"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
Chicago Boyz is an Amazon affiliate and earns money from any Amazon purchases you make after you click on an Amazon link on this blog.
Chicago Boyz is also a BlogAds affiliate and earns money from advertising placed on this blog through the BlogAds network.
Some Chicago Boyz advertisers may themselves be Amazon affiliates who earn money from any Amazon purchases you make after you click on an Amazon link on their ad on Chicago Boyz or on their own web sites.
Chicago Boyz will consider publishing advertisements for goods or services that in the opinion of Chicago Boyz management would benefit the readers of this blog. Please direct any inquires to
Chicago Boyz is a registered trademark of Chicago Boyz Media, LLC. All original content on the Chicago Boyz web site is copyright 2001-2014 by Chicago Boyz Media, LLC or the Chicago Boyz contributor who posted it. All rights reserved.
This column must be read to be believed, not that anyone with more than two brain cells would be convinced by such poorly reasoned psychobabble. Check it out, and check out the comments — some of them are excellent.
The Preamble is one of the few parts of the Constitution that President Obama did not abuse in his first term. He corrected that omission in his second inaugural address by using “We the People” as a refrain. Democratic politicians love to use refrains in their speeches. At Democratic National Conventions the rabble gleefully and robotically chants the refrain with the speaker. The particular refrain Obama used reminded me of a fascinating talk Professor Richard Epstein gave during a panel discussion at the November 2010 Federalist Society Convention. At the time, I was surprised to hear Professor Epstein characterize “We the People” as the “most dangerous words in the American Constitution.” Now I understand that he explained exactly what Obama was up to:
We have a deep ambiguity in our own minds when we start to evoke the image of “the people” in dealing with American constitutional law or indeed with any system of governance. . . . Sometimes we treat it as a celebration: “The American people have spoken and have decided x, y, and z ought to be president,” and what they really mean is that 54% of the voters happen to agree with one side and only 46 with the other, and what we do is we create a kind of an illusion of collective unanimity by taking a term like “people” and turning a majority into a total number. And in fact our Constitution does that in one place where I think it’s most misleading and most dangerous. I think the single most dangerous words in the American Constitution in one sense are the words “We the People,” which begin the Preamble. Now you would ask, now why is it that I would take such a negative view with respect to our document, particularly on this occasion? . . . You have to go back and see what the original draft of this particular provision was, and it said, “We the undersigned delegates of the following states,” and then you go through the rest of the thing. What it does in effect in one way is to kind of create this image of sort of coercive unanimity, and that’s the kind of language that you see also when you’re talking about the People’s Republic of China or the People’s Republic of East Germany–or closer to home, the People’s Republic of Cambridge, the People’s Republic of Berkeley–in which what you’re looking at is the notion that if you can get a majority, what you can do is to design and to organize the preferences of everybody. So the aggressive application of “the people” in terms of its ability to create and make law is in my mind a real open invitation to totalitarianism.
Well, then you look at the other uses of the word people in the Constitution, and by detailed and sophisticated empirical techniques I was able to identify four such uses in the Constitution, all of which are contained in the Bill of Rights, one of them having to do with the right of assembly, one of them having to do with the various issues on searches and seizures, and one having to do with the Ninth and Tenth Amendments on reverse power. [The Second Amendment has another.] Well, this is what I call the benign use of the term people . . . because what you are doing is you are saying every individual within the society is going to be protected against the impositions of government so that the people can be secure in their homes. We do not mean by that sentence that all of us live in one giant tepee in which we have various separate rooms and they are going to be protected. What we mean is that each of us have private and individual rights and that each and every one of them should be protected against government. So the defensive use of the term people in the Bill of Rights has a completely different resonance and a completely different tone than the rather offensive use, i.e., attacking use, of the term when it starts to go into the Preamble. And this, of course, had real consequences with the design of the original Constitution because every time you start hearing the term people in the Preamble being invoked, it’s to sort of indicate the direct relationship of individuals to the central government, which necessarily is meant to sort of underplay and degrade the role of the states in the original system. So it’s not as though this is simply a rhetorical flourish without institutional consequences. It surely has those kinds of institutional consequences.
As if to illustrate Professor Epstein’s point, Obama uses the phrase “We the People” five times to create an illusion of collective unanimity about (1) redistributionism, (2) the welfare state, (3) climate change (formerly known as global warming), (4) something opaque and equivocal about the war formerly known as the War on Terror, and (5) certain civil rights movements guided by equality “just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall.”
Regarding that last one, he probably did not have in mind the men and women, or their predecessors, who would leave footprints along the Mall a few days later in the fortieth March for Life. And in addressing the illusory collective unanimity on the welfare state, Obama used another of his favorite rhetorical devices, the false choice. Those who say we have to choose between having our cake and eating it too are presenting a false choice, Obama argues. We can have our cake, preserving it for our children, and eat it too, he insists. (Actually, he said, “we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” but it’s the same thing).
The inaugural address refers to “collective action” and shows Obama eager to use it to turn the illusory collective unanimity he claims into coercive unanimity. From the perspective of Obama and his infatuates, the Senate, with its advice and consent duty and its tradition of unlimited debate, is a problem to be “fixed,” for it stands in the way of the will of the people. Happily, that effort was checked on bothfronts last week.
It was to be expected, I suppose, that a demagogue par excellence would eventually find the Constitution’s “most misleading and most dangerous” phrase and exploit it to lend legitimacy to his program of undermining liberty and the constitutional structure.
I don’t think George Will meant to be cruel when he wrote his recent article “The Time Bomb in Obamacare?” but he was and it is a recurring conservative mistake. Will focused on the law and the constitution. He found a bomb and he imagines he is a good bomb squad officer by analyzing the bomb and figuring out how it is going to blow up. What he missed, and it is crucial, is the vital step of clearing away the civilians. That is a cruel oversight and hurts the conservative cause. You have to make sure that people understand that there is a bomb and which direction to run so they do not get blown up.
The immediate threat for ordinary people is not Obamacare’s constitutional status, but what it will do to ordinary american’s access to care. Institutions that are caught in the payment squeeze will triage because otherwise they go broke and close, which would maximize suffering. Triage means that the lack of funds will cause them to try to maximize who they can save and cut off who they can’t afford to save. If you are going to be triaged, you need to know and you need to make alternate arrangements to pay cash, figure out how to live without needed care, or get your affairs in order. The later people figure this out, the more pain, suffering, and death Obamacare is going to cause.
Nothing George Will said about the law is wrong. By focusing on the Constitution and the law to the exclusion of the upcoming suffering of the people he ended up reinforcing a pernicious stereotype, one conservatives would do well to lose. Ultimately, the conservative focus on the law and the Constitution has the effect of reducing suffering and increasing the happiness of the people. This approach would be greatly increased in effectiveness if conservatives would directly say so instead of assuming people already knew. A great many people do not know and the conservative brand is suffering for it.
A great post about dealing with manipulative people with agendas:
Think of it as a form of rhetorical self-defense. By not offering an explanation, you’re keeping them from getting a grip on you. If you offer explanations and equivocations out of a desire not to seem rude, you’re just opening yourself up for them to take advantage of you. It’s one of the tools that manipulative people use against you.
Everybody wants to stop events like Newtown, but one suspects the gun control supporters want to do more than that: I think they want to promote an idealistic vision of “a peaceful society without guns” or something like that. I think that agenda is unrealistic on several levels — I don’t think a society without guns would be more peaceful and secure, unless you imposed a lot of other social controls that would not be imposed and you might not like if they were, and I don’t think such changes would be accepted by more than at best a bare majority of the American people, if that. It seems barely possible that sweeping anti-gun legislation could be shoved through Congress a la Obamacare after 2014, but such legislation would be very socially devisive.
Another point — do we really understand how very widespread gun ownership fits into what you might call the political economy of public order in this country? To take another thought experiment: could there be any reasonable doubt that some sort of program (and I’m not saying mainstream gun-control advocates are calling for this, at least I hope not) that would require everybody to hand over any and all semi-automatic pistols and rifles they have to the government and own them no more, and was actually enforced (which would be very difficult) would result in unpredictable and possibly dangerous changes in the balance of forces between the law-abiding and the criminal in this country? I don’t know how much public order in this country is actually enforced by the latent threat of private citizens with guns, but I bet it’s a lot more than your typical well-meaning gun-control advocate would think, and I’m confident that she has not thought about that question in much depth. I bet you would find gun-control advocates live disproportionately in the safest, most heavily policed parts of this country, that is, relatively affluent, urban or suburban areas. Their cognitive biases I suspect lean against taking very seriously the personal security of people very unlike themselves in terms of social status, lifestyle and other such identifiers. All this points in the direction of legislation, if there is any, that is specific and targeted at the problem that needs to be solved. I have no confidence Congress is capable of this, as it is a hard problem and even easy problems seem beyond their ability to address sensibly, but one can hope.
It’s already underway and will only get worse. J.E. Dyer’s analysis is worth reading:
It’s one thing when advertisers seek to drive emotional connections with lite beer, pick-up trucks, and air fresheners. It’s something else when the government hires advertisers to drive emotional connections with government policies and institutions. This goes far beyond the old-fashioned “good government” idea of providing information to citizens. In its essence, it differs not at all from a Stalin-era poster hyping the Soviet government’s policies to a beleaguered Russian people.
Advertising is a dangerous thing in the hands of the armed state. I am no more in favor of Republican administrations spending a lot of money on it than of Democrats doing so. With Obamacare, we have reached the fork in the road. A government with the powers conferred by Obamacare cannot, on principle, be trusted to “advertise” its policies to us. The inevitable descent into untrustworthy propaganda has already begun. Until Obamacare is repealed, it will continue to get worse.
Recently, President Obama opined that businesses depend on infrastructure built by the government. Roads, bridges, “you didn’t build that”. So the businessman writing the big check for taxes? His money sent to government doesn’t mean that he built it. Fair enough, but why is President Obama’s check privileged over the businessman’s check? The guy with the backhoe, the flagger, the asphalt plant, chances are that all of them are private industry. In all justice what makes it the government’s road?
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- Farrall and McCants, debate and discourse]
There’s a whole lot to be learned about jihad, counter-terrorism, scholarship, civil discourse, online discourse, and social media, and I mean each and every one of those, in a debate that took place recently, primarily between Leah Farrall and Will McCants.
Indeed, Leah still has a final comment to make — and when she makes it, that may be just the end of round one, if I may borrow a metaphor from a tweet I’ll quote later.
Briefly, the biographies of the two main agonists (they can’t both be protagonists, now, can they? I believe agonist is the right word):
Dr. Leah Farrall (left, above) is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre (USSC). She was formerly a senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the AFP’s al Qaeda subject matter specialist. She was also senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings. Leah has provided national & international counter terrorism training & curriculum development. She recently changed the name of her respected blog. Her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.
Dr. William McCants, (right) is a research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He edited the Militant Ideology Atlas, co-authored Stealing Al Qa’ida’s Playbook, and translated Abu Bakr Naji‘s Management of Savagery. Will has designed curricula on jihadi-inspired terrorism for the FBI. He is the founder and co-editor of the noted blog, Jihadica. He too has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and elsewhere.
Chicagoboyz community member John Wolfsberger, Jr. emails:
I actually feel some sympathy for Elizabeth Warren. She was a law professor, unfairly besieged by the republican War on Women (TM), apparently sitting alone in the faculty lounge. In an effort to meet new people and make some friends, she decided to make herself more interesting by revealing her Native American Ancestry. She really did nothing wrong.
However, the incident has led me to an interesting insight. Ms. Warren tells us she is 1/32 Native American based on her great, great, great grandmother being Cherokee. For simplicity sake, let’s refer to her as the g3 grandmother. It occurred to me that if two of her g4 grandparents had been Cherokee, but parents of different g3 grandparents, Ms. Warren could still be considered 1/32 Native American. Furthermore, if 4 of Ms. Warrens g5 grandparents had been Native American, and parents of different g4 grandparents, Ms. Warren would still be 1/32 Native American. And so on.
That insight led me to a bit of research. Homo ergaster, the forerunner of Homo Sapiens (which is all of us) left Africa between 1.8 and 1.3 million years ago. Taking the nominal value as 1.5 million years, and assuming 20 years per generation, that means my (roughly) g75,000 grandparents were ALL African. True, more recent ancestors lived in Bavaria, the Vorarlberg and Ireland, but they were ALL African as well, by THEIR (roughly) g74,997 grandparents.
Since every single one of my ancestors was African, shouldn’t I be able, a la Ms. Warren, to claim minority status as an African American? And if I can, shouldn’t everyone else in the United States be able to as well, regardless of where their more recent ancestors resided for a time?
This seems eminently reasonable. There is only one issue to resolve: if we all belong to the exact same Victim Group (TM), who’s the oppressor group?
Via Martin Kramer, who asks: “What happens to aging ’60s American Jewish radicals after the kids move out, the dog dies, and their parents (may they rest in peace), who so valued and cherished Israel, have passed on to their heavenly reward?”
If the trailer is representative, this is a slick piece of agitprop packaged as folksy interviews with thoughtful Jewish intellectuals who just happen to have doubts about Israel, no doubt because their integrity and independent-mindedness let them see clearly the evils of Israel that other Jews (and most non-Jewish Americans) are brainwashed into overlooking. In fact this is a bunch of leftist hacks repeating buzzwords (apartheid etc.) and citing events pruned of context to single out Israel for demonization. The woman in the last interview gives the game away by blaming Israel for the “stateless” condition of Palestinian refugees, even though Palestinian Arab statelessness, to the extent it still exists, is a racket maintained by Arab governments and the Palestinians themselves, and even though the post-WW2 world has had many refugee populations that dwarfed the Palestinian Arab refugee population and that, unlike the Palestinians, were mostly resettled within a few years. The difference is that people like those in this movie couldn’t use those other refugee populations as a weapon against the Jews. You would have to be profoundly ignorant to find this movie convincing, but ignorant people seem to be the target audience. Watch it for yourself.
I was fortunate to have had in high school a leftist, anti-Semitic history teacher, a man who was an enthusiast of Third World “liberation” movements run by kleptocrats and gangsters but who put Israel under a moral microscope. The Israeli Jews, as he saw it, had treated the Palestinian Arabs unjustly by (he would quote a particular historian whose book he always had at the ready) expelling them and this unjust treatment colored everything that Israel did subsequently. Two wrongs — an allusion to the Holocaust — don’t make a right. We should all be citizens of the world and should drop our parochialisms and be happy. Of course he mainly applied this argument to the Jews, and I was not clever enough to point out that the Jews’ enemies had often persecuted them for supposedly being too worldly. I argued, and learned a great deal in that class, and watching this movie trailer transports me right back to it. Shabbat shalom.
Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men portrays Barack Obama as being confounded by his duties as president. Some of the scenes depicted by Suskind would be comical if they were not so tragic for America.
For example, when Obama’s experts assembled to discuss the scope and intricacies of the stimulus bill, Barack Obama was out of his depth. He was “surprisingly aloof in the conversation” and seemed “disconnected and less in control.” His contributions were rare and consisted of blurting out such gems of wisdom as “There needs to be more inspiration here!” and “What about more smart grids” and — one more that Newt Gingrich would appreciate — “we need more moon shot” (pages 154-5).
Members of the team were perplexed…for the first time in the transition, people started to wonder just how prepared the man at the helm was. He repeated a similar sorry performance when he had a conference call with Speaker Pelosi and her staff to discuss the details of the planned stimulus bill. He shouted into the speakerphone that “this stimulus needs more inspiration! Pelosi and her staff visibly rolled their eyes.”
Presidential exhortations more befitting a summer camp counselor will evoke such reactions.
Throughout his life he took intense interest only in subjects which could somehow be connected with speech…He took no interest in mathematics, science, art or music–except in singing himself, a form of speaking. His method of thinking about a subject seems to have been to imagine himself making a speech about it…He seems to have thought about political or economic problems only when he was preparing to make a speech about them either on paper or from the rostrum. His memory was undoubtedly of the vaso-motor type. The use of his vocal chords was to him inseparable from thinking.
To Obama, it’s all about the speeches, all about the hype. Despite his faux reputation as an intellectual, the man has remarkably little interest in contemplation, analysis, or problem-solving.
Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invited you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
-Christopher Hitchems, Letters to a Young Contrarian
There will always be those who’d like to abstract the candy from the candy store. But it is the shopkeeper’s responsibility to keep that from happening. Conservatives cannot simply hope that progressives will behave themselves. Boys will be boys and progressives will be progressives.
The supine acquiescence and collaboration in centralizing government over the last 3 decades has led to the point where a candidacy like Obama’s was not only possible but inevitable. His election is a symptom, not the primary cause of it of what ails the body politic.
The man himself can’t be blamed for taking his ambitions and ideology as far as they will go. It is those who let him pass that shows how low the rot within what passes for conservatism has fallen. Conservatism has basically been reduced to behaving well. To politely choose between the milquetoast offerings the press serves up and do nothing to make waves.
Anyone who so much as threatens to cause the slightest amount of controversy is branded a wacko — ironically not just by the Democrats but all too often by conservatives who are obsessed with the cult of respectability. Thus Palin, Bachman, Cain, Gingrich and Paul are faulted not so much for their personal failings — which any politician has — but for being disreputable. And being disrepute in today’s conservative world often consists in daring to think a single original thought.
By contrast, ‘progressives’ are psychologically conditioned to challenge and even subvert the system. They see that as their job. Others may criticize them, but their Base at least, will cheer them on. Implicit in the ‘progressive’ brand name is the idea of loyalty to the future, not so some transient present or disposable past. So when City Journal’s Siegel and Kotkin write that Obama is perfectly capable of trying to remake the US into a version of China they mean it. After all, politicians of 1940s dreamed of making America like the Soviet Union.
A victorious Obama administration could embrace a soft version of the Chinese model. The mechanisms of control already exist. The bureaucratic apparatus, the array of policy czars and regulatory enforcers commissioned by the executive branch, has grown dramatically under Obama. Their ability to control and prosecute people for violations relating to issues like labor and the environment—once largely the province of states and localities—can be further enhanced.
But it’s dollars to donuts that any ‘reputable’ conservative asked to comment on Siegel and Klotkin’s article would vehemently deny that such a thing is possible, not because it isn’t — which would be a good reason if it were true — but because it’s impossible for a conservative to admit a progressive can be a progressive.
CS Lewis wrote that the biggest trick the devil ever pulled was to make people believe he didn’t exist. Similarly the greatest conjury progressivism has ever peformed was to make their political opponents believe it was shameful to accept that progressives could ever be anything but slightly racier versions of themselves.
-Uploading files over cable Internet is now often extremely slow even in the middle of the day. Until recently it was quick. Is the slowdown a function of the fact that many people are now watching TV and movies online?
-Supermarkets’ attempt to make life easier for parents of small children by providing giant kiddie-car-shaped shopping carts makes life harder for everyone else.
-Where did the habit of beginning sentences with the word “so” originate? This is new and annoying. I want to respond with, “So what?” but I hold my tongue.
-While we’re on the topic of annoying rhetorical phenomena, how about the use of the word “understand” as an imperative at the beginning of a sentence? People have been saying this for a few years now. It seems to be an assertion of authority as in, “That is how it is, understand?” (but inverted). It serves the same purpose as the use of “OK?” at the end of a declarative sentence, as in: “That is how the boss wants it done, OK?” Maybe it’s another way of saying, “so”. These figures of speech appear to be designed to compel rather than persuade, and make it easier to avoid arguing issues on the merits.
-I believe, and I think that many other people believe, that the economy will begin to pick up as soon as Obama leaves office (or as soon as it’s clear that Obama will leave office). To what extent is this belief that is probably held by many Americans likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Like other commenters, I was struck by this observation of Lex’s while he related his tale of his initial Occupy Chicago encounter:
My hatred of the Boomers, who have brainwashed and wasted these kids
is boundless. There is nothing wrong with them. They have just never
been taught anything but bullshit. They have been betrayed by their
parents and their teachers. It is very depressing. The country has
been shamefully dumbed down.
Three weeks ago, Thomas S. Monson, the president of my church, observed:
Watchful Waiting = Do nothing, even though it may be a good idea to do something, because it’s difficult to justify doing something when institutional third-party payers who evaluate everything in terms of population average costs and benefits rather than your cost and your benefit are making the decisions.
Precautionary Principle = Take extreme measures, even though it may be a good idea to do nothing, because it’s difficult to justify doing nothing when activists who evaluate everything in terms of hypothetical worst cases rather than probability weighted costs and benefits are making the decisions.
The question that always matters most is “Who decides?”. Answer it and you can usually predict what the answers to the other questions will be.
WRT this post by Glenn Reynolds, it’s always been a mistake to assume that a black Republican candidate would be immune to racial demagoguery. If Cain does well as a candidate Democrats will attack him. They will make race-based and other attacks and they will continue to use the attacks that work. It doesn’t matter that Cain as a black person is most unlikely to be an anti-black racist. What matters is whether any particular kind of demagogic attack on him is politically effective. Conservatives and libertarians have no excuse for uncertainty on this point since Democrats relentlessly attacked their last presidential candidate, a RINO squish and former media favorite, as a right-wing extremist once he became a contender. If Cain becomes the Republican nominee Democrats will attack him as a racist even as they attack Obama’s opponents as racists. There will be no irony in these attacks because they will not be about accuracy or logical consistency but about political effectiveness.
Republican voters should not assume that a candidate’s background will insulate him from personal attacks by political opponents. Democratic pols and their media allies will subject any Republican contender to vile personal attacks and campaigns of character assassination. The best course of action for Republicans and the country is to run highly-qualified candidates who can perform well on their own merits without any consideration to identity politics.
From the Princess Bride: Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up Vizzini: He didn’t fall? Inconceivable! Inigo Montoya:You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Of course, Montoya is correct. Vizzini isn’t actually using the word inconceivable correctly. Inconceivable means “not capable of being imagined” but Vizzini uses the word to mean, “I didn’t plan on that happening when I set up this little political kidnapping.”
Right now, the word “extremist” is much bandied about in Washington these days but clearly it doesn’t mean what people seem to think it means. People claim that this or that group of “extremists” in Congress have hijacked the federal government, and hyperventilate about it endlessly.
By defining as “extremist” people who are in fact not at all “extreme” people end up in a delusional world of political plans that fail as “inconceivably” as Vizzini’s did, and if they don’t start thinking clearly, their political fortunes could end up sharing Vizzini’s fate.
The word “extreme” means, “furthest from the center or a given point” and that concept is extended metaphorically to people to give us “extremist”, meaning someone who holds political views far from the center of the political spectrum. So what constitutes “far from center” in the context of America’s political system?
[ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- war, reading lists ]
Not exactly delighted by the reading list recently provided by the inbound Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Carl Prine at Line of Departure will be offering a “weekly discussion about how one might know one’s self” – Sun Tzu suggests that such knowledge is of value to the professional soldier — via texts other than the “middlebrow books of a recent vintage, pulp paperbacks” of the Army’s recommended readings.
Today he opened with an essay on the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, and quoted the final paragraph from Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:
And here I was, with my knobkerrie in my hand, staring across at the enemy I’d never seen. Somewhere out of sight beyond the splintered tree-tops of Hidden Wood a bird had begun to sing. Without knowing why, I remembered that it was Easter Sunday. Standing in that dismal ditch, I could find no consolation in the thought that Christ was risen. I sploshed back to the dug-out to call the others up for “stand-to.”
I could only respond with a passage that I first encountered, likewise, on a blog – Pat Lang‘s Sic Semper Tyrannis – from Sassoon’s friend and fellow poet of the Great War, Wilfred Owen:
For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands mute before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.
And I think to myself how much more power there is in either one of those paragraphs, than in that quip about “no atheists in foxholes”.
* * *
It’s not a matter of one of those “God or no God” debates in which some clergyman might triumph over some atheist, or vice versa, on TV or at the town or village hall. It’s a matter of cultural riches, of having a reference base of image and story that’s strong enough to express the horrors of Passchendaele or the Marne in a way that speaks to the hearts of those who were not there — and of those who will find themselves there, all too really, in other times and other lands.
It’s about narrative deep enough to go with you to Golgotha and back. It’s about the words, and about the furnace.
Prine himself puts it like this:
I care only of your soul and how it might be fired in the smithy of this blog and then hammered by your experiences in the coming years.
We few out in the Country who actually practice adversarial public sector labor relations knew what Comrade Obama was the second we laid eyes on him. By “adversarial” I mean work for a Republican government in a union state where you actually have to bargain with unions. In Democrat controlled states, the government conspires with unions against the people and the legislature.
When I saw him make his famous speech at the ’02 (IIRC) convention I said to myself, “I know you, you’re the one they think they can dress up and pass off as reasonable.” He’s pretty much a by the book communist/union organizer and anyone who deals with him should know Alinsky like a Baptist minister knows the New Testament.
Somebody like Obama is almost impossible for “nice guy” Republicans to deal with. The Republicans get their ideas about negotiating from “Getting to Yes” while Obama and his ilk get theirs from “Rules for Radicals.” In the recent debt debate, Obama didn’t want a deal, he wanted a political process that could be played to his advantage, and he was very successful against the “nice guys” in getting that. Typical of an Alinskyite, he never made a concrete proposal, just some pie in the sky positions, and made the Republicans negotiate with themselves to try to come up with something he would buy. Anyone who’s ever dealt with a public employee union knows that game. If you start from the position that a agreement with them is your objective, you wind up compromising yourself into their position, which is exactly what Boehner/McConnell did. Both of them are too much from the “nice guy” tradition to understand that the only way to bargain with a communist-trained negotiator is to start out with a position that if he is forced to accept it, will kill him politically or economically and make it so that the default from his not reaching agreement is having to live under your untenable for him conditions. In other words, you really do have to do what the Ds were accusing the Tea Partiers of, you hold a gun to their heads, a political or economic gun of course, and quietly say, “be reasonable so I don’t have to use it.”
It’s been reported that Joe Biden referred to Republican opponents on the debt issue in the following terms:
They have acted like terrorists.
Biden now denies that he used that phrasing. But there’s no question that Democratic representative Mike Doyle, who was in the same meeting, said:
We have negotiated with terrorists. This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.
Numerous other Democrats and Democrat-leaning media types have used the T-word or close synonyms of same in referring to their American political opponents, for example NYT columnist Joe Nocera, who refers to the Tea Party Republicans as having “waged jihad on the American people” and Maureen Dowd, who approvingly quoted “some Democrats” as having described the Tea Party as “the Republican Taliban wing.”
Note that this vitriol is coming from a party which rejects the idea of calling actual terrorists “terrorists.” They prefer to call terrorist attacks man-caused disasters, and to refer to wars as overseas contingency operations.
I’m reminded, as I often am, of something Neptunux Lex wrote in 2008:
The innate character flaw of the political right, with its thrumming appeals to the logic of blood and soil, is its lamentable tendency to go in search of enemies abroad. The left, on the other hand, with its own appeals to the politics of envy and class warfare, is content to find mortal enemies closer to hand.
Today’s American leftists view American citizens who strongly differ with them politically as enemies to a much greater extent than Islamic terrorists or any hostile nation-state.
Regarding Mike Doyle’s complaint about it having been made “impossible to spend any money”…the Democratic politicians are like teenagers who have been unwisely been given a credit card and who, now that consideration is being given to not raising the credit limit yet again, whine that “you won’t let me spend any money at all“…indeed, they also follow the typical teenage pattern of whining “but all my friends get to spend more”…in this case their friends from Europe…while ignoring the little problem that their friends’ parents are being driven into bankruptcy even more rapidly than their own are.
Many of the comments in response to a John Tierney piece about why conservatives avoid grad school are remarkable for their smug, unreflective hostility toward and ignorance about the people they criticize.
A typical comment:
Republican scholar is an oxymoron, by definition the right/conservatives of today are anti-intellectual and have more in common with Maoists than they do with the traditional American conservative movement. And this article in it’s false effort to be fair and balanced refuses to report on what’s real and true. How can those who deny science and academics somehow become 50% of our college faculity?
But a few of the commenters get it:
Many of these comments stink of the closemindedness and lack of tolerance that they claim to despise. Perhaps the pot is calling the kettle black. What sane person would self-select to learn in an environment so intellectually narrow and toxic to dissent?
Needless to say, there are many more comments like the first one above than like the second one.
Comments on the piece have been closed. I wonder why.
Abraham Lincoln like to start his Cabinet meetings with a little humor to relax everyone. On September 22, 1862 he began the Cabinet meeting by reading the following little nugget by the then popular humorist Artemus Ward (spelling in the original.)
High-Handed Outrage at Utica
In the Faul of 1856, I showed my show in Uticky, a trooly grate sitty in the State of New York.
The people gave me a cordyal recepshun. The press was loud in her prases.
1 day as I was givin a descripshun of my Beests and Snaiks in my usual flowry stile what was my skorn disgust to see a big burly feller walk up to the cage containin my wax figgers of the Lord’s Last Supper, and cease Judas Iscarrot by the feet and drag him out on the ground. He then commenced fur to pound him as hard as he cood.
“What under the son are you abowt?” cried I.
Sez he, “What did you bring this pussylanermus cuss here fur?” and he hit the wax figger another tremenjis blow on the hed.
Sez I, “You egrejus ass, that air’s a wax figger–a representashun of the false ‘Postle.”
Sez he, “That’s all very well fur you to say, but I tell you, old man, that Judas Iscarrot can’t show hisself in Utiky with impunerty by a darn site!” with which observashun he kaved in Judassis hed. The young man belonged to 1 of the first famerlies in Utiky. I sood him, and the Joory brawt in a verdick of Arson in the 3d degree.
I have no idea why this story is supposed to be so funny. That in turn tells me that I am missing an important understanding of the culture of the era and the mind of Abraham Lincoln and others of that generation.