Archives for March, 2006

They Really Are the Heirs of T.R.

Many mainstream conservatives and neoconservatives admire Teddy Roosevelt. And they share a number of characteristics with T.R.: The incessant self-conscious blather about manliness. The warped belief that war is a wonderful tonic for what ails the national spirit. And a cultish devotion to presidential power inconsistent with free government.

I knew all that, but what I didn’t know is that in their desire for a federal marriage amendment, they’re following T.R.’s lead as well. Roosevelt was ahead of his time in proposing a constitutional amendment federalizing marriage, in his sixth Annual Message:

I am well aware of how difficult it is to pass a constitutional amendment. Nevertheless in my judgment the whole question of marriage and divorce should be relegated to the authority of the National Congress. At present the wide differences in the laws of the different States on this subject result in scandals and abuses; and surely there is nothing so vitally essential to the welfare of the nation, nothing around which the nation should so bend itself to throw every safeguard, as the home life of the average citizen. The change would be good from every standpoint. In particular it would be good because it would confer on the Congress the power at once to deal radically and efficiently with polygamy; and this should be done whether or not marriage and divorce are dealt
with. It is neither safe nor proper to leave the question of polygamy to be dealt with by the several States. Power to deal with it should be conferred on the National Government.

T.R. also proclaimed that your care-free bachelor may look like a pleasant fellow, but he’s really a race traitor:

When home ties are loosened; when men and women cease to regard a worthy family life, with all its duties fully performed, and all its responsibilities lived up to, as the life best worth living; then evil days for the commonwealth are at hand. There are regions in our land, and classes of our population, where the birth rate has sunk below the death rate. Surely it should need no demonstration to show that wilful sterility is, from the standpoint of the nation, from the standpoint of the human race, the one sin for which the penalty is national death, race death; a sin for which there is no atonement; a sin which is the more dreadful exactly in proportion as the men and women guilty thereof are in other respects, in character, and bodily and mental powers, those whom for the sake of the state it would be well to see the fathers and mothers of many healthy children, well brought up in homes made happy by their presence. No man, no woman, can shirk the primary duties of life, whether for love of ease and pleasure, or for any other cause, and retain his or her self-respect.

Posted on Mar 24, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Iraq, Three Years Later

I suppose there’s no way to do this without looking graceless, but three years gone, this piece, which I wrote to try to convince libertarians not to support the Iraq War, holds up pretty well. Some excerpts:

Refusal to take administration officials at their word when they allege that Iraq had a role in September 11th or that the regime harbors Al Qaeda isn’t paranoia: it’s hard-headed realism, borne of experience. When you’re listening to our leaders make their case for war, remember that–despite what they told you in civics class–the citizen’s first duty is skepticism. …

The MacArthur Regency worked in Japan because the U.S. occupiers entered a country sick to death of war, with a tradition of deference to authority (encouraged by the Emperor’s call to cooperate with U.S. authorities) and a monocultural middle class that could form the basis of a democracy. As historian John Dower puts it, “the ideals of peace and democracy took root in Japan–not as a borrowed ideology of imposed vision, but as a lived experience and a seized opportunity…. It was an extraordinary, and extraordinarily fluid moment–never seen before in history and, as it turned out, never to be repeated.” That process is particularly unlikely to be repeated in Iraq, a fissiparous amalgam of Sunnis, separatist Shiites and Kurds. Keeping the country together will require a strong hand and threatens to make U.S. servicemen walking targets for discontented radicals.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger–no dove, he–noted that he was “viscerally opposed to a prolonged occupation of a Muslim country at the heart of the Muslim world by Western nations who proclaim the right to re-educate that country.” As well he should be. Such a policy would be the most generous gift imaginable to the Al Qaeda recruitment drive. It makes Bin Laden’s ravings about a Crusader-Zionist alliance to de-Islamicize the Middle East look half-plausible to the angry young men of that hate-filled, backward region.

Regrets? I have a few: I believed that Hussein had WMD, and placed too much emphasis on the possibility that an American invasion would encourage him to pass them off to terrorists, though I did note that “WMD” is a misnomer and the hysteria over chem/bio is unwarranted. I’m also deeply ashamed that I used the term “fissiparious amalgam” to describe Iraq’s ethnoreligious makeup. What was it, Consult Your Thesaurus Day?

More generally, and more seriously, I regret this entire hideous mistake of a war, and I hope we don’t have cause to regret it even more later.

Posted on Mar 23, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Making Sausages

It must be nice to do a job that makes people happy on a daily basis. I thought about this a few months ago, listening to a particularly catchy song by my cousin’s band. I thought, damn, that song has probably directly added more happiness to the world than every oped or policy paper I’ve ever written. I love my job, but it doesn’t quite depend on the economics of joy-transfer in the way that some people’s jobs do. It’s more about trying to stop people who interfere with the joy-production process.

So I liked this story from yesterday’s Food section in the Post. Here’s a guy with “a PhD from Brandeis University, a 21-year career with the CIA and a thriving consultancy in strategic planning and political risk assessment”–and he throws it all away to make delicious sausages. Talk about giving back to the “community.” Every day this guy adds to the sum total of joy in the world by perfecting one of the most delectable comestibles ever devised by man.

Of course, if you read the rest of the article, you learn that his wife just announced she’s running for Congress, where she’ll be able to make sausages herself (the bad kind). So judging the family unit as a whole, things probably even out, joy-wise.

Posted on Mar 22, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

…Then the, uh, Hazards Win.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff coins a new one: the War Against All Hazards.

Posted on Mar 21, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Wolverines!

I don’t know from V for Vendetta, not having seen it yet. But if wingers are going to condemn any movie that has the hero blowing up buildings, they’re going to have to junk one of their favorites. Not long ago, watching Spike, the Network for Harvey Mansfield, I caught the early ’80s Cold War classic Red Dawn, where half the cast of Outsiders does battle with the combined Soviet/Cuban forces occupying America. Most of what Swayze and his Wolverines do is classic guerrilla stuff–directed at the commie military itself. But there’s one scene that jumped out at me as a little edgy in the post-9/11 world. Jennifer Grey, the gal from Dirty Dancing, pre-nose-job, strolls into the “Soviet-American Friendship Center,” where all sorts of civilians are milling around. She leaves a minute or so later, in a hurry, just before the place blows up.

Interesting trivia: RD director John Milius is apparently a genuine ‘winger. He also wrote the line “Go ahead, make my day,” and served as the Coen Brothers’ inspiration for the John Goodman character in the Big Lebowski.

Posted on Mar 20, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Happy Blogiversary to Me

Four years ago today, I started this humble site. I’m not always happy I did. A while back Cass Sunstein wrote a book called Republic.com which, as I understand it, argues that the internet will increasingly allow people to insulate themselves from commentary they disagree with, and spend their time in cyber echo-chambers. The answer, predictably, is more PBS and NPR.

I don’t think that diagnosis is right (let alone the prescription), but there’s something to the skepticism. Blogs do a lot of good things, but they also bring out the worst in people. There are the folks whose idea of a good time is to jump into a comments section and shove some other kid: “You want some? Hah? Whatta you lookin’ at?” What’s the point? And then there’s just the whole blogosphere itself, which often seems like a vast and flatulent moron chorus made up of people in love with the whiff of their own opinions, unmoved by other scents. I don’t exempt myself, though I am of course better than you for recognizing all this.

Have you ever spent an hour or so reading through your own archives? It’s like being trapped in a very tiny room being hectored by your clone. You don’t look like you think you look, sound like you think you sound. The effect is probably something like the dysphoria Nixon experienced when he had to read through the transcripts of his Oval Office tapes: “[expletive deleted]: is that really me?” And the thing is, I’m generally ok with what I write, in small doses. I wonder how some other people can keep it together after doing this exercise or surfing through some of the vast sea of crap out there.

My father once told the story of a colleague who had a recurring dream. He’s swimming through what seems like an endless sea of crap for what seems like hours, when he encounters another swimmer. “Crap! It’s all crap!” the first swimmer exclaims. “Ah, it’s not so bad,” replies the second swimmer, “every now and then, you get a raisin!”

And so, chin up, we swim on and on against the current. For the raisins.

Posted on Mar 16, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Censure

I remember this coming up during the Clinton impeachment, and the GOP’s lawyer-bots arguing it was unconstitutional because the preferred constitutional process was impeachment. I can’t for the life of me see why. If Congress can declare it national Be Nice to Kittens Week, they can surely pass a resolution saying the president broke the law. But for a better informed perspective on the issue, here’s a CRS report on the censure issue [.pdf] and a historical perspective from Rick Shenkman at the POTUS blog.

Posted on Mar 15, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Spacecraft as Soulcraft, contd….

The latest idea for GOP dominance from the folks at “TCS Daily”:

For the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans should propose an idea so big that it stretches to the stars. Republicans should commit the government to building a space elevator by 2020.

Awesome. And, as the author points out, a space elevator will allow us to drop freedom bombs on anybody that needs ‘em.

Snark fails me.

Posted on Mar 14, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Party of Principle

Remember when conservatives howled over Clintonian domestic imperialism, exemplified by rule via executive orders and Paul Begala’s phrase “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool”? Never mind:

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a strategist close to the White House, argued Mr. Bush should use the model of President Bill Clinton after he lost his party’s majorities in Congress. “Don’t talk to Congress,” Mr. Norquist. “Do executive orders.”

Posted on Mar 12, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Vegelibertarians

College friend Jerry Russello, a Brooklyn Burkean, favorably reviews Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons. I’m not so sure. I know a lot of conservatives, but I can’t think of many, if any, who match Dreher’s description. But if trend is the plural of anecdote, and you can build a book around it, then somebody should take a look at the growing number of animal-rights libertarians. Actually, animal “rights” is probably not the right term, but I know a lot more vegetarian libertarians than I do homeschooling, organic-produce-munching traditionalists. Three in my immediate circle of friends, influenced in part by Nozick’s brief and compelling discussion of animal-welfare in Anarchy, State and Utopia. Maybe there’s a book there for someone, but no guarantee it will be as popular as Crunchy Cons.

Other candidates drawn from personal experience: Irish American libertarians and Jersey libertarians.

Posted on Mar 12, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Air Force One

I caught Air Force One for the first time last night. What a wonderfully ridiculous movie. Hollywood’s portrayal of presidents since Watergate has oscillated from the sinister (Absolute Power) to the laughable (Dick, Dave). But you also see this recurring need to envision the President as action hero: Bill Pullman taking on the aliens in Independence Day, and two-fisted Harrison Ford duking it out with the Russians in AF1. (It’s always the Russians or the Serbs, isn’t it?) And Hollywood’s Noble President is always a Wilsonian. Ford’s President Marshall opens the movie with a speech chastising his country and himself for being reluctant to use force when American national interests are not at stake.

What is it in the national psyche (or the left-coast liberal psyche) that drives Hollywood to continually reimagine the mediocrities and clowns who tend to occupy the office as Great and Good Men: decent, honest, grounded, brave, and tough? Imperial Presidents who seem morally fit to lead an empire, if anyone can be.

AF1 becomes particularly amusing when you recall that it was made in 1997, in the Clinton era, that wonderful time of Benny Hill style sex scandals and Hardingesque normalcy. It’s fun to imagine big, doughy, gawky Bill trading punches with terrorists, risking his life to save his wife and daughter. And even more fun to imagine his real-life reaction when Russian “ultra-nationalist” Gary Oldman has a gun to the first lady’s head, demanding that the fascist general he serves be released from prison. “Gawsh, I’m sorry, but we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Posted on Mar 12, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Oh Behave.

Keeler.jpg

RIP John Profumo, the British defense minister who played the Basil Fawlty role in the 1963 sex scandal that brought down a Prime Minister. Christine Keeler, the tart in question, was, for my money, the best looking woman ever involved in a political sex scandal–an achievement made all the more remarkable in that she was working against the handicap of being British.

Posted on Mar 10, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Grow Up

Has there been an epidemic of flag burning since the Supremes held it was protected by the First Amendment? In this country, I mean? Apparently so:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday he will bring up a proposed constitutional amendment to permit federal laws to criminalize physical desecration of the American flag before the July 4 recess.

“Desecrating the flag is not speech, but an act of physical assault,” Frist said.

Conservatives have been trying to win such a constitutional change since 1990, when the Supreme Court in United States v. Eichman struck down a federal law (PL 101-131) that banned flag desecration. That law had been enacted after the high court ruled in 1989 in Texas v. Johnson that a conviction under a Texas state law for desecration of a flag violated the First Amendment.

I know it’s important to be sensitive to the “patriotic-American community,” but if we’re going to tell Muslims to grow up and lighten up about cartoons–and we should–then this sort of nonsense is the last thing we need.

Posted on Mar 9, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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