Bees in the Mouth

Thursday, January 20, AD 2011

All the recent hubub  about our political rhetoric led me to re-read a book by Peter Wood called A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. It was published in 2006, so at the time Wood focused mainly on the angry political rhetoric of the left.  He didn’t claim that political anger was solely a phenomenon of the left, but most of the examples of heated rhetoric came from left-wing sources. (This, by the way, is where I got that quote from Paul Krugman that I cited last week.)

At any rate, Wood concentrates on what he terms “new anger.”  He acknowledges that there has always been heated political argumentation, but that stylistically much has changed.  People worked hard to suppress anger – witness George Washington’s dedicated attempts to control his quick temper.  Now anger is celebrated.  It has become something of a performance art in our modern society, and we celebrate expressions of righteous anger.   As someone who titles his personal blog (tongue-in-cheekly) the Cranky Conservative, I can see the merits of his argument.

Though Wood makes many decent observations, there are two problems with his book. 

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2 Responses to Bees in the Mouth

  • Over the years, I’ve found that some folks feel that any sort of strong or critical remark is “mean-spirited” or “harsh” or “nasty”, as if rendering judgment on the logic of an idea or the veracity of an argument were was somehow an outright hate crime.

    I find that to be fairly common here in the rural Midwest. People put great store on being “nice” and not offending anyone. A person who’s conservative at heart will listen to Limbaugh (for instance) and come away arguing the liberal position — even if he himself was arguing Limbaugh’s side the day before. They feel a blunt, confident argument as an attack — usually not on them, but on someone weaker than them — and feel a need to defend against it.

    I’ve had conversations where I made the exact same argument someone else did, but because I couched it in wordy language (weasel words, sometimes) and sprinkled it with disclaimers, I got credit where the other person got condemnation. I’ve learned that if I’m going to talk about how bad the schools are, for example, I have to start and end with a disclaimer about how much I love teachers, my mom was a teacher, teachers are our future, blah blah blah. Otherwise, I can talk about grade inflation, indoctrination, sexualization, bullying — everything but the teachers — and all the person will hear is, “I hate teachers!”

  • Paul, there really is no difference between then and now except, as you suggest, we’re in a sound bite age where words travel much faster and the lack of time between expression and consumption does not allow for any amelioration. But consider, too, that angry language and accusations in the past often led to sword fights or gun duels for the sake of honor alone, which pretty much died out with the Victorian Age. Now there is a lot more shouting perhaps but after the obligatory huffing and puffing and public apologies and mea culpas, the media move on to more spats to cover.

    More recently, just as an example who can forget Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal nearly coming to blows during their famous debates — both of whom comported themselves as gentlemen otherwise.

    Interesting piece, Paul. Last word goes to Aldous Huxley, who once said, “Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; and thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of the demons.”

The Advantage of Ideology

Thursday, July 8, AD 2010

One of the main problems with politics is that it is complicated. Take, for example, the recently passed health care bill. The bill was over 2,000 pages. I haven’t read it. Neither, I imagine, have most of our readers (indeed, it would not surprise me if no single person has read every word of the bill, though obviously each of the bill’s many provisions has been read by someone).

Of course, even if someone had read every word of the bill, this would not be sufficient to have a truly informed position on it. To have a truly informed position one would have to not only read the bill but understand it. And to do that would require a great deal of knowledge about fields as complicated and diverse as the law, medicine, political science, economics, bureaucratic management, etc.

And, mind you, even if one were somehow able to master and muster all of this information, that would only entitle one to a have a truly informed position on that one bill.

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0 Responses to The Advantage of Ideology

  • I want to offer an alternative take on ideology. My starting point is the definition by the under-recognized genius of North American psychology, Silvan S. Tomkins.

    “Ideology is a tightly-woven set of ideas about things about which he can be least certain and therefore are most passionate.”

    What is the correct way to raise a child or a create a just and equal society? Are numbers discovered or invented.

    There are ideologies in all fields of human endeavor and we need to be as critical of our own ideologies as those of our opponents.

    Tomkins points out that all ideologies required faith precisely because of our inability to be certain.
    Thus there is the faith of the scientist and the Marxist, and the Christian.

    I think this approach is more fruitful and an accurate description of human affairs.

    Ideologies may be simple or complex whether of the right or the left. We are all ideologues. Pretending otherwise simply hides the rage and hate that is counter-productive to intelligent discussion and displaces them on to our ideological opponents.

    “We are rational; you are a destuctive ideologue.” This comes from both the right and the left. We need to debate critically all ideologies on their content, conservative vs liberal ideology.

    Let’s not pretend everyone of us without exception is an ideologue of a thousand ideologies about all sorts of things. We need to hold them lightly and critically lest we destroy each other with our unacknowledged and counter-productive passions, as Tocqueville has warned us.

  • Very interesting. Is there anything that can be done to get ideologues to realize the limits of their knowledge? Is there any way to get them to place their trust in people with more complex ideologies?

  • Excellent post here. I would elaborate on this further to say that, for the same reasons you find it impossible not to rely upon ideology/politics, I and others would find it impossible not to rely, at least to some extent, upon political action committees and lobbyists to advocate for the policies we favor.

    I know it’s practically de rigeur to decry the influence of lobbyists, PACs, etc. upon the political process — and don’t get me wrong, there is much that could be changed — but the bottom line is, lobbyists and PACs are simply individuals or groups who make it their full time job to track, advocate, and oppose legislation on behalf of other concerned citizens who don’t have the time, ability, or resources to do it themselves.

    Individual letters, e-mails, etc. are of course valuable, but the fact remains, if it weren’t for groups like the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, state Catholic Conferences or National/State (fill in the blank) Associations writing newsletters, sending out action alerts, organizing trips to Washington or state capitals, etc. we’d have an even harder time getting our viewpoints heard. Of course, “our” lobbyists are devoted, hardworking advocates but “theirs” are merely fat cats trying to buy influence 🙂

  • I agree wholeheartedly about the limits of ideology; but I’m skeptical about your bias towards action. Why must we form an opinion about every political topic? Is articulating an uninformed and ideologically biased opinion a more valuable contribution to the common good than a simple statement that one is not informed enough to comment? It seems to me that on-line, at least, we have no shortage of the former, and that the effect is hardly salutary.

    For example, I have an antecedent bias against the current financial reform bill; this is based on my work experience with Sarbanes-Oxley, and a number of textbooks and papers I’ve read over the years that suggest to me as a general matter that Congressmen are woefully ignorant on these topics and that their actions are likely to do more harm than good.

    At the same time, I have not read the current financial reform bill or even enough secondary commentary on the bill to form an educated opinion. I am certain there is some wheat mixed with chaff (even a blind squirrel finds an acorn, etc.). For that reason, I’ve elected not to form a strong opinion about the bill one way or the other because, while I have ideological presuppositions, I lack a firm basis for their application in this circumstance. Forming an educated opinion about something is hard work. And most people have neither the time or the inclination (and sometimes the intellectual ability) to put in that hard work.

    I think your defense of ideology is fine insofar as it acknowledges a basic truth about the limits of being human; we cannot learn and think through everything, and so we must rely on ideologies and authority as shortcuts for decision-making in every day life. But I don’t see why we shouldn’t insist on ideology plus knowledge for political discourse (as opposed to every day life) – without both knowledge and ideology political discourse is, in my experience, a waste of time. I only care that my accountant can do my taxes; if he’s a 9/11 truther or has ‘questions’ about Obama’s birth certificate, that’s not really my problem as long as he does his job well. A political commentator who expresses such opinions, on the other hand, is pernicious, and I’d rather he or she either learned their facts or stopped talking. To put the point too strongly, it seems to me you’re suggesting they should just keep spewing ideological nonsense on the grounds that ideology is necessary (I agree it may be inevitable that they will keep spreading nonsense either way; I’m just not sure it’s desirable). Why shouldn’t we insist that people take the time to form educated opinions before opining?

  • How do political principles fit into the understanding of ideology you present here?

    Do you think there is such a thing as a true political principle?

  • Zach,

    A good political principle is one that is true in most, but not necessarily all, cases. One could perhaps come up with examples of political principles that were true in all cases, but I suspect they would be either overly complicated or vacuous.

  • Given the definitions here, it seems to me that probably there is a happy balance to be found between ideology and partisanship, in that based on an a set of ideological principles which hold true most of the time, one accepts the judgment of factions or individuals who also accept those principles as to how to apply those principles to individual circumstances and whether to make exceptions.

    One other though, in regards to John Henry’s point: I’d agree that it’s sometimes advisable not to sound off too much about a particular issue due to one’s lack of specific knowledge, however, I don’t think that necessarily means supporting (or not opposing) a specific measure. Though, of course, that may in turn be another ideological distinction: broadly speaking conservatives following “when in doubt, don’t change anything” approach while progressives follow a “when in doubt, redesign and regulate” approach.

  • BA,

    When I read the title of your post, I immediately completed the thought with: “…is that it lowers the transaction costs of political participation.”

    I didn’t even have to read the article because all that economics ideology did it for me. 🙂

  • Though, of course, that may in turn be another ideological distinction: broadly speaking conservatives following “when in doubt, don’t change anything” approach while progressives follow a “when in doubt, redesign and regulate” approach.

    I think that’s right. I guess my proposed ‘shut up unless you’re fully informed’ standard is open to two pretty strong critiques (and I’m sure there are others):

    1) It’s unrealistic; that’s not how people operate and it might actually hurt the level of discourse (a half-informed BA is probably better than the vast majority of partisans out there). It requires some level of sophistication for a person to even realize how uninformed they are – and those are hardly the people we want to exclude.

    2) There’s little evidence that the politicians who enact legislation meet this standard; if the people passing the laws often are guided by crude simplifications and caricatures, it’s not clear that citizens should be held to a higher standard in critiquing their votes.

  • John Henry,

    I think the issue you are raising is the issue of democracy. Throughout most of human history societies have been governed by a small elite, which in theory possessed a greater level of ability than average and could devote more time to studying the subject. Over the past few hundred years, more and more people have come around to the view that you can’t really trust a small group to act in the interest of society as a whole, and that whatever is gained in terms of increased information by those in politics is more than outweighed by the risk of self-dealing. On the other hand, most societies don’t operate via direct democracy, so there is still a sense that some level of expertise among the policy makers is advantageous, though it must be kept in check.

    If you want to decrease the role of ideology in politics, you have a couple of options. One would be to decrease your reliance on democracy. That might mean more reliance on experts or other authority figures, or it might involve a more libertarian approach, where certain questions are left up to the individual to decide for him or herself.

    The other option is education. The more educated a populace, the more sophisticated their views are likely to be. I don’t think it’s an accident that the rise of democracy and the rise of education have gone hand in hand.

  • Pingback: Round Up – August 6, 2010 « Restrained Radical

Competing Magisteriums

Thursday, April 29, AD 2010

I give an incredulous salute to the liberal Commonweal for publishing a magnificent column by Kenneth Woodward where he discusses the New York Times Magisterium:

No question, the Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But that is not unusual with newspapers. What makes the Times unique—and what any Catholic bishop ought to understand—is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church. And the church it most resembles in size, organization, internal culture, and international reach is the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the Church of Rome, the Times is a global organization. Even in these reduced economic times, the newspaper’s international network of news bureaus rivals the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The difference is that Times bureau chiefs are better paid and, in most capitals, more influential. A report from a papal nuncio ends up in a Vatican dossier, but a report from a Times correspondent is published around the world, often with immediate repercussions. With the advent of the Internet, stories from the Times can become other outlets’ news in an ever-ramifying process of global cycling and recycling. That, of course, is exactly what happened with the Times piece on Fr. Murphy, the deceased Wisconsin child molester. The pope speaks twice a year urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world), but the Times does that every day.

Again like the Church of Rome, the Times exercises a powerful magisterium or teaching authority through its editorial board. There is no issue, local or global, on which these (usually anonymous) writers do not pronounce with a papal-like editorial “we.” Like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the editorial board is there to defend received truth as well as advance the paper’s political, social, and cultural agendas. One can no more imagine a Times editorial opposing any form of abortion—to take just one of that magisterium’s articles of faith—than imagine a papal encyclical in favor.

The Times, of course, does not claim to speak infallibly in its judgments on current events. (Neither does the pope.) But to the truly orthodox believers in the Times, its editorials carry the burden of liberal holy writ. As the paper’s first and most acute public editor, Daniel Okrent, once put it, the editorial page is “so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Okrent’s now famous column was published in 2004 under the headline “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and I will cite Okrent more than once because he, too, reached repeatedly for religious metaphors to describe the ambient culture of the paper.

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2 Responses to Competing Magisteriums

  • That’s a solid and well balanced piece.

    Which maybe explains why the majority of comments are incredibly negative over at Commonweal.

  • I can understand the negative responses of Commonweal readers. I am taking a course with my local diocese. Naturally 99% of what is taught is a variant of liberal (Enlightenmnet) Protestantism. Social justice for this course IS the Democratic platform.
    The teachers have been using the clergy abuse scandal to undermine the hierarchy. This to undermine official Church teaching. This scandal has been a useful club for liberals – of Enlightenment and American varieties.

David Brooks, Clueless Commentator

Saturday, April 24, AD 2010

My friend Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia takes the clueless David Brooks, a “conservative” commentator who endorsed Obama in 2008, to the verbal woodshed.

Check out David Brooks’ latest attempt at responsibility avoidance with this rich piece of Op/Ed mendacity:

… The center has been losing political power pretty much my entire career. But I confess that about 16 months ago I had some hope of a revival. The culture war, which had bitterly divided the country for decades, was winding down. The war war — the fight over Iraq and national security — was also waning.

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.

What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught…

Yeah, that’s it – “History happened”. What a bilious load of vomitous nonsense and absolute crap!

How about this for a REAL explanation, Mr. Pantcrease Admirer:

All the “post-partisan” posing was a lie. You KNEW it was a lie, but WANTED to believe the lie, so you CHOSE to believe it. You then aided and abetted the lie by writing glowingly of the “moderate” credentials of a man who had NEVER exhibited one iota of political centrism in his entire (albeit short and unremarkable) political career, all the while trashing the REAL centrist in the race who, ironically, you had up until then spent the previous 8 years heralding, fellating, and otherwise trying to foist upon the rest of us.

Meanwhile, all us yokels out here in Jesusland saw right through the lie and chose NOT to believe it. For that, you belittled us, called us a “cancer”, questioned our intelligence and intellectual curiosity, and treated us as generally inferior to your more sophisticated and urbane sensibilities. Maybe the “uneducated class” is a whole lot smarter and more politically astute than the coastal elites in the “educated class” give us credit for. At the very least, it appears that the riff-raff are a whole helluva lot smarter than you are.

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8 Responses to David Brooks, Clueless Commentator

  • Always loved this clip from Casablanca! Shocked, just shocked! Yep – I’m with the yokels out in Jesusland. And, I have to say, nothing Obama has done has shocked me at all. I fully expected it, just sad that I was right.

  • noooooo. if you keep putting up Casablanca clips I shall soon lose what little desire I have to study and instead watch Casablanca! Curse you and your temptations!

  • I read Brooks’ book “Bobos in Paradise.” His thesis in that book (published in 2000) is that the cultural radicals of the 1960’s melded with the economic conservatives of the 1980’s and produced “bobos.” “Bobos” is Brooks shorthand for “Bourgeois Bohemians”: the sort of upper-middle class types who follow the stock market, but accept things like global warming, “a women’s right to choose,” gay marriage, etc. I live in a neighborhood full of bourgeois bohemians. (I live in one of the few affordable housing units around these parts – just down the street from me there are mansions with Mercedes with Obama stickers plastered to them parked in the driveway – those folks are the bobos Brooks speaks of: they drive the Mercedes 3 blocks to shop at Whole Foods. I love my new home and am still astonished that I am able to afford this particular neighborhood, a block away from Lake Michigan. But during most of my adult life, I’ve been able to find good deals in ritzy urban neighborhoods – neighborhoods not filled with Republicans, but with wealthy liberals. OK, so I gave up my car to live here – but work is 3 blocks away. So I know the bobo breed well.)

    Brooks hates the culture wars. He wants those pesky socon issues, like abortion, to just disappear and go away and is very annoyed at socons who fret about things like pro-life issues, which Brooks can easily shrug off.

  • LOL Michael! Whatever you do, don’t click below!

  • “I fully expected it, just sad that I was right.”

    As am I Susan, although I am heartened by the fact that he is giving birth, inadvertantly, to a stronger conservative movement in this country.

  • “Brooks hates the culture wars.”

    He is on the side that is ultimately going to lose Donna so I can understand his distaste for them.

  • If you look at the occupational history of the 15 notables who ran for President in 2008, what hits you is that Barack Obama was the least prepared of them all to assume the office (though one might argue his judgment is less unreliable than that of Messrs. Gravel, Kucinich, or Paul). Given how little time he had put in as a working lawyer, he would have been a mediocre candidate for Attorney-General of Illinois (or for a municipal corporation counsel, while we are at it). His election to the Presidency is an indication that politicians are now merchandise. Not only was the general electorate snookered, people who likely fancy themselves informed and sophisticated observers of the political world (Brooks, Andrew Bacevich, Scott McClellan, Scott McConnell, Douglas Kmiec, Julie Eisenhower, David Friedman, John McWhorter) drank the Kool-Aid as well. To top it off, partisan Democrats (and Republican snot-noses like George Will) are wont to go on tears about the inadequacy of Sarah Palin, who has spent a dozen years of her life running public agencies. It is not just Brooks, it is a baffling collective addlement, the civic analogue to the housing bubble.

  • I’m sorry, why would anyone listen to David Brooks? He’s always given me the impression of a below par media personality desperate to be loved, especially in “respectable” circles.

    He’s the male Peggy Noonan, if you ask me. People like that are only moderate because they don’t really believe in much if anything and would rather go back to sipping sangria on the roof of a midtown skyscrapper.

Res et Explicatio for AD 2-4-2010

Thursday, February 4, AD 2010

[Update at the bottom of this post]

Salvete TAC readers!

Here are my Top Picks in the Internet from the world of the Catholic Church and secular culture:

1. The USCCB scandal continues as the U.S. bishops continue to issue denials of wrongdoings.

Mary Ann of Les Femmes blog asks why does the USCCB continue to cooperate with evil.

An interesting twist to this story is how the Boston Globe and New York Times covered the homosexual pedophile abuse scandal in the Church quite vigorously yet not one peep when the USCCB is caught red-handed with direct links to anti-Catholic organizations.

2. A great discussion about the origins of the phrase, “The Dunce Cap“, provided for a clarification by Friar Roderic.  He provided a video that explains the steady progression as a Protestant insult, ie, to call Catholic dunces for being aggressive in their Catholic beliefs, to the more secularized version which has turned it into a catch phrase for idiocy.

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The State of the Union Speech That Will Never Be Delivered

Wednesday, January 27, AD 2010

Here is the State of the Union Speech that will never be delivered:

“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, Distinguished Guests, my fellow Americans.  Each year it is a duty of the President to report on the State of the Union to the Congress.  Often these speeches have been mere feel good exercises, frequently containing little of substance.  Tonight is going to be different.  Tonight it is time for blunt truth.

America is a great and strong nation, but in many ways the State of our Union is troubled.  We have the worst economy in the last three decades.  Signs of recovery are few.  I could attempt to assess some responsibility for this poor economy to my predecessor, but that would be pointless.  You, the American people, are not interested in blame.  What you are interested in is improving the economy, and so far, under my watch, that has not happened.  I, in good faith, attempted to stimulate the economy through a massive stimulus bill.  Thus far the results have been meager for the amount of money spent.  Time for a course correction.  Beginning tomorrow I am going to hold meetings with the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress.  The economy is my number one priority, as it rightly is yours, and I am open to all ideas, from whatever source, to jumpstart the economy and return us to the path to prosperity.  If taxcuts and spending cuts are necessary to get the economy moving, so be it.  Whatever works is my watchword on this key issue.  To quote another President from Illinois, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.”  I am a Democrat, by the standards of many Americans a Liberal Democrat.  I’m proud of this, but I will not allow my adherence to certain beliefs to stand in the way of improving the economy.  Time for us all, past time, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, to work together to get out of this recession.    This is my chief concern and I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this task.

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23 Responses to The State of the Union Speech That Will Never Be Delivered

  • Yep Don.

    America will not hear your draft – unfortunately.

  • …still supporting the military industrial complex along with the foreign policy that contributed to the current conflicts, I see…

  • Still keeping us safe Anthony from the charming people that gave us 9-11 and who, unchecked, will give us a nuclear 9-11 one day.

  • Don,
    You fail to understsand. 9/11 was our fault. We had it coming. And when some nutjob detonates a nuke killing thousands of innocents, that will be our fault too. Just like AIDs, famines, and Anthony’s head cold. Well, that last one may be Bush’s fault.

  • That would be a pretty awesome speech.

  • Golly, Don, its not like our government ever did anything to them or their peoples… oh, wait…

    Your shallow paragraph of ‘foreign policy’ is essentially the neocon line. 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!

    The conflict, as you say, is not optional. But our strategies for victory and how we adjust our future diplomatic relations is very much so optional.

    Here, you just dig your heels in and ‘support the generals to the hilt’, whatever that is supposed to mean. Unfortunately it seems more and more often to ‘conservatives’ it means giving the military (and most importantly, their contractors!) whatever it wants.

    If there’s anything that bothers me most about this country’s path its her love affair with war. For some inane reason, war (the larger, the better) is the only way to defeat an enemy and if you do not agree, well then, you must be a wimp, a push-over, delusional, an America-hater or all of the above.

    I, in all sincere intellectual honesty, find my nation’s inclinations on the matter both self-destructive and— unchristian.

    What we blow up now, will inevitably blow up in our face some day down the road. And what will we do then? We will simply keep the violent circle going as we have for some time— wasting increasingly precious resources and irreplaceable lives.

  • Nope Anthony we’ve never done anything to the people in the Middle East other than pay them for their oil, most of which Americans discovered and built the infrastructure to remove, and made them the recipients of huge amounts of American aid, both public and private. We did stop certain Arab governments from exterminating Israel. If that bothers you, it does not bother me.

    The Jihadists that we fight are also the enemies of all muslims who wish to live in peace on this planet. The surge in Iraq was a sophisticated response to take advantage of this fact. I think such strategies can prove fruitful throughout this war.

  • Actually, the above economic interventions— excluding those that are genuinely of independent, private (and productive) origin— do bother me. Aid inevitably seeks to influence and potentially control, with less than sincere intentions. There are always strings.

    If, as you say, ‘the dogmas of the [hardly] quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present’, why not the same attitude in our foreign relations? Surely there are better ways to resolve differences than to only choose between bombs and bribes.

    Lord only knows how messy things are getting in places like Yemen and Pakistan of late…

  • Fellow Americans, I promised a lot of things when campaigning for president. Everything from closing Gitmo to getting us out of Iraq. I have thus far failed to deliver on just about everything except rescinding the Mexico City policy. I said that I would make the USA and the world a better place. I know, that is an apparent failure as well. However, I intend to make good on that promise tonight. Four hours ago I signed an executive order to have the body of President Reagan exhumed. In a few hours, he will be placed behind the desk of the Oval Office and a jar of jelly beans placed on the desk. I will sign an executive order making Ronald Wilson Reagan (Exp.) the President Pro Tempore. I will sign another executive order ordering having Speaker Pelosi’s face unstretched. Then I will resign the Office of the President of the Untied States. There, the world is a better place and it’s all because of me!

  • Zombie Reagan would get my vote!

  • Golly, Don, its not like our government ever did anything to them or their peoples… oh, wait…

    Nope Anthony we’ve never done anything to the people in the Middle East other than pay them for their oil,

    Maclin Horton has had for some years a joint blog with a postman from Ohio with whom he published a small circulation magazine back about 20 years ago. This fellow adheres to “Anthony’s” views. After a number of exchanges with this fellow, I have discovered that ‘what our government did to them [and] their peoples’ means…the State of Israel continues to exist.

  • I fail to see how cutting government spending is an essential part of getting our economy going. It may be necessary, but it will not serve to create jobs. And cutting taxes isn’t going to address the budget issues.

  • Cutting government spending Zak would help the economy by easing fears of investors that our current policies are taking us over an economic cliff. One reason why there is no recovery currently is that no one wants to spend money on new hires in such a fiscally uncertain atmosphere. Cutting taxes is a proven mechanism for jump-starting an economy but it does work against the goal, at least short term, of controlling government deficits.

  • I am certainly no expert on ME affairs, but it seems we have done a little more than just pay for their oil. Wasn’t Saddam supported by us at one point, and I am sure there were other various gov’t leaders that we supported who were less than savory or popular.

    Do you really think that any enterprise of any size, American, French, German or otherwise, would leave their sizeable investments in infrastructure (as you acknowledge) completely up to the whims of “the people”? Sorry, but I ain’t buying “all we did was pay them for their oil”. Getting that oil requires greasing some skids, and that gets dirty.

  • Would that we followed George Washington’s counsel on foreign affairs a little more, and George Bush’s a little less.

  • Anthony, C Matt, et al.,

    If it wasn’t for those peace loving barbary pirates that continued to attack our shipping vessels off the coast of north Africa, we would have never created a Navy!

    Damn it if we didn’t have it coming to us.

    We invaded their lake, ie, the Mediterranean, refused to convert to Islam and then dared to deliver commercial goods in their lake to non-Muslim shipping ports!

    We sure deserved being boarded, our men enslaved, and our women raped.

    Boy the things we do to offend Muslims!

  • “Wasn’t Saddam supported by us at one point,”

    During the Iran-Iraq war we gave limited satellite intelligence to the Iraqis, and limited weapon purchases to Iraq when it looked like Iran was going to swamp Iraq in the war that Saddam started. It was a wise policy. We didn’t want Iran to have sole control over the Gulf oil fields anymore than we wanted Saddam to after he invaded Kuwait.

  • Wasn’t Saddam supported by us at one point, and I am sure there were other various gov’t leaders that we supported who were less than savory or popular.

    Can you define what you mean by ‘support’?

  • Let’s also not forget our support (of the weapons and money kind) to the Afghans against the Soviets, who afterwards repaid us in kind by morphing into organizations like al Qaeda and the Taliban. One good turn deserves another I suppose…

    Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen… when will the madness stop? Don’t get me wrong, I pray that the governments in these regions would just roll over and play dead, at least that would suck dry the blood lust and paranoia at home. But some how I think doing that might have severe domestic consequences for them…

    …of course I neglected to mention the aspect of this ongoing ‘war against a tactic’ that bugs me most of all— its undeclared! Which of course gives our political class (always a moral and trustworthy lot) the freedom to constantly shift what ‘victory’ means, to say nothing of their justifications. Just look at what’s happened to the ‘anti-war’ left… turns out they don’t mind war so much after all…

    No, this whole mess stinketh to high hell and there is no end in sight. Bankruptcy, not politics, is the only thing that can stop it.

    And Tito… why should my objection to our policy translate into support (or cowardice) towards Muslim fascists? I want NOTHING to do with their mess. If they can ever get their act together and trade peacefully with no strings great, we’re open for business. If they’re more interested in converts and murder then not so much.

    It’s that simple. Going on a nation-building adventure is completely ludicrous. Any fruit that comes of it (that is not bitter) is decades away at incalculable cost.

    I do not object to a ‘strong national defense’. Thats crucial to our independence. What I’m objecting to, and questioning is whether our response is (a.) properly measured to the act of war perpetrated, (b.) undermining us economically (c.) eroding liberties at home, thereby burdening Americans to the benefit of the state and (d.) failing to combat the motivations for what has been done to us.

  • “I want NOTHING to do with their mess.”

    Then I assume Anthony you will cease to use oil imported from the Middle East, cease to ride on public or private transport fueled by oil from the Middle East, or work for an entity that uses Middle East oil. Many Americans would love to have nothing to do with the Middle East, but leaving aside the impossibility of that wish in an ever shrinking world, economically it simply is not possible.

  • Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen… when will the madness stop?

    What madness?

    I want NOTHING to do with their mess.

    They are not giving you that choice.

  • Under these current conditions, no it is not possible with regards specifically to oil… but all we want to buy is the oil… why the nation building? Having nothing to do with their internal difficulties does not equal not desiring their products.

    Additionally, we find ourselves reliant on said source of oil for a variety of OTHER sorts of interventions: on the environmental front and economic front here at home. Taxes, regulations and subsidies have all served to warp the free market, entrenching our need for oil as opposed to allowing the market and entrepreneurs to adjust to realities.

    Its not the ‘shrinking world’ that forces the confrontation, its the pressure of mounting government interventions both domestically and internationally abroad that place us between a rock and hard place.

    It has been clear for some time now that Middle Eastern politics is violent and unpredictable. Yet what has our government done to alleviate the situation aside from military response and damaging sanctions?

  • Its not the ’shrinking world’ that forces the confrontation, its the pressure of mounting government interventions both domestically and internationally abroad that place us between a rock and hard place.

    It is not excessive state intervention into economic life that induced Saddam Hussein to occupy Kuwait or that induced the Taliban to harbor a criminal organization with an allergy to skyscrapers.

    why the nation building? Having nothing to do with their internal difficulties does not equal not desiring their products.

    Conflicts with the Taliban and with the Government of Iran are not rooted in the discretionary policies of those agents not in our efforts at nation-building.

Previewing President Obamas State of the Union Address

Wednesday, January 27, AD 2010

[Updates at the bottom of this post as of 1-27-2010 at 4:20pm CST]

Victimhood personified by a modern liberal of the Democratic Party.  Where is Harry “the BUCK stops here” Truman?

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3 Responses to Previewing President Obamas State of the Union Address

  • I am sure he will discuss his spending freeze proposal. Supposedly, he increased government spending by about 25% but only plans to freeze about 4% of his spending.

  • Maybe you should go back and read Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s first state of the union addresses. Did they personify Harry “The Buck Stops Here” Truman? I think not. They talked about where the country wason the day they gave their speeches in terms of how the country had gotten there – in other words, they looked back. So, Reagan and Bush 43 must have been cases of victimhood personified by “modern” conservatives of the Republican Party, don’t you think?

  • Linda,

    They talked about America in general.

    They didn’t cite the previous president’s name and blamed him for all the problems that they were still having.

Quote of the Day: Irving Kristol

Saturday, September 19, AD 2009

Symbolic Politics and Liberal Reform, Dec. 15, 1972

“All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling,” wrote Oscar Wilde, and I would like to suggest that the same can be said for bad politics. . . .

It seems to me that the politics of liberal reform, in recent years, shows many of the same characteristics as amateur poetry. It has been more concerned with the kind of symbolic action that gratifies the passions of the reformer rather than with the efficacy of the reforms themselves. Indeed, the outstanding characteristic of what we call “the New Politics” is precisely its insistence on the overwhelming importance of revealing, in the public realm, one’s intense feelings—we must “care,” we must “be concerned,” we must be “committed.” Unsurprisingly, this goes along with an immense indifference to consequences, to positive results or the lack thereof.

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11 Responses to Quote of the Day: Irving Kristol

  • Would this characterize the ad hominem attacks on Americans from Pelosi and Reid?

    With their characterization of tea party protesters as Nazi’s, un-American, and violent?

  • And this would not characterize the “symbolic action” of a Republican legislators who successfully might get unborn children covered in the SCHIP program in their state legislatures and celebrate it as a hard-fought pro-life victory (which it is), but then they somehow neglect to mention they might have later voted to cut the budget of the program, which limits the number of recipients in the program, thus the number of pregnant women assisted, and thus the number of unborn children assisted in their great tribulation against abortion-minded forces?

    I’m not so sure if this problem is, the present concerns of health care aside, uniquely a “liberal
    problem. So while I would agree, I think it is unfair to assign this characteristic to one side of the political spectrum and not the other.

    Because of the issue is health care, I haven’t seen major analysis of a deep and abiding problem by the GOP or any real grass roots conservative movement to reform the health care system with market-based solutions in the 12 years the GOP was in majority.

    Would I assign this lack of action indifference? Perhaps not–at least not immediately. Therefore, I would not characterize the Democrats as “immensely indifferent” to the consequences of the actual proposal of health care legislation unless we knew for certain that all parties were actually in agreement about said-negative consequences.

    So I’m not sure if it’s a fair assessment, though I can sympathize with the sentiments.

    Additionally, I think there is no justification of ad hominem attacks across the board — period. So, yes, it might characterize Pelosi and Read — but I can’t see how this is applicable only to them.

    Moreover, to Pelosi’s defense, as I read it her comments about “un-American” protesters were not directed at the protesters. In its context, if I’m not mistaken–because I remember rolling my eyes at FOX when I was looking at the actual script–she said “drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”

    This is not necessarily an ad hominem against the person. And I’m not saying Pelosi is non-partisan. But all the screaming and yelling is really nonsense and really kills the actual debate — and opposing the reform discussion itself is what I think is what was being called un-American.

    So, I’m giving Pelosi the benefit of the doubt. I think her words were taken out of context and of course, as seen in most of this blog, sentiments toward her really don’t give leeway for benefit of the doubt or a second glance.

    Basically — a problem? Yes. Liberal only? Not in the slightest.

  • Tito,

    No, I think Pelosi’s remarks might represent a tendency to assume that no one would oppose one’s current agenda item except through ill will, but I don’t think it’s an example of what Kristol was talking about here.

  • Eric,

    Actually, I think the example you highlight with SCHIP serves to underline a major change in the “conservative” side of the political spectrum since Kristol wrote this in ’72. Conservatism at that point was pretty tiny, and consisted mainly of a great skepticism about the idea of progress and the possibility of achieving it through government programs — especially social programs. So for instance, Kristol may have been thinking about things like the War On Poverty — which many conservatives at the time predicted would have roughly the same consequences that the Gingrich/Clinton welfare reform sought to rectify.

    However, conservatives have since fallen prey to their own bouts of symbolic actions. Some anti-illegal-immigrant measures spring to mind — ones which send a message without actually doing much about immigration. So do some of the more pointless fights in the gun control area. And so do some pro-life bills.

    I guess I’d tend to think of this as being a case of “conservatism” becoming an ideology in a way that it wasn’t back in the 60s and early 70s — at a time when it was pretty nearly a mindset without a party. Some of that may be good. Straight up hesitation to change is not always the answer (the civil rights movement comes to mind — where MLK’s Letter From Birmingham Jail is basically an argument against taking a conservative “wait it out and don’t make waves” approach.)

    But it certainly means that there are quite a few in the “conservative movement” who would also be subject to Kristol’s critique here.

  • Tito,

    In person, I often speak in hyperbole as well. Understandable.

  • “Unsurprisingly, this goes along with an immense indifference to consequences, to positive results or the lack thereof.”

    I’d say that pretty well sums up the Welfare State.

  • I think this observation, accepting that I concur with the view that persons of many political and social persuasions behave thus, ties in nicely with my observation that specific examples of injustice do not carry the argument.

    Increasingly, I see people hold up particular injustices as a rallying cry for the change proposed. When objections to those changes are raised, other examples of the injustice are put forth without addressing the objections. And so the “discussion” goes – with no headway being made.

  • Have any of you read the book American Fascists by Chris Hedges?

  • Have any of you read the book American Fascists by Chris Hedges?

    I have not. And I must confess, the summary does not exactly entice me:

    From Publishers Weekly
    Starred Review. The f-word crops up in the most respectable quarters these days. Yet if the provocative title of this exposé by Hedges (War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning)—sounds an alarm, the former New York Times foreign correspondent takes care to employ his terms precisely and decisively. As a Harvard Divinity School graduate, his investigation of the Christian Right agenda is even more alarming given its lucidity. Citing the psychology and sociology of fascism and cults, including the work of German historian Fritz Stern, Hedges draws striking parallels between 20th-century totalitarian movements and the highly organized, well-funded “dominionist movement,” an influential theocratic sect within the country’s huge evangelical population. Rooted in a radical Calvinism, and wrapping its apocalyptic, vehemently militant, sexist and homophobic vision in patriotic and religious rhetoric, dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. Hedges’s reportage profiles both former members and true believers, evoking the particular characteristics of this American variant of fascism. His argument against what he sees as a democratic society’s suicidal tolerance for intolerant movements has its own paradoxes. But this urgent book forcefully illuminates what many across the political spectrum will recognize as a serious and growing threat to the very concept and practice of an open society. (Jan. 9)

    Among your recent reading? Did you find it enlightening?

    Personally, I’m rather down on that, “And I’ve just discovered that my enemies are even worse than I imagined!!!” style of book, whether written by the left or the right.

  • But just for kicks I went and read the opening. Underwhelming is perhaps putting it a little kindly.

Don't Negotiate, They're Crazy!

Monday, August 24, AD 2009

I made the mistake of following a link to a Frank Rich column this morning — an activity liable to cause lowed IQ, severe irritation, or in extreme cases, the gnawing off of one’s own arm. In an effort to channel possible side effects into a vaguely positive outlet, I hope that readers will forgive me if I revisit a topic that I already touched on once before: the increasing attempts by Democratic partisans to insist that the only people who could possibly oppose their agenda are evil, racist, gun-toting, potentially-violent freaks.

abc_rifle_protestor_090821_mnLike many of Rich’s pieces, this one is wandering and somewhat inarticulate. However, the basic thread is that the right as a whole is made up of violent extremists who should not be a part of the current health care debate in congress. In support of this, he points to the handful of 2nd Amendment activists who have been showing up at Townhall Meetings and other public venues in states that allows the open carry of firearms and exercising that selfsame right. This, he argues, proves that they are just like Timothy McVeigh (after all, one of them quoted Thomas Jefferson, who was also quoted by McVeigh), and to cap it all off some Republicans opposed counter-terrorism bills proposed in the wake of the OKC bombing. Got all that?

A couple things strike me about the unreasonableness of this line of thinking.

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13 Responses to Don't Negotiate, They're Crazy!

  • Darwin don’t be too hard on Mr. Rich. When Obama was elected with large Democrat majorities in Congress he, like much of the Left, thought that this was their final victory over conservatives. Instead, Obama is proving himself singularly unable to carry his agenda through Congress in the teeth of popular resistance. So what is Rich to do?

    He could write that Obama made a key mistake in attempting to shut out the GOP from his legislative initiatives, thereby ensuring that 40% of the country would be in automatic opposition. Another possible column might be that Democrats with such a large Blue Dog contingent have to learn how to compromise. Finally, Rich might tell his fellow Leftists that they should adopt an incremental approach and that bold schemes such as federalizing health care simply produce too much opposition to succeed.

    Of course, these type of columns would detract from the idea that Obama is a Leftist Messiah who will lead his followers to an unending political reign in an earthly socialist paradise. Thus we have Rich, rather than dealing with an unpleasant reality, writing another blame the Right column, which allows him and his faithful readers to vent emotionally, while doing absolutely nothing to address the fact that the Obama legislative agenda is taking on water faster than the Titanic.

  • I made the mistake of following a link to a Frank Rich column this morning

    I made the same mistake. I generally enjoy the give-and-take of partisan debate, but the last couple months have been depressing, and Rich’s column is just another salvo in the bitter recriminations following the health care debacle.

    Democrats think they’re on the side of the angels with health care reform. I think they’re right – at least as a matter of intention – but they’ve mismanaged it badly, and now are reduced to pretending as if it’s shocking – shocking! – that an amorphous and chaotic mess of a reform bill is being successfully mis-characterized by its opponents. It would be nice if they found a better outlet for their frustrations than writing shrill and incendiary op-eds, and it certainly would be better for the country. On the other hand, Republican partisans must enjoy seeing Democrats like Mr. Rich in such a state. The surest and fastest route to a Republican recovery is for the Democrats to convince themselves that it was evil Republican lies, rather than their own mishandling, that prevented health care reform.

  • On the other hand, Republican partisans must enjoy seeing Democrats like Mr. Rich in such a state. The surest and fastest route to a Republican recovery is for the Democrats to convince themselves that it was evil Republican lies, rather than their own mishandling, that prevented health care reform.

    There’s a sense in which it is perversely satisfying to see many Democrats consistently unable to understand that some people of good will actually oppose their program, but from such cheap victories come lazy habits.

  • Finally, Rich might tell his fellow Leftists that they should adopt an incremental approach and that bold schemes such as federalizing health care simply produce too much opposition to succeed.

    Yes, but what we are seeing is the incremental approach to federalizing health care. When Hillary the co-president failed, she said that they would have to take incremental steps. That’s what the idea behind expanding SCHIP to upper middle class adults was about. This is about that too. Remember the Barney Frank clip from a week ago, he’s all for federalized medicine but prefers this plan be pushed through as an incremental step.

    I don’t think anybody, left or right, sincrely believes this is actually a good or workable plan. Most on the left still want it as a step toward government control of HC, the less workable this plan is, the better for their objectives. Some on the left oppose it because they have no patience for the incremental approach, they want it all, and now. The rest of us oppose it because it’s not only a bad plan but we know where it’s leading.

  • but from such cheap victories come lazy habits.

    I admit I’m enjoying watching both parties flounder to some extent. My hope is that the end result will involve better access to health care for the chronically under-insured – and little else.

  • To be fair, I think Clinton Derangement Syndrome played some role in the coarsening of public discourse as well.

  • Fair point. And indeed, though it was a bit on my early end, there seemed to be a pretty clear Reagan Derangement Syndrome as well. I’m not really clear if Carter managed to inspire that kind of craziness. Nixon did — but then managed in many ways to deserve it as well.

    Come to that, I’m not sure there’s a real beginning to the trend. It may just be that after a certain point that kind of pop culture phenomenon fades into the background of historical awareness.

  • Jefferson was a crazed atheist, Adams a dangerous monarchist. Just ask the partisans that opposed them. I think every president since Washington has attracted extreme opposition, and by the middle of his second term even he was not immune.

    The advance of mass communications, especially the internet, makes it seem like we’re in an intensely partisan age, but this sort of bitterness has always been there. That said, I think Peter Wood makes a good case that perhaps anger is more intense now than ever before.

  • Come to that, I’m not sure there’s a real beginning to the trend.

    Robert Bork has said that there was a change in the culture of official Washington around about 1981. Larry Sabato identified 1966 and 1973 as salient punctuation marks in the evolution of the national press corps.

  • I don’t remember ’66. ’73 was pure anti-Nixon. ’81 pure anti-Reagan. I suspect if the MSM were more objective in their reporting on Obama there might be less aggressive displays by conservatives.

  • I became eligible to vote in ’81. Reagan Derangement Syndrome was very much extant, but I think things have gotten worse since. Reagan’s personal charisma, like Clinton’s after him, may have had the effect of toning things down a bit.

  • That in part is probably true. Obama’s charisma seems part real and part manufactured. That plus the “messianism” of his movement probably also contributes to the extremes of response.

  • Sabato referred to the period running from 1966 to 1973 as a sweet interlude. By his account, from about 1941 to about 1966, the national press corps had little critical distance from the politicians and government they covered. (Critics who read Katherine Graham’s memoir said one of the disconcerting elements was unselfconscious description of the incestuous relationship between the Kennedy Administration on the one hand and Philip Graham & Ben Bradlee on the other). In his view, from about 1973, the press was overtaken with unprofessional behavior. Nicholas von Hoffman has been critical of what he called “media Monovox”, but has also said that there was a lowering of standards of journalistic proof that began around 1973 and that the behavior of major newspapers during Richard Nixon’s last years in office was embarrassing.

    Bork has said that political life in the capital was adversarial but not vicious prior to 1981, and that was what changed.