Ephemerides (March 2002)
March 31, 2002
A domino has fallen! After weeks of promoting the transparently phony Saudi "peace plan" and thus encouraging the notion that the Palestinian Authority and its allies have reasonable goals that can be accommodated through diplomacy, Tom Friedman of The New York Times has waked up and smelled the cordite ("Suicidal Lies"):
The world must understand that the Palestinians have not chosen suicide bombing out of "desperation" stemming from the Israeli occupation. That is a huge lie. Why? To begin with, a lot of other people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves. More important, President Clinton offered the Palestinians a peace plan that could have ended their "desperate" occupation, and Yasir Arafat walked away. Still more important, the Palestinians have long had a tactical alternative to suicide: nonviolent resistance, à la Gandhi. A nonviolent Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago, but they have rejected that strategy, too.
The reason the Palestinians have not adopted these alternatives is because they actually want to win their independence in blood and fire. All they can agree on as a community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build. Have you ever heard Mr. Arafat talk about what sort of education system or economy he would prefer, what sort of constitution he wants? No, because Mr. Arafat is not interested in the content of a Palestinian state, only the contours.
Let's be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice, not out of desperation. This threatens all civilization because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel, then, like hijacking and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will eventually lead to a bomber strapped with a nuclear device threatening entire nations. That is why the whole world must see this Palestinian suicide strategy defeated.
Like a good Timesman, Mr. Friedman goes on to urge that, once "the whole world sees" the suicide strategy's defeat, we should hide that fact from the Palestinians themselves by offering them the same terms that Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak put forward two years ago - an excellent way to ensure that no would-be terrorist anywhere learns the lesson. But we can argue later about what terms to impose in the wake of victory. We need to catch our victory first.
After the rapid campaign in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration has not been rushing into the next phase of the War on Terrorism. As I have noted previously (3/15/02), our armed forces, still weakened by Clinton era neglect, need time to recuperate and to prepare for what will surely be a more strenuous series of battles in Iraq. Unhappily, the enemy is not cooperating with our rhythms but instead wants to impose its own on the conflict. The escalation of Palestinian attacks on Israel is best understood as an attempt to derail U.S. action against Saddam Hussein, action that would, Arab leaders fear (probably, alas, too paranoically), be followed by a general American cleansing of regimes that have been helpful to terrorists, i. e., just about every existing Arab government.
It now looks like President Bush (probably overruling most of his advisors - another sign of how fortunate we are to have this "simplistic", "inexperienced" commander-in-chief) has decided to let Israel do whatever it finds needful for its own security, dissolving the Palestinian Authority de facto and rounding up its leaders.
The outcome of the war may well depend on what happens during the next few weeks. The immediate Islamofascist reaction - particularly after Yasser Arafat dies, is arrested or escapes into exile (to take the possibilities in diminishing order of probability) - will almost certainly be threats to expand the suicide bombing campaign beyond Israel. The chief of Fatah's Lebanese branch has already warned of suicide attacks in America.
Bombings are certainly possible - likely, I suppose - in the United States, but the potential for mass terrorism here seems pretty low. Rank-and-file Moslems in this country have displayed virtually no sympathy for Wahhabi fanaticism, despite the impression given by organizations that purport to speak in their name, and the pool of young men willing to commit suicide for Allah is minuscule. The real danger lies in Europe, where Arab Moslem minorities are large, unassimilated and violent, quite fearsome enough to intimidate spineless social-democratic politicians. It may take no more than explosions in a few hypermarkets to throw the European Union into a panic of appeasement and anti-Americanism.
Perhaps the time has come, as our allies grow irresolute, for the United States to treat this war as a real war, not as an unwelcome diversion from consumerism, and to go onto a war footing commensurate with the size and scope of the conflict. That means worrying about balanced budgets some other year and dealing with unemployment by conscripting the young men required to bring the military establishment back to at least its Gulf War level. It also means, since this is the first war in which we have faced a significant threat of partisan warfare at home, allowing Americans to arm themselves in their own defense. A nationwide concealed-carry law would impinge on states' rights but is well within Congress' militia powers.
War is very unpleasant. It restricts individual freedom, expands the powers of government, interferes with the legitimate pleasures of life and, of course, results in destruction and death. We don't have much choice, however, about whether to fight this war, only about whether we will fight seriously and win or dawdle about and either win at much higher eventual cost or - the worst option of all - lose and see the world take the first steps into an Islamofascist Millennium.
March 29, 2002
"The burnt fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire," as Rudyard Kipling put it. In his New York Times column today, former economist Paul Krugman denounces the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, of which he presents himself as a minor victim.
The VRWC is the liberal version of the old right-wing canard of "the secret government". Its purported modus operandi is the confection of phony scandals, which the mainstream news media then naively take at face value and propagate, thus tarring innocents like the Clintons and "undermining democracy" (Professor Krugman's phrase). Professor Krugman's victimization occurred when the VRWC found fault with his receipt of consulting fees from Enron at the same time that he was writing favorably about the company. (Vide 1/22/02 for discussion of that micro-scandal.)
That people who are intensely interested in politics are delighted to spread tales of unsavory doings on the part of their ideological enemies is not much of a revelation. Newt Gingrich's private life certainly got as thorough and hostile a going-over as Bill Clinton's. Liberals like to read such attacks, when directed against conservatives, as is shown by the place on the best-seller lists of Michael Moore's preposterous screed Stupid White Men. Professor Krugman does not, however, posit a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy as a counterpart to the VRWC, so one must suppose that the latter has some characteristic that puts its outside the realm of legitimate political discourse.
The VRWC thesis is not new. The Clinton White House prepared and distributed an elaborate paper detailing the conspirators' "channels of communication", which looked much like the mirror image of a Gary Allen or Pat Robertson chart of left-wing conspiratorial connections. Hillary Clinton merely gave the alleged phenomenon a name (and traced it back to her husband's first electoral contest: the VRWC picked him out as a target when he was no more than a Congressional hopeful in backwoods Arkansas!).
Much as it looks like a mirror image, though, the left-wing conspiracy theory differs from the right-wing one is this crucial aspect: The lunatic right-wingers claim that the conspirators use their "control" of the government apparatus to render public opinion impotent to affect government actions. The left-wing theorists assert the opposite: that the VRWC tries to influence public opinion and persuade the electorate that liberal politicians are unworthy to hold office. Those activities are condemned as sinister and undemocratic.
Professor Krugman does not explicitly prescribe ways for the forces of enlightenment to counter the VRWC, but his preferred solution is implicit in his account of the conspiracy's personnel and methods. What makes the conspiracy potent is the media's willingness to report what it says. Hence, it can be shut down if news organizations will simply ignore anything that emanates from its precincts (which appear to be coterminous with conservatism). This cone of silence should be dropped regardless of truth value. Whitewater, for instance, should never have been brought to public attention. It doesn't matter that over a dozen close associates of Bill and Hillary Clinton were convicted of crimes in connection with transactions in which the Clintons were intimately involved. Since the VRWC pushed the story, all respectable journalists should have assumed its falsity in advance and shunned it. Likewise, no doubt, for Mrs. Clinton's mysterious commodities trading profits, "troopergate" (first uncovered, as the Left takes care not to remember, by the liberal Los Angeles Times), Mr. Clinton's romantic dalliances, Juanita Broaddrick (who has indeed been forgotten, unlike the Anita Hill), the presidential pardon spree, etc. ad nauseam.
Turning to Professor Krugman's own ordeal, the allegation that there was something fishy about his abrupt (and never explained) change of position on the merits of Enron's activities should never have received any attention, simply because it was first made by Andrew Sullivan, a (rather eccentric) conservative.
What the VRWC theorists want - if one takes what they say seriously - is a general silencing of conservatives who attack liberals on personal grounds. Perhaps, if pressed, they would urge that the same restrictions be placed on liberals (though I wouldn't bet much on that), but their central complaint about the news media is that they are too open to controversy. The parallel conservative complaint is that the media stifle controversy by slanting news coverage toward the left. The liberal solution is for the prestige press and the television networks to act as stricter gatekeepers, protecting the delicate minds of the citizenry from indecent opinions. The conservative solution is for all media outlets to be more open to a wide spectrum of opinion.
Ah, but let us never forget that liberals favor democracy and trust the people.
March 28, 2002
In major wars the opposing sides often need time to sort themselves out. Even World War I, where elaborate alliance systems foreshadowed the opponents, had late entrants, most notably the United States but also Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Japan. As the less-structured 21st century embarks on its first worldwide conflict, allies and enemies have been wavering; only now are they beginning to become clear.
The initial American view, hopeful and confident, was that all the world would join us, that the War on Terror would be waged by a coalition as broad as the Gulf War. That hope has proved to be a delusion.
Unlike the war against Iraq in 1991, a war against terrorism in 2002 is not in the self-perceived interest of many of those who rule the Arab world. Most Arab regimes have actively collaborated with terrorist organizations, and Saudi Arabia has provided the principal financial backing for anti-Western proselytization in both Moslem and non-Moslem lands. The rulers of these countries could safely offer tepid support for a campaign in distant Afghanistan, but the next campaign will be close at hand. The calculations are not difficult to fathom. The main fear is not, I think, the somewhat abstact possibility that the installation of more-or-less democratic polities in Iraq and Iran will trigger discontent with paternalistic tyranny but that the opening of Iraqi and Iranian files to U.S. inspection will expose the terrorists' high-placed sponsors and lead America to root them out. If the only way to break the back of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and their look-alikes is to kill or imprison a thousand Saudi princes, that is what the United States, if it is serious about its future safety, will do. The guilty have little choice but to try to divert us from changing the Iraqi and Iranian regimes. Failing that, already being our foes in secret, they will be compelled to fight us openly, slim though their chance of victory may be.
The European nations have a different calculus. The emasculation of organized terrorism would benefit them, but they may not see the reward as worth the risk. Most of them harbor large, violent, unassimilated Moslem minorities, quite capable of launching their own intifadas. The murderous attacks on Israel make fears of Moslem uprisings credible. The course of least resistance is to discourage further American action, adopting a position of benign neutrality toward Islamofascism. That certainly appears to be the preferred position of all of Europe's social-democratic governments except for the British.
We face, then, the prospect of fighting a prolonged war with very few whole-hearted allies. In the Middle East, Israel is on our side volens nolens, Turkey for ideological reasons and a few small emirates because they are willing to gamble on backing a probable winner. In Europe, we can count on Britain, Russia (for the moment) and whatever right-of-center governments come to power over the next several months. (The anti-immigrant animus of much of the European Right, deplorable as it is in many respects, makes right-wing politicians unlikely to bend their policies to accommodate the "Moslem street".) Other parts of the world are more supportive, but that is partly because they aren't on the front lines; for them, the risk-reward ratio is far more favorable than it is for the Europeans.
The shortage of allies and surplusage of kibbitzing quasi-neutrals cannot directly affect the outcome of the war. The U.S. is overwhelmingly stronger than the aggregate of our overt and covert enemies. The danger is that the conflict will be more difficult than the American public expects, that the inchoate anti-war movement will coalesce into a real force and that we will, as in Vietnam, give up the fight regardless of the military situation.
President Bush has warned repeatedly that the war will be long and hard, but few people seem to be listening. We are trying to wage war with peacetime attitudes and institutions. In particular, our armed forces remain very small and underequipped. The President's proposed $45 billion increase in military spending is minimally adequate in the short run but vastly less than what is needed for effective action. Fighting a war on a balanced budget is (pace Ludwig von Mises: why do policy makers take only bad advice from great men?) simple folly. Also foolish are the refusal to consider conscription and the passive, civilianized approach to homeland security (vide the item immeidately below). By choosing ease and leisure now, we store up hardship for the future.
March 26, 2002
USA Today reports that undercover tests of post-9/11 airport security have produced alarming - but not surprising - results. Investigators who carried weapons through security checkpoints went undetected 48 percent of time. Non-detection rates were 70 percent for knives, 60 percent for explosives and 30 percent for guns.
The test results are not surprising, because knives, guns and explosives are easy to conceal. Interdicting them 100 percent of the time is an impossible task, especially for an inspection regime that can devote only a few seconds to each passenger. Hiring more screeners and making inspections longer and more intrusive might halve the failure rate, which would still leave it orders of magnitude above an acceptable level.
What we see here is the classic inability of purely passive defense to cope with all possible threats. At best, it forces hijackers to operate in larger teams and include a degree of redundancy in their plans. Against an enemy with the resources of al-Qaeda, not to mention the hostile Mideast governments that might sponsor their own operations, the incremental gain in safety is not at all reassuring.
Before another disaster strikes, shouldn't we start thinking about active defense? Screening has its role, but it should focus on substantial threats: explosives first of all, then firearms, then large and dangerous knives. Hunting for nail clippers, corkscrews and pen knives is only a distraction.
The real defensive line ought to be armed pilots, supplemented with passengers who have proper concealed-carry permits. The threat of facing firearms would greatly complicate terrorist tactics, and airport check-in could go back to being a quick, stress-free experience. We would be safer - and happier, too.
March 24, 2002
My last dispatch spoke pessimistically of the Republican candidate's "few, faint glimmers of hope" in this year's Illinois gubernatorial race. The Chicago Sun-Times today published the first post-primary poll, which helps gauge both how faint the glimmers are and where they are to be found.
The one-line result was 52 percent for the Democrat, Chicago Congressman Rod Blagojevich, 34 percent for Republican Attorney-General Jim Ryan. It's easy to reel off reasons for that gap: Both of Ryan's primary opponents campaigned feverishly and expensively against him, one from the right, the other from the left. Incumbent GOP governor George Ryan (no relation to Jim, but the Democrats gleefully treat them like father and son) is leaving office under a cloud of scandal, as did his Republican predecessor. Scandal aside, Governor Ryan's record - higher spending, higher taxes, flip-flops on abortion and capital punishment, failures of leadership on locally crucial issues like the future of O'Hare Airport - is no shining legacy. The state Republican Party meanwhile is listless and fragmented. (It's doubtful that the primary losers will give the winner their formal, much less whole-hearted, endorsements.) One is almost surprised that the poll numbers are not worse.
The hopeful glimmers emerge when one looks at the source of Blagojevich's margin. He is not a well-known figure, and his surname encourages an immediate assumption that he holds conservative or moderate views. The typical voter who has barely heard of him probably envisions someone like the Democrats' 1998 candidate Glenn Poshard, who was pro-life, anti-gun control and an economic moderate. (He lost to George Ryan, 48% to 52%.) That perception is most likely the reason why Blagojevich holds a 14 point lead (49%-35%) among downstate voters, a 20 point lead among independents (48%-28%) gets 20 percent of the Republican vote and holds Ryan to 50 percent of the pro-life vote.
Any picture of Blagojevich as a "moderate" is, however, totally wrong. He likes to be called a "gun control crusader" and says that abortion should be a big issue in the campaign. (He's for it, preferably at the taxpayers' expense.) On taxes, environmentalism, trade, missile defense, etc., his record is solidly leftish. He may even be a shade to the left of his running mate, maverick liberal Patrick Quinn.
Blagojevich's vulnerability is that he already has all of the liberal voters - a 75%-7% lead among blacks, 59%-29% among Hispanics, 66 percent support from abortion backers - but seemingly plans a campaign with little appeal to anybody else. The patent weakness of that strategy (and Blagojevich's own deficiencies as a campaigner - he barely won the Democratic primary against two pushovers) may not matter. Ryan has little money left over from the primary, and the dejected condition of the state party won't help his fund raising. There is a large chance that Blagojevich will skate into office without becoming any better known than he is today. Still, the glimmers of hope are there.
March 21, 2002
A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks - steel tariffs, American ambivalence toward Yasser Arafat's terrorist regime, White House somnolence during the fight over the Pickering nomination, the passage of the McCain-Feingold Alien and Sedition Act (to give that noxious assault on free speech a fitting name), softwood tariffs - to put right-wingers into a grumpy mood. The way in which right-wing grumps deal with their frustrations is to lash out at each other, so it was no surprise to see Instapundit and other libertinarians launching an offensive against what Professor Reynolds terms "lifestyle conservatives". One of his brethren-in-arms had a less polite label ("upright, sanctimonious, moralistic . . ."), which neotraditionalist William Sulik has usefully shortened to "USMA's".
The complaint this time was based not on philosophical disagreement but on realpolitik: The USMA element of the Republican Party and the positions that USMA's espouse make the GOP repulsive to economically conservative but socially liberal suburban voters and drive them into the arms of the Democrats. The only hope that Republicans have of gaining a working majority is to expel from their company Puritans of the John Ashcroft ilk and start sounding like liberals on abortion, drugs, pornography, homosexuality, cloning, gun control -
Ooops. Instapundit is never going to embrace gun control (at least, I hope not); that shouldn't be on the list. Yet what is more the quintessential "economically conservative but socially liberal" issue? The Chicago Tribune, de-McCormicked voice of ECSL-ism, takes swipes at pro-lifers but what it really loathes is the NRA. The decline in Republican fortunes in the Chicago suburbs is largely traceable to the party's staunch refusal to embrace Brady Bill nonsense. That stand loses a lot of votes in Morton Grove. What's more, it would lose all of those votes even if Republicans fervently preached the the ECSL credo on all the rest of the social issues.
On the other hand, as Instapundit would quickly point out, gun control doesn't play well Downstate or among traditionally Democratic ethnic groups, more than balancing losses among soccer moms. He would be right on that point. (One of the few, faint glimmers of hope for Republicans in this year's Illinois gubernatorial election is that the Democratic nominee will see his ethnic base and Downstate backing wither if his zealous gun control advocacy becomes better known.)
The fallacy of Instapundit's realpolitik is its failure to realize that opposition to gun control is not the only socially conservative position that is also popular. Public support for anti-drug, anti-pornography and anti-cloning measures is close to overwhelming (even for measures that aren't particularly well-thought-out or effective). "Gay rights" proposals hardly ever win a popular vote, and "gay marriage" has to be imposed by judges. Abortion is a partial exception, but the conservative position (no legal abortion except in the most extreme circumstances) polls no worse than its liberal counterpart (abortion any time, anywhere, for any reason, and at government expense).
Today's Washington Post runs some terrific Nixon material, transcripts of his rants against drugs and homosexuality. Here's my personal favorite: "Let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn it, they root [gays] out, they don't let 'em hang around at all. You know what I mean? I don't know what they do with them. Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. Not if they can catch it, they send them up. You see, homosexuality, dope, uh, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They're trying to destroy us." You know what I love most about this? The idea that the Soviet Union, less than two decades before its complete destruction, is a "strong" society because it tyrannizes over its own citizens. Well, we didn't take Nixon's advice and become more like the Communists. And guess which country is still standing.
-- Michael Potemra
Though law school professors never encounter them, lots of Americans are uneasy with the "anything goes" society. Old-fashioned libertarians (about whom I have written elsewhere) were, too. Their central argument was that freedom strengthens virtue. (Vide the very apt sidebar quote.) Their nominal successors argue that we need freedom to keep nasty virtues away. As William Sulik's blog suggests today, an important factor that prevents social conservatives from identifying whole-heartedly with Republicanism is the suspicion that many Republican leaders are "new libertarians" at heart, who are glad to have the social conservaties' votes but not willing to do anything strenuous in exchange. That aura of superficiality and hypocrisy does the GOP more harm than a hundred speeches in favor of a Right-to-Life Amendment.
For the record, let me make it clear that this talk about realpolitik is purely a response to Instapundit and doesn't mean that I regard it as the lodestar of politics. If Ronald Reagan had worried about what would go over with focus groups, he would be a forgotten ex-actor. The reason why conservatives should support "lifestyle conservatism" in general is because it's generally right. The reason why they should reject particular positions associated with lifestyle conservatism (e. g., obscurantist opposition to teaching modern biology in schools) is that those positions, popular or not (anti-Darwinism consistently outpolls the Second Amendment), are wrong. Pragmatists will say that it is better to espouse an attractive shibboleth than an unpopular truth, but the trouble with pragmatism is that, in the long run, it doesn't work.
March 20, 2002
The new and surely unbreakable record for "moral equivalency" - the practice of treating the flaws of free nations as if they were just as bad as deliberate tyranny - has been set by one Melvin P. Foote, head of the "Constituency for Africa". The Washington Times [link won't last long] quotes Mr. Foote as declaiming, "How can we criticize Zimbabwe when what happened in Florida is as bad as anything?", adding the novel insight that "Those who live in glass houses can't throw stones."
In Zimbabwe, the government threw opposition candidates into jail, hired goons to terrorize voters, ignored court orders to allow citizens in pro-opposition regions to cast ballots, shut down newspapers and media that didn't support President Mugabe, and generally acted with so little regard for elementary fairness that even the Commonwealth of Nations and the State Department were shocked. But to Mr. Foote, it was "just as bad" for the United States to resolve a disputed election through legal processes.
As a footnote, this continued invocation of the Florida voting as an instance of undemocratic behavior - commentators less bizarre than Mr. Foote also keep up the cry - is a good reason for conservatives to take Jay Nordlinger's advice (infra, 3/12): The public should be reminded of the facts about the 2000 election, which are, in brief, that Democrats mounted a huge vote-stealing effort in Florida that was thwarted by the American legal system. One aspect of that scandal the deserves reiteration is the statistical evidence, brought to light by John R. Lott, Jr. and James K. Glassman ("GOP Was the Real Victim in Fla. Vote"), that Democratic election officials concentrated on throwing out ballots of Republicans, with particular emphasis on blacks who were temerarious enough to vote for the GOP. (Vide Ephemerides, 11/12/01.)
March 19, 2002
One of the consequences of a government with checks and balances is that, in certain combinations of circumstances, a very small minority in a single branch of the government can frustrate everyone else. Tom Daschle is at the moment the happy beneficiary of propitious circumstances and has most recently employed his “power of one” to block, on grounds so flimsy that liberals can hardly avoiding averting their faces, the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering, Sr. to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Through similar maneuvers, the Democratic leader has kept the Bush Administration from filling many top-level posts, stymied a meaningful economic stimulus bill (which happily doesn’t look like it will be needed) and bottled up energy legislation (which would certainly be prudent as we prepare for military action in the world’s largest oil-producing region).
Senator Daschle has not achieved these successes by persuading a majority of the Senate to agree to his positions. Judge Pickering had the declared support of a majority of Senators, as did Bush appointees Eugene Scalia and Otto Reich (installed through recess appointments). There is little doubt that, if brought to the floor, the Administration’s original stimulus bill and its energy package would have had solid majority support. In all of these cases, Senator Daschle’s tactic has been to keep matters off the floor. Some, like the Otto Reich nomination, have been kept even from committee votes. On the stimulus bill, the Senator explicitly endorsed minoritarianism when he declared that he would not allow a vote on any bill that was not backed by two-thirds of the Democratic caucus - meaning that 18 Senators could block legislation favored by the other 82 (unless, of course, one of the 82 was Tom Daschle).
Not surprisingly, Republicans are starting to turn the standard shades of livid. Senator Lott has uttered threats to “go nuclear” - a minority of 49 can cause more paralysis than a minority of 18 - but he is likely to settle for keeping a former Daschle aide off the Federal Communications Commission. Threats to stall Congress from doing anything won’t faze Senator Daschle, because he doesn’t really want anything done. In his eyes (vide “Legitimacy and the Democrats”), the last Presidential election was a de facto coup d’etat, there is no legitimate incumbent in the executive branch, and the government is on hiatus until January 20, 2005. His recent comments on military spending suggest that, unless the state of public opinion renders obstruction suicidal, he will go so far as to starve the defense budget in time of war.
No retaliation carried out with the normal weapons of intragovernmental feuding is going to alter such a mindset. Suppose that a President really were installed by a coup - tanks ringing the Capitol and all that. Would anyone expect the opposition party to cooperate with him? Democrats like Senator Daschle sincerely believe that exactly that happened in December 2000. The diaphanous connection between their belief and objective facts does not make it any less sincere.
It is moderately bad luck for the United States that an embittered partisan has found himself in a position to stymie the processes of government, but we can’t expect invariable good luck (even if Bismarck did say that God protects children, fools and the United States of America) and another election is less than eight months away.
One needs only an amateur’s appreciation of political strategy (and far be it from me to pretend to more than that) to see that the Republican Party’s best hope of sending Senator Daschle back to minority leader status is to “federalize” the mid-term elections, much as it did in 1994. By centering the campaign on national issues - not just (maybe not even primarily) the war but also energy, economic policy, the role of the judiciary (vide Thomas J. Bray, "Hold the Whine") and, if the party is brave enough to push an idea that 60 percent of the public likes and 90 percent of the political establishment hates, Social Security reform - the GOP can either win working control of both Houses of Congress or learn definitively that it doesn’t command a majority on questions of policy, which would be bad news but no worse than the current state of having a majority and being unable to use it.
March 15, 2002
Many supporters of the war on terrorism are naturally upset by the signs of "wobbling" (the universal epithet) by President Bush. The phenomenon is not, however, new. In fact, it was the topic of the second-ever Ephemerides entry (10/2/01). The impulse to bring peace to the Middle East by pampering Yasser Arafat and his thuggish cronies seems irresistible to administrations of both parties, regardless of how open and obvious the Palestinian mini-despots are in their enmity toward America and the West in general, for which Israel is a mere surrogate.
Still, before declaring that the Commander-in-Chief has suddenly lost all of the acute judgment that he displayed during the first six months after September 11th, we should bear in mind the old military adage, "He who attacks everywhere, attacks nowhere." Many strategic decisions in other wars seemed inexplicable when they were made. There are Australians who to this day curse Winston Churchill for "abandoning" them in World War II, but Churchill's strategy ultimately saved Australia and much else besides.
The clearest point about the Administration's current actions is their concentration on the liberation of Iraq. The evident calculation is that Israel can weather continued friction with the Palestinian Authority and will not be endangered by another round of futile "peace making". While the U.S. expends only minimal physical and moral force on that front, it can gather the necessary resources for an overwhelming strike against Saddam Hussein.
Ten years ago, this narrow focus would have been unnecessary, but - a fact too much overlooked after a swift victory in Afghanistan - our Armed Forces are much weaker now than they were at the time of the Gulf War. We have fewer men and fighting units (ten divisions where we once had 18), less equipment, serious training and operational deficiencies, festering morale problems and a general lack of depth. Those are the ever more glaring legacies of eight years of irresponsible stewardship. The President warned against them during the last election campaign. Today he has to make the most of the inadequate means at hand while trying to build them to sufficiency in the midst of a war.
Never forget: In one mistimed and undersupported campaign, the United States could lose all that we have gained in the past six months. And defeat, by emboldening our enemies, would both ensure the destruction of Israel and bring the infitada to our own shores.
The President may be wrong in his calculations, but he is the one who has to make them - and bear the responsibility for the consequences. He deserves more sober prayers and fewer catcalls.
March 12, 2002
I am disappointed - bitterly disappointed - to hear White House and Republican spokesmen say, when confronted with a charge about the 2000 election, "It's time to move on, the country long ago was ready to move on," etc. This is Clinton language. "Move on" is Clintonspeak for, "Yes, you're right and we're guilty, but we don't want to address the subject, and don't you look silly for obsessing?"
Republicans must not engage in this. When challenged or needled about the Florida post-election, Republicans should patiently reiterate the facts, which are very much on the GOP side. These matters aren't like milk - they don't have expiration dates. To use this "move on" nonsense is to appear to concede something, or to duck something: and, given the history of Clinton, that is an asinine thing for Republicans to do.
-- Jay Nordlinger
Over at National Review Online, there is much twittering right now (scroll down past the argument about whether Rich Lowry wants to nuke Mecca) over the political impact of Hispanic immigration. It is an old topic but one on which some conservatives seem determined to remain invincibly ignorant.
The immediate cause for concern is a pollster's statement that the population shift from Mexico will make Texas a politically competitive state within a few years and perhaps swing it solidly Democratic after that. That leads the NRO stalwarts (including an immigrant who is less than a month away from his naturalization ceremony) to lament the folly of our country's too-ready acceptance of new arrivals as citizens. California is, we are told, a horrible example for the GOP, with more to come.
California certainly is an example. There Republicans, led by the ever-to-be-execrated Pete Wilson, embraced an anti-immigrant stance and found themselves anathematized not only by Hispanics but also by many Oriental voters whose social and economic interests had previously been bringing them into the GOP ranks. Are we now going to repeat this marvelous strategy in Texas, followed perhaps by Florida? If France had rebuilt the Maginot Line after World War II, the folly would have been no greater.
The idea that Hispanics are a permanent Democratic bastion rests on a lazy parallel between them and the black electorate. Why the Democrats have been able to establish a "black electoral plantation" and whether it it really permanent are questions for another time. Here it is enough to catalogue ways in which the parallel is ill-drawn:
Hispanics are coming into the United States voluntarily, in pursuit of greater economic and political freedom than they can find at home. They are more likely than the average American to be religious and to maintain strong family ties. The overwhelming majority want nothing more than to assimilate and to raise English-speaking, Americanized kids. They have no great historical debts (á la the New Deal and civil rights legislation) to either party. A large number of them are already conservatives and Republicans. The ethnic issue on which liberals have most heavily relied to gain their loyalty - bilingual education - has been a failure, widely unpopular in the Hispanic community.
The Democratic edge among Hispanic voters derives entirely from three factors: First, they are younger than other voting blocs. Second, they are poorer. Third, they live disproportionately in large cities dominated by Democratic political machines. All of those conditions are changing. In fact, recent immigration is helping to change them. The current immigrants are, by and large, doing well economically and are spreading out to areas beyond the big cities. Moreover, they come from a Mexico that is no longer a one-party, semi-socialist state. Conservative, free market views now have a large place in the country's political dialogue, and the bulk of the immigrants come from the border areas where the pro-liberty National Action Party has been most successful. Is a PAN sympathizer who moves to Texas going to turn into a left-wing Democrat?
Well, he may - if Republicans shun him and, Pat Buchanan-like, refuse to recognize him as part of Western civilization. That is not, however, an inevitable development.
Update (March 24, 2002): John O'Sullivan, himself an immigrant belonging to an ethnic group once regarded much as Hispanics are today (backward, Catholic, incapable of assimilation, incorrigible Democrats), takes up the NRO drumbeat on how immigration from Mexico and Central America will destroy GOP prospects in Florida, Texas and eventually the whole United States. His "proof" is polling data showing that Hispanics are predominantly Democratic. Therefore, he infers, they always will be. Nor does he see any positive sign in the nomination of a conservative Hispanic as the Democratic candidate for governor of Texas (defeating an equally Hispanic liberal). An optimist might detect the beginning of the process that has led other groups out of the Democratic Party: Conservative members of the group rise to prominent local positions, then learn that the national party will tolerate no significant deviations from a progressively more rigid liberal line, leading to flight to the GOP. One has the feeling that Mr. O'Sullivan not only does not see that possibility but doesn't want to see it. He already has his heart set on a "solution" - immigration "reform" - and is determined to find a matching "problem".
March 10, 2002
Conservatives have gone through long bouts of wish fulfillment; well do I remember the "silent majority" that was going to sweep Barry Goldwater into the Presidency in 1964, regardless of what rigged and unreliable polls might say. So there is a certain semi-schadenfreudish pleasure in watching the other side of the spectrum slip into the same world of happy delusions. Today, the far-left London Observer, where "war on terrorism" still appears in scare quotes, runs a piece entitled - hope glowing in every word - "Suddenly, it's cool to be rude about Dubya again". The cool, rude folks are a handful of left-wing airheads - Sandra Bernhard, Aaron Sorkin and Michael Moore - whose seminal insights (Bernhard: "It was very convenient that September 11 came along to deflect the fact that they should never have been in the White House in the first place." Moore: "You've been a drunk, a thief, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter and a cry baby." [Moore's expertise on cry babies is undeniable.]) are supposedly reinforced by the release of a book and a film on the 2000 Presidential campaign: Frank Bruni's Ambling Through History and Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys With George. The writer's optimistic conclusion:
. . . with polls reporting that Bush's approval ratings are no longer stratospheric and Democrats becoming increasingly critical of the President's right-wing agenda, it would appear the second honeymoon is now officially over.
Well, the polls do have the President's rating all the way down to the mid-80's. Let me recall. . . . When LBJ's margin in the Gallup Poll dropped from 28 to 22 points, National Review ran "Is Johnson Slipping?" as its cover story.
One cannot, of course, expect the sophisticates of The Observer to understand the mores of a barbaric continent, but let me offer a couple of hints:
The hard core leftists who loath George W. and all his works are speaking more loudly not because the political climate has shifted in favor of their views but because they are angry and frustrated at the stubborn refusal of reality to conform to their prescriptions. Where is the quagmire? There has to be a quagmire! Where is the uprising of the revolutionary masses against Korporate Amerika? There have to be revolutionary masses! The unrevolutionary masses meanwhile take such tirades in stride. Burning Sandra Bernhard at the stake is less amusing that watching her burn herself up with idiotarian passion.
That George W. used to (and probably at heart still does) like dumb jokes, frat-boy hijinks and Austin Powers movies - the worst faults revealed to a shocked world by Bruni and Pelosi - is pretty insignificant next to the unerring good judgement that he has shown in running a major, albeit highly unusual, war. It's funny how liberals, who used to hector us to "move on" from thinking about Bill Clinton's sleazy past, regard "Bush winking, Bush goofing around, Bush chewing with his mouth open, Bush doing the cheerleader routine, Bush serving reporters drinks on a tray" as serious leadership and character flaws.
Conservatives, after defeat in 1964 and the disappointments of the Nixon years, awoke from their dreams. Now that I think about it, I don't really hope that the left will do the same. Good show, Observer - keep it coming!
March 9, 2002
The Daily Telegraph brings truly horrifying news from mainland China. A botched blood purchase program in Henan province (in central China, a couple of hundred miles southwest of Peking), carried out in the late 1990's, infected over 100,000 peasants with the HIV virus. "Visitors to the area describe scenes composed of the living dead - victims developing Aids and enduring the fevers, sores, headaches, boils and consumptive coughs associated with it. On the streets, shuffling men and women in clothes that no longer fit stare at strangers with the hopeless look of the damned."
The communist government has reacted by ignoring the victims' plight and "abandoning them without medical care or compensation". Now, reports correspondent Damien McElroy, the peasants are taking revenge:
Major cities have been convulsed by fear as word has spread that innocent pedestrians are being attacked in the street by people with syringes said to contain HIV-tainted blood.
Anxious residents of Beijing and Tianjin [Peking and Tientsin], the two largest northern cities, have besieged hospital clinics, demanding blood tests after saying that they were stabbed in the street. The government imposed a news blackout for fear of fuelling further panic, especially in Tianjin, where 47 reported attacks have prompted workers to call in sick, led shoppers to stay at home and caused some people to flee the city.
For prudential reasons, President Bush did not include Red China in the "Axis of Evil", but reports like this are a grim reminder of why the Peking regime is morally indistinguishable from the tyrannies of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
March 8, 2002
Though Republican Senators have delayed a final committee vote, President Bush's nomination of District Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is generally conceded to be dead. Every Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee has declared against him, following a campaign of slander that has drawn (ineffective) rebukes from even The Washington Post.
Many observers have noted that the Pickering nomination is an odd place for Democrats to expend political capital. The judge is 64 years old and thus won't be on the bench for many more years, received the highest rating from the left-wing American Bar Association, is a close friend of Senate Republican leader Trent Lott and Democratic moneybags Dickie Scruggs, is the father of a Congressman, and has drawn strong endorsements from black as well as white leaders of his local community. So what has inspired leading Democrats to denounce him as a throwback to the segregationist era?
The answer lies not, I suspect, in three-page law review note that he wrote in 1959 on a technical aspect of Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law (in which inter alia he predicted that the Supreme Court would strike the law down in the near future) nor in his 1970 vote as a state legislator in favor of nonpartisan primaries (which the Justice Department refused to sanction on the ground that letting blacks influence both parties' nominations would "dilute" their vote) nor even his observation in a judical opinion that the rigid application of the "one man, one vote" principle to local governments can impede their functioning. No reasonable person can fashion a segregationist "paper trail" out of those scraps.
No, Judge Pickering's real offense is exactly the opposite: He is a white conservative who has consistently opposed racial bigotry. In the words of The Washington Post, "he testified publicly against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960's and . . . as a young prosecutor, . . . aided the FBI's efforts against the Klan. He has worked since in racial reconciliation efforts." More recently, one might add, he chastised Justice Department lawyers for their leniency in a cross-burning case (an incident radically distorted by the his Democrat persecutors). Those activities are inconsistent with the founding myth of what The Wall Street Journal has aptly labeled "the Democratic plantation system". For the past two decades, a key element of the Democrats' strategy has been to hold onto a near-unanimous black vote by shrilly insisting that all conservatives are racists. That is why black conservatives like Clarence Thomas are attacked over and over again - and also why white conservatives like Judge Pickering, who don't fit the racist stereotype, have to be put in their place. The judge is being punished not for any bad deeds but for his good ones.
March 6, 2002
Two articles that appeared today move me to address blogdom's favorite controversy: therapeutic cloning. Not that the controversy is a very lively one. About 90 percent of bloggers of all political persuasions praise cloning as the next great medico-scientific achievement and villify its opponents, denouncing a thoughtful humanist like Leon Kass as an inferior version of Torquemada.
Cloning is so far beyond the range of ordinary human experience that it is difficult to connect it to our moral universe. One should be cautious about either condemning the practice simply because it is strange or condoning it simply because minuscule organisms may not immediately engage the emotions. Still, I do not see how cloning human embryos for the purpose of medical experimentation can be anything other than problematic. Reduced to the most straightforward terms, therapeutic cloning brings a very small human being into existence to provide a benefit to others and then kills him. One need not be a right-to-life absolutist to find that process troubling.
Foggy evasions can be brought forward to keep one's mental eye away from what is happening. A blastocyst certainly does not look like you and me, but much of the little moral progress that mankind has made during the past few millennia has consisted in recognizing that human beings do not have to "look like you and me" in order to possess inalienable rights.
Then, too, many blastocysts die in the course of ordinary reproduction. God kills these little creatures, so why shouldn't we? Yes, and many people die (God kills them, if you care to put it that way) in fires. Does that argue in favor of the morality of burning witches at the stake? Do volcanoes furnish a moral justification for crashing airplanes into skyscrapers? There is much that happens in nature that it is immoral to bring about deliberately.
We need not reach the point of equating therapeutic cloning with murder to see that real moral questions are involved. At the very least, prudence dictates that we not rush ahead without being confident of a reasonably unambiguous good to weigh against the potential evil. On that point, the first of the articles that I mentioned, "The False Promise of 'Therapeutic' Cloning" by medical ethicist Wesley J. Smith, offers sobering thoughts. Mr. Smith presents two challenges to the utility of therapeutic cloning. First, any therapies that are developed will never be available to very many patients. To create a clone requires an unfertilized human ovum - many ova, in fact, for the technique fails far more often than it succeeds. Because of tissue rejection problems, one successful clone is needed for each patient to be treated. It follows that each successful treatment must consume an average of perhaps 50 ova. That figure is based on perhaps pessimistic but not unrealistic assumptions. Even if cloning techniques improve greatly, the number is never likely to get close to one. Obtaining so many ova is a nontrivial problem. Mr. Smith speculates that, if cloning therapies were to become widespread, one major effect might be the creation of a distasteful new export market for Third World peasants.
The second practical issue is limited resources. Cloning is expensive and remains years or decades away from therapeutically useful results. In the meantime, there are many other avenues for life-saving medical research. Mr. Smith plumps particularly for work on adult stem cells, but there are plenty of promising developments, in areas from AIDS to cancer, that hold out the prospect of doing good in the very near future. Diverting funds away from them may cost more lives than therapeutic cloning could ever save.
Having said all that, it is important to bear in mind that the anti-cloning cause attracts bad arguments as well as good. My second article, jointly authored by the truly odd couple of William Kristol and Jeremy Rifkin ("First Test of the Biotech Age: Human Cloning" [being to The Los Angeles Times, this link will disappear after a few days]), is an instance of pseudo-opportune collaboration between conservatism and the New Age Left. From the conservative point of view, this alliance is a bad idea, worse than any temporary defeat on the cloning issue could be.
Jeremy Rifkin is an anti-scientific fruit cake who thinks that humanity took a wrong turn some time in the late Paleolithic. When he calls cloning "the first test of the Biotech Age", he means to associate it with other biotechnological advances, all of which he regards as irredeemably evil. Overarching his specific objections to particular scientific developments is a philosophy of anti-entrepreneurialism and total risk aversion that, if it were to be accepted widely (and it already has too much influence), would be riskier and more deadly than any experiment conceived by a latter day Dr. Frankenstein.
Joining forces with the Rifkinites undermines rather than strengthens resistance to cloning. The Kristol/Rifkin column illustrates one reason why. The co-authors have few principles in common and hence can cobble together little in the way of a coherent case. The passing nod to conservative moral concerns comes in this peculiar sentence: "Those of us who hold to the intrinsic value of life--whatever we may think about a woman's right to have an abortion--believe that creating embryonic clones for research and eventually for the creation of spare body parts is unethical. [emphasis added]" For the sake of unity with Mr. Rifkin, "the intrinsic value of life" is turned into a concept that does not stretch so far as to reject abortion in unequivocal terms. But if killing an eight-month-old child may be "a woman's right", how much of an ethical objection an there be to disposing of an eight-hour-old blastocyst?
For the rest, we are treated mostly to Mr. Rifkin's hobby horses, culminating in the assertion that "civilization . . . may have gone too far already in the commercialization and destruction of the human and ecological worlds". To Jeremy Rifkin, "commercialization and destruction" are embodied in genetically modified foods, modern pesticides and other bioengineered miracles that make it possible for six billion human beings to live better than a billion did 200 years ago. For the editor of a leading conservative periodical to associate with such ranting turns conservatism in the direction of obscurantism and reaction (each delightful in its own way but not as a serious political program).
In the long run, this alliance can have only one of three outcomes, all bad. It may help speed the victory of liberalized cloning by crowding out meritorious arguments and tainting the cause with anti-scientific cant. Or it may secure a momentary victory, one that will inevitably fall apart in the wake of scientific progress. Or it may win a permanent victory at the cost of embedding the anti-scientific outlook in American political culture. If the last happens, it will be a tragedy for every child not yet born, not just for unlucky experimental clones.
* * * *
In my dozen or so plane trips since September 11th, I have yet to be selected for a "random" search. That fact used to suggest to me that I look like a red-blooded patriot. Then I read Bill Smith's account of his experiences as a foot soldier in the War on Terrorism and realized that I'm just a shirker, the practical equivalent of the 4-F's in WWII. Oh, well, April 15th is approaching, and I never get overlooked when it's time to collect taxes.
March 5, 2002
European nations have been in many respects disappointing allies in the war on terrorism, balancing their small numbers of troops with large fusillades of less-than-constructive criticism. In one area, though, their performance has been sterling: They are willing to sell us steel at lower prices than we can find domestically. Their steel companies act, needless to say, out of self-interest, but there is nothing wrong with that. European politicians ought to be supporting the war effort out of self-interest and can't bring themselves consistently up to the level of European businessmen.
Alas, this European economic assistance is about to be rebuffed by U.S. tariffs, the only effect of which will be to make waging war more expensive for us, especially after the EU retaliates and the U.S. counter-retaliates and the two sides find themselves in a escalating conflict. As a trade war looms, we could use a few good pacifists.
Trade barriers are presented as a temporary measure to give the domestic steel industry breathing space to restructure. Maybe that characterization was credible when it was first heard half a century ago. The steel makers have had a succession of breathing spaces and have loped through each without reaching world standards of economy and efficiency. Maybe they need to breath a strong whiff of unregulated competition; milder stimulants have done no good.
March 2, 2002
The United Nations World Food Project reports that donations this year for North Korea are 75 percent short of the agency's target and 50 percent below that level at the same time last year. The only pledges so far are from South Korea and - the United States. None of the European nations whose foreign ministers have been so snippy about President Bush's inclusion of the North Korean regime in the Axis of Evil has offered a bushel or a peck of humanitarian food assistance.
It is doubtful, of course, that sending food to the Kim Family thuggocracy does ordinary Koreans any good. One would commend the Europeans if their reluctance to contribute stemmed from realization that the only effective way to end hunger in the North is by the means that President Bush has implicitly proposed: the ouster of the communists. For some reason, one suspects that such is not their reasoning.