Is Obama Right?

Senator Obama states that the more than 3000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq were “wasted”.

NBC Nightly News reports that the soldiers beg to differ.

Those who have seen Jarhead know that what’s reported from the front might not always be what the soldiers really think. The insinuation in that movie is that any time you see positive, upbeat videos of American soldiers in the front lines, it’s been carefully censored by the Pentagon, or if not, the front line commanders have exerted much pressure on the soldiers not to complain. (Along that line of thought seems to be the implied message that complaining, a trait commonly thought of as “unmanly”, is preferable to “manly” stoicism. Would that mean that having an “unmanly” armed forces is what those who think along those lines really want?)

Is Senator Obama right? After all, he’s a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Moreover, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. In other words, he’s about as educated as a man can be. Surely his education has enlightened him in a way that no mere grunt in the sands of Mesopotamia could possibly understand. After all, as Senator Kerry once sagely remarked: “You know, education–if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

I’m sure all those chicken hawk neocons are completely out of line to believe the self-congratulatory propaganda of the American military-industrial complex (run by none other than Vice President Cheney through his vise grip on all things Halliburton) could possibly be worth any more than the enlightened dismissal of the doyens of our brilliant, public-spirited intellectuals, whose Ivy League education places them leaps and bounds above the mean existence of mere mortals.

Yes, that was a bit arch and snide. I actually don’t necessarily believe that Senator Obama is a preening elitist. (For all I know he’s just a regular elitist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The point is, I’m afraid there are people out there who probably do buy into that world view. If you see one that effuses about how magnificent this or that current darling of the media is, smile and politely remind him (or her!) to take everything with a grain of salt, including the advice of those who would tell them to take only one side’s story (such as those of the soldiers) with a helping of a salt lick.

By the way, Matteo found some interesting commentary about the rhetorical parlor game against so-called “chicken hawks” (quoting Ace of Spades HQ):

Exit question: Since Arkin asserts that the troops should not be allowed to influence the public’s opinion on the war, and since the entire left demands that anyone supporting the war become a troop himself — has the left pretty much created a Catch-22 by which any and all support for the war is illegitimate?

Campaign ’08 is well and truly under way!

(Hat-tip: Instapundit)

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

Class Warfare Statistics

Engram has compiled some data on the after-tax income levels of American taxpayers, comparing them from the last three years of the Clinton Administration and the first three years of the Bush Administration. The raw data seems to suggest that the top 20% of taxpayers kept more money after taxes under Clinton than they did under Bush. This would refute the common canard that the Bush tax cuts only benefitted that amorphous class referred to as “the rich”.

There is more to the facts than Engram presents; but there’s always more to it than meets the eye. One salient factor lost among all the talk of class struggle is the very real question of socioeconomic mobility. The membership of the top 20% isn’t always the same; neither is the membership of the bottom 20%. As we approach the margins, of course, the membership tends to solidify; but even so, such economic classes are far less unchanging, and far more fluid, in the United States than in most other places.

Although it’s pretty easy to pay lip service to class warfare, my gut instinct is that American voters intuitively understand this fluidity. Our general national aspiration toward “moving up and out” saves us from the worst parts of Marxist struggle.

Be sure to read the article for the charts, and the interesting notes in the comments. By the way, Engram is a registered Democrat.

(via Instapundit)

Courage and Freedom of Speech

We’re covering freedom of speech now in Constitutional Law, and I found a couple of quotes that are particularly stirring, especially in light of the following column from Lenoard Pitt:

In 1989, photographer Andres Serrano exhibited a photo he called “Piss Christ,” depicting a crucifix submerged in urine. It raised a furor and was condemned on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Nobody was killed.

In 1999, artist Chris Ofili exhibited a painting he called “The Holy Virgin Mary,” in which the mother of Jesus has an exposed breast made of elephant dung. It drew a rebuke from the mayor of New York and crowds of protesters.

Nobody was injured.

Last year, a Danish newspaper printed political cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, one showing him with a bomb in his turban. There were weeks of rioting across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. At least one person died in Somalia, five in Afghanistan, a hundred in Nigeria. An untold number of people were injured. Property damage was in the millions.

You may think the point of the foregoing parallel is that Christians react more maturely to provocation than Muslims. You would be mistaken. After all, Muslims in America, surely as offended by the cartoons of the prophet as Muslims anywhere else, did not riot or kill. Their protests were confined to statements of anger and letters to editors.

No, the point has less to do with religion than with culture. As in, some cultures value freedom of expression more than others. Some realize the person who is not free to speak his or her mind is not truly free at all.

And some know courage is the price of that freedom.

And to salute that, I quote the following from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissent in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925):

Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker’s enthusiasm for the result. Eloquence may set fire to reason.

And the following is from Justice Louis Brandeis’ concurrence in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927):

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Islam right now is going through major growing pains, exacerbated by the difficulties of coping with modernity. As such, it is experiencing the same doubt that Americans must have felt when confronted with the Russian Revolution of 1919, and the subsequent Bolshevik triumph over Tsarist loyalists in the 1920s. Islam and its adherents feel beset on all sides, and is in very real danger of falling for the human temptation to silence critics rather than rebut the critics’ claims. If Allah smiles on the umma, courage rather than cowardice will have the last say in this generational struggle for civilizational identity.

It is also a reminder, to those of us in the West that have come through, not only to continue to support the courageous members of the umma, but also not to give in to our own darker temptations. Gitlow and Whitney were decided less than a century ago (although to Americans that is a long time), and the freedom of speech is still a litigated field. Let us not betray the hopes of Justices Holmes and Brandeis.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]