Saturday, January 30, 2010

I SAID "Danger Ahead"!

By all accounts the meeting Friday between congressional Republicans and President Obama in Baltimore was a boon to both sides. The president looked magnanimous, courageous, and thoughtful. And, at least to my mind, the GOP came off somehow as the governing party in Washington in spite of the fact that the Democrats still retain substantial majorities in both houses.

Wonderful. Three cheers for bi-partisanship! Drinks all around!

Be careful, be very careful. The problem with this kind of success is that it forecasts exactly the "danger ahead" to which I was referring in my post by that title of a few days ago. While I have no doubt many, most even, elected Republicans will resist President Obama's charms, and the likely rhetorical move of his party to the ideological center of American politics, I do retain, however, serious doubts about a few. Unfortunately, it will only take a few who, as a result of the rising political pressure, cave. Their caving will give the President and the Democrats a win and saddle the country with another huge dose of big-government liberalism, saving us only from a very huge dose of big-government liberalism. Some victory that.

Truck Driver Texting and the Liberal Mind

I read a short piece in USA Today a few days ago about the danger posed by truck drivers texting or e-mailing while operating their rigs and the move by many state legislatures to outlaw the practice, imposing heavy fines if one is caught doing so. All well and good, I guess. (Although I'm unsure as to why the states would single out truck drivers.) But what grabbed my attention, and raised my dander, was that the article included the news that Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Senators Robert Menendez, D-N.J, and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., had introduced legislation to impose a federal ban on the practice. To give the legislation teeth they included a proviso that states that didn't go along with the ban would risk losing 25% of their federal highway funds.

A federal ban! On the face of it, this is, I suppose, a rather small matter. I mean, haven't we all witnessed some idiot driver, in heavy traffic, head down, thumb-punching a cell phone? And, after all, who could be against making our roads safer? But this particular piece of legislation is instructive nonetheless because it begs, or should beg anyway, the question: How in the name of heaven is this a legitimate concern of our national government? If you think it is, or think maybe it is, or are even not sure it isn't, then you have embraced more fully the premises of contemporary liberalism than you know.

In the first instance, legislation of this nature is simply condescending. What Senator Schumer and his colleagues are suggesting finally is that the men and women serving in state and local offices, as well as the citizens who elected them, are incapable of self-government, that they do not know and cannot be trusted to know their own good. (The fact that it's the same citizenry that elected them to national office never seems to give them pause. But that's for another post.)

Moreover, there was time when the proposed law would have been broadly understood to be in clear violation of the spirit, if not also the letter, of our constitution. That founding document is foremost a listing of the enumerated and limited powers of the national government. Without appealing to illusive "emanations" and "penumbras", nowhere in it can one find the authority to legislate the driving practices of the citizens of an independent state within the geographical confines of that state.

Finally, and more importantly, the core motivation to pass legislation such as this is as clear an indicator of a liberal mind at work as there is. That mind is innervated by many things, among them an irritating reflex to meddle. But that is only part of what's at work here. Operating also is actually something more noble and for that reason much more difficult to resist. In the same USA Today article, Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is quoted commenting in favor of the proposed law: "This helps to establish a uniform safe application of texting bans around the country." (my emphasis)

The use of the word "uniform" is key to identifying a liberal mind. "Uniform" here serves as a synonym for "equal" and the animating passion of the contemporary liberal is the pursuit of equality. (I should say equality of a sort, but, alas, that's for yet another post.) A liberal would insist that anything less than equal, less than uniform, is in almost every important sense either inefficient or unjust or both. In the pursuit of equality (i.e., the pursuit of efficiency, the pursuit of justice or fundamental fairness), all differences, all distinctions must be erased. Hence, we cannot allow the states to be different, there can be no distinctions among them. Therefore, the legislation simply must come from the top down, from the national government for imposition on the several states. There is no other proper way to think about the problem of truck driver texting and certainly no other way to solve it.

The enlightened reader will quickly grasp then that in the pursuit of equality, liberty is threatened. That where the national government imposes, the states and their citizens are not at liberty to do otherwise. Moreover, he will note that the pursuit of equality seems always to demand uniformity. Difference is simply intolerable. Finally, he will also note that the pursuit of equality results invariably in the centralization of power at the highest level, i.e., from the states and locales, to the national government.

As quick as The Sage is (undeniable), he didn't think this all up on his own. He learned it from Tocqueville and his indispensable book Democracy in America. You can look it up! (And you should.) In the meantime, look more diligently for legislation like the national Anti-Truck Driver Texting Bill of 2010, know more fully what's actually going on, and ever more vigilantly appreciate what is at stake: Liberty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The End of Evolutionists?

Meant to get to this for a while and as my latest posting was probably too long, too serious, and too depressing if you're a conservative, here's something a little lighter. In National Review Online this past New Years Eve, Jonah Goldberg (Whom I genuinely admire. You should read everything he writes.) posted what was more or less a review of the then newly released movie Avatar. Jonah, like many, didn't much care for the movie, but he used the review to mention positively one Nicholas Wade's fairly new book, The Faith Instinct. The connection to the movie is unimportant, but if Jonah understood the book correctly.... Anyway, you read what he wrote.

Nicholas Wade’s new book, The Faith Instinct, lucidly compiles the scientific evidence that humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent. That transcendence can be divine or simply Kantian, a notion of something unknowable from mere experience. Either way, in the words of philosopher Will Herberg, “Man is homo religiosus, by ‘nature’ religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living.” Wade argues that the Darwinian evolution of man depended not only on individual natural selection but also on the natural selection of groups. And groups that subscribe to a religious worldview are more apt to survive — and hence pass on their genes. Religious rules impose moral norms that facilitate collective survival in the name of a “cause larger than yourself,” as we say today. (My emphasis)

Now let me get this straight: Those who possess a faith in something transcendent, something larger than themselves, however unscientific and ultimately pointless, are better fit for survival than those who do not? Does this mean that all the evolutionists will be naturally selected out? Oh sure, it'll take billions and billions of years, but eventually?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Promises to Keep

With all the celebration, hand wringing, finger pointing, and furrowed-brow analysis surrounding Scott Brown's remarkable victory over Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts senate seat, most of us forgot to note the passing of the first year of the Obama Administration yesterday. We also forgot to note with that passing the breaking of one very huge campaign promise. In case you were wondering, Gitmo is still open.

What should we do? Should we mockingly point out at every opportunity that it is indeed still open? I can remember the Democrats taunting President George H. W. Bush after he foolishly gave in to their demands and raised taxes, thereby breaking his equally huge campaign promise. Should we damn Obama with feint praise about the wisdom and courage he has demonstrated in changing his mind about the utility of the island prison facility? Or should we just keep our mouths mostly shut and be thankful the murdering thugs caged there, are still caged there and not here? Can we do all three?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tea Time

Republican Scott Brown's amazing victory yesterday over Martha Coakley for the "Kennedy" senate seat in deep blue Massachusetts can be attributed to many things: an attractive candidate, an inept opponent, a smug Democrat party, growing fears over health-care reform, growing disgust over the health-care reform process, a poor economy, the Christmas Day bomber, etc. But we must not forget to include what happened last April, the 15th to be exact, tax day. It was then that the Tea Party movement was launched. More than any other single event of the past year, the Tea Party rallies held across the country that day served to voice, focus, and organize what was until then a smoldering but mostly frustrated opposition to President Obama, the Democrat Party, and their aggressively liberal agenda for America. The movement achieved what the Republican Party seemed incapable of accomplishing, and too often seemed even unwilling to try. Very significantly, it succeeded without morphing into a "pox on both your houses" movement towards a third party, a third party that would have assured Martha Coakley and every other liberal Democrat a comfortable margin of victory not only last night, but this coming fall as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Invade Haiti?

I was wondering, with Haiti in its current state, has the time come for the United States to send to its shores a contingent of troops large enough to establish something akin to martial law, at least for a time? Haiti was effectively a failed state before the earthquake and is even less of a functioning one now. The relief effort is frustrated not only by the destruction of the country's already minimal and marginal infrastructure, but also by the near absence of any local authority legitimate enough to direct the effort and at the same time ensure the safety and security of the relief workers. As something will inevitably fill that void, and likely something bad, is it in our interest and the interests of the Haitian people that that something be the United States?

Haiti is not only in our hemisphere, it is practically a next-door neighbor. In the past, the consequences of its many problems have too often made their way to our doorstep. Is there any doubt that after the current disaster they will soon be in our house altogether? We are the only country that can even contemplate such an action, the only one with the necessary power and resources. While some in the region would likely raise their voices against such an action, labeling it quasi-imperialistic, for example, we can be sure the people of Haiti themselves would welcome it. Moreover, as the leader of the 'invasion' would be named Obama and not Bush, we can also be sure the media would find a way to stifle their opposition, if not become wholly enthusiastic cheerleaders.

The problem, as I see it, is when and how would we terminate such an action? If our chief reason for going is humanitarian in nature, by what standard would we decide to leave? When the average standard of living of the average Haitian rises to the level of...what? The average Dominican? The average Puerto Rican? The average Miamian? I was just wondering.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reid's Comment & the Double Standard

By this time, you're doubtless familiar with Senator Reid's awkward racial comments during the '08 campaign about then presidential candidate Barack Obama, curiously withheld until now. (Well, maybe not so curious.) I won't rehearse the comparisons with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's 2002 comments about Senator Strom Thurmond, nor Senator Chris Dodd's 2004 comments about Senator Robert Byrd. They're all over the airwaves. (Although the latter less so. Hmmm?) Anyway, for the record, I don't think Harry Reid a racist, nor Lott, nor Dodd. But the presence of the Double Standard, as predictable as the sun rising, is not for that reason any less glaring, nor grating. While I'm as upset and frustrated about it as any conservative, the incident does raise the question once again about how to fight and win this and similar political battles.

If you're a conservative, you simply know, that given the Double Standard, if you engage the debate, you'll not win. You know that the usual suspects will be rounded up, filling our screens and speakers to angrily insist that the whole thing is not what it manifestly is. In fact, you can already see and hear them. You know that, if in spite of what you know, you nevertheless engage the debate, somehow, someway, you'll end up on the defensive. And you also know that no matter what you do or don't do, the whole episode will soon be forgotten and the Democrats will pay no apparent price for it.

So, if you're conservative, by temperament especially, if not ideologically (yet), your strong instinct is to simply shake your head, shrug your shoulders, turn, and walk away. Normally that instinct is noble and praiseworthy. It is, in fact, what distinguishes you most attractively from the party of leveling meddlers. But, sadly, these are not normal times.

The problem for us, in part, is that the very qualities that identify us as conservatives, leave us ill-suited for political battle. All things being equal, we'd just as soon be left alone, and leave everybody else alone as well. Eager to return to our private and personal passions, we avoid political disputes whenever possible, and look for quick fixes to them when they arise. But for the other side this is decidedly not the case. And, given their understanding of politics (another post perhaps), it both never will be, and never can be otherwise. What we avoid, they embrace. There is, for them, no compelling argument to which one must surrender, no last word that silences, no coup de grace that finishes the fight.

Early 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber famously observed, correctly I think, that, "Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards." Unfortunately, this is precisely the nature of the political struggle in which we are engaged. Therefore, at least with respect to confronting the immediate problem of the Double Standard, while endlessly pointing it out, waving one's hands, stomping one's feet, and yelling loudly may feel uncomfortably out of character, and even finally fruitless, they are nonetheless essential aspects of the "strong and slow boring" that is key to ultimate political victory. Persevere!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Muddled Thinking

I'm a very big fan of and long-time subscriber (charter subscriber, in fact) to "First Things", the monthly journal of most things political, religious, and the intersection of the two. I highly recommend it. However, there was an article in the January 2010 issue that managed to get my goat. It's titled "Our Muddled Masses" by Reuven Brenner and is about American immigration policy. Below is the letter to the editor I submitted as a response; it speaks for itself. Perhaps I was a bit too harsh, but a premise, either unstated or understated, that this country is in the main inhospitable to foreigners is ridiculous on its face. If we're so inhospitable, then why do they keep coming, and keep coming it such large numbers that it creates a problem? Anyway, you can, as I say in the first sentence of my letter, judge the original article for yourself.

One hopes it's just muddled thinking that informs Reuven Brenner's piece about "Our Muddled Masses" and not...well, you be the judge.

First, he creates a straw-man by conflating broad concern over illegal immigration with resistance to immigration plain and simple. He then further confuses the matter by slipping in the use of the word "migrant" as a synonym for "immigrant". As if the current national fuss is all about the latter-day equivalent of 1930's Okies trekking from the Dust Bowl west to Barstow and Bakersfield. In the first instance, that which troubles those of us unhappy with the present state of affairs most is the illegality of these new arrivals. I realize that by now it probably sounds trite to say it, but respect for the law is at stake. One is not a xenophobe for bringing it up.

Next, concern over illegal immigration is informed by an even larger concern over the massive extension of the welfare-state. We who worry about this sort of thing worry that even as currently constituted, and much more so with growth, the welfare-state is unaffordable and unsustainable. And that's only counting the material costs. Typically, that concern is chiefly over its effects on our own citizenry. Are we expected to lay that concern aside when large numbers of non-citizens are introduced into the mix as well? To be fair, this would be less of a sore point if so many courts didn't effectively rule that as between a citizen and a non-citizen, there really is no difference.

Finally, and we'll have to ask forgiveness in advance for our cynicism, we suspect that lurking beneath the so-called humanitarian concerns of the other side is a late-modern multicultural relativism that is critical of all nation-states in general and this American nation-state in particular. "Imagine there's no countries..." The dream seems to be immigration without assimilation. That is, they want them to come to America without having to become Americans.

Obama's Awakening?

While I still hear reluctance in his voice, as well as in the policies he's implementing, the President's speech yesterday was a welcome sign nonetheless that maybe, just maybe, he and his Adminsitration are beginning to take at least a bit more seriously the threat we face as a country. Unfortunately I fear it's for the wrong reason. I'm thinking it very slowly dawned on Obama and at least some his advisors that had the Christmas Day bomber succeeded, his presidency would have been effectively over. And that the liberal dream of universal government-run healthcare, heck, the liberal dream of universal government-run everything, would have been over as well.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Welcome! I'll spare you the long apology for what is undeniably yet another blog on the Internet. Obviously, I believe I have something to say and, as I have been encouraged by others to simply say it, here goes.

My inaugural posting is mercifully short. (You should have seen the one I had been working on. I think I bit off more than I could chew.) By now you've either heard or heard comment on President Obama's use of the word 'alleged' when referring to the unsuccessful attempt of a Christmas Day suicide terror bombing of Northwest Airline Flight 253 by Nigerian Muslim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. I string all these descriptives together, tedious as they may be to read, because they are all things we know to be true, and knew to be true almost immediately ten days ago when the incident occurred. If we know them to be true, why the persistent use of the word 'alleged'?

For many on the political right, President Obama's use of that word in this particular case was telling. By employing an equivocating word to describe the incident, he demonstrated a similar equivocation in his thinking, and foreshadowed a policy more or less consistent with such thinking. With Obama as representative of the Left, that word, that thinking, and that policy all proved once again the Left's utter lack of seriousness in confronting the very real threat posed by extremist Islam. Much of the commentary immediately after the event focused on this aspect of his use of that word and while I think almost all of it correct and appropriate, I think something else, something larger, is going on as well.

The use of the word 'alleged' is not unique to this case. I've noticed it for some time now in public discourse and it almost always grates. 'Alleged' is foremost a legal term and is used in order to maintain the presumption of innocence before trial. But this begs a question: If one is being tried, hasn't the prosecuting attorney, and the government he represents, already decided that the accused is in fact the perpetrator of the crime? Why else would they arrest, indict, and bring him before judge and jury? In truth, they are not asserting that the accused 'allegedly' committed the crime, but that indeed he did. The purpose of the trial is not chiefly to determine whether or not the crime occurred, or even who did it, but only whether or not the accused is criminally culpable. Or at least so 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

And that is the something larger that I think has crept into our public discourse. The use of the word 'alleged' in such circumstances is further evidence that we are reaping, now at a popular level, the bitter harvest of the epistemological crisis of late modernity. Epistemology is the study of the nature and grounds for knowing, that is, whether and how we can know anything. Radical skeptics, themselves too often cheerful champions of the crisis itself, conclude--if it were even possible to conclude--that one simply cannot know anything at all with confidence. Many of us have engaged in these abstruse conversations, usually late at night, about whether and how we can know if we are really here, whether or not we are actually conversing, whether our words have any real meaning, etc. This is all great fun, but has little place in the world in which we actually live. While there is much more to say here (grist for another posting perhaps), suffice it to say that this crisis, which was once mostly confined to intramural debates among academic philosophers, has steadily made its way into the law, and is now effecting even popular discourse. The standard of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' has, in effect, been supplanted by a new standard of 'beyond a metaphysical doubt'. That new standard causes us to torture the language with the use of words like 'alleged' when we know exactly what happened and when, who did it, and why.