Politics, Culture, the Public Square
“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton
Thursday, November 28, 2002 The noble, brave and talented Michelle Malkin has penned a moving prayer of Thanksgiving. posted by Paul Cella | 3:16 AM |
Wednesday, November 27, 2002 SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, commenting on Cass R. Sunstein’s support for stem-cell research:
posted by Paul Cella | 7:34 AM |
It appears that the White House is prepared to go ahead with urging what is unquestionably the dumbest and most destructive of its policy ideas: amnesty for a large number of illegal Mexican immigrants. In the teeth of the revelations of hidebound ineptitude at INS appearing in the media seriatim, the administration perversely goes in for liberalizing immigration policy, thereby further emasculating what is left of border security. If you are a Border Patrol agent, why even go to work? The poltroonery at work in the underhanded method for this is certainly distasteful; the The Wall Street Journal has at least had the nerve and candor to endorse a straightforward “open borders” policy.
For the enthusiasts of this dubious amnesty idea, it is thought that, inter alia, the official authorization of systematic law-breaking will procure substantial votes for the GOP in future elections —- a rather novel cogitation for what is often regarded as the party of law and order. For those less than enthusiastic about it, to raise pointed questions is in many cases to provoke veiled charges of “nativism” and other ill-defined curses. These curses are quite efficacious in muting debate, or at least pushing it to the margins of public discourse —- so that the premises grounding the asseverations of the mass immigration sympathizers are rarely scrutinized.
Behind the arguments of the amnesty advocates is a deeply pernicious but to many compelling idea, or at least the impression of a compelling idea —- an idea which finds its most applicable parallel in the pre-Giuliani conventional wisdom about urban crime. In the late 1980s and early 1990s serious people had begun to regard American cities as in a fundamental sense ungovernable; residents would simply have to reconcile themselves to a high and likely increasing violent crime rate. The great contribution of Giuliani and his men to our politics was to disabuse us of this crippling capitulation, and to cleanse us of its depredations on the intellect. They demonstrated in New York that policy still matters; more precisely, that bad policy had gotten us into a severe predicament, and good policy, implemented firmly and assiduously, could get us out. We’ve all heard about the “broken windows” theory: the proposition that indifference to, and tolerance of petty crime will yield a harvest of ramifying criminality. The aesthetics of a city matter, and by vigorously enforcing what seem to be trivial crimes, police departments can short-circuit the spiral of neighborhood degradation. That was Giulani’s innovation; and we are all better for it.
Vis-à-vis immigration we have, similarly, a capitulation of the intellect along these lines: “we cannot secure our borders; illegal immigration is inevasible, uncontrollable, inevitable; and we must finally reconcile ourselves to indefinite mass immigration.” This is nonsense. Just like urban decay, mass immigration has its roots in public policy, in specific decisions made by elected officials and appointed administrators (principally the 1965 Immigration Act). This matrix of decisions can perhaps be summarized thusly: a studied complacency about the causes and consequences of unrestricted mass immigration. Now, to soften the hard edges of the Immigration Capitulation, there are usually a series of concomitant arguments advanced alongside it, arguments freighted with hearty rhetoric about the virtues of assimilation, as if to say: mass immigration is fine, we can sustain it indefinitely, so long as we are committed to assimilation. Now I am not at all sure that such a statement is true even by its own lights; but I am quite sure that we are not, in fact, committed to assimilation, whatever its virtues. By my reckoning and to my abiding dismay, this nation, guided as it is —- as all nations are —- by a governing elite, simply is not possessed of the spiritual self-confidence to demand assimilation from its immigrants. Those immigrants who do assimilate do so because they want to, not so much because cultural pressures require it of them; and it is very easy in today’s America for immigrants to plug in comprehensively to a kind of enclave of their own national culture, disdaining the wider American culture without compunction; indeed, such an anti-assimilationist commitment is actively, ardently propounded by the bulk of “official” immigrant spokesmen and organizations.
Assimilationist measures are naturally popular to the electorate; it is just that the electorate rarely gets any say in the matter. Laws restricting or prohibiting bilingual education, for instance, have passed handily by referendum in solidly liberal states like Massachusetts and California, where “nativist” sentiment is rather muted. But one could count on a single hand the number of prominent politicians who have favored such laws. It was a great disappointment, for example, to see a hugely popular principled conservative like Colorado Gov. Bill Owens oppose an anti-bilingual measure in his state. Running for reelection in what everyone acknowledged would be a cakewalk, Mr. Owens still could not bring himself support assimilation as an official policy. Such are the prospects for a broader commitment to rigorous assimilation; politically, there is little more than platitudes and formulaic bombast.
A culture that spurns its own language cannot be properly called a vibrant and thriving culture; nor is such a culture likely to inspire admiration and love among its new arrivals. It is certainly not a culture that can go on complacently regarding its border and its laws as immaterial, and abandoning its citizens to the depredations of wanton illegality on said border. Inebriated by abstractions about “a nation of immigrants” (what nation is not?), serenely abjuring to discharge its constitutional duty to secure borders, enervated by a deliberately impoverished public debate: objectively our political culture is not adequately addressing the grave and pressing question of immigration, not in a serious way.
It is interesting to note in passing the other aspects of our public policy which have been to some extent derailed by our reluctance to turn a cold, dispassionate, practical eye on immigration policy. One is environmental policy, where we have labored under the very paradoxical condition of worrying interminably about the parlous effects of rapid population growth without really addressing the primary cause of that growth. Another is affirmative action, which, whatever you think of the wisdom and justice of it, was surely more sensible when it applied strictly to American blacks, recognizing the uniqueness of their history in North America. Mass immigration muddled irretrievably an already delicate issue. A third is the omnipresent agonizing over income gaps, and the related question of labor’s power when confronting capital. I myself generally estimate the significance of this to be discernibly less than the attention it provokes; nevertheless, only a fool, a knave, or a quack would brush it off as positively meaningless. Illegal immigration drives down wages, undermines duly-enacted labor-friendly legislation (whatever we may think of it), and erects incentive structures in the labor market which not all are happy with (for example, it straitens dramatically the summer day-labor market that has been traditionally filled by students.)
Amnesty for some large number of illegal immigrants is a very bad idea; worse still because the public dialogue on immigration is so hollowed-out by the intellectual thuggishness which drives from respectability the opponents and skeptics of the status quo. On almost any other question, most commentators on the Right would (rightly) ridicule such enfeeblement of debate as insipid and insensate political correctness. It is unfortunate that on this important question so many have joined the hyenas.posted by Paul Cella | 12:21 AM |
Saturday, November 23, 2002 A smoking gun pointing to direct Saudi involvement in Sepember 11? Maybe. The New York Times plays the story as an arraignment of U.S. security services, and for once I agree with the Gray Lady. I will have more to say about this next week (I hope). posted by Paul Cella | 7:39 AM |
Perhaps the hottest topic around right now in foreign policy circles is the topic of European-American relations. For my money, U.P.I.’s John O’Sullivan writes consistently the most fair-minded, intelligent and farsighted commentary on this contentious and hugely important question. Here is his most recent contribution. I will have more to say on this too. posted by Paul Cella | 7:31 AM |
Friday, November 22, 2002 Apropos of nothing so much as my own short essay on the globe, National Geographic has released the results of a worldwide study of geographical knowledge among 18 – 24 year olds. The numbers tell a grim story: one sample should suffice to denote it. 69 percent of American young adults cannot accurately locate Great Britain on a map. When Jay Leno finds fools on the street who identify “the freedom of speech” as one of the Ten Commandments, perhaps it is not really the video-editing artifice we had all hoped; perhaps it is just a reflection of reality —- a reality populated by ignoramuses.
This study leads me circuitously to ponder a certain element of “Beltway piety,” so to speak, that may call out for reexamination: that piety which attaches to portentous hand-wringing about voter participation and turnout. Every election cycle, it seems, we are all treated to a brand new wave of high-minded fretfulness concerning the putative “danger to democracy” or some such thing of an electorate which turns out to vote at level at or even below 50 percent. Bright and multihued graphs appear, resplendent with severe thick lines describing the steady decline in voter turnout over the past, say, 60 years; especially remarked are the secondary lines describing the even more pronounced decline for young people, many of whom may reach middle age without ever entering a polling place. States all over the country have adopted a series of dubious measures designed to boost turnout: motor-voter laws, same-day registration, something called “provisional ballots.” That these laws have done little more than facilitate fraud seems not to have deterred our fulminating custodians of electoral hygiene. I myself, when I was under the spell of this sort of political hypochondria, contemplated seriously the virtues of coercive voting. “Fine those lazy bastards; that they’ll teach to appreciate self-government!”
Alas, it is all bunkum and hooey. Never underestimate the power of boredom, someone once said. Moreover —- and let me state this plainly, if you’ll excuse my indelicacy —- no one unable to locate Great Britain on a map should be allowed to vote. The results of this National Geographic survey lead me to think we ought to consider restricting the franchise, although the history behind poll tests and that sort of thing is notorious enough to make me stop short of actually endorsing such procedures.
We live in a country of steadily increasing pervasive ignorance, which if left unchecked will one day produce a nation bereft of the materials for a common imagination, in other words, not a nation at all. Furthermore, for you gentle readers of more progressive outlook, so long as this trend continues we will drift toward oligarchy (the more progressive among you probably think such a condition has already arrived) with a ruling class of hyper-educated elites and a vast lower-class of servile plebeians dependent for their livelihood on the beneficence of the state constructed by the elite.
Now I want to mention that I believe that what I would call the Higher Education Myth is an important contributing factor here —- which Myth entails the idea that everyone needs and deserves a college education. Quite simply, not everyone does; and it should be no automatic scarlet letter of dishonor if a man or woman opts out in favor of some alternative career path. Untold time and money is squandered by the potency of this Myth over the minds of Americans: I’m sure we all have apposite examples. What everyone does need and deserve (although I have lost all confidence in the state to provide it) is a good and solid primary and secondary education —- an education that, to my mind, would be superior to many college educations. The Higher Education Myth acts like the wrong lens prescription in a set of glasses, blurring where it does not distort (the latter problem most notably in the enormous federal tax dollars subsidizing through grants and loans what are already very wealthy institutions.)
I fear we are nearing the point where we must finally caulk up public education as yet another casualty of the depredations on the human spirit facilitated by the largess of the state.posted by Paul Cella | 6:20 AM |
David Frum judges Bob Woodward’s new book to be little more than “an edited transcript of [Colin] Powell leaks, all of them calculated to injure this administration and undermine its policies on the very eve of military action against Iraq.” He goes on to call for Secretary Powell’s resignation or, if that is not forthcoming, his dismissal. There is a intriguing dynamic here: Mr. Frum, a former presidential speechwriter for Bush, is in fact credited with crafting that dread and much-pilloried phrase, “axis of evil.” Those internal power struggles within the administration, it seems, are serious business. My first sympathy, instinctively I suppose, is with Mr. Frum, if for no other reason than because Mr. Powell’s popularity and natural magnetism is so often exploited by a hostile media to disparage the President. Of course, this exploitation, in a twist of irony, is frequently exploited in turn by the always-underestimated George W. Bush to his advantage —- the old “good cop, bad cop” ruse is not so difficult to pull off when the subject of the deception clings desperately to the “good cop.” posted by Paul Cella | 2:13 AM |
Want to know why the GOP is not likely to pick up substantial support from Hispanics? Because its leadership is ashamed of its own religious and social conservative base. In a recent American Spectator, California journalist George Neumayr (not online) appraises the fatuous complacency of Republicans vis-à-vis one of their few Hispanic candidates, Maria Guadalupe Garcia, who ran (and lost) in a Southern California district:
Garcia received exiguous support —- financial or otherwise —- from the GOP. So a pro-life, conservative Hispanic Catholic woman was promoted more vigorously by local Democrats than by the national party of the Right, which claims it is eager to reach out to Hispanics. Pathetic. In the primaries, the three pro-lifers running —- Garcia, Ramirez and another Republican —- received more votes than Filner, this stale old campus leftist. Danny Ramirez says that whenever he tells people of Filner’s record, “the are disgusted.”
Of Hispanics and the GOP, Mr. Neumayr muses:
And I would add that many of those same plutocrats would go on merrily demoralizing citizens like Garcia on another issue: immigration, where the GOP seems intent on pandering to law-breakers because business is happy to take on cheaper labor (no pay-roll taxes, income tax withholding, or health insurance for illegals) while ignoring the law-abiding Hispanics who willingly put themselves through the indignities and aggravation of the most incompetent bureaucracy in the country, the Immigration and Nationalization Service.posted by Paul Cella | 2:10 AM |
Thursday, November 21, 2002 Free falling? Tom Petty, interviewed in the November 14 Rolling Stone (Courtesy of Blithering Idiot):
posted by Paul Cella | 4:37 AM |
Orrin Judd deserves a generous reward for unearthing this unforgettable piece of supple intelligence, scrupulousness, and irresistible humor. Good movie reviewers are a rare breed; judging from his obituarists in print after his death early this year, Mr. Richard Grenier was one of the very best. I don’t doubt it. posted by Paul Cella | 2:23 AM |
Wednesday, November 20, 2002 Check out my recent piece, published elsewhere. Loyal readers may recognize it. posted by Paul Cella | 6:41 AM |
For an edifying discussion of the weighty questions of nationality and mass immigration, see these two worthy essays (here and here). It is high time we addressed these things. posted by Paul Cella | 6:35 AM |
“Everybody senses,” wrote Richard Weaver in 1961, “that in the modern world there exists a massive trend toward uniformity and regimentation. Individualism had never before been under such pressure, not even from the most repressive forms of government.” Now that’s an eye-opener. The complacency of its delivery is an affront to complacent sensibilities: how could individualism be threatened in this age of the tongue-ring? But perhaps our age’s incessant rodomontade about individualism masks, precisely by way of its swaggering clamor, a deeper, profounder shriveling of real individuality; perhaps it is precisely the cacophony of our boastfulness that obstructs a clear vision of our cultural poverty. Richard Weaver regarded that poverty as almost self-evident: that the advent of modern technology —- he singles out radio and television —- has razed entire cultures.
Here Weaver’s observations deepen and come into sharper focus, for here we edge closer to an appreciation that the steady desiccation of our own ideas about individuality is very nearly self-evident. For the modern mind, the idea of individuality is tied inextricably with the idea of liberation; the Individual, in the modern story, is he or she who rebels against inherited structures of thought and social organization —- structures reckoned to be repressive and irrelevant. Thus in popular imagination the Individual inheres in “countercultual” climes: the province of hip-hop, with its romanticized gangster mystique; the province of rock, with its romanticized decadence, and its heroes suicidal narcissi. These are the liberators; their vocation is to destroy; to cite Dr. Johnson, they feel “not so much the love of liberty as a repugnance to authority.” And therefore, by the lights of our impoverished ideas, they are christened the Individuals. But where cultural agents execute an about-face from these listless things, that is, where they turn back in some groping but real way to a celebration of the traditions and patrimony of the past, they are aggressively or subtly anathematized; their claims to the title of Individual are annulled. To maintain the musical analogy, it should come as no surprise, then, that country music and Christian rock —- undeniably profitable enterprises in their own right —- are treated with exquisite, though occasionally veiled disdain by the guardians of popular culture.
The depression of individualism of course reduces the prospect of truly great figures emerging from the multitude. Jacques Barzun, after surveying the geniuses of the West with supreme erudition and élan, remarks rather plaintively that no such genius has risen from the demotic late twentieth century. The distinctive irrepressible individuality that gave the West its vitality and its consequent deluge of creative force has proven evanescent; gone are those singular figures like Erasmus, Montaigne, Christina of Sweden, Pascal, Beaumarchais, Burke (who in addition to his justly famous organon of political theory published an intricate catalogue of aesthetic qualities), Bagehot, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc, etc: men and women whose intellect spanned a range of ideas so broad as to astound and chasten our pinched and limited ranges today. Perhaps it is, as I say, precisely for want of individuality, and the genius which feeds it, that the idea of the Individual is so dominant, even exclusive now.
Our democracy, to quote Dr. Johnson again, has become freighted with “an envious hatred of greatness . . . and pride disdainful of superiority.” Is it any wonder that greatness eludes our age? I recall recently remarking to several colleagues, upon hearing of one’s vacation trip to St. Augustine, Florida, that St. Augustine may well have been the greatest man who ever lived. A debatable proposition, unquestionably (one would have to exclude Jesus of Nazareth as possessing the unfair advantage of divinity, and then the immediate competitors, it seems to me, would be St. Paul and the Prophet Mohammed), but I was struck by the looks of utter bewilderment that greeted my comment. The idea of there being greatness on that level seemed never to have occurred to them; and it produced a certain vexation to suggest such a thing. (My only other discussion of St. Augustine at work, incidently, involved a brief but friendly discussion over his role as the “theorist of the Inquisition.”)
To my mind, a culture which disdains greatness and superiority in men cannot rightly be said to value individuality; and therefore Weaver’s pronouncement was accurate, indeed, it was prescient: the trends he described in 1961 have surely not been arrested since. Quite the contrary.posted by Paul Cella | 2:01 AM |
Friday, November 15, 2002 How about a little taste of the unfathomable genius of Chesterton?
posted by Paul Cella | 5:32 AM |
So now Al Gore supports the Canadian-model, single-payer health care; and the Democratic party continues its lurch into the warm, comforting embrace of socialism. David Frum, a Canadian, concisely explains why wealthy Canadians come to New York when they really need good, timely medical service. posted by Paul Cella | 4:21 AM |
Yet another spectacular failure of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to execute the laws which fall under its purview. Can we go just one week without one of these outrages?
So bureaucratic pressures, augmented by financial rewards, operate precisely in the manner most harmful to the interests of the security of the American people. It is not too much to say that the chief bureaucratic inertia at INS is fundamentally antagonistic to the people from whom it derives its authority. Pushing the limits of rhetorical temperance at bit, we might even say that the chief bureaucratic inertia at INS is treasonous; or, in others words, the INS comprises a fifth column. Over the top, you say; well, consider that,
And yet if you criticize immigration policy with the kind of stridency it merits, you must be a “nativist.”posted by Paul Cella | 4:15 AM |
Thursday, November 14, 2002 Some choice words for the Islamofascists:
Now and then, in moments of unguardedness —- for example, when video flashes across the screen of one of the Bali massacre suspects waving jubilantly like a damned rock star to wild crowds at his arrest —- now and then I feel a certain solidarity with the Crusaders, and I understand in that moment why it is that they marched across a continent to fight and kill and die in a foreign land for the honor of a faith and a civilization.posted by Paul Cella | 4:28 AM |
Homeland security and the American Question: Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts (here and here) on this important but overlooked matter. posted by Paul Cella | 1:45 AM |
Wednesday, November 13, 2002 “One must pause simply to expel one term, to retire it, discredit it, and make its further employment an embarrassment to those who use it.” Thusly does Christopher Hitchens take up the sword to eviscerate in fact two terms of abuse and rhetorical violence which filter through public discourse. The first, “armchair warrior.”
One does wonder how long the liberal commentariat’s fascination with professional military officers and their opinions will last —- probably precisely as long as said commentators regard said officers as skeptical of the war. Was it not the military commanders (following orders from liberals in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations) whose blunders in prosecuting the Vietnam War yielded that convulsive mélange of guilt, delusion, and moral vertigo which seized the minds of so many on the Left whenever they contemplated war? One thing to take from the Democratic loss in last week’s election is that in our new era of shadow wars and veiled conflict the American people simply will not countenance a governing party (read: the Democrats) which exhibits signs of squeamishness when it comes to protecting them. The Vietnam syndrome, insofar as it still compels the intellects of the Left and to the extent that terrorism does not recede dramatically from public view (victory is really the only conceivable route to such a condition), will continue to drive the Left from political power.
There is desperation here among the antiwar Left; a desperation borne of recognition, on some level, of this great, abiding, crippling predicament, one might even say crisis; a desperation reflected in the cynical and rather transparent plundering of the Left’s sworn enemies (military officers) for rhetorical munitions. It should not surprise us, perhaps, that Pat Buchanan’s new magazine makes the strongest, most persuasive case against an invasion of Iraq.posted by Paul Cella | 3:38 AM |
Against the multiculturalist cadres and the wishful thinking of some in the GOP, U.P.I.’s Steve Sailer crunches the post-election numbers and concludes that Republicans won by mobilizing the white vote, which still accounts for over 80 percent of the participating electorate.
In the midst of a scrupulous and assiduous survey of all the (rather meager) exit-poll data and other sources, Mr. Sailer also unearths some fascinating little tidbits, such as: a “huge gap” between single women (who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats) and married women (who favor Republicans decisively), which has virtually eliminated the once-vaunted “gender gap”; the dashing of Republican hopes of peeling away a substantial number of American Jews from the Democrats, on account of the administration’s robustly pro-Israeli policies; the effectiveness of get-out-the-vote campaigns, often regarded as much more favorable to Democrats working in heavily-minority districts, for Republicans as well —- in rural and suburban districts. This latter was particularly impressive here in Georgia, where Ralph Reed’s state party scored several stunning victories.posted by Paul Cella | 12:44 AM |
Tuesday, November 12, 2002 A question on the coming Iraq war:
What if something goes spectacularly wrong? A Mr. William Lind, writing in The American Conservative (not online) cogitates on the repercussions of a sudden and devastating turn of events that leaves an American invasion army cut off from supply lines deep in the Iraqi desert, perhaps with the additional exigency of miserable weather diminishing our air supremacy. There are several ways one could envisage such a catastrophe: (1) a unconventional attack on Kuwait City (chemical, biological, even nuclear) which cripples our primary port of entry; (2) a desperate offensive thrust under the cover of bad weather by Saddam’s Republican Guard into our supply lines; (3) the unexpected entry into the war of another actor —- Mr. Lind offers as a possibility Iran.
And if the reader is inclined to mistrust this prognostication, coming as it does from a magazine professedly opposed to the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, consider the strikingly similar prognostication of one of the more vigorous, if eccentric, hawks just six months ago:
Those are Mark Helprin’s words, a man as hawkish as they come, and as cogent as they come. He continues:
Both Mr. Helprin and Mr. Lind energetically dispute the judgment that technology bridges most gaps in plain numerical superiority and logistical preponderance. Lind:
Now of course the attentive among us will note that these scenarios are redolent of an almost paranoid patina of strategic thinking; but the attentive response here is merely to note cheerlessly the prominence of inflated optimism in the disastrous narrative of human warfare.posted by Paul Cella | 2:21 PM |
Friday, November 08, 2002 It is fascinating to observe the agonized ruminations of prominent Democrats as they wrestle with the lineaments of Tuesday’s defeat. Take, for example, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s post-election analysis. He begins with some formal flagellation, acknowledging the depth of Democratic failure: “worse,” he says, “than the 1994 Republican sweep.” Then he makes a rather shrewd point, which seems to be “in the air,” so to speak, but which I have not seen stated so lucidly:
So far, so good. But then . . .
Looked partisan! Well that’s one way to put it; similarly, Cynthia McKinney has tended to look paranoid. I think Mark Steyn put that memorial rally in its proper perspective:
Quite so; in fact, a recent assiduous essay in The Public Interest documents the solid factual basis for making precisely this point: the Democratic party is the party of secularists quite as much as the GOP is the party of Christian believers. That thoughtful liberals like Mr. Dionne cannot quite face the utter repugnance inspired by the Wellstone memorial shows us how far the Democrats are from reality. And anyway, as Orrin Judd has noted, Walter Mondale emphatically did not run as an “accommodationist,” and he lost too. Mr. Dionne goes on,
Now, it may be true that the Democrats were hurt by their attempts to hug Bush on big issues, and their timorousness in drawing sharp contrasts between themselves and their opponents, but it is quite a stretch to say that calling for a repeal of the tax cut, championing regulatory invasiveness, and bickering about the President’s Iraq policy would have yielded success.
One would like to say to Mr. Dionne, very softly, that maybe the problem lies not in not having any ideas, but in having the wrong ideas. The tax cut was a barebones affair: a large majority of the country would happily countenance a much larger one that would more effectively invigorate the economy, leading ultimately to an increase in government revenue. The problem with corporate abuse is ineradicably a moral one, and it is part and parcel of the decay of the traditional moral imagination, which has convulsed the Western world for quite some time and which the conservative movement, that is, the core of the Republican party, stands athwart. As for foreign policy . . . well, what about Bonior and McDermott, the Baghdad Democrats? They were pretty forthright in their views, saying on national TV that Saddam Hussein is more trustworthy than President Bush. I’m going to hazard a guess that that little comedy of muddled treason did the Democrats no good on Election Day.
The Democrats do have a serious problem: it is that they are the party of bad ideas. (I should note that, alas, an idea being bad is no guarantee against its acceptance and implementation.)posted by Paul Cella | 2:19 AM |
Thursday, November 07, 2002 Please note my new feature, at long last: comments. posted by Paul Cella | 5:00 AM |
The astute cultural observer Mark Gauvreau Judge has composed a very impressive arraignment (unfortunately not online) in the current American Conservative of journalists’ approach to race, social policy and the welfare state. His method is to juxtapose the words of liberal journalists of the 1960s, as the welfare state began to yield its rotten fruit, with those same journalists in later years, as the corrupting ideologies of multiculturalism and identity politics took hold and enfeebled their powers of discernment. The method is brutally effective, and (though it is admittedly based on small samples) it reveals a collapse of moral toughness and intellectual integrity. There are some things that, no matter how true they are and no matter what benefits might be drawn from their absorption into the political discourse, simply cannot be affirmed candidly. Mr. Judge adumbrates some of these things that cannot be said, and illustrates the striking contrast with how frequently and hardheadedly they were articulated forty years ago. For instance, consider this passage from a 1960s book on the welfare state:
Those words were written by a liberal; today such as they will only appear in conservative publications, and will only gain purchase in the public dialogue by a combination of great urgency and heroic intellectual effort, a good example of which was welfare reform.
In that piece of legislation we nevertheless had a consummate example of what Tocqueville, the famed physician of democracy, called “the great privilege of the Americans”: the capacity woven into the very body of our political institutions for self-correction of legislative mistakes. The mistake here was in imprudently and irresponsibly expanding the scope of the welfare sector under the Johnson and Nixon administrations —- an action which did a massive, though surely inadvertent, disservice to the urban poor. It was a tragicomic performance of the Law of Unintended Consequences: Policies conceived, designed and implemented to alleviate poverty in fact exacerbated and prolonged it by undermining the inherited human conditions and arrangements which naturally mitigate the dislocations of modern society, namely, the traditional family. A few representative statistics should be enough to elucidate the problem: In the 1950s, before the advent of the “war on poverty,” the percentage of poor families headed by adults employed full-time was twice the percentage today. In 1959, a single mother headed 28 percent of poor families; that figure today is over 60 percent. The illegitimacy rate today among poor urban blacks is nearly 80 percent, a comprehensively catastrophic figure. Inaugurated under Johnson and sustained under Nixon, what the war on poverty did was subsidize fathers abandoning their son and daughters, and replace parents with the State as the financial protectors of children; and how pitiful a protector it has been! Among poor families, responsible parents —- particularly fathers —- became superfluous figures, and children became urchins of a dark and debased urban jungle. Though there was of course vigorous resistance to the enlargement of the welfare state, this particular calamity was predicted by almost no one at the outset.
Less unpredictable was the subsequent refusal of the theorists and implementers of these failed policies to acknowledge the reality of their failure: for what man is eager to proclaim his mistakes, particularly when they are of such breadth and visibility? As Mr. Judge demonstrates in this article, an ideology has developed among journalists and academics to insulate them from the facts of social policy failure, like a drug to dull the pain of reality; and alas, many of these selfsame social policies have been duplicated in various other countries —- most saliently, perhaps, in Great Britain. Reviewing for The New Criterion a recently published collection of essays by a British prison doctor which document in grim detail the failures of British welfarism, John Derbyshire underscores this dismal but important insight [Ed: have you quoted this line before? I don’t know, but if I have, it was a good choice]:
Thirty years on, at least here in the U.S., and the failure reached a critical mass of prominence and tragedy such that it could no longer be wished away with excuses and flowery rhetoric. This is borne out by the noteworthy fact that in the end a liberal president, not a conservative one, signed welfare reform into law.
The achievements of this “great privilege of the Americans,” the ability to repair mistakes, are well-documented in the case of welfare reform: welfare rolls reduced by 50 percent since 1996; 4.2 million fewer Americans living in poverty, including 2.3 million fewer children; a poverty rate for black children at its lowest point since statistics were collected. Poverty is still an immense problem for American cities, but its most dreary trends have been arrested, and some gains have been made. The story of the 1960s engorgement of the welfare state, followed thirty years later by the partial reformation of a broken, disastrous system, constitutes a sobering lesson about human nature, the failure of “enlightened” public policy to account for it, and the inadequacy of the State in addressing human suffering.
And as Mr. Judge argues, most journalists, particularly those of the left-wing persuasion, have grown increasingly reluctant to convey to the public the lineaments of this bitter story. This amputation of important intellectual faculties where they impinge upon examinations of social policy is another story worth telling.posted by Paul Cella | 4:18 AM |
Quandaries and vulnerabilities for the newly-ascendant GOP: (1) Immigration. Karl Rove’s stock is sky high, as well it should be, but his strategy to capture Hispanic voters through a broader liberalization of an already decrepit immigration policy is still acutely brassbound and shortsighted. The numbers just aren’t there, and cultural trends drive almost precisely against the assumption on which this theory rests: namely, that rigorous assimilation pressures and incentives will be restored. Republicans cannot compete with the Democrats in terms of ethnic pandering, and moreover they shouldn’t want to; additionally, the studied complacency in the GOP leadership regarding the disorder on the Mexican border demoralizes natural Republican constituencies. (2) Bilingual education. Few policies are as wrongheaded as this delusion, and it boggles my mind that conservatives like Colorado Governor Bill Owens will not stand against it. Noah Millman examines this failure astutely in the last paragraph of this post; I have nothing more to add. (3) The military. The simple fact of the matter is that our military is under-funded, even now, post-September 11; and we are likely to take on the additional staggering burden of nation-building in Iraq, which may in the long-run work out alright (of even that I am doubtful), but which will unquestionably be expensive in the short-term, more in terms of manpower (the greatest expense of all) than in terms of money. President Bush will have to face down the problems of military procurement and deployments one way or another, or he will make himself politically vulnerable where he is now strongest, and make us all unjustifiably vulnerable. (4)The intelligence services. The CIA is a tremulous and politically-compromised institution, and its ground operatives are poorly served by an ossified bureaucracy. George Tenet should have offered his resignation to the President on September 12, 2001. Similarly with the FBI, which seems more concerned with protecting itself from embarrassments and charges of racial profiling than with protecting Americans. Some analysts have recommended developing a new domestic intelligence agency along the lines of Britain’s MI-6, and while few things make me more anxious than a new acronym-soaked bureaucracy, this one may be necessary. (5) Health care. This is more of an “everyone’s problem” issue, and few beside Milton Friedman seem to have any serious ideas about it, but the Republicans are the leaders now, and failures will be borne by them. posted by Paul Cella | 12:13 AM |
Wednesday, November 06, 2002 First thoughts on the election: (1) The GOP has no one to blame now; if anything goes wrong in Iraq, or if the economy continues to struggle, then 2004 could be ugly for them. (2) That crass and unseemly Wellstone memorial service/political rally looks very, very bad for the Dems now, even if Mondale ultimately pulls it off. The kind of vapidity and pettiness evidenced by the Minnesota Left appears to have struck the electorate in much the same way as Cynthia McKinney’s crude paranoia and viciousness: as a species of profound unseriousness which, post-September 11, we simply have no taste for anymore. (3) GOP control of the Senate is hugely important, for one reason above all others: judicial nominations. (Hey, I make no claim to originality in these observations.) (4) The Democrats will tack left dramatically, which is bad for the country, but may not be as bad for the Party itself as many think. (5) President Bush will emerge as even more of a giant; here in Georgia, for example, he almost single-handedly effected two of the real shockers of the night, with the Senate seat and governorship breaking for Republicans. (6) The White House was wise but unwisely unheeded in backing, despite his liberal positions on many social issues, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan for California governor. Riordan would have pounded Gray Davis and consolidated even more remarkable GOP sweep.
P.S.: Also check out Orrin Judd's early musings on the shape of things.
UPDATE: (7) We may see real Social Security reform based on private investment in the near future, which would represent a truly watershed event in modern American history. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru has been diligently advising us that Social Security was the dog that didn’t bark for Democrats, who have relied on that issue to win races for many, many years. It seems that even in a soft economy, favoring private accounts is no longer much of a liability for the GOP.posted by Paul Cella | 2:26 AM |
Saturday, November 02, 2002 Noah Millman dilates intelligently on the future of Turkey vis-à-vis the European Union:
Wise counsel, that. Of late there has been a flurry of serious thought on European-American relations (see the linked articles below), and I think this kind of seriousness reflects well on our country. Reassessment of this relationship has been a long time in coming, the abrupt end to the Cold War having fractured the whole geopolitical firmament. Mr. Millman remarks that the European Union continues to drift into a position almost structurally antagonistic to the United States. A grave danger to us is that this drift will persist until Europe, stronger and more independent of the U.S. both economically and militarily, will seek to bring more adamantly anti-American powers (China comes to mind, but Lord knows there are plenty of them) into its orbit. Steve Sailer has suggested, shrewdly, that a possible answer to this might involve expanding NATO to include Australia, Japan, and a few other friends, as a counterweight to the witless bureaucratic muddle over at the UN and, I would add, the EU. Mr. Millman’s alternative is intriguing as well.
It seems undeniable to me that it should remain a central if tacit element of American policy to encourage British independence from Europe. London is an order of magnitude more sympathetic to us than Brussels; it would be a severe blow if the former were to eventually subordinate itself to the latter, as the EU elites envision. Also, the lawlessness of North Korea has exposed the reality that a weakened and listless Japan weakens us. It makes little sense for us to assume the burden of defense for two prosperous and stable nations like Japan and South Korea; North Korean thuggery is their problem more than it is ours, and there is a certain incongruity bordering on absurdity when the United States finds itself in the position of being more hawkish toward a nuclear armed Pyongyang than either Tokyo or Seoul (Mr. Millman himself made a similar point here).
These, I fear, are the wages of Empire: by taking up the burden of responsibility for stability and order in regions of the world far, far from its home, America not only attracts resentment and paranoid fury from adversaries and enemies; it also emasculates the natural defensive inclinations of its friends. Now I hasten to add that it is hard to imagine how this Empire could have been avoided: America troops are stationed in places like Japan and South Korea precisely (as also, in Germany and the Middle East) because that is where the fighting stopped in wars few regard as illegitimate (with the possible exception of the Gulf War). Japan sealed its fate as an eventual American dependency the moment the bombs began falling on that bright Hawaiian morning in 1941; but the question is, For how long? Because sixty years on, quite inconveniently, we have an emasculated ally when we would like a vigorous one, jealous of its interests.
And there is another, more sinister reality highlighted by North Korea’s recent disclosure: the rush to acquire a nuclear deterrent against the United States. It was the Gulf War which really powered this trend, as assorted gangster regimes and tyrants stared in wide-eyed horror at the irresistible might of the American military. Security could only be had through achievement a doomsday arsenal. This is known as the “nuclear bee-sting” theory, although now we ought to call it reality.posted by Paul Cella | 1:55 AM |
Friday, November 01, 2002 There is this little story about the Somali immigrants in Lewiston, Maine, which is worth getting acquainted with for it concerns the future of the country. In an effort to escape the depredations of urban life in Atlanta, a community of Somali immigrants, after sending out emissaries to scout out various options across this great land, settled on Lewiston, population 36,000. This fall, Lewiston’s mayor wrote a letter to leaders of the Somali immigrants asking them to dissuade others from moving to his town. This was not taken well by the Somalis; nor by the national media, and predictably, there are a number of outside groups moving in to assist in a lawsuit. A Providence, Rhode Island, columnist has some thoughtful things to say about the whole row:
One might rewrite that last astute point to read: “What’s bad is that the U.S. has no immigration policy.” What we have instead is a sordid and outrageous Halloween bag full of corporate interest Snickers, ethnic lobby Smarties, and bureaucratic complacency Kit Kats. And the whole thing will bring nothing but rotten teeth and obesity.posted by Paul Cella | 2:56 AM |