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Monday, January 31, 2005
NOT THAT I'M SUGGESTING MORAL EQUIVALENCE, BUT ...:
Enjoy today, Andrew. I want to see democracy work in Iraq, but I instinctively cringe when people phrase battles in terms of good against evil, as you have today and the Administration considers de rigeur. The insurgents aren't just doing this because they feel like it. Today 36 people died, and 8 of them were the suicide bombers. Unless you have a purpose other than "evil," you don't stick with that kind of cost-benefit ratio. I'm not suggesting any moral equivalence, only that we have to keep a sense of perspective. Most of the domestic insurgents are rooted in the Sunni minority, and it is in Sunni towns that, as expected, turnout has been poorest (although, I happily acknowledge, better than anticipated). And they have good reason to be afraid of Ali al-Sistani's ticket coming to power. Iraq could become a de facto Islamic theocracy faster than we think, at worst. At best, democratic ideals have already begun to be sacrificed for the sake of stability with the banning of Al-Jazeera from being broadcast in Iraq. Stability as justification for curtailing of civil liberties, mixed with an ethnic majority with religious inclinations and a strong adherence to clerics, may give Iraq a significantly different democracy from that envisioned by neoconservatives. The question then is whether we will be willing to let it alone, however ephemeral the "real" democracy is. So enjoy today, Andrew, and I will too; who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Well, since I write to you ofttimes to carp and complain and generally get on your case, I thought that, in the spirit of a day you have aptly described as "euphoric," I'd send you a note of appreciation for your heartfelt and wonderful postings on the Iraqi election. No day for arguments! And I hope to see a lot of people sporting blue index fingers tomorrow in solidarity!
SUPPLY OR DEMAND?:
Your recent article defending Hillary Clinton's stance on abortion made me realize a fundamental point about social policy in this country. Specifically this comment:
"It seems to me that if we are to reduce abortions to an absolute minimum (and who, exactly, opposes that objective?)."
The thing is, nobody objects to minimizing abortions, but minimization can involve either a focus on supply or demand. You can reduce the number of abortion providers and the freedom to get abortions, or you can reduce the demand for those services (support for adoption programs, improved birth control, etc). The war between the right and the left has been too tightly focused on fighting over supply instead of demand.
This gets me to a further point about a free society and social policy. Controlling supply is incompatible with a free society. Cutting supply does not reduce demand, it just makes fulfilling demand more expensive and dangerous, and just adds a new layer of social problems. So we reduce our liberties, we solve nothing, and we unleash a horde of new problems (back alley abortions, drug gangs, etc).
Unfortunately both sides of the aisle see these issues as perfect places to wage their political battles. There are many people who will never vote for a "pro-choice" candidate or a "pro-life" candidate. It's wonderful though to see somebody choosing what's good for our society over what's good for their career.
- 8:58:24 PM
Thursday, January 27, 2005
THE MORAL FABRIC:
Your agreement with Hillary Clinton's statements on abortion seems to proceed from a mistaken assumption. Hillary rightly judges that abortion is not a matter of deliberate murder, but a matter of coping with unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, logically, she thinks reducing unwanted pregnancy will result in a better America.
But the problem is: when we reduce unwanted pregnancy by any means neccesary, we damage the moral fabric of the culture. Abortion is simply an extreme form of birth control, or a moderated form of infanticide. When we encourage any of these practices, we encourage irresponsible sexual activity. We ought to go back to the days when unwanted pregnancy was shameful * not for the sake of shaming a person, but for the sake of redeeming a culture.
If it were still a taboo practice in society, abortion might justifiably remain "safe" and legal. But ours is rapidly a society without taboos, and in such a place, abortion must be outlawed.
When the word "wrong" isn't enough, we must find refuge in the word "illegal."
DON'T FORGET THE FATHERS:
The position that you and Ms Clinton now support has much merit, but it ignores a key component in keeping abortion rare: male employment. If a woman becomes pregnant and her husband or lover has a good job that pays a living wage, then they will have the child. But if the man lacks the economic capacity to meet his obligation to support his woman and his child, the couple will feel enormous pressure to abort the pregnancy. This why abortions became more nearly rare in the Clinton boom and why they have increased during long Bush slowdown.
We must renew an emphasis on contraception, disease prevention, and child support as masculine responsibilities. Young men must hold themselves accountable in these areas. And Republicans ought to acknowledge the social costs of unemployment and underemployment. Fatherhood, like abortion, is serious business.
Just a few days ago, before the Spelling-lesbo imbroglio broke out, I was watching Sesame Street with my 18-month-old daughter. There was a segment where they showed lots of different families in Central Park. At one point, a male couple was shown with a small child. I paused the show (Tivo, y'know), rewound, and called my wife in and showed her. "How cool is that?" she said and walked off. We both thought it was cool that they just showed this couple with no explanation, i.e. they never said they were a gay couple and there was no talking, so they could have just been "good friends," but it seemed pretty clear that this was a gay male couple with a child. So I'm wondering what the response of Spelling, PBS, et al, would be to this (especially because it's gay males, who I really think are above lesbians in the icky hierarchy for homophobes). I'm going to see if the episode is still on Tivo and/or if I can find info on it anywhere.
Your recent postings on Hillary's abortion speech and on the "green neocons" have brought some much-needed fresh air to what had been a very stale political ecosystem. One of the truly unfortunate things about our nation's current party-line partition is that it offers no breathing space for people whose priorities straddle the red/blue divide. Are you against the death penalty and abortion-on-demand? You better pick which one matters more to you, because you won't find many politicians who think the same way. Are you pro-military and also concerned about the environment? Take your pick--can't have both.
The consequence of this has been a take-no-prisoners mentality on both sides of every issue that ends up escalating trivial disputes into shouting matches, while forcing people to take ideological positions that would make a contortionist envious. In this climate, partisans end up fearing the slippery slope so much that they run away from anything resembling reasonableness, and they pull a lot of regular people along with them. I've known people on the "left" who are so militant on the abortion issue that they actually seemed disappointed when Scott Peterson was convicted on a second count of murder, and I've known people on the "right" who seem unwilling to acknowledge that intelligent pro-environment policies can eliminate real and pressing problems that once seemed unsolvable. (Remember acid rain, anyone?)
Part of the problem is the very labels "left" and "right." They are outdated relics from the French Revolution, terms that, by their very nature, pull all political discourse away from the strife-free ideal envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Fortunately there are politicians of all stripes who are looking beyond the current divide and towards a better future. One can only hope that they aren't the exceptions that prove the rule.
DON'T WARD OFF WARD:
I'm glad you posted Ward Churchill's comments, because they reflect the views of the far left elements of our society, and they deserve to be criticized (and a Moore award nomination!). I hope that you also agree that Mr. Churchill should be allowed to speak at Hamilton College. While I find his view wrong, I believe the importance of having venues in which unpopular events can be aired is much much greater than the need to prevent people from expressing viewpoints that others -- even, in this case, an overwhelming majority -- find offensive and "completely hurtful." The relative importance is not even close, which is why it is alarming that the view that people should be protected from hostile speakers has the current level of support it does.
Granted, Hamilton College could have found many other speakers who probably would have made better arguments than Mr. Churchill, and certainly they could have found someone less offensive. (In defense of the choice, Mr. Churchill's talk is on an issue of extreme contemporary importance, and for all I know it's possible that he does a very competent job arguing for his position, as wrong as he may be.) But leaving aside how that choice was arrived upon, the school is absolutely correct in defending Mr. Churchill's presence as part of the "free exchange of ideas." There is nothing more American than allowing his opinions into the marketplace of ideas -- and of course the fact that many people will criticize or ignore his ideas is equally American! But let's not forget that while many people will be exercising their American freedom to argue that Mr. Churchill should not speak in campus and have every right to do so, they will be airing a wrong and misguided view.
- 3:09:16 PM
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
A PASSIONATE MODERATE:
In regards to your bit on "Oscar Sanity," I'm a bit put off by your use of the word "pornographic" in reference to Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." It seems you think the only people who liked this film are "right wing ideologues."
I'd just like to let you know that I'm a pretty moderate person who doesn't attend church and I really liked the film. I've voted for both Republicans and Democrats in my life and I saw the film with other friends of mine who have also voted on both sides of the isle and do not hold fast to any set of religious views. We all loved the film. It seems pretty clear to me from the box office success of the picture that many, many people loved the film. I thought the violence was very poetic and even beautiful at times and I thought the film really had a lot to say. I'm sure you have very valid reasons for disliking the film, but perhaps your language, in this case, is a bit harsh? Just a thought.
Please keep up the good work. I really enjoy hearing your views.
You know what really drives me up the wall about the SpongeBob controversy?
SpongeBob Squarepants is one of the most unpleasant annoying cartoon characters
out there. My nine-year-old son watches a lot of cartoon and I end up having
to defend the one that I dislike.
Why couldn't Dobson have attacked The Fairly Oddparents, instead? I really like
that one and would feel good about defending it. I mean, that's a cartoon, in
which the main character, Timmy, is a boy who wears a pink hat and hangs out
with a couple of fairies. What could be a better target for this sort of
You know, I keep hearing about the controversy about the "sexy" Monday Night Football skit involving Terrell Owens and Nicolette Sheridan. I've especially been hearing about how a major component of the controversy was that Owens was black and Sheridan was white. I've heard and read countless culturally liberal commentators bemoan the idea that such a thing is still controversial. What I have yet to hear or read is anyone actually say that the fact that Owens is black and Sheridan is white was part of the problem. The closest was some criticism by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, an African-American man, saying that the fact that Owens was black and, in the skit, didn't do his job because a sexy woman (nevermind her skin color) threw herself at him fed the stereotype that black men are promiscuous and irresponsible. But so many talking heads seized on a very racially sensitive comment from an African-American, twisted it, and suddenly Jim Crow is still alive and well among us hicks in the red states. I'm not trying to say that everything is tolerant and enlightened here, but when it starts looking ridiculous when people start making things up to attack us.
"Hey, sometimes 'military necessity' requires you to pummel a detainee"
Suppose that the detainee in question is a Jihadist fanatic who spends his every waking minute devising ways to attack his captors. And suppose that this individual is successful in exhorting his fellow prisoners to do the same. Personally I think that the worst outcome in such a situation would be that an American soldier would one day drop his guard and be killed or badly injured by these savages. I think though that your own worst outcome would be somewhat different; in your worst case scenario, the Jihadist would be beaten down and made an example. Perhaps you think that my own scenario is far fetched. If so, you should explain this to the family of the CIA man who was gouged and bitten to death during the prison uprising in Afghanistan in 2002.
BAD SOFT CORE:
On the topic of Terrell Owens and the Desperate Ratings Gambit on Monday Night Football, you are correct in stating that should John Madden have been the subject, and not Terrell Owens, there would have been far less concern. However, you immediately ascribe this to arch-conservative race-mixing paranoia. I would argue that Madden, as an old, corpulent curmudgeon, would have presented a far more farcical target for Nicolette Sheridans skanky affections. It would have been a joke, and clearly one, and the overtones far less sexual, and far more satirical.
The real test of your hypothesis would have been - what if Jeremy Shockey, white TE for the NY Giants, had been our protagonist? I imagine there would still have been an outcry. The same? Perhaps not, as those who's knuckles scrape the floor may not have joined the outcry. But there would still be the same very large group of people wondering why their football game was preceded by awkwardly bad soft core.
- 8:33:55 PM
Monday, January 24, 2005
WHERE WAS DEMOCRACY?:
Reading Bush's speech, from the perspect of a former resident of Taiwan, what really stands out is how little mention was made of "democracy" compared to "freedom" or "liberty".
I suggest that what President Bush means by Freedom and Liberty have more to do with economic (indeed, corporate) and religious freedom (life, liberty and the persuit of happiness).
In particular, that Democracy is seen as a means to get Freedom rather than an end in itself. A democracy movement should not be supported if the regime it wants to surplant is not tyrannical at the current time, seems to be US overt foreign policy. And tyranny towards terrorism suspect is probably sensible, too.
I would prefer a (small d) democrat.
MAKE MINE MAD:
The Nation cartoon is too lame even to be offensive. I thought this was supposed to be some bastion of great liberal minds. Mad Magazine could have done it twenty times better (actually, Mad is still pretty funny). Thing is, really serious liberals are notoriously humorless, so when they make an attempt, this is about the best you can expect.
What they should apologize for is being so unfunny.
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL:
The whole debate about Bush's speech is veering off into ungrounded, unrealistic psychobabble. Let's take a step back and get real. Can you imagine if Clinton had the same history as Bush with beacons of democracy like Prince Bandar, and had given a high-profile inaugural speech like this? Conservatives would have savaged him, called him a hypocrite, and said that "words matter"---a phrase they (and I ) said many times during the 1990's in criticism of Clinton.
Bottom line: When Bush renounces his family's longstanding close personal friendship with the Saudi Royal Family, stops chumming it up with a nuke-wielding Pakistani General who seized power from a democratically-elected leader, announces that the massive amount of aid we send to Mubarak every year (a large amount of which ends up in Mubarak's personal account) will stop, pulls all our troops out of Kuwait and calls for the Emir to step down (the Emir that Bush's father went to WAR to re-install), and explicity demands at their next comfy fireside chat in the Oval Office that King Abdullah abdicate Jordan's throne and free his people from decades of torture and tyranny, I'll stop saying Bush is a hypocrite.
No one expects Bush to reverse decades of complicated relationships that are based in realism instead of idealism. But Bush's hypocrisy is repulsive because it is intensely personal as well as institutional. And it is ongoing. Is someone ready to argue that his family is not really close to the Saudi Royal family, and Bush is not close personal friends with freedom's child Prince Bandar?
- 4:21:33 PM
Friday, January 21, 2005
SPAN CLASS="inc_subtitle">THE IRON CHANCELLOR:
I don't quite get the analogy between W. and Bismarck vis-à-vis domestic policy. The German chancellor famously prohibited the circulation of socialist literature, empowered the police to break up socialist meetings, and put the trial and punishment of socialists under the jurisdiction of police courts. Maybe Ramsey Clark thinks Bush plans to do the same to the American left; perhaps we can agree the idea is absurd.
Bismarck implemented accident and old-age insurance, as well as a form of socialized medicine whose benefits were quite liberal. By contrast, Bush is opposed to what he calls the nationalization of American medicine. Bismarck attempted to win support of German workers for the conservative regime, but the attempt failed. Bush has not sought to build any kind of strong labor base; it's just not his thing. To the degree that "working class" voters supported him in 2004, link that not to his domestic agenda but to his reinvigoration of American nationalism, post-911.
You write: It's the right decision. Civil marriage law should be left to the states, where it belongs.
No decision based on bigotry can be "right." It may be the case that gay marriage should be a states rights issue, but a decision like this, based largely on deeply flawed logic, is not a "right" decision. This is but one more precedent in federal law for employing the same hackneyed arguments against equality without needing to rationally justify them. How does banning civil marriage for a particular segment of the population "encourage 'stable relationships'" in another segment? How is equal treatment of men and women relevant when the discrimination is based on an entirely different criterion, that of sexual orientation? Miscegenation laws were similarly "unbiased." It is hard to call these arguments in any genuine sense -- they are simply bald assertions and rhetorical misdirections that are based on prejudice and fear rather than evidence or reason. A decision based on marriage rights traditionally falling to the states under the U.S. Constitution would have been sufficient, but this decision goes much further, taking a stand against same-sex civil marriages on principle. I realize your support of the decision is based on the outcome rather than how it was arrived at and out of a desire not to provoke a political backlash. However, I know you do not agree with the flimsy reasoning contained in the decision, and I would have liked to see more acknowledgment of that in your response.
I went to grad school at the University of Georgia. The gay community in Athens, GA regularly sponsored drag shows where gay men dressed up like women and danced and lip synched to the music of their choice. The events were huge draws for both gays and straights. Modesty in the "women's" costumes was rare. But it was great fun, even for this conservative, straight white male. But here's the thing. When the gay community embraces this kind of thing, they shouldn't be offended when that element is held up as representative of the larger community and lampooned in the media. It happens to every category of person imaginable. As someone who regularly holds up the most extreme elements of the conservative movement for ridicule and as representative of the rest of us, you should be aware of this.
- 8:15:59 PM
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
NOT BIZARRE IN THE LEAST:
"Among the more bizarre notions gaining traction in the blogosphere is that there can only
be two positions on the Iraq war."
But this idea is not bizarre in the least. President Bush has famously declared that you are either with us or against us, and he has never nuanced that position to allow the kind of critiques you raise. The blogosphere has done little more than follow the president's lead, and it is, if anything, far more biased than the mainstream media that it hopes to replace.
'SURVIVAL' IS NOT AT STAKE:
On the one hand, I think you have been a voice of sanity. You have resisted the “with him or against him” logic of both Bush’s partisans and his anti-partisans. On the other hand, you persist in characterizing the so-called war against terror as a “war for survival.” Those who disagree, you dismiss as people who “don’t get it.” In this case “it” is some fundamental truth without which one cannot be taken seriously as other than a delusional leftist.
Indeed, Islamofascist terror is a threat, and a major one, to American security. Using force against this threat is in some cases prudent (as, I think, has been amply demonstrated by the war and subsequent rebuilding in Afghanistan). In other cases, probably it is not prudent (I would say that jury is still out on Iraq; from reading your blog, I think you agree).
For all that, America’s “survival” as a sovereign nation and, for a good stretch anyway, as the richest, most powerful, and most influential sovereign nation in the world, cannot credibly be characterized as under threat from Islamic terrorism. At most, terrorism threatens the lives of some (perhaps many) individual Americans. Failing to “get it,” for instance, are many foreign policy realists who share a long-range concern for the maintenance of American security and national power. They (perhaps I should say “we”) worry about the US frittering away power and influence in preventable and strictly optional wars of attrition like Iraq. We also worry that democratization may well fail to accomplish all that its proponents claim for it in the Middle East, or that installing democracies may simply prove so costly as to obviate their future benefits. Even rock-hard neo-cons should be prepared to concede that these are risky strategies.
What one needs to “get” to be considered a reasoned participant in the grand national conversation about security should be no more than a simple patriotism. It should not be thought to include acceptance of, for instance, a highly disputable empirical claim about the effects of democracy.
- 8:01:52 PM
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
I would agree with those who are pointing out that the debate about SS is not a debate about self-reliance or dependency. I would go farther and state that to say so demeans the men and women who have counted on SS for their retirements and comforts in old age.
Here is an example: my father-in-law retired 25 years ago at age 60. His union paid his SS for two years, until he turned 62. The SS administration has been paying his small SS pension ever since. [When he retired in 1980, his annual income was at most 10,000 a year.] Is he in any way dependent? Is he, by definition, not self-reliant???
The argument seems to me to be absurd. He took very seriously the social contract which guaranteed him that he would be paid over his retirement for work he had done earlier in his life. He is now and always has been a man of modest means, but always rigorously self-reliant. What did knowing that he would have a pension from SS allow him to do? It allowed him to educate his children with money he otherwise would have had to save for his retirement. It allowed him to build his own house and pay for it over time with monies he would otherwise have had to rented with.
In other words, knowing that a SS pension was his no matter what made him more self-reliant, not less! And, because of that, his children have improved their economic lives, and none of the three of them will ever have to endure the indignities of the life of a union man for 42 years, the way their daddy did. He saved them from that.
I WANT MY CHECK!:
Egads--on Social Security I find myself agreeing with John Derbyshire over at NRO and disagreeing with Andrew Sullivan!
Mr. Derbyshire, on The Corner the other day, rightly says he just wants to collect his check. He doesn't want to spend the next couple of decades worrying about whether his private S.S. account is weighted a little too much toward stocks v. bonds or vice versa.
Mr. Sullivan complains that S.S. fosters "a culture of dependency."
Let's see--we pay payroll taxes into the system for decades and then expect, quite reasonably, to get monthly checks in our dotage, and quite modest ones at that.
The entire point of Social Security is to ensure a minimum monthly income if our company stock goes belly-up (think Enron), or the 401(k) tanks along with the market (think the tech bubble) or our defined benefit pension goes broke (think the airlines, whose pension plans are teetering).
What "ails" S.S. can be solved by gradually raising the retirement age (for full benefits) to 70 or 72; removing the cap on income subject to the payroll tax; allowing the government to invest a portion of the "trust fund" in relatively safe stock index funds as opposed to only U.S. Treasury bills. I'm sure there are other tweaks to consider too.
As Robert Samuleson pointed out the other day, there is no imminent Social Security crisis--the real funding crisis is the one facing Medicare. Somehow I think we will be waiting a long time for Mr. Bush's Medicare reform program.
I don't read Malkin because I don't agree with her opinions on a personal and political basis. I read your blog this morning and clicked onto the link and was quite disturbed at the abuse and the scope of the venom that is directed toward her. I'm not a gifted writer so what I'm trying to express may not be well worded. The content of the abuse...the sexual objectification of her as a minority/Asian/Filipina in order to diminish her opinion...the threat of sexual dominance over her in order to silence her opinion...it's outrageous and disgusting. And, reading it again, I don't know that this garbage comes from the right. I think my liberal brothers and sisters are letting me down.
Do you think Ann Coulter get this kind of garbage? Actually, I think Ann Coulter can probably take it as well as she dishes it out.
I can only imagine the garbage that finds its way into your in box. I'm grateful that it doesn't stop you from writing.
I must first join you in applauding President Bush for his recent comments on the future of the FMA. We all knew what it was for. In fact, the argument of redundancy was used many times in many different states as an argument against all the state constitutional amendments that were passed this November. (It didn't *work*, but in places like Louisiana, that was the best we could do, having no support from national organizations of any kind. But my bitterness about the Human Rights Campaign is a completely different subject.)
Second, though, I have to ask if you've lost your mind. You say that, in exchange for his "support", we shouldn't challenge the constitutional legitimacy of DOMA, nor should we attempt to get any state to recognize a marriage performed in any other state for the foreseeable future. What exactly is this approach supposed to accomplish? You essentially propose that we hand the other side exactly what they want -- complete silence on the marriage issue! You say that "this piece of sanity from the President deserves praise and reciprocation from those of us who support equality in marriage," but the plain fact is that sanity isn't a gift, it's what we elect leaders for, and it no more deserves any sort of special reciprocation than your bank does for not losing the money you let them keep an eye on. If it looked like an actual, reasonable compromise at the federal level were in the offing, I might support you on this. But no, it's very clear that President Bush has merely feinted forward, and your response is to have you and me and every other marriage supporter blindly run forward and hurl ourselves into the giant ideological chasm between us and him. That is completely unacceptable.
- 7:15:46 PM
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