February 20, 2006

The angry extremes

Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University writes a short piece in the Opinion Journal today on the dangers of political anger. Brooks doesn't provide the source research for the claims he makes in this oped, but I'm not going to argue. The professor is "preaching to the choir" as far as I'm concerned.

To begin with, there is abundant evidence that extreme political opinions lead to the personal demonization of fellow citizens. Consider, for example, how those on the far left and far right respond when asked for a zero-to-100 score of their feelings toward people with whom they disagree politically. Political scientists find that scores below 20 on these so-called feeling thermometers are very unusual--except on the political fringes. Indeed, according to the 2004 National Election Study, one in five "extremely liberal" people gave conservatives a score of zero, a temperature you or I might reserve for Osama bin Laden. The same percentage of "extremely conservative" people gave liberals a zero.

Ironically, these angry folks tend to feel that they are more compassionate than others--while their personal actions tell a different story. Take people on the far left. According to the General Social Surveys in 2002 and 2004, those who say they're "extremely liberal" are 20 percentage points more likely than moderates to say they feel concern for less fortunate people. But this doesn't appear to translate well to a deep concern for any individual: This group is also 20 points less likely than moderates to say they'd "endure all things for the one I love." To some, this might support the stereotype that the far left loves humanity--but only in large groups.

Like extreme liberals, extreme conservatives are more compassionate in theory than in practice: They are slightly more likely than centrists to say they "feel protective of people who are taken advantage of." Unless, it seems, they are the ones taking advantage: It turns out they are substantially less likely than moderates to act honestly in small ways, such as returning change mistakenly given them by a cashier.

These results certainly square with my personal experience. I also agree with Brook's assertion that the number of Americans out on the angry extremes is growing, and that this is bad news for America.

A candidate winning a governorship or the presidency usually mutters a common platitude to the effect that they intend to be the "President of all the people." A few of the more centrist-minded might even mean it. Of course, it is literally true; G.W. Bush is the President for all Americans including Democrats. We know that they are unhappy about that, but the more interesting question is how does Bush, or any such political leader, feel about the people who opposed him in the election.

Does winning the election mean "it's pay-back time!" or is it a call to relax the ideological barriers and try to appreciate and integrate the ideas and desires of all one's constituents. I'm not so naive to believe that the highly partisan candidates of today will magically transform into centrist coalition builders upon election, but I do not think it unreasonable to ask that leaders feel respect for all the people they lead, not just those that donated to the campaign war chest.

There are powerful voices in our political debate who make a point of bragging their depth of hatred for a large chuck of Americans. I hope I am not alone in finding that distressing. Even more distressing is the thought of such people gaining power over the country. In the heat of a campaign it can be difficult to remember that the "other-guys" are fellow Americans, neighbors, whom we supposedly respect and even love. Difficult to do but vital. If the guy I didn't support wins the election, I am disappointed. That's natural, but I can remain calm and constructively involved in the community if I believe that the new leader takes my well-being seriously. But if the new leader openly expresses his hate for me, because of my religion, or race, or because I have tended to vote for people with different priorities and ideas; well then I might get pretty nervous, and be less eager to cooperate.

As bad as things are in the U.S., they seem worse abroad. "Sowing the wind" seems the common practice throughout the Muslim world, and we all dread the harvest. Our old friends in Europe argue over whether it is better to hate the U.S. for doing too much in the middle-east, or for doing too little. Being clever fellows, perhaps they will find the means to hate us for both.

I take refuge, in my less rational moments, in a happy dream about a candidate and a party who are not defined by hatreds and anger, and a country that tires of bile and snarling, turning, perhaps in boredom, to the "refreshingly-new," old idea of American optimism. Some of us can remember how the Reagan campaign in 1980 felt after a decade characterized as 'malaise." Are we too cynical now to be moved by such a corny approach? Have we become sophisticated like the Euro's, expressing the customary pleasantries and believing none of it?

As I said, it's just a day-dream, but it keeps me moving these days...

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Posted by Jay on February 20, 2006 at 10:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 05, 2005

When "The Left" stopped being liberal

I live in what used to be a liberal" community, close by a major university. There remain many good old-fashioned liberals out here, but a significant chuck of the locals have slipped off into some other sphere entirely. The descent of this group into unhinged looniness has been a common topic in the blogosphere and has provided Michelle Malkin with material for a book.

I'm not going to even try to explain it. Pat Santy, aka Dr. Sanity, (and a fellow Homespun Blogger!) is a psychologist and far better qualified to dissect the roots of this madness. I can only bemoan the effects of the rest of us, those who still hope to hold a reasonably coherent dialog on important issues.

Pat has plenty to say on the subject; it's a long post, as she has the good manners to warn us, but worth the effort. I especially like her observation that "The Left" as she has labeled these folks, has abandoned liberalism. Not just the "classic liberalism" of the 19th century, but the liberalism of recent memory.

Those glory days when the Left believed in freedom and individuality; and that the content of one’s character was more important than the color of one’s skin-- are long gone. Nowadays it seems that the Left only pretends to believe in those values and feels it necessary to mouth the words.

But my observation is that today’s Left pretty much stands for nothing-not freedom, not equal opportunity; not individual rights; not even peace. Trying to right the wrongs and injustices of the world is truly ethical and noble goal, but something happened on the road to that beautiful utopia. The Left made a wrong turn and got lost--somewhere in the vicinity of Vietnam, I think.
...
At this very moment, every issue supported by the Left, and almost all of the behavior exhibited by the Left is completely antithetical to classical liberal philosophies. There is no longer a commitment to personal liberty or to freedom. The Left is far to busy to promote freedom for the common man or woman, because their time is taken up advocating freedom for tyrants who oppress the common man; terrorists who kill the common man; and religious fanatics who subjugate the common woman.

She's spot on, you know. In my neighborhood we have a crowd that regularly protests in support of Fidel Casto, and people will casually refer to Saddam as the only legitimate ruler in Iraq. The so called Anti-war marches up the peninsula in San Francisco are just the reverse. They glory in depictions of violence, calls for violence and occasional acts of violence. They dream of a great war, where America and her allies are destroyed. There is a feeling of death and evil about the crowd. Perhaps you have seen pictures of some of these marches. I've seen a few up close, from the sidewalk. Pictures cannot do the event justice. These marches radiate hate.

The left has always had it's loonie (and scary) extremes, as has the right (even scarier in the old days) and I know home to ignore those people. What is most frightening about this current phenomena, aside from the virulence of the hated, is the way it has spread into the otherwise sensible liberals of the Democratic party, and threatens to spread. We cannot afford to lose the left half of the political debate. Even more, we cannot afford to allow a similar right-wing madness to develop in response. Politics has become especially poisonous of late. I know where this leads, it is not a happy ending.

I've seen a quote on a number of "liberal" websites lately, although often the writers are pulling it from a conservative book/pamphlet by David Horowitz. The quote comes from Vladimir Lenin, who apparently said, "In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent's argument, but to wipe him from the face of the earth"

As with so many other things, Vladimir was wrong about that. What he describes is not "politics" but rather "Leninist politics", a philosophy and approach that managed to precede him into the grave. This is the philosophy of the extremist, note that Horowitz was a radical leftist before he converted to the extreme right wing, and it will lead any American political group to that same ash-heap it Lenin and his boys. Of this I have no doubt. I worry, nevertheless, how much will be damaged and lost in the process.

You can hear Lenin's quote echoed in the comment of Maryland State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, when she said that "party trumps race." Some years ago the phrase "Women's Movement" ceased to have any real meaning as it became clear that party trumps gender as well. We are sliding into a time when party trumps truth, and trumps sense, and trumps human compassion.

Could politics and party even trump all human rights, even life? Of course...glance at history, it's commonplace. We have been blessed, in America, with a political environment where opponents can remain friendly, or at least at peace. Less so today, I fear, and if the palpable hunger for violence that surrounds a 2005 "peace protest" is any indication, less so in the future. Keep your powder dry, folks...

Posted by Jay on November 5, 2005 at 11:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

California legislature kills gay marriage

I know what you're thinking, "you've got that wrong!, they approved it." You're right of course, the California legislature today passed a bill defining marriage as a "social contract", in language that would allow gays to be included. This is the first time a state has passed such a law without being forced by the courts.

The reason I say they have killed it is that this act will almost certainly guarantee a constitutional amendment in the state reasserting that marriage in California is a union between a man and a woman (one of each, in fact. In California one needs to be especially clear about such things.)

For the life of me I don't understand the political strategy at work here. It looks to me like a variant on Osama's strategy, ignite a total war, and expect a miracle.

Gay couples in California are commonplace and they openly participate in the community life. Elected officials campaign with their partners, there are gay couples in church, a gay teacher at our elementary school brings his partner to school functions, its just not a big deal around here any more. I strenuously assert that this is not an "anti-gay" state. The voters have been very clear, however, that they would like to reserve the term "marriage" to refer to a traditional, heterosexual union, and that they want that distinction maintained. The distinction may be entirely irrelevant, gay couples can be given all the benefits of married heterosexual couples, but the distinction is important to the large majority of voters.

The lawmakers in Sacramento were put in a very difficult position. Californians are not, as I said, anti-gay and don't want to appear that way, and the supporters of this bill were very clear that they were willing to make this a "test-case" on civil rights. They were willing and ready to wage total war on anyone who failed to vote for their bill. There were, as you might expect, people who were equally extreme in their positions on the other side. The great mass of voters are not nearly so extreme not so ready to make this the single-issue of California politics, but they are jealous of their rights to self-govern, and this is a slap right back at the people for the passage of prop. 22.

In California we amend our constitution at the drop of a hat. The current constitution is only 130 years old (more or less) and has been amended over 500 times. Some sort of "defense of marriage" amendment will be passed without any trouble at all, not because people hate gays, but because they don't like being ignored.

Based on the local radio talk and blogs, I expect that people are getting angry...not at gays in general, but at the gay activists and leadership. They have forced this issue onto the public and demanded that it become the single-issue for the state, and in truth we have other things to think about out here. This "scorched earth" approach is not winning them support. I know too many gay people and gay couples to believe that they are a terribly oppressed people in this area. To assert that is an insult to genuinely oppressed people.

Late word in the news is that the Governor will veto. I would expect it to be upheld. The gay activists will go after him (they will have to get in line, Arnold is a popular target these days) and we'll see how the people respond. He'll defend his action the as he has in the past, that he supports gay rights but recognizes that the people have a right to see their elections respected.

Again, I'll say that I do not understand the reasoning behind this strategy, it seems suicidal. Gays have got momentum moving their way, and opinions are shifting their way rather quickly. This seems like an effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

(More on the "political fallout" here.)

Posted by Jay on September 7, 2005 at 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

Opportunities for everyone to get it wrong.

The hurricane story has driven politics out of the news and out of my attention, so I have little to blog about over at this blog, but you cannot keep politics out of our lives for long, it seems. While the water is still draining from Mississippi and filling New Orleans, the single-minded political junkies are trying to spin this weather event for political gain. The wonderful thing about being a centrist is that I'm not compelled to defend or endorse either of the completely flawed arguments being tossed about.

It started with a predictable claim from the "left", that the unusually strong storm was a symptom of Global Warming. I've been very concerned about global climate change since I studied climate as a student in the '70's (it was not a political issue then, but was recognised and discussed in scientific circles.) As frustrated as I am with this administration's ideological blindness to this critical issue, this is a bum rap, and not helpful to the cause.

A single hurricane, no matter how large and powerful, is an aspect of "weather", not "climate". They are related but not the same thing, much the way that stock prices and national economic health are related but not the same. Just as a large daily spike or dip in stock prices is not "caused by" the state of the national economy, a hurricane is not caused by a climate trend.

The people making this claim don't know what they are talking about. They are going to bring discredit to an issue that can be defended based on the facts without resorting to bad science and easily deflected claims. They are also confusing the public, who don't really understand the climate issue well and are not going to understand it better after this flurry of nonsense.

A special award to Robert Kennedy Jr. for publishing a spectacularly asinine variation on this "meme" at the Huffington Post (a site I prefer not to link to.) He blames the destruction in Mississippi on Haley Barber, now the Governor of the state, because as a powerful Republican in the years before he ran for Governor, he campaigned against the Kyoto accord. This is breathtakingly bad logic, bad science, and bad taste. I've mentioned it because I was so stunned to read it, but don't want to add traffic or readership if I can help it. If by some accident you come across this column, as I did, take my advice and leave it quickly. Otherwise, forget it ever happened, you have better things to do with your mind.

There is some thought that as the energy in the atmosphere increases, the number of hurricanes or the percentage of storms that become powerful might increase, but this is nowhere near being certain. (The detailed effects of a global warming are much less certain among climate scientists than the fact that the warming is occurring.) Climate trends effect weather in very complex and poorly understood ways, which brings me to the other side of the political sparring this week. I heard Brit Hume put the question of a link between warming and Katrina to his regular panel, and Fred Barnes took the bait and chuckled a response that the warming "advocates" tend to see the impact of warming in every weather story (arguably true) claiming that warming is behind every heat wave and even every blizzard! They all had a good laugh over that.

These are smart fellows and I suspect that they are feigning a simple-minded thinking for the benefit of effect. They have no trouble appreciating complex interactions in the economy, or in global politics, so this "If the earth is warming then why is my weather not hot today" posturing is probably a bit of political theater. Its a bit like asking how the "Big Bang" at the birth of the universe could have made the sound of a "bang" in the vacuums of space. I don't believe that they are really that dense.

They are playing, of course, on the more genuinely dense skulls of some in the audience, or, to be fair to the viewers, reinforcing public misconceptions because they happen to be politically useful. The Left plays a similar game in talking about Iraq. They like to reduce things to mindless simplifications that feed their public's bad thinking. This is a cowardly tactic, but sadly it seems to work.

This tactic is only effective for so long, however, because the atmosphere is not influenced by political spin; Nature does not respect poll results (or even election results.) You can laugh away the issue and heap scorn on the scientists doing the modeling and forecasting. Do it enough and you can stop the issue in the political world, but you cannot stop the change in the climate with punditry. The climate will go on doing its thing regardless, and sooner or later not even the most skilled political posturer and wit will be able to hide it; or hide from it. Sometime down the road people will realize how thoroughly they have been mislead and I don't expect them to be pleased.


Posted by Jay on August 31, 2005 at 12:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Opportunities for everyone to get it wrong.

The hurricane story has driven politics out of the news and out of my attention, so I have little to blog about over at this blog, but you cannot keep politics out of our lives for long, it seems. While the water is still draining from Mississippi and filling New Orleans, the single-minded political junkies are trying to spin this weather event for political gain. The wonderful thing about being a centrist is that I'm not compelled to defend or endorse either of the completely flawed arguments being tossed about.

It started with a predictable claim from the "left", that the unusually strong storm was a symptom of Global Warming. I've been very concerned about global climate change since I studied climate as a student in the '70's (it was not a political issue then, but was recognised and discussed in scientific circles.) As frustrated as I am with this administration's ideological blindness to this critical issue, this is a bum rap, and not helpful to the cause.

A single hurricane, no matter how large and powerful, is an aspect of "weather", not "climate". They are related but not the same thing, much the way that stock prices and national economic health are related but not the same. Just as a large daily spike or dip in stock prices is not "caused by" the state of the national economy, a hurricane is not caused by a climate trend.

The people making this claim don't know what they are talking about. They are going to bring discredit to an issue that can be defended based on the facts without resorting to bad science and easily deflected claims. They are also confusing the public, who don't really understand the climate issue well and are not going to understand it better after this flurry of nonsense.

A special award to Robert Kennedy Jr. for publishing a spectacularly asinine variation on this "meme" at the Huffington Post (a site I prefer not to link to.) He blames the destruction in Mississippi on Haley Barber, now the Governor of the state, because as a powerful Republican in the years before he ran for Governor, he campaigned against the Kyoto accord. This is breathtakingly bad logic, bad science, and bad taste. I've mentioned it because I was so stunned to read it, but don't want to add traffic or readership if I can help it. If by some accident you come across this column, as I did, take my advice and leave it quickly. Otherwise, forget it ever happened, you have better things to do with your mind.

There is some thought that as the energy in the atmosphere increases, the number of hurricanes or the percentage of storms that become powerful might increase, but this is nowhere near being certain. (The detailed effects of a global warming are much less certain among climate scientists than the fact that the warming is occurring.) Climate trends effect weather in very complex and poorly understood ways, which brings me to the other side of the political sparring this week. I heard Brit Hume put the question of a link between warming and Katrina to his regular panel, and Fred Barnes took the bait and chuckled a response that the warming "advocates" tend to see the impact of warming in every weather story (arguably true) claiming that warming is behind every heat wave and even every blizzard! They all had a good laugh over that.

These are smart fellows and I suspect that they are feigning a simple-minded thinking for the benefit of effect. They have no trouble appreciating complex interactions in the economy, or in global politics, so this "If the earth is warming then why is my weather not hot today" posturing is probably a bit of political theater. Its a bit like asking how the "Big Bang" at the birth of the universe could have made the sound of a "bang" in the vacuums of space. I don't believe that they are really that dense.

They are playing, of course, on the more genuinely dense skulls of some in the audience, or, to be fair to the viewers, reinforcing public misconceptions because they happen to be politically useful. The Left plays a similar game in talking about Iraq. They like to reduce things to mindless simplifications that feed their public's bad thinking. This is a cowardly tactic, but sadly it seems to work.

This tactic is only effective for so long, however, because the atmosphere is not influenced by political spin; Nature does not respect poll results (or even election results.) You can laugh away the issue and heap scorn on the scientists doing the modeling and forecasting. Do it enough and you can stop the issue in the political world, but you cannot stop the change in the climate with punditry. The climate will go on doing its thing regardless, and sooner or later not even the most skilled political posturer and wit will be able to hide it; or hide from it. Sometime down the road people will realize how thoroughly they have been mislead and I don't expect them to be pleased.


Posted by Jay on August 31, 2005 at 12:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

Moving left, Moving right, Moving on

Micheal Totten raises again a question that has been getting tossed around for some time, especially around centrist circles, is the country "moving to the right?" He quotes Donklephant, who quotes the Village Voice quoting Fareed Zakaria saying, "in America the entire spectrum has shifted to the right. I still like the same kinds of people I always did-conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans, call them what you will. But we’re an increasingly embattled phenomenon in a country with a president talking about intelligent design."

At first I felt like agreeing with Zakaria, I was once considered very much a conservative. As a high school student I went door-to-door for Richard Nixon's re-election (we won big, too.) I don't feel as if I've changed much politically (well, except I don't like Nixon all that much anymore) but the seats out to the right of me have filled up. In the 70's, people more conservative than me and my mates were old farts, "the squares" in the parlance of our older siblings. Now, I find myself challenged as a Republican by folks who were not born when I first registered in the "R" column. I expect that their parents were among the lefties tossing eggs at us as we rallied for Nixon and later Ford. Smug, a**hole liberals of the '70's raised a generation of smug, a**hole neo-cons in the "00's". (We quieted them nicely in 1980 too. Lovely election...)

(At a political discussion not long ago, the discussion turned (for some reason) to the boomer generation. A very young and very conservative fellow jumped up to express his complete disdain for the boomers who had "disgraced the country with their protest of the Vietnam war", or words to that effect. I felt obliged to remind him that baby boomers had also fought that war.)

Ah well, I'm happier in the center, it makes more sense to me, and I like the company better.

Totten has a different view of this "shift" hypothesis. He suggests that the country has moved on more than moved right. He means, I think, that the issues are changing and the mix of people shifts around to reflect the new political landscape.


I don’t think the country has moved to the right so much as the country has moved on. The world has changed since 1968. People who haven’t changed in the meantime aren’t stranded on the left so much as they are stranded in time.

I was going to disagree but in preparing my comments I find that I sort of agree with him. The handy left-right ruler we apply to all issues is fickle and almost arbitrary. New issues get sorted out in new ways and the parties shift around with them. I do think that the Dem-Rep and Lib-Con spectrums have aligned themselves much more in the last decade than in earlier times. Decades ago there were genuinely conservative Democrats about, quite a few, in fact. It wasn't just liberalism that made one a Democrat in those days. Class and ethnicity were very important, as well as regional factors. Today those folks have become Republicans adding a new cadre of voters who are working-class, ethnic, southern and patriotic to the party (it used to be just the "Wall Street Republicans" and "Main Street Republicans", with a few "Country Club Republicans" and was a more strongly libertarian party)

I certainly do agree with Totten's point about those "stranded in time." A good chuck of the Left, and a bit of the Right, are stuck in the old model, fighting the old foe, over the old issues. When I, and other Centrists, say that the Right vs. Left model is obsolete, we mean that the old rules no longer relate well to the new political conversation. Attempts to maintain the old outmoded divisions while adapting to the newer issues, mangles the sense of these terms. Liberals are rooting for religious fundamentalist forces that oppress women as brutally as any regime in history. Conservatives are calling for increased government intervention in the home and in schools. Not surprisingly, many of us are confused and disoriented. We've come to the center where we can get our bearings better and see things more clearly.

Posted by Jay on August 24, 2005 at 11:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Delusions of Relevance

I hate to be harping on the Democrats so much; as commenters point out, the right has its fair share of loonies and dangerously angry people, but they are thoroughly overshadowed by the left these days. Arthur Chrenkoff, an admitted conservative and Republican sympathizer (he's Australian/Polish), describes the "delusions of relevance" within the Democrats.

...when the confused but, by comparison, relatively sane Kerry campaign went down in flames, for many in the Democratic Party it was an indication that far from not moving enough to the sensible and credible center, the mistake was not going far enough to the left. And so now, seemingly every day brings yet another bizarre and/or offensive outburst from Howard Dean, Charles Rangel, Dick Durbin or some other leading light of the Donkey Party.

But hysterics and play-acting in the Capitol basement are not signs of revitalization and enthusiasm; they demonstrate desperation and impotency of a party which has been consigned to opposition and which can't quite dig itself up from the hole. Politics is cyclical, and no doubt the Dems will make a comeback one day. Whether it will be in 2006, 2008 or later, remains to be seen; the timing will depend on the ability of the party leadership to square the electoral circle.

...Or, first of all to locate genuine party leadership (Arthur neglected Harry Reid, he's another of those regularly delusional voices.) Patrick Ruffini has noticed that Hillary is staying so far away from the mad ranting that she's practically joined the Republicans. The real risk to the Republicans at this point is complacency. They can safely ignore the centrists, because their opponents have gone to war against good sense, and they might not see the threat from the Democratic centrists, including a repositioned Hillary Clinton, when the current Democratic leadership implodes. It is possible for the public to dislike both parties (actually quite likely.) As one group of Democrats lose credibility ... and dignity, really, the Republicans do not automatically gain esteem. It may well be that many voters, like myself, for example, provide votes and support polls to the Republicans less out of love for their policies than fear of their opponents. If the scary Deaniacs go away, as I am sure they must, the Republicans will be fighting on a very different front, against very different opponents, and they may be caught quite unprepared.

That's what Ruffini is saying. He's urging Republicans to quit fixating on the opponent who is dissolving into chaos and irrelevance, and concentrate on those who have "triangulated" the next election better. Someone inclined to conspiracy theories might even see a clever plan to distract attention away from Hillary. Could the Howard and Harry show be the political equivalent of a rodeo clown, who distracts the bull with colors, movement and noise while the cowboy goes unnoticed? I'm not one of those thinkers, but I do believe that people on Senator Clinton's team are thinking that way. When Hillary accepts the nomination in '08, all the scandals and tensions of the White House years will seem like ancient, and irrelevant, history.

Retuning to Chrenkoff, he closes with this observation.

The great divide of politics, both internationally and at home, is between those who think that America is the problem and those who think it is the solution. The problem for the Democratic Party is that a large section of its base thinks that the biggest threats facing the United States and the world are Republican administrations and global warming - a view not shared widely in the electorate.

He may well be right about the "great divide". He may well be right about the Democrats problem too, but I wanted to use it to illustrate a different point. My personal beliefs don't fit well with his model. I'm fine with a Republican administration, I voted for this President after all, but I do believe that climate change is one of, if not the most serious issue facing the world in the coming decades. I've thought that since I studied climate in the 1970's, when only scientists (and students) were aware of the issue. Thirty years later I'm forced to choose between the threat of global terrorism, and the threat of global warming. I don't like the choices, but the collapse of the Democrats into anti-Bush obsession has left me without a viable option.

Neither can I adjust my beliefs on the issue to conform to the political agenda. Issues like abortion rights, support for the war, and the nomination of judges can be influenced and shaped by the ebb and flow of political ideologies, but the planet cares nothing for polls or elections. The climate will do whatever it is going to do, and neither speeches nor blog posts will change things. I have a good many more friends in the conservative camp these days then among the liberals, and they like to chide me over my resolute convictions on the global climate, but I can quietly allow them to win very argument (I no longer even argue the point) as it won't change a thing. You cannot campaign away this problem. That those Democrats who do take the problem seriously usually do so out of an equal ignorance, and for all the wrong reasons, really hurts things as well. Regularly some environmental activist says something foolish that only further discredits an important point. Alas, I've had three decades to ponder the issue and come to terms with the frightening aspects of the future. Now that its in the grip of partisan politics the point is really lost.

But this is not a post about the climate (I do that over at Birds Eye View, anyway.) Delusional thinking among the Dems is a sad mess for anyone who believes and hopes in the workings of a healthy democracy. I wait eagerly for the day this febrile seizure runs its course and we can return to something approaching serious politics.

Posted by Jay on June 21, 2005 at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

Marching to the wrong drummer

Mark Steyn, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, takes on Dick Durbin's recent rhetoric (tip to The Corner at NRO.) Durbin's ranting make an easy target and I won't bother to quote Steyn's critique of both Durbin's and Amnesty International's attempt to draw moral equivalence. What interests me is not debating whether Gitmo is the Gulag or whether U.S. troops are equivalent to PolPot murderer's, these are not serious questions. Rather I'm concerned that seemingly important people do consider these important questions, or even more disturbing, that people in leadership roles could think such silly things. Here's Steyn:

This isn't a Republican vs Democrat thing; it's about senior Democrats who are so over-invested in their hatred of a passing administration that they've signed on to the nuttiest slurs of the lunatic fringe.

This is exactly what I have been trying to express. I feel the frustration of a centrist who finds that the policies of the current administration are occasionally, perhaps even often, objectionable, and that the opposing party supports policies I like better, but I also find that the Democrats have lost themselves in a dangerous and ultimately destructive lunacy. There is no way I could, in good conscience, support a party founded on bigoted hatred, even if I happened to also dislike some of the people they hate. It is possible to oppose the right people in entirely the wrong way. You are probably familiar with Martin Niemöller's observation on Nazism that begins, "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-- because I was not a communist." (I find, in searching for a link, that there is some disagreement in the exact quotation. Choose one that works for you. This one works for me. Its the idea that I am trying to reference here.) People who take pride in their hatreds, and are indiscriminant and careless in how they define it, are ultimately a danger to everyone, and need to be held up to ridicule, or at least contradicted. Sooner or later everyone is a target.

Posted by Jay on June 20, 2005 at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Fight nonsense with sense

James Lileks' occasional rants or "screeds" as he likes to call them, are so popular that he has created a new blog entirely devoted to "screeding". Today Lileks looks at a quote he pulls from Hugh Hewitt, who has located an offensive leftist at USC. Not that anyone is at all surprised. What is really shocking is that the someone from the LA entertainment industry, who are usually a bit more sensitive to how things will play in Peoria, would ever think that such a statement could do anything but embarrass himself and the institution that pays his salary.

The professor in question, Martin Kaplan, "director of the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC" loses Lileks, me, and a good number of his potential readers right away by referring to Christians as "Christers." Suddenly I understand just a bit how African-Americans feel about the "N" word. That has to go right to the top of my How to Know When to Stop Listening list. Liberal writers have developed a strange fetish for offensive nicknames. Perhaps it all flows out of a few closed-in communities like Democratic Underground and DailyKos. I'm sure you've seen it. Whenever a writer drops one of those vile little quips, click away quickly. I especially address this advice to Democrats or centrists who might not find the terms particularly offensive. You need to find the technique offensive. Deny these people the attention they seek and force them to clean up their act, or find yourself discredited along with them.

Back to Kaplan. The USC Prof. goes further demonstrate that he is ignorable by immediately dropping the "f-word" (...you know, "fascist") and decrying the rise of "theocratic oligopoly." That's a third strike for Kaplan, use of big words to describe an empty concept. Let's just drop him from our memories. The quote I wanted to bring to your attention is not what Kaplan had to say, which we know to be valueless. Rather, take note please, of Lileks' suggestion for a response.

In fact I suspect that if a groundswell of moderate-to-liberal Christians fought back the “fundamentalists” and used spiritual language to make common cause with the secularists, there would be little talk of theocracy or religious fascism, even if the motivations were equally devout.

He's right, I believe, about the shameful lack of response from moderate-liberal Christians. It is out there, most notably these days from Jim Wallis and Sojourners, and a few others, but we've been too shy. Spokespeople from my Episcopal Church are generally so liberal that they are too easily dismissed. Many seem to have forgotten how to "use spiritual language" in a conversation outside of church (or even in it, I'm afraid), and we are not taken seriously by most of the more conservative Christian groups. Even an Episcopalian, however, can reach a more or less secular or vaguely "spiritual" audience, which is most of the country if the polls are to be believed.

The point is not only to defend our political processes from religious bullying, but also to defend Christianity from the highly distorted and politicized image that a few Christians are presenting, and that the secular world has enthusiastically embraced. Moderate and liberal Christians ought take care when we make common-cause with the secularists. Folks like Kaplan are not friendly to us or our way of thinking. They are as bigoted and narrow minded as the "fundamentalists" (a misused word) who they to attack. They both like to present God as an angry tyrant; it suits both their programs.The answer to bad-Christianity cannot be bad-secularism. I'd rather see the "other Christians" assert the traditional (as in "apostolic") vision of God and the Church, and honestly express their widely varied and generally quite reasonable political views. The news isn't that Christians are liberal, but that the set of all American Christians closely resembles the set of all Americans. We waste much too much of our attention on the voices coming in from either extreme. We'll learn nothing from them, and get nowhere we would want to go.

Posted by Jay on June 17, 2005 at 09:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Doughnut Democrats

One more and them I'll get off the Opinion Journal. The Review and Outlook feature, really the editorial, describes the current Democratic party as "the Doughnut Democrats" (some might prefer "Donut", but not the WSJ.) The idea is that the party lacks a center. The article actually makes a better case that the Democrats have become the left edge of a general "doughnut politics" in America. The Democratic "Right" is just as endangered as the Democratic "Center"

The Democrats once displayed more variety of opinion on key issues, like Social Security reform.

Above all, there's the know-nothing-ism on Social Security. The Democrats in unison proclaim that Mr. Bush is advancing a risky right-wing scheme to destroy Social Security by creating private investment accounts for workers.

But wait. How dangerous can this idea really be? After all, only a few years ago there was a long and esteemed list of elected Democratic leaders who endorsed personal accounts. John Breaux. Chuck Robb. Bob Kerrey. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Charles Stenholm. Tim Penny. Today in the entire United States Congress there is exactly one Democrat, Allen Boyd of Florida, who has endorsed personal accounts, and he has been shunned for his apostasy.

In 2000 Senator Moynihan declared that a personal thrift savings plan for Social Security would allow hourly wage earners to "retire not just with a pension but with wealth. And the doorman will have a half million dollars, not just the people in the duplexes." Share the wealth. What could be a more traditional Rooseveltian idea than that?

There are some who believe that unity of viewpoint is a sign of party strength. I strongly disagree. A healthy and strong party can confidently display its variety of opinions to voters, debate issues within the party and with the other party. find common ground, again both within the party and without, generate a reasonable compromise and then display party unity by voting through the compromise position. This is ultimately unsatisfying to the ideologists, but it is how things get done, and a sign of a party that can do things, rather than just complain.

The Republicans, finding the middle uncontested, are actually encouraged to move farther to the right, and dig-in heels on ideology. This too is a regretable development. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the Jounal also aware of this.

Many conservatives have watched the left's hostile takeover of the Democratic Party with great joy. We don't share that enthusiasm. The country would benefit from two vibrant parties competing on innovative freedom-enhancing initiatives. The problem is that the Democrats are running on empty when it comes to policy ideas other than big government, and this lack of competition has had deleterious effects on Republican behavior, as witnessed by their lack of any spending discipline.

There are other examples of deleterious effects, I could add, but that is not the point. Rather, the concern is the collapse and alienation of the Democratic center and the Republican disdain for their own center in response. I don't have any statistics at hand, but I do notice a lot more center-left folks showing up on the various "centrist" blogs looking for someone to talk to. In a short while it may be that the only valuable political debate and discussion will happen on centrist websites, where the rejected folks from the middle of the doughnut meet up.

Posted by Jay on June 16, 2005 at 06:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack