Sunday, August 28, 2005

The loyal opposition

In this sobering essay, Frank Rich targets the president's refusal to face reality in Iraq and the Democrats' inexcusable failure to muster any kind of sensible alternative to the administration's failures:

It isn't just Mr. Bush who is in a tight corner now. Ms. Sheehan's protest was the catalyst for a new national argument about the war that managed to expose both the intellectual bankruptcy of its remaining supporters on the right and the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats who had rubber-stamped this misadventure in the first place.

When the war's die-hard cheerleaders attacked the Middle East policy of a mother from Vacaville, Calif., instead of defending the president's policy in Iraq, it was definitive proof that there is little cogent defense left to be made. When the Democrats offered no alternative to either Mr. Bush's policy or Ms. Sheehan's plea for an immediate withdrawal, it was proof that they have no standing in the debate.

It gets better:

The Democrats are hoping that if they do nothing, they might inherit the earth as the Bush administration goes down the tubes. Whatever the dubious merits of this Kerryesque course as a political strategy, as a moral strategy it's unpatriotic. The earth may not be worth inheriting if Iraq continues to sabotage America's ability to take on Iran and North Korea, let alone Al Qaeda.

As another politician from the Vietnam era, Gary Hart, observed last week, the Democrats are too cowardly to admit they made a mistake three years ago, when fear of midterm elections drove them to surrender to the administration's rushed and manipulative Iraq-war sales pitch. So now they are compounding the original error as the same hucksters frantically try to repackage the old damaged goods.

The Democrats, of course, face a big problem in that much of their activist base appears to be captive to an intellectually vacant anti-war movement, and as proof let us consider efforts to impede military recruiting. This starve-the-beast mentality might be an appealing short-term strategy for sabotaging the war in Iraq, but what about the next war? We still have a Constitution, my friends, and it still binds presidents to two terms in office. Do we want to leave the next president unable to wage the wars that we have to wage? If you're a pacifist, this might be fine. But I'm not, and I'd like us to leave Iraq able to fight another day.

Now, don't get me wrong; if the military is facing recruiting problems, it's the president I blame far more than any protestors. He's the one that got us into this mess. He's the one that has compromised our ability to respond to real threats to our security. But unless you are willing to take up arms and fight the next battle when it comes, step aside, and let pass those who are.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


First, check out the rant in this week's City Paper, written by your favorite writer.

Then, read this moving, well-crafted story in the Washington Post that will make you believe in the power of dreams.

Finally, the New York Times Magazine has a story that will give you nightmares over the coming world oil crisis. Peter Maass explains that the world's biggest oil producer--Saudi Arabia--may be nearing its peak capacity even as the world's biggest oil consumer--the United States--refuses to curb its gluttonous appetite for oil.

Back in the 70's, President Carter called for the moral equivalent of war to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; he was not re-elected. Since then, few politicians have spoken of an energy crisis or suggested that major policy changes are necessary to avert one. The energy bill signed earlier this month by President Bush did not even raise fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars. When a crisis comes -- whether in a year or 2 or 10 -- it will be all the more painful because we will have done little or nothing to prepare for it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pro patria mori

A father who lost a son in Iraq takes a dim view of Cindy Sheehan's protest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

If cold medicine is outlawed, only outlaws will have cold medicine

The war on drugs, and on common sense, continues, as Oregon becomes the first state in the nation to require a prescription for over-the-counter cold medicines that contain ingredients that could be used to make methamphetamine. For a sensible take on the meth scourge, and a lesson in how government's good intentions can go awry, check out this.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

He's a man, so his opinion doesn't count

John Tierney strikes a similar tone on abortion as I did in this post earlier this week, which was promptly criticized by Maria over at 2 political junkies. His jumping off point is the commercial sponsored by the abortion rights organization Naral in which Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was accused of supporting violence against abortion clinics. Tierney says the great mistake the abortion rights movement makes is playing to its activist base:

Treating the issue as a civil rights crusade may be good for mobilizing some women, but this strategy alienates the public because it ducks the central issue. If you believe that life begins at conception, then protecting women's rights means protecting the rights of females in the womb, too.

The abortion debate, unlike the civil rights debate, can't be resolved by appealing to any widely held moral or legal principles. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court discovered a right in the Constitution for pregnant women to be left alone by the government. But that just ducked the question - what about the fetus's right to be left alone? - and angered huge numbers of Americans. ...

I wish the pro-choice movement would appeal to centrists of both sexes instead of playing to its activist base. The best way to keep abortion legal is to rely not on the Supreme Court but on the public, because three-quarters of Americans do not want to outlaw abortion.

Many of these people have moral objections and resent the Supreme Court's presumption in its Roe v. Wade decision, but they're also pragmatic enough to realize that a ban couldn't be enforced and would create a new set of problems. If Roe v. Wade were overturned and abortion policy left up to the states, these pragmatists would start to matter more than the ideologues on the left and right who now dominate the debate.

So much for ordering that case of Viagra

Those of you who still labor under the fantasy that the GOP is the party of small government need to read this story about a bill the president has signed into law to create a database to monitor prescription drug usage. Yes, the government's war against illicit drug abuse is going so smashingly well that now they are going after people who misuse legal medication. I weighed in on this issue a few weeks ago, here. And some people are so cynical as to think that this system could actually be misused:

"This bill lacks fundamental privacy protections, such as notifying patients if their information has been lost or stolen," said Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, whose amendment to add that notification to the bill was defeated in committee. "The lack of such safeguards virtually guarantees that this well-meaning effort to combat drug abuse will become a scandalous invasion of the privacy of innocent bystanders."

Note that Markey isn't concerned about the government using this information for nefarious purposes, nor does he seem worried that the government might inadvertenly target innocent patients. Of course, who doesn't trust the government? I mean, I seem to recall someone once saying that government was the problem, not the solution. He may have even been president. If memory serves, he may even have been a Republican.


Because I've been getting spam comments, I have decided to no longer allow anonymous comments. Keep in mind, of course, that Blogger does not require you to register under your real name. Also, I've finally changed to pop-up comments.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Can't we all just get along

Earlier this week, Eric Alterman chided the left for demanding ideological purity of Democratic presidential candidates, in particular noting the outcry over Hillary Clinton's recent remarks to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. He zeroes in on abortion, and here's the money quote:

Abortion is probably necessary in a society that (purposely) does such a bad job of educating its youth about sex and does not give a s**t about poor kids once they’ve been born. But for most people it’s a personal tragedy. To celebrate it as a “right” is a big mistake, given what an unhappy experience it is for all concerned. What’s more, a lot of people think it’s murder and their religion tells them this is true. Why can’t we respectfully disagree? How does that diminish anyone? Grow up, everybody.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Stop me if you've heard this before

The last week or so I've ruminated over whether John Roberts' religious beliefs--or the religious beliefs of any Supreme Court nominee--are fair game for questioning by senators or the media during the confirmation process. (See here and here.) I tend to think that in an age in which conservative religious leaders are trying to assert their influence as never before over politicians and the political process, then such questions are legitimate, despite their legacy of discrimination, particularly against Catholics.

The New York Times offers a nuanced examination of the issue in today's paper, and one thing strikes me as a I read it. As conservatives have argued for years--usually, of course, in reference to abortion--some issues simply are better left to the messy realm of legislatures, where voters and their elected representatives have far more influence than they do over the courts. Because we have ceded so many of our most important and contentious decisions to the judicial branch, we are left to devine, through any method possible, how each nominee for the bench will decide a particular case, rather than on whether they are simply well-qualified to be a judge.

Of course, one might correctly argue that a particular view of civil rights or abortion makes one unqualified for the bench, and there is room for reasonable people to disagree not only on the specific issues, but also on the extent to which we should tolerate deviation from long-held principles. Arguing, for example, that court-ordered busing is wrong is far different than arguing that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided. And because the Constitution is meant to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority, not every decision can be adequately settled in the political realm. We would not have trusted the southern states, circa 1954, to put segregation to a vote, and give us a just result.

However, governing is an art, and not a science, and we must address these matters on a case-by-case basis. We turn to the courts when politics fails us. But when the courts fail us, the result is often far uglier, and, as we have seen with abortion, has the potential to poison our politics for generations. So it is thus that we seek not only to know whether John Roberts is a good jurist, but also a good Catholic, and then fight over what the answer means.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The L word

Altercation has an analysis of the demise of liberalism that is as concise and as cogent as anything I've seen on the subject:

Although liberals accomplished great things during the first three quarters of the 20th century, thereafter they stumbled badly. When they encountered resistance to black civil rights among poor and working class whites—some of it racially motivated some of it not—rather than dealing with the resistance politically, liberal elites sought to impose solutions from above by taking advantage of their privileged access to judicial and executive power. Then, rather than telling Americans honestly about the likely costs and consequences of a military intervention in Southeast Asia and trust them to make the correct decisions, they used lies and deception to trick voters into supporting an unwinnable war that was fought mostly by the poor and working classes; and when the war came too close to home, they quickly forgot about the lower class combatants and their sacrifices they had made. Then after liberals’ attempt to support guns and butter set off hyperinflation to erode the real value of wages, they callously thought up new ways to spend the windfall of tax revenue rather than adjust tax brackets to relieve the unsustainable burden on the middle class. Finally, when faced with political revolt because of these misguided policies, they retreated into arcane ideologies to wage a rearguard cultural insurgency from the safety of the ivory tower. Is it any wonder that liberals lost the public trust?

Vincent Cannato comes to much the same conclusion in his compelling book "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and the Struggle to Save New York." I highly recommend it.

So help us God

On Tuesday, I discussed Christopher Hitchens' assertion that a Supreme Court nominee's religious convictions are fair game for questioning during the confirmation process. I agreed, but disputed Hitchens' notion that Catholics in particular should be singled out. Today, Cathy Young at Reason weighs in on the issue, raising some very salient points and countering religious conservatives' claims that such a line of questioning is tantamount to discrimination:

Philosophically, we are now light years away from the era in which John F. Kennedy made his plea for separation of politics and faith. We live in a time when there is a growing movement, backed by most conservatives, for the Catholic Church to excommunicate public officials who support abortion rights. If religion is going to have that kind of political influence, it's a bit hypocritical to complain when a politician's or judge's religion becomes an issue. A candidate's or nominee's ideology should be fair game whether it's religious or secular in nature, whether it's rooted in conservative Catholicism or liberal feminism. ...

As for complaints of "religious intolerance," let's not forget that, in today's America, an outspoken atheist would have a snowball's chance in hell of being confirmed for a federal judgeship. For that matter, he would never be nominated.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Too Catholic for the Court?

Christopher Hitchens dares to suggest that we ought to consider a Supreme Court nominee's religious beliefs, and in particular if they are Catholic. Hitchens understands that this is a politically loaded proposition, given the nation's history of antipapism. But his argument is worth consideration:

It is already being insinuated, by those who want this thorny question de-thorned, that there is an element of discrimination involved. Why should this question be asked only of Catholics? Well, that's easy. The Roman Catholic Church claims the right to legislate on morals for all its members and to excommunicate them if they don't conform. The church is also a foreign state, which has diplomatic relations with Washington. In the very recent past, this church and this state gave asylum to Cardinal Bernard Law, who should have been indicted for his role in the systematic rape and torture of thousands of American children. (Not that child abuse is condemned in the Ten Commandments, any more than slavery or genocide or rape.) More recently still, the newly installed Pope Benedict XVI (who will always be Ratzinger to me) has ruled that Catholic politicians who endorse the right to abortion should be denied the sacraments: no light matter for believers of the sincerity that Judge Roberts and his wife are said to exhibit. And just last month, one of Ratzinger's closest allies, Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, wrote an essay in which he announced that evolution was "ideology, not science."

Of course, while Roman Catholicism is perhaps unique in having such a codified set of beliefs dictated by a rigid heirarchy, it is not the only faith that makes deep demands of its members. While there is no one to excommunicate say, an evangelical Protestant, an individual's own conscience may not be as easily defied as the pope or even the local bishop. Catholicism is at least a known quantity; some questions may still be open for debate, but not the biggies, not the issues that are cultural flashpoints in America, like abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. A denomination that allows room for individual interpretation may offer few external clues as to how its adherents will treat such thorny matters.

Hitchens does not suggest that religious devotion should disqualify one from the high court; but he does come damn close to saying that it has its fill of Catholics already. He's right to call on senators to question how a nominee whose religious beliefs are well known would reconcile their faith with their duty as constitutionally empowered officials. But to suggest that Catholics alone would find themselves conflicted by their beliefs is at best ignorance and at worst bigotry. Hell, even a lapsed Presbyterian like me knows that.