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December 31, 2002
Many thanks to all of you who have taken the time to follow my commentaries as this Web log ends its first full year. I will probably reorganize this and other sections of this Web site in the next week or two, so there may be another hiatus.
Andrew Sullivan picks the "best of" for 2002
Rather than making a feeble effort at wrapping up the highs and lows of the year coming to an end, I'll just refer you to superpundit Andrew Sullivan, who just announced the "BEGALA AWARDS" (for excessive liberal rhetoric), the "SONTAG AWARDS" (for egregious anti-Americanism in the war on terror), and other wry recognitions. Also, he ranks Apple's Chief Exec Steve Jobs as #10 on the list of the year's big winners, for the iPod alone. I gotta get one of those things...
Not In Our Name?
I keep listening to antiwar activists for some hint of a rational or ethical basis for questioning the Bush administration's policy, but so far it all sounds like hysterical babbling to me. The latest issue of The Nation focused on the various peace movements that have emerged. One such group they featured, Not In Our Name, issued an appeal endorsed by James Abourezk (former South Dakota senator), Jesse Jackson, Edward Asner, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sarandon, and the usual assortment of fashionable leftist kooks. (What about Tim Robbins and Paul Newman??) Here is the apparent heart of their credo, with my rejoinders:
We believe that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers.
What about the people in countries run by military dictatorships, such as -- Iraq? Do lesser powers have more rights to coerce than greater powers? What about the expressed will of the United Nations? Doesn't the U.N. Security Council play a major role in legitimizing the use of force?
We believe that all persons detained or prosecuted by the United States government should have the same rights of due process.
You mean the same rights as they would have in Iraq or North Korea? Is the strict observance of normal (peacetime) legal standards more important than trying to defend our cities against the very real threat of mass death?
We believe that questioning, criticism, and dissent must be valued and protected.
Of course we all have the right to dissent, but do you mean to suggest that opposing the government is good in itself, regardless of whether or not its policies have merit?
We understand that such rights and values are always contested and must be fought for.
Who is contesting those rights and values? I'm not aware of any attempt to stifle dissent by either governmental or private organizations, so the rhetorical call to "fight" sounds to me more like a puerile effort to disrupt than a serious debate over policy.
Further on in the "Statement of Conscience," the members of "Not In Our Name" insist that Iraq "has no connection to the horror of September 11." Really? One may certainly question whether there was in fact a direct connection, but without having privileged access to Iraqi and/or Al Qaeda's top leadership, how could anyone possibly declare with any degree of certainty that NO connection exists? Such statements undercut whatever glimmer of reasoned dissent that might lurk within the tiresome tirades of the geriatric, knee-jerk Left. It's sad and even a little disgusting...
Amnesty International apparently resents being used by the Bush administration, which has cited the brutal treatment of Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein as among the reasons justifying armed intervention by the United States. As their Web site says,
The United States and the United Kingdom have cited human rights concerns in their arguments for waging war against Iraq, explicitly referencing Amnesty International's work. But the attention to human rights has been selective and manipulative, with little attention given to the human rights repercussions of war. Amnesty International USA reiterates its call to the US government to make every effort to resolve the present conflict through peaceful means.
Military intervention will inevitably exacerbate the already precarious situation of the Iraqi civilian population and result in grave violations of their human rights.
Claims that military action in Iraq is justified in the name of human rights raise questions of selectivity and double standards; the states that claim force is now justified to protect human rights are the very states who supported Saddam Hussein's government during the Iran-Iraq war.
CORRECT! Leaving aside their foolish implication that there is no justification for overthrowing the regime responsible for the brutalities in Iraq, Amnesty International has unwittingly hit upon the main reason why their idealistic approach to international relations is inherently limited: The essentially anarchic, power-balancing nature of politics among nations means that compromises are invariably necessary to achieve any meaningful multilateral action. Diplomacy among sovereign governments is to a large extent a shady world of pretense and prestige-building, one in which "doing the right thing" elicits muffled sneers. Consequently, individual nations' foreign policies run the risk of hypocrisy if they put too much stress on morality and ethical considerations. What's more, given the lack of consensus about basic norms and values among the various nations and cultures of the world, it is impossible to arrive at a definition of human rights that will be universally respected. The fact that some degree of hypocrisy is inevitable in international relations does not mean that moral considerations are irrelevant, but simply that they are generally of secondary importance. People who ignore the fact that nations almost always do what is in their own interest, and then justify doing so by some appeal to general principles, are naive at best.
Saddam: Our former pal?
The Washington Post has recycled the old canard that the U.S. has no right to criticize Iraq for seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction because it helped Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s. Yes, that is certainly true. Iran was a bigger threat to world peace at the time, with a ferocious and indeed fanatical anti-American national-relgious ideology that inspired dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. In international relations, you often have to make alliances with unsavory characters to prevent even worse things from coming about. For example, in World War II we were "buddies" with Joseph Stalin, but only until Germany was on the verge of defeat. Without this alliance, the German Army would have conquered Europe and the Middle East, and the Holocaust would have extended to a far greater scale. The U.S. may well have erred by providing dangerous technology to Saddam Hussein, but in neither the case or Iraq in the 1980s nor the Soviet Union in the early 1940s can one seriously argue that such an alliance should not have been made.
December 28, 2002
South Dakota update
The cover story in the Dec. 23 issue of National Review was "South Dakota's INVALID Senator: How the Democrats Stole a Senate Seat." Investigators did find evidence of cash payments in exchange for votes, as well as an overweening presence by Democratic lawyers at Indian polling stations such as St. Thomas Parish Hall in Mission, SD. So far, however, this mini-scandal seems rather overblown. (Indeed, there were indications that Governor-elect Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, may have benefited from "cash-for-votes" in Maryland.) A story in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader covered both sides of the dispute over voter registration irregularities in South Dakota Indian reservations. Democrats resented the inquiry led by David Norcross, a Republican lawyer from New Jersey, charging Republicans with racial divisiveness. (Groan...) So far, there is no evidence of any fraud big enough to offset Tim Johnson's 524-vote winning margin. The National Review seems to want to get back at Democrats who keep whining about how Bush supposedly "stole" the 2000 presidential election. Give it a rest, everybody!
American Empire: NOT!
[Diplomacy] Those of us who study Third World politics strain mightily to convey to students some sense of how fascinated and anxious the rest of the world is about about the United States, while we blithely ignore other countries. This asymmetry of attentiveness is in part to blame for the hatred toward America, but there is more to it than that. Such hatred, often filled with venomous denunciations of U.S. "imperialism" is intertwined with enormous love and envy for our culture, tacky though it may be. Third World people (and perhaps Muslims especially) may be ascribing to us the motives and policies that THEY would pursue if they were in our position of overwhelming preponderance of wealth and power. Just as people raised in illiberal cultures detest our freedom, they CAN'T STAND our (relative) forebearance in foreign policy. Along these lines, Bill Whittle (via InstaPundit) wrote a very perceptive essay demolishing the whole notion that the U.S. is out to dominate the world, noting that after World War II and after Desert Storm, nearly all of our troops simply went home, leaving the defeated countries pretty much free to govern themselves. As Whittle writes,
How many times will we have to do this before our critics are able to discern a pattern? How many provocations and taunts and slander will we have to endure before anti-Americans wake up to the simple truth that brings us home time and time again, which is simply this: For the first time in history, a nation powerful enough to rule world has simply refused to do so. It is a moral and ethical choice we make as a people. More than that; it is data. It is evidence."
More on Europe vs. America
[Diplomacy] Eric Olsen, in blogcritics lambastes Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan, who is under the impression that United Europe is a dynamic economic force for the future. I think Europe is for the most part a boring, contented, rest home for geriatrics, and whining about America is just a hobby to keep their blood flowing.
[Diplomacy] Geitner Simmons wrote that Peter Ross Range, editor of Blueprint (the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council) recently returned from a trip to Germany. In an article in the new edition of the magazine, he describes a growing gap between Germans and Americans in regard to foreign policy:
... most Europeans, still don't get the post-9/11 world. They did not experience the transformative moment that so profoundly changed America. And, absent an attack on their own soil, they're not likely to share America's fundamentally altered notion of national security any time soon.
One way to know that Germans still don't get 9/11 is that they often couch their opposition to firm action in Iraq in terms that are more anti-Bush than anti-American. During a long string of conversations in Berlin at election time, my interlocutors always veered quickly from Iraq into a string of Bush administration decisions that they hate: rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, U.S. withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, last year's new steel tariffs.
December 27, 2002
Senator Patty commits a gaffe
It barely caught my eye in a couple blog postings recently, but I think more people should know about Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) recent off-the-cuff statement in a forum with high school students (reported in the Vancouver Columbian) about why Osama bin Laden is apparently so popular in the Third World. She said he has "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that." What??? Sen. Murray often comes across as naive, but this particular statement was not only terribly misinformed, it was potentially damaging. Later she issued a retraction, belatedly making it clear that Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist who must be defeated. The Washington Post tried to rationalize her statement as being at least well intentioned, even though it was very "inept," but that misses the point.
What Murray did was play into the hands of the reflexively anti-American body of opinion that exists in this country and abroad, at an extremely sensitive moment when U.S. diplomatic leverage toward Iraq and North Korea depends so much on our unity of purpose. Her misguided appeal to open-minded dialogue backfired by further polarizing the ultra-patriotic and "Blame-America-first" camps, which is exactly what the enemies of America want. Perhaps it's fortunate that the Christmas holiday overshadowed this gaffe. Nevertheless, one should pause to reflect on the disparity in how such gaffes are treated by the mainstream media according to the party affiliation of the person who is speaking. Would a Republican have gotten off the hook so easily for having made such a statement?
Trent Whines On
As if his earlier thoughtless words and disgraceful exit weren't bad enough, Sen. Trent Lott further embarrassed himself and his party just before Christmas by blaming his misfortunes on people in Washington out to get him. Rather than holding himself up to a higher standard -- as those who truly believe in the causes they represent do -- he sounds as self-pitying and paranoid as Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, or Richard Nixon.
December 23, 2002
Goodbye Trent; Hello Bill
After exhausting every possibility that he might somehow survive as Majority Leader, Trent Lott finally saw the light on Friday and announced he was stepping down. Some feared that he might resign his Senate seat as well, which would have led to a 50-50 split in the Senate once again, since the governor of Mississippi is a Democratic. Ironically, Lott's original comments weren't as bad as his subsequent craven groveling, epitomized by his appearance on Black Entertainment Television, where he proclaimed full support for affirmative action. What??? The Washington Post joked about unconfirmed rumors that Lott was about to come out in favor of racial reparations, a sign of what a laughing-stock he had become. (Sorry, I'm getting caught up with accumulated material, so no links today.)
The new Majority Leader, Bill Frist, will give the Republicans a fresh start. He is highly esteemed as a principled conservative and as a surgeon, but has little legislative experience. Thus, it remains to be seen whether he can actually keep Senate Republicans together and get things accomplished.
It is instructive to note that the initial surge of outrage against Lott was strongest on the right; William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, as well as virtually all right-leaning bloggists, all registered early and vehement protests against the sentiments implicit in what Lott said. Robert Novak was one of the few apologists for Lott, but his real point was that Republicans shouldn't pander to Democratic sensibilities. Novak is just too cynical to realize that sometimes political principle and political expediency go hand in hand. The unsubtle campaign against Lott by the White House was not only the right thing to do, it was in the best interests of the party AND the nation. Lott's resignation won't bring an end to the controversy engendered by his mega-gaffe, however. A number of Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton and Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne have cast the predictable aspersions against the Republican party, which they see as "tainted" by racism, but such arguments don't merit a response. Other critics have been more constructive, such as Richard Cohen, who wrote a fair-minded piece on Dec. 19; today's Post editorial was likewise honest and balanced. The Republican party does need to do some soul-searching about its overall position on the issue of race, but that is even more the case on the Democratic side, which has become a festering cauldron of unfounded (or weakly founded) grievances, held together only by bitter race-baiting, class-baiting, and gender-baiting demagoguery. The Republicans have a long, proud record on civil rights, from its founding in the 1850s and extending through the last two decades; they owe no one any apologies. The myth of institutional racism in the Republican party has its origins in the political maneuvering that occurred during the civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s. The following map dramatizes the astonishing reversal in presidential election results between 1956 and 1964, and I will offer an analysis about the meaning of all this in the near future.
December 13, 2002
A Lott of Apologies
It is astonishing that Trent Lott is apparently too obtuse to realize that the hurt feelings and political damage he caused last week are beyond repair. I figured he would come around to taking responsibility by stepping aside from his (soon-to-be) post of Senate Majority Leader. Instead, he seems utterly oblivious to how much impact his words had before, and how little impact they have now.
This reminds me of one of my favorite movies of recent years, Sixth Sense, which launched child star Haley Joel Osment's career. ("I see dead people...") WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE. Lott is like the character played by Bruce Willis, a child psychologist who is fatally shot by one of his former patients but who does not realize he is dead for many months because of Unresolved Issues in his life. Whenever Willis the ghost said something to his wife, she did not respond, but he could not put two plus two together and face up to the reality of his demise. Likewise, Lott keeps on babbling ritualized apologies and lame excuses that totally miss the point, thus playing into the hands of Democrats. Politically speaking, he is dead as a door nail, and the only question is whether one of his Senate colleagues will play the role of the Haley Joel Osment character and rouse Lott into accepting this. Otherwise, the Republican party will have forfeited its recent electoral gains, and some legislators might even consider switching sides rather than be associated with apologists for segregation.
It was gratifying that President Bush made such an emphatic and heartfelt denunciation of Lott's remarks yesterday. As the President said, there should be no room in the Party of Lincoln for anyone who would question "the equal dignity and equal rights of every American." It's just too bad that Republicans in the Senate have thus far been too afraid of upsetting that esteemed upper chamber's social rules to speak out. This uproar will not die down of its own accord, however, and most Republicans will probably agree before long that it's time to cut their losses and move on. Some pundits have suggested that Kentucky's curmudgeonly Mitch McConnell is most likely to replace Lott, but personally I favor Tennessee's Bill Frist, a medical doctor.
Sean Penn in Baghdad
Thanks to Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit, I've learned that bad boy movie actor Sean Penn has arrived in Baghdad on a peace-making mission on behalf of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a left-leaning think tank with offices in San Francisco and Washington. Mr. Penn recently placed an earnest full-page ad in the Washington Post urging President Bush not to launch war against Iraq. Is this a great country or what?
December 10, 2002 [LINK]
What can I say? Bloggists Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Cooper, and others are pretty much unanimous that Senator Trent Lott exhibited horrendous judgment, if not outright racism. Even Rush Limbaugh was dismayed. I've never been impressed with Lott, who is a mere lightweight (lott-weight?) when it comes to legislative arts. Compared to Tom Daschle, he's a rank amateur. Frankly, I could care less what he "really meant to say" when ritually praising retiring Senator Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday. For those of us who make a sharp distinction between the worthy pre-1965 civil rights reforms and the tragic post-1965 mischief, Lott's apparent suggestion that America would have been better off if "Jim Crow" laws had been kept on the books could not be more disheartening. Talk about stoking the fires of Black paranoia... As long as he could get a few things done in the Senate, Lott's amiable, accommodative, soft-spoken ways could be excused, but if he's going to hand the Democrats an issue on a silver platter like this, it's obviously time for him to step aside. It will be years before we hear the end of this from the Democrats, but in the mean time at least the Republican leadership in the Senate will be getting a much-needed shake-up.
I won't be missing retiring Senators Jesse Helms or Bob Smith, but the departure of Texan Phil Gramm (a former Democrat and economics professor) is cause for worry. He was brainy and as forthright as anyone on Capitol Hill, a rare exception to the rule of mealy-mouthed mediocrity these days. He's rumored to be a leading candidate to replace Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, so perhaps Phil will play a central role in shaping national economic policy once again.
Senator Landrieu's reelection triumph made President Bush look bad, since he spent almost as much time stumping (in vain) for Suzanne Haik Terrell as he had spent in South Dakota for John Thune, but it may not signify very much in terms of political trends. Landrieu effectively used the Democratic machine built by her father "Moon" Landrieu (former mayor of New Orleans) to mobilize the party's African-American base. No surprise there. According to the Washington Post, Landrieu picked up a number of votes in the final days of the "Round Two" campaign by pledging to protect Louisiana sugar interests from low-cost imports. So now unemployed sugar cane workers from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean basin countries will have to sneak into the U.S. looking for jobs, where they will eventually become -- Democratic voters! Now I get it...
According to the Washington Post, former Bush policy adviser John DiIulio has made "a complete and utter retraction" of his harsh criticisms of the Bush administration. Turns out, he was a Democrat to whom Bush had reached out in a gesture of bipartisan confidence building.
December 6, 2002
The White House just announced that Paul O'Neill has resigned as Secretary of Treasury, no doubt under pressure since President Bush has been criticized so much for the weak economy lately. Since I have a soft spot in my heart for candid, forthright political leaders, I admit that I'll miss poor old O'Neill. He had been a respected, energetic chief executive of Alcoa who was unfortunately totally out of his element in Washington. He was probably at least half right when he criticized the IMF and World Bank for wasting precious financial resources on Third World bailouts, but he was just too politically naive to carry out an innovative policy that might have led to reform. So, it looks like we'll be stuck with dull, conventional policies that are based on a pyramid of false pretenses that serve to prop up foreign governments who stash the loot while blaming us for their peoples' misfortunes.
Meanwhile, O'Neill's partner during the offbeat tour of Africa last summer, U2 lead singer Bono, appeared on NBC's Today show earlier this week and used profanities to convey just how angry he is at the Western world for allowing the AIDS epidemic to continue untreated. More on that later...
December 4, 2002
Since I have a certain affinity toward the libertarian viewpoint, I tend to suspect any newly created bureaucracies or enhanced powers granted to police forces. Thus, I cannot pretend that I don't have some qualms about the recently passed Homeland Security Act, even though it is fairly obvious that something along those lines was urgently needed. After all, whether Osama bin Laden is alive or not, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of terrorists, sympathizers, or fanatical "freelancers" still lying low in our midst, waiting for the chance to unleash more atrocities. Given the magnitude of the threat, it is a matter of simple logic that agencies such as the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should be grouped together under the same administrative umbrella. Nevertheless, some people have reacted with dismay to certain aspects of the massive governmental restructuring.
For example, William Safire recently wrote in the New York Times (November 14) that all Americans are now suspects. He derides the head of the new "Information Awareness Office," John Poindexter, who was convicted of felonies connected to the Iran-Contra scandal in 1990. That pyramid-eye logo of the new IAO (which is part of the super-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the name of the agency itself are rather creepy, I'll grant you. In the new security environment in which the risk of unforeseeable catastrophes is ever-present, however, the FBI and police forces need high-tech tools to track down dangerous conspirators. I feel safer knowing that the "good guys" will be better able to do their job. Of course, there is a small but very real risk that rogue cops or Federal agents might misuse their access to sensitive personal information, but the proper solution to that is to establish an independent, transparent oversight commission, perhaps from the ranks of Congress or retired statesmen. The American Civil Liberties Union is already on the case, and no doubt will be exercising intensive vigilance.
Similarly, Ricardo Pimentel of the Arizona Republic called attention to the complaints of immigration advocates that putting the INS functions in the new Department of Homeland Security will make immigrants fear arrest or even deportation. I know a considerable number of immigrants, but none of them are seriously afraid of being whisked away arbitrarily. (Prior to 9/11, actual deportation was an extremely rare event, and it is still applied only in exceptional cases.) Indeed, most immigrants come from countries where the police and army really are feared, and I think almost all of them appreciate living in a country where individuals enjoy so much security. Furthermore, they are also painfully aware of the hopelessly dysfunctional status quo in the INS, which is hamstrung by contradictory mandates and inadequate funding. It is a matter of national security that both the quantity and quality of personnel in this agency be expanded as soon as possible. Immigration is a very complex and sensitive issue in its own right, and almost no one denies that U.S. immigration policy needs to become more consistent, effective, and fair. Facing up to the dilemmas posed by immigration will probably take years if not decades. In the mean time, our increased border vigilance must be accompanied by a corresponding effort to make sure that properly documented aliens do not feel victimized by xenophobia, such as what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. So far, the Bush administration has done a fine job in avoiding that.
None of this is meant to deny that expanded police powers may end up encroaching unduly on personal liberties, since there is always a latent threat of bureaucratic "empire-building." As with almost everything else in public affairs, the most important guidepost is to strive for balance between legitimate competing goals. We can't be perfectly safe, and we can't be perfectly free. Personally I would feel a little more comfortable if policy making in the Bush White House were less influenced by the shrewd political calculations of Karl Rove. In particular, as the new Department of Homeland Security gets underway, the Republicans in Congress are obliged to shun the kind of pork barrel politics they have often -- and rightly -- criticized the Democrats for indulging in. But the complaints against the provisions of the Homeland Security Act would sound a lot more convincing to me if the people speaking out were truly and consistently committed to individual liberty. To put it bluntly, you can't demand welfare state entitlements for all -- as many in the ACLU are prone to do -- and still claim to be a defender of freedom. In any case, there is no reason for civil libertarians to panic, and there is no prospect of a police state anywhere on the horizon. Loyal dissenters can and should speak out without fear whenever genuine abuses do take place, as some probably will.
December 3, 2002
Well, enough of the post-election respite from polemical nattering...
The DiIulio Tempest
John DiIulio, a former Bush staff aide and speechwriter who worked on faith-based initiatives, has vented his frustrations in a classic Washington "confessional" published by Esquire magazine. His letter was reproduced by the Drudge Report. DiIulio spares no effort in praising Bush's sincerity about "compassionate conservatism" but laments what he sees as Bush's weak side: a disregard for policy substance that allows decisions to be driven by short-term political expediency, an attitude accentuated by the ascendancy of Karl Rove in the White House West Wing. DiIulio (supposedly*) wrote,
This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis -- staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible.
Ouch! This piece of "tattling" came out less than two years after "W"'s inauguration, much earlier in the game than the book-length tell-alls written by Clinton lieutenants George Stephanopolous and Robert Reich. * One should note that DiIulio has since disclaimed some of the quoted material. In any case, I take all such characterizations -- especially such cliche-laden ones -- with a grain of salt. Idealists who come to Washington eager to change the world often become embittered when their cohorts don't see things eye to eye. DiIulio's strange praise of Clinton's vaunted expert-run White House suggests that he is one of those whiz-kid policy wonks who was simply not up to the task of bureaucratic politics. University of Chicago scholar Daniel Drezner contrasts DiIulio's setbacks with Condi Rice, who has fared much better in the Bush White House, thanks to her experience in the "snake pit" world of academic administration: "I suspect the real difference between those political scientists that succeed in government and those that fail is that the successes know the limits of their trade." Hooray for modesty!
Given that he was the man who ridiculed "nation-building" ventures during the 2000 campaign, the possibility that U.S. troops may police Baghdad for years to come is ironic to say the least. As Alan Wolfe wrote in the Boston Globe Online, however, "No serious empire-builder would ever cut taxes as recklessly as President Bush has." Interesting point; so who is going to pay for the war and subsequent occupation? The United States "passed the hat" and prevailed upon Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Japan, and other countries to help fund Desert Storm in 1991, but that option is out the window this time. Does that mean Bush is bluffing, or is he going to put this war on the national "Visa card"?
Whatever Bush's shortcomings, he has far surpassed the expectations most people had of him when he was elected, and this has annoyed leftists to no end. Perhaps that is why, in recent weeks, I have come across more and more examples of virulently malicious attacks against the President on various leftist Web sites. Some of them (links to which I decline to post) are far worse than the tasteless "push Granny down the stairs" Web cartoon on the Democratic National Committee Web site. I can't remember conservatives ever stooping so low in denouncing Clinton, but if anyone can point to correspondingly below-the-belt Web sites on the conservative side, I'll be glad to take a look. For now, all I can say is that a dark, sneering spirit seems to have taken hold of the Left since the 2000 election, and that bodes very ill for our country in these perilous times when unity and serious dialogue are so important.
Two weeks ago Senator Tom Daschle held a strange press conference in which he defended the Democrats' achievements while in control of the Senate and blasted the Bush administration for, of all things, obstructionism! Orwell would be proud. You never know what this plain-spoken, double-talking guy really means, but in this particular episode he came across as crassly self-pitying. This was most evident when he blamed his party's woes on Rush Limbaugh, whom he accused of inciting listeners to commit acts of violence. This is the same crap Bill Clinton foisted on the public after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 -- the very day that marked his political comeback, in fact. Limbaugh's satirical tirades against the Left sometimes go too far for my tastes, but he is certainly NOT a flag-bearer for extremist elements. In a similar vein, Al Gore blamed his laughing-stock public image (and poor book sales) on nihilistic, narcissistic postmodernists. That came as quite a shock to me, since I thought those folks were his core constituency!
Nearly everyone was pleased by the Democrats' choice of Nancy Pelosi to be the new House Minority Leader, from conservatives licking their lips in anticipation of the 2004 elections to leftists who are convinced Bush is leading the country toward disaster. She is telegenic and generally speaks in respectful tones, but she got off to a rocky start on Meet the Press two weeks ago. Everybody has bad days now and then, but I was surprised by how inarticulate she sounded when Tim Russert asked her how she would balance the left and centrist wings of her party. She has one of the purest ADA voting records in all of Congress and indeed faces a huge challenge gaining the confidence of moderates.
Just before the November election there was a news report that Democratic candidate Pryor (who defeated incumbent Tim Hutchinson) had hired a Latina woman without proper documents. According to the Arkansas Times, the woman was persuaded by Pryor's in-laws to sign a false affadavit in order to hush up the scandal. Would it have mattered? Let's ask Zoe Baird!
POSTCRIPT: Diplomatic fallout from Election 2002
When I wrote on November 6 that I expected resistance in the U.N. Security Council to melt away soon as the result of the Republican victory, I was thinking maybe a week or two, but as things turned out, it took only two days. When the American people speak, the rest of the world listens!
November 26, 2002
The State Department and Latin America
[Diplomacy] The U.S. State Department announced that Otto Reich -- who has been serving as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under special "recess appointment" terms because the Democrat-controlled Senate had refused to confirm him -- would become Bush's "special envoy to the Western Hemisphere." Curt Struble, known as a strong advocate of military aid to Colombia, will replace his boss on an interim basis. Reich is a Cuban expatriate known for his strong anti-Castro views, and his recess appointment expired when Congress adjourned. This seems to be a maneuver that will keep Reich in Foggy Bottom until the Senate recovenes under Republican control in January, at which time he can finally be confirmed. [corrected - WP]
[Diplomacy] Some people have gone overboard with criticizing the unhelpful attitude of Saudi Arabia, but the problem is real, nonetheless. Scott Koenig, in his indepundit blog, called attention to the often-bizarre contradictions in statements emanting from Saudi officials:
Why would the Prince utter such an obvious and easily disprovable lie? Because, as a member of the Saudi Royal Family, he suffers from a rare and apparently genetic form of mental illness known as "Saudi Schizophrenia."
November 13, 2002.
Environmental conference in Chile
[Diplomacy] Environmental officials from 160 countries convened in Santiago in early November to discuss strengthening the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The organization's secretary general, Willem Wijnstekers, complained about the lack of resources. South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana were authorized to sell their accumulated stocks of ivory, amounting to 33 tons. Ivory sales had been banned since 1989 in order to save elephants, whose numbers have rebounded in recent years. Kenya objected, and conservationists warn that elephant poaching may resume in deadly earnest.
November 8, 2002
Security Council averts irrelevance
[Diplomacy] Encouraged by U.S. voters, France, Russia, and the rest of the U.N. Security Council (except Syria) agreed to nearly all of the terms demanded by the Bush administration, passing a resolution demanding full, unconditional compliance by Iraq to renewed weapons inspection. Does this mean "peace in our time"? Don't bet on it.
November 6, 2002
Gephardt & Moore: Has beens
Chagrined by his party's miserable showing, Missouri's Richard Gephardt has apparently decided not seek the minority leader's chair for the coming congressional term. I can actually remember in the mid-1980s when he was considered one of the forward-thinking new breed of Democrats, like Gary Hart. Over the years, however, he has gotten stuck in the rut of "New Dealism" and has degenerated into a purveyor of cheap low-brow demagoguery. He has become a sad caricature of every backward trait associated with his party.
Thanks (once again) to Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit, I learned of leftist movie maker Michael Moore's pathetically wrong prediction that Bush would be soundly defeated on election day. Typifying the anti-Republican hatred that has festered in Democratic circles in recent years, Moore apparently either suffers from some deep psychological affliction or else is guilty of deliberate outright malice -- or perhaps some combination thereof. Kind of like... never mind.
How sweet it is!
Wow! The whole evening was a huge relief, capped off by the victory of Paul Ehrlich and Michael Steele in the Maryland governor-lieutenant governor's race. It's just too bad that incumbent Connie Morella couldn't quite eke out an upset victory. (Here in Virginia there were no close races at all, thanks to the recent incumbent-protecting redistricting, and the only voting result of note was the defeat of the referendum on raising taxes for transporation projects in Northern Virginia.) I stayed up until just after 2:00 AM when incumbent Senator Jean Carnahan (D) conceded the race in Missouri to Jim Talent (R). Taking my cues from Rush Limbaugh, however, I'm not going to gloat about the Republicans' triumph. (Limbaugh is finally getting some respect from the mainstream media, and served as a guest commentator on NBC last night.)
In fact, as Limbaugh says, the election results may not mean all that much in terms of public attitudes about domestic policy -- just as in the Republican victory of 1994, which was misinterpreted by Newt Gingrich. This election is probably not a conservative mandate, but rather should be considered an expression of national unity in a moment of crisis. Thus, the biggest near-term effect will probably be on the foreign policy side: President Bush will no longer be constrained by Tom Daschle's full-court-press obstructionism and will thus gain much greater diplomatic leverage and credibility. The expression of support for President Bush will certainly have a big impression on foreign nay-sayers, and I would expect resistance in the U.N. Security Council to melt away soon. If President Bush can parlay this domestic victory to forge a strong international coalition, it just may become possible to achieve our national security objectives in the Middle East without having to go to war against Iraq.
Who could have imagined such a decisive victory? Now I have some inkling of what it was like to experience the stunning Republican upset win in 1994, when I was virtually "incommunicado" while researching in Peru. For the first time in my entire life, the Republican Party is about to take control of all three branches of the Federal government. For some Democrats, this is an unthinkable catastrophe, akin to the barbarians sacking the city of Rome. They're just going to have to get used to the idea that they do not have a permanent entitlement to share government power, and that this country really IS a two party system! The Democrats controlled both the presidency and Congress for fourteen years since the last time the Republicans did so (1954), so now the shoe is on the other foot. Any objective observer would concede that this is a healthy turn of events, giving the Bush administration a real opportunity to follow through on its campaign pledges and thus be held accountable by the voters in the 2004 elections. As I have said many times in the past, it is impossible to assign either all the blame or all the credit for what happened in Washington during the last two decades because we have had divided government almost the entire time. Some people, such as political scientist David Mayhew, argue that in terms of actual policy results, divided government is not really that much different from governments in which the White House and Capitol Hill are controlled by the same party. This will be an interesting test of that hypothesis. I'm sure that the next Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, will make much stronger gestures of bipartisanship than the wily South Dakota "coyote," Mr. Daschle.
South Dakota: a bridge too close?
The prairie state of South Dakota was apparently an exception to the nationwide trend, as Democrat Tim Johnson seems to have held on to his seat, by a tiny margin of only 527 votes. So far, there have been no reports of voting irregularities which some people expected after the voter registration fraud scandal that erupted there last month. It is a huge irony that many South Dakota voters were swayed by the argument that the state would benefit by keeping Tom Daschle as Senate Majority Leader. So much for that rationale! Johnson's win was one of the few consolations for Daschle, magnified by the fact that President Bush has invested so much time in stumping for Thune in South Dakota. Given the razor-close margin in this race, I think the deciding factor may well have been voter appreciation for the new bridge across the Missouri River south of Vermillion, home of the University of South Dakota. It was a very popular classic pork barrel project with dubious economic merit; when I drove across the bridge for the first time on a Saturday afternoon last August, there was so little traffic that a local hot rod enthusiasts group was using the bridge as a drag strip! The view from the Nebraska side of the river is truly spectacular, and I'm frankly quite glad that they finally did build that bridge, as I had been hoping for many years when I was growing up there. Given the fact that Vermillion is Johnson's home town (and mine, for that matter), and taking into account this college town's liberal leanings, Thune probably could not have expected to match the virtual tie that he achieved in the statewide race. Without the bridge pork barrel factor, however, he might well have taken 45 percent of the Clay County vote, which would have been enough extra votes for him to win the Senate seat! Lesson: If the Democrats had only managed to win in the Minnesota and Georgia Senate races, as nearly everyone expected, that Missouri River bridge just might have turned out to be the factor that tipped the Senate balance in their favor.
U.S. Senate race, South Dakota
(100% of precincts reporting)
November 4, 2002
Tsk, tsk, tsk...
In the one and only debate in the Minnesota Senate race today, good ol' Fritz Mondale dropped any vestige of his former civility and took his rhetorical cues from the Carville-McAuliffe team, sarcastically accusing his opponent Norm Coleman of trying to hide his ties to "right-wing" extremism. Coleman is a former Democrat who served as mayor of St. Paul, and he is widely respected. Mondale seems intent on forfeiting the goodwill he earned from fellow Minnesotans for his career of respectable public service, and he just may lose. Another Democratic candidate who was once heavily favored to win has been losing support in recent weeks, as her Carvillian shrieking backfires: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is running for governor of Maryland against a truly decent Republican, Bob Ehrlich. His running mate, Michael Steele, is an African American, by the way, but most observers doubt that many African American votes will cross party lines. We'll see about that! Another very close and crucial race in Maryland is Chris Van Hollen (glib, two-faced Democrat) vs. Connie Morella (soft-spoken, nice Republican); she still has hopes to pull an upset and hold onto her seat.
GOP Rally in Staunton, VA
On Saturday the local Republican Party held a rally in Staunton to launch a leadership initiative. The event featured fine bluegrass music by the local group Heather Berry and the Berry Pickers, barbecue pork, and other tasty treats, and about fifty people attended. It was quite chilly but the skies were crystal clear, showcasing the beautiful Blue Ridge. Jacqueline and I had the pleasure to meet former governor Jim Gilmore, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, and delegates Steve Landes and Chris Saxman, plus several local officials. I'm developing a Web page for the local party organization, and it should be ready to post in the next few days.
As reported in the Washington Post, Governor Gilmore used the occasion to announce that he is opposed to the proposed half-percent tax increase that voters will decide on in a referendum tomorrow. His main argument was that raising taxes is not a solution to the problem, but merely an easy way out. Since I generally favor public mass transit, I was initially leaning in favor of the proposal, but the more I look at the details, the more it seems that the billions of extra dollars in state revenue will be devoted to building highways that would serve primarily to subsidize the construction of more and more and more suburban housing, office, and retail complexes. Fairfax County is already blighted enough, and now the outlying suburban areas are being paved over at a frightening pace. Traffic woes or not, the last thing northern Virginia needs is more development. This issue has generated interesting political alliances; Republican named James Parmalee is a leader of the Northern Virginia Coalition to Stop the Sales Tax, an interesting coalition of liberal and conservative groups. The man who succeeded Governor Gilmore, millionaire Democrat Mark Warner, pretended to be non-commital on the northern Virginia tax issue during last year's campaign, but just as many of us expected, after he took office he became a strong advocate of the tax. Senator John Warner, who was almost defeated by Mark Warner in the 1996 Senate race, joined forces with his erstwhile adversary in endorsing the tax proposal, but Virginia's other senator, George Allen, just announced he opposes it.
The other leaders who attended the rally made great speeches, especially House of Delegates Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, who amplified what Gilmore had said. Both men effectively refuted the alarmist claims by Governor Warner that the Commonwealth is in a full-blown fiscal crisis. I'm inclined to agree with Griffith that these alarms seems to be little more than an excuse to raise taxes. Governor Warner is as much of a political chameleon as Bill Clinton, all things to all people. At times he has seemed to be a reasonable pragmatist this year, but other times he acts quite vindictively when he doesn't get his way. I told Majority Leader Griffith that it seemed to me that the Republican-controlled legislature was able to get things done with the new governor, but he disabused me of that notion.
Lawyers standing by...
I don't claim to understand the psychology of Democrats who keep pretending that the 2000 presidential election was "stolen" by the Supreme Court on behalf of the Republicans. Likewise, urban legends about police officers supposedly preventing African-Americans from voting are still being propagated, even though no reputable investigator has found any credible evidence. Why? It seems to be a way to justify winning elections by any means necessary -- such as the illegal last-minute ballot switch in the New Jersey Senate race, where Frank Lautenberg is about to win and return from retirement. Some conservative commentators have predicted that the Democrats are preparing to wage legal battles in states where the races are particularly close, waving the "bloody flag" of Florida to intimidate any officials who might resist. For example, in Minnesota, they are supposedly preparing legal briefs so that mailed-in absentee ballots previously cast for Paul Wellstone would count for Walter Mondale, because that is probably what such people would have intended. Never mind that state law prohibits doing so! It reminds me when they were trying to count every last "dimpled chad" on the basis that they could accurately infer the voters' intentions. It would appear that much more such nonsense is about to unfold. Good grief...
November 1, 2002
Campaign 2002 update: SD, La
With no truly riveting domestic issues this year, and with the war on terrorism in temporary recess, there is no apparent force that might sway late-deciding voters, so the election could tip either way in the last few days. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball projects that the Democrats will pick up one Senate seat, giving them a 52 to 48 edge. As for the razor-close South Dakota race, Sabato writes that Tim "Johnson is the second most endangered Democratic incumbent Senator, after Carnahan of Missouri..." The deciding factor may well be the few hundred or so votes cast in gratitude for Johnson's pork-barrel bridge construction project, which linked my home town of Vermillion to Nebraska! NBC's Tom Brokaw did a special report on the race in his home state, and Tom Daschle told him the reason why candidates keep resorting to negative ads is because they work. That is exactly what Rush Limbaugh keeps saying! Sabato projects that the Republicans will pick up three seats in the house, not enough to gain an effective governing majority. Upshot: Two more years of legislative obstruction. In the races for governors, the Democrats are widely expected to carry several states, including Illinois for the first time in decades.
We may not know right away which party will control the next Senate because of an oddity in Louisiana election laws, which requires that a candidate receive a majority of all votes cast to be elected. Because there are four candidates in the race this year, incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu may not get the required 50 percent, in which case there will be a runoff election in a few weeks.
Now that proper (?) respects have been paid to the late Senator Wellstone, the Minnesota senate race has started over from scratch, with good ol' Walter "Fritz" Mondale coming to the aid of his party. Way behind the times but basically he's a decent man, right? So I thought, too. Then I looked at James Lileks' (The Bleat) blog again (he's a Minnesotan and therefore on top of the local scene), and learned that Mondale is running a campaign ad that blasts his Republican opponent Norm Coleman for giving public money to a company that laid off 750 workers. That's not entirely accurate, but the worst part is that Mondale is on the board of directors of Northwest Airlines, which received $230 million from the Federal Government in bailout money after 9/11, during which time they cut 10,000 jobs. Well, well, well.
By the way, remember how Mondale was making such a big deal of Ronald Reagan's old age in the 1984 campaign, and how Reagan neutralized that issue during the debate by quipping that he wasn't going to make an issue out of Mondale's youthful inexperience? Mondale is now 74, one year older than Reagan was at the time. Mondale would become the seventh man to be elected to the Senate after serving as vice president; the last was another Minnesotan, Hubert H. Humphrey.
October 31, 2002
Inspection charade drags on
[Diplomacy] Mostly for show, U.S. negotiates terms of Iraq WMD inspection with France, Russia, and China, who seem intent on extracting maximum payoff. I take the terrorist threat extremely seriously and cannot conceive of any "peaceful" approaches that would keep us secure. The question is not war or peace, the question is deciding who our real enemies and true friends are. Bush seems to have failed miserably on the political front, which is just as important as the military front, but part of the resistance by France, etc. is simply a "natural" tendency to suspect concentrated global power, whatever the merits of the case.
Mediators achieve fragile truce in Ivory Coast, on verge of civil war.
October 30, 2002
Funeral for a pol
The funeral for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone turned out to be an exhuberantly partisan affair, which I'm sure is exactly what Wellstone himself would have wanted. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott was actually booed by the crowd, validating Vice President Cheney's decision not to attend. Minnesota Republican Vin Weber expressed outrage at the exploitation of the tragedy for political ends, as reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but given the bitter political climate that exists today, what else does he expect? What unifies Democrats today is hating Republicans. Weber's whining only aggravates the situation. When plaintive, sincere expressions of goodwill and respect by one party's leaders are not reciprocated by those in the other party, wise politicians exercise discretion and bite their tongues, hoping that enough fair-minded people notice. Will they?
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds (Mr. InstaPundit) has some appropriate choice words on the subject, with a photo of some jovial mourners.
UPDATE #2: My exaggerated sense of fairness and respect sometimes obscures the fact that sincerity and dedication are not sufficent qualifications for political virtue. After all, Hitler was sincere about hating Jews and dedicated to the end of killing them. As for Wellstone and his head-in-the-clouds disdain for reality, the following excerpt from another blog (The Bleat) is pertinent:
He was one of those idealists who assumed that aspiration alone would solve the petty details. He always wanted to climb the next mountain and find Shangri-La, and this filled his supporters with awe and devotion. Occasionally one acolyte might ask: but we'll run out of air halfway up. What then?
"We'll find a way! We'll invent new ways to breathe! We'll barter with other climbers for O2 tanks! We'll find a shortcut around the mountain so we won't need oxygen. What matters is that we try, and find a path to Shangri-La for everyone!"
Yes, but the mountain is littered with the bones of the dead who said the same thing. Shouldn't we -
"Shangri-la! We can do it! We can do it!"
A bit harsh perhaps, but the point is well taken. Thanks to Jeffrey Cooper's Cooped Up for the link.
"Gun culture" critic out of work
Professor Michael Bellesiles, author of the controversial book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture was just fired by Emory University after finding that he had failed to meet minimal standards for scholarly research. This was a rare case of professors being held accountable for academic fraud. The National Review has a good background article on the case, which has been discussed at length in the "blogosphere." This may be considered a small victory for those who believe that the Second Amendment actually means what it says.
October 25, 2002
The sudden, tragic death of Senator Wellstone leaves us all worse off. He was a rare breed of true believing left-liberals in Washington, willing to sacrifice his political career by voting against the resolution authorizing war against Iraq. There was hardly any issue about which I agreed with him, and his frantic demonization of corporations often irritated me, but I never doubted his sincerity or dedication. I say we are all worse off because it would have been nice to know for sure what voters in Minnesota thought about his forthright anti-war position. Now the waters are muddied, and Minnesota Democrats are obliged to put a replacement candidate on the ballot before November 1, even though they would much rather leave Wellstone's name on the ballot and hold a special election later if he wins -- as they are planning to do in Hawaii for the late Patsy Mink's seat. A Washington Post article explains the Minnesota situation, which is both legally and politically the total reverse of that in New Jersey, where the Democrats wanted to switch candidates, in spite of what the law said.
October 22, 2002
Down to the wire in South Dakota
Both the Washington Post and Time magazine have in-depth analyses of the ultra-tight congressional races in South Dakota. Republican John Thune's challenge of incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson -- considered as a proxy battle in the all-out war between President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle -- is too close to call. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Bill Janklow is having a much tougher time against newcomer Stephanie Herseth in the race for the House seat that Thune has occupied. Herseth is soft-pedaling the liberal label, which doesn't go over well, especially in the cowboy-dominated western half of the state. Janklow has served four terms as governor (16 years altogether), and I recall that he used to have a reputation as quite a hardliner on divisive issues such as crime on Indian reservations, but apparently he has softened his image somewhat. How could politicians as diverse as Jim Abourezk, George McGovern, and Bill Janklow emerge from the same constituency? It's hard for outsiders to understand the paradoxical nature of Prairie State Politics (that's the name of my father's seminal book on the subject), but most people are both conservative in social terms and populist in economic terms. Corny or not, the independent-spirited pioneer heritage exemplified by Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie is authentic and deeply rooted in the Dakotas and elsewhere in the Great Plains. Unlike life in the big cities, suburbs, and far-flung gate communities elsewhere, there is no contradiction between individual freedom and the communitarian, good-neighbor impulse.
Doonesbury lampoons "blogs"
This week's "Doonesbury" comic strip takes on the new world of "blogdom," that novel grass-roots expression of citizen participation in politics, of which this humble Web site is a recent entrant. To elitists, the idea that "anyone can do it!" is inherently subversive, but that points out -- ironically -- the anti-democratic streak that pervades the Washington establishment these days. Most "blogs" indeed seem to be right of center, which I think constitutes a useful corrective to the left-of-center bias in the mainstream media. There may be an element of envy going on here: "Doonesbury" used to be cutting-edge satire back in the 1970s, but over the years it has gradually mellowed into an apology for mainstream "liberal" political thinking. In today's strip, one of the college kids justifies his plagiarizing from mainstream opinion sources based on changing punctuation. Sad to say, that sort of attitude about academic integrity and intellectual property seems to be very widespread on campuses these days.
More light-hearted political humor:
According to the parody news Web site scrappleface.com, the Democratic party announced a massive recall of baloney. (This is a take-off of Wampler's poultry recall last week.) Also, reliably leftist Tom Tomorrow takes a welcome turn at poking fun at Democratic leaders Hillary and Tom for their ritualized support for Bush's War on Terror. Dan Perkins, creator of the comic strip, regards their meek stance as just poll-driven, but I think it is a case of their general two-faced approach to politics, paying lip service to cherished icons such as bipartisanship and free enterprise while doing their best to tear down these vital elements of our system behind the scenes.
October 15, 2002
Electoral cheating in South Dakota??
Thanks to the Drudge Report I just learned of small voter-registration scandal in my beloved home state of South Dakota, reported by NBC affiliate KSFY-TV in Sioux Falls. The Democratic party was just obliged to fire a contracted employee who was apparently fabricating voter records for out-of-county and deceased residents in Indian-populated areas of the state. The FBI is now investigating whether other dirty tricks have occurred. Given the razor-thin margin in the polls for the Senate race between incumbent Tim Johnson (D) and challenger John Thune (R), the outcome of this case could easily tip the balance in control of the U.S. Senate.
New Jersey update
Indiana law professor Jeff Cooper gives a plausible legal rationale for the abominable ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, allowing the Democrats to switch candidates at the last minute. The whole thing still stinks to high heaven, but whaddya gonna do? VOTE!!!
Goodbye to centrist elements?
The widely-respected incumbent moderate Republican representative from Maryland, Connie Morella, seems to be headed for defeat. Democrat Chris Van Hollen got a big boost when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned with him last week. Today's Washington Post has a piece by E. J. Dionne who concludes that this race shows that moderate Republicans are becoming obsolete. Dionne, like Jimmy Carter and many others in the Democratic party, regards mainstream Republicans as a sinister cabal tainted by fascism, so perhaps his strange interpretation of the Morella predicament is not surprising. His bias is revealed by the fact that he barely touches on the central reason why she is trailing in the polls: After the 2000 census, the Democratic-controlled legislature in Maryland redrew the congressional districts in such a way as to give her district much more Democratic constituency. (Republicans did something similar in Virginia, by the way, though it was not so blatant.) It's a tragedy that people like Dionne are shedding crocodile tears for the demise of moderates when this is the result of his own party's deliberate action. Maybe that's Why Americans Hate Politics (the title of one of his books).
October 11, 2002
Jimmy Carter wins Nobel Peace Prize
[Diplomacy] Former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today, an apt tribute to a good man. Carter was the most idealistic U.S. president in history, and he suffered the political fate of most idealists as he was humiliated -- first by the Soviet Union and then by Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, Carter is renowned for his devotion to the causes of homelessness (via Habitat for Humanity) and mediating international conflicts. He is almost certainly the best EX-president in U.S. history. It is unfortunate that he recently expressed shame for his country in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on September 5. He warned of a menacing "core group of conservatives" in the Bush administration and went so far as to declare that the incarceration of Taliban and Al Qaeda personnel at Guantanamo Bay is "similar to those of abusive regimes that historicially have been condemned by American presidents." This was music to the ears of elites in Europe and elsewhere that loathe American foreign policy assertiveness. Like many idealists, Carter is extremely intolerant of those who do not share his world view. That is sad.
Peace at risk in Northern Ireland
[Diplomacy] Earlier this week, three members of the Sinn Fein party were arrested for spying on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. This has imperiled the peace process that began under the "Good Friday Accords" sponsored by former President Clinton. As with Clinton's determined, all-or-nothing push for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, it would appear that unrealistic hopes for peace were raised by the "arranged peace," leading to bitter disappointment when the dyed-in-the-wool combatants found themselves unable to change their ways.
Talks in North Korea
[Diplomacy] Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly held exploratory talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, which the Bush administration has declared to be part of the "Axis of Evil." This label is well-earned, as anyone who has followed the news knows what horrid butchery the North Koreans are capable of. Recently the Pyongyang government admitted it had kidnapped a number of Japanese citizens many years ago, as part of a plan to gain language skills necessary to infiltrate Japan as part of a surprise attack against the U.S.-supported South Korean government. North Korea is desperately poor, and has been getting emergency food aid from South Korea and Japan in recent years, but there are obstacles to implementing the nuclear inspection program agreed to by the Clinton administration a few years ago. In return for giving up on any research that could be used for weapons development, the North Koreans are supposed to get modern (and less dangerous) U.S. nuclear energy technology.
NATO: Drang Nach Osten?
[Diplomacy] In late September, a NATO summit in Warsaw approved the eventual inclusion of seven new members: Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Coincidentally (or not), the European Union just announced that it is planning to admit five of these countries (except Romania and Bulgaria) plus Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Malta. Europeans look askance at the Turks, whose fervent pleas to join the EU have been rebuffed over and over. A few years ago I heard a (German) official of the European Union state quite frankly that the EU regarded NATO as a sort of "training ground" for prospective EU entrants (but not for Turkey, apparently). Has the U.S. commitment to European security evolved into a safety blanket that enables the European economy to out-compete ours? Justifying NATO's continuing existence in the post-Cold War era is getting harder and harder. Where's the external threat? Even if Russia did revert to aggressive imperialistic behavior, it is not as if U.S. troops are actually going to defend Riga against invading Russian troops -- or is it?
Germans, Bush, and Hitler
[Diplomacy] On September 22, Germany's Social Democrats retained power in parliamentary elections, but just barely: they won virtually the same share of the national vote (38 percent) as did the conservative Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union, but with Germany's odd electoral system and the fact that the Green party is a partner in the existing left-of-center government, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will remain in office. During the campaign, his party shamelessly pandered to voters by denouncing U.S. policies in quite inflammatory fashion. Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin went so far as to compare Bush to Hitler in using war to divert people's attention from their hardships; she was later obliged to resign. This confirms the rather distorted view held by many Americans who look up to Europeans as more civilized than us "loud-mouthed, gun-toting" Americans. (Europeans are NOT more civilized than we are; they are simply enjoying the benefits of an ultra-generous welfare state made possible by American security protection.) Danke schoen? Bitte! Since the election, German diplomats have tried to smooth relations with Washington, and hopefully they are sincere.
Environmental summit in Johannesburg, South Africa
[Diplomacy] In early September, Secretary of State Colin Powell was rudely jeered by protesters during his speech at the "U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development" held in Johannesburg. The summit was supposed to follow up on the "Earth Summit" held in Rio de Janeiro ten years ago, and to resolve differences that have impeded implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Bush administration takes a dim view of arbitrary quotas and economic transfers, arguing that market mechanisms assure the best outcome consistent with individual human freedom. To many people in Europe and the Third World, however, such talk of freedom is pure hogwash. They know no other way of life besides standing in line and doing what the government tells them to do, and they recoil at the notion that there is a better way. In any case, the strident demands of AIDS activists, etc. are unlikely to make much of an impression on the Bush administration. Things would be much different if Al Gore were president!
October 8, 2002
Supreme Court stays away from New Jersey
The U.S. Supreme Court just decided it will not rule on the illegal last-minute ballot change undertaken by Democrats in New Jersey, after the abrupt withdrawal from the race one week ago by incumbent Senator Robert Torricelli. Although this maneuver, which got former Senator Frank Lautenberg's name on the ballot, was a self-evident calculated violation of state election laws, the Court wisely refrained from getting involved. The Rehnquist majority was virulently castigated after its December 2000 ruling which put an end to the Florida voting fiasco. Does the New Jersey case really amount to cheating? Of course it does. To understand how Democratic leaders could justify changing the rules in the final quarter of the game, you have to understand how bitterly they hate Republicans and GOP policies. For an example, take a look at the Democratic National Committee Web site, which has a snide spoof on Bush's policy on Social Security in an Internet cartoon. Ho ho ho! Personally, I think privatization is the wrong solution to the problem, but saying that privatization amounts to pushing Grandma's wheelchair down the staircase is a bit overboard, to say the least. Thanks to Clinton, who had no firm principles other than an unswerving devotion to populist demagoguery, and thanks to its own recent evolution into a haphazard, fractious agglomeration of "aggrieved" minority groups, the Democratic Party has nothing to keep it united other than the fierce, relentless demonization of Republicans. Hang on for a bumpy ride, things are going to get even nastier!
UPDATE (7:30 PM) -- As another example of blind, deep-seated anti-Republican vituperation, the Drudge Report tells us that former calypso singer Harry Belafonte accused Secretary of State Colin Powell of selling out the black race, saying whatever the "slavemasters" tell him to say. Pathetic... Ironic connection: About a year ago there was a hilarious Shockwave cartoon spoof featuring George W. Bush and Colin Powell singing that they were gonna get Osama bin Laden, to the tune of Belafonte's "Day-O (the Banana Boat Song)." Lighten up and accept pluralism, Harry!
October 4, 2002
Will Gary Hart save the Democrats?
Thanks to InstaPundit I just learned of a New York Times op-ed piece by my former favorite Democrat, Gary Hart. It's titled "Note to Democrats: Get a Defense Policy" and upbraids his party for indulging in foolishness, forfeiting the defense agenda to the Bush administration. He's exactly right; there ought to be a serious debate over what to do about Iraq (I am by no means completely sold on the necessity for war), but Democrats have not yet offered any reasonable alternative strategies. Since earning his Ph.D. at Oxford University recently (!), he has resurfaced in policy wonk circles, appearing on C-SPAN and whatnot. Though ridiculed for his extra-marital dalliances, Hart was always respected as an forward-thinking intellectual with integrity; he just wasn't the back-slapping kind of guy that one usually finds in the political world. Hart's serious approach might just save the Democrats from the deranged, self-destructive course they have been on lately. Glenn Reynolds (Mr. InstaPundit) says he might even vote for Hart if he were to run for president in 2004, and I wouldn't totally exclude the possibility either.
October 3, 2002
It's been a long time since I've updated this page, and I've got a lot of pent-up commentary to unload, so bear with me. This has been one of those weeks when I'm really glad I'm no longer on the left side of the political aisle. There have been so many derisive op-ed pieces about the Democrats in the Washington Post that I can't even begin to list them. There are four related stories, recounted in reverse chronological order...
Ethically challenged Senator Robert Torricelli's abrupt withdrawal from the New Jersey Senate race on Monday at first seemed to give a huge boost to the Republicans' hopes for regaining control of the Senate. It was a deliciously fitting situation, as the Senator made a classically Clintonian "non-apology" in his exit speech. In fact, he even apologized to Clinton for not being as strong in standing up to "unfair attacks." Good grief, he makes Nixon look like a saint! Democrats are now scrambling to get retired Senator Frank Lautenberg's name on the ballot as a replacement candidate (Bill Bradley already said "no"), and the New Jersey Supreme Court just made a unanimous ruling in the Democrats' favor. WHAT??! New Jersey statutes set a firm deadline for getting a candidate's name on the ballot (51 days before the general election), and only in truly extenuating circumstances such as the death of a candidate are exceptions made, sometimes not even then. (In Hawaii, by the way, the late Patsy Mink will probably win reelection next month.) I watched the New Jersey Supreme Court hearing on C-SPAN last night and was dumbfounded by how easily the justices accepted the Democrats' argument that the people's "right to have a meaningful choice" outweighs petty legal technicalities such as deadlines. (That sounds like one of the flimsy ad populum rationales that Clinton's impeachment defense lawyers came up with.) They practically scoffed at the Republican lawyer's warning of the pernicious consequences that this precedent would allow. Heck, if you can change a party's candidate only 34 days before the election, then why not 20 days or even ten? How could voters possibly make an informed choice without having enough time to become familiar with the candidates? Some people initially made much of the fact that the Democrats just gained a majority on the Court after New Jersey's governor appointed a Democrat to the Court a few weeks ago, but the other six were appointed by the prior governor, Christine Todd Whitman, a (moderate) Republican. Understandably furious, New Jersey Republicans have threatened to appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that would put another unwanted political hot potato in Chief Justice Rehnquist's lap only two years after the Florida 2000 fiasco. That may be exactly what the Democrats are trying to do! Control of the U.S. Senate may well hang in the balance. Are the voters of New Jersey astute enough to see this extra-legal grab for power for what it is?
(II) Bonior & McDermott
Congressman David Bonior and Jim McDermott have just returned from a "peace" trip to Baghdad, where they said that President Bush couldn't be trusted but that we must take Iraq's government at face value. (A third congressman, Mike Thompson, was also in Baghdad but apparently left before the others made their controversial statements.) It is no secret that many left-wing Democrats are consumed with hate for President Bush, maintaining the delusion that his election in 2000 was "illegitimate," but to suggest that our leader is less trustworthy than Saddam Hussein goes far beyond the pale. Facing accusations of treason, McDermott has backtracked slightly since returning, but it's too late to take back such despicable words. Some people who first became politically active during the Vietnam Era remain hopeless stuck in the past, opposing any U.S. military action in knee-jerk fashion. Whatever the psychological hangups that may have prompted their grievous lapse of judgment, these congressmen should be formally censured by the House.
(III) Daschle and Byrd
Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) was shocked -- SHOCKED! -- by the injection of politics into national security policy by President Bush last week. Daschle, who practically exudes small-town decency and fair-mindedness from every pore of his body, bristled at Bush's suggestion that the Democrats put politics above national security. The nerve! No one can deny that the Senate has reverted to nasty partisanship in recent weeks, rather than engaging in its proper role by deliberating over the fundamental issues of national security policy. In a speech on the Senate floor, Robert Byrd went completely hysterical in denouncing Bush's plans to infringe upon "Iraqi sovereignty." Not that he was defending Saddam Hussein, mind you. Give me a break! Only a fool would claim that the United States is more of a threat to international order than Iraq under its present regime. Though Daschle's hurt tone stretched the limits of credulity, given his own highly polished Machiavellian tactics -- remember the seduction of former Republican Jim Jeffords that changed control of the Senate last year? -- Daschle's complaint had a certain ring of truth. President Bush may well have been sincere in casting aspersions on his adversaries' motives, but presidents are supposed to act dignified and hold themselves above the fray. Of course, not all of them do, but in times of national crisis such as this, it is especially important for presidents to unify the nation rather than score political points. By all accounts, Bush's speech was part of the strategy formulated by his political adviser Karl Rove, a crafty and somewhat unsavory character reminiscent of John Sununu Sr. in the previous Bush administration. Rove has taken full control of the White House agenda since Karen Hughes left Washington to return to Texas; her moderating influence will be sorely missed.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Gephardt broke ranks with Daschle's obstructionists by reaching an agreement with the White House over the text of a resolution conditionally authorizing the President to wage war. Given the meltdown of the Democratic Party over the last week, he probably saw the writing on the wall, knowing that the American people take very seriously the continuing threat to our national security and have scant patience with opportunistic nay-sayers. The whole question would be settled if both sides paid closer heed to their constitutional powers. If Saddam Hussein really poses such a dire threat to the United States and solid evidence exists of his complicity with Al Qaeda, then President Bush should ask Congress to pass a resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the United States and Iraq. Though scoffed at by the "conventionally wise," such a measure would express unified national will in a way that no awkwardly-worded resolution authorizing presidential action could do. It would thus provide an unparalleled moral leverage to the unquestioned material superiority that the United States possesses.
Al Gore's speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club last week started the whole fracas. Setting himself apart from the majority of his party comrades who are coming around to the idea that war is necessary, he spouted some of the harshest, most bitter, and twisted rhetoric heard in Washington for years. By refusing to even consider the Bush administration's reasoned (though flawed, in my view) arguments at face value, he discredited not only himself but the whole anti-war cause. He has been marginalized as a serious politician -- unless, that is, the United States suffers a devastating defeat in the war. Is that what he is counting on?
Police overreact to wacky IMF protesters
The leftists and anarchists who gathered in Washington to disrupt the annual World Bank / IMF meeting last week actually came out looking less like lunatics than I expected. Of course, most of their slogans were pathetically simplistic ("They say privatization; We say democratization!") but that's what you expect of ill-educated kids. Anti-globalization zealots are not entirely without reason, inasmuch as the wealthy countries often violate the very free trade principles that they preach to poorer countries seeking a relief from the debt trap. I dealt with this issue in some detail in my dissertation, and have posted an excerpt from it (Thoughts on Third World Debt) on this Web site. Fearing a repeat of the violence that these groups wrought in Seattle, Turin, etc. -- and perhaps even terrorism -- the D.C. Police were reinforced by police officers from other cities, and they were not shy about enforcing the law. At first I thought that Ralph Nader's speech in front of the Washington Monument lent them an air of credibility. After all, he has long, sterling record of fighting corruption and corporate malfeasance. But then I came across Nader's caustic dismissal of tort reform advocate Philip Howard in a Washington Post feature article yesterday. Tort reform is a vital, worthy issue at the heart of the fight to contain health care costs and preserve a measure of freedom and trust in American society. Nader's remarks reminded me what a creep he can be when dealing with opposing points of view.
Goodbye to fringe elements!
Two polarizing members of Congress in Georgia lose their primary races in September. Bob Barr, a Republican, was an aggressively moralistic adversary during the impeachment trial of former President Clinton. (He was one of those dimwits who lent credence to the belief that the charges against Clinton were "just about sex.") Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat, was a prime mouthpiece for the loony left, spouting conspiracy theories about the Bush Administration's supposed advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. In New Hampshire, more recently, John Sununu Jr. beat Robert Smith, another right-wing blowhard whose die-hard supporters are pushing for a write-in vote campaign. These were some of the few positive signs on the recent political scene recently.
July 29, 2002
Liberals vs. conservatives
Charles Krauthammer, the warm and cuddly pundit who appears on WUSA-TV's Inside Washington (which used to be called Agronsky and Company), wrote an interesting piece in the Washington Post last Friday, July 26. In typical modest fashion he begins by saying,
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
What a brilliant insight! Of course, this comes as no shock to most politically astute people, but few of us are inclined to express the thought in such stark terms. Krauthammer is talking about the fundamental assymetry that makes it almost impossible for reason to prevail in many policy debates. I have the highest respect for those who sincerely struggle for causes they believe to be just, however hopeless it may seem to me. The problem with many liberals is that their belief in an ever-expanding list of "self-evident" rights is so fervent that it verges on religious fanaticism, and like the Jacobins during the French Revolution, they feel that anyone who can't be persuaded to see things the way they do must be silenced, whether by intimidation, ridicule, or more drastic means if necessary. The corresponding weak spot of convservatives is that their healthy skepticism about the professed good intentions of others tends to degenerate over time into grouchy, generalized cynicism. One reason I severed my affiliation with left-liberal causes several years ago was my growing unease and impatience with the boundless self-righteousness of most activists on that side. Sure enough, two such people wrote letters to the Post trying to rebut Krauthammer by saying in no uncertain terms that liberals believe that conservatives are both evil AND stupid! Well, now we're getting somewhere. Let's hear it for frank, open dialogue!
Thanks to Scott Koenig's indepundit Web log, interesting information has surfaced about the financial backing of Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. On Sept. 11 last year, she received a total of $13,850 from 22 Arab and/or Muslim contributors, almost all from out of state. Did the price of serving as a mouthpiece for radical Islam go up on that fateful day? This source of this financial data was www.OpenSecrets.org. Congresswoman McKinney has a long record of being sharply partisan and hostile to Israel, but this adds a new dimension. It also raised my eyebrows as I recalled a particular news story from a few months back. So I just posted this note on indepundit:
Why has no picked up on the fact that McKinney was the first high-profile public person to accuse the Bush administration of ignoring terrorism warning signs prior to 9/11? This was in March or maybe April, over a month before the big uproar peaked in May. Tracking down the origins and political motivations of that bogus "scandal" might be very interesting.
Bush rediscovers free trade
Scant months after signing a notorious, politically motivated farm bill that gives several billions of unjustified and ill-targeted subsidies, the Bush administration has called for an international agreem to restrict such protectionism. One of the many "roots of terrorism" is that trade protectionism by wealthy countries keeps countries like Peru trapped in poverty because they can't export their fine textile and farm products to the U.S. and Europe. Here's the irony: such policies are the result of the West's democratic forms of government!
On a positive note, I have to give President Bush credit for firing the insubordinate head of the Army Corps of Engineers, Michael Parker several weeks ago. Parker had made no secret of his disdain for environmentalists and budget bean counters, assuring Corps staffers that he saw nothing wrong with the status quo. His dismissal was one of the few strong principled stands made by the Bush administration.
Terrorism insurance? Just more corporate welfare...
Congress is debating how much subsidy the government should provide for terrorism insurance, and the answer is: NONE. The federal government exists to make sure that we are able to pursue happiness without fear of being robbed, mugged, invaded, or bombed, but no one can guarantee 100% security. True, this may come as a shock to some comfortably numb Americans. Spending tax dollars on terrorism insurance is like hedging our bets in case we lose the war. What a great way to motivate our soldiers! Let's get one thing straight: ANY form of publically-funded insurance carries an inherent risk of becoming a self-perpetuating scam. Whether it is health insurance, flood insurance, or terrorism insurance, the same principle applies: Let the federal government exert due effort to protect us from hazards and threats, but do NOT put it in the business of having to pay for damages when it is unable to do so. If the private sector cannot insure a given enterprise, it should either be taken over by the public sector if a compelling public interest so dictates (such as an electric utility) or else be left to wither away. Ralph Nader and others often complain complain about corporate welfare or corporate socialism, and this sort of thing is a prime example.
July 9, 2002
But, seriously, folks...
Humorist Dan Perkins, creator of the Tom Tomorrow comic strip, which appears in the liberal-oriented Salon online magazine, has taken his often-sharp witted satire a step too far for my tastes. His recent strip featured a mock quiz entitled "Are You A Real American?" in a lame attempt to create the illusion that measures taken by the Justice Department against suspected terrorists are characteristic of a police state. Yeah, right. Like many on the left, he regards almost everything the Bush administration does as part of an evil plot ("They stole the election!"), while seeming utterly oblivious to the reality of the terrorist threat we face. Being an open-minded kinda guy, I often get a big kick out of the way "Tom Tomorrow" pokes fun at American society, but in this case his twisted "humor" is unlikely to serve any purpose other than to accentuate the partisan divisions that already plague Washington. After you see the original strip, take a look at a "knockoff" version of his cartoon created by Jeff Goldstein at http://www.proteinwisdom.com/archives/001368.html#001368 (if the server is up today, that is).
I pledge allegiance...
I am one of the 90 or so percent of Americans who reject the recent California judicial ruling that the phrase under God in the pledge of allegiance constitutes an attempt by the state to establish religion and is therefore unconstitutional. Even Sen. Tom Daschle said it was a ridiculous ruling, but that is par for the course these days in many courts. True, that phrase under God was not added until 1954, and there was an element of Cold War fear that motivated its inclusion. Nevertheless, our very existence as an independent country rests upon the invocation of Divine Law in our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
In other words, without a widespread belief in a God, we Americans would have no basis upon which to claim the rights that make us a free people. In the Washington Post today religious skeptic Richard Cohen acknowledges the fact that we are a religious nation but is offended by what he seems to believe is Christian hegemony. He laments the cowardice evident in the fact that no one in Congress stood up to the majority and decline to participate in the mass pledge of allegiance on the Capitol steps last month, and he has a point. Hypocrisy always attends to expressions of patriotism and religious faith, and that is why they say "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." It doesn't detract from the sincerity of the true believers, but it should caution us to be modest in our public affirmations of inner convictions. Trite though it sounds these days, we ARE a pluralistic nation. If a school child doesn't want to say under God, that is fine, but let no one claim that this phrase in an attempt to shove religious beliefs down peoples' throats.
Flag burning revisited
Thanks to Iowa Congressman Greg Ganske (R), the otherwise-absurd fears of leftists that their dissent is liable to be squelched or purged in the name of (phony) patriotism have been kept alive. His Web site criticized Sen. Tom Harkin (D) for opposing the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag burning in 1995, saying that such a position was unpatriotic. Hogwash! I've always believed in freedom of political expression (even though that concept has been stretched beyond recognition by courts in recent decades), insisting on the distinction between moral approval of an act of civil disobedience, however oppobrious, and one's civil right to do it. In 1990 I wrote a letter to that effect to the editor of the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia: (Please pardon the corny, Yankee Doodle tone.)
September 13, 1990
Michael Hallahan is right in denouncing the act of flag burning as insulting and demeaning to Americans who have made sacrifices for their country. In a free society, there is no justification for such an extreme expression of political hatred.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hallahan's conclusion that this act should be outlawed reveals serious misunderstandings that have persisted about the motivations of both the flag burners and those (myself included) who have resisted efforts to pass laws against their actions. The former include nihilist malcontents, extremists of various stripes, as well as dedicated would-be revolutionaries who have a clear agenda: to use attacks on emotional symbols to provoke the repression that they need to survive. The one thing such people can't stand is to be tolerated, for it calls into question their reason for being. These are tough times for Communist believers and fringe groups in general; their only hope is to gain new adherents is to show that the state is repressive. So, they cleverly use such stunts as burning the flag to dupe patriotically-inclined Americans into a reaction that serves the flag-burners' purpose. It cannot be over- emphasized: flag burning is NOT a threat to our society, but rather the obscene groan of a dying ideology.
Why do people like me risk being seen as condoning flag burning for some "abstract political right"? Because America's strength derives from its unique tolerance for dissent, and every single move to restrict that tolerance saps our nation's lifeblood. Our heritage unequivocally rejects any imposition of official beliefs or behavior on the citizenry, and the government is obliged to permit dissent so long as it does not endanger public safety or national security. It is simply not the government's job to decide what is or is not the "legitimate" expression of free speech. That's what makes our system better than that of China, where the authorities couldn't stand being criticized so directly.
Intolerance of dissent is a sign of weakness! National unity cannot be forced on us, nor should it be. An individual's love of country can only be sincere if it is given voluntarily. It would be playing into the hands of our enemies to sacrifice even a portion the precious freedom that our flag represents in a vain attempt to defend the symbol, beautiful as it is. This question is not an arcane trifle. We must not let emotional indignation at hateful gestures cloud our judgment; misguided tinkering with the Constitution is a clear and present danger to our democratic system that must be resisted.
A citizen of Baghdad foolish enough to burn the Iraqi flag would quickly discover the limits of dissent in an authoritarian regime. As American soldiers prepare for the possibility of a war against the barbarous government of Saddam Hussein, we should ask ourselves: Is there any need for us to lower our standards toward the level of despotic states such as Iraq?
Dept. of Gov't. & For. Affairs
Twelve years later, though I have shifted toward the conservative side of the ideological spectrum and have become an unapologetic flag waver, I wouldn't change a thing in that letter. Freedom is what counts. Congressman Ganske should be ashamed of himself for taking political advantage of the wartime surge in patriotic sentiment.
"Do we have to know where Afghanistan is for the final exam?"
According to a recent Washington Post article, standardized test scores indicate a continuing big knowledge gap when it comes to geography in secondary schools. University professors are all too aware of this abysmal level of preparation. Meanwhile, U.S. pilots have once again dropped bombs on the wrong spot in Afghanistan, unwittingly killing many innocent civilians, and thereby undermining the already-shaky legitimacy of our military presence there. Does anyone see a connection here?
July 1, 2002
Bush rushes in...
After rising criticism for his detached posture toward the Israeli-Palestinian bloodbath, President Bush finally took a stand two weeks ago, calling for recognition of Palestinian sovereign statehood on condition that the Palestinian Authority undergo a thorough reform including free democratic elections. The President stated, quite accurately, that PLO Chief Yasser Arafat is hopelessly compromised by his past and present links to terror and therefore cannot be a part of any future peace process. Unfortunately, Arafat remains quite popular with Palestinians precisely because of his uncompromising militant stand, which means that democratic elections are unlikely to enhance prospects for peace.
This sad fact flatly contradicts one of the core tenets of U.S. foreign policy, made most explicitly under the Clinton administration. Much political science research has shown (see R. J. Rummel, Fareed Zakaria, et al.) that the regime quality most conducive to peace is not democracy per se but rather, liberal democracy, i.e., a political regime in which private property rights are strongly protected and government power is curtailed by the constitution. In a simple majoritarian democracy such as envisioned by French philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau, there is nothing to prevent a mob-inciting demagogue from spoiling the delicate preconditions necessary for a lasting peace. It would probably take several decades for Palestine to evolve toward a liberal democratic regime. Ironically, the harder the U.S. pushes for a reformed Palestinian regime, the stronger will the intransigent forces allied to Arafat likely to become. It would seem that President Bush's attempt to balance the hardline and moderate sides within his own administration has led U.S. policy into a dead-end cul-de-sac, trapped by the fond rhetorical delusions of democratic heritage.
Europe veers to the Right
After a bizarre turn of events in which French leftists split their votes among several candidates (or just stayed home) in the first round of the presidential elections in May, the despised champion of ultranationalist xenophobia and anti-semitism, Jean Marie Le Pen, emerged as the second-place candidate eligible to run in the second round against incumbent Jacques Chirac. The whole continent just about threw a fit, enraged that democratic processes might somehow give rise to a fascist national leader. (Of course, that is just what happened in Germany in 1933.) There was hardly any suspense and Chirac easily won with over 80% of the vote in the second round. The strange consequence was that the leftist leader, former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, was obliged to resign, setting off a chain reaction of recrimination and self-doubt on the left side. Chirac took advantage of the opportunity to call for new parliamentary elections, which his party won by a decisive margine. For some reason, his "Rally for the Republic" party (which was founded by former President Charles De Gaulle) was renamed the "Union for a Presidential Majority," perhaps to gather voters otherwise who might otherwise loathe to vote for the Gaullists. Not only does the conservative side control the new parliament, but Chirac doesn't even need the support of the minor conservative parties to keep a majority. The days of "cohabitation" are over.
The French elections are seen as indicative of a broad shift toward the right in Europe, as people have come to recognize since September 11 that the massive tide of immigration from Muslim countries over the past generation poses a threat to national -- and continental -- security. The next test will come this fall when Germany holds parliamentary elections; Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is said to be in some trouble.
Saudi Arabia: Rogue Regime?
Is it time for the United States to part company with the Saudi regime that rules Arabia? Conventional wisdom holds that U.S. dependence on Arabian oil makes it impossible to even consider alienating the grand poobahs in Riyadh. I used to give the Saudi regime credit for playing a constructive, stabilizing role in the region, but no more. Michael Barone leaves no doubt about the need for a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy U.S. News. He writes, "But the Saudis are not content to run a totalitarian society at home; they are trying to export their totalitarian Wahhabi Islam around the world." And further on, "It may not be prudent yet to speak the truth out loud, that the Saudis are our enemies."
World Com: World Con?
The sudden bankruptcy of World Com two weeks ago represents a watershed in the unmasking of the fraudulent nature of a major portion of the entire high-tech corporate boom of the 1990s. The stock market is now undergoing another big downward "correction" as investors learn that their holdings' earning prospects turns out to be even lower than previously estimated. The demise of Arthur Andersen will probably be followed by similar accounting debacles over the next few months. Perhaps we should be grateful that the news didn't come out at the same time as the huge drop in the NASDAQ markets a couple years ago, or else the whole economy might have fallen victim to a stampede of panic. What does all this mean? On the bright side, we can say that markets in a capitalist system do possess a degree of self-correction, naysayers notwithstanding. Let no one doubt, however, that in any oligpolistic market structure, prices may veer far away from equilibrium values, subject to crooked promoters or colluding insiders. Enron, World Com, and Martha Stewart are apt reminders that there is nothing inherently virtuous about capitalism: profit-seekers are kept in check not by their own consciences but only by the free interplay of competition in an open system. To the extent that any economy comes to be regulated by the government, for whatever stated social purpose, there emerges a subtle, insidious risk of crooked manipulation. Critics of capitalism must understand: The status quo economic system in this country is light years away from what might be considered a free market. The cynical yuppies who now run this country understand this all too well, but they could care less about capitalism. Why not? It's probably because business schools and law schools don't teach values any more, they just teach students how to exploit the opportunities that arise from bogus public policies.
May 24, 2002
President Bush arrives in Europe as foreign criticism of U.S. foreign policy begins to mount. Charles Krauthammer has a particularly scathing piece in the Washington Post in which he declares that NATO died in Afghanistan, just like the Soviet Union did. He depicts the upsurge in anti-Americanism as nothing more a sniveling resentment of their own inferior power status in the world. Typically tactless of him, but likewise typically not entirely unfounded. So far Bush has managed to avoid offending any of our allies too badly, but his often-simplistic and moralizing rhetoric he uses for domestic consumption is extremely hazardous in the world arena. Sensible voices like Colin Powell seem to be losing ground in the Administration lately, and as the "war" drags on the need to articulate some kind of a clear strategy with finite, achievable goals becomes more and more important for maintaining a broad anti-terror alliance. Not that alliance maintenance should be our #1 priority, mind you, because when push comes to shove -- as it certainly will with regard to Iraq one of these days -- the United States will almost certainly have to act largely on its own. Canada is pulling their battalion out of Afghanistan, unable to sustain such a commitment, and other NATO allies are likely to do so before long. Maybe Poland or Hungary will help us in the hunt for Al Qaeda remnants...
Next door to Afghanistan, meanwhile, India and Pakistan are edging very close to an all-out war, as Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapayee told his troops to expect a "decisive battle" in the near future. India has lost patience with Pakistan's failure to separate itself from terrorist groups who are struggling to either gain independence for Muslim-populated Kashmir, or else to bring it into Pakistan itself. Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf has tried to control the Islamic radicals making trouble in his country, but that task may be beyond his ability. The two countries have nuclear-armed missiles aimed at each other, and a human catastrophe cannot be ruled out. The Bush State Department has to tip-toe on eggshells in this situation, and there may be little we can do to prevent a tragedy. Meanwhile, however, most Americans have been paying much more attention to the recent discovery of Chandra Levy's body in Washington...
May 22, 2002
Terrorism, preparedness, and defense spending
President Bush has been the target of harsh criticism over the last couple weeks, following news reports that various FBI and intelligence operatives had tried to alert their superiors about the security implications of Al Qaeda members who were training to fly aircraft. There are valid questions, but responsible leaders must avoid falling into the trap of partisanship, and pundits should try their best not to leap to conclusions. It is fairly obvious that the enemy's strategy is precisely to sow confusion, doubt, fear, and division, and nothing would please them more than to see Washington embroiled in something like the Iran-Contra scandal. For his part, President Bush has been much too thin-skinned, which is not a good sign either. Hopefully he will respond to congressional inquiries in coming days, to restore confidence. Just don't expect a full disclosure on the evening news. In any case, the hubbub seems overblown, as anyone who was paying any attention at all to the news last summer knew that U.S. armed forces and security agencies were on high alert in response to explicit intelligence reports about the activities of Islamic terrorists. The alert peaked in July and then faded ... until September 11.
On a related note, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld deserves high credit for standing up to entrenched parochial-minded politicians and proposing to cancel the expensive and unneeded "Crusader" self-propelled artillery system. As we have learned so painfully in the last year, you can never be too sure about the nature of security threats in this ever-changing world, but there is NO credible threat to the U.S. from any country with modern armored forces today (basically Russia or China), so the Crusader should be put on hold until such time as such a threat emerges. In one of the bigger ironies of recent history, on the very day before the September 11 attacks, Secretary Rumsfeld launched a major initiative to "wage war" against the stodgy, backward thinking bureaucracies in the Pentagon, aiming to spend scarce budgetary resources more efficiently. September 11 forced a postponement of his reform plans, even though it validated his position.
Some thoughts on Third World debt
Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock band U2, has joined with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in a campaign to raise awareness of the Third World debt issue. Bono has tried to bring the plight of people in poor countries to the attention of affluent Europeans and North Americans, while O'Neill is known for his deep skepticism of IMF bailouts, believing that poor people get little if any of the benefit. Though this collaboration is perplexing to conventionally minded people who are stuck in the rut of ideological warfare and partisanship, it is one of the best pieces of news in a long time. It reflects a growing dissatisfaction with the existing approaches to mitigating the problem of world poverty, raising hopes that pragmatic reforms in public policy may make it possible for concerned people to actually DO something. The final chapter of my dissertation contained a section along these lines. See 3rdWorldDebt.html
May 17, 2002
In an effort to shore up his domestic political standing as the congressional elections approach, President Bush has thrown conservative principles to the wind: He has stated he will sign ANY farm bill that gets passed by Congress, which was a green light for pork barrellers to go hog wild. There will be billions of dollars of increased subsidies over the next few years, even though the budget deficit is projected to rise. Not uncoincidentally, last month he paid a visit to South Dakota, home state of his arch-rival, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Ostensibly intended to focus attention on the alcohol producing plant in Wentworth (a hamlet I had never heard of when I lived in South Dakota), the real purpose was to generate enthusiasm for the Republican senatorial candidate John Thune. With political power so evenly balanced in Congress right now, almost every competitive race assumes potentially decisive importance, and there will almost certainly be an all-out war this fall. For the first time in his life, the archetypal Farmer Jones out in De Smet, S.D. has unusually big clout this year. In fact, however, most of the farm subsidies go to corporate owners and wealthy people who buy into farm operations as a tax shelter. It is a huge shame that the "Freedom to Farm Act" that was passed a couple years ago has been utterly trashed.
European politics have been rocked by the presidential elections in France, where right-wing leader Jean Marie Le Pen, who champions the anti-immigrant cause, lost decisively in the second round after shocking everyone by winning more votes than Socialist Premier Lionel Jospin in the first round. The day after the second round election (which was won by incumbent President Jacques Chirac) a rising Dutch political leader named Pim Fortuyn was assassinated by a left-wing animal rights activist. He has been portrayed in the sound-bite oriented the mainstream news media as a Dutch version of Le Pen, but according to one on-the-scene observer, Adam Curry, this is a false picture:
"To reiterate: Pim Fortuyn never called for a "Ban on immigration" or "Removal of Muslims". ... What Pim did do, was start the public debate about immigration and standard of living in the Netherlands, which is the second most densely populated country in the world."
See http://live.curry.com/stories/2002/05/08/theBigLie.html (The link to this article was posted on InstaPundit.) This may have implications for U.S. politics, where immigration is becoming a hot-button issue that no one wants to address candidly, much like Social Security.