Smashing the Overton Window

I had a dream.

Sohrab Amari and Caitlin Johnstone were stripped down to skimpy little outfits and they were fighting like hell to shift the Overton Window, she left, he right. Finally, exhausted, they collapsed against the wall and it fell over, Overton Window and all.

When I woke up, and after my morning ablutions, I went down to the county jail to see if my friend Joe could tell me what it meant.

“Sure,” he said. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Amari and Johnstone are both illiberal, albeit in different ways. Amari is furious that conservative fusionism not only didn’t get the cultural conservatives what they wanted (he says “we,” but he’s late to the game at least as a Christian conservative), but they’ve lost the culture, too. He has declared all-out war to immanentize the eschaton, a damnfool utopian delusion, not least because, well, his side has lost the culture.”

“Johnstone is an über-progressive atheist or agnostic, but that doesn’t mean she’s without her ideals. Her ideal is perfect social justice, a damnfool utopian delusion, too, and she villifies anyone like, say, Nancy Pelosi who doesn’t think that’s quite exactly politically realistic, since there’s a slightly more conservative party that has a different idea of what politics should do. Further, the conscience-smitten cowards (that’s how Johnstone views realists) think that bravado of Johnstone’s sort, and that of The Squad, just might blow the election prospects for the side that is at least moving toward Johnstone’s perfection.”

“Everyone seems to assume that the Overton Window is what it is and is as big as it has always been and always will be. But knocking down the wall is the ultimate enlargement of the Overton Window, so instead of enjoying a modest window that favors your side, you get no window, just the wild, wild, polarized West, ranging from Stormfront on the Right to Antifa or worse on the Left.”

“But Joe,” I ask. “What’s wrong with seeking to immanentize the eschaton or to achieve metaphysically perfect social justice?”

“Have you ever heard the expression that ‘politics is the art of the possible’? It can be a bitter pill to swallow that the eschaton and perfect justice aren’t possible, but that’s the way it is. You can make yourself crazy acting otherwise.”

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling a bit deranged sometimes.”

“I know that feeling,” Joe sighed, “but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it in here. Sometimes, it’s not just the political perversity of your adversary, either. Sometimes, it’s the ineradicable passions of your fellow-humans — and you, too, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“F’rinstance, by all means punish the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins (if you can), but don’t kid yourself that you’ll ever put an end to sexual predation, and don’t allow the government to destroy everything else in pursuit of that impossible dream.”

“Thinking you can stop scary changes, not just manage and ameliorate them, is another instance. That was my big delusion.”

“Are you getting this?”

“I hope so, Joe. I get it at the moment, and it does seem kind of obvious, actually. And I don’t like this polarization. I think my project will be rebuilding the Overton Window just big enough to fit center-left to center-right. (Or maybe I’ll just give to GoFundMe for that.)”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, pal. But if you think so after sleeping on it a couple of nights, good luck. Or better luck than I had anyway.”

“Yeah. joe. I read your manifesto. See you next Visitor’s Day.”

* * * * *

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Clippings from 1/27/19

1

It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face.

Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.

What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of “white men” in general.

This is the abyss of hate versus hate, tribe versus tribe. This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become. Liberal democracy is being dismantled before our eyes — by all of us. This process is greater than one president. It is bottom-up as well as top-down. Tyranny, as Damon Linker reminded us this week, is not just political but psychological, and the tyrannical impulse, ratcheted up by social media, is in all of us. It infects the soul of the entire body politic. It destroys good people. It slowly strangles liberal democracy. This is the ongoing extinction level event.

Andrew Sullivan

2

That so much of the progressive-media discourse on the Covington episode consisted of the emotional revisitation of petty (and some unpetty) childhood traumas has given the whole project a Freudian odor, and, like the work of Sigmund Freud himself, it consists largely of intellectual fraud bolstered by manufactured or distorted evidence — claims of fact that are said to speak to a higher metaphysical truth no matter how frequently and how thoroughly they are debunked as claims of fact.

In the Covington fiasco, the very American progressives who boast so tirelessly and tediously that they are “for the People” have reclaimed an ancient prerogative of aristocracy: the whipping boy.

Kevin D. Williamson

3

One of the unexpected and very pleasant comments I heard over the weekend was on the excellent Left, Right & Center podcast, and I believe from Josh Barro, the podcast moderator (who never tires of the “full disclosure” that his “husband’s” emails were among those leaked by Wikileaks in the 2016 election runup). It went like this (not a direct quote):

Quite recently, we excused an inquisition into the decades-old high school acts of one Brett Kavanaugh. It was carefully explained that the justification was that his acts back then, if they were as alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, were seriously criminal, and he was seeking one of the highest offices in the land, with essentially life tenure.

There is no justification remotely approaching this for the inquisition against the Covington Catholic lads.

Thank you, Josh.

4

[Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo] recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

Frank Bruni

5

[T]here are several difficulties with the current briefs for impeachment, which suffice for now to keep a Pence presidency out of reach.

The first is the gulf between the democracy-subverting powers that the briefs ascribe to Trump and the actual extent of his influence …

Much of the case for “trampling” … is a case against Trump’s rhetoric. And one can acknowledge that rhetoric’s evils while doubting that the ranting of a president so hemmed in, unpopular and weak is meaningfully threatening the Constitution.

… [T]he second problem with the case for impeachment … might be summed up in a line from a poem that Trump often quoted in 2016: You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in. … [L]ittle about his rhetorical excess, his penchant for lies and insults or the seaminess of his courtiers was hidden from voters on the campaign trail in 2016, in an election that by the Constitution’s standards Trump legitimately won.

[Yoni] Appelbaum … analogizes Trump’s race-baiting to Andrew Johnson’s efforts to impede Reconstruction in the late-1860s South. But when he was impeached, Johnson was literally using his veto to abet the possible restoration of white supremacy. Whereas Trump is conspicuously losing a fight over some modest border fencing, and his last race-inflected policy move was … a criminal justice reform supported by many African-Americans. The president may be a bigot, but the policy stakes do not remotely resemble 1868.

Ross Douthat, 1/27/19 (emphasis added).

Take heed of this. Much as I detest Trump, I think all three points are valid, and the second one worries me most.

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Ready to move on?

1

We seem to be at the end of a process that is legitimately important but has been hyped, manipulated and sullied to even greater prominence. I have no doubt that Brett Kavanaugh will forever carry the metaphorical “asterisk next to his name” in the minds of many until the day he leaves the court.

But I’m sure ready to move on now.

2

Adam Gopnik displays some world-class non-sequitur and false confidence:

[Brett Kavanaugh] became disqualified for the Supreme Court the moment that he accepted the offer from Donald Trump. At this stage in his Presidency, Trump, already described in reports from his own aides as unfit for the office, implicated by his former lawyer as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony, and now alleged, according to the Times, to have benefitted from tax schemes that in some instances amounted to “outright fraud”—not to mention being a liar and a con artist—should not be allowed to appoint Justices for lifetime appointments.

Whatever the effect of this truth on vote-counting congressional Realpolitik, it is the moral ground upon which all subsequent argument has to begin. Trump’s purpose in appointing Kavanaugh to the Court was clearly to provide himself with a protective vote for whenever one issue or another arising from his misbehavior makes its way there ….

I don’t particularly disagree with anything Gopnik said about Trump, but his conclusions do not remotely follow, and to my mind they are the deranged fury of a liberal who thinks conservative justices are as outcome-oriented as progressive justices.

Be it noted, however, that not all spittle-flecked un-thought come from the left.

Most of us are relatively naïve, ready to believe what our news outlets put forth. We have open minds and were ready and willing to listen to Ford’s testimony and consider for ourselves if it was believable. It was not. Her testimony was obviously scripted, practiced, massaged, and fabricated out of whole cloth.

Patricial McCarthy at The American Thinker (which consistently fails to live up to its name).

I think a case could be made that McCarthy’s article actually gets worse from there.

3

I’ve faulted Rod Dreher’s recent preoccupations, mildly because I like him, but here he could be said to read my mind on the omens for Kavanaugh’s confirmation:

Of course I am relieved by this outcome — not so much that Brett Kavanaugh is going to the Supreme Court, but that a nominee was not brought down by unsubstantiated, last-minute accusations, and media bullying, and that logic, evidence, and due process won the day. Even so, I don’t feel triumphalistic …

I don’t think our country is going to be better off because of any of this, though. We will only be less worse off than we would have been had the Left won this clash by using these malicious tactics.

(“Here” in my lead-in excludes the matters I elided. That’s why I elided them.)

4

The U.S. Chamber is running political ads against Joe Donnelly’s re-election.

Oh! No! How could I have been so wrong!? They’re running educational ads asking us to call him and tell him to stop siding with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by voting against middle-class tax cuts for Indiana’s “hard-working employers and families” and to support the the Permanent Tax Cuts for Americans Act (break out the band for a chorus of God Bless America).

I’m so ashamed of my mistake.

(Yes. That’s how the game is played. A lot of advocacy groups have decided that tendentious “education” is less hassle and more lucrative than maintaining a PAC, a Political Action Committee, for the purpose of explicit endorsements and financial support of candidates.)

5

Trump supporters who imagine that they’ve found a straight-talking champion who will drain the swamp while using his business acumen to make America great again have been suckered, bigly.

Paul Krugman, who I rarely quote (or even read, but who accurately summarizes the major New Yok Times exposé here, executive summary of sorts here, and podcast discussion here).

The Times does not, so far as I’ve seen or heard, dispute Trump’s boast of $10 billion net worth, but I frankly doubt that. To paraphrase Mary McCarthy’s characterization of Lillian Hellman, “Every word he utters is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

Were Trump not the boss of the boss of the IRS, he and his siblings might soon be paying tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and penalties on wealth swelled by tax fraud.

Grant me to accept with serenity the things I can’t change, Lord.

 

6

[I]f you apologize to a manipulator for something they will never, ever let you forget it and will bring it up any time you step out of line. For normal, empathetic people, apologies are a way to improve relations with each other and avoid hurting one another in the future; they’re a way of saying “I understand that I did a thing that hurt you, and I’ll try really hard not to do it again in the future.” Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths and other chronic manipulators don’t see them that way, since they don’t care if they hurt other people and only care about getting what they want. For a manipulator, an apology is a weapon to use against the person making it, which is why you never see them making apologies of their own.

Caitlin Johnstone.

 

7

I cannot recall the last time I so thoroughly agreed with Peter Leithart (it’s probably more than 22 years ago):

God has given the United States over to divisive blindness and stupidity.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a soap opera.

As my friend Mike Bull said, the Spirit has departed, and we’re back to Babel, where no one can speak to his neighbor. God has delivered us to divisive blindness and stupidity, to the force René Girard identified as “Satan.”

It’s not as if he didn’t warn us. Paul writes that ungrateful idolaters become “futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Isaiah saw it happening in Judah: Idolaters “do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend” (Isa 44).

This doesn’t mean we’re helpless. Or, better, our helplessness can drive us to seek justice in a higher court. We can shatter the idols that bind and blind us, and turn to God in prayer ….

Deride it as “thoughts’n’prayers in its Sunday best” if you like, but I think you’re deluded if you fancy that only one of the major parties is at fault and we need only vote them out.

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Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Zombie Analysis

Zombie analysis of Supreme Court nominees is my topic today.

Iconic radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has often said that liberals “always let us know who they fear” through their unhinged attacks. Among all the potential nominees mentioned a little over a week ago, Amy Coney Barrett immediately attracted the most flak from the left.

And so, of course, the preferred nominee of Doug Mainwaring at brain-dead website LifeSiteNews.com, is Amy Coney Barrett. Not because dispassionate conservative analysis commends her (a topic entirely ignored), but because she triggers the enemy:

  • NARAL
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Seasoned Democrat politicians
  • Dick Durbin
  • Chuck Shumer
  • New York Times
  • MSNBC
  • Ruth Marcus
  • Chris Cillizza
  • Slate.com
  • Washington Post
  • Ivy League law school hegemony

I am not making this up or exaggerating. Literally the first ten reasons given for supporting her are the identies of ten opponents. The last two are my interpretations of less straightforwardly identified bogeymen.

The article, by the way, bears the unironic title “12 reasons Amy Coney Barrett should be on the Supreme Court.”

I have nothing against Amy Coney Barrett except that this kind of trolling is the commonest artument for her. That’s not her fault. It’s just the times we live in.

And it’s contemptible. It doesn’t even do justice to the qualifications of Judge Barrett, who is reduced to a piece of red meat.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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