PLEASE SUPPORT THIS BLOG! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Friday, December 14, 2001
FREEDOM THINKS: I love reading Jonah Goldberg. He writes like an angel after a couple of bourbons. But I think he’s confused about my political philosophy, or how I think conservatism should adapt to modern liberal (in the good, old sense) society. In referring to my recent stab at portraying the problems of conservatism after September 11, he says that my “conclusion is that all branches of conservatism are wrong, and that they should basically adopt Sullivan's own quirky, iconoclastic, personal brand of conservatism, complete with his imperative of incorporating gays into the mainstream conservative movement.” I don’t think that’s the best interpretation of my piece. I actually make a point of saying: “Don't get me wrong: Many of the schools of thought I've discussed here have important insights. But they need adjustment to new social realities and new geopolitical opportunities.” I guess it just goes to show that even when you ask people not to get you wrong, they still do. My basic point is that conservatism is not in its best incarnation an ideology. It’s a temperament, a spirit, an impulse that has always been alive to change. From Burke to Oakeshott, the flexibility of conservatism as a political philosophy in response to a changing world has come almost to define its difference from other modern creeds. That’s the kind of conservative I am. Although others may have very different ideas of what conservatism is, I don’t think I’m being outrageous in saying that this emphasis on unideological temperament is perfectly within the mainstream of conservative philosophy.
So if conservatism is flexible, is it infinitely flexible? Nope. I think any political proposal a temperamental conservative makes is informed not by sheer random experimentation but by a respect for current institutions, an appreciation of morality, empirical common sense and an openness to debate. In my own fitful attempts to describe a conservatism that can respond intelligently to modernity, I’ve tried to make arguments that do all of that. My nuanced argument for gay equality, for example, is not some knee-jerk pro-gay polemic, but a carefully constructed, classically liberal, temperamentally conservative argument. Check it out. Reviews by such conservative figures as Harvey Mansfield and Kenneth Minogue did not read the argument as solipsistic or liberal. And the issue of gay integration is not something I have simply dreamed up out of my own needs. It’s been a burning public issue for a while now. Obviously I have a stake, but I’ve been extremely careful not to argue from personal need, but simply to incorporate what I know from simply living as a gay man into an intelligent conservative case. That’s why so many liberals don’t agree with, say, my rejection of hate crime laws or even more harmless anti-discrimination statutes.
Ditto with the legalization of soft drugs. This isn’t some culturally neutral argument for anarchy, or a projection of my own tastes. It’s a case based on good classical liberal principles and empirical observation. I’m sorry but the ban on legal marijuana is so obviously counter-productive, needlessly authoritarian and irrational that, frankly, I’m amazed any sane conservative defends it. I think lifting such a ban would be good for social order, just as allowing gays to marry would be. I’m not a doctrinaire libertarian. I support banning the most addictive and anti-social drugs. I believe in an interventionist foreign policy; I support public schools; I largely back John Ashcroft’s anti-terrorism measures. Let’s tick off a few other items: I’m against affirmative action, morally opposed to all abortion, but politically resigned to legal first trimester abortion. I’m for a flat tax and secular government. I’m an anti-Keynesian; a Zionist; a fan of Orwell and Montaigne, a Catholic in frustrated but respectful dialogue with my own Church. In all this, I’m not a typical conservative, if there is such a thing. But are my views merely “an extrapolation of [my] personal beliefs – or, more accurately, [my personality]”? I don’t think so – at least no more than anyone’s political philosophy. Why is my congeries of beliefs more idiosyncratic than Robert Bork’s? Or Jack Kemp’s? Or Jonah Goldberg’s?
My view is that conservatism needs to adapt to modernity or die a reactionary death. Oakeshott for me was an epiphanous intellectual mentor. He showed me how a conservative temperament could come to terms with a liberal order, restrain, temper and guide it. He faced similar attacks – that he was an idiosyncratic and unintelligible thinker. Read him closely and you will see that he isn’t – and that this coherence is also a function of his own, yes, personality. A conservative is someone who doesn’t take his views from some authoritative tome called, in Jonah’s words, “old-style conservatism.” He is someone who looks at the world afresh all the time, informed by tradition, alert to history, but constantly exhilarated by the possibilities of the present. He knows that all thought is, at some level, refracted through the prism of human personality, and rather than see this as a weakness, he sees it as a strength. Does anyone believe that Disraeli’s version of conservatism wasn’t informed by his personality? Or Lincoln’s? Or Reagan’s? Or Thatcher’s? None of these figures checked a guidebook to proper conservative ideology to govern. In his day, Burke was regarded as a Whig. No Tory backed American independence and he was decried as being completely on an idiosyncratic wing of his own. Now he's regarded as the most influential conservative thinker perhaps of all time. My point exactly.
A conservative’s philosophy is a blend of experience and argument, of temperament and reason. He is enamored with intellectual challenge and does not, as Jonah seems to, feel threatened by new and idiosyncratic interpretations or ideas. That’s what Oakeshott meant, in part, by the metaphor of conversation. No book can contain this political tradition. No encyclopedia can inform it. It’s happening now – as I write and you read and you write back. That’s why in a way I think this new medium is such a boon for such a way of thinking. It’s so supple and open and human, it can reveal truths that more dogmatic approaches cannot. Jonah clearly gets this and practices it. At some point, his political theory may catch up with his practice.
- 4:59:13 PM
AN ONION BULLS-EYE: Bin Laden fights back. - 1:45:48 PM
THEY GOT HIM: Of course they have. Why did you think they timed the release of that tape the way they did?
BUSH AND GAYS: Yes, there’s clearly a thaw, as Newsweek has noticed. I’ve certainly had no major sense of anti-gay animus from this administration, and the work of Charlie Francis is of enormous importance – not just for gay Americans but also for Republicans who want to see their party grow and breathe and unite. But the administration needs to do more than be passively non-hostile if it is to achieve a breakthrough. Here’s hoping Bush will get there soon. How about not discharging gay soldiers who have been fighting for their country when they return home from duty?
THE ENRON SMEARS: Spinsanity does a good job dissecting our good friends, Molly Ivins and Robert Scheer, whose dishonesty is only slightly leavened by their indefatigable dimness. Spinsanity has some cred here since they really are bipartisan bullshit detectors, and have taken me down a mini-peg or two in the past.
LETTERS: A Salon cartoon mud-fight: you weigh in. Plus: AbFab and John Walker.
JONAH: OK, ok. Trust me, I’m gonna blow his liquor-ridden, dog-hair covered, libertarian-baiting ass out of the water. But I’ve been writing all day and I don’t want to pen something as rambling as his original piece. I’ll post something first thing tomorrow. And first thing for me means sometime after noon.
Thursday, December 13, 2001
LETTERS: David Talbot defends running a cartoon depicting a fantasy assassination of Bush. I reply. - 10:51:59 PM
INSTAPUNDIT: After reading the transcript of bin Laden’s sickening discourse with his fellow religious lunatics, a couple of things strike me. The first is that anyone who doubts the genuineness of this man’s faith, the inextricability of a twisted fundamentalist Islam with this form of terror, is simply in denial. The second thing that’s obvious is that the only thing bin Laden respects is power. Notice how he predicts that there will be mass conversions to Islam after the massacre. He believes that people, especially those in his own backyard, suck up to the powerful – and that this is the critical battle in his region. He directly rebuts Western nonsense about the Arab street being enraged by any exercise of American power in the Middle East. In fact, bin Laden proves that the best form of persuasion in that part of the world is not rhetorical but military. Pummel them and they will respect you. Talk to them nicely and you’ll end up like Robert Fisk. Best of all, pummel them and then talk. The most persuasive piece of rhetoric yet unleashed in this conflict has been the daisy cutter bomb. It’s the only argument that much of this clearly depraved culture actually respects. And when bin Laden is dead or captured, his hold on the imagination in that part of the world will collapse. - 7:41:12 PM
SALON’S NEW LOW: Would you run a comic strip that treats the murder of president George W. Bush as a) desirable; b) a joke? Salon just did. - 7:25:32 PM
SCORE ONE FOR THE GIPPER: "I don't think you can overstate the importance that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism will have to the rest of the world in the century ahead -- especially if, as seems possible, its most fanatical elements get their hands on nuclear and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them against their enemies." – Ronald Reagan, “An American Life,” chapter 57.
SCORE ONE FOR YOURS TRULY: “After a mere three weeks, the press has begun to use the word, 'quagmire.' After three weeks, liberal critics have pronounced the war not merely lost but unwinnable, and conservative critics have declared it half-hearted. The only thing that can be said about such armchair strategists is that they cannot have a clue what they’re talking about.” – yours truly, Sunday Times, November 4.
JONAH’S VICIOUS ATTACK: Just kidding. A response is in the works …
- 5:04:37 PM
LIFE IN PRISON AT LEAST: Will Saletan rightly takes president Bush to task for seeming sympathetic to the plight of John Walker. But he cannot use the rhetoric of this war and make an exception for a terrorist simply because he is a young American. As Will puts it, “You can frame this as a war on terror and demand that all terrorists and those who harbor them be punished. You can frame it as a war on Afghanistan and demand that the United States spare the lives of young Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. But you can't call it a war on terror and spare—much less harbor—the one al-Qaida fighter known to be an American. That's not a perspective. That's a lie.” Amen.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “Moderns in Marin try to live down their mothers back in Spokane ("I mean, she makes casseroles"), make up bumper-stickers for their Volvos ("Another Glass-blower for Udall"), attach tiny silver coke spoons to their high school charm bracelets, drink at "The Silenced Minority," buy Earth shoes at "The Electric Poppy," and get hair cuts at "Rape of the Locks," where a black militant shampooer harasses the ladies by constantly changing the soul handshake.
”Marin's affliction is "French bread thumb," a wound suffered by hostesses who drink too much with hors d'oeuvres and then slice themselves instead of the bread. Marin exercises inclde Zen jogging, and dressing for tennis… The Serial is a comedy about moderns struggling to keep their chins above the rising sea of their status anxieties. It is a Baedeker guide to a desolate region, the monochromatic inner landscape of persons whose life is consumption, of goods and salvations, and whose moral makeup is the curious modern combination of hedonism and earnestness.” – George Will reviewing the novel, Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County, by Cyra McFadden, in 1977.
EPIPHANY WATCH: “Three months ago, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists, and what happened to the Bay Area? One of our young men, from Marin County no less, was captured in Afghanistan fighting with the Taliban. This provided the only chuckle of the war, yet led to an entirely serious debate about whether John Walker, Taliban Ranger, is an only-from-Marin phenomenon or not. Well, folks, he wasn't from Nebraska. Now that would be news, although not as good a story. Walker is the worst thing that's happened to Marin County since peacock feathers, and everybody has an opinion. Why the big fuss in the Bay Area? Because we've had a crisis of belief, and our truest believer turned up with an AK-47 on the side of the enemy. “ – Rob Morse, San Francisco Chronicle.
POLITICAL SITE OF THE DAY: Thanks to aboutpolitics.com for naming us their site of the day.
AIDS IN INDIA: On the plane to Chicago this evening, I got time to read two deeply rewarding essays. One was Michael Specter’s report from India on the burgeoning HIV epidemic in that country. The piece is full of the usual New Yorker high-mindedness, but it breaks ranks with orthodoxy by making a simple, arresting point. Cheap anti-HIV drugs – or even free anti-HIV drugs – have all but no relevance to curtailing the epidemic in a vast and dirt-poor country like India. It’s far more important and feasible in such a place to find innovative ways to prevent HIV infection than to treat or cure it. Specter, like all New Yorker writers, is a liberal. He’s basically sympathetic to writers like Tina Rosenberg who have laid almost the entire responsibility for the spread of HIV in the developing world at the feet of the evil pharmaceutical companies. But when Specter actually saw the situation on the ground, he saw the tragic futility of such an approach. And his intellectual honesty casts a dark shadow on the real motivations of some of those who want to use the developing world HIV crisis to cripple a free market in pharmaceuticals at home. Alas, Specter’s piece is not online. But if you get the New Yorker, don’t miss it.
WHEN AMERICA BLINKED: I also got around to Robert Kagan’s endless book review in The New Republic of David Halberstam’s tome on “Bush, Clinton and the Generals.” Like much of what Kagan writes, it was cogent, elegant and powerful. Kagan’s account of the collapse of foreign policy nerve among American elites in the past generation is a wonderful rubric through which to see the country’s recent history. It’s a polemic, of course, but that only buoys the narrative along. What you get here is an almost pristine view of the boundless potential of American power abroad, and the necessity to project it anywhere and everywhere to do good, prevent harm, and generally bring about a better world. I’m sure Kagan would consider my reaction to his often breathless naivete about the wider world to be a symptom of my own enmeshment in American decadence. But his admirable idealism and sharp intellect would, I think, be leavened if they came with at least some respect for the virtues of moderation in foreign policy, prudence in foreign engagements, and respect for other powers and cultures. Certainly, we need more of Kagan’s spirit in foreign policy – but I’d be terrified if there were no moderating influence as well. That’s why, although I’m critical of many of Colin Powell’s views, I’m glad he’s at the table in the current war. The president, I think, understands this mix. I wish that some neoconservatives, who deserve our gratitude for their powerful critique of recent foreign policy, would appreciate this more.
Wednesday, December 12, 2001
SOUTH PARK COMES OUT: Yes, we now know, after much speculation, something that is obvious to any devoted fans of the Comedy Central cartoon show, “South Park.” This brilliant, scatological, hilarious concoction of anti-p.c. Gen X genius is the product of two men – Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And at a recent award ceremony hosted by People for the American Way, no less, they came out as … Republicans! Well at least I now have a quick response to the next person who asks me to sum up my politics. I’m a South Park Republican. But shhhh! Don’t tell Robert Bork.
GIULIANI ON WALKER: "I could feel sorry for someone and still string 'em up," Rudy tells MoDo of the Times. At last a definition of “compassionate conservatism” that makes some kind of sense.
MARIN LIBERALISM: The New York Times, after yesterday’s damning profiles of Walker and Spann, goes into spin-mode today. The headline for the follow-up story, “An Improbable Incubator for a Militant Muslim,” gives the game away. The piece does its best to portray the echt-liberal enclave of Marin county as a conservative-leaning suburb, but is honest enough to let some facts get in the way. My favorite is a quote from a Marin resident: “"I find that people here are basically very forgiving, no matter what their point of view. With the Walker kid, I can't imagine anyone here thinks he should go to jail for 25 years. I think most people are compassionate about him, especially when they think about his parents." Notice it doesn’t even occur to her that Walker might be executed. And the thousands of victims of the terrorist group Walker aided and abetted? Compared to the pain of Walker’s parents, they don’t seem to count.
- 4:37:49 PM
REDEFINITION: A reader objects to the term "war pessimists." They should be called according to what they are: "defeat optimists." - 3:26:18 PM
THE BRUTAL TRUTH: “If Israel were a Palestinian state, complete with superior firepower and all the privileges of internationally recognized statehood, and the West Bank were a Palestinian occupied Jewish enclave, do you really suppose there would be any Jews left to protest?” Norah Vincent nails the depravity, illiberalism, intolerance and hypocrisy of the ascendant Arab culture. People ask why Americans tend to sympathize more with Israelis than Palestinians. It’s not racism. It’s a recognition that, for all their failings, the Israelis live in the same moral universe as we do. The Palestinians palpably, brazenly do not. - 3:09:47 PM
BARBRA GRAPPLES WITH THE TOUGH ISSUES: “As Streisand groped for equilibrium after Sept. 11, her shock turned to uncertainty in matters both grave and trivial. She relates, ‘One day I tell myself, 'Screw everything, I'm getting a Carl's Jr. hamburger and eating fried chicken three nights in a row. I don't care about my weight.' The next day, my optimistic side takes over and I think, 'Wait a minute, life goes on, people will get wiser, justice will prevail. Maybe I should watch my diet.' I'm still in that state of confusion.’” – Barbra Streisand, on her response to September 11. To be fair, she also has some decent and appropriate things to say as well. Then she plugs her new album. - 2:56:09 PM
BUCKLEY’S WORRIES: The esteemed Bill Buckley worries that Osama is achieving a mythic status of invulnerability. Something tells me Buckley couldn’t be more wrong. Chill, Bill. We’re gonna get him. And soon. And then the myth implodes in exact proportion to its inflated grandeur. In fact, the myth helps us. The crushing psychological blow to the murderers and fanatics and mischief-makers who lionized bin Laden will only make our military victory more emphatic. Then on to Somalia ... - 11:59:45 AM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." - C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man.”
THE FORGE OF WAR: Some interesting results from the latest poll from the New York Times. One number that piqued my interest was that most Americans still don’t really have a clue who John Ashcroft is. But of those who did know, his favorability rating was 31 percent and his unfavorability rating was a mere 8 percent. And to think of all the money, time and ink that some people have spent trying to peg him as the source of all evil. I guess no one really internalizes Frank Rich. Then there’s the astonishing fact that 61 percent of Americans approve of president Bush’s handling of the economy, even during a recession. Bottom line: there doesn’t seem to be a massive disconnect in people’s minds between domestic and foreign affairs. This makes intuitive sense to me. One of the reasons that Bush’s poll numbers are so high is partly patriotism in a time of crisis, but also surely that people admire the crisp, effective and mild-mannered presidency the war has revealed. The idea that this will have no impact on his clout in domestic matters seems to me to be unlikely. The analogy of his father doesn’t hold. Before the Gulf War, 41’s image with the public was already pretty set – out-of-touch, inarticulate, pushed around by his own party, not as impressive as Reagan. The war didn’t change this identity; it merely helped give the old guy more respect. But this war has come at a very different time for 43. In Dubyah’s case, the best analogy, I think, is Thatcher. She dealt with a surprise attack early in her first term – the Falklands. She performed brilliantly under pressure and saw her approval ratings grow domestically – even though her economic policies were never very popular, and she precipitated a brutal recession in her early days. The war transformed her image when it was still formative in the eyes of the country. It never changed. I think there’s a good chance the same thing is happening with Bush, which is why Democratic faith that they can compartmentalize the war and insulate it from domestic politics is, in my opinion, misplaced. This poll suggests I may be right. Well, we’ll see, won’t we?
THE CULT OF PESSIMISM: Useful piece by Jake Weisberg on how war pessimists endure, against all the odds and against all the evidence. Speaking of which, this latest piece from the Guardian probably deserves a prize for finding the dark lining in every silver cloud. Don’t kid yourselves: these people never ever learn.
- 2:24:55 AM
RED, BLUE AND YOU: Okay, you officially win this debate. Not because I've been proven completely wrong in my first take on Walker/Spann but because you've definitely persuaded me it's much more complex and more interesting than my original impression. I don't mean to be wishy-washy, but I'm still thinking about this. Memo to Weisberg/Noah/Lewis: I still think you were wrong but not so wrong as to owe me an apology. There's a lot of room for doubt and debate here, but the easy equation of Walker's background and his eventual politics is just that: too easy. The letters page now contains a new swath of points from all sides. I'm constantly amazed by the knowledge and intelligence of my readers, but this time, you surpassed yourselves. - 1:43:13 AM
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
RED AND BLUE RECONSIDERED: One email has really got me thinking. The best point of those who disagree with my earlier post on Walker/Spann is that Walker wasn't/isn't really a lefty. He's actually a right-wing religious zealot. Here's the case:
"Maybe I missed something, but I am not sure how a religious fundamentalist and zealot like John Walker is an embodiment of the American Hating Left. He is a right wing religious nut just like the guy arrested here in Cincinnati last week for sending fake anthrax to abortion clinics. While you may be correct that his permissive parents and his multicultural context may have produced him (sounds like something some right wing nut case would say about homosexuality, right Andrew?), what it produced was a right wing Islamic religious nut who hates the West and America for its decadence (which he enjoyed and benefited from) and sin, just like his brothers on the right wing Christian extreme (like maybe Tim McVeigh, who was a Catholic to boot?). Let's at least be honest that Walker represents some of the worst of American permissiveness and multiculturalism, while being the embodiment of right wing religious fanaticism. I think we all get caught on this one."
This strikes me as pretty smart. What it misses, though, is that Walker actually rebelled against Catholicism for being too strict when he was younger. I think he was attracted to Islam as much by its exoticism as by its strictures. I think we have a classic case of being brought up with really permissive parents in a really permissive culture. You want to rebel, but your authority figures approve of 'rebellion' so you have to find some sort of anti-liberal rebellion. Islam fits the bill perfectly. Hip-hop was a mite too predictable and you can imagine his parents almost approving. The extremism with which he pursued his rebellion is probably inexplicable out of psychoanalysis. But the link between his chosen lifestyle and the culture in which he was born is still valid, I think. - 9:25:31 PM
LETTERS: You weigh in against me (mainly) on the Walker-Spann divide. - 9:04:57 PM
SCORE ONE FOR DICK MORRIS: It strikes me that the old Clinton-enabler has a very good point in his latest column. Why are we admitting any students from countries that sponsor terrorism? Subjecting all of them to lengthy interrogations about their possible terror connections seems to me hugely time-consuming, expensive and prone to failure. And the possible sympathy some might acquire for the United States by studying here is far outweighed by the costs of even one terrorist finding his way here as a result. Look, I’m a big fan of immigration, natch. Student visas for foreign students are a great idea and a critical part of this country’s educational excellence. But this is clearly one area where new circumstances merit changes. Why not increase the number of student visas from friendly countries to make up financially for those from countries that still harbor terrorists? That seems like a preferable compromise to me. - 6:41:47 PM
BLUE AND RED AGAIN: You may well have read the astonishing piece in the New York Times today about the divergent paths of John Walker and John Spann. The thing that stood out most starkly is the blue-red split. In fact, both are almost absurd stereotypes of each part of America. Here’s Spann’s background: “Mr. Spann grew up foursquare in a four-stoplight Alabama town. Life in Winfield revolved around family, church, duty and high school football, and Mike Spann embraced them all. He took apples to his teacher, played soldier at recess and prayed on Sunday with his family at the Church of Christ.” You couldn’t make that up. Then here’s Walker: “Encouraged by his divorcing parents to seek his own spiritual path, he found himself by rejecting teenage culture in the name of Islam. He sold off his hip- hop records, immersed himself in the Koran and started wearing a long white robe.” One is from Alabama; the other is from Marin County, California. One is a national hero, the first American casualty at the hands of the enemy. The other is the enemy. Does it get any starker than that?
ENCLAVES OF THE LEFT: The question, I suppose, is whether their respective backgrounds tell us anything. The Times' story wisely assumes social and cultural background is at least relevant to understanding them, and, however queasy that will make some liberals, I agree with the Times. We can debate, of course, whether places like Marin County are hotbeds of anti-Americanism. For the vast majority, they’re probably not. But for some parts of the decadent left, they are, and Walker starkly illustrates that fact. Memo to Weisberg/Noah/Lewis et al, who pummeled me for predicting that such a fifth column might eventually come about in exactly these “enclaves of the decadent left on the coasts”: you owe me an apology. These people exist. They're not numerous, but then I never said they were. They have support - just read the San Francisco press to see the strained excuses still being made for Walker. If the San Francisco left claims him as an emblem of their openness and diversity, why shouldn't we?
INSTA-TRAITOR?: Actually, Walker isn’t even a fifth columnist. He is an honest-to-God traitor. Yes, the expanse of coastal decadent leftism is diverse – ranging from apathetic hostility to American power all the way to actual treason – but the connection between a certain leftist relativist subculture (e.g. the New Age parenting of Walker) and actual treason is now no longer an abstraction. It’s real. It’s called John Walker. And what’s the Left’s response? Here’s Salon, already in denial. Walker is an “insta-traitor,” a figment of the McCarthyite right’s fevered imagination. Do I detect a Hiss for our generation? I’m not going to push the point, since many on the far left are not guilty of treachery or even lack of patriotism (in their own often strained formulation). In fact, none apart from Walker can claim the ignominy of realized treason – so far. But the real question is: does it surprise anyone that this traitor came from the political and cultural background he did? Of course, it surprises no one. Whatever else he is, Walker is a catastrophic embarrassment to the cultural left. If David Horowitz had wanted to concoct an imaginary leftist figure from his most paranoid fantasies, he could hardly have come up with a more perfect incarnation than Walker. And liberal apologists can spare us the sermons about how unfair it is to associate one man’s actions with an entire sub-culture. Timothy McVeigh anyone? Well, this time the shoe is on the other foot. It may not be entirely fair, but it’s damning.
- 6:14:42 PM
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "I have seen ... good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack." - Allan Bloom, "The Closing Of The American Mind." - 3:58:03 AM
Monday, December 10, 2001
DISAPPOINTED DASCHLE: Funny piece in Roll Call on Tom Daschle’s favorite feeling. The man lives in a constant state of disappointment. “In the past year,” Roll Call notes, “Daschle has been ‘disappointed’ by the appropriations schedule, the lack of progress on a patients' bill of rights (‘and, frankly, saddened’ as well as ‘dismayed, really’), the media's coverage of the stem-cell research debate, criticism of Democrats' stance on Mexican truck safety, the White House position on the Kyoto treaty, the report of the Social Security Commission, the scope of the tax rebate, and the ‘millionaires’ amendment to campaign finance reform.” Of course, he was never actually disappointed. In reality, he was probably pissed off. But being mad doesn’t convey the composure of the man above-it-all whose passion rises only to the level of condescending sadness. I guess he should be congratulated for “changing the tone,” and heaven knows, his rhetoric is preferable to, say, Terry McAuliffe. If only the two alternatives for some politicians weren’t vulgarity or sanctimony.
ANOTHER EPIPHANY: Close students of Israeli culture and society (I’m an editor at The New Republic so I count) will have been gob-smacked (yes, it’s a Briticism) to find out that historian Benny Morris has now publicly stated his belief that “the Palestinians, not Israel, are to blame for the ongoing conflict and for the current state of affairs.” Morris became famous or infamous for his view that Israel’s official history was riddled with distortions, biases and untruths. A terrific and highly critical review of his work can be read here. When he gave a recent speech at Berkeley, his leftist audience was expecting an anti-Zionist tirade. What they got was an epiphany. Here’s a great summary of what happened. The world turns.
- 10:20:49 PM
NUKE ‘EM?: The most cogent argument I’ve yet heard for using an underground nuclear weapon to destroy Tora Bora and minimize our casualties.
WHY I LOVE RUMMY: "It's true, it's hard to get information from me. It is true that I clean the damn room out. With the president's full blessing, I reduce down the size of the room. And of course, when people are asked out of the room, that is not something that pleases them. So it's not surprising for me that some person who's not in the loop, and ought not to be in the loop, is expressing that thought, and it bothers me not one whit." – Donald Rumsfeld justifying his habit of telling lower-downs to scram when he wants to talk about sensitive matters with the president.
Sunday, December 09, 2001
THE PATHOLOGY OF ROBERT FISK: His account of his ordeal at the hands of an Afghan mob – a mob that apparently cried “Infidel!” as they attacked and tried to rob him – is a classic piece of leftist pathology. You have to read it to believe it. Even when people are trying to murder Fisk, he adamantly refuses to see them as morally culpable or even responsible. I’ve heard of self-hatred but this is ridiculous: “They started by shaking hands. We said, 'Salaam aleikum' – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face." That sentence alone deserves to go down as one of the defining quotes of the idiotic left. If it weren't so tragic, it would be downright hilarious. Who needs Evelyn Waugh when you have this?
"I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME": But wait, there's more. "A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.” What does this mean, you might well ask? What it means is that someone – anyone – is either innocent or guilty purely by racial or cultural association. An average Westerner is to be taken as an emblem of an entire culture and treated as such. Any random Westerner will do. Individual notions of responsibility or morality are banished, as one group is labeled blameless and another irredeemably malign. There’s a word for this: it’s racism. And like many other members of the far left, Fisk is himself a proud racist, someone who believes that the color of a person’s skin condemns him automatically and justifies violence against him. So the two extremes touch and are, in fact, interchangeable. Rightist racism springs from the premise that some races are somehow morally superior. Leftist racism springs from the premise that some races are also morally superior. The only difference is the color of skin. Alleged “victimization” sanctifies any evil perpetrated by the oppressed race. Just as the Nazis and Communists claimed self-defense for the mass-murder of their “oppressors,” so some modern leftists claim the absolution of self-defense even for a mob attacking a carful of innocent, harmless journalists. Or a sky-scraper for that matter.
THE VICTIM OF THE WORLD: You know the expression: you wouldn't understand a culture if it actually hit you in the head? Fisk has now officially retired that expression as a metaphor. He goes on: “There were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others…” Notice that phrase – “whose brutality was entirely the product of others.” What can that possibly mean? We’re not talking about extenuating circumstances – things that might help us understand or contextualize the hatred of one people for another. We’re talking about a priori moral absolution. Take this passage: “Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any crime except that of being the victim of the world.” No, Mr. Fisk, that man who attacked you was not truly innocent of any crime. You were. He was not the victim of the world. You were the victim of a thieving, violent mob. For those who believe that the left-wing intelligentsia is capable of critical thought or even a modification of their ideology in the face of evidence, this incident is a wonderful example of why it won’t happen. They won’t recognize reality, or abandon their racism, or moderate their spectacular condescension to the inhabitants of the developing world – even when reality, literally, crushingly, punches them in the face.
THANK YOU: I promised a long time ago that I would publish a list of sponsors for the site. As our redesign seems to be taking longer than the war against al Qaeda, it seems ungrateful to wait for its unveiling to thank you all. A list of sponsors is now up in the site, here. In a few cases, we were unsure from the letters whether the donors wanted anonymity. We’ve withheld their names to protect their privacy. If you’re one of them and want your name added, please email Robert Cameron at Robert@fantascope.com. If you want to become a sponsor, please go to the Tipping Point for instructions.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE I: “Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect -- even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?” – Glenn Sacks, San Francisco Chronicle.
SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE II: “Far from an act of cowardice or retreat, Bin Laden's canny underground maneuvers replay a religious drama, which enhances both his spiritual power and his political effectiveness with his followers. The images he manipulates not only are those of modern culture but are also religious symbols, which pulse in the psychic underground of our consciousness. Bin Laden's elusiveness and invisibility are actually sources of his strength. Indeed, his absence has become an overwhelming presence for those who seek him. This is why his death will solve very little. When placed in a ritual context, the sacrificial victim is reborn in the spirit of the community of his followers. Like religious martyrs before him, Bin Laden will become even more powerful in death than in life.” - Mark C. Taylor, Los Angeles Times. He’s a professor, natch.
SADDAM’S GAS CHAMBER: Not sure whether this story is checkable, but opposition groups in Iraq claim that Saddam is now gassing his political prisoners in specially built gas chambers. Any further confirmation of this story is welcome. Here’s the link from the Kuwaiti Times.
LETTERS: Steve Chapman replies; an enlisted servicemember remembers.
MEDIA BIAS WATCH: Check out these two captions from the AP and Reuters for the same photograph. The AP caption: “A group of Hamas suicide bombers, with fake dynamite strapped around their chests, parade at the el-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001, during an anti-Israel demonstration organized by Hamas to mark the 14th anniversary of its founding. The group said they hoped to join their Hamas colleagues in Palestinian areas to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.” The Reuters caption: “Members of Hamas pray during a rally held at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the port-city of Sidon in south Lebanon, December 9, 2001. Palestinians poured into the streets in Lebanon on Sunday to mark the14th anniversary of the founding of the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.” No wonder they can’t bring themselves to use the word “terrorist.”
- 8:46:40 PM
FISK’S FREUDIAN SLIP: What happened to British left-wing journalist, Robert Fisk, was terrible. He was attacked by a crowd of angry Afghans, after his car broke down in a dangerous spot. But what he said about it is so deeply revealing, it’s worth recording. “If I had been them, I would have attacked me,” he said. Think about that for a minute. He doesn’t excuse their violence – “It doesn't excuse them for beating me up so badly” – yet he feels they were morally justified in what they did. Isn’t that exactly what the far left essentially meant in the wake of September 11: that the massacre was wrong but understandable? And doesn’t it suggest that the only moral difference between these intellectuals seduced by violence and the terrorists themselves is the will and capacity to actually translate beliefs into action? - 4:37:09 PM