Thursday, November 18, 2010

Whose ox is gored

I chuckled a little at this in a recent Politico piece about why the House Democrats retained Nancy Pelosi as their leader:

Many House Democrats view the last two years as a permanent gain for progressive values, particularly when it comes to a health care law that ensures nearly every American will be insured. They believe it would discredit these achievements to humiliate the House leader most responsible for these gains.

Many of these Democrats believe that the gains for progressives are worth spilling blood over and they are not holding election losses against Pelosi. [snip]

"Sometimes doing the right thing will cause you to pay dearly," Clyburn argued, according to a source in the room. "What's good for the American people sometimes is not good for a few of the high and mighty."

This is a view shared by many liberals in the caucus, particularly those who represent underserved minority communities, where Pelosi has strong support.

Clyburn’s position is correct as a statement of principle: there are some causes worth sacrificing careers for (although I don’t believe Obamacare was one of them). However, the sentiment would be a lot more moving if the people expressing it were among the House Democrats who lost their seats rather than the House Democrats who retained them. And it’s worth remembering that “the high and mighty” Clyburn is so quick to dismiss include a number of Democrats who had served only one or two terms in the House - as opposed to Clyburn’s nine and soon to be ten.

Oh, gag me

Not a very tony post title, I know, but it was my first reaction when I read this letter in the New York Times (via TigerHawk):

Perhaps President Obama could benefit from becoming familiar with the recommendations for raising children and adolescents successfully. Neither authoritarian nor democratic and permissive styles of parenting are optimal ways to raise children. Rather, a third way, authoritative parenting — in which the perspective of the child is understood but the parents’ opinions and choices prevail — has been to shown to lead to successful developmental outcomes and healthy children.

Perhaps it is time for the president to learn how to be the authoritative leader that this country craves and spare the American people the chaos that so often results from democratic, permissive parenting, which may well have led to the loss of faith in his leadership that Paul Krugman laments.

I am not a child and neither are any of my fellow voters. I don’t want my President to be a parent. And I’m awfully attached to democratic parenting governance - perhaps understandable since I live in a democracy.

The funny thing (as opposed to the queasy thing) about this letter is that the “authoritative parenting” style lauded by the writer is pretty much what we’ve gotten from Obama: the perspective of the child [voter] is understood (okay, not really but Obama thinks he understands it - which I suspect is often the case with parents and children as well) but the parents’ [President’s and Congressional Democrats’] opinions and choices prevail.*

Such an authoritative style may lead to “successful developmental outcomes and healthy children” in the context of a family. In the context of a functioning democracy, however, it leads to electoral disaster.


* Yes, the Democrats’ opinions and choices did prevail. Those on the Left who are disappointed with the legislation churned out over the last 22 months can scream about the Republicans all they want but the simple fact is that from January 20, 2009, until February 4, 2010, the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, the Senate (with a filibuster-proof majority), and the Presidency. That gave them almost 13 months in which they could have passed whatever legislation they wanted. If those on the Left want to argue that Obama should have been more iron-fisted in dealing with Congressional Democrats then we’ll need a letter explaining what happens to the family when Daddy and Mommy’s opinions and choices don’t match up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The Valour-IT friendly inter-service competition for this year is underway. (Actually, I think it’s almost over.) This is a most worthy cause, purchasing technology to help wounded servicemembers.

If you haven’t made a donation yet, please do so. You can donate via credit card or you can make a commitment to donate by mail. If you don’t have an attachment to particular service branch, consider giving to the Marine Team as a send-off for Cassandra.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Casual racism

Writing about where we go from here, Marc Ambinder said:

Eric Cantor, who won't escape the casual racism of being referred to as the "first Jewish majority leader," will appear as the voice of policy and conciliation.

Let’s leave aside the quibble that religion and race are two different things. As far as I know, “first Jewish majority leader” will be a truthful descriptive phrase, like “first Black President” or “first female Speaker” or (vaguely remembered from many years ago) “first male national officer of the Future Homemakers of America”. Perhaps Americans’ pride or happiness or gratification when positions of authority are attained by those who have historically found them difficult or impossible to achieve is a bit too artless for Ambinder but it’s hardly racist, casually or otherwise.

Here's a thought (Updated)

There’s some chatter this morning about Republican pickups at the State level and how this is a Very Good Thing because we’ve got redistricting for House of Representative seats coming up next year. The assumption seems to be that the Republicans can thus gerrymander the redistricting to make as may seats as possible Safe For Republicans - which would presumably leave the remaining seats Safe For Democrats since herding Republicans into some districts will herd Democrats into others.

Here’s a thought. How about if the Republicans instead do non-political redistricting? One way to do this is to split a State up along logical lines - paying attention to city and county lines, for example. I believe this is what California is going to attempt to do (for State-level districts, not Federal elections) with its Citizens Redistricting Commission. The results will be interesting to watch. I’d consider it a success if the resulting districts don’t have ludicrously lopsided election results.

Another way to do this is mechanically. Start in the upper left (northwest) corner of a State and move south and north until you’ve encompassed enough people. Then move east from there until you’ve got another chunk of people the right size. If you hit the eastern State line, start at the southernmost point and move west and south, mirroring the way you started the whole process.

I’d like to see Republicans lead the way on this. Maybe it would be suicidal but maybe it would indicate that they’re serious about making government more responsive.

UPDATE: I’m behind the curve here. Take a look at “Two Big Losers: Obama and Gerrymandering“ over at Contentions.


It did not, in fact, rain in Poughkeepsie yesterday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The cat in the machine

[Strong language warning.]

On the talk shows yesterday I heard various talking heads opining about how many seats the Republicans would take in the House and Senate. The same opining is going on across the blogosphere. In general, those who lean Right - both officials and pundits - are predicting big Republican gains; actual Democratic officials are predicting smaller Republican gains (what else can they do?); and non-officials who lean Left are attempting to explain that big Republican gains would not be so very big in context or explain that big gains would not really be a result of general unhappiness with the direction of the current Administration and Congress.


I listen to all these predictions and I think that anyone trying to predict tomorrow’s outcome is nuts. I have this sense of a large mass of people who are unhappy with everyone in government. Not unhappy in a “poor me, I’m so put upon” way; unhappy in a “what the heck has happened around here” way. Trying to predict which way that cat will jump seems fraught with peril.

Take me, for instance. I’m going to vote straight Republican tomorrow. But what I really want is a Big Red Button ( hereinafter “BRB”) that says, “I’m voting for Republicans but I’m not really voting Republican, mostly because I have no clue what you guys are going to do if you get elected and, frankly, I don’t have much faith you’ll do anything I approve of.” I’m still voting Republican, though, because to me what’s important is getting the party in power out of power tomorrow - and doing it again in two years if the Republicans don’t get the message. If there are a lot of people who’d like that same BRB and think the way I do then maybe the huge Republican wave is even bigger than anticipated.

Or maybe a lot of BRB people decide what’s important is not getting rid of the party in power but getting rid of the people in power and so vote against incumbents regardless of their party. That would still mean a Republican gain but not such a big one.

On the other hand, maybe there are people who want that same BRB, hear about the huge Republican wave, and decide to stay home or vote for a third party candidate or even vote Democratic so the Republicans don’t get the idea we actually want them in office. We just want the other guys out. So maybe some of the BRB people decide to make the Republican wave smaller lest the Republicans get delusions of grandeur - or even grudging acceptance.

The sentiment underlying the desire for a BRB was expressed quite forcefully in the comments to a post at the Confluence. Blue Lyon reproduced it on her site and I reproduce it here:

Whatever anyone says about “concern” that the public is merely “lashing out” and “aren’t thinking this through” is just so much noise. The public is indeed thinking. They are thinking that we can’t even DISCUSS policy direction until we yank our politicians up by the shorthairs enough that they get it through their thick entitled heads that it isn’t about them, or about parties, or which one gets the next turn to grab the keys and go joyriding with their lobbyist buddies. It’s about US.

It’s a very simple message, actually. The message is “We can yank those keys out of your damn hand anytime we please. We can give them to a hairdresser, or a certified loon, or Sam the not-so-bright yard guy. And we will if you keep this shit up. So both parties need to STOP FUCKING WITH US.”

In my conversations with people all across the political spectrum, once you cut through the static, most are viewing this election as a “Who’s in charge here – you or us?” to both parties. The various issues, whether left or right, do need to be discussed and debated. The differences are real. But it seems that the people want to have both sides of that debate come from US, not be shaped and molded and controlled by THEM.

I can argue my liberal point of view with my conservative or moderate neighbor, as they can with me. There’s no arguing with a machine, whether it has a D or an R stamped on it. Yes, there are scary ideologues involved this year. But I think they are misjudging as much as the sell-out Dems are. This is in large part rage against the machine, and it ain’t over in 2010.

Vote tomorrow. And in the absence of a Big Red Button, don’t forget your monkey wrench.

Fortune, fear, and reading comprehension

From Grim’s, I got to this article about Europe’s sense of being helpless in the face of the forces that control our destiny. Among other things - it’s well worth reading the entire article - the author says:

One of the most important ways in which today’s sense of diminished subjectivity is experienced is through the feeling that individuals are being manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces. [snip]

The crisis of causality means that the most important events are now seen as being shaped and determined by a hidden agenda. [snip]

In previous times, that kind of attitude was mainly held by right-wing populist movements, which saw the hand of a Jewish or a Masonic or a Communist conspiracy behind all major world events. Today, conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, and many of its most vociferous promoters can be found in radical protest movements and amongst the cultural left. Increasingly, important events are viewed as the products of a cover-up, as the search for the ‘hidden hand’ manipulating a particular story comes to dominate public life. [snip]

Some time later I was reading Anglachel. She was talking about what she refers to as David Broder’s “proposal” that President Obama use confrontation with Iran to come storming back in time for 2012.* Among other things, Anglachel says:

David Broder has put into words what is on the Collectively Wise Mind of the Very Serious People in DC [snip]

And Broder's proposal is being taken seriously by at least some people in the White House or it wouldn't have seen the light of day. [snip]

I find it all too plausible that the Very Serious People are in greater accord on this idea than we'd like to think.

I dunno. I’m pretty sure writers come out with all kinds of ideas no one in power takes seriously. After all, Paul Krugman complains endlessly that no one in power takes his ideas seriously.


*Just for the record, characterizing Broder’s column as containing a “proposal” - that is, as calling for Obama to escalate tensions with Iran in order to win in 2012 - is a mischaracterization. Broder is not urging Obama to start a war with Iran or to cynically escalate tensions with Iran to pump up his chance of re-election. Rather Broder is convinced that over the course of the next two years the United States will have to “confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions” because “Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century”. If Obama can “confront” and “contain” Iran then, says Broder:

he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

In the process of doing this, Obama will bolster his own popularity both directly and, through the economic impact, indirectly. In other words, the situation with Iran gives Obama an opportunity to do well politically by doing the right thing substantively, an opportunity that will not be available to any of Obama’s opponents. Broder is being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Not necessarily correct - after all, Broder also says flatly that Obama “is much smarter than his challengers in either party” - but hardly urging war as a continuation of electoral politics by other means.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Raindrops on roses

[Just for the record: I object strongly to using the word “suck” as an epithet. But you play the hand you’re dealt.]

I read Reclusive Leftist for the first time in a while and found a new post, the first since September 30 and the first substantive one since September 7. Entitled “I hate the world”, it begins:

When you’re off in a vortex of writing, totally disconnected from the real world, it’s easy to forget just how godawful the world really is. God, it just sucks.

Then I read a post by Megan McArdle entitled “Explaining The Anger That Consumes Debate on the Web”. McArdle cites the recent Scientific American article on sacred values versus secular values and says:

For me, this resonates with my growing disgust at the level of anger in the blogosphere. I don't mean irritation, pointed jibes, or even spirited discussion; I mean an aggressive revelling in rage.

According to McArdle, it’s the Hell’s brew of sacred values and money that explains weblogs wallowing in wrath:

we're fighting over a lot of taboo trade-offs, in a context where we can't help but bring money into it. The result is the rage of people who cannot bear to see their sacred ideals profaned--and worse, to see the profaners walking around apparently happy. Only a primal scream of outrage will do.

I disagree with McArdle. (End of world to follow soon.) I think people just like being angry. Not justifiably angry - that’s tiresome and burdensome and requires, like, you know, morality and thought and maybe even - gasp - action. No, justifiably angry is a drag. Self-righteously angry on the other hand? That’s a blast. Self-righteous anger feeds and is fed by so many other delightful demons: arrogance; moral superiority; selective blindness; bonding with the group against The Other; intellectual snobbery; dehumanization, even demonization, of the “enemy”; a little data drop out; a lot of data drop out; that nasty little tickle in the gut when a point - however cheap, however cruel, however dishonest - is scored and that even nastier little glow when a cheap, cruel, dishonest point is applauded and linked!

Self-righteous anger is fun, it’s invigorating, it gets people out of bed in the morning. Self-righteous anger drives blog hits, sells cable shows, makes sweeping claims without the trouble of investigating those claims or backing up those claims and - even better - without the need for context or introspection or, Heaven forfend, balance. It constantly ups the ante: everyone who lives on and for self-righteous anger has to be angrier than he or she was yesterday and angrier than anyone else who is self-righteously angry: This sucks, that sucks, the whole world sucks.

And it’s all your, his, hers, their fault.

Sacred values? To someone who lives on and for self-righteous anger, the only sacred value is whatever he or she is angry about today.

Comments are open

Comments are open. Some recent posts may not allow comments because comments weren't allowed when they were written. I attempted to reconfigure those but may have missed some.

Let's talk self-interest

It’s an oft-repeated belief on the Left that white* working-class voters who support Republicans are voting against their own economic interests. After all, Democrats will take money away from the fat cats and spread it around to everyone who isn’t a fat cat. Therefore, white working-class Republicans must be ill-informed or led astray by conservative rhetoric (or conservative lies) or stupid or all of the above. For those on the Left to say so is simply being truthful.

I don’t think so. What Democrats represent is the redistribution of wealth from those who have more to those who have less. Democratic rhetoric claims this redistribution flows from those few who have a lot to the masses who don’t have a lot. But that’s not what the white working class sees. The white working class sees that people who are poor get stuff for free - housing, food, medical care - while those who work have to pay for this stuff themselves. The white working class sees that people who are very rich somehow manage to stay very rich and even get richer: the working class guy who lost his job, lost his medical insurance, and lost his house is looking at the Wall Street guy who got buckets of money because letting his firm fail would destroy the economy. White working class guy has got to be wondering exactly whose economy has been saved from destruction; it certainly isn’t the economy he lives in.

I suspect the white working class is asking themselves exactly whose money has been taken to give to the poor and - since more redistribution is on the horizon as more of ObamaCare kicks in and if some variant of cap-and-trade gets through and as the effects of financial regulation begin to be felt - they must also be asking themselves whose money is going to be taken in the future. It can’t be people who are poorer than the white working class - they don’t have money to redistribute. So far it doesn’t look like it’s going to be people who are rich - even if their taxes go up there’s no reason to think their special relationship with the government will disappear. That would seem to leave the working class.** Their money will be taken if not through higher income taxes then through a VAT; cap-and-trade; inflation; having to pay bank fees; tighter and/or more expensive credit; forced purchase of particular forms of health insurance; more job loss; or simply by piling a incomprehensibly huge national debt on the backs of their children and their children’s children.

If you look at what the Democrats say they’re going to do then, yes, when the white working class votes Republican you can argue it’s voting against its own economic interests.*** But when you look at what the Democrats have actually done, I’d say the white working class figures - quite rationally - that it’s better to hold onto what little they have rather than risk being the people on the wrong end of the continuing redistribution. This doesn’t mean they think the Republicans are going to help them or, for that matter, hurt the wealthy. It simply means the working class hopes the Republicans will allow them to keep what they earn. They entertain no such hopes about the Democrats.


* I write here of the white (presumably non-Hispanic) working class because that’s the contingent that swings between Democrat and Republican. I think the same economic factors apply to the non-white and Hispanic working class but they are more solidly Democratic.

** I’m leaving aside the middle class. I don’t think the working class is stupid enough to think anyone is going to take money from the middle class and give it to the working class. Nor do I think the working class is stupid enough to think taking money from just the middle class is going to be enough to accomplish the myraid forms of redistribution either underway or in the works.

*** Yes, we could have another whole discussion about whether even if the working class was on the receiving end of redistribution they would support it and want it (there are interests that are not economic) and yet another one about whether the Democrats’ program would be in the working class’ best economic interests in the long term. What I doing here, though, is ruminating on why the Left’s “voting against their own economic interest” claim is weak even in the very short term.



News Flash: Inflation Is on the Way - Kevin D. Williamson at Exchequer on the new issue of TIPS.

Trouble with the humans - The Economist article that jarred this post loose

Of Reds, Racists and Rubes - Anglachel. My favorite snippet (but read the whole thing): People are motivated by rational self-interest, especially in times of need.

Capital Expenditure - Anglachel again. This is one of her posts where our world views are so different I struggle to understand her and quoting Bob Somersby makes her even more opaque while quoting Paul Krugman makes her even less accessible to me. However, if I understand her correctly what she’s saying is that Barack Obama did not and does not have a unifying ideological view of how the world works or how the world should work and this has handicapped him. This combines with - or possibly causes - Obama to be timid in going after what he wants and even in arguing for his desired outcomes.

I agree - this is my view of Obama. He lacks a coherent view of what he wants to have happen, how to get there, and - most important - how all the pieces have to fit together to get him there; in addition, he appears unable or unwilling to take the heat for what he believes in perhaps because he doesn’t believe strongly in anything except himself. The result is the kind of half-hearted, piecemeal legislation we see in ObamaCare. It is neither a huge overhaul that has a chance of working nor a modest, step by step fix with few unintended consequences. Instead it’s Frankenstein’s monster; almost any other outcome - including doing nothing and moving to a Canadian system - would be better than what Obama’s combination of ideological laziness, political ineptitude, intellectual shallowness, and general incompetence have given us.

What Happened to Change We Can Believe In? - Frank Rich:

But the most relentless drag on a chief executive who promised change we can believe in is even more ominous. It’s the country’s fatalistic sense that the stacked economic order that gave us the Great Recession remains not just in place but more entrenched and powerful than ever.

An astonishing piece since Rich spends much of it chastising the Obama Administration for its failure to “unstack” the economic order but winds up by concluding that much of the blame rests with the GOP, its deep pockets backers, and the mean old Supreme Court. (As an aside, blaming the last makes me incredibly weary. I’m sick of hearing that when the Supreme Court does something a commentator agrees with , it’s rightfully the ultimate arbiter of our fates and perfectly justified in riding roughshod over elected officials and the wishes of the voters but when it does something that same commentator disagrees with, it’s a captured and corrupt political cesspool. Pick one.)

Obama the snob - Michael Gerson.

The Psychology of the Taboo Trade-Off - Scientific American on sacred values versus secular ones - especially monetary ones.

Tea Party to the Rescue - Peggy Noonan. Of particular note is Maureen Turner’s explanation of how she ended up supporting the Tea Party: I have voted Democrat all my life, until I started listening to what Obama was promising and started wondering how the hell will this utopian dream be paid for?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yes, I know

I said I wasn’t going to be blogging. Apparently, however, all it takes to start me writing again is deciding not to blog. Maybe I should just announce every week or so that I’m not blogging any longer.

Whores, running dogs, and Anglachel

Anglachel is writing again, about the Jerry Brown campaign’s consideration of the word “whore” to refer to Meg Whitman. Her initial post is here; follow-up here.

As always, I find her writing extremely interesting, on point, and well thought out within her coherent world view. Since I do not entirely share that world view (although I also do not entirely dismiss it), I don’t necessarily find her conclusions compelling; I do, however, find her to be indispensable reading.

Her initial post is about the incident itself and what it says about how slurs of this sort are used to keep women in line. I’m almost reluctant to quote any of it since I think it should be read in its entirety but her conclusion echoes so perfectly what I said to my husband that I can’t resist (emphasis mine):

Back to the gubernatorial campaign. An apology for calling a woman a whore for having engaged in ordinary campaign bargaining misses the mark. An apology is simply "Ooops, our bad. We'll hang up the phone next time. Sorry you feel offended. (snicker)". It is words. The only reassuring action would have been to hear, as the next element in the phone conversation, a roar of disgust that someone attached to the campaign would dare utter that suggestion.

Anglachel’s second post is about the reaction she’s seeing to both the incident and the outrage over it and is even more worth reading than her first post. She lays out more strongly her claim that Whitman was behaving exactly as every other (male) candidate does; that is, there as nothing particularly “whorish” about her behavior even if you do not consider it in the sexual sense. She also has high praise for Bill Clinton’s on-key campaigning in California. Like Anglachel’s first post, this one should be read in its entirety but an especially notable quote from it is:

... the larger failure of the Democrats to take seriously the disaffection of large blocks of Democratic constituencies after the horrific slash-and-burn primaries of 2008. In particular, the deliberate deployment of misogyny opened wounds that have not healed for many of us who previously and strongly identified as Democrats and who now are not willing to give candidates, especially male candidates, much leeway in how they and their campaigns deploy gender-based appeals and attacks.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure she’s right about this. Brown may have stepped into a political problem he doesn’t understand but I am not convinced that it is going to keep those who are - or who claim to be or who should be - concerned about misogyny from voting for him. After all, Barack Obama’s viciously misogynistic campaign against Hillary Clinton and even more viciously misogynistic campaign against Sarah Palin did not keep him from being elected President with 56% of women voting for him versus 43% voting Republican.

I find Anglachel’s discussion of how this incident appears to Hispanic voters and to working-class Catholic voters in general far more believable. It lends support to the idea that when it comes to social values (what Anglachel calls “cultural signifiers”), Republicans are more in line not just with working-class non-Hispanic white voters but with Hispanic voters as well. (If the Democrats succeed in awarding American citizenship to the large number of Hispanic illegal aliens in this country, they may find that they have created a massive pool of votes not for themselves but for their opponents.)

Finally, I feel compelled to repeat what I’ve said before about Anglachel:

If you want to know how an intelligent liberal (I do not believe she would say “progressive”) with an integrated view of the world and a deep respect for those who bitterly cling to their guns and religion thinks, this is a must-read. If someone like her was running the Democratic Party the Republicans might actually be dead in the water.



Although I’m not sure Anglachel is right about how big a problem Democratic Party misogyny will be for voters - even women voters - in California, she is absolutely correct in tying the Brown campaign slur to the 2008 campaigns. I wrote about this in my first post about Fourth Wave Feminism. Even if you don’t read my post, you should read the referenced Little Miss Attila post on American Sharia.

NOW endorsed Jerry Brown in the California governor’s race the day after the Whitman-whore episode blew up. Anglachel doesn’t discuss that; perhaps, like me, she realizes NOW destroyed any claim it had to represent women or to be called a feminist organization during the 2008 campaigns and therefore what NOW does in these situations is irrelevant.

When I think about Institutional Feminists and how willing - even eager - they are to do the bidding of their male Democratic masters, I am reminded of that wonderfully descriptive but sadly now little-used term: running dogs.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Extol Uniformity

I saw a car yesterday with two bumper stickers:

Celebrate Diversity

Go Vegan

So not all forms of diversity, then.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Going dark

I’m going dark - well, darker - for a while. I’ve started a number of posts lately and can’t “close” any of them so I’m going to stop trying. Comments are disabled although you can always reach me via my email address in my profile - look to the right-hand column and down.

I’ll check back on November 3 and let you know if it rained in Poughkeepsie on the 2nd.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In which Thomas Friedman saves me

Quite some time ago I was involved in a comments discussion at Reclusive Leftist which shook one of my long-held beliefs about “the Left”. It occurred in the context of a discussion on health care policy but veered into the issue of the United States’ superpower status. RL is replying to an earlier comment on health policy when she says:

... international comparisons don’t matter to most Americans. Exceptionalism is strong in this country. Most people cannot quite believe that anything learned in any other country really applies to America.

It’s enormously frustrating, of course. But I don’t know any way around it. I think we may have to get further along in our descent from World Superpower. Kind of the way Britain had to stop being an empire before it could really deal emotionally and psychologically with being one of a number of small European countries.

A friend of mine likes to cheer on the Chinese. Take our crown! she says. We’re ready for you to take over as the Evil Empire!

To which I replied:

Which is why I found Dr. Socks’ comment #51 quite surprising and rather discouraging. I always believed that conservatives who insisted the Left actually *wanted* the US diminished and would be overjoyed to let others - India, China, possibly Russia - become the globe’s super-powers, were paranoid wingnuts. Sure, I would say, the Left wants the United States to use its power and wealth differently but it doesn’t actually want the US to be at the mercy of other countries, a couple of which have remarkably lousy records on human rights. I now realize I’ll have to go abase myself for being so naive.

I thought about this exchange from time to time but never quite found a hook on which to hang it in a blog post. (Besides I don’t like to abase myself any more than anyone else does.) Recently Thomas Friedman wrote a column that gave me that hook. He argues that:

When the world’s only superpower gets weighed down with this much debt — to itself and other nations — everyone will feel it. How? Hard to predict. But all I know is that the most unique and important feature of U.S. foreign policy over the last century has been the degree to which America’s diplomats and naval, air and ground forces provided global public goods — from open seas to open trade and from containment to counterterrorism — that benefited many others besides us. U.S. power has been the key force maintaining global stability, and providing global governance, for the last 70 years. That role will not disappear, but it will almost certainly shrink.

Friedman quotes Michael Mandelbaum’s claim that:

No country now stands ready to replace the United States, so the loss to international peace and prosperity has the potential to be greater as America pulls back than when Britain did.

He then does a brief rundown of possible replacements:

After all, Europe is rich but wimpy. China is rich nationally but still dirt poor on a per capita basis and, therefore, will be compelled to remain focused inwardly and regionally. Russia, drunk on oil, can cause trouble but not project power. “Therefore, the world will be a more disorderly and dangerous place,” Mandelbaum predicts.

Friedman (and Mandelbaum) appear to be arguing that the existence of any global superpower would be better than none. That may be true in terms of containing armed conflict. I don’t think it’s true in all global concerns, though. It seems to me that the United States has usually tempered its raw national self-interest with at least some concern for the welfare of the global community as a whole. I’m not sure China would so temper its own self-interest - although I suppose it might grow into that - and I am fairly sure Russia would not. As for Europe, I believe it probably would be concerned with global welfare but think that’s irrelevant since Europe seem to be permanently stuck in wimpy - although enough chaos in the wake of an American retrenchment might change that.

Still, it’s reassuring to see that someone who I think can accurately be described as Left (with a capital “L”) acknowledges the fact that the United States’ reign as superpower has provided benefits - “global public goods” - for other countries. He may not agree with me that this country has been unusually beneficent but it eases my mind to read the remainder of his column and find that he would, in fact, like for the United States to do whatever is necessary to stop its “descent from World Superpower”. Not only is it substantively reassuring, it also means I can dismiss Reclusive Leftist’s position as on the fringe and not have to abase myself after all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lovely spam, wonderful spam

Blogger is sorting some comments into the Spam bucket which is fine. It’s sorting some non-spam comments into the Spam bucket which is understandable. However, when it emails me about comments it is not warning me when a comment is sorted into the Spam bucket and that's neither fine nor understandable. This means I’ve been assuming the comments I’m emailed about have been showing up and so I haven’t been keeping up with un-spamming good comments as well as I should. I finally figured out this was going on and will be checking the Spam bucket more often - I’m hoping to remember to do it every day.

My apologies to anyone whose comments languished unread for too long.

Majestic equality

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. - Anatole France

And to drive gas guzzlers.

Jeff Jacoby has written a critique of last year’s Cash For Clunkers program. There were a number of problems with this program but the one that stands out for me is the one caused by the environmental aspect of Cash For Clunkers. In order to help the environment, the program required the destruction of the (perfectly usable) cars traded in when new cars were bought. This has reduced the supply of used cars and driven up the price for people who want to buy one. According to Jacoby, there should have been no question who would benefit and who would suffer as a result:

No great insight was needed to realize that Cash for Clunkers would work a hardship on people unable to afford a new car. “All this program did for them,’’ I wrote last August, “was guarantee that used cars will become more expensive. Poorer drivers will be penalized to subsidize new cars for wealthier drivers.’’

I have written before about a government program - outlawing incandescent lightbulbs - that is saving the environment on the backs of those who can least afford it. As I said then, I do not think either Michael Crichton or Aaron Wildavsky would be surprised at yet another example of the truth of Wildavsky’s conclusion that:

resilience is a better strategy than anticipation, and that anticipatory strategies (such as the precautionary principle) favor the social elite over the mass of poorer people.

(Via Greg Mankiw)

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Grim is hosting a discussion on “reasonably talk[ing] through the idea of limiting the franchise.” I won’t be participating - I explain why below - but I want to address a couple of points he made about my writing.

First, I was apparently unclear on principles and pragmatism. To me, a principle is something you stand by regardless of whether it benefits you or your “side”. If you truly believe women are temperamentally unfit to vote and you stand by that even if allowing them to vote would benefit you or your side, you are acting in a principled fashion. You’re a jerk but you’re a principled jerk. If, however, you believe women are temperamentally unfit to vote when their voting disadvantages you or your side but believe the opposite when their voting advantages you or your side, you are not acting on principle. “Pragmatic” was John Derbyshire’s word for his stance; I would have done better to use “opportunistic”. So a Democrat who states that he absolutely supports women’s suffrage because they lean Democratic is no more principled than a Republican who opposes women’s suffrage because they lean Democratic. To extend this to its logical conclusion, it will be interesting to see if anyone in Grim’s discussion comes up with principles for limiting the franchise that would eliminate him or herself from the pool of acceptable voters.

I do not, in fact, oppose any and all limits to the franchise. For example, I specifically referred to “non-felonious Americans” in one of my diatribes. The franchise is already limited by excluding - to greater or lesser degree - those who have committed a felony and I agree with that limitation (although I am not firmly decided on whether felons who have served their time should be able to vote).

It is this very agreement on my part that creates the danger for me in participating in this type of discussion. It would be remarkably easy for me to start with the premise that preventing felons from voting is reasonable and move to the argument that if I am content to take the vote away from those who chose not to obey our laws, why should I not go further and take the vote away from those who choose to engage in other activities I find objectionable? And, beyond that, to grant the vote only to those who engage in activities I find desirable? And to slide into what seems the only possible answer: “Well, okay, I guess it’s pretty much the same thing. So why not?”

Logic, especially logic that walks me from one innocuous step to another, is hard for me to resist even if my ultimate destination is no place I would have gone if I’d seen my destination beforehand. My beliefs about right and wrong don’t stand a chance against it.

Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element, and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess. The conversations were miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and the only thing `evolved from her inner consciousness' was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before, that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday.

She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and found him looking at her with the grimest expression she had ever seen him wear. He shook his head and beckoned her to come away, but she was fascinated just then by the freedom of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat, trying to find out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after they had annihilated all the old beliefs.

Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his own opinions, not because they were unsettled, but too sincere and earnest to be lightly spoken. As he glanced from Jo to several other young people, attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit his brows and longed to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul would be led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.

He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth--an eloquence which made his broken English musical and his plain face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo. The old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

(From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)


One of my recent posts regarding women’s suffrage received a comment from Kevin D. Williamson regarding the post of his that got me started on all this. I had planned to begin this apology post with, “Assuming this comment is truly from the Kevin D. Williamson who wrote the NRO article I referenced”. Once I thought about it, however, I realized I owed Mr. Williamson an apology whether he was the commenter or not.

First, I assumed that I knew the motivation for Mr. Williamson’s apparent distaste for the Nineteenth Amendment. As a very wise woman recently reminded me, I can’t know someone else’s motivation and should therefore assume the best rather than the worst. So I apologize for tarring Mr. Williamson with motives expressed by those at NRO who clearly advocate overturning women’s suffrage but not by him.

Second, I spoke of Mr. Williamson in terms I would never use to a “real” person. I thought that because my blog was very obscure and therefore Mr. Williamson would never see what I wrote, I could act as if there was not actually a human being behind his keyboard. (One of the things that makes me wonder if the Kevin D. Williamson of the comment is the Kevin D. Williamson who wrote the NRO post is that the commenter is far kinder to me than I would have been if I were the person who wrote the NRO post.) I apologize for insulting Mr. Williamson.

Friday, August 27, 2010

But what if it doesn't?

Douglas Schoen is advising Barack Obama on how to “secure his political future”. His advice basically amounts to “do what Bill Clinton did - at my urging - after the 1994 mid-term elections”. One specific piece of Schoen advice caught my eye:

Beyond that, the administration must emphasize that it understands the electorate's concern about fiscal prudence, the deficit, the debt and the need to balance the budget.

But what if the administration doesn’t understand any of this? Well, then, I imagine many consultants would say, the administration should lie and say they do. After all, maybe Bill Clinton was lying when he suddenly claimed to have seen the light in 1995. Good advice, I suppose - what else are they going to say at this point - but I see a problem with that strategy.

When Bill Clinton changed direction, it was possible to believe (accurately or not) that he had come to understand the electorate’s concerns. Maybe he actually considered us all rubes who were too stupid to understand the wisdom of his original plans but since he didn’t insist on referring to us as such we were able to believe that his change of heart was sincere. He had, we could convince ourselves, listened to the great wisdom of the American electorate and was swayed by their beliefs, their convictions, their understanding of what was best for their country.

That’s going to be a hard sell for the current administration. This administration is going to have to convince us that it’s listened to the great wisdom of a bunch of stupid, backward, racist wingnuts and been swayed by their idiotic beliefs, their small-minded convictions, their complete lack of understanding of anything and everything. Even the Obama of 2008 would have trouble putting that over; I can’t imagine how the Obama of 2010 would manage it.

(Both links via Contentions)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Other and the restriction of suffrage

In the aftermath of ”Unprincipled”, ”Six”, and ”Once more, with feeling”, there are two posts and one comment I believe are well worth reading.

The comment is by Cassandra at Villainous Company. It is one of the best descriptions of what it means to be “the Other” that I have ever read. Perhaps it is the very fact that Cassandra does not consider victimization to be either an art form or a political stance that makes this so powerful. One key sentence:

There is a common theme to wholesale disenfranchisement of entire classes of people.

It’s the August 25, 2010, 09:10pm comment on this post. Read it, skip all the other comments.

Deafening Silence has two old posts that cover the same topic. One, from July of 2009, is called ”They’re All Sotomayor Now”:

Daydreaming about denying voting rights to others is a very popular activity on political blogs.

The other, from October 2008, is called ”Yes, We Should Vote. ALL of Us.”:

In each of these cases, 'wiser' hands took the vote from the unworthy. In each case, the reasoning at the time seemed sound: unlettered men with no property to protect had no real stake in the new nation; women were too emotional; recently freed slaves couldn't possibly understand politics and Native Americans were not 'real' citizens.

If you do read through the other comments at the Villainous Company post, you'll see they're running toward considering who should - or rather who shouldn't - be allowed to vote. This is ironic in light of the oft-repeated conservative claim that Democrats are elitist snobs who think they know better than “the people”. At this point, we’d all do well to remember what Deafening Silence said in the comments to “Once more, with feeling”:

The ugly elephant in the room here is that there are a lot of people who only want people like themselves to vote. It's that simple.

I’m hard put to think of a better definition of “unprincipled”. And I'm also hard put to think of anything sadder than feeling the need to write posts defending the right of all adult, non-felonious American citizens to vote. What the hell has happened to us?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Back in June of 2006 2009, I wrote about how sad the House's passage of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill made me:

Still, this is just one piece of legislation so it took me a while to figure out why I felt so sad about it. It’s because this bill, more than any other passed or contemplated, makes me think that before too long - 25 years, 50, maybe 100 - the United States is going to look exactly like a Western European nation. Don’t get me wrong: many of them are nice places. But they seem awfully tame, awfully limited and I suspect the reason for that is their financial constraints. The Western European nations have built good lives for their citizens within the terms of their current circumstances but I don’t sense in them a vein of daring, a sense of limitless opportunity, a belief that more is always obtainable - all the faith in ambition that has always been the hallmark of the United States.

With Waxman-Markey, this country is putting its economic engine in Park and - if things don’t go perfectly - in Reverse. There will never be more; the best has already been. What could be sadder?

Today The Anchoress writes of the Obama Administration’s plans to “essentially turn fishermen into government employees” in the service of environmental issues and says:

It just doesn’t sound like America, at all. No liberty. No freedom of choice. You can choose to work for the government, as they permit, or not work at all.

And there is a weird lack of joy to it all, don’t you think? No fishing because you love it; because it’s in your family, and your blood and your culture and there’s nothing you’d rather do than captain your own boat and work for yourself.

None of that.

No joy, no independence; just the state.

I fear that we are becoming a nation that believes in, that trusts in, only what can be calculated and quantified. If the economic fallout from this government plan is deemed acceptable, no other factors need be considered. The elements that don’t fit neatly into spreadsheets and that we all once knew made our lives worth living and our nation, yes, exceptional - ambition, risk, family tradition, vision, optimism, and, yes, joy - don’t seem to fit into the picture anywhere. A gray world is a good world because then everyone and everything is the same.

It’s funny. The older I get, the brighter the colors I like. Perhaps a gray world is what those who are younger want and they will be perfectly happy when they get it. If so, better them than me. I am grateful that the America I grew up in and began to grow old in was clashing, vibrant, kaleidoscopic - and unlimited.

Once more, with feeling [Updated]

[Update: Please see this post for my apology to Kevin Williamson.]

Cassandra at Villainous Company is writing again about (sort of) the unprincipled Kevin Williamson National Review Online post regarding women’s suffrage. I started to comment over there and realized I was writing way too much for a comment so here’s a post.

First - and a point I also made in the comments at Grim’s - let’s stop pretending that Williamson has linked to a “joke” video about how girls or people or whatever are dumb enough to sign petitions they don’t understand or will sign anything they think is protest-y. The video Williamson linked to is entitled “End Women’s Suffrage” and the final frame reads, “We rest our case.” The video is explicitly advocating ending women’s suffrage. It requires the cephalic flexibility of Regan MacNeil to spin this video any other way.

Second, John Derbyshire. Cassandra is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt because of an NRO video is which he asserts that he believes equity outweighs pragmatism and therefore is not advocating for the repeal of female suffrage. Sounds good but this is a walk-back of Obamaian proportions. Leave aside that Derbyshire could have entitled his book sub-chapter, “Why Female Suffrage Is Bad For Conservatives” rather than “The Case Against Female Suffrage.” Where he really shot himself in the foot was in an interview with Alan Colmes the week before the damage-repair NRO video was made.

You can listen to the Colmes interview here. (The transcript in the post is correct but incomplete. There’s a full rough transcript at the bottom of my post.) Here’s the foot-shot from Derbyshire:

Among the hopes that I do not realistically nurse is the hope that female suffrage will be repealed. But I’ll say this – if it were to be, I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep.

The rest of it - that we’d probably be a better country if women didn’t vote because women “lean hard to the left” - can be explained away (not adequately to my mind but your mileage may vary) as Derbyshire merely pointing out - as he says in the NRO video - the “downside” to women voting. But the statement that he “wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep” if female suffrage were repealed is plainly and simply a statement that the “equity” he is careful to laud in that video is simply damage control. Or perhaps a statement that he is utterly unruffled by equity being thrown under the bus of pragmatism.

A later exchange is equally enlightening:

COLMES: What’s next? You want to bring back slavery?

DERBYSHIRE: No, no. I’m in favor of freedom personally.

COLMES: Okay, but women shouldn’t have the freedom to vote.

DERBYSHIRE: Well, they didn’t [for 130 years] and we got along ok.

Again, equity has nothing to do with it. The question is whether women not voting caused any problems. In Derbyshire’s view it didn’t, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Again pragmatism trumps equity hands down.

The logic here also escapes me. We could as easily argue that we got along okay with slavery - except for those pesky abolitionists - as we can that we got along okay without women’s suffrage - except for those pesky suffragettes. And I have to say, this is very discouraging. I’ve always believed - even when I leaned left myself - that those on the Left had trouble with logic while those on the Right did not. If Derbyshire is what passes for “the Right” these days, I’m going to have to give up on both sides in this regard. Here’s another example of Derbyshire’s very trying lack of logic:

COLMES: Well, you could say we got along okay with lots ... We didn’t have the Civil Rights Act and we got along okay. Should we repeal the Civil Rights Act?

DERBYSHIRE: The 1964 Civil Rights Act?

COLMES: Yeah, right.

DERBYSHIRE: There’s a case for repealing it, yeah.

COLMES: Why would you repeal that?

DERBYSHIRE: Because I think that you shouldn’t try to force people to be good. Try to reason with them and argue them into being good, not pass laws to make them good.

Leaving aside what one thinks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act*, we see that Derbyshire is fine with legislation to force women not to vote but flinches at the idea of legislation to force people to stop discriminating against Blacks. Perhaps he does not consider forcing women not to vote as an example of forcing people to be good. Or perhaps he doesn’t think women are susceptible to being reasoned with.

Which brings me to an excellent point of Cassandra’s:

I can't argue with anything Derbyshire has to say in the linked video, but it does make me wonder why a party that advocates both freedom of expression and unfettered markets hasn't bothered to ask itself how it came to lose women's' votes? It has become axiomatic on the right to blame feminism for everything from the heartbreak of psoriasis to the bedbug infestation in NY city, but if conservatism isn't selling well in the marketplace of ideas then perhaps conservatives need to take a long, hard look in the mirror rather than blaming the customer for not buying their product.

It's easy (though more than a bit reminiscent of lefty condescension) to opine loftily that women who vote progressive are voting against self interest. Such tactics relieve the arguer of the tiresome necessity of convincing women why this might be so, the self evidently self evident truth of the conservative Weltanschauung being downright impossible to refudiate.

On the other hand, making clear, principled, cohesive arguments that convince women that conservatism better represents their interests (not to mention those of society at large) sounds suspiciously like hard work. If feminism is such intellectual weak tea, one can't help wondering why we're having so much trouble demonstrating its flaws?

I suspect Derbyshire would argue that those on the Right can’t convince women that conservatism better represents their interests because women aren’t susceptible to reason: they’re all about wanting “someone to help them raise their kids”. Or as I like to call it: The She Trapped Me Into Marriage By Getting Pregnant Explanation of Voting Patterns. Myself, I tend to think that Derbyshire himself can’t convince women that conservatism better represents their interests because they suspect he doesn’t give a damn about their interests; we know for a fact that he doesn’t give a damn about their interest in voting.

Third - and finally, I hope - I imagine there are conservatives out there asking, “What is wrong with her? Why can’t she take a joke? Surely she must know know that no one is seriously suggesting repealing the Nineteenth Amendment!” And yet it’s NRO, home of Kevin Williamson, that keeps screaming, “Sharia is coming! Sharia is coming!” I’m afraid I don’t have much faith that my Lefty brethren won’t throw my right to vote to the, er, dogs of political correctness in order to pacify fundamental Islam. After all, I saw how the Boyz of Left Blogistan trashed Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. I’m not entirely sure my Lefty sistren wouldn’t do the same. Promise Naomi Wolf and Eve Ensler that repealing the Nineteenth Amendment means Sarah Palin can’t vote** and dollars will get you doughnuts they’ll be leading the charge. I already know at least one*** of my conservative sistren would throw my voting rights overboard with no more loss of sleep than Derbyshire.

Given all that perhaps those who think I’m humorless**** on this topic can better understand my feeling a little insecure about my right to vote. It’s not that I believe anyone is seriously advocating repealing the Nineteenth Amendment; it’s that I fear there are a substantial number of people (or at least pundits) who don’t consider women’s suffrage as inalienable a right as men’s suffrage. Given the rustling in the underbrush, I don’t find the lack of principle on this matter particularly humorous.


* Based on nothing but get feeling, I think it was a good idea when the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed but the Act itself and/or its offshoots may have outlived their usefulness. Someday I may write a post on what I think we should do with affirmative action.

** Based on Article Two, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution, I think Sarah Palin would be eligible to be elected President even if she herself could not vote. That might dampen Wolf and Ensler’s enthusiasm for repealing the Nineteenth Amendment.

*** Ann Coulter may or may not have advocated repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. This 2000 article by her is called “Reconsidering the 19th Amendment” but I don’t read it as a call to repeal women’s right to vote. This 2007 article says she did in an interview but the link to the “complete interview” doesn’t support that claim.

**** There is a classic Ms. magazine cover on which a man is saying, “Did you know the Women’s Movement has no sense of humor?” To which a woman replies, “No, but hum a few bars and I’ll fake it.”



I hate to intrude reality into Derbyshire’s view of voting patterns but in 2008, men went for Obama 49% to 48%. In 1992, men went for Clinton 41% to 38%. In 1976, men went for Carter 50% to 48%. Disenfranchising women would not have prevented any of those Democratic Presidencies.

Furthermore, women favored Nixon in 1972 (61% to 37%); favored Regan in 1980 (47% to 45%) and 1984 (56% to 44%); and favored George H. W. Bush in 1988 (50% to 49%).

Women went Democrat while men went Republican in 1996 (Clinton won); 2000 and 2004 (Bush won). So the only time since 1972 that disenfranchising women would have changed the outcome of a Presidential election is Clinton’s 1996 victory.


Transcript of the Colmes/Derbyshire interview:

COLMES: What is the case against female suffrage?

DERBYSHIRE: Well, the conservative case against it is that women lean hard to the left. They want someone to nurture, they want someone to help them raise their kids, and if men aren’t inclined to do it — which in the present days, they’re not much — then they’d like the state to do it for them.

COLMES: Well, then, do you think women should not vote?

DERBYSHIRE: Ah… I’m not putting forward a political program here. I’m trying to change attitudes, Alan, you know.

COLMES: Well, you say “The Case Against Female Suffrage” the suggestion is that them voting would not be the best thing for you.

DERBYSHIRE: Among the hopes that I do not realistically nurse is the hope that female suffrage will be repealed. But I’ll say this – if it were to be, I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep.

COLMES: We’d be a better country if women didn’t vote?

DERBYSHIRE: Probably. Don’t you think so?

COLMES: No, I do not think so whatsoever.

DERBYSHIRE: Come on Alan. Come clean here [laughing].

COLMES: We would be a better country? John Derbyshire making the statement, we would be a better country if women did not vote.

DERBYSHIRE: Yeah, probably. We got along like that for what, 130 years.

COLMES: What’s next? You want to bring back slavery?

DERBYSHIRE: No, no. I’m in favor of freedom personally.

COLMES: Okay, but women shouldn’t have the freedom to vote.

DERBYSHIRE: Well, they didn’t and we got along ok.

COLMES: Well, you could say we got along okay with lots ... We didn’t have the Civil Rights Act and we got along okay. Should we repeal the Civil Rights Act?

DERBYSHIRE: The 1964 Civil Rights Act?

COLMES: Yeah, right.

DERBYSHIRE: There’s a case for repealing it, yeah.

COLMES: Why would you repeal that?

DERBYSHIRE: Because I think that you shouldn’t try to force people to be good. Try to reason with them and argue them into being good, not pass laws to make them good.

COLMES: Should we repeal the Voting Rights Act?

DERBYSHIRE: Again, you know, a lot of these things that we think of and we’re told these goods came to us through government action. If you look closely, they were happening anyway. Attitudes were changing ...

COLMES: We had segregated buses, we had segregation, we didn’t have equal rights, equal schools before Brown v. Board of Education. Separate but equal didn’t work.

DERBYSHIRE: But the question is, was government action, was judicial action necessary to change that or was ...

COLMES: Well, apparently so, otherwise it might not have changed.

DERBYSHIRE: How do you know it would not have changed?

COLMES: Was it changing? Did it change ...

DERBYSHIRE: If you look at the trend lines, it was already changing.

COLMES: In other words, we didn’t need the Civil Rights Act, we didn’t need the Voting Rights Act, we didn’t need a decision Brown v. Board of Education to say separate cannot be equal. Everything would have been just fine had we not done any of this stuff.

DERBYSHIRE: We don’t know that it wouldn’t have been.

COLMES: But you don’t know that it would have been. But we do know that is was because these things did change, they were legislated, and it did have positive results, and that’s verifiable.

DERBYSHIRE: But liberals always leap to government action and then claim the government action did it. We don’t know that government action did ...

COLMES: We know that government action did it because there’s a line of demarcation since 1964 where thing things, having coming to, having come to pass, became law and changed America for the better.

DERBYSHIRE: There’s a test you can apply in all kinds of sociological situations called the trend line test where you plot a graph of any kind of social phenomenon, you know, road accidents or anything like that. You plot a graph of it across time and then you stare at the graph and you try to find the point where legislation kicked in and you know what? Much more often than not, you can’t.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Only tangentially related to that whole mosque thing

I’m not going to get into the Ground Zero Mosque/Park51 controversy directly. Everyone else has pretty much said everything that can be said. But I did like the second point in this Daniel Drezner post (via JustOneMinute):

2) I'm getting really sick of "the terrorists will win" line of criticism being levied against those wishing to prevent construction of the mosque. Over the past few days, I've seen bipartisan criticism of the mosque criticism along the lines of, "this line of argumentation is the best way to help Al Qaeda." [snip]

You know, I remember oh so many years ago the constant use of "if you say X, or criticize policy Y, or challenge official Z, then the terrorists win" kind of discourse. It was horses**t then, and it's horses**t now. I'll be damned if I'm going to see debate in the United States circumscribed because of fears of how Al Qaeda will react.

Cassandra at Villainous Company makes a similar argument but does it better:

I have read more frankly idiotic arguments on this subject than I can shake a stick at (and some good ones). But nowhere, yet, have I seen this point made: we do not teach tolerance by stifling debate.


In the end, no matter how angry we may feel in the mean time, we will express ourselves with words rather than pitchforks or suicide bombs. We are a big enough nation to do that.

Cassandra ends with:

Would that a few more of us remembered the very real difference between mere speech - even speech we dislike - and lawlessness and violence. This may well be the defining difference between the largely secular West and most of the Muslim world.

If we can't even understand that, how on earth can we teach it to others?

When I combine the two writings, I’m led to conclude that many of those worrying about how the debate will impact Al-Qaeda or the Muslim World do not understand why such debate is a sign of an open, healthy democracy. Perhaps it is that lack of understanding that makes some of them seek to stifle such debate in hopes of currying favor with others who do not understand it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Six of one, six of another

My original version of yesterday’s “Unprincipled” post on denying women the right to vote was longer than the one I actually put up. In that longer version, I went on to discuss what I believed was the larger issue:

The fact that some on the Right can entertain the notion of depriving women of the vote - even as a provocation, even only half-seriously - tells me that they don’t understand democracy any better than those on the Left. It’s also a small part of the reason why a Republican sweep in November won’t really mean much. Americans don’t hate the Left and love the Right any more than they hated the Right and loved the Left when they elected Barack Obama. We hate whichever side is in power, not because we’re all anarchists - or even Libertarians - but because it’s the side in power whose lack of principle is most obvious. Those out of power can proclaim their principles and promise to act on them; those in power can be clearly seen to act on no principles at all.

And I’m not entirely sure the much-ballyhooed Republican November sweep will actually occur. The more likely a Republican victory looks, the less principled the Right will sound. The only question is whether that lack of principle will become so obvious by November 2 that voters will simply decide to hate both sides equally.

Today Megan McArdle has up a post entitled, “Did Stimulus Work?”. Read the whole thing but here is her conclusion:

I'd like to think that had Democrats focused on alleviating suffering, rather than chasing "shovel ready" stimulus projects, Republicans might have gone along more easily. I have no reason, however, to think that this is actually true--any more than I have reason to think that Democrats would have seriously considered projects they couldn't plaster their names all over come election time. I am, in fact, extraordinarily depressed by the extent to which arguments over stimulus seem to be proxy wars over the permanent level of government spending, rather than serious attempts to address the problem at hand.

This is another piece of why a Republican victory in November - if it occurs - will not mean much. Neither party - neither side, Right or Left - is particularly interested in addressing what the voters want addressed and that becomes painfully obvious with regard to a party in power. Thus we are probably looking at a series of elections in which the only consistent result is to vote out whoever is in. This will go on until either power is so evenly split that government is deadlocked or a third party arises that is truly interested in addressing the problems the voters want addressed.

It is understandable that politicians wish to do good and to be seen to do good. Unfortunately for politicians in both parties, the voters are beginning to realize that our current crop of politicians is far more interested in the being seen than in the actual doing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Unprincipled [Updated]

[Update: Please see this post for my apology to Kevin Williamson.]

Happy Women’s Suffrage (one day late). Kevin D. Williamson at The Corner celebrated with a brief post entitled “ Some Things Do Not Get Better with Time”:

If I am not mistaken, today marks the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. A video tribute. (Also a tribute to the glories of American education.)

The link in Williamson’s post is to a video entitled “End Women’s Suffrage”. It shows a young man at Padua Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school, asking students to sign a petition to end women’s suffrage; about thirteen young women do in fact sign and approximately seven other young women are shown not objecting to or cheering for the petition. The video concludes with the message, “We rest our case.”

The makers of this video and Williamson seem to think this proves that even the brightest women are too stupid to vote. They are wrong. What the video proves is that somewhere between 2.2% (13 out of 600) and 3.3% (20 out of 600) students at an excellent private high school do not know the meaning of the word “suffrage”. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that at least that many students at an excellent all-boy Catholic high school would not know the meaning of the word “suffrage” either. Of course, that’s just a guess on my part because the video makes no attempt to see how boys would do on this “test”.

Among the general public, I’m pretty sure the percentage is even higher and this is not just a guess on my part. Those who made this video were careful to include a frame twenty seconds in that defined “suffrage”. The only reason they would have felt compelled to do so is to insure that their viewers could grasp just how dumb the girls in the video were. After all, it’s not so funny if you’re just another one of the idiots who has no clue what “suffrage” means.

I don’t know whether Williamson is too stupid to realize the video is meaningless or so unprincipled he doesn’t care. What I do know is that the murmurings on the Right about repealing the Nineteenth Amendment are disgraceful. This came up in the comments to a post at Villainous Company. The blog proprietress said:

As a woman (not to mention a woman who has voted solidly Republican) it is pretty depressing to read that the world would be a better place if I couldn't vote. It's even more depressing that no one seems to see anything wrong with that stance but I guess that's just the way it is.

To which I replied:

Yes, this is depressing. It's also puzzling. I find it hard to imagine a conservative blogger or commenter being applauded for even hinting that the world would be a better place if African-Americans (who vote overwhelmingly Democratic) or American Jews (who tend to vote Democratic) couldn't vote. This is a great mystery to me: Why are comments like this acceptable when they're made about women?

And that is, indeed, something I would very much like an answer to. (Those on the Left can feel free to provide this explanation so long as they also explain their sexist slurs against Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaigns.)

But beyond the sense of puzzlement over why it’s more acceptable to trash women than Blacks or Hispanics or Jews is a deeper concern: The argument that women shouldn’t have the vote is literally un-principled. The only justification for it is that if women couldn’t vote then conservatives would always win elections. That’s not a principle; that’s a corruption.

Those on the Right properly condemn those on the Left who sometimes seem to think that only the people who agree with the Left’s agenda should be allowed to speak. But at least no respectable outlet on the the Left has suggested that only the people who agree with the Left’s agenda should be allowed to vote.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hatchet job

I’ve seen some amazing selective quoting in the blogosphere. It’s not unheard of for bloggers to take phrases, sentences, whole paragraphs out of context and misrepresent what the original writer actually meant. Usually this is done to paint a writer the blogger doesn’t like as a rotten person or to make a writer with greater name recognition appear to agree with the blogger. That’s why my rule when I read something that doesn’t quite add up is “Always click on the link.”

Today I have seen possibly the most egregious such hatchet job I have ever encountered among respectable, reasonably mainstream blogs, certainly the worst from a respectable, reasonably mainstream blog on the Right.. Jennifer Rubin has written a post called “Smearing 68% of America” in which she cherry-picks quotes from Ross Douthat to prove Douthat has “suppress[ed] his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his own critical faculties.” Words fail me in attempting to describe how badly she has misrepresented Douthat’s column. Suffice it to say that not only is Rubin’s presentation of Douthat’s thesis dishonest, it’s also stupid since - hello - Douthat is on the same side as Rubin in this argument. Read Douthat yourself. And if I ever cite Jennifer Rubin, be sure to ask me if I clicked on the link.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last week and next week on This Week

I watched the first ABC News “This Week” show with Christiane Amanpour as the anchor. I have to admit I didn’t watch the interviews with Nancy Pelosi and Robert Gates. There’s nothing unusual in that: I rarely watch the interview segments on This Week preferring instead to watch the round table discussion and what follows.

I didn’t care for Amanpour. She seemed jerky and unfocused in the round table segment, reading from a list of prepared questions and not really responding to - or adjusting to - the answers she got. On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about Jake Tapper when he first took over the anchor’s chair either and once he got his feet under him I liked him a lot. So, yes, I would like Tapper back but I’m willing to concede - however grudgingly - that it’s too soon for me to write Amanpour off. And I can’t help but think it would be awfully nice if one of the Sunday morning political shows had a woman as an anchor.

I did hate the new not-at-all-round table used for the round table segment. It’s not just that it’s awfully ugly; it’s that it looks like Amanpour is screaming “I’m In Charge Here.” The participants don’t face each other; they face her. I suspect I should be grateful that someone prevented whoever designed the new set from going with what I imagine their first impulse was: setting up a lectern for Amanpour and those cute little chair-and-desk in one student arrangements for her guests.

And speaking of chairs, if Amanpour is going to continue to have Paul Krugman as a guest she’s going to have to find one and the accompanying whip to keep him from talking over those with whom he disagrees. I’ve tended toward this opinion for quite a while now but watching Krugman uncaged (so to speak) has convinced me that while he is an intelligent man, he has long since passed the point at which his ability to think coherently has been fatally damaged by his ideology. I do not believe he is any longer capable of seeing any facts that contradict his world view.

Almost all of us suffer from this to some extent, of course: we see and hear information that supports our beliefs and filter out or denigrate information that doesn’t. I think Krugman has gotten to the point where he cannot perceive any facts that contradict his beliefs and, worse, if you pointed this out to him, his response would be that no such facts exist. We’re all lucky he’s not an engineer.

And then there’s Amanpour’s change to the “In Memoriam” segment. Under George Stephanopoulos and subsequent anchors, the notable dead would be reviewed and then the moderator would say:

This week, the Pentagon released the names of [however many] servicemembers [or soldiers and/or Marines] killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The names of the servicemembers who had died would then appear on the screen. (I want to sidetrack here and say that I deeply appreciated the fact that no servicemember’s name ever appeared on the screen by itself so long as there was more than one death. If there were nine deaths, we saw three screens of names with three names per screen. If there were ten deaths, we saw two screens of names with three names per screen, then two screens of names with two names per screen.)

Amanpour changed the lead-in to this:

We remember all of those who died in war this week, and the Pentagon released the names of [however many] U.S. servicemembers killed in Afghanistan.

The change in lead-in is jarring simply because it is a change. If there had been no segment referring to United States servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and Amanpour had started one using the lead-in she used, I doubt it would have caused a ripple. It’s the fact that she elected to change the lead-in that raises the questions: Why did she do that? What message is she trying to send? Is she not showing proper respect to United States servicemembers by lumping them in with all the dead from all the wars in the world?

Tom Shales is particularly unhappy with Amanpour’s change and asks:

Did she mean to suggest that our mourning extend to members of the Taliban?

I think Shales is reading way too much into the change, jarring though it was. Amanpour made her bones as an international correspondent and I imagine that maintaining a non-United States centric image is going to be part of her schtick. Referring to all the war dead is part of her “I see the whole world” persona. She needs a new writer, though: the “and” in her lead-in verges on dismissive. She would have done better to use a brief pause in place of the “and”.

A new segment called Amanpour’s “Picture of the Week” made me chuckle. It was introduced as images of people all over the world trying to escape a scorching summer brought to us courtesy of global warming. But the pictures didn’t look like people in dire straits due to an environmental disaster; they looked like people having a lot of fun with summer heat and various forms of water. If this segment was supposed to convince us we were facing a fiery crisis, it failed miserably.

Finally, to return to the round table, I thought this exchange between George Will and Paul Krugman suggested a possibility for Amanpour’s next show:

WILL: Lest it be thought that Paul and I agree on something, let me...

AMANPOUR: Well, you might. Maybe this is a rarity today.

WILL: No, this is not the case, because Paul thinks the government is dangerously frugal at this point, and I do not think so. I side with people like Kenneth Rogoff at Harvard who say there is time for austerity, and this is it.

KRUGMAN: Well, you know, we can...

AMANPOUR: That's happening in Europe, as you know...


KRUGMAN: That's -- yes, I think Ken Rogoff is doing some damage here with some pretty bad statistics. But...

If Amanpour is as smart as her fans believe she is, she’ll invite Kenneth Rogoff on the show next week. If she’s really smart, she’ll face him off against Krugman in the interview segment. Even I might watch that one.

Monday, August 2, 2010


[I originally wrote this piece on June 10 of this year, hence the words “almost exactly” in the last paragraph.]

I have a very dear friend who is on the verge of a trip to Turkey as part of an interfaith group - which includes Jews. This means that despite my current reluctance to pay any attention to local, State, national, or world political situations, I have been drawn to some articles about the recent Israeli interdiction of the Palestinian flotilla. One of the items I read reported that Iran was “offering a naval escort for the next flotilla”:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

When I mentioned this to my husband, he asked - half-seriously - if perhaps Iran believed that President Obama was so busy with the Gulf oil spill that the United States wouldn’t pay attention to what Iran did. I don’t think that’s it at all.

I think Iran - and the rest of the world - believe that if Israel is destroyed and some or all of the Jews in Israel are killed, the United States will not do a damn thing. And I think Iran - and the rest of the world - are correct.

If Israel is destroyed and six million Jews die, most of Western Europe and an unfortunately large chunk of the United States will think three things:

1) Well, it’s a tragedy but the Jews brought it on themselves after all.

2) It’s too bad but at least we won’t have to worry about the Jews anymore.

3) Now the Arabs/Muslims/radical Muslims will love us and want to be friends.

They’d be criminally, heinously, and inexcusably wrong about the first thought. They’d be stupidly and naively wrong about the third thought. I suspect they’d be wrong about the second thought also. After all, destroying Israel and its citizens wouldn’t eliminate all the Jews in the world. There are quite a few in the United States, for example. And I would imagine that a fair number of the Jews left alive in the world would be very, very angry: angry at whoever did the destruction (Iran, the Arab nations, Pakistan); angry at themselves for not realizing the danger until it was too late; and angry at the United States for stepping back and allowing it to happen.

They’d get even angrier when they realized that with Israel gone their lives get worse. That would happen partly because so long as Israel exists there is a place where Jews who are mistreated can find sanctuary and an entity that can make life at least somewhat unpleasant for anyone who mistreats Jews in other countries.

But the lives of the surviving Jews would get worse mostly because in order for the people of the world to justify letting six million Jews die in Israel we would have to convince ourselves that the Jews in Israel didn't really deserve to exist anyhow. We could avoid that conviction after the Nazi atrocities because we could all claim we didn’t know, we never imagined, no decent person could possibly believe it was really happening.

We wouldn’t have that excuse if Israel was destroyed: we know, we don’t have to imagine, no decent person can possibly deny it happened before and could happen again. And if the Jews in Israel didn't deserve to exist, well, then what about the Jews who survive the destruction of Israel? Wouldn’t life for everyone on the planet be simpler, more peaceful, less angry if there just weren’t any more Jews anywhere? And I’m sure at least some of the angry Jews left in the world would give us all the excuse we need to argue that they, too, are bringing it on themselves. Perhaps I’m just getting old but it seems to me that the Western world is becoming far, far too comfortable with doing great harm in order to achieve what some believe will be a better life. For whoever is lucky enough to survive, of course.

Do I truly believe Israel will be destroyed? I don’t want to believe it; what decent person would? But for the first time in almost exactly 43 years I don’t consider it an impossibility. And that is terrifying, heart-breaking, and shameful.



Wikipedia - An accounting of the voyage of the MS (often SS) St. Louis during World War II. Pay particular attention to the “See also” section.

A Song for Helen - Deafening Silence on the rehabilitation of anti-Semitism. I find myself utterly bewildered by anti-Semitism. But then I find myself utterly bewildered by all forms of racial, gender-based, ethnic, and religious bigotry not so much because it’s immoral but because it’s so incredibly stupid. Exhibit A in this regard: Helen Thomas. Or, as my husband put it, surely if anyone is old enough to remember what happened to the Jews in Poland and Germany, it would be Helen Thomas.

Blind Hatred and “The Helen Thomas Treatment” - Villainous Company doing her usual excellent job. Warning: one graphic image in her discussion of how Germany and Poland treated Jews.

The First Cousin of Holocaust Denial - Jeffrey Goldberg. Notable quote:

While it is one thing (not a good thing, of course) to argue in euphemism for the destruction of Israel by invoking the so-called one-state solution, it is quite another to advocate for the "return" of Israeli Jews to their German and Polish homelands, not merely because such advocacy is almost comically absurd and cruel (or, at the very least, stunningly ignorant of recent European history) but because this argument denies to Jews what Helen Thomas, and people like Helen Thomas, want to grant the Palestinians: Recognition that they comprise, collectively, a nation.

And reading backward in his blog from that post provides some very interesting thoughts on the flotilla incident.

Helen Thomas and Peter Beinart - Opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal.

[These next links postdate my writing of this piece.]

Turning Tide - Everyday Glory on anti-Semitism, Israel, the flotilla, Charles Krauthammer, Comedy Central, intolerance, and the limits of The Washington Post.

Israel and the Surrender of the West - Shelby Steele writing in The Wall Street Journal.

The Nakba Obsession - A history lesson from Sol Stern in City Journal.