July 28, 2005
Why is Helen Thomas still covering the White House?
In the wake of the Jeff Guckert mess, why is Helen Thomas considered an impartial journalist?
She's saying that if Dick Cheney runs for president, she will kill herself. She doesn't strike me as a particularly credible source, so I don't believe this statement either, but how can someone pretending to be a journalist make these comments?
Additional comment in The Corner on NRO here.
July 23, 2005
New Centrist Blog and the question of who dislikes centrists more.
Micheal Totten is contributing to a new center-left blog called "Donklephant". Yes, the animal is as ugly as the name, but it is memorable. I haven;t had a chance to review the new blog for any length of time, so I'll hold off any comment except to say "Welcome to the blogosphere's center/pivot/hub"...those sound better than "no-man's-land in the crossfire." We certainly do need to see some former and current Democrats openly speaking as centrist, in the same way we need to hear from the moderate Muslims. The extremists are getting way too much air time.
Michael goes on to wonder if the Left has a more difficult time with the centrists than the Right.
There are, generally speaking, at least two kinds of people who argue with the left. Both right-wingers and centrists do it. Not only is that allowed, it’s part of the whole point of being in the middle instead of on the left.
You can’t even stick one little pinky toe outside the left-wing perimeter without being denounced as a right-wing death beast by some people. That exclusive bitchy little high school clique really does subscribe to the whole “you’re either with us or you're against us” mentality. How unnuanced and simplisme.
He's right there, of course. On issue "A" the perimeter folks find you bein' friendly with their enemy,y and never forget it. On other issues, perhaps even many issues, when you are on their side they will discount that because... well, they're so correct in their thinking they expect everyone to agree. It is tough to win wit any sort of ideologue.
That the Left seems the more intolerant of centrist is because at the moment, the Left is intolerant of everyone. They have become dangerously paranoid and it shows. The Right has been abusing its part of the center for decades, so the level of rancor has mellowed a bit. The conservatives also have been winning lately, with the help of centrists, so things are a bit easier on that flank. I can personally attest, as Michael mentions in this post, that conservatives who are very supporting of former liberals becoming centrist, have a very different response to centrist leanings within the Republican ranks. All in all, though, we've been trading barbs for all my adult life and have evolved a more comfortable relationship.
I've been waiting for the sensible Democrats to show up and be counted. There are times I would like to side with that group. I'm a long way from a 100% supporter of my party too, but the more vocal Democrats these days are unable to see any nuance in their opponents, and won't have me. No if I can just accustom myself to that donklephant on their masthead...
PS Here's a round up of recent Donklephant posts.
Political Balance in coffee purchases
As much as we excitedly cheer on the new democratic movements around the world, we ought not to forget those who fought for democracy in previous decades. If you remember the Reagan era then you no doubt remember the Contras, the "freedom fighters" (as Reagan dubbed them) who opposed the Marxist Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the '80's. Some of the old fighters have turned to coffee growing and a couple of Dartmouth MBA students have started a company to distribute their crop in the US.
Contra Cafe will ship you a pound of coffee every month grown by former revolutionaries for democracy. In addition to paying the farmer over fair-trade prices, they donate 50% of their profits back to the Contras. Read about it at the Contra Cafe website (tip to Instapundit who wonders if the Contra Cafe t-shirt will become as popular on campus as the Che t-shirt. Certainly the t-shirt, and the coffee, should become standards at any Republican gathering).
This sort of social conscience purchasing is generally a project for the left, but there's no reason the right cannot similarly choose to let their political worldview influence their shopping. Perhaps conservatives will be even more eager to take part in private-sector aid rather than call for government grants.
Update: Here's more of the story behind the coffee and the company
July 22, 2005
Goodness! I knew that John Roberts is about my age and has two children about the same age and gender as mine. Now I learn that he drives the same car I do! Let's hope the close parallels end there. If he shares my depth of knowledge on the law, the country is in trouble!
Contrary to what Kaus says, driving a PT Cruiser indicates a fine appreciation for old-style values, in an up-to-date application. Of course, some of us do take the retro-car thing a bit too far. My Cruiser has a standard shift and manual door locks, which would classify me as a genuine eccentric, except that I'm also genuinely cheap, which explains the minimalist automobile.
I'll bet top judges drive the Cruiser with tinted glass and a turbo.
July 20, 2005
A very fine choice, it would seem
Like most of you I've had the day to read the reaction to the Roberts nomination. Those who are in a position to access his competence legally seem to like the selection. He gets very high marks for brilliance and legal knowledge, even from those who are inclined to oppose a conservative. Those who are opposing him, I've had emails from Planned Parenthood and EMILY's list, were going to oppose the nominee no matter who it was, assuming that Bush would nominate someone from the right side of the political spectrum. Ever there they seem to have trouble coming up with solid issues, so he looks to me like a winner.
What I like best in the comments I've read concerns his commitment to the law. William Beldar, a Texas lawyer recovering from a small heart attack, has had plenty of time to read about and write about this nominee. He responds to concern that Roberts is not sufficiently academic (a point in his favor in my eyes) or that he is some sort of stealth moderate (we are so easy to disguise.) both posts are worth reading. The post I wanted to call out for you looks at how Roberts will address cases where there is a moral (or perhaps a political) element towards which the justices have a personal reaction.
[B]y far the single most important quality that the new Justice must have, if Dubya is to keep his campaign promises, is the willingness to write words like these: ... I am not empowered to fix this. That's the essence of what Justice Thomas said [in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas], and it's exactly what the new Justice has to be willing to say — even when, and most especially when, the temptation to reach out and fix things is nearly overwhelming.
I'm on board with Beldar here. When I served on a jury we were faced wit a defendant who even the defense admitted was not a sympathetic character. The judge instructed the jury quite clearly that we were to put our personal feelings aside and focus our minds on the law (as it was explained to us.) Seems like good advise for Supreme Court justices as well. We need a Supreme Court, as I understand the constitution, to counterbalance those forces with a power that is mindful not of society or individuals, but of the law and constitution. Beldar quotes a Roberts opinion that demonstrates that he understands the role.
Too often in recent decades the Supreme Court has been willing to address societal and cultural issues the Congress is too timid to take on. In the long run this is a destructive impulse, like a parent who "helps" Johnnie with his homework by doing the hard problems for him. Johnnie gets a good grade but ultimately suffers for not tackling the work himself. The Court can make new policy fast with out the ugly debate and discussion that occurs across the square at the Capitol. Its a "cheat", however, and ultimately a disservice.
One way to deal with "too much liberal politics in the judiciary" is to push more conservative politics into the judiciary. There is a third option, however, that will ultimately prove the stronger approach, "less politics in the judiciary." I'll make a bold, and admittedly ill-informed prediction, just a gut feeling really. If Roe v. Wade is ever to be overturned, it will not be out of concern for the unborn or because it is bad social policy, it will be over concern for the constitution and a realization that it is bad law. anti-abortion advocates seem to confuse fighting Roe with fighting abortion, but they are two (or more separate fights.) The genuine battle over abortion rights occurs after Roe is overturned, and it will be ugly and protracted, but it will be the real debate we've been dancing around for decades while we debate constitutional issues.
July 19, 2005
The master of misdirection
Some folks seem to believe that Karl Rove is a genuine political genius, whom history will recognize as the master of the art. Personally, I don't much like the influence that these political advisers have on presidents, but I have to admit that Rove is daily appearing to be everything that those who love him and fear him most would have us believe.
It's no secret that the key to the magician's art id misdirection. The most skilled illusionists work with few props, achieving their illusions by skillfully misdirecting the attention of the audience, or, more accurately, purposely directing it toward something that will hold their attention but give them no useful information. They study his flourishing right hand and miss the clue in the left.
Incredibly, for weeks now the press and political talkers of the country have been staring fixedly at non-event... non-crimes that probably didn't happen. Note also that these non-events concern a man who is the political adviser to a president who cannot run for office in the future. If Rove planned all this he is the supreme master they say he is. The time for Democrats to worry about Rove is when he disappears from view. Sometime down the road he will fall off the radar; holding meetings and making his phone calls unnoticed and unremarked. That, is when smart Democrats should be worried. As long as he is at the White House he can be watched, why help him into the shadows?
July 13, 2005
The Elephant in the Courtroom
All day the news sites and poli-punditry blogs have been gleefully speculating about the Supreme Court nomination expected from Pres. Bush this evening. This is obviously good sport for the legal crowd; I am reminded of sports fans loudly debating who will make it to the Series, or the All-Star team. These vacancies don't come up often so we'll forgive the court-watchers their exuberance.
Time was when this would have been a lawyers-only party; the rest of the country looking on with a vague and bemused interest, much like watching a debate over who will win the Nobel prize in mathematics. We would be glad that the experts in the field were so attentive to the question, and discussing it with such vigor, and at the same time thankful that we were excused from participation. We are not so fortunate these days.
A Supreme Court appointment has become one or the defining events of a presidency (similarly, the career of a Supreme Court justice these days will be largely defined by his or her nomination battle). There is a theory, one that I have not seen convincingly supported, that the future of the republic is determined, in a significant way, by these appointments, and the various partisans array themselves accordingly, fully prepared for all-out battle. Reports during the day indicated that groups were scrambling to purchase rights to memorable URL's for use in opposing whichever nominee was favored in the rumor mill. They could save themselves trouble and money by registering "opposeallbushnominees.com" which is a more accurate representation of their position. Court confirmations have acquired much of the feeling of campaigns.
I wonder which comes first, political judges or a politicized appointment process? It's a chicken vs. egg sorta question. In any case, the nomination of a justice to the top court is a major skirmish in the on-going war between "our guys" and "the other guys." Everyone with a stake in Washington politics will be taking a position and fighting for it, if only to keep up appearances. I get emails from political groups across the spectrum (it's wonderful being a centrist!) and the lines were well drawn well before the nomination. I've been getting regular missives urging me to contribute to the fight to stop the evil [unnamed] appointee, along with equally apocalyptic messages warning me that this nominee, whoever it was, was undoubtedly critical to the future. I've also been cautioned that a blocked appointment or worse, nomination of a moderate, would signal the end of all that we hold dear (or some similarly emotive but undefined phrase.)
As of a few minutes ago we have the name of the nominee. I have no clue who John Roberts is, except that the early reaction is that he will be tough to fight. Apparently he has denied his opponents the fuel for their fire. If he can avoid being cast as a monster I say bravo; how thrilling to be left discussing a candidate's legal expertise. He will be seen as a daring choice for Bush, because he is a member of a hated minority (middle-aged white guys) but folks think he's smart and may be able to answer questions without threatening to bomb Mecca or some other embarrassment. I note that he is very nearly my age, which makes me feel very old.
In the coming weeks every word Roberts has ever published will be scrutinized. His thinking on a number of important subjects will be reviewed, including the currently hot topic of federalism, property rights and personal freedom. These issues are important to the country and the court, but none of them are going to be important in the confirmation hearings. Only one issue really drives this desperate fights for every seat on the bench. Some will insist that the struggle is not driven by Roe v Wade and the abortion question, but then some folks insist that the civil war was not really about slavery. The abortion question is the light by which all the other issues are considered.
Earlier this year, when filibusters of lower-court nominees were the top news item, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that the Roe v. Wade decision has "slowly poisoned American politics." (The NYT would like you to purchase access to articles in the archives, so I'll just link to my original post.) Whatever your feelings about abortion rights in general, we ought to be able to agree that making abortion a constitutional issue has had a ripple effect through the judiciary and beyond. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out last week, there is little likelihood that abortion rights will be significantly abridged in the US anytime soon. And yet the Supreme Court justices are now grilled in hearings, and either approved or rejected, on the basis of an issue that they very likely will not face in their careers on the court. I have a suspicion that if Roe was overturned the reaction a couple of years later would be wonder that we ever cared that much about it. The Left's fears of widespread enslavement of American women with the loss of Roe are no more realistic that The Right's dreams of moral rebirth and the end of easy sex. Life would go on much as it has in the years since Roe v Wade.
I think it could be argued that the cultural impact of abortion has been, and still is, much smaller than the ever expanding impact of Roe v. Wade. That case, and the continuous battle to preserve it, is the slow poison that makes judges the subject of the 24/7 news analysis business.
July 08, 2005
Friedman - a Muslim solution to a Muslim problem.
Every so often Thomas Friedman hits the nail on the head. Today's column is a must read. Out of concern for the fragile sensibilities of the Muslim world, few have been willing to say what many have been thinking. The great bulk of global Islam is notably silent after attacks such as those in London yesterday. Its time to choose side with clarity. Of all people, the world's Muslims are least able to remain silent and neutral on this question.
...either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.
For years now, a distributed group of terrorists have killed and injured Westerners in Muslim countries, Westerners in Western countries, and many, many fellow Muslims in their home countries, all in the name of Islam. Speaking in the last day Tony Blair has said that despite what the bombers claim, this is not a Muslim action. George Bush said as well that this was not a truly Muslin action. Neither of these men are Muslim, so ought we not to direct our questions to the Muslims? It is time to be clear about the religious support for these murders.
There is no good reason to remain quiet; Muslin Londoners ought to be out in the streets at the first opportunity declaring their loyalty to Britain and British society and values, and their antipathy towards this sort of terrorism. That they don't is either a sign that they do support the terrorism, or, more likely, they're frightened of retaliation. So Friedman is correct, it is a civil war, that has spread across the globe.
July 07, 2005
Some worthwhile quotes
I very much like Donald Rumsfeld's official statement on the London bombings. Here's a sample:
But if these terrorists thought they could intimidate the people of a great nation, they picked the wrong people and the wrong nation. For generations, tyrants, fascists, and terrorists have sought to carry out their violent designs upon the British people only to founder upon its unrelenting shores.
Before long, I suspect that those responsible for these acts will encounter British steel. Their kind of steel has an uncommon strength. It does not bend or break.
Contrast the terrorist's imagination as depicted in the message claiming responsibility...
"Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters."
...with the reality related by a Londoner's email to NRO's The Corner:
We have faced terror before - Nazi terror, Irish Republican terror - and have not been beaten. This will not beat us either.
The overwhelming feeling round our office is "Is this best they can do?" - it looks and sounds much worse on 24hr news channels than in person.
Destroying a train or a bus is a long way from destroying a great nation. The people who build free nations and defend free nations are the courageous ones.
*We* were struck today
On vacation this week we have seen little of the news, a refreshing break. That changed this morning. Like much of the world we've watched the coverage from London and read the reports, with that empty ache in the belly. Ugh.
Some of the conversation turned to the situation in the US and the fact that we have not seen a similar attack here in the United States since 2001, even though such bombings are terribly hard to stop. The same subject is being discussed on the networks. On reflection I don't think it really appropriate to talk in terms of "them" being hit and not "us". If the American people cannot include Londoners among those we consider, "us", who can we include? Of course the British are sovereign and independent of the US politically, and are responsible for their own security, but the values they hold, and for which they were attacked, are ours as well. Moreover they have sided with the United States repeatedly in battles against those who oppose freedom and democratic principals. It really is one fight, and they are very much a part of the "us."
All of us who call ourselves a freedom-loving people, life affirming, committed to peace and toleration among all peoples and religions, must feel the attack this morning ourselves. London is a vibrant and diverse city that exemplifies commitment to a free democracy, and that commitment brought attack from those who hate all those things. The threat is still out there and it will strike at any of us it can reach, from the innocent civilians of Mosul and Baghdad, to London, and possible to New York, Washington or any American city.
We have a British flag at this house for the weeks that our British friends are visiting. We've pulled it out today and have it flying along side the Stars and Stripes. In the same week when we celebrated our independence from the British in the 18th century we can be just as loudly proclaim our unity with them in the 21st.