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Meanwhile, Back in the Fatherland . . .

January 12th, 2014 - 4:32 pm

I have been pondering various bits of wisdom from James Madison recently, not least this melancholy observation from Federalist 51:

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. 

It seems to me that it could have been written, not in the 18th century, but yesterday. We’ve done pretty well seeing to the first bit: who cannot contemplate the coercive arm of the government without uneasiness? But what about the second bit? How are we doing about obliging the government to control itself? To ask the question is to answer it.  And Madison’s succeeding observation is equally to the point:

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

“Auxiliary precautions.”  What do they look like? It is here that Madison lays out part of his brilliant scheme of balancing the various interests of society against one another so that no one can predominate. “This policy,” says Madison,  “of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” He continues:

We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

Indeed. And there are many examples one might point to close at home that dramatize what happens when those “inventions of prudence” lapse. What brought me up short today, however, was a news story from a friend about a worrisome development in Germany.  The homeschooling movement is a vibrant and growing force in this country. Leftists don’t like it, because it presumes to challenge the indoctrinating powers of the state with the civilizational imperatives of parents, informed by churches, local communities, and moral commitments foreign to the left-liberal narrative.

Leftists — there is nothing “liberal” about them, so I am trying to avoid using that much abused term — leftists in the United States don’t like the homeschool movement, but so far anyway, it has thrived, and is indeed one of only a few bright spots in the story of primary and secondary education in this country.

Things are different in the Fatherland of Germany, where a judge recently ordered that parents may not have custody of their children because “the family might move to another country and homeschool, posing a ‘concrete endangerment’ to the children.”

Got that? Let me repeat it just in case. A German judge took children away from their parents because “the family might move to another country and homeschool, posing a ‘concrete endangerment’ to the children.”

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The American Studies Association has been much in the news lately for backing an “academic boycott” of Israel.  That disgusting display of politically correct, anti-Semitic grandstanding has garnered the ASA some small portion of the obloquy it deserves.  As my PJM colleague Ronald Radosh pointed out here, the ASA picked on “the Middle East’s only existing democracy to protest.” The ASA’s obtuse and juvenile leftism has even embarrassed other elements of the academy: MIT recently joined Yale, Harvard, Brown, Brandeis, and other elite institutions in condemning the boycott, which, as MIT President L. Rafael Reif noted, “fundamentally violates the principles of academic freedom that are central to the excellence of MIT and American higher education.”

You may not know much about the American Studies Association. The small (5000-member) organization is known to many outside the academy as the “Anti-American Studies Association” because of its reliably backwater, reflexive leftism. In that, it hardly differs from many, perhaps most, other academic organizations in the humanities (or perhaps I should say the “humanities,” since such organizations are antithetic to the spirit of humanism in any normal sense). The Modern Language Association, to take one obvious example, has long been a virulent redoubt of politically correct, leftwing attitudinizing.

I have to admit that is has beem quite a while since I have given such rancid, misbegotten products of wayward affluence much thought. Having labored in that repellent vineyard long enough to write Tenured Radicals and The Rape of the Masters, I have “supped full with horrors” and figure I have done my bit for the cause of academic forensic pathology.

Every now and then, however, something truly egregious bubbles up from the dismal pit of pseudo-intellectual academic lucubration, some special gem of fatuous, wood-pulp darkening nonsense that even now, at the fag-end of Anno Domini  2013, has the capacity to spark a little frisson of nauseated wonderment in this jaded breast. As it happens, the latest such production comes to us courtesy of our friends at the American Studies Association, that’s to say it comes from its official literary organ, the American Quarterly. Perhaps your subscription to this pointless agglomeration of polysyllabic, reader-proof grievance-mongering has lapsed.  Mine has, too. But my fellow connoisseurs of repellent academic nonentity will not want to miss “Toward a Feminist Postcolonial Milk Studies,” by one Greta Gaard, “an ecofeminist writer, scholar, activist, and documentary filmmaker.” (According to an opus called Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches, she is “one of the most influential ecofeminist scholars.” Ponder that.)

You might think I am making all of this up, that I somehow confused The Onion with the official publication of the American Studies Association.

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The eclipse of tolerance

December 30th, 2013 - 5:30 am

On it’s main page today, PJ Media is running the second installment of its symposium on the  most under-reported stories of 2013.  Last week, the focus was on under-reported stories in the world of foreign affairs.  My PJM colleagues Andrew McCarthy, Claudia Rosett, Michael Ledeen, and David Goldman (“Spengler”)  weigh in on the pogram against Christians in the Middle East, the decline of American power, the rise of China’s technological prowess, and other matters.  This week, the focus is on under-reported stories on the domestic front. This is my contribution:

One of the most underreported domestic stories of 2013 was the eclipse of tolerance as a prime liberal virtue and its enrollment in the index of unpermissible reactionary vices.

Now, it might seem odd to say this story was “underreported.” After all, these last couple of weeks have been full of headlines about a conspicuous example of this process: I mean the controversy over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. Let me begin with an aside. As I write, that particular controversy is just about to be swallowed up by the oblivion marked “yesterday’s news.” Already, it may be difficult to bring details of the story into focus. So remember what happened: Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine. The interview was mostly a color piece in which the city-slicker GQ editor goes shooting with the camouflaged-accoutered, pogonophilic sexagenarian in the Louisiana wilds. So far, so good.

But the piece was not only about Phil Robertson’s exotic world — exotic, anyway, to GQ metropolitan audience. It was also about the world according to Phil Robertson.  And that world — it is at once integral to Duck Dynasty’s oddity and the engine of its wild popularity — is the world as understood by a self-described “Bible-thumping,” “white trash” Christian. That is, Phil Robertson and his family not only dress in a way that is foreign to 99.976 percent of GQ’s audience, not only are their avocations and diet and taste in facial hair foreign, but their beliefs about the world, about good and evil, about how we should — and very much how we shouldn’t — live our lives seem deeply odd to GQ’s audience as well. For the most part, the oddity produces an agreeable frisson of difference. For the most part. But, as all the world knows now, among the many things Phil Robertson offered his opinions about in that GQ interview was sexuality, including homosexuality. Robertson does not approve of homosexuality. Nor does he approve of bestiality or promiscuity.

It may still be possible to disapprove publicly of bestiality and promiscuity. I stress the subjunctive: it may be. I would not be at all surprised to discover that there are enlightened humanities departments at expensive colleges where bestiality and promiscuity are this week’s transgressive specialité de la maison. But homosexuality is one of those subjects — race is another, differences among the sexes is a third — that has been enveloped in a cocoon of politically correct Newspeak. If you violate the cocoon, prepare for ostracism or worse.

What happened to Phil Robertson was typical. GLAAD, the homosexual and “transgender” activist group, attacked him andcalled on the A&E network, which airs Duck Dynasty, to cancel the show. A&E promptly responded, suspending Robertson.

So far, this was just business as usual in the precincts of our society dominated by so-called “liberal” (really, it’s deeply illiberal) intolerance. GLAAD repudiated Phil Robertson because he said things GLAAD described as “vile” and “extremist.” But what had he said? That in his view homosexuality — like promiscuity, like bestiality — was a sin. Robertson was quick to acknowledge that that he, too, was a sinner: at one time his life had been ruled by sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Now he was a changed man. But while he might disapprove, he did not judge: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus.”

Such admissions cut no mustard with GLAAD. Robertson had expressed impermissible opinions. Therefore he must be punished. Never mind that his opinions were merely restatements of what has been mainstream moral teaching in the West for millennia. Robertson violated the current politically correct dispensation. He must be silenced.

There has been a lot written about this latest chapter in the saga of politically correct intolerance.  Among the very best are two pieces by Mark Steyn, both in National Review Online. In the first, “The Age of Intolerance,” Steyn underscores the “totalitarian” aspect of this allotrope of progressive political correctness: “thug groups like GLAAD increasingly oppose the right of Christians even to argue their corner,” he points out. “It’s quicker and more effective to silence them.”

In the second piece, “Re-education Camp,” Steyn offers a blistering response to a craven and obtuse objection from one of his editors at NR. “I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas,” Steyn writes with characteristic forthrightness.

But despite the abundant commentary the Robertson-GLAAD-A&E controversy has attracted, there is more to be said.

Two points. First, the episode got a surprise twist this weekend when, bowing to pressure from Robertson’s multitudinous fans and supporters, A&E announced that it was reinstating Robertson and pushing forward with the show. GLAAD, of course, blasted the decision. And A&E’s announcement was itself a masterpiece of inadvertent comedy in its rhetorical pretzel of emetic bloviation: “A&E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. . . . We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty.”

Ah, yes, “tolerance.” That brings me to point two: notwithstanding the vociferous public support for Robertson and criticism of A&E and GLAAD, this twist in the story should not blind us to the fate of tolerance in the metabolism of our social life. “Tolerance” was once a, perhaps the prime, liberal virtue. But it has long since been enrolled in the index prohibitorum of reactionary vices. The great thing about tolerance was the moral breathing space it provided. A liberal might tolerate what he disapproved of  because he advocated pluralism, or because he valued freedom, or because he believed in free speech. The problem for illiberal “liberals” — that is, for politically correct totalitarians who mouth progressive sentiments to camouflage their fundamental intolerance with liberal plumage — is that tolerance implies criticism. One tolerates something despite one’s aesthetic or moral or intellectual or political disapproval. Gaining tolerance was only the first, ultimately dispensable, step in a process that eventually jettisoned tolerance for the goal of uncritical celebration and affirmation. That is what “thug groups” like GLAAD want: not tolerance but celebration and moral parity. Tolerance is a conspicuous obstacle to those desiderata; therefore, tolerance must be met with intolerance.

That, I believe, is more or less where we are today, no matter the local victory of Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin against the politically correct commissars who would police our speech and the moral weather of our society. This is a story that is underreported because we are a long way from facing up to its implications. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, our society oscillates between a breathtaking latitudinarianism about certain things when expressed in an approved manner by approved groups and an almost puritanical astringency and intolerance about other things. Your local newsstand, to say nothing of your local internet connection, offers a smorgasbord of lubricious fare that would have been considered beyond the pale, and often outside the law, a few short decades ago. But set foot on almost any college campus and you will soon find that the proclaimed “commitment to diversity” really means subscribing to speech codes and adhering to an agenda of intellectual conformity about any contentious issue.

This is where political correctness comes in. Liberals sacrifice their commitment to liberalism when they subscribe to political correctness. The question is: why do they do it?  A large part of the answer lies in the fact that they do not believe that their political opinions are only their political opinions. They believe instead that their view of the world is the view that any right-thinking (which also means, any left-leaning) person would believe. Hence, any serious dissent from that view is regarded not as a challenge but as a heresy. One replies to a challenge. One endeavors to stamp out a heresy.

To some extent, what I am talking about is part of a larger antinomy of liberalism. At the center of liberalism is the doctrine of tolerance.  But tolerance absolutized spells the end, first, of tolerance, and, then, of liberalism itself.  The problem for liberals in the era of political correctness has been holding fast to positive values that can survive the corrosive bath of absolutized tolerance. Their failure exposes them, on one side, to moral impotence and, on the other, to a species of moral totalitarianism.

Two final observations. Back in the 1920s, John Fletcher Moulton, a British jurist, articulated a principle he called “obedience to the unenforceable.”  All social life, he observed, took place on a spectrum between absolute freedom at one end and positive law at the other. In some areas of life we are completely free to do whatever we like. In others, we are constrained by the coercive power of the state about what we must and must not do. In between, was a vast realm, more or less free, more or less restrained, governed not by law or by whim but by custom, manners, taste, convention — the domain, said Moulton, of “obedience to the unenforceable.” “The real greatness of a nation,” he wrote, “its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of obedience to the unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its area testifies to the way they behave in response to that trust.” Already in the 1920s, Moulton worried about the incursion on this intermediate realm of ordered liberty from increasing statism, on one side, and increasing anarchy on the other. Now, nearly 100 years on, we have traveled far down that road. The intermediate realm that Moulton praises has been further and further compressed. This has tended to erase the critical difference between the idea that one can do something — i.e., that no law prohibits it — and that one may do it. “There can,” Moulton observes, “be no more fatal error than this.”

Between “can do” and “may do” ought to exist the whole realm which recognizes the sway of duty, fairness, sympathy, taste, and all the other things that make life beautiful and society possible. It is this confusion between “can do” and “may do” which makes me fear at times lest in the future the worst tyranny will be found in democracies. Interests which are not strongly represented in parliament may be treated as though they had no rights by Governments who think that the power and the will to legislate amount to a justification of that legislation. Such a principle would be death to liberty. No part of our life would be secure from interference from without. If I were asked to define tyranny, I would say it was yielding to the lust of governing. It is only when Governments feel it an honorable duty not to step beyond that which was in reality, and not only in form, put into their hands that the world will know what true Freedom is.

Moulton’s celebration of the civilizing climate of the land of obedience to the unenforceable, and his anatomy of those imperatives that were diminishing the extent and commodiousness of that realm, have great pertinence to the prospect before us. There is a lot more to be said about Moulton’s observations, especially about how his ideas might provide a sort of prophylactic against the corrosive, freedom-blighting intrusions of political correctness. But for now I’d like to conclude by placing this latest episode of politically correct madness in a broader cultural context. In 1994, Irving Kristol, in an essay called “Countercultures,” observed that

“Sexual liberation” is always near the top of a countercultural agenda — though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite widely. Women’s liberation, likewise, is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements —liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.

This brings us pretty close, I believe, to what is at stake in the controversy over Phil Robertson and those who would silence him. Advocates of liberal intolerance believe that we — all we progressive, pajama-boy, politically correct elites — are finished with that “citadel of orthodoxy” and the traditional moral dispensation it relies upon. Perhaps the real question, however, is whether that moral dispensation is done with us.




Benghazi: The New York Times vs. the Truth

December 29th, 2013 - 6:02 am

They never give up at the New York Times.If at first they don’t succeed in twisting the truth to fit the Newspeak fit to print, it’s try, try again.  Their latest exercise in mendacity is “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” an elaborate essay that substitutes a plethora of irrelevant details and animated graphics for historical truth. The long essay takes up an event which, in a rational world, would have led the to resignation of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the impeachment of President Barack Obama. I mean the terrorist attack on our consular facility at Benghazi, Libya.

You remember Benghazi: a U.S. ambassador and his security detail were ambushed by Islamic radicals and, after an hours’ long firefight, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were brutally murdered. By Islamic radicals.

The cataract of misinformation that gushed out of the Obama administration about that event, a mephitic current of lies and half truths streaming from the cloaca maxima in Washington, D.C., was stunning even by the low standards of “the most transparent administration in history.” I wrote about the events here several times, as did several of my PJM colleagues.

The administration’s line was that the savage ambush that left four Americans dead was part of a “spontaneous uprising” by adherents of the Religion of Peace, goaded to murderous fury because of a hitherto obscure internet video that portrays Mohammed as a corrupt sexual predator. It’s a silly film.  But, however silly, however offensive to Muslim sensibilities it may be, is it grounds for mayhem and murder? And, more to the point, did it in fact have anything at all to do with the events in Benghazi of September 11, 2012? 

The short answer is:  No. The internet video had nothing to do with that terrorist attack. The date, however, — September 11 — probably had a lot to do with the timing of the attack.

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Food for Thought

December 29th, 2013 - 5:05 am

As this extraordinary year totters to an end, I thought I would offer a few posts with some food for thought. My first installment draws a few passages from A World Restored: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Era, on Henry Kissinger’s remarkable 1957 study of diplomacy in the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic era, 1812-1822.  That might seem a long time ago, but there is much in Kissinger’s book that is deeply pertinent to our situation today.  Consider, to take but one example, these general reflections from the Introduction:

In a revolutionary situation . . . diplomats can still meet but they cannot persuade, for they have ceased to speak the same language. In the absence of of an agreement on what constitutes  a reasonable demand, diplomatic conferences are occupied with sterile repetitions of basic positions and accusations of bad faith,  . . .  They become elaborate stage plays which attempt to attach as yet uncommitted powers to one of the opposing systems.

For powers long accustomed to tranquillity and without experience with disaster, this has been a hard lesson to come by.  Lulled by a period of stability, which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take a face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework.  The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if it’s protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane, for they have all the good “reasons” on their side: the arguments accepted as valid in the existing framework. “Appeasement”, where it is not a device to gain time is the result of an inability to come to grips with the policy of unlimited objectives. . . .

Principles of obligation in a period of legitimacy are taken so much for granted that they are never talked about, and such periods therefore appear to  posterity as shallow and self-righteous. Principles in a revolutionary situation are so central that they are constantly talked about. The very sterility of the effort soon drains them of all meaning, and it is not unusual to find both sides invoking their version of the “true” nature of legitimacy in identical terms.

I’ve added the emphasis.  As I look around the world today, I see so many echoes of that earlier time.  Think only of our “peace” initiative in Iran.  Kissinger concludes his introduction by reflecting on the stupendous achievements of Castlereagh and Metternich at the Congress of Vienna.  After the disaster of the Napoleonic Wars, they forged a European peace that lasted a hundred years. Remarkable, yes, but Kissinger adds a not of melancholy: for what Castlereagh and Metternich gave the world was a “a stability so persuasive that it may have contributed to disaster.”

For  in the long interval of peace the sense of the tragic was lost; it was forgotten that states could die, that upheavals could be irretrievable, that  fear could become the means of social cohesion. The hysteria of joy which swept over Europe that outbreak of the First World War was a symptom of a fatuous age, but also of a secure one.

Aftermath of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case

November 24th, 2013 - 9:35 am

Remember the so-called “Duke lacrosse rape case”? That was the scandal that briefly riveted the nation’s attention not once but twice. The first time was in March 2006 when a black stripper called Crystal Mangum accused three Duke University lacrosse players of kidnapping and rape. Yikes. The bien pensant commentariat went into overdrive to condemn not just the three lacrosse payers, but the entire Duke lacrosse team and indeed the “racist” culture of white privilege at Duke.

A few days ago, Ms. Mangum was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her boyfriend who died from wounds she inflicted with a kitchen knife.  That hasn’t made too many headlines, but its is a sad, if ironically apt, coda to the whole sorry story.

Travel back to 2006. Syracuse University early on got into the act when it decided not to accept as transfers any students from the Duke lacrosse team—not just the three accused chaps, mind you, but anyone contaminated by having played lacrosse for Duke. “I think it would be inappropriate,” sniffed Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross. (Where is he now? Llama farming in Peru? Nope. Still athletic director at Syracuse.)

But there are at least two other aspects of the case that deserve comment. One is the role of the media, which pounced on the story with unseemly delight. Oh, how the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and countless other bastions of liberal self-satisfaction loved it! Race. Class. Sex. Victimhood. It was the perfect morality tale. Those white jocks at “the Harvard of the South” just had to be guilty. And what a good time we were all going to have lacerating the malefactors while at the same time preening ourselves on our own superior virtue!

The editorials, the op-eds, the comments, the analyses poured forth non-stop, demonstrating that one of the deepest human passions is the urge to self-righteous pontification. The novelist Allan Gurganus epitomized the tone in an op-ed for the Times in April 2006: “The children of privilege,” he thundered, “feel vividly alive only while victimizing, even torturing.” You don’t say? Even sports writers got into the act. Selena Roberts located Duke University “at the intersection of entitlement and enablement, . . . virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside.” By August 2006, as District Attorney Michael Nifong’s case was betraying worrisome fissures, the Times published a 6,000-word article arguing—“praying” might be a more apposite term—that, whatever weaknesses there might be in the prosecution’s case, “there is also a body of evidence to support [taking] the matter to a jury.” As the Times columnist David Brooks ruefully noted after the tide had begun to turn, the campaign against the athletes had the lineaments of a “witch hunt.”

Indeed. Richard Brodhead, Duke’s president, got out his broomstick and suspended the accused students, fired the lacrosse coach, cancelled the rest of the team’s season, and pandered to every possible PC interest, but especially to those baying for the heads of the accused. (One commentator estimated that only 3 percent of Brodhead’s statements could be construed as supporting the accused students.)

And then there was the Duke faculty. As Vincent Carroll, writing in the Rocky Mountain News, noted, “the most astonishing fact, hands down, was and remains the squalid behavior of the community of scholars at Duke itself. For months nearly the entire faculty fell into one of two camps: those who demanded the verdict first and the trial later, and those whose silence enabled their vigilante colleagues to set the tone.”

Particularly egregious was the behavior of the “Group of 88,” a congeries of faculty activists and fellow-travelers who signed “What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?,” a full-page manifesto published in April 2006 in the Duke student newspaper. The statement, which purported to be “listening” to students on campus, mingled anonymous student comments with racialist agitprop. “Regardless of the results of the police investigation,” ran part of the introductory comment, “what is apparent every day now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism.” There followed a mosaic of histrionic proclamations: “We want the absence of terror,” one student is supposed to have said. “But we don’t really know what that means.” “This is not a different experience for us here at Duke University. We go to class with racist classmates, we go to gym with people who are racists . . .”

Some of the Group of 88 were common or garden-variety academic liberals—timid souls whose long tenure in the protected purlieus of the university surrounded by adolescents has nurtured their risible sense of self-importance and political enlightenment. But a good percentage were radicals more devoted to political activism than scholarship. Indeed, one scandal that still has not received sufficient publicity is the preposterous pseudo-scholarship purveyed by many trendy academics. A look at the CVs of many members of the Group of 88 provides a case in point, partly shocking, partly embarrassing. It’s 99 percent race-class-gender gibberish embroidered with a toxic dollop of ill-digested lit-crit-speak and infatuation with the dregs of pop culture. “Shuckin’ Off the African-American Native Other: What’s PoMo Got to Do with It?,” Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, etc. This is scholarship at one of America’s best universities?

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Thoughts on Pope Francis

November 21st, 2013 - 4:36 am

I was chatting the other day with a Catholic friend about the new(ish) pope, the Jesuit, Pope Francis.  Having been trained by the Jesuits myself,I confessed myself a tad skeptical about Francis. In the back of my mind somewhere was the recollection of “Persistent Perversity Provokes the Patient Pedagogue to Produce Particularly Painful Punishment,” which admonition certain malefactors, who shall remain nameless, were required to inscribe multiple times upon the blackboard. But what really made me uneasy were little, or maybe they weren’t so little, political hints.  There was the matter of the Falkland Islands, which the pope insisted on misidentifying.  There was the fact the he would be dispensing with a cook, would take public transportation, would eschew much of the ceremony appropriate to his office.  The pope, I believe, should have a cook. He should have a driver. He should live up to the grandeur of his office.

My friend tried to reassure me. “He’s a real Catholic,” he said, and went on to suggest that he was wily to boot. Forget about his proclamations about various social issues.  Deep down he was sound and was going to be a good thing for the Church.  He wasn’t an intellectual, as were Benedict and John Paul II, but he was a pastoral force to be reckoned with. Moreover, he had already mentioned the Devil more than his predecessors ever did.

While I find the pope’s recognition of evil refreshing,  I can’t say that my friend allayed my misgivings.  And a recent article by Andrew Stuttaford at Ricochet reinforced all my worst fears. Andrew begins by quoting an article from The Guardian which describes Francis as the “obvious new hero of the left” for whom “even atheists should be praying.”  As Andrew notes, The Guardian is sometimes mistaken (yes, I know that’s hard to believe), but the assessment of Francis has the ring of truth. Andrew quotes from that Guardian  article:

It seems [Francis] wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.

“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”….

…[H]e also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to “obsequious silence” by the office formerly known as the “Inquisition”. An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.

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Obama and the Limits of Schadenfreude

November 20th, 2013 - 8:12 am

The word of the week seems to be “Schadenfreude.”  We have Obamacare, or, rather, what appears to be the unravelling of Obamacare to thank for that.

“Schadenfreude”: “hurt,” “damage,” “detriment” plus “joy.”  Is there any more perfect German word?  Taking malicious glee in the misfortunes of others. It is not an attractive emotion, though it is (to allude to a German philosopher who knows all about these things) a human, all-too-human one. I’m not sure what aspect of the mess is producing the most glee. The display of technical incompetence on the part of those who spent some $650 million of taxpayer (i.e., your and my)  money creating a web site that doesn’t work. That was pretty nice. The fact that construction of the site was given to a former  classmate of Michelle Obama in a no-bid contract is a nice touch.

And who hasn’t enjoyed the spectacle of the site crashing whenever Kathleen Sebelius holds a media event to demonstrate how easy is to navigate. Nice!  Then there is the sideshow of Democratic lawmakers having apoplexy as they begin to realize the extent of this debacle — the millions (yes, millions) of folks who have found a letter notifying them that their insurance has been cancelled because of Obamacare, the thousands of doctors who have been dropped from various insurance plans. Ouch and double ouch.  Then there is the central drama revolving around President Obama. “If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your insurance plan. Period.” He said that, or variations of that, over and over again. This video complication capture 36 separate occasions when the president publicly made that promise—a promise, we now know, he knew he could never keep, had not intention of keeping, didn’t want to keep anyway, since the two-fold goal of Obamacare is to destroy private insurance and bring all us plebs under the wing of an all-encompassing “single-payer,” i.e., the federal government.

The revelation of Obama’s lies, his obvious confusion and the hunted-look he has exhibited at press conferences while his approval rating is in a death spiral (it dropped to 37%, the lowest of his presidency, in a CBS poll released this morning). All of this is, for the opponents of ObamaCare, ample ground for malicious glee, and I at least can deeply empathize with the blogger who wrote that “if schadenfreude had calories, I’d weigh 300 pounds.

There is, of course, a dark side to this story, which Jonah Goldberg neatly captures at NRO with a column called “Obamacare Schadenfreudarama.” He begins by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: “You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the unraveling of Obamacare.” Except, as Jonah goes on to note, “tt is no laughing matter that millions of Americans’ lives have been thrown into anxious chaos as they lose their health insurance, their doctors, their money, or all three. Nor is it particularly amusing to think of the incredible waste of time and tax dollars that has gone into Obamacare’s construction.”

Jonah is right that the unrolling, and subsequent unravelling, of Obamacare has provided hours of entertainment for the politically mature. “If you can’t take some joy,” he writes, “some modicum of relief and mirth, in the unprecedentedly spectacular beclowning of the president, his administration, its enablers, and, to no small degree, liberalism itself, then you need to ask yourself why you’re following politics in the first place.” Too true, too true. Consider:

 The hubris of our ocean-commanding commander-in-chief surely isn’t news to readers of this website. He’s said that he’s smarter and better than everyone who works for him. His wife informed us that he has “brought us out of the dark and into the light” and that he would fix our broken souls. The man defined sin itself as “being out of alignment with my values.” We may be the ones we’ve been waiting for, but at the same time, everyone has been waiting for him. Or as he put it in 2007, “Every place is Barack Obama country once Barack Obama’s been there.”

A little Schadenfreude is certainly in order. The news today that Obama was briefed last spring about possible widespread failures when the web site went live may seem to deepen the glee even as it deepens the malice. After all, the president has all along acted surprised by the technical failures bedeviling the roll-out of But now it turns out that the surprise, like so much else about the president, was feigned.It was part of his campaign of mendacity, i.e., lies.

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Obama’s Republic of Lies

November 9th, 2013 - 8:21 am

“Access to power,” Plato said in The Republic, “must be confined to men who are not in love with it.”  I think that’s pretty good advice, and I wish our masters in Washington were a bit better at following it than they are. It is a curious irony that the burning desire for high office is a disqualifying character trait for the beneficent exercise of high office. But we see corroborative evidence of that irony all around us.

More from Plato: “All goes wrong when, starved for  lack of anything good in their own lives, men turn to public affairs hoping to snatch from thence the happiness they hunger for.  They set about fighting for power, and this internecine conflict ruins them and their country.” Plato could be pretty obscure, but here he speaks with arresting clarity.

I don’t suppose that President Obama has much occasion to ponder the writings of Plato. That’s probably just as well, since Plato’s fantasy about the abolition of private property and the cultivation of a class of Guardians who ruled through a mixture of coercion and dissimulation might give him ideas—not, I think, that he needs any more than he already has.  Pop quiz: Plato or Obama?  “If anyone is to practice deception, either on the country’s enemies or on its citizens, it must be the Rulers of the commonwealth, acting for its benefit.”

As it happens, that one is Plato. But it takes a sharp man to tell. I think Obama would find a lot to savor in  The Republic. What do you think? “If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period.”

That’s what President Obama said, repeatedly (at least 36 times), when selling ObamaCare to a skeptical public. “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period”

Turns out, of course, that when he said “period,” he meant “gotcha.” No one yet knows the extent of the damage caused from ObamaCare.  One recent report estimates that more than 50 million Americans will be forced out of their current health care plans by ObamaCare. But although we do not yet know the extent of the damage—how many lives will be blighted or lost—because of ObamaCare, we know for a certainty that the legislation was sold to us on false pretenses.  “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”  There was never any chance of that, as numerous critics pointed out at the time. They knew it could never be, and so did Obama.

Does it matter? Does anyone really care whether the president of the United States ostentatiously breaks a promise he made publicly on at least 36 separate occasions?  We know what would happen if the president of an insurance company made and then flagrantly broke a promise that his customers could keep their health care coverage if they liked it.  He would be prosecuted and jailed.

Making and breaking a promise like that is what the law calls “fraud,” and as Andy McCarthy points out today in  “Obama’s Massive Fraud,” the law takes a dim view of fraud because it erodes the trust upon which civilized life depends. “Fraud,” Andy notes,

is a serious federal felony, usually punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment — with every repetition of a fraudulent communication chargeable as a separate crime. In computing sentences, federal sentencing guidelines factor in such considerations as the dollar value of the fraud, the number of victims, and the degree to which the offender’s treachery breaches any special fiduciary duties he owes. Cases of multi-million-dollar corporate frauds — to say nothing of multi-billion-dollar, Bernie Madoff–level scams that nevertheless pale beside Obamacare’s dimensions — often result in terms amounting to decades in the slammer.

Bernie Madoff will be probably cooling his heels as the government’s guest for the duration of his life. And Obama? Nothing but nothing will happen to him. Still, it is interesting (if also depressing) to ask why. Andy McCarthy reminds us that Obama knew at least three years ago that the Affordable Care Act would force millions of people out of their insurance plans. But “the president hid the data”—just as various financial institutions hid data from their investors about the risky mortgage-backed securities they were peddling. The difference is that those financial institutions are being sued by the Justice Department while President Obama . . . well, you know.

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‘Racism, Inc.’ Comes to Football

November 2nd, 2013 - 5:46 am

The historian Robert Paquette has done something unforgivable in his column “‘Racism, Inc.’Comes to Football.”  He has brought formidable scholarship and deep historical knowledge to a contentious subject that has hitherto been the province of politically correct clichés. His immediate subject is the controversy—if “controversy” is the correct term for a classic case of left-wing victimology—over the name”Redskins” for a football team. Is it a racially insensitive moniker? Yet another example of unthinking white supremacist intimidation?  Or is it (as I would contend) a completely innocent label appropriated by the morally inflamed commissars of Racism, Inc. in their effort to further their campaign of racialist intimidation?

I think it’s the latter, and Paquette provides some historically informed observations that help explain why. Imagine bringing a lawsuit to force a football team to change its name. But that’s exactly what some left-wing activists with too much time on their hands have done. Quoth one such activist, Suzan Shown Harjo, “a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee”: “Most Native Americans despise the term Redskins . .  and say that it is the worst epithet hurled at Native Peoples in the English language.” Oh, dear. She went one to note that  “Redskins” referred to “the days of Indian bounty hunting in the 1600s and 1700s,” i.e., the practice “of paying bounties for the bloody red skins and scalps as evidence of Indian kill.”

I want to interject here that I make it a practice, when asked,  to refer to myself as a native American. Having been born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, than which a more American venue of natality is hard to imagine, I think I am entitled to the term. Sure, I know that  “Native American” is like “Person of Color” ( I, too, I’d like to point out, have a color), a semantic lever used to further the work of neo-segregation. But I digress . . . 

Paquette notes that “supporters in the academy have echoed [Harjo’s] assertion, although when the footnotes are examined the professors have performed little if any serious research on their own and, as was the case with one professor of political science and philosophy, merely assert that ‘this fact has been recognized by certain governing bodies [sic!].’”

Here’s where it gets interesting.  “Other facts,” Paquette observes, “run counter to the activists’ narrative.”

Polling data, at this point in time, fail to support Ms. Harjo’s first point; a higher proportion, of whites than “Native-Americans,” in neither case a majority, find the word “redskins” offensive. Moreover, not a shred of documented historical evidence has surfaced to support Harjo’s more incendiary second point. As Ives Goddard, a prominent linguistic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, has pointed out, “Harjo has made a living of making assertions on a variety of controversial terms without providing any evidence for them.”  In truth, the use of “red” in describing descendants of Pre-Columbian peoples has a historical trajectory that in no way matches that of “black” in describing Africans and persons of African-descent.  Every word has its own discrete history. Undue present-mindedness, it appears, has led Ms. Harjo and her supporters to read into “redskin” an ugly equivalence, unsustained by historical scholarship, to that elicited by, say, the words “kike” and “spic.”

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