Last week John Derbyshire posted on NRO a justification for his atheism, a comment that brought forth a thunderous response on this website from a devout Catholic John Zmirak. Having read both these commentaries, it seems that neither is entirely convincing. Zmirak goes after those who treat sociobiology as the key to human behavior; in the process he makes light of the loyalties that result from biological kinship. From reading his satire, I would also suspect that John Z is not quite happy about admitting that DNA has something to do with our intellectual and social capacities. But these reservations do not necessarily flow from a belief in divine intelligence. For if there is such an intelligence (and John Z and I both believe there is), one would have to notice that the Deity has wired His creatures to feel intensely about those who share their genes and has likewise equipped them with differing quantities of grey matter. Loyalty to ones kin group is not a cultural eccentricity but from what I have read on the subject, embedded in our natures and vital to our social survival. As for the demonstrable differences among individuals and ethnicities, I see no reason to dismiss this situation as incidental to our existence on earth. And though I can laugh at John’s witty remarks about members of a subspecies being “consumed with fear” that their descendants may “dwindle in size” or “lose their dominance over food sources,” I”m not sure why such concerns about one’s posterity are morally or intellectually unjustified.
Further, I find nothing anti-theistic in the concern that if the cognitive elite fail to reproduce, less capable people will be running our complex economy. This does not mean that a civilized society does not have to depend on factors other than measurable raw intelligence. But in a world of diminishing intelligence, everyone is likely to suffer from a loss of g factors. And while I can appreciate the fun being made of self-indulgent thirtysomes, I suspect that what John Zmirak is describing has nothing to do with a naturalist worldview. He is presenting the products of a late modern society, one in which the younger generation has been raised in a welfare state, with a consumerist economy and sentimental, humanitarian education. Social Darwinists in the late nineteenth century preached the purest naturalism, but they behaved nothing like the silly people John is pillorying. They stressed virility and natality and would have arrested as vagrants the type of asocial perpetual adolescents whom John presents in his satire.
As for Derbyshire, I am shocked that he would try to make a case for unbelief by citing the special pleading of Michael Novak. Outside of neocon-financed Catholic front organizations, Novak has no record, as far as I know, as an acute theological or philosophical mind. Having seen him on several occasions make a total fool of himself when asked elementary historical and philosophical questions, this AEI luminary hardly fits the job of being a suitable debating partner for someone as cerebral as John Derbyshire. Derbyshire in his comment also engages in a useless aside by citing the LA Times about a priest who believed that he “was on the train [during a crash] and survived so that he could pray for the victims.” I am totally at a loss, about how this priest’s sense of purpose militates against the existence of a Deity. Such a divine being may or may not exist but the statement of the priest, who was looking for the silver lining in a disaster he had just experienced, demonstrates nothing about the theological question considered, save for the priest’s personal conviction about the why he was present at the site of a grim accident.
Can”t John find other minds to test his wits against, such as brainy theologians and philosophers, who have strenuously argued for the premise he rejects? Voltaire, contrary to John’s suggestion, did indeed believe in the argument from design, which is known as the teleological argument. Although critical of Panglossian optimism and the Catholic Church, Voltaire was far from an atheist and in fact shared the widespread deism of his age.
John does not have to agree with such a thinker as Michael Behe, who famously defends divine design while drawing on his own field, organic chemistry. In his widely available writings, Behe dwells on the complexity and regularity of natural processes that most people when they look at the world take for granted. John is entitled to dissent from Behe and from a thousand other thinkers who have made similar arguments about a higher than human intelligence, on the basis of their scientific findings or reflections on the findings of others.
And he need not agree with the lifetime skeptic and philosopher Anthony Flew, who became a theist, albeit not a Christian, in his seventies. Unlike Novak, Flew is a trained and subtle philosopher, who does not seem to have any political or denominational axes to grind. Flew advances theological positions which he believes he can fully demonstrate as a rationalist and logician. And while John is free to try to challenge him, it is important for him to recognize that many theists have been as reflective as he about the possibility of divine intelligence while reaching radically different conclusions. Nor does one have to assume, like John during the time that he spent at Novak’s book-signing, that anyone who talks about God’s existence is trying to convert him to Brand X- Christianity. And in the case of Novak’s book-signing event, I am particularly skeptical that such was taking place there. From the list of dignitaries, it would seem that the only thing Mike’s groupies might have been trying to convert him to would be Joe Lieberman’s foreign policy.
On Sept. 30, 1938, 70 years ago, Neville Chamberlain visited Adolf Hitler’s apartment in Munich, got his signature on a three-sentence declaration and flew home to Heston Aerodrome.
“I’ve got it,” he shouted to Lord Halifax. “Here is a paper which bears his name.” At the request of George VI, Chamberlain was driven to Buckingham Palace, where he joined the king on the balcony to take the cheers of the throngs below. An unprecedented honor.
Then it was on to 10 Downing Street, where, to choruses of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” Chamberlain declared: “This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”
This was Munich, the summit of infamy, endlessly invoked as the textbook example of how craven appeasement leads to desperate war.
That is the great myth. And like all myths, there is truth to it.
Chamberlain had indeed signed away the Czech-ruled Sudetenland to Germany, rather than risk a new war like the one of 1914-1918 that had taken the lives of 700,000 British and 1.3 million Frenchmen.
Modernity spits on the name of Neville Chamberlain. Yet, consider the situation confronting the British prime minister that September.
The seeds of Munich had been planted at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, in the treaties of Versailles, St. Germain and Trianon.
Though Germany agreed to an armistice based on Wilson’s 14 Points and principle of self-determination, millions of Germans had been consigned to alien rule. Some 3.25 million Bohemian Germans (Sudetenlanders) were handed over to Prague, as were 2.5 million Slovaks, 800,000 Hungarians, 500,000 Ukrainians and 150,000 Poles.
Germans will be “second class” citizens, President Masaryk told his parliament. Not a single German was in the National Assembly that drew up the constitution. Repeated protests by the German minority to the League of Nations were made—to no avail.
Lloyd George said the Czechs had lied to him at Paris when they had promised to model Czechoslovakia on the Swiss Confederation, with autonomy for ethnic minorities.
By the 1930s, most British and the Tory government believed an injustice had been done to the Sudeten Germans that must be rectified by diplomacy if a new war was to be averted.
After the Saar voted 90 to 10 to rejoin the Reich, and Austria had been annexed, the Sudeten Germans began to agitate for secession and annexation by Germany. And as Chamberlain wrote his sister, he “didn’t care two hoots whether the Sudetens were in the Reich or out of it.” The issue was not worth a European or world war.
As Britain had no alliance with Prague nor any vital interest in East-Central Europe, where no British Army had ever fought before, what was Chamberlain even doing in Munich?
He feared that if war broke out between Czechs and Germans, and Prague invoked its French alliance, a Franco-German war might follow, dragging Britain in as it had in 1914.
Three times that September, Chamberlain flew to Germany to negotiate the peaceful transfer of the provinces of Czechoslovakia where Germans were in the clear majority. After his second trip, to Bad Godesberg, where Hitler had threatened to march, Chamberlain had ordered mobilization of the fleet.
Hitler had backed down and urged Chamberlain to continue his pursuit of a negotiated settlement, which was finalized at Munich.
Why did Chamberlain not tell Prague to defy Hitler and commit Britain to fight for a Czech Sudetenland?
Because Britain was utterly unprepared for war. The Brits had not a single division in France, no Spitfires, no draft and no allies save France. Britain’s World War I allies were gone. Italy was with Hitler. Japan was now hostile. Russia was lost to Bolshevism. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were unwilling to fight, if the issue was keeping Germans under Czech rule.
And the Americans had gone home. Indeed, FDR had warned, “Those who count on the assured aid of the United States in case of a war in Europe are totally mistaken.” Roosevelt’s aides informed Paris that, if war broke out, America, under the neutrality acts, would not even deliver the planes France had already purchased.
Why should Britain declare a war it could not win for a cause—Czech control of 3.5 million Germans—in which it did not believe, a war certain to bring death to millions and the ruin of Britain?
We Americans did not go to war for the Czechs in 1938, or the Poles in 1939, or the French in 1940, or the Hungarians in 1956. Last month, Russia marched into Abkhazia and South Ossetia—the Sudeten lands of Georgia. Did we declare war?
If the Russian majorities in east Ukraine or Crimea demand the right to secede and return to Mother Russia, will we go to war to keep these millions of Russians under Ukrainian rule?
If not, upon what ground do we stand to condemn Chamberlain?
Chamberlain’s failure was that he trusted Hitler at Munich, as his great rival Winston Churchill would trust Joseph Stalin at Moscow, Tehran and Yalta.
Though I maintain my faith in the basic decency of loyal Republican voters, the accusation that some are just plain dumb has increasingly become harder to refute.
<object width=“425” height=“344”><param name=“movie” value=“http://www.youtube.com/v/M2ZFSC4BCDo&hl=en&fs=1”>
<embed src=“http://www.youtube.com/v/M2ZFSC4BCDo&hl=en&fs=1” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=“true” width=“425” height=“344”></embed></object>
Since the Truman administration, Democrats have called for the nationalization of the health-care industry. The Democratic Party’s position, stressed more strongly at some times than at others, has been that the average Joe should not have to sacrifice much to pay his family’s medical bills.
For Republicans, this has been sacrilege. And a threat. As William Kristol famously explained of the Clinton Administration’s effort in this line, a new federal entitlement to medical care would create a vast new constituency for the Democratic Party. He counseled that it must be defeated at all costs, lest the Republicans remain in the congressional minority for another generation.
Sometimes, Republicans explained their hostility to socialized medicine economically: Government control would mean higher prices and lower quality. Sometimes, they explained it in terms of inefficiency”recall Arlen Specter’s flow chart of Hillary Care. And sometimes, the Republican opposition was couched in constitutional terms: “We can”t do this,” they said, “because there’s nothing in the Constitution that says we can.”
Democrats insist that this last argument is really just a mask for class interests. Republicans, they say, don”t really care about the Constitution, which even the rubes know hasn”t bound us since the 1930s (at least) anyway.
Comes now the team of George W. Bush, Ben Bernanke, and Henry Paulson to prove once and for all that at least in the case of New York and New England Republicans (as an adopted Texan, I insist that the Bushes are from Connecticut), the cynics are right. It is about class interest.
How do we know? Because George W. Bush and Company have pulled out all the stops for the Billionaire Bailout. They have no problem whatsoever nationalizing liability for hundreds of thousands of home mortgages gone sour and passing along the costs to … well, to the same taxpayers as would pay for socialized medicine.
Yes, you might say, but I don”t want the smiling, friendly service I receive at the local post office when I go to the doctor. Oh, really? But you don”t mind that service when you want a loan?
How did we come to have such a mess in the mortgage market in the first place? It results from two of the unconstitutional innovations of the 20th century: the Federal Reserve System and government-spurred mortgages.
Search it thoroughly, and you”ll find nothing in the U.S. Constitution that authorizes the Federal Government to create an institution like the Federal Reserve, let alone to encourage home lending. Yet, no one seems much to care.
In fact, the question is rather an uncomfortable one. Ron Paul recently asked Ben Bernanke where he got constitutional authority to create money out of thin air, and Bernanke said that Congress had delegated to the Fed Congress’s constitutional power to coin money.
<object width=“425” height=“344”><param name=“movie” value=“http://www.youtube.com/v/dv6rQ0U01Yc&hl=en&fs=1”>
<embed src=“http://www.youtube.com/v/dv6rQ0U01Yc&hl=en&fs=1” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=“true” width=“425” height=“344”></embed></object>
But of course, the Fed doesn”t coin money”it prints paper. And the Constitution doesn”t empower Congress to delegate its powers. (But that’s another battle that supporters of the Constitution lost long ago.)
Why would the Philadelphia Convention have created a government without power to print money? After all, isn”t the power to print money one of the chief elements of sovereignty?
In short, no. Paper was not regarded as money in 1787. There had been experience with paper currency in the Revolution, but this was seen as a stop-gap measure. The typical note said something like “Good for 10 pounds sterling within six months of the end of the war.” It was to be redeemable, in other words, for a metallic commodity.
All thirteen states and Congress printed the stuff”and printed it, and printed it… Just as the American dollar’s value has declined by over four-fifths since the inception of the Federal Reserve System a century ago, so paper currency’s value declined rapidly in the 1770s and “80s. So severe was the inflation that if you wanted to say something was worthless, you might say it was “not worth a Continental” (a congressional “dollar,” that is, meaning a congressional paper dollar).
James Madison listed hyper-inflationary printing of paper money as one factor precipitating “the crisis of republican government.” So badly had Congress and the states performed economically, he said, that their record threatened to disgrace republicanism worldwide.
We need not buy into Madison’s version of Federalism to understand the constitutional consequences of the Revolutionaries” revulsion with paper money. It seems to have been one reason that Madison, unable to prevent the Old Dominion from printing paper money, opted for federal constitutional reform: If he couldn”t defeat paper money men in his home state, he would go around them.
Yet, by the time the Philadelphia Convention met in 1787, Patrick Henry “ Madison’s chief Virginia political adversary “ had joined in a House of Delegates resolution against any future printing of paper money. No one significant objected.
The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 10, bans the states from printing paper money. In Article I, Section 8, it empowers Congress to coin money, but that list of powers says nothing about a power to print paper money. As James Wilson, Pennsylvania’s leading Framer and Federalist spokesman, explained, Congress would have only the powers that were listed; omission of a power to print paper money amounted to a ban on congressional paper.
In other words, the U.S. Constitution meant that neither the states nor the Federal Government would have power to print paper money. But surely that was unreasonable. People must have ignored this decision from the inception of the Federal Government.
No, they didn”t. Martin Van Buren’s administration (1837-41) may be seen as paradigmatic. Van Buren came to office just as a severe recession set in. He was constantly castigated by his Whig opponents for not adopting spend-thrift, constitutionally dubious “solutions” “ protective tariffs, public works, and federal chartering of a new Bank of the United States “ to the problem.
Rather than be seen “doing something” (as George W. supposedly faulted his father for not doing in the face of 1991’s mild recession), Van Buren counseled that the market would work the matter out, and that the government should not add to the problem by favoring a few well-connected rich over the poor.
Van Buren was not alone in this position. Rather, it was Jeffersonian, then Jacksonian, dogma virtually from the beginning of the Jeffersonian Republican Party in 1792 until the New Deal of 1933.
For Van Buren, any other position threatened a resuscitation of Alexander Hamilton’s anti-constitutional Federalism of the 1790s. Freedom in America meant living under the Constitution, and so he would have none of Federalism. Opposition to Hamiltonian measures was the reason that Van Buren had joined John C. Calhoun and Thomas Ritchie in organizing the Democratic Party in the first place.
One manifestation of this view was the Jacksonian campaign against the Second Bank of the United States, which finally died at Jackson’s hand in 1836. Jackson counseled in his Bank Bill Veto Message of 1832 that the Bank should be resented by the common man. Rather than showering its blessings on rich and poor alike, the Federal Government through the Bank was favoring the wealthy and well-connected.
Opulence in 1832 didn”t extend to billions, but you can see the resemblance of the Bush-Bernanke Bailout to Nicholas Biddle’s bank charter. The Bank was the statutory depository of federal tax revenue, which it then was entitled to loan out at interest. Its notes formed what Hamilton had called a “circulating medium.” Besides that, the government used the Bank as lender of choice in case of war; this had been the prime reason for its creation.
In other words, people had to put their money in a private bank, which then had the right to lend it at interest. In essence, it was guaranteed to make money, unless its lending policies were simply incompetent.
No relevant section of the Constitution has changed since the death of the second federally-chartered bank in 1836. What has changed is American culture, as Tom Woods and I explore in Who Killed the Constitution?.
Where once Ron Paul would have stood at the head of a majority of Jeffersonian Republicans or Democrats in decrying the elite’s attempt to fleece the public through legislative gifts to bankers, he now stands alone. Virtually no one adheres to any serious constitutionalism “ to a reading of the Constitution that sometimes prevents him from doing things that he really wants to do. No one seems to care to point to a constitutional provision authorizing bank legislation (read: Federal Reserve legislation or $700B bailouts).
So, the next time an avowed socialist proposes nationalization of health care, if you hear anyone who voted for the Bush-Bernanke Billionaire Bailout say that it’s unconstitutional, be wary. His “constitutionalism” is highly selective.
Besides which, the long-term positive economic effect of this latest outrage against the Constitution will be virtually non-existent, if not absolutely negative. But that is grist for another mill.
Kevin R. C. Gutzman is co-author, with Thomas E. Woods, Jr., of Who Killed the Constitution? The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush.
I was going to live-blog the debate, but it was so boring that I fell asleep before I could post it on Takimag. In any case, this was supposedly a debate about foreign policy, but more than half of it was taken up with the peculiar obsession of the insufferable Jim Lehr, of PBS, who manages to combine earnestness and pretentiousness in what comes off as schoolmarmish pedantry: he started off by citing Dwight Eisenhower, who apparently once said something about how we must achieve both economic solvency and security, and then asked the question that was and is on everybody’s lips: Where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?
Obama: We are at a defining moment in our history. Two wars, and the worst financial crisis since the great depression. So what’s his anticlimactic solution for this looming apocalypse? He’s in favor of “oversight” “ but give them the money. Now come the caveats: Taxpayers should get money back. (Fat chance!) None of the money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or golden parachutes. (Slim to anorexic chance!) We have to help homeowners. (By bailing out billionaires!) This, he averred, is a final verdict on Bush and McCain “ shedding regulations hasn”t worked. Now come the buzzwords: Trickle down. Middle class. Fair shake. No mention of Alan Greenspan’s responsibility for any of this.
McCain: Never at a loss to pose and preen, Mad John announces that Ted Kennedy is in the hospital. Does this mean he”ll suspend his campaign “ again? Unfortunately not. He thanks the sponsors of the debate while the world waits for his answer to the economic crisis. Finally, he gets down to business: Isn”t it wonderful that Dems and Reps are finally getting together in support of the bailout? And, yes “ since everything is about him “ he points out that he went back to Washington to help solve the problem he and his congressional confreres spent years creating. Oh, and to underscore his utter ignorance of economics, he throws out yet another non sequitur to the effect that it’s all the fault of “foreign oil.” Oh yeah? What about all those foreign lobbyists on his campaign staff?
Obama: How did we get into this situation in the first place? Too bad he has no answers to that intriguing question. He claims to have warned of the crisis. He spends a lot of time not answering the question, which is: Where do you stand on the issue of the bailout? According to the Mulatto Messiah, we “shredded” too many regulations: An economic philosophy that says regulation is always bad is the culprit. No mention of the moral hazard created by government-backed mortgage “securities” that pumped up the bubble to the bursting point.
McCain: I have a fundamental belief in the American worker, oh, and by the way, everything’s coming up roses. With his talent for making irrelevant points, he comes up with a new one, attacking congressional earmarks. Obama is one of the worst offenders: one millions dollars for every day he’s been in the Senate. As Ron Paul has pointed out, however, earmarks are simply a re-taking of tax dollars that will be spent in any event”the question is, where will they be spent, and by whom? But never mind that”the earmark “issue” is a cheap way to score points with clueless conservatives.
Obama counterattacks, coming after McCain for advocating tax cuts. Oh, the shame! Tax cuts! Who ever heard of such a thing! So far, no mention of foreign policy “ or of the three trillion dollar war we”re fighting in Iraq. McCain keeps harping on the earmarks issue “ Obama apparently requested 900 million bucks worth “ but none of this has anything to do with either the bailout, or foreign policy. This is a debate that has veered out of control early on.
Jim Lehr has a new question: given the passage of the “rescue plan,” what are you going to have to give up in terms of the priorities you are coming into office with? Obama’s up first: he goes into a riff about “energy independence.” This must be the non sequitur of the week, if not the year, beating even McCain’s record. He has three items, but it all boils down to this: he’s not gonna answer the question! He will spend and spend, and spend again “ the bailout be damned! Full speed ahead!
McCain says “no matter what, we”ve got to cut spending.” Attacks Obama as too far to the left. Says get rid of ethanol subsidies. Well, good for him: he then goes on to attack wasteful military spending. (Is aid to Georgia included in that? Not on your life!) Lehr stays on the bailout issue “ looks like we won”t get to hear McCain rant about poor little Georgia and the evils of Putinism, at least any time soon. Lehr is as much a participant as the two candidates, shaping the questions and awkwardly trying to get the two candidates to engage each other.
Obama is the first to draw blood with the point that we”re spending 9 billion a month to Iraq, when those guys have a surplus. McCain looks pained. End the war, says Obama, and redirect our resources. McCain flinches visibly.
Lehr keeps harping on the bailout issue, trying to get them to say that the financial crisis will alter their respective visions of how they will “rule the country,” as Lehr puts it. Frustrated, he finally moves on: Okay, so what are “the lessons of Iraq”?
McCain: We”re winning. The Surge worked. No problem.
Obama: The question isn”t one of strategy, but whether we should have gone in in the first place. His answer: Iraq was a diversion. He mentions the price tag “ soon to be one trillion bucks “ and deftly brings the economic issue into the war issue. We have to use our military wisely: and Iraq didn”t measure up to that.
Score two for Obama.
McCain: The next president will have to decide what we will leave behind in Iraq. He attacks Obama for attacking the surge, and sneers at the Democratic nominee for not going to Iraq until urged to do so.
Obama, calm as a stone, knocks McCain upside the head: You said we would be greeted as liberators, that it would be over early on, that we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were stored “ and you were wrong, wrong, wrong!
McCain, supposedly at his best on the foreign-policy issue, is weakest here: he babbles. Iraq is “peace and prosperity” and he keeps repeating the phrases “we”re winning.” How so? Well, “they passed an election law””hip hip hooray! For this thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, with many more wounded, at a cost of a trillion bucks?
He then says that Obama voted against funds for the troops. Obama comes back with the news that McCain voted against a bill that would have funded the troops with a timetable attached. Draw.
Obama: We need to get out of Iraq because we require more troops in Afghanistan. In 16 months we should be leaving Iraq. We don”t have enough troops in Afghanistan because they”re all tied up in Iraq.
Lehr asks if we need more troops in Afghanistan, when and how many?
Obama: ASAP. Two to three additional brigades should be sent in. It’s Afghanistan AND Pakistan”the first mention of the most pressing foreign policy issue in the debate. We”ve got to deal with Pakistan, says Obama, where al Qaeda has safe havens. The Pakis haven”t done what needs to be done. Until we deal with this Americans wont” be safe at home.
Where have we heard this sort of thing before? Change? The only thing that’s changing, here, is the battlefield, not the rationale or the futility of our endless overseas crusade.
McCain: Our big mistake was leaving the Afghanis on their own after funding their jihad against the Russkies. He attacks Obama for advocating an attack on Pakistan “ not that he disagrees, in principle, but “You don”t say that out loud! You do what you have to do.” Yeah, that’s right, keep it on the downlow “ and keep it from the American people. One’s an honest warmonger, and the other is an even more reckless albeit devious warmonger. Isn”t democracy wonderful?
Obama bristles at this weird role-reversal, in which Quiick-Draw McCain is portraying him as the hot-head, and says that coming from someone who threatened North Korea with extinction, and took to singing songs about bombing Iran, “I”m not sure how credible he is.”
McCain comes back at him by reminding the audience that, as a freshman congressman, he voted against sending US troops to Lebanon. This is remarkable, really, and a measure of how aware McCain is that the anti-interventionist vote is huge, and growing, so that he even must pander to it. But all that is forgotten when Lehr asks his next question: Iran—is it a threat?
McCain turns on a dime, and his first concern is that Iran represents “an existential threat to the state of Israel, and, by the way, to the rest of the region, as a new arms race starts in the region. Then the pandering: We cannot allow a second holocaust. They “re loving it in Florida: you know, where all those Pat Buchanan voters reside. He then segues, somewhat confusedly, into his “league of democracies” pitch, which really marks him as an oldster. Who, after all, uses the word “league” anymore, aside from the League of Women Voter and the Spartacist Leaague, both relics frozen in amber?
McCain is just getting started, as the warmonger in him takes over. He attacks the Russian for obstructing the UN Security Council. You see, once we have a League of our own, we get the added bonus of our own Security Council, one that will do Washington’s bidding as automatically as the nations of the Warsaw Pact ratified Moscow’s edicts to the letter.
Now that he’s warmed up, McCain gets to the real meat of the matter, but gingerly, carefully: he speaks only of the need to impose “painful sanctions” on Iran “ via his imaginary League. Lashing out at Tehran for a host of alleged sins “ they”re going nuclear, they”re “killing young Americans,” and, implausibly, “the Republican Guard in Iran is in Iraq.” He takes out after Obama for voting against the Kyle Amandment, which would have designated the Republican Guards “ an official agency of the Iranian government “ as a terrorist outfit, along with Al Qaeda. This legislation should really have been called the Tripwire Amendment, because it would justify “hot pursuit” of the Guards into Iranian territory: it was essentially a pretext for war with Iran, and e need to impose painful sanctions on Iran, via this new league. Have no doubt, the Iranians continue on a path to the acquisition of nuclear weapons, they”re killing youing americans in Iraq, the republican guard in Iran is in Iraq. Denounces Obama for being against the Kyle Amendment. Another bid by the Israel lobby to bring us closer to the brink of war is a resolution sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, to impose a naval blockade on Iranian ports. “ the next logical step in the progression from economic sanctions to military action.
Obama’s very weak comeback is that, well, yes, the Guards are indeed a terrorist organization, but he was still against the amendment because … well, just because. My notes read: “no explanation,” and that is really the crux of the matter, and the reason why Obama lost this round. He cannot present a clear alternative to McCain’s warmongering without violating the pledge he made to AIPAC, and has repeated endlessly since then: that noting is “off the table” where Iran is concerned. It is not to be treated as a normal country: it is, as Obama averred on this occasion, a “rogue state” “ meaning it refuses to follow Washington’s diktat and disarm itself before nuiclear-armed Israel.
“John McCain is right,” declared Obama “ well then, why the heck should anyone vote for you, bud? Obama also makes the curious claim that the Iraq war has somehow “strengthened” Iran “ and yet one has to wonder how strengthened the Iranian people feel with one hundred and fity thousand Yanks on their border. But then again, Obama isn”t running for president of Iran. “John McCain is also apparently right about the primacy of Israel as being first and foremost among our tasks in the region: we “cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran,” because “it would also threaten Israel. We need tougher sanctions,” and “we need to engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran.”
This last sets off a tiff that underlines the real differences “ if such they can be called “ between the candidates in the foreign policy realm, and that is the difference between two styles of imperialism. Lehr asks McCain: “What about talking [to the Iranians]?” McCain’s answer defines a style that is at once Napoleonic and Sovietly: full of grand flourishes and officious pronouncements, and also rigidly and self-righteously ideological.
McCaiin: “We cannot sit down with Ahmahdinejad.” Why not? “Because he “advocates the extermination of the state of Israel. We legitimize this by talking to him. “
We legitimize him “ in whose eyes? He has been elected by the Iranian people: I”m sure these elections wouldn”t measure up to the high standards of either the League of Women Voters or McCain’s “League of Democracies,” but that’s more of a democratic opening than most of our allies in the region, notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the monarchies of the Gulf.
Obama deftly slithers around the Ahmadinejad minefield by accurately noting that he “may not be the most powerful person in Iran, so he may not be the person to talk to.” He gets in a crosscut punch by citeing Henry Kissinger’s call to talk to the Iranians without preconditions, and underscores Kissinger alleged role as a top McCain advisor.
The essential unity of the candidates on the Russian Question is confirmation, if any were needed, that our two-party system represents merely different wings of a sing party “ the War Party. Russia “ in imagined coalition with China and, naturally, Iran “ is the latest Major Threat, one that threatens at times to usurp that role from the villains of Tehran. If Obama is the latest incarnation of John F. Kennedy, then the cold warrior mentality that motivated Kennedy’s many foreign policy blunders”Bay of Pigs, the escalation of the Vietnam war, all that crap about the alleged “missile gap,” which fueled the arms race and escalated tensions that eventually led to the Cuban missile crisis “ is back with a vengeance. Obama declared, in his most stentorian tones, that “our entire approach to Russia has to be reevaluated.” Russia, he averred, is “aggressive and resurgent.” They “must leave Ossetia and Abhkazia.” I”m impressed he knows about Abhkazia, but he should understand that there are two Ossetias: North and South. The southern region, claimed by Georgia as a “province,” voted to secede and join the Russian Federation. Abkhazia, as everybody knows, is an independent country, and has been since ancient times when it was known as Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology. For championing the right of these two peoples to national self-determination, the Russians, according to Obama, are “acting like a 20th century dictatorship,” rather than “a 21st century democracy,” whatever that is. Oh, but don”t get him wrong: “We cannot return to a cold war posture.” Oh really? If resurgent Russia is aggressively threatening its neighbors, and acting like a certain 20th century dictatorship “ a certain central European power’s actions in the Sudentenland comes to mind “ then perhaps we are returning to the pre-cold war era. No? In any case, Obama wants to make it clear that he’s not soft on the Kremlin, and that he’s maybe a bit harder than McCain “ sure, he”d meet with Putin, but there”d be none of this nonsense about looking into the Russian leader’s eyes and seeing his soul. Why, every good liberal Democrat knows that Czar Putin has no soul “ that is, if he wants money and support from George Soros, Alleged Russian “aggression” in the Caucasus must be met, declared Obama, with “a sharp response.”
McCain attacks Obama for not being pro-Georgian immediately “ he started out by saying that both sides ought to stop the violence “ does this mean he didn”t endorse what everybody knows was a Georgian invasion of South Ossetia and the shelling of its capital city? Up on his high horse, McCain warms to what is clearly one of his favorite subjects: the evils of Russia and the heroism of “ a great young president,” Mikheil Saakashvili, who grabbed power after the U.S.-Soros “sponsored “Rose Revolution” of 2003. He recently jailed the opposition parties” leadership on charges of “treason.” Oh, but according to McCain, “Russia is run by the KGB.” He mentions the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, darkly implying Russian designs on its continued operation,, and comes out for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. He angrily recounts the story, which he’s told often, of how he traveled to Ossetia “ he’s a good one for smelling out potential battlefields, the man has the instincts of a vulture “ and saw a giant poster of Vladimir Putin, emblazoned with the words “Our President.” This, to McCain, is an outrage “ but who does he think put that sign there?
There is a sinister aspect to McCain that reared its head when he said “Watch Ukraine. This whole thing has got a lot to do with Ukraine.”
Uh oh ….
This orgy of warmongering reached a crescendo of self-righteousness as Obama chimed in: “Senator McCain and I agree on this issue. He admits calling for an end to the bloodshed in Ossetia, but denies he ever thought the Russians weren”t the bad guys. Now, he opined, “we have to rebuild the Georgian economy.” It’s the economy, stupid “ but not the Georgian economy. If Obama knows what’s good for him and his campaign “ and he clearly doesn”t “ he”ll concentrate his talents on rebuilding the American economy. Because it may not exist by the end of the week.
Obama claims he warned of the coming crisis, because “there were Russian peacekeepers on Georgian territory, “ and this, he averred, posed an inevitable danger. What he doesn”t say is that they were sanctioned by the United Nations, which has in the past admonished the Georgians for making their mission difficult and violating previous agreements. Obama goes on to say that Russia has too much oil”which is why we need “energy independence.” Also caviar independence? Vodka independence, perhaps?
Lehr intervenes to spare us any more of this, by asking one of his characteristically dumb-ass questions, and his one is a doozy: “What is the likelihood of another 9/11 attack on the US?”
We are safer, McCain says. We”ve diverted the terrorists in Iraq “ or is that vice-versa? At any rate, he bloviates on, taking credit for the 9/11 Commission. Bipartisan. Reaching across the aisle. He attacks torture”it’s a relief to agree with him, for once”and then mentions, almost parenthetically, that we have to do a better job guarding our borders”this from Senator Open Borders McAmnesty!
Obama very cannily”and accurately, I believe”takes the opportunity to opines that the biggest danger is a suitcase nuke, not nuclear missile coming at us over the water. Says nuclear proliferation is a big danger. He reiterates that we must get Al Qaeda: in Afghanistan AND Pakistan. He wants to end on a “tough” note, but merely winds up sounding like McCain Lite. He has the gall to imply that his election will make a favorable impact on the world’s perception of the US “ but surely after listening to these two candidates threaten, posture, and preen, targeting any and all who presume to defy America’s will in the world, the world’s peoples will tremble just as much at the prospect of an Obama presidency as they will in anticipation of McCain in the White House. The supposed “antiwar” candidate goes on to point out the multiplicity of foreign threats that are supposedly gathering at the frontiers of our empire: “We
We are borrowing trillions from China, and they are active in Asia and Latin America (not to mention Africa)”we”re losing to the chinks!
McCain’s response is really … weird. He attacks Obama for his mulishness , reiterate that he didn”t recognize Russian aggression in Georgia, and says “we”ve seen this stubbornness before.” “Just like Bush” is the clear implication. I don”t know how many others picked up on that, but I had to sit and wonder if I”d heard him correctly. McCain the Maverick, the Agent of Change”attacking George W. Bush, his old enemy and putative leader of his party. The irony is delicious”he is cashing in on Obama’s Bush-bashing, and very deftly turning the tables on the Democrats.
Obama stupidly ignores this, goes into a riff about his Kenyan heritage, and gives his vaguely uplifting spiel about “fulfilling peoples dreams.” Is he running for class President, or President of the United States?
This debate was worthwhile if only for demonstrating, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that between McCain:—a pompous, pious, self-important, bloodthirsty old man “ and Obama, a pendantic technocrat with an earnestness we have every reason to fear “ the choice is reminiscent of the one Ulysses had to make between Scylla and Charybdis. In the Greek myth, he chose to pass by Scylla “ who had the body of an alluring nymph festooned with the heads of wild ravenous dogs “ rather than Charybdis, a vortex of water with a single gaping mouth that sucked in everything in the vicinity. The rationale being that he only lost a few of his crew to the former, while avoiding a complete loss with the latter. Whether this foretells the result of the election, I suppose we”d do better consulting the Sibyls.
Before the site is glutted with debate commentary, a word on Rod Dreher’s latest C11 column. Its title, and much of its substance, is taken from the last page of After Virtue, but a couple of Dreher’s comments on Benedictine monasticism are misleading.
The paragraphs I’m talking about (all emphases mine):
For some time now, Julie and I have been talking with our friends “ other couples with young kids, mostly “ about how our lives need to change, and change radically. We talk about what I call the “Benedict Option,” after the famous final paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1982 book After Virtue. MacIntyre wrote about how Western civilization is largely played out, and how the future will bring young people who have no longer vested themselves in the continuation of a bankrupt imperial order, as in the last days of Ancient Rome. “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. We are waiting…for another “ doubtless very different “ St. Benedict.”
Benedict of Nursia was a well-off young man who saw that the Roman world was falling to pieces, and lit out for the forest to pray and seek God. Eventually he gathered communities around him, and in time these would become monasteries. Throughout the dark ages, the monasteries were repositories of faith, learning and light.
. . . [SrdjaTrifkovic] is right to point out that material comfort has despoiled us spiritually and morally in many ways. But there’s not a lot to be said for poor, nasty, brutish and short, if you ask me, and we who despair of modernity must be careful not to overly romanticize the past, nor long for another Depression, however much our profligate, spendthrift living has set us up for a painful fall.
From phrases like “lit out for the forest to pray and seek God” and “gathered communities around him [that] would become monasteries,” the reader gets the impression that Benedict was Western monasticism’s unselfconscious prophet around whom structured communities grew organically; that Benedictine monasticism was radical but not intentionally so; that, mostly, it was the natural consequence of a sincere desire to know God.*
It’s important to acknowledge the extent to which Benedict developed his rule deliberately. It isn’t that he started gaining followers, built a house for everybody, and then wrote down how their community worked. He’d seen the rule of Pachomius and the rule of the Master, and designed his own variation. It isn’t that he went looking for God and happened to find him in the ascetic life. He set out to be a monk, because monasticism was something he’d heard of and he thought radical action was called for.
Dreher likes radical action, too, but is careful to clarify that “there’s not a lot to be said for poor, nasty, brutish and short.” (Those adjectives describe the ascetic life pretty neatly, I think.) The real revolution will take place in our hearts and mind, he seems to be saying, and whatever material changes follow from that will follow in due course. However, in describing Benedict as a man whose radical lifestyle proceeded from his heroic piety, he gets the monastic prescription backwards.
As for romanticizing the past, the Christian monastic ideal was built on a lot of self-mythology. Even leaving aside the influential and inaccurate** Life of Anthony“you know how hagiographers are”there is still the generation of monks that wrote down the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: they regarded the monks of fifty years prior as legends and believed that the current generation would “struggle to achieve half their works.” Similarly, Western monks took very seriously the exaggerated stories of Egyptian piety that reached them through men like Athanasius and John Cassian.
Each new generation of monasticism expressed a desire (real or rhetorical, it doesn’t really matter which) to recapture a romanticized past”this is even true of generations that went on to be romanticized in turn”and then made real, concrete decisions about how to run their own communities based on these false-but-inspiring pictures. Such willingness to mythologize the past would be embarrassing if it hadn’t worked so well for them.
If Dreher is simply saying that not everyone needs to be a Benedictine monk he’ll get no argument from me, but he seems to be making the stronger claim that McIntyre’s new monasticism can be as easy as living in suburbia with the right attitudes and values, and, moreover, that romanticizing the past and being self-consciously radical are things to be avoided. Those claims would make sense if history bore out the idea that Benedict had and pure and searching heart and rest followed naturally, but that wasn’t the case. Changes in material circumstances are necessary, even if they seem affected. (This, incidentally, is why I won’t be surprised if we find our new Benedict among the deliberately under-achieving hipsters.) I hope Dreher’s right that the change in circumstances shouldn’t have to look like another Great Depression. I have equal hope for the “laymen” of crunchy conservatism who can only express solidarity with the lifestyles of its more decisively radical leaders. Still, I would caution Dreher against going to the opposite extreme and making the whole thing too easy.
*I don’t necessarily mean that this is the picture of monasticism Dreher has in his mind, only that his description”and the conclusion he draws from it at the end of the column”make it read that way.
**I say inaccurate based on what we know about the real St. Anthony from the historical record, which includes some of Anthony’s letters. He was as holy a man as Athanasius describes, but far more in touch with the real world and far less a hermit. The accuracy of flying demons I will not dispute.
Jim, let me just make a point. I’ve got a bracelet, too…
This statement, better than anything else said, sums up Barack Obama’s performance at the presidential debate last night. Coming in a close second would be this exchange on the Georgia-Russia situation (or was it the Wall Street bailouts?):
LEHRER: You see any”do you have a major difference with what [McCain] just said?
OBAMA: No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.
The bracelet comment was more poignant in that it reveals who Barack Obama could have been”and most definitely is not“as a presidential candidate.
I can”t say for sure, but I imagine the soldier’s mom who gave Obama the plastic bracelet imagines he’s something close to George McGovern or Ron Paul, or maybe even a real peacenik or antiwar Leftist. What she wants is a candidate to exclaim, boldly and genuinely, “Come Home, America!“ And truly, Obama would be a fascinating candidate if he actually were any variation on the antiwar populist. Instead, he’s become an off-the-rack Democrat who’s brought an assortment of liberal interventionists, most notably Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, and Joe Biden, on as advisers. The soldier’s mother, as well as all those who”re supporting Obama specifically because they want to end the war, still don”t grasp the fact that though Obama would get us out of Iraq a little bit sooner than would McCain, his plans is to redeploy these soldiers to Afghanistan and retain current troop levels in the region. The idea that Obama would want to shrink America’s worldwide military commitments is ludicrous—the opposite is true.
Because Obama has gone this direction, all he was capable of last night was some me-too-ism (most notably with Georgia and the bailouts), a few “I told you so”s with regard to invading Iraq (which make him seem like he’s stuck in the past, re-fighting all those battles from 2003), and then, worst of all, some aping of GOP war-hawk rhetoric in a new context. Obama was essentially arguing that his opponent “took his eye off the ball” in Afghanistan and missed the real central front on the war on terror. Obama wanted us to believe that he would be best suited to enact a new surge in the land of the Afghans and expand a war there that is looking like it’s even more unwinnable than Iraq.
This is a losing rhetorical strategy (or is it a tactic?). And I have little doubt that Obama was beaten in last night’s debate. (But I can”t say for sure—the TV pundits will make the final determination of who the public should think won or lost, and I”ve cancelled cable.)
Regardless of who will be declared victorious, Obama’s abandonment of the antiwar Left means that we all just watched the Seinfeld of political events”a debate about nothing.
I”ve had my disagreements with Ross Douthat in the past; however, he’s right on the money with his depiction of the kind of big Zero Burger the presidential race has become:
It’s the Russo-Georgian War all over again: McCain responds boldly/impulsively, Obama responds carefully/overcautiously, but they both end up saying roughly the same thing, and the pundit class goes back to obsessing about whatever shocking poll or web ad has been released that day.
Partisans on both sides claim that we’re staring into the abyss: If you listen to some conservatives, you’d think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are all that stands between turning over U.S. foreign policy to William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright; if you listen to some Obamaphiles, you’d think that a vote for McCain is a vote for fascism, or theocracy, or the Putinization of America. But if you watch the candidates themselves, and listen to them, the stakes seem much, much lower.
Whether Obama wins or loses he will be remembered as a what might have been.
How did the United States of America, the richest nation on earth, whose economy represents 30 percent of the Global Economy, arrive at the precipice of a financial panic and collapse?
The answer lies in the abject failure of both America’s financial elite and the political elite of both parties—the same elites now working together to determine how much of our wealth will be needed to bail the nation out of the crisis of their own creation.
Big Government is riding to the rescue—saddlebags full of our tax dollars—to save us from the consequences of the stupidity and folly of Big Government. New York and Washington, the twin cities responsible for the crisis, are now being hailed by the media as the 7th Cavalry, coming to rescue a beleaguered nation.
Had there not been a steady and constant infusion of easy money and credit into the U.S. economy by the Fed, for years on end, a housing bubble of the magnitude of the one that has just exploded could never have been created.
Had the politicians of both parties not coerced and pressured banks, S&Ls, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make all those sub-prime mortgages, then to tie this rotten paper to good paper, convert it into securities and sell to banks all over the world, there would have been no global financial crisis.
Had they seen this coming and acted sooner, the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury would not today, like Henny Penny, be crying, “The sky is falling!” and the end times are at hand, unless we give them 5 percent of our gross domestic product to buy up suspect securities backed by sub-prime mortgages.
Consider what the “Paulson Plan” of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, against which Sen. Richard Shelby and the House Republicans rebelled, entails.
Since Americans save nothing and have to borrow from abroad to finance our trade and budget deficits, wars and foreign aid, what the secretary proposes is this: that Congress authorize the Treasury to spend $700 billion to buy up the toxic paper on the books not only of U.S. banks, but of foreign banks operating in the United States. According to The Washington Times, the Treasury would also be authorized to buy up securities backed by rotten auto loans, student loans, and credit-card debts.
Thus America would be borrowing from China, Japan, and the Middle East to tidy up the balance sheets of the banks of China, Japan, and the Middle East. And all the rotten paper will be offloaded onto U.S. taxpayers, who hopefully will be able to recoup some of their losses, because some of the paper will be good.
Why should we do this? Because otherwise there will be a financial panic, followed by a market collapse, wiping out pensions, 401Ks, portfolios and defined benefit plans of Middle America, forcing millions into bankruptcy and millions more to put off retirement and continue working until they drop.
In a democracy, it is said, you get the kind of government you deserve. But what did the American people do to deserve this? What did they do to deserve the quality of financial, corporate and political leadership that marched them into this mess—and that today postures as their rescuers?
Consider what this mess has already cost taxpayers: $29 billion to buy the rotten paper of Bear Stearns so J.P. Morgan would buy the investment bank; $85 billion for 80 percent of AIG to nationalize it; $150 billion in a stimulus package to flood the nation with cash; perhaps $300 billion to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and now $700 billion to begin taking the toxic paper off the hands of America’s big banks.
And even if this is passed, say Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, there is no guarantee this will resolve the crisis. If the $700 billion is not provided and the toxic paper is not pulled off the books of the world’s banks by U.S. taxpayers, however, we face an almost certain collapse, surging bankruptcies, rising unemployment, a shrinkage of GDP and a recession, if not worse.
Yet, the fellows who tell us we face a financial mushroom cloud over every American city if we do not act at once to provide the $700 billion did not see this coming and can make no guarantee that this will succeed and end the crisis.
Nevertheless, it must be done, and done now, as collapse is imminent.
Looking at all the money being ladled out by the U.S. government to prevent a collapse, and the diminished revenue coming in, it is hard to see how America avoids future deficits that reach $1 trillion a year. These will imperil both the dollar itself and the ability of the United States, which saves nothing, to borrow from the rest of the world. The downsizing of America is at hand.
Yes, indeed, we have arrived at the Day of Reckoning for Uncle Sam.
For every person who claims that conservative talk radio is “just entertainment,” there are a dozen Americans who follow, almost to a T, the protocols of Rush, Hannity, and Levin.
For most of my adult life, I have only claimed two celebrities as heroes – Pat Buchanan and Ric Flair. It’s never been a secret that I’m a huge pro wrestling fan and in admiring the world’s greatest pro wrestler, I suppose Flair’s character has always been the perfect extension of my own shallow male fantasies. What red-blooded American male would not want to jet-set across the country, donning custom suits, eating gourmet food, drinking fine wines and enjoying even finer women? The clichÃ©d concepts of the “world as your oyster” and having your cake and eating it too, were reflected perfectly and persistently by the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Oh, and how did Flair earn his reputation and achieve his god-like, superstar status? He beat the crap out of any man who dared cross his path. Yep. Sign me up.
Of course, while the kid in me still admires Flair’s cartoon-caricature of lavish living, the seemingly unsustainable concept of “unlimited growth” is a fantasy many Americans have long considered their birthright. Writes my other hero, Pat Buchanan, “For years, we Americans have spent more than we earned. We save nothing. Credit card debt, consumer debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, corporate debt-all are at record levels… Our standard of living is inevitably going to fall… We are going to have to learn to live again without our means. The party’s over.”
<object width=“425” height=“344”><param name=“movie” value=“http://www.youtube.com/v/DibrJreTps4&hl=en&fs=1”>
<embed src=“http://www.youtube.com/v/DibrJreTps4&hl=en&fs=1” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=“true” width=“425” height=“344”></embed></object>