Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Dionne again, off again

Today’s column by E. J. Dionne is another beaut. Where to begin?

First, he attacks the Bush campaign for "relentlessly" attacking Kerry: Kerry was painted as arrogant and privileged, compared with an arrogant president who was far more privileged.

Kerry was made out to be a flip-flopping liberal, and never mind asking how someone can be a flip-flopper and an ideologue. Kerry, who shot people in battle and was wounded himself, was painted as weaker than Bush, the guy who said he supported the Vietnam War but was not willing to fight in it.

If by "arrogant" you mean that the President doesn’t pay attention to liberal columnists and other nay-sayers, Dionne is right. And I guess by "far more privileged" Dionne means that Bush 43 had Bush 41 as a father, Barbara as a mother, and Laura as a wife, while Kerry was saddled with Teresa and her millions.

But pardon me, Mr. Dionne, John Kerry demonstrated that it was possible to be both ideological and inconsistent in one’s opposition to the Iraq war. Indeed, when an self-contradictory ideology comes up against a stubbornly resistant reality, its inconsistencies are revealed for all to see.

What’s more, Bush volunteered to serve in a F-102 squadron scheduled for a tour in Vietnam, but was turned down because he didn’t have enough flight hours to be eligible.


Liberals and Democrats are way too sensitive to elite editorial page opinion that asks more responsibility from the side it supposedly supports than from the side it supposedly opposes.

Case in point: social security. "Bush’s cockamamie idea of borrowing billions for a shaky Social Security privatization scheme" needs to be opposed by "arrogant" politicians who emulate the President in ignoring editorialists who urge them to sit down to negotiate with their opponents. Negotiation just plays into the President’s hands.

Two thoughts. First, is Dionne seriously embracing a shouting match over the major domestic entitlements crisis? I prefer Michael Kinsley’s original challenge and the many thoughtful blogospheric responses. Second, if Dionne thinks that it’s good politics not to negotiate with one’s opponents, I wonder what he thinks about the Bush Administration’s diplomacy? Is this perhaps another example of being inconsistent and ideological?

Here, finally, is a question I like, and one that is likely to plague Republicans and conservatives:

I cannot understand why liberals who regularly criticize the excesses of the economic market let conservatives get away with being the advocates of "traditional values."

When television networks and Hollywood exploit sex to make money, why aren’t liberals asking why the free market so revered by the right wing promotes values the very same right wing claims to despise? The coarsening of the culture that traditionalist conservatives denounce is abetted by the very media concentration that economic conservatives defend. Why are liberals so tongue-tied in exposing this contradiction?

There is a tension between "traditional" morality and the marketplace, revealed in the disputes between libertarians like Glenn Reynolds and traditionalists like Leon Kass. The market is no great respecter of traditions or attachments. One of my favorite thinkers on this subject is the late Canadian professor of philosophy George Parkin Grant.

Next, Dionne accuses Bush and the Republicans of waging class warfare:

Bush and the Republicans condemn "class warfare" -- and then play the class card with a vengeance. Bush has pushed through policies that, by any impartial reckoning, have transferred massive amounts of money to the wealthiest people in our country. Yet it is conservatives, Bush supporters, who trash the "elites," especially when it comes to culture. Class warfare is evil -- unless a conservative is playing the class card.

Here’s a study that shows that the top 5% of taxpayers have a greater share of tax liability after the Bush tax reforms. And while I think I agree that "Wall Street elites" will "win big-time" if social security is privatized, so, I think, will small social security investors. Why, in Dionne’s view, is it bad for both groups to win? Or, how is it possible for the elites to win and not the little guys? Or is it simply bad that some win more than others? If Dionne is making the old Thomistic and Aristotelian point about the evils of usury, I might be prepared to walk some way down the road with him, but I suspect that he is no longer willing to think that deeply, if ever he was.

Dionne concludes with another point with which I agree:

They [Democrats] need to demonstrate that we could be much safer -- and fight a more effective war on terrorism -- if so much of the world did not mistrust us. They must create a realistic narrative about a more just and prosperous society. Policies on jobs, health insurance, child care, education and taxes should be more than a list. They ought to form a coherent picture of how things could be better, for everyone.

It would indeed be better for all concerned if the opposition were loyally for something, rather than just reflexively against everything George W. Bush stands for. Let’s have substantive debates and discussions, not the kind of "hate speech" Jeff Jacoby details in his recent column.

But Dionne’s column just seems to license more hate speech, not conversation and debate. If I could actually take mugs away, I would.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Why would you even bother to read Dionne? He is just a partisan hack with a chip on his shoulder. Maureen Dowd without the longer hair.

I find Dionne’s points to be much better than yours. You’ve got some fancy talk, but I’m not at all convinced...

Dionne’s second quoted paragraph would make more sense ("Kerry, who shot people in battle and was wounded himself") if Dionne had left out the "was." ;->=

Instead of taking the mugs away see if you can work on creating the same symbol only upside down.

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