Now that George W. Bush has been re-elected, Afghanistan and Iraq have had successful elections, Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and Ward Churchill have been exposed, Yushenko has been elected in the Ukraine, and everyone has grown tired of Michael Moore, I feel like the country and the world can get along for a little while without my advice. So I’ve been focusing on my new tech blog. Check it out over at Nick’s Tech Blog.
Archive for February, 2005
Here is my brother Jeff’s answer to my cousin Andy’s post. It’s pretty long, and I don’t recommend it, but here it is:
Wonder no more:
I agreed with the war in Afghanistan but had deep reservations about Iraq and the way we got into it at the time, reservations which have turned into outrage as we have discovered how the administration distorted the info available to it at the time. I think it has weakened the United States in the world rather than strengthened us. I don’t believe the elections in either Afghanistan or Iraq are historic breakthroughs (although I am happy that both occurred) and don’t think we will know what they portend for many years to come. Both Iraq and Afghanistan could well become failed states again in the future if we don’t manage them very wisely.
Idly wondering which items in your arch-conservative Apostles’ Creed Jeff would disagree with. The wisdom of Iraq perhaps. But free markets? Illegal immigration? Legislated rather than court-imposed abortion law? Understanding for, if not necessarily agreement with, opponents of gay marriage? Left-wing anti-Americanism? Israel? Media bias? The U.N.? As for affirmative action, state-sanctioned racial discrimination in hiring and education is so blatantly unconstitutional (notwithstanding the sad precedent of Jim Crow) that one can only marvel at the readiness of the courts and received liberal opinion to look the other way lo these many years. But I suppose the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is another of those dead ideas.
Incidentally, despite the later pioneering work of the liberal idol Richard Nixon, the civil rights acts of the 60s did not endorse affirmative action. Proponents, notably including Hubert Humphrey, went out ot their way to assure skeptics that reverse discrimination was not envisaged. The pitfalls of subsequent enlightenment are perhaps most dramatically illustrated by the Jayson Blair fiasco at the New York Times. Despite the Times’ long-winded but evasive explanation, no reasonable person can possibly believe that Blair’s incompetence and duplicity would have been tolerated for so long had Howell Raines & Co. not been sentimentally committed to diversity at any cost.
My liberal political science professor brother Jeff was one of the panel members at the Howard Dean/Richard Perle debate in Portland. While googling for reactions to the debate, he came upon the thread at democraticunderground.com, which was basically a cheering squad for the nut who screamed and threw his shoe at Perle. Jeff had this to say about it:
What was interesting to me about the democraticunderground.com threads was that a lot of it was coming from people who were at the event (paid $20 to get in) and, even so, were gung ho about the action of this very obviously deranged guy that you would think they would be at pains to disassociate themselves from.
No kidding. After the debate, Jeff and I had our own exchange of views, about the debate and about my post previous to this one. Jeff’s comments are in italics. Mine are in regular text:
I enjoyed the debate. I thought your questions were excellent, much better than the commie in the bow tie. I think you’re right that those who expect Dean to be a disaster as DNC chairman are going to be disappointed. I also think you’re right that Richard Perle was pretending to be a much nicer, bipartisan guy than he really is, but you can hardly blame him, surrounded as he was by so much hatred and contempt. They both did quite well. Perle is obviously smarter than Dean and had the advantage of being on the right side of the issues, but Dean did a good job. God forbid he should ever become President, but then God forbid that Perle should either, not that he wants the job.
The most interesting thing to me was that Perle thinks we should have pulled out as soon as we got rid of Saddam. I think he’s wrong, but it’s quite surprising and interesting that he thinks that.
As I understand it, Perle wanted to invade with a force of only about 45,000 troops, which he thought was enough to topple Saddam (probably right about that), then immediately airlift in Ahmed Chalabi and install him as the head of a new interim gov’t. Then we would leave within a matter of months and turn Iraq over to Chalabi and whatever forces he could pull together to deal with the subsequent situation. He assumed Chalabi would get broad support for having participated in the destruction of Saddam and be able to create stability. This seems altogether delusional to me. But it gives Perle a convenient position today. We were right to invade, but the Bush administration screwed up by not following my sage advice. Therefore, all the stuff that has gone wrong in Iraq has nothing to do with the policy I advocated. It is a result of Bush having screwed up.
I thought Perle was strongest when he was challenging Dean to get the Dems to take national security seriously instead of just trying to solve their PR problem. I am always suspicious of politicians who have very strongly established positions or records on something that is widely disrespected, and they conclude that they have a communications problem. No, over time people get a pretty good sense of what you are about. The public has a pretty good understanding that the Dems haven’t taken national security issues seriously for 30 years and so only strong Democrats or people who don’t care about foreign policy still vote Democratic. I liked what Dean had to say about foreign policy, but I think the Dems need to show that they are really serious about an alternative strategy. The only candidate that I thought could be taken seriously in this sense was Wesley Clark. Joe Biden maybe is another.
I thought Perle’s answer to my second question to him about “soft power” was just outrageous, though, and I was happy to see Dean nail him about it. Joseph Nye has never even remotely suggested that “soft power” ought to displace “hard power” so that we could avoid all the tough decisions. His point is that “soft power” is a very important part of our overall power and has to be cultivated and reinforced at the same time that we maintain and deepen “hard” forms of power. Every serious foreign policy practitioner recognizes that this dimension of power is real and important. My question to Perle was just how important do you think “soft power” is and what impact has the war on Iraq had on it? There’s a perfectly reasonable neo-con answer to that that would assign less importance to “soft” power than Nye does and insist that the short term hit to our prestige from Bush’s policies to date will be more than offset by goodwill down the road when our hardline policies prove successful. Instead he completely ignored the question I asked, completely distorted Nye’s position, and tried to ridicule those who believe that “soft” power can be a substitute for real strength when we face terrorists. Dean was absolutely right to say no Democratic leader has ever suggested any such thing and that what he is advocating is that we need to be concerned about BOTH.
What was especially irritating about it is that Perle knows very well what Nye’s point about soft power is and was intentionally distorting it so he could attack a straw man. Interestingly, the first time Nye came forward in a strong way with his concept was in a book that was directed against those in the late 1980′s who claimed America was in decline. Nye said, sure, others will develop military power and our purely military superiority may erode some. Sure, our economic hegemony is bound to deteriorate some as other economies develop strongly. But we aren’t in decline because we have such a large amount of “soft” power that no other country can come even close to approximating. If we manage that “soft” power well in conjunction with our “hard” resources of economic and military strength, our hegemony can last through the whole 21st century. Nye is anything but some sort of anti-American softie, and Perle knows that perfectly well but chose to go for the easy debater point. Dean’s response was just devastating if you know what Nye actually stands for and paid attention to my original question.
You’re right about Perle booting the question on soft power, and I think his plan for what we should have done in Iraq is wacko. The chances of Iraq becoming a stable, unified democracy have always been slim, although they’re looking a little better these days, but if Perle’s plan had been followed, they would have been practically nonexistent. Of course he doesn’t care about that, and disingenuously pretends that he does.
I saw your latest post. This is the self-delusion of all reactionaries. Religious fundamentalists all say they aren’t reactionary; their churches have just left the old true religion. Reactionaries are people who return to dead ideas after their inapplicability to changed circumstances has become obvious to people of a progressive bent.
This sounds like a very good description of the current Democratic Party to me. You think it describes Bush Republicans?
To say that, on affirmative action for example, you are just returning to the good old liberal days before the civil rights acts and Richard Nixon (whose administration was the first to issue regulations instituting affirmative action) is another way of saying you have renounced your previous judgment about these things.
Not at all. I’m saying that affirmative action may have been a good idea at the time, but that it has outlived its usefulness due to its “inapplicability to changed circumstances.”
You once upon a time left JFK on many of these issues, too. Now you have become a backslider. All of which is not to say that the Democrats and liberals and progressives may not have gotten some things wrong and JFK may have been on sounder ground in 1960 than Teddy is on some issues in 2005. But it gets tiresome to hear conservatives say that they are really just liberals from 1960, and anyone who has moved forward from 1960 must be some sort of radical extremist. Perle was playing that game in the debate, and it’s just silly. Just face it. You have become a conservative, and you need to develop a defense of that. That you happen to agree with JFK on something is a pretty thin reed of a defense of anything.
You think the Democrats have moved forward from the days of JFK? I think they’ve gone off the rails. You’re right that I have become a conservative relative to my previous incarnation, but not, I think, relative to the pre-Vietnam Democrats. In any kind of sane framework, I’m a moderate liberal, and moderate liberals have been marginalized in the Democratic Party, and are being forced to vote for Republicans.
I got an email from my cousin Andy, in which he pointed out, “your manifesto at the top strikes me as ’conservative’ only in comparison to the parody contemporary liberalism has become.” When I look over the list of my so-called conservative beliefs, it strikes me that Ted Kennedy’s brother Jack would in all likelihood have agreed with most, if not all, of them. Certainly none of these positions would have been anathema to the Democratic party back in the early 60′s. So I guess I’m not a conservative after all. I’m just an old-style liberal who has been deserted by my party, forced to vote Republican for lack of an alternative. Better to be a neocon than a neo-reactionary.
I believe the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the right thing to do, and that the successful elections in those countries vindicate the policy, and are a great historic breakthrough.
I believe that an unfettered free market and global free trade are the surest ways to fight poverty.
I believe that we need a crackdown on illegal immigration.
I believe that reversing Roe V. Wade and returning the issue of abortion to the states would, on balance, be a good thing.
I sympathize with those who are opposed to gay marriage.
I am appalled at the conspiratorial, anti-American, insanity of much of the left, both here and abroad.
I support Israel.
I believe that the mainstream media and academia are biased, far to the left of the American people.
I believe the United Nations is a hopelessly corrupt thugocracy protective association.
I believe that affirmative action does more harm than good.
Although I have been a liberal, indeed a far-left radical all of my life, when I look at what’s happening dispassionately and rationally, I can’t help coming to these conclusions. There’s no getting around it. I have become a conservative. And yet, much as I agree with, respect, and even admire quite a few conservative pundits and politicians, including George W. Bush, I am uncomfortable with many of my bed fellows. The reason I am uncomfortable is because I detect a distinct lack of heart over here on the political right. And not only heart, but something more indefinable, a lack of art and joy and Dionysian abandon, a lack of imagination.
A couple of examples. I admire David Horowitz. His autobiography, Radical Son, is one of my favorite books. I peruse his web site, frontpagemag.com, on a regular basis. I even wrote an article for it, and I am grateful for the important work he does. I just wish he would marry or befriend somebody with taste. Frontpagemag.com, and his new web site, discoverthenetwork.com, are two of the ugliest sites on the web. The medium message they convey is uncultured, fanatical, narrowly focused, and anti-art.
Another site I check regularly is James Taranto’s Best of the Web. He is clever, witty, and on the right side of current history, but all too often his brittle humor is at the expense of the poor and the powerless, as in this post of his:
The Wolf’s Meow
From a USA Today story on a prison-abuse case:
Margaret Winter, the ACLU’s lead attorney in the case, said the findings by Moriarty’s office reflect an attempt to “whitewash” Johnson’s claims.
Winter said that because of Johnson’s sexual orientation and his inability to defend himself, he should not have been put into the general population section of the James Allred Unit, a 3,500-bed facility near Wichita Falls that is known as one of Texas’ roughest prisons. In that environment, she said, Johnson was like “catnip to a pack of wolves.”
It’s a queer sort of wolf that’s interested in catnip, is it not?
When I read something like this I can’t help imagining myself in this man’s place, the horror of it, which I am sure is beyond anything Mr. Taranto has had the misfortune to experience.
I could give many more examples. I realize that conservatives hate being called uncompassionate just because they don’t believe in simplistic, socialistic, wealth redistributing solutions to society’s problems, and it is a bad rap in that sense. Nevertheless I think that there is substance to the charge. There is a coldness and lack of empathy in the ease with which the poor, the homeless, those without health insurance, the unemployed and poorly employed, the inner-city ghetto residents, the addicted, illegal immigrants, are dismissed and left to the vagaries of the free market and the justice system.
My wife, Candace, is a singer/songwriter. Many of our friends and acquaintances are musicians and artists, and they are, of course, overwhelmingly liberal. And then there are our old hippie, fellow communards. These are sensitive people who feel deeply the reality that we are all one, and their politics grow out of that feeling. They hate war. They hate injustice. They identify with the powerless. I find their political analysis, if one can even call it analysis, to be naive and paranoid, and, these days, distorted by fear and hatred of George Bush, Christians, corporations, the military, you name it. But their compassionate instincts are sincere and heart-felt. It’s no accident that writers, musicians, painters, actors tend to congregate on the left. People like Sean Penn or Barbra Streisand are easy to make fun of, and should be made fun of, but muddle-headed or not, they and others represent something that should not be made fun of.
I suspect that the majority of Americans find themselves in this place, somewhere between the antipodes of head and heart. We care about others, we recognize our common bond with all of humanity, but not to the point of becoming bereft of common sense. I suspect that whichever way most people vote, there is a feeling of discomfort with their choices. I, for one, am very glad and relieved that George Bush was re-elected. But I wish the government were vigorously pursuing solutions for the uninsured, aggressively exploring the possibilities of alternative energy sources, seriously working for prison reform, etc. I see no signs that the Republican Party cares very much about these things. I deeply regret that the Democratic Party has emigrated to an anti-Vietnam war, paranoid, nostalgic fantasy land, and so can’t be trusted with leadership in these perilous times. I regret the extent to which the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the labor movement, have devolved into corrupt special interest scams.
The American people are not nearly so polarized as the politicians we are forced to choose among. We want the best of both worlds. We want real compassionate conservatism and real clear-thinking liberalism.