IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Saturday, December 31, 2005 GOODBYE TO ALL THAT: How do you really say goodbye to a year? One way is simply to thank those servicemembers who risked and lost their lives to defend us around the world, especially in Iraq. The troops are not responsible for the incompetence of the Bush administration and they deserve our immeasurable gratitude. More to the point, I want to take this moment to remember the thousands of innocent civilians murdered by Islamic terrorists in 2005. From London to Baghdad, these theocratic maniacs murdered with cool unconcern for the lives of innocents. We were reminded all too often of the brutality and evil of the enemy we face. This beautiful and distressing photo-montage by the New York Times helps bring home the toll of terror on ordinary Iraqis, innocent civilians, for whom a mere walk down the street is often an act of courage. By refusing to send enough troops to fill the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam, the Bush administration also bears some indirect responsibility for these deaths, and they are one more, heart-breaking measure of how a just war has become less just because of the recklessness and ineptitude of its execution. History will judge, but we can still remember. Before we toast the new year, let's have a moment to recall those who never lived to see it, and those they left behind. Let's also pledge our efforts to see their sacrifices bear fruit - eventually, with God's help, and our support.
Friday, December 30, 2005 THE BIGGEST QUOTE-WHORE EVER: Another year-end honor is revealed.
THAT WAS THE YEAR: My take on 2005 - the year of accountability - can be read here.
- posted by Andrew. - 5:22:00 PM TEXAS IS BURNING: Christopher Durang wonders why.
- posted by Andrew. - 3:49:00 PM BUSH ON WIRE-TAPPING: I haven't weighed in on this but I have to say I find the following Bush quotes pretty remarkable. Quote One, from the ACLU ad in the NYT yesterday, dated April 20, 2004:
Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.
In a press conference, in July 2004, the president reassured us:
A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.
The president is referring to the Patriot Act in both instances, and if that were his sole frame of reference he'd be technically correct. But his reassurances are also rhetorically unequivocal and broad. Look, I have no substantive beef with wiretapping some domestic calls in the war on terror, but I think the administration was typically heavy-handed in not seeking bipartisan consensus and not relying on existing law, when both could have brought the same result. Again: the question here is about war-leadership. Is it better to be hyper-secretive and partisan in wartime or as transparent and as bipartisan as possible? One reason the war has lost domestic support is not simply because of the recalcitrance of the anti-war left, but because the Bush administration has done all it can to alienate its supporters in the center. This latest, arbitrary and unnecessary assertion of executive privilege is typical. So, sadly, are the untruths coming out of the president's mouth.
- posted by Andrew. - 3:38:00 PM MORE AWARDS! We're not done yet. This year's blue-ribbon panel of judges worked very hard. The Begala Award for left-liberal idiocy is still much prized, even though 2005 was a pretty sweet year for the anti-Bush hordes. The Begala Award is given particularly to lefties who deploy personal abuse and bitter hyperbole.
BEGALA AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "There is much to be said and done about the man-made annihilation of New Orleans, caused NOT by a hurricane but by the very specific decisions made by the Bush administration in the past four and a half years." - Michael Moore.
BEGALA AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: "Fuck Tom Friedman. Speaking of degenerate sacks of shit, this is what he thinks of liberals: 'Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.' Here we get to gaze deep inside the heart of Tom Friedman, Pundit extraordinaire, for whom being right is more important than the lives of thousands or millions of people. Deal with your own sick and twisted sociopathic existence. Don't project it onto me." - Atrios.
BEGALA AWARD WINNER 2005: "The religious right's position on embryonic stem cell research is clear: consign Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers to death on the off chance that a blastocyst will crawl out of the garbage pail to work the breakfast shift at Burger King." - Jerry And Joe Long, at Huffblog.
WAIT, THERE'S MORE: Last but not least, the Yglesias Awards. These are doled out to people who actually risk something in alienating their own readers, and challenging their own side in political combat. Drum roll, please:
YGLESIAS AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "Forget that the nation and the party would both have been better served by the temperamentally suited and professionally qualified John Roberts' winning Senate confirmation with 90-plus votes. The nation would have been better served because such a margin would have represented an un-petty act in a city descended into hateful pettiness. And the Democrats, because by acknowledging Roberts' obvious assets - intellectual firepower, genuine respect from, and friendship with, colleagues who are active Democrats, a reputation for open-mindedness and not being a captive of ideology - they could have then believably used the "Roberts standard" to measure President Bush's future court nominees." - Mark Shields.
YGLESIAS AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: "Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place--when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber that he does. But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong." - Brad DeLong.
YGLESIAS AWARD WINNER 2005: "Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From 'The Conservative Mind' to 'Savage Nation'; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman - all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress." - Andy Ferguson, Weekly Standard.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD WINNER 2005: Finally, an old favorite. I've basically retired this award for neanderthal bigotry from the right, because the Malkin-Hannity types are far more influential than an old codger venting about blacks and gays. But the Derb still has it. And so this award is reserved for him alone. He competed with himself fitfully this year, but we finally have a winner for 2005:
"DEALING WITH COMMIE JOURNALISTS: Jonah - Seems to me the best advice one can offer our troops manning checkpoints in Iraq is the same as that given informally by friends & neighbors to me when I became an armed homeowner: If you have to shoot, shoot to kill. You'll face much less trouble afterwards." - John Derbyshire.
Thursday, December 29, 2005 MAN AND MAN AND MAN AND WIFE AND WIFE: Stan Kurtz is on the marital warpath again, this time eschewing a frontal assault on gay marriage advocates and taking aim at groups of polyamorists who, he darkly warns in a recent Weekly Standard cover story, will soon be clamoring for their own figurine-crowded cakes if we break the hermetic hetero-seal around marriage. The Standard story, which breathlessly touts a private cohabitation contract signed by a Dutch trio as a harbinger of the polyamopocalypse, provoked a short backhand from Rob Anderson at The New Republic Online, which in turn occasioned a riposte from Kurtz, who complains that Anderson just plain ignores his many substantive, knock-down arguments. Kurtz, unfortunately, will not share the magic glasses that allow him, like Roddy Piper in They Live, to see these splendid arguments—to the rest of us they remain cleverly disguised as either bald assertions or inchoate panic.
Let me get something out of the way at the outset—and for those of you who aren't going to scroll all the way down to the byline, note that this isn't Andrew writing: As far as I'm concerned, there’s nothing particularly wrong with polyamory, and if the state’s going to be in the business of sanctioning romantic relationships, I do think there’s a good case to be made for providing some kind of legal arrangement for polyamorists. So, bereft of magic Kurtz-glasses, I don’t see broad acceptance of group relationships as the self-evident evil he does (a point to which I'll recur in a bit): I don't think this slippery slope is going anywhere particularly bad. But neither do I see quite as much Crisco on the ramp as does Kurtz: Even if he were right that legally sanctioning the tiny number of Americans who prefer their domestic bliss à trois (or more) would have dire consequences, the idea that this move flows straightforwardly from the acceptance of the argument for gay marriage just won't hold up.
HOW SLIPPERY DO YOU LIKE IT?: Some of the arguments for gay marriage, of course, do cross-apply to polyamorous groups: There's something intuitively unfair about government's formally recognizing some relationships as valid and socially blessed while excluding other classes, whether homosexual or multi-partner. But what Kurtz harps on specifically is a civil rights argument, and the link here isn't remotely as tight.
Gay marriage is plug-and-play. You've got a pre-existing two-person institution with rules that can be immediately applied to gay couples with little more than a cosmetic transposition of a "husband" for a "wife" (or vice versa) in the relevant statutes. The civil rights argument for gay marriage leans pretty heavily on the fact that marriage as it's currently constituted could be easily extended to gay couples, but excludes them without compelling reason.
That's pretty evidently not the case in the same way with group marriage: From child custody to taxes to immigration, the extension from the 2-person case to the N-person case would involve far more than merely removing a poorly motivated gender restriction. And consider for a moment that last area of law—immigration. One of the crueler upshots of hetero-only marriage is that straight Americans, but not their gay fellow citizens, can obtain residency for their foreign-born partners through marriage. Gay marriage in this instance would provide formal parity—the demand is, in essence, "let me, also, extend my residence rights to one romantic partner." For the same rules to apply to polyamorous groups would entail not simply extending the same rights straights currently enjoy to a class currently excluded, but expanding those rights.
This is, in short, the difference between an African American objecting to being made to sit at the back of the bus and a portly guy objecting that the seats on the bus are too narrow to accommodate his frame. Both objections might have merit, but they're of fundamentally different orders.
BI-CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER: Kurtz tries to shore up his civil rights analogy by arguing that one-on-one marriage will end up being cast as discriminatory toward bisexuals. "I never say that bisexuals are polygamists," he writes. "But I do claim that there is an important link between bisexuality and polyamory, and Anderson does not address the connections that I do draw." What connections? As far as I can tell, Kurtz must mean the assertion that "what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality."
I have no idea how to interpret that, unless as the claim that if equal treatment of homosexuals entails recognition of gay marriage, then equality for bisexuals entails recognition of polyamorous marriage. And there's no way to make any sense of that without the presumption that bisexuals intrinsically require multiple (simultaneous) partners for romantic fulfillment. Consider, for a moment, some other dimensions of sexual preference. Along many of those dimensions, I have no terribly rigidly defined "type". I've found myself attracted to blondes and redheads; to Anglo and Latina and black and Asian women; to lit majors and econ geeks. Kurtz, presumably, would infer from this diversity of romantic tastes that I need some kind of elaborately orgiastic living arrangement to be satisfied. And, come to think of it, that does sound like it might be fun. But it's scarcely necessary—and the assumption that it would be is about as well supported as Kurtz's parallel assumption in the case of bisexuals. Which is to say, not at all.
CATS AND DOGS, LIVING TOGETHER! IN GROUPS!: All that notwithstanding, what if we did decide to legally recognize polyamorous groups? There would, of course, be "public policy objections," some of them worth taking seriously. As alluded to above, it's not a terribly good idea to make group marriages or civil partnerships (or whatever they ended up being called) a way to hand out unlimited numbers of green cards, or of dividing child custody rights a dozen ways—group marriage couldn't just be two-person marriage with a new paint job. Still, assume some kind of legal recognition existed. What would the problem be?
It's a little hard to suss out, because for all the reams of paper and gallons of ink folks like Kurtz and Maggie Gallagher have expended warning us that gay marriage will have the same effect on hetero couplings that water does on the Wicked Witch of the West, they've never been wholly clear about the actual mechanism by which this is supposed to happen. Kurtz hints that it has something to do with decoupling marriage from the idea of parenting. That makes very little sense in the context of gay marriage: There are thousands of gay couples raising children now, and polls suggest that as many as half who don't currently have kids would like to (either by adoption or artificial insemination). It makes still less sense in the context of polyamorous groupings involving both sexes. Recall, after all, that statistically speaking, the most "traditional" form of marriage is polygamy—and they seemed to have the "reproduction" thing down OK.
Of course, as Dahlia Lithwick has argued, cultures that endorsed polygamy have often manifested coercive or otherwise exploitative forms of it. But if that alone is a basis for condemning polyamory, you can make the equivalent case against marriage per se. I went to see Lucia di Lammermoor before Christmas—a tragedy about a woman whose brother forces her to marry a powerful noble instead of the man she loves, a family enemy. (The Met production's mediocre, by the way; save your money and stay home with the Berlin Callas recording.) What's abberant for the period, though, is not the brother's insistence but Lucia's resistance. What once was a mechanism for establishing trade between tribes, or cementing political alliances, or setting up household division of labor has become an institution deserving of the reverence it's now afforded: It turned out that marriage didn't inherently require treating women like chattel after all.
There's no more reason to think that this is an intrinsic feature of polyamory, which is why Kurtz's argument that polyamory will undermine norms of fidelity won't fly: He's using as a point of comparison polygamous societies whose high rates of infidelity, even on his own account, seem clearly bound up more tightly with background assumptions about the dominance of men than about anything inherent in the marital form. As it stands now, of course, polyamorists in committed relationships must either eschew marriage altogether, or if they are married, play havoc with those norms of fidelity. If you want to reinforce those norms, it seems to make more sense to let the married couple who're de facto living as part of a trio formally add their third partner.
—posted by Julian
- 6:06:00 PM THE LION AND THE APE: This will be of interest mainly to those folks who obsessively follow box-office returns (you know who youare), but a few weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt boldly predicted that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe would outgross King Kong not only overall, but on Kong's opening weekend. This was pure folly, as any BoxOfficeMojo-devotee could have informed Hewitt, and Jonathan Last took great pleasure in explaining just why the prediction was so unlikely to come true.
Well, Jonathan was right - but since the opening weekend, Aslan has been clawing his way back to the top. Kongbarely outgrossedNarnia over Christmas weekend, and since then the C.S. Lewis adaptation has pulled back into the lead, making money hand over paw (sorry, sorry).
I'm a little surprised by this turn, in part because in spite of being smack in the middle of the target demographic for Philip Anschutz's big project, I actually preferred Kong to Narnia (my complaints about the latter are here), though both were miles from perfect. (Steve Sailer has it right - there were two hours of a great movie in Kong, but unfortunately the film was three hours long.) But it's still gratifying that Narnia's doing well, if only because it means they'll film the later books - and hopefully, as with the Harry Potter movies, the adaptations will get better as they go along.
Unfortunately, the one they've started on, Prince Caspian, is one of the weakest of the seven - and the one after that, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is pretty dull as well. (If there's any Narnia book where the religious allegory gets in the way of the story, it's Dawn Treader.) And it would be a shame if audience interest dries up before they get around to The Horse and His Boy, or The Magician's Nephew, or my personal favorite, The Silver Chair. (I'm hoping for Jeremy Irons as Puddleglum . . .)
- posted by Ross - 4:24:00 PM THE BIG QUESTIONS: Jon Meacham's religion writing in Newsweek is often quite good, but his Christmas Day Times Book Review essay on religious books is wearying and banal. This conclusion, in particular:
On Christmas morning 1825, John Henry Newman, a young man of ferocious intellect and intense faith who had just been ordained an Anglican priest (he would die a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church), preached a sermon while a curate of St. Clement's Church, Oxford. "It is a day of joy: it is good to be joyful - it is wrong to be otherwise," Newman said. "Let us seek the grace of a cheerful heart, an even temper, sweetness, gentleness and brightness of mind, as walking in His light and by His grace." Such was the view of a questing and committed Christian, a view not so different from that of Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century American agnostic. "Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget - a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds - a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine." Newman thought the brightness came from the Christ child; Ingersoll from simple human kindness. The important thing is that both detected light and each cherished it according to the dictates of his own mind and his own heart - an encouraging sign that there is more than one way to overcome the darkness.
Well, no. The important thing is whether Newman or Ingersoll had it right - whether Christ was, in fact, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, etc. etc. and the Catholic Church his instrument on Earth - or whether, to pluck a quote from Ingersoll, "the man who invented the telescope found out more about heaven than the closed eyes of prayer ever discovered." (Or whether both were wrong and Muhammed had it right, or Spinoza, or someone else.) Newman and Ingersoll weren't at odds over some abstruse point of theology, like whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son - they disagreed on questions that lie at the heart of who we are, what the universe is, what our purpose is on Earth and what our ultimate destiny might be. The fact that both men "detected light" and tried to "overcome the darkness" is a good thing - but it's not the most important thing. Indeed, the fact that two men as diametrically opposed as Ingersoll and Newman could agree on it should be a pretty obvious signal that it's not the most important thing.
This is a confusion that liberalism has wandered into lately. The original aim of the liberal philosophers was to remove the "high" questions, the important-but-unresolvable questions - what is virtue? is Jesus Christ the Son of God? where do we go when we die? etc. - from the political realm, where they had caused so much trouble, and into the private and personal sphere. Politics henceforth would focus on lower matters, and be more peacable because of it. The difficulty, of course, is that over time liberalism lost sight of the fact that the high questions are high, and the low questions low, and came to believe that because everyone could agree, say, that you should respect your neighbor's property and avoid killing your enemy whenever possible, these were the most important questions facing humanity, and nobody - not even essayists and intellectuals - should sweat the other, harder-to-answer stuff. In early liberalism, governments weren't supposed to take positions on Christ's divinity, because the question was too important to be adjudicated by the state; in late liberalism, writers for the Times Book Review aren't supposed to take positions on Christ's divinity, because the question isn't important enough to worry over.
Look, it's swell that Ingersoll and Newman both enjoyed Christmas, and that both used the holiday as an opportunity to urge their listeners to be nice to one another. But Meacham is a practicing Christian, I believe, and so he presumably thinks that Newman was right about the rather important question of what Christmas is, and Ingersoll mistaken. Why doesn't he tell us why, instead of ducking the issue? That would be an essay worth reading.
- posted by Ross - 12:20:00 PM CALLING JACK SHAFER: I know the Washington Times is not exactly pretending to be anything but a public relations outfit for the Republican leadership, but check out this release from the vice-president's office. And all the glowing quotes about Cheney's great relationship with Bush and how, whenever they have disagreed, Cheney has always been right come from ... "a senior administration official in the vice president's office."
- posted by Andrew. - 11:25:00 AM THE HONORS CONTINUE: Today, a little break from ideology. Now and again, readers send in or I stumble across passages of prose so affected in their self-regard and pretension that they merit a Poseur Alert. The whole idea is shamelessly cribbed from the British satirical magazine, Private Eye, which regularly cites such passages in a feature called "Pseuds Corner."
Ladies and gentlemen, the envelopes, please ...
POSEUR OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "'The truth, whatever it is, is strange.' I can still hear Saul's voice, for a few moments absent its gaiety and its wickedness, gently pronouncing those emancipating words. It was a summer afternoon in 1977. We were sunk in Adirondack chairs on the grass behind the shed of a house that he was renting in Vermont, and sunk also in a sympathetic discussion of Owen Barfield's theories of consciousness. Chopped wood was piled nearby like old folios, dry and combustible. When I met Bellow, he was in his theosophical enthusiasm. The legend of his worldliness went before him, obviously, not least in his all-observing, wised-up books, which proclaimed the profane charisma of common experience. Since I have a happy weakness for metaphysical speculation, a cellular certainty that what we see is not all there is, I thought I detected in some of his writings signs of the old hunt for a knowledge beyond knowingness, for an understanding that is more than merely brilliant. I was not altogether surprised when our first meeting moved swiftly toward an unembarrassed conversation about spirituality. (This was preceded by complaints about Hannah Arendt. We had to get comfortable.)" - Leon Wieseltier, on Saul Bellow, in The New Republic.
POSEUR OF THE YEAR RUNNER UP 2005: "Guilty pleasure: A dancer in my company who is from Mexico turned me on to Rompope, a lovely liqueur that tastes of almonds and dairy. It's sinful.
Favorite pastime: We always light candles here. Most nights that we're home, Bjorn will cook, and I will read to him. We're currently reading a collection of writings about Paris." - Bill T. Jones, in the New York Times Magazine.
POSEUR OF THE YEAR 2005: "For every American feeling compassion for Schiavo, there are at least several more who feel a consolation and satisfaction, maybe even a sense of triumph. Events have complicated, peculiar resonances in the mind. As the instincts seem to be set loose to an unimaginable degree in American society and overseas, Schiavo's unfathomably suffering face, with its strange beatific-seeming smile, is like a justification for all the carnage. This vale of woe is what life is, it seems to say--at least to those who want to keep her face just as it is, forever. It's a chilling complement to "The Contender," whose fixation on pummeling seems to say that this is what society is ... So for the Christian right, Schiavo has become something like a human antidepressant. Her plight, perhaps, makes them feel better about themselves and not Left Behind by Hollywood, or by sophisticated Northeastern elites, or by urban decadence, or urban mores, or urban wealth. And by arguing, no, insisting that her story have a happy ending, they can cheer themselves up about the society they are helping to create every day, a society in which being able to celebrate the spectacle of the weak getting pummeled, and the weak wasting away from within in a vegetative state, is the measure of one's strength. Nietzsche and Christ, together at last." - Lee Siegel, The New Republic.
- posted by Andrew. - 10:07:00 AM SOCARIDES RIP: A central figure in the attempt to interpret the writings of Freud as endorsing homosexuality as a psychological illness has just died. His name was Charles Socarides, and his main contribution to the psychoanalytic literature was to assert that fathers induced homosexuality in their own sons in the first months of a baby's life. His own son, Richard, of course, turned out to be gay - not only gay, but the Clinton administration's liaison to the gay community. His father's views long predate his own son's emotional development, so the irony is exquisite, if not at all unique. (The number of passionate anti-gay activists with gay offspring - from Phyllis Shlafly to Alan Keyes - is almost surreally long.) I read a lot of Socarides' work in the 1990s in order to better understand his arguments. The central essay in "Love Undetectable" is an exploration of the psychoanalytic case for gayness as a "disorder" (an idea now borrowed by, of all people, the Pope). If you're interested in my own take on the psychoanalytic debate, you can buy the book here. All but fringe psychiatrists and psychologists disown Socarides' theories today - but they have political salience because of the Christian right's control of the Republican party. In fact, it's important to note that Socarides' work, among other psychoanalysts, is the intellectual basis of the "Christian" "ex-gay" movement - one of those rare moments when Christians have had to rely on the atheism of Freud. By all intellectual means necessary, I guess. (Update: some related thoughts here.)
Wednesday, December 28, 2005 CONSERVATISMS OLD AND NEW: Everybody seems to have an opinion about Jeffrey Hart's anatomy of the conservative mind, so I suppose I should as well. The main points of contention seem to be whether conservatives are often inclined to a kind of free-market utopianism (depending on how you define utopianism, of course they are), whether the pro-life cause is hopeless (Hart thinks so; he's probably wrong) - and the question of whether conservatism has grown, well, dumber over the past fifty years. Hart implies as much, when he writes that the Republican Party
has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture.
There's been an interesting back-and-forth on whether the South and the Sunbelt are actually less prudent, educated, cultured and so forth between Ramesh, Matt Yglesias, Jonah, and Ramesh again - but I think it sidesteps the main question. Of course the bastions of intellect and high culture in the U.S. are primarily located in the Blue States, and most of our intellectual mandarins tend to be Democrats and liberals. But this is hardly a change from the 1950s, before the South-Sunbelt shift took place, is it? Conservatism of any stripe has always been a minority view among the American intelligentsia - and if anything, the Southern turn of the GOP coincided with a dramatic increase in the number and caliber of conservative intellectuals, as various once-liberal thinkers abandoned a Democratic Party that seemed to have drifted too far left. (I probably would have been one of them, had I been around back then, and possessed of the same grab-bag of ideas and prejudices that I have now. I suspect I would have voted for Eisenhower and definitely would have subscribed to NR - but I probably would have called myself a Democrat, and a liberal, at least until 1968 and possibly deep into the '70s.)
So while I don't mean any disrespect to the Willmoore Kendalls and Richard Weavers, I think that Hart's nostalgia from a pre-1964 East Coast conservatism is misplaced, and it's far more reasonable to locate the intellectual peak of conservatism not in the early days of National Review, but after the Goldwater campaign and the Southern Strategy - in the 1970s and '80s, when the early neocons rubbed shoulders, and ideas, with paleocons, quasi-cons and the emergent Christian Right, and when Ronald Reagan gave the Right an articulate and intellectually serious political spokesman. (How do we know it was a golden age? Well, in part because most of the big-name conservative intellectuals of today are holdovers from that twenty-year span - which speaks well of that era, if not necessarily of this one.)
Now I suppose Hart could argue that the yahoo-ization of the Right had only just begun during the Reagan era, and the drop-off from Losing Ground to The War on Christmas embodies the slow working-out of conservatism's South-West sashay. But isn't it more likely that the drop-off is mainly a result of 1) larger cultural trends toward quickie-books, shortened attention-spans and cable news shoutfests, and 2) the exhaustion and corruption of intellect that almost inevitably coincides with taking over the business of governing? There's a lot more pressure to come up with new ideas when you're on the outside looking in; once you've taken power, it's easy to become convinced that history is going your way, that your enemies will remain in disarray forever (which they may, admittedly), and that it's okay to accept a small sinecure from Jack Abramoff or the Deparment of Education in exchange for some columns or radio spots that you would have written anyway. It's easy, too, to assume that political victories are a substitute for cultural change, to let domestic policy wither on the vine, to substitute populist slogans for new ideas, to seal yourself off from criticism . . . but I don't really see how any of these Bush Era problems, however real, can be traced directly to the pernicious influence of the Sunbelt or the South.
THE LIMITS OF LIBERTARIANISM: Andrew, meanwhile, uses Hart's argument about the GOP's turn in the South to advance a similar but by no means identical claim:
The alliance between conservatism, as it was once understood, and the historically Democratic American South is, in my view, a brilliant maneuver for gaining political power, but something that has mortally wounded the tradition of limited government, individual rights, balanced budgets, political prudence and religious moderation that were once hallmarks of conservatism.
As Ramesh notes, this analysis leaves out the more libertarian Sunbelt, whose Goldwater strain of conservatism is closer to the kind of right-wing politics that Andrew usually champions. But more importantly, it leaves out the fact that the GOP's geographic shift in the 1960s and 1970s made the party more concerned with small government and individual rights and tax cuts and all the other "hallmarks of conservatism" that Andrew favors, and less inclined to favor the liberalism-lite exemplified by (ahem) northeasterners like John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller. This is one of the two difficulties that I see with Andrew's theory of what conservatism ought to be, and that I hope his book addresses - namely, that the constituency for his preferred kind of small-government conservatism tends to be the same people he regularly attacks, sometimes justly and sometimes not, as religious zealots and betrayers of the old Oakeshottian faith. The small-government purists in the House of Representatives, by and large, are also the people who want to ban cloning and defund stem-cell research, outlaw gay marriage and keep Terri Schiavo alive. If you want a more libertarian GOP on size-of-government issues, as Andrew clearly does, then you have to make some kind of peace with the Religious Right and its concerns.
So that's one difficulty. The other problem is that a more libertarian Republican Party - and a more libertarian conservatism - probably wouldn't be able to cobble together a governing majority, at least for the foreseeable future. There's a reason for the GOP's big-government turn in the last decade, and it's not just malice, corruption and incompetence - it's that some kind of a big-government turn is what the American people wanted from the post-Gingrich Right. Bush defeated (or at least nearly outpolled) Al Gore in 2000 not in spite of, but because of his willingness to promise spending increases, to co-opt Democratic ideas on health care and education, and to invent a silly-but-useful language of "compassionate conservatism." This move has had a variety of dreadful consequences, from the explosion of pork to the outrageously overpriced prescription drug bill - but it was politically necessary, and still is. The conservatism that Andrew wants would be ideologically pure and intellectually respectable, but the public wouldn't go for it - and if conservatism expects to govern the country, it needs to find a way (and a better one than Bush's) to meet the public halfway.
- posted by Ross
- 1:25:00 PM VACCINATIONS AGAINST THE GAY: So, Hetracil was just an ingenious thought experiment, but it turns out that authorities in the United Arab Emirates are serious about trying to chemically "cure" homosexuality. A group of men arrested at a gay wedding ceremony (apparently frowned on in the UAE) will be subject to "treatment," including injections of male hormones. Color me dubious: I can think of a couple clubs that would put to rest the notion that a paucity of testosterone is the culprit here.
—posted by Julian
- 1:11:00 PM EMAIL OF THE DAY: This little Christmas anecdote made me laugh. An old high school friend from England emailed me about it today:
One of my nephews, Dominic, was in a Nativity Play. In the scene where Mary and Joseph arrive at the Inn, Mary asks the Innkeeper, played by a lad of seven, if he has any room. "Yes", he says. "Mary, you can come in, but Joseph, you can fuck off".
In the stunned silence that followed, it transpired that the Innkeeper had played Joseph himself the previous year and had taken his 'demotion' very much to heart.
- posted by Andrew. - 12:11:00 PM THE LATEST IN IRAQ: Must reading from Iraq the Model. I concur with the Mickster that Omar is far more informative than anything I can find in the Western media. Of course: this is opaque stuff. Who's bluffing, who's dealing, who's killing: to outsiders, these nuances are almost impossible to understand, let alone follow on a daily basis. Which is why the utopian idea that we really could transform Iraq is slowly yielding to the meliorist notion that we can help guide it haphazardly, and dangerously, forward.
- posted by Andrew. - 11:50:00 AM REPUBLICANS VS. CONSERVATIVES: It's been one of the themes of this blog that the Republican party has ceased to be, in most respects, a conservative party. For this, I have been accused of moving left, being hostile to faith, or simply fueled by hatred of the president. I beg to differ. Jeffrey Hart's latest contribution to the debate is an excellent one. This paragraph nails it:
Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative. But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli's observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.
The alliance between conservatism, as it was once understood, and the historically Democratic American South is, in my view, a brilliant maneuver for gaining political power, but something that has mortally wounded the tradition of limited government, individual rights, balanced budgets, political prudence and religious moderation that were once hallmarks of conservatism. But I should get back to writing my book, which does its best to make a somewhat similar case for the Republican party's replacement of conservative constitutional balance with a fundamentalist, financially leveraged, unchecked and forever expanding executive power. Hart's rather beautiful summary of conservatism,
"a philosophy always open to experience and judging by experience within given conditions--the experience pleasurable or, more often, painful, but utopia always a distant and destructive mirage,"
is as eloquent a damning of the current Republican hegemony as any I know of.
- posted by Andrew - 11:23:00 AM MOORE AWARD WINNERS 2005: This is, like the Malkin, a new award that succeeds an old one. I used to call these awards Sontag Awards, for moral equivalence in the war on terror. But Sontag died, and it's no fun to ridicule a dead person. Michael Moore, however, is very much alive, and his combination of spirited mendacity and loathing of Western freedom (except when it makes him a zillionaire), is as popular as ever. The award goes to those who best represent anti-Americanism, equation of the West with terrorists, fanatical Bush-hatred, and rhetoric that makes even Huffington Post readers raise their eyebrows.
And so the nominees for 2005 are ...
MOORE AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "Gary Kamiya writes, 'In a just world, Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Feith and their underlings would be standing before a Senate committee investigating their catastrophic failures, and Packer's book would be Exhibit A.' No. In a just world, these people would be taken out and shot." - author, Jane Smiley, helping us better understand, several decades later, why so many Western lefties were once fans of Joseph Stalin.
MOORE AWARD SECOND RUNNER-UP 2005: "George Bush's second inaugural extravaganza was every bit as repugnant as I had expected, a vulgar orgy of triumphalism probably unmatched since Napoleon crowned himself emperor of the French in Notre Dame in 1804. The little Corsican corporal had a few decent victories to his escutcheon. Lodi, Marengo, that sort of thing. Not so this strutting Texan mountebank, with his chimpanzee smirk and his born-again banalities delivered in that constipated syntax that sounds the way cold cheeseburgers look, and his grinning plastic wife, and his scheming junta of neo-con spivs, shamans, flatterers and armchair warmongers, and his sinuous evasions and his brazen lies, and his sleight of hand theft from the American poor, and his rape of the environment, and his lethal conviction that the world must submit to his Pax Americana or be bombed into charcoal." - Mike Carlton, Sydney Morning Herald.
MOORE AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: "So while children are drowning and others are floating around, dead in the water, the wannabe Yale cowboy struts around the set of his faux town hall meetings, has a bit of cake with John McCain, and takes in some fresh air in Colorado.
Dick? Where is Dick? Anyone?
Condi? Rummy? Any other Iran-Contra Folks?
Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?
So where does that leave us, the citizens of this raped, pillaged, terrorized, demoralized, freedom loving nation?
Floating face down, eyes affixed on a once great New Orleans!" - Larisa Alexandrovna, on HuffPuff.
MOORE AWARD WINNER 2005: "As for those in the World Trade Center, well, really, let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break." - University of Colorado professor, Ward Churchill.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005 IT WAS THE PICTURES THAT GOT SMALL: It's been a down year for the movies, at the box office and otherwise, and there's a certaindesperatecheeriness to the Times' critics "best of the year" roundups. "Was this a good year for the movies or what?" Manohla Dargis asks, after reeling off about forty of her favorites, and then adds that "while industry reporters have been busy filing doom-and-gloom analyses . . . a lot of filmgoers have been enjoying an exceptional year of movies."
Well, it depends on what you mean by "a lot." Of her forty faves, only two - Batman Begins, which wasn't bad but wasn't very good, either, and The Forty-Year-Old Virgin - could be reasonably classified as "big hits," i.e. movies that made upwards of a hundred million dollars. Two others - Wallace and Gromit and Red Eye, neither one a flick for the ages - broke fifty million; In Her Shoes and the overrated A History of Violence each broke thirty million (barely); and most of the rest didn't even gross ten million. (There's still time for Munich and Brokeback Mountain, though unlike Frank Rich I wouldn't bet on the latter's mass appeal . . .)
I don't mean to suggest that a movie only counts as "good" if it passes a certain box-office threshold. And it was an excellent year for small-budget, small-grossing movies: I haven't seen some of the holiday releases yet, but my provisional top ten would include Grizzly Man, Junebug, The Squid and the Whale and Capote, none of which were ever likely to attract a mass audience. But even so, it doesn't speak well of the American film industry that nearly all the finest movies of the year - at least if you believe the Times critics - were art-house gems and foreign films, while most of the industry's hits were sequels and remakes, riding built-in audiences to compensate for their mediocrity. This is true every year, to a certain extent, but 2005 seemed to particularly lack for a slate of really good films that aimed at, and found, a mass audience. Time and again, a movie would seem poised to hit that sweet spot, only to be exposed as a dud. Kingdom of Heaven could have been the next Gladiator; instead it was the next Alexander. Syriana aimed to do for the oil business what Traffic did for the drug trade - but it didn't. Narnia found an audience, but it was no Lord of the Rings. And so on. (Nor, glancing over the year's films, do I see many modest hits - or modest disappointments - that are likely candidates to become classics on DVD or cable, like Braveheart or L.A. Confidential or The Shawshank Redemption.)
Still, there is one bit of good news for movie-watchers - the Slate Movie Club, the highlight of the year for highly amateurish cinephiles like myself, has just kicked off. (Though alas, without the crazy/wonderful presence of Armond White . . .)
- posted by Ross - 11:40:00 PM GIFTED ECONOMY: Matt Yglesias responds to a Washington Post op-ed on how public schools fail gifted kids with the understandable but, I think, misguided thought that public schooling "should try to do well for the hardest to teach kids, included ones coming from difficult backgrounds and ones who simply for whatever reason have a hard time with school," and not worry excessively about "the easiest cases," which is to say, the gifted kids.
First, I want to echo some of Matt's commenters in questioning whether those gifted kids really are the "easiest" to teach, especially given that they too may come from "difficult backgrounds." As the Post article observes:
Nor do test scores indicate whether these students are being sufficiently challenged to maintain their academic interest, an issue of particular concern in high school. Shockingly, studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.
And it's at least possible that even on a strict egalitarian basis, there's an argument for "taking the most talented as far as they can go." Pushing a gifted potential-dropout to realize her full potential is, of course, a benefit to that student. But it's also a benefit to the rest of us—the worst off included. I'm just guessing about the numbers here, but I'll hazard that the per-pupil cost of some kind of program to keep those gifted kids engaged and stimulated is, at worst, no greater than that of remedial programs for their counterparts at the other end of the curve. And the payoff for that is, at least potentially, not missing out on the next Jonas Salk or Steve Jobs or... well, pick your favorite modern genius. Granted, some of them will go on to socially useless functions like, say, political magazine writer—but on the whole I'd hazard it's a good investment over the long term even for the kids who don't directly benefit from those programs, at least along some margin. I don't know what that makes the optimal balance of remedial vs. gifted spending, but I think it means you can't just do a crude maximin and suppose that equity demands not dropping a nickel on gifted programs until you can't buy a jot more improvement on the low end.
—posted by Julian
- 6:10:00 PM LOW MORALES: Writing in The New York Times, Alvaro Vargas Llosa argues that the election of Bolivian demagogue Evo Morales is less worrisome than it might seem. He seems awfully sanguine—especially given that the case for optimism is tied to the U.S. responding in some quasi-sane fashion if the growing of coca is decriminalized—but there are a number of sound points.
—posted by Julian
- 11:41:00 AM THE MALKIN AWARD WINNNERS 2005: This award is a relatively new one - reflecting the uniquely batty voice of Michelle Malkin, defender of Japanese internment in the Second World War, and far and away the break-out star of the hard right blogosphere in the past year. The award is for hyperbolic, divisive, mean-spirited, far-right boilerplate, of the kind Malkin produces on an almost hourly basis. The award has largely supplanted the old Derbyshire Award, named after NRO's resident bigot and curmudgeon, John Derbyshire. Compared to Malkin, he's a voice of calm reason. (He will be awarded his own prize later this week, so fear not.) Anwyay, drum roll, please, for the finalists ....
DISBARRED BUT WORTH A CITATION: "Liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole," - a headline on an Ann Coulter column at Townhall.com, January 6, 2005. (Coulter is disbarred from the contest, because others have got to have a chance.)
MALKIN AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005 : "The Democrats are mounting the most scurrilous political campaign that has been seen in American politics since the Civil War." - Powerline blogger, John Hinderaker. And they call me excitable.
MALKIN AWARD RUNNER-UP 2005: "It's time to ask, bluntly, whether self-government can work for people not operating within a Judeo-Christian worldview." - Joseph Farah, WorldNet Daily.
MALKIN AWARD WINNER 2005: "[B]lood will tell, as the old saying goes: [Mark "Deep Throat" Felt's] posterity is now dragging out his old body and putting it on display to make money. (Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay? That same, haunted, hunted look combined with a glee at what he has managed to get away with so far?) And it gets worse: it's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish. The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel. It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude. If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews. Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it." - Ben Stein, American Spectator.
Tomorrow, the equivalent from the nutty left: the Moore Award nominees!