Browsing the blog archives for October, 2007.


Kill the Fatted Calf

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blogging

A prodigal son has come home.

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Evil

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big picture stuff, Bush Administration, holiday

At the Guardian web site, Theo Hobson writes,

I’d like to see Halloween develop a more serious aspect, alongside the kids’ stuff. I’d like more grown-up reflection on the question of evil, and on how art and religion seek to confront and banish it. We should also reflect on the serious danger involved in the artistic representation of evil – that we might start celebrating it for its own sake, rather than in the context of its overcoming. So let’s develop a Halloween for grown-ups too.

If we’re going to contemplate the nature of evil, we ought to come to some agreement as to what it is, or even if it is. There’s an urban legend easily found on the Internets that claims a young Albert Einstein told an atheist professor that just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God, and therefore evil does not exist. Albert Einstein didn’t say this, but it’s an interesting story anyway. It argues that because darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, that darkness and cold light and heat do not exist. But I believe — I could be mistaken — that physicists consider darkness and cold to be phenomena, or observable features of matter and energy. Philosophers, it says here, consider phenomena to be anything that can be perceived, and this includes perceptions of the mind. Evil may not have observable matter and energy, but it can be perceived. Therefore, philosophically speaking, it is.

It’s common to objectify evil and think of it as if it had weight, substance and even fixed positions. Evil lurks. It dwells. The ever exasperating David Brooks once said (pretending to be President Bush), “Some liberals have trouble grasping evil, and always think that if we could take care of the handguns or the cruise missiles or the W.M.D., our problems would be ameliorated. But I know the problem lies in the souls of our enemies.” Some people are just bad, so it’s OK to shoot ’em.

Once you start thinking of evil as a substance or quality or attribute that some people have and others don’t, you’ve just given yourself permission to do terrible things to eliminate the evil ones. As Glenn Greenwald says,

Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations — moral, pragmatic, or otherwise — on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Thus, evil wins again.

I argue that evil is a volitional act with harmful consequences. Evil is as evil does. I argue further that the volitional act is not necessarily a consciously malicious one. In fact, it’s very common for people to persuade themselves that the harm they do is somehow in the service of a greater good.

Los Angeles County officials announced today that the recent California fires were started by a boy playing with matches. The child may not have intended to burn 38,000 acres and destroy 21 homes, but carelessly playing with fire is a volitional act, and it sure as shootin’ had harmful consequences, so the act fits my definition of “evil.” However, I am less interested in casting blame or handing out punishment than in impressing upon people to take care. Not taking care is a volitional act.

I argue that volition is what sets evil apart from other kinds of misfortune and makes it human responsibility. A wildfire started by lightning may be horrific but not evil. On the other hand, if global climate change did play a role in the fire, then willful neglect of the planet by a great many people — arguably, all of us — was responsible.

Theo Hobson mentions artistic representation of evil and worries that we might celebrate evil for its own sake. Artists know — even if David Brooks doesn’t — that evil is seductive. It promises some kind of gratification. In novels and films, “bad” characters often are beautiful, fun, wealthy, glamorous, and powerful. Plots turn on a main character slowly discovering that the seductive Other is evil. At the climax of many a horror movie the attractive villain is unmasked and revealed to be ugly.

We want “good” things to be fresh, sweet, and lovely. We want “bad” things to be decayed, repulsive, and ugly. When Hannah Arendt saw Adolf Eichmann at trial, she observed he was not an utterly loathsome beast but an ordinary man. By describing him as he was Arendt offended readers and even lost friends. But evil has no form, sound, smell, taste, or tactile qualities. It doesn’t “dwell” anywhere, nor is it a a quality anyone possesses. When we objectify evil and identity it as someone that exists in others, we absolve ourselves of evil. And that’s a foolish thing to do, because all of us do or say things that cause harm, even if unintentionally. Yes, there are people who choose to do harmful things, which is why there is a legal system. What someone else does doesn’t relieve us of responsibility for what we do.

I’m not saying we should all go about feeling guilty. The concept of sin comes into play here and complicates matters. Our culture encourages us to think that people who go about doing evil are sinners, and sinners are bad. We speak of people as sinful, as if transgressions exist as matter. And we are supposed to feel guilty about sin. The point is not to feel guilty but to take care, pay attention, and accept responsibility. I don’t like people who talk about other people’s evil but won’t accept responsibility for their own.

WaPo‘s “On Faith” site has some commentaries on Halloween. I like especially the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite’s post. See also “The Real Meaning of Halloween.”

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Let’s Make Sense!

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Bush Administration

I’ve been out and did not see the Dem debate. If you did and want to discuss it, feel free.

I notice the geniuses at Protein Wisdom have posted a photo of my friend Glenn Greenwald under the title, “Face of a Racist,” but the links that accompany the photo don’t lead to anything about Glenn. If you keep following links (righties have an aversion to linking directly to original sources) eventually you get to an article about a program at the University of Delaware that really does sound creepy and objectionable. But I’m not seeing a connection to Glenn.

If anyone wants to waste time trying to make sense out of Protein Wisdom, have at it. I’ll pass.

Update: I see that my good buddy Bob Geiger is endorsing Chris Dodd for President. Bob makes a persuasive argument, I must say.

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Where Next for Conservatism?

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big picture stuff, conservatism

Gary Kamiya has an excellent article in Salon that asks if American conservatism can heal itself.

American conservatism is at once absolutist and utopian, and reactive and aggrieved. Which state came first is a chicken-and-egg question, but they reinforce each other. Psychologically, conservatives want contradictory things — both pure freedom and an unchanging Golden Age. Pragmatically, they want things that are mutually exclusive — no social contract and an organic, connected community, untrammeled individual rights and a rigid moral code. The inevitable disappointment results in resentment. The reason that the American right always behaves as if it is an angry outsider, even when it controls all three branches of government, is that it is at war not with “liberalism” but with social reality.

When you’re talking about conservatism you’re supposed to clarify whether you are talking about libertarian conservatism, social values conservatism, America First conservatism, or some other critter. In a logical world, the libertarian get government out of my business conservatism ought to clash with social we’ll make you behave or else conservatism, but it’s not at all uncommon to find righties who take a libertarian view on some issues (e.g., taxes) and an authoritarian view on other issues (e.g., abortion; warrantless wiretapping). Untrammeled individual rights for me; a rigid moral code for everyone else.

Kamiya asks if “the conservative movement is foreordained to remain in its current debased form.”

There will always be substantive issues on which conservatives and liberals will have good-faith differences. It would simply be a more mature conservatism.

The history of American conservatism does not inspire much confidence, however. In spite of its moderate roots, it has succeeded mainly via absolutist, reactionary politics. This approach has enormous emotional appeal for Americans for whom the modern world is a source of confusion, anger and fear, or who simply disdain the social contract . And the Republican Party is now entirely in thrall to it. The current crop of GOP candidates hold uniformly hard-right positions, with the exception of the libertarian, no-chance Ron Paul. The leading GOP contender, Rudy Giuliani, is even more of a maniacal hawk than Bush on the Middle East and national security. These are hardly signs that the right is moving to the center.

FYI, Ron Paul is plenty far to the right on a great many issues.

But sooner or later, conservatives will have to change course or see their movement wither away.

The issues that have been winners for conservatives are fading. White resentment of federal civil rights laws is the ur-conservative issue, the engine that drove the right’s rise. Barry Goldwater, by reluctantly voting against the Civil Rights Act, permanently realigned the South and paved the way for Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” More recently, right-wing strategists successfully mobilized resentment over “values” issues like the “three Gs” — gays, God and guns. These issues still mobilize some conservative voters, but they aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be. Studies show that the electorate, especially younger voters, are moving left on these issues.

That’s the best one-paragraph summary of the past 40 years of American politics you’re ever likely to read. White resentment of federal civil rights laws, desegregation, Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs, and affirmative action were like a big boulder dropped in a lake, sending waves in all directions, and movement conservatism has been riding those waves ever since. “Values” issues like prayer in school and abortion and “security” issues like the communist threat (now the “Islamofacist” threat) made waves also, but IMO white racism truly was “the engine that drove the right’s rise,” as Kamiya says.

But, although racism is still with us, I think the racist wave is dissipating, and white voters don’t respond to the dog whistles the way they used to. And I think that’s because more and more whites are one missed paycheck away from disaster and barely hanging on to middle class status by their fingernails. A person facing potential financial ruin is not so likely to sneer about “entitlements” and “government handouts.” Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

In the end, conservatism will have to decide if it wants to be a real party of governance, moving beyond empty labels to engage with real issues, or if it wants to remain a party of reaction, in permanent rebellion against modernity, proffering emotionally satisfying but incoherent policies. Conservatism claims to be a politics of authenticity, but it is actually a politics of impulse and instinct. It is based on unmediated emotions, erupting from the individual ego — Get big government off my back! Keep those civil rights laws out of my white backyard! Lower my taxes! This is ultimately an infantile or an adolescent politics, a failure to come to terms with a world that does not do exactly what the omnipotent self demands. Does conservatism want to grow up, or stay an angry teenager forever?

Preach it, Brother Gary.

The new conservatism would not be liberal. It would still tilt toward small government and lower taxes, would reject policies aimed at equal outcomes, would oppose affirmative action and unrestricted immigration. That’s why it would be conservative (and, anticipating outrage from liberal Salon readers, why I wouldn’t support it). But it would abandon its facile government bashing and appeals to raw emotion. Above all, it would aim at working to build an America that, despite political differences, would pull together, would feel like a united country. It would take seriously that old saw about one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

It’s hard to imagine the party of Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh moving to the center. But if Americans turn away from the politics of resentment and fear, the GOP may be forced to follow them.

Just as an example of Why Conservatism Is Screwed, consider Jonah Goldberg’s column in today’s Los Angeles Times. Goldberg is an unoriginal thinker and pedestrian writer who got to be a big shot columnist promoting the virtues of taking care of oneself because he is Lucianne Goldberg’s son. Who needs government handouts when you’ve got nepotism? Anyway, today Goldberg writes,

The problem is that conservatism, even Reagan’s brand, wasn’t as popular as we often remember it. Government spending continued to increase under Reagan, albeit a bit more slowly. Today, the U.S. population is 30% larger but government spending is 84% greater (adjusting for inflation) than it was when Reagan delivered his 1981 inaugural address. That was the speech in which he declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and vowed to “curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.”

In 1964, two political psychologists, Lloyd A. Free and Hadley Cantril, famously asserted that Americans were ideologically conservative but operationally liberal. Americans loved Barry Goldwater’s rhetoric about yeoman individualism, but not if it meant taking away their Social Security checks or farm subsidies. “As long as Goldwater could talk ideology alone, he was high, wide and handsome,” they wrote. “But the moment he discussed issues and programs, he was finished.”

The flaw was not necessarily Goldwater’s. As Gary Kamiya wrote in the Salon article linked above,

Conservative ideals are laudable: Who is against freedom, tradition or the preservation of community? The problem is that while they’re beautiful in the abstract, it is difficult to base a coherent governmental policy on ideals alone. Once these principles enter the real world of politics, governance and society, a world that requires compromise and the curtailment of individual freedom for the common good, they are useless as guideposts. If they are taken as moral absolutes, they cancel each other out: The apotheosis of the individual leads to the destruction of community and tradition.

When Kamiya writes “a world that requires compromise and the curtailment of individual freedom for the common good” I believe he’s using the word freedom in the sense of being unrestrained, as opposed to political freedom. But on the Right the word freedom has been drained of all meaning; it is merely ceremonial. We lefties who still care about the Bill of Rights are dismissed as “civil liberties absolutists.”

Goldberg continues,

Liberals have an inherent advantage. As long as they promise incremental, “pragmatic” expansions of the government, voters generally give them a pass. And every new expansion since FDR and the New Deal has created a constituency for continued government largesse. …

… “Liberals sell the welfare state one brick at a time, deflecting inquiries about the size and cost of the palace they’re building,” writes William Voegeli in an illuminating essay, “The Trouble with Limited Government,” in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Committed conservatives, meanwhile, find themselves at a disadvantage: They advocate smaller government for everybody — when Americans generally (including most Republicans) want smaller government for everybody but themselves.

In Goldberg’s view, people support liberalism because they are greedy. They want largesse. They demand entitlements. But notice that Goldberg defines “smaller government” purely in terms of domestic spending. He famously supports war, war, and more war, and the government spending that goes with war. He has advocated warrantless police strip searches of children. He is OK with criminalizing abortion. “Big government” is fine when it interferes with other people’s personal lives. Goldberg just wants to keep it out of his pocket.

Under all-Republican rule, the federal government got bigger and more intrusive even as it became more corrupt and less competent. I believe that is symptomatic of the inherent incoherence of movement conservatism. Right wingers want to control because they don’t know how to manage. The Bushies in particular seem to think that if they can just get enough control and operate without public scrutiny, they can force events and the world to bend to their will. Then to prove he’s against “big government,” Bush vetoes S-CHIP.

Just call ’em “totalitarians for freedom.”

Update: See also Busy, Busy, Busy.

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Nice While It Lasted

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big picture stuff, Budget, economy

Tim Watkin posts at The Guardian web site:

America is out of touch and behind the times on climate change and economic reform. It is mired in a stagnant war that the rest of the west has abandoned or is abandoning. American global influence is in decline, the country having lost the respect of allies and the credibility to lead. As we’ve seen yet again in last week’s brinkmanship by Turkey, American diplomacy has all the vim and vigour of Fred Thompson. For now America remains the world leader, but it’s moving steadily from superpower to first among equals. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sciences. …

… Overseas institutions and companies are increasingly competitive, and federal and state funding for science and engineering has fallen significantly, to just 0.8% of GDP. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sucking up federal money, with President Bush last week asking Congress to raise the war budget for 2008 to $196bn. That’s quite an opportunity cost.

As Tom Friedman put it in his New York Times column on Iraq recently: “Can we pay for it and be making the investments in infrastructure, science and education needed to propel our country into the 21st century?” The answer, judging from speakers at the TechNet summit at Berkeley earlier this month, is no.

Watkin cites a report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” which was authored by The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), a joint unit of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

It’s hard to ignore the scientists and business leaders who wrote the Gathering Storm report when they write, bluntly: “We are worried about the future prosperity of the United States.” As the US slides, other countries are catching up too rapidly. I think Americans will look back at the second half of the 20th century as the pinnacle of American power and influence.

The comments to this post are almost more alarming than the post. A number of American wingnuts responded, claiming that Chinese engineers can’t be compared to American engineers because Asians have no creativity, and hey, we landed on the moon.

We’re doomed.

The notion that America and Americans are intrinsically superior is so deeply ingrained on the Right that no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary is likely to flush it out. Also, American conservatives by nature will ignore and deny an impending problem until it bites their butts, and then they blame Democrats for not solving it.

You’ve probably had this experience yourselves — mention the mere possibility that the U.S. could be less economically dominant at some point in the future, and if there’s a wingnut present he will laugh at you. Nope, not possible, he says. The way things have been in my lifetime is the way they will always be, forever and ever, amen.

American economic dominance grew out of several factors. The United States was one of the few large industrial nations to emerge from World War II without massive war damage and with its manufacturing base intact and productive, for example. Mortgage subsidies helped the new married couples of the Greatest Generation to purchase homes, and the GI bill sent a large part of the population to college, and in turn those college graduates started businesses, developed new technologies, created new products. America dominated the second half of the 20th century partly by circumstance of war and geography and partly because we invested in ourselves.

These days college is prohibitively expensive. Our manufacturing base is moving overseas, and the current POTUS seems to think this is a good thing. A major American city suffers massive damage from floods, and two years later the federal government continues to show a remarkable lack of interest in setting things right. About one in six Americans lacked health insurance for all of 2005, and our elected “leaders” look the other way and talk glibly about fictional “market solutions.” Anti-government conservative ideology so dominates American politics that we can’t even have sensible discussions about using government to address our growing problems.

We’re strangling ourselves with our own stinginess to each other.

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Shattered

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Bush Administration, conservatism, Religion

This is partly an addition to moonbat’s “Evangelical Crackup” post and partly something I started to write last week and never finished.

A couple of weeks ago Paul Krugman wrote that the Republican Party is not getting the big donations from Big Corporations that it has in the past. Krugman wrote,

According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the current election cycle every one of the top 10 industries making political donations is giving more money to Democrats. Even industries that have in the past been overwhelmingly Republican, like insurance and pharmaceuticals, are now splitting their donations more or less evenly. Oil and gas is the only major industry that the G.O.P. can still call its own.

The Economist says pretty much the same thing:

With all polls predicting a Democratic sweep of House, Senate and presidency in 2008, the smart money is flowing the Democrats’ way.

A Wall Street Journal poll last month showed that only 37 percent of professionals and managers identify themselves as Republicans or leaning that way.

A YouGov/Polimetrix poll for The Economist finds that only 44 percent of those earning more than $150,000 plan to vote Republican. So it is no surprise — though historically astonishing — that the Democrats’ presidential candidates have raised substantially more than Republican ones.

Now, why would this be? The Economist continues:

There are several obvious reasons for this. The shrill voices of religious conservatives have driven away many pragmatic Republicans who feel that banning abortion and gay marriage are not the most pressing issues confronting America. The Bush administration’s incompetence, evident from Iraq to Louisiana, alienates people who know about management.

But the most damaging factor has been the Republicans’ inability to control the federal budget. By slashing taxes without cutting spending, Bush turned the budget surplus of $240 billion he inherited from Bill Clinton into a deficit that bottomed out at over $400 billion, and is still running at $160 billion….

… Belatedly (to put it mildly), the administration has realized that it has lost the mantle of sound economic management to the Democrats. On Oct. 3 Bush picked up his dusty veto pen, using it to cut back spending for the first time in his presidency.

Astonishingly, he chose the wrong issue to wield it on: a proposal to expand a highly popular scheme that subsidized health insurance for poorer children. This from a man who had let Republican pork through by the sty-load.

The Economist has hopes for some of the GOP candidates, notably Giuliani, McCain and Romney, and doesn’t think much of the Dems. However,

Taxes, trade, and health care: These are subjects Main Street wants to know more about. But the religious right does not. Rather than building a pragmatic center-right alternative to Hillary Clinton, the conservative movement is stuck with God, gays and guns.

Methinks the Reagan Coalition is heading for D-I-V-O-R-C-E. The moneyed interests supporting the GOP were happy to cater to the religious Right as long as the Christionistas were swinging elections in their favor. But if Money decides that God is a loser, watch the GOP re-discover the joys of secularism.

Money liked George W. Bush because he promised to cut their taxes. But there’s more to a culture favorable to business and profits than low taxes. I suspect Money is re-learning what some of those things are. It doesn’t need high gas prices, health insurance costs from hell, economic instability among consumers and capital tied up by record debt. The current crop of GOP candidates, for the most part, aren’t promising to do much differently from Bush. They’re promising to do the same stuff, only more competently. Money must be reviewing its options very carefully right now.

Gary Kamiya writes at Salon:

Bush’s presidency has made a shambles of real conservatism. Let’s leave aside the issues on which liberals and conservatives can be expected to disagree, like his tax cuts for the rich, expansion of Medicare or his position on immigration, and focus solely on ones that should be above partisan rancor — ones involving the Constitution and all-American values. On issue after Mom-and-apple-pie issue, from authorizing torture to approving illegal wiretapping to launching a self-destructive war, Bush has done incalculable damage to conservative principles — far more, in fact, than any recent Democratic president. And he has been supported every step of the way by Republicans in Congress, who have voted in lockstep for his radical policies. None of the major Republican candidates running for office have repudiated any of Bush’s policies. They simply promise to execute them better.

The Bush presidency has damaged American civil society in many ways, but one of the most lasting may be its destructive effect on conservatism. Even those who do not call themselves conservatives must acknowledge the power and enduring value of core conservative beliefs: belief in individual agency and responsibility, respect for American institutions and traditions, a resolute commitment to freedom, a willingness to take principled moral stands. It is a movement that draws its inspiration from towering figures: Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke. It stands for caution in foreign adventures, fiscal sobriety and a profound respect for tradition.

Or at least it used to stand for those things. Today’s conservatism is a caricature of that movement: It embraces pointless wars, runs up a vast debt, and trashes the Constitution. Selling out their principles for power, abandoning deeply seated American values and traditions simply because someone on “their side” demanded that they do so, conservatives have made a deal with the devil that has reduced their movement to an empty, ends-obsessed shell. How did the party of Lincoln end up marching under the banner of Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and Ann Coulter?

The House That Reagan Built always was a hammered-together mess of clashing architectural styles. The wonder is that the coalition lasted as long as it has.

The movement has always been intellectually fractured, riven by contradictory beliefs. As George Nash pointed out in his classic “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America,” from the beginning modern American conservatism has been divided between traditionalists and libertarians. Libertarians regard individual freedom as the highest good, support the free market, and oppose coercive government policies. Traditionalists regard virtue, not freedom, as the highest good, believe in a transcendental moral order and are wary of unfettered individualism. Despite attempts to “fuse” them, the two worldviews are fundamentally incompatible — you either believe in surrendering to God and tradition or you don’t. Time and again, conservative attempts to implement policies that do justice to both the movement’s “freedom” and “virtue” wings have failed.

The relationship between the small-government, libertarian-minded conservatives and the Religious Right always seemed improbable on the surface. Even so, there was a remarkable amount of cross-pollination between the two factions. For example, the late militant Christian whackjob Rousas John Rushdoony preached that God blessed America with “biblical capitalism,” and God’s Capitalism must not be sullied by wordly government regulation. The now-fallen Rev. Ted Haggart’s explained Jesus’ plan for free market capitalism to his flock. And I’ve encountered a remarkable number of self-described libertarians who oppose reproductive rights for women.

The Economist expressed amazement that President Bush chose to be frugal with a bill for children’s health care, but that tells me The Economist doesn’t understand our righties. To them, meanness is a virtue. Whether to the poor, or gays, or women, or undocumented workers, both the small-government and social conservatives can be hard-hearted bastards. They may have diverse ideas about which groups should be kicked while they’re down, but the meanness is always there.

And so is the vainglory. Kamiya continues,

Bush’s “war on terror” is a rerun of the Cold War, with “Islamofascism” replacing communism and Dr. Strangelove at the controls. By attacking Iraq, Bush made up for all those decades of compromise and weakness, all that Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement, that groveling accommodation with evil. This time, we’re nuking the bastards!

Bush’s unprovoked war on Iraq provided a satisfying catharsis for American conservatives, an opportunity to play Winston Churchill and fight the good fight against Evil. But the satisfaction of urging on a Manichaean struggle from one’s armchair should only go so far before reality kicks in. Just as most conservatives during the Cold War realized that attacking the Soviet Union was not in America’s interests, so one would think that today’s conservatives would realize that Bush’s “war on terror” is not only unwinnable, but both unnecessary and counterproductive. By now, it’s obvious to all but myopic ideologues that attacking the Arab world to teach it a lesson was like kicking a vast wasp’s nest while wearing a Speedo. We want to win the “war on terror,” not strike heroic poses while being stung to death. No one disputes the virtue of moral clarity, but without intelligence, moral clarity is useless. Where is it written that conservatives have to be stupid?

Actually, I do dispute the virtue of “moral clarity.” “Moral clarity” all too often is just Bigotry wearing Virtue’s T-shirt.

But this takes us to another aspect of the Reagan coalition. Neocons and others wrapped up in the glory of American exceptionalism and the interests of Israel made common cause with Christian pre-millennialists who are eager to bring on Armageddon. Thus, in the early 1990s Bill Kristol and other leaders of the neocon faction of conservatism adopted the Christian Right’s views on abortion and gays. I suspect this had less to do with sincere moral sensibilities than with a desire to weaken the Democratic Party and liberalism generally. But today, David Kirkpatrick writes in “The Evangelical Crackup,” evangelical congregations are splitting over the Iraq War.

Today, the evangelical journal, has even posed the question of whether evangelicals should “repent” for their swift support of invading Iraq.

“Even in evangelical circles, we are tired of the war, tired of the body bags,” the Rev. David Welsh, who took over late last year as senior pastor of Wichita’s large Central Christian Church, told me. “I think it is to the point where they are saying: ‘O.K., we have done as much good as we can. Now let’s just get out of there.’ ”

Welsh, who favors pressed khaki pants and buttoned-up polo shirts, is a staunch conservative, a committed Republican and, personally, a politics junkie. But he told me he was wary of talking too much about politics or public affairs around the church because his congregation was so divided over the war in Iraq.

In other words, Christian conservatives and neocons are no longer reliable allies. Another aspect of the coalition has crumbled.

Finally, the men who were leaders of the religious Right during the Reagan heyday are growing old, as are their followers. Younger evangelicals don’t see the world the same way their elders did. Kirkpatrick:

Secular sociologists say evangelicals’ changing view of society reflects their changing place in it. Once trailing in education and income, evangelicals have caught up over the last 40 years. “The social-issues arguments are the first manifestation of a rural outlook transposed into a more urban or suburban setting,” John Green, of the Pew Research Center, told me. “Now having been there for a while, that kind of hard-edged politics no longer appeals to them. They still care about abortion and gay marriage, but they are also interested in other, more middle-class arguments.

I don’t believe the influence of conservative Christianity on conservative politics will ever completely disappear, because this influence has been a feature of American politics from the beginning of American politics. But it’s an influence that comes and goes. It was very strong after World War I until the Scopes Trial in 1925. In the 1930s until the 1950s mainstream protestantism, including the larger evangelical denominations, was at least mildly progressive in the context of the times. Until the Reagan years many people outside the Bible Belt saw militant right-wing Christianity as a quaint relic of the past. Now, if I’m not mistaken, the GOP is at the beginning of a shakeout that will result in many re-alignments and dis-alignments. Unless the religious Right can pull off some unexpected political victories in 2008, I believe its influence in the Republican Party will be much subdued in the future.

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The Evangelical Crackup

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Religion

Great article in the Sunday New York Times on the swing of the political pendulum in Christianity, The Evangelical Crackup.

…So when Fox [Terry Fox of “Operation Rescue” fame] announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on “cultural issues.” Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. “It just wasn’t pertinent,” Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.

Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the church’s lay leaders had turned on him. “They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!” he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. “And these were deacons of the church!”

These days, Fox has taken his fire and brimstone in search of a new pulpit. He rented space at the Johnny Western Theater at the Wild West World amusement park until it folded. Now he preaches at a Best Western hotel. “I don’t mind telling you that I paid a price for the political stands I took,” Fox said. “The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view. The real battle now is among evangelicals.”

The older leadership is dying off. Jerry Falwell died last spring, and James Dobson, 71, is planning his succession.

Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated [mega-church] preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. “The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. “People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

“There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. “To some extent — we have to see how much — the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats’ court.”

See also Sara Robinson, in Roosting Chickens, Part II:

I’ve been saying for a while now that the religious right in America finally and firmly jumped the shark over the past few years. But now that that big ol’ shark’s behind them, there’s another bunch of critters looming ahead that may prove to be even more damning. It’s that whole big flock of chickens that are finally coming home to roost.

I don’t know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, they didn’t see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we’re still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren’t afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.

And now, a new study reveals that young Americans, both inside and outside Christianity, have indeed taken note of this righteous spectacle– and a large and growing majority of them are absolutely revolted by what they’ve seen.

A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s — both Christian and non-Christian — are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago…

One of the things that’s always annoyed me is the tendency of liberal politicians to play the right’s game. Nowhere is this more evident than in professings of faith. Even if the politician is something other than Christian (let’s be hypothetical now), there is plenty of support for leftish positions in the gospels. And yet I have yet to hear a full throated defense of liberalism based solidly, and easily on the words of Christ. Do that, and we snatch and run away with the ball that Olasky and Barna say is now rolling into the Democrats’ court.

Update: Tristero isn’t buying it:

Seems like everyone’s predicting the imminent implosion of modern christianism. And yes, it does look that way, doesn’t it? Despite the wide variety of clinical-level personality disorders on display amongst the current Republican candidates, the so-called “religious” right can’t find the particular flavor of lunacy that makes them get all hard. Call it electile dysfunction. As it happens Rich’s point is underlined by a simultaneous article in the Sunday Times on the same subject.

I truly wish this were so, that we didn’t have to worry about the theocrats amongst us. But I don’t believe it for a second…

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I’m Home

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blogging

Thanks to biggerbox and moonbat for keeping the place lively. I’m a bit tired right now and have some catching up to do — no contact with the outside world since Friday — but regular posting will begin tomorrow, sometime.

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Our Cold Civil War

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big picture stuff, conservatism

In our country, the lie has become not just a moral category, but a pillar of the State.

– Alexander Solzehnitsyn

Earlier this month, when General Betray-Us was among us, Larisa Alexandrovna posted Our Cold Civil War at the Huffington Post. It caught my eye, and I filed it away for a better time to write about it. Lucky you, that time is now. Her thesis is two-fold:

  1. There are two wars going on, the one overseas, and the one domestically. The domestic war is between the oligarchs of this country versus We, The People. In her view, the domestic war far overshadows the overseas war in importance.
  2. Move-On’s General Betray-Us ad represents a major pushback in this domestic war – not because the ad was so great, but because roughly 3 million MoveOn members were able to pool their resources and have an effect – of getting Bush, the Senate, and others to rebuke it.

I don’t agree with everything she says – she doesn’t get why we’re still in Iraq (here’s a clue), but she expresses ideas both new to me and also ones I’ve long held but don’t often see in print. Examples:

…The attacks of September 11, 2001 were not the singular, all-transforming event that changed everything. Rather, it was the Supreme Court decision of 2000 that changed everything, a consequence of that single monumental failure to protect the Constitution…

The robber barons needed their figurehead, and so their allied fourth estate bosses fixed the propaganda around the myth, creating substance where there was none. The propaganda worked to create an image of a war veteran candidate Bush with a stellar educational background, an experienced and successful businessman, and an honest Texan raised on a farm. Those lies led to more lies and since then, we have essentially been held hostage by an ever expanding parade of liars.

The corporate interests of America are now almost entirely at one with the political interests of America. The people are either relegated to the outskirts as unimportant bystanders or are caught in the cross-fire as casualties of a hostile corporate takeover by American and even foreign corporations. We "the people" do not matter in a country where corporate profits are tied to state policy, which then uses those same corporations to tell us what is real and what is fabricated, what is true and what is false.

If a voice of dissent should manage to slip through the heavily corporatized and politicized public censors, as we saw happen in the case of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a cadre of purchased truth tellers, reporters, and grassroots groups are ready in the wings to react swiftly, to silence and discredit back into the shadows not only the lone whistle-blower, but any other person considering coming forward.

This is not something that happens in a democracy. This type of political character assassination in which the assassins are so much of the mainstream does not happen in a democracy. It only happens in countries under the control of something other than the people, but not in a democracy.

In a nation where corporations control the government, the military, and every possible freedom that can be afforded to a people (voting rights, access to basic life sustaining resources, etc.), a thing such as "democracy" is merely another marketing strategy or product brand, worn like one might wear a tiny American flag on the lapel of a dinner jacket.

Such corporate control and merger with the government and military has been in modern times called fascism. In America, we call it "privatization," so that the jagged edges and unpleasant concepts of a nation where no choice is our own to make can be much more easily digested.

In America we now have designated areas where people may protest, conveniently far away from news cameras and the people they are protesting – so out of sight…they have been rendered largely invisible. The right to congregate, as with other constitutionally protected rights, would have been almost entirely dismantled by this administration if not for the Internet. So armed with a new printing press, a global printing press at that, it would not be long before the public awoke from the lies that led to the Iraq war.

And even when those lies were finally exposed, and we – the public knew that we were all being lied to, we watched is stunned horror as the corporate owned/state sponsored "news" outlets attempted to convince us that we simply did not understand the reasons given for the war in the first place. It was WMD; no, it was the spreading of Democracy; no, it was something or other; but whatever it was, it was always "we the people" who were at fault. We simply did not get it, is what we were told. The entire administration set off on a tour of the US hoping to convince us that we simply did not get it. What they did not realize, however, is that we simply no longer bought it.

It has slowly become more and more obvious that we are fighting a domestic war, as yet unnamed, but is palpable to any of us who pay attention. Although it is important today as ever that we hold the Bush administration accountable for cooking intelligence that led us into a war of choice against a nation posing no threat to us, the most immediately important questions surround the reasons for why we continue to be held hostage to that war.

Understanding the nature of the domestic battle can only lead to a single conclusion. Whatever the myriad of lies that have led us into Iraq in the first place, we now only continue to remain in Iraq as a distraction from the real war at home and likely for the worst kind of political abuses.

Divide and Conquer:

Yet those villains [the oligarchy] would have us believe we are fighting each other, a nation divided by its own political and social views. The same corporate interests who are robbing us blind would have us believe that we are a deeply divided nation: pro-choice vs. anti-abortion, taxes vs. no taxes, God vs. godlessness, gays vs. heterosexuals, and on and on it goes, pitting us against one another on the basis of every conceivable human attribute, position, and whatever differentiates any one person from another.

Does it not seem odd that differences that have for so long existed and co-existed, even with some tension, would suddenly now be strong enough to split this nation apart over the policies of George W. Bush? I have yet to meet a sane and rational person, regardless of political affiliation, who believes anything positive about Bush, Cheney, and the rest of their administration. When I talk to everyday people in everyday context, they don’t bring up pro-choice vs. anti-abortion, nor do they bring up the mantra of gays taking over the country. No, everyday people I talk to are appalled, embarrassed, and frightened of this cabal.

Indeed, on the most important issues of our time and despite our many individual differences, the majority of us agree on the basics of what is currently wrong with this country and its leadership.

So why are we being constantly bombarded with the idea that we are a nation divided? And just who spending billions on propaganda to make us believe it?

In our cold civil war, the enemy is not a part of the country called the "red states," as conveniently manufactured. Nor is the enemy a phantom right wing "wing-nut" or left wing "liberal loony," although there are some people who fall very much under those definitions. On the whole, however, there are simply not enough delusional and/or corrupt Americans to fill the manufactured stereotypes of the typical this or a typical that, even if the label is color-coded for political fear tactics.

The image of a divided nation at war with itself is a false one, as false as the reasons for this war and the general war on terror, which is more of a reign of terror than anything else. But who is it trying so hard to divide this nation and for what reason?

Perhaps the most obvious answer lies in that same question reworded thusly: Who benefits? Consider this question in yet another way: So long as we are standing face to face and not standing shoulder to shoulder, who is benefiting? The answer of course is the same corporations and their lackeys masquerading in the garb of government. They need to distract us, divide us, spend billions of dollars trying to convince us what we need, what we hate, what we love, who is evil, who is good and everything in between.

She eventually talks about how the MoveOn ad demonstrated 1) strength in numbers, and 2) who in the power structure is for us and who is against us, by their reaction to the ad. Read the whole piece.

I first became radicalized to her point of view, during the 2000 election cycle, back when I was a Green, marching in the streets of Los Angeles during the Democratic National Convention. I was reading Jack London’s The Iron Heel – which, combined with these events, connected the dots for me, and changed my view of American politics forever.

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Saturday Funnies

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entertainment and popular culture

Bill Maher’s “New Rules”:


Sad that the best political commentary is from comedians, on cable, and not the free airwaves. One quick barb:

On the flap by conservatives over Dumbledore’s sexual orientation: “If I had the slightest interest in homosexuals with powers, I’d BE a Republican!”

But it’s even better than that – Enjoy.

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