— Liberalism —

January 21, 2013

Walter Russell Mead on the Future of the New England Tradition Everywhere

Carroll Andrew Morse

At his blog on the American Interest website, Walter Russell Mead describes a "New England" social tradition...

The New England tradition, rooted in Puritan experience and theology, wants a strong state run by the great and the good to serve as the moral agent of the conscience of the community. It is the duty of the state to make the people better, and without a strong and moral state to guide development and regulate behavior, the rich will become greedy and the poor will get lazy and fat....
Professor Mead also mentions some other American regional traditions in his essay, but hints that the future of America will pivot on the New England one...
Ultimately even the doughtiest New Englanders are going to accept the need for deep governmental reform. The American public is much better educated than it used to be and knowledge is much more widely available. It is simply no longer possible for an elite of technocrats in appointive offices and regulatory bureaus to issue decrees and have them obeyed. Prussian bureaucratic civil service models from the 19th century are too cumbersome, too slow and too expensive to handle much of the business of a 21st century information society. It is not possible to reconcile the desire of individuals to control their own fate if authority is centralized at the federal level; we will have to find ways to decentralize authority so that states and local jurisdictions can make more of the decisions that directly affect peoples’ lives.

At the moment, the deep emotional commitment of the New England school to blue model governance and social ideas — and the visceral hopes among some anti-New England types that the death of blue is the death of New England — gives a strange and ultimately not very useful cast to many of our national debates. We are trapped into debates between the advocates of spendthrift compassion (maintain Medicare and add new entitlements whether or not we can pay for them because they are needed) or cut budgets even though some of the services lost are, in fact, necessary for millions of people.

November 28, 2012

Good Intentions Gone Wrong, Part 2: The Welfare Cliff

Marc Comtois

Gary Alexander, Secretary of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ~ "The single mom is better off earnings gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income & benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045." (h/t)

Is it any wonder people have made the economic choice to be more "taker" than "maker"? We've incentivized it. Perhaps one step away from the "fiscal cliff" would be to take a similar one back from the "welfare cliff" by reducing the incentives (ie; benefits)? "Tyler Durden" has much more.

September 11, 2012

Things We Read Today, 8

Justin Katz

Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.

October 22, 2011

Putting Theory to Test

Marc Comtois
"Within every city there are people who freeload, who make people’s lives miserable. We just deal with it. We can’t kick them out."

In response to dissatisfaction with the...General Assembly, many...have adopted a new...model, which allows each working group to act independently without securing the will of the collective. “This streamlines it,” argued Zonkers. “The GA is unwieldy, cumbersome, and redundant."

“Someone has to be told what to do...Someone needs to give orders. There’s no sense of order in this f*****g place.”

Rhode Island politics? Nope. The evolution of order in Occupy Wall Street. Funny things happen when idealistic notions of "democracy" meet with reality. Which way is it evolving, though? Not listening to every voice?
explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. “And we’ve had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud.” Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. “The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out," said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.

But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.

“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music," said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it ... they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.”

To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest," he said. "They didn’t even give the drummers a say ... Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.”

Dictating when people can speak?
As the communal sleeping bag argument between Lauren Digion and Sage Roberts threatened to get out of hand, a facilitator in a red hat walked by, brow furrowed. “Remember? You’re not allowed to do any more interviews,” he said to Digion. She nodded and went back to work.

February 20, 2011

Columbia University Students Boo Wounded Iraq Veteran

Marc Comtois

It was just so convenient, wasn't it? Remember how we were told that ROTC didn't belong on college campuses--those havens of "free speech" and "tolerance"--because the military policy "don't ask, don't tell" was anathema to the aforementioned lofty tenets? Well, at Columbia University, they're showing what a convenient load of crap that all was. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

"Racist!" some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

Maschek, 28, had bravely stepped up to the mike Tuesday at the meeting to issue an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.

"It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting," said Maschek. "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."

Several students laughed and jeered the Idaho native, a 10th Mountain Division infantryman who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.

Yup, there's that tolerance.
More than half of the students who spoke at the meeting -- the second of three hearings on the subject -- expressed opposition to ROTC's return. Many of the 200 students in the audience held anti-military placards with slogans such as, "1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military."

In 2005, when the university last voted to reject ROTC's return, it cited the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

That policy was overturned in December, but resistance remains.

"Transpeople are part of the Columbia community," said senior Sean Udell at the meeting, referring to the military's current ban on transgender soldiers.

That's called "moving the goalposts", which I'm surprised they know about at Columbia, the perennial Ivy League Football bottom feeder. Glenn Reynolds warns that the sanctimonious brats better be careful, though:
[I]n these days of constrained budgets and an angry, aware electorate, heavily subsidized sectors like higher education — and Columbia, despite its private nature, is itself heavily dependent on government subsidies — should think twice about appearing anti-American. It’s not the 1960s anymore.
Far from it--though I know we've still got a few "dreamers" around here.

June 9, 2010

An Establishment Rebel in the State House

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick catches a telling rhetorical cliché in a column about state representative and congressional candidate David Segal (D., Providence) (emphasis added):

"I have a constituency in (his House district) that voted for me at a 70/30 rate over the years in primaries, and I think that I will be framed as a progressive as such," Segal said in fielding questions from journalists before Wednesday's event. "But I think the issues that I talk about, when people care to listen — banking reform, jobs, the environment, insurance reform and structural reform — are almost non-ideological issues at this point. They are things almost everybody agrees need to happen. I think people are fed up with the status quo and want somebody who has not been a political insider for his whole life."

Segal, 30, has been a politician most of his adult life, having served four years on the Providence City Council and four years in the General Assembly.

As somebody who comes from money, as I understand, Segal has gone through the Ivy League, served on a city council and in the General Assembly, started a blog, and is employed by a fellow State House Democrat. One doesn't get much more insider than that, at his age.

Segal argues that he's not "exactly accepted by the political establishment," but he's a political insider in a more essential sense than his connections clearly prove: almost nothing he has ever done — at least that would make the short-list biography of a columnist — involved action outside of government or (at broadest) a political movement with deep ties to powerful local forces. That's not entirely a slight — accomplishment is accomplishment — but it does speak to a perspective on what it means to "make it" that is antipathetic to the fading strain of American culture that so needs reinforcement at every political level, at this juncture in history.

May 11, 2010

The Anti-Information President

Carroll Andrew Morse

President Barack Obama, speaking this past weekend at the commencement ceremony at Hampton University...

And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- (laughter) -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.
...combined two of the uglier strains of thought that have succeeded over the past century in knocking the classical liberalism out of modern liberalism, namely...
  • That regular folks need to be protected from information because, unlike the elites who have had truth revealed to them, common folks cannot be expected to separate information that is important from information that is not, and
  • That the flow of information must be controlled in a way so that what does reach the people is in service of a proper revolutionary purpose.
Both the left and the center in this country really need to give some consideration to what it means for the leader of the free world to be telling college students that the free flow of information is dangerous to democracy.

March 22, 2010

The Fly Trap's Lure

Justin Katz

This thought, from a review of a posthumous book by Jean-Francois Revel by David Pryce-Jones (subscription required), strikes me as particularly timely, today:

A couple of years after Furet's book, six equally reputable scholars published The Black Book of Communism, detailing how the experiment of Communism had cost about a hundred million helpless people their lives. It fascinated and appalled Revel that this book, in contrast to Furet's, was not well received but criticized as unnecessary, "visceral" again, somehow too much. Revel's conclusion from this strange example of double standards was that freedom is too demanding for some people and they will hanker after Communism even though it has irrefutably demonstrated its moral, political, and economic bankruptcy. The Left, in short, still refuses to treat centralization, a command economy, and equality of social outcomes as the impediments to freedom that they are.

Freedom naturally entails a certain degree of risk, and there will always be those who prey on fear of that risk to gain power for themselves or desire, for charitable reasons, to prevent it in the first place. Humanity is so constituted, however, as to long for freedom, and using the force of government to restrain it in broad, comprehensive strokes will inevitably have consequences far greater than an individual's choices possibly can.

February 13, 2010

Hurting a Dedicated Constituency

Justin Katz

In an article about the ways in which Democrats' preferred policies hurt black Americans, Kevin Williamson emphasizes union racism and especially the minimum wage:

THE first answer many economists will give to that question is: the minimum wage. Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate who spent much of his career showing how government programs reliably end up hurting those they are intended to help, was scathing on the subject, calling the minimum wage "one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books." And he's not alone: Acongressional survey of economic research on the subject, "50 Years of Research on the Minimum Wage," has a string of conclusion lines that read like an indictment, the first three counts being: "The minimum wage reduces employment. The minimum wage reduces employment more among teenagers than adults. The minimum wage reduces employment most among black teenage males." Other items on the bill: "The minimum wage hurts small businesses generally. The minimum wage causes employers to cut back on training. The minimum wage has long-term effects on skills and lifetime earnings. The minimum wage hurts the poor generally. The minimum wage helps upper-income families. The minimum wage helps unions." Helping the affluent and high-wage union workers at the expense of the young, the poor, the unskilled, and small businesses: That amounts to a lot of different kinds of injustice, and it also amounts to a wealth transfer from blacks to whites. ...

And it's not just that the minimum wage prices some low-productivity workers out of the labor market: It's that it prevents entry into the labor market in the first place for the most marginal would-be workers. If Will the candy hustler's real economic output is worth $6.67 an hour, his implied wage on the subway, he's unemployable with a $7.25 minimum wage. He can sell candy on the subway, but he can't sell candy for Big Candy Corp., make connections, learn what it's like to go to an office every day and have a boss, get references, get promoted, and sign up for the tuition-reimbursement program. And that, not the paltry lost income of a minimum-wage job, is the price he pays. Very few American workers actually earn the minimum wage--about 1 percent, in fact--but the minimum-wage job is a gateway into the labor force for many young workers. The value of your first job isn't the money you earn from it: It's your second job, and your third. With the right experience and network, a candyman like Will can do well for himself. But without that first job, he has a much higher chance of becoming a statistical blip on the long-term unemployment charts than a middle manager at Hershey or a salesman at Cadbury.

Perhaps for reasons of length, Williamson doesn't even touch on the deleterious effects of liberal social programs (from the welfare state to easy divorce to abortion on demand) and extra-statutory principles (like identity politics) that have destroyed family structures in minority communities. If the Ku Klux Klan had called grand meeting in the middle of the last century to contrive a national conspiracy that would effect long-term evisceration of blacks' progress, the bigots could hardly have done so more effectively than the American Left.

January 26, 2010

Hurry to Pass Big Stuff Now and We'll Fix it Later (Promise!)

Marc Comtois

As I've pointed out, one of the arguments made by the Healthcarism advocates was that we must pass something, anything and "the warts can be removed later." Apparently, that attitude exists amongst global climate changistas, too (h/t):

Some researchers have argued that it is unfair to attack the IPCC too strongly, pointing out that some errors are inevitable in a report as long and technical as the IPCC's round-up of climate science. "Part of the problem could simply be that expectations are too high," said one researcher. "We have been seen as a scientific gold standard and that's hard to live up to."

Professor Christopher Field,director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution in California, who is the new co-chairman of the IPCC working group overseeing the climate impacts report, said the 2007 report had been broadly accurate at the time it was written.

He said: “The 2007 study should be seen as “a snapshot of what was known then. Science is progressive. If something turns out to be wrong we can fix it next time around.” However he confirmed he would be introducing rigorous new review procedures for future reports to ensure errors were kept to a minimum. {emphasis added}

Let's look at what I emphasized:
1) "...errors are inevitable in a report as long and technical as the IPCC's round-up of climate science.": Yes, it is a compounding kinda thing: the bigger the report, program, idea, the more likely there will be mistakes, oversights, fraud, waste, abuse....
2) "...the 2007 report had been broadly accurate at the time it was written.": Global Warming? That's soooo 2007. Good thing there was enough resistance to that "consensus" about the inevitability of global catastrophe. If we'd all marched along blindly, can you imagine the sort of already obsolete government regulations and restrictions we'd have had? (Hope I'm not speaking too soon...)
3) "The 2007 study should be seen as “a snapshot of what was known then. Science is progressive. If something turns out to be wrong we can fix it next time around.": There it is. Based on "what we knew then" we were harangued about the need for the massive imposition of "environmental" safeguards that will impact the global economy negatively. And we're assured that things will be fixed next time around--just like health care.

How confident are you that a massive governmental program will be flexible enough to integrate such "change" on the fly? Or that the political will is there to do it. (Social Security, anyone)? No, every time I hear promises about fixing problems down the line, I recall that infamous line from Animal House about trust. My guess, in the wake of the Scott Brown win, is that most Americans are a little wary of Big Government for much the same reason.

January 15, 2010

The Glitch in Progressive Software

Justin Katz

One sees an uncomfortable degree of reflection in Fred Siegel's article about early progressive author Herbert Croly. Here, for example, one can't help but see Rhode Island:

Croly hoped to see geographic representation, with its accompanying two-party system, replaced by syndicalist-style functional representation. In Croly's ideal, government would not be built around states (which would be dissolved into the federal authority) but organized in terms of "associations of businessmen, of farmers, and of wage earners ... of civic societies, voters' leagues, ballot associations, women's suffrage unions, single tax clubs and the like." Croly's goal has, in fact, been partly achieved, helping to cause the current fiscal crises of the deep-blue states. In California and New York, for instance, politics has been partly syndicalized, with virtual representation by racial interest groups and the public-sector unions to a degree displacing the old moderating ideal of geographic representation, under which a variety of interests had to be considered.

And here, we see the federal government:

In Croly's scheme, echoes of which can still be heard in demands to abolish the Electoral College, local parties and their bosses would be bypassed through plebiscitary democracy based on the ballot-initiative, referendum, and recall processes, with power concentrated in the hands of the national executive. The executive, in turn, would govern through commissions staffed by experts--an idea that endures in Obamacare. The commissions, in anticipation of the New Deal, would serve as what Croly called the "fourth department," or fourth branch of government. "The planning department of the progressive democratic state is created for action." What sort of action? "It plans," wrote Croly, with his customary vagueness, "as far ahead as conditions permit or dictate. It changes plans as often as conditions demand. It seeks above all to test its own plans, so as to discover whether they will accomplish the desired result."

That last part highlights the fatal flaw in the progressives' governance software: Sometimes what works — the necessary change to The Plan — is not to plan, not to regulate. Of course, planners who allow themselves to conclude that the society would benefit without their ministrations cease to be planners (and they cease to have the power progressives crave). Unfortunately, it's easier to sell supposed solutions than to encourage trust in each other and in the nature of the world.

January 13, 2010

Without Grounding, There Is Only Personal Preference

Justin Katz

Another founding father of modern progressivism described in the series of National Review essays that I mentioned yesterday is Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose repercussions in modern jurisprudence Bradley Watson describes thus:

There is a residual incoherence to the progressive jurisprudence that has followed Holmes. It alternates between two poles. On one hand, it expresses the desire to make decisions that are legitimate in the eyes of the community--decisions that respond to something like, in Holmes's words, the "felt necessities" of the age. On the other, it encourages decisions that oppose what it claims is illegitimate majority will. But neither pole is rooted in constitutional text, tradition, logic, or structure. Rather, they are both rooted in the judge's view of which necessities are most deeply felt and most likely to encourage social and personal growth. The practical result, in contemporary jurisprudence, is that art trumps economics, expression trumps the common good, subjectivity trumps morality, freedom trumps natural law, and will trumps deliberation. Such is the face of progressive jurisprudence, a face that now seems tremendously weather-beaten from its triumphal march of a hundred years' duration.

In sum, the preferences of an elite statist class, as inculcated in a given judge, trump everything. It's outcome first, reasoning post hoc, and there's no way to oppose it in common terms among countrymen, because the arguments aren't, as Watson says, rooted in anything. That is to say that the argument itself is a mere performance in support of a peremptory opinion.

January 12, 2010

Funny That Progressive Thought Hasn't Made Any Progress

Justin Katz

The current print edition of National Review includes a collection of pieces on turn-of-the-last-century founders of modern liberalism that are valuable not the least in the degree to which they shed light on current strains of thought on the Left (strains that seem not to have progressed very much, in the last hundred years). Although it does not appear to be in free online form, yet, subscribers can read Jonah Goldberg's article on economist Richard Ely here. Of particular note is the imagery that Ely offers with respect to a leftist understanding of how society should function:

"The nation in its economic life is an organism," he wrote, "in which individuals, families, and groups . . . form parts." Hence competition and self-interest are generally bad things, working against the tide of progress. After all, organs in the human body do not compete against one another, so why should organs of the body politic? History, like evolution itself, was moving toward greater social cooperation. And it fell to experts to decide how to advance that process. "A new world was coming into existence, and if this world was to be a better world we knew that we must have a new economics to go along with it." Not only did this vision provide a perfect rationale for empowering social planners, it necessarily consigned the rights and liberty of the individual to being an afterthought — hence Ely's advocacy of what he called "coercive philanthropy." If experts can glean which way social betterment lies, who is the individual to object? The job of the economist is not to consider discrete questions about how to, say, maximize productivity or measure discretionary income. It is to fix society in all its relations, right down to each individual. The goal of the economist, Ely believed, was to hasten "the most perfect development of all human faculties in each individual." Whether the individual wanted that development was irrelevant.

The equation of society with an organism ought to be more disturbing than it appears at first glance. For one thing, the statement that organs cooperate, rather than compete, is arguable. Each organ will attempt to draw to itself what it needs and absorb that sustenance until it is sated. The difference, from human beings, is that organs aren't exactly mobile within the body; they must await the allocations of more dominant parts of the body. Which brings us to the second thing — namely, that organs exist within a hierarchy. On a cold day, your body will draw heat, as necessary, from your feet in order to supply your torso and your head. (I recall an article from my youth titled "To Keep Your Hands Warm, Wear a Hat," or something similar.)

Think of the disruption to the body if the pinkie toe could move and took up the notion that it could be a heart or a brain. Thus do progressive planners think of society. Sure, they'll take care of each and every appendage, but every citizen must know his or her place, and not surprisingly, the planners themselves are confident that they belong in the skull, with its warm comfort, thick walls, and incomparable view.

October 14, 2009

A Nobel Prize to End the World

Justin Katz

Well, there you have it, from the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee:

Jagland singled out Obama's efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe.

"All these things have contributed to - I wouldn't say a safer world - but a world with less tension," Jagland said by phone from the French city of Strasbourg, where he was attending meetings in his other role as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.

"Peace" is all about the release of tension, it would appear. Tension for whom? Well, for global elites and bureaucrats, of course. The hand-wringing from which Obama has rescued them was starting to foster calluses. And this sort of thing can be sighed away as purely the background noise of international relations:

Clinton urged her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to work together on developing possible sanctions in case international negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program fail, said a U.S. official close to the talks.

But the Russian was cool to the idea, saying he was concerned about backing Iran into a corner, the U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive sessions.

Emerging from four hours of talks with Clinton, Lavrov told reporters that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" against Iran would be "counterproductive."

Time will tell, of course, but I'd argue that the Obama administration has made war and death on a massive scale much more likely. As has the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

October 5, 2009

To Win, Leftists Hide Views

Justin Katz

Isn't there something fundamentally dishonest about the sort of calculation that RI House Majority Leader Gordon Fox is making in his campaign for speakership?

... with one notable exception, he is guarded about where he stands on some of the more volatile issues the 2010 legislature is likely to face, including casino gambling, gay marriage and calls for the legislature to place itself back under the jurisdiction of the state Ethics Commission after a late-June decision by the Supreme Court left the commission's powers in question.

Shouldn't one's positions on all of the major issues of the day constitute the platform for any political race — especially for a current legislator seeking a powerful central post? If he isn't able to articulate his position, after so much time in office, then he's an incompetent boob, and if he thinks his intentions will sink his candidacy, he's a plain deceiver for withholding them. The statement — not unfamiliar in Rhode Island — becomes, "Elect me because I'm next in line, and I'll tell you how I'll govern after I've got all of my political protections in place."

This General Assembly — this state, politically — is unbelievable.

September 17, 2009

House joins Senate in De-Funding ACORN

Marc Comtois

The U.S. House of Representatives has joined the Senate in overwhelmingly voting to defund ACORN after recent voter fraud allegations and a grassroots undercover investigation revealed a willingness by ACORN operatives in various states to encourage breaking U.S. law. This follows a decision by the Census Bureau to bar ACORN from assisting in the 2010 Census. Yesterday, ACORN decided to shut down operations across the country to conduct an internal review.

Rhode Island Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin voted FOR the de-funding, joining their Senate colleague Jack Reed in voicing their displeasure with the progressive, grass-roots organization. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the only member of the Rhode Island delegation to vote against de-funding ACORN.

September 14, 2009

Pro-Prostitution Progressivism?

Marc Comtois

We've argued (for a while) for closing the loophole in Rhode Island law that enables indoor prostitution. It's an issue upon which conservatives, independents and some progressives have found common ground. For instance, Democratic Rep. Joanne Giannini and URI Women's Studies professor Donna Hughes are just two of several progressives who have kept the pressure on the General Assembly to close this loophole and get tougher on the related practice of human trafficking. Currently, the legislative effort is stalled in the Rhode Island Senate, though there are promises of movement.

Yet, not all progressives agree with closing the loophole. Some continue to oppose making indoor prostitution illegal, basically arguing that current efforts to close the loophole, if successful, will only further victimize those who have turned to prostitution. Though I don't agree with him on the issue of legalizing prostitution, Brian Hull has probably set forth the most cogent argument and, like other progressives, seeks to delineate between sex-trafficking and prostitution. (I do agree with Hull on some things, particularly when it comes to rehabilitating prostitutes. For instance, there has to be a better way to reduce recidivism than the fine-them-back-the-streets approach).

More recently, Hull has defended the practice of indoor prostitution ("Criminalizing Prostitution Will Be Very Bad for RI"), stating that:

...by criminalizing prostitution, the state sacrifices people’s personal freedom to engage in consensual commercial sex work in order to 'protect' a small number of exploited sex workers who could and should be protected using other mechanisms, but aren’t.
This argument is akin to that used by pro-abortion advocates: let's make abortion prostitution, safe, legal and rare. But this only works if we accept the premise that prostitution should be legal because, we are to further assume, it's a consensual commercial transaction between consenting adults and, for the most part, that will be the rule (not the exception) if it is legalized. The majority of Rhode Islanders--and the vast majority of people in the other 49 states--simply do not accept that premise. We can't escape the inherent seediness of someone selling their body for money. So, though they have tried, Hull and other progressives simply haven't been able to convince people that prostitution can be sanitized as something that can be made manageable and victimless.

But some pro-prostitution progressives will go much farther than advocating with the pen (or pixel). Over the last week, employees of the progressive organization ACORN in three offices (first Baltimore, then Washington, D.C. and New York) encouraged the setting up of bordello's--"indoor prostitution" businesses--and even lent guidance on how to avoid paying taxes, etc. Worse yet, they offered advice on how to engage in the illegal sex-trafficking of minors from places like El Salvador to the United States. It seems that, at least to these ACORN offices, prostitution and sex-trafficking are linked. And are to be encouraged.

July 21, 2009

NEA Leader Compares RI Revolutionary War Hero to My Lai War Criminal

Marc Comtois

I suppose when you've established a weekly shtick, you gotta keep doing it. Even when the source material is a Revolutionary War hero. So sometimes you overreach. Like comparing Rhode Island's own Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene to Lt. William Calley, the war criminal notorious for his role in the My Lai massacre. It might be even worse if you've made this comparison based on your own ill-informed, uncritical supposition based on an "appeal to authority" (something for which you often criticize others) to a snippet of context-missing history by a well-known partisan historian. Or maybe its worse that you advocate for the state's biggest education entity, the NEA.

Way to set an example!

In his weekly quest to harpoon his very own white whale, NEA's Pat "Ahab" Crowley has decided to deride the topic of Ed Achorn's latest book review/column, war hero Nathanael Greene.

Why not an editorial piece lauding the work of Lt. William Calley? Do you remember Rusty Calley? He led an operation very similar to one that Greene led during the Revolutionary War, though he doesn’t have any schools named after him (at least I hope not.) What was the operation that Calley led? You have probably heard of the My Lai massacre, right?

Well, Nate Greene described similar operations in his diary.

{Technically, I believe Greene described the events and the aftermath in a letter to Thomas Jefferson-ed.}

Crowley then quotes from Howard Zinn*:
Washington's military commander in the lower South, Nathanael Greene, dealt with disloyalty by a policy of concessions to some, brutality to others. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson he described a raid by his troops on Loyalists. “They made dreadful carnage of them, upwards of one hundred were killed and most of the rest cut to pieces. It has had a very happy effect on those disaffected persons of which there were too many in this country.” Greene told one of his generals “to strike terror into our enemies and give spirit to our friends.” **
Based on his reading of Zinn, Crowley wrote:
This wasn’t an attack on soldiers, by the way…..a “raid” on “loyalists” meant an attack on civilians. He cut them to pieces. Greene….Calley…..My Lai…..
Wrong. "Loyalists" in this context were male American colonists who enlisted in loyalist militias to fight for the crown. Not women and children. Further, while it is true that Greene noted in his letter to Jefferson that the affect of the "massacre" was beneficial in that it helped to tamp down counter-revolutionary actions, he didn't directly take part in the action, as did Calley at My Lai. In fact, Greene didn't even order the attack!

Zinn isn't the only one to have written about this particular incident. But first, here is some additional context. In late May 1780, before Greene took over command of the Continental forces in the south:

Cornwallis had detached a cavalry force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, by reputation hard and unsparing, to mop up the last remaining Continentals in that area, some 350 Virginians under Col. Abraham Buford. Tarleton's 270-man force had caught up with Buford's retreating soldiers on May 29 and quickly overwhelmed them. But when the Continentals called for quarter—a plea for mercy by men who had laid down their arms—Tarleton's troops hacked and bayoneted three-quarters of them to death. "The virtue of humanity was totally forgotten," a Loyalist witness, Charles Stedman, would recall in his 1794 account of the incident. From then on, the words "Bloody Tarleton" and "Tarleton's quarter" became a rallying cry among Southern rebels. {These events were dramatized in the movie "The Patriot."-ed.}

Following Buford's Massacre, as it soon came to be called, guerrilla bands formed under commanders including Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Each had fought in South Carolina's brutal Cherokee War 20 years earlier, a campaign that had provided an education in irregular warfare. Soon, these bands were emerging from swamps and forests to harass redcoat supply trains, ambush forage parties and plunder Loyalists. Cornwallis issued orders that the insurgents would be "punished with the greatest vigour."

It was a nasty portion of the war before Greene assumed command in December of 1780. He soon adjusted, which leads to the description given by Zinn, mentioned above. Here's another description of the event.
As Greene headed toward Hillsborough, members of his cavalry, commanded by Col. Henry Lee, surprised an inexperienced band of Tory militiamen under Col. John Pyle, a Loyalist physician. In an action disturbingly similar to Tarleton's Waxhaws massacre, Lee's men slaughtered many of the Loyalists who had laid down their arms. American dragoons killed 90 and wounded most of the remaining Tories. Lee lost not a single man. When he heard the news, Greene, grown hardened by the war, was unrepentant. The victory, he said, "has knocked up Toryism altogether in this part" of North Carolina.
Finally, here is another more critical and more contemporary account (from 1822) that also provided some context (this is a very descriptive account and warrants a fuller read):
Many a son, a husband, and a father, met with a most sudden and unexpected fate.

The soul sickens at such an instance of unresisted slaughter, and it has called down the severest animadversions upon the conduct of the American party. It is enough to be said of it, that there cannot be found such another instance of military execution inflicted by the American arms in the whole history of the revolution. Far be it from us to stand forth the apologist of unnecessary bloodshed. Yet two things cannot be denied, that the humanity of Pickens was proverbial, and that Colonel Lee was never charged with any other instance of unnecessary severity. Let the extraordinary peculiarity of the circumstances attending the affair be considered, and it will be difficult to point out how such an issue could have been avoided. The first blow would probably be decisive between the parties. Had the enemy been allowed time to deliver their fire, the cavalry would have been prostrated, and that event would have brought destruction upon the whole corps; for Tarleton would soon have been upon the infantry. Nor would the evil have stopped there, the dispersion of this party must have been followed by that of all the detachments on their march to join it. It is appalling to follow up the train of consequences.

In short, Lee stumbled into a group of loyalist militia and a battle ensued in whose aftermath loyalists attempting to surrender or flee were killed. Fighting men get carried away and nasty things happen in war.** And though he condoned the results, Greene had no direct part in the affair. Yet, lest we forget--according to Crowley--Greene is just like Calley. Hardly:
Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. ... Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.
It would be debatable to compare Lee with Calley, nevermind Greene. (Does this mean that everything Crowley does is directly attributable to Bob Walsh?)

All of this context makes Crowley's closing accusation against Achorn all the more laughable.

Your minimalist approach to the history of the founding of our country does it a disservice.
This from someone who approaches history as a means to a political end, regardless of the deeper facts and context....which he doesn't care about anyway. For Crowley, history is only valuable as rhetorical ammunition for his ideological shotgun. It doesn't matter if he misses the target, so long as he gets his shot off.


*Zinn is the favorite historian of many on the left and he is best known for his People's History of the United States of America. He is known for his openly-biased, non-sourced method of doing history. He likes to pull from hither and yon to make his larger ideological points, a method that leaves out important context regarding particular events. Further, because he doesn't include footnotes, he makes it difficult for other historians to check his sources for that context. This is well known in the history field (here, here and here). In other words, Zinn is an important historian (because so many people read him), but one that should be read very carefully: often with another history book for comparison. But hey, he's preaching to a choir member named Crowley who has an Achorn to roast, damn the particulars!

**Crowley left out this part while quoting Zinn: "On the other hand he advised the governor of Georgia 'to open a door for the disaffected of your state to come in...'" I wonder why he left that last sentence out. I guess such nuance would have grayed up Crowley's "Black Hat" caricature of Greene.

***There are several "massacres" recorded and all that I could find involve British troops killing American revolutionaries after they had surrendered (or in their sleep). There was at least one instance of British (and their Native American allies) killing non-combatants (the Cherry Valley or Wyoming Massacre). That doesn't mean there weren't instances of American revolutionaries acting similarly, it's just that a quick survey of sources didn't bring any to light. Though hardly an all-inclusive list, see Cherry Valley, Hancock's Bridge, Fort Griswold (in Groton), and the Baylor Massacre for a fair representation.

July 2, 2009

Anti-'Plantations' Campaign Ramping Up

Marc Comtois

Still talking about 'Plantations':

Supporters of a plan that would give voters in next year’s general election the opportunity to strike the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s formal name, launched a public awareness and education campaign Wednesday....Backers say there is much work to be done if they are to persuade Rhode Island voters that the word “plantations” conjures up enough negative images of the state’s involvement in the slave trade to warrant a name change.

“When I see that word ‘plantations,’ I start thinking about slavery. I start thinking about the injustices,” said Sen. Harold M. Metts, a Providence Democrat and a bill sponsor. “… It’s not about guilt. For me, it’s about healing.”

Does a top-of-the front page placement signify anything about the ProJo's willingness to help persuade the public about the proposed State name change? I won't recount the history again. I suspect many, like Justin, while ambivalent about it don't buy the reasoning behind the proposal (the ProJo poll on the matter is running 8-1 against the name change). I also think the Phoenix's David Scharfenberg asks a good question: What happens if (when?) the ballot question fails?:
"The big issue is, what happens if it fails?" said Maureen Moakley, political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "Where does it leave our notion of coming together and understanding? It could be divisive."

There is no polling data on the issue. But there is reason for proponents to be concerned.

When Rhode Island settled on its official name in 1636, the word "plantation" did not have the connotation it would pick up some two centuries later — it referred, more benignly, to the farms on the state's mainland. And there are early indications that a tradition-bound state could resist calls to change a name that was not intended to invoke bondage....Fear of rejection is already percolating in the state's small black activist community. "I don't want the people of Rhode Island to insult the advocates of racial justice — and that's what a 'no' vote would be," said Ray Rickman, a consultant who once served as a state representative and deputy secretary of state.

The reaction from Rickman is unfortunate, to say the least. That the majority of Rhode Islanders voted for a black President trumps any such talk. If a majority of Rhode Islanders rejects the removal of 'Plantations' it won't be because they want to "insult the advocates of racial justice." It will because they recognize an exercise in political sophistry when they see it.

June 27, 2009

One Needn't Guess at the Results of Progressive Policies

Justin Katz

Glenn Reynolds points to a Wall Street Journal editorial that is well worth a few moments of your time. (Those in Rep. Ray Sullivan's Coventry may be relieved to learn that it's available online.)

President Obama has bet the economy on his program to grow the government and finance it with a more progressive tax system. It's hard to miss the irony that he's pitching this change in Washington even as the same governance model is imploding in three of the largest American states where it has been dominant for years -- California, New Jersey and New York.

A decade ago all three states were among America's most prosperous. California was the unrivaled technology center of the globe. New York was its financial capital. New Jersey is the third wealthiest state in the nation after Connecticut and Massachusetts. All three are now suffering from devastating budget deficits as the bills for years of tax-and-spend governance come due.

These states have been models of "progressive" policies that are supposed to create wealth: high tax rates on the rich, lots of government "investments," heavy unionization and a large government role in health care.

Lacking the time, just now, I'll have to rely on general experience, but I'd be surprised if Rhode Island weren't right up there with these three states on the various lists that the WSJ puts forward as evidence for its thesis that progressive policies are harmful to the entities foolish enough to pursue them. Our local progs would be better positioned to opine on this than would I, but the detrimental outcomes seem to me so predictable that the engaged citizen may wonder whether the harm is intentional.

June 21, 2009

The Liberal's Tempered Perspective

Justin Katz

The first thing to note about Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne's after-dinner speech at the Portsmouth Institute's conference on William F. Buckley's conservatism is his mention of something that struck me for the duration of the event: namely, that religious life does not preclude real life, much less intellectual life. Stream, download (52 sec). Experience with the monastery and admiration for the monks, Dionne said, saved him "from a sometimes popular and always foolish prejudice against men and women of faith."

That perspective brings into relief the difficulty of Dionne's task at the conference, as the lone liberal speaker in the program as well as an alumnus of the school, a personal friend to many in the audience, and an ideological dissenter handed a microphone at what was, after all, a multiday tribute to WFB. Still, I would have preferred his going a good bit further in challenging his audience, because the debate that he might have sparked would have exposed a more comprehensive picture of what Buckley actually accomplished.

Dionne described, for example, what he takes to be "the many contradictions of contemporary conservatism," and the messiness and continual threat of collapse that such composition implies: stream, download (47 sec). Missed in his convenient observation (for a liberal) is, first, that reality itself is messy and seemingly self-contradictory and, second, that Western civilization itself is more a brilliantly contrived pile of loose stones than a solid monolith. He speaks of conservative fusionism as an idea that "never fully cohered" without apparently seeing that an ideology that would accurately address the world as it stands must necessarily involve an organic process of adjusting to infinite semblances of incoherence in the universe and human nature.

Of a piece is Dionne's characterization of Buckley's conservative counterculturalism as a paradox: stream, download (46 sec). Dionne describes Buckley's work as a reaction to the stultifying conformity of the '50s, but he seems not to understand that the objection to "middle of the road qua middle of the road" is that making moderation a goal is not only incoherent, but points to emptiness.

WFB's accomplishment, in this regard, is that he manifested the age's aesthetic preference for rebels but pointed it toward an intellectual structure concerned, at its soul, with a higher order, compared with the deliberate (and selectively beneficial) chaos underlying the prescriptions of radicals.

May 31, 2009

How the Moderate Enables the Liberal

Justin Katz

David Brooks's recent column on judicial empathy is a wonderful example of the method by which moderates enable liberals. He begins with a strawman that in no way bears scrutiny:

The American legal system is based on a useful falsehood. It's based on the falsehood that this is a nation of laws, not men; that in rendering decisions, disembodied, objective judges are able to put aside emotion and unruly passion and issue opinions on the basis of pure reason.

Oddly, his very next sentence is, "Most people know this is untrue." If that's the case, perhaps Mr. Brooks should reconsider the accuracy of declaring the entire system's "basis." At the very least, some red flags ought to go up: It isn't accurate as a statement of our nation's founding, or else the Founders wouldn't have bothered interweaving the judiciary with the system of checks and balances. It isn't accurate as a statement about complaints against "judicial activism," which is made comprehensible by the fact that those who do the complaining don't promote the development of a system (one can imagine software) that takes the judgment out of judging.

By packing straw within reasonable-man's clothing, however, Brooks attempts to smuggle through an issue about which there would be some argument: that ours is a "nation of laws." His mechanism, here, is to present a definition of that phrase and to declare it false, while the substantive debate is over what the phrase means. I'd suggest the definition that our laws — not our personal histories, pedigrees, or credentials — set up the boundaries within which we should, as is unavoidable, rely on our human intellectual messiness. For his part, Brooks indulges in the falsehood that such plausible and necessary ideals are not ideals, but strict rules that may easily be proven to be impossible.

Thus, when he puts forward a perfectly banal observation about the process of decision making, he gives it the embellishing air of deconstructing a philosophical pillar of Truth (which, by the way, "most people know is untrue.")

The decision-making process gets even murkier once the judge has absorbed the disparate facts of a case. When noodling over some issue — whether it's a legal case, an essay, a math problem or a marketing strategy — people go foraging about for a unifying solution. This is not a hyper-rational, orderly process of the sort a computer might undertake. It's a meandering, largely unconscious process of trial and error.

The mind tries on different solutions to see if they fit. Ideas and insights bubble up from some hidden layer of intuitions and heuristics. Sometimes you feel yourself getting closer to a conclusion, and sometimes you feel yourself getting farther away. The emotions serve as guidance signals, like from a GPS, as you feel your way toward a solution.

Then — often while you're in the shower or after a night's sleep — the answer comes to you. You experience a fantastic rush of pleasure that feels like a million tiny magnets suddenly clicking into alignment.

Notice the transition of Brooks's subject from "the judge" to "you." He's shooting for a moment of recognition in the reader — an "oh yeah, I've felt that." At the other end of the transition, the author slips in what is likely subconscious legerdemain: "The crucial question in evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice, therefore, is not whether she relies on empathy or emotion, but how she does so." He's made us sympathetic to the process and now applies it to his specific topic so as to slip right past the significance of evidence that's already on the table, such as Sonia Sotomayor's view of legal indefiniteness, her use of the language of identity politics, and President Obama's view that "one of the roles of the courts is to protect people who don't have a voice."

Brooks's column, in short, skirts the relevant questions. He states that "Sotomayor will be a good justice if she can empathize with the many types of people and actions involved in a case," but he doesn't engage in the debate over whether that looks likely to be the case. He restates the "crucial question" in such a way as to brush aside previous attempts at an answer.He ends the piece by hearkening back to wise conservatives of yore, with the implication being that those participating in the particular current debate on the potential Supreme Court justice are drifting from those roots.

It makes a cartoon of conservatives to presuppose that we don't understand the limits of our humanity. If anything, conservatives focus on them and, as Brooks ought to know, construct our philosophies of governance around acknowledging them. In the case of the judiciary, we raise up the principle of objectivity — the rule of law — and encourage a system whereby the sides nominate judges who will strive to achieve that ideal, with some missing the mark to the left and some missing it to the right.

In the hands of "moderates," such strategies skew by virtue of their presentation. Aesthetically, modern "centrists" lean toward liberalism and so will tend to construct their obvious, nice-sounding abstractions in such a way as to elide the left's extremism while making the right's mainstream seem dogged and extreme. The end result is an expression of the truism that perfect balance and compromise is not realistic, which ultimately cedes to the liberal argument that factors outside of our shared system — be it legal, political, or social — ought to predominate.

April 18, 2009

American Hate Groups Exposed!

Justin Katz

There may really be reason for concern about terrorism among domestic hate groups:

After Tancredo entered the room, protesters kept him from speaking by shouting insults and holding a sign declaring “no dialogue with hate” in front of his face. Tancredo waited calmly while protestors held the sign and chanted…

After protestors exited the hallway, Tancredo spoke for about two minutes before a protestor outside the building banged on a window, shattering the glass.

Tancredo was escorted out of the room by police after he deemed the situation too volatile, Young said.

Protesters proceeded to chant “We shut him down; no racists in our town” and “Yes, racists, we will fight, we know where you sleep at night!”

They'll know much more detail than that once the Department of Homeland Security is done gathering information on people who hold those threatening conservative beliefs.

April 8, 2009

When the Dictator Branch Takes Over for the Representative One

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy puts it well:

Courts are not there to resolve national controversies, to stand outside and above the United States. They were created as a sub-section of government to remedy individual injuries, and they were given no power to enforce their judgments. That, indeed, is why Hamilton (in Federalist No. 78) anticipated that the judiciary would be the "least dangerous" branch: It would be "least in a capacity to annoy or injure" the "political rights of the Constitution." In fact, the law of "standing," which addresses what grievances litigants may bring before courts, teaches that the more a controversy affects the body politic rather than the individual citizen, the less appropriate it is for judicial resolution. It is for just such controversies that we have political rights.

We're on track to cede our rights of self-governance to a global judiciary supported by an aristocracy of bureaucrats. Needless to say, we'd be better off if the cart were derailed.

April 4, 2009

The Fundamental Dishonesty of an Antidemocratic Movement

Justin Katz

If one knows the history of the same-sex marriage debate, the opening paragraph of this editorialized report in the DesMoines Register strikes an odd note:

Basic fairness and constitutional equal protection were the linchpins of Friday's historic Iowa Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage and puts Iowa squarely in the center of the nation’s debate over gay rights.

The redefinition of marriage in Iowa took a peculiar path, indeed, beginning in 1996:

  1. The Supreme Court of Hawaii declared a right to same-sex marriage.
  2. Although the state legislature ultimately circumvented the court, the federal government passed the Defense of Marriage Act to limit the ruling's implications for other states.
  3. Individual states, including Iowa, passed laws affirming that marriage is definitionally a relationship between people of opposite sex, typically with the intention of securing the protection of the public policy exception interpreted to exist to the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. In essence, if a state explicitly does not recognize same-sex relationships as marriage, the Constitution cannot force it to treat as valid a same-sex marriage enacted in another state, so states like Iowa made their understanding of marriage explicit.
  4. The Iowa judiciary has taken that statutory affirmation of preexisting principles as an occasion to redefine marriage in the state according to the judges' preference.

In a direct way, the judges of Hawaii exported their activism across state lines not in spite of laws designed to prevent such a thing, but because of those laws. The process does nothing so clearly as illustrate the extent to which democracy is becoming an (at most) dilatory control on the implementation of the social system preferred by the powerful. All that is required is for the powerful to couch their diktats in some mutable principle introduced in a high-level legal source (e.g., the Constitution); the most common such principle is "equal protection," but there may be others that are as yet unexplored.

In an interesting conversational thread on RI Future, commenter Brassband points to this mechanism when he questions the following sentences from the Iowa court's ruling (PDF, page 16):

The process of defining equal protection, as shown by our history as captured and told in court decisions, begins by classifying people into groups. A classification persists until a new understanding of equal protection is achieved. The point in time when the standard of equal protection finally takes a new form is a product of the conviction of one, or many, individuals that a particular grouping results in inequality and the ability of the judicial system to perform its constitutional role free from the influences that tend to make society’s understanding of equal protection resistant to change.

As a matter of grammar, what the court argues, here, is that a society may consider groups to be different in some legally allowable way until a particular individual or several individuals perceive discrimination and take the matter to the courts, and the judges — "free from the [social] influences" under which we ordinary humans labor — declare in their favor. Rhode Island College professor Thomas Schmeling subsequently puts that perspective in the company of a fundamentally sacerdotal yet "well-respected theory" that judges rule based on hunches that are justified in the fact that a jurist "not only has his/her own preferences but is also acquainted with constitutional principles, precedents, the views of other (and higher) court judges, so it's not totally subjective." Schmeling goes on to state the matter in terms of his own take:

... I think the Court here is actually making a sensible point, one which which you may well agree. Here's my read:

1. The legislature creates a classification. (let's use bans on interracial marriage as an example). That classification will remain until two things happen:

a. somebody becomes convinced that the classification creates an inequality (one that violates equal protection) and challenges it in court.

b. A court invalidates it.

Now, the legislation presumably embodies society's understanding of what "equal protection" requires, which (as in the case of bans on interracial marriage) may be nothing more than its irrational prejudices. If the courts do nothing more than reflect that understanding, it will never find any classification violative of equal protection and the court will have failed to fulfill its duty. (Do you agree so far?)

If the legislature's/society's judgement/prejudices accurately reflect the principle embodied in the Constitution's equal protection clause (state or federal...there might be a difference)...there is no problem.

However, if the legislature's/society's judgement departs from an accurate understanding of equal protection, that's a problem. To do its job, the court must obviously get beyond this judgement. To do this, the court must be "free from the influences that tend to make society's understanding of equal protection resistant to change". That is, the court should not simply reflect the views of the people and/or the legislature, it must uncover the "true" principle behind the equal protection clause, and use that principle to judge the classification.

If the members of the court simply say "I think equal protection clause should embody MY prejudices", I think we'll agree that the court has departed from its proper role.

If, on the other hand, the Court adopts a principled interpretation of the clause (which must, of necessity be independent of the prejudices of the judges AND of the prejudices of the legislature/society), the court has fulfilled its proper role.

Consider for a moment who has been excluded from the interpretation of equal protection's "'true' principle": the judges' personal views don't apply, the relevant legislators' personal views don't apply, the people's personal views (as expressed democratically) don't apply, and certainly the personal views of those who penned the Fourteenth Amendment back in 1868 don't apply. So from whence — by whom — is it determined that the true meaning of the equal protection clause requires that the true meaning of marriage be something other than what it has always been understood to be — a relationship between men and women?

Ah, there's the nub. The reality is that, like the interstate process of bouncing judicial rulings, the whole thing is a performance to enact the preferences of an elite class as written into the "hunches" of judges. On the page following the above quotation, the Supreme Court of Iowa states:

The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans.

The whole dance — costumes, streamers, stage props, and all — is a distraction from the truth that the "particular class of Iowans" are not excluded by "state action," but by definition and by the way in which they choose to live their lives.* They are excluded by the fact that humankind has recognized a natural distinction of the intimate relationships into which men and women enter and sought to guide those relationships in the direction of social health — as understood not through contrived experiments, but by centuries of observation and social evolution — through an institution called "marriage," which it acknowledges and privileges as something unique.

Our nation's founders pursued representative democracy as a means of layering social control such that the most basic and profound questions would not become subject to immediate battles of power, but would require engagement of the process and efforts toward persuasion. Progressives' broad-based campaign has been to corrupt process for their own ideological benefit, and it will spell calamity whether the masses respond with a forceful expression of the only forms of power that remain to them or by stepping back and watching their civilization collapse out of an aversion to conflict.

* I am not invoking, here, the "homosexuality is a choice" declaration. I'm merely pointing out that — quite reasonably — homosexuals opt to form their lives around their affections rather than a traditional family structure.

April 3, 2009

There's No Socialism in America – Except Where There Is (And That's Why We Should Want More?)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo columnist Froma Harrop provides what I think is an excellent snapshot of contemporary liberal logic on the subject of "is the government turning socialist?"

You see, according to Ms. Harrop, there really isn't any move towards socialism in American government…

Princeton economist Alan Blinder reasons: “Socialism means public ownership and control of business, right? So which industries does the president propose to nationalize?”

None that anyone has noticed. Obama’s economic team won’t even nationalize the broken banks. But that doesn’t matter. The S-word can signify anything conservatives want it to.

And besides, socialism is already here in certain sectors of the economy…
By the way, socialized insurance has already established a beachhead on our shores. Ever hear of Medicare?
So we needn't fret about creeping socialism, because nobody wants it and because it's already here even though it doesn't really exist.

Got it?

March 13, 2009

Life on the Plantation

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was established by Royal Charter in 1663:

Because titles to these lands rested only on Indian deeds, neighboring colonies began to covet them. To meet this threat, Roger Williams journeyed to England and secured a parliamentary patent in March 1643-44 uniting the four towns into a single colony and confirming his fellow settlers' land claims. This legislative document served adequately as the basic law until the Stuart Restoration of 1660 made it wise to seek a royal charter.

Dr. John Clarke was commissioned to secure a document from the new king, Charles II, that would both be consistent with the religious principles upon which the tiny colony was founded and also safeguard Rhode Island lands from encroachment by speculators and greedy neighbors. He succeeded admirably. The royal charter of 1663 guaranteed complete religious liberty, established a self-governing colony with local autonomy, and strengthened Rhode Island's territorial claims. It was the most liberal charter to be issued by the mother country during the entire colonial era, a fact that enabled it to serve as Rhode Island's basic law until May 1843.

To this day, the official name of the state is still the state of "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations", though the last half of the name has been forgotten by just about everyone for a very long time. Basically, the full name has been relegated to nothing but an interesting piece of trivia: the littlest U.S. state also has the longest name. So no one really thinks much about it. Well, except a few who want to officially drop the "Plantations."

Continue reading "Life on the Plantation"

September 24, 2008

Milking It

Marc Comtois

PETA's latest crusade is aimed at those paragon's of ultra-conservative, right-wing, free-market capitalists....Ben and Jerry. What did they do wrong? Well, milk does come from cows and, in the eyes of PETA, Ben and Jerry just aren't towing the ideological line close enough, I suppose. But PETA has a solution!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., urging them to replace cow's milk they use in their ice cream products with human breast milk, according to a statement recently released by a PETA spokeswoman.
Huh. Let's set aside the, oh-I-don't-know, craziness of it all and imagine what kind of manufacturing reconfiguration, workforce retraining and supply chain modifications this would take.

September 19, 2008


Marc Comtois

Sen. Joseph Biden, September 18, 2008:

“We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle class people. Anyone making over $250,000….Is going to pay more. You got it. It’s time to be patriotic, Kate. It’s time to jump in, it’s time to be part of the deal, it’s time to help get America out of the rut.”
Alexis de Tocqueville:
The evils that freedom sometimes brings with it are immediate; they are apparent to all, and all are more or less affected by them. The evils that extreme equality may produce are slowly disclosed; they creep gradually into the social frame; they are seen only at intervals; and at the moment at which they become most violent, habit already causes them to be no longer felt.

The advantages that freedom brings are shown only by the lapse of time, and it is always easy to mistake the cause in which they originate. The advantages of equality are immediate, and they may always be traced from their source.

Political liberty bestows exalted pleasures from time to time upon a certain number of citizens. Equality every day confers a number of small enjoyments on every man. The charms of equality are every instant felt and are within the reach of all; the noblest hearts are not insensible to them, and the most vulgar souls exult in them. The passion that equality creates must therefore be at once strong and general. Men cannot enjoy political liberty unpurchased by some sacrifices, and they never obtain it without great exertions. But the pleasures of equality are self-proffered; each of the petty incidents of life seems to occasion them, and in order to taste them, nothing is required but to live.

August 6, 2008

Our Loss of Memory

Donald B. Hawthorne

Jonah Goldberg writes about Forgetting the Evils of Communism: The amnesia bites a little deeper:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is dead. Peter Rodman is dead. And memory is dying with them.

Over the weekend, Solzhenitsyn, the 89-year-old literary titan, and Rodman, the American foreign-policy intellectual, passed away...

What I admired most in both men was their memory. They remembered important things, specifically the evil of Communism. And, perhaps nearly as important, they remembered who recognized that evil and who did not.

Rodman, for example, was an architect of the Reagan Doctrine in places such as Angola and Afghanistan. One of his books, More Precious Than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle for the Third World, was the quintessential defense of thwarting the Soviets in ugly spots of the globe where Americans were understandably reluctant to spend blood or treasure.

In Berlin on July 24, Barack Obama’s history of the Cold War sounded cheerier. There was a lot of unity and "standing as one," and we dropped some candy on Berlin, and now we need to be unified like we were then.

But unity was hardly the defining feature of the Cold War. There were supposed allies reluctant to help and official enemies who were eager to do their share. There were Russians — like Solzhenitsyn — who bravely told the world about Soviet barbarity. Here at home, there were a great many Americans, including intellectual heirs to the "useful idiots" Lenin relied on, who rolled their eyes at self-styled "cold warriors" such as Rodman. And from Vietnam through the SANE/Freeze movement, liberal resolve and unity were aimed most passionately against America’s policies — not the Soviet Union’s...

But it’s worth remembering how evil Communist governments really were. Stalin murdered more people than Hitler...The Black Book of Communism, a scholarly accounting of communism’s crimes, counts about 94 million murdered by the supposed champions of the common man (20 million for the Soviets alone), and some say that number is too low...

In 1974, when the New Yorker reviewed Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, George Steiner wrote: "To infer that the Soviet Terror is as hideous as Hitlerism is not only a brutal oversimplification but a moral indecency." When Ronald Reagan denounced the "evil empire" — because it was evil and it was an empire — he too was accused of absurd oversimplification.

The real brutal oversimplification is the treacle we hear from Obama, that victory in the Cold War was some Hallmark-movie lesson in global hand-holding. The reality is that it was a long slog, and throughout, the champions of "unity" wanted to capitulate to this evil, and the champions of freedom were rewarded with ridicule.

"This is the moment," Obama proclaimed, "when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday." Rodman and Solzhenitsyn understood that such talk was dangerously naive. People free from the "shadows of yesterday" forget things they swore never to forget.

Solzhenitsyn and Rodman are gone now, and a generation that learned such hard lessons is leaving us too quickly. The amnesia bites a little deeper.

May 28, 2008

"What life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution"

Marc Comtois

Rebecca Walker (h/t Freeman Hunt), daughter of feminist Alice Walker, has a sad tale to tell.

I was raised to believe that women need men like a fish needs a bicycle. But I strongly feel children need two parents and the thought of raising Tenzin without my partner, Glen, 52, would be terrifying.

As the child of divorced parents, I know only too well the painful consequences of being brought up in those circumstances. Feminism has much to answer for denigrating men and encouraging women to seek independence whatever the cost to their families.

My mother's feminist principles coloured every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn't even allowed to play with dolls or stuffed toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct. It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, travelling the world and being independent were what really mattered according to her.

I love my mother very much, but I haven't seen her or spoken to her since I became pregnant. She has never seen my son - her only grandchild. My crime? Daring to question her ideology.

Well, so be it. My mother may be revered by women around the world - goodness knows, many even have shrines to her. But I honestly believe it's time to puncture the myth and to reveal what life was really like to grow up as a child of the feminist revolution.

The story is a personal one dealing with the particular strained relationship between a daughter and her mother. But Rebecca Walker also explains her concerns with current feminist philosophy:
I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities. It's helped open the doors for us at schools, universities and in the workplace. But what about the problems it's caused for my contemporaries?

What about the children?

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children....Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them - as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

April 17, 2008

Tell Us What You Really Think, Pat

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'd be interested to hearing a fuller explanation of exactly what it is that NEA Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley likes about this video that he's posted at RI Future under the heading of "Oh if only the world worked like this"

He seems to be suggesting that he'd prefer a world with much less job security for white collar professionals -- not just executives, but for accountants and computers programmers and the like, the working stiffs of the corporate world -- so they'll forced to be dependent on…on…what exactly?

Good thing he's not in a job where he's responsible for protecting the interests of white collar professionals. Oh, wait…

April 2, 2008

NEA to Projo: We Own the Monopoly on Calling People Fascists

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Tuesday's Projo, columnist Edward Achorn wrote…

Though Rhode Islanders are independent-minded enough to vote for people from both parties for governor, the public-employee unions and welfare industry now control large voting blocks, and have the money and storm troopers to swing legislative elections fairly reliably to their hand-picked candidates.
Robert Walsh, Executive Director of the National Education Association's Rhode Island Chapter, objects (via RI Future)…
The Journal should be embarrassed and ashamed that a member of its editorial board, and an editor of these pages, equated Nazi soldiers with union members, and should apologize immediately.
Which doesn't mean, of course, that the local NEA staff isn't prone to equating their opponents to fascists. From a Pat Crowley (an Assistant Executive Director with the NEA-RI) post also at RI Future…
To hear teacher salaries spoken of in certain circles (like talk radio or fascist blogs) you would think that they are all making six figures.
So does Mr. Walsh also believe that Mr. Crowley needs to apologize for calling blogs he disagrees with "fascists"?

Possible line of defense from the NEA team: Nobody really believes that Pat Crowley has any serious understanding of what the term "fascist" means. He just uses the term as a stand-in for "anyone who disagrees with me". We demand that Edward Achorn be held to a higher standard.

Off the Island

Justin Katz

John Derbyshire's "March Diary" has much with which Rhode Islanders might sympathize, and that makes one wonder whether forswearing the "island" in our name mightn't be a step in the right direction. The following is from a reader's letter:

I see you've got the "New York Funk". I was born and raised in NYC, and couldn't get a job in the metropolitan area (about 30 years ago), so took a job in New Jersey. Wanted to be close to kinfolk still in NY.

At the time, New Jersey was a better state (no income tax, lower property taxes, lower sales tax, etc.) than NY.

A curious phenomenon has occurred over the last 30 years, however. I moved here because I couldn't get a job in engineering (my skill) after I got out of the Army. Been conservative all my life. In the 30 years, many New Yorkers have been moving to NJ to escape the taxes, and etc. that you pointed out in your column.

These newcomers were, for the most part, liberal. Unbelievably, these people have brought their liberal voting habits with them, apparently not understanding how they ruined NY and now, New Jersey is no better than New York in almost any measure.

We've made similar observations (on the moved-to side) with respect to New Hampshire, and some non-California Western states arguably provide confirmation. Derb notes that people are also bringing their liberal plague with them as the flee England, although the emphasis, there, is not on the economic damage that socialistic policies have done, but rather on the increase in crime wrought by liberal policing/weapon laws combined with mass immigration of unassimilable foreigners.

The echoes in proposed local laws and perennial progressive favorites are impossible to miss.

February 9, 2008

Environmentalists Mugged by Reality

Justin Katz

This article would have been noteworthy based simply on pure irony:

The rush to grow biofuel crops -- widely embraced as part of the solution to global warming -- is actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

One analysis found that clearing forests and grasslands to grow the crops releases vast amounts of carbon into the air -- far more than the carbon spared from the atmosphere by burning biofuels instead of gasoline. ...

Even converting existing farmland from food to biofuel crops increases greenhouse gas emissions as food production is shifted to other parts of the world, resulting in the destruction of more forests and grasslands to make way for farmland, the second study found.

But comments by University of Minnesota economist and ecologist Jason Hill (whose political persuasion I do not know) transform it into an emblematic text:

"We're rushing into biofuels, and we need to be very careful," said Jason Hill, an economist and ecologist at the University of Minnesota who co-authored the study. "It's a little frightening to think that something this well intentioned might be very damaging."

Yes. It's a frightening road between where you want to arrive and how you have to get there.

February 1, 2008

Well, Maybe if the Doctor's Office Was in the Mall....

Marc Comtois

I gotta say, even I was surprised to learn that somehow RIPTA depended on Medicaid money to keep running.

A federal clampdown on the state’s Medicaid program will cost as many as 18,000 needy Rhode Islanders their free bus passes and will force the state to make up for millions of dollars in lost transit money to avert wreaking havoc on the state’s bus system, state officials say.

The state is also expecting an attempt by the federal government to demand repayment of millions of dollars in past Medicaid money that was spent on transit. Those payments, reaching back to 1995, total more than $60 million, according to figures from the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, although state officials say they expect the amount sought by the federal government in “recoupment” to be much smaller, between $4 million and $5 million.

The development means that the state, which paid an increasing amount of the cost of running the state bus system with Medicaid money, will now have to pick up that expense or face a major disruption, probably including bus service cuts and perhaps layoffs, at RIPTA.

Only a bureaucrat and/or the most committed government=mommy proponent could possibly think that a blanket ride-the-bus-for-free pass (versus a certain allotment per year, for instance) was a legit use of Medicaid funds.
DHS Director Gary Alexander said the change will affect about 18,000 of the 27,000 RIte Care members who now get bus passes, worth $45 a month. He said the other 9,000 will continue to get passes through the Family Independence Program, formerly the welfare program.

The reason for the change is that Medicaid doesn’t pay for general transportation, only for transportation related to medical treatment, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs the Medicare, Medicaid and related programs.

Hey, I can understand the need to pay for transportation to the doctor or hospital and how there is some justification for Medicaid dollars to be used to subsidize such transport. But how did they ever think that Medicaid could be legitimately used to pay for unlimited trips to the mall, too? I guess so long as they could get away with it, it was OK, right? And now 18,000 people will be ticked off because their "right" to free transportation will be yanked. Thus does the enablement of the entitlement mindset end up hurting those who are supposed to benefit from the "helping hand." At least until the money (about $10 million) disappears.

January 28, 2008

Liberal Fascism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jonah Goldberg's controversial new book, Liberal Fascism isn't beyond-the-pale as his most strident critics would have you believe. First, as Goldberg has repeatedly pointed out, he is not the person who invented the term Liberal Fascism. That distinction belongs to the influential early 20th century public intellectual H.G. Wells.

Beyond the provenance of the term, a key idea that Goldberg would like you to come away with is that much of what you may believe is essential to the definition of fascism is really a list of talking points created by Marxists to explain why their totalitarianism is "good" while other totalitarianisms are "bad". To distinguish themselves from other collectivists, Marxists explain that paradise on earth can only come about if all human economic and social activity is brought under the control of leaders who recognize the primacy of economic class in the unfolding of history. Any other way to organize a society is merely a scheme for dividing the members of the working class from one another, to prevent them from prevailing in the inevitable class struggle. That's why, sayeth the Marxists, you should sign up with and pay your dues to the Communist International and not the National Socialist Party.

But suppose you created a philosophy that retained the idea that paradise on earth could be built through collective struggle, but a) chose a different collective than "economic class" to organize around and b) relaxed the idea that direct state ownership of everything was necessary to the idea that government "only" needed to be strong enough to bully any other institution in society into do its bidding. Would you still be discussing Marxism or socialism or communism at this point?

This question has a number of possible answers...

  • You could say, no, this is not sufficiently different from socialism to justify its own category (and concede that fascism belongs on the left side of the political spectrum to an ever greater degree than Jonah Goldberg would).
  • You could deny that versions of totalitarianism that don't involve state ownership and economic class struggle can exist or are relevant to anything.
  • Or, you could do what Jonah Goldberg does -- posit fascism as the name of the political philosophy of government that seeks similar ends to communism, but involves different ideas of the role of "class" and the state.
Here's Goldberg's exact definition of fascism...
Fascism is a religon of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force, or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy.
The point of Liberal Fascism is to try to trace the history of this form of collectivization through the 20th century.

I'll add, from my uber-important position as a yahoo-blogger, that I come into Goldberg's book with a different idea of what Fascism is than what he has laid out. I've always considered central to fascism the idea that individual fulfillment is found in robustly engaging violent struggle, where the ends aren't as important as fighting the struggle itself. Goldberg recognizes this idea as an influence on fascist thought (and writes in detail on its origins, especially of an idea called "syndicalism"), but not as central to its definition.

Still, in tracing the history of American progressivism starting from an open sympathy for fascism in the pre-World War II era, before the German Nazis obliterated the legitimacy of fascism in the popular consciousness, Goldberg raises questions that his critics are not going to be able to dismiss as easily as they'd like to.

December 19, 2007

From Each According to Neediness, to Each According to Leverage

Justin Katz

Froma Harrop makes an interesting observation:

PAYING BLOGGERS is "not our financial model," The Huffington Post's co-founder, Ken Lerer, told USAToday. What a profitable business that must be.

The Huffington Post is a popular liberal blog site named for Arianna Huffington, a pundit and power broker in the celebrity-industrial complex. Huffington is also very smart. After all, she has 1,800 contributors typing their little fingers off for no money, while sending the site’s ad revenue and $10 million in funding into other pockets. ...

Being very left, The Huffington Post provides a daily damnation of top-hatted capitalists oppressing the toiling masses. Imagine obtaining such content from slave labor. Business schools will be studying this example for years.

I'm not making this up. Just as The Huffington Post expressed its resolve to not compensate writers, one of the bloggers posted an item headlined, "Greed is Good: How Big Media Wants to Steal From Its Workers."

When once the young comme il faut leftist begins to discover that everything he or she has been taught to believe is built on lies, it begins to become apparent that practiced egalitarianism and all that junk has a strange tendency to benefit a few key preachers of the party line.

It's sort of like socialism, that way. And now the opiate of the masses isn't just believing like the stars, it's (as Harrop puts it) "Blogging with the Stars."

October 25, 2007

Re: Kate Brewster (And the Price of Self Delusion)

Justin Katz

With little doubt that the observation and conclusions will be misconstrued, I find myself comparing Kate Brewster's Poverty Institute and Planned Parenthood. When people construct their lives such that they profit from — survive by — the evil outcomes of their faulty solutions, accuracy of analysis is apt to be subordinate to a priori prescriptions and emotional dismissiveness. And it does give one a sense of how people allow themselves to slip gently into eternal damnation.

Giving the benefit of the doubt about intentions, such people probably start out with every hope of helping others, but they become so thoroughly convinced of a pat collection of causes and pursuant fixes that they will not see when their work results in harm to those whom they wish to help. They can't let go of their preconceptions.

So, they endeavor to convince the low-end worker that the precondition to subsistence is unsustainable taxation of others and government patronage, combined with employment mandates that can't help but result in fewer workers who pay more for the goods and services that they use. So, they would endeavor to defend abortion to the Lord, Himself.

There's a saying about the pavement on the road to Hell.

October 15, 2007

A Haunting Biopsis

Justin Katz

Even a week after I read the related piece, this biopsis (if I may coin a term for "biographic synopsis") lingers on the mind:

Guevara, a physician with no formal military training, was also something else, critics say: prolific executioner, dogmatic totalitarian and co-designer of the Cuban police state and indoctrination apparatus.

The version in the Providence Journal made some minor, but important, editorial changes:

Guevara, with no formal military training, was a prolific executioner, dogmatic totalitarian and co-designer of the Cuban police state and indoctrination apparatus, say his critics.

I've little doubt that many who parade the villain's face would accept the characterization with a smile. It all depends on who is being executed and with whom is trusted the totalitarianism.

September 29, 2007

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Anti-Americanism

Justin Katz

The phrase "useful idiot" comes to mind, and as disinclined as I am to further its reach, an op-ed by Ed Kinane in today's Providence Journal — "The U.S., not Iran, is the terrorist nation" — is simply too stunning (if predictable) not to note:

This drumbeat of war displays a grotesque double standard. Who is really on any axis of evil? Who is really a terrorist state, a nuclear threat?

Well, certainly not that democracy-loving victim of Western aggression, Iran! "In the last two centuries," Kinane asks, "has Iran — or Persia as it used to be called — invaded any other nation?" Nukes? Please. The Iranians would never use them. "It's the United States that occasionally threatens to use the nuke and that keeps alive its first-strike option."

Truly, the likes of Kinane have paid no attention to the changing methods of war, when it comes to actual terrorist states. Moreover, he seems to have had no ear for evidence that disagrees with the worldview that he, in his commitment "to nonviolence and social justice," would like to believe. Such folks have been out there all along, but one senses that they're veritably titillated that the bad old times in which they thrived may be making a comeback.

June 27, 2007

The Root of Liberal Humor?

Justin Katz

This bit in Jay Nordlinger's latest Impromptus brought to mind Marc's recent comment that liberals do better at comedy:

And I am reminded of one of the reasons I fled the Left, many years ago: Personally, they were so mean — so nasty, so indecent. So full of mockery, ridicule, and scorn. I had to ask, "If the Left is the party of love and compassion, how come so many of them are such a**holes?"

We're talking generalities, here, of course. For one disclaimer, I'm not suggesting that I don't have my (ahem) liberal moments. It's at least arguable, however, that "mockery, ridicule, and scorn" are key spices in the comedic recipe and that Nordlinger's observation is not entirely without basis.

Since we're also talking impressions, rather than evidence, it occurs to me that perhaps the most unmean comedian of the last fifty years, Bill Cosby, has been making news for the past few of those years for his conservative-esque racial statements. Of course, Dennis Miller comes to mind as contrary evidence, although he's more of a libertarian (and for that, I need another "ahem").

May 17, 2007

Understanding Domestic Liberalism

Carroll Andrew Morse

One common bond connecting the different pieces of the liberal domestic agenda together is the belief that people must accept that they will be forever be paying more and more to the government to receive less and less. Consider the major domestic issues facing the United States right now…

  • Education: Liberals see nothing odd when continuing tax-increases greater than the rate of inflation are needed just to preserve the existing system (hello, Portsmouth, Cranston, and East Providence, for starters). Neither school choice as a more rational way for allocating resources, nor the weak correlation between education spending and education outcomes is worth discussion.
  • Healthcare: Liberals generally favor a government takeover of the healthcare system a) so they can provide universal coverage by increasing the price of healthcare without improving the breadth of services available to the people doing the paying and b) so they can use the power of government to control costs by limiting treatments.
  • Retirement security: Liberals do not believe that changes in the basic structure of social security should be considered. They believe that government will always be able to shore-up the existing system by raising taxes and/or reducing benefits by tinkering with cost-of-living adjustments and moving up the retirement age.
Besides too readily incorporating the idea that paying more to receive less is somehow the norm, the central ideas that comprise the domestic liberal agenda share a second feature in common. They are all based on an assumption that centralized, bureaucratic systems should be the first choice to solve a problem -- if a strong, central bureaucracy can’t deliver a better solution than exists now, then it’s obvious (to liberals) that no system can!

The fact that contemporary liberalism, when addressing the three biggest domestic issues of the day, combines an affinity for centralized bureaucracy with an uncritical attitude towards social systems that deliver ever-diminishing returns is no coincidence. It is the natural result of the version of liberal ideology than came into being in the 1960s and 1970s…

  • Tenant #1: America is experiencing an inevitable historical decline. Sure, America had a good run for about 300 years or so, mostly because of favorable geography, a lack of hostile neighbors and good luck. But that part of history is now over. Paying more to receive less will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
  • Tenant #2: Average people can’t be trusted to deal with the ramifications of the great decline, so their lives need to be directly managed by government as much as is possible. It is only the elites within government who possess the necessary wisdom to properly cushion people from the effects of America's shrinking role in history.
Once you understand this basis of contemporary liberalism, as an added bonus, you can also understand the core difference between liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans (now called “moderates”), a difference in belief about how you get people to follow the leadership elite…
  • Liberal Democrats tend to believe that people will not follow, unless they are directly paid off directly in some fashion. That’s why (historically), Democrats have tended to be more tolerant of corruption than Republicans.
  • Liberal Republicans, on the other hand, tend to believe in their own ability to convince people that they are the natural leaders of society. They believe they can make a compelling argument that they’re the managers who will make big government work for everyone.
That's where we are right now. Is there anyone out there willing to make a case for an optimistic version of American liberalism -- in their policy choices and not just their rhetoric?

March 28, 2007

Frum: Progressives Looking Backward

Marc Comtois

David Frum makes some interesting points. First, about the resurrection about the ERA:

Back in the 1970s, ERA was defeated by a grassroots organizing campaign led by Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly deployed many arguments against the ERA, and one of the most effective was that ERA would authorize same-sex marriage. At the time, this argument drove ERA proponents wild with fury. They denounced it as hysterical exaggeration, an attempt a common-sense bid for women's rights by attributing to it extreme consequences that would never be countenanced by an American court.

A quarter century later, we can see that Schlafly was absolutely right. In states with local ERAs, same-sex marriage advocates have often argued in court that the ban on sex discrimination required state courts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. That argument was accepted by the supremem court of Hawaii until overturned by a state constitutional amendment.

If this ERA movement goes forward, it will be curious to watch same-sex marriage advocates abruptly pivot from their past support for federalism and decentralization.

There's no slippery slope here! More from, er, Frum:
We've been hearing since November about the resurgence of the progressive left - the new enthusiasm, the new energy, the new organizations, the new commitment. Amidst all these exciting novelty, there is only one thing lacking: new ideas. The resurgent "progressive" movement is the most backward-looking political force since William Jennings Bryan tried to repeal the industrial revolution. Their big issues - a government healthcare monopoly! do away with secret union ballots! and now ... ERA! - date respectively to the 1940s, the 1930s, and the 1970s.

It's just bizarre to tune into blogosphere debates to watch freshfaced 20-somethings passionately champion, as if just invented, policy proposals that were old when their grandparents were young. If this is progressiveness, what would reaction look like?

Um, conservatism?

February 14, 2007

Ah, the Brits and Their Unintentional Parody

Justin Katz

Somehow, two aspects of this brief story seem related, in a cultural sense. In one respect, it's notable that it should be newsworthy when prisoners depart unannounced from an "open prison." In another, it's notable that three robbers and a druggie should be declared "not dangerous" (with the caveat, of course, that "the public are advised not to approach them.").

February 12, 2007

The Echo in Crescendo

Justin Katz

I won't address John St. Lawrence's letter to the Providence Journal on the merits, because (frankly) finding them would require a creativity that I lack. I will, however, observe that such overt anti-Americanism seems to be in resurgence, lately. Is it that Democrats' recent successes have signaled the end of obligatory "sensitiveness" post–September 11? Or is it that the constant drumming of antiBushism has finally constructed a delusional common wisdom for America's dim bulbs? Or is it that I'm just noticing such missives more now that their representatives are that much closer to the levers of power?

February 2, 2007

Sociology, Liberalism, and Freedom

Carroll Andrew Morse

Wilfred McClay has a fascinating essay in today’s OpinionJournal on the subject of the future of sociology. Despite the apparently wonkish subject matter, McClay makes several observations that cut right to the heart of America’s domestic policy debates. Here’s the most important…

As Nathan Glazer has put it, [Seymour Martin Lipset] had a lifelong interest in how societies, guided by their histories, "set limits for their development that are difficult to transcend."

Those words express one of the abiding themes of the "old" sociology: how the stubbornness of social forces circumscribes what is possible for us as individuals. Around every man, said Tocqueville, a fateful circle of freedom is drawn, beyond which that man ceases to be free. Such an observation is unwelcome in a culture that values the free individual above all else and imagines that all things should be possible.

McClay’s observation is provocative, because I don’t think people (including perhaps Mr. McClay himself) fully realize how tightly contemporary liberals want to constrict the circle of freedom that Tocqueville describes, despite the fact that they believe in their hearts that they stand for the opposite.

The liberal attitude towards individual freedom has devolved into a belief that people should have freedom to behave as libertinely (or not) as they choose within their homes and in their personal lives, but beyond that, basic human interactions should be heavily regulated. Here’s my usual list of examples…

  • Liberals believe that government, not parents, should pick the school a child goes to, i.e. liberals fiercely oppose reforming geographic monopoly school systems through the use of charter schools, vouchers, etc.
  • Liberals believe that the practice of medicine should be socialized, so the government has a final veto on what treatments patients are allowed receive from their doctors. (That's how "cost-control" works in a government-run universal healthcare system.)
  • Liberals believe that government should take a large part of a person's paycheck and place it in a compulsory retirement plan, rather than giving employees maximal control of their own retirement resources.
The widespread skepticism on the left towards freedom-in-practice, while purporting to support freedom-in-its-ideal, is what has led the social issues like gay marriage and an uncompromising position on abortion (for partial birth abortion, against parental notification, etc.) to their prominent places in the liberal agenda. Since liberals are only willing to take a stand for individual freedom within a very narrow realm of the personal, they make that stand as doggedly as they can.

I think a large part of the polarization and the nastiness of our politics results from liberal inability to resolve the contradiction between their beliefs and their rhetoric with regards to individual freedom. Since they can’t resolve the contradiction, they settle for yelling real loud.

February 1, 2007

The New York Times Says the US Should Ignore Its Enemies and Punish Its Allies. But That’s Nothing New.

Carroll Andrew Morse

To paraphrase Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, liberals have a distressing tendency to believe that the proper course of American foreign policy should be to punish allies and ignore enemies. Do you think that’s too harsh? Well, here’s the New York Times editorial board arguing for just that concept, explaining how America needs to ignore the actions of Iran while ratcheting up threats against the current government of Iraq in order to make progress in the Middle East (h/t Jonah Goldberg)…

We have no doubt about Iran’s malign intent, just as we have no doubt that Mr. Bush’s serial failures in Iraq have made it far easier for Tehran to sow chaos there and spread its influence in the wider region. But more threats and posturing are unlikely to get Iran to back down....

Iran certainly is helping arm and train Shiite militias. But the administration is certainly exaggerating the salutary effect of any cutoff as long as these militias enjoy the protection of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. If Mr. Bush is genuinely worried — and he should be — he needs to be as forceful in demanding that Mr. Maliki cut ties to these groups and clear about the consequences if he refuses.

No “threats and posturing” against the Iranians, sayeth the Times. After all, they’re the enemy. Apparently, “forceful” demands with “clear consequences” are only appropriate against an ally!

This is not to say the Maliki government shouldn’t be held accountable for actions (or non-actions) that make the situation faced by ordinary Iraqis and by coalition forces in Iraq more difficult. But shouldn’t a rational American foreign policy be at least as hard on the government that openly says it wants to destroy us as it is on the government that is an ally, at least nominally? If not, then what’s the incentive for anyone to sign on as an American ally?

January 25, 2007

Summing Up Differing Approaches to Poverty

Marc Comtois

Nathan Smith at TCS daily offers this contrast between how President Bush and Sen. Jim Webb view the poverty question:

President Bush has proposed an array of policies that confront different aspects of real deprivation as experienced by the poor here and abroad: bad education, lack of legal status and fear of deportation, lack of health care and disease. Of course, also critical to poverty alleviation is the ongoing success of the US economy, which, as the president mentioned, has created 7.2 million jobs since the beginning of the current expansion. Jobs are both the best way out of poverty and, as presidential aspirant John Edwards has said, a source of "dignity and self-respect." By calling for a balanced budget in five years, without raising taxes, President Bush made a bid to preserve a business climate in which prosperity will continue.

While the president is interested in dealing with specific aspects of poverty and deprivation, he is not interested in the position of poor people relative to others. Senator Webb is. "When I graduated from college," remarks Senator Webb, "the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it¹s nearly 400 times." Or again, "Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth." In each case, the statistic he cites is a ratio: the average worker's wages compared to those of the CEO; wages and salaries compared to national wealth. That the average worker is much wealthier in absolute terms than he was thirty years ago does not seem to interest Webb much: what matters is that his relative wealth has decreased.

In short, it's the rhetoric of class warfare and "envy" (Webb) versus the rhetoric of "altruism" (Bush). Read the whole thing for a further explanation.

January 10, 2007

Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised

Marc Comtois

So, the 100 Hours continue and Speaker Pelosi has gotten her 9/11 Commission legislation through. And though some may think that every one of the 9/11 Commission prescriptions were included (the necessity or wisdom of implementing them all is another discussion), apparently, that's really not the case (via The Corner).

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who held a hearing Tuesday as the Senate prepared for its version of this bill, noted that one major recommendation — not in the House measure — was strengthening Congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. “We found it a lot easier to reform the rest of the government than we did to reform ourselves post-9/11,” Mr. Lieberman said. “That’s unfinished work.”
The relevant portion of the 9/11 Report to which Lieberman refers begins here (and I've excerpted it in full in the extended entry, below.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi's 9/11 Commission Legislation contains language making it possible for the federal employees of the TSA to unionize.

The 9/11 commission did not address union rights or personnel rules but urged improvements in airport screening operations. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] maintains that collective bargaining rights help smooth agency operations because labor-management contracts provide a structure for addressing employee issues, including job performance.

Peter Winch, an organizer with AFGE, said the union had asked Democrats to put bargaining rights for TSA screeners "on the agenda for the first 100 hours." He continued, "It does not make sense to keep these employees from collective bargaining rights when other Department of Homeland Security employees have those rights."

The TSA has said that collective bargaining is not appropriate for airport passenger and baggage screeners because of their national security mission and because the agency requires the ability to make personnel staffing changes rapidly in response to threats. In the law creating the TSA, Congress left it to the Bush administration to determine such issues as union rights for screeners.

The Bush Administration also provided an example:
As an example, officials pointed to the foiled United Kingdom airline bombing plot in August, when new procedures for screeners were put into place immediately.

"This flexibility is a key component of how the Department of Homeland Security, through TSA, protects Americans while they travel," the statement said.

Then there is this point made by Senator Joseph Lieberman's office:
"Other security personnel like customs agents and the Border Patrol have the right to collective bargaining, and that has not impaired their ability to protect American security."
OK, fine. But isn't this really just an "earmark" by another name? The original legislation that allowed this potential TSA unionization had previously stalled in committee (granted, GOP controlled congress) and NONE of this 100 hour legislation is being debated in--or passed through--committee. Heck, to the victor go the spoils and all that, but for the Democrat led Congress to reward one of their key constituencies--a federal employee union--under the cover of national security smells like business as usual to me.

Continue reading "Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised"

December 7, 2006

Liberal Social Engineering Summed Up

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg notes that "New York City’s Board of Health unexpectedly withdrew a proposal yesterday that would have allowed people to alter the sex on their birth certificates without sex-change surgery." Astonishingly, it turns out that such a policy would not only cause confusion but might even be abused, for example, by male inmates wishing to be moved to female prisons. I think City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden neatly sums up the great unspoken post facto thought of liberal social engineers everywhere:

“This is something we hadn’t fully thought through, frankly.”

Admission is the first step to recovery.

November 29, 2006

Plan to Help the Homeless? Make Sure the Government Allows it First

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Washington Post, the government of Fairfax County, Virginia has decreed that individuals cannot give homemade food to homeless people without first obtaining government approval…

The casserole has been canned.

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

I’m not sure what political philosophy the individual or panel who made this decision believes in, but the Fairfax decree sums up the modern liberal (actually progressive) ideal of a strong state quite well – in the ideal, all human interaction (outside of sexual relations in the home) will first be sanctioned by the government.

Yes, the rules in Fairfax County are an extreme case (for now), but they embody the preferred approach of modern liberalism towards almost every domestic civic and economic problem there is. Want individuals to give food to the homeless? Sorry, can’t be done. Someone might bake a bad tuna casserole, so it’s best to limit hunger relief to government approved facilities only (even if it means that fewer people get fed). Want individuals to be able to choose the schools best for their kids? Sorry, can’t be done. Someone might make a bad choice for his or her child, so it’s best to have the government choose a school for them (even if it means that fewer people get a quality education). Want to let individuals put their Social Security in individual retirement accounts? Sorry, can’t be done. Someone might not invest wisely, so it’s best to let the government hold their savings, and give it back to them when the government deems the time to be right (even if it means putting the younger generation into a system destined for bankruptcy). Et cetera. Et. cetera. Et. cetera.

Further commentary on Fairfax County’s insanity is available from Jonah Goldberg, John J. Miller, and (in pro-active fashion) Donald B. Hawthorne.

October 12, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & The Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part VI: The Alleged Theocracy Threat - Valid or a Tool to Limit the Public Debate?

Donald B. Hawthorne

The previous posting in this series ended with these words:

A discussion about the meaning of "reason" becomes important as reason offers a tool to enable a pluralistic society to have substantive discourse about what belongs in our public square.

A previous posting entitled Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy clarified the meaning of a vibrant discourse in our society:

A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

As a first step toward discussing the meaning and significance of reason, this posting asks whether the current propensity for some to use the theocracy label in our public debate amounts to anathematizing religious people in an attempt to stifle one side of the debate in our public square.

Jonah Goldberg made these comments this week in Liberal Paranoia:

...Ross Douthat surveys the scare literature demonizing "Christianists," "theocons" and "Christocrats" - people who were under the impression that they were actually law-abiding, tax-paying, patriotic American citizens who happen to subscribe to the Christian faith. Little did they know they're actually all about rounding up infidels and torching the Constitution...

Ross Douhat is the associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly and he has written a book review entitled Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy which includes these arguments:

This is a paranoid moment in American politics...

Perhaps the strangest of these strange stories, though, is the notion that twenty-first-century America is slouching toward theocracy. This is an old paranoia...

To understand what, precisely, the anti-theocrats think has gone so wrong, its necessary to understand what they mean by the term theocracy. This is no easy task...the clout of institutional religion is at low ebb in American politics...

...as National Reviews Ramesh Ponnuru put it, in an essay written amid the "values voter" hysteria of 2004:

It may be instructive to think about the wish list of Christian-conservative organizations involved in politics...Nearly every one of these policiesand all of the most conservative oneswould merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.

...But if youre committed to the notion that religious conservatives represent an existential threat to democratic government, you need a broader definition of theocracy to convey your sense of impending doom...

All you need are politicians who invoke religion and apply Christian principles to public policy.

If thats all it takes to make a theocracy, then these writers are correct: Contemporary America is run by theocrats. Of course, by that measure, so was the America of every previous era. The United States has always been at once a secular republic and a religious nation, reflexively libertarian and fiercely pious, and this tension has been working itself out in our politics for more than two hundred years...But theres no way to give an account of American history without grappling with this tension...

Yet this is a history that the anti-theocrats seem determined to reject...

...this strict-separationist interpretation of world history frees the anti-theocrats from the messy business of actually arguing with their opponents...

A Christian is...allowed to mix religion and politics in support of sweeping social reforms but only if those reforms are safely identified with the political Left, and with the interests of the Democratic party...

Sometimes its argued that what sets the contemporary Christian Right apart from previous iterations of politically active religion isn't its Christianity per se but its unwillingness to couch argument in terms that nonbelievers can acceptto use "public reason," in the Rawlsian phrase, to make a political case that doesnt rely on Bible-thumping. As a prudential matter, the case for public reason makes a great deal of sense. But one searches American history in vainfrom abolitionist polemics down to Martin Luther Kings Scripture-saturated speechesfor any evidence of this supposedly ironclad rule being rigorously applied, or applied at all.

And besides, religious conservatives do, frequently and loudly, make arguments for their positions on non-theological grounds...

What all these observers point out, and what the anti-theocrats ignore, is that the religious polarization of American politics runs in both directions. The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular...

So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing "religion gap"...arent new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters' prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything thats happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

The tragedy is that so many religious people have gone along with this revisionism...

There is no single Christian politics, and no movement can claim to have arrived at the perfect marriage of religious faith and political action. Christianity is too otherworldly for that, and the world too fallen. But this doesn't free believers from the obligation to strive in political affairs, as they strive in all things, to do what God would have them do. And the moments when Gods will is inscrutable, or glimpsed only through a glass, darkly, are the moments when good-faith arguments between believers ought to bear the greatest fruit...

In today's America, these arguments are constantly taking place...But they are increasingly drowned out by cries of "theocracy, theocracy, theocracy" and by a zeal, among ostensibly religious intellectuals, to read their fellow believers out of public life and sell their birthright for the blessing of the New York Times.

More excerpts from the article are contained in the Extended Entry below.

In another posting, Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse, a quote from T.S. Eliot defines the connection to and importance of religion in our public discussions:

As political philosophy derives its sanctions from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term "democracy"...does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike - it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God, you will pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

Reason, therefore, offers us - as members of a pluralistic society - the opportunity to discuss the connections between political philosophy, ethics and religion as we seek to better understand our American and Western Civilization heritages and apply their teachings to our habits as citizens of this great country.

Earlier postings in this series can be found here:

Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion from the Public Square
Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words
Part V: Recovering the Meaning and Implications of Religious Freedom

Continue reading "Theocrats, Moral Relativism & The Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part VI: The Alleged Theocracy Threat - Valid or a Tool to Limit the Public Debate?"

October 4, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part V: Recovering the Meaning and Implications of Religious Freedom

Donald B. Hawthorne

The previous posting in this series noted how moral relativism leads to words losing their meaning, thereby impoverishing the public discourse and making genuine consensus on important issues difficult, if not impossible. It also suggested that moral recovery was possible by calling for it with direct language.

As a first step toward eliminating that lack of meaning, the same posting identified four crucial questions and addressed the first question about whether moral truths exist and belong in the public square.

The second question noted that there is a lack of agreement on the meaning of religious freedom and reason.

It is impossible to have a reasoned public discourse over the proper role of religion in the public square if we do not share a common understanding about the meaning of religious freedom. The impact of no common ground means the public discourse often descends into an ahistorical mumbo-jumbo from secular left fundamentalists warning about the alleged threat from theocrats. The left's actions have the effect of stripping the public square of religious practices or habits as attempts are made to block religious or religion-inspired people and practices from playing any role whatsoever in the public square. These behaviors have created a backlash and new assertiveness from the religious right in recent times.

The purpose of this posting is to offer a broad definition of religious freedom, which can be found in the Extended Entry below, and reflect on some of its implications for all of us.

After reading the thoughts below on the meaning of religious freedom, several striking thoughts arise from the document:

First, it provides greater insight into the higher purpose that is at the heart of why religious freedom is so important: With the personal responsibility and free will that arise from the dignity of man is the moral obligation and sense of duty to pursue truth and abide by it as it becomes known. That provides a challenge to each of us: Do we accept as our personal duty, the obligation to pursue truth and abide by it as we achieve new understandings? (Note: Commitment to that course of action does not require a particular religious belief. It does require a dedication to being men and women of virtue.)

Second, there are profound implications that follow once that pursuit is engaged: Frequently our public discourse is an unpleasant mixture of some people questioning whether there is any truth at all while others are presenting beliefs as if they have already reached truth in its final form. It is these people - called fundamentalists of the left and right, respectively - who often dominate the public debate to our society's detriment. In contrast, the alternative view expressed below suggests the practice of religious freedom is a process with milestones achieved along the way - but not an end. That concept is completely ignored by secular left fundamentalists who prefer to rely on the use of scare tactics that equate any religious belief with religious fanaticism in order to achieve a near ban on religious expression in the public square. Yet an ongoing process also implies a lack of final closure in understanding truth, which should result in a greater spirit of humility accompanying the ongoing pursuit by religious people.

These conclusions lead us back to another point from the previous posting: The dominant struggle in our society today is over the meaning of freedom, in this case understanding the implications of religious freedom in our society. Once we have this freedom, how do we pursue truth and talk constructively to each other about it given that we live in a pluralistic society made up of people with differing religious beliefs?

Let's assume most people share a common goal of living together successfully and with meaning in a civil society. For that to happen, we have to be able to talk to each other, to have a substantive discourse. But it cannot be based upon the requirements that the existence of moral truths be denied, that religious beliefs be excluded from the public square, or that everyone be required to hold similar religious beliefs.

George Weigel put this issue in perspective when he wrote about Pope John Paul II:

Building the free society certainly involves getting the institutions right; beyond that, however, freedom's future depends on men and women of virtue, capable of knowing, and choosing, the genuinely good.

That is why John Paul relentlessly preached genuine tolerance: not the tolerance of indifference, as if differences over the good didn't matter, but the real tolerance of differences engaged, explored, and debated within the bond of a profound respect for the humanity of the other...

John Paul II was teaching a crucial lesson about the future of freedom: Universal empathy comes through, not around, particular convictions...

It is in this context that a discussion about the meaning of "reason" becomes important as reason offers a tool to enable a pluralistic society to have substantive discourse about what belongs in our public square. That discussion of reason shall be the topic of the next posting in this series.

Earlier postings in this series can be found here:

Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion from the Public Square
Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words

Continue reading "Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part V: Recovering the Meaning and Implications of Religious Freedom"

September 24, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words

Donald B. Hawthorne

The comments sections of

Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion from the Public Square

of this Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance series, plus Justin's Favoring the Non-Participatory posting, offer up many statements which present a largely incoherent vision for how our society will develop, share, and sustain a set of core values necessary for it to exist in a cohesive manner.

Distilled to their essence, the comments highlighted four major issues:

1. Do moral truths (discovered via either faith or reason) exist and belong in the public square - and how should they affect our public life?

2. How do we define reason and religious freedom?

3. What does religious freedom - as defined in the 1st Amendment - mean and how has jurisprudence and societal practices changed our interpretation of religious freedom over the years?

4. What role and importance did the Founding Fathers assign to religion in our society and why?

This posting focuses on the first part of question #1 and subsequent postings in this series will address the remaining issues.

To provide a context before tackling question #1, here are some of the statements from the comments sections:

At no time do I want to interfere with your right or anyone else's right to practice [religion] as you choose...It is impossible for the state to speak on religion without giving the impression that one has been preferred. As you increase "liberty" for one, you decrease it for others. The Founders wanted balance for all...The Government does not have the right to allow one advocacy over another even if we can't figure out what the other is...We can never figure out what "all" advocacy is...Since the "all" universe cannot be determined, the only way to keep balance is the "no" universe...The Government cannot allow the advocacy of religion on public grounds because it limits the freedoms of others to express their religious views when they are not advocated. The non-advocated position has been de-established by the Government�How do you know with certainty that every religion has been asked to participate? You assume so because as a mainstream sect, you were. However, the guy who worships Kelly Clarkson as a demi-goddess was not...he was left out, his religion is valid, and therefore demeaned...Since everyone will not choose to participate...you cannot allow some belief system to obtain an advantage because they choose to participate. Therefore, no one gets to participate.

There are two striking features to these comments: First, they avoid any discussion of substantive issues such as freedom, justice, rights, and moral common sense. Instead, they devolve into ideas emphasizing how our government should restrict the freedom of citizens to express their beliefs in any public forum.

And when we equate the suggested religion of Kelly-Clarkson-as-a-demi-goddess with either the Jewish or Christian tradition, have not we just endorsed an unserious moral relativism which denies there are any moral truths discoverable by faith or reason? If there are no moral truths, have not then words like freedom and justice lost all meaning?

Reflections on Pope John Paul II's role in the demise of Communism - as highlighted in an article in the extended entry below - offers some guidance about where to begin:

Language, then, and the restoration of its relationship with reality were critical to the Communist collapse. This was no small feat since, for many in the West, words had lost their meaning. A recovery of meaning was essential before a real challenge could be presented...You cannot use "evil" as an adjective until you know it as a noun...the new struggle [today] is over the meaning of freedom...In Veritatis Splendor, the pope warned of "the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgment of truth impossible." If truth is impossible, so are the "self-evident truths" upon which free government depends. Then, one can understand everything in terms of power and its manipulation...[John Paul II] raised the hope that moral recovery is possible by calling for it.

That loss of meaning means we - at least implicitly - deny the existence of moral truths and, by default, fail to address the societal consequences of the moral relativism now dominating the public square, as described by these words from Pope Benedict XVI:

No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless...

The culture of relativism invites its own destruction...by its own internal incoherence...

Yet, acknowledging the existence of moral truths is part of both our American and Western Civilization heritages. As Lee Harris writes, our heritage is a rich one:

Christian Europe, after all, was a fusion of diverse elements: the Hebrew tradition, the experience of the early Christian community, the Roman genius for law, order, and hierarchy, the Germanic barbarians' love of freedom, among many others. In this cultural amalgam, Greek philosophy certain played a role. St. Clement argued that Greek philosophy had been given by God to mankind as a second source of truth, comparable to the Hebrew revelation. Benedict argues that the "inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history."

Our heritage not only acknowledges the existence of moral truths but argues that these truths can be discovered by either faith or reason - thereby confirming what has been true for centuries: This public conversation about the role of moral truths in the public square does not require everyone to hold identical religious beliefs. It does require us to be morally serious and to firmly place moral relativism in the dustbin of history.

Moral truths belong in the public square to avoid the societal consequences of moral relativism. Only with a belief in moral truths can words become meaningful again and enable us to begin a public conversation about principles such as freedom and - from there - to discuss proper ways to introduce their meaning back into the public square.

As a first step toward the recovery of meaning, let's next ask ourselves whether we truly understand the meaning of freedom - including religious freedom - and reason as we explore how best to live our American experiment in ordered liberty.

Continue reading "Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words"

September 14, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion From the Public Square

Donald B. Hawthorne

Part I in this series discussed how there is an important distinction between "tolerance" and "freedom." Justin, in a subsequent email to me, described it this way:

Tolerance asserts authority; freedom implies autonomy, perhaps even precedence.

Part II in this series noted how both the role of religion in the public square of our society has been steadily marginalized and Americans largely do not know their history well enough to understand how much has changed just in our lifetime.

This Part III posting describes some of the consequences when religion is excluded from the public square in America.

Richard John Neuhaus wrote these words in 1984:

Politics and religion are different enterprises...But they are constantly coupling and getting quite mixed up with one another. There is nothing new about this. What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business...

When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked...

The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church...

Our problems, then, stem in large part from the philosophical and legal effort to isolate and exclude the religious dimension of culture...only the state can..."lay claim to compulsive authority."...of all the institutions in societies, only religion can invoke against the state a transcendent authority and have its invocation seconded by "the people" to whom a democratic state is presumably accountable. For the state to be secured from such challenge, religion must be redefined as a private, emphatically not public, phenomenon. In addition, because truly value-less existence is impossible for persons or societies, the state must displace religion as the generator and bearer of values...

[T]he notion of the secular state can become the prelude to totalitarianism. That is, once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it - the state and the individual. Religion as a mediating structure...is no longer available as a countervailing force to the ambitions of the state...

If law and polity are divorced from moral judgment...all things are permitted and...all things will be done...When in our public life no legal prohibition can be articulated with the force of transcendent authority, then there are no rules rooted in ultimacies that can protect the poor, the powerless and the marginal...

Politics is an inescapably moral enterprise. Those who participate in it are...moral actors. The word "moral" here...means only that the questions engaged [in politics] are questions that have to do with what is right or wrong, good or evil. Whatever moral dignity politics may possess depends upon its being a process of contention and compromise among moral actors, not simply a process of accomodation among individuals in pursuit of their interests. The conflict in American public life today, then, is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate...

Therein lies the great debate and the great struggle in America and throughout Western Civilization.

Do we believe in reason and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong?

Do we believe in and teach the uniqueness of our Western Civilization tradition?

Has the relativism of multiculturalism dumbed it all down to where there are no standards of excellence and no truth discoverable by some combination of reason and faith?

Or, as William Voegli said:

Justice, rights, moral common sense - either these are things we can have intelligent conversations about or they aren't...

September 10, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?

Donald B. Hawthorne

In a comment to the Part I posting, Joe Mahn writes:

...From my simple perspective and I think in the context of the actual events of the time religious freedom meant that no State in the Union under the Constitution could force, by law, any citizen to participate in, confess, or otherwise practice any particular State sanctioned or preferred religion. It would also forbid the creation of a State religion with attendant threats of incarceration or imposition of any punishment upon said citizens.

The objective of these freedoms was to allow citizens to believe what they wanted with no interference from the State as well as guarantee that States not mandate one religion, or sect within a religion, over another.

From that point going forward governments across the land, from municipal to federal, acknowledged God, His laws, and many other events and rituals of the Christian faith with little or no dissent. That all changed in the late 1940's when the US Supreme Court violated the Constitution by interfering in the rights of the sovereign states and prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

It's been all downhill from there....

Let's give a specific example of how much things have changed in our understanding of the relationship between the State and religion over the last 50 years: Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was know as a very liberal justice of the court. Yet, in Zorach v. Clauson, a 1952 case, he wrote for the Court with these words:

New York City has a program which permits its public schools to release students during the school day so that they may leave the school buildings and school grounds and go to religious centers for religious instruction or devotional exercises. A student is released on written request of his parents. Those not released stay in the classrooms. The churches make weekly reports to the schools, sending a list of children who have been released from public school but who have not reported for religious instruction...

It takes obtuse reasoning to inject any issue of the "free exercise" of religion into the present case. No one is forced to go to the religious classroom, and no religious exercise or instruction is brought to the classrooms of the public schools. A student need not take religious instruction. He is left to his own desires as to the manner or time of his religious devotions, if any...

Moreover...we do not see how New York by this type of "released time" program has made a law respecting an establishment of religion within the meaning of the First Amendment...

And so far as interference with the "free exercise" of religion and an "establishment" of religion are concerned, the separation must be complete and unequivocal. The First Amendment within the scope of its coverage permits no exception; the prohibition is absolute. The First Amendment, however, does not say that, in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Churches could not be required to pay even property taxes. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policemen who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamations making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; "so help me God" in our courtroom oaths -- these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies would be flouting the First Amendment. A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court."

We would have to press the concept of separation of Church and State to these extremes to condemn the present law on constitutional grounds. The nullification of this law would have wide and profound effects. A Catholic student applies to his teacher for permission to leave the school during hours on a Holy Day of Obligation to attend a mass. A Jewish student asks his teacher for permission to be excused for Yom Kippur. A Protestant wants the afternoon off for a family baptismal ceremony. In each case, the teacher requires parental consent in writing. In each case, the teacher, in order to make sure the student is not a truant, goes further and requires a report from the priest, the rabbi, or the minister. The teacher, in other words, cooperates in a religious program to the extent of making it possible for her students to participate in it. Whether she does it occasionally for a few students, regularly for one, or pursuant to a systematized program designed to further the religious needs of all the students does not alter the character of the act.

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence...

But we cannot expand it to cover the present released time program unless separation of Church and State means that public institutions can make no adjustments of their schedules to accommodate the religious needs of the people. We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion.

How things change. Today, we hear examples of how a Christian student club cannot even meet after school on school property - while a gay & lesbian student club can. The issue for many of us is not the latter club's ability to meet. Rather, it is the exclusion of the former club's ability to meet.

Unfortunately, in yet another tribute to our lack of knowledge of American history, enough time has passed with these current practices being the norm so that most American's think it was never otherwise.

September 9, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom & Religious Tolerance

Donald B. Hawthorne

Do we believe in reason and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong? Do we believe in and teach the uniqueness of our Western Civilization tradition? Or, has the relativism of multiculturalism dumbed it all down to where there are no standards of excellence or truth discoverable by some combination of reason or faith?

In Having it Both Ways on "Values", William Voegli writes:

...The more practical problem with the fact-value distinction is that no one, including those who espouse it, actually believes it. No one is really "value-neutral" with respect to his own values, or regards them as values, arbitrary preferences that one just happens to be saddled with...

The problem with relativism is its insistence that all moral impulses are created equal - that there are no reasons to choose the standards of the wise and good over those of the deranged and cruel. A world organized according to that principle would be anarchic, uninhabitable. As Leo Strauss wrote, the attempt to "regard nihilism as a minor inconvenience" is untenable.

The problem with relativists is that they always dismiss other people's beliefs, but spare their own moral preferences from their doctrine's scoffing...

Justice, rights, moral common sense - either these are things we can have intelligent discussions about or they aren't...

In The Myth of Relgious Tolerance, Thomas Williams writes:

The vehement, sometimes acrimonious debates that accompanied the drafting of the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, yielded an exceptionally precise and carefully worded document. Noteworthy in the 5,700-word declaration is the absence of even a single reference to religious "tolerance" or "toleration."

The choice of religious "freedom" or "liberty" as the proper category for discussion and the exclusion of "tolerance" flies in the face of the societal trend to deal with church-state issues in terms of religious tolerance...

Why Tolerance Isn't Enough

Religion is a good to be embraced and defended - not an evil to be put up with. No one speaks of tolerating chocolate pudding or a spring walk in the park. By speaking of religious "tolerance," we make religion an unfortunate fact to be borne - like noisy neighbors and crowded buses - not a blessing to be celebrated.

Our modern ideas of religious tolerance sprang from the European Enlightenment. A central tenet of this movement was the notion of progress, understood as the overcoming of the ignorance of superstition and religion to usher in the age of reason and science...

Since religion was the primary cause of conflict and war, the argument went, peace could only be achieved through a lessening of people's passion for religion and commitment to specific doctrines...

The language of tolerance was first proposed to describe the attitude that confessional states, such as Anglican England and Catholic France, should adopt toward Christians of other persuasions (though no mention was made of tolerance for non-Christian faiths). The assumption was that the state had recognized a certain confession as "true" and put up with other practices and beliefs as a concession to those in error. This led, however, to the employment of tolerance language toward religion. The philosophes would downplay or even ridicule religion in the firm belief that it would soon disappear altogether. Thus, separation of church and state becomes separation of public life and religious belief. Religion was excluded from public conversation and relegated strictly to the intimacy of home and chapel. Religious tolerance is a myth, but a myth imposed by an anti-religious intellectual elite.

Continue reading "Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom & Religious Tolerance"

May 11, 2006

Creeping Socialism: ACORN & the Living Wage

I have never understood the logic of the "living wage" argument, where certain organizations - like ACORN - seek to have government agencies mandate new and higher wage rates. Such people believe that higher wages must be realized and that they can only be achieved by government fiat, not by the ability of the market to efficiently incorporate wage information into the best possible outcomes over time.

More specifically, if they really believe it is possible for government to unilaterally set higher wages without any adverse economic consequences to private sector businesses or public sector operations, they sure do not think very expansively. Instead of mandating wages of $10-12/hour, why not simply legislate that everyone will earn $100,000/year? Or $150,000/year? Yet nobody does that. Could it be that they really do know there are adverse economic consequences to higher wages?

If only the living wage debate was so straightforward. But, more on that shortly.

ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and they are a key player in the tax-eater world. In their words, "the mission of ACORN is clear, the vision remains: power through organization and direct action." A close reading of their website will quickly clarify their socialistic politics and alignment with the more politically radical labor unions.

Steven Malanga, in his book The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today (reviewed here), has this to say about the living wage movement:

...The living wage poses a big threat to [cities] economic health because the costs and restrictions it imposes on the private sector will destroy jobs - especially low-wage jobs - and send businesses fleeing to other locales. Worse still, the living-wage movement's agenda doesn't end with forcing private employers to increase wages. It includes opposing privatization schemes, strong-arming companies into unionizing...

The living-wage movement got its start in mid-1990's Baltimore...

As it spread beyond Baltimore, the living-wage movement at first purposely kept its aims narrow...

Soon, though, living-wage supporters began to win ever broader laws, covering ever more workers and businesses. Detroit's 1998 living wage applied to any business or non-profit with a city contract or to any firm that had received $50,000 or more in economic development assistance - ranging from the Salvation Army to small manufacturers located in the city's economic development zones. San Francisco's law went beyond city contractors to cover workers at the city airport, on the grounds that businesses there leased land from the city; airlines, newsstands, fast-food restaurants - none was exempt...Today forty-three states have at least one municipality with living-wage legislation on the books, or proposed laws.

The movement owes much of its success to the model campaign - exportable anywhere, anytime, fast - that its proponents, above all ACORN's national living-wage center, have created...The prospective living-wage activist can find everything he needs to know in a step-by-step manual, concocted by ACORN director of living-wage campaigns Jed Kern and Wayne State University labor economist David Reynolds.

The manual echoes the organizational theories of legendary radical Saul Alinsky. Coalition building is key. Alinsky's modus operandi was to get diverse constituencies to support his various causes by emphasizing their shared interests...

To pull off such coalition building in practice, you need more than a manual, of course; you need money - and the movement has lots of it, thanks to the backing of leftist foundations. The Tides Foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars...The Ford Foundation has been another big contributor.

The coalitions the movement has assembled have included hundreds of religious groups, allowing organizers to present their economic agenda as deeply moral...Labor groups have signed on too...

Living-wage campaigns have repeatedly outflanked the business community by practicing what ACORN calls "legislative outmaneuver." Local groups work behind the scenes for months before going public. They draft partisan economics to release timely studies on the prospective benefits of the living wage before opponents can come up with any countering data, and they try to keep any actual legislation off the table until the very last minute, so that there's no fixed target for opponents to get a bead on...

Providing the intellectual muscle (such as it is) for the living-wage movement is a small group of Marxoid economists led by University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor Robert Pollin, a longtime board member of the Union of Radical Political Economists, founded in the 1960's to bring Marxist economics to American universities...in 1998 he co-authored...the book that has become the movement's bible, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy.

In The Living Wage, the class war rages on - and on. Businesses, assert Pollin and Luce, have grown increasingly hostile toward workers in recent years. Their sole evidence for this claim - that the unionization rate has plummeted over the last three decades - ignores the conventional explanations for union decline in the United States: more intense global competition, the shift to a service-oriented, knowledge-based economy, and more generous benefits at nonunionized companies. But never mind: to keep ravenous capitalists under control, they argue, government clearly needs to impose a national living wage on the private sector. And that's just the beginning. Caps on profits, mandated benefits, rules to make unionization easier, massive taxation - government will manage the economy from top to bottom in The Living Wage's warmed-over socialism...

The complete rejection of a free-market economy by these living-wage gurus...is too much even for many liberal economists. One of the most telling critiques of The Living Wage came from self-professed liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In an article archived on the "cranks" section of his website, Krugman observes that "what the living wage is really about is not living standards, or even economics, but morality. Its advocates are basically opposed to the idea that wages are a market price - determined by supply and demand."

Continue reading "Creeping Socialism: ACORN & the Living Wage"

February 7, 2006

More on the Religion of Liberal Fundamentalism

Jonah Goldberg, in The New-Time Religion: Liberalism and its problems (available for a fee) offers this commentary:

Liberalism today has two maladies...The first...American liberalism is intellectually exhausted, or bookless, as New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz recently called it. The second...Modern liberalism has taken on the trappings of a religion.

This second diagnosis runs counter to the reigning clichs about the GOPs becoming the party of theocracy. While its true that the Republican party and the conservative movement are invested in the agenda of religious groups, conservatism maintains a far clearer separation of religious and political impulses than liberalism, which often conflates the two into a single ideology. Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather theres a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done...

It was the philosopher Eric Voegelin who...decried the liberal impulse as an attempt to...create a heaven on earth. The often spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clintons invocation of "covenants" with the American people; Hillary Clintons hibernating "politics of meaning,"...all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here.

This is all the inevitable consequence of a political movement that deliberately turned its back on philosophy and its own intellectual history. A movement without ideas must be driven by something, and if ideas and principles arent it, whats left is a stew of emotional and quasi-religious notions about "doing good."...

Liberals tend to deride conservatism for its faith in dogma. But the reality is that liberal dogma is settled while conservative dogma remains a work in progress. Indeed, the great debate of modern conservatism crudely described as libertarianism versus conservatism, or freedom versus virtue remains as unsettled today as it was when Frank Meyer coined the term "fusionism."...

Liberals had their own fusionist debate during the first three decades of the 20th century. American reformers envied Europes statist solutions to the "social problem."...

Liberals succeeded in jettisoning the historical baggage of liberalism by wielding the razor of Pragmatism, a "philosophy and a psychology perfectly tailored to progressive needs," writes Eric Goldman in his classic Rendezvous with Destiny. William James described his philosophy as an attitude of "looking away from first things, principles, 'categories,' supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts."...

Some liberals understood the dangers of this approach early on. "The real trouble with us reformers," lamented J. Allen Smith, a leading progressive intellectual, "is that we made reform a crusade against standards. Well, we smashed them all and now neither we nor anybody else have anything left." But the anti-dogmatism of the Pragmatists won out and became unquestioned dogma for generations of liberals...

Of course, an ideology of anti-dogmatism isnt less ideological than other worldviews; its merely harder to defend consistently, which is why many liberals choose not to try. Ever since Michael Dukakis insisted that voters should value his "competence" over Republican "ideology," Democratic politicians have been saying they dont believe in "labels" never mind extolling anything like a coherent political philosophy. But, as Bertrand Russell warned, the Pragmatic approach leaves its adherents no easily articulated principles for action other than power, preferences, and irrational "feelings."...

...it is an article of faith for liberals that they are right, they just need to update the evangelization effort by speaking in the vernacular a bit more...

And this is where the Janus faces of liberalism meet. William James invented Pragmatism to accommodate the belief that Darwin killed God; with it, religious truth became whatever believers willed. Liberalism therefore puts government in Gods throne to the extent that it believes that, as a matter of principle, no challenge is beyond the reach of Leviathan. From Woodrow Wilson on, central to the new liberals project was to create, in Arnolds words, a "religion of government," where the old dogma of a limited state with defined powers would be rendered obsolete in favor of an "organic" state and an oracular "living constitution."...

Here are three related postings:

"It Is Liberalism That Is Now Bookless And Dying"
Liberal Fundamentalism, Revisited
Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

February 1, 2006

Sen. Kerry, Thank You

Marc Comtois

Sen. Kerry, thank you for keeping such a high profile. Whether it be instigating a doomed-to-fail filibuster of Justice Alito from the slopes of a Swiss ski resort or claiming that "53 percent of our children don't graduate from high school" or "The average American struggles to find time to take care of families, working two or three jobs... " (emphasis mine), you make it easy for us to point out the intellectual bankruptcy of so many on the Left. On the face of it, no one can possibly believe that less than half of our students graduate from high school. Also, as an "average American" who happens to know a lot of other "average Americans," I can tell you that none work "two or three jobs" to make ends meet. But that's OK, such incessant carping reveals your politics-of-demogoguery for what it is. Thanks! (Oh, and please do run for President in 2008.)

January 3, 2006

Projo Editorial Board to Most of America: We Are Better than You Are

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo welcomes Rhode Islanders back to the first work-day of the new year with a bit of regional jingoism that is equal parts inaccurate and ugly. The gist of a Tuesday unsigned editorial is that New England and the Pacific Northwest are so superior to the rest of the country, they need not care what the rest of the country thinks...

If you think of the United States as the upper half of a human body, New England and the Pacific Northwest are its shoulders. And in an economic sense, they are....

Politicians in the South and the heartland often forget this. They sometimes denigrate the northern East and West coasts as cul-de-sacs: picturesque places of little import. They are so wrong.

America's two shoulders need not worry about what others think of them. New England and the Pacific Northwest have the best social indicators [and] the country's upper corners are where much of the money is made.

Now, if you're going to insult most of the country that you live in, you should have a few facts to back up the points you make, but this editorial doesn't present the supporting facts -- because they don't exist.

The unsigned editorial asserts that...

[New England and the Pacific Northwest] both maintain socially liberal traditions of helping the less-well-off, while staying out of people's bedrooms,
but there is no credible consensus that New England is a special place when it comes to helping the "less-well-off". The Boston Foundation recently conducted a study of state-by-state charitable giving adjusted for local cost-of-living and tax burdens. (In large measure, the study is a response to the Generosity Index, published by the Catalogue for Philanthropy, which consistently ranks New England states near the bottom in charitable giving). Though the Boston Foundation resists the concept of "ranking" states, a few state-level and regional-level conclusions are obvious.

Connecticut is the only New England state to make the Boston Foundation's top group of charitable givers in the most recent data (from 2002). Massachusetts also does well in the study, but not quite as well as the Southern states of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Vermont and New Hampshire rate near the bottom of the study. It's pretty clear that a superior New England tradition of "helping the less well off" with charitable giving does not exist.

The Boston Foundation's charitable giving metric places Rhode Island in the middle of the pack. States most similar to Rhode Island are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona and Montana. When it comes to charity, RI has a lot more in common with the Deep South than it does with the rest of southern New England.

The editorial makes a second important assertion of questionable basis in reality...

The Northeast and the Northwest are both economic powerhouses, burdened with paying for much of the country's spending.
Again, there are basic facts available which counter this assertion. According to statistics compiled by the Tax Foundation, 3 of the 6 New England states -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire -- are "donor" states that pay out more in Federal income taxes than they receive. The other 3 -- Maine, Vermont, and, yes, Rhode Island -- are "beneficiary" states that receive more in Federal taxes than they pay. There is no pattern of New England superiority in matters of fiscal responsibility, and Rhode Islanders, in particular, are not paying for Sun Belt spending. Rhode Island gets all of its Federal taxes back, and then some.

Having twice taken a sloppy approach towards the facts, the editorial then delves into the realm of sloppy philosophizing...

[T]ax cuts engineered by the Sunbelt politicians will, ironically, leave more money up north for local use. After all, the country's upper corners are where much of the money is made.
There is nothing "ironic" about the fact that Federal tax cuts allow people to keep their money closer to home. The core of the argument for reducing both the Federal tax burden and Federal spending is that money is spent most effectively when it is spent by the people closest to problems and not by remote bureaucrats. Now that the liberal bloc of Projo editorial writers bloc has come to realize this, will they be consistent and advocate that Federal spending be cut so that more money can stay closer to home?

December 30, 2005

Why Liberalism is Confused

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ross Douthat, guestblogging over at AndrewSullivan.com, provides a fresh (at least to me) perspective on the fundamental problem with contemporary liberalism...

The original aim of the liberal philosophers was to remove the "high" questions, the important-but-unresolvable questions - what is virtue? is Jesus Christ the Son of God? where do we go when we die? etc. - from the political realm, where they had caused so much trouble, and into the private and personal sphere. Politics henceforth would focus on lower matters, and be more peacable because of it. The difficulty, of course, is that over time liberalism lost sight of the fact that the high questions are high, and the low questions low, and came to believe that because everyone could agree, say, that you should respect your neighbor's property and avoid killing your enemy whenever possible, these were the most important questions facing humanity, and nobody - not even essayists and intellectuals - should sweat the other, harder-to-answer stuff. In early liberalism, governments weren't supposed to take positions on Christ's divinity, because the question was too important to be adjudicated by the state; in late liberalism, writers for the Times Book Review aren't supposed to take positions on Christ's divinity, because the question isn't important enough to worry over.

December 29, 2005

Boldly Going Where Few Conservatives Have Gone Before

Carroll Andrew Morse

to the pages of the Providence Phoenix.

In response to Ian Donnis Phoenix article on Rhode Islands young Democrats and young Republicans, Justin expressed some disappointment over how quickly young Republican leaders reject any association with a robust conservatism.

In a letter to the editor in this weeks Phoenix (scroll down to the 2nd letter on the page), I attempt to explain to Rhode Islands Republicans why their fiscally moderate, socially conservative fiscally conservative, socially moderate message is not nearly as popular as they believe it to be.


The fabulously named AuH20Republican suggests, correctly, that my last sentence above paints all RI Republicans with too broad a brush. I should have said that I am attempting to explain to Rhode Islands Republican party establishment why their fiscally conservative, socially moderate message is not nearly as popular as they believe it to be.


Or maybe AuH20Republican was pointing out an even stupider mistake on my part (see the strike-through above). I think I'm ready for the new year.

December 27, 2005

The Non-Wilsonian Roots of Republican Foreign Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

In todays OpinionJournal, Jeffrey Hart attempts to sum up the state of contemporary conservatism...

The Conservative Mind is a work in progress. Its deviations and lunges to ideology and utopianism have been self-corrected by prudence, reserved judgment as an operative principle, a healthy practical skepticism and the requirement of historical knowledge as a guide to prudent policy. Without a deep knowledge of history, policy analysis is feckless.
Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Online, two gentlemen very familiar with the history and principles of conservatism, have serious reservations about the views expressed by Mr. Hart towards life and cultural issues.

I have a reservation of my own. Mr. Hart believes that Republicans have turned away from conservatism to pursue what he calls a hard Wilsonian foreign policy. Hard Wilsonianism is the term often used (improperly, in my opinion) to describe the belief that the US should aggressively promote its ideals in its foreign policy, by force of arms if necessary.

This definition -- consistent with Mr. Harts essay -- too broadly construes the meaning and the dangers of Wilsonianism. Wilsonians want to do more than just promote (classically) liberal, democratic ideals in the conduct of foreign policy. They want to promote those ideals using specific means -- by endowing supra-national institutions with a legitimate right to coerce sovereign governments into behaving in a particular way.

This doesnt really describe the foreign policy of George W. Bush.

No version of Wilsonianism would have allowed the toppling of Saddam Husseins government of without UN, or some kind of formal, supra-national permission. You might argue that the foreign policy of George W. Bush is overly idealistic (I would disagree), but calling it "Wilsonian" stretches the definition of "Wilsonian" beyond any useful meaning.


Marc has compiled many reactions to Jeffrey's Hart's essay over at Spinning Clio.

December 21, 2005

The New Fiscal Responsibility: Spend Now, Who Cares About Later

Carroll Andrew Morse

Katherine Gregg had an aritcle on Sunday's Projo concerning an accounting rules change affecting state and municipal government. PLEASE STAY WITH ME FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER PARAGRAPH OR TWO, DESPITE THAT INCREDIBLY DULL FIRST SENTENCE. The rules change should not really be controversial; it simply requires public entities to disclose how much they owe their retirees in health-care benefits...

As a result of a new public-sector accounting rule, Rhode Island -- along with every other state, city, and town, water, sewer and school district in the nation -- will soon have to disclose to its taxpayers and bondholders the total value of its retiree health-care promises....

While no other specific action is required, the [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] told its members, the new Government Accounting Standards Board rule "will require employers to calculate and publish the cost of these benefits, which will show up as a liability on the employer's financial statements."

"If assets have not been set aside to offset the liability, an 'unfunded liability' will be displayed.

The money has to come from somewhere, so knowing how much you will need seems like a good idea, right?

Not everyone agrees. Here's the Rhode Island Policy Reporter on the subject (h/t RIFuture.org)...

The important difference between a private business and a government is that a private business can go bankrupt and disappear. In that case, it's important that there be financial backing to the commitments it has made to its customers and employees. This is why it's inappropriate for a private business to pay for pension costs out of current revenues, and why a corporation's "unfunded liability" -- the difference between what they owe and the cash they have on hand -- is such a big deal.

The same is not true of a government. Social Security, for example, has happily paid benefits out of current revenues for decades, and there's no reason it can't continue into the foreseeable future. But this accounting rule change will make this kind of perfectly responsible fiscal management appear to be mismanagement, and will cause thousands of governments across the country to raise taxes or cut services in order to pack away huge sums of money so they can appear more "fiscally responsible" than they really need to be.

In a rather Orwellian twist, RI Policy Reporter defines "fiscally responsible" as making big commitments today without having any real idea if you will be able to pay for them tommorrow.

The progressive position appears to be that government doesn't need to be honest with citizens -- in fact, government shouldn't be honest with its citizens, because they might demand (traditionally defined) fiscal responsibility. Government can't "go out of business" for spending more than it can afford, so saddling future taxpayers with huge liabilities doesn't matter.

Am I my missing any part of the progressive argument?

August 22, 2005

July 25, 2005

How Rank Partisanship Can Cloud the Sense of Common Decency

Marc Comtois

From Pennsylvania:

The family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq is furious with Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll for showing up uninvited at his funeral this week, handing out her business card and then saying "our government" is against the war.

Rhonda Goodrich of Indiana, Pa., said yesterday that a funeral was held Tuesday at a church in Carnegie for her brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, 32.

She said he "died bravely and courageously in Iraq on July 10, serving his country."

In a phone interview, Goodrich said the funeral service was packed with people "who wanted to tell his family how Joe had impacted their lives."

Then, suddenly, "one uninvited guest made an appearance, Catherine Baker Knoll."

She sat down next to a Goodrich family member and, during the distribution of communion, said, "Who are you?" Then she handed the family member one of her business cards, which Goodrich said she still has.

"Knoll felt this was an appropriate time to campaign and impose her will on us," Goodrich said. "I am amazed and disgusted Knoll finds a Marine funeral a prime place to campaign."

Goodrich said she is positive that Knoll was not invited to the funeral, which was jammed with Marines in dress uniform and police officers, because the fallen Marine had been a policeman in McKeesport and Indiana County.

"Our family deserves an apology," Rhonda Goodrich said. "Here you have a soldier who was killed -- dying for his country -- in a church full of grieving family members and she shows up uninvited. It made a mockery of Joey's death."

What really upset the family, Goodrich said, is that Knoll said, 'I want you to know our government is against this war,' " Goodrich said.

She said she is going to seek an answer from Gov. Ed Rendell's administration if it opposes the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yes, this is an extreme case, but it is illustrative of what can happen when one begins to view everything through partisan glasses. When we allow our political selves to be ginned up to the point where we begin to hate domestic political opponents to such a degree, we lose focus on the real enemies to our society. Of course, to too many liberals, the real enemy is not terrorists or belligerent nations: to them the enemy is President Bush and the Republican Party. To these, Michael Barrone's comments should be both read and heeded:
This summer, one big story is replaced by another--the London bombings July 7, the speculation that Karl Rove illegally named a covert CIA agent, the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, more London bombings last week. But beneath the hubbub, we can see the playing out of another, less reported story: the collapse of the attempts by liberal Democrats and their sympathizers in the mainstream media--the New York Times, etc., etc.--to delegitimize yet another Republican administration. . .

. . . for the past five years, the same folks have been trying to undermine the presidency of George W. Bush. The Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore was denounced as an outrage, and Democrats noted, accurately, that Bush did not win a plurality of the popular vote in 2000. The nation rallied to his support after September 11, but Democrats held up his judicial and other nominations even if they had to violate Senate tradition to do so. Coverage of Bush during the 2004 campaign was heavily negative; for months the mainstream media mostly ignored the swift boat vets' charges against John Kerry and broadcast accusations against Bush based on forged documents eight weeks before the election. News of economic recovery in 2003 and 2004 was pitched far more negatively than it had been when Bill Clinton was president in 1995 and 1996.

Now the unsupported charges that "Bush lied" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been rekindled via criticism of Karl Rove. A key witness for the Democrats and mainstream media was former diplomat Joseph Wilson. Unfortunately for his advocates, he turned out to be a liar. A year after his famous article appeared in the New York Times in July 2003 accusing Bush of "twisting" intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a bipartisan report, concluded that Wilson lied when he said his wife had nothing to do with his dispatch to Niger and Chairman Pat Roberts said that his report bolstered rather than refuted the case that Saddam Hussein's Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa. So despite the continuing credulousness of much of the press, it appears inconceivable at this point that Karl Rove will be charged with violating the law prohibiting disclosure of the names of undercover agents. The case against Rove--ballyhooed by recent Time and Newsweek cover stories that paid little heed to the discrediting of Wilson--seems likely to end not with a bang but a whimper. . .

The bombings and attempted bombings in London have brought home to the American public that we face implacable enemies unwilling to be appeased by even the most emollient diplomacy. Yet, mainstream media coverage of Iraq has been mostly negative. But mainstream media no longer have a monopoly; Americans have other sources in talk radio, Fox News, and the blogosphere. Bush's presidency is still regarded as illegitimate by perhaps 20 percent of the electorate. But among the rest, the attempt to delegitimize him seems to be collapsing.

Democrats have to get off of their hell-bent-for-leather attempt to "get" Bush et al aka Nixon. This hyper-politicization of all things only exposes the dearth of ideas on the left. In fact, what has occurred is that those who purport to be "liberal" are actually conservative in their theory of government: they wish to extend or preserve the same failed programs of the past half-century: those started by Roosevelt and expanded by LBJ. They continue to criticize without solutions. This country needs two viable parties so that the best ideas can emerge. Right now, we don't. But at the bare minimum, would it be too much to ask of the opponents of the President that they discontinue the hyperbolic rhetoric concerning foreign affairs? Apparently, the answer is "yes."

July 11, 2005

"It Is Liberalism That Is Now Bookless And Dying"

Charles Kesler has published an editorial entitled Bookless in America, where he says:

Half a century ago, in liberalism's heyday, American conservatism seemed a contradiction in terms. Men of genuine and liberal learning (was there any other kind?) assured one another that the United States is, was, and ever would be a liberal society. They defined liberalism in an easy-going, open-ended way, connecting the New Deal to the American Revolution by a more-or-less straight line, defined less by philosophy than by temperament: the readiness to change, to experiment, to reinventboth the government and the self.

In various ways, Louis Hartz, Lionel Trilling, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and others drove this lesson home...Conservatism was at best liberalisms shadow...American conservatism was inarticulate"bookless," John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked acidulouslybecause it had nothing to say either about or to America.

With his usual acuity, Galbraiths pronouncement came in the midst of the centurys greatest outpouring of conservative books. The 1950s and 1960s saw the publication of classic works by (to name a few) Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Robert Nisbet, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, Harry V. Jaffa, Edward C. Banfield, Whittaker Chambers, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Subsequent decades added luster, with James Buchanan, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson, Allan Bloom, Walter Berns, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and others joining the fray.

So, whos bookless now? The publisher of The New Republic, no less, admitted recently: "It is liberalism that is now bookless and dying."

"Who is a truly influential liberal mind in our culture?" Martin Peretz asked. "Whose ideas challenge and whose ideals inspire?... Theres no one, really. Whats left is the laundry list: the catalogue of programsthat Republicans arent funding, and the blogs, with their daily panic dose about how the Bush administration is ruining the country."

In fact, the exhaustion of liberal ideas started long ago: modern liberalism peaked intellectually in the first half of the last century. By the centurys end, so many progressive ideas had been written into law, with such mixed results, that liberals remain bewildered and even to a degree disillusioned by their own successes, not to mention their multiplying electoral defeats. Their glory days seem behind them. If "the era of big government is over," after all, where do liberals go from here?

Think twice before gloating, however. After victory in the Cold War and the death of many of conservatisms founding fathers (especially Ronald Reagan), one senses on the Right not only a generational shift but also a growing distraction or inattentiveness, as though the campfires are burning down.

The two developments are related, in part...

This decline is visible in conservatism at large, too. It is one thing (a blessing, I can tell you) to grow up reading and watching Bill Buckley; another to grow up reading and watching Bill OReilly...

Nonetheless, the danger of taking our precepts for grantedof forgetting the thinkers and arguments that made possible the epic confrontation with liberalismgrows greater as American conservatism moves farther away from its own founding age. We need to recur to first principles if we are not to lose sight of our purposes.

But then one of the spiritual advantages of conservatism is the confidence that all is never completely lostor won. There is no such thing as saving civilization, once and for all. It is a never-ending challenge. Though the finest books may fade and be forgotten, truth endures, awaiting rediscovery. Most liberals, by contrast, believe fervently in mankinds evolution, in every sense of the term. Once shake their faith that history is necessarily on their side, and they are left unmannedand bookless.

Therein lies the structural deficiency of liberalism and an appropriate word of caution for conservatives.

June 26, 2005

Countering the Intolerance of Left-Wing Secular Fundamentalists

Hugh Hewitt has written an important article entitled Real Religious Intolerance. In the article, he provides a speech by American Roman Catholic Archbishop Chaput that is worthy of reading in full:

The Los Angeles Weekly's "The New Blacklist" is author Douglas Ireland's attempt to equate consumer boycotts of gay-themed entertainment sponsors with McCarthyism.

That's a stretch to begin with...

Ireland's piece is full of over-the-top rhetoric, including repeated use of the term "Christers," which many view as nakedly bigoted.

But Ireland is a proud radical atheist, as blogger-theologian Mark D. Roberts discovered as he began a lengthy assessment of Ireland's piece...the harshest language in his article didn't come from him, but from the associate dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication, Martin Kaplan. Kaplan, a long-time Democratic activist turned professor, called the trend among Christians refusing to buy products advertised on shows such as Will & Grace, ""theocratic oligopoly." Dean Kaplan continued: "The drumbeat of religious fascism has never been as troubling as it is now in this country."

Kaplan's absurdity would have lacked the context to make it other than the silly excess of a tenured Trojan had the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe not just held a conference in Cordoba Spain on the rise of anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance in Europe...an American delegation attended...Among the delegation was Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput. Archbishop Chaput's remarks deserve widespread distribution...

Because Dean Kaplan's bigotry and historical amnesia is not unique, we reprint the entire text of Bishop Chaput's remarks here:

For a few weeks two months ago, the City of Rome doubled in size. People from around Europe and the world came to the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Some 600,000 people viewed his coffin on the first day. More than 1.4 million paid their respects before his burial. That should remind us of two things.

First, Europe remains obviously religious--not simply in its nominal and active believers, but also in its culture and assumptions about the dignity of the human person.

What we know as "Europe" was shaped, in vital ways, by the Christian faith. Judaism and Islam also clearly made important contributions to the European experience. But the founders of the European unity movement were all professed Christians. Their commitment to the great project of Europe's future came from their moral convictions, which in turn grew out of their religious identity and Christian heritage.

Second, John Paul II's appeal to people of every faith--and no faith--did not come simply from his personality but from his actions. His devotion to human freedom and his role in liberating Eastern Europe were rooted completely in his Catholic faith. In one sense, he embodied the greatness of Europe. And he did it by being a son of Europe's Christian imagination and history.

We know from the totalitarian regimes in Europe's recent past that a determined minority can persecute other minorities, and oppress even a majority of a nation's citizens. Discrimination and intolerance toward Christians and minority religious groups are rising in several areas of the world today. Europe, despite its heritage, is not immune. And unfortunately, other parts of the OSCE region show similar troubling signs.

Discrimination and intolerance take two forms: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination has the shape of legal restrictions, and often police harassment and legal barriers, designed to stamp out unauthorized or unpopular religious communities or to limit the legitimate exercise of their religious freedom. The intolerant behavior of some OSCE states continues to violate the basic human rights of belief and worship.

In several OSCE states, regimes discriminate against religious communities by creating structures of prejudicial treatment. High membership requirements prevent small congregations from obtaining legal status which, in contrast, is granted to other "traditional" religious communities. Lack of historical presence can block newer religious groups from qualifying for basic rights and privileges. Denial of legal standing has the very real consequence of either violating individual rights or stigmatizing entire groups. This is state-sponsored discrimination, and it violates OSCE commitments to promote religious freedom for all.

An equally dangerous trend now dominates other OSCE states, where public expressions of religious faith often seem to be ridiculed as fundamentalism. In the name of respecting all religions, a new form of secular intolerance is sometimes imposed. Out of fear of religious fundamentalism, a new kind of secular fundamentalism may be coerced on public institutions and political discourse.

At the same time, various media in the OSCE area now often allow symbols of Christian identity, Christian believers and their faith to be publicly abused. Programs like "How to cook a crucifix" and sacramental confessions recorded without the confessor's knowledge are deeply contemptuous of Catholic believers. This is unworthy of Europe's moral dignity and religious heritage. Furthermore, it stands in stark contrast to OSCE commitments to promote religious freedom.

Europe has given the whole world the seeds of democracy. Today's growing anti-religious and often anti-Christian spirit undermines that witness.

As with anti-Semitism, the OSCE must employ its practical commitments on combating discrimination to also fight discrimination and intolerance against Christians and members of other religious communities. Moreover, the OSCE must carefully monitor their implementation.

OSCE participating states must strive to protect Christian communities and other religious groups from discrimination and intolerance. The media should be encouraged to offer truly balanced coverage of religious faith. Educational systems should teach the value of faith in people's lives. The specific contribution given to public life by Christian communities and other religious groups should be remembered.

Democracy depends on people of conviction taking an active, visible part in public life; peacefully and respectfully, but vigorously. That includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and all religious believers, as well as non-believers. Public debate without a free and welcoming role for religious faith does not produce diversity or pluralism. It can easily do the opposite. It can create politics without morality, and public institutions without enduring ideals.

My hope is that OSCE participating states will do everything in their power to discourage all forms of religious intolerance - including any disrespect for Europe's own Christian roots."

Continue reading "Countering the Intolerance of Left-Wing Secular Fundamentalists"

June 8, 2005

Revisiting the Case for Janice Rogers Brown

The US Senate today approved the appointment of Janice Rogers Brown to the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That news is cause for celebration and revisiting the case for her appointment.

Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute offers these powerful thoughts on Janice Rogers Brown:

How much longer can we go on playing constitutional pretend pretending that there's a serious connection between the Constitution and so much of what passes today for "constitutional law"?

Rarely faced head-on, the question arises on the few fortunate times when we're presented with a judicial nominee who's been so bold as to publicly doubt the connection. At the moment that's Janice Rogers Brown.

The pretend game is especially well-played by "moderates" wary of "extremists" like Brown. And no one plays it better...than the wonderfully moderate Stuart Taylor Jr., because no one tries harder than he to find common ground between the warring camps brought forth by such a nominee. Blessed are the peacemakers.

But war is sometimes inevitable, as when great principles are at stake...No moderate she, her thinking is indeed "radical," going to the root of the matter. It's the kind of thinking that awakens Washington from its dogmatic slumbers. That's why the battle today is so vicious...because the stakes are so high.

What's the Principle?

Like many a moderate, Taylor sees "grave danger" in the Republican effort to bring an end to the unprecedented judicial filibusters that, for two years, have blocked 10 of President George W. Bush's appellate court nominees. But his criticism is evenhanded, not surprisingly: "Both sides," he writes, "are hypocritical to pretend they're driven by principle, not partisanship."

True, on both sides there's enough hypocrisy to go around, and both sides are driven by partisanship no surprise there. But that doesn't mean that principle is not also at issue. The question is, What's the principle?

For Republicans, it seems to be "that the Senate's Article I power to 'determine the rules of its proceedings' applies . . . less to confirmation proceedings than to legislative proceedings," Taylor tells us, calling the argument "embarrassingly weak." No, it rests on the history of the extraconstitutional filibuster, which until 2003 had never been used to block judicial nominees with clear majority support. By specifying the few things requiring a supermajority vote, the Constitution fairly implies majority rule for the rest, with "rules of its proceedings" meant mainly for housekeeping. Put it this way: Would constitutional alarms sound were the confirmation rule four-fifths or nine-tenths? Then why not when it's three-fifths?

For Democrats, the principle seems to be to temper majority rule when a nominee is "outside the mainstream" that is, to filibuster nominees who fail to reflect "the core values held by most of our country's citizens," as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it in a 2001 New York Times op-ed, just as he was launching Senate hearings to push for ideological litmus tests for nominees.

Never mind that judges are supposed to apply the law whether or not it's consistent with their own or the citizenry's "core values" (now that is a principle), Schumer's point is captured by Taylor when he concludes his filibuster commentary by invoking the sword of Damocles. The value of the judicial filibuster, Taylor writes, "is not that it should be used, but that it should hang over the process, and serve as a moderating influence on the president."

"Moderating" influence? Moderating toward what? What sense, if any, do terms like "moderate" and "extreme" make in this context? We hear them all the time, yet they serve mostly to end or to cloud rather than to aid debate about what a judge should do or what we, and the Constitution, stand for about matters of principle. In the end, to say that a judge is "outside the mainstream" is simply to make a political appeal, to trade on the pejorative "extremist."

Unwilling to Pretend

We come, then, to that issue of principle, and to Taylor's brief against Janice Rogers Brown, currently a justice on the California Supreme Court. Her chief sin, it seems, is that she stands for something, for principle, not unlike albeit far from in substance "the remaining exponents of radical redistributionist and Marxist theories" that Taylor plants opposite her. What is worse, perhaps, is that she is willing to speak truth to constitutional hypocrisy and plainly, at that. She is unwilling, that is, to play constitutional pretend.

Consider, for example, Taylor's charge that Brown is "a passionate advocate of a radical, anti-regulatory vision of judicially enforced property rights far more absolute than can be squared with the Supreme Court precedents." Quite so, save for the anti-regulatory part (she's actually anti-takings, which is not the same as anti-regulation). But is the problem with her vision or with the Court's precedents with the "labyrinthine and compartmentalized" case law in this area, as Brown has put it?...

What would Taylor have? Less passion from Brown? A less "radical" approach one that avoids going to the root of the matter? The virtue of someone like Brown is that she's willing and able to go to first principles to straighten out the mess the Court has here, as in so many other areas of our law. In a word, she has a vision. It's a vision of the Constitution, and of the yawning gap between it and much of our modern constitutional law.

A Vision Lost

Therein lies the problem, of course, because the "mainstream" has largely lost sight of that vision. Indeed, Taylor himself recognizes that when he frames his critique with a question that speaks volumes about modern constitutional confusions. Drawing on charges that Brown, were she on the Supreme Court, would be active in holding Congress to its enumerated powers, he asks: Where is the conservative outrage over the president's having nominated someone who believes the Court has authority to find so many of the administration's programs to be without constitutional authority?

Conservatives like Robert Bork and Scalia, after all, have made careers railing against "judicial activists." Yet here comes Brown, who believes the Court should "actively" hold the federal government to its enumerated powers while securing our rights, both enumerated and unenumerated, against every government federal, state, and local.

Modern liberals recoil against the first of those "the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decisions that constrain Congressional power," as Schumer put it in that New York Times piece. Yet what else could James Madison have meant except limited government when he wrote in Federalist 45 that the powers of Congress would be "few and defined"? Modern conservatives recoil against judicial enforcement of unenumerated rights, fearing "judicial activism." Yet what is the Ninth Amendment about if not unenumerated rights? Or the 14th Amendment's privileges or immunities clause? Or the very structure of the Constitution itself? If we're going to be originalists, let's do it right.

To answer Taylor's question, then, it would seem that there are enough thoughtful people in the Bush administration to have appreciated the constitutional dilemma before the nation the crisis of legitimacy and the need to bring it out in the open. In a word, we have a Constitution authorizing limited government, yet Leviathan surrounds us and Justice Brown is perceptive and secure enough to say so, as Taylor amply notes. For that she should be commended, not criticized...

To be sure, that was one year before the constitutional revolution that is primarily responsible for the constitutional dilemma we have today. Following fast upon President Franklin Roosevelt's notorious Court-packing scheme, the Court caved to political pressure in 1937 and opened the floodgates for the modern welfare state. That's when politics trumped law on a grand scale, and it's never been the same since.

Boston University's Gary Lawson put the upshot well in the 1994 Harvard Law Review: "The post-New Deal administrative state is unconstitutional, and its validation by the legal system amounts to nothing less than a bloodless constitutional revolution." But take it from someone who was there, Rexford Tugwell, one of the principal architects of the New Deal: "To the extent that these [New Deal policies] developed, they were tortured interpretations of a document intended to prevent them."

The New Dealers knew exactly what they were doing to the Constitution. Janice Rogers Brown understands that, too. We're fortunate to have so radical a nominee before us.

Continue reading "Revisiting the Case for Janice Rogers Brown"

June 1, 2005

David Frum & Peggy Noonan on Liberalism, Deep Throat & the Significance of Watergate

I never liked Richard Nixon. As a student at the time, I listened to both the Senate and House hearings on Watergate. With what I heard in those hearings, I concluded he was a crook when he was President and my opinion of him has not changed with the passage of time. Over the years, I have also come to realize how his policies diminished freedom at home by ensuring the ongoing growth in the size and regulatory scope of the federal government.

With all of that in mind, though, it is hard not to react with a range of emotions, including some ambivalence, to the revelation of that W. Mark Felt, the former #2 at the FBI, was Deep Throat. The commentaries below highlight some of the reasons for that ambivalence.

David Frum has this to say about the significance of Watergate with the disclosure of Felt as Deep Throat:

...There should be no evasion here: Richard Nixon committed serious crimes as president, including violation of the campaign-finance laws and obstruction of justice. Under his bad example and following his perverse incentives, a whole generation of senior Republican officials marched into lawlessness.

That said, as it must be said, some additional perspective is in order as the big media descends into yet another spasm of Watergate delight ....

1) There were very few if any crimes committed under Richard Nixon that FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ did not also commit, from snooping on political opponents' IRS records (something that Nixon was prevented from doing but that FDR regularly did), to violating campaign laws (an LBJ speciality). Standards seem to have been a little higher under Eisenhower, but that may be a gap in the historical record. I argued in my history of the 1970s, How We Got Here that Nixon's misconduct has to be seen as an exaggerated form of the misconduct of his predecessors, and not as some unique deviation of his own.

2) One reason that Watergate memories so galvanize the press is that liberal journalists can now understand that Watergate represented the very zenith of their cultural influence. For one shining, shimmering moment, they decided who were cultural heroes and who were villains.

They could transmute a bitter old segregationist like Sam Ervin into a defender of the Constitution for standing against Nixon --and utterly destroy an innocent like former Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans for standing too close to him. There was no Fox News, no Rush Limbaugh, and barely even a Wall Street Journal editorial page as Robert Bartley would build it and we now know it.

Deep Throat is a perfect example of this. There is something disturbing is there not about a law-enforcement official becoming convinced of the guilt of his target, and leaking information against him to the media?

Didn't Clinton defenders rave against Ken Starr and his team for allegedly doing so? Isn't that the justification, to the extent that there is any justification, for Senate Democrats' unreasoning rancor against Bush judicial pick Brett Kavanaugh, a former Starr counsel?

And yet when the #2 of the FBI admits that he does so against Richard Nixon, it becomes time to pull out the block of marble and the chisels.

American liberals have lost this cultural power for good, but the memory of it remains sweet.

3) Finally, today might be a good day to recall that the techniques of cover-up used by Nixon were borrowed later by Bill Clinton. True, Nixon was covering up a grave political offense, and Clinton was covering up a tawdry affair. The Nixon administration was a somber and sometimes sinister tragedy; the Clinton administration an absurd farce. And yet in a purely formal sense, the parallels between the two scandal-tainted governments are striking, a point I made back in 1998 with this little jape, printed in The Weekly Standard and being posted today in the archive at David Frum's website.

Continue reading "David Frum & Peggy Noonan on Liberalism, Deep Throat & the Significance of Watergate"

May 29, 2005

What Are We Doing To Our Children?

Michelle Malkin writes here and here about a new teenage book called "Rainbow Party."

Here's a rich irony: I'm writing today about a new children's book, but I can't describe the plot in a family newspaper without warning you first that it is entirely inappropriate for children.

The book is "Rainbow Party" by juvenile fiction author Paul Ruditis. The publisher is Simon Pulse, a kiddie lit division of the esteemed Simon & Schuster. The cover of the book features the title spelled out in fun, Crayola-bright font. Beneath the title is an illustrated array of lipsticks in bold colors.

The main characters in the book are high school sophomores supposedly typical 14- and 15-year-olds with names such as "Gin" and "Sandy." The book opens with these two girls shopping for lipstick at the mall in advance of a special party. The girls banter as they hunt for lipsticks in every color of the rainbow...

What kind of party do you imagine they might be organizing? Perhaps a makeover party? With moms and daughters sharing their best beauty secrets and bonding in the process?

Alas, no. No parents are invited to this get-together. A "rainbow party," you see, is a gathering of boys and girls for the purpose of engaging in group oral sex. Each girl wears a different colored lipstick and leaves a mark on each boy. At night's end, the boys proudly sport their own cosmetically-sealed rainbow you-know-where bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of "party favors."...

...according to Publisher's Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, "don't you want to know what really goes down?"

The author and publisher of the book seem to have persuaded themselves that they are doing families a favor...Bethany Buck, Ruditis' editor, told USA Today the intention was to "scare" young readers (uh-huh) and Ruditis told Publisher's Weekly:

"Part of me doesn't understand why people don't want to talk about [oral sex]," he said. "Kids are having sex and they are actively engaged in oral sex and think it's not really sex. I raised questions in my book and I hope that parents and children or teachers and students can open a topic of conversation through it. Rainbow parties are such an interesting topic. It's such a childlike way to look at such an adult subject with rainbow colors."

Teenage group orgies are "an interesting topic?" Is Ruditis out of his mind?...

In a small sign that decency and common sense still survive in the marketplace, a number of children's book sellers are refusing to stock "Rainbow Party." But as Ruditis's comments indicate, it's just a matter of time before the book ends up on public school library shelves in the name of "educating" children and helping them "deal with reality."...

Malkin continues:

...Those who raise even the least objection are cast as out-of-touch theocrats who need to "deal with reality."...

If "proper socialization" means teaching 14-year-olds about group oral sex, we can only pray that more parents choose to raise social misfits.

Why do we tolerate this? What are we doing to our children?


Reader Jeff Miller, in the Comments section to this posting, directs us to Mere Comments for additional and troubling information:

...I picked up a copy of Simon and Schusters new book for the teenage girl market, Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis...

The book is even more insidious than I first imagined. The heroine of the book is not the party-planner, but a saintly high school sex education teacher. Ms. Barrett is described as more of a friend than a teacher. She is the only one to whom all the students can talk about their sexuality. Unfortunately, the heroic Ms. Barrett is silenced after the head of the high school Chastity Club rats on her to the school board, which instructs Ms. Barrett to teach abstinence only in the classroom.

Ms. Barrett is vindicated when a gonnhorea epidemic hits the high school, an epidemic that could have been stopped if only Ms. Barrett had been allowed to give the right information about protection to the students. In the end, Ms. Barrett valiantly resigns rather than leave her students unprotected. Here she stands. She can do no other.

The antagonists in this book are the parents. Now, this is nothing new...But there is something different here. It is not simply that the parents are outdated in their morality, or out of touch with teen culture. In this book, the parents lack of understanding actually leads to the sickness and potential death of their teenage children.

And who will stand up for them? Why the public school sex education teacher, of course.

This misguided line of thought is getting really old.

May 26, 2005

Enough Already!

This report is simply over-the-top and contributes to the ongoing destruction of civil society in America:

Hollywood once again jumps into bitter DC politics when an episode of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent suggests a judge killer would wear a 'Tom DeLay' T-Shirt!

The House Majority Leader plans a letter of protest later this afternoon...


In the season finale, Detectives Goren and Eames suspect an imprisoned white supremacist is behind the shootings of a judge's family, but their investigation widens when an appellate judge is later murdered...

ADA RON CARVER (COURTNEY B. VANCE) : An african-american judge, an appellate court judge, no less.

MAN: Chief of DS is setting up a task force. People are talking about multiple assassination teams.

DET. ALEX EAMES (KATHRYN ERBE): Looks like the same shooters. CSU found the slug in a post, matched it to the one that killed Judge Barton. Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-Shirt.

This is simply and utterly unacceptable, polarizing behavior. Another example of Hollywood's total disconnection from reality and the Left's willingness to stoop to any low level to trash those who don't agree with its secular fundamentalist political agenda.

As a conservative who has publicly criticized Tom DeLay here and here, my loud exclaim is: Enough already! Our country is too great to deserve this kind of demeaning behavior.

May 23, 2005

A Convert Speaks

Marc Comtois
These days the postmodern left demands that government and private institutions guarantee equality of outcomes. Any racial or gender "disparities" are to be considered evidence of culpable bias, regardless of factors such as personal motivation, training, and skill. This goal is neither liberal nor progressive; but it is what the left has chosen. In a very real sense it may be the last card held by a movement increasingly ensnared in resentful questing for group-specific rights and the subordination of citizenship to group identity. There's a word for this: pathetic.
So says Keith Thompson, who also offers more on his own "conversion." Continue reading "A Convert Speaks"

May 16, 2005

The Senate Judicial Filibuster: Power Politics & Religious Bigotry

A Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "How We Got Here: Why Republicans can't let the judicial filibuster succeed" states:

On the eve of this brawl, it's worth recalling how we got here. Our own choice for what started the modern bitterness would be 1987 and the Robert Bork fightthe trashing of such a widely respected jurist marked that date as the one when nominations became political campaigns. During the Clinton years some GOP Senators returned the favor by delaying or blocking individual nominees. But even when Republicans had a Senate majority, there was nothing comparable to the demolitions of Mr. Bork or Clarence Thomas.

The judicial filibuster of the last two years marks another political escalation

The audacity of the Democrats' radicalism is illustrated by the breadth of their claims against the nominees. It isn't just one nominee they object to; it's 10, and counting. It isn't just abortion they're worried about but the entire range of constitutional law.

Priscilla Owen is said to be a judicial "activist" for a decision interpreting Texas's law regarding parental notification of teens seeking abortions. Janice Rogers Brown is "against" affirmative action and speaks bluntly in public. Brett Kavanaugh is portrayed as a radical for defending executive privilege. William Pryor is hit on the First Amendment. Richard Griffin is "anti-union" and "anti-worker." William Myers is "hostile" to the environment. Every one is labeled an "extremist" and unacceptable no matter their experience or their "well qualified" ABA rating.

This also marks a political escalation in reaching below the Supreme Court to the circuit courts of appeal

They are going to such bitter lengths, we suspect, precisely because they view the courts as their last hold on federal power. As liberals lost their majority status over the past 30 years, they have turned increasingly to the courts to implement their political program. If Democrats succeed in blocking these nominees, they will feel vindicated in their view that judicial activism pays. They will also conclude that Senate obstructionism works, and so will dig in for more of it

Democrats who point to other judicial filibusters are deliberately confusing the distinction between a filibuster and a vote for "cloture," or to end debate

This is at its core a political fight, and elections ought to mean something. Republicans have gained Senate seats in two consecutive elections in which judicial nominations were among the most important issues

Robert Novak's latest editorial entitled "Judges' financial info sought" shows how the raw exercise of power politics behind the filibuster is escalating even further now:

On May 5, the U.S. Judicial Conference in Washington received a request from a Mike Rice of Oakland, Calif., for the financial disclosure records of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Edith Jones (5th Circuit) of Houston. A 20-year veteran on the bench, Jones is a perennial possibility for the U.S. Supreme Court. The demand for her personal records is part of a major intelligence raid preceding momentous confirmation fights in the Senate.

Jones was not alone as a target, and Rice is not just a nosy citizen. He and Craig Varoga, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, are partners in a California political consulting firm. Their May 5 petition requested financial information on 30 appellate judges in all but one of the country's judicial circuits, including nine widely mentioned Supreme Court possibilities. Varoga & Rice's client: NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Nobody can recall any previous mass request for such disclosures by federal judges. This intelligence raid is financed by the abortion lobby, but it looks to Republicans like a front for Reid and other senators who will consider President Bush's appointments for Supreme Court nominations...

While Rice bills himself as an "expert" on "state public-records laws," his special field has been negative research probing the background of political foes...

...But compiling financial profiles of judicial nominees plows new ground...

The abortion advocacy group surely was not asking the judges' views on abortion. Nancy Keenan, who has been NARAL's president some five months, told this column her organization is concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. Why seek financial information from them? She said the disclosure information might help identify the "character" of judicial nominees...

To which this Power Line posting entitled "Anything goes if you're planning to attack believing Christians" notes:

...The statement of Nancy Keenan, NARAL's president, is also revealing. She told Novak that her organization is concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. What does financial information have to do with this? Keenan says the disclosure information might help identify the "character" of judicial nominees. That's an interesting twist -- when caught with her pants down, Keenan reverts to a facially absurd "we're protecting the country from the God-fearing" defense. The left has journeyed very far, fairly fast...

Remember how the Democrats blasted Senator Frist for suggesting that their opposition to President Bush's nominees had anything to do with religion? "Out of touch theological activists" are, I think, the same people as those who have "deeply held religious beliefs."

In addition, Stanley Kurtz has these comments in a posting entitled "It's What You Believe:"

When asked why her organization was going after these nominees, NARAL president Nancy Keenan said that her organization was concerned about "out of touch theological activists" becoming judges. Now thats interesting. I thought opponents of the presidents nominees were only concerned about judicial philosophy, not religious belief. Do you suppose [the mainstream media] will now come down on Keenan for injecting religion into politics? Will [the mainstream media] now acknowledge that the presidents nominees are indeed being targeted because of their faith? Will pigs fly?

In a posting entitled "Hating Their Religion," Liberty Files offers these thoughts:

...Essentially, they are looking for the indicia of the serious practice of faith in order to use that as ammunition to slime them as an intolerant religious hack, their premise being that people of sincere faith cannot be effective judges because they will reflexively legislate the Bible.

But NARAL is not concerned about fitness of judges anymore than it is concerned about the health of the mother after an abortion takes place. This plan is rooted in radical left's increasingly conspicuous anti-religious bigotry, and is an effort to portray people of faith as out of the mainstream nuts because they hold a set of unchanging beliefs and vocally object to the moral lawlessness of the left. Listen to their rhetoric and then replace the term "Christian" with "Jew", and the historical parallel will become clearer. NARAL's hope is that real faith, rather than being an admirable personal attribute, will become a skeleton in the closet, so that they can count on moral relativist activist judges and politicians who will maintain the abortion status quo and effectuate the social agenda of the left.

They accuse Christians of being hatemongers, but watch the behavior of these radicals carefully--they commit the very evils of which they accuse their opponents. They are discriminating based on religion. They behave as madmen. They don't argue facts, but only innuendo, prejudice and emotion, hoping that they can scare people into their viewpoint...

A JunkYardBlog posting entitled "An Admission" has this to say:

"Out of touch theological activists." That is a phrase that Andrew Sullivan is sure to love and support, but to the rest of us it can be explained in two words: religious bigotry. NARAL has admitted now that it is applying a religious test to the president's nominees, and NARAL is one of a handful of groups controlling the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Therefore the Democrats are engaged in religious bigotry, and are conducting an unconstitutional religious test upon judicial nominees.

Game, set, match. Now let's blow that non-filibuster filibuster out of the water.

Now, again, ask yourself who are really the theocrats threatening liberty in this equation?

For more on the judicial filibusters by Democratic Senators, go here and here.

For more on the fundamentalism of the secular left, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.

May 14, 2005

More Celebrity Nonsense Talk

I have always failed to understand why our society pays so much attention to the opinions of Hollywood celebrities, as if they have any ability to offer rich insights into the issues of life.

This opinion was reinforced this morning by two separate news articles about Brad Pitt, both coming from the same interview:

In the first article:

Lucy and the GQ gang were invited to Brad's place for the shoot where he talked candidly about his hopes of one day becoming a daddy.

"He seems very ready for that in a way that he didn't used to be," she added. "He knows that there was a time that he was all about the adventure."

So what kind of father does Mr. Pitt think he will be?

"I'll be able to figure it out when I get there. I have great faith in that. I'm just really aware of the responsibility of putting your life second, and your job is to show this little one around the world," he told GQ.

In a second article from the same interview, Pitt also said:

The actor revealed to GQ magazine that he never quite bought the whole "until death do us part" thing in the marriage vows.

"The idea that marriage has to be for all time -- that I don't understand," Pitt, 41, admits in the interview conducted not long after Aniston filed for divorce in March. "It's talked about like it failed, I guess because it wasn't flawless. Me, I embrace the messiness of life. I find it so beautiful, actually."...

For a guy who has previously expressed concerns over the idea of lifelong monogamy, even before the split when he told Vanity Fair last year, "I'm not sure if it really is in our nature to be with someone for the rest of our lives."

Brad Pitt thinks he is ready to be a father but staying married to a wife for the rest of his life is unnatural. Sounds like a man whose only experience with children consists of junkets to Africa with Angelina Jolie and her child where Pitt can drop in and play - and then go his own way. All the upside fun, none of the downside hardships, and none of the long-term responsibility and commitment.

A profoundly fake view and understanding of the real world. Kind of like making a movie isn't it? So, again, why do we pay any attention to what Hollywood people say?

Sexual License

Jayd Henricks offers this commentary on the issue of sexual license and why the homosexual-rights and abortion-rights groups are politically united:

The Human Rights Campaign recently named Joe Solmonese as their new president. Solmonese moves from his position as CEO of Emilys List a political-action committee aimed at electing women abortion advocates to public office to HRC, the largest homosexual-rights interest group. Meanwhile, homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson has announced his support for Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the U.S. Both of these are emblematic of an interesting phenomenon in the cultural battle defining American politics today: Homosexual interest groups often form a significant part of the coalition supporting abortion rights. Why is a population that by definition does not procreate heavily involved in the right to end a pregnancy?

One might argue that this is simply what defines a liberal. A liberal defends the power of an individual to do as he or she pleases. While this is selectively true (where is the liberal movement to defend the rights of an individual to pray in the public square, or for parents to send their children to the school of their choice?), its not quite specific enough. At any large event in support of abortion rights, rainbow flags and other symbols of the homosexual culture are prominent. Homosexual groups frequently advertise pro-abortion events on their websites and publications, and abortion groups often support activities promoting homosexual causes. The two groups clearly overlap. Why is this?

On the surface it is an unlikely coalition, but upon closer examination there is common ground. While the two groups are very different in their particular circumstances, the common denominator between the two agendas is sexual license. Homosexuals are often strong advocates of abortion not because they need access to it but because homosexual activists are driven by the same philosophy that drives abortion rights: sex without restrictions or consequences. The two groups share the same foundation and it is in an effort to fortify this foundation that the two are committed to each other.

Continue reading "Sexual License"

May 1, 2005

Are We Capable of Self-Government?

David Gelernter writes:

Who could possibly be against cutting voter fraud on election day? You'd have to be some sort of fruitcake. But when Georgia's Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue recently signed a bill to reduce voter fraud, under which voters must show a photo ID before casting their ballots, many of Georgia's black legislators stormed out in protest. They even threatened to sue. The new process is simple, easy and fairly effective, but Democrats alleged that it would reduce voting by minorities, the elderly and the poor. So black legislators had to oppose it.

For legislators to announce that getting a photo ID is too tricky for their constituents is downright amazing. Wouldn't you expect those constituents to say, "Drop dead! Stop treating us like morons!"?...

As Michelle Malkin points out on her blog, those outraged Democrats are treating their constituents like children. But actually the episode points to a bigger, deeper, uglier truth: Democrats habitually treat Americans like children

Continue reading "Are We Capable of Self-Government?"

April 23, 2005

Discussing Justice, Rights & Moral Common Sense

Our country deserves a rigorous public debate about some serious and highly important issues raised in several recent postings entitled Pope Benedict XVI: Offering Faith as an Antidote to Relativism and Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse. This posting offers some additional perspectives on these issues.

Andrew Busch adds his thoughts:

There has been a great deal of discussion over the past three weeks about the implications for the Catholic Church of the death of Pope John Paul II and the selection of a new Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI...

First, for all of their public obsession with "diversity," "multiculturalism," and "tolerance," the liberals who populate (and indeed dominate) the mainstream media have little use for tolerance or diversity when it comes to cultural values...

The message was clear: Diversity is fine, as long as it does not interfere with imposing a moral (or perhaps amoral) conformity on the human race by badgering into submission any remaining resistance to the nihilism that now passes for sophistication in elite circles...

Second, the whole episode exposed the great moral dilemma of modern liberalism, the reason it seems unable to produce heroic figures. Liberals love heroic men, but they dislike it intensely when those men confidently possess a strong moral compass. That is to say, they want most of all to have men of conviction who nevertheless have no convictions...

Diversity without disagreement, heroism without convictions. This is the jumble that remains of post-modernist liberalism in America, and for three weeks in April, it was on full public display.

Continue reading "Discussing Justice, Rights & Moral Common Sense"

April 8, 2005

Clarification of Purpose

Justin Katz

Jesse Capece offers readers of the Providence Journal the service of clarifying something about which the average citizen might have misconceptions:

My name is Jesse Capece and I, like Mr. Felkner, am pursuing a master's degree at RIC's School of Social Work. I have heard Mr. Felkner run off at the mouth about how the school is left-leaning. The absurdity of this argument borders on insanity.

Of course, the School of Social Work is left-leaning in its beliefs. Social work is about change. Everything that social work does is geared toward destroying the social norms that oppress so many. In short, social work is in the business of change; we are not trying to conserve anything.

Social work is in the business of change — as opposed to the business of helping people. Change first. Destruction of social norms first. Well-being somewhere after that, and defined as freedom from "oppressive" social norms. Take Capece at his word: "we are not trying to conserve anything," which as a simple matter of definition would include somethings evolved through millennia of human society to secure well-being and happiness.

Such an approach is fine, for its true believers, but social work thus defined strikes me as a matter of religious dogma not to be imposed with public dollars. I, for one, am not keen on funding the destruction of social norms. Helping people to secure material needs, yes; leading them toward spiritual deliverance from our shared culture and heritage, no. With the veil of euphemism removed from "social work," surely others will agree.

Although not likely the intention with which his letter was written, Jesse Capece has certainly offered a public service.

April 3, 2005

A Brief History of the Devolution of Liberalism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at Dust In the Light, Justin has motivated a thread about the increasingly important question of what has happened to liberalism (see Justin's original post & comments). Here's my capsule sketch of how liberalism got to the place where it is now...

1. Once upon a time, some enlightened philosophers came up with an idea called "liberalism". The individual was special. And humans should care about other humans. An early formulation was "love thy neighbor as thyself".

2. Liberalism was not an easy sell. Humans are programmed for self-preservation. Liberalism might be fine for philosophical types with lots of time on their hands, but regular folks didn't have the time to bother with it.

3. Despite the practical difficulties, liberalism spread. The basic principle -- love thy neighbor -- was hard to argue with. And there was a force in the world ready to challenge the idea that the impracticality of liberalism was a dealbreaker. Religion succeeded in taking liberal principles from beyond the realm of philosophical speculation, and challenged people to live a basic respect for others in their daily lives.

4. However, some liberals grew frustrated. They felt the ideal was not propagating fast enough. So they loaned the liberal name out -- and the respect and authority derived from its moral underpinnings -- to other, less liberal groups. These other groups, assorted forms of leftists, argued (and convinced a fair number of liberals) that government control and strong state bureaucracies and rules and regulations were the only ways of advancing the liberal ideal.

5. In the US, this took a unique form. The judicial branch of government was most receptive to advancing what was still a recognizably liberal revolution in the 60s and 70s. Having bought into the idea that a strong state was necessary to protect rights, and seeing the courts advancing their agenda, liberals began demanding absolute obedience to judges. Not only was it wrong to question a judge's ruling, but it was wrong to question the idea that judges had a final, absolute say on the scope of individual rights.

6. Then, a hostility towards religion permeated the liberal/leftist alliance. Liberals largely cut their ties to religion, but continued believing that they alone owned the unique moral authority that came with the liberal name.

7. Separated from their religious roots, or any call to a higher power than the state, but still relying on a moral authority as a source of strength, liberals began arguing that morality and the rules of the state were one and the same. In America, in particular, the formulation was more narrow. Morality and the opinions of judges were one and the same.

Thus, if a judge orders an innocent woman to die, liberals now argue -- with a moral fervor -- that there is no room for any argument against the judge's order.

March 31, 2005

Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse

Donald B. Hawthorne

Hugh Hewitt writes:

The Terri Schiavo tragedy has been seized on by long-time critics of the "religious right" to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate--on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo--of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

The attack has also been hysterical...

All of these charges--from the most incoherent to the most measured--arrive without definition as to what "the religious right" is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors...Every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes...

...But a strain of thought is developing that the political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to those of, say, religiously secular elites. Of course, not only would such a position have surprised all of the Founding Fathers, it would have shocked Lincoln and Reagan, too.

The speed with which issues that excite the passions of people of faith have arrived at the center of American politics is not surprising given the forced march that the courts have put those issues on. It was not the "religious right" that pushed gay marriage...ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed... forced the United States Supreme Court to repeatedly issue rulings on areas of law that would have been better left to legislatures.

These and other developments have indeed mobilized new activists across the country, many of who see a vast disparity between what they believe ought to be public policy and what is becoming that policy by judicial fiat. They have every right to participate in politics, and they can be expected to refuse to support elected officials who ignore their concerns.

Attempts to silence them, marginalize them, or to encourage others to do so are not arguments against their positions, but admissions that those positions represent majorities that cannot be refused a place at the law-making table.

Five important issues arise out of Hewitt's editorial and are the focus of this posting: (i) the under-discussed but domineering presence of liberal fundamentalism, a competing moral code in American society; (ii) how judicial activism destroys the fabric of our politics; (iii) the connection between religious values and the American Founding; (iv) the long-term consequences for America of a radically secular religion; and, (v) how we discover civility and purpose in America's public discourse.

Continue reading "Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse"

March 20, 2005

Inadvertently Appropriate

Carroll Andrew Morse

Page one of the B section (Local News) of todays dead-tree Projo is dominated by coverage but not an article of Saturday afternoons Iraq-war anniversary protests held in downtown Providence. Here is the full content of the coverage: two color photos, a long photo caption, a large-font headline reading Two years on, war sparks protest, and a reference to a reprint of a national story on page A6. (The Local News section of the electronic Projo contains one of the photos, the headline, and caption, but no permalink to the material).

The form of the coverage is a curious journalistic choice. What leads the Projos editorial staff to believe that photographers are appropriate but reporters are unnecessary when covering anti-war protests? Are the Projos editors tacitly recognizing that these sorts of protest involve no ideas worth reporting, discussing and analyzing? But if the ideas behind the protest are not worth talking about, why feature the protest so prominently in the first place?

To get an idea of what was actually being said at the protest, check out the first-hand reporting (yes, that is first hand reporting, providing more detailed coverage than is available in the mainstream media, from a blog) available at Kellipundit.

March 16, 2005

Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity

Donald B. Hawthorne

Warren Beatty has suggested that Governor Schwarzenegger raise taxes on the rich:

Schwarzenegger should raise taxes on the California rich and "terminate" his fund-raising and dinners with "the brokers of Wall Street" and the "lobbyists of K Street," Beatty said...

Beatty said Schwarzenegger should lead the rich toward helping California.

"It's called the haves giving a little more to the have nots," he said. "Nobody likes taxes, but everybody likes a peaceful, compassionate, law-abiding, productive, protective society."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Vince Sollitto replied Saturday: "Tax and spend rhetoric aside, California needs budget reform because it's not a revenue problem, but a spending problem."

Beatty's comments prompted the posting of these two quotes:

Walter Williams -

Reaching into one's own pocket to assist his fellow man is noble and worthy of praise. Reaching into another person's pocket to assist one's fellow man is despicable and worthy of condemnation.

P.J. O'Rourke -

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he's willing to try to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he'll do good with his own money -- if a gun is held to his head.

The referenced website itself contains this quote -

Thomas Sowell -

If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.

Coerced "charity" via government taxation has several corrosive effects:

First, it incentivizes citizens to relinquish all personal responsibility to care for or get involved in supporting the needy in their community. After all, "the government" is responsible for doing that.

Second, it assumes that a distant bureaucrat can better judge how to structure the policy designed to meet the true needs of our neighbor whom he has never met. This is the knowledge/information problem raised over the years by both Hayek and Sowell.

Third, the problem in the second example also leads to higher economic costs due to more ineffective programs, continued propagation of such poor policies, and the ability for the programs to be affected by remote sources of power whose self-interest can often be anything but truly helping the needy neighbor.

Fourth, it also harms the recipient of the charity because appreciation is soon replaced with a feeling of entitlement and that person has less incentive to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

On the other hand, voluntary charity draws people in through the formation of associations who are willingly bound by the same altruistic purpose. Such voluntary associations end up developing a refined sense of moral responsibility at the individual and group levels. And by teaching people to care and receive the joy and satisfaction that only comes from giving personally, people are touched in emotionally and spiritually powerful ways - and will be more likely to continue to reach out to others.

(E.g., Think back to when your young child first gained an appreciation for the satisfaction that comes from giving to others while expecting nothing in return.)

At a practical level, workers at a local charity will likely either know that neighbor or know people who knew the neighbor personally - allowing them to have valuable information which could determine what would be the most effective course of policy-related action.

To paraphrase Michael Novak, we need to take the time to build up these voluntary associations. Our society will be stronger and more free as a result. And more good things will happen over time.

Coerced Charity vs. Voluntary Charity

Warren Beatty has suggested that Governor Schwarzenegger raise taxes on the rich:

Schwarzenegger should raise taxes on the California rich and "terminate" his fund-raising and dinners with "the brokers of Wall Street" and the "lobbyists of K Street," Beatty said...

Beatty said Schwarzenegger should lead the rich toward helping California.

"It's called the haves giving a little more to the have nots," he said. "Nobody likes taxes, but everybody likes a peaceful, compassionate, law-abiding, productive, protective society."

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Vince Sollitto replied Saturday: "Tax and spend rhetoric aside, California needs budget reform because it's not a revenue problem, but a spending problem."

Beatty's comments prompted the posting of these two quotes:

Walter Williams -

Reaching into one's own pocket to assist his fellow man is noble and worthy of praise. Reaching into another person's pocket to assist one's fellow man is despicable and worthy of condemnation.

P.J. O'Rourke -

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as "caring" and "sensitive" because he wants to expand the governments charitable programs is merely saying that hes willing to try to do good with other peoples money. Well, who isnt? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that hell do good with his own money -- if a gun is held to his head.

The referenced website itself contains this quote -

Thomas Sowell -

If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.

Coerced "charity" via government taxation has several corrosive effects:

First, it incentivizes citizens to relinquish all personal responsibility to care for or get involved in supporting the needy in their community. After all, "the government" is responsible for doing that.

Second, it assumes that a distant bureaucrat can better judge how to structure the policy designed to meet the true needs of our neighbor whom he has never met. This is the knowledge/information problem raised over the years by both Hayek and Sowell.

Third, the problem in the second example also leads to higher economic costs due to more ineffective programs, continued propagation of such poor policies, and the ability for the programs to be affected by remote sources of power whose self-interest can often be anything but truly helping the needy neighbor.

On the other hand, voluntary charity draws people in through the formation of associations who are willingly bound by the same altruistic purpose. Such voluntary associations end up developing a refined sense of moral responsibility at the individual and group levels. And by teaching people to care and receive the joy and satisfaction that only comes from giving personally, people are touched in emotionally and spiritually powerful ways - and will be more likely to continue to reach out to others.

(E.g., Think back to when your young child first gained an appreciation for the satisfaction that comes from giving to others while expecting nothing in return.)

At a practical level, workers at a local charity will likely either know that neighbor or know people who knew the neighbor personally - allowing them to have valuable information which could determine what would be the most effective course of policy-related action.

To paraphrase Michael Novak, we need to take the time to build up these voluntary associations. Our society will be stronger and more free as a result. And more good things will happen over time.

March 14, 2005

What Does "Social Justice" Mean?

An article in today's ProJo on Carol Bennett-Speight, Dean of Rhode Island College's (RIC's) School of Social Work since January, triggered some provocative thoughts.

First of all, Dean Bennett-Speight deserves kudos for her personal and professional successes, which are wonderful accomplishments:

Her parents, Holden and Dorothy Bennett, did not have the chance to go to college. But her father, who was only able to finish fourth grade, pushed his three girls to study hard. Bennett-Speight, who received her bachelor's degree from Penn State, was the first person in her immediate family to attend college.

"I remember him always saying 'I wish I had the opportunity to go to school,' and that always stuck with me," Bennett-Speight said. She went on to receive a master's degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She received a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, where she worked for several years while maintaining a private practice. Before taking the job at RIC, Bennett-Speight was chairwoman of the social work department at Cabrini College, a Catholic college in Pennsylvania, and under her leadership, the program was accredited.

Yet all is not rosy at RIC. Ed Achorn of the ProJo has previously commented on the "chill wind of intolerance" at RIC. Anchor Rising has also noted the unfortunate academic harassment problems within the School of Social Work in a previous posting here. That is why I was so struck by these words in the newspaper article:

She and her classmates fought to change the name of their all-girls public high school from William Penn High School, named after the colonial governor who founded Pennsylvania, to Angela Davis High School, honoring the controversial civil rights activist. Despite organized protests in front of the Liberty Bell, the students lost their battle. But Bennett-Speight found her passion for fighting for "issues of social justice."

But Angela Davis is not just any "controversial civil rights activist." She had very close personal ties to the leaders of the Black Panther Party. Davis also has been an active member of the Communist Party, serving as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Communist Party presidential ticket in the 1980's.

More information on the Black Panther Party can be found here, including this excerpt:

The Party's ideals and activities were so radical, it was at one time assailed by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."...It was named, originally, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The black panther was used as the symbol because it was a powerful image...The term "self defense" was employed to distinguish the Party's philosophy from the dominant nonviolent theme of the civil rights movement.

Here is how the Communist Party of the United States describes itself:

The Communist Party USA is an organization of revolutionaries working to bring about social change in a conscious, progressive direction...building a movement large enough and united enough to create revolutionary change and socialism in the future...We base ourselves on Marxism-Leninism, on the accumulated experience of our Party since our founding in 1919. Our view of the needs of our working class as a whole, and on our vision of Socialism USA is based on those experiences.

Now many of us did interesting things in our youth. For example, I thought (and still think) Nixon was a crook and listened to every day of the House and Senate hearings. As a 16-year-old, I walked the streets for McGovern in 1972, an action that I now cheerfully write off to the blissful ignorance of youth.

On a more serious level, my Presbyterian minister father stood in a pulpit in February 1964 - before even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had become the law - and boldly told his parishioners that it was the duty of all Christians to support open, non-discriminatory housing. That courageous stand resulted in the departure of one-third of the church's members and numerous indignities to our family.

Yet all of these actions - even if they were minority opinions at the time - were still generally consistent with the core principles of the American Founding.

But the values of the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party have no such connection to the core principles of the American Founding as they have sought only to destroy America. I find it quite unsettling that an adult educator would - at this stage in her life - still refer to honoring an outspoken communist who has supported violence as a positive and defining event in her life. And that then leads naturally to a very interesting and broader question: What does "social justice" mean?

Michael Novak offers a compelling explanation worthy of sharing in detail:

The trouble with "social justice" begins with the very meaning of the term. [Nobel Laureate Friedrich] Hayek points out that whole books and treatises have been written about social justice without ever offering a definition of it...The vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, "We need a law against that." In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.

Hayek points out another defect of twentiethcentury theories of social justice. Most authors assert that they use it to designate a virtue (a moral virtue, by their account). But most of the descriptions they attach to it appertain to impersonal states of affairs"high unemployment" or "inequality of incomes" or "lack of a living wage" are cited as instances of "social injustice." Hayek goes to the heart of the matter: social justice is either a virtue or it is not. If it is, it can properly be ascribed only to the reflective and deliberate acts of individual persons. Most who use the term, however, ascribe it not to individuals but to social systems. They use "social justice" to denote a regulative principle of order; again, their focus is not virtue but power...

Curiously, however, the demand for the term "social justice" did not arise until modern times, in which more complex societies operate by impersonal rules applied with equal force to all under "the rule of law."

The birth of the concept of social justice coincided with two other shifts in human consciousness: the "death of God" and the rise of the ideal of the command economy. When God "died," people began to trust a conceit of reason and its inflated ambition to do what even God had not deigned to do: construct a just social order. The divinization of reason found its extension in the command economy; reason (that is, science) would command and humankind would collectively follow. The death of God, the rise of science, and the command economy yielded "scientific socialism." Where reason would rule, the intellectuals would rule. (Or so some thought. Actually, the lovers of power would rule.)

From this line of reasoning it follows that "social justice" would have its natural end in a command economy in which individuals are told what to do, so that it would always be possible to identify those in charge and to hold them responsible. This notion presupposes that people are guided by specific external directions rather than internalized, personal rules of just conduct. It further implies that no individual should be held responsible for his relative position. To assert that he is responsible would be "blaming the victim." It is the function of "social justice" to blame somebody else, to blame the system, to blame those who (mythically) "control" it. As Leszek Kolakowski wrote in his magisterial history of communism, the fundamental paradigm of Communist ideology is guaranteed to have wide appeal: you suffer; your suffering is caused by powerful others; these oppressors must be destroyed...

We are not wrong, Hayek concedes, in perceiving that the effects of the individual choices and open processes of a free society are not distributed according to a recognizable principle of justice. The meritorious are sometimes tragically unlucky; the evil prosper; good ideas dont pan out, and sometimes those who backed them, however noble their vision, lose their shirts. But a system that values both trialanderror and free choice is in no position to guarantee outcomes in advance. Furthermore, no one individual (and certainly no politburo or congressional committee or political party) can design rules that would treat each person according to his merit or even his need. No one has sufficient knowledge of all relevant personal details, and as Kant writes, no general rule has a grip fine enough to grasp them.

Hayek made a sharp distinction, however, between those failures of justice that involve breaking agreedupon rules of fairness and those that consist in results that no one designed, foresaw, or commanded. The first sort of failure earned his severe moral condemnation. No one should break the rules; freedom imposes high moral responsibilities. The second, insofar as it springs from no willful or deliberate act, seemed to him not a moral matter but an inescapable feature of all societies and of nature itself. When labeling unfortunate results as "social injustices" leads to an attack upon the free society, with the aim of moving it toward a command society, Hayek strenuously opposes the term. The historical records of the command economies of Nazism and communism justify his revulsion at that way of thinking...

Careless thinkers forget that justice is by definition social. Such carelessness becomes positively destructive when the term "social" no longer describes the product of the virtuous actions of many individuals, but rather the utopian goal toward which all institutions and all individuals are "made in the utmost degree to converge" by coercion. In that case, the "social" in "social justice" refers to something that emerges not organically and spontaneously from the ruleabiding behavior of free individuals, but rather from an abstract ideal imposed from above...

Intolerance and intellectual harassment of dissenting viewpoints; use of methods of intimidation and coercion; eventually even justifying violence and the spectre of communism. No reasonable person would connect these actions with the virtue of justice. Yet these often are the implicit and/or explicit behaviors of many people pursuing "social justice."

There has to be a better way, a deeper and more proper way to think about social justice that is consistent with the great principles of the American Founding. Michael Novak goes on to develop such a definition of social justice:

Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is "social" in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise selfgovernment by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to "give back" for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.

The second characteristic of "social justice rightly understood" is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is "social": its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.

One happy characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It is as open to people on the left as on the right or in the center. Its field of activity may be literary, scientific, religious, political, economic, cultural, athletic, and so on, across the whole spectrum of human social activities. The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach differenteven opposingpractical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.

We must rule out any use of "social justice" that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that "the principle of association is the first law of democracy," then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice. Neglect of it, Hayek wrote, has moral consequences:

It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.

The quality of the civic debate in America would be greatly improved if we paid more attention to the meaning and consequences of our words and actions. Hayek and Novak have offered us some profound insights. May their wisdom guide us as we seek to make the American Dream come true for all Americans.


Justin has an excellent posting about comments from a RIC School of Social Work student's letter to the ProJo. I am connecting it to this posting because it is important for people to realize that most proponents of "social justice" are left-wing zealots with a dangerous political agenda. But, after reading Novak's comments above, that should come as no surprise to any thoughtful lover of freedom.

The Deep Performance Problems With American Public Education

This posting continues a debate begun in two earlier postings here and here.

How bad is the public education performance problem in America? Consider this information from Robert J. Herbold of the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and formerly the Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft:

There are some very worrisome trends in the United States with respect to our global share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise. Our share of this expertise is decreasing significantly, both at the bachelors and at the Ph.D. levels...

...among 24-year-olds in the year 2001 who had a B.S. or B.A. degree, only five percent in the U.S. were engineers, compared to 39 percent in China and 19 percent or more in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. If you look at the actual number of engineers...China is producing three times more than the United States...

Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens received these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the U.S. figure had dropped slightly to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900...

Why are these figures important? Traditionally, it has been our technical human talent that has driven our industrial success. Basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world...physical science and engineering capabilities at the Ph.D. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the U.S. while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing our industrial leadership weaken...

One of the main reasons why U.S. production of science and engineering talent in universities is low in comparison to other countries is that U.S. K-12 math and science skill levels are quite weak. Note the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from the year 2000...scores of U.S. students across the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels are abysmal. For example, in science, only two percent of our 12th graders are rated advanced and only sixteen percent are rated proficient...Thirty-four percent of our 12th graders are only partially proficient in science, and almost half are below partial proficiency...

...the results of the International Math and Science Study. It rates the U.S. versus other countries and provides the percentile our students achieved. For example, in mathematics, our 12th graders rated at the 10th percentile. In other words, 90 percent of the countries did better than the U.S., and only 10 percent performed worse. While we do well in grade 4, we do mediocre in grade 8 and very poorly in grade 12...

Weak K-12 results in the U.S. are not a new problem. Twenty years ago, a famous report entitled "A Nation at Risk" was published and highlighted similar findings. Recently, the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University considered the failure of that report to bring about reform. The following is a key paragraph from their report summary:

"A Nation at Risk" underestimated the resistance to change from the organized interest of the K-12 public education system, at the center of which were two big teachers unions as well as school administrators, colleges of education, state bureaucracies, school boards, and many others. These groups see any changes beyond the most marginal as threats to their own jealously guarded power.

In light of this, we need the K-12 teaching community (the union leaders, the administrators and the teachers themselves) to take responsibility for the poor results they are achieving. We need them to get serious about accountability and teacher qualifications...We need them to implement the recommendation of the National Commission on Excellence, requiring three years of math and two years of science at the high school level. We need them to support new routes for teacher certification in order to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach math and science. We need them to ease their opposition to vouchers and charter schools, which will bring about the kind of competition that generates broad improvement. And we need them to stop promoting unprepared students to the next grade level.

Probably most important, the K-12 teaching community needs to implement good management practices, such as performance appraisal systems that identify superior teachers. It should then reward these top teachers with salary increases of 10 percent or more per year, leading to annual wages of over $100,000. Equally as important, it needs to isolate the bottom 5-7 percent of teachers, put them on probation, and if no progress is made within a reasonable period terminate them...

We need for the K-12 teaching community to take responsibility and implement these reforms in an urgent manner. If they do not, all of us in our individual communities need to hold that community to account. Failure to address our immense shortcomings in science and math education is unacceptable and will inevitably lead to the weakening of our nation.

A November 24, 2003 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Witness Protection for Teachers" (available here for a fee) shows how deep the problem is within American public education:

[New York City Councilwoman Eva] Moskowitz, a Democrat who heads the Council's education committee, recently held four days of hearings on the union rules and mandates that beleaguer New York's 1,200 schools and 1.1 million students. What she says she found is that "many of the rules are indefensible."...

Union officials...launched a media campaign to intimidate Ms. Moskowitz into canceling her unprecedented hearings...Many [teachers and principals] were willing to criticize the contracts privately, but most requests to testify were met with, "I'm not that brave," "I might be blacklisted," "Are you kidding?" and the like...Keep in mind these are teachers, not members of the mob.

The unions have operated for decades without public scrutiny or accountability, which has enabled them to impose work rules that any average person would recognize as...well, insane...

But the rules that most damage learning are those that give primacy to seniority for teachers. Seniority-based transfers...result in the most inexperienced teachers serving the most challenging schools. A seniority-based, lock-step compensation structure bans merit pay for the large majority of teachers who meet or exceed performance expectations. So teachers with high-demand skills...are pushed into the private sector, where they can be paid what they're worth...

The City Council lacks the power to change union work rules, but never underestimate the uses of public embarrassment.

Or, consider these excerpts from a February 25, 2004 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Paige's Point" (also available here for a fee):

A fact of political life today is that if you favor meaningful educational reform, you can automatically count yourself a political enemy of two groups: the teachers' unions that prefer the status quo and too many politicians who depend on them for financial support...

Teachers unions are among the most powerful lobbies in American public life. In political influence they rank alongside the Teamsters, the AARP and the NRA. And they use the exact same hardball tactics to try to get what they want, which in their case is to preserve their monopoly on public education.

The NEA has 2.7 million members from whom it collects hundreds of millions of dollars in involuntary dues and spends tens of millions on political activities, some 95% of which goes to Democrats. Its 1,800 designated political directors use an integrated command structure...to coordinate national, state and local activities for Democratic candidates...

It's easy to forget that all but 8% of education spending occurs at the state and local level, and that's where the teachers unions wield most of their power by pressuring legislatures, defeating state ballot initiatives, supporting campaigns and even getting their own members elected and appointed to education committees...

Back in Washington, NEA President Reg Weaver stands ready to describe any criticism of the union as an attack on public school teachers. "We are the teachers; there is no distinction"...the typical teacher, who earns a fraction of the $334,000 Mr. Weaver reportedly took home last year, may beg to differ...

"There are two big interesting education reform ideas in America today," says Chester Finn, a former Education Department official. "One involves standards and tests and accountability; the other involves competition and choice. The NEA is against both, and they will unflaggingly work to defeat both kinds of reform."

Terry Moe has written an extensive piece on how the teachers' unions operate:

Their influence takes two forms. First, they shape the schools from the bottom up, through collective bargaining activities that are so broad in scope that virtually every aspect of the schools is somehow affected. Second, they shape the schools from the top down, through political activities that give them unrivaled influence over the laws and regulations imposed on public education by government...teachers unions are...absolutely central to an understanding of America's public school. Despite their importance, the teachers unions have been poorly studied by education scholars...

A December 15, 2004 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "America's C-" (available here for a fee) reinforces the mediocrity of America's public education system:

The report, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tested the math, science, problem-solving and reading skills of 15-year-olds in 41 countries. Only a generation ago, U.S. high school students ranked No. 1. Today, their performance has fallen below the OECD average - except in reading, where Americans manage to eke out an "average."...Less publicized has been why U.S. scores are so low. The OECD researchers identified several key characteristics that most successful school systems share - namely, decentralization, competition and flexibility...schools are given a large degree of autonomy over curriculum and budget decisions...teachers...have a large degree of autonomy and responsibility, which leads in turn to a high degree of professionalism. It is not simply a matter of renumeration. Teachers in Finland get paid relatively little, but...there is a strong professional ethos and teachers routinely exchange experience to improve their skills...

With an ever-higher percentage of the work force expected to be employed in knowledge-based industries, school reform is a question of U.S. economic survival...

If we want to maintain our standard of living, we'd better change...

Can genuine reform be achieved? Consider the following success story in an article from The American Enterprise:

While New York City public schools face an epic shortage of good teachers, many private schools in the Big Apple have no trouble attracting candidates. The School of Columbia, for instance, received 1,700 applications for 39 teaching positions in its first year of operation...

Unlike public schools, the School of Columbia does not offer tenure; there is no union; there is no guaranteed salary increase each year; how much teachers make depends on their performance, not their seniority; teachers are expected to come in early, stay late, and show up on weekends to do their job well; and there are no guaranteed breaks during the day.

Those do-what-it-takes-to-succeed expectations are standard in most of white-collar America today...

Offering merit pay means you also have to give teachers enough flexibility to distinguish themselves. The curriculum at Columbia includes a set of skills and "key facts" that students at each grade level must master, but teachers are allowed to use their own individual methods to get students to that point. If their method doesn't work, all the seniority in the world won't get them a promotion. And the fact that half the kids come from a depressed inner-city neighborhood is not accepted as an excuse for failure.

Teacher assessments are done every year or two. Every instructor must put together a portfolio demonstrating student progress, including test results, videos of students reading aloud, student performances, etc. A peer evaluation team sits in on several classes and submits recommendations. School administrators consider all this information and then make a final decision.

The world of public education could be so different - and better. We are paying a huge price for such mediocrity - by limiting people's access to the American Dream and by putting our nation's leadership position in the world at risk.

Why do we continue to tolerate such nonsense?

March 12, 2005

Post-Democrats Coming to Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steven Stycos has a short article in this weeks Providence Phoenix previewing a set of protests scheduled for next weekend, the second anniversary of the Iraq war. A quote in the article from Carol Bragg of the Rhode Island Peace Mission illustrates contemporary progressive thought on what a proper American foreign policy might look like. According to Stycos,

To prevent future Afghanistans, she says, the US should encourage debt relief, fair trade, development, and security
Three out of four items on the list are economic. Democracy, freedom, individual rights, etc. are nowhere to be seen. They are not of interest to the American left, who assume that democracy and freedom are luxuries afforded to those who benefit from properly managed economic growth.

March 11, 2005


Rocco DiPippo at The Antiprotestor Journal has a very interesting post about the DiscoverTheNetwork website, a guide to the political left developed by David Horowitz and others at FrontPage.

They note the following on their website:

The purpose of the DiscoverTheNetwork site is not to stifle free speech but to clarify it. We recognize that people are not always candid in what they say in public life, particularly in the arena of political discourse. Truth in political advertising would be a more accurate description of our intentions in assembling this data.

The problem of deceptive public presentation is common enough to all sides in the political debate but applies with special force to the left, which has a long and well-documented history of dissembling about its agendas.

Take the time to read the numerous comments in response to Rocco's posting, too. They make for lively reading!

March 8, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson on Today's America

The March 14, 2005 edition of the Weekly Standard includes an article entitled "The Sage of Fresno: Victor Davis Hanson, down on the farm."

Here is an excerpt:

Hanson places much of the blame for this decay on America's elites, who he says have fostered a cult of post-modernism, identity politics, and affirmative action - or, as he puts it, "diversity without standards." As a classicist, he sees this as nothing less than a renunciation of the intellectual tradition bequeathed by the Greeks.

"Multiculturism, in preference to a multiracial embrace of Western culture, has become what pulp was in the 1950's," he tells me..."Plato told us this was inevitable: The more you embrace a state-mandated egalitarianism for its own sake and radical democracy,...the more you will be driven to the common denominator of a therapeutic, happy-go-lucky culture, simple stories, low-brow entertainment, minimal expectations - rather than the hard work of using education to uplift the majority."

February 1, 2005

Rusted Trash at Low Tide

Justin Katz

Boy, I'll bet — rather, I hope — that, after Sunday, Joseleyne Slade of Providence had her fingers crossed that the Providence Journal wouldn't publish her letter:

The world was in mourning for the thousands killed by or suffering from the tsunami. That disaster he did not plan, but the awful desolation that is accompanying his unilateral attack on Iraq is his responsibility. In an unjustified and illegal war, more than a thousand very young American soldiers have been killed and horribly wounded, and thousands of Iraqi civilians, most of them innocent, have been slaughtered. The end of this disaster is not in sight.

Of course, human beings are capable of transforming vitriolic attacks that turn embarrassing into escalated hatred of their object. But the more healthy choice that all Republicans of good will should hope Ms. Slade has followed is to ponder the imponderable that more prominent figures have voiced: "What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along?"

January 31, 2005

Finishing the Line

Justin Katz

In his commentary in the Providence Journal, which Don mentions in the previous post, Rhode Island College student Bill Felkner does the single most important thing for government reform:

Let's draw a straight line: The school teaches the "perspective"; graduates get jobs at the state Department of Human Services and the Poverty Institute; the DHS testifies (using Poverty Institute "research") to the State House on how well programs are doing. How can we blame politicians for developing ineffective programs when they are guided by biased testimony?

He doesn't draw the line far enough, though, to illustrate that it is actually a loop. Note Felkner's explanation of the approach to welfare that his school advocates and that the Rhode Island government follows:

Welfare programs are employment- or education-focused, further defined by "strict" or "lenient" requirements. Rhode Island has a "lenient, education-focused" model, and the proposed legislation advocates greater leniency.

In summary, not only are educators populating the state bureaucracy with ideologues, not only are educators helping to develop policies and put the shine on those already instituted, but the policies that these educators advocate are focused on increasing the customer base for — yup — educators. Consider the emblematic story of Providence's April Brophy, told in the Providence Journal last June. Ms. Brophy and her husband divorced, then he became disabled, so her child support payments were miniscule. State assistance helped, but it wasn't enough, until:

BROPHY'S BOSS wanted her to start working Saturdays. But Brophy had no one to care for her youngest child, Bobby, then in kindergarten. When the situation could not be resolved, Brophy quit, and entered an eight-month case-management program at Rhode Island College.

"It ignited my passion for social justice," Brophy said.

There Brophy learned that as kind as her social worker had been, she had neglected to tell Brophy that there were dozens of training and education programs open to her, part of her welfare benefits. The social worker had mentioned only two: RIC's case-management program and a certified nursing-assistant program. ... Brophy received her certificate in case management in May 2003 and tried to get a job in the field. ...

A few months later, she landed her current job: organizing for Rhode Island Parents for Progress, an advocacy group for low-income working families. ...

She says she has regained her sense of self-confidence. She hopes to go back to school to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in social work. She now earns $11 an hour -- the highest salary she has ever received.

Described from a business point of view, Ms. Brophy is an ideal customer of the education industry. Not only did she complete the circuit between educators and government funds in her own case, but she is now employed to find other such human conductors. Seen in this light, the "perspective school" that Felkner now attends has a clear conflict of interest in its dealings with state policy, and the corruption is manifest along the entire loop, including the corruption of the ideals of higher education.

As I highlighted in response to the Projo's piece on Brophy, one can in good faith and with charitable intentions put forward solutions that align with one of two worldviews. Corruption aside, Rhode Island's more common worldview believes that people's particular difficulties must be addressed in the most expedient way possible: giving to them what the government has collected from others. The worldview that I favor puts the responsibility for people's lives in their own hands, believing that human nature creates a marketplace that incorporates every aspect of society, from economics to familial culture to religion, and that people ought to be allowed — empowered, in modern Marxist jargon — to seek their own balance.

As a nuclear family, the Brophys were doing just fine on $35,000 per year. According to Rhode Island College's Poverty Institute, a family of four needs $48,000 in combined income and handouts to get by. Unless we break this cycle whereby interest groups set policies that siphon tax dollars in their own direction while creating incentives for people to make unhealthy decisions, our state will eventually find itself attempting to subsidize everybody with revenue from nobody, and our culture will only generate more messes to mop up with public green.

January 21, 2005

A Needle Dropped in the Liberal Echo Chamber

Justin Katz

Perhaps my age is getting to be such that it is becoming unseemly to trawl among students' letters to their collegiate newspapers for material. Still, by watching a babe taking its first steps, one may come to a fuller understanding of the precariousness of two-legged movement. Similarly, by considering students' expression of their professors' views, one may further appreciate the attributes beneath the careful construction of their ideology.

Such is the case with Anthony Maselli's recent letter to the University of Rhode Island's The Good 5¢ Cigar, "Safety not guaranteed to all students." After narrowing his context to the "liberal environment" of a university within "the most wealthy and secure, free nation on Earth," Maselli finds reason to suspect the presence of darkness:

I was leaving class in Quinn Hall at the end of last semester, and I noticed a sticker on someone's office window. It stated that the office is a "Safe Zone" for gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. If this sticker were posted in some kind of corporate or public building, I might have appreciated this welcoming sentiment. But, being a self-proclaimed non-discriminatory university campus, I found the message to be unsettling. It forced me to ask myself this question: If this office is a "Safe Zone," what part of this university is an unsafe zone? I wondered if there was a sticker on the inside of the door that reads, "You are now entering the unsafe zone." Certainly there is not, but isn't that what the message suggests?

Forgiving the letter's writer for proclaiming himself to be a non-discriminatory university, consider how he has discerned evil not by its manifestation, but by what he believes to be its opposite. In the most free nation on Earth, in one of the most overwhelmingly liberal environments that nation's culture has to offer, a room professed to be a haven within a haven within a haven is evidence that maybe "some of us should think twice before we walk out our front door in the morning."

One imagines the office's owner, presumably a professor, congratulating him- or herself for this show of faux bravery. The great majority of people in America — let alone on a campus — wish homosexuals no harm. But of course we understand, as the professor surely intends to convey, that the "safety zone" goes much further than mere security and tolerance.

Thus we see how devotees of a certain worldview pursue its ends not with evidence and debate, but with negative proofs and euphemism. Keep an eye out for this dynamic in more-sophisticated explanations of what tolerance demands.