Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

Is ‘populist’ sometimes a euphemism for ‘stupid?’

I sort of felt like Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal‘s Washington bureau chief, was tiptoeing around something in this political analysis, which seems to go nowhere really, reaching no coherent conclusion (it read less like something a senior political writer is inspired to write than a reply dragged from a schoolboy by the question, “Compare and contrast these two politicians…”):

Could the nascent 2016 campaign turn into one of those elections that shakes up the system?

The question arises most obviously because of the summer sensation of Donald Trump, billionaire populist with a long history of giving to Democrats who has somehow tapped into a deep vein of working-class anger to become a current (though temporary) leader in the Republican presidential field. There are enough mind-bending contradictions in that sentence alone to at least raise the question of whether something broader is going on. The thought is only enhanced by the fact that the single hottest political draw right now is Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old socialist who favors a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the breakup of big banks….

In fact, those are just two forces at work suggesting the system is straining to break loose from some of its traditional moorings. The combination of a wide-open race, populist strains at the base of both parties and big demographic changes all open the doors to destabilizing forces.

Polls suggest Mr. Trump’s resonance is greatest with disillusioned lower-income voters, illustrating that Republicans are trying to come to terms with a party that has grown more blue-collar, working-class and antiestablishment as it has grown….

Seems to me like he’s straining with that “populist” label in an effort to come up with a word that describes the appeal of both Trump and Sanders. With Sanders, I can see it, but with Trump? Really? A populist billionaire who revels into  his own excess? How can a guy who’s best-known catchphrase is “You’re fired!” be any kind of a populist?

Seib describes the GOP as “a party that has grown more blue-collar, working-class and antiestablishment,” but is that really who is applauding Trump right now? There’s a word that seems to be missing, and it describes a long-standing tradition in American politics: anti-intellectual.

I wouldn’t apply that label to the GOP in general. But it’s definitely the impulse that Trump is tapping into.

From the election of flat-Earther Andrew Jackson over the supremely qualified John Quincy Adams to the present day, there has been a perverse streak in the electorate that causes significant numbers to go for whoever is dumbing down politics the most.

I’m not saying the voters themselves are stupid (that would be anathema in American politics, right?), I’m just saying that sometimes, some voters have a sort of fit that causes them to convulsively embrace whoever is making the biggest jackass of himself on the political stage.

And at the moment, that is unquestionably Trump.

And yeah, there is a disturbing simplicity to Bernie Sanders’ vision of how to build a more perfect union. But to the extent that the two share a trait, is “populist” really the word for it?

It WILL take more than goodwill, Will. But goodwill is a prerequisite

There are those who refuse to participate in celebrating the spirit of unity over bringing down the Confederate flag. One of those, unfortunately, is my former colleague Will Moredock:

It will take more than goodwill to heal this state

After the Flag

by

“To use Gov. Nikki Haley’s words, it truly is a great day in South Carolina” — that was the text message that awakened me at 7:15 Thursday morning from my cell phone by the bedside. It was followed immediately by other messages from friends near and far who wanted to check in and see what I had to say about the end of the Confederate flag debate and — let us hope — the end of an era.

In the days after the lowering of the Confederate flag in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, much will be written and said about the courage of Gov. Haley and the Republican General Assembly in taking that measure, to which I say, “Bullshit!”

Why did it take the killing of nine good people by a Confederate flag-waving bigot at Emanuel AME Church to open the eyes of these GOPers to what millions of South Carolinians and Americans have known for generations?…

Yes, it will take more than goodwill for our state to progress.

But the thing is, goodwill is a necessary ingredient.

And celebrating when people who have long disagreed with you decide to agree — rather than kicking them — is kind of an obvious first step.

Linking the flag and Atticus Finch

Samuel Tenenbaum — who goes to Publix each morning to by The New York Times because they refuse to deliver it in Lexington County, where he and I live — brought to my attention this piece from that paper, which notes the parallels between the Confederate flag we just got off our lawn and Atticus Finch:

FOR as long as many Americans have been alive, the Confederate flag stood watch at the South Carolina capitol, and Atticus Finch, moral guardian-father-redeemer, was arguably the most beloved hero in American literature.

The two symbols took their places in our culture within months of each other. The flag was hoisted above the capitol dome in April 1961, on the centennial of the Civil War during upheavals over civil rights. Atticus Finch debuted in July 1960 in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a novel that British librarians would later declare the one book, even before the Bible, that everyone should read. Given life by Gregory Peck in the 1962 Oscar-winning film, Atticus Finch would go on to be named the top movie hero of the 20th century.

Nearly at once, both icons have fallen from grace in ways that were unimaginable just months ago…

I just pass it on in case you’re interested. I’m not crazy about the way it ends up — suggesting that we should embrace this “new” Atticus as a way of coming more truly to grips with who we are and have been. I’m of the “Atticus is still a hero” school. But I pass it on nonetheless…

The majority isn’t always wrong, but it isn’t always right, either

With Scott Walker in town today, I took a moment to read a letter that some New Hampshire Democrats wrote to him upon his visit to that state. An excerpt:

We wanted to welcome you to the First in the Nation Primary. You are a little late to the game, so we decided to help you out with some information about New Hampshire.

Last night, you said that raising the minimum wage was a “lame idea.” Lame idea? Really? Well, it’s an idea that 76% of Granite Staters support

Which got me to thinking about Henrik Ibsen.

That letter — a good example of the kind of letters that partisans send, not meant to communicate with the purported recipient privately, but to taunt him publicly (or in this case, to tell the 76 percent what an awful person Scott Walker is) — got me to thinking of some of my favorite Ibsen quotes back when I was 17, from “An Enemy of the People:”

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?”…

“Oh, yes — you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has
might on its side–unfortunately; but right it has not.”…

“What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up. And if a truth is as old as that, it is also in a fair way to become a lie, gentlemen.”…

I fear that I’m giving you a rather ugly picture of myself when I was 17. Well, I had my share of youthful arrogance and alienation, a bit of a Raskolnikov complex, which is common enough. Some of us outgrow it. Others among us end up like Edward Snowden, convinced that we know better than everyone else, especially established institutions.

I outgrew it, thank God. Which is to say that I’ve come to disagree with almost everything Ibsen seemed to be on about.

All that remains of it, with me, is a belief that the majority is not always right. It can be right, and I think it probably is considerably more often than the proverbial stopped clock. I think there’s really something to the notion of “the wisdom of crowds.” Or as Stephen Maturin said in The Mauritius Command, “whoever heard of the long-matured judgment of a village being wrong?”

Yes, and no. It is very often right, but it can be wrong, I fear.

In any case, it seems unreliable as an indicator of whether an increase in the minimum wage is a good idea, or a “lame” one.

I’ve heard the arguments for and against, and I just don’t know. If anything, I may lean toward the against — the assertions that a mandatory increase in wages could lead to fewer jobs, particularly for the poor, seems to make some sense.

But I don’t know, regardless of what 76 percent of Granite Staters may say…

The Dalai Lama on the Charleston massacre

I read a short item about this in The State this morning, so I was interested when I saw that publicists had sent me the embed codes for clips from Larry King’s interview with the Dalai Lama.

So I share it with you. From the release:

Larry leans in to ask the heartfelt question “When you see terrible events. When you see a man shoot up a church in South Carolina don’t you question your faith?”

“We need to make more effort to bring awareness regarding the value of compassion. Compassion means, it’s the sense of concern for others well being and the respect of others’ lives. When you have that sort of conviction it’s impossible to bully others, to cheat another, to kill another,” His Holiness answered.

The message isn’t failing. The Dalai Lama explains that obsession with worldly possessions & a lack of teaching children about inner values contributes to tragedies such as the shooting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina “The message is not properly channelized. The message of love is just inside the church and not daily life.” He continues, “The existing modern education is very much oriented about material value.  Not much is talked about regarding inner value.”…

I’m sure he is right that we all, including Dylann Roof, could use better “values.” The answer seems a bit oblique, though — somewhat lacking in specifics, possibly because His Holiness comes from such a different cultural perspective that the killer’s particular brand of deadly animosity is far more bewildering to him than it is to us. Or perhaps I’m just failing to completely understand the role of materialism in this case. (I mean, I can draw such a line: A high school dropout feels so oppressed by his low economic expectations that he constructs a worldview in which “others” are to blame for his plight. I’m just not sure that is central to what happened.)

Nevertheless, when he calls for more compassion, I am sure he is in the right of it.

On the Supreme Court and ideology

Or, if you prefer, the good and the bad. Because as one who loves the American system of government and respects the court, while at the same time decrying what ideological partisans are doing to the political branches (and trying their best to do to the judiciary as well), I’m all like “Yay, Supreme Court” and “Boo, ideology.”

But you knew that. Or at least you knew about me and ideology.

The burning question is, to what extent have the ideologues succeeded in their quest to make the Supreme Court as messed up and ineffective as, say, the Congress?

Others just take it for granted that the Court now consists of partisan hacks on both ends of the spectrum, with one or two swing votes. I see the things they’re seeing, but in the end I don’t reach that conclusion.

Anyway, Doug Ross started a conversation over on Facebook about the court, and with his permission I’m dragging it over here in keeping with my firm belief that all interesting conversations should take place on the blog.

Doug started the ball rolling this way:

We assume judges are going to be impartial when deciding on cases before them yet our highest court consists of at least seven of nine judges who can pretty much be guaranteed to vote a certain way on a case. If a Republican had been in office when Sotomeyer or Kagan were appointed, is there any doubt that recent cases would have had different outcomes?

I responded that there’s SOME doubt — look, for instance, at the critical moments when Roberts has helped out Obama, who voted against his confirmation — and in that doubt lies the hope for our country…

I just don’t assume anything with these people. For instance, I had been thinking that I very often agree with Roberts — and then he voted the other way on the Arizona reapportionment case that I wrote about earlier. That said, when I saw what Roberts and the other dissenters said in that case, I respected their reasoning. It doesn’t matter that I liked the outcome from the majority’s ruling — it’s not about outcomes. As I’ve said before, it should not BE about outcomes, if we respect the rule of law…

Doug said,

I put Roberts and Kennedy into the wild card group. The other seven march in lockstep with their partisan base. There’s an affirmative action case coming up. You want to lay bets on it being 5-4 or 6-3? It would seem like with “the law” that we should see more 9-0, 8-1 decisions if they only dealt with facts and precedents. We just shouldn’t pretend that the judges are impartial. They are biased.

And I responded that I don’t write justices off as “liberals” or “conservatives,” because I respect them. Yes, a certain justice may more often render judgments that the world regards as “liberal” or “conservative,” but it’s not like they’re stacking the deck. Their reasoning just happens to lead them that way, and I respect that. They don’t just come in and say, “I’m going to issue a liberal opinion on this, no matter what the facts or the law.” They work it out honestly, and that just tends to be where they end up. I don’t see any of them as hacks. I leave those insults to the partisans and ideologues, who tend to insult and dismiss justices who tend not to support their prejudices…

Back to Doug:

Pick a case, any case, that is contentious and show me where Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor disagreed or Scalia and Thomas disagreed. Take the gay marriage case… was there ANY doubt how those five would vote? Not for a second. They “work it out” according to a pre-disposed bias.

And Doug, being Doug, resorts to numbers and charts:

This chart basically shows exactly what I stated…there was a time when the views of the court were balanced across the liberal/conservative spectrum but now we basically have three groups of justices, each on the same track

Here’s the chart.

Well, I can’t refute that because I don’t have a year or two to go back and study every case this court has decided and then assign quantifiable values to each judge’s position (an act from which my conscience would recoil) and come up with a chart of my own.

Because for me, it’s not about these three decisions versus those five decisions or anything like that. Here’s how I arrive at my more optimistic view of the court: I see that the court has taken this or that position on an issue before it. I think, “How on Earth could they have come to a boneheaded conclusion like that?” And then I read the arguments. And while I still might disagree, I respect the reasoning. I respect the effort to arrive at an intellectually honest conclusion. (I did this with the dissent in the Arizona case. And in fact, I sort of think the dissent may have the stronger argument, even though I liked the outcome.)

Not every time. But often enough that I still respect the justices, and the job they do. There could come a day, and I hope it doesn’t, when I write off the Court as too far gone. I’m happy to say I’m not there yet.

It does NO good for activists to remove flag unilaterally

two flags

You’ve no doubt seen this unfortunate news from yesterday:

The Confederate flag was removed from a pole on the South Carolina capitol grounds early Saturday morning by activists, but state employees returned the flag to its position not long after the incident.

An activist group claimed responsibility for taking the flag down. Witnesses said two people were arrested by authorities almost immediately after one of them scaled the flag pole on the north side of the State House grounds and pulled the Confederate banner down….

The state Bureau of Protective Services confirmed it had arrested two people at the State House about 6:15 a.m. Those arrested were Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome, a 30-year-old Raleigh resident, and James Ian Tyson, a 30-year-old Charlotte resident, the protective services bureau said…

This kind of action does no good whatsoever, except for perhaps providing some sense of personal, self-congratulatory satisfaction to the individuals involved, one of whom was photographed grinning at the camera as she was arrested.

I say this not just because I believe in the rule of law, and this was an illegal act — although anything that lends even the slightest taint of illegitimacy to our cause is harmful.

I say it not because the perpetrators weren’t South Carolinians, although that is another problem. And I say that at risk of offending a new friend, Mariangeles Borghini, the Argentinian lady who started the ball rolling on last weekend’s flag rally, and bless her for doing that. Mari wrote on Facebook yesterday, “People complaining because neither me or Bree Newsome are from SC. Just get over it and move on!” Ah, but see, it would indeed be a problem if the only people agitating to get the flag down were from out of state. In fact, it would do no good at all. It could even do harm.

Finally, I’m not saying this because such a gesture is in the end ineffective, although it’s perfectly obvious that that is so. The authorities put the flag right back up there — as they were obviously going to do, since the law required them to do so. No more good was done than when “the Rev. E. Slave” climbed up there several years back.

But that’s not it. Even if the flag stayed down forever after those folks from North Carolina acted, it would not accomplish the thing that we need to accomplish; it would not achieve the higher purpose in lowering the flag.

There exists only one way to get the flag down that does any good whatsoever, that even has any point to it: South Carolina has to decide to take it down. We, the people of this state, acting through our elected representatives, have to repeal the unconscionable law that requires it to fly there, and order it to be removed. Otherwise, nothing is accomplished. Until they do this, the flag will fly, and the people of this state will continue to be collectively guilty of willing it to do so.

This is counterintuitive for a lot of people — especially, apparently, if they are young and impetuous. It’s a realization I was slow in coming to myself, at first — 21 years back, when I wrote the first of hundreds of editorials, columns and blog posts about the need to take the flag down. It’s something that I still have trouble explaining sometimes, although there are folks out there who understand it more readily than I did.

Something happens when you express opinions on controversial topics, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people will read your words and try to pick them apart — you think about those issues harder than you would have otherwise.

Initially, I would have been happy with any expedient that brought the flag down — a lawsuit, some tricky technicality, whatever. In fact, my first editorial on the subject (if I remember correctly; I don’t have it in front of me) urged then-Gov. Carroll Campbell to just take it on himself to remove it.

I was deeply frustrated when, not long after that — in response to quite a few calls to remove it, including my own steady insistence, over and over in the paper — the Legislature passed a law requiring that the flag fly, and making it illegal for anyone (including the governor) to remove it.

But gradually, I realized that that act of bad faith on the part of the majority of lawmakers was fine in a way — because only if the will of South Carolina, expressed through the deliberative process of representative democracy, was to bring down the flag would the action accomplish any higher purpose.

And what would that higher purpose be? It would be the one we saw evidence itself last Monday — a coming together in historic reconciliation, an act of grace and healing, an act of inclusion packed with legal, political and cultural power.

Last week, we saw our elected leaders respond to the powerful act of grace and forgiveness carried out by the families of the Mother Emanuel victims at the arraignment of Dylann Roof. This miraculous act engendered other miracles, including a consensus on removing the flag that was unthinkable two weeks ago.

This is about South Carolina setting aside division and embracing each other as fellow citizens, and not only not rubbing hurtful symbols into the faces of their neighbors, but — and here’s the real point — not wanting to.

This is not anything you can achieve with a lawsuit, or unilateral action, or a boycott, or anything that seeks to coerce or trick the flag down.

South Carolina has to decide to do it, so that South Carolina can grow, transcend its past and be a better place, for the sake of all its citizens.

That’s what’s getting ready to happen, I believe. That’s what all of us who want this transformative development need to push and speak and pray for — respectfully, reverently, in a spirit that does not disgrace the dignity of the dead, or interrupt the chain reaction of grace that we saw initiated in that courtroom, or disturb the solemnity of these funerals we are witnessing.

It’s a political act that we’re engaging in, but it’s also a spiritual one. And everything we do or say in the coming days needs to be worthy of it.

Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument

monument

I say that not to suggest moving the monument. I just want to emphasize that the folks out there muttering darkly about how we’re trying to “erase history” by moving that flag that was put up in 1962 generally don’t know a lot about our postwar history.

I wrote this column to run on July 2, 2000 — one day after the old naval jack was removed from the dome, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was placed behind the Confederate flag monument.

My purpose in writing it was to let it be known from the very moment of the compromise, that I was not satisfied with it, and saw it as by no means a permanent solution. There was very little appetite for continued debate on the subject at this moment, and I was acutely aware of that. People were flag-weary. But while most folks were celebrating, I wanted to signal that this wasn’t settled, and foreshadow the debate to come…

Here’s the column:

MONUMENT WASN’T ALWAYS IN CURRENT PROMINENT LOCATION

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, July 2, 2000

Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor

An important thing to remember about monuments: They aren’t set in stone.

OK, bad choice of words. They are set in stone, or concrete, or something along those lines. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be modified or moved.

Take, for instance, the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds. For many of us who wanted the Confederate flag moved off the dome, that was probably the least desirable place of all to put its replacement. Unfortunately, if the flag or one like it was going to fly anywhere, that was probably the most logical location.

Why? Because so many groups that advocated moving the flag said to put it instead in a more historically appropriate setting. And what more appropriate place could there be to put a soldier’s flag than alongside the monument to the soldiers who served under it? It’s just too bad that that monument is in the most visible location on the grounds. There’s nothing we can do about that, is there?

Well, here’s a fun fact to know and tell: The state’s official monument to Confederate soldiers was not always in that location. In fact, that isn’t even the original monument.

I had heard this in the past but just read some confirmation of it this past week, in a column written in 1971 by a former State editor. When I called Charles Wickenberg, who is now retired, to ask where he got his facts, he wasn’t sure after all these years. But the folks at the S.C. Department of Archives and History were able to confirm the story for me. It goes like this:

The original monument, in fact, wasn’t even on the State House grounds. It was initially erected on Arsenal Hill, but a problem developed – it was sitting on quicksand. So it was moved to the top of a hill at the entrance of Elmwood cemetery.

The monument finally made it to the State House grounds in 1879. But it didn’t go where it is now. It was placed instead “near the eastern end of the building, about 60 feet from the front wall and 100 feet from the present site,” Mr. Wickenberg wrote.

But another problem developed: The monument kept getting struck by lightning. “The last stroke” hit on June 22, 1882, and demolished the stone figure.

At this point, if I were one of the folks in charge of this monument, I might have started to wonder about the whole enterprise. But folks back then were made of sterner stuff, and they soldiered on, so to speak.

At this point a new base was obtained, with stirring words inscribed upon it, and “a new statue, chiseled in Italy,” placed at the top. On May 9, 1884, the new monument was unveiled and dedicated in the same location in which we find it today.

So we see that the folks who lived in a time when “the Recent Unpleasantness” was actually recent – and burning in their personal memories – had to try four times before they came up with a way that suited them and their times to honor Confederate sacrifice.

In light of that, why should anyone assume that we’re finished deciding how to remember the Confederacy in our time?

Am I suggesting that we move the monument yet again? Not necessarily. I don’t think anybody’s ready for that battle yet. (Anyway, the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.)

But I am saying that alternatives to the present arrangement exist. For instance. . . .

Remember the proposal that came up in the heat of the House debate to put the new Army of Northern Virginia battle flag within the context of a group of flags honoring S.C. veterans of other wars? The plan died partly because the details were sketchy and partly because House leaders didn’t want to consider anything new at that point.

Well after the present arrangement was safely passed and signed, that plan was resurrected – in an improved form – by Sen. John Courson, who had already done so much to bring the compromise to fruition over the past six years.

Sen. Courson’s resolution, co-sponsored by the 19 senators who, like him, are military veterans, would create a commission to “design and establish an appropriate monument to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol Complex to recognize and honor the accomplishments of South Carolina veterans who have served honorably, in peace or war, in any of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

The monument would consist mainly of the official flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Thereby all who served our nation – black and white, from the Revolution to Kosovo – would be honored the same way we are honoring those who served the Confederacy.

The plan leaves site selection to the new commission, but Sen. Courson says there is only one place left on the grounds that could easily accommodate such an addition – the same grassy area where the ANV battle flag was raised on Saturday.

The resolution was filed at the last minute and automatically died at the end of the session. But Sen. Courson introduced it anyway to give lawmakers something to think about between now and next January.

So you see, the present arrangement – with the Confederate banner sticking out so conspicuously by itself in a prominent place – really isn’t set in stone, in the metaphorical sense.

Sen. Courson has presented one viable alternative. There are no doubt others.

I was being generous there suggesting Courson’s idea.

The best proposal to emerge from the debates of that year came from Bob Sheheen — the former speaker, and Vincent’s uncle.

He suggested doing away with the physical, cloth flag altogether, and placing a modest bronze monument somewhere on the grounds to say that the flag once flew here over the dome, and giving some historical perspective.

Unfortunately, that proposal was never really given a chance. The infamous compromise came out of the Senate and then-Speaker David Wilkins allowed only one day — one day — for debate, thereby ensuring that no other proposal would have a chance to catch on and win support. Pressed for time, the House just passed the Senate plan, and moved on.

That day was one of the most frustrating of my professional life. This was before blogging, and The State’s online presence was pretty rudimentary. All day, I kept writing different versions of an editorial based on what was happening in the debate, hoping that Wilkins would allow the debate to continue another day, hoping to have some influence on the outcome — hoping for the chance to push for the Sheheen plan or something like it.

But they pushed on late into the evening, and I had to let the page go without any editorial on the subject, since I didn’t know what the facts would be when readers saw the paper in the morning.

So frustrating. Such a missed opportunity…

Camille Paglia on identity politics

Camille Paglia is a feminist, which I am not. She is also an atheist, which I am not — although I like her observation that “God is man’s greatest idea.”

But she and I have some common ground on Identity Politics. The WSJ quoted this over the weekend. Here’s a link to the full interview, at reason.com:

reason: For you, what is the essence of feminism? Is it using the lens of gender to explore every given issue? Is it a formal gesture? Is it a methodology, or is it a set of political positions that can’t change?

Paglia: I am an equal opportunity feminist. I believe that all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm must be removed. However, I don’t feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life. This gender myopia has become a disease, a substitute for a religion, this whole cosmic view. It’s impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation for human life. Our problem now is that this monomania—the identity politics of the 1970s, so people see everything through the lens of race, gender, or class-this is an absolute madness, and in fact, it’s a distortion of the ’60s. I feel that the ’60s had a vision, a large cosmic perspective that was absolutely lost in this degeneration, in this splintering of the 1970s into these identity politics.

I like people who refuse to fit in boxes, whose thoughts range beyond them. I may not like them all over — I’m less enchanted with the “vision” of the 60s, if I’m understanding her correctly — but in spots.

That Policy Council debate from last month

The SC Policy Council now has the debate I participated in last month up on YouTube, in two parts, above and below.

So watch if you’re interested in whether those who spend to influence elections should have to disclose their sources of income. Which is what it was about — not, as the Policy Council would have it, “free speech.”

Lynn Teague was with me on the side of all that is right and true, Policy Council director Ashley Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn were our respected interlocutors on the other side.

Now that the video is available and I can share with you, I need to disclose a source of income myself.

When we arrived for the debate, there was at each of our places a little gift bag. I could see that the cellophane package contained a bag of Adluh grits, a tea towel with a Palmetto tree on it, and some black tissue paper. As I was leaving with mine — yes, I’m back on a paleo diet, but someone in the family could eat the grits, right? — the Policy Council’s Barton Swaim said to be careful with it, as there was “a card” inside. I said thanks, and to let me know any time they need me for something similar.

I thought he meant a thank-you card or something.

When I got it home and unwrapped the package, I unfolded the tissue paper to find what looked at first like a gift card. In fact, it said “gift card.” So I was thinking, “Oh, 10 bucks at Starbucks would be nice.”

scan0001Then I looked more closely, saw that it was a debit card with $100 on it, and immediately exclaimed, “I can’t keep this!” To which my wife replied, “And my wife said, “Why not? You don’t work for the newspaper any more.”

All those years working for newspapers, I could not have accepted any sort of stipend, and I gave up any honoraria — such as that $3,400 Presbyterian College wanted me to have for serving on a panel one evening — without a second thought. I would tell them to keep it, and if they wouldn’t, I’d turn and give it to charity.

But this time I kept it, after calculating in my head the number of hours I had spent on the debate (at least four), which actually made it seem less like a gift.

But I haven’t spent it yet. Have to activate it first. And before that, I wanted to disclose. Which I just did.

Oh, and I still disagree with the Policy Council on the same things I did before, and just as vehemently. I thought I’d say that for my readers who think money buys agreement.

Also, I did receive a thank-you card signed by everybody from the Policy Council, which was nice of them.

Now THIS is courage in the cause of free speech

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A lot of people have had trouble understanding my point that there is nothing noble about holding contests to see who can mock Mohammed the most, It’s just stupid, immature and offensive.

Many imagine that those who participate in such pointless insults to Islam are courageous defenders of freedom of expression.

No. In case you’re still having trouble telling the difference, this is the kind of cartoonist that we have a First Amendment to protect:

Iran’s thin-skinned mullahs have jailed an artist who drew a cartoon disparaging members of parliament over their decision to restrict birth control for women.

Atena Farghadani, 28, had what Iran considers a trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 19 and is now awaiting a verdict. She was charged with “insulting members of parliament through paintings” for drawing  the officials as animals, according to Amnesty International. It is not clear what kind of maximum sentence she could face.

“She’s truly an angel,” a relative of Farghadani told FoxNews.com on condition of anonymity. “She just loves people and animals, and besides for all her artistic talent, she is such a strong supporter of human rights.”…

See the difference? Standing up and criticizing the powers that be in your own oppressive country is courageous, and has a point. We have a First Amendment to protect people who do that in this country. That is essential to being a free country.

Being intentionally offensive to millions of innocent Muslims who have done you no harm is just being a jerk, not a hero. You’re free to do it, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back for it.

Perhaps Kathryn can translate this for me

salon

When I saw the above sub-headline, I said, “say what?”

Then I said it again when I started reading it, then a few more times as I made my way through it, then once more when I was done.

So, since Kathryn’s always getting on me about my “privilege blindness,” and this writer does the same, maybe she can ‘splain this to me.

Because it made NO kind of sense. An excerpt:

White people, even well-meaning and thoughtful ones, have the privilege of looking at deadly acts of mass violence of this sort as isolated local incidents, particular to one community. They do not look at such incidents as indicative of anything having to do with race or racism. But everything from the difference in law enforcement response to media response tells us what we need to know about how white privilege allows acts of violence by white people to be judged by entirely different standards than those of any other group. If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot, any honest white person will admit that the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.

Frequently in conversations that I have observed or participated in with white people about race, the claim is levied that it is Black people “who make everything about race.” But this incident in Waco gives lie to that claim. It turns out that when white privilege is in clear operation, white people are invested in making sure that we don’t see race in operation. Charles Mills, a philosopher of race, has a term which I think applies here: epistemology of white ignorance. By this means, he means that white people have created a whole way of knowing the world that both demands and allows that they remain oblivious to the operations of white supremacy, that white people remain “intent on denying what is before them.” Thus even though three gangs have now attacked each other in broad daylight and killed or injured 27 people, there is no nagging, gnawing sense of fear, no social anxiety about what the world is coming to, no anger at the thugs who made it unsafe for American families to go about their regular daily activities without fear of being clipped by a stray bullet, no posturing from law enforcement about the necessity of using military weapons to put down the lawless band of criminals that turned a parking lot into a war zone in broad daylight. More than that, there is no sense of white shame, no hanging of the head over the members of their race that have been out in the world representing everything that is wrong with America.

That kind of intra-racial shame is reserved primarily for Black people.

Most white citizens will insist that this was just an isolated incident, even though the gangs were already under surveillance for consistent participation in criminal activity. And this studied ignorance, this sense in which people could look at this set of incidents and simply refuse to see all the ways in which white privilege is at play — namely that no worse than arrest befell any the men who showed up hours later with weapons, looking for a fight — returns me to the words of Malcolm X. For many Americans, this is just good ole American fun, sort of like playing Cowboys-and-Indians in real life. As Malcolm reminded us, “whites idolize fighters.” So while I’m sure many Americans are appalled at the senseless loss of life, there is also the sense that this is just “those wild Texans” doing the kind of thing they do.

White Americans might also deny the attempt to “lump them in” with this unsavory element. But the point is that being seen as an individual is a privilege. Not having to interrogate the ways in which white violence is always viewed as exceptional rather than regular and quotidian is white privilege. White people can distance themselves from their violent racial counterparts because there is no sense that what these “bikers” did down in Texas is related to anything racial. White Americans routinely ask Black Americans to chastise the “lower” elements of our race, while refusing to do the same in instances like this. Yes, white people will denounce these crimes, but they won’t shake a finger at these bikers for making the race look bad. It won’t even occur to them why Black people would view such incidents as racialized.

Such analyses are patently unacceptable. And they are possible because white bodies, even those engaged in horrendously violent and reckless acts, are not viewed as “criminal.” Yes, some police officers referred to the acts of these killers in Waco as criminal acts and them as criminals, but in popular discourse, these men have not beencriminalized. Criminalization is a process that exists separate and apart from the acts one has committed. It’s why street protestors in Baltimore are referred to as violent thugs for burning buildings, but murderers in Waco get called “bikers.” And if thug is the new n-word (and I’m not sure that’s precise), then “biker” is the new “honky” or “cracker,” which is to say that while the term is used derisively and can communicate distaste, it does not have the devastating social effects or demand the same level of state engagement to suppress such “biker-ish” activity as we demand to suppress the activities of alleged “thugs” and “criminals.”

OK, let’s review.

  • She’s right that I see this as a local incident, just as I see the violence in Baltimore as a local incident, the product of local conditions. Yep, there are loads of people out there who nationalize such incidents, rightly or wrongly, but in my experience black observers are at least as likely to do that — seeing a national racial morality tale in, for instance, events in Ferguson — as white ones are.
  • She’s right again that I don’t see anything racial in a bunch of white thugs killing each other. I SORT OF see her point that cops didn’t think they needed riot gear, but was this actually a riot, spreading across a city? Wasn’t it a gang battle, contained to one place and with a specific, limited set of victims, as nasty and bloody as it was? Was it not focused inward, rather than outward? To what extent did it need to be contained?
  • I guess I’m not an “honest white person,” because I don’t see how “If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot… the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.” A bunch of thugs killing each other is a bunch of thugs killing each other. Where’s the difference?
  • And who, pray tell, does not consider these thugs to be thugs?

Near the end, she writes, “there is something fundamentally dishonest about a society that revels in the violence of one group while demanding non-violent compliance from another.”

Say WHAT? Who is reveling in what violence?

A weird piece. But this is, after all, Salon, which also today offers us this elevating gem:

,,, a Tweet that, let’s face it, doesn’t even make grammatical sense…

Come see me make a fool of myself tonight

Repeating what I said in a comment a few days ago:

By the way, y’all…

Next week at Capstone, we’ll have a debate on issues related to my Brookings piece, sponsored by the Policy Council. I’m on the panel along with our own Lynn Teague, Rick Quinn and Ashley Landess. Charles Bierbauer will moderate.

I was invited to this by Barton Swaim, thusly:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

I hope some of y’all can come…

Here’s the Eventbrite info on it.

Actually, it turns out that Charles Bierbauer will not be moderating. Bill Rogers of the SC Press Association will take his place.

I agreed to do this even though I don’t have strong opinions on campaign finance law in general. But I do not believe, as the Policy Council appears to do, that spending equals speech. I do not believe that, as Ashley Landess says, it is “burdensome” for an advocacy group to have to disclose where its money comes from if it hopes to affect elections or policy.

And with me, that’s about as far as it goes. I’ve devoted basically no time to studying individual bills addressing the subject, or court cases on related issues. Because, you know, it’s all about money, and you know how money bores me.

But fortunately, I’ll have our own Lynn Teague on my team. The other “side” will be represented by Ms. Landess and Rep. Rick Quinn.

I’m assuming that all three of them know far more about this than I do (I know Lynn does), and will do the heavy lifting when it comes to filling those two hours.

Lynn and I talked the debate over at breakfast this morning. That’s the extent of my preparation, aside from a few emails back and forth with Barton Swaim, who got me into this.

So if you’re interested, come on out, because I’m sure the other three will have interesting things to say. And if I see the opportunity to make one of my 30,000-foot-view points, I will. Of course, I’m likely to misspeak in my ignorance of the minutiae on this issue. Which you might find entertaining, but I won’t…

If nothing else, a professor should be able to WRITE better than that

Self-described Duke professor Jerry Hough has stepped into deep don’t-don’t with his comments on a New York Times editorial headlined “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.” If you click on this link, you’ll see his comments.

What he said has been called racially “noxious.” And he’s taken a lot of heat for it.

I’ll let others judge whether Dr. Hough is, in his heart of hearts, a racist. One thing I know for sure is that he has a very poor command of the English language, to the extent that he lacks the skill to avoid sounding like a racist.

For instance, he doesn’t seem to get it that, if he’s going to make offensive (and extremely trite) generalizations comparing the experiences of Americans of Asian and African extraction, one does better (a little better, anyway) to refer to “blacks” and “Asians” than “the blacks” and “the Asians.” I mean, who doesn’t know that? Who is that tone deaf?

Dr. Hough has been castigated, unsurprisingly, for saying “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.”

I mean, let’s set aside the fact that I’d like to make the prof a bet that not “every” Asian student has a name like “John.” It’s the WAY he said it. Folks who are not racists have done a great deal of hand-wringing over the fact that if you have a “black-sounding” name such as “Tyrone,” you’re less likely to get a job interview than if your name is, say, “Bradley.” (Ahem.)

This is a point that can be, and often is, made in a non-offensive manner. Dr. Hough mentions it in a way that condemns “the blacks” as a group for not wanting to play well with others.

Anyway, here are his comments in their entirety:

This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.

But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white.The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.

In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.

So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.

I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existemt because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.

It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.

Wowee. I hate to show disrespect for “the old people” by saying this, but at 80, maybe the prof has lost a little zip on his fast ball in terms of being able to set out ideas in a way that he is heard, rather than making people want to shut him out. His writing is a blunt instrument that repeatedly taps on the sorest of spots, and does so with a startling lack of originality. Duke professor? He sounds more like Joe Blowhard in the local tavern after too many brewskis.

Of course, maybe he’s just racist. There’s always that possibility. But one expects even a racist Duke professor to express his views better…

There is no ‘wall’ between church and state

First, I agree with Unitarian Rev. Neal Jones that if our governor is going to invite us to a day of prayer, she ought to invite everybody, and not just Christians.

And in the video above from the website of the upcoming event, she does seem to invite everybody. Unfortunately, Rev. Jones received a letter from the governor that seemed to imply a more restricted invitation, in that it said “this is a time for Christians to come together to call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

Rev. Jones felt left out because Unitarian-Universalists are not what you would call Christians. Instead, they firmly believe that… um… ah…. Well, they’re not, strictly speaking, what you would call Christians.

So if the governor meant to stiff-arm his congregation, and Jews, and the Sikhs in her own family, then that’s not good. If she really meant to do that.

But… I have to object to the fact that in making the argument that Nikki Haley should not have done such a thing, Rev. Jones repeated a popular misconception, and I feel the need to correct him:

So I will not be attending the governor’s day of prayer, because she didn’t actually mean to invite me, as I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. But even if she had, I would not attend. I am not against prayer, but I am for the Constitution, the First Amendment of which establishes a “wall of separation between church and state,” to use Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase. That wall protects the integrity of both government and religion. It prevents religious zealots from using the power and purse of the government to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us, and it prevents overreaching politicians from intruding into religious affairs. Each institution does better when it minds its own business — when ministers pray and politicians pave roads….

You see the error, right?

The First Amendment does not establish a “wall of separation between church and state.” That oft-repeated quote was Thomas Jefferson — who was not involved in drafting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights — expressing his opinion regarding the effect of the actual amendment. It was in a letter he wrote as president to the Danbury Baptist Association explaining why he, unlike his predecessors and some who followed him, refused to proclaim days of fasting and thanksgiving. The operative passage:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state…

Jefferson was on solid ground when he said the amendment provided that the Congress “should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But he ventured into opinion, and for his part wishful thinking, when he added “thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

(Interestingly, after rhetorically erecting this wall and standing firmly on the secular side of it, he closed his letter with these pious words: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man…”)

By the way, I place more store on the opinion of James Madison that there should be a “total separation of the church from the state.” But it must be noted that Madison did not insert such language into the amendment itself, and no amendment with that wording was ever ratified or adopted.

Too many folks continue to believe that what Jefferson chose to believe the amendment said is actually what the amendment says.

When it isn’t.

We are not to have an established church, and the government may not interfere with anyone’s particular religious beliefs or practices. This is not the same as having a wall of separation; it’s not even close.

In Jefferson’s day, a lot of folks wanted there to be such a wall, and he was among them. A lot of folks want there to be such a wall today, and furthermore sincerely believe the Constitution provides for one.

But, again, it does not.

Rev. Jones concludes:

I realize that in South Carolina, indeed across the South, it is tempting for politicians to overstep their civil authority and meddle in religious matters. Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety. The next time Gov. Haley prays, she might consider praying for the strength to resist that temptation … for her own spiritual health and for the health of our constitutional democracy….

Rev. Jones may find it distasteful when “Southern politicians win lots of votes by making a public display of their piety.” I might, too, depending on the circumstances and the nature of that display. Not because the civic realm is damaged by mentions of God, but because God is blasphemed by having His name yoked to an individual politician’s aims.

Many of my readers might be offended in far more instances than I would. But when politicians thus offend, they generally do not “overstep their civil authority.”

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

The affordable housing challenge

Warren Bolton’s last editorial for The State, which ran Sunday, sounded a familiar theme that he has steadfastly promoted for years:

But for there to be real progress, the public must embrace the notion of affordable housing, and one or more city leaders must step forward to champion it.

If the city fails, the poor could be pushed out to make room for the affluent, further segregating our capital city by income and turning the city center into a ghetto of sorts for the wealthy. That kind of progress would be hard to accept….

I always agreed with Warren that ensuring affordable housing to prevent the creation of ghettos by income was a laudable goal, but — and this will surprise my libertarian friends — I always had my doubts about the extent to which we could bring that about.

My question was, just how long would we want to mandate conditions that ran counter to market forces? And would that really work?

If you build affordable housing in a highly desirable place, then you’ve accomplished your goal for the moment. But unless you have a strict rent or purchase-price control in place permanently, then that property is going to appreciate, and people are going to be willing to pay higher prices for it.

How long do you maintain an artificial, government-mandated (and here, “government” could be anything from the Feds down to your subdivision or apartment-house covenant) set of conditions that defy market forces?

This is the approach discussed in the editorial:

Brian Huskey, director of the Midlands Housing Trust Fund, which works to create affordable housing opportunities, has suggested that one answer is to adopt inclusionary zoning. Such zoning would require developers to include a certain proportion of units that are affordable to people who aren’t among the highest wage earners. Incentives could encourage developers, and an opt-out fee could help finance affordable housing elsewhere.

But would that really work in the long run? I don’t know.

I want the same thing that Warren wants on this, and always have. I’ve just been a little unsure about how practical a goal it is…

A short debate regarding cartoonists and terrorists

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Bryan Caskey wrote this over on his blog:

“You’re just not going to convince me that the right and true and courageous’ way to stand up to terrorism is to go out of your way to offend hundreds of millions of Muslims who are NOT terrorists, and mean you no harm.”

A couple of things. First, I think that Brad is more concerned about the tone and style than he should be. Now, that probably has to do with the fact that Brad is a really nice guy. He’s a very polite person.
If you met him in person and said something that he seriously disagreed with, he probably would just give you a polite smile and let the pitch go by. He wouldn’t start big argument with you in a social setting, because it’s considered impolite to start political arguments in social settings. He’s right about that, too. For the most part, it’s a good idea to try and get along with other people. I have that instinct, too, but probably not to the same extent.
For instance, it’s probably not the most agreeable thing for a practicing lawyer to have a blog like this and take various positions that I take. I’m sure it makes some people around me (including my wife) uncomfortable at times.
I kind of vacillate between trying to the the go-along, get-along guy and the guy who doesn’t care what you think of me. Part of me wants to be the Conventional Guy, with all the conventional thoughts, because that’s what advances you in life – especially when you’re a lawyer. People want their lawyers to be Buttoned Down People for the most part. They don’t want bomb-throwers.
But the other part of me is the bomb-thrower that doesn’t care what people think because that part of me isn’t seeking the Blessing of Other People. Partly, I think that’s me trying to stand independently, and partly, it’s me not having respect for some of those Other People because I don’t think they’ve earned the respect.
This go-along, get along mentality is certainly fine, and it has it’s place. No one wants to be a social outcast. I don’t argue politics at my son’s friends three-year-old birthday parties. But there’s also a point at which you have to actually stand up for something. If you live in fear of social stigma your entire life, you’re going to be easily pushed around. This is why political correctness is actually a powerful force.
There are so many people who are afraid of being thought of as “the wrong class of people” that the Perpetually Offended Army can push them around by telling them things like If you say the word “thug” you’re a racist. Someone who’s a Conventional Guy doesn’t want to be labeled a racist, because that’s about the worst thing you can be in the year 2015. Accordingly, the Conventional Guy alters his behavior because he doesn’t want to be thought of like that.
Note, it doesn’t matter if he’s actually a racist or not, and it doesn’t matter if the use of the word is appropriate or not. All that matters is that the Perpetually Offended Army can push Conventional Guy around.
So now we have Pamela Gellar and her group who push the envelope of free speech beyond what is tasteful and beyond what ispolite into a region that is….uncomfortable for Conventional Guy to support. So when the Perpetually Offended Army says thatYou can’t support this kind of….hate speech! It’s just not respectful of other people’s religion, Conventional Guys like Brad don’t want to be thought of as “the wrong class of people”, so they focus on the impolite tone and style of Ms. Gellar’s speech as offensive.
And that’s the wrong place to focus. Here are the facts.
1. Ms. Gellar and her group of people drew cartoons and publicly displayed them.
 
2. Men shot at her for this public displaying of cartoons.
 
3. There is no third fact. That’s it. There are no other facts. 
Do we really need to say that drawing cartoon is “inexcusable”? Nope! Because they don’t need an excuse to draw cartoons. That’s allowed. It may not be the way that Brad chooses to express himself, but Ms. Gellar doesn’t need to apologize, explain herself, or have an excuse for anything. She’s an American, on American soil, expressing her opinion about someone’s religious beliefs and conduct.
And people shot at her for doing so. Shot. At. Her.
It’s not hard to figure out which side you should be on. And spare me the “but”. You’re either for free speech or you’re only for speech that doesn’t make you uncomfortable. The latter makes you an unprincipled hack.
Do I like it when people burn the American flag to make a statement? No. I find burning the American flag to be distasteful and somewhat un-American. However, I think that attempting to ban flag burning is even more un-American than burning the flag. That’s how America works.
Respectability is all fine and good, but at some point you have to decide that you are in favor of certain ideals and principles. If other people don’t like your ideals and principles, then screw them. I’m reminded of a quote:

Do you have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” -Winston Churchill

Maybe we should all be a little less afraid of making enemies these days.

And I replied…

A couple of quick points…

First, mine is not the conventional position. Mine is the harder position to take. On the left and on the right, and certainly in the streets of Paris, the overwhelmingly popular position is Je suis Charlie.

I go against that grain, and say I am most certainly not Charlie.

I’m the guy whose position makes everyone indignant.

Another point: This is one of those situations in which someone like me gets hit with the “blaming the victim” accusation. You know, like when you say the beautiful young woman shouldn’t be jogging through a bad part of town in a skimpy outfit late at night. At that point, you’re accused of defending potential rapists and blaming the victim. No, I think rapists are candidates for suspending the “cruel and unusual” prohibition in the Constitution. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t put yourself in that vulnerable situation. (People get a little less indignant at you if you say, “Don’t walk with a bag full of money with dollar signs printed on it through a high-crime area late at night.” I used the example most likely to stir objection, because the point still applies, but it’s a point that a lot of people miss because the emotional content throws them. As with cartoonists and terrorists. I think like a Dad, or like Buck Compton in the 7th episode of “Band of Brothers,” telling his men: Don’t do anything stupid.)

In this case, there’s an additional factor — you’re not just waving a flag at a bull, you’re going out of your way to insult that which is sacred to millions of people who don’t intend ever to do anything wrong. You really have to be a jerk to do that.

This is made worse by the fact that you have no point to make. It’s all about being offensive, period.

Another point: Go ahead and flatter yourself that you’re being brave, daring the terrorists to come on and get you for being such a jerk. This completely ignores the fact that you are putting other people’s lives at risk. From the security guard who had to defend these jerks in Texas to innocent bystanders at riots in Pakistan, your actions can have completely unpredictable consequences on other people — people who did not choose to be a jerk along with you.

Finally, I have nothing but contempt for this whole “bravery” pose. Imagine it the other way: Say terrorists say they’ll kill you if you don’t draw pictures of Mohammed. In other words, they’re trying to make you do a bad thing. Refusing to do so would be proper courage in the service of a worthwhile cause. Being a big, fat jerk because some lunatic threatens to kill you if you act like a big, fat jerk does not make you a hero. It just makes you a big, fat, stupid jerk.

See what I mean?

Not you, of course. I mean the cartoonists.

Because I don’t think for a minute that you would ever do what they do…

Another way to put it…

Just because someone threatens to kill you if you do a really rotten, stupid, pointless thing does not ennoble the rotten, stupid, pointless thing. You still shouldn’t do it.

The threat of violence just confuses everybody….

George Will seems to be taking Graham candidacy seriously

At least, that’s the implication.

How else to explain the fact that, when most are writing about the other 19 or so Republicans believed to be pursuing the presidency, Will has now written two columns in a row about our own Lindsey Graham’s candidacy?

I wasn’t at all surprised at Will’s Sunday column, which I addressed earlier. I figured that Will found something sort of charmingly quirky about this quixotic campaign, enough so to make writing a column about it enjoyable. And indeed, the column has that tone to it.

But then, his Wednesday column was also about Graham and his chances. And this one was more about buckling down to business, cutting into and examining what, in Will’s estimation, are two big Graham flaws (which is to say, two issues on which he has disagreed with George Will). It’s also as though, after writing the first column, Will had thought, But this guy’s no joke. He could have a chance, and I’d better get serious and tell people what’s wrong with him.

Or something like that. Of course, maybe he just got so much inspiration out of one Graham interview that he couldn’t get it all into one column.

In any case, he said Graham’s two big flaws are that he has agreed too much with Hillary Clinton on two issues:

Lindsey Graham once said his road to Congress ran through a coronary clinic because it involved so many South Carolina barbecues. Today, as a senator, he thinks he sees a path to the Republican presidential nomination. He has many strengths but two substantial problems.

Two clarifying issues efficiently reveal who actually is conservative and underscore two of Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities. They are the U.S. attack on Libya and her attack on freedom of political speech….

Ironically, he notes that while Lindsey agrees somewhat with Hillary on campaign finance reform, his strategy for getting the nomination is dependent on the current system:

The infancy of super PACs is, Graham says, over. “They are full-blown teenagers” who in this cycle could, he thinks, produce a brokered nominating convention. A super PAC devoted to helping a particular candidate can “create viability beyond winning.” Usually, he says, candidacies are ended by a scarcity of money or a surfeit of embarrassment, or both. Suppose, however, that super PACs enable, say, five 2016 candidates to survive until July, losing often but winning here and there, particularly in states that allocate their delegates not winner-take-all but proportionally. Suppose the five reach the convention with a combined total of delegates larger than the 1,236 (this might change) needed for a nominating majority. What fun….

And that’s really the most interesting part of the column — this glimpse of a path to the nomination that Graham sees, but others do not.

I’m not even sure I fully understand it, but it intrigues me…

George Will on Graham’s ‘fun factor’

I enjoyed George Will’s column about Lindsey Graham’s presidential bid over the weekend.

Others had written in recent days stories that made Graham’s motive for running more and more clear — to have someone vocally rebutting Rand Paul’s quirky (for a Republican) views on foreign affairs.

But Will summed it up nicely:

He has the normal senatorial tendency to see a president in the mirror and an ebullient enjoyment of campaigning’s rhetorical calisthenics. Another reason for him to run resembles one of Dwight Eisenhower’s reasons. Graham detects a revival of the Republicans’ isolationist temptation that has waned since Eisenhower defeated Ohio’s Sen. Robert Taft for the 1952 nomination.

Graham insists he is not running to stop a colleague: “The Republican Party will stop Rand Paul.” But Graham relishes disputation and brims with confidence. “I’m a lawyer. He’s a doctor. I argue for a living.” If Paul is nominated and elected, Graham will support him and then pester President Paul to wield a big stick.

Graham believes that events abroad are buttressing the case for his own candidacy. He says national security is the foremost concern of Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He sees the 17,000 members of the Iowa National Guard who were deployed overseas as the foundation of a Graham plurality among the 120,000 Iowans expected to participate in the caucuses.

He wants voters to ask each candidate: Are you ready to be commander in chief? Do you think America is merely “one nation among many”? Are you committed to putting radical Islam “back in the box” (whatever that means)? Do you understand that any Iranian nuclear capability “ will be shared with terrorists”? Do you realize that, if that had happened before 9/11, millions, not thousands, might have died?…

Will then went on to imply that Graham’s style of conservatism is “the no-country-left-unbombed style,” something of which Will, of course, would not approve. (When Will calls himself a conservative, there’s no “neo” in front of it.)

That admonition dutifully voiced, Will acknowledged that, at the least, a Graham candidacy should be fun:

“I’m somewhere between a policy geek and Shecky Greene,” the comedian. Campaigning, he says, “brings out the entertainer in you,” so his town hall meetings involve “15 minutes of standup, 15 minutes of how to save the world from doom, and then some questions.” He at least will enlarge the public stock of fun, which few, if any, of the other candidates will do.