Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

A defense of the sniper on moral grounds

Oh, not from me — I’m still as conflicted as ever about the role of the sniper. As you’ll recall, in my first of several posts about “American Sniper” (one before I saw the movie, explaining why I was eager to see it), I wrote:

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

And I still wonder about that. And I’m not sure the film gave me a satisfactory answer (which was perhaps too much to expect of a movie anyway). And maybe that’s because of the subject. I’ve started reading the autobiography upon which the film is based, and it seems fairly clear already that Chris Kyle was not the most introspective of men.

And while my uncertainty is not quenched by this either, I did get a little grist for my mill from a piece in the WSJ this morning. It’s by a comrade of Chris Kyle’s, defending the role of a sniper as in some ways more moral than what others do in war:

Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope. The intimate connection between the shooter and the target can be hard to overcome for even the most emotionally mature warrior. The value of a sniper in warfare is beyond calculation.

I witnessed the exceptional performance of SEAL, Army and Marine snipers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They struck psychological fear in our enemies and protected countless lives. Chris Kyle and the sniper teams I led made a habit of infiltrating dangerous areas of enemy-controlled ground, established shooting positions and coordinated security for large conventional-unit movement.

More than half the time, the snipers didn’t need to shoot; over-watch and guidance to the ground troops was enough. But when called upon, snipers like Chris Kyle engaged enemy combatants and “cleared the path” for exposed troops to move effectively and safely in their arduous ground missions. These small sniper teams pulled the trigger at their own risk. If their position was discovered, they had little backup or support….

He makes some good points, specifically about the fact that the sniper is the least discriminate killer on the battlefield. But as the writer acknowledges, that very specificity, that relationship between the sniper and the clearly observed individual he kills, is what would haunt me, on moral (or at least empathetic) grounds, were I ever tasked with such an assignment.

Of course, this takes us to the old question of whether it is more moral to assassinate a problematic foreign leader than to engage in open warfare with his armed forces. If you look at it coldly, you say of course it is better to kill one bad (in your definition) guy than to take action that will almost certainly lead to the deaths of innocents. But then my inner Victorian Gent harrumphs loudly, horrified at the idea of specifically, deliberately, murdering a particular human being whose name you know. I feel a sort of atavistic aversion to regicide, I suppose.

Then there’s the problem that it’s almost impossible to deliberately take out an individual, as President Obama does with drones, without also killing innocents, or regular innocents.

There are no easy answers where war, or the semblance of war, is concerned.

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

I thought this headline, saying ‘people could die. That’s okay,’ was meant ironically. It wasn’t…

I got a bit of whiplash reading the opinion section on my Washington Post app over the weekend.

I saw this headline, “End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.” Beyond that, all I could see without clicking on the link was part of this opening sentence: “Say conservatives have their way with Obamacare, and the Supreme Courtdeals it a death blow or a Republican president repeals it in 2017.”

And I thought, Oh boy, some liberal is engaging in standard partisan hyperbole, trying to make us think that those horrible Republicans think it’s OK that people would die if Obamacare were repealed. Sheesh.

And then, I clicked on the link, and the first thing I saw was that the author of the column, Michael R. Strain, “is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” And I thought, Wow, that’s counterintuitive, for someone from AEI to be castigating Republicans for wanting to end Obamacare. AEI must represent a broader spectrum of viewpoints than I had thought. I wonder if this guy gets ostracized by the OTHER “resident scholars,” or do they respect his take on things? If such a piece is coming from AEI, it must really be interesting…

And then, I started reading. And quickly realized there was no irony or hyperbole involved here. This guy was serious. He really was saying that people will die if Obamacare goes away, and that that’s OK. What’s left of Jonathan Swift must be rolling over about now.

Here is the operative passage:

During the health-care debates of 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) brought a poster on the House floor: “The Republican Health Care Plan: Die Quickly.” In the summer of 2012, when Obamacare was threatened by a presidential election, writer Jonathan Alter argued that “repeal equals death. People will die in the United States if Obamacare is repealed.” Columnist Jonathan Chait wrote recently that those who may die are victims of ideology — “collateral damage” incurred in conservatives’ pursuit “of a larger goal.” If these are the stakes, many liberals argue, then ending Obamacare is immoral.

Except, it’s not.

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

He goes on, of course, to explain that what he means is that we make decisions that result in people dying all the time. For instance, if we really didn’t want anyone to die in a traffic accident, speed limits would be set at 10 mph. But we make a tradeoff.

And of course, our healthcare payment system makes decisions not to pay for potentially life-saving care all the time. That was what was so ridiculous about the overheated rhetoric from the right about “death panels” — did Sarah Palin et al. not see that insurance companies, in their bids to hold down costs, have long acted as “death panels”?

But still, I was startled. One seldom sees the case for death made so openly…

Turning our backs on the world

The problem is not that Barack Obama didn’t go participate in a feel-good march in Paris.

The problem is that when he pauses to talk about what he considers to be important, the rest of the world hardly gets a mention.

Dana Milbank went into this at some length in his column yesterday, headlined, “On terrorism, the State of the Union is strangely quiet.” An excerpt:

Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation’s focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.

Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.

And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. “We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores,” Obama said at the start of his speech. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”

Obama, full of swagger, turned the page — several pages — from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” before arriving at his discussion of national security.

He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the “challenges beyond our shores.” He said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he’d “continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks” and “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”…

Essentially, the president paused in his lengthy examination of domestic policy to say, “And oh, yeah, the rest of the world, yadda-yadda…”

Of course, we’ve been hearing plenty of criticism along those lines from some of the president’s rivals, but the truth is the the GOP on the whole (with the exceptions of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and a few others) is offering no alternative vision for how we should conduct the affairs that are the primary reason for having a federal government. As Milbank noted, “The response to Obama’s address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did. Indeed, the new Republican Congress has been just as domestic in its emphasis.”

Daniel Henninger wrote in The Wall Street Journal this morning about how jarring it was to see “American Sniper” Tuesday night, then return home to watch the president’s lack of concern about the world on display:

Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.

Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and removeall of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)

Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.

In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.

Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness….

But we expect that from Henninger and the WSJ, right?

So let’s consider what the editorial board of The Washington Post had to say last week in an editorial headlined, “The U.S. fight against jihadism has lost its momentum:”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.

Iraq, moreover, is the theater where U.S. engagement is most aggressive; elsewhere, the Obama administration appears to be passively standing by as jihadists expand their territory, recruitment and training. In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits. In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow….

This is a bad situation for our country and our allies. And I worry that it won’t get any better as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way. No wonder Lindsey Graham is thinking of running — it may be the only way most of the world gets talked about.

Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

Two days ago, I said I hoped that when the SC House Democrats announced their legislative priorities on Tuesday, they would back away from their awful idea of legalizing casinos in order to pay for roads.

I didn’t have much confidence that they would, and I didn’t attend their presser.

But I’m pleased and surprised by the release they sent out after yesterday’s event. No, they didn’t abandon the idea. But it was no longer the first thing they mentioned on the topic of paying for roads, and the first thing was now the one rational way to do it — by raising the tax that is intended for that purpose, a tax that hasn’t been raised since 1987:

SC House Democrats Announce 2015 Legislative Agenda
Highlights include road funding, education funding reform, equal pay, redistricting reform
Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats announced their legislative agenda for the 2015-16 session at a press conference at the state house on Tuesday. Led by Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford, Democrats first stressed the need to tackle road funding this session.
“House Democrats are endorsing an ‘all of the above’ approach to road funding this year,” said Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). “The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over. Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase, nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”
Democrats also called on the Governor and Republicans in the general assembly to withdraw their “embarrassing” appeal to the Supreme Court ruling over K-12 funding.
“For twenty years, Republicans have ignored the issue of education funding in South Carolina,” said Representative James Smith (D-Richland.) “Instead of fighting the Supreme Court ruling calling on us to address the inequalities in school funding, let’s actually roll up our sleeves and do it. We owe it to the students, parents, and teachers of South Carolina. “
Democrats also called on Governor Haley to negotiate a South Carolina-centered alternative to Medicaid Expansion with the federal government to allow us to bring our federal tax dollars back to the state.
“It makes zero sense to continue to refuse to accept our own tax dollars just so Governor Haley can thumb her nose at the President,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg). “Fourteen Republican Governors have now come out in support of some sort of Expansion alternative that they negotiated with the federal government. Why shouldn’t we do the same?”
The other issues Democrats will focus on this session include equal pay for female state employees. South Carolina is one of just four states in the nation without a equal pay law. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has proposed a bill that would ban gender pay discrimination among state employees. His bill was modeled after a Louisiana bill that passed an overwhelming Republican General Assembly and signed into law by conservative Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
House Democrats also endorsed a plan to establish a living wage in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina is one of just five states in the country without a state-mandated minimum wage law. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s proposal would set the wage at $10.10 per hour.
Democrats also pledged their support for ethics reform this session. Though they said any ethics reform should also include reforming the redistricting process in South Carolina. Their proposal would install an independent panel to draw district lines instead of partisan legislators. In 2014, 100% of all incumbent legislators were re-elected in the general election.
“District lines are purposely drawn by legislators in order to create a safer political environment for themselves and their political party,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Kershaw), the author of the bill. “Gerrymandering has created a polarized legislature that seeks to root out moderates and replace them with politicians who only have to worry about winning their primaries. Reforming our redistricting process is critical to a more functional General Assembly and regaining the trust of the voters.”
####

Sure, I’d like to see them pick up the gas tax ball and run with it, but this indirect sort of endorsement at least marks progress.

Here’s hoping SC House Democrats’ priorities have improved over the last couple of weeks

I received this this morning:

SC House Democrats to Unveil Agenda and Discuss 2015 State of the State at Tuesday Press Conference
 
Columbia, SC – SC House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning, January 20th, to unveil their 2015 legislative agenda and to discuss expectations for Governor Haley’s 2015 State of the State.
Who: SC House Democrats
What: Press Conference to Unveil 2015 Legislative Agenda and Discuss Governor Haley’s State of the State
When: Tuesday, January 20th – 11:45am
Where: SC State House – First Floor Lobby
For More Information please contact Tyler Jones at 843-732-2550 or tylerjonesmail@gmail.com
####

Here’s hoping that SC Democrats’ priorities have changed somewhat since they released them a couple of weeks ago. Particularly, I hope they’ve scrubbed the first one:

  1. 3127 – Allow gaming referendum to pay for roads (Rutherford)
  2. 3110 – High Quality Education for public schools (W. McLeod)
  3. 3140 – Legalization of Medical Marijuana for Patients (Rutherford)
  4. 3031 – Establish a state minimum wage (Cobb-Hunter)
  5. 3253 – Establish an equal pay law in South Carolina (Stavrinakis)
  6. 3174 – Comprehensive Ethics Reform (Tinkler)

I hope, I hope, I hope…

Krauthammer bravely pushes the Energy Party line

Enjoyed this Charles Krauthammer piece over the weekend:

For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s nowaround $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a 10- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax….

A $1 gas tax increase would constrain oil consumption in two ways. In the short run, by curbing driving. In the long run, by altering car-buying habits. A return to gas-guzzling land yachts occurs every time gasoline prices plunge. A high gas tax encourages demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Constrained U.S. consumption — combined with already huge increases in U.S. production — would continue to apply enormous downward pressure on oil prices….

Quixotic, yes. But I stand up and cheer whenever anyone has the courage to speak sense on the gas tax.

I don’t know whether his FICA rollback is the best thing to do with the money. I’d like to see some serious investment in infrastructure. But it doesn’t matter. Raising the gas tax and using the money unwisely is actually better than not raising it at all, for the reasons Krauthammer cites.

By the way, in praising Krauthammer for being so Energy Party, I don’t mean to claim he got the idea from me. As he says, he’s been pushing this uncommon sense idea for 32 years. The Energy Party has only been around for a fourth as long.

But of course, the odds against us are as great as ever. Too many on both the left and the right hate the idea of gas tax increases. But at least there’s something afoot in Congress…

Guess I’ll have to go see ‘American Sniper’

american_sniper_still

Has anyone seen “The Master,” one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films? I saw it last night on Netflix (still fighting a cold, I’ve been vegging out in front of the tube a lot in my off hours) and was impressed. Not that it seemed to have much meaning, but it was interesting and well done, and had a couple of roles in it that actors would understandably kill for. Anyway, I was curious as to whether any of y’all had any thoughts about it.

I got up this morning thinking about that, but now, I think I may have to make one of my rare trips to the actual cinema to check out the subject of this Tweet from this morning:

Yes, that’s the kind of post that makes you give a second glance to see whose feed this is, and then you say, “The Guardian, of course.”

This particular writer was bending over backward to defend Clint Eastwood, saying that however much “we diverge politically… he is not a black-and-white ideologue.”

No, the problem that the writer decries is that “much of the US right wing” has failed to appreciate that this is a “morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film,” and regard it “with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself.”

This is supported with examples from some extreme trolls who wish that critics of the film would eat s__t, be raped and die. The usual sick puppies who, I guess we are supposed to assume, represent “much of the US right wing.” Trolls. Really nasty ones.

And of course, you have to be a pretty sick puppy, or challenged in the reading-comprehension department, if you can read the movie’s subtitle — “The Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History” — and not pick up on the idea that there’s a pickup truckload of moral ambiguity churning about here.

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

I wonder at such things. So I wanted to see the movie anyway. But I wanted to see it twice as much after reading this actual review of it, also in The Guardian. This writer doesn’t bother making excuses for Mr. Eastwood, basically lumping him in with the rest of those thoughtless rah-rah American nutters. “American Sniper is so conditioned by its first-person shooter aesthetic that it never widens its focus or pans left or right… while the war on Iraq is a just, noble cause.”

Did you catch that? War on Iraq? This, apparently, is what passes as cool, analytical rhetoric in The Guardian, distinguishing right-thinking people from the “black-and-white ideologues,” all of whom, evidently, are neoconservatives.

Anyway, I was grabbed by this passage from the review:

In one early scene, Kyle’s father tells him that the world is divided into three types: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Kyle sees himself as a sheepdog, a noble protector of the weak and the innocent, and it is clear that Eastwood does too. But is the world that simple? A different film (a better film) might have asked the wolves what they think, or at least wondered why the sheep behave as they do….

This grabbed me because that sheep/wolf/sheepdog model is central to Dave Grossman’s study of what he terms “killology,” a field of inquiry he has invented and generally has to himself. Lt. Col. Grossman is the author of that book I’m always going on about, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It demonstrates, through statistical analyses of battles and other means, that through most of human history, most soldiers have not fired their weapons in combat, and most who did fired over their enemies’ heads, for the simple fact that however they may have been trained, the training failed to overcome their profound aversion to killing fellow human beings. (Actually, in the past generation, U.S. and other advanced armies have overcome that reluctance through conditioning, which has led to more PTSD, which is a reason why Grossman wrote the book.)

That vast majority that doesn’t want to kill, and which suffers tremendous psychological damage when forced to do so, makes up the “sheep” category — not meant as a pejorative, but simply denoting normal, peaceful men.

I’m sometimes unclear as to who, exactly, makes up the “sheepdog” category. Sometimes, Grossman indicates it’s anyone who willingly dons the uniform — of the cop, the soldier, the sailor — and defends his or her society. Other times, though, he seems to be referring to a much rarer breed — the 2 percent of combat soldiers (according to a study from World War II, when there was such a vast cross-section of the male population to study) who “if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.”

The WWII study found these men to have a tendency to be “aggressive psychopaths.” But Grossman defends them from that damning term, explaining that they are just natural-born soldiers who “apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat.”

In that set of competing definitions, you’ve got enough ambiguity to employ an army of moral philosophers for a century.

Their the sort whose comrades might see as heroes, while those who have no military experience and look askance at those who do view as, well, psychopaths, in keeping with the time-honored tradition:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…

This 2 percent cadre of men tends to gravitate toward the special forces — toward jobs such as that of the subject of “American Sniper,” who was a SEAL.

Anyway, I need to see the movie, and see what I can learn from it. As should anyone who wants to take some responsibility for what we send other men to do for us.

Mulvaney: House insurgents can’t be trusted

At first, I thought SC’s Mick Mulvaney had had an awakening, and was spurning the Tea Party fervor that put him in office. I thought maybe his views had matured as a result of four years’ exposure to political reality. I was misled by this headline in the WashPost this morning: “House Republican slams anti-Boehner movement hard. Like, really hard.

That sounded as though maybe he was criticizing the thinking, or the goals, of the ineffectual insurgents. But no. He apparently still shares the goals. But he doesn’t trust the insurgents because they’re ineffectual.

Here’s his statement:

“There was an attempt to oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House today.  I didn’t participate in it.  That may make some people back home angry.  I understand that, but I’ve got some experience with coup attempts against the Speaker, and what I learned two years ago factored heavily in my decision today not to join the mutiny.

First, I learned two years ago that people lie about how they are going to vote.  And you cannot go into this kind of fight with people you do not trust. We walked onto the floor two years ago with signed pledges – handwritten promises – from more than enough people to deny Boehner his job.  But when it came time to vote, almost half of those people changed their minds – including some of those who voted against Boehner today.  Fool me once, shame on you… Today was even worse: there were never enough votes to oust Boehner to begin with.   On top of that, some people who had publicly said in the past that they wouldn’t vote for Boehner did just that. This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand that is no way to fight a battle.   This coup today was bound to fail.  And in fact, it failed worse than I expected, falling 11 votes short of deposing the Speaker.  At least two years ago we only failed by six.

I also learned that the Floor of the House is the wrong place to have this battle.  The hard truth is that we had an election for Speaker in November – just among Republicans.  THAT was the time to fight.  But not a single person ran against Boehner.  Not one.  If they had, we could’ve had a secret ballot to find out what the true level of opposition to John Boehner was.  In fact, we could’ve done that as late as Monday night, on a vote of “no confidence” in the Speaker.  But that didn’t happen…and at least one of the supposed challengers to Boehner today didn’t even go to the meeting last night.  That told me a lot.

Some people wrote me encouraging me to vote for Louie Gohmert.  I like Louie, but let’s be clear: Louie Gohmert was – is – never ever going to be Speaker of the House.  I respect his passion, but he isn’t a credible candidate.  That was proved today by the fact that he got three votes, despite all the national media attention he managed to grab.  My colleague who got the most anti-Boehner votes was Daniel Webster of Florida who got 12 votes. I like Daniel.  He is a nice guy, and a good thinker…but his lifetime Heritage Action score is 60% (by comparison, mine is 91%).  And this was supposed to be the savior of the conservative movement?  Would the House really have been more conservative if he had won?

The truth is, there was no conservative who could beat John Boehner. Period.  People can ignore that, or they can wish it away, but that is reality.  

Some people tried to argue that voting against Boehner would give conservatives leverage, or somehow force him to lead in a more conservative fashion, even if the coup attempt failed.  All I can say to that is that the exact opposite happened two years ago:  conservatives were marginalized, and Boehner was even freer to work with moderates and Democrats.  My guess is that the exact same thing will happen again now.  And I fail to see how that helps anything that conservatives know needs to be done in Washington.

I understand people’s frustration and anger over what is happening in Washington.  And I also acknowledge that John Boehner may be partly to blame. But this was a fool’s errand.  I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle. 

Finally, the most troubling accusation I have heard regarding the Boehner vote is that I have “sold out” my conservative principles.  All I can say is this: take a look at my voting record.  It is one of the most conservative in Congress.  And I was joined today by the likes of Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, Trey Gowdy, Mark Sanford, Trent Franks, Tom McClintock, Matt Salmon, Tom Price, Sam Johnson, and Jeb Hensarling.  If I “sold out” then I did so joined by some of the most tried and tested conservative voices in Washington.

I can say with 100% confidence that I have done exactly what I said I would do when I came to Washington: fight to cut spending, stop bad legislation, work to repeal Obamacare, and hold the President accountable for his actions.  That will never change, and neither will I.”

The Post may be right that this statement “is remarkably blunt and the kind of thing that is rarely seen from a member of Congress.” But it in no way reflects a change of heart. Unfortunately, this is still a guy who thinks mainstream Republicans aren’t radical enough.

Tom Friedman’s take on torture report

I liked Tom Friedman’s latest column:

Why do people line up to come to this country? Why do they build boats from milk cartons to sail here? Why do they trust our diplomats and soldiers in ways true of no other country? It’s because we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also because these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history.

One of the things we did was elect a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim as our president — after being hit on Sept. 11, 2001, by Muslim extremists. And one of the things we do we did on Tuesday: We published what appears to be an unblinking examination and exposition of how we tortured prisoners and suspected terrorists after 9/11. I’m glad we published it.

It may endanger captured Americans in the future. That is not to be taken lightly. But this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to — which is a different, but vital, source of our security as well….

It’s not a unique point of view. Even The Guardian, in expressing its high dudgeon over “America’s shame and disgrace,” acknowledged in a backhanded way that issuing the report illustrates something special about America, even though they were just using it as a way to beat up on HMG:

In one sense, it is a tribute to the US that it has published such a report. It is certainly a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability – shortcomings that parliament must address.

But I particularly appreciate Friedman’s approach. His headline was “We’re Always Still Americans,” and it came from this John McCain quote at the end:

… I greatly respect how Senator John McCain put it: “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. … But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.” Even in the worst of times, “we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

Whether, of course, we remain Americans, true to our ideals, depends on whether we truly have put this shameful practice behind us.

What ‘we believe,’ compared to what I believe

Bear with me, those of you who aren’t interested in religious arcana. I’ll post something for you later. But it is Advent, after all, and therefore a time for reflection…

On a previous post, Mike Cakora shared a favorite quote:

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”
– Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat (1915-2002)

My response to that got so involved, I decided to turn it into a separate post…

I really like the Abba Eban quote, even though I suspect he is trying to say something negative about consensus, when I think it is a wonderful thing.

The point he makes is at the heart of why I’m so pedantic about the distinction between an editorial and a column. An editorial expresses a group opinion (preferably an actual consensus, which was our goal at The State), and a column is what one person believes. (It particularly drives me nuts when innocents say they’ve contributed “an editorial,” when they mean a letter or an op-ed. It’s all I can do to keep myself from telling them, “That’s impossible, because you do not belong to an editorial board.” Because, you know, I don’t think it would be taken well.)

This distinction also lies at the heart of my objection to the changes to the Catholic liturgy in English in this country a couple of years back. Well, my substantive objection, as opposed to my merely aesthetic ones. (I thought the words were more beautiful before.)

I only have my nose rubbed in this problem when I attend a Mass in English, which I usually don’t do, since I’m a Spanish lector. (The irony is that the Spanish version has many of the same flaws as the new English one, but it’s the only version I’ve known in Spanish, so I don’t have the sense of loss.)

Last night, I attended a Mass in English, because I had a personal conflict with my usual Mass time. When we got to the Creed, I couldn’t bring myself to say the new words, and muttered th old one under my breath. Here’s the new creed, the one that bothers me so much.

Here’s the old one. Or rather, a comparison of the two. The old one is on the left.

I have a number of objections, as I said, arising purely from my love of the language. If you care about words, “one in being with the Father” is greatly preferable to “consubstantial with the Father.” Or compare the old, “he suffered, died and was buried” to “he suffered death and was buried.” The latter minimizes both the suffering and the death, coming across almost as though “he suffered inconvenience.” The old stresses that he SUFFERED, and then he DIED. Whole different emphasis. Or rather, the old actually does emphasize, and the new does not.

But the BIG objection is that the old is about what “WE believe,” and the new one says “I believe.” And yeah, I know this gets us back to a literal translation of the Latin Credo, but that doesn’t legitimize it for me.

Here’s why: For me the creed works as an editorial (the old way), but not as a column (the new way). As with the Eban quote, the creed describes what we have agreed to believe collectively, not a single person’s conclusions about faith. Switching to “I” negates the communitarian nature of Catholicism, and moves us more toward the nonliturgical denominations, where they talk a lot about their own personal faith, and their personal relationship with Jesus. I prefer to stress, through our statement of faith, that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that these statements reflect a 2,000-year-old process of discernment.

And for those of you who still don’t understand my communitarian leanings, this is NOT about subordinating my ability to think to a collective enterprise. As you know, I object deeply to that sort of thing; that objection lies at the heart of my critique of political parties.

I object because I DO think for myself. And if I were working out a personal, “I” sort of creed, it would be quite different from this one. I’m not a Christian and a Catholic because of the things stated in the creed. At no time would I attach great importance to the Virgin Birth, for instance. I’m OK with saying “WE” believe that; I don’t object to it. But it’s not core to my faith. The core of my faith, and I think, truly, the Catholic faith, is what Jesus stated as the Great Commandment, and the second commandment that is inextricably related to it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Were I to write a creed, it would center around those things, not around a sort of religious cosmology or the description of a Trinity-based pantheon of versions of God. I’m happy to go along with (WE believe) what they came up with at Nicea, but it’s just not what I, personally (I believe) would have come up with.

Which reminds me. I have for years had this idea for a project — to draft a new creed, based in what Jesus actually taught, rather than in all the arguments that occurred after his death as to who he was. A creed that Jesus would actually recognize, that would make him say, “THAT’s what I was talking about.” I’ve just been intimidated by the scope of it, and I worry that trying to do such a thing would show abominable hubris on my part. Lacking a good grounding in theology or in deep study of the Bible, I fear that what I came up with would be woefully inadequate, and therefore it would be presumptuous of me to try.

But I really ought to try sometime… Maybe the difficulty of the task would make me appreciate the Nicene one better…

And maybe I shouldn’t be intimidated. After all, I think an atheist, Douglas Adams, did a great job of summing up the faith, even though he was being offhand and flippant about it:

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…

Another reason I like Facebook less and less all the time

So last night, I was leafing through my tattered and musty-smelling copy of The Name of the Rose, and ran across this Thomas à Kempis quote at the end of the foreword:

In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.

And I immediately loved it and wanted to add it as one of my favorite quotes on Facebook.

But since Facebook has been reconfigured about 47 times (I think it’s competing with the number of times the U.S. House has tried to repeal Obamacare) since the last time I added a quote, I couldn’t find my quotes.

Which really ticked me off. If it had been a button for inviting people to play Candy Crush Saga, you can bet it wouldn’t have disappeared. But since quotes have to do with the written word, and might provoke actual thought

But thanks to Google, I found a way to get to my quotes. Actually, the instructions I found were out of date (a couple more Facebook configurations since they were written, apparently), but they helped me enough that I could intuit my way to my quotes.

Here’s how: Click on your name to get your home page. Click on About. Over on the left, click on “Details About You.” At the bottom of the box, you’ll find your quotes. Which is counterintuitive. You’d expect to find them on the page with your favorite books, movies, music, etc. But they’re not there…

Here are mine. Maybe they aren’t all the epitome of profundity, but I like them:

“I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings. Right, Chaplain?”
— Yossarian, in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

“Stand in the place where you live.”
— R.E.M.

“I invested my life in institutions — he thought without rancour — and all I am left with is myself.”
— Smiley’s People

“In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.”
— Thomas à Kempis

Child Hysteria Bingo Board, by way of Lenore Skenazy

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Lenore Skenazy, who spends her time debunking the more absurd anxieties of helicopter parents at her website Free Range Kids, passed on this inspiration from one of her readers

Welp, I think I’ve finally read enough of Free-Range Kids to make a Bingo board. Make a 5×5 grid, put Free [Range] Space in the middle, scatter the other options randomly over the grid, and play along!

  1. SCARY BLACK PEOPLE
  2. SCARY MEN
  3. SCARY PO’ FOLKS
  4. FACTS SCHMACTS, WE’VE GOT A WITCH HUNT GOING HERE
  5. MAD SNATCHERS BEHIND EVERY TREE
  6. I MADE IT UP AND NOW IT SCARES ME
  7. PHOTOS ARE WINDOWS TO MY CHILD’S BEDROOM
  8. ALL CHILDREN ARE 2 UNTIL THEY TURN 18
  9. THE ETERNAL CRIME WAVE
  10. EVERYTHING BAD ON THE NEWS HAPPENS HERE…

And so forth. You should go look at the whole thing. It’s hilarious. Except… every once in awhile when Lenore is making fun of such things, I pause and think, well… I DO worry about that one a bit… although none on this list jump out at me.

I would never have the nerve to be Lenore Skenazy, and here’s why: I have this superstitious dread — related to the old superstition of “naming calls,” whereby mentioning a thing you fear could make it happen — that if I mock people for having a certain irrational fear for their children, that very thing might happen to one of my kids. As a sort of cosmic justice thing for engaging in hubris.

Silly, I know. But have you ever heard that saying, “Making the decision to have a child… is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” Well, my heart walks around in five pieces, spread from here to Thailand. And then five more pieces for grandchildren.

And a condition like that can sometimes overcome one’s resolve to be calmly rational…

Runyan defends his lone vote against same-sex benefits

I hadn’t really pictured Cameron Runyan as a culture warrior. But here, in the process of defending a vote, he takes on moral relativism, postmodernism, and other newfangled stuff.

Not the sort of stuff you usually hear city councilmen going on about.

Anyway, I pass it on verbatim:

Cameron Runyan for Columbia City Council
Why I cannot support the redefinition of marriage
My recent, lone vote against providing homosexual couples with marriage benefits has caused quite a stir in the capital city of Columbia.  I hope this will shed a ray of light on my action.
Let me first address two primary issues.  First, nothing I say below on this topic means that I do not care deeply about the people who are in the midst of these issues.  I do care, and will continue to care for them.  I also pray that as they read this, they can be as respectful of my worldview as they require others to be of theirs.  Second, there was a time in my life when I believed, like an increasing number in our culture, that what is truth for one person may or may not be truth for another person.  I believed that we should essentially let people do whatever makes them happy within their version of truth.
However, a few years ago, my eyes were opened to the reality that the increasing moral relativism of our post-modern culture is contributing to the unraveling of the societal foundations we all depend on.  Because so many in our culture now see all moral issues as being relative to the individual, we are quickly becoming a society where any absolute moral truth no longer exists.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with the contemporary issues surrounding human sexuality.
Twenty-five years ago, there was not one country on the planet where same sex marriage was legal.  Today, the push to redefine marriage and sexuality has become the issue of utmost moral urgency in our culture.  This movement has led us to redefine gender and the central institution of the family in ways that no previous generation in the history of the world could imagine.  We now face the once incomprehensible notion that a person can choose their gender and, further that they can choose the type of marriage arrangement they desire within their chosen gender.  The fruit of this unprecedented revolution is that absolute moral truths have been exchanged for a relativistic belief system in which nothing can be known with certainty.
City Council’s vote addressed same sex couples but the impact of this moral revolution extends far beyond that because once moral absolutes are removed, anything goes.  Even Facebook is in on the revolution.  Users there can now choose from more than fifty different gender options.  Earlier this year in Utah, a judge struck down that state’s anti-polygamy law opening the way for polygamous and polyamorous marriages.
In Germany, the restraints are even being removed from incest to allow for sexual fulfillment.  A recent ruling there declared, “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
Historic women’s colleges are now being forced to accept transgender men and are, ironically in the position of discriminating against women in favor of men.  On other college campuses, students are being encouraged to choose their “preferred gender pronoun” and to change them as often as they wish.  These students may literally choose to be male today, female tomorrow and to have no gender next week.
The moral revolution in the educational arena is also entering our high schools as well.  In a Kentucky high school, a child who was born a boy, but now identifies as a girl, has recently been allowed to use the lady’s facilities along with the school’s girls.
At the end of the day, I have been elected as one of three at-large, city wide officials to represent all the people of our state’s capital city.  The balance of council did their job representing one portion of Columbia.  I have chosen to represent the rest.

In service,

Cameron Runyan

Councilman, City of Columbia, SC

Here are some basic, immutable truths about SC politics. Now, someone please, please go prove me wrong…

I was inspired by this piece by Chris Cillizza of The Fix, who was in turn inspired by this John Harris piece in Politico., headlined “The Dark Art of Political B.S.”

For much of my career writing political opinion, I have been told by various people that I shouldn’t keep banging my head against walls and expecting the impossible, because things are just a certain way, and they’ll always be a certain way.

Except that things do change. They do. As Cillizza writes:

“Current trends never continue indefinitely,” Harris write. “Politics especially is an infinitely fluid process, refreshed continually by new issues, new circumstances and, above all, new voters with different generational perspectives. Politicians are intelligent people, whose ambitions naturally orient them to accommodate change and find a way to prosper in it.

The central contention of Harris’ piece is that modern politics — cable TV, Twitter, You Tube and all the rest — moves at a pace that makes predicting anything beyond the next few days virtually impossible. And that fact makes the entire political media industry — which prides itself on seeing around corners — on shaky ground even when at its best. “A lot of what political journalists write as we try to divine larger meaning from election results involves a whiff of bovine byproducts,” writes Harris.

He’s right.  And I’ve become more and more convinced of that fact the longer I have been writing about politics….

Presidents always lose seats in their second midterm election. Until Bill Clinton in 1998. Senators don’t get elected president. See Obama, Barack. The South will always be solidly Democratic. There will be no white Democrats in the Deep South in the 114th Congress….

Things that were never going to happen, happen. The Berlin Wall is an absolute barrier, until one day it just comes down. The IRA and the Brits will never reach a peace accord, until they do. Nixon is the most implacable anti-Communist, until détente and ping-pong diplomacy. Hitler and Stalin have a non-aggression pact, until they don’t. John Kerry voted for it before he voted against it. Barack Obama holds the firm belief that “that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” until he doesn’t. Mark Sanford is a dedicated family man, until, you know.

Black people have to be drawn into majority-minority districts for black candidates to have a chance, because they can’t get elected at-large. Until Tameika Devine, Steve Benjamin, Tim Scott and Barack Obama.

To cite one very recent change close to home: Even though it was the one constitutional office that it made the least sense to elect, adjutant general was the one elective office that wasn’t ever going to switch to appointive. That’s because adjutants general continued to dance with the one that brung them, and their subordinates always followed their lead, and the Legislature and the rest of the electorate went with what the Guard wanted. And then, we get an adjutant general who favors reform, and bang! Things change.

Oh, and Bobby Harrell will never be made accountable for his mishandling of campaign funds, because he’s the speaker.

Never say never. Because things change.

With that in mind, I’d like to make a few absolutist statements about South Carolina, in the hope that I will in short order be utterly humiliated for having been so wrong. Here goes:

  • The Republican majority in the Legislature will never take down the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
  • Nikki Haley and her allies will never see how absurdly irrational and harmful it is to South Carolina to refuse Medicaid expansion.
  • We’ll never see the ridiculously large numbers of school districts in South Carolina reduced, because it’s always in the interests of lawmakers to protect the status quo in their home communities.
  • The promise implied in the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of poor school districts will never be realized, because powerful suburban white Republicans will never devote the kinds of resources that are needed to poor, rural districts.
  • South Carolina taxpayers will continue to support the more than 500 unnecessary, duplicative little governments called “special purpose districts,” because most people don’t know they exist, and the districts themselves are too good at political self-preservation.

Maybe you have some eternal verities of your own you would like to toss onto the trash heap of history as well. Be my guest…

Pope Francis, the protopunk pontiff

I very much liked this piece in The Washington Post today about Pope Francis:

The pope himself seems unconcerned, continuing his unpredictable riff. He embraces the big bang. He appears in selfies. He criticizes euthanasia. He invites Patti Smith, the godmother of punk, to perform at the Vatican. He cashiers opponents. He calls the kingdom of God “a party” (which is precisely how the founder of the Christian faith referred to it). He is a man, by his own account, with no patience for “sourpusses.”

As a Protestant, I have no particular insight into the internal theological debates of Catholicism. But the participants seem to inhabit different universes. One side (understandably) wants to shore up the certainties of an institution under siege. Francis begins from a different point: a pastoral passion to meet people where they are — to recognize some good, even in their brokenness, and to call them to something better. That something better is not membership in a stable institution, or even the comforts of ethical religion; it is a relationship with Jesus, from which all else follows.

Instead of being a participant in a cultural battle, Francis says, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” First you sew up the suffering (which, incidentally, includes all of us). “Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds.” The temptation, in his view, is to turn faith into ideology. “The faith passes,” he recently said, “through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus; in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. . . . The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”…

As I’ve said before, this pope hasn’t said anything new, in terms of doctrine. I am bemused when nonCatholics, or extremely inattentive Catholics, express wonder that the pope embraces, say, evolution. I had never before run into any basic conflict between the Catholic faith and evolution.

But the very simple, and yet amazing, thing that he does is make sure that you hear what’s important about the faith. He makes sure you hear the love. You patch up the suffering first — heal the wounds. The rest is secondary.

Who cares that Patti Smith’s “Gloria” doesn’t start “Glory to God in the highest,” but rather, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine?” Well, OK, I guess we should care to some extent. But what this pope does is reach out to Patti where she is. He tries to get her to feel the love. And she seems to dig it.

And so it is that we now have our first protopunk pontiff…

I’m trying to get you to engage in crimethink

Off in my corner, out of sight of the telescreen, writing down my subversive thoughts...

Off in my corner, out of sight of the telescreen, writing down my subversive thoughts…

Back on my post last night expressing horror at the number of South Carolinians (49 percent!) who voted straight-party on Tuesday, Lynn T. posted this thoughtful comment, to which I responded, and I thought the exchange was worth its own post. Lynn’s comment:

The parties have successfully sold the idea that they stand for a consistent set of values and priorities. Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do. First we have to set aside the cases in which consistency isn’t a reasonable goal because pragmatic lawmaking requires compromises. Even excluding those cases, the variation is substantial. One Democratic senator campaigned on his 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce, normally more closely associated with the Republican Party. At the same time, his environmental record was not nearly as positive as that of some Republicans, who are usually perceived as more inclined toward business than environmental preservation. There are Republicans who support no-excuse early voting without adding “poison pill” restrictions, and others who take a very different direction. The diminished resources of the press in this state are a serious problem because the press is the closest thing we have to a reality check. If The State had as many reporters on the State House as on Gamecock football it would be fabulous. But then if more citizens cared about their government as much as they do about Gamecock football, it would be fabulous.

My response:

What the parties — and the media, and interest groups, and practically everyone whose profession has to do with politics — have successfully sold is the binary paradigm.

Almost all of the people who write or talk about, or otherwise deal with politics for a living, talk about political decision as being a choice between two options, and two options only. Either-or. Left-right. Democrat-Republican. Black-white.

And because that’s the way THEY talk and write about it, the rest of the public does the same. Why? Because they lack the vocabulary to speak or think about politics any other way. It’s a very Orwellian situation. The point of Newspeak in 1984 is to eliminate all words that express concepts that would free people’s minds. If they don’t have words for a concept that would be a thoughtcrime, they can’t engage in crimethink.

Too many people just can’t think beyond the notion that good people like me vote THIS way, and only this way, and that people who vote that other way are bad.

The way rank and file voters react to Nikki Haley offers a good example of this phenomenon. Among in-the-know Republicans — the Inner Party members, carrying forward the 1984 analogy — have never liked her much, although I sense a lot of them have now warmed to her.

But among the great masses of people who think of themselves as Republicans, if you criticize Nikki Haley, then you are a liberal Democrat. This, to them, is a truth that cannot be disputed. There can be no other explanation for your criticism.

I know this from personal experience. I actually have missed out on getting a job because the boss was convinced I was “left of center.” Why? Because I’ve criticized Nikki Haley. That was the entire explanation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I knew I’d have trouble working for someone who didn’t think any more clearly that that, so sour grapes.

Cindi Scoppe and I both got that a lot over the years. And the idea that either of us is a liberal Democrat is risible to anyone who looks and listens and thinks. But otherwise bright people who don’t think about this stuff all the time believe it as a matter of course, because their paradigm admits no other explanation.

Back when Jim Hodges and Bill Clinton were in office, we caught similar hell from Democrats. Their notion that we were right-wingers was equally laughable, but you couldn’t convince THEM of that. (I’ll never forget one through-the-looking-glass experience I had speaking to a small group of academics back when Hodges was in office. They sat there with these stony looks of hostility on their faces. They finally let me know that, because I was opposed to Hodges and his “education lottery,” I was an enemy of public education — despite the fact that we had written FAR more over the years as champions of the schools than we had written about Hodges and his plan. They could not be moved. They sat there and informed me I had never lifted a finger for education. They were adamant in their absurd belief.)

As you say, Lynn, “Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do.” Posts such as this one are part of my campaign to gradually wear away at the bars of the average citizen’s mind prison, which was largely created by my colleagues in the media…

Trying to make up my mind on the Lexington sales tax hike

This story in The State today reminds me that I have to decide by next week whether to vote for the Lexington County penny tax increase.

I checked with Warren Bolton to see whether they’re going to have anything about it on the editorial page. He said there will be something, and I look forward to reading it. Y’all may think of me as a guy who comes equipped with a full set of strongly-held opinions, and to some extent that’s true. But my daily discussions with Warren and Cindi — and back in the halcyon days, Mike Fitts and Nina Brook and before them John Monk and Claudia Brinson — helped me refine and correct and hone my views. I was always smarter about an issue after discussing it with them. Even if I still had the same general view I went in with (which, I admit, was usually the case), I had a better grasp on it, and had sanded off the rough edges, when I came out.US_One_Cent_Obv

And when, as with this case, I’m not sure what to think, such a discussion always helped me make up my mind. (That dynamic, by the way — the testing of one’s thoughts against those of a group of thoughtful people — is what editorials, and especially endorsements, are all about. Even if you disagree with the piece, and don’t change your mind, you’ll be smarter about the way you approach the issue for having tested your views against the ones you read.)

I know that if I could sit in a regular morning meeting with my friends on the edit board, I could arrive at a conclusion that I would be comfortable with, and that I could support and defend. Lacking that, I look forward to seeing what they publish.

The problem I have making up my mind on the Lexington penny is that it’s just for roads and infrastructure. I backed the penny in Richland because half of it went to the buses. I’d have backed it more enthusiastically if it had all gone to public transportation. But Lexington County largely turns its back on the bus system, and is all about cars and roads. Which bothers me…

OK, it’s not ALL about cars and roads. There’s some other infrastructure in there. But I’m happy to pay the Richland penny because it’s funding something that is an alternative to cars and roads, and which the community needed, and which it was having trouble paying for otherwise. (And though I do live in Lexington, I probably spend at least as much on taxable items in Richland.)

Then there’s also the problem that we’re already leaning on the sales tax too much in this state. It’s crept up to where it’s on the border of being too high if not there already, while property and income taxes aren’t bearing their share of the load (OK, business property taxes are, but primary-residence taxes are not).

And as I’ve said repeatedly, we have a mechanism for building and maintaining roads — the state gasoline tax. That needs to be raised, rather than just raising sales taxes here and there across the state.

At the same time, that is still a tough row to hoe, and in the meantime we have inadequate roads. So I struggle with this.

Maybe y’all can help me with this. The morning meeting is hereby convened…

What’s wrong with our politics? It’s the parties, stupid!

In The State today, there’s a column by Clive Crook of Bloomberg News that takes issue with Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that we are plagued by “too much democracy,” arguing that it’s more accurate to say, “The problem isn’t too much democracy; it’s too much politics.”

He elaborates:

You don’t measure the quality of democracy just by asking whether the politically engaged have voice, or by counting their opportunities to influence outcomes (for good or ill), important as those metrics may be. Democracy is also supposed to work for the disengaged. In that respect, this democracy is plainly failing.

America’s political class — candidates, interest groups, activists and their respective groupies in the media — can’t be faulted for lack of engagement. Boy, are they engaged. That’s fine, of course. (It would be even better if they were as interested in public policy as they are in the political contest as blood sport, but that’s another matter.) Outside that bubble, however, views of politics run the range from boredom to despair. And a main cause, I’d submit, is popular disgust with that very political class. More politics doesn’t necessarily get you more democracy, much less better democracy….

But when people say there’s “too much politics” in our, well, politics, they are confused. There’s nothing wrong with politics, per se. Properly understood, it is the set of mechanisms whereby human beings manage to live with each other, and when it’s working properly, it enables them to work together to get things of mutual benefit done.

Most of the time, when people say “politics” with a disgusted tone, they refer to contentiousness for its own sake. They refer to political actors working not to achieve something of benefit to the society, but trying to gain advantage for themselves and their own narrow ideological group.

The problem is that “politics” has come to refer to public affairs engaged in as a sport, in which there are only two sides, they are sharply separated, and one must win while the other must lose.

The system is rigged against those of us who would like to see change. Not by some class of insiders or by money contributed by a “one percent.” It’s rigged by the parties and their affiliated interest groups, who have set things up so that sensible ideas with broad, consensus appeal don’t have a chance.

Their most obvious mechanism for accomplishing this is the one mentioned in my last post: reapportionment. Every ten years, the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, and so it’s child’s play for the party in power to draw, for instance, one super-safe Democratic congressional districts, and six others in which a Democrat will never have a prayer.

And so we have elections that are not elections, because our courts have held that incumbent protection (which really amounts to party protection) is an acceptable aim of reapportionment. So the only elections are the primaries, and they are geared to produce the most extreme, the most “pure,” expressions of the brain-dead ideologies that each party professes to embrace.

So is there any wonder that the rest of us are fed up, disillusioned?

What we need isn’t less politics; it’s more politics — the kind in which anyone has a chance to make his or her case in a fair election. We don’t have that now.

Showing a noble, inspiring faith in the possibility of politics

Sue and Jim Rex, at the American Party booth at the SC State Fair.

Sue and Jim Rex, at the American Party booth at the SC State Fair.

I went to the fair today, and saw the usual booths for the Democrats and Republicans, and stayed away from them.

But I stopped to chat at the American Party booth, because one of the founders of the party was there — Jim Rex.

Jim invited me to sign the petition to get a recall power onto the ballot — a measure that would allow voters to dump politicians who have broken the law.

I told him no, I don’t hold with recall petitions. I think elections come soon enough. Although I admit that allowing recall only in cases of illegality is a lot less objectionable than the kind they have in California and other places, which allow voters to dump pols between election on a whim if they choose (thereby eliminating even the rare glimpses of political courage that we occasionally see in non-election years).

Then, we segued into a polite argument about term limits, with me getting on a rhetorical high horse and saying I just have more simple faith in politics than he does. I trust the voters to decide for themselves whether they want somebody for one term, two terms, three terms or 20 terms.

I said that if he wanted to do something about cynical incumbents, noncompetitive elections and apathy, then go to work on a federal constitutional amendment that would end the way we apportion districts in this country. THAT is the cause of all the ills he deplores.

Anyway, looking at the picture I took above of the Rexes causes me to check myself — I shouldn’t have said I have more faith in politics.

There is no greater faith in our system than stepping out and starting a new party, and sticking to it and working as hard at it as the Rexes have, along with Oscar Lovelace and others.

Frankly, I find it inspiring, even when I disagree on policy proposals