Unhinged politics

Side-by-side at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson and Ruth Marcus present a strong contrast today, and there’s no doubt in my mind which outlook would be better for the country.

Marcus starts off decrying a “Tea Party” candidate’s campaign video in an Alabama congressional primary. (I’m still wondering how columnists so infallibly distinguish a Tea Partier from other populist types, but never mind.) The candidate thinks redistributionist welfare is slavery for the people who pay taxes, as he makes graphically clear, and he closes with a very, very brief image of a concentration camp – one of those “subliminal” images that Marcus, sitting on her high Washington D.C. perch, was nevertheless able to perceive all the way down in the fever swamps of scary, scary Red Alabama. (I’m still wondering how these subliminal images get detected if they’re so subtle. Do some people have no lives? Oh, never mind.)

She decries the video as sacrilege, unhinged and emblematic. She links it to conservative talk radio (which she hints she has spent some time listening to). She insinuates that there couldn’t possibly be anything slavish about the role of taxpayer because — hey! — this is a democracy with checks and balances, and the system we have was voted on by the people who worry terribly about the Tea Party.

Marcus closes throwing down a gauntlet for conservatives to join her in decrying such stuff.

Gerson takes up the gauntlet so firmly that Marcus may be sorry she asked. His first target: David Weigel (the reporter whose blogging got him his 15 minutes of fame — which, by the way, runs out very soon now).

When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, “I hope he fails.” Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire.” Opponents are referred to as “ratf — -ers” and “[expletive] moronic.”
This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

He continues:

Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck “do the honorable thing and blow his brains out.” … Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush.” Says John Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”

Yet Gerson acknowledges the problem on the right.

“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh,” Ann Coulter once said, “is he did not go to the New York Times building.” … Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: “We Came Unarmed (This Time).”

Gerson then ties things up a bit, beginning:

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.
Such sentiments have always existed. But the unfiltered media — particularly the Internet — have provided both stage and spotlight. Now everyone can be Richard Nixon, threatening opponents and composing enemies lists.

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent … I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

Marcus hears no enemies of civility on the left. (What! Did she go expatriate during the Bush years?) Gerson correctly sees really bad polarization with crazies at both the red and blue ends of the spectrum.

Anyone foolish enough to follow this blog faithfully will suspect that I think the country may be too far gone for rehabilitation by either the Ugly Party or the Grown-Up Party. But if we’re going into the tank economically, I’d rather go into it with people who realize that virtually all of us were complicit in bringing it about — and that no scapebillies deserve to be hung by the testicles or scapenannies to be raped and put naked on display.

I resolve to try to remember that in future posts, and I regret any dehumanizing in former posts. My intent is always “what fools we mortals be,” but blogging can be intoxicating (as David Weigel found), and I may have said some things that sounded more like “kill the creeps.”

George Will’s Questions for Kagan

Why would nobody have the cajones to ask the questions George Will suggested Sunday and Monday?

Personal favorites (get a grip, Tipsy; not too many now!):

  • If Congress decides that interstate commerce is substantially affected by the costs of obesity, may Congress require obese people to purchase participation in programs such as Weight Watchers? If not, why not?
  • Can you name a human endeavor that Congress cannot regulate on the pretense that the endeavor affects interstate commerce? If courts reflexively defer to that congressional pretense, in what sense do we have limited government?
  • The Fifth Amendment mandates “just compensation” when government uses its eminent domain power to take private property for “public use.” In its 2005 Kelo decision, the court said government can seize property for the “public use” of transferring it to wealthier private interests who will pay more taxes to the government. Do you agree?
  • William Voegeli, contributing editor of the Claremont Review of Books, writes: “The astonishingly quick and complete transformation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, from a law requiring all citizens be treated equally to a policy requiring that they be treated unequally, is one of the most audacious bait-and-switch operations in American political history.” Discuss.
  • Regarding campaign finance “reforms”: If allowing the political class to write laws regulating the quantity, content and timing of speech about the political class is the solution, what is the problem?
  • Incumbent legislators are constantly tinkering with the rules regulating campaigns that could cost them their jobs. Does this present an appearance of corruption?
  • Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom you clerked, said: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” Can you defend this approach to judging?
  • You have said: “There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” But that depends on what the meaning of “is” is. There was no constitutional right to abortion until the court discovered one 185 years after the Constitution was ratified, when the right was spotted lurking in emanations of penumbras of other rights. What is to prevent the court from similarly discovering a right to same-sex marriage?
  • Bonus question: In Roe v. Wade, the court held that the abortion right is different in each of the three trimesters of pregnancy. Is it odd that the meaning of the Constitution’s text would be different if the number of months in the gestation of a human infant were a prime number?

Mitch Daniels vulnerable on corruption?

The Advance Indiana blog (see blogroll, right) has some obsessions, and those obsessions seem to involve the corner-cutting, corporatism and downright corruption of the Republicans in power in Indianapolis — both state and local government. That would be no surprise were not the blogger himself a Republican. (Doug Masson beat me to the punch on this, but I started before lunch and his appeared between now and then.)

The blog is relentless in criticizing the Indy Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration for its subservience to the interests of billionaire sports franchise owners (here, here, here, & here — and that’s just the recent ones; but don’t think he’s just an anti-sports sissy).

Today, he hits a higher target — the Daniels administration:

I’m telling you that Daniels has some big-time scandals brewing in his administration. The Obama Justice Department can bury any presidential ambitions he may have if they so desire to investigate these various scandals. I thought Mitch was smart enough to avoid this kind of corruption in his administration when he first got elected, but my once favorable impression of him is fading with the passage of every day. I’m not surprised by [State Rep. Eric] Turner’s obvious self-dealing, and I doubt many others who’ve watched him over at the State House over the years are either. The ACS [company hired to privatize Medicaid administration] connections run deeper than [Mitch] Roob. Barnes & Thornburg’s Bob Grand and Joe Loftus have lobbied the state and the City of Indianapolis for the firm. They firm as also lobbied the state for [Daniels insider John] Bales’ Venture Real Estate. CIB President Ann Lathrop, who replaced Grand in that role, used to work at ACS with Roob and former Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who employed both of them in his administration. Lathrop now works for Crowe Horwath, which has several contracts with the City of Indianapolis. Lathrop personally inked a contract with the Ballard administration’s budget office, which Lathrop ran during the Goldsmith administration. And I could go on but you get the point. It’s just one incestuous cesspool.

“Incenstuous cesspool” almost earned this re-blog a “damn rackets” categorization, but I’m holding off on that a bit longer.

Still, I had a lot of trouble with the Medicaid privatization debacle, which put Daniels’ willful streak on display and was so patently misguided — long before he nevertheless went ahead and did it — that only two theories came to mind for why he’d do it:

  1. He cynically wanted to screw up Medicaid — a massive and virtually uncontrollable entitlement — so badly that nobody would even want to bother applying (which in essence would move the cost of caregiving “off book” by forcing family members to skip economically productive jobs to care for aging parents even more than they already do); or
  2. He or someone he likes/owes stood to profit mightily from privatization. (This was barely on my radar, frankly.)

I want to like Mitch. I want to be proud of him. I’d like to want him to become President. But don’t bet on it — whether “it” is is me wanting him to become President or him actually becoming President. I knew nothing of his youthful pot use, divorce and, now, possible corruption (or closeness to corruption) until he became one of the frontrunners (or coy draft candidates) du jour.

Expect more dirt to be unearthed — not necessarily because Advance Indiana is right, but because that’s the way political sabotage works, and it’s hard to do all Mitch has done in his life without getting at least splashed with some ugly mud along the way.

Long wars and democracy

“Long wars are antithetical to democracy.” So opens a Washington Post op-ed column by Andrew J. Bacevich. “Events of the past week — notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s dismissal — hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military’s professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.”

General McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview ranks right down there with Jimmy Carter’s Playboy interview in the annals of stupid decisions by public people who should have known better. He couldn’t keep them from profiling him, but he didn’t have to sit down for an interview, accompanied by  Aides full of adolescent smartassness. For his lapse in judgment, we’d owe him a great debt of gratitude — if only it would cause us to abandon the aspiration to empire.

The problem, Bacevich suggests, goes back to the abandonment of a “citizen army” (i.e., the draft) in favor of a standing army of careerists, led by outstanding high officers but (and here Bacevich barely hints — I think he understands it, but it was beyond his scope) staffed by cannon fodder — young men and women appreciably poorer and darker-skinned than the sorts of people who by and large run the government and those institutions that might hold government accountable. Men and women who, we can tell ourselves, knew what they were getting into.

The big fib of the week?

“Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths.” [Barak Obama] In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.

Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend. The smug disdain for high-ranking civilians casually expressed by McChrystal and his chief lieutenants — along with the conviction that “Team America,” as these officers style themselves, was bravely holding out against a sea of stupidity and corruption — suggests that the officer corps of the United States is not immune to this affliction.

In the all-volunteer Army, the military-industrial complex has found its perfect instrument. There’s no need for a frank military coup; we already have a covert military-industrial coup.

I’m no fan of conspiracy theories. No doubt there are connivers in the world, but I believe much less in the efficacy of conspiracy than of tragedy: the inexorable outworking of fatal flaws in a generally admirable protagonist; or metaphorically, the eventual expression of a fatal “genetic” flaw in every single regime in our world-gone-mutant.

Americans might do well to contemplate a famous warning issued by another frustrated commander from a much earlier age.

“We had been told, on leaving our native soil,” wrote the centurion Marcus Flavius to a cousin back in Rome, “that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens [and to aid] populations in need of our assistance and our civilization.” For such a cause, he and his comrades had willingly offered to “shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes.” Yet the news from the homeland was disconcerting: The capital was seemingly rife with factions, treachery and petty politics. “Make haste,” Marcus Flavius continued, “and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the empire.”

“If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the legions!”

(Emphasis added) Thank you, Professor Bacevich. If we manage to disenthrall ourselves long enough to notice when our greatness is all gone, we won’t be able to say nobody told us.

And thank you, Washington Post. This is the kind of real conservativism that the idjits at TownHall.com will never publicize. (They’re saying things like we should “fire Obama” — as if that would solve the problem.)


“Do not grumble against Heaven because it does not fulfill all your hopes. Grumble against yourselves, because you do not know how to hope. Heaven does not fulfill hopes, but hope.” Prayer XXXIII, Prayers by the Lake, St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Catholic or Sectarian?

Father Gregory Jensen thinks as he drives, apparently. “Sectarian or Catholic? Thoughts From Another Long Drive” is a recent result. (His use of the adjective “Catholic” definitely is not limited to “Roman Catholic.”)

[A] sectarian approach limits itself to what is wrong with others.  Whether from the right or the left, sectarianism is an ideology masquerading as Christian theology …

Life as a disciple of Christ necessarily places us in a tension with not only the fallen world, but also with ourselves.  As the late Fr Alexander Schmemmann never tired of repeating, it is this fallen world that God loves and for which His Son suffered and died on the Cross …

The pastoral–and spiritual–failure of sectarianism is that, unlike Christ, it fails to balance “harsh sayings…with the easy and appealing words so that watchfulness is encouraged” (Venerable Bede, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 21.8 quoted on ACCS, NT vol XII: Revelation, p. 361).  Underneath this, indeed underneath all my willingness to judge, to condemn, to withhold forgiveness, is a watchfulness that is not encouraging but suspicious and distrustful.  If in the immediate this is directed toward my neighbor it ultimately finds its roots in my own lack of faith in God and trust in the providential working of His grace in your life and mine.

He links to an editorial that cautions against the creep of a sectarian spirit into relations among the diverse Orthodox in North America (not between the Orthodox and the surrounding culture), and that caution is timely for reasons I’ll not go into here.

But the sectarian spirit also can taint the relationship of believers to the surrounding culture. Think purse-lipped Church Lady.

I don’t think that surrounding culture, especially in North America, is without it’s own secularized ideology and sectarianism, but in the spirit of Catholic/Orthodox self-criticism, it’s good to be mindful of the need to balance “harsh sayings…with the easy and appealing words so that watchfulness is encouraged.” “Love the sinner while hating the sin” is a pretty lame effort, as it misses a true call to watchfulness.

It may be even better to apply some of the harsh sayings to our own scotomatous contributions to cultural decadence. I’m not giving the cultural left a free ride by any means, but let’s grant, for just one example, the legitimacy of this question (which I’ve distilled from multiple SSM advocates):

“To date, which has more damaged the institution of civil “marriage”:

  1. Same-sex marriage; or
  2. Heterosexual cohabitation, fornication, intentional conception and birth outside marriage, and intentional avoidance of conception and birth inside marriage (i.e., marriage viewed as a license for heterosexual ‘religious’ people to engage in sundry intentionally barren erotic acts)?”

I’ll even grant the tiresome Frank Schaeffer (who, by the way, is a former religious right leader – at least in his own mind) 0.5 points (on a 1000 point scale) for pointing out, inside a tirade meant to tickle the ears of his liberal audience by insinuating sexual license, that Churches full of fat people (gluttons) might want to be circumspect about the stridency of their condemnation of loose and gay sex.

Haikuly Yours IV

Writer’s Almanac
Had permission to reprint
I don’t have. So here:

And then a few from places other than Writer’s Almanac:

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours – on the wall –
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay –
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall –
I see a little cloud all pink and grey –
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call – I fancy that I
heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way –
I never read the works of Juvenal –
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational –
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small –
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

– by G.K. Chesterton. The glory of the everyday.

(HT: The Pickled Apple blog)

Hear the voice
of those who in all honesty
feel bound to choose
the cold
outside your house.

You are goodness
and I find you
in people who do not confess you.

Dom Helder Camara in Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, Francis McDonaugh, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), p. 115.

(HT: Catholicanarchy.org)

Sorry if these seem a bit top-heavy on death obsession.

Reason’s God

Father Stephen, blogging today on reason generally and philosophical proofs of God particularly:

The God of the philosophers is not the same as the God revealed to us in the God/Man, Jesus Christ. As I often say to those who “do not believe in God” – “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, I may not believe in Him either.”

There are things for which reason is useful and things for which it is not. Reason is not the universal human tool – it’s just a useful tool.

The existence of God (the Christian God) cannot be proven in the manner which reason requires. He is not an object such that He can be observed, nor is He a mathematical theorem or formula that can be derived from something else. He is not the consequence of anything – thus He does not exist at the end of a chain of logic.

The claim of the Orthodox faith (other Christians may say different things – I take no responsibility for them) – is that God is unknowable. It also puts forward the paradox that the God who is unknowable, has made Himself known to us in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We know God because Christ has made Him known.

This claim of the Church is more than a statement about an event in our world’s history. The Orthodox claim is that the God who made Himself known in the Incarnation, continues to make Himself known through our participation in His life ….

That jumped out at me, but there’s more. See it all here.

Red family, blue family: a prequel

I discovered that the “red family, blue family” meme (which I’ve blogged on here and here) is not brand new. Indeed, it was anticipated, in those exact terms, in February 2005 by Doug Mulder, who wrote quite a thought-provoking article about it (PDF version here).

Mulder, a self-described liberal (and apparently an academic in the social sciences; and/or perhaps a Unitarian minister, as some allusions hint) starts with the 2004 Presidential election, which left coastal liberals agog:

Some large number of Bush voters told the pollsters that they based their vote on “moral values.” Well, duh. When we’d voted against Bush – the reverse Robin Hood, the warmaker, the guy who kept hinting (against all evidence) that Saddam had been about to give nuclear weapons to al Qaeda – we’d voted our moral values too.

Trying to make sense of it, he resorted to a 1996 book:

George Lakoff’s friends are probably even more liberal than mine. He’s a professor at Berkeley, a cognitive scientist who started applying his work to political cognition in the mid-nineties. His 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think still stands as the most complete analysis of the polarized worldviews of the American political scene.

And indeed, Lakoff’s work, which I don’t recall encountering before, is very interesting — and, as I recognized even before I read Mulder’s critique, deeply flawed.

Both liberals and conservatives use what he calls the Nation-As-Family metaphor. Both talk about the government as if it were a parent, and citizens as if they were siblings. The government defends, educates, rewards, and punishes its citizens – like parents with children.

The difference Lakoff found between liberal and conservative thinking, however, came from the frame each put on family. In other words: What is the stereotypic ideal family that the nation should be modeled on?

From conservative rhetoric, Lakoff constructed a frame he called the Strict Father family. (The red and blue boxed text comes from the Rockridge Institute website.) Liberals, on the other hand, seem to use a frame Lakoff called the Nurturant Parent family.

One of Lakoff’s big flaws is that his outline of the “Strict Father Family” sounds utterly attavistic. Armed with awareness of James Ault’s PBS documentary Born Again, and a much later book by the producer, finding that fundamentalist lives and Churches are not actually abhorrent in practice, Mulder tries to get behind what Lakoff found behind superficially similar “government as parent” metaphors — “behind the behind” if effect.

The families Ault found at [a Worcester, Massachusetts fundamentalist church] – extended families in which multiple generations remain deeply involved in each other’s lives – aren’t supposed to exist any more, especially not in a Massachusetts edge city like Worcester.

So Mulder tries to refine Lakoff’s “Strict Family” versus “Nurturant Family” into “Given Family” versus “Chosen Family” or, just a tad deeper still, “Inherited Obligation Family” versus “Negotiated Commitment Family.”

Holy smokes! We’re back, in gussied-up garb, to the old “from status to contract” theory in the sociology of law! Not that it was discredited, mind you. That it’s still being echoed suggests quite the opposite. And I’ve known for a long time that it forms one of the deep divides between what I would call “true conservatives” (think Wendell Berry and Front Porch Republic) and both liberals and the sort of faux conservatives who can’t stop babbling the praises of “capitalism’s creative destruction” and such.

This time, though Mulder is himself liberal, it’s the liberal iteration of family — the “Negotiated Commitment Family” — that sounds repulsive, while the “Inherited Obligation Family” seems real, and human, and durable. (Or is that just my conservative bias showing?)

Mulder steps out of his not-quite-neutral role to advise liberals on how to stop scaring conservative voters who, for instance, rejected John Kerry:

The truth about liberals – that we more often than not choose to commit ourselves to marriage, children, church, and most of the other things conservatives feel obligated to, and that we stick by those commitments every bit as faithfully, if not more so – easily gets lost…

Consider, for example, liberal parents. The Negotiated Commitment model offers them very little in exchange for the effort and expense that they put into parenting. They don’t have to do it, and they can’t demand that children reciprocate after they grow up. Most liberal parents understand the situation. But they volunteer to raise children anyway. Liberals join the Peace Corps, work in soup kitchens, and stand together with unpopular oppressed peoples rather than walking away from. Why? Because liberals are serious, committed people.

Our rhetoric needs to capture the seriousness of our beliefs and commitments. We should, for example, miss no opportunity to use words like commitment and principle.  Our principles should be stated clearly and we should return to them often, rather than moving towards a nebulous center whenever we are afraid of losing.

John Kerry didn’t lose because he was a liberal. He lost because people couldn’t figure out what he was. They couldn’t recite his principles or predict where he would come down on future issues. Republican slanders stuck to him because he projected no clear image of his own.

There is a lot to promote about liberalism and the Negotiated Commitment model behind it. We take people as they are, rather than demanding that they fit themselves into an increasingly outdated set of roles…

This is very rich and evocative stuff. it ramifies in a host of specific hot issues:

  • Abortion
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Social Programs
  • Freedom
  • Taxes
  • The gushing enthusiasm of Chamber of Commerce speakers like Richard Florida, who’s really keen on strip-mining smart kids from Hicksville and planting them in yeasty, creative urban settings (okay; maybe that’s a “pet peeve” instead of a “hot issue”).

You don’t have to be an egghead to engage Mulder, but you do need a modest block of time to read this rather long article, which richly rewards the effort.

But don’t forget my contribution: that in SAT terms:

inherited obligation is to status as negotiated commitment is to contract

Status versus contract is an idea whose time may again have come — though if Mulder is right (that contract will grow as a compelling political guiding principle because more and more people are living it daily), it may not work to the advantage of conservatism until we experience a great crackup that cures our hubris.