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Roger and Me

Max Sawicky doesn't think that Roger L. Simon's position on gay marriage as it relates to the War on Terror really originates with a fight for Enlightenment values. Where does he think it comes from? Two words that don't appear in Roger's column, "the Jews." Sawicky says, "I can relate because my relatives feel exactly the same as Roger: ideologically speaking, ready to shoot first and ask questions later." But beyond relating, they certainly can't agree.

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August 22, 2007 - 2:30 am

By Max B. Sawicky

I’m as gay as the next guy, which in Roger’s case means not too much. I don’t think anybody is holding their breath for my views of gay marriage. In a nutshell, my attitude is if it makes you happy, sure why not. You have the right to be as miserable as everyone else. (Joke, Honey!)

One way to get there is to get the government out of the marriage business altogether. Why should the state be called upon to approve or disapprove of marriage? Of course, there is a bread and butter dimension — spousal rights where public benefits and family wealth are concerned. I’m no lawyer, but I imagine civil union legislation in principle could solve any problem in this vein that you could think of. It even allows for financial bestiality and polygamy. If you want to leave your estate to Fido, or to six common-law spouses, what’s the harm? The only limit implied by comprehensive civil union rights is that a continuing state approval for certain types of marriage puts a social stigma on the rest, and social stigmas can have real effects, including economic.

Of course Islamic fundamentalism is a threat to gays, women, and free-thinkers. But if you are any of those in the U.S., by far the more immediate threat comes from Christian fundamentalists and the Catholic Church. (Jewish fundamentalists are as intolerant as anyone, but as a rule, in the U.S. at least, they tend to mind their own business.)

Could there possibly be any doubt about it? Who is blocking civil union legislation, much less gay marriage? Who is narrowing access to abortion and birth control? Who wants to make it more difficult for women to get out of bad marriages? Who wants to put the Flintstones in textbooks on evolution? What is the deal with Bill O’Reilly babbling about Christmas and the venerable Anti-Defamation League? Really! We’ve even had famous conservative Dinesh D’Souza claim that 9-11 was due to the libertarian evolution of American culture. In other words, DD says 9-11 was Roger’s fault.

I doubt that any of this is really the bee in Roger’s bonnet.

I think two words not found in the column are really the most important: the Jews. Now I’m as concerned about them (us) as anybody because I’m in the fold. The fact that I don’t practice the religion has always been irrelevant in the history of anti-semitic persecution, as every Jew knows. I can relate because my relatives feel exactly the same as Roger: ideologically speaking, ready to shoot first and ask questions later.

In a nutshell, that’s the so-called global war on terror: an itchy trigger finger. It stems partly from fear of the liquidation of the Jewish State, a fear that I share.

The culture war — on behalf of the Enlightenment — is a different matter. It has two fronts, one with Islamic fundamentalists, another right here at home. At home, thankfully for the most part it isn’t a shooting war, but the threat in the form of bad public policy is greater.

The limitations of the culture war framework lie in the fact that the Islamicists have other beefs with the U.S. — political ones. Recognizing them does not mean they hold water, or that it is necessary to compromise on them. But politics is undeniably in the mix.

The Islamicists can’t do anything about what Americans do in America. Their interests in Muslim nations are more amenable to some kind of action. But here the cliche that all politics is local comes into play. Political interests are usually local or national. Palestinians want the Jews to go away. They don’t want to follow them to America, or elsewhere. There has never been an episode of Palestinian terrorism in America, even though Israel has no more staunch ally than the U.S. Iraqis want the U.S. out. Enemies of the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the sheikdoms would like an end to U.S. support, without which these regimes would be severely weakened. But granting their immediate objectives, how many would “follow us home”? I reckon not nearly as many as are energized by the U.S. presence close to where they live. Most terrorism is over there, not over here.

The dream of international communism was always a fantasy. So too with the “Caliphate.” Many may be captivated by this fantasy, but many more I wager would be content with much more limited objectives: Israel out of Lebanon and the West Bank; no U.S. support for absolutist Muslim monarchies; U.S. out of Iraq.

The implication is that there is no “war on terror.” Rather, there are a host of peoples with assorted grievances against the U.S., with different motives, objectives, levels of intensity, and resources. Iraq itself has proven much more complicated than most anticipated. That goes several times over for the Islam world writ large.

The war on terror concept is really a marketing campaign for a blank check. By sweeping all U.S. adversaries under the same rug, you implicitly grant a license for military adventurism and abrogation of civil liberties. Ours not to reason why. It’s all terror, and the harder we hit back the better. This is not smart.

Hysteria ill behooves the world of resentment, conflict, and opportunity that the U.S. confronts. The actual use of massive military power is way overrated. Iraq certainly attests to that. We have enemies who have gone to ground, but rooting them out is first and foremost political. It depends on gathering intelligence, building international institutions, forging alliances, and deft use of a scalpal, not a chainsaw.

The domestic politics of this has been clearly demonstrated. Sentiment among those who populate the most likely targets of terrorism swings least towards the rhetoric of the GWOT. So too with the cultural enemies of Islamicism. New York City, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia have decisively rejected hysteria in the voting booths. They see no cultural threat from Islam. They vote for Democrats. The current Jewish mayor of New York advised us all to “get a life,” rather than exaggerate purported terror plots.

Critics of the war on terror are as angry about terrorist depredations as anyone. In fact, before 9-11 you could find many more critics of, say, the Saudi monarchy, on the left than elsewhere.

If you’re stricken by blood lust, your best bet is to catch the next Mel Gibson movie.


Max B. Sawicky is an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. He has worked in the Office of State and Local Finance of the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. He is a member of the National Board of Americans for Democratic Action and serves on the editorial advisory board of Working USA. He is a frequent contributor to TPM Cafe. Sawicky’s page can be found at Max Speak, You Listen!

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