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Barack Obama Catholicism Domestic issues Politics The Opinionsphere

Matt Yglesias’s Prejudiced Caricature of Catholicism

Dan Gigloff of US News reported yesterday that a number of anti-abortion groups – specifically citing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – are opposing an Obama administration attempt to bridge the Culture Wars by offering a comprehensive package to reduce abortions including contraception and sex education. This prompted a few responses in the liberal blogosphere.

Matt Yglesias:

It’s precisely because of stances like this that it’s very hard to take the “abortion is murder” crowd seriously when they say abortion is murder. Their revealed behavior indicates that they don’t actually find abortion especially problematic, but just place it on a spectrum containing a general aversion to women controlling their own sexuality

Atrios:

Those People We Want To Find Common Ground With?

Aren’t interested. I’m shocked!

The fact that these two prominent liberals both take such idiotic positions astounds me. Though I have to give Yglesias credit for not faulting Obama for the outreach – as Atrios seems to be doing. Yglesias instead seems to be describing “the Obama Method” at work. And to be clear – I think Obama is doing the right thing here and should keep these two initiatives together. It’s smart politics – and it makes sense to the majority of Catholics and other religious who believe that abortion is awful but contraception isn’t.

But the fact that these two people – who I normally find to be intelligent and worthwhile commentators – cannot understand the position the bishops are taking perhaps explains why the Democrats have had such trouble getting the Catholic vote.

Let me start by way of analogy: Knowing that Yglesias and Atrios opposed wars of choice, I could ask them to support a bill that was meant to reduce wars of choice by supporting coups d’etat in countries who we might otherwise invade. To back up my push, I would show statistically – over history – that such coups would reduce overall violence in the globe. Now, if Yglesias or Atrios rejected this compromise, it wouldn’t mean they didn’t really oppose wars of choice. It would mean that they didn’t think two wrongs made a right. It wouldn’t mean they were appeasers and pacificsts. And for me to claim it did would be nothing but political theatre.

Back to abortion and contraception: the Catholic Church has officially opposed contraception and abortion through much of its history – and certainly for hundreds of years. The justification has changed over the years – evolved it is said – but the basic foundation has remained the same – and this foundation is not the subjugation of women as Yglesias flatly states. Yglesias reveals a prejudice here, grounded as most prejudices are, on ignorance.

The foundation of the Churhc’s policy is a perverse view of sexuality that sees its only redeeming value as procreation. Many Catholics do not live as if this were true – and many reject it – but it remains (with a few qualifications) the official position. This is why the Catholic Church opposes masturbation, blow jobs, dildos, plastic vaginas, anal sex, pornography, prostitution, etc. Given this, it is pretty clear why the bishops view both contraception and abortion as wrong. The Church has even condemned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS – which is incredibly irresponsible – but it goes to demonstrate their consistency on this issue.

It’s not about oppressing women. And it’s not about bad faith. To suggest such indicates a kind of ideological blinkering I most often see on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. To top it all off, it certainly alienates Catholics – even the majority who disagree with the Church’s position.

It behooves intelligent liberals such as Yglesias and Atrios to actually respond to the Catholic bishops’ position on the merits rather than resorting to prejudiced caricatures.

[Image by Lawrence OP licensed under Creative Commons.]

Categories
Foreign Policy Israel Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Israel and Hamas

The furious positions of many people on this issue leave me with the feeling that I should take a definitive side. Sometimes, you must stand up and be counted – or become irrelevant. But on this issue, I have yet to hear any passionate argument that is convincing. The best arguments are microarguments, winning some small points. The best writers on this issue are reflective and nuanced, avoiding becoming apologists for either side. I have entered into arguments in which I have felt myself being alternately tugged to justify the worst actions of either Israel or the Palestinians – which I don’t want to do. Neither side has clean hands – but it is also not fair to create some kind of moral equivalence. What is needed is that rarely appreciated virtue, nuance.

In that spirit, here’s a selection of reflective takes on the current situation:

Yglesias:

By somewhat the same token, I do read in the comments section what I would regard as a disproportionate level of shock and appalledness from some quarters about Israeli activities as if this action is some kind of unprecedented outrage in human history. The real outrage is how common and banal, how unsurprising and thoroughly precedented it is.

Andrew Sullivan:

In the history of the West, the laws of war are clear enough. You do not launch a just war if it leads to greater evils than the status quo ante. There must be a reasonable proportion between means and ends. Both sides should be able to acknowledge common human values, even as they fight over territory or ideology. And yet Hamas has never done this; has no capacity for abiding by even minimal moral norms, believes it has a moral responsibility to eradicate the Jewish state, and certainly finds the universalist and liberal moral law embedded in Western and largely Christian culture meaningless outside Islamic hegemony. Israel, for its part, is on a different moral plane than Hamas. Its internal critics write op-eds; they are not taken out and shot. But, in the face of what is, essentially, a 60 year war against enemies on all sides and within, it has long since disappeared down the self-reflecting mirrors of survivalist logic and existential panic. It looks to me like a society in danger of losing its sense of restraint to the logic of violence. It is lashing out because it feels it can do no other and senses its long-term survival at stake. Even if violence does not solve the problem and may make it worse, war can seem a better option now than disappearing passively in the next couple of decades. The stunning near-unanimity of Israelis behind the Gaza attack is proof of this. In Israel, it seems, it is always America in 2002.

Carlo Stenger:

I have been a very outspoken critic of Israeli policies for many years. Nevertheless, those who…go into endless diatribes to ascribe sole responsibility to Israel for the current situation are hypocritical at worst and ignorant at best. In this age of political correctness it is always sexy to support the underdog. But political correctness does not always yield wise political judgment

Categories
Election 2008 Obama Politics The Opinionsphere

The Art of Character Sketches

Joe Klein begins his piece about “Why Barack Obama is Winning” with this anecdote:

General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for “maximum flexibility” going forward.

Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views “under advisement.” Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind….

You should read the rest of the piece – it’s fascinating take on Obama and his decision-making process.

Matt Yglesias wrote a few days ago about David Brooks and how:

a lot of this genre of punditry seems based on the idea that journalists can discern when politicians are and aren’t misleading with their presentation of self. But I have no reason to believe I’m especially good at this, and plenty of reason to believe that big-time politicians are unusually good at misleading about this sort of thing..

I know exactly what he means about how this can be frustrating. David Brooks seems to have had wildly diverging opions about Obama – which would tend to make one somewhat skeptical of his deep insight into Obama’s character.

Matt suggests ignoring character and focusing instead on policy positions – where you can more easily figure out if a politician is lying. He doesn’t seem quite comfortable with that – and leaves himself an out – despite the fact that his piece builds to this point, he concludes only by saying that “There’s something to be said for” looking only at policies.

But I think there is something valuable in what David Brooks, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd, Peggy Noonan, Frank Rich, George Will, and many of these other columnists do as they attempt to determine a candidate’s character. They’re often wrong. And they are rarely consistent. But I believe a person’s essential character is important – and is generally revealed when a person holds power – and it affects what politics and policies actually happen.

What we need to realize when reading these columnists is that their trade is an art – not a science. It’s not necessary that these men or women be better at seeing through to the essential character of a politician – but that their job is to try to figure it out.

Categories
Domestic issues Economics Election 2008 McCain Politics The Opinionsphere

The Intersection of Rich, Out-of-Touch, and Old

Jonathan Chait to Matthew Yglesias in conversation over at Bloggingheads.tv, discussing McCain’s lack of awareness of the number of houses he owns:

Chait: It’s right at the intersection of rich, out-of-touch, and old. It’s like the perfect –

Yglesias: Right…

Chait: …it’s in the perfectly overlapped center of all these things.

Yglesias: I actually feel kind of bad…

Categories
Election 2008 Obama Politics

Obama-Webb 08


A lot of liberal bloggers have been trying to bat down the idea of an Obama-Webb ticket: Kathy G on Matt Yglesias’s blog and Ezra Klein at The American Prospect. James Joyner over at Outside the Beltway provides a good summary of the arguments being used against Webb.

James Fallows, writing from his personal experience of Webb also tries to quash the idea:

Having first met Webb nearly thirty years ago – and having co-written an Atlantic cover story with him, and having broken my rule against giving money to political candidates two years ago when he began his Senate run – I can’t imagine a job he would enjoy less than the vice presidency.

Jim Webb has arranged his life so as to maximize his intellectual and personal independence, and minimize the things he “has” to do and the bosses he must answer to…The federal government office that least matches Webb’s lifetime path is the vice presidency.

But I think the final word so far has to go to conservative Ross Douhat who sees the great potential of an Obama-Webb ticket (h/t Andrew Sullivan.):

…what separates Webb from, say, a John Kerry or a John Edwards – both of whom appealed to Democrats because they seemed to (but didn’t really) shore up the party’s weaknesses on national security and with the white and Southern working class – is that he really is a different kind of Democrat. He isn’t a conventional left-liberal who happens to have a military record and/or a Southern accent; he’s a more sui generis figure, a cultural (though not social) conservative with heterodox views on a variety of issues.

This is why, were I Obama, I would look at the left-liberal case against Webb – on the grounds that he’s too anti-feminist, too pro-military, too skeptical about affirmative action and immigration, too hostile to Hollywood and academia – as an advertisement for the pick. An Obama-Webb ticket wouldn’t send just a message that people who share the same ethno-cultural identity as Jim Webb can have a home in the Democratic Party, the way Kerry and Edwards were supposed to show that veterans and Southerners could too be Democrats; it would send a message that people with Webb’s views can have a home in the party. It would lend substance to Obama’s thus-far insubstantial claim to be something other than a party-line liberal, and in the process it would have the potential to achieve at the national level what the Congressional Dems have successfully done at the local level – namely, expand the definition of what it means to be a Democrat. That’s the promise, as-yet-unfulfilled, of the Obama campaign. And that’s how you build a lasting majority.