism masquerading as monastic-tinged cultural survivalism." That doesn't mean that there isn't "an astonishing and astonishingly rapid cultural collapse" under way, but that "my frantic concern about the barbarians, and what was to be done about the catastrophe we were living through, was distracting me from the kind of thought that could truly renew and restore a culture lost to itself[.]"
This seems to be the kind of thought Dreher has in mind:
Conservatives have worked so hard over the past few decades to fight for civilized standards against a short checklist of modern barbarisms -- abortion, gay marriage, political correctness, and so forth. What we failed to consider was that we had become barbarians ourselves.
The barbarians of the Roman era wandered and marauded aimlessly. We accepted rootlessness as the modern condition. We defended our unrestrained consumer appetites by spiting those who would counsel limits as freedom's enemies. Despisers of communism, we worshiped capitalism, naive to its revolutionary power to dissolve bonds we ought to have cherished and things we ought to have conserved. Though we like to think of ourselves as apostles of excellence preaching against the depredations of Hollywood trash and academia's political correctness, we have reduced ourselves to sneering at the concept of elitism and celebrating ignorance and vulgarity as signs of authenticity.
We cast aside the sense of temperamental modesty, of restraint and of fidelity to honorable traditions that have been conservatism's philosophical patrimony, and exchanged it for a pot of ideological message.
Dreher may discredit himself for some readers by recounting at length a dream he had in which the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy rebuffs his appeals for advice about the barbarians by asking him to admire the bells of a local church and a bottle of locally-made beer.Before the dream, Dreher had never read Cavafy but knew him as the author of a poem about barbarians. He later found that Cavafy had written: "And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?/They were, those people, a kind of solution." As Dreher reads it, obsessing over "the barbarians" is a way to distract ourselves from dealing with our own decadence. The way to deal with it, he now thinks, is "to retreat from the passions of the moment" and embrace a sort of spirituality rooted in love of local things like church bells and beer bottles. These things are real, while the ideological and partisan obsessions of modern politics are "destructive illusions," according to author Claes G. Ryn. Dispelling those illusions requires not just spirituality but also an artistic temperament dedicated to exposing "the great illusions of our age...for what they are so that they will start to lose their appeal."
Since Dreher is a conservative, however crunchy, his approach will probably include Christianity, if not religion in general, more than I'd like. But when you consider what it does not include you may see a purgative process under way in which American conservatives liberate themselves from their anti-communist obsession with capitalism and an idolization of it as the ultimate form of civilization. If that happens, people on the "left" may discover that they can work with "conservatives" on many fronts, regardless of religion. If the ties linking cultural conservatives like Dreher to entrepreneurial fanaticism can be broken, political realignments on a larger scale might be possible. Here's hoping.
18 May 2009
Lonegan is making his second run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New Jersey. He finished fourth in the 2005 primary, but seems to be at least the second strongest candidate this time around. Although he didn't mention it in his letter, he's received an endorsement from Ron Paul, who admires Lonegan's fiscal restraint during his mayoral years. But I get the impression that Lonegan thinks that citing Paul mightn't be wise in such a letter, especially since it seems to be directed at Weekly Standard subscribers rather than American Conservative readers.
"The fight to TAKE BACK our country begins NOW!!!" the envelope says. Inside, Lonegan elaborates. "If our Republican Party is going to be rebuilt, it must begin now! Because one thing is beyond debate...
"...CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS LIKE YOU AND I ARE UNDER ASSAULT LIKE NEVER BEFORE. NOT ONLY ARE THE ELITES IN THE 'MAINSTREAM' MEDIA DECLARING THAT THE ERA OF RONALD REAGAN IS OVER -- BUT THEY ARE EVEN SUGGESTING THAT CAPITALISM ITSELF IS DEAD!"
"Government is on the march," he warns, "today's liberal is committed to one thing...Finding new ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. They're determined to redistribute income so that they can keep stealing property and expanding government even further. This is called Socialism. And it's un-American."
Lonegan hopes to become the rallying point for a "conservative" stand in New Jersey, where Jon Corzine is "the most liberal Governor in the United States." Corzine has increased sales and property taxes, Lonegan alleges, and "promises to take his radical brand of Big Government Socialism beyond New Jersey's borders!!" He offers no evidence of any such promise, but insists, "LET ME BE CLEAR -- there's another rabid leftist at the gate just eager to push his Socialist policies on you and me."
Corzine's re-election campaign, Lonegan says, is "our first opportunity to strike back at the smug liberal Democrats and their radical Special Interest groups." Conservatives, I suppose, are expected to take the identities of these "Special Interests" for granted, since Lonegan can't be bothered, or doesn't dare, to name them.
Lonegan claims that he can win in a "blue" environment. He notes that "despite living in a 2-1 Democrat town that voted for Al Gore, John Kerry and gave Barack Obama 64 percent of the vote, I was elected and re-elected three times -- BY DOUBLE DIGIT MARGINS!!" I wonder whether the people of Bogota thought of him as a "movement conservative," as he describes himself now. For that matter, even those American Conservative readers who call themselves "conservatives" have grown suspicious of self-styled "movement conservatives" because too many of them tend to put the "movement" before conservatism. They are ideologues in a way that the magazine usually finds inconsistent with true philosophical conservatism. Likewise, if he thinks he can draw money from Conservative subscribers by waving the Reagan flag, he ought to check out what the magazine has been saying about the Gipper lately and think again.
But being a Reaganite requires optimism, so Lonegan presses on with his plea for funds. He hammers home the point that New Jersey has a "unique matching funds system of financing campaigns" through which the state doubles anyone's campaign contribution. If I were to send him $35, for instance, the state will give him $70. He repeats this point twice over in the remaining page of the begging letter. He also says:
I'm not trying to sound dramatic, but the America that you and I believe in is under assault like never before. Liberals are consumed with power and they are eager to obtain even more. IF YOU AND I ARE GOING TO TAKE AMERICA BACK, WE MUST DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND AND FIGHT -- STARTING TODAY! AND THAT FIGHT BEGINS WITH THIS CAMPAIGN!!
Remember, Lonegan's not trying to sound dramatic, despite underlining all the stuff in bold caps and drawing blue asterisks in the margins. If he wanted to sound dramatic, after all, he'd send me one of those cards that plays a song when you open it, and he could really cut loose. Still not trying for drama, he closes by promising, "With your help, I can rebuild the conservative movement with a big win here. On to victory!" But he'll have to get on with it without me.
In any event, Obama's talk demonstrated why "pro-life" has the majority at the moment, because his emphasis, like the Clintons in the 1990s, was on making abortions less common. You can't really expect him to argue for more abortions, but my point is that the "pro-choice" side is hobbled by a now-inevitable reticence founded on the fact that abortion isn't really desirable in its own right. Pro-choice activists want to avoid looking like advocates of "abortion on demand." No one in the mainstream seems to make a strong case for the irreducible sovereignty of women over their own bodies, perhaps because doing so might make one look like a feminist extremist or "feminzai." The liberal position now seems to be that abortion is deplorable, but women shouldn't be punished for it. I still say that the way to block anti-abortion laws should Roe v. Wade be overturned is to raise the stakes to an unacceptable level by introducing deal-breaking amendments to any legislation that would require punishment of mothers who abort. As things stand, pro-lifers act as if mothers who abort are only dupes of the evil eugenicists of the family-planning movement. Their preference is to punish doctors rather than mothers. This may reflect a constrained sense of female autonomy that might be exposed to their discredit in a real debate. But there is no real debate at the moment, and maybe Roe must fall before we can have one. That would be the time for fair-minded words, and it would be interesting to see who can say them.
I may be a crabby secularist, but I feel entitled to complain about the President bringing up original sin in his speech. He was careful to contain it in a comment about what the "Christian tradition" believes, but too many people use original sin as an explanation of man's imperfectibility to excuse an unwillingness to attempt to at least improve man. Man is imperfect because he is mortal, not because he has a curse on him. Believing that man is cursed leads people to assume that many projects are doomed to fail that may not be. It also discourages people from using the political instruments at their disposal to improve their lives. It encourages them to take the Christian option of saving themselves rather than concerning themselves with the well-being of all. It seems to me that just as we can do without the utopian perfectionism that made many Marxists irrational, we can do without the superstitious pessimism that makes many Americans equally irrational. So that's when I would have heckled the President, maybe just to surprise people. Consider this a mild form of virtual heckling instead.
17 May 2009
16 May 2009
As it happens, these protests take place on the heels of a Gallup poll that appears to show that, for the first time in the history of their polling, a small majority of Americans consider themselves "pro-life" on the abortion question. This was probably an inevitable result of the pro-lifers having the propaganda field mostly to themselves, as the other side has been increasingly squeamish about affirming women's sovereignty over their bodies at fetuses' expense. It should also be noted that this news appears at a time when shrinking numbers of Americans call themselves Republicans. This should be a rebuke to those Republican strategists and tank-thinkers who've been urging the party to shore up its social-conservative credentials, since a pro-life stance doesn't seem to correlate with support for the GOP. Social conservatives may well be economic liberals in hard times, and may stay so despite becoming more conservative on social issues. Republicans who see this poll as good news are fooling themselves.
15 May 2009
Lindsey's argument is worth examining, whether in the magazine or the treatise, because it shows how libertarian priorities and their view of history may diverge from other people's. He credits the comparative equalization of incomes in the immediate post-WW2 years to what's known as the "Treaty of Detroit." This term covers a general agreement between business and labor to tamp down strikes and other disruptions in return for high wages and recognition of unions as collective bargainers. Lindsey opposes an account he attributes to Paul Krugman, last year's Nobel laureate in economics, who blames growing inequality on the breaking of the "Treaty of Detroit" by business in collusion with the Republican party.
Without trying to dispute Krugman's assumption that the working class in general was better off in the 1950s and 1960s, while the "Treaty of Detroit" was in effect, Lindsey emphasizes that the times weren't so good for everyone. This excerpt from the Reason article sums up Lindsey's argument.
The Treaty of Detroit was built on extensive cartelization of markets, limiting competition to favor producers over consumers. The restrictions on competition were buttressed by racial prejudice, sexual discrimination, and postwar conformism, which combined to limit the choices available to workers and potential workers alike.
Bit by bit, in Lindsey's account, revolutionary social changes increased the appearance of inequality because unprecedented numbers of hitherto excluded people were flooding in at the ground floor of career advancement. Those changes include the liberalization of immigration law enacted under Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Immigration of unskilled workers accounts for "roughly 30 percent of the increase in adult male annual earnings inequality between 1979 and 1996" according to a study cited by Lindsey. While he doesn't refer to a "gender gap" in pay, it makes sense to assume that more women in the workforce has had a similar effect on inequality. Lindsey does mention a factor in growing household inequality: the growth in two-career families and the tendency of the affluent to marry each other "explains about 13 percent of the total rise in income inequality since 1979."
Also significant, Lindsey admits, is the decline in union power decried by Krugman, but Lindsey identifies that as a symptom rather than a cause of the change. Unions have shrunk, he suggests, mainly because unionized businesses have gone under due to competition from non-union rivals, and not because of a corporate-political conspiracy. That begs the question of why non-union rivals rose in the first place, but Lindsey notes that the laws that have effectively hamstrung union organization actually predated the "Treaty of Detroit," which only consolidated the position of existing union shops.
Cultural factors are also important in Lindsey's analysis. The 1960s counterculture rebelled against the "Organization Man" conformity of Krugman's idealized 1950s, Lindsey contends, and "upended the social ethic of group-minded solidarity and conformity with a stampede of unbridled individualism and self-assertion" that peaked during the "Me Decade" of the 1970s, and peaked again during the "decade of greed." "With the general relaxation of inhibitions, talented and ambitious people felt less restrained from seeking top dollar in the marketplace," Lindsey asserts, "Yippies and yuppies were two sides of the same coin." Although Lindsey doesn't use this example, Jerry Rubin was often cited during the 1980s as living proof of this trend.
Part of Lindsey's argument is disingenuous. It doesn't follow that to restore the equalization of incomes that prevailed in the 1950 would require the reimposition of all the discriminatory or repressive rules that existed then, as Lindsey seems to imply. He can't seriously think that levelling incomes means subjugating women, immigrants or other minorities. But he does believe that any attempt at levelling will limit opportunity in general, on principle. The main part of his argument is a matter of principle for him, but his principles aren't necessarily ours.
Note again that Lindsey doesn't dispute that the Baby Boom years were a golden age for the American working class as a whole. He insists, however, that times were tougher for aspiring entrepreneurs. He insists further that inhibited competition is bad because it means less choices for American consumers. Lindsey's is a typical Libertarian viewpoint that sees the ideal American as an entrepreneur and/or a consumer while downplaying any identification of America with the working class. This, obviously, is not a conservative viewpoint. It would have been conservative to resist the trends Lindsey describes, as far as the labor market is concerned. So it's interesting to note that the self-identified "conservative" party of the era welcomed and encouraged most of these developments, apart from the counterculture stuff. What was conservative about that?
Lindsey makes a lot of sound historical points, noting that many of the deregulatory policies that contributed to growing inequality were enacted during Democratic administrations. I think he makes a case that the trend shouldn't be seen as a reactionary conspiracy. But when he insists that we should see it all as a good thing, I think he goes too far. How we view these developments is a matter of perspective. Lindsey has the liberty of choosing his perspective, but it's not the only one. We can look at it from a different angle and still see growing inequality as a problem that can be corrected without the reversion to McCarthyism that Lindsey warns against. After all, those formerly excluded people are part of the working class, now, and they'd benefit from the reestablishment of the old policies just like everyone else -- one hopes.
13 May 2009
Can new pictures really further inflame anti-American feeling where it already exists at high heat? If it can, what of it? The American people have an implicit right to see everything there is to see and know all that can be known. If the revelation makes foreigners more angry at us, the photos might prove that some of that anger might just be warranted. And anyone who says that my desire to know the truth endangers the troops is an idiot of the year. If more photos incite more violence, it will be the fault of the perpetrators in the pictures and the people who commanded them. But I sense that the President would rather us and them forget what happened rather than risk looking "partisan" by holding the appropriate people to account before the world.
Challenging the argument that Republicans must move toward the "center" on social issues, Goldberg denies that such a thing exists, at least as some understand the concept. According to the columnist, "this argument assumes the existence of a creature that Kate O'Beirne of the National Review Institute calls the 'Jackalope of American politics': the socially liberal fiscal conservative. These critters are allegedly America's real silent majority, except they are exceedingly rare. Most people who are socially liberal are economically liberal as well."
I know that Libertarians are a small party, but I didn't realize there were so few of them. Most, from what I know of their beliefs, would fit the "jackalope" description pretty exactly, yet Goldberg is right to believe that they're not enough to tip the balance in a national election. There's a hidden presumption in Goldberg's analysis, however, although I can't speak for Kate O'Beirne. He seems to think that economic beliefs follow from "social" beliefs, but in the Libertarian case I'm pretty sure that social beliefs follow from economic ones. Believing that the state should leave them alone to their economic pursuits, they want to be left alone in other fields as well. At least that was the attitude Barry Goldwater adopted in his later years.
Goldberg is mainly concerned with keeping "social conservatives" attached to the Republican party, and wants the GOP to heighten its differences with the Democrats on social issues. There's a risk to this approach. It simply doesn't follow, even if you accept Goldberg's premise that social liberals tend to be economic liberals, that social conservatives are automatically economic conservatives. It's well known that many if not most Democrats are more conservative on social or "moral" questions than party politicians. For a while it looked as if social issues would transform such people from "Reagan Democrats" into permanent Republicans, but the transformation was never complete. Churchgoing African-Americans, for instance, are often very conservative socially, but never embraced the Republicans. In time, many "Reagan Democrats" came back to their original party. For such people, economics trumps social issues. We seem to live at a time when economic issues will be paramount for a while. It seems increasingly unlikely that social issues will determine any national election. Under such conditions, any effort by Republicans to define themselves as the party of social issues might well prove a giant waste of time.Therefore, I wish Goldberg great success in his venture.
12 May 2009
11 May 2009
In my darker moods, I suspect that American politics, at least at the presidential level, is ultimately just a popularity contest. In the television age, the more personally charming guy wins — or at minimum has a monumental advantage.Partisans on both sides tend to not like this argument for all sorts of reasons. For instance, they tend to like their candidates better than the other team’s. Of course, this is often just a rationalization. If you honestly believed that Michael Dukakis was a more likable guy than George H.W. Bush, or that Nixon would be a more entertaining drinking buddy than JFK, you should seek therapy, or a vigorous regimen of enemas, or both. The simple fact is that if John Kerry and Al Gore weren’t pompous human toothaches, they would have blown George W. Bush out of the water.Also, partisans like to believe that whenever their guy wins, it’s because their ideas have been ratified by the American people, and whenever the other guy loses, they pronounce that the American people have resoundingly rejected this or that idea. Sometimes this is obviously true, but not nearly as often as we like to think.
As befits a conservative, Goldberg's idea is not a new one. Every since John F. Kennedy won the first televised presidential debates in 1960, it's been presumed that Abraham Lincoln would lose such a debate simply because he was so damned ugly. Goldberg embraces the argument now because he doesn't want the 2008 vote to be interpreted as a repudiation of Reaganism. This is where his analysis gets odd. At the least, it's strange that his column is headlined "we need a hero" in many places, since they had one last year and were beaten -- and not because people believed the attempted debunking of Seantor McCain's POW record. Here's Goldberg's thesis.
Liberals bristled at — but didn’t really deny — the suggestion that voters preferred Bush because they’d rather “have a beer with him.” What they fail to fully appreciate is that many voters preferred Obama because they’d rather have a chardonnay with him than with that cranky John McCain. Obama’s winning personality and a widespread yearning for ill-defined “change” were probably more essential to Obama’s victory than his campaign proposals.
This is debatable. I suspect that many Americans, including many who voted against him, might prefer sharing beer with McCain than hanging with the relative elitist Obama. I also question whether "cranky" was most Americans' first word to describe the often good-humored McCain, whatever fellow senators felt about the man. But Goldberg isn't far off the mark when he notes worryingly that his party lacks charismatic winning personalities. He's brazen enough to admit that his ideal candidate would be Dick Cheney, but honest enough to admit that Cheney wouldn't stand a chance in the current national mood. Too many Republicans replicate Cheney's image of a snarling, sneering (or, just as bad, contemptuously chortling) portly old man for Goldberg to like their immediate chances. The great exceptions are Governor Palin and Governor Jindal, but the Alaskan brings her own polarizing traits to the debit side of the ledger, while Jindal famously flopped in his first big chance, the reply to the presidential message.
Looming above them all, of course, is the appalling persona of Rush Limbaugh, who is perhaps paradoxically both the devil-image of the anti-Republican imagination and the nearest thing to a hero-image many Republicans now have. He's their ideal of "speaking truth to power," and as long as he remains their ideal icon, and someone to whom any other Republican must answer, I doubt whether any fresh face can reverse the current trend until the logic of the American Bipolarchy itself rescues the grand old party -- at which point, despite Goldberg, personalities won't matter.
[W]e cannot fail to be concerned that today, with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God. Indeed some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world; and so they argue that the less attention given to religion in the public sphere the better.
"Ja, Hitchens, I'm talking about you," one can imagine the supreme pontiff muttering under his breath. My problem with this part of the speech arises from Ratzinger's claim that religion has a nature. Perhaps it does according to some theory of innate human religiosity, but any given religion is a human construct, however it claims to be inspired. Meanwhile, the charge of inherent divisiveness is hard to answer, but Benedict gives it a shot.
Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied. However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?
The Holy Father hedges his bets. He has at least enough honesty to say that it is only "often" someone else's fault that religious division leads to violence. But the concept of "ideological manipulation of religion" begs all kinds of questions. To my mind, ideology happens when political philosophy aspires to the authority of religious dogma. It is no defense of religion to argue that political ideas are most dangerous when they most closely resemble religious claims. For that matter, many of the Muslims in the Pope's Jordanian audience might not accept his implicit distinction between political and religious ends, since Islamism, in general, denies the distinction. In a Christian context, his remarks might seem relevant to Irish history, or they might be digs at the leftist "liberation theology" tradition in Latin America or even at the American "Christian right." As I think about it, I'm not sure I accept the distinction he's trying to maintain, since I'm not sure you can separate the political motivations of alleged ideological manipulators from the religious motives.
Benedict moves on:
In the face of this situation, where the opponents of religion seek not simply to silence its voice but to replace it with their own, the need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly. Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history.
Fine. But since their kingdom is still not of this world (Muslim opinion notwithstanding), they must understand that if they enter into political deliberations with no better argument for their preferences than "God says so," they should be taken no more seriously than if they said, "Bugs Bunny says so." They are compelled to share polities with people who remain unconvinced by revelations. Such people must be swayed by reason, and if God is as reasonable as believers claim, the faithful should be able to extrapolate intelligible, logical arguments from scriptural principles that don't depend on supernatural claims. This is all that atheists and skeptics really ask of believers in the public sphere. To do differently, to demand that non-believers be governed by the dictates of a deity, whether they acknowledge such a power or not, sounds a little like the ideological manipulation of religion for political ends to me. If Benedict is actually against tricks like that, he may find that he has surprising allies.
First impressions must be tentative, but my first thought on seeing this news was to wonder why it doesn't happen more often. Military discipline and comradeship might be obvious answers, while Second-Amendment absolutists might point to the deterring ubiquity of guns and armed persons on a military base. I don't know where on the base the shooting took place, and I know nothing of the shooter apart from the "stressed-out" description, but if something like this can happen on a military base in an occupied country, and it can't be blamed completely on someone's extraordinary psychosis, then something wrong with our culture or our strategy is getting worse.
Update: The shooter has killed at least five people, and was taken alive. The shooting took place at a "stress clinic," which doesn't sound like a place where someone ought to be carrying weapons. As I write, the shooter's identity remains publicly unknown.
08 May 2009
It would seem that half of the citizens of the United States will have a Congress in which they are not represented. Taxation without representation is still tyranny. The last time that happened in this country, there were tea parties and a revolution. So far, we've had tea parties.
This is American Bipolarchy thinking par excellence, if you agree that it counts as thinking. Healy has a congressman to represent her district and two Senators to represent her state, but the United States is a tyranny as far as she's concerned if her opinion (or, to be generous, her ideology) isn't fully represented in the halls of government. Worse, it looks like she won't feel that she's fully represented unless her opinion (or, to put it concretely, her ideological faction) has some kind of veto power over majority rule. For Healy, Republicanism or some form of conservatism has become a form of identity more meaningful, apparently, than local or state citizenship. In her mind, her people (i.e. her faction) are the victims of tyranny if the majority fails to accommodate her ideological objections to any given measure. Worst yet, by invoking the American Revolution she implies a right to rebel if the government refuses to acknowledge her faction by giving it an otherwise unearned share in making the laws.
Perhaps I was too hasty in proposing Healy as an Idiot of the Week. The more I think about it, this isn't idiocy, idiotic though it sounds -- this is madness.
07 May 2009
The conspirators would have had to have sent experts in to rig the two main towers and WTC7 with sufficient explosives to be sure of bringing the first two buildings down some time after the planes had hit them, and WTC7 whenever it was felt expedient to do so. But the explosives had to be sufficiently inert not to be triggered either by the impacts of the planes or by the thousands of gallons of burning aviation fuel, an especially tricky proposition since no precedent existed for the crashing of a large civil airliner into a 1,000ft skyscraper. The planes also had to be guided into the exact locations of the explosives. The towers had to come down because the destruction by terrorists of planes full of passengers and the unknowable number of casualities in the areas of the towers hit by the aircraft might not, in themselves, have been sufficiently provoking to cause the reaction needed by the plotters. On the other hand it was apparently thought OTT to rig the towers in such a way as to have them topple over and possibly destroy half of south Manhattan. A balance had to be struck....
Read on from the link and enjoy the rest.
Exactly what evil the man was warning against was unclear, but I presumed that he was protesting against the demonstration further up the hill. What manner of evil might inspire the man to protest with such language is probably easy to guess.
Baker (so thoroughly political a man that he ended up marrying another Senator) has a pendular theory of how the American Bipolarchy works. He's no believers in great ideological shifts, but argues that voters shift loyalties back and forth based on an appraisal of each party's competence in government. If Democrats screw up, people will vote Republican, and vice versa. As he puts it.
Things change because things change, not because of any ideological primacy or purity on a particular end of the political spectrum. The American people are, for the most part, highly practical and pragmatic. They like what works, and in a properly functioning political system, two broad-based national parties will offer them reasonable alternatives for what is likely to work best.
Reasonableness depends on a broad base, if I understand Baker, but it would seem that the two dominant parties don't need to be particularly reasonable so long as each is perceived as the only "reasonable" alternative to the other. According to his reading of post-1964 politics, Americans embraced an increasingly conservative Republican party not because they had become increasingly conservative themselves, but because they had decided that the Democratic party under LBJ had failed at some important task. This analysis suggests that a major factor in the Bipolarchy's staying power is Americans' short collective memory.
A voter may think that the Republicans failed in the mid-2000s, for instance, but will not recall that he quite probably felt that the Democrats had failed as of 1994. By a certain point we might expect a large number of voters to conclude that both parties had consistently failed, and to search more extensively for alternatives. They don't, in part, because they can convince themselves that Obama, for instance, will do things differently from Clinton, or that the Republican nominee for 2012 or 2016 will do things differently from George W. Bush. Personalities disguise the persistent institutional incompetence (measured by electoral defeats) or the major parties and allow people to convince themselves that they're voting for people, not parties.
Baker himself goes on to suggest that there's more to elections, after all, than mere appraisals of competence. His imagined voter seems to swing not just between parties but between two conflicting sets of "core" values. Eight years of Bush, Baker admits, have momentarily discredited the "core Republican beliefs in less government, lower taxes, more liberty and greater security in a dangerous world." But "if the American people perceive overreaching or underachieving in the Obama administration and among its allies in Congress, the Republican way may prove very attractive again in very short order." This, too, would seem to depend on short collective memories, unless Baker wants to argue (from the safety of retirement) that each party's core values may be more effective at different points in history. It also helps the Bipolarchy that each party's core values are not as consistent as Baker insists. The ones he lists might not have been recognized as "core Republican beliefs" 100 years ago, for instance. Nevertheless, Baker seems satisfied that, between them, the two major parties will provide Americans with all the reasonable alternatives they need at any critical moment -- and that strikes me as a purposefully unexamined premise. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that history will prove him wrong.
06 May 2009
But one writer's bitterness isn't my reason for blogging. I want once more to commend the Conservative for actually taking the steps so many people say are needed to revive the opposition to the Obama administration. The magazine's editors and writers seem to be trying to do what the Goldwater-Reagan conservatives did for the Republican party starting in 1964. Those reactionaries revived the party by critiquing what they saw as Eisenhower and Nixon's complacency and accommodationism towards international communism and American liberalism. By now, however, it's past time for a new generation of Republicans to critique the Reaganite tradition. The Conservative has been doing this in spurts for a while, but the new issues makes a cover story out of it, asking, "How Right Was Reagan?"
Richard Gamble is another self-style conservative with fresh affection for Jimmy Carter. More and more of the breed is embracing Carter's so-called "malaise" speech of 1979 as a signpost on the road the nation should have taken, instead of following Reagan. Carter's speech appeals to these conservatives because he called for a return to a virtue that Gamble and others think Republicans have forgotten: frugality, i.e. living both modestly and within one's means.
Gamble notes that "the federal payroll was larger in 1989 [when Reagan left office] than it had been in 1981 [when Carter left office]," and that Reagan's beloved tax cuts "left large and growing budget deficits when combined with increased spending, and added to the national debt." In retrospect, he writes, "it is hard in 2009 to point to any concrete evidence that the Reagan Revolution fundamentally altered the nation's trajectory toward bloated, centralized, interventionist government."
Worse, Gamble claims that Reagan was temperamentally "anything but conservative." Noting Reagan's religious and philosophical influences, Gamble notes an absence of any appreciation of human limits. "Reagan's optimistic Christianity," for instance, "seemed ready made for an America disinclined to hear talk of limits to power and wealth. The historic Christian message can sound downright un-American [to people like Reagan]."
Gamble himself sternly rejects the Reaganite notion of the U.S. as "the city on the hill," a divinely favored nation destined to lead the world to prosperity and freedom. "There is nothing inherently conservative about believing that America is God's promised land for a new epoch," he remarks, "Because it sounds so patriotic to elevate America among God's elect, however, many conservatives dig in their heels and resist any challenge to America's redeemer myth."
While Reagan was never as bellicose as George W. Bush, Gamble traces the Bushites' interventionist streak to Reagan's belief in America's power and right to "begin the world over again," -- a phrase Reagan took from Thomas Paine, as far from a conservative as some would say you could get. Gamble also blames Reagan for what George Lukacs calls "the militarization of the image of the presidency," the tendency to portray the President as the "commander in chief" of the country as a whole rather than the military only. Gamble elaborates:
If the president visits a city ravaged by a hurricane, he is emphatically not there in his role as commander in chief. If every American thinks of the president -- of whatever political party -- as my commander in chief and not narrowly as the Army or Navy's commander in chief, then we have taken another decisive step from republic to empire.
Harsher still is the assessment Gamble quotes from anti-war conservative Andrew Bacevich:
Reagan portrayed himself as a conservative. He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of 'morning in America,' the faux-conservative Reagan added to America's civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.
Worship of Reagan inhibits critical thinking by conservatives, Gamble concludes. "Conservatives ought to have enough confidence in their own principles to examine Reagan's ambiguous legacy in light of those very tenets....Reagan as conservative icon must not become a way to shut down debate within the conservative movement....Maybe the Reagan we think we remember is the very thing most likely to distract us from painful self-examination and serious reckoning with who we are as a people and how we got this way."
That's strong medicine compared to some Republicans' stubborn insistence that Reaganism is the party's only salvation. I'm not going to pretend that the conservative party that emerges from such self-examination would automatically be a good thing or even necessarily a more constructive element of political life, but I will say that what Gamble recommends sounds like what Republicans and conservatives should be doing instead of hoping that repeating the prayers of the past will bring them the same results. If The American Conservative can prod Republicans in that direction, its demise before it actually does so would really be cause for regret.
From the Dalai's perspective, it bears repeating, there's probably no automatic disaffinity between his mission and Raniere's. From Raniere's perspective, most likely, both men offer the world a form of mental and/or spiritual discipline that makes people better and more useful. Never mind that Raniere has been accused of running pyramid schemes in the past. How different are those from religions apart from their offering monetary compensation for the recruitment of converts? Yet Raniere is regarded as a criminal and a menace by many people because he seeks influence over people (and maybe money from them), while the Dalai Lama, who arguably practices similar forms of "mind control," is a global celebrity, a darling of Hollywood, and a kind of living martyr. The Tibetan benefits from many Americans' hostility toward China, which many still perceive as a totalitarian state. In such a setting, especially when the Chinese government is presumed to be fundamentally hostile (on account of its power) to American interests, some people will look favorably on any kind of cult, whether it's the Dalai's or Falun Gong, so long as it seems capable of subverting the feared monolithic totalitarianism of the great power. In other words, in our own country home-grown cults are seen as a menace to individual liberty, even to individual identity, while elsewhere they look more like a welcome part of "civil society," so long as they undermine the authority of dangerous states. Were Keith Raniere a Chinese, he'd probably be a hero here, and since the Dalai Lama is, technically, a Chinese subject, he is a hero. The Tibetan does have a historic and thus secular claim to leadership in his homeland, so it would go too far to say he's no different from Raniere, but it's not unfair to say he's not as different as some people appalled by their association want to think.
05 May 2009
Meanwhile, independence from partisanship and ideology would be welcome on the court. I would like to see a justice confirmed without any reference to his or her opinion on abortion. There are simply bigger fish to fry. Whether genuinely nonpartisan and nonideological candidates exist at this late point in our history is painfully unclear. Sometimes I wonder whether we wouldn't be better off filling the Court jury style. Find nine literate people, hand them the Constitution, give them a little time to get it down pat, and let them hear cases unencumbered by ideological scholarship or partisan preconceptions. The Constitution is neither liberal nor conservative, and its meaning shouldn't be debated exclusively between those factions. But if we've reached a point where the common people can't be presumed to understand the plain language of the Constitution, then perhaps it's time we had another.