Several commentators and bloggers, such as Scott Johnson and Mark Steyn and others, have noted the angry reaction, on the part of Democrats, to President Bush’s recent speech in celebration of the State of Israel’s 60th Anniversary.
But might close analysis of the President’s speech and the response to it really miss much of the point. From a political standpoint, it does not matter whether President was thinking of anyone in particular when he criticized appeasement. What matters is that President Bush can be portrayed as a mean-spirited ideologue.
In 1992, the U.S. economy was in fairly good shape, but that didn’t stop the Clinton campaign from running with the slogan "it’s the economy stupid." In 1995, President Clinton shut down the government by vetoing a perfectly reasonable budget, but that did not stop him from successfully blaming Congress for the shut-down. The same thing, I suspect, is going on here. Obama and the others are out to score political points. What Pressident Bush actually meant is barely relevant.
Was in which Barack Obama’s campaign imitates or echoes that of Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992:
1. “The Man from Hope” and “The Audacity of Hope.”
2. A “New Democrat” and “A different kind of politician.”
3. “The worst economy in fifty years” and “our economy is in recession” (If we’re lucky the economy will be growing at 4% annually by the last quarter of this year, as it did in 1992, but I’m not holding my breath.)
4. In 1988 Clinton put himself on the map with his speech at the Democratic Convention in 1988 (even if he was not praised for it, it did get his name out there). Obama’s star began to rise with his speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004.
5. Sister Souljah and Rev. Wright?
There are many others. Discuss.
Having begun to read the decision of the California State Supreme Court denying the right of the people of California to define marriage as it has traditionally been defined, and holding that homosexuals have the "right to marry," I am finding a few interesting things.
The first is the question of what to call the ruling. Most commentaries I have seen, describe it as “guaranteeing the right of homosexuals to marry,” or something like that. But why is that more correct than to cast it as a denial of the right of the people to make certain kinds of laws? Similarly, one news radio station said that those who disagree with the decision want to (I paraphrase from memory), "put a law in the constitution that denies gays the right to marry." Could they not have said that they supporters of the amendment "want to overturn the ruiling, by puttin language in the constitution saying that the Court had misinterpreted the relevant part of the state constitution"?
Moreover, some of the exact wording of the ruling raises further questions. Consider the following:
The constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual’s liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process. These core substantive rights include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish — with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life — an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.
That language is suggestive. Taken literally, it means that the people of California may not do away with marriage altogether. After all, what does a “right to marry” imply, if not that there must be marriage. I suspect that the Court would, in fact, allow the people of California to do away with marriage altogether if they choose. If that is the case, however, in what sense is marriage a right? Why did not Court not say what it meant?
If, on the other hand, we believe that the Court said exactly what it meant, it raises interesting questions. If there is a right to marry, it means that there are limits to what “marriage” might be. After all, it would be absurd to say that the government must do something, and then declare that the definition of that “right” means whatever people wanted it to mean. Using the sound “horse” to describe a pig does not change the reality of the thing. So too must it be with rights if they are not to become arbitrary.
But how does the Court define marriage? And why does it do so? The Court’s definition (or at least the opinion of the majority) seems to be “most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish — with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life — an officially recognized and protected family.” What is the basis for that definition? Why does the Court hold that there must be official recognition and protection of families at all? Can one answer such questions without believing that certain institutions are natural among men?
In the eighteenth century, many Enlightened thinkers, men like Franklin, Jefferson, Voltaire, and others, believed that it was wise to accept whatever all religions accepted as true, or at least necessary in human life, and to doubt the rest. If one applies a similar principle to marriage, one would find that it has been, always and everywhere, an institution or perhaps status, that varies a great deal, but always has featured both men and women. A more classic, teleological understanding of nature would yield a similar conclusion, though by a somewhat different path.
A supporter of the Court’s position might reply that if people are inclined to members of their own sex, it is unfair to exclude them from marriages with people they want to be with. To make that argument, however, is to make an argument based upon a different understanding of nature–it is nature reduced to biological urges. Upon that basis, however, there cannot be a right to marry. There can only be a right to marry if an institution like marriage is, in fact, natural among men. But can gay marriage be natural in that sense of the term?
Here’s the opinion. I’ll have more to say when I read the whole opinion, but will note a couple of things at the outset. First, it seems that the California Supreme Court has accepted the analogy between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage. Does this mean that any moral opinion opposed to same-sex marriage (or to homosexuality in general) is equivalent to a racial prejudice?
Second, the Court frames the issue in terms of whether the name "marriage" can be reserved to the union of a male and a female in a state where there are already substantial protections for domestic partnerships. It would be a different question, the majority says, if the domestic partnership legislation didn’t already exist. If other courts follow this logic, then there is a slippery legal slope from domestic partnership to same-sex marriage. The "moderate" position--accepting domestic partnerships but opposing same-sex marriage--would be untenable. For some, it might be serviceable as a political fig leaf, covering up a far-reaching agenda. For others, it would be an illusion, based upon the (mistaken) assumption that providing legal protection without the "Good Housekeeping" seal of (public moral) approval is possible. Folks who respond to appeals to their compassion even as they wish to hold onto their moral judgments would find that they can’t have it both ways. A possible consequence is less public willingness to accept the middle ground shown in this case to be untenable. There’s no ground on which a middle position can be based: for those who favor traditional marriage, the options are either victory or surrender.
The University of Chicago plans to house a new Milton Friedman Institute in a building currently occupied by the Chicago Theological Seminary. Here’s what’s happening to CTS, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
My snark: the old facility will in some ways continue to be devoted to matters of faith and social justice.
Just in case there is room out there for Republican optimism, along comes David Forte to remind us that there probably is no room for it. This reminds me of Hungarian pessimism. Two Hungarian comrades meet on a street corner in the mid-eighties: Well comrade, how are things with you? Humph, says the other, the situation is hopeless, but not yet bad.
A reader e-mailed this to me, thought it worth passing along:
"I think all this speculation about why Hillary stays in misses what she is ultimately about--making it more difficult for Obama to pick anyone but a woman for his VP--Sibelius of Kansas, maybe Napolitano of AZ, or MO’s senator; surely not herself, that would be impossible for Obama, and she knows it. Thus, it would be a sign of the feminization of the party.
Of course this is not a disinterested act of feminist statesmanship. Such a black-female ticket would prove too exotic for America and surely be defeated. But the female VP would pave the way for a female nominee in four years. It would increase that longing.
So such a move is wonderful Machiavellian statesmanship; fortune is no longer a woman; necessity is."
The writer of this Newsweek piece on Carly Fiorina notes, as many have, "the continuing realignment of the educated and wealthy toward the Democrats."
Why is that? Are cultural issues more important to them than their pocketbooks? (What, in other words, is the matter with the Hamptons?) Are Republican policies bad for their pocketbooks? Are allegedly pro-business policies bad for their pocketbooks, either because they’re not really pro-business or because the business in which those who are realigning doesn’t require a "pro-business" environment in which to prosper? Have I left any possibilities out?
Barack Obama’s Kentucky radio ads somewhat misleadingly feature his faith, implying, for example, that his Christianity initially led him to his community work in Chicago. Not quite: the social activism that he shared with Trinity UCC led him into that sanctuary.
There’s a risk here, of course, since I’m betting that the ads aren’t running on "urban" stations. Will the ads remind people of the values preached from the pulpit at his church? Anyone out there going to help folks connect the dots?
A few days ago, Mark Levin had an interesting post on The Corner about Davod Brooks’ recent column on conservatism in America. Brooks writes:
And he continues:
For years, American and British politics were in sync. Reagan came in roughly the same time as Thatcher, and Clinton’s Third Way approach mirrored Blair’s. But the British conservatives never had a Gingrich revolution in the 1990s or the Bush victories thereafter. They got their losing in early, and, in the wilderness, they rethought modern conservatism while their American counterparts were clinging to power.
Today, British conservatives are on the way up, while American conservatives are on the way down. British conservatives have moved beyond Thatcherism, while American conservatives pine for another Reagan. The British Conservative Party enjoyed a series of stunning victories in local elections last week, while polls show American voters thoroughly rejecting the Republican brand.
The flow of ideas has changed direction. It used to be that American conservatives shaped British political thinking. Now the influence is going the other way.
The British conservative renovation begins with this insight: The central political debate of the 20th century was over the role of government. The right stood for individual freedom while the left stood for extending the role of the state. But the central debate of the 21st century is over quality of life. In this new debate, it is necessary but insufficient to talk about individual freedom. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”
Levin does not have much taste for the idea that America’s conservatives should follow a somewhat squishy Tory Conservatism.
Conservatives are a much more sophisticated lot than Brooks gives them credit for. Conservatism isn’t only about individualism, although it is rightly a critical element of ordered liberty. But it isn’t about "creating 4,200 more health visitors," either. Brooks wants conservatives to mimic the ways of the Tory, the latter having made significant recent gains in British local elections. In other words, he looks to Europe much the same way the American Left does, although he may no doubt argue he looks there for a different direction than socialism.
Two comments. What, exactly, does Brooks think is original with the Tories? How exactly does it differ from President Bush’s "Compassionate Conservatism"? Perhaps, with its occasional efforts to put individual choice into big government (health savings accounts, etc.), Compassionate conservatism adds a bit of Gingrich’s idea of moving "from a welfare state to an opportunity society" into the mix, but barely. (It is also important to note that, given the difference between political systems, Mrs. Thatcher had the legislature on her side in a way that President Reagan never did.)
Levin asks, "Does David Brooks understand conservatism? Has he read anything written by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and scores of others whose thinking and writings have made the case for the civilized society?"
I find that comment amusing, given that Levin complains that Brooks "looks to Europe." Perhaps he would be on more solid ground if he had pointed to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and the other founders to make his point.
P.S. Might one say that President Bush has invented John D. Rockefeller Republicanism: Evangelical Christianity, plus Big Government.
After reading Levin only one question remains: Is Steven clueless or evil? It’s not a very dignified choice. It’s easy to understand Yuval’s anger: The work of the Kass/Pellegrino Bioethics Council has been much more scientific and dignified than that of almost all of its allegedly scientific critics. (And I must add: I wish McCain could show he knew that.)
Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Barack Obama this week for the Atlantic has generated a significant (if predictable) level of controversy. Some of the criticism of Obama has been fair and effective and some of it, probably, not so much. I will leave it to others to discuss the import of his statements as they apply to our relationship with Israel and why or why not Obama is an attractive candidate to Hamas. I will also leave aside the question of whether this is an indication that Obama is, in all essentials, more or less like Jimmy Carter. Others can and have addressed these questions with more authority.
What I want to address is the very revealing slip that Jennifer Rubin at the Commentary blog (linked above) notes, but does not elaborate. Barack Obama, in answering the question of whether he was "flummoxed" by the support of Hamas replied:
I wasn’t flummoxed. I think what is going on there is the same reason why there are some suspicions of me in the Jewish community. Look, we don’t do nuance well in politics and especially don’t do it well on Middle East policy. We look at things as black and white, and not gray. [emphasis mine]It’s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, “This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he’s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,” and that’s something they’re hopeful about. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they’re not confused about my unyielding support for Israel’s security.Rubin scoffs (and I share in her scoffing) at the notion that the leader of Hamas was only expressing his admiration for Barack Obama’s "oh so subtle and nuanced" reading of the politics of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But I’d add that the more Obama talks, the more he reveals of his contempt for the American people. "We don’t do nuance well," he tells us. Of course, we don’t. That’s why we need a clever and sophisticated and impossibly brilliant man like Barack Obama to do it for us. We’re probably all too bitter and too stupid . . . clinging to our guns and to our God and all. Indeed, it’s interesting that Barack Obama did not even feel compelled to visit the state of West Virginia yesterday, isn’t it? They probably don’t "do nuance" very well down in those parts either. But they sure know how to send a clear message, I’d say.
Larry shows that he’s the best of the Darwinians--because he knows a lot about political philosophy and the Bible--and adds some subtle comments on the evolution of Leon Kass’s thought. He also reveals that he eats his ice cream at home.
1. I’ve gotten a couple of tough private emails complaining that I wasn’t tougher on Pinker below. The sociobiologist was obviously ignorantly rude to Leon Kass, and there’s considerable evidence that he didn’t read most of the book he was reviewing. Pinker, despite his best-sellerhood as a popularizing scientist, obviously isn’t really in Kass’s or even Darwinian Larry’s league. Well, I agree with all that and more. But perhaps I’m too used to the sociobiologists being ignorantly rude to me (remember Larry calling me a gnostic existentialist Heideggerian just like Hitler or something like that), and I’ve stated my firm opinion about the invincible limits (or obtuseness) of sociobiology many times before. Because I’m a lover, not a fighter (not to mention a uniter, not a divider), I was reaching out to highlight a point of (very qualified and even ironic) agreement with Pinker. Although I think evolution happened (although I also agree with Tom Wolfe on its declining significance in explaining human behavior), I find Pinker (and even Darwin) of very limited (although real) use in understanding human nature.
2. The significance of Hillary’s huge win in WV: It might mean that Obama will have a hard time carrying WV in November. Or it might not, as Joe points out below. McCain didn’t fare any better among the Republicans of the "almost heaven" state.
3. The significance of the special House election in Mississippi yesterday, when considered with the other recent ones in IL and LA: HUGE!
Patrick Deneen raises some interesting questions. Here’s his conclusion:
What may be most productive in coming years is to stop calling this cadre of economic libertarians - what we now call "the Right" or even conservatism - conservatives. There is nothing they want to conserve - nothing in the natural or moral ecology. They are rapacious exploiters who want to use every last natural and cultural reservoir for their own immediate profit - even at the price of leaving nothing for their children. Recall, it was Dick Cheney who said "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
Soon, if not soon enough, I predict, there will be a party of conservatives and a party of "live now’ers." Live now’ers have original sin on their side, and are likely to win a lot of votes until it’s clear that the grasshopper was wrong and the ant was right. Then they will tell us it’s time to get the guns. Are you sure that’s the side you want to be on?
Read the whole thing.
David Brooks reflects on the evolution (if I can be permitted to use that word) of neuroscience. A snippet:
If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.
In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day.
I’m in the middle of reading C.S. Lewis with my son--we’ve gone from Screwtape to The Abolition of Man and are now in That Hideous Strength. It strikes me that Lewis provides some resources not only for responding to the more aggressively materialist atheists but also to Brooks’s "neural Buddhists."
And other reasons why this election might be significant. Mickey Kaus point us to a good bit of reporting in Reason magazine which discusses Union efforts to
end the secret ballot for Unionization votes, and other issues that might be on the table in 2009:
What’s the Employee Free Choice Act? If you aren’t a lobbyist in Washington, a union worker, or an employer nervously trying to prevent your staff from organizing, you might not have followed the twisty history of the latest attempt to increase private-sector unionization. “Card check,” as it is usually known, would allow employees at a company to bypass secret-ballot elections and declare their intent to unionize by simply signing cards. If adopted, it could portend the most revolutionary change to labor law since the 1940s.Will happy days be here again in 2009?
The battle over card check is part of a much larger story of Campaign ’08: the coming-out party of Democratic interest groups. For the first time since 1992, Democrats are eyeing complete control of the executive and legislative branches, with all of the spoils of appointment and legislative scheduling that would entail. Unions want to grow their numbers. Green industries want tax incentives. Trial lawyers want a ceasefire in the war on torts. . . .
You read that right. Of course, the Republican caucuses were three months ago. John McCain got 12 votes; Huckabee beat him by a 47-1 margin, somewhat more pronounced than Clinton’s 2-1 drubbing of Obama. Just goes to show you that states resembling Arkansas--which Huckabee and Clinton both can win--vote for folks with Arkansas connections.
Joe Knippenberg thinks that this extended primary season gives us the "opportunity to think through and learn about our peculiar form (or forms) of democratic republicanism." In this op-ed he considers the purpose of "superdelegates", and what the federalist and the the anti-federalist notion of representation has to do with encouraging deliberation, and how the current Democratic Party might not understand it all.
Roger Kimball writes with pith and wit about the all-too-earnest and all-too-easy compassion that (sadly) characterizes much of the talk surrounding disaster relief for Myanmar. A taste: The numbers, of course, are pure fabrications, so let me speculate that 10,000,000 will die unless you wring your hands and loudly tell the world how much you care–before, of course, you sit down for dinner tonight with the wife and kids and talk about your plans for the weekend.
Kimball argues that it is neither genuine nor morally superior to have real concern for people so far removed from your real sphere of influence. It’s not wrong, of course, to feel moved to action in the wake of such horrific events. But Kimball is probably right that guilt-inducing pleas for help to folks who are doing their level-best to be good and charitable in their daily lives (very often from folks who, well . . . are not) is more than a little off-putting.
. . . in the glacier-like movement of the debate over school choice can be found here from former D.C. mayor, Marion Barry (H/T: K-Lo at the Corner) and perhaps also here from Bill Bennett. Unusual bed-fellows? Yes. But sometimes this indicates potential for real movement on an issue.
Of course, Barry’s support for school-choice comes with a price tag: $74 million from the federal government for the 2009 school year. He says he would oppose the vouchers and scholarships if they "took money away" from public schools. So, it’s not perfect support for the principle, but it is--at least--a stronger admission of the problem and the potential for vouchers to address it.
Bennett’s point is less about school choice than it is about the decline in Catholic schools--stemming mainly from rising costs. As a result, they’re becoming something other than religious in their focus. This is a fair point, in my experience. These schools are getting so expensive (roughly $5K a year in my area) that they are becoming more like ordinary private or prep-schools--an accoutrement of the rich. And, because there are fewer religious on hand to man such operations (and this contributes to the cost), there is also little in place to counter the negative effects of such a change.
As costs rise in these schools, it’s not only those on the poorer end of the spectrum who begin to wonder if the sacrifice is worth it. As Bennett notes, parents begin to weigh questions such as value. One expects to get something more than the ordinary for $5K. And if it’s not religion and morals, then what is it? A higher quality education? Perhaps. But now that’s going to cost you. I think we may discover that religious education and high quality education are, in most instances, inexorably linked. In other words, as religion exits the religious schools there may be little there left to recommend them.
Update: But don’t expect an honorary degree.
Pinker writes a very lively and smart criticism of the Bioethics Council’s book on dignity. There’s even a lot I agree with, especially his last paragraph. I do think there’s a tendency among some conservative bioethicists to worry too much about the real coming of the Brave New World. But I don’t think that tendency comes from any specifically Cathoic influence, but from the untrue thought that Nietzsche’s "last man" (which like the Brave New World only exists in a book) could become real. Sociobiologists (including even our buddy Darwinian Larry) sometimes have the merit of reminding us of how modest our techno-victories over nature have been and are likely to be. Pinker does seem blind to the fact that the authors in the book with religious influences and even from religious colleges really disagree with each other. His most charmingly naive thought is that the reduction in cruelty and increase in freedom that we find in recent centuries has some evolutionary cause. I even doubt that, when you closely, that you will really see that the amount of cruelty in the world has diminished. AND: Can a sociobiologist really explain the behavior of hyper-liberated individuals in Western Europe and even in our country as good for the future of our species?
Congratulations to this month’s winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:
George may not be being entirely fair here, but he’s right that these questions all do address the issue of Mac’s likely executive competence. Very reasonable people are raising them, and they need to be addressed before the campaign really starts.
Is Mac too ready to go to war with Iran? (And, at this point, with what army?) Will he be too ready, more generally, to pursue a "rogue-state rollback"? Does he have a realistic view of what success in Iraq could reasonably mean at this point? Does he really know what judicial review is? Is he too ready to spend billions of dollars in questionable or even counter-productive ways to fight global warming? Does he really want to criminalize Wall Street greed? And how, exactly, is that greed distinguished from "the socially useful pursuit of personal gain?" Doesn’t he realize yet that taxpayer funding of campaigns is a terrible idea? All in all, is the honorable man too moralistic or self-righteous to be consistently and authentically prudent? I don’t have all the answers. Divide up into small groups and discuss.
Last Thursday Papa John’s stores in Ohio offered pizzas for 23 cents, the chain’s way of apologizing for the actions of one franchisee who had the temerity to distribute a t-shirt that contained an unflattering statement about a certain local sports hero.
As you’d expect for a deal like this, people flocked to Papa John’s stores, forming long lines so that people waited on average between two and three hours to get their apparently cheap pizza. Of course, that means that the pizza didn’t really cost 23 cents--it cost 23 cents plus whatever the people who bought it thought that two to three hours of their time was worth. It would appear that those who went running to Papa John’s stores last Thursday estimated the value of their time at something less than four dollars per hour. Will someone please explain to me, then, why the minimum wage in Ohio is $7.00?
Our friend Jon Schaff assembles some of the pieces, including this invaluable John Kass piece on the disconect between the Obama-as-reformer narrative and the reality of Obama’s silence in the face of the tawdriness of the Chicago politics with which he is intimately connected. Where, one might ask, are the investigations of David Axelrod’s career in Chicago politics?
Jon also calls attention to Stanley Kurtz’s account of the collected trumpetings of Jeremiah Wright, a public record of the views Obama can’t claim to have missed or slept through in the pews of Trinity United Church of Christ. Perhaps he didn’t read the Trumpet or hear the sermons, but then what was he doing affiliated with that church?
Josef Joffe reviews Farred Zakaria’s The Post-American World and explains that in fact it is not another exercise in declinism. His point is not the demise of Gulliver, but the "rise of the rest." Joffe calls it intelligent. I have started reading it and, so far, I agree. Happy Mother’s Day, by the way.
This Los Angeles Times story, partly based on a Pew Study, claims that Democratic strategists look at Obama’s challenges, they conclude that his liberalism and elitism are the issue, rather than race. I would only add to this that although Obama has not yet been stained by Chicago’s grime, it doesn’t mean that it has gone away.