Posts Tagged ‘National Review’

How Not To Prove Someone Is Not a Racist

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Mark Krikorian has a post over at National Review’s The Corner defending the leader of an anti-illegal-immigration group called D.A. King and attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center in general, and specifically for labeling the Dustin Inman Society led by King a group that is spreading bigotry.

Now, King named the group after a clear victim of what he seems to call the “invasion” of “brown people” — a boy named Dustin Inman who was killed in a car crashed by an illegal immigrant. (Because legal residents don’t accidentally kill people in car accidents approximately 100 times a day.) A quick Google search reveals that King uses racialized language and seems uncomfortable with Hispanics — he said he said a pro-immigrant march seemed like some Mexican village — which is why his “first act on a safe return home was to take a shower;” and warned darkly of the “invasion” of the “brown people” and of “parasitic ethnic hustlers” who favored amnesty; and he did at least once apply the “illegal aliens” simply to all the Hispanics in various photos. I mean — that’s just what 5 minutes on Google and a few clicks around his own website show — maybe it represents his body of thought and maybe not.

But what I wanted to comment on was this Mark Krikorian post. But instead, let me just re-post a few portions of it, with all bolding done by me…

Just typing “Southern Poverty Law Center” makes me want to scrape off my shoes…

[T]he SPLC includes such targets (including, I’m proud to say, the Center for Immigration Studies) in lists of those “spreading bigotry,” or whatever,…

This happens all the time, but one example that came to my attention was the Dustin Inman Society, a mainstream (and quite effective) anti-illegal-immigration group in Georgia headed by D.A. King… The point is not whether D.A. is a hater (he’s not — I’m not even sure he’s a restrictionist, since he limits himself to illegal immigration, and I’ve never heard so much as an epithet from himeven in private, let alone any Zionist conspiracies or Trilateral Commissions or even longing for the Lost Cause)…

I’ve rarely heard a better defense of someone than Krikorian’s of King: “I haven’t heard the guy slur blacks or Hispanics as most people I know do! Even in private! Isn’t that incredible! And he doesn’t even long for the good old days when Mexicans were in Mexico and blacks were slaves! Or rail against Jews! The guy’s a saint practically!”

But it all makes you wonder a bit about the crowd that Krikorian hangs out with that these things are exceptional — and proof that someone isn’t a racist. And it certainly goes a long way to demonstrate why the Republican Party won’t be winning the Hispanic vote any time soon.

[Image by MikeSchinkel licensed under Creative Commons.]

Wieseltier owes Andrew Sullivan an apology. And The New Republic owes its readers a retraction.

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Leon Wieseltier launched a graceless and rather paranoid ad hominem attack on Andrew Sullivan in the latest issue of The New Republic – accusing him of being an anti-Semite. The New Republic is my favorite magazine – but since reading this piece, I’m considering unsubscribing. It would bother me that any magazine would give itself as a platform for such an article, and is even worse that it is one I feel ownership over (as I have been a regular reader for some 12 years and a subscriber for 5, from the moment I graduated college.) Wieseltier further attacks my religion (Catholicism) as “a regress to polytheistic crudity” and seemingly marks the magazine as meant for Jews rather than Christians – saying that “readers of The New Republic” would clearly see what was wrong with Sullivan’s writings – just as they saw what was wrong with the concept of the Trinity. (Perhaps this was meant lightly. It’s a bit hard to tell as he levels such ridiculous charges.) I don’t consider myself the type of person who would cancel a subscription over offensive content – but it angers that the magazine would run a piece with so few redeeming features and such serious unsubstantiated charges.

Sullivan’s main and heartfelt response to the piece is here. He also points out the context to one of his quotes, including email correspondence with the current editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer. Other comments and a roundup of outside opinion from Sullivan here, here, here, here, and here. The Atlantic Wire has a more complete roundup.

Let me – as briefly as I can – make one point that I haven’t seen made. Most of Wieseltier’s piece concerns all sorts of damning positions Sullivan has taken: being moved by the Palestinian suffering in the Gaza attack, Sullivan’s anger at the Netanyahu government for refusing any substantial concessions to his government’s main patron, and the fact that Sullivan cites the respected Middle East scholar Stephen Walt “frequently and deferentially” when Walt was one of the authors of The Israel Lobby for which Wieseltier believes he should be shunned. About the only item cited by Wieseltier that could be construed as stereotyping of Jews is a Sullivan response to an article in the very self-consciously Jewish and right-wing Commentary on why Jews don’t like Palin because they’re educated, elitist, socially liberal, etc., but should support Palin because she has what Rubin considers the most important thing right: she opposes “the administration’s effort to put ‘daylight’ between the U.S. and Israel.” Sullivan begins his most anti-Semitic piece by quoting Jonathan Chait (of The New Republic) who puts Rubin’s piece in context elsewhere in his post:

The complaint of the Jewish Republican is a small but hardy feature of our political discourse. The complaint runs as follows: Jews are foolishly ignoring their self-interest by voting for Democrats on the basis of sentimental concerns (secularism, concern for the poor) rather than pursuing their true self interest (maximal hawkishness on the Middle East, low tax rates on the rich) as represented by the GOP.

Sullivan replies to Chait:

I worry about elements of proto-fascism becoming mainstream in the GOP.

But there is something particularly disturbing about the way in which neoconservatives, in their alliance with the Christianist heartland, increasingly argue for a strong and unchecked charismatic leader in the Palin/Bush mold, a disdain for reason in political life and a yearning for what Rubin calls an “instinctual skill set” in a leader…

Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights.) But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing – that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran – is something else.

Something much darker.

Wieseltier’s response entirely ignores the blatant stereotyping that Jennifer Rubin uses as the basis for her article as well as Chait’s easy categorization of “Jewish Republicans” who identify their “true self interest” as “maximal hawkishness on the Middle East.” Wieseltier instead goes after Sullivan:

I was not aware that [Goldfarb and Krauthammer] comprise a “wing” of American Jewry, or that American Jewry has “wings.” What sets them apart from their more enlightened brethren is the unacceptability of their politics to Sullivan. That is his criterion for dividing the American Jewish community into good Jews and bad Jews–a practice with a sordid history.

It is really quite something that the above cite is the closest Wieseltier gets to Sullivan “hating on” Jews. No fair-minded observer could believe that is what is going on. Sullivan posts a quote from DiA today that seems to offer a more reasonable explanation: that Sullivan is “pigeonholing” political actors which DiA acknowledges that “we all do this to some extent,” including Wieseltier himself.

However, I want to take a minute to defend discussing the religion’s effect on politics in exactly the way Wieseltier is accusing Sullivan of, as today, most people’s religious and political identities have become fused. One’s religion – whether it be evangelical Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, Methodist, Islam, Buddhism, or whatever else – is a profound influence on one’s outlook on the world and as such must be a matter for public debate and discussion. Andrew Greeley for example makes this case with reference to Catholicism in The Catholic Myth. He describes the profound effect growing up steeped in any mythology has on how any one sees the world, how it shapes our imagination and how we see how the world works.

Yet Leon Wieseltier either maintains that this type of thinking is out of bounds or that Charles Krauthammer’s specifically aren’t based on his Jewishness:

Moreover, Krauthammer argues for his views; the premises of his analysis are coldly clear, and may be engaged analytically, and when necessary refuted. Unlike Sullivan, he does not present feelings as ideas…[T]he grounds of Krauthammer’s opinions are no more to be found in, or reduced to, his Jewishness than the grounds of the contrary opinions–the contentions of dovish Jews who denounce torture, and oppose Israeli abuses in the Gaza war, and insist upon a diplomatic solution to the threat of an Iranian nuclear capability–are to be found in, or reduced to, their Jewishness. All these “wings” are fervent Jews and friends of Israel. There are many “Jewish” answers to these questions. We all want the Torah on our side. And the truth is that the Torah has almost nothing to do with it. [my emphasis]

Parsing the bolded sentence closely, you can see how hedged it really is – how Wieseltier’s actual point seems to be that there are multiple interpretations of Judaism and none should be called Judaism definitively. Which of course Sullivan does not – which Wieseltier acknowledges. But the clear intention of this passage is to claim that Sullivan is stereotyping Jews and reducing their political opinions by connecting them to Judaism. Specifically, he is offended that Krauthammer’s opinions are associated with his “Jewishness” when they are instead based on logical premises.

Yet this Jay Nordlinger profile of Charles Krauthammer in the National Review seems to offer Krauthammer himself refuting precisely these points. [Full access only to subscribers. However, someone posted the whole thing at the rightwingforum.]

Of Israel, Krauthammer has long been a leading student, defender, and explainer. Asked the bald question of whether Israel will survive, he says, “If it doesn’t, I think it will mark the beginning of the terminal decay of Western civilization.” He notes that he is not a believer. But he quotes from the Bible, where God tells Abraham — actually, Abram, at that point — “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” It is interesting, if only as a historical matter, that those nations that have been kind to the Jews have flourished, and those that have not, have not. Krauthammer points to Spain, after 1492. “And we don’t even have to look at Germany, though that’s an obvious example.” Krauthammer believes that Israel needs two things to survive: the will to live, and the support of the United States. He believes that Israel has demonstrated a very great will to live, especially in its defeat of the “second intifada.” And he has “great faith in the goodness of America,” a goodness that will not let Israel go to the dogs. Europe could do all sorts of things to bedevil and imperil Israel: impose economic sanctions, prosecute Israeli soldiers, etc. But the key is America. And “if we ever reach a point where we become indifferent to Israel, that will mark a great turn in the soul of our country.”

Many Jews, particularly American ones, are nervous or scornful about the support that American evangelicals have shown for Israel. They say that this support is double-edged, or bad news, or embarrassing. Krauthammer will have none of it. “I embrace their support unequivocally and with gratitude. And when I speak to Jewish groups, whether it’s on the agenda or not, I make a point of scolding them. I say, ‘You may not want to hear this, and you may not have me back, but I’m going to tell you something: It is disgraceful, un-American, un-Jewish, ungrateful, the way you treat people who are so good to the Jewish people. We are almost alone in the world. And here we have 50 million Americans who willingly and enthusiastically support us. You’re going to throw them away, for what? Because of your prejudice.’ Oh, I give ’em hell.” [my emhpases]

So, let me be clear: Wieseltier claims that “the ground of Krauthammer’s opinions” shouldn’t be “found in, or reduced to, his Jewishness” because Krauthammer’s views are actually based on his cold and clear rational analysis of the world and that he doesn’t present “feelings as ideas.” To claim otherwise for Wieseltier is evidence of anti-Semitism. Yet a recent profile of Krauthammer attributes to him the rather debatable view that “as a historical matter, that those nations that have been kind to the Jews have flourished, and those that have not, have not” as Krauthammer “quotes from the Bible, where God tells Abraham — actually, Abram, at that point — ‘I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.’ ” Krauthammer then brags that he scolds Jews who disdain people like Palin, saying: “It is disgraceful, un-American, un-Jewish, ungrateful, the way you treat people who are so good to the Jewish people. We are almost alone in the world.” In each instance, Krauthammer explicitly grounds his view of history and of foreign policy and national security in his Jewishness – and appeals to his audience to be properly “Jewish” and be grateful for the support Israel receives. Yet – Wieseltier accuses Sullivan of “demand[ing] Jews behave apologetically in America” and “defends” Krauthammer’s ideas as not being related to his “Jewishness.” Absolutely ridiculous.

Wieseltier owes Andrew Sullivan an apology. And The New Republic owes its readers a retraction.

Victor Davis Hanson’s “Productive Classes”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

It’s always interesting to watch a pundit venture from his field of “expertise.” Scratch a bit beneath the surface, and anywhere outside of their expertise they tend to be rabid ideologues. Every virtue they bring to their perspective on what they are an expert in vanishes. Generalists on the other hand seem to bring the same worldview to everything – whatever it may be. (My goal with this blog is to be a rather amiable generalist.)

For example, Victor Davis Hanson is an expert on ancient warfare. However, he wrote last week a column in the National Review about the “war” on the “wannabe rich.” His evidence of such a war is based on the idea that someone who is extremely wealthy has far more money than he or she needs – and so, increased taxes don’t hurt them much. Which is, of course, the entire basis for the progressive taxation that Hanson is trying to reject – that money beyond a certain base of income serves little use. The utility of more income for someone making $500,000 a year is undoubtedly less then for someone making $50,000.

Hanson also attempts to play the populist card in the class struggle between the “haves” and the “have mores” – or the “haves” and the “have yachts.” According to Hanson, those making between $200,000 and $500,000 are the “productive classes who want to be rich” (the 95% of Americans making less are not mentioned) and those making more are the corrupt elites. It’s a rather interesting view – quite Randian in its conclusion: “continue to punish and demonize [the productive classes], and the country will grind to a halt – as we are seeing now.”

More mature libertarians and conservatives often look at Rand through the somewhat rosy lens of adolescence when they first discovered her – but they find her theories to be fundamentally lacking. Hanson though seems to still view the world through this adolescent lens – and doesn’t realize how it sounds to claim that those who are still making $500,000 in the midst of this recession are deliberately grinding the economy to a halt because they feel demonized and burdened by paying a slightly higher percentage of their taxes than they did a few years ago (but still less than they did under Clinton, Bush I, or Reagan.)

“Hardly Churchillian.”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that the  contrasting stories of Churchill and Chamberlain in the lead up to the Second World War have become the founding myth of neoconservative foreign policy. Neoconservative foreign policy is based on the counterfactual presumption that if Churchill had been prime minister, Hitler’s rise would have been thwarted. The appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain thus caused Hitler’s rise in the neoconservative view.

However this myth took root, it is now the framework which neoconservatives use to understand every foreign policy issue: Every threat to America thus becomes Hitler’s Germany, no matter how marginal – from Kim Jong Il’s North Korea to Ahmadinejad’s Iran to Chavez’s Venezuela to Putin’s Russia. There are two possible responses to the rise of these existential threats: appeasement or confrontation. The right thing to do is to project confidence and bellicosity to deter the next Hitler from rising. Every sign of restraint is debasing appeasement; every Democrat then who advises restraint, who seeks to put these threats in perspective thus is portrayed as Chamberlain – from Carter to Clinton to Kerry to Obama. Every leader of this war, of our warrior nation, is compared to Churchill for his resolve and rhetoric. This neoconservative root myth thus leads to a policy of constant belligerence against every possible foe as a homage to a man who was belligerent for a lifetime and memorably right once.*

In a sense it seems, neoconservatives looked with hope to Obama Tuesday night (see especially these responses by Kagan, Kristol, and Gerson), as he promised to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan as they hoped. They hoped he could be their Churchill. Many on the right wing though not all, having been trained to focus most of all on symbology and rhetoric over substance, believed Obama had failed to meet their Churchillian expectations, and so took the comfortable position of assailing him.

Anyone who doubts this story of Churchill’s intransigence is at the core of neoconservative foreign policy can find evidence looking at the right wing responses to Tuesday night’s address:

The National Review‘s lead editorial:

Churchillian it was not.

Rich Lowry:

Is Gen. McChrystal in Kabul regretting that Obama didn’t strike a more Churchillian tone…?

Fred Thompson:

In the first part of his speech he sounded like Winston Churchill.
In the second part of his speech, he sounded like Lady Churchill.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Stanley Baldwin, not Winston Churchill.

Charles Krauthammer on Fox News:

Not exactly the kind of speech you’d hear from Henry V or Churchill.

Matt Lewis:

Hmm. What to say about Obama’s speech… Well, he sure as hell ain’t Winston Churchill.

John Hannah:

Hardly Churchillian.

* I quite admire Churchill – and he was also prescient about the specter of Communism and had a remarkable view of history, as if from a distance. But the single opinion of his that created his out-sized reputation was his steady belligerence against Germany during its rise.

[Image of Winston Churchill not subject to copyright.]

National Review: “Soak the Rich!”

Monday, November 30th, 2009

The National Review gives Conrad Black some space to somewhat incoherently go after Barack Obama on economic issues. He writes with the accumulated resentments and reduced expectations of an old man – and one imagines one is meant to receive this incoherence as hard-won wisdom.

Black has formed his opinion of Obama’s health care plan without taking the time to understand it – as his one-sentence description makes clear: “the administration claimed that it would reduce medical costs by taking over the insurance of those already covered.” His simple health care plan simply calls on the Democrats to go after their interest groups – trial lawyers and unions – and ignore the rest of the factors undermining our health care system. A convenient position to take while writing for a right-wing publication.

He dismisses the consensus of economists (“The whole concept of stimulus is bogus”) with a single clause (“as the borrowing of the money consumes at least as much stimulus as it generates.”) He suggests Al Gore is an eco-terrorist and calls the plans to stop exacerbating climate change, “insane.” In short, Conrad Black throws every bit of feces he can – working off of the standard right-wing playbook.

But finally, he has a few interesting things to say – after spending the bulk of his piece proving his right-wing bona fides. He suggests a few taxes to raise – and here is what I find interesting. His first two ideas are standard: a strong gasoline tax and a tax on financial transactions. Both of these are much favored by those who know something about policy, but face serious obstacles in terms of the politics of getting them done. But his last idea is interesting and new (or at least new to me.)

[A] small, self-terminating wealth tax could be imposed on very large fortunes, to provide funds for those taxpayers to engage in legitimate anti-poverty projects they would devise themselves and have certified, like charities. The tax would decline as sensibly defined poverty declined, and would evaporate when poverty did. The greatest commercial minds in the private sector would have a vested interest in eliminating poverty and would produce a variety of imaginative methods of doing so.

I’m not sure how well this idea would work – but it is quite interesting. It seems to be an idea very much based on right wing presumptions but to have a traditionally liberal goal: using government policy to reduce poverty. And Black certainly has a personal history that leads him to understand the very wealthy he is attempting to manipulate with this tax. That said, it addresses itself not to the escalating divide between the rich and poor, but merely to reducing poverty. It presumes the rich are “the greatest commercial minds” when it seems evident to most liberals (including to me) that chance and luck play as great a role in success as mental skill. What is intriguing is that it attempts to marry the self-interest of the rich with the reduction of poverty. Whether this is the best means or not, it is a worthy goal.

Deconstructing the Right Wing Appropriation of the Term “Appeasement”

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I’ve tried hard to find something to respect about Victor Davis Hanson – as he takes himself seriously, and is taken seriously, including by people whom I take seriously – but for the most part, his pieces are just less hysterical attempts to push right wing memes. Only in a world of Sean Hannitys, Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, Jonah Goldbergs, Kathryn Lopezes, Michelle Malins, and Ann Coulters, is he a moderate.

But he has an interesting post over at The Corner, making a good point in defense of George W. Bush (though in the service of a meme that so many of these independent, individualistic conservatives promote in a synchronized fashion: that Obama should stop blaming George W. Bush for what he inherited.) Hanson points out that Bush inherited some bad “stuff” from Bill Clinton – including a mild recession, simmering issues with Iraq and the Middle East, and Osama bin Laden on the loose – and left some improved areas to Barack Obama – including an Iraq much improved from its chaos earlier in Bush’s term, relationships with Europe much improved from earlier in Bush’s term, a Libya that had given up its nuclear program, and a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.  Obama inherited a more challenging set of issues than Bush though: Two wars, the worst economic conditions in 80 years, a deficit doubled in 8 years and having grown so large it threatens America’s fiscal solvency, America at its lowest standing in the world community in a generation, Osama Bin Laden still at large, an Iranian regime strengthened and emboldened as America took away every check on its power, etcetera, etcetera.

But even while making this valid point, Hanson resorts to propagandic measures – none of which actively undermine the point he is trying to make – but all of which together demonstrate that he is merely attempting to write propaganda rather than engage with the issues. He only cites those facts that prove his point, ignores the large amount of contradictory evidence, and makes a number of questionable assertions. (Is Kim Jong Il really on better terms with Obama than Bush? Ahmadinejad? Putin – into whose eyes Bush looked and got “a sense of his soul“?)

But perhaps most telling, is his use of the buzzword, “appease.” To quote George Orwell in his “Politics and the English Language,” propagandists organize their thoughts as collections of  “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.” Rather than choose words based on their meaning, they instead choose those which best serve their ideology. For example, Orwell, writes that some words, “now [have] no meaning except in so far as [they] signify[…] ‘something not desirable.’ ” He uses word “Fascism” as an example of this – and the word “democracy” as an example of a word that is used to mean merely “something good.” Hanson’s writing doesn’t always have that prefabricated henhouse feel – as some writers do (Kathryn Lopez, I’m looking at you!) – but he does misuse language in the manner Orwell discussed.

The most glaring issue is his use of a single word. Hanson writes:

George W. Bush inherited…a pattern of appeasing radical Islam after its serial attacks (on the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, U.S. embassies, and the U.S.S. Cole). [my emphasis]

Think about the use of the word “appease” in this context. The word means “to make peace with” often by “acceding to demands or granting concessions.” Bill Clinton’s response to these attacks – prosecuting the perpetrators, bombing locations we believed were related to Al Qaeda, and attempting to assassinate Osama bin Laden – doesn’t fit into what anyone would call “making peace with” or “acceding” to any demands. The word “appease” then was chosen not because of its meaning, but because of its place in Hanson’s ideology. The word “appease” – as used by right wingers – has evolved from its literal definition. They use it to call forth comparisons to the single historical moment that has defined neoconservative thinking: Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich. Chamberlain famously did seek to appease Hitler, offering him Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia in return for peace. And just as famously, it did not work.

Right wingers now though seem to see every national security issue as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation. Obama wants to try terrorists in federal court instead of military commissions? Appeasement. Democrats oppose sending a surge of troops into Iraq? Appeasement. Iran wants to negotiate peace with the United States? If we even talk to them, it’s Appeasement, so we must choose Confrontation and ignore them. Only if every national security decision is seen as a binary choice between Appeasement and Confrontation does the disastrous first term decisions by Bush make sense. Orwell warned that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Language is corrupted in order to “defend the indefensible” and to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Thus, words such as “appease” are now used by right wingers to distract and obfuscate from the history that was and to suggest an enhanced and alternate view of the history that proves them correct.

[Image in the public domain.]

Health Care Reform and Its Unintended Consequences

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I said I was going to make a point of noting solid criticisms of the Obama administration by mainstream conservatives and right wingers.

Mona Charen of the National Review wrote a solid piece that didn’t resort to blatant falsehoods as far as I could tell that made a solid case against health care reform. Her basic point is that she doesn’t trust the Democrats:

Every single page [of the health care bill] proclaims something that is dubious — that the Democrats know what they are doing.

Rather than talking about death panels, she points out that electronic recordkeeping has overwhelmed doctors with information they are not used to having to sort through – and thus has made hospitals less efficient. (She cites no study, but it is certainly plausible that this would be a short term effect.) Preventive care, she explains, while probably saving lives could end up costing more – as “more and more of us are tested for more and more diseases.”

Her big point is that this health care reform is “brought to you by the same people” who brought you Medicare and Medicaid – and that the costs of these programs were vastly underestimated. As she points out:

In 1965, Congress predicted that by 1990, Medicare would be costing $12 billion. The actual cost — $90 billion.

Long term forecasts of government spending – or really anything – are a fool’s game, and Charen is right to point this out. On a macroeconomic level, there are too many factors to take into account – and that’s not even counting “black swans” that change everything. In this case, the major factor causing the government health care costs to be so off was the explosion of health care inflation in the 1980s which has only gotten worse since. But it’s not clear that Medicare or Medicaid played any role in this – especially as their costs have been below that of private insurance.

Bill Clinton made a similar point to Charen’s yesterday in trying to make the case for why the health care reform should be passed:

There is no perfect bill because there are always unintended consequences…

Yet, Clinton maintained:

The worst thing to do is nothing.

As Steven Pearlstein writing for the Washington Post described the price of doing nothing (and was later echoed by Barack Obama):

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing…

This is the answer Democrats give to the sensible concerns of Charen and those like her: there inherent uncertainty in any attempt to change a macroeconomic trend, but given where we are headed if we do nothing, it’s worth trying.

The only other option is to give up.

This is exactly the sort of sensible criticism that – in my opinion – conservatives should be making. However, the answer should not be to do nothing, but to “tinker” instead of instituting massive top-down changes, and to adopt the measures that work after tinkering. For the most part, this is exactly the approach the current bills take – which is a testament to the fundamental insights of the conservative movement of the past few decades. To take into account this fundamental insight while promoting a liberal agenda is in fact the essence of Obama’s approach: It’s why 40% of the stimulus was tax cuts; it’s why the key health care reform is to create a market that allows individuals to make decisions based on information that is more transparent; it’s why the answer to global warming is a cap-and-trade program that decentralizes authority and whose main mechanism is a market. That this has been Obama’s approach is what has forced the right wing opposition to him to become so unhinged.

The Constantly Invoked Hitler-Chamberlain-Churchill Fallacy

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Oh, Michael Ledeen, to whom every Democrat is Chamberlain and every Republican is Churchill! And every crackpot is Adolf Hitler. Reading Obama’s statement to Iran on the anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy – which is celebrated in Iran, Ledeen concludes that Obama is merely “mewling and whining, asking for the Iranian regime to make nice,” in “full Carter/Chamberlain mode.” He links to a report calling Obama’s remarks: “Another respectful statement – if wrapped around a threat.” Yet, Ledeen quotes one section – in which Obama explains all of the things we are doing (and not doing) with regards to Iran that the Green Wave supports. Ledeen objects that our foreign policy regarding Iran has mainly been supported by the Green Wave. And he neglects to quote this passage:

Iran must choose. We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.

Reading Obama expressing support for the Iranian people, bearing witness to the Green Wave, and making a veiled threat against the regime, Ledeen concludes:

A sad day to be an American, don’t you think? As Churchill said of Chamberlain, we can say of Obama:  You had a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.

In fact, he’s already got it. It always happens when you become an accomplice to evil.

Yet I am not sure what it is Ledeen wants us to do. He has written consistently and often about the need to change the Iranian regime – but is he really so naïve as to believe that a few symbolic gestures by Obama are all that it would take to cause the downfall of that regime? Does Ledeen believe that some money spent on democracy promotion will destroy it? Does he give any credence to the idea that such funding would undermine these organizations? What does he make of the fact that many of these organizations rejected the funds the Bush administration set aside for precisely this purpose? Reading Obama challenging the Iranian regime, Ledeen suggests it is merely “mewling” and that war is inevitable – has he reversed positions and now suggest we invade or bomb the country – in support of the people?

Ledeen’s remarks on Iran clearly demonstrate one of the fallacies of the neoconservative worldview. It is a worldview that did not learn the lesson of Hungary in 1957 where the CIA radio stations promised military support if the citizens rose up, which the citizens did only to be slaughtered. Nor the lesson of the First Gulf War, where George H. W. Bush called on the Shiia to rise up against Saddam, and then stood aside as Saddam made peace and crushed as American forces watched. Nor the lesson of Georgia, where neoconservatives declared, “We are all Georgians!” and proceeded to do nothing as Russian tanks overran the country. Neoconservative foreign policy has consisted of writing “rhetorical checks” that they have “no intention (or ability) to cash,” or more graphically “hip-shooting onanism.”

In every instance, America took the “right” rhetorical position at first but was unwilling to back it up by sacrificing American lives. If neoconservatives truly believe we must have regime change, then they should make the case for why this fight is worth Americans dying, instead of making easy references to Hitler and Chamberlain.

As a people, Americans support the Green Wave. And as a government, the Obama administration should put what pressure it can for the principles it believes in: including the right to self-determination. But American troops and money can’t buy Iranian self-determination – only the Iranian people themselves can:

This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

[Image licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Political Analysis of Laughter

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Stephanie Guttman writing for The Corner at the National Review saw a key distinction between Democrat Corzine and his supporters and Republican Christie and his. Corzine, making a joke about his mother being a Republican, said, “She’s 93 years old so, we’re not going to worry too much about that.” He got “a big laugh.” Christie meanwhile, told the story of a 90-year old supporter who told him he would vote against him in four years if he didn’t keep his promises. With her reporter’s ear, Guttman noticed that:

The line also got a big laugh, but it sounded more joyous, less sneering, and less subtly derisive.

Mmmm. Yes. Well, there’s only one conclusion to take from this:

[T]he Corzine remark mirrors a callousness, a coarse attitude about the “dispensability” of the aged, that one sees in the debate over health care reform.

Also, Republicans are “joyous.”

On a related note, I saw a Republican shoot a baby in the face yesterday after which he proceeded to steal the baby’s candy; and I saw a Democrat jump in front of a speeding train to save a different baby (because a Republican had shot the face off of the other one.) I guess that proves that Republicans are baby-killers and love guns and candy while Democrats love babies and are selfless.

I can’t wait to see Guttman’s take on a difficult issue like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute (which incidentally is what she actually writes about!)!

I’ve written some things which I’m sure make me look like an idiot – but I’m pretty sure I haven’t written anything as stupid as this Guttman post.

Mining Right Wing Critiques for Some Honesty

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

I’ve gotten tired of being outraged at every self-serving lie and every new line crossed and picking apart idiotic arguments by right wingers. This served some purpose during the campaign – and I believe it is important to do when disinformation campaigns are being waged (as during August of the health care debate). But it is not what I feel most comfortable doing.

At the same time, I believe Republicans are undermining the two-party system and our democratic institutions by using their considerable clout to promote fantastical claims and lies about the efforts of their opponents instead of engaging in more pragmatic or fair-minded criticisms. Right wingers who back the Republicans have likewise mainly fallen into this trap – aside from a few notable exceptions (Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, David Brooks.)One of my goals then will be to not only promote these individuals – as Andrew Sullivan for example is – but to read the propagandist crap from more mainstream right wingers and mine it for legitimate criticism.

I’ve had this thought in my head for a few weeks – and have been reading wit this in mind. But when reading items like this by Steve Huntley in the Chicago Sun Times, it becomes very difficult:

Someone’s brain is clearly addled – for there is nothing contradictory about claiming you inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression (which it technically was) and that it is even worse than was thought (especially as several weeks after Biden’s remark, the Department of Commerce released the official statistics revising its statistics down for the past year as it periodically does.)

It amazes me that such paragraphs get past an editor.

Other concerns – while perhaps legitimate – are so self-serving they are hard to reconcile with past views. For example, Wesley Smith over at National Review‘s The Corner did not from my reading of him bring up the subject of the “rule of law” at all during George W. Bush’s presidency. However, now he brings it up with a hard criticism of the Obama administration’s position on medical marijuana:

Part of the sleight of hand here is a subtle mischaracterization of the change. Obama is not “refusing to enforce federal marijuana laws” but rather shifting resources away from targeting these groups, or as Devlin Barrett of the Associated Press described it, prosecutors will be told that “it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.” And Smith doesn’t acknowledge the long tradition (he refers only to Andrew Jackson) of presidents refusing to enforce laws as part of the checks and balances described in most textbooks on the Constitution. Smith also ignores the far more serious violations of the rule of law that Bush committed in actually ordering the law be broken and declaring it void when it violated his duty to protect Americans.

This sudden concern for the rule of law – concern suggesting it was incredibly fragile and can be destroyed in an instant – seems to reinforce the point I made earlier – that the strong positions taken by conservatives regarding curbing executive power and discretion are entirely unprincipled. They have everything to do with the fact that a liberal is now in power and will be abandoned again when they have power.

However, I did find one conservative critique I could endorse: Marie Gryphon’s piece in the National Review that makes the case against scapegoating Ken Lewis of Bank of America. To blame him for accepting the deal he did – especially given the amount of pressure he was under from Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and those working with them is ridiculous. Whether or not there is a legal case against him, it should not be pursued.