Politics

July 31, 2011

Chicago in the White House

President Obama conducts an insurgency from the castle.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM

July 22, 2011

The Senate Still Scamming

The U.S. Senate is scheming with the tax code to trick Americans into accepting a massive tax increase.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:23 AM

May 1, 2011

A Message Full of Coincidence

How odd that President Obama would choose to announce the death of Osama bin Laden during the final 15 minutes of Celebrity Apprentice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:52 PM

April 28, 2011

Birtherism Dies an Easy Death

Why did Obama string the birtherites along for so long? Because he knew he'd get away with it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

April 25, 2011

The Reign of Obama May Close Out the Age of America

If President Obama wins another term, he looks likely to carry the U.S. into a world of Chinese economic majority.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:28 PM

April 9, 2011

Let Them Buy Hybrid Vans

President Obama thinks that folks with big families and large cars should respond to skyrocketing gas prices by buying expensive hybrid vehicles.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:38 PM

April 1, 2011

Anatomy of a Controversy

An Republican RI state representative has stepped into a minefield with foolish online comments related to a gay-straight alliance group in Tiverton.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:36 AM

February 21, 2011

Where's the Socialism?

Arguments about "socialism" tend to become mired in definitions, rather than substance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

February 15, 2011

Polarized Politics

The political deck may be shuffling and separating, and it's probably a good thing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

January 15, 2011

A Promise to Watch For

Congressional Republicans have promised fairness and openness... promises worth keeping track of.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 PM

January 12, 2011

Tea Going Forward

The Tea Party should resist the usual lures of power and keep its priorities local and pervasive.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:06 AM

January 11, 2011

When Who You Are Is an Insult

Simply by describing his life and biography, John Loughlin was "gay baiting" according to gay activists.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

December 30, 2010

Dealing with the Second Primary

Runoff elections would be a healthy introduction to Rhode Island politics.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

December 27, 2010

Not Back to the Partisan Script

Pundits and politicians should think twice before concluding that the nation is back to politics as usual.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 PM

December 3, 2010

Land and Money

A number of relatively conservative states receive a lot of stimulus funding per capita because they don't have a lot of per capita to go around — they've got relatively small populations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:27 AM

November 28, 2010

Money Out, Money In

Why do the Democrats oppose big-money campaign contributions when they benefit more from them?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:44 AM

November 24, 2010

Not So Out There, After All

Is President Obama a socialist? Need you ask?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 20, 2010

I'm Sure Nothing Like This Goes on in Rhode Island

Curious happenings in Alaska's Senate ballot counting suggest that corruption is all about incumbency.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:53 AM

November 19, 2010

A Cautionary Note for Republicans

U.S. House Democrats appear to be locked in a downward liberal-base spiral, as the retention of Nancy Pelosi in her leadership role illustrates. Republicans should take note of the trap.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 16, 2010

A Moratorium on Controversy Requires Postponement of Change

Libertarian types are asking social conservatives to sublimate their issues to economic concerns. It's reasonable in principle, but I'm suspicious that it's really what they're hoping for.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

November 12, 2010

Non-War Off the Battlefield

The government should not engage in assassination, certainly not without explicit permission via due process and most definitely not targeting its own citizens.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:16 AM

November 9, 2010

Winning Without Winning

Republicans may not have won the U.S. Senate, but their results weren't so shabby, nonetheless.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:51 AM

November 4, 2010

What Will the President Do?

Have Obama and the Democrats learned their lesson? That depends on whether they're striving for the expected degree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

November 1, 2010

The Basic Structure of a Voting Plan

Tomorrow, we must change government calculations at every level.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

October 25, 2010

Playing the "Shove It" Card

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio's outburst saying that President Obama can "shove" his endorsement surely wasn't an outburst so much as a calculation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM

Context Makes Opinions of Facts

Projo PolitiFact analyst Cynthia Needham is at it again, abusing the concept of context to assist a Democrat Congressional candidate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

Being Balanced Means Being Relevant

It's no mystery why Rhode Island is treated as politically irrelevant: In a typical election year, everybody knows which way our votes are going to go.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:40 AM

October 14, 2010

The Shadow on the Ballot

Some aspects of local political campaigns strike me as odd.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 PM

October 10, 2010

What the President Thinks Is Inexcusable

President Obama has recently characterized two things as "inexcusable": Declaring 9/11 conspiracy theories in the heart of Manhattan and not helping Democrats win the upcoming elections.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:02 AM

October 9, 2010

Where Freedom Must Be Won

People must be taught to appreciate freedom before they can procure and maintain it, politically.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:27 PM

October 8, 2010

Even the Comedians Can't Ignore the President's Foibles

Jon Stewart progresses in his willingness to shine a comedic light on President Obama — or his inability not to do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

October 6, 2010

Nancy Driggs Sums Up a Campaign's Rationale

Sometimes, local politicians can best enunciate the reason for running for public office at all. Republican RI House of Representatives candidate Nancy Driggs did just that at a fundraiser on Saturday.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:58 AM

September 30, 2010

The Unthrilling Election

Why does there seem to be little excitement surrounding this year's election cycle in Rhode Island? Matt Allen and I discuss.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:58 AM

September 29, 2010

The Straight Line Crosses Political Groupings

Changes in legal thought, relevant to federalism, illustrate how political groupings shift over time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:28 AM

September 27, 2010

Willingly Distracted from the Real News

The Providence Journal was quick to report on mock Congressional testimony by Stephen Colbert, but has yet to cover testimony that Obama's Department of Justice has a racial litmus test.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

September 22, 2010

A Government-Everything Complex

The number of issues that can pile into a defense policy bill (which includes raises for the troops) is evidence that government should be kept small and narrow in its authority.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:25 AM

September 15, 2010

Keep the Bugs Out

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coming to RI to stump for Lincoln Chafee in his candidacy for governor. We can only hope that he brings neither bedbugs nor nanny state policies with him.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

September 14, 2010

A Primary Night Reminder

The lesson of the Tea Party threat to not-conservative-enough Republicans is that Americans have figured out that the GOP won't halt the growth of government, just advance it more slowly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:47 PM

Maybe I'm Too Cynical, But...

It's a bit unreasonable to expect candidates for governor to know the nuances of federal healthcare legislation if we don't expect legislators to know them before making such regulations the law of the land.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

So That Nobody Hasn't Been Warned

Travis Rowley's pamphlet, The Rhode Island Republican, offers a reminder of what we face at the ballot box, this year.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:13 AM

September 7, 2010

The Presidents on the President

An artistic representation of what the U.S. presidents of the past would think of Barack Obama's performance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:50 PM

The Silent Majority Isn't Static

The "silent majority," by definition, is not partisan.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

September 5, 2010

Barely "Factual"

Do tax cuts inspire huge economic growth? The Providence Journal's fact-checking team says "no." I say they're not heeding their own evidence.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:08 PM

September 3, 2010

When Democrats Sound Like Democrats

On the one hand, it's disappointing to hear how very narrow the range of opinions in the Democrat mainstream is; on the other, it's disappointing to hear even debate moderators ask Democrat centrists why they're Democrats at all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:33 AM

August 27, 2010

Fighting Tyranny Inherently Breaks the Rules

The ugly situation in Central Falls is getting uglier, with the city council hiring an independent lawyer against the wishes of the city's new receiver-king and with no plan to pay the bill.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:18 AM

August 11, 2010

Spills, Agendas, and Money

Why do we hear much about wars for oil, when there's an excuse to decry them, but not so much from the same circles when an American President manipulates the energy industry and extracts private-sector money to plug the holes thus created?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:53 AM

August 6, 2010

Pelosi's Word

If anybody actually believed Nancy Pelosi's intention to operate by a "Word-based" public policy (as in the Son of God), she surely wouldn't get away with claiming to do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

July 20, 2010

Obama in Two Acts... or Not

Folks on the political right have different views of President Obama's current positioning. I'm of the opinion that we're all focusing a bit too closely on him as a key figure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

July 16, 2010

The Question Is Whether It's Curable

Some comments from the co-chairmen of the president's debt and deficit commission lead some to think that we're being set up for massive tax increases. That possibility raises questions of a nation-defining sort.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:33 AM

July 14, 2010

A Faulty Concept of Government

Local columnist Joe Baker has a badly flawed understanding of government, but at least he provides a good jumping off point for correcting common conceptual problems.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:41 PM

July 10, 2010

Planning Their Moves for After the People Speak

Rumors are that the Democrats are saving a liberal wish list for imposition between this year's elections and next year's new Congress. They should be made to realize that consequences can follow them beyond their de-elections.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:00 PM

Complication Underlies the Conservative Critique

Jeffrey Friedman thinks everybody has been wrong in assessing the financial breakdown; I think it's closer to the truth to say that everybody has been right.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:00 PM

June 19, 2010

It's the Authority, not the Science

Did anybody really doubt that the Obama Administration would ignore scientists when doing otherwise would force it to change its position?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:40 AM

June 11, 2010

Weakness and Blame

Is hypocrisy in a politician — specifically, President Obama — objectionable in itself, or is it the moral and practical weakness that hypocrisy reveals that makes it such a biting charge in contemporary politics?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

June 9, 2010

An Establishment Rebel in the State House

RI Rep. David Segal (D., Providence), now running for Congress, is a political insider in the deepest sense and is not what the government needs, just now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

May 19, 2010

The Obligation of Participation

Plato has words that all Rhode Islanders should consider.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

May 10, 2010

Going Negative on the Public

Rob Long imagines negative ads that the Democrats could run against... the American people.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:04 AM

Move Left for Lefties, Right for Righties

Judging from a Providence Journal report, RI's candidates for governor adjusted leftward for a left-wing audience.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 AM

May 5, 2010

Not Letting Division Define the Discourse

The Log Cabin Republicans are a welcome addition to the RIGOP, but it should not become the case that intra-Republican disputes between traditionalists and the Log Cabins are a matter of bigotry versus tolerance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM

April 29, 2010

Interesting Poll Results

It looks like even Rhode Island might be crossing an objective center line in politics, from left to right.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:29 AM

April 16, 2010

The Common Wisdom of the Newsroom

The race card has become a broad shield for the president and is apparently deeply held common wisdom among the news media. Not surprisingly, they're missing the real storyline.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:56 AM

April 7, 2010

UPDATE: Do You Know This Guy?

I was apparently mistaken about the guy with the objectionable sign at the 10th Amendment rally.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:00 PM

June 13, 2006

Federal Funds and Democrats' Dollars

Over on Anchor Rising, I've posted a piece that I wrote a while back but that somehow slipped through the cracks between publication and posting. It's about the red and blue sections of the country and the federal tax dollars that they give and receive.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:59 AM

December 21, 2005

Those Who Rewrite History Will Force Us All to Repeat It

Lately, I've been spending my commutes (which aren't anywhere near as long as they once were, but not nearly as short as working from home) switching back and forth between NPR and the local conservative-ish talk radio station, 630 WPRO. Highlighting the "ish" is that the station's news comes from ABC News, which does not, as far as I've been able to tell, tailor its output to suit likely WPRO listeners.

On Monday morning, the two sources of information actually made me feel nauseated with the emergence of the "impeachment" word so quickly with reference to this wiretapping mess, based largely on the guesswork of commentators about what the circumstances might or might not be. Sickening, the knowledge that political actors are leveraging the fact that a wall marked "Classified" hides the best conflicting arguments to make demagogic declarations, and the knowledge that people are almost certain to die as a result. Comparisons to the treatment of intelligence policies that preceded 9/11 are inescapable — as is the suspicion that another decade and another terrorist attack on our soil will spark further incredulous demagoguery that not enough was done to gather intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, nobody who gets their news from only the usual sources, at least those that I've heard, would know of the existence of analyses such as James Robbins's and Byron York's. The former, through the novel strategy of actually reading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), concludes that the President's actions were legal. The latter refutes those multiple scholars and experts whom I've heard on the radio claiming that the process of acquiring a FISA warrant couldn't possibly be considered arduous, even when addressing the fast-moving threat of terrorists utilizing modern communication methods.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:01 AM | Comments (2)

October 16, 2005

Did Google Flame the Plame?

I haven't been able to muster much interest in the whole Wilson/Plame thing since the post — from over two years ago — in which I noted that Wilson had named his wife in his own online biography. Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that these names are still floating around the public consciousness. But some wild speculation from John Podhoretz has added an interesting wrinkle to the story (as wild speculation is apt to do):

What if she then went to Google to look up stuff about Wilson and found his bio online at the Middle East Institute? That bio (which is no longer available on line--gee, I wonder why) featured the line: "He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters."

As I recall, the type on that bio was incredibly small and in sans-serif type. She may simply have misread the surname "Plame" as "Flame."

What if, therefore, she learned about Valerie Plame in part because of Wilson's own efforts to publicize his story from his own bio -- and then, as she was talking to Scooter Libby, threw the name "Valerie Flame" at him? Evidently he did not react to the name, either because he was being discreet or because he had never heard her referred to as anything other than "Wilson's wife."

What if, therefore, Judy Miller's source for the name "Valerie Plame" was....Google?

The small font recollection sounds familiar, so I thought I'd check the WayBackMachine cache for that page. As you can see, the font is perfectly legible. Of course, a lost or changed style sheet could account for that. You'll observe, too, that the same bio on the Corporate & Public Strategy Advisory Group's Web site is also legible. It may be, though, that the bio (of which Mr. Wilson was apparently fond) once appeared elsewhere, in the bumbling design of a novice Webmaster. It may also be that Ms. Miller's browser or monitor settings rendered any one of the bio's reprints poorly. So the Google theory needn't be discarded, if it helps the reader to make it through another round of press coverage.

As for me: back to ignoring this flickering Plame thing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:19 PM | Comments (1)

June 29, 2005

In Defense of "Compassionate Conservativism"

Nobody — not one single pundit — with posting rights to NRO's Corner could muster a defense of "compassionate conservatism"? Forget naked partisanship. Forget (for just a moment) principle! Not one NRO writer is willing to step into the fray simply for the sake of offering contrast to John Derbyshire's self-refuting, faux defense?

It is a fixed belief among millions of the stupider sorts of Americans -- college Humanities professors and the like -- that the Dems are the kind party, while the GOP is the unkind party. If you talk to ordinary citizens much, this comes through all the time. ...

Philosophically, intellectually, and metaphysically, "compassionate conservatism" is of course turkey poop. But this is p-o-l-i-t-i-c-s.

Perhaps what so irks me about this commentary's being left to stand for eleven hours (and counting) on conservatism's online hub is that the act of disagreeing would, in itself, accord with the points begging to be made in response: that there are indeed stark differences among those who are, on a mainstream scale, considered to be "conservatives." Moreover, if (as I, for one, believe) the liberalism of recent history is on the wane, then the next rift to define the culture wars will derive from those stark differences.

Whether libertarians renovate and restock the fallen strongholds of liberals or social conservatives grudgingly admit that they are the left-most side in a battle with Paleos, "compassionate conservatism" surely offers an early marker of the sides. It is not fowl feces to stake out ground on the field of sensibilities. Put differently, it is not necessarily a cynical ploy when a politician correctly identifies a space for which there is a constituency. This holds even if the catch phrase is not immediately associable with any particular initiatives; in "p-o-l-i-t-i-c-s," rhetorical constructions themselves have force.

Derbyshire's fellow citizens don't share his emphasis on Reason versus Unreason (with the latter covering both the hateful Amiri Baraka and some unspecified segment of intelligent-design advocates), his classification of such pursuits as English studies as "spurious academic disciplines," or his belief that science will triumph over "our instincts and preferences and faith" to prove that "our cherished beliefs about the Self are largely illusions," free will among them. Many Americans cherish those beliefs more than they cherish science; many prioritize helping others over being rational. And some among them require explanation of why particular solutions are more rational means of helping others than are alternatives that seem more direct.

Conservative solutions can be understandably counterintuitive to those not disposed or at liberty to follow political issues closely: guaranteeing fewer Social Security benefits to ensure more, restricting marriage to protect families, and going to war to secure peace, to name a few. Perhaps when one intends to advocate such things, it helps to create a perception that ensures more than two words of explanation before distrust kicks in. In a word, compassion.

It is without question that conservatives and (distinctly) Republicans have only recently begun to break the fog of stereotyping that places an undue burden on their visions for improving our mutual lot. But if impressions of a stupider sort still come through "all the time" in conversation with ordinary citizens, I can't help but feel that appeals to compassionate conservatism are more rational than the condescension that casts "a couple hundred thousand" ordinary citizens as dupes of "a snappy, easily-remembered slogan" or, worse, "pork wrapped up in schmalz."

If Jonah Goldberg isn't alone in synonimizing compassionate conservatism with "runaway spending and some of the worst lurches to the center of the Bush years," then I suggest that we expend some effort in explaining what the phrase ought to mean — not the least because the forces of dehumanization have already begun eyeing the banner of compassion for their own causes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:18 PM | Comments (12)

May 7, 2005

Another Both-And: Truth and Utility

Apart from qualities of intellect and literacy, what makes Andrew Sullivan so interesting to address is the fact that he's an excellent debater and, as such, is willing to take risks with his rhetoric. As when he approaches statism to declare the Constitution a "workable civil version" of religion, he's willing to give glimpses of cards that a more cautious man with his objectives might keep obscured.

The downside is the frustrated reaction that he can inspire in those who sense that his emphasis is on debate rather than intellect — that the principles under consideration aren't really open for discussion. Consequently, the statements that make up his arguments periodically give the impression of boxing steps rather than exposition. Once frustration has subsided, however, one can look to the areas around which Sullivan has danced to discover the heart of the matter. (Whether his contradictions and avoidance are deliberate or instinctive is a question of how much credit the reader wishes to give him, and it is one on which I vacillate.)

For example, in a recent response to Jonah Goldberg, Sullivan defines fundamentalism in relation to politics and dogma:

Just as Oakeshott very carefully allows a place within Western political thought for the politics of faith, so do I within what might be called conservatism. My worry is when that faith becomes fundamentalist, i.e. less interested in political arrangements than divine imperatives.

Yet, in the subsequent paragraph, he decries neocon cynicism as follows:

I have to say I'm not too enamored of outsiders backing fundamentalism in faiths they do not share for political purposes. But, hey, that's been the neocon position on religion for a long time: we don't believe it, but it's good for the masses.

In one breath, Sullivan worries that public faith is drifting from the political realm to the religious. In the next, he complains of those who treat religious groups as factions with which they may or may not be able to join for political purposes. But if the proper role of religion in the public sphere is to make "political arrangements" (a vexingly vague term in Sullivan's usage), then why would it be inappropriate for outsiders to encourage arrangements that suit them? Or, as Goldberg puts it, "Would Andrew support outsiders backing 'reform' in these faiths?"

The curiosity is that Sullivan — who believes that "it's best to leave religion out of" political questions of morality to maximize a freedom characterized by radical individualism — handles individuals strictly according to their roles within his political framework. Neocons "don't believe [in religion], but it's good for the masses." There are neocons, and there are religious people. Folks who fall within religious segments of the broader neocon category, as I probably do, will find Sullivan's analysis particularly discordant.

Because this separation is untenable beyond a very narrow range of argumentation, Sullivan must chase it across the boundary of religion, where it renders thus: The "central tenets" of religious groups involve faith in particular facts (e.g., that Jesus was the Messiah), but drawing social and political conclusions from those facts is "Evangelical fundamentalism and the creeping infallibilism of Wojtyla-Ratzinger." Apparently, it can be a matter of religious Truth that Jesus was the Word of God, but the implications of what He actually said must remain ever open for debate — within and outside of a particular "religious tradition."

Observers of modern society, generally, and Andrew Sullivan, specifically, understand that this distinction transfers all too easily to people's personal worldviews. What they believe is one thing; what they do is another. There are religious creeds, and there are personal preferences, and the former can only be said to be true to the extent that they do not infringe on the latter.

And here we reach the heart of the matter. Sullivan professes that his "first concern with any religious argument is: is it true? Not: is it useful?" What he does not explain is how one determines whether a religious argument is true or false. Long familiarity with his work leads me to think that his determination of Truth ultimately flows from his intuition and desires. Although I would join him in arguing that the faithful must incorporate these factors into their searches, I would suggest to Andrew Sullivan — as I would to the secular neocons whom he describes — that a religion's utility toward good ends is also evidence of its truth.

One point that Christians put forward in support of Jesus' divinity is His wisdom — that His teachings ring true, that His parables apply to our lives, that His instructions effect what He promises when followed. There is certianly space in this for ecumenism and "political arrangements"; others can act in accordance with the Truth of the Word without knowing (or admitting) that they do so.

There is also, we should all agree, room for the truth in politics. If a religion's prescriptions increase the measure of good in the world, then a rational society may very well be able to trace their functions in non-religious terms. Furthermore, a rational society founded in an ideal of pluralism can properly require advocates of one policy or another to do the work that such tracing entails. Only an irrational society would mark as invalid any policies that people of faith claim to be in accordance with God's will simply on the grounds that others disagree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:35 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2005

How the Other Half Sees It

It's mildly embarrassing to admit it, but while heaving 4 x 8ft. sheets of three-quarter inch plywood up two ladders and out onto a newly framed roof, today, I was very much looking forward to relaxing with my Long Trail Blackberry Wheat beer and seeing what happened on Survivor following a dramatic upset at the end of last week's episode. From that perspective, I can't help but wonder how much of a political hit the President's handlers calculate into their decision to disrupt folks' relaxation routines absent an Earth-shaking announcement.

Some may see it as an indication of the political disengagement that plagues our country, but I could live without the last-minute preemption of my daily mindless time. Oh, well. Television off. Back to work. Maybe tomorrow morning I'll look into what the President actually said.

ADDENDUM:
Well, Survivor was merely postponed until 9:00, so although the sit-down didn't coincide with my beer, I guess it all worked out for the best. At least I got my work done.

ADDENDUM II:
As they so often do, the folks on Survivor acted in their own self-interest rather than in harmony with the plot thread that had ensnared me for a few weeks. Guess I don't have to watch anymore. If the President would like to have another 8:00 p.m. press conference next Thursday, he has my permission.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:15 PM

March 27, 2005

Terri Who?

You know what I find to be the saddest thing? It is certainly saddening that Terri is dying in the way that she is, while her life could have continued filled with love, no matter how dimly she felt it, but that's not the saddest thing. Once all has been done, after all, Christians can return to our deepest beliefs, as are especially poignant today, and find comfort in the likelihood that her suffering will soon be exchanged for something immeasurably better than nothingness. More saddening is that we must continue on in the tempest that her ordeal helped to make so plain.

I mean absolutely no disrespect — quite the contrary — to the following bloggers, but in reading their posts in succession, it struck me how easily we make such matters all about our own preferred battles. The thought consolidated upon reading the following from Michele Catalano:

Who's behaving badly here? Who is making death threats to judges, throwing their kids out to the wolves to get arrested, sending horrible emails to people who disagree with them, calling us nazis and Hitlers and killers, claiming that we want to kill the disabled and meek and that only good Christians can understand what's at stake here? Or that if we disagree with you that means we must be ugly liberals at heart or you start attacking us in other ways, dragging people's sexuality into the fight?

Surely there are excesses even on the side of righteousness; that reality fits the pop storyline, as the word's nearly habitual combination with "self-" makes clear. Still, fairness requires that we take into account the side that's on the defensive, here. Would there be more obvious extremes on the other side if Governor Jeb Bush did in fact use his executive authority to flip the momentum? I don't know, but we have to add in, too, the possibility that it is an indication of a healthy society that those who believe an unjust killing is taking place are a bit more emphatic than those who believe that a questionable life is continuing.

But it's that last question from Michele that really highlights the quick sprint to be on the right side of the aggressor/victim line. Who's "dragging people's sexuality into the fight"? I apparently missed something that Michele has read, but I do hear an echo of Ol' Reliable Andrew Sullivan's approach:

What this case comes down to is the right of a spouse to determine his or her incapacitated spouse's fate in the absence of a living will. Civil marriage is indeed a unique and special legal bond. The social right believes this. But they only believe it when it suits them. If it can be used to marginalize and stigmatize gay couples, they are insistent. If it is an obstacle to their absolutist views on feeding tubes for human beings who have ceased to be able to feel, think or emote, then they discard it.

Writes Glenn Reynolds, in the post in which he links to Michele:

We've seen what the you're-the-enemy-if-you-don't-agree-with-me-on-everything approach has done for the left. It's disappointing to see people on the right imitating it.

Indeed it is, and I don't exempt myself from having had such thoughts and perhaps mildly (somewhere) having voiced them, but let's not pretend that only one faction of the right is thus infected. A post by John Cole comes to mind:

Sick bastards- defining losing your wife as a 'gain,' but all is fair in politics, right? And that is what this is- politics and symbolism on the right to life battlefield. I have said it before- this is jihad for these folks. They don't give two hoots in hell about Terri Schiavo- this is about abortion, religion, and most of all, about power and control. Their concept of morality is king, you see- your behavior in the bedroom, your choice in sexual partner, your desires about end of life decisions, abortion, even the medication you use to ease the pain when you are dying of terminal diseases- their religious text should have authority over you, and if all these 'small-government strict constructionists states right's advocates' have to attain that through government proxy, so be it. ...

As I write this, the Supreme Court has ruled against the reactionaries, adding yet another legal defeat (if these guys were a basketball team, they would be the LA Clippers), but I believe they will remain undeterred. God is on their side, you know, and they know what is best for all of us.

Bill Quick is beginning discussion of ways to neutralize or leave behind his socio-religiously driven co-partisans. And, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, derailing the Republican coalition is a recurring threat among moderates/libertarians. Furthermore, if I may throw in a tangential tidbit: my previous post, which noted similarities between a particular historical inquiry and details in a particular movie, drew a barely related attack on my religious beliefs.

The saddest thing, then, is that this particular issue, the life of Terri Schiavo, which touches deeply in many ways, has touched such vitriolic lines in modern politics. I don't know, frankly, that any current events issue — win or lose — has ever left me with such a feeling of distaste, perhaps mostly because the causes are in every direction. (The fact that Rev. Donald Sensing has been implicated as he has proves my side's culpability.)

My father — who stands back a bit farther from issues, emotionally, than I do — assures me that the political scene has always been thus, and he may be correct. When it reaches the pitch that it has during the past week, however, it becomes difficult to stomach. The Schindlers have apparently resigned themselves to loss, and I imagine that a great many of us, who invested ourselves emotionally in this issue years ago, are in the process of doing the same. I hope those who've landed on the other side in recent days, weeks, and months will, before writing or speaking further, take into account our long investment.

And I pray that I'm not alone in my distaste. That few will manage to hide behind a belief that the fault lies entirely elsewhere. That, whatever our positions, we can recognize that something pernicious has entered our collective discussion on all sides. And that those who've had the misfortune of providing the names and faces that the rest of us have pinned to our tempers — Terri, the Schindlers, and (yes) even Michael Schiavo — will find peace, perhaps even recompense.

We all believe ourselves to be reasonable and on the side of right. May we learn from the turmoil now roiling toward the horizon that focusing too intently on the light that we perceive can sometimes disguise the darkness to which we hold it in contrast.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:31 PM | Comments (6)

February 12, 2005

Wherefore Freedom of Speech

If this doesn't furrow your brow, well, it should:

"It was an unintended consequence of McCain-Feingold. Instead of going to the parties, rich people are putting money into these 527s in the dark of night," Lott told the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.

In other words, some of those rich people might be trying to throw out incumbents.

McCain is even more blatant about the incumbent-protection angle. As The Washington Times reported last week, "McCain said lawmakers should support the bill out of self-interest, because it would prevent a rich activist from trying to defeat an incumbent by directing money into a political race through a 527 organization."

"That should alarm every federally elected member of Congress," McCain said.

Indeed, it certainly does.

Subsequent to these catches, Ryan Sager raises an important point: grouping citizens under a "shadowy and devious" number — 527 — doesn't remove their guaranteed right to free speech. Now that all three branches of government have abandoned the Constitution in this respect, there's little incentive among our legislative rulers to correct their error.

Although Sager doesn't make this point, his closing hopes that a future Supreme Court will revisit the issue hint at a broader concern about that branch. In recent decades, SCOTUS has been better known for finding new rights in the Constitution. With its rubber stamping of "campaign finance reform," the court has effectively ignored a right.

The time may not be far off that American citizens have to reclaim their own government. Let's hope that it can be accomplished from within the system.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM

February 1, 2005

The Hope of Blogs and Outside Perspective

From blog comments on a panel discussion on another continent, Americans can read two accounts of the same moment, perhaps in such a way as to give us hope (however fleeting) of civil discourse and even partial agreement (or at least amiable disagreement) within our own borders. The first account comes from Jay Nordlinger, in the second installment of his journal from Davos:

[Rep. Barney] Frank is very gung-ho on the protection of Taiwan, and on basic rights for the Chinese. He makes no bones. And he won't let anyone get away with talk about "different styles of democracy." Democracy is democracy, he says, essentially — sure, there are variations, but there are common elements, too, and if you don't have those, you don't have something worthy of the name: democracy.

I have noted this before, in my Davos jottings over the years: In this atmosphere, such Democrats as Sander Levin, Joe Biden, and Barney Frank can come off as John Foster Dulles.

Alyson Bailes, at one point, says that she is not worried about China or Iran, as some of the rest of us are. Oh? says Frank. About whom are you worried, then? She answers, "Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel." (At least she said Syria.) Really, says Frank — you're more worried about Israel than about Iran or China?

And then from the congressman himself:

... as I listen to criticisms of the U.S. from some others, the degree to which I support American policy in the broadest sense, and the values I believe we embody, becomes clear to me intellectually and emotionally.

For example, when a Chinese representative essentially dismissed the notion that there are fundamental democratic precepts by which China's governance can be measured, and talked of an alternative form of democracy - apparently unlike any the world has ever known - I had to voice my complete skepticism and support for the western-type of democracy she denigrated.

Even more strikingly, when a British speaker expressed the idea that China and Iran were admirable countries as sources of regional stability, I had to ask her what countries she considered bad ones. When she responded with a list of negatively-rated nations consisting of Syria, Iraq and Israel, I was jolted by the gap that existed between me and someone whom I first saw as something of an ideological ally.

If only our representatives (in the general sense) around the world could bring back to all Americans the outside perspective — the experience that we've more in common with each other than internecine battles might lead us to believe. Although, from reading Nordlinger's other journals, I wonder whether Frank isn't unique among his own.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 AM

January 28, 2005

Sealing Off Their Towers, for Lack of a Footnote

Still perplexed by the fact that folks now apparently think it indicates corruption for unabashed advocates of particular causes to simultaneously further their ends through writing and consulting, I'm merely going to offer the suggestion that writers, even pure bloggers, ought to be very careful about how much ground they put between themselves and the accused. First the details of the two latest incidents to spark the trend, as provided by Eric Boehlert of Salon:

... HHS had paid syndicated columnist and marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher $21,000 to write brochures and essays and to brief government employees on the president's marriage initiative. ...

... [Michael] McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences.

We can argue about the appropriate degree of disclaimers that opinion writers — opinion writers — must make about consulting work, speaking gigs, and organizational picnics either within or appended to related columns. Kate O'Beirne thinks that, by disclosing her work, Gallagher "wouldn't have looked conflicted, she would have looked even more credentialed as a recognized expert on marriage." Michelle Malkin and La Shawn Barber think, in the words of the latter, that "failing to disclose you're being paid to push a 'product,' with taxpayer's money, is the problem, especially when readers value your opinion and 'independent' viewpoint."

Although the columns were not the "products" for which either Gallagher or McManus were paid, that's a worthwhile sentiment. But I encourage those who share Malkin and Barber's reaction to consider this aspect of the Salon piece very carefully:

Responding to the latest revelation, Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, announced Thursday that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media. ...

"We live in a complicated world and people wear many different hats," he says. "People who have expertise might also be writing columns. The line has become increasingly blurred between who's a member of the media and who is not. Thirty years ago if you were a columnist, then you were a full-time employee of a newspaper. Columnists today are different."

Those lines are indeed blurring. In fact, it is increasingly the case that one can be a "columnist" without actually writing a "column." A few controversies down the road, and experts who wish to be eligible for government contracts will be well advised to abstain from blogging.

That wouldn't represent a tremendous loss to society (yet), although it would surely diminish one of the most beneficially revolutionary aspects of the blogosphere. What it illustrates, however, is that, as with the new HHS policy, public experts are being corralled back behind their closed office doors. That's not a step toward the open contextualization of experts' and writers' work that has become increasingly desirable.

At least for we on the right, who've only recently begun to find ways around a mainstream media that has largely shut us out, unblurring those lines would be a step backwards. Folks such as Gallagher and McManus will still be able to take government jobs, they'll still be able to promote their causes, but when it comes to regularly reaching a mainstream audience, they'll have to be filtered through the ink of professional journalists.

That's not the only retrenchment lurking between the lines of the Salon piece:

The problem springs from the failure of both Gallagher and McManus to disclose their government payments when writing about the Bush proposals. But one HHS critic says another dynamic has led to the controversy, and a blurring of ethical and journalistic lines: Horn and HHS are hiring advocates -- not scholars -- from the pro-marriage movement. "They're ideological sympathizers who propagandize," says Tim Casey, attorney for Legal Momentum, a women's rights organization. He describes McManus as being a member of the "extreme religious right."

Cutting through various pretensions, the essential difference between experts who are "advocates" and experts who are "scholars" is that scholars remain "objective" nonparticipants, while advocates draw on what they've learned about important topics and work to apply it. As with journalism, exposing the deceit of "objectivity" has been one of the successes of the growing ethos that has — perhaps taken to an extreme — tripped up Gallagher and McManus.

Indeed, many of us have rightly argued that it is better to have our experts and our columnists completely open about what it is they advocate, and without regard to payments from the government, there has been absolutely no question about what that means in the cases of Gallagher and McManus. I happen to agree that somebody who has worked, for pay or gratis, for a group or on a policy ought to note as much when writing about that group or that policy.

But while conservatives argue at that specific level, everybody else is rushing right past it, as the Nashua Telegraph proves in an editorial to which Malkin links:

[Armstrong] Williams and Gallagher, if they prefer government service, could quit their jobs as commentator and columnists, and start up their own advocacy agency on behalf of federal programs.

In Gallagher's case, she's already such an advocate, and nobody who pays any attention can fail to know that. We all suffer — in my opinion — if we return to the day of the ostensible purity of the "independent commentator" and the "objective" scholar. So let's be careful about how much we concede in our rush to insist on footnotes.

ADDENDUM:
Marriage Debate Blog has an interesting roundup of commentary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:16 PM | Comments (6)

January 23, 2005

Is a "Clarification" Always "Backpedaling"?

Joe Gandelman, linked on Instapundit, points to a Washington Post article, about reaction to the inaugural address and some response from the White House, and asks:

Did Lincoln's, JFK's, FDR's, Ronald Reagan's, Dwight Eisenhowers, Bill Clinton's advisors have to do this?

I'd wager that similar pieces could be found (albeit lacking this revolutionary Internet thing to take the spin and run with it), but I'll leave it to others to answer the historical question. In fact, I'll add my own question to willing researchers' list: Did Lincoln, JFK, FDR, Reagan, Eisenhower, and Clinton face a media environment in which one of the country's by-far most significant newspapers would actually print a sentence such as the following?

In the 21-minute speech, Bush mentioned neither Iraq nor terrorism but defined what he called a generations-long struggle to encourage democracy to make America safe from terrorist attack.

One hears the echo of that clamorous parsing whereby Bush was found to have somehow conveyed that attack from Iraq was "imminent" even as he argued that we shouldn't wait until attack was imminent. Now, apparently, that wily Texan can somehow fail to mention terrorism even as he defines a policy "to make America safe from terrorist attack."

I may be predisposed to side with the President, here, but it seems a bit harsh to decry "a failure of... clear communication of a message," in Gandelman's words, when advisors find it necessary to explain that statements do not mean the opposite of what they say.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 PM

January 20, 2005

Callousness Back Home

Lane Core reports that "the president of the United States laughed & joked — all smiles! — while US soldiers were dying in battle overseas." Not only that, but the Commander in Chief prayed on behalf of the "struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization" (emphasis added).

Wait until the dour media and the ACLU get wind of this!

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:20 PM | Comments (4)

January 6, 2005

Astonishment as a Disguising Fleece

PROEM:
For a layout that you may find easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


Responding (at least in part) to a question of mine that Jonah Goldberg conveyed in the Corner, another reader emailed him:

The stories on the FBI documents were front page news in every major paper. It is somewhat astounding to me that the folks at the Corner seem unaware that they exist.

Partial defense of my astounding unawareness can be found right at the beginnings of the first two articles to which the emailer links. One:

FBI Agents Complained of Prisoner Abuse, Records Say
* Documents obtained by ACLU show continued reports of mistreatment in Iraq and Cuba. ...

WASHINGTON — FBI agents have lodged repeated complaints of physical and mental mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, saying in reports that military officials have placed lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears and humiliated Arab captives by wrapping Israeli flags around them, according to new documents released Monday.

The FBI records, which are among the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government, also include instances in which bureau officials said they were disgusted by military interrogators who pretended to be FBI agents as a "ruse" to glean intelligence from prisoners.

Two:

At least 10 current and former detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have lodged allegations of abuse similar to the incidents described by FBI agents in newly released documents, claims that were denied by the government but gained credibility with the reports from the agents, their attorneys say.

Jonah puts it perfectly: "I don't think folks at the Corner were unaware of such reports, just that anecdotes seem to be translated into data pretty easily." Anybody who's paid attention has seen the various news reports about detainee allegations, NGO indignation, and accusations–cum–turf battles. (Although, it was entirely possible to miss one or the other amid the flooded zone of torture-related Bush hunting.) My question was in response to this from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay.

Rather than sift through myriad exercises in spin scattered over many months in order to find the details to which Sullivan does not point, I thought I'd ask whether the well-read folks at the Corner knew of something recent and/or comprehensive. Let's recall that Sullivan had quite a reaction when the Abu Ghraib story was new, and that he placed it right at the beginning of his May 12 New Republic piece, "That's the Ticket: The Kerry-McCain Dream."

Given the various reasons for careful parsing, I was asking for an "official report" of the sort to which Rich Lowry linked:

Since the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military and security operations have apprehended about 50,000 individuals. From this number, about 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo have arisen. As of mid-August 2004, 155 investigations into the allegations have been completed, resulting in 66 substantiated cases. Approximately one-third of these cases occurred at the point of capture or tactical collection point, frequently under uncertain, dangerous and violent circumstances.

It is not moral callousness to suggest that it makes a difference whether the anecdotes about deformation via hot metal are to be found among the 145 incomplete investigations, among the approximately 44 substantiated incidents that did not occur under extreme conditions, or in some other status category. This is especially true when the discussion is taking place in the context of a contentious confirmation battle, which is itself playing out under extreme political conditions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 PM | Comments (2)

December 19, 2004

Is Everything a Legerdemain Set-Up?

I wish this additional information about the Rumsfeld's Armor Record controversy were surprising:

Q At the time of the question -- summarize this, now -- that unit that the kid was complaining about was mostly armored?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked.

Q If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. This was already an existing program.

Simply stunning. Shouldn't exact numbers have been in the very first articles about the armor-question incident? I don't imagine it would have been too difficult to track them down, and that is, after all, what journalists are supposed to do. It's almost as if there's an agenda involved that supercedes the truth and the presentation of an accurate perspective.

via Instapundit)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:35 PM

December 16, 2004

Clear as Kristol

Like Mark Levin, I'm unimpressed with Bill Kristol's Washington Post attack on Donald Rumsfeld:

Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has. President Bush has nonetheless decided to stick for now with the defense secretary we have, perhaps because he doesn't want to make a change until after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. But surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.

Contrast the magnificent performance of our soldiers with the arrogant buck-passing of Rumsfeld.

One gets the sense that he's got somebody already picked for the slot from which he would dislodge Donald Rumsfeld. Kristol is, after all, somewhat more than a mere pundit; he's a political player. It will be interesting to see who he believes would do a better job (assuming he feels it prudent to reveal the information).

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:08 AM | Comments (2)

November 22, 2004

The Wrong Man for the Right Role at the Wrong Time

John Derbyshire has posted two ten-reasons lists, one for Bush's reelection and one for Kerry's failure to be elected. I don't know how relevant this is, but the lists reminded me to post a thought that I had last night.

Because I hardly ever have time to sit in front of a television, these days, I've never watched the show American Dreams, which is set during the Vietnam era. Last night's episode, however, sucked me in. While the elder son — MIA and presumed by some of his family to be dead — limped his way through the jungles of Vietnam, his sister Meg accompanied her boyfriend to the local recruiting office to do some middle-of-the-night war protesting. To Meg's surprise, the boyfriend's pals began spreading gasoline around the place. After she'd stormed away, he threw a Molotov cocktail into the building.

The following day, Meg's uncle, a police officer, informed her that the boyfriend's pals' van was spotted at the scene, and that a snoozing janitor had been badly hurt in the fire. When confronted by Meg, the boyfriend lied about the extent of his involvement; when confronted by the uncle, he snidely brushed him off — the picture of malicious and recklessly superficial rebellion. Well, the thing of it was, throughout the scenes of this subplot, I kept thinking of John Kerry. (Here's a picture of Meg and the boyfriend; here's a picture of Kerry and John Lennon.)

Before the election, I read somewhere that the character of Jenny's abusive anti-war boyfriend in Forrest Gump was based on John Kerry (picture). Whether or not that's true (and I place no significant trust on its being so), it's certainly a connection that comes quickly to mind. Not so much based on character, because I know only Kerry's public persona of the time, but on the dress, the facial carriage, and the demeanor. Indeed, if the Forrest Gump character drew from Kerry at all, it was probably just the image, fleshed out with the author's own creative characterization, filling a necessary role in the plot.

However much some Americans like to reminisce about those times, I think all but the most jaded realize that there was a vicious dark side to the youth revolution. One need only see a picture of the young John Kerry for him to slip right into the script, fairly or not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 PM | Comments (5)

November 19, 2004

The Dark Places of Washington

Anybody daydreaming about the world of high-profile political appointments ought to read Tony Blankley's take on the audacity that President Bush has shown in appointing people who actually support his vision:

On the day after Gonzales' nomination, an old Justice Department hand told me that they were going to "eat Gonzales alive."

I know these people. They mean it. He better go over there with a battle-hardened Washington team. The only thing those senior 'crats respect is the cold-hearted exercise of brutal power by their political master. The battle at Justice will be similar to our battles in the Middle East. Any gestures of goodwill or cooperation by Gonzales will be seen as weakness and will have the same effect on the bureaucrats that blood has on the nostrils of a shark.

And please forgive this wordsmith his chuckles; I couldn't help but wonder whether the misspelling in the following paragraph is a sly effort to make a mildly vulgar metaphor somewhat dirtier:

Every entering secretary has a binary choice to make. Either turn over your manhood (or the female equivalent if the secretary is a woman) to the bureaucracy, in which case they will make you look good in Washington (so long as no one gets a peak at the vacancy in your nether parts); or prepare to be undercut by your own employees -- from the janitor to the senior civil servant in your building.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

November 3, 2004

Avoiding the Obvious

Michele Catalano is hosting a post-election limerick contest. Here's my entry:

Kerry gained fans through concession,
And learning the truth of depression
Let his stone visage crease —
Bet his bishop and priest
Both wish he'd concede at confession!

(So far, by the way, George is the poet to beat.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM

Nothin' to Blame

At least in my liberal neck of the woods, there's a whole lot of talk about the electoral college and abolishment thereof, both on talk radio and by the water cooler, so to speak. If that indicates anything, I'd say, it's a complete bafflement among Democrats about what to blame: Bush won the popular vote, too.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM | Comments (1)

Shocking No Matter the Outcome

I'm a bit astonished that the country's still this divided. At this moment, C-SPAN has Bush with 246 and Kerry with 196 and undeclared states as follows (leaving out Alaska [Bush] and Hawaii [Kerry]):

New Hampshire: Bush down 2%
Ohio: Bush up 3%
Michigan: Bush down 3%
Wisconsin: Bush down 1%
Minnesota: Bush down 7%
Iowa: Bush down 1%
New Mexico: Bush up 4%
Nevada: Bush down 1%
Washington: Bush down 5%

If counting were declared over now, Bush would win with 274 electoral college votes. But any one of these states could flip.

(Incidentally, I notice that C-SPAN called Cali before a single precinct was listed. At this moment, those 55 EC votes come down to a span of merely 7%, with only 14% of precincts reporting... ugh.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:43 AM | Comments (4)

November 2, 2004

New to the Game, but...

As of this writing, the C-SPAN map has 97% of Florida precincts reporting, and Bush has a 5% lead. Why can't they call it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM | Comments (2)

The Vote Has Been Cast

I just voted; there was actually a line, which I thought odd, because my polling place is just a little out-of-the-way spot. (The line gave a few folks the opportunity to discuss loudly their reasons for hope that Kerry will win.) However, I remembered today that this is only my second time voting — and my first vote for President.

Blogging has made me feel as if I've been following politics for a long time, but it's an illusory sense. I registered to vote shortly after September 11, 2001. Can't help but wonder how many folks like me there are out there, who've spent the past three years planning to cast their first Presidential votes for Bush.

As Tim Cavanaugh points out in Reason, some liberals who looked likely to vote for Bush have had ample time to talk themselves out of doing so. Are such people representative? I'm not sure.

On my way home, I listened to talk host Dan Yorke on the radio, and he was making a big deal over the vote of one of his call screeners. Jeff Wade was undecided as late as yesterday. Almost exactly a year ago, Jeff came on the air during a morning-show discussion of same-sex marriage:

Kass's call-screener, a young guy named Jeff, came on the air and ranted about how he's sick of sitting there listening to "crazy" people quote from the Bible. "Just go away," he said. "Go live in Bibleland."

Well, with the ballot in hand, Jeff went for W. I won't even hazard a guess as to how common such votes will be, but my gut tells me that they'll number more than the libs-gone-limp whom Cavanaugh highlights. Add another layer: a member of my wife's family who is generally a reliable vote for the Democrats (tending to take the party-line option, as I recall) decided to stay home today because he didn't know for whom to vote.

I know these are just extremely limited anecdotes, but they are in Rhode Island. I guess we'll find out whether they echo in less solidly blue states.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:22 PM | Comments (1)

November 1, 2004

Outrun by the Campaigns

It is increasingly clear that the election will have come and gone before I manage to find time to offer substantive commentary on the links that have been accumulating in my bookmarks. So, while the fever is high, I thought I'd just unload them all in one post.

The Command Post is going all out to define election coverage, blog-style.

You've surely seen it already, but Mark Steyn's piece predicting (banking on) a Bush victory is truly must-reading. (By the way, what's up with the "contains nuts" cartoon that accompanies it?)

As I noted on Into the Ether in the left-hand column, I recall reading somewhere that John Lennon, as radical as he was, often voted for the conservative candidate — or whichever would allow him keep more of his riches. I thought of that while reading Jay Nordlinger's continuing ponderation of the likelihood that some proportion of Kerry/Edwards-button wearers will actually be voting Bush/Cheney. Jonah Goldberg wondered something similar the other day; maybe people are just uncomfortable talking about their Republican intentions, even to anonymous pollsters. Jonah also reminds readers of the roar that never came from Howard Dean's legion of young voters. (Wouldn't it make your year, though, to catch Kerry in a similar primal scream to Dean's?)

On the lighter side, two more links that you've probably come across and should click if you haven't yet are the Daily Recycler's Bush v. Edwards hair-styling video and Frank J.'s illustrated argument for Bush.

The Providence Journal backs Bush! All that really matters is the War on Terror, and as Glenn Reynolds points out it's simply wrong to see the Bush administration as a failure and/or a potential Kerry administration as a likely success in this regard.

On the Bush side, Charles Krauthammer argues that U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were the top two "most astonishing geopolitical transformation[s] of the last four years." Difficulties and errors are inevitable when you're trying to change the world for the better, because such a change isn't agreeable to those who profit from the pain of others.

On the Kerry side, Jeff Jacoby describes the sparkling mirror that is John Kerry's character.

I can't help but wonder what the conversation and the polls might be like, right now, had the Democrats put forward somebody like Gephardt or Lieberman. What they seem to have tried is to put forward a Howard Dean who could fit into Lieberman's rhetorical wardrobe. I don't think it's going to work.

I loved this AP headline a few days ago: "Bad News Dogs Bush As Election Nears." Gee, I hadn't noticed. Wonder why that is...

For a little media assistance, James Robbins suggests some good stories that are there for the taking in Iraq, specifically. I like the one about "the Iraqi contractor who brought his irrigation project 25-percent under budget and returned the unused money."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:07 PM | Comments (2)

October 29, 2004

Lock the Doors November 3

I agree with Lane Core; despite all hopes and prayers to the contrary, I'm not confident that a Democrat/Leftist hoard that has stoked its own flames to the heights that they've currently reached will be in a mood to wait out another presidential term when they lose:

Physical violence and outrageous lies: those are not the tactics of people who are confident they're going to win. Nor are they, I think, the tactics of people who are concerned that it's going to be a close race. They are the tactics of people who are pretty sure they're going to lose.

And they are not, most importantly, the tactics of people who drop such tactics and go back to work or school when they have lost.

There's only a split-second hair's breadth of delusion between aiming a car at a politician and doing so without swerving at the last minute. It may be that electoral defeat will deflate the passions, but I tend to doubt it. Violence is more likely. Wild political attacks and unsubstantiated attempts to impeach President Bush would seem a safe bet. With so many people having hammered references to Nazis and the end of civilization into desperate, immediate rallying cries, they couldn't all just throw up their hands and go back to a low simmer.

ADDENDUM:
It seems to me this represents another warning against voting for Kerry in the hopes of changing the Democrats and their supporters. A victory will vindicate the anything-goes campaign strategy and will add a juicy reward for the years-long hatred high of the liberal rank and file. As seems usually to be the case, appeasement is not a long-term solution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (17)

Heir to Nixon and Carter

Be sure to check out Rhode Islander Carroll Andrew Morse's TCS response to Sullivan and Hitchens:

Sullivan and Hitchens are correct in their assertion that winning the Presidency will give John Kerry and the Democratic Party a renewed seriousness about dealing with the security of the United States. But they are mistaken in assuming that a renewed seriousness will automatically translate into the pursuit of victory over terrorism. The office of Presidency did not make Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter, leaders honestly concerned about the security of the United States, serious about winning the primary global conflict of their era. John Kerry is the heir to that tradition.

Hitchens may be another matter, but I still think Sullivan's argument is getting much more serious treatment than it deserves.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

October 28, 2004

"W" Is for "Ward Off"

A couple of weekends ago, my wife, daughters, and I met with her brother's family, including two more children who never knew the 1900s, as well as two of my sister-in-law's friends to traverse a jack-o'-lantern trail in Newport. As we crossed the street to the entrance, whom should I spot heading our way but Patrick Kennedy. Almost to himself, he said, "Oh, little ones"; the utterance was followed by a momentary blank look, as if his brain was loading the script for dealing with toddlers.

In that moment, I looked toward my wife, and her expression asked, "You don't have to say anything, do you?" I smiled.

But when I turned back toward my district's representative in the United States Congress, he was gone. Apparently, he'd spotted my sister-in-law's friend's W. hat and decided it prudent to veer away.

In today's Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger shares some notes from his emailbox regarding political buttons, and while some allude to dirty looks, nobody has mentioned political accoutrements' use as congressman-bane. For some wry bloggers, of course, that might be a reason not to wear any.

ADDENDUM:
Just to highlight one of Mr. Nordlinger's shared emails (brackets his):

"Jay, I live in the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco — Walnut Creek, to be exact. The Kerry-Edwards clipboard patrol is often soliciting donations at the local supermarket. I ignore them, except this one time. A very young, very pretty college-coed type asked as I passed by, 'Will you help defeat Bush with a donation?' I replied, 'No thanks, but I am glad to see some younger citizens getting involved in politics.' Since I'm over 50, I felt it was an okay remark, without condescension. Her reply was quick and chilling: 'Bush's concentration camps will be filled with the Jews, then the blacks!' Her eyes had become dark flint and her expression was pure malevolence. For only the third time in my life, I was left utterly speechless. [The letter-writer does not say what the other two times were.] I shook my head and walked slowly to the car. What in G*d's name had been poured into that young lady's head? Did she even know what she was saying?

"I'm voting (for Bush) like my life depends on it, and sending the NRA another donation."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:46 AM

October 23, 2004

Equivalence Between Certainty and Judgment

I realize I'm being a little unfair to David Morrison by not emphasizing his subsequent comments about the death penalty. However, the following paragraph, from a post decrying the uneven religiosity of political candidates, struck me as pretty typical of this sort of equivalence:

Kerry: I believe abortion is wrong but I will press a pro-abortion agenda as President. Bush: As a society we have obligations to our poorest citizens and our senior citizens but I am not going to oppose a federal law that forbids the Medicare program from negotiating with drug companies for more affordable drug prices.

The Kerry line is clear: abortion is wrong, but not only won't I fight against it, I'll fight for it. The Bush line, on the other hand, dives into the mire of healthcare policy. Allow me to rephrase it in accordance with my considered conclusion about that particular matter:

As a society we have obligations to our poorest citizens and our senior citizens, so I am not going to oppose a federal law that forbids the Medicare program from making the pharmaceutical industry an all-or-nothing business and/or driving the prices so low that companies will exit the market.

As I understand, the law to which David refers still allows regional subdivisions of Medicare to negotiate as desired — just not as a single, government-created behemoth in the market.

Catholics, in particular, seem to have an underlying desire to see their moral sense as transcending politics, and one relatively simple way to enable that self-impression is to split the difference between any two parties or candidates. Unfortunately for that strategy, it will sometimes happen that one side is overwhelmingly preferable to the other. When that's the case, we might find it easier to insist on the existence of substantial disagreement, rather than wonder whether isolated incidents of conflict mean we've misjudged specific issues.

An inclination to equate clear and dire contradictions with intricate policy judgments ought to give us reason for pause.

ADDENDUM:
I didn't delve into the death penalty aspect, here, because it raises far more difficult questions, having to do with differences between various branches of Christianity as well as uncomfortable comparisons of magnitude and guilt with respect to death. Still, although I move further from support for the practice the more I consider it, some form of legalized death penalty still seems to me a matter of judgment — far more so than abortion, at any rate.

After all, when the second criminal rebukes the other that they had been "condemned justly, for the sentence [they] received corresponds to [their] crimes," Jesus did not contradict him.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 PM | Comments (3)

October 16, 2004

The King and the Duke Ride Again

The reference in this post's title is, of course, to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The impression of Kerry as the King and Edwards as the Duke only grows stronger with each passing week — a couple of old-pro con men taking advantage of the young and a frightened minority as they endeavor to fleece rich and poor alike out of their money. You've surely seen it, but the hefty rotten vegetable that Charles Krauthammer tossed onto the stage today is worth another look:

This is John Edwards on Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

Even if you're inclined to overlook any number of outrageous comments from the Democrats, don't we have, here, some indication of what sort of leaders — what sort of diplomats, what sort of executives — this pair would be once in office?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 AM

October 13, 2004

Re: The Debates

Sorry, folks. I take some comfort in a belief that my blog persona isn't such that readers consider commentary on events like these debates obligatory, but I still should confess that I've turned the television off. I watched the first half, but then my daughter distracted me, and when I returned fifteen minutes later, I just couldn't pick up the thread.

In part, I'm just plain busy; Wednesdays have bad nights for me. More importantly, though, the candidates have slipped into predictable mode. Kerry can't hide behind false hawkishness in a domestic debate. I guess it became an option not to watch when Kerry's answers began giving me flashbacks of Clinton's SOTUs.

Frankly, I hit the off button feeling optimistic. Political business as usual will benefit the President, I'd say, whether or not the average viewer can clear his or her head from all the cha-ching-cha-chings underlying Kerry's every word, whether or not they smirk at Kerry's strange insistence that increasing government involvement in healthcare isn't "government healthcare" because the government doesn't force you to take a cheaper program. (It's the magical health insurance program! The government just gives you more choices. Other programs won't do that, you see; mean companies insist that you not have choices because, well, because... did Kerry mention that he's going to cut taxes and increase the minimum wage?)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:30 PM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2004

The Unstated Stakes

Jay Nordlinger reminds us of the stakes of this election:

This is how it could happen next month. Americans may vote for this tough-minded, articulate hawk we see in the debates — the guy who looks uncannily like Senator Kerry, the longtime senator from Massachusetts. And then, when he's in, that whole crowd will be in: Charlie Rangel, the Deaniacs, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, all of them. It'll be their victory.

Yikes.

Yikes is right.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:40 PM | Comments (5)

Reformulating a Party via Guilt Trip

Jonah Goldberg posted an email earlier today posing a question that, as Jonah mentions, one hears often from homosexuals with some conservative leanings on particular issues:

What's a gay conservative to do? See, I agree with republicans on things like low taxes, free market reform, privatization, smaller government, foreign policy, and the war on terror. Unfortunately. the party caters to a constituency that pretty much defines me as an abomination and takes every effort to cast the "homosexual agenda" as anti-family and anti-american. In election years, this rhetoric becomes even more hateful, and now there's an entire constitutional amendment trying to keep me in my place.

Upon taking a moment to notice that the emailer is pretty much defining religious/social conservatives as hateful and bigotted, it becomes clear that he wishes to play the guilted compassion card in such a way as to marginalize an opposing, but larger and more historical, Republican constituency. It's not an argument from principle; it's an argument from emotional pressure. Granted, that's an approach that has accumulated undue force in modern times, but how does one respond to the following except with a wry "boo hoo":

They make it crystal clear they don't care about my vote under any circumstances. It's like the republicans labor under the illusion that we will all eventually go away and not have to be dealt with.

That's an intriguing construction. The first sentence is flatly untrue; Republicans would welcome "the gay vote" — as long as it is based on shared principles rather than capitulation to demands that the party simply cannot afford politically. Then, contrasting with the woe-is-me appeal, the second sentence offers a veiled warning. That implicit refusal to compromise isn't the only thing that's veiled; note what also lies behind the gay rhetoric:

On the other hand, I disagree with almost every "non-social" policy (I agree on abortion, death penalty, gay rights, and school vouchers with the democrats; pretty much whatever the religous wing of the republicans is for, i oppose) on the democratic platform.

The parenthetical at first caught my attention because it made me muse at the complete social platform with which the "gay thing" seems so often aligned. But there seems to be a deeper current, here. The complaint is of gay conservatives' political homelessness, and the plea is to treat homosexuals as people — as people who matter enough to address. However — if I may disassociate a word from a cliché — the homosexuality appears to be a wedge to open the way for an entire worldview that is wholly incompatible with the religious conservative perspective. Since the orientation is taken as immutable, it follows that the opposing perspective must go.

This factor plays in multiple directions, but it very often seems that sexual matters have this effect. Encouraging a narrowly linear way of thinking that accords with strong urges, they allow fundamental shifts to pass as a matter of course, the gathering earthquake unnoticed beneath the rocking of the bed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:27 PM | Comments (6)

October 8, 2004

Three Points on the Debate

Well, the President was obviously much better today than he was in the last debate. What difference it'll make, I'm not inclined to guess. The folks on Fox News seemed to lean toward calling another tie. For my part, I continue to believe picking a winner on some sort of scoring scale misses the point. The question that I wish the pro pundits would begin to ask and answer is how much of the nonsense and maneuvering, obligatory and not, citizens are apt to see through.

Right at the beginning of the debate, I told my wife to look for a single question having to do with Senator Kerry's record. The President brought it up, to be sure, and there were a couple of questions that put Kerry on the (somewhat) defensive, but his record in government was apparently not an issue of concern.

The most egregious decision by the moderator — ABC's Charlie Gibson — was that final question: "Name three mistakes that you have made." It meant that John Kerry had the last word of the questioning phase specifically to talk about "three things" that the President had done wrong. What an opportunity! (I wonder if realizing how that looked inspired Gibson to ask Senator Kerry to offer his closing statement first.)

Depending on viewers' take on the whole debate, however, perhaps the question wasn't such a gift to Kerry. Even making every effort to correct for my partisanship, I have to say that Kerry's negativity seemed relentless throughout. Surely, some commentators will say that the dynamic that I'm noticing is that Kerry kept Bush on the defensive. But there were times when the questions were explicitly tailored for a positive answer — a "what will you do" — and rather than offer his position and then contrast it with the President's, he went on the attack and tagged some talk about "a plan" (again with the "plans") at the end of his response. We'll just have to wait and see how well that plays with the American people.

ADDENDUM:
By the way, just so's I can confirm what I thought my ears picked up: did John Kerry say that Americans have a right to have other Americans fund the murder of their preborn children?

ADDENDUM II:
Just a thought: if 2005 finds Republicans controlling the government again, Senator Chuck Hagel ought to suffer hugely. (Yes, I mean politically.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (3)

October 6, 2004

Self-Righteous Hatred

Last week, Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon linked to a piece by novelist E.L. Doctorow that struck me as among the most despicable bits of commentary that I'd yet read in this election season. However, my time is limited, and I decided that it was too limited to spend much of it worrying about every instance of a member of the cultural élite trying to get in on the completely repercussion-free bandwagon of declared moral superiority to the President and his drooling followers.

Well, the equation between the importance of commenting and the brevity of life began to shift when I received Doctorow's rant as an email forwarded by a friend and fellow local writer. Although the act will not very likely be repercussion-free, I simply couldn't shrug off my responsibility to reply, and I did so as follows:

To all,

I hesitate to reply to such things because, more often than not, the risk is of lost opportunity and (worse) of lost friendship. Still, on this one, I can't let it slide by without comment. As it happens, I thought to mention Doctorow's piece on my blog when the Providence Journal first put the novelist's words online, but neither time nor constitution allowed. Please, everybody, remove the following paragraph from all of Doctorow's flowing prose and consider its message:

"He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of he chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills — it is amazing for how many people in this country this President does not feel."

What a purely despicable thing to write. Is it among author/editor/professor Doctorow's talents to see into another man's soul? Is it in yours? If anything, I'm politically to George W. Bush's right; am I even worse in not being able to feel for the "million of us [ha!] who live in poverty"? Is it amazing for how many people in this country I do not feel? Am I spitting on the graves of the dead by intending to vote contrary to Rhode Island's laughable conformity and at least get W. on our state's tally?

You'll conduct yourselves toward me and toward the President however you're inclined. If you choose to follow the self-righteous chants of such as our friend E.L., then there's little that I can say to persuade you to see those of my inclinations as people rather than heartless warmongers and -profiteers. But were it not for the last-minute good graces of God, followed by 80-hour weeks of variegated work, my family — wife, husband, toddler, baby, and dog in a just-bought fixer-upper — would have lost all this month, and for MY children's sake, I'm voting for President Bush, not the truly horrid Anyone-But candidate.

I urge you to do the same. If you wish to discuss policies and principles, you'll find an eager disputant in me. But please do not further the fear mongering rampage of the Left. Please, also, those of you who know me, give my words the benefit of whatever good will I've managed to procure with you, and please know that I would greatly lament my opinions' making me beyond the bounds of conceivable friendship.

With deepest sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:07 PM | Comments (3)

October 5, 2004

Good Debate, Bad Commentary

You know, there were moments during the VP debate when I thought to do the live-blogging thing, but, well, the exchanges moved along. Moreover, I'm more of a big-picture guy, and I didn't want to miss something important while commenting about something interesting but ultimately inconsequential.

Both candidates behaved as would be expected; both have the strengths and weakness that one would expect. Therefore, it's difficult to know how those who haven't followed the whole shebang so closely will react. The after-debate commentary — which, from what little I've watched — confirms that the debate didn't throw any curves into the politics of the campaign: the commentators were able to layer their own spin.

What all this means in practical terms, I'm not sure. Some of the folks on Fox News just said that the debate means almost nothing. If it means anything, and if it does anything, perhaps it managed to help catch some voters who are just beginning to tune in up in their understanding of the dynamics of the race. They either agree with the administration's approaches, or they don't. They either began to smirk after John Edwards's twentieth usage of the phrase "we have a plan," or they didn't.

ADDENDUM:
On the moderator, I agree with Michael Graham that Gwen Ifill — despite some stutters, some questions too catered to her own interests, and a couple of flubs (e.g., giving Edwards an extra round of response on one exchange) — really showed how the questions should be structured in a debate: putting each participant on the defensive.

Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder why Brit Hume isn't mediating one of these things. Wouldn't that be simply [pause] fair and balanced?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 PM | Comments (1)

September 30, 2004

Ah, the Debates

Debates... I don't know. You'll hear a whole lot of analysis, but if nothing else during the past four years, President Bush has helped me to learn one thing about myself, and it's something that is probably true for more people than not: I'm too eager for my guy to come out swinging, when knocking down the other guy relentlessly doesn't really win the room. The debater who lists the most unsubstantiated facts and/or who most effectively belittles his opponent may win the debate, but it just may be that the other guy is taking a broader view of the performance: not as a competition, but as a discrete, contrived event amid the rest of life.

When the President spends almost half of his allotted time answering a question about his opponent's character by complimenting him, and then the opponent tries to tiptoe around actually returning the favor without seeming like a jerk, people notice. Kerry's response was almost comical. Something like: "I, too, think very highly of... the President's daughters. And I have a great deal of respect for... the President's wife."

A politician's supporters always want the quick jibe, the killer line, but the reality is that the process of filling the presidency is less a structured intellectual match than a popularity contest. And it is this point of politics — of life — that President Bush has schooled me on again and again. In this debate, he came across as a good guy. He drew his opponent not into rants and raves, but into uncomfortable efforts to claim the good mantle without actually reciprocating goodness. He out-gooded him.

Which brings up a major disagreement that I have with the professional commentators. You'll hear repeatedly over the next hours and days that the President looked too tired and impatient, that Kerry knew how to tweek him in ways that stung, and that Bush let the sting show on his face. What I saw in those looks — and (more importantly) what drew the only comment from my non-political wife throughout the entire debate — was the difficulty of standing there and listening to the other guy say bent and spun things to put you down.

Bush's looks said to me that, with so much of importance going on in the world, he was almost pained that politics must always be politics. With a set of issues involving so many variables and life-and-death decisions, soundbite summaries of the opponent's missing context would be futile.

"That's not what a Commander in Chief does," he said over and over. He's "working hard" to strike the difficult balance — as crystallized in his comments about Vladamir Putin — between diplomacy and action. At one point he even said something to the effect of: "That's just not how the world works." You don't lead by giving those whom you would seek to lead a veto over actions that are necessary for you but perhaps less so for them.

From the other angle, you don't lead by insulting any players, large or small. One point that I, as a non-candidate, would have loved for Bush to make could have come when Kerry essentially said that diplomacy means giving reluctant parties what they want in order to get them onboard. The President could have noted that buying off allies isn't so easy when they've got billions of dollars invested in the government that you're planning to overthrow. Unfortunately, the guy who's actually in office, at the moment, must worry about how his comments in the debate will affect real-world diplomacy.

My bottom line review: Kerry did much better than I expected, particularly in asserting that his positions have been consistent. But Bush, no matter how many people say he "succeeded by not losing," won beyond the game.

(Oh, and watch for ads in the near future that draw on Kerry's performance in ways that might be unexpected. Bush also looked like a guy setting out for a particular task, and his confidence in finishing answers with time still available toward the end suggests that he thought the job done.)

ADDENDUM:
Here's Kerry's response on the character question, although the transcript doesn't convey the comedic timing of his pauses after "acknowledge" and "admiration":

KERRY: Well, first of all, I appreciate enormously the personal comments the president just made. And I share them with him. I think only if you're doing this -- and he's done it more than I have in terms of the presidency -- can you begin to get a sense of what it means to your families. And it's tough. And so I acknowledge that his daughters -- I've watched them.

KERRY: I've chuckled a few times at some of their comments.

(LAUGHTER)

And...

BUSH: I'm trying to put a leash on them.

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: Well, I know. I've learned not to do that.

(LAUGHTER)

And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I think she's a terrific person...

BUSH: Thank you.

KERRY: ... and a great first lady

ADDENDUM II:
The RNC's already rolling with the first reaction to something that President Bush drew out of Kerry by being so cordial.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:30 PM | Comments (16)

September 28, 2004

Land of God and Guns

Over in the Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru wonders, while considering the truism that "blue states subsidize red ones," whether part of the reason is that "a significant military presence reddens an area," thus bringing both federal funds and Republican voters to it.

While Rhode Island is hardly representative for military states, we do have a rather significant Naval presence, particularly on the island on which I've spent most of my time as a citizen. (For example, National Review writer Mackubin Thomas Owens teaches at the Naval War College, which is attached to a large base.) Yet, ours is among the most liberal states in the nation, and even those employed by the military, with a material interest in the military bent of the country's leadership, often vote with their region rather than their occupation.

I'd say that military presence and redness represent one of those intricate relationships involving a web of causes and effects. Rugged, open land breeds a rugged individualism, and rural areas lend themselves to community activities, often involving religious organizations; in this day and age, both of these tendencies translate into Republican voters. More generally, the country attracts and forms a certain sort of worldview, part of which is the devotion to one's own group. Hubs for international communication, interaction, and travel seem about as far away as the other countries, themselves.

Simultaneously, rugged, open land is particularly attractive to several branches of the military. This is true, first, in a geographic sense: the landscape assists in military operations, for both training and strategy. It is true, second, demographically: likely recruits are nearby and will feel at home in rural settings.

Ramesh concentrates on political explanations, which certainly play a role, but I'm not sure the political, cultural, or anyotheral considerations can be teased out of the reality, here. Somehow — but not surprisingly — I find myself recalling something from his journal that Peter Robinson posted in the Corner back in June:

Journal entry, May 2001: Ever since my talk with Judge Clark, I've found, a picture keeps coming to mind. Ronald Reagan is on horseback, riding along the exposed ridge at the southwestern corner of his ranch. When he reaches the high point where the helicopter pad once stood, he reins in his mount. He gazes up at the enormous vault of the sky. He feels the rushing wind against his face. He looks east, following the shape of the land as it tumbles down and away, spreading to form the green bowl of the Santa Ynez Valley. Then he shifts in his saddle to look west, taking in the endless, dazzling ocean, the Channel Islands misty in the distance. And then he whispers, "Glory to God."

That's a pretty apt (if oblique) summary of the dynamic in question.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:49 PM

September 11, 2004

Noting Who's Passive

A juxtaposition of two sentences from statements of the two main candidates for President of the United States is instructive. Here's President Bush, from his radio address:

So we will not relent until the terrorists who plot murder against our people are found and dealt with.

And here's John Kerry, from his own radio address today:

And we are one America in our unbending determination to defend our country – to find and get the terrorists before they get us.

"Will not relent" versus "unbending determination"; the first implies offense, forward attack; the second implies standing stiff in defense and inherently raises the specter of "bending determination." "The terrorists who plot murder against our people" versus just "the terrorists [who seek] to get us."

But what's more interesting, at least from my perspective, is the difference that the speaker makes to the meaning of the language that he uses. Ordinarily, I'd suggest that "found and dealt with" is a weaker, less determined phrase than "find and get them before they get us." Not only is Bush's phrase in the passive voice, but "dealt with" is vague and indecisive. Pulling the microscope back a bit, however, confirms that the immediate context conforms with the context of each speaker's persona. Here's Bush:

The United States is determined to stay on the offensive, and to pursue the terrorists wherever they train, or sleep, or attempt to set down roots. We have conducted this campaign from the mountains of Afghanistan, to the heart of the Middle East, to the horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to hidden cells within our own country.

More than three-quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed. We know that there is still a danger to America. So we will not relent until the terrorists who plot murder against our people are found and dealt with.

Staying on the "offensive." The reference to where the terrorists "sleep" evokes images of them trembling in bed. "Roots" are for ripping out. And of course, the first sentence of the paragraph that ends with "dealth with" has the word "killed." Now, here's Kerry:

I know that for those who lost loved ones that day, the past three years have been almost unbearable. Their courage and faith have been tested in a way they never imagined. But day after day, they have held on. And day after day, they and we have found hope and comfort and strength by the quiet grace of God.

We are one America in our prayers for those who were taken from us on September 11th and for their families. And we are one America in our unbending determination to defend our country — to find and get the terrorists before they get us.

Loss, pain, holding on through "quiet grace." Courage is the daily struggle to go on living. Bush is on the offensive; Kerry is determined to play defense, separating the aggressive method of that defense with an em-dash — a tagged-on subordinate clause. Note, too, whom Kerry disguises in the passive voice: whoever it was who took our loved ones away.

To Bush, the terrorists are an active enemy, requiring an active response. From the above two paragraphs and his overall image, we can tell that we — the United States — are going to pursue those who would murder us as we go about our lives wherever it might be that they slither to hide. Against that background, his use of the passive voice is a discreet turn of phrase, a sly smile reassuring us that we can trust in what's going on behind the necessarily vague public statement. "Don't you worry. They're, ahem, being dealt with."

To Kerry, the United States is acted upon passively, and given the above two paragraphs and his overall image, we have ample reason to fear that his leadership would act passively upon those faceless actors.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 PM | Comments (2)

September 9, 2004

Debunked Before the Workday's Out

I'm truly sorry not to have been able to follow the anti-Bush National Guard memo-forgery scandal as it unfolded throughout the day. Such are blogs that a highly visible mainstream media report is minutely proven (in my opinion) to include forged documents before the average man on the street had even heard the reports. (If pro newsies stay true to form, the story will run a bit longer in the mainstream before petering out without correction.)

You've probably seen the debunking all over the place, but I'll provide a few good places to start, if you haven't. I came across the story in the Corner (up from here). There, Jonah Goldberg links to Powerline's thorough coverage. An ill Glenn Reynolds has a roundup, and for the truth seared — seared — with humor, see Scrappleface.

Amazingly, although I've come to the pile-on late, I've found a point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. Powerline notes a comparison of the Lt. Col. Jerry Killian's actual signature with one from one of the documents.

What's striking about this is that I had intended to mention that the two Killian signatures on the (probable) forgeries don't match, either (even accounting for the fact that one is just initials). Here's the full signature from the May 4, 1972 memo that CBS has on its Web site (PDF), followed by the initialed signature from the August 1, 1972 memo from the same set (PDF), followed by Lt. Col. Killian's signature on Bush's discharge papers (PDF):



Although I would tentatively suggest that the second one is a forgery of the first — Doesn't the "J" have the same wobbly, too-careful look as "dad's" signature on that third grade test that you failed and had to have signed? — what they have in common compared with the actual Killian signature is perhaps more noteworthy.

Note the delicacy of the "K," in the first two images, with the right-hand line starting with an inward hook at the top, curving toward the middle and then bouncing back into a downward curve. Although the two are visibly different, they are both entirely different from the sharp, barely curved lines — with an extra pen stroke for the bottom leg — in the actual signature. Consider also the utter lack of a bottom loop on Killian's actual, angular "J."

Not knowing much about typical office structures in the military, I don't know whether Lt. Col. Killian would have had a secretary whom he might have had sign his memos. (Although that might offer some justification for his using his "sloppy version" on somebody's discharge papers, while reserving his elegant signature for quick notes.) Even if he did, however, have such assistance, we've got three signatures that don't match, not just two.

ADDENDUM:
Do you suppose there's at least one each of a Kerry ally and a CBS employee compulsively checking the blogosphere today wondering just how much we'll manage to observe and dig up?

ADDENDUM II:
An expert whom Stephen Hayes cites for a Weekly Standard piece on the subject offers an alternate explanation:

So can we say with absolute certainty that the documents were forged? Not yet. Xavier University's Polt, in an email, offers two possible scenarios. "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

That might explain why the second signature above — which is from the most damaging of the forged memos — looks like a forgery of a forgery: the first signature being from a transcription, and the second attempting to copy it. But that's about it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:26 PM | Comments (8)

September 8, 2004

The Acronym Spells Out the Truth

Having not read the relevant column, I don't really have anything substantive to say about a letter to the Providence Journal lambasting one of its regular opinion writers. But I just love the name of the group to which Edward Brennan, of Cranston, makes reference therein: the Sakonnet Peace Alliance.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:41 PM

September 3, 2004

Run with It, Suzie!

I'm beginning to think that Susan Estrich is a very well placed, long left fallow mole for the Republicans:

Will it be the three, or is it four or five, drunken driving arrests that Bush and Cheney, the two most powerful men in the world, managed to rack up? (Bush's Texas record has been sealed. Now why would that be? Who seals a perfect driving record?)

After Vietnam, nothing is ancient history, and Cheney is still drinking. What their records suggest is not only a serious problem with alcoholism, which Bush but not Cheney has acknowledged, but also an even more serious problem of judgment. Could Dick Cheney get a license to drive a school bus with his record of drunken driving? (I can see the ad now.) A job at a nuclear power plant? Is any alcoholic ever really cured? So why put him in the most stressful job in the world, with a war going south, a thousand Americans already dead and control of weapons capable of destroying the world at his fingertips.

It has been said that in the worst of times, Kissinger gave orders to the military not to obey Nixon if he ordered a first strike. What if Bush were to fall off the wagon? Then what? Has America really faced the fact that we have an alcoholic as our president?

Go for it! I can't wait to see the commercials! And then I can't wait to see President Bush convince a few more million (or tens of million) people of what is already obvious to anybody paying attention: that the Republican Party is now the proper home for compassionate people who believe in renewal and forgiveness and who abhor the rabid victimizer. As Lane Core has said (CCCLXVI times), the Democrats are in self-destruct mode.

ADDENDUM:
Incidentally, Lane's mention of Dick Cheney's five deferments from enlistment during Vietnam brings to mind a point that I haven't seen anybody make. (What that says about the merits of the suggestion, I'll leave for others to decide.)

A while back, I bit my lip through a brief session of some liberal writer friends' mocking Dick Cheney's health (mostly passing along fifth-person knowledge of how closely to death Cheney lives each day). Well, perhaps that's why even those who might be inclined to think his draft avoidance 30 years ago to be proof of hypocrisy won't get incensed about the vice president's actions as a younger man: because it's impossible to envision him as a younger man.

Clinton still looks young (and even more so in the early '90s). It's easy to picture him as a strapping youth, dodging Uncle Sam, though he was more than fit to enlist. Cheney, not so much. However inaccurate that impression of Cheney as a young man might be, I think it still plays a role.

ADDENDUM II:
Take a moment, too, to consider Lane's discovery that Propaganda 101 was not wasted on the graphic designers over at Time magazine.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:08 PM | Comments (1)

September 2, 2004

The Other Side of the Coin

Earl Appleby has continued his convention coverage with daily posts related to the Republican national convention. Day 1 focused on the official convention bloggers, day 2 shifted toward the Catholic blogging world, and day 3 turns to face the DMC (dominant media culture).

Earl also has a post about the comments from Vice President Cheney regarding same-sex marriage. To be honest, I think the most concrete thing that can be said about those comments is that they've provided yet more evidence of news media bias. For example, the AP piece in the Boston Globe to which Earl links, "Cheney says he, Bush, at odds over same-sex marriage: Wants issue left up to each state rather than a new amendment," clearly plays up and exaggerates the explicitness of any disagreement. It needn't even be deliberate partisanship; for a class of people who believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is just veiled support for locking up homosexuals, a direct statement that, in the VP's words, people "ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to" does sound like a contradiction.

As the White House transcript shows, Cheney was at best ambiguous about where his opinion ends and the President's begins. Peculiarly, that transcript ends at about the most crucial part, but CNN provides the missing text:

Most states have addressed this. There is on the books the federal statute, Defensive Marriage Act passed in 1996. To date, it has not been successfully challenged in the courts and it may be sufficient to resolve the issue. But at this point my own preference is as I've stated but the president makes basic policy for this administration, and he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue.

Reading the preceding points, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a confident answer about what Cheney's specific policy "preference" would be. I, for one, have argued that the Federal Marriage Amendment is the best bet to grant the states — meaning their voters and elected representatives — the most room to maneuver. A particular stumble on Cheney's part — "And I don't think -- well, so far [the FMA] hasn't had the votes to pass." — is interesting, too.

Many people see Dick Cheney as a consummate politician, so I wouldn't discard the possibility that his spiel, which managed at the same time to illustrate a thorough knowledge of where the issue stands and to offer naught but innuendo for predictions and preferences, was designed to give some not-quite-lost gay Republican voters a tiny bit more room to come back into the fold.

That doesn't mean that we who oppose same-sex marriage oughtn't keep an eye on the VP. It could be that he's fallen victim to the principle that Ben Shapiro terms "blood is thicker than morality." Given his social class, it wouldn't surprise me if Dick Cheney actually did support same-sex marriage. Given his secure adherence to principles, it also wouldn't surprise me if he were the type of man who could tell his homosexual daughter that his love and support for her does not extend the support for the redefinition of a bedrock institution.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:27 AM | Comments (1)

Just So They Know

If it weren't for the war against Islamofascism,* this sort of stuff would keep me home in November:

President Bush's campaign asked a court Wednesday to force the Federal Election Commission to act on its complaints against anti-Bush groups spending millions of dollars in the presidential race, arguing that the FEC is failing to do its job.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the campaign argued that the FEC is taking too long to address what the campaign calls illegal spending of corporate, union and big individual donations to influence the presidential race. Its lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction that would force the commission to act on its March complaint within 30 days. After that, the campaign could sue to block the groups' activities through court action rather than relying on the FEC.

I'm sure it's purely a political consideration — taking the opening that circumstances and the opponent have provided — but that doesn't mean it's right.

* ... and abortion and same-sex marriage and tax cuts and... alright, alright, I'm just griping about the FEC suit. That doesn't change the sorry state of affairs emerging, in which neither party cares to take up the obvious political winner of First Amendment rights and no branch of government will defend them. The nation will have to be far less polarized on major issues before the problem can be remedied, I suspect. Hopefully it won't come too late, with polarization defused by dictatorial command.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM

August 29, 2004

Weren't There Two Towers?

Honestly, I might have missed it, but I don't recall seeing a similar introduction for a piece about the Democrats' convention as to Scott MacKay's piece about the Republican one:

Forrester Adams went to Ground Zero yesterday afternoon for the first time. He left shaken, as does almost everyone who views the ghastly concrete scar in lower Manhattan and remembers the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

"At first I felt quiet and somber and all," said Adams, of Columbia, S.C., as he thought about the horrors that claimed the lives of 3,000 [people] when hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center towers. "Then I really started feeling ticked off, defiant.

"I hope they build it back bigger than it was before," said Adams. "I feel we need to make a statement. I think that is so important, to show that these people can't break our spirit."

Adams is voting for President Bush.

Minutes later, Susan Brennan of Stony Brook, N.Y., on nearby Long Island, walked away from Ground Zero. She saw the same barren construction site, the same cross of rusted steel girders, experienced the same eerie silence in the middle of one of the world's noiseiest cities. She remembered the televised images of the twin towers engulfed in smoke and flame.

Brennan is voting for John Kerry.

"I feel much less safe now than after 9/11 ," said Brennan, adding she had purposely stayed away from the scene until yesterday. "We are just creating more terrorists every day with this war in Iraq. Bush is a madman . . . he is just so belligerent."

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the long shadow of the Sept. 11 attacks hangs over the confab and the 2004 presidential election. As go the people walking away from the site in yesterday's scorching New York heat, so goes the nation's voters.

One would think that long shadow would reach the liberal, indecisive, and relatively dovish John Kerry, as well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM | Comments (9)

August 10, 2004

Preserving the Tyranny Reserves

I'm a little slow to note it, but Carol Andrew Morse's piece about the "gated community" approach to foreign policy that the Democrats revealed at their convention is worth a read:

Perhaps the plan was to make the Presidential nominee appear strong by allowing him to be the one to articulate a plan for the war on terrorism beyond America's borders. If that was the plan, John Kerry failed to deliver. Like [Hillary] Clinton, Kerry talked of adding troops. He went further, acknowledging that he would use force in response to an attack, and saying that the elements of so-called "soft power" would be deployed outside of the fortress walls. ...

In this vision of a world divided, the keepers of Fortress America regard meaningful democracy as an absolute necessity for themselves. They understand that their democracy is at the root of their prosperity. At the same time, they dismiss democracy as an unnecessary luxury for those living outside of the fortress, cutting the outsiders off from the prosperity that democracy provides. They believe that the individuals outside the fortress should be satisfied with mere stability -- and like it.


The vision that Andrew describes brings to mind an image of the future that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray suggested in their much-vilified tome, The Bell Curve. The authors warned of a world in which an intellectual elite, insulated in standing and potential through policies that refused to honestly address factors (such as IQ) affecting economic status, had retreated to gated communities, while everybody else was effectively shuffled into cities for the sake of efficiently handling them as wards of the state (handing out healthcare services, for example). Because the foreseen underclass would consist largely of minorities, reaction to the book illustrates how a statement meant to expose true "institutional racism" can be attacked viciously as racist.

Andrew brings this related topic into his piece, as well, when he quotes from John Edwards's acceptance speech:

"I have heard some discussions and debates about where, and in front of what audiences we should talk about race, equality, and civil rights. Well, I have an answer to that question. Everywhere."

Compare that with another item from the Jay Nordlinger Impromptus to which I linked in the previous post:

Back to something a bit more serious: As you know, I keep hoping that presidents, and candidates, will talk to black Americans as they do to all other Americans. I think I once said, "I'd give anything if an official or candidate went before a black group and talked about missile defense." Well, I see in a New York Times report, on the president's recent speech to a convocation of black journalists, that "Mr. Bush, who delivered a version of his campaign stump speech and did little to tailor his remarks to the group . . ."

Hallelujah.

I've been accused, recently, of having a problem with difference, and I guess in some respects, I have to confess to being guilty of the charge. Race shouldn't be a determinantal difference; accepting differences ought to mean considering them irrelevant where they are, in fact, irrelevant. Whether it results in domestic welfare menageries or foreign tyranny reserves, too much "respect" for difference can raise up bars that the object of appreciation might prefer removed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 PM

Composure in a President

In yesterday's Impromptus, Jay Nordlinger mentioned (one of) the latest indications of John Kerry's thorough dishonesty (bracketed text is Nordlinger's):

As you know, John Kerry did something low — another thing low — in mocking President Bush for his behavior in that Florida schoolroom: "Had I been reading to children, and had my top aide whispered into my ear [that] America was under attack, I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something he needed to attend to."

Uh-huh. The White House is taking pleasure in circulating Kerry's words from June 8, on the Larry King show: "And as I came in [to a meeting in Senator Daschle's office], Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid were standing there, and we watched the second plane come in to the building. And we shortly thereafter sat down at the table and then we just realized nobody could think, and then boom, right behind us, we saw the cloud of explosion at the Pentagon."

Nobody could think, huh, for all that time? Between the second World Trade Center plane and the Pentagon? Yeah, that's rough-and-ready Kerry.

Let me adopt a bit of Nordlinger's tone and ask a question: can't you just hear the differing explanations were Bush their guy? I sure can:

Running out of the room would have done nothing except to alarm the children and possibly, through the media representatives in attendance, set a tone of panic for one of the most frightening days in American history. The President stayed put, figuring that finishing the event was more productive than standing in a back room while security personnel assessed the risk of moving him and while his assistants gathered together information about what was going on — from accurate descriptions of what had happened to preliminary reports about the early warning signs on the planes to intelligence community notes about the likely breadth of the attack.

Under pressure, he kept his cool and showed more concern about the immediate requirements and considerations for his behavior than about some hostile movie that a partisan filmmaker might unleash just before the next election. That's the sort of composure we want in a President.

One can debate whether this is an accurate description of Bush's thought processes — on its own merits as well as in light of his movements throughout the rest of the day. (I'd say it is accurate, with the necessary caveats about the messiness of real life.) But can't you just hear the sincerity in the voices of those making exactly the same argument — probably embellished — had it been President Gore in that classroom?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

August 2, 2004

Protecting Us from People Like Themselves

In a piece from the latest print edition of National Review, David Frum quotes from John Edwards's "Two Americas" speech:

One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America — middle-class America — whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America — narrow-interest America — whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president.

It's a close contest, but that last line may be the most audacious of the batch. Considering the combined wealth of the Democrats' presidential ticket and the efforts of well-endowed financiers (most visibly, George Soros), the matter of which party is more for sale is, at the very least, up for debate. Not up for debate is which party is more apt to claim the mantle of working class heroes and to give lip service to that greatest of hypocrites' ideologies, socialism, and on that count, Lane Core is losing his patience:

I've had it up to here, and further, with filthy rich politicians bewailing how little the federal government does to help the underprivileged. By which they mean that they haven't yet taxed us enough to keep the money running through their fat, grubby hands so they can buy votes from special interest groups.

In a nutshell: to hell with filthy rich politicians who demand that ordinary Americans should be required — by threat of confiscation and/or imprisonment — to allow the politicians to be generous with our (tax) money though they continue to live fabulous lives of luxurious comfort.

The obscene rhetoric of the phony class warriors must play with somebody; often, it seems to be those with the least at stake in policies that stroke the egos of the wealthy at the expense of the livelihoods of the poor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:33 PM | Comments (9)

July 31, 2004

Quietly Accepting the Opposition's Received Wisdom

Over in the miniblog in the left-hand column, Into the Ether, I noted that Al Sharpton may very well be the first black Democrat whom I've heard speak in support of Clarence Thomas's position on the Supreme Court (albeit it, in a backhanded way). This quiet acceptance of previously rejected emphases to make politically expedient points seems to have been in the air at the Democrats' convention. Lileks caught John Kerry tapping into it:

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President."

This really intrigues me. I agree that Vietnam was a defense of the United States, inasmuch as we were trying to blunt the advance of Communism. So: only Nixon can go to China. (Only Kirk can go to Chronos, for you Star Trek geeks.) Only Kerry can confirm that Vietnam was a just war. This completely upends conventional wisdom about the Vietnamese war, and requires a certain amount of historical amnesia. Why does this get glossed over? The illegitimacy of the Vietnam war (non-UN approved, after all) is a key doctrine of the Church of the Boomers; to say that service in Vietnam was done in defense of the United States is like announcing that Judas Ischariot was the most faithful of the disciples. Imagine if you were a preacher who attempted such a revision. Imagine your private thrill when everyone in the congregation nodded assent. The past was more malleable than you had ever expected.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:26 AM | Comments (2)

[Insert Boilerplate]

Here and there, I've been hearing echoes of a feeling that I've found difficult to suppress while attempting to gather information. Perhaps it's a general mood among conservatives, especially, that is exacerbated in my case by the various life matters with rightful claims to more time than there is in a sleepless day. But I have no more patience for template-driven political chatter.

I think the final straw, for me, occurred when I had O'Reilly on in the background as I unpacked boxes late at night and the gravelly voiced Democrat spokeswoman Susan Estridge told one of those personal stories that make the abortion debate so difficult — one of those that would require slow and painful discussion in order to tease out political conclusions.

Understandably, O'Reilly wasn't in a position to walk down such paths with Ms. Estridge, but what bothered me about the segment was that the story was told — and the emotions were unearthed and displayed on national television — for the purpose of defending a Planned Parenthood t-shirt reading simply "I had an abortion." Something about the combination of the specific topic, the near-tears anecdote, and the accompanying "safe, legal, and rare" slogan made the whole discussion seem a pointless, scripted exercise.

There have been other examples — such as Rhode Island's Democrat attorney general spending five minutes of radio airtime dodging an obvious line of questions as if he were lying, not because he was lying, but because he was trying to emphasize his disagreement with the governor on a matter about which he substantively agreed — but they're all just too tiring to recount. I can't escape the feeling that the health of our nation depends largely on our finding new sources for information and new venues for publicly accessible debate.

If Pundit D and Pundit R are going to do little but read from lists of talking points, citizens are just going to tune them out... and take it as an excuse not to challenge their own preconceptions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (1)

July 29, 2004

Covering the Coverers

I've been meaning to note — and really should before it's too late — that Earl Appleby has been covering the DNC convention. From day one:

"I'm committed to seeing Bush out of office in November and want to do what I can to help," says Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer who writes the TalkLeft blog. "To me the purpose of a convention is solidarity and getting strength from each other and renewed commitment to a joint purpose. I am a cheerleader. I am a partisan. I am an advocate. My goal is to get everyone else stirred up."

You've stirred me, Jeralyn. Just what we need, fawning coverage of a liberal convention by bloggers whose left-wing pap makes Dan Rather look objective. And how do we tell the convention bloggers from the delegate bloggers?

Day two looks at some of the first impressions of those bloggers, and day three pokes around St. Blogs for reaction. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 AM

July 5, 2004

The Depth of Political Speech

There's a stealth activist walking the streets of Newport, Rhode Island, as the Newport Daily News explains in the title of an article about him, "Political statement is making Newporters stop an think":

Hey you! Yeah you, walking along Bellevue Avenue!

You're being watched.

Two world leaders are looking right at you. They're both smiling. The one on the right is even waving.

From stop signs, trash cans, newspaper vending boxes and other streetscape fixtures, an image of President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has been appearing around town since at least late spring like some international politics version of "Where's Waldo?" ...

The cornerstone of Bush's re-election campaign is to portray him as standing tough against terrorism, considered the biggest threat to the United States today, Giannakos said. The ties between the Bush family and wealthy Saudis, including the royal family, have been well documented, most notably in Michael Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." The photograph of Bush and Abdullah appears in the film.

Readers will make their own judgments about the implications of reporter Janine Weisman's citing Moore's movie as a source of "documentation." (I should note that Fahrenheit 9/11 sold out at a small theater as a fund-raiser for the Newport International Film Festival, which I hadn't known to be a political organization.)

I'm tempted to walk around the city taping this picture on top of the other one:

Wonder if I'd get similar media coverage.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:22 PM

June 28, 2004

Humanity Quantized: A Presidential Candidate "Rocks"

If it stands as an indication that political inclinations can seep into the work of music journalists, John Jurgensen's "In his youth, John Kerry could rock" is also evidence that the two combine poorly:

Forget the photo ops on the snowboard, the hockey skates, the Harley. Never mind the shaggy visage of the rebel Vietnam vet. If John Kerry's supporters still need to prove that their candidate isn't a stiff-necked square, maybe they should be blaring "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" at top volume.

Whether or not this comment applies to Jurgensen, I don't get the impression that Kerry's supporters — at least those not encouraging him to stay out of the spotlight altogether — understand their guy's problem. It's as if they've all succumbed to the blindness whereby the dork doesn't understand that aping Cool exacerbates the image he seeks to dispell. (Believe me, I speak from experience on this one.)

Look at the group picture that introduces his old band's cashing-in Web site; he's the stiffest of a generally stiff bunch. Listen to his bass intro to "You Can't Sit Down" (MP3), which sounds as if it has been badly quantized. As band member Larry Rand (guitar) recalls:

He describes a young Kerry in terms that all of the candidate's acquaintances seem to use: determined, serious, studious.

"We did want him to loosen up, but I'm not sure we were applying that to John Kerry specifically," Rand says. "We were applying that to all of us."

At least on the snowboard, John Kerry could get down.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2004

The Apathy That Just Doesn't Want to Know

Yesterday, the Providence Journal ran a letter by West Warwick Republican Town Committee chairman John Clarke that begins with this utterly unsurprising anecdote:

Last night, I had a long conversation with one of my neighbors, a registered Democrat named Paul, who expressed his support for a casino because "it will bring jobs to Rhode Island." When I tried to explain that the jobs that a casino brings tend to pay poorly and that a casino does not bring wealth to the community, all he could counter with was his concern for jobs.

Paul wants to do right by people. He probably began voting for Democrats years ago because they ran on a platform promising to do just that. And now that Democrat rule is strangling the state, it probably makes his head hurt a little think about having to separate political rhetoric from the real effects of policy.

Such is the environment that allows a state senator to blurt arrogant asininity in response to constituent concerns that Rhode Island is driving out the sort of people who will help its economy to grow. As Mr. Clarke says:

Senator Alves, as chairman of the Finance Committee, is doing his best to ensure that the talented people who could fix the "no-good-job" problems that he and his party have created in this state stay away.

It is an embarrassment to the people of Rhode Island -- and especially the people of West Warwick who voted for him -- that Mr. Alves is complaining that he is tired of hearing from high-wage earners. He would do well to recognize that those people invest in businesses and create jobs.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:33 PM

A Stark Choice for State Voters

On Tuesday of this week, Edward Achorn wrote about Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's maneuvers at the state Republican convention last Thursday, which I mentioned (with some video footage) last Friday. (I emailed the link to Mr. Achorn, with whom I periodically attempt to make contact, but he hasn't responded.) Achorn assesses the situation thus:

Well, it suggests Mr. Laffey is trying to do more than clean up the financial mess in Cranston. He is trying to put his stamp on the party and change the political culture of Rhode Island.

That irritates some people.

For one thing, it enrages the Republican establishment, small as it is. The country-club set, moderate and pragmatic, is convinced that the GOP in Rhode Island will always be on the losing end of the big battles. It will never compete in the General Assembly, which is overwhelmingly powerful at the state level. The best that the GOP can do is to play nicely with the Democrats -- and with the source of the Democrats' dominance, the public-employee unions -- and quietly claim a gubernatorial, Senate or mayoral seat from time to time. Like the small child of a raging alcoholic, establishment Republicans gingerly avoid giving offense, seeking to smooth over troubles and improve their lot in tiny increments.

Mr. Laffey is more inclined to punch the bully in the belly, and take his chances.

The key issue for Rhode Island voters, right now, is breaking the white-knuckle grip that a single party and the groups whose interests it primarily represents have on state government. The simple question, for the Republicans, is whether they'll benefit from that electoral desire by being the same politicians with different buttons on their lapels or by being contentiously distinct. I think the latter; at this level of domination, increased Republican representation won't threaten the Democrats' key issues, but it will send a message and insert a natural alarm, of sorts, for objectionable goings on in the state house.

I'll go further, though, and declare that I don't think the people of Rhode Island are as supportive of the Democrats' ideological positions as most people assume — whether on government, social, political, or any other issues. There's tremendous apathy, here, and apathy is a quality that comes in degrees. One can be apathetic and simply not care, or one can care, with the apathy obstructing inquiry and thought.

By bringing their differences to the public's attention, conservatives can spark thought among those who care. And by making confident noise in a polity accustomed to skulking whispers, they can perhaps spark inquiry among even those who don't think the people who run our state are worthy of attention.

ADDENDUM:
Be it known to anybody in Rhode Island who stumbles across this blog that I'm willing to help as much as I'm able. For some reason, however, it's proving difficult even to find takers for that assistance when I actively offer it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)

June 15, 2004

Victory Sans Enthusiasm

Byron York gives me the impression of a silent star, at National Review. His reporting is solid, his writing interesting, and I don't think he often sparks the amount of discussion that he deserves. Yesterday, he highlighted an interesting dynamic in John Kerry's base of support:

... the sense of excitement was everywhere at the Campaign's three-day conference. It was clear that the activists of the left believe they have the Bush administration on the run.

But for all the excitement about the victory they anticipate, the participants couldn't muster very much excitement for the candidate who is supposed to make it happen. At event after event, speakers were just as likely to say something lukewarm or even critical of Sen. John Kerry as they were to praise him.

The media can't keep up the wall-to-wall negative spin about the Bush administration indefinitely — or at least it can't do so without losing people's attention, if not the last vestiges of its own credibility. Perhaps more importantly, the Democrats aren't going to be able to maintain their candidate's optimal persona as a strong jaw that never opens.

I'm persuaded that much of the discontent with President Bush, on which the liberal activists are pinning their hopes, is in a direction away from Kerry, not toward him. Iraq, the economy, immigration, big government, and so on are all areas in which Kerry will only multiply Bush's ill-conceived positions. Voters know that, even if they grumble about wishing it were not so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:58 AM

June 13, 2004

Nice Aim

Not surprisingly, James Lileks captures the essence of the Reagan haters extremely well. You'll have to read his piece to understand my title, but this part, addressing a point more succinctly made than many have done, brought back a memory from a few years ago:

He was heartless! He didn't talk about AIDS at first — as if the people at risk would have taken sex tips from a 72-year-old they didn't like. As if a presidential order clearing Needle Park and shutting down the bathhouses would have met huzzahs.

In summer and fall 1999, working in Massachusetts, I periodically had lunch with a gay coworker. After one lunch, he bought a newspaper on the way back to the office and was perturbed by a story about a police raid on a Boston bathhouse. Having never had such places described to me in terms that went much beyond "creepy gay hangouts," I asked for details.

Upon hearing his explanation, I gave a little laugh and said that hatred of homosexuals mightn't be the first rational motivation to infer on the part of the officers. His facial expression suggested that he'd never heard such an opinion, but he let it go, and we went back to work. No, I don't think many huzzahs would have been forthcoming for President Reagan had he taken that approach. The erroneous view that would whipped back at him is still with us.

On other aspects of Reagan's presidency, some media types have suggested that they missed much of what went on during his administration, and it seems likely that he'll be remembered well by history. On that count, however, Lileks suggests that Reagan — the first president for whom "open contempt for a sitting president was no longer sole property of the intelligentsia" — might have been the last to benefit from the leaven of years:

No doubt George W. Bush also waits content for the judgment of history; if he wins a second term and secures the peace, he may think he'll go down in the books like Reagan.

But history isn't written by the victors anymore. History is written by the historians. By the people who write masters' theses with titles like "Janet Jackson and Abu Ghraib: The Inappropriate Breast and Postmodern Paradigms of Oligarchical Media Meta-themes." Such bright minds are more likely to bury Reagan than to praise him, and drape the headstone with garlic just in case.

ADDENDUM:
Note that I'm not sure whether there's a typo or an imperfectly honed point in those two paragraphs. If even Reagan is going to be "buried" by historians, then President Bush is most definitely going to "go down in the books like" him, but not in a way that admirers of either would like.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:39 PM

June 11, 2004

Out with the Old, in with the New

A NOTE FOR INSTAPUNDIT READERS, 10/24/04:
(Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column if you find this layout difficult to read.)

Just so you know what you're looking at, here, I thought I'd offer a quick explanation. This post, from the spring, experiments with a format that I'd like to do more often. Herein, I managed to catch Mayor Stephen Laffey's Big Line from the Rhode Island GOP convention, footage of which I haven't seen anywhere else.

That's an advantage of blog-style video reportage: quality can be compromised for expediency. When the crowd starts to murmur or the protestors outside begin to drown out the speakers, you can grab the camera from the bag; people also aren't (yet) as apt to put on a false performance for a home camera. Unfortunately, a corresponding disadvantage is that the coverage must be self-directed and (for now) self-financed. That's why I haven't managed to make a practice of it. Maybe when I've gotten blogging up to part-time-job status...


As I suggested in the context of Edward Achorn's belief that Rhode Islanders' displeasure will, at some point, break through their political apathy, the motion might already be forming within the state's GOP. Voters need someone else for whom to vote, after all, before they can overthrow inadequate leadership.

For that reason, it is only more fitting that remembrance of Ronald Reagan permeated the RIGOP convention on Thursday — from Chairwoman Patricia Morgan's misspoken request for "ayes" from all who wished to endorse President Reagan's bid for a second term to Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's likening of his view of the RIGOP's prospects to Reagan's optimism about the fall of the Soviet Union. (Both of which seem laughably improbable as predictions.)

For some idea of just how mired this state is in its political system, consider that I had no idea that the speeches related to internal controversy were of any more significance than what might be found in a high school student senate until the highest high point of the evening. Even then, I didn't get a sense of the magnitude of the shift until I read Scott MacKay's explanation in the Providence Journal.

Video: Scott MacKay (3sec). Windows Media

According to MacKay:

In what some Republicans saw as his first foray into making a run for statewide office, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey spearheaded a move at the Republican State Convention last night to depose Michael Traficante, the former Cranston mayor and longtime Republican stalwart, from a top party post.

Traficante was set to run for reelection as national committeeman, a position that carries an automatic seat to the Republican National Convention, when people close to Laffey at City Hall discovered that Traficante had disaffiliated from the Republican Party.

Mayor Laffey has raised eyebrows across the state by cracking down on precisely the sort of degeneration in his town that infects the entire state and much of the country — taking on everything from "political patronage" crossing guards and gas pump inspectors to ACLU attacks on Christmas displays. Not surprisingly, the mayor — the only key figure who, despite being the most bustling politician in the room, offered a lurking blogger so much as a quick "hello" — with his somewhat wild eyes and candid language, looks to be the focal point for the incipient revolution. From MacKay:

"Out with the old, in with the new," said Laffey in a campaign speech supporting Robert Manning, a 51-year-old retired banker from Charlestown, who was installed in Traficante's place.

Video: Stephen Laffey (28.6sec). Windows Media

A former head of Citigroup Japan, Manning reminded the crowd that the Rhode Island Republicans are the 15 in the 85/15 split — and for a reason. Now the beneficiary of an upstart movement, he enters the scene as a representative of change.

Another such representative is Dave Rogers, who is running a second time against Patrick Kennedy for my district's seat in the U.S. Congress. As I believe is appropriate for a national candidate, Rogers's persona is less incendiary, and in his speech, he made a point of his intention not to settle into a political position (approximately): "Patrick Kennedy says he's never worked a day in his life. This won't be my first job, and it won't be my last."

I've implied before that Rogers is running against images and stereotypes that Rhode Islanders' believe about themselves and about conservatives. So, it is fitting that he's more approachable and less forward than Laffey and is inclined to make self-effacing jokes about the arrogance of having had to nominate himself the first time he ran. (This is by no means the best part of his speech, but for the below-mentioned reasons, I didn't film the rest.)

Video: Dave Rogers (18.5sec). Windows Media

All considered, and admitting that I am a political naif, I couldn't help but see, in the burgeoning movement within the RIGOP, reason for more hope for my state than I've yet been able to muster. I also couldn't help but notice the irony of different groups' relative roles. While, inside the Cranston Knights of Columbus building, a quiet revolution was beginning, with the intention of returning a balanced political system and sensible government to Rhode Island, outside, the activists marching on the street, drawing honks from passing cars, were protesting for bigger government and expanded benefits for a limited few.

Video: Protesters (30.1sec). Windows Media

As MacKay touches on, the marchers were private child-care providers who are trying to be defined as public employees in order to gain some of the benefits that come with that status in this state. In Spanish and English they exploited children and chanted ill-fitting clichés; "No justice, no peace" translated into the circumstances meant "no free healthcare, no peace."

If the rumble within the political party that is euphemistically called the "minority" in the state of Rhode Island continues to grow, perhaps we'll end up with justice, peace, and prosperity to boot.

ADDENDUM:
Readers who are new since then — which means most of you — may not know it, but for a brief while last year, I was a blogosphere video star. The video blogs (vlogs) that I made during that time can be found on the main page of Timshel Arts, under the heading "Timshel TV."

There are only four, two of which deal with the idea of vlogging, because when the curiosity viewers began to dissipate, even the ego boost wasn't enough to justify the hours it took to create a few minutes of a pseudo-polished movie. As I concluded in my very first, very skeptical vlog about the medium, for the foreseeable future, content-rich blogs will be about the extent of the movement. And even that hasn't really materialized.

This post represents a new experiment that I hope to pursue more regularly in the future (assuming I manage to maintain the time without going into bankruptcy or having to sell my video camera). Call it a multimedia blog, a v-blog (a post that integrates video with standard blogging), or whatever, the idea is that, where possible and fruitful, I'll use video in much the way INDC Journal uses photographs (here's Bill's coverage of the Reagan casket procession).

Let me admit that this initial v-blog isn't very good. It took a good 10 minutes of listening to the protesters outside for me to realize, "Hey, this is what I carry around this video camera for." Not having any defined purpose for filming, I didn't brave the sidewalk in the midst of the protesters.

Moreover, regarding events on the inside, I went to the gathering almost entirely to meet with somebody involved with one of the campaigns and had no idea who anybody was, let alone what controversies were bubbling under the visible surface. And again, not having a set purpose for filming, I didn't give much thought to positioning, camera steadiness, and the like. I didn't react quickly enough to catch most of the significant moments, anyway, and I had to leave early.

In short, this post is more an experiment than anything else — an invitation to you to comment on the technology of the thing, strategies for future efforts, and so on. Please offer any thoughts that you might have in the comment section.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:18 PM

June 10, 2004

Spider-Man's Political Following

An email to Jonah Goldberg recalls another nugget from the Reagan Years that appealed to young'ns like myself:

Reagan once said that in reading the newspaper, he would read the comic page first, and the first strip he would read was Spiderman. The media, of course, implied that this was further proof that Reagan was a simpleton.

It could be a sign of the times, or it could indicate two standards of treatment, but Rhode Island's attorney general, Democrat Patrick Lynch, hasn't to my knowledge been called a simpleton for this:

Lynch, who took office last year, is now preparing to install a new plaque [on the outside of his building] that declares: "With great power comes great responsibility." The words are from Stan Lee, the 20th-century American comic book pioneer who created Spider-Man.

Lynch said he was inspired by his 6-year-old son, Graham -- an avid Spider-Man fan who tugged on his father's pants and said those words moments before Lynch's inauguration in January 2003.

The attorney general, by the way, has been using his own substantial influence to knead same-sex marriage into Rhode Island law. Perhaps the question of whether homage to Spider-Man is treated superciliously or appreciatively hinges on what responsibility the great power is purported to require.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:31 AM | Comments (4)

June 9, 2004

A Swing Vote of Faith

A few days ago, Earl took a look, on Catholic (?) Kerry Watch, at the interrelation of divisions among Catholics and the implications of their political strength:

... the battle in the pews to defend the Holy Eucharist from CINO politicians and activists whose "cafeteria" selections dump the Catholic doctrines of the sanctity of life and marriage into the garbage along with the aborted baby reflects the battle at the ballot box.

In pondering theology, lately, it has seemed to me that our tendency is to separate spiritual and material worlds too drastically. Now that I'm a believer, the axioms that "you just have to have faith" and "faith is something you believe regardless of the world" make even less sense to me than they did when I was an atheist.

If the spiritual level of the universe is real, it will affect the material. Things that are immoral don't necessarily lead to tangible harm, just as things that yield a tangible benefit are not necessarily moral, but we shouldn't be surprised when we can trace moral corruption to dreadful wrongs.

Moreover, the mechanism isn't always simple cause-and-effect, and insistence on the primacy of such direct explanations usually loses sight of the personal — the effect on us. How could the marriages of a tiny minority affect the institution itself? By way of the larger society. How could legalized contraception lead to legalized cloning? Well, by way of us — our emotions and the blend of compassion and selfishness, ability and flaw.

Voting represents a pivot point for various intersections of morality and policy. And it isn't surprising, as Earl writes, that the battles "waged for the soul of our Holy Catholic Church" and for "the head of our nation" are part of the same war.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:57 AM | Comments (1)

June 3, 2004

The Form Call for Individual Effort

The editorial page of the Providence Journal, by far the best part of the paper, gave Rhode Island GOP finance chairman Robert Manning the space of a column to send out the call for candidates and volunteers:

The solution, we are told on all fronts, is to elect more Republican legislators, who will restore balance in the General Assembly, ensure effective debate, support Governor Carcieri, and begin to roll back the worst of the abuses created by years of unchecked Democratic power.

Simple, right? Well, no, it isn't. The reason it isn't simple is that the whole process for identifying, recruiting, training, funding, and supporting Republican candidates in the state atrophied badly during the 1990s. People just assume that we always have fully enabled political-party machines silently humming away in the background, ready to come to life every two years, with pre-minted candidates, who spout the party line, buy tons of media space to tout their personalities or issues, and serve up clear choices to the voters.

Well, it ain't so -- certainly not yet in Rhode Island.

I'd looked into the functioning of the party before, even going so far as to seek out its Web site, but this piece inspired me actually to make contact. At the end of it, Manning provided readers with a phone number and an email address. Choosing email, I spent a little while coming up with a concise introduction for myself and sent it off. A little while later, what looked like a form note arrived in reply, instructing me to call the number from the piece.

I will, probably tomorrow, but I'm hesitant to risk being roped into volunteering substantial time. Acknowledging something from the introduction I had made would certainly have accelerated my response. Redirecting people whose preferred method of communication is email merely makes the first impression one of disconnection. A person makes contact in certain way for a reason, and offering the option, while declining to accord, as much as is reasonably effective, with that person's area of comfort makes the effort feel more like responding to a pitch than joining a movement.

Manning's op-ed presented the Republicans as the rebel party, fighting back against the establishment. If its leaders wish to attract the individuals to step forward and stand against the odds, it would behoove them to develop, from the very first contact, a sense of community, camouflaging with personal interest the impersonal processes by which they operate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:20 PM | Comments (1)

A Parting Shot

Wendell Powell, formerly of Cranston, had one last thing to say to the state of Rhode Island as he packed his bags:

I doubt there is any other collection of a million souls in this country who are as politically passive about being repeatedly raped as are the taxpayers of Rhode Island. As a couple, both of us on the north side of 65, with relatively high retirement income, we can no longer justify to ourselves (or our potential inheritors) paying an incremental $9,400 per year in combined state income and property taxes over what we will pay in Tennessee.

Of course, a surplus of citizens "on the north side of 65" is one of the difficulties that we face, politically. But I think Mr. Powell and his wife were probably not of the sort that we should prefer to lose.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:46 PM

May 26, 2004

A Coalescence of Strategies

Well, John Kerry has bowed to pressure to actually accept the Democrat nomination at the Democrat nomination convention. That would seem to undermine the strategy that Mickey Kaus had discerned (all emphasis in original):

The "non-acceptance" gambit is not about campaign money. That's just the cover story! (As if money spent in August made that much difference--a point Simon makes rather forcefully.) Nor is Kerry's seemingly suicidal plan to draw attention to himself by giving a series of high-profile national security speeches over the next 11 days anything but another clever feint. The proof: Just see if he actually says anything memorable! According to ABC's The Note, Kerry plans "town-hall meetings and discussions with military families, veterans, and fire and police personnel." Heh, heh. No network news producer is going to bump Iraq off the air for those proven coma-inducers! If it seems like the Kerry planners are trying to put Mark Halperin to sleep, maybe that's because they are.

But with a little imagination from the Democrats — and perhaps a little help from Bruce Springsteen — all hope may not be lost:

Democratic operatives are buzzing that the Boss has been talking about staging a free concert somewhere on Sept. 2, when President Bush is due to address the Republican National Convention.

Besides getting out the vote, Springsteen hopes to provide "counterprogramming to the message the Republicans will be broadcasting," says a source.

If Springsteen were to stage a free concert in Boston during the Democrat convention, he might draw enough public attention away from Kerry to keep the candidate's shadow-politician opinion boost going.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:17 PM

May 21, 2004

Some Perspective on Hastert v. McCain

It seems a mild, inside the Beltway, scuffle to become outraged about, and my emotions aren't strong either way. However, I thought it worth tracing back a bit of righteous anger from Rod Dreher (whom I respect and like) to see whether I ought to follow suit. Here's Rod (with two key points emphasized by me):

That's the headline on the lead editorial in today's Dallas Morning News, which whacks House Speaker Denny Hastert for his disgraceful suggestion that John McCain needs to go visit wounded soldiers to learn something about sacrifice. I know McCain is not the GOP leadership's favorite, but how dare Speaker Hastert, who escaped Vietnam service on a medical deferment, say such a thing about a senator who was beaten so badly by the communists that he can't raise his hands above his head, and who refused to end his torment by leaving prison early, ahead of his comrades, when the North Vietnamese offered to let him go? It boggles the mind that Hastert would stoop so low -- and over a budget issue, on which McCain happens to be right. It makes me ill that the GOP runs the executive and the legislative branches, and this conservative government is spending worse than Democrats.

McCain is right to say that's wrong. I wish more Republicans would. I'm sick of being told we can have tax cuts without cuts in nonmilitary spending, which as we know has skyrocketed under this administration.

Here's the Dallas Morning News editorial to which Rod refers:

Mr. Hastert's insult of his fellow Republican came in response to comments the Arizona senator made the day before at a deficit conference. "My friends, we are at war," Mr. McCain said then. "Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice. But about the only sacrifice taking place is that by the brave men and women fighting to defend and protect the liberties we hold so dear, and that of their families. It is time for others to step up and start sacrificing." ...

What a disgraceful display. Mr. Hastert needs to be sent to the woodshed with fellow loudmouth Sen. Ted Kennedy, who recently implied that the U.S. management of the Iraqi prison was no different from Saddam Hussein's, which turned it into a blood-soaked gulag.

In fact, Mr. McCain's critique – which was leveled at both parties – is entirely legitimate. According to a recent report by the libertarian Cato Institute, total federal spending will rise 29 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2005. You can't blame it on the war: Nondefense spending will increase about 36 percent during Mr. Bush's first term – this, under a Republican Congress.

It is deeply offensive to trash Mr. McCain as a fake Republican and pseudo-patriot because he insists that it's immoral to spend money we don't have, especially during wartime.

Here's Hastert's exchange with a reporter:

The exchange started when a reporter asked: "Can I combine a two issues, Iraq and taxes? I heard a speech from John McCain the other day..."

Hastert: "Who?"

Reporter: "John McCain."

Hastert: "Where's he from?"

Reporter: "He's a Republican from Arizona."

Hastert: "A Republican?"

Amid nervous laughter, the reporter continued with his question: "Anyway, his observation was never before when we've been at war have we been worrying about cutting taxes and his question was, 'Where's the sacrifice?' "

Hastert: "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And, at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong."

And here's the line from McCain:

As mind-boggling as expanding Medicare has been, nothing tops my confusion with the rationale for cutting taxes during wartime. I don’t remember ever in the history of warfare when we cut taxes.

First, Hastert did not say that that McCain needs "to learn something about sacrifice." Extemporaneously responding to a reporter's characterization of McCain's speech, Hastert said that the troops are making a sacrifice and that the government has to support them financially and to keep the economy strong. (I assume he means the economy, since he was responding to a question about tax cuts.)

Second, although McCain's speech, to the Progressive Policy Institute Forum, was more broadly directed at government spending and devoted most of the tax-cut talk to corporate tax breaks, it appears that Hastert hadn't heard the speech and was only reacting to the line offered by the reporter. Whether or not one believes tax cuts deserve much of the credit for the current growth of our economy, Hastert seems to be referring to that dynamic, not defending big-government spending. As it happens, I agree with most of what McCain says. I also believe that the rhetoric could be toned down some, but that goes for Rod, as well.

Given the heat of the editorial's reaction and the slight-but-significant twist of Hastert's comment to imply something that it did not originally imply, Rod seems to be mixing a heavy helping of politics with his principles, as well. Distorting Hastert's on-the-fly remarks and then comparing them to Ted Kennedy's prepared equation of the Bush administration to the Ba'athists as a regime that encourages torture? That manages to escalate Republican differences beyond the reach of dialogue at the same time as it minimizes the near-treasonous bile from Kennedy.

If this keeps up, editorial cries of outrage will become the pro forma expressions of disagreement. Now, that would be a disgrace.

ADDENDUM:
Ramesh Ponnuru agrees. He makes more points than this, but here's the policy-debate component on which I lack the research to comment:

As for McCain's being right on the underlying budget issues: There is room for doubt. McCain wants a budget rule that makes it harder to cut taxes or increase spending. But he has voted to waive the rules to allow more spending. House Republicans have noticed that, and they don't like it. Whoever's right, it certainly complicates the picture of McCain as apostle of fiscal rectitude.
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:02 PM

May 7, 2004

New England, the California of the East Coast

My gut tells me to dislike this move, but I don't know enough about the standard, the proposal, the science, or the politics to be able to comment with confidence:

Governor Carcieri has announced the adoption of a tough new vehicle emissions standard for new cars sold statewide, with the goal of greatly reducing air pollution.

Adoption of the new standard -- called the California Low Emission or Clean Cars standard -- is expected to spur sales of hybrid vehicles as well as those designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells, electricity or super low emission gasoline.

Auto emissions are considered a major pollutant in the Northeast. More than 30 percent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions in the region come from autos, according to Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, an interstate association of air-quality control divisions. The national average is 22 percent.

Those percentages strike me as potentially misleading. They could be as much proof of less pollution in the Northeast than of more. If most other states have a higher level of greenhouse-gas emissions coming from other sources, their citizens could be driving nothing but 1950s pickup trucks and still have a lower automobile-pollution rate. Furthermore, I've no idea how this is supposed to function in a free marketplace:

Implementation of the standard depends on the formulation of regulations by the Department of Environmental Management.

The new standard requires that 10 percent of all new autos and trucks be zero-emission vehicles, but it does not specify a target date. ...

The standard requires that Rhode Island automakers sell approximately 14,400 hybrid vehicles and more than 78,000 clean conventional cars before 2011, Auten said. Those amounts are adjusted to mimic the ratios of clean cars sold in California. Sales of hybrid and other low-polluting vehicles can be used as credits by auto dealers to meet the 10-percent zero-emissions standard once a target date is implemented, Auten said.

Ignoring the impression that Matt Auten, a "clean air advocate" for the Rhode Island Public Interest Research Group, has given a target date even though none has been set, I have no idea what this will mean in practical terms. Assuming people don't run out and buy hybrid cars (which they won't), what are manufacturers and dealers supposed to do? Three options come quickly to mind:

  1. They can put hybrid engines in types of automobiles (e.g., large SUVs) for which they are not yet adequately developed, thus raising prices.
  2. They can raise the prices of non-compliant automobiles to try to force customers to buy the hybrids and "clean" cars, which could lead consumers to seek out older used cars, instead.
  3. Or they could lower the prices of hybrid/clean cars, perhaps requiring them to raise other prices to compensate.

Given these possibilities, I'd suggest that it would be more appropriate — more in line with individual liberties — for the government to offer incentives directly, for both clean engine development and individual purchases. But Rhode Island has an institutional aversion to giving back any tax dollars, no matter how noble the cause. So, instead, the solution is recourse to the magic legislative pen. We can only hope that it is more powerful in Rhode Island than in California:

The standard was first adopted in California with the mandate that 10 percent of its cars be zero-emission vehicles before 2012. However, auto-dealer associations staunchly opposed the timeline and the new standard was amended without a target date.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:29 AM | Comments (2)

May 6, 2004

Morality, Religion, and Politics in Black and White

Andrew Sullivan is right about the significance of any American Catholic Church action to make a policy of denying Communion to "pro-choice" politicians:

Cutting off people from the sacraments is a drastic step for the church to take; taking on almost all one political party and a hefty swathe of another in a democracy as large and influential as the United States would be a political Rubicon for the Catholic church.

Unfortunately, he doesn't stop there:

I wonder if, under theo-conservative logic, the withholding of the sacraments should be restricted only to public officials. Why not any lay Catholic who publicly dissents from Church teaching on matters of faith and morals? Why not pundits, writers, and, er, bloggers? And why just abortion? Why not those who express enthusiastic support for the death penalty, which is clearly condemned by the Vatican in almost all cases? Why not those who oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is all that keeps us from sliding into the end of civilization, according to National Review? What are the exact lines of demarcation here? I ask, because purges rarely end where they start, and it would be good to read a thorough piece detailing who should be thrown out and who would be allowed by the bishops to stay.

These scattershot litanies of rhetorical questions are certainly a potent weapon. They tempt one into their mire because each point lends itself to easy response, yet they take time to wade through, and lead only to the conclusion that the writer doesn't really care to hear the answers, anyway. For the initial "who else" theme, suffice to say that it's quite a bit simpler to comment on the views of public Catholics, and that the opinions of Catholics who are federal legislators can be more directly and calamitously put into action.

For the "what next" theme, perhaps it will do to suggest that leniency, as well, rarely ends where it starts. What are the lines of demarcation for that? Ought a politician who proposes legislation permitting the post-birth abortion of children who exhibit signs of homosexuality be permitted to take of the Eucharist? As Amy Welborn puts it, "The problem with this is that without nuance, any effort immediately gets boiled down to a checklist." One would think Sullivan's penchant for nuance elsewhere, not to mention his Christian foundation, would overcome the tendency of libertarians to demand universally applicable rules.

The conclusion exposed through whittling the rhetoric down is that Sullivan doesn't fundamentally acknowledge the depth of the Church's opposition to abortion. "I see every reason for the church to make a positive case loudly and often about the moral gravity of abortion." A positive case about moral gravity? Encouraging positive action to oppose the killing of demonstrably innocent human beings indicates an "impulse to publicly shame, purge and purify religion"? To be fair, I suspect abortion isn't Sullivan's primary topic, here; rather those (we) damnable theocons are.

This suspicion finds support in Sullivan's subsequent and related piece on The New Republic's Web site. Most obviously, in attacking Robert Novak et al., Sullivan drops the inclusion of both political parties from his assessment of what the Church is doing:

Catholicism cannot be simply translated into being a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative. It is about faith and morals, not about partisanship. It is also about a stance toward human beings that concedes that we are all human, all sinners and all capable of error. Sincere politicians who differ on conscientious grounds on some matters of faith are not always being bad Catholics. By carefully weighing the issues, by finding the difficult link between their private faith and their public duties in a secular, multi-faith democracy, they are often being good Catholics in a complex modern world.

It's interesting to note that Sullivan believes politicians to be capable of a careful balance on issues that the Church apparently cannot muster. But since the reference is to an ideal, sincere politician, I suppose such an attribute might be found in him, as well. The matter of partisanship comes up again when Sullivan quotes Novak quoting Deal Hudson as saying, "Anytime our leaders allow the life issue to be made one of many issues provides cover for Kerry's effort to attract Catholic votes." Sullivan explains the statement as follows:

The premise of Hudson's remarks is that all traditional Catholics have to vote for a pro-life Republican (since the Democrats are institutionally committed to abortion rights). Any other position must be condemned by the hierarchy and in the most painful personal way--by denying the sacraments to the individual concerned.

Contrary to the parenthetical, Hudson said nothing about Democrats' institutional commitments. If the party position were the determiner, then why would a particular Republican have to be pro-life? Politically concerned Catholics understand not only that an individual is responsible for his own actions, but also that it is critical to insert into institutionally hostile groups believers who will witness to the proper attitude. Sullivan's reinterpretation isn't a small matter. Most profoundly, it allows him to elide from demands on a politician to demands on voters. He concedes that Kerry doesn't appear to be taking a careful, "reluctant" approach to resolving political and moral demands, but in contrast, he presents the Church as acting in a way that it is not:

For the Church to start picking political candidates would be a death-knell to its ability to be a trans-political religious organization. Separating the Church from electoral politics is in fact a defense of Catholicism from the depredations of politicized religion that has so infected the Protestant right, which is now a de facto branch of one political party.

Nobody in the hierarchy (that I've seen) has declared Kerry unfit for office or insisted that his Catholic supporters should cease to take Communion. Sullivan, lover of nuance to complexity that he is, reduces the options for everybody (except politicians) to two: either the Church must offer consequence-free suggestions, or it must act specifically against any politician who differs with any of its teachings, from capital punishment to "regressive tax policies"; either Catholic voters must place abortion in the same category as every other social issue, or they must use abortion as an unadulterated litmus test.

The latter point allows him to go one step further and, by lumping abortion in with capital punishment, pull President Bush into the dispute. In the context of the actual question with respect to handling John Kerry, this makes absolutely no sense. Bush is not Catholic, and Catholics are not being told how to vote. At most, conservatives in the Church are suggesting that Kerry oughtn't be allowed to portray himself as a Catholic in good standing — some for political reasons, yes, but also because Kerry's activities and the Church's silence about them has the effect of distorting what its moral position is. (And if Catholic voters could only vote for Catholics in good standing, Bush would be out of the running from the start.)

This distinction between endorsing a policy and endorsing the endorser of a policy comes up again (and not just by Sullivan) with respect to Rick Santorum's support of Arlen Specter. I'm as disappointed as anybody in the sequence events in Pennsylvania, but I've been bewildered by the currency that statements such as the following from Sullivan have had:

Didn't Santorum effectively urge voters to support someone who favors abortion in some cases against a candidate who opposes it in all circumstances? Shouldn't the Vatican be refusing to grant the sacraments to Santorum because of his deviation from the official all-or-nothing line? Wasn't he giving voters Catholic "cover" for voting for an abortion supporter?

First, it must be noted that "all or nothing" is Sullivan's insistence; for the Church, it's closer to "for some, under certain circumstances." Second, he glosses over the degree to which a point that he makes toward his own position applies to that of his opponents, as well. If a politician can vote in support of abortion given a larger context of issues, surely voters can vote for a politician despite a given policy disagreement. I'd argue that voters — once removed from the actual issue and twice removed from an actual abortion — have considerably more room for judgment.

One gets the impression that Sullivan believes only politicians can be trusted with balancing difficult factors. Or else, that actions that have political ramifications must be taken for political reasons and aligned with the rules of politics, even when they are founded in religion. That approach to life and society strikes me as neither Christian nor American.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:20 PM | Comments (1)

Backing Their Man

One almost has to laugh. The AP has chimed in on John Kerry's post-Vietnam activities in a piece by Calvin Woodward titled, "1970s FBI File Pegs Kerry As Moderate":

The FBI, closely tracking the anti-war movement in the 1970s, concluded John Kerry was a glib, moderate figure in a Vietnam veterans group that took a radical turn around the time he left it, documents show.

The FBI file on Vietnam Veterans Against the War says the organization swung toward "militant and revolutionary-type activities" but accuses Kerry, now the Democratic presidential candidate, of little more than charisma.

Don't misunderstand me: this is certainly legitimate news that ought to be added into the public debate over John Kerry's background. But my impression is that, for folks reading only the mainstream press, this news is the debate. There's no sentence, for example, saying, "The release of the FBI's documents comes just as veterans who served with Kerry in Vietnam have publicly questioned his fitness to serve as Commander in Chief and called upon him 'to provide a full, accurate accounting of your conduct in Vietnam.'"

Yeah, I know. Too much to ask.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:36 AM

May 4, 2004

Up the Hill

Most readers of this blog will have seen this news already, but I thought I'd post it for any of my fellow New Englanders who happen to check in for one reason or another; many of them, if conversations are a gauge, will find it difficult to believe:

Smaller-than-expected tax refunds and rising individual tax receipts will pare back federal borrowing significantly for the first half of this year and could reduce the $521 billion deficit projected for the fiscal year by as much as $100 billion, Treasury and congressional budget officials said yesterday.

The Treasury Department's borrowing estimates may prove to be more good news for President Bush on the economic front, as opponents attempt to make his fiscal stewardship a campaign issue. The $184 billion the government is now expected to borrow through June is a 27 percent improvement from Treasury's February projection of $252 billion, the department said. ...

All of this indicates that the improving economy is beginning to slow a three-year slide in overall tax receipts.

"The 5.5 percent average [economic growth] pace in the latest three quarters was the largest since 1984," said Mark J. Warshawsky, assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, in a statement to the department's borrowing advisory committee. "With the assistance of tax cuts, growth has become self-sustaining."

Reporter Jonathan Weisman leaves the best part (from a conservative's point of view) for the very end:

Last week, lawmakers in both parties voted overwhelmingly to make permanent Bush's tax cuts for married couples, a bill that would cost the Treasury $105 billion over 10 years. For the next three weeks, the House has scheduled successive votes on more tax cuts totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

Why don't we cut some spending while we're at it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 PM

April 30, 2004

Never Know Who's out There

Again and again, I've run into the palpable lack of alternative media in Rhode Island, and the periodic emails that I get from area conservatives expressing isolation confirm that venues don't exist for them to coordinate and encourage each other. I realize the likelihood that folks in the national conservative establishment may be inclined to write off Rhode Island as a lost cause, but I really don't think it would take much by way of effort and funds to begin to rectify this problem. (And I can't help but see the potentialof significance, at least, to the fact that the President chose a Rhode Island girl's letter for his SOTU and that the teacher of the year was a Rhode Islander.)

So, with the understanding that bloggers can't really know who's in their audience, I thought I'd post a little feeler to see if anybody's got any ideas about how to find support for an incipient movement — foundations to contact and such. As it happens, my circumstances and skill set lend themselves to the task at hand, and a little push might go a long way.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:16 AM

April 29, 2004

The Undercurrent of the Nation

The editorial pages are easily the best part of the Providence Journal — often presenting a refreshing bit of ideological balance to the rest of the paper. From a generalized, external view, much of the credit for this seems to belong to Robert Whitcomb, who ended a recent column with this sentiment:

But then, you see remarkably few people reading both The Nation and The National Review. Too anxiety-provoking. We want the soothing voices of the amen chorus.

The number of true loners is low in politics and political commentary. We need a lot more of them.

A penchant for balanced reading may be an occupational benefit for an opinion-page editor, but Whitcomb comes a bit too close to that sort of equivalence that presumes each side must be inherently wrong, as evidenced by the disagreement of the other. Are tax cuts good policy or not? Is embryonic stem-cell research moral or not? Yes or no?

Of course, particulars exist that require hammering, both for individual issues and broad platforms. However, the fact that large batches of issues seem to break according to a handful of underlying worldviews does not mean that any two worldviews are equally valid. Preferring the bulk of one's reading to be analysis from people who share a certain number of one's premises is not prima facie indication of anxiety-aversion or unoriginality. Political labels can be seen as a useful shorthand for some of those premises, not necessarily as a substitute for actual consideration. For a conservative, reading The Nation is to find one's self constantly arguing first principles, whereas reading National Review allows a depth of exploration enabled by the ability to take fundamental points for granted.

In this context, it's interesting that the Projo should publish, three days after Mr. Whitcomb's lament of the middleman, a piece by Jerry Landay that would not be out of place in The Nation:

THE FEDERAL ELECTION Commission is considering a proposal -- pushed aggressively by the Bush re-election campaign -- that would curb spending on federal elections by a handful of Democratic advocacy organizations. They are referred to as "527" groups, under the Internal Revenue Service provisions granting them tax exemptions. Republicans accuse the groups, including America Coming Together and MoveOn, of being little more than a shadow arm of the Democratic Party.

Yet Republican agitprop groups, also tax-exempt, have been politically active for years. This little-known political machine is in fact unparalleled in American political history, and it augments the official Bush campaign. It contains some 350 right-wing activist organizations, highly coordinated, adeptly led and well funded, by private foundations, corporations and individuals.

Landay provides a perfect example of the reason that my reading of "the other side" generally occurs within a preexisting investigation. His claims are founded in layer upon layer of intricately tilted and selectively tinted background, liberally peppered with unsubstantiated, unexplained fear-mongering like: "Reinforced by this unofficial apparatus, the Republicans dominating the three branches of the federal government thwart constitutional checks and balances."

With every last clause in the piece, one will agree or disagree, and to explain disagreement requires ever-expanding subtlety and research. Consider Landay's reference to 350 organizations. To answer his claim, one would have to figure out to what, exactly, he's referring. Does he include every single organization that supports some arguably conservative policy? Those he does name certainly aren't explicitly Republican. More specifically, he does nothing but assert that "Bush campaigns to empower the ideological agenda of the apparatus, and the apparatus, in turn, campaigns for Bush."

It is odd that Landay, as one whom Google shows to be unusually interested in this topic, shows no indication that he's aware of the disenchantment with the administration among its conservative base. Except for the tax cuts and the war, the "cohort" has had many reasons for disappointment in a President so ostensibly beholden to them. William F. Buckley phrased the matter well last July:

What happened to President Bush? He is, incidentally, everywhere criticized abroad, and, now, by Democratic presidential candidates, as autocratic, domineering. How to account for his passivity in most matters of legislative, to say nothing of judicial, consequence? He fought hard for his tax bill and, of course, for his nominees to the courts of appeal. But on most other matters, it is as if he did not exist. The Supreme Court has pronounced itself arbiter of all serious questions having to do with states' rights. The president was manifestly pleased that the Court took over the whole affirmative-action problem, and he confessed himself "pleased" that the Court acknowledged the utility and the pleasures of diversity.

Amazingly, Landay cites an organization concerned with ending affirmative action as among the organizations with a sort of Bush quid pro quo. More broadly, he defines the "ideological platform" of the "affiliated organizations" as one that the President has done precious little to further. And even were the President more concerned with "the care and feeding of American conservatives," as WFB puts it, Landay glosses over the fact that every such organization he mention is ideological and issue-oriented, not specifically political.

For all his claims against their activities, these groups are doing exactly what our Constitution was designed to encourage. They are exercising rights of free association, free speech, and freedom to petition the government to shape policies that they believe to be important. Landay makes dark insinuations about a "shadow government," but in a democracy, that's exactly what the people are supposed to be, and 350 organizations spanning decades and espousing the beliefs of at least one-half of Americans represent a lot of people.

So what of the comparison to the "527" groups? Well, take a look at the home pages of the two that Landay mentions: MoveOn and ACT. This statement from ACT summarizes what you'll see (emphasis added):

America Coming Together-we are the foot soldiers of the progressive movement. We are dedicated to defeating George W. Bush, electing progressives at all levels of government, and mobilizing millions of people to register and vote around the critical issues facing our country.

After taking a moment to ponder what it might mean, exactly, to "vote around issues," take a look at the home page of the Heritage Foundation, which Landay calls "the senior component of the [conservative] apparatus." Policy suggestions. Analysis. Research. All of the other groups have much the same, and although I may have missed it, I didn't see a single streaming-video anti-Kerry ad.

To splash some big numbers in his column, Landay cites the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the goal of which (based on a quick review of its Web site) appears to be to battle conservative organizations and promote progressive non-profits. Apparently, dominating "state, local and national politics" and tilting "American governance, economics, education, media and law rightward" isn't all that expensive, relatively:

NCRP finds that $253 million flowed between 1999 and 2001 alone to these 350 organizations, from 79 private grant-making organizations.

The Heritage Foundation, the senior component of the apparatus, was the lead recipient, at $25 million.

So, the Cabal of 350 split $84 million among themselves annually, for an average of $240,000 each. That's a little less than MoveOn.org raised in five days of 1999, a year in which it raised at least $13 million. In just the first quarter of this year, MoveOn raised almost $7 million, all of it apparently going toward political activism — in contrast to the broader activities of such groups as the Heritage Foundation. According to CNN, in a piece from January 2004:

In November, billionaire philanthropist George Soros and his business partner, Peter Lewis, pledged a $5 million matching grant -- a dollar for every two raised by MoveOn members -- to create a $15 million advertising campaign to defeat President Bush.

Turning back to Landay and those conservative groups funded by scheming plutocrats, we find more numbers from a liberal activist:

Rob Stein, a Washington researcher who lectures on this apparatus, estimates that since 1972 a total of $2.5 billion to $3 billion has flowed to its leading 43 affiliates. He terms these "the cohort, an incubator of right-wing ideological policies that constitute the Bush administration's agenda."

Get out the calculators. Accepting the high end of that surely-not-conservative range, the average one among the Band of 43 saw annual money "flow" of $2 million. In the world of big-money politics, that's just about enough to fund some research and publish some analysis that nobody need be compelled to heed. And indeed, it isn't activism per se, but rhetoric, that Stein mentions in the next paragraph:

The cohort, he says, is "a potent, never-ending source of intellectual content, laying down the slogans, myths, and buzz words" -- such as the myth of the liberal media -- "that have helped shift public opinion rightward."

So there you have it. This "shadow government" consists essentially of Americans thinking, writing, and speaking about the direction that they'd like our nation to go. For Landay, conservatives' simply having the audacity to make their presence known is "counterrevolutionary and anti-constitutional" in such a way as to "thwart constitutional checks and balances."

Stein's ridiculous characterization of the liberal media as a "myth" serves to remind us of that the multibillion-dollar industry's activities. One can argue that the mainstream media as well as universities and lawyers' groups are only aligned with the Democrats as a matter of policy preference, but that's the exact same coordination on which Landay builds his argument against conservative groups. I'd like to see a tally of the funds going toward liberal research, rhetoric, and activism over the last 30 years. Writing out the total, alone, would take up a few newspaper column inches.

As I said toward the beginning of this post, rebutting these columns from those on the other side is a time-consuming business. There are myriad facets, as well as interwoven threads of self-interest and unacknowledged connections. Especially when dealing with somebody of Mr. Landay's experience... and inside view:

Jerry M. Landay, of Bristol, a former CBS-News correspondent, is an occasional contributor.

Watch out for those "myths," Mr. Whitcomb. They may be fairytales.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2004

Words Passed Through History

Lane Core has been keeping an eye on politics, generally, and John Kerry specifically. For posterity's sake, he's ensured that Kerry's 1971 Vietnam testimony is available as a clean and readable PDF. (Note: that link goes to an html page.)

I'm starting to wonder how the Internet is affecting the behavior of future John Kerrys. Statements can no longer be made with the understanding that they'll disappear into niches of the country, requiring effort to find them. Demand for content can just about disappear for 30 years, but interested parties will still be able to access it as if it had been posted the week before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:29 PM | Comments (5)

April 21, 2004

Allies Best Backed into Battle

Too late, when prudence craves alliance with
Those who claim support to be contingent,
We find, as oft we do from restive kith:
Though they face our foes, they're retromingent.

[Why should only Derbyshire get to play?]

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:57 PM

April 20, 2004

While Stopping Back at the Attic

By necessity, desire, and design, I've been stepping outside of my little attic office more often lately and conversing with my fellow Southeast New Englanders. One thing continues to shock: their pessimism about the economy.

I get the impression that they will refuse to believe in a recovery until we've gone through another whole cycle of boom and bust. The boom will be just an uncertain blip, and the following bust will be a toldyaso. Then, depending on who's in office, they might believe that the economy isn't "in the dumper" when it turns upward again

I don't think that, on the individual level, people are consciously downplaying the economy because the Republicans are running things. It's just that the news they hear is so thoroughly crafted to cast shadows across the noonday economic landscape.

Well, I've got to go back out into the sunshine and liberalism. I'll be back later.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:19 PM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2004

Standing Firm in the Political Playground

Craig Henry is on part five of a series of posts exploring the pre-9/11 intelligence failure:

Connect the dots. That's a kid's game on the place-mat at the Ground Round. Can a serious person really think that threat analysis is child's play?

It oughtn't be lost on anybody that a blogger is here doing what people with among the highest-level government views of events in the country are hamstrung from doing because they can't escape the pull of the issue's political gravity. I'll have to think about this, but perhaps that's part of the forming dynamic: that channels for sober analysis arise outside of the government, picking up some sparks of information from politicians who are essentially putting on a show, but mostly following the accounts of unheralded reporters, obscure academics, and think-tank financed researchers. Unfortunately, the mainstream media seems not to realize the opportunity that this opening presents.

That the "official" information is being revealed amid such a volatile mixture of forces has implications for the way in which our leaders' messages must be delivered. In short, most compromised are clarity and evenly keeled assessment that openly accepts blame among the culpable. This is where I have to differ with Paul Craddick's reflection about the "better explanation and accounting" that the administration could give in the case of Iraq. Oh, I agree with Paul that his proposed speech would be wonderful to hear from the President's lips, but that is merely to say that it would be wonderful if the environment allowed him to deliver it.

No matter the balanced, brilliantly straightforward points offered in the speech, the media and the President's opponents would strive to ensure that this would be the only part heard:

We haven't yet reached a final assessment - the ISG, now under the direction of Charles Duelfer, continues its work under difficult conditions.

Still, there's no question that we haven't found what we - and Intelligence agencies 'round the world - were expecting. And that's not good.

Though we don't know to what extent, it's appearing more and more likely that we were all mistaken...

This may not be anything peculiar to our age, taking a broader view than the past decade or so, but on these crucial life-and-death matters, it seems leaders are having just to act and let people discover that it was all for the best. This is obviously not an ideal approach; it amounts to hoping that we have leaders who will act as adults even as they are forced to stoop to bullies in the political playground. Perhaps as people notice, the value of candor will increase once again.

For a little bit of hope, we turn to David Morrison:

Years ago, when I lived in Israel for a time, in the same valley as Jenin, Israeli Arab associates of mine strongly urged me as an American to steer clear of the area, and that was in the early 1980's. If the fence has managed to reduce the overall tensions in the area, on both sides, which it seems to have done, that would be a good thing for everybody.

The story to which he's responding offers a personalized view:

Last January 1, when the first stretch of fence was completed, Avman met with the mayor of Jenin at brigade headquarters. "On the way back home," he promised the disbelieving mayor, "you will not see a single Israeli tank."

Who would have listened had this result (probably expected, by some) been predicted before the fence went up?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:35 AM

April 16, 2004

Women of the Right on Bias and Hypocrisy

A pair of columns from female stars among conservative pundits are worth noting, both dealing with bias and hypocrisy. Ann Coulter emphasizes the bias part:

When Democrats make an accusation against Republicans, newspaper headlines repeat the accusation as a fact: "U.S. Law Chief 'Failed to Heed Terror Warnings,'" "Bush Was Told of Qaida Steps Pre-9-11; Secret Memo Released," "Bush White House Said to Have Failed to Make al-Qaida an Early Priority."

But when Republicans make accusations against Democrats – even accusations backed up by the hard fact of a declassified Jamie Gorelick memo – the headlines note only that Republicans are making accusations: "Ashcroft Lays Blame at Clinton's Feet," "Ashcroft: Blame Bubba for 9-11," "Ashcroft Faults Clinton in 9-11 Failures."

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin concentrates on hypocrisy:

Unsurprisingly, when Attorney General John Ashcroft acted decisively to detain more than 1,200 potential Zacarias Moussaouis after Sept. 11 he was lambasted by Democrats, the ACLU, minority groups, and, yes, the New York Times editorial board, which attacked Ashcroft's "extreme measures" (Nov. 10, 2001) against illegal alien detainees who were merely "Muslim men with immigration problems" (Sept. 10, 2002).
Posted by Justin Katz at 6:58 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2004

In Tune with Nordlinger

Jay Nordlinger agrees that some of the criticism hurled at the administration, while possibly well meaning, goes a bit further than is justified:

Why shouldn't military leaders know better than civilian leaders what strict requirements on the ground are? Isn't this supposed to be a lesson from Vietnam: that Lyndon Johnson and Bob McNamara, sitting in Washington, don't necessarily know best?

Well, those commanders have now stated the need for more troops. And the president and the secretary of defense have responded with alacrity.

I don't see why that's so shameful. I don't know how many troops are necessary; and neither would George W. Bush. But the likes of John Abizaid would know — and their word should count for a lot. The notion that Bush and Rumsfeld are somehow grudging about furnishing the tools — and the men — to finish the job is absurd.

"Leave it to the experts" isn't necessarily dismissive advice; experts are, well, experts, and when a particular one of them is in a position to have maximal information, in an endeavor in which secrecy is extensive, that's who the average person ought to trust most on the specifics. I, for one, consider it among President Bush's best qualities that he seems to understand this.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:23 PM

That's Our Kennedy

Perhaps the single greatest frustration of living in this area is that it happens to be the Congressional district that Ted Kennedy bequeathed to his son Patrick. I've let this sit all day to allow my blood pressure to lower, and in fairness even to Rep. Kennedy, I've adjusted my reaction to account for the fact that his worst statement is largely conveyed through clipped quotes and paraphrases. Still, the $100-a-plate baloney doesn't settle very well:

Charging that President Bush "has created an absolute nightmare for our country and for our troops" in Iraq, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy said yesterday that the United States should consider scrapping its June 30 deadline for transferring sovereignty to Iraqis.

"If we get out of there on June 30, we'll have a fundamentalist cleric in charge of Iraq in no time," said Kennedy, a Democrat. As for how the U.S. occupation should proceed if the deadline is dissolved, "I'm not going to bail the president out," Kennedy said. "There are better minds than mine to try to decipher what our policy should be."

The problem is the president's, Kennedy said. Mr. Bush "is between a rock and a hard place" in Iraq because of "his Texas, my-way-or-the-highway" approach to the attack on Saddam Hussein's regime last year.

No, Pat, the problem is our troops', and it is ours, which means that it is yours. Beyond this idea of bailing out the President — which manages to skirt the line between indecipherable, inept, and offensive — his comments are mostly boilerplate gibberish about how Bush alienated what Projo writer John Mulligan phrases as "potential allies." I suppose that includes those nations that strove to keep their sweet deals through the U.N.'s Oil for Pillage program. Representative Jim Langevin, in a related fashion, proposes that we hand off sovereignty not to the Iraqis, but to the United Nations. Honestly, I'm astonished that U.S. Congressmen still have such an sanguine view of that organization.

Nonetheless, even if Kennedy lets fly comments with bizarre and potentially disturbing subtexts — such as that handing sovereignty to the Arabs in Iraq in June "doesn't sound too kosher" — that's not the worst part of the reality of my federal representation. No, the worst part is that the state seems to have the leaders it wants — that it deserves. I believe Kennedy when he says the following:

Kennedy said constituents who talk to him about Iraq are overwhelmingly opposed to continuing the U.S. occupation. "Eighty percent of people -- maybe 90 percent of people -- say, 'We've got to get out of there. Just get out of there.' I hear these words several times a day. 'Let them kill themselves. Why are we letting them kill us?' " Kennedy said. "How can you blame people" for those sentiments, he said.

How can you blame them? Well, the evident ignorance about the state of the world and the implied racism would seem reasonable places to begin an accusation. But assigning blame and seeking to spark reflection among people who would say such things is a fruitless pursuit. Better to focus on the substance of the issues... and to go back to lamenting that these folks take their heads out of the sand long enough to vote.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:24 PM | Comments (2)

When Rhetoric Exceeds Information

One point that the President addressed in his press conference spoke directly to something that's been bothering me of late:

Well, I -- first of all, that's up to General Abizaid, and he's clearly indicating that he may want more troops. It's coming up through the chain of command. If that's what he wants, that's what he gets. Generally, we've had about 115,000 troops in Iraq. There's 135,000 now, as a result of the changeover from one division to the next. If he wants to keep troops there to help, I'm more than willing to say, "Yes, General Abizaid."

Very few commenters, whether pundits or bloggers, have a basis to make declarations about force size. And even those with some expertise should still heavily qualify their analysis with contingencies and avoid heavy rhetoric. Unless a situation arises in which somebody important and involved in the effort — Gen. Abizaid, for example — is publicly turned down for a request, it seems a bit presumptuous to spew talking points. There are simply too many considerations involved, to most of which the public isn't privy.

Our duty, as citizens, is to be vigilant for problems, but it is far too easy to forget that part of the reason ours isn't a purely direct democracy — and that such responsibilities as war waging fall to the most singular branch of government — is the requirement of decisive action based on subtle information that is best kept out of public view.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:20 AM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2004

Op-Ed Page Feelers

We sincere dabblers in the political game should consider it a sign of our own moral health if we find unnerving the willingness among our more-experienced brethren to treat politicians' meaningless policy feelers credulously. For a contrary example, Newzilla reacts appropriately to John Kerry's tentative whispers of something somehow not quite at odds with a tempered variation of resolve in Iraq:

The man that would be president if only the American people would vote for him wants to handle matters of great importance by waiving privilege to voice our opinions and our concerns. This is not a man that should ever be president of the United States of America.

The voices are out there, if you listen, objecting that Kerry would have to take things more seriously if he actually were the President. At some level, it seems to me, that requires a belief that Kerry doesn't actually believe the basic tenets that he's followed for his entire public career and that the bulk of his supporters echo. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is the echo.)

Whether he's been pretending a convenient worldview for decades or his current hints of sanity are affectations, his proximity to the Commander in Chief's chair is truly frightening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:26 PM

April 13, 2004

The Way We Weren't

It's one thing to recast a group's history to conform to its current persona. It's an entirely separate matter to attempt to rewrite that history in a way that conflicts even with current behavior. Nonetheless, as Rich Lowry suggests, the Democrats are attempting to do just that:

The image of the pre-9/11 Democrats created during the past several weeks is a fantasy, the opportunistic canard of a party only willing to be hardheaded in retrospect and when it serves the cause of damaging Bush. The actual pre-9/11 Democrats have a strong resemblance to the post-9/11 Democrats — hostile to necessary law-enforcement powers, allergic to military force, politically correct on any question touching ethnicity and obsessed with not alienating any international actor who can remotely be considered an ally.

It would be such a pleasure to see the Democrats push this rhetoric so far that they begin generating political pressure on themselves to take the hard-line policies that they are declaring self-evidently advisable. Of course, coherency isn't generally a binding principle, in their case.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:52 PM

Ownership of the State

Providence Journal editorial-pages editor Edward Achorn accuses the good people of Rhode Island of being "The biggest saps in America." He's right:

It adds up to a beautiful state that is being served badly -- scandalously so -- by its elected leaders. In Rhode Island, government is costly, taxes are high, people with connections line their pockets at the expense of taxpayers, public education is second-rate, and business development is scared away by the civic culture.

Rhode Island could do vastly better, of course. But it will never change until citizens who are being played for suckers start demanding better.

Young, struggling families — such as those headed by semi-employed conservative writers, just to put an entirely random face on them — can be excused for wondering if they mightn't increase their chances of success exponentially were they to move elsewhere. The problems come from various components of public life and public culture, and they are so thoroughly woven into the mindsets of the citizens that "suckers" is less applicable a description than "drones."

I may not have a completely developed sense of the state, but the impression that I've gotten is that everything is homogenous. The unions, government, and media are monolithic. The major, culture-generating industries are higher education and tourism. The former ensures that mouthing highfalutin liberal policies is a central requirement for public office, while the latter gives an excuse for economy-stifling environmentalism. Both industries are largely characterized by the temporary population that they attract, which must contribute to the approach to monetary and public service policies.

From the time I was a child, I've preferred to take such challenges head on, scorning the option of running away. But frankly, I don't know how much longer even my wife's large local family will be sufficient justification to continue the struggle to squeeze through the economic and cultural barriers that we face.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:44 PM | Comments (1)

April 3, 2004

Let's Be Outraged About the Right Thing

Glenn Reynolds invokes the Lott affair while linking to John Cole's reaction to another objectionable statement from a Republican. Cole quotes Mark Kleiman's summary:

Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, speaking of Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, a dark-haired, dark-skinned second-generation Italian-American running against him this fall:

"I have to tell you he looks like one of Saddam Hussein's sons... I mean before they were dead, of course...I really mean that he looks like one of Saddam's sons, and he even dresses like them, too."

Cole is absolutely correct that the comment was inappropriate, and even more than absolutely correct that Bunning's behavior after the fact deserves sharp rebuke. However, regarding the actual statement, it isn't directly comparable to Lott's, and there is room for context to make it better or worse. For example, if the line of oration had been political lookalikes, the comparison would just be a matter of extremely poor taste. If the preceding sentence had been something along the lines of "they all look the same to me," that would have been much worse. Somewhere in between — and still objectionable — would have been a "looking like the enemy" context.

I know nothing about Kentucky politics, so I won't presume to guess what the context might have been. (I've also little reason to get worked up about the joke for the same reason.) However, the charge of racism seems largely to have been imposed upon the comment, and while it could possibly play a role, that isn't necessarily the case: compare here and here.

ADDENDUM:
Well, I guess the poorly conceived comments are alike in the way Chris Muir suggests in today's Day by Day cartoon. However, I hope there are a lot of available seats at that meeting!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:45 PM | Comments (7)

April 1, 2004

A President You Could Vote For

John Kerry had some surprising comments on MTV, and to be honest, somebody who would say such things — to that audience, especially — goes up a few notches in my estimation:

I think that serious politics is best left to those who have the temperament and personality for the real world of governance. You can't sum up the farm bill in a five-stanza song. You can trot out Woody Guthrie to get the audience to believe you're for the guy who's got 40 acres and a mountain of debt, but Woody isn't much use when you have to balance the needs of the domestic sugar-beet industry against foreign competition.

It's not an insult to say that musicians don't belong in politics, any more than it's an insult to say that Supreme Court judges shouldn't tour with Phish, or golf pros shouldn't start writing articles for medical journals.

And...

I never saw a single episode of "Friends," because what happens on "Friends" just doesn’t come up on the floor of the Senate that often, and I have to keep up to speed on the requirements of my job. But as far as I know it's about a bunch of good-looking kids who have amusing problems. That's fine, but America has some serious problems, and it's my job to address those. ...

Popular music, the stuff you have here on MTV, won't be so important to you as you get older. You'll still love it, and the old songs will still sound great, but when you're young it occupies an oversized place in your life. Sometimes I think people of my generation were more upset by the breakup of the Beatles than the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Well, okay, okay, you probably already know that these quotations are just Lileks dreaming about what a politician could say on MTV. In reality, Kerry spoke about as you'd expect Kerry to speak. For example, Jeff Miller notes Kerry's response to the question, "I heard you were really inspired by John F. Kennedy. Who do you think is an inspirational figure for my generation?" Spoketh JF Kerry:

Boy, that's a good question. You know, it's just a different time right now. As I talk to my daughters, who are recent graduates of college and out there, they tell me that a lot of young people just don't have that kind of feeling right now. Certainly not about politics. And I regret that. That's one of the things that I would like to change. I mean, Howard Dean and I just did a rally here at George Washington University, talking to young people about making politics relevant again. And a lot of what I would like to achieve in this race comes out of the inspiration of my own experience when a candidate for president, and then a president, challenged us to become involved and change the system. You know, young people have so much more power than they tend to think to be able to affect politics. And if people will organize and get involved and go out and knock on doors and hand out leaflets and make a change, then they can determine the future. And that's what I think is at stake in this race. I hope I can inspire young people to care about the system in this race, certainly in terms of politics. I know there are a lot of musicians and a lot of artists and there are a lot of writers and other people who inspire young people, but I'd like to see somebody in political life be able to connect and make these choices that we need to make in Washington real in terms of people's lives.

Understandably, given that ponderous paragraph, Jeff's conclusion that Kerry's had been one of those flub answers to avoid admitting that he had no clue who would be relevant to the young lady asking the question is only half correct. There was an answer of the sort that politicians are rightly inclined to step around. Did you catch it?

I hope I can inspire young people to care about the system in this race, certainly in terms of politics.

Note that a few sentences before he expressed this hope, Kerry suggested that Kennedy — the context of the question — had done the same for his generation. So. Kerry's answer to the question about who could inspire the younger generation? "Me."

Don't let this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. Please.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM

Swim for That Green Light, John

It's in the fine print of my guidelines for writing this blog that I must link to anything that relates politics intelligently and interestingly to classic American literature. Jim Geraghty deservedly benefits from that policy today with a piece on John Kerry and Jay Gatsby:

Naushon Island, off the Massachusetts coast, has been known as the home of pirates, who confiscated the hard-earned wealth of merchants and businessmen; sheep, obedient creatures who demonstrate no independence; ticks and flies, droning annoying pests; and is rumored to be haunted by frightening, ghostly pale, gaunt figures. It is also a family home of John Kerry...

Note to college students: There's definitely a longish paper in this comparison, with many subtle, intriguing parallels and connections. (For example, the Forbes family, of which Kerry is an offshoot, made its money, in part, trading opium. Gatsby was a bootlegger, as was the Kennedy patriarch, if I remember correctly.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:11 PM

March 30, 2004

Slapping the Judges' Hands

Michael Williams informs readers of a pair of identical bills making their way through Congress with two central themes:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government. ...

In interpreting and applying the Constitution of the United States, a court of the United States may not rely upon any constitution, law, administrative rule, Executive order, directive, policy, judicial decision, or any other action of any foreign state or international organization or agency, other than the constitutional law and English common law.

"The Constitution Restoration Act of 2004" also includes text about impeachment. The teeth inserted by that language's inclusion mean that the legislature, if this passes, would be taking an actual stand rather than essentially petitioning its judicial betters to behave.

Perhaps it is the strength of the move, combined with potential for increased ease for subsequent measures of the same sort, that makes Michael qualify his support as "tentative" and suggest a sunset provision for the restriction. The prudence of such specifics is open to debate, but the degree to which a sunset might undermine the purpose of the step is a necessary consideration against the perceived need to insert a date for automatic cessation. The law can change according to future circumstances, and if any government branch is going to be too powerful, it's best that it be the legislature.

Subsequently, Michael makes a point that could be seen as arguing for the "permanence" of a sunsetless act:

I don't know how effective such a law would be because I'm not confident that judges' rulings are always honestly tied to the explanations they give. Judges could still rule based on these un-American factors but simply stop saying so and cloak their reasoning behind more acceptable justifications. Still, it might make their jobs more difficult.

Through such legalistic maneuvering, the judiciary could force both other branches to combine efforts to restrain it, if the courts so desire, with the executive finding it necessary to publicly declare a refusal to enforce a particular ruling. A sunset might merely delay the showdown. In contrast, perhaps the best way to avoid such a turn of events would be through various smaller measures that amount to hand-slaps (in their judiciary-facing provisions), such as the Constitution Restoration Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment.

If nothing is done, however, it just might be that the currently unthinkable judicial coup would arise quickly with the support of a global central government. Even in the initial efforts of the legislature, we see the reflection of this potential struggle. Note that both themes of the act have, essentially, to do with sovereignty: protecting officials who proclaim that belonging to God and restricting judges who wish to chip away at that of the United States of America.

"One nation under God" doesn't seem like such a superfluous verbiage to the Pledge in this context, does it?

ADDENDUM:
Just a note on a stratagem of which James Heflin, who was quoted for the WorldNetDaily report to which Michael links, is surely just an early practitioner. Writes Heflin:

The restricting of Supreme Court jurisdiction is a strange maneuver, but one which the hazy language of the relevant part of the Constitution may allow.

The first step in disregarding pieces of the Constitution that one finds disagreeable, rather than working to amend them, is to portray them as "hazy," almost accidental words that somehow slipped into the crucial founding legal document. Here's the offending sentence for the debate at hand, from Article III:

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

I can only presume that what makes this language hazy to Heflin is that it doesn't offer any guidance as to what those "exceptions" and "regulations" can be. The simple answer, if that is his objection, is that they can be whatever the legislature decides they can be within the limits of the rest of the Constitution. As I said, if any government branch is going to be too powerful, it's best that it be the legislature.

ADDENDUM II:
Mr. Heflin has (I think) replied in the comments section, and I realized that I was remiss in not seeking out and linking to his piece.

His first reply, here, is that "the many opinions of the legal community [he] read about that passage were anything but unified." I'm neither a legal scholar nor a journalist, but having read and written about similar matters with fair regularity, I can say that I've yet to come across legislative language that doesn't generate fundamentally conflicting opinions among the legal community. Almost invariably, those opinions happen to coincide with the preferred policy of the speaker.

In this case, Heflin suggests that "the Constitution 'Restoration' Act might well open the door for abuse of Article VI, which disallows religious tests for office." And yes, somebody, somewhere, is almost certain to put forward the proposition that proper "acknowledgement" of the Deity requires each employee to profess it. This, however, ignores the difference between acknowledging something and taking further action based on that acknowledgment. Note that the Act does not forbid the Court from hearing cases that seek relief by reason of an element's or officer's refusal of acknowledgement of God, something for which the Constitution makes specific provision.

Ultimately, though, this gets at what could be seen as the genius of our system. It admits human nature and seeks to ensure that it is channeled and checked where it presents worries for the community. In this case, as far as I know, the courts themselves will decide what constitutes "acknowledgment," tempered by the risk of impeachment. If Congress wishes to broaden the word, it will either have to pass additional language or impeach judges who overstep its desired boundary. Both of these actions, not being immediately procedural, will take place in public view, where the representatives are accountable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:06 PM | Comments (10)

The Flipping Principle

Lane Core has come across yet another flip-flop from the Democrat who would be President:

And that is what Kerry himself did in Miami this very month: he tried to pass off an earlier, preliminary vote as if it had been the final vote. Moreover, he did it again — quite baldly and very clumsily — in West Virginia a few days later:
Mr. Kerry added, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to an amendment he supported that would have rescinded some tax cuts to finance the war.

According to the judgement of Lt. John Kerry in 1971, Sen. John Kerry's attempts at trickery in 2004 mean the senator is not acting as the representative of the people.

Of course, we are all inclined to lighten ideals — particularly behavioral ideals — when our own actions conflict with them. The important points of discernment, therefore, are the way in which we trumpet the ideals as a means of diminishing others who do not follow them and the way in which we react when caught in violation ourselves. Kerry flunks in both respects, in ways that suggest that he's an opportunist and a demagogue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM | Comments (1)

Some Laughs Before Bedtime

Some light visual political humor seemed just the thing, this late Monday night.

Jeff Miller offers excerpts from Richard Clarke's next book. When the book comes out, Mr. Clarke might do well to keep an eye out for Donald Rumsfeld.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:32 AM

March 24, 2004

More Dreams of the Path Not Taken

The President and his supporters are finding themselves required to address an ever-shifting field of what-ifs — as there has been no shortage of pundits to note. Clifford May makes a great point in this vein:

By contrast, what could President Bush have done between January and September of 2001? By that point, the terrorists had made their plans and were living in the U.S. Even if President Bush had launched a unilateral, preemptive attack against the Taliban and al Qaeda, the 9/11 suicide terrorists might have proceeded to fulfill their missions. Indeed, some would have said that 9/11 was in reprisal for the assaults on al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Moreover, the entire anti-preemption brigade, from journalists to Jesuits, would have swung into action, just as they did when it came to Iraq. In fact, the Taliban had the additional advantage that it didn't have a globally recognized history of border-state invasion and internal WMD attacks, and their culture was sufficiently foreign to cloak its tyranny. (Pious-looking robes are much more conducive to a palatable international image than a military uniform is.)

Of course, we now know that one coal-shoveler for the what-if flames, Richard Clarke, preempted his current assault by making contradictory claims in the past. I can't be alone in my complete astonishment that somebody would publish a book, tour the national media, and testify to Congress as Clarke has done in full knowledge of potential landmines that he himself set years ago. It brings to mind something from a post by Demosophia Scott to which I linked yesterday:

As someone with a fairly good grasp of the situation recently observed, after noting that both Lieberman and Biden had disavowed Clarke's allegations as false and devoid of fact: "Wow, these guys seem like suicide bombers. They destroy their own reputation in an attempt to be part of the angry left."
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:05 PM

The Government's Like a Family... Only Richer

Donald Hawthorne, a former member of the East Greenwich School Committee, writes, in today's Providence Journal, that the education wing of the Rhode Island government has plenty of fat that it can trim. This way of putting the issue ought to be intellectually accessible to any citizen:

The real debate should be about why state aid increased by $158 million, or 33 percent -- nearly twice the rate of increase in taxpayers' personal incomes. You can thank outrageous demands by public employees and the spineless responses by politicians and bureaucrats for such irresponsible increases.

Let's put these large numbers in the context of a family budget. Suppose your income was $45,000 a year. A 33-percent increase means your salary grew to $60,000. Few families saw that kind of increase during the last five years.

After receiving that huge salary increase, you are now being asked to take a 1.25-percent reduction. That means finding a way to live on $59,250 in the next year. Families make such adjustments all the time to live within their means. Government should be able to do so, too.

Surely some bureaucrats, lobbyists, and politicians consider translating government spending into real-person terms to be contrary to the health of the state — in one way of looking at health. For my part, I think this state's government, in particular, has been indulging in gourmet ten-course meals and late-night Big Macs for quite a bit longer than is advisable.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:22 PM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2004

Sharing the Load

Among the most significant benefits of the Internet, generally, and the blogosphere, specifically, is the broad distribution of interests, knowledge, abilities, and (importantly) schedules. The whole Richard Clarke thing brings that home. Simply put, I don't have the energy to jump into this one — he says one thing, somebody else contradicts him, the media picks his version, et cetera. Not the least, my reaction results from a strong suspicion that Clarke will fade away with neither side of the fight having gained or lost any believers — the only people who will remember Clarke come November. When Clarke's faded to chat-room status, the Democrats and the media will find another someone or something through which to cloud the waters once again.

But fear not. If it is for Clarke info that you lack, you needn't look hard to find it, so there's no need to catalogue sources here. However, there are a few items worth checking out for outside-the-mainstream information. First, Dan Darling notes a disappearing Saddam–al Qaeda connection:

... Clarke played a key role in the Clinton administration's decision to launch a cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. That article, if true, puts Clarke's comments about a war in Iraq detracting from the larger war against al-Qaeda in an entirely different context.

As any number of media reports indicate from the time period in question, those US officials who ordered the cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa plant did so because they believed that bin Laden was producing precursors for VX there with Iraqi assistance. It is worth noting that the basis for this conclusion even found its way into the November 4, 1998 US indictment of both bin Laden and his military commander Mohammed Atef, stating that bin Laden had formed a non-aggression pact with Iraq and had agreed to work with the Iraqi government with regard to weapons development.

For his part, Scott of Demosophia parses Clarke's political tale to form a picture of the forces that might have really been at play:

In other words he was given the task of challenging his own prejudgments, and what he apparently did in lieu of fulfilling that assignment was to go out and compile what he considered evidence that there was no link, a rather petulant response to an administration that was seeking to comprehend (or perhaps even catch up to) a rather inscrutible enemy. In other words he refused to do what was asked of him, not to "manufacture evidence" but to look for evidence he didn't think was there. This borders on insubordination. He clearly thought he ought to have been employed creating a "grand strategy," not doing this lowly gumshoe work. His methodological ineptitude prevented him from seeing that this is a standard way to test an hypothesis, and is really rather straightforward scientific method.

Meanwhile, John Cole spots something in the 60 Minutes transcript that illustrates how dishonest spin shifts the administration's reasonable behavior into some weird fictionesque obsession with Saddam Hussein:

A failure to attempt to identify any role played by Iraq in the 9/11 attacks by Bush and his administration would have been foolish and irresponsible. Once again, the fierce partisans, ideological blinders on and focussed directly ahead at the 2004 elections, are attacking the administration for doingexactly the right thing- investigating all options.

Before you get confused and start to think that perhaps they were trying to rush to war with Iraq post 9/11, as the hucksters would like for you to believe, remember the timeframe. When this memo was written, 18 September 2001, the one in which Clarke has been caught in an out and out lie, it was already pretty well decided that Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan were the target. We know that the choice of action was already decided from the numerous write-ups, most easily accessible of which is this excerpt from the Sept. 18th 2001 portion of the lengthy Washington Post Series titled 10 Days in September.

I'm a relatively new watcher of the political game, so I can only ask: has it always been like this? Have political operatives always been brazenly willing to reformulate recent history?

Some physicists suggest that, in the Many Worlds Interpretation, there are realities in which history really is inconsistent, in which monuments fade into existence, for example, so that the present has a record of a past that never was. That's the feeling with which the political wrangling of the past three years has left me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:29 PM

March 22, 2004

Where "Far Left" Comes Around

Something that James Lileks wrote in today's Bleat sounded familiar:

These people marched to protest the premature bestowal of freedom by exterior forces. Better the Iraqi people live under the boot for 20 years, and rise up and get slaughtered and rise up again and slaughter those who killed their kin, then have Bush push the FF button and get it over with now. Better they suffer for the right reasons than live better for the wrong ones.

I don't intend a personal assault by pointing this out, but the similarity between the group Lileks is describing and the following quotation from a conservative blogger leads to too important an area of thought to ignore. Here's Steve from Absit Invidia:

Regime change in Iraq was the responsibility of the Iraqi people. God knows their relentless bombing of coalition and civilian targets proves that there was no shortage of explosives and willing 'martyrs' in the Arab world to get the job done.

So the question is: "Why didn't they?"

Even putting aside the matter of whether the "relentless bombing" is the work of Iraqis, Ba'athist holdovers, or border-crossing terrorists, one might be tempted to suggest that either way — whether taking the Lileks vision of perpetual revolution or the Absit Invidia implication of a complicit public — Iraq would have been, at the very least, a "breeding ground for terrorists." But again, regarding interpretation and understanding of facts, we're all in different choirs singing to ourselves in soundproofed rooms at this point. We do well, nonetheless, to watch whose key we begin to sing in.

ADDENDUM:
As just about every rightward blogger has noted, LGF has pictures of the folks Lileks is talking about.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:18 PM | Comments (2)

March 19, 2004

Maybe He's Better on Paper

Listening to a short clip of John Kerry on the radio yesterday, I had exactly the reaction that Lileks describes in this paragraph:

I heard four speeches this week — one by Carville before some firefighters, screaming like cat that had been dipped in turpentine; one from Kerry about something or other (it's hard to stick with it; he sounds like a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/, and you keep making revolving-hand motions in the hopes you can somehow, like a butterfly that flutters its wings in Brazil and causes typhoons in Tahiti, cause him to pick up the pace a little); one from Dick Cheney, and one from Bush. Cheney's speech was tailor-made for his speaking style, which consists of pressing the point of the sword into the opponant's arguments and slowly pushing the entire blade in with steady force. Bush's speech had many thick sheets of boilerplate, but it had economy and optimism.

Let's hope the outcome in November allows us to avoid four-hour State of the Union speeches!

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2004

Local News at National Expense

Readers outside of Rhode Island might not be but so interested to hear that the old Jamestown bridge is finally coming down:

The State Planning Council voted unanimously yesterday to move ahead with demolition, and authorized spending to cover the increase in costs from $13.5 million to $20 million.

There is, however, a national angle to this story, by way of a Republican who long ago lost my vote to return to Washington for the next term:

U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who secured $5 million in federal funds this year to raze the bridge, and the North Kingstown and Jamestown Town Councils sent letters to the planning council supporting demolition. ...

Federal money will cover 80 percent of the cost; the rest will come from the state. (The $20-million project includes about $300,000 to move the island's emergency water line from the old bridge, Capaldi said.)

By my calculations, one could argue that the demolition will wind up costing Americans hundreds of billions of dollars:

ANOTHER NICE thing about McConnell: From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, he finds bacon for his friends to bring home. He called Chafee on Nov. 17 to say he had $5 million in a billfor the demolition of the abandoned Jamestown Bridge.

The news was a respite from Chafee's worrying over the biggest domestic issue of the year, the Medicare bill. Chafee had supported the Senate version of the bill in June, as a flawed but worthy downpayment on his promise to seek drug benefits for the elderly. ...

Mr. Bush was on the way to winning his Medicare bill, and Chafee had been with the Republicans when it counted.

Chafee walked off the Senate floor into the tile-inlaid hallway that points to the Capitol steps. Half a dozen reporters closed in for the senator's explanation.

"I did not sell my vote," Chafee volunteered.

But would Chafee's help for the party win him tangible dividends from a grateful leadership? Would there be more local pork where the Jamestown Bridge demolition money came from?

"You bet," said McConnell. "You bet. We very much appreciated that vote," he said.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:41 AM

March 9, 2004

We Want the Dog to Bark

Mark Steyn makes a great point about the internal battles over the Iraqi constitution:

In Iraq, an interim constitution was signed yesterday. It's not perfect, though it's a good deal less imperfect than the European constitution and for the Middle East it's a remarkable document. But it's amazing to me the way the western media interpret disagreements as a bad sign. Wouldn't it be a worse sign if there were no disagreements? If Bush just faxed over the final draft and everyone signed it? The haggling and the stalemates and the trade-offs are the healthy sign.

Of course, I trust that the Western media would have made much the same argument as Steyn if there hadn't been any disagreements. When the preordained conclusion is that a project is doomed to failure, one will always manage to find evidence, because there's always reason that it could fail. The trick is in the whether.

A similar matter is the place of Islam. Undoubtedly, we've good reason to keep an eye on the independent judiciary that will settle disputes about whether laws contradict Islam, but new nations will always require compromises that could lead to hostilities.

Our Constitution, after all, allowed for slavery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:53 PM

March 5, 2004

All You Need to Know in November

Victor Davis Hanson offers a typically excellent piece reminding readers of the amazing successes that President Bush has had in the arena that overshadows all the others for the next election. He also predicts some likely changes in that arena should Kerry win:

More likely, if President Bush loses, the war against terror will return, as promised, to the status of a police matter — subpoenas and court trials the more appropriate response to the mass murder of 3,000 at the "crime scene" of the crater in New York. Europe will be assured that our troops will stay while we apologize for the usual litany of purported unilateral sins. North Korea will get more blackmail cash, while pampered South Korean leftists resume their "sunshine" mirage. Iraq will be turned over to the U.N. as we abruptly leave, and could dissolve into something like the Balkans between 1991 and 1998. Iran and Syria will let out a big sigh of relief — as American diplomats once more sit out on the tarmac in vain hopes of an "audience" with despots. The Saudis will smile that smile. Arafat will be assured that he is now once again a legitimate interlocutor. And strangest of all, the American Left will feel that the United States has just barely begun to return to its "moral" bearings — even as its laxity and relativism encourage some pretty immoral things to come.

Do you ever wonder if the tyrants — both dictatorial and bureaucratic — of the world sit around come a Friday afternoon, kick back with a martini and cigar, and just shake their heads at our system? I mean, from Kim Jong Il's perspective, how incredible must this representative democracy be: just as we're succeeding in reshaping the world in ways beneficial for us and for... well, just about everybody except the Kim Jong Ils, we might kick out the guy who's leading the charge.

I'm not saying, certainly, that our system should be changed. It's just interesting, in very many ways, to see it in that different light.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 PM

February 26, 2004

Name That Cliché

Jay Nordlinger quotes, as he puts it, "the lady who would be First Lady," Mrs. Kerry-Heinz:

What has been most damaging, I think — to all of us — about many of the actions of this administration has been the cynicism with which they have perpetrated their positions and with which they have used us to trap us and to, in a sense, terrorize us, because they paralyze us.

Whether deliberately or not, Mr. Nordlinger missed the obvious contemporary cliché suggested by so many utterances of "us."

C'mon. You don't need me to spell it out.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM

February 20, 2004

Capitulating to the Mob

Eugene Volokh points out that Rhode Island's Governor Carcieri has withdrawn his anti-terrorism bill from the legislature's agenda:

Carcieri said his legislation was written after a thorough review of laws to prevent and prosecute terrorism. Noting that state government has a responsibility to protect the public by "responding to new and evolving threats," Carcieri said his office decided that some laws needed to be updated.

He said today he will continue to examine the issue.

"Going forward, I will solicit input from a variety of interested and informed parties to determine what alterations to our existing laws are necessary to protect public safety in a post-911 world.

Personally, I'm ambivalent about the bill. I'm not sure why Rhode Island would need it, unless to maintain, locally, laws and procedures under threat for political reasons in the USA Patriot Act, and Carcieri is apparently not sufficiently convinced of its necessity to make the case. Furthermore, there was language that would have had to be tweaked as the bill went through the legislative process.

But it is simply infuriating to see a gang consisting of the media, the ACLU, and a mob of "experts" distort facts and bully the governor into bending to whatever their agenda is. Surely, Carcieri's quick capitulation — and countless surrenders across the country over the years — had an emboldening effect on these groups, and the raw power that it indicates ought to be of concern to anybody who understands that there is, in fact, a balance to be struck between individual liberty and communal well being.

While there is reason to be thankful that legions of watchdogs are out there combing the law on behalf of our individual freedoms, a level of civility has been lost. The groups' knowledge of their power is certainly responsible in some degree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM

February 19, 2004

GOP Sadness Continues

Honestly, I don't know what difference official party affiliation makes — as distinct from actual votes — but I think I'll be changing mine to Independent. Partisan fights that break the bounds of principle ought, of course, to be anathema to responsible politicians, but that can be accomplished by bending principle to avoid the appearance of impropriety, as well.

I'm sick of political compromise taking the form of submission, of discovering corruption being allowed to become more controversial than the corruption itself, and this reaction, to the Roger Williams College Republicans' "political parody" white-student scholarship, while minor, might be the last straw:

One of the harshest rebukes of the College Republicans so far has come from the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In a letter sent to the student group Tuesday, Ed Gillespie said the scholarship is "contrary to the principles of the party I proudly chair" and severed all ties to the College Republicans.

The GOP "in no way supports this scholarship or the message of exclusion it conveys," he wrote. "I am at this time suspending the Roger Williams University College Republicans' right to use the symbols . . . of the Republican Party."

Well, Mr. Gillespie, I am at this time suspending the GOP's right to use my name for whatever purposes my voter registration entitles. And please stop wasting paper to beg me for money.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 PM | Comments (3)

Tyranny Is Here

In a post titled "The Law is no obstacle anymore," Donald Sensing opined that "America is one generation at most away from true tyranny." Well, the loony Left Coast is racing to prove Rev. Sensing optimistic:

The second judge told the plaintiffs that they would likely succeed on the merits eventually, but that for now, he couldn't accept their proposed court order because of a punctuation error.

It all came down to a semicolon, the judge said.

"I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal. ... That semicolon is a big deal," said San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren.

The Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund had asked the judge to issue an order commanding the city to "cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court."

"The way you've written this it has a semicolon where it should have the word 'or,'" the judge told them. "I don't have the authority to issue it under these circumstances."

The law in the United States of America is now a joke to be openly flouted in the name of progressive social change. Stanley Kurtz is exactly right:

When it comes to gay marriage, affirmative action, and other hot button social issues, conservatives are used to being shut out of mainstream debate. That has sparked the growth of a whole alternative media. But I think we're seeing something new here-a new level of disregard by liberal elites for the broader public, and for the very idea of democratic debate and decision making. When state and national opinion, a recent referendum, and the plain meaning of the law, are openly disregarded by political and legal officials, the bases of civil comity are eroded in fundamental ways. Whether gay marriage is eventually nationalized or not, I think we're all going to pay a price for the way this battle is being fought. In any case, at this point, it is absurd to ask conservatives to trust in the good faith of judges. If you think anything short of an amendment can stop gay marriage, you are dreaming.

Yesterday, I questioned and argued against Jacob Levy's worries about the setting of an abstract legal precedent. At this point, that's just so much navel gazing. If that con artist of a judge Warren slips away from this with just a dour look from some government officials and a wink from others, the legal stability of this country is in serious danger. Apart from that, one thing's for sure: This movement is not about marriage.

ADDENDUM:
Gabriel Rosenberg writes in the comments, linking to a different summary, that it wasn't that the judge rejected the motion because of typo, but that he couldn't grant the motion as written, only as he suggested it be written. More importantly, by setting a date for a hearing, he granted the motion as if it had been written correctly.

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not this treatment — and the six-week window of ambiguity created — is an objective application of the law. As I commented to a related post by Bryan Preston, I rather suspect that a judge would have acted more decisively, or at least more expeditiously, were the issue different. Readers can also judge for themselves whether the entire episode makes a joke of the law, nonetheless.

And in so judging, it might be enlightening to ponder the significance of these judicially created windows, both in Massachusetts and San Francisco, during which the law will be as the judges wish it to be. "Public wasting of funds" doesn't begin to describe the confusion that these moves will cause as homosexual couples seek to apply their temporarily legal status to every situation in which marriage is relevant — including the benefits and recognition offered by private entities.

Those lawsuits will be forthcoming, I'm sure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:43 AM | Comments (4)

A Random Thought About Governance

Before I head off to bed, I just wanted to express an idea that I haven't been able to extricate from my thoughts since early this evening. While my mind wandered on matters pertaining to the separation of church and state, my glance fell on a picture of John Edwards. And like a culture left in the petri dish too long, an idea germinated.

Try to imagine the public reaction if a priest — not a generic "reverend" like Rev. Sharpton — but an honest to goodness man of the cloth were to run for President. Forget the partisan fanatics: how do you think you would react if a candidate showed up for a debate with a Roman collar — or any visible marking of clergy from any religion? Frankly, I don't think I'd be too comfortable with it.

So why, then, with our government's much more defined rules regarding the separation of the branches, do we not flinch when a lawyer runs for President? Clearly, such a candidate's background, worldview, and sympathies lie with the courthouse. Doesn't it blur the line between the executive and judicial branches for one whose beliefs formed within the context of the latter to run for high office in the former?

Shouldn't we, at the ballot box, perform a suffragian version of Shakespeare's advice about lawyers?

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 AM | Comments (1)

February 17, 2004

How Sad Is the Rhode Island GOP?

So sad that Chairwoman Patricia Morgan is distancing herself from some antics of the College Republicans at Roger Williams University, a group that operates without the benefit of party support:

A whites-only scholarship being offered by the College Republicans at Roger Williams University is "disturbing," says the state's Republican chairwoman.

"It does not move us forward in a reasonable debate over the issues," Patricia Morgan said yesterday.

She emphasized that the student group is not sponsored or supported by the state Republican Party.

Morgan responded after learning that the College Republicans are offering a scholarship -- which now stands at $250 -- that is only open to applicants who are white. The group created the scholarship as a statement against affirmative action. It is not endorsed by the university administration.

Though she did acknowledge that the debate over affirmative action is valid, she said the student group's tactics have "racist overtones."

Interestingly, although the Providence Journal frequently gives URLs for groups on which it reports, and although it actually mentions the College Republicans' Web site, it apparently didn't consider it a service to its readers to save them the trouble of Googling. Well, since I'm always at your service, here's the link.

On that page, they've got a sort of low-tech blog, on which I found this entry, which doesn't surprise me in the least:

Many RWU College Republican members think that Dan Yorke is a jackass

And who can blame them? He spent an hour today trashing Jason, calling him hateful, and saying beautiful things like "this isn't a good kid; this is a bad kid!"

Jason tried to call in and defend himself, but wasn't put through on the show. Dan basically parroted the same old, threadbare, tired socialist poo-poo about the white oppressor class and the poor victimized minorities . Does Dan know all the white students on campus who need the money? When individuals called in to defend our positions, he shouted them down.

It's rough being Republican in Rhode Island. Hey, maybe that should have been the criterion for the scholarship; nobody's more oppressed than Rhode Island conservatives. I wonder what the state GOP would have thought.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:03 PM | Comments (6)

February 9, 2004

"All We Are Saying..."

Lane Core has John Kerry's complete statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. The now-Senator's impassioned closing certainly rings true in these days when many in the United States seek to disallow its self defense on the simple grounds that Vietnam was Vietnam:

But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more, and so when in thirty years from now our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam" and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

It turned, alright. Not unlike milk past the expiration date.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 4, 2004

A Political Epiphany

Hey, I've got an idea! Why doesn't the President sacrifice some support among his base of voters in order to add a cultural aspect to his image that will soften the impression that the cultural elite have of him? Surely, if he increases funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, or something, liberals couldn't continue to see him as a right-wing stereotype.

Right?

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:21 PM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2004

No Answers for Terrorism?

Today's Chris Muir cartoon made me wonder if he meant: "Only when there is William Jefferson, is there ever a way."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:49 PM | Comments (2)

January 29, 2004

Inspired Hiring

Frank Gaffney, Jr., makes a suggestion that I'd enthusiastically support:

The president should, instead, feel grateful to the erstwhile head of the Iraq Survey Group, both for his past, courageous public service and for his present candor. And there is no better, or more appropriate, way to express his appreciation than to ask him to replace George Tenet as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

David Kay has, after all, demonstrated once again the qualities of intellect, integrity, and independence that are always desirable in leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, but rarely more necessary than right now. Although he has expressed a view about the status of Saddam's missing weapons programs that is debatable — and may ultimately be proven wrong — the former weapons inspector has certainly said many things that have long needed saying.

Such a move would make valuable statements on many fronts — from accountability for Tenet and the C.I.A., to rewarding the qualities that Gaffney cites, to showing the President to be more concerned with honest results than political considerations. That last point, however, could be merely a matter of appearance, because I'm not as sure as Gaffney about something:

President Bush could be forgiven for feeling annoyed with Dr. Kay. A heated reelection campaign is not exactly the moment any candidate would chose have new turmoil engendered over one of his most controversial decisions.

I've wondered whether there might be more to Kay's resignation than he claimed, particularly if he believes that the proximate Iraqi government will put an effective end to the major period for the WMD search and if he's correct that the job is 85% done. Why not tough it out for a few months, to ensure a continuity of leadership?

Well, in the spring, or whenever that 15% would be wrapped up and the efforts summarized, the election will be much closer, and the primary season will be over. Now, Kay has gotten news that is potentially harmful to the administration out in the open while there's still hope that he's wrong, while the Democrats are still battling each other through rhetoric that they will later mitigate for general consumption, and more importantly, while the President still has time to overcome the obstacle. And if WMDs do show up, then Kay has set the stage for a dramatic revelation, and he has done so without too much personal tarnish.

In this sense, giving Kay Tenet's job would be a justified political reward.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:16 PM

The Base Rumbles

Michael Williams notes some movement among Congressional Republicans to curb spending and writes:

Apparently President Bush's mention of fiscal discipline was more than window-dressing. I hope Republicans will quit doing all the things we castigated the Democrats for when they controlled Congress.

Meanwhile, John Hawkins notes that Republican Congressmen are none too happy about the President's immigration proposal. They're right to be concerned. I can't be the only Republican voter to come to the conclusion that national security concerns make Congress the place in which we ought to express our displeasure.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that the ways in which President Bush is spending taxpayer money will, in the long run, move the country to the right. Perhaps that, of itself, will take an ironic turn in the distant future and result in a smaller government. That would be a long-shot argument, though, and a gamble that the purpose wouldn't be subverted before the effects could manifest.

Moreover, such an objective doesn't justify much more than maintenance of spending. The fact that a cause is worthwhile doesn't mean that the government ought to fund it — let alone continue to increase its funding. Roger Kimball praises (and spins) the President's increased funding of the National Endowment for the Arts by noting the improvements in its activities under Dana Gioia. I'll admit that I'm not constitutionally opposed to there being an NEA, but even Shakespeare's belt can be tightened when there's a war effort during an economy that has not fully recovered.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:38 PM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2004

Constant Misunderstandings

I'm busy working, but I wanted to offer a quick review of two statements from the State of the Union last night because I've noticed that misunderstandings abound. The first, and most common (no links needed, just look around), is in response to this:

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto.

On its own, this looks like an attempt to split the middle, warning folks on the left who wish to edit out the freemarket components and folks on the right who wish to nix the thing altogether. As John Miller notes, there aren't many people in the latter category. Combine that truth with the fact that the previous paragraph dealt with the freemarket/choice aspect:

Under this reform, senior citizens will be able to keep their Medicare just as it is, or they can choose a Medicare plan that fits them best -- just as you, as members of Congress, can choose an insurance plan that meets your needs. And starting this year, millions of Americans will be able to save money tax-free for their medical expenses in a health savings account.

And it looks as if the veto warning was pretty strongly against those who would reform the reforms out of existence — with a nod in the other direction for the sake of a uniter-not-divider tone.

The second misunderstanding has to do with probably the oddest part of the entire speech:

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.

In response, Jeff Jarvis asks, "What the hell is the government doing getting involved in sports and steroids?" Well, the government isn't "getting involved" with them; the President just used his giant megaphone to encourage the sports industry to do something about steroids because... well, for whatever reason Bush had for doing that.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:19 PM

The Center of Rhode Island, Last Night

The Providence Journal offers a view into the living room of the most famous Bush-supporting Rhode Islander:

On Friday, Ashley's father, Thomas, received a phone call from the president's speechwriter. Pearson, a truck driver, called Ashley up from the basement.

"He said I'm in big trouble," the tall and thin fifth grader said. "I didn't believe him."

Her dad broke the news: President Bush liked her letter so much, he planned to read it in his State of the Union address on national television. The family was stunned. ...

Ashley wrote the letter right after the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I wanted to make sure that the troops got notice that I was proud of them and so were my friends," she said. "I thanked President Bush for doing the right decision for going to war. I sometimes think war is wrong, but he did the right decision because we could have been killed."

Ashley's mom took a deep breath as the rhythm of the president's words signaled the speech was coming to a close.

What a thrilling and hopeful scene. Thank you, Ashley.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:57 PM

January 20, 2004

Watching the Crowd

Oh, you'll hear more analysis than you want of the President's speech, so I'm not going to contribute to that avalanche, here, except for two points:

1) Regarding marriage, the President came out for an amendment more strongly than I'd expected, but not as strongly as he could have. He seems to be intent on putting the ball in the court of the judiciary and advertising the fact that it's there, but I'm not sure why. It almost gives the feeling that there's more going on behind the scenes — such as (to be paranoid) direct cooperation among judges — than the average citizen realizes.

It's more likely that he wants to ensure that any action he supports will represent a forced hand not only factually, but politically. I'm not sure when President Bush intends to kick his support into gear, or what he expects to be the trigger. Is he waiting for some word from Massachusetts? Will he swoop in upon the first court to transport a Massachusetts gay marriage to another state? Will that leave time? I don't know the answers to these or many other questions, but I kinda sorta got the feeling that the President had something in mind and wasn't just spouting hopes to keep his social conservative base in his camp. We'll see.

2) The Democrats offered a fabulous example of why they're in trouble, with slim chances of a recovery. Until they don't feel compelled to keep their seats when a Republican President lists all of the signs that Americans' financial lives are improving, they will continue to lose their connection to those Americans.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

A Seconded Confession

Just so Craig Henry doesn't feel himself alone in his dirty little secret, I empathize with this confession:

I know that conservatives are supposed to be excited that Dennis Miller is pro-Bush and that Arnold won in California. But to tell you the truth, i'd swap both of them for a half dozen candidates willing to log the miles and endure the mockery while they carried the conservative message into (currently) inhospitable areas.

Even if he is talking about Kucinich.

Arguably, Miller and Arnold bring select conservative views into about the most inhospitable area of American society, but the emphasis is entirely different than with the quality that Craig is lauding. Arnold ran for office because he believed he had a shot at winning; Miller has found himself a brand new audience — and solidified a base that he already held. Kucinich knew he would lose and thought his (loony) beliefs sufficiently important to run on them anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 PM

EEEEEYYYEEEAAAHHHH!

I can't take it anymore. I've been laughing so hard my stomach hurts, and I want to personally thank Howard Dean for making my Tuesday morning so enjoyable.

Audio
Video
Set to music

Can't wait to hear Rush, today. [Rush wasn't as good as I expected. — JK]

ADDENDUM:
Stop. No, no, stop! As you poke around the Internet, see if you can keep from laughing every time you see that another columnist has spelled out — in all caps — Howard Dean's who-left-the-plunger-in-the-toilet yell.

ADDENDUM II:
Uh-oh. Is Dean a trendsetter?

"Howard's non-syllabic verbal flourish put his opponents on notice and set a new standard for statesman-like oratory," said the unnamed official. "During the foreign policy segment of tonight's address, the President will cut loose with a Dean-like jurassic screech that will set your hair on end. I've heard him do it in rehearsal, and it will definitely tell the terrorists that America is a force to be reckoned with. Our Commander-in-Chief is one tough velociraptor."
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2004

The Image Alone

I thought the picture alone so hilarious that it needed no embellishment. But that was before Chris Muir went and embellished. I'm still laughing, and I first looked at it this morning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:33 PM | Comments (2)

Rebellion in the Ranks

Well, it looks like the fabled "base" is getting restless:

National leaders of six conservative organizations yesterday broke with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, accusing them of spending like "drunken sailors," and had some strong words for President Bush as well.

"The Republican Congress is spending at twice the rate as under Bill Clinton, and President Bush has yet to issue a single veto," Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America, said at a news briefing with the other five leaders. "I complained about profligate spending during the Clinton years but never thought I'd have to do so with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress."

Warning of adverse consequences in the November elections, the leaders said the Senate must reject the latest House-passed omnibus spending bill or Mr. Bush should veto the measure.

The President is insulated from this chill by the fact that none of the Democrat contenders can be trusted with national security. If handing the office to one of them increases the likelihood of a catastrophic terrorist attack in America in the near-to-mid future by a factor of three or four, as I would guess, the spending simply pales in comparison. However, I've reached the point, myself, at which I'm not sure how disheartened I'd be to see the legislature go back to the Democrats.

I'm sure there are a number of factors that I haven't considered that make such a thing a bad idea, but between the spending and the myriad slaps in the conservative face from the federal government as it currently stands, it's getting a bit hard to take. Luckily, by virtue of my state, this dynamic doesn't come into play for my next vote; I'm voting Republican for Congress to unseat Pat Kennedy and Democrat (or independent) for Senate to unseat Linc Chafee.

Maybe that's the answer: if one of your federal representatives is a relatively liberal Republican, don't allow party affiliation to justify your voting for him or her. Of course, Linc makes that protest a particularly easy one for me to make.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:19 AM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2004

Politics Illustrated

Cox & Forkum's latest t-shirt design is good for a belly laugh. And just when you think you're done, you spot another aspect that's good for a few more chuckles.

Meanwhile, Chris Muir's Day by Day today is downright profound. Not only that, but he also showed the good sense to (apparently) stop by Victor Lams's blog. Chris suggested that Victor's prediction of a Gen X vs. Boomer battle captures the major theme for Day by Day.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM | Comments (1)

Nice Ad, Dumb Message

Sheila Lennon promotes the results of the anti-Bush-ad contest on her Providence Journal blog today. It cannot be denied that the winning ad is very well done, makes its point cleverly, and taps into an aspect of the Bush presidency about which I, personally, am not particularly happy: the budget. Charlie Fisher, the ad's creator, certainly deserved his award.

That said, I can't help but think that a great deal of talent has been wasted on a dubious message. The spot features children working blue-collar jobs, with the message that they are doing so to pay off the debt with which Bush has saddled them. Leaving aside the fact that the legislature controls the purse, the message is one that ought to be a bit difficult for anybody with a political memory of more than four years to take these days.

When Clinton was racing against President Bush's father, the media was full of a similar message about the deficit that future generations would have to pay. Yet, with a surge in the economy, that deficit turned into a surplus. The current deficit is too high, of course, and I'd like for President Bush to break out the red pen more often during his second term, but it's still disappointing that deficit rhetoric, at the tail end of an economic downturn, would be the subject of such polished grandstanding.

Nonetheless, all of the other ads were much worse in the extent to which they substituted simplified polemic for substantive commentary. None of the winners, thankfully, reached the level of those Nazi ads, but their spirit was there, as Margaret Cho illustrated by declaring:

George Bush is not Hitler. He would be if he fu--ing applied himself.

According to Drudge, the comment received "big, extended applause." Funny how Ms. Lennon, who has explained her role at the Projo to me as pointing out in the new media what her readers might not have seen in the old, didn't mention Drudge's direct transcript clips, linking instead to some glossed and adoring coverage from liberal sources. (I've offered to blog for the Projo — you know, to provide some balance and to give its readers a view into the other half of the Internet — but they declined.)

As for Mr. Fisher's ad, if he would just tweak it a bit to direct its ire at Big Government, generally, or the progressive movements that have made two-income families a necessity, it would be brilliant.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM

January 13, 2004

The Dilemma to Come

Drudge is quoting Michael Moore as saying, about his endorsement of Wes Clark:

He's an honest and decent man. I would like to see the General debate the deserter.

Frankly, I don't care to find out more about Moore's opinion, but his quip brought a question to mind that I'm surprised I haven't wondered yet: what are these debates going to be like?

For the most part, I can't imagine them being otherwise than bad for the Democrat candidate, whomever that might be. If he behaves like a responsible politician, he'll betray his base — who, given the rhetoric thus far, will probably hope to see the candidate say to Bush's face what he's been saying to them for months and years. If he does as they desire, the difference in demeanor will be stark, with the non-loony majority of the country seeing the Democrat candidate as irresponsible, even dangerous.

Of course, the degree of this dilemma will be dependent upon who wins the Democrat nomination. Also of course, the damage in either direction could be mitigated if the mainstream media takes up the task of tweaking the performance of their candidate (which is to say the Democrat) for their respective audiences. If the candidate is either Howard Dean or Wes Clark, the only way I foresee debates helping them is if the media manages to present multiple versions of events to the vast majority of Americans who don't watch political debates. With the burgeoning alternative media, I don't know that such a thing can be done these days.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)