Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul step out to appeal to very different groups of voters (guess which one I’m in)

Charles Krauthammer today noted how Hillary Clinton is reaching out to appeal to voters like me (and Krauthammer himself to an extent):

Leave it to Barack Obama’s own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Yes, of course everything Hillary Clinton says is positioning. The last time she sought the nomination (2008), as she admitted before Defense Secretary Bob Gates, she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons because she was facing antiwar Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa. Now, as she prepares for her next run (2016), she’s positioning herself to the right because, with no prospect of being denied the Democratic nomination, she has the luxury of running toward the center two years before Election Day.

All true, but sincere or not — with the Clintons how can you ever tell? — it doesn’t matter. She’s right…

Yes, she is right. And she deserves the respect she gets for it.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul has been getting a lot of respect over what he has said about Ferguson, Mo. The Fix says his op-ed on the subject in TIME makes him “the most interesting voice in the GOP right now.”

That’s because, when it comes to the behavior of the cops in Ferguson, there’s a consensus across the political spectrum, and that consensus in this case happens to be the libertarian position. That makes Paul look, momentarily, like a centrist.

This brings Rand Paul to the fore among voters who are more focused on domestic issues than on foreign policy. And among those people, Hillary Clinton has been criticized:

Hillary Clinton has had much to say of late about foreign policy, drawing a great deal of coverage for an interview in which she pointed out her differences with President Obama on how he has handled crises around the world.

Analysts suggest that she is signaling to a general election electorate where she disagrees with the currently unpopular Obama on issues important to them, should she decide to run for president in 2016.

Closer to home, however, Clinton has yet to say anything about the events in Ferguson, Mo., which has exploded into protests – both peaceful and violent – since the weekend shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American…

Elizabeth Warren has something to say about Ferguson, but not Hillary Clinton:

Which is one big reason why I prefer the Clinton view — either Bill’s or Hillary’s — to the Warren view, pretty much every time.

I’m one of these folks who believes the president’s chief job is dealing with foreign policy. That is, after all, what we have a federal government for.

I’m not one of those people who gets antsy waiting for the president — or someone who wants to be president — to opine about something that is clearly not part of the job. What’s happening in Missouri is clearly a state and local matter. The local folks weren’t handling it right, so the state stepped in. In a matter such as this, the role of the rest of us — including the president — is essentially that of a spectator (unless things deteriorate to the point that federal troops are sent in, which has yet to happen and seems unlikely to happen). We may have strong opinions about what we’re seeing (assuming that we’re watching it, instead of watching the deteriorating situations in Iraq and Ukraine), but we are not the ones expected or empowered to take action in that sphere.

This has been an important week, within the context of the 2016 presidential campaign. In each party, a leading contender (or in the case of Hillary Clinton, the contender) has stepped out to define a position that cements that contender status.

They did so in ways that don’t invite comparison — except in terms of noting how very separate their spheres of interest and focus are.

The missing word in Cindi Scoppe’s column today

I refer you to the ending of Cindi Scoppe’s column today, which explains that while we do need to spend more to upgrade our roads, their condition is not the greatest contributor to traffic fatalities in our state. She lists some of the other factors:

… The biggest problem: The Legislature refuses to treat drunk driving the way it treats other highway safety laws and the way all the other states treat it. Rather than making it illegal per se to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, it practically begs jurors to conclude that a driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent, or higher, didn’t really look that drunk.

To understand how absurd our law is, imagine being clocked at 90 mph in a 55 zone but being found not guilty because you convinced a jury that you were in complete control of the vehicle the entire time. Our laws don’t even give you a chance to try that sort of defense — unless you’re charged with drunk driving.

Of course, drunk driving isn’t our only problem.

Distracted driving is a huge problem, but we don’t restrict cell-phone use — even among drivers who are so inexperienced that we don’t let them drive at night or with friends in the car.

Our death rates are high for motorcyclists, but we don’t require adults to wear helmets.

Elderly drivers are more dangerous than all but the youngest drivers, but we don’t require road tests or more frequent license renewals for older drivers. (We do require a vision test every five years, rather than the normal 10 years, but the 10-year standard is just asking for trouble for everyone.)

We prohibit the use of traffic and red-light cameras.

We don’t have particularly tough penalties for speeding in work zones.

And the list goes on.

It’s all an outgrowth of our resistance to anyone telling us what to do. And it all contributes, a lot more than the condition of our roads, to our deadly highways.

She left a word out of that penultimate sentence. She should have said, “It’s all an outgrowth of our childish resistance to anyone telling us what to do.”

Maybe she thought it would be redundant. Or maybe she didn’t want to unfairly malign children by using that modifier to explain the hard-headed, self-destructive, don’t-care-what-harm-I-do-to-others attitude that infects our politics, and keeps us from having sane, sensible laws that would help us be healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Why do I say “childish?” Because of my extensive experience with 2-year-olds, and then later with teenagers, whose insistence upon doing what they want to do, and doing it their way, without adult interference, is such a danger to them and others.

My grandson is 2, and up until know he has been a compliant child, receptive to adults’ caring influence. Now, he’s a sweet as ever, but his favorite word is “Me!” As in, he wants to fasten the straps on his car seat himself, which is worrisome. Fortunately, it hasn’t yet occurred to him to go without such a restraint — which makes him more mature than the sort of adult voter who keeps us from having reasonable laws in South Carolina.

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.

Obamacare ruling: WOW, talk about a lack of perspective!

There’s some big news out of a federal appeals court in D.C., and I am just stunned by the lack of perspective in the way The Washington Post is reporting it:

federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.

The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. [emphasis mine]

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out…..

Wow. Do ya think?

This ruling, “if upheld,” would mean Obamacare would cease to exist for those of us in South Carolina and in 26 other states. There would be nothing left of it. We don’t have the Medicaid expansion, and we don’t have a state exchange, so this would be it — no one — South Carolina would be getting health insurance through the ACA.

Which, of course, is precisely what Nikki Haley and all those other SC Republicans who hate Barack Obama and all he stands for far, FAR more than they care about the people of SC want. Their dream, our nightmare, would be achieved — South Carolina would have “opted out” of health care reform.

Compare that to a ruling that closely-held corporations with religious objections would not have to cover some contraceptives — while covering EVERYTHING ELSE that a person would go to a doctor for.

So, uh, yeah, it could “potentially” (that hedge word is just the cherry on top of this monument to lack of perspective) be more damaging to the law.

Wow. Wow…

I’ll get mad at Nikki Haley and her fellow ideologues who put South Carolina in a position to be denied any benefit (any benefit at all, people, not just your preferred contraceptives, or your favorite antihistamines, or your chosen brand of bandages) from the ACA later. Right now, my mind is too boggled by that observation from the WashPost

I don’t know anything about this Sandhya Somashekhar person who wrote the piece, but does she not have an editor?!?!?

Barton Swaim on Sanford and the public apology meme

Two recent posts — this one about Mark Sanford and this one about a public apology — remind me that a couple of weeks back, I meant to mention this book review in the WSJ, written by Columbia’s own Barton Swaim.

Yeah, I know — you click on the link and can’t read the review. I have the same problem, ever since my subscription ran out and the WSJ has refused to offer me terms anywhere near as reasonable as those they offered me in the past. (By contrast, I recently took advantage of an awesome, one-day deal offered by The Washington Post — $29 for a year of total access across all platforms, including the most important, my iPad. I’ve been enjoying it. The WSJ, unfortunately, wants almost that much per month.)

Anyway, it’s a review of Sorry About That by Edwin L. Battistella. It’s about public apologies, and I started reading the review with Mark Sanford in mind. Because I’ve heard more such apologies from him than from anyone. (While I’ve seen nothing that looks like actual contrition, no indication that there is anything that he did that he is truly sorry for.)

So I was startled when I got to this paragraph:

Apologizers’ attempts to avoid naming their offense, says Mr. Battistella, often make their apologies sound inauthentic and self-exculpatory. Instead of repeating or even paraphrasing the unwise remarks that prompted the apology, they will refer to “a careless, off-handed remark” or “insensitive words”; embezzling funds becomes a “mistake,” adultery a “poor decision I deeply regret.” I have a vivid memory of my former boss, Mark Sanford, in the days after his adulterous affair was revealed to the public. (Mr. Battistella devotes a brief section of his book to the governor of South Carolina, as he then was.) He would often refer to the affair in a grammatically bizarre way: “that which has caused the stir that it has.”…

Voldemort was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Sanford’s long-lasting lapse was “The-Sin-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

You know what? Bemused, jaded-wounding observations like Barton’s cause me to have the following thought: I’m not sure that anyone who worked for Mark Sanford as governor forgives him to the extent that he, Mark Sanford, believes he should be forgiven.

Toal was wrong about Wilson and the press release

Cindi Scoppe had another strong column today relating to the Harrell-Wilson case. Basically, it was about how creepily accurate the rumor mill has been about how judges would rule on the case thus far, starting with predictions that Casey Manning would come up with the bizarre notion that the attorney general lacked the authority to prosecute the speaker.

It ends with the current rumor, which is that the court will overturn Judge Manning’s ruling, but “direct the judge to decide whether Mr. Wilson should be replaced with another prosecutor and strongly suggest that he should be.”

Let’s hope the rumor mill is wrong on this one, because it would be bad for South Carolina to have the attorney general undermined in his effort to treat the speaker like any other citizen. It would mean victory for the speaker, whose goal all along has been to kick Wilson off the case.

Some of the speculation may arise from Chief Justice Jean Toal’s concern about the “unprecedented” press release that Wilson put out announcing that he was asking a grand jury to consider the Harrell case.

The thing is, the chief justice is wrong about the release being unprecedented, or even unusual:

We have heard for weeks that the chief justice was fixated on the news release that Mr. Wilson sent out in January announcing that he was referring the case to the Grand Jury. And on Tuesday Ms. Toal brought that up and returned to it multiple times, going so far as to call it “unprecedented” and say she had “never heard of having a news release to announce you’re going to submit something to the Grand Jury, ever.” So that rumor appears to have been correct as well.

That point merits a little more explanation, particularly because it plays into the final piece of speculation, which has not yet played out. Justice Toal might never have noticed such a thing, but it is by no means unprecedented. I still have the news release Mr. Wilson sent out in 2011 announcing he was asking the Grand Jury to investigate then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard. When I asked the attorney general’s office on Wednesday about similar news releases, I was provided with three others, involving S.C. State University and two high-profile securities fraud investigations. I also was sent six news articles in which the attorney general’s office confirmed that other high-profile cases had been referred to the Grand Jury.

I’m told from previous administrations that the main goal of these news releases is to get reporters to stop hounding the office for information, by making it clear that no more comment can be made….

If any of the momentum toward removing Wilson arises from concern over the press release, I hope the justices will read, and consider, that section of Cindi’s column before ruling.

Divided Supremes rule for Hobby Lobby

This is this morning’s big news:

The Supreme Court struck a key part of President Obama’s health-care law Monday, ruling that some companies may refuse to offer insurance coverage of specific birth control methods if they conflict with the owner’s religious beliefs.

In a 5 to 4 ruling that pitted religious freedom against equal benefits for female workers, the court’s conservatives decided that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) gave employers the right to withhold certain birth control methods from insurance coverage.

The contraceptive mandate “clearly imposes a substantial burden” on the owner’s beliefs, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority.

It was the first time that the court had decided that the federal law covers corporations, not just the “persons” referred to in its text….

Since Pew says I’m in the “Faith and Family Left,” I suppose this is a win for my “side.” So, yay us.

OK, that sounded facetious — but only because I find the notion of “sides” that always agree amongst themselves absurd. On the substance, I suppose I’m with the majority of the court. If I hadn’t been already, then one of the sillier Tweets I saw objecting to the decision would have pushed me in that direction:


Well, then, if that’s the case, then you don’t want your employer providing you with birth control. Since, you know, it’s not any of his or her business. (I probably should have just said “his” there, instead of “his or her,” since the sort of person who would post something like that Tweet probably pictures a male as the big, bad boss.) There are some self-described feminists who get into such a rhetorical rut (in this case, the “keep your laws off my body” rut) that they fail to recognize instances when their habitual rhetoric fails to serve their cause. In this case, the ACA mandates that employers take a paternalistic (sticking with the “employer as male” stereotype) interest in one’s “reproductive choices.”

If you’d like to read the whole decision by the court, here it is.

Pew thinks I fit in the ‘faith and family left.’ Interesting…

When I saw the headline at The Fix, “Proud to be an American? You’re probably not a true liberal,” I thought, Well, that’s yet another reason why I’m not a liberal.

At least, not as the term is popularly defined. There are a lot of points of alienation between me and today’s “liberals” beyond the fact that Michele Obama set my teeth on edge when she said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country…”

And yet, the study upon which the piece was based, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, says I fit in a category that has “left” in its name.

Specifically, it thinks I fit in the “Faith and Family Left,” one of eight “political typologies” into which it separates Americans. The category is described thusly:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

So, Pew thinks I’m a black preacher or something. OK, I’m certainly more comfortable being that that I am as “Solid Liberal” or “Steadfast Conservative.” I’m even pleased with the “Faith and Family” part, but I could do without the “left” part. Because you know how the current “left” and “right” repel me.

Pew’s questionnaire forced me into that box with questions that had no right answer. Take this one, for instance:

bad choices

Like the Kulturkampf battle between faith and science, this is framed as a false and unnecessary choice. I don’t hold either of those positions. I clicked on the second one because I HAD to choose. But as you know, my belief is that we have not given up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism — which the libertarians believe is false. Since we haven’t been asked to do that, then it obviously isn’t necessary.

But a casual observer would read that response and think that I’m in the Edward Snowden camp, arguing against surveillance programs. Which is 180 degrees from where I am, as you know. I think the NSA programs are fine. I just don’t think they intrude on our privacy or freedom.

What I needed was an option like, “Our current security measures are fine, and don’t infringe our privacy or freedom. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.” That I could have clicked on happily.

There were a bunch of questions like that. Which causes me to doubt the value of the survey.

And yet, when I had glanced at the categories before I took the survey, my first impression was that if I fit in any of them, it would be the one called “Faith and Family” leaving out the “left” bit.

So maybe there’s something to this method after all.

Maybe you should take it, and see where you end up. Here’s the link.

The 2014 Political Typology: Polarized Wings, a Diverse Middle

On the ‘dumbing down of America,’ starting with SC

It is perhaps appropriate that on the day we learn a reality-TV star (which is actually one of the more flattering things one can say about T-Rav) is vying to become a U.S. senator from South Carolina, Burl Burlingame brings my attention to this piece, headlined “America dumbs down,” which begins with an anecdote from the Palmetto State:

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection….

If you’re getting the impression that the author of this piece holds that people who hold conservative positions are stupid, you’re getting the right impression. Which, I admit, I find off-putting. I mean, I have trouble understanding why some fundamentalist Christians find it necessary to deny evolution (as a Catholic, I see no conflict between faith and science on this point) — trouble that grows out of my failure to understand why anyone would think such obvious allegories as the Creation story are factual, accurate history — I don’t believe in mocking or sneering at people who believe such things.

Predictably, the piece goes on to describe conservative positions on gun control, global warming and health care reform as evidence of idiocy.

Perhaps the most offensive (intellectually offensive, that is) assertions in the piece is this:

… many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

Apparently, this author who thinks other people are so stupid is incapable of seeing the difference between parents being concerned about their children’s exposure to depictions of sexuality and drug use and… the Taliban. Let’s see… on the one hand, you have parents who doubt that a particular book is appropriate for their kids (not whether the book should be burned or anything, but whether it’s appropriate for their kids). On the other hand, you have people who shoot girls in the face for the crime of going to school. Yeahhhh, that’s just exactly the same. Riiiight

All of that said… the overall phenomenon under discussion here is a real one. American history is rife with anti-intellectualism, and there is a downward trend over time, as our politics becomes more democratic, in a bad way. We do, indeed, live in a time and place in which you can win elections by appealing to foolishness over wisdom.

I was referring to an example of this earlier today, cited by Michael Kinsley back in the mid-90s — the polling that indicated that solid majorities of Americans believe we spend too much on foreign aid, that they think, on average, that we spend about 18 percent of our budget, and that they think a better amount would be 3 percent (actually, that that should be the minimum) — when actually, we spend about 1 percent.

It’s OK for the people to be confused on something like that — unless that confusion becomes the basis of actual policy going forward. Which, unfortunately, does happen sometimes.

Anyway, it’s a deeply flawed piece that nevertheless touches upon a real problem…

The State’s ‘won-lost’ record

Cindi Scoppe wrote this post on The State’s editorial blog, “And Another Thing…”:

People who don’t get The State’s endorsement or who just like to be snarky love to say that our endorsement is the kiss of death. That never has been the case: Well over half of the people we endorse always have won, and it seems to me like the number is usually significantly higher, but I’m not certain and I don’t feel like trying to figure it out.

But this year’s primary elections were a dramatic example of how inaccurate the sore-losers’ claim is….

Our only loss was in the Democratic primary for education superintendent, where Montrio Belton was trounced. But we endorsed Tom Thompson in the runoff, and he won his nomination. Easily.

So for the record, that’s 7-1, or an 88 percent success rate. Hardly the kiss of death.

The beginning of that post is almost word-for-word what I have written multiple times in columns and blog posts. Except that she didn’t mention the part about endorsements not being predictions, just statements of who should win (and far more importantly, why they should win), regardless of what actually happens.

And except for this: I never did this after primaries, just after general elections. Which is why Cindi can’t cite a won-lost record over time, because the numbers I tracked were for general only. Why? Because I thought that was, a truer measure of the extent to which we were in tune with our readers overall. Also, since we were moderates and the parties were increasingly extreme, tracking primaries is a sure way to pull down your percentages.

(By the way, the record over the years I was on the board was that just under 75 percent of the candidates we endorsed won.)

But the thing about this primary season just ended is, SC voters went for the sober, moderate, experienced candidates this time, rather than the angry ideologues (one exception being the county council race where I live).

So, congrats to Cindi and Warren Bolton on their chosen candidates doing so well. But congratulations even more to South Carolina…

On being accused of being ‘pro-government’ on every issue

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

– John Donne

I still don’t understand what about the previous Bowe Bergdahl discussion prompted this (which is one reason why I’m moving the discussion to a separate thread), but Bud wrote:

Brad you’re actually pretty easy to predict. If it involves more government intervention you’re for it. Issues traditionally on the right that involved more government intervention: Iraq, military spending, abortion, marijuana laws, Sunday blue laws, gay marriage. Brad supports? Check, check, check, check. Liberal issues with more government involvement: healthcare, foreign aid, gun control, public education. Brad? check x 4.

Kathryn Fenner weighed in enthusiastically: “Nailed it.”

My response…

Yes, I believe that as a society we can work together to address challenges that face us. I do not believe that we are islands, on our own in the void.

You interpret that as being pro-government (because any arrangement between people to work together, whether formal or informal, can be said to be government), and say it like it’s a bad thing. Government is civilization’s prerequisite.

But saying I’m pro-government suggests the straw men of libertarians, who go on about “statism” and “collectivism.” They misrepresent a belief that we can come together as free people and build a decent civilization together as being Stalinist. That’s at the extreme. At the least, though, being pro-government to them means you’re pro-BIG government, as though size were particularly relevant.

I want government to be no bigger, and no smaller, than it needs to be in order to accomplish the legitimate tasks of enabling us to address common issues. And I’ve long been an advocate of subsidiarity, something that doesn’t come up here a lot because most of y’all don’t seem to want to get into the theoretical weeds quite that far. But put simply, it means governmental functions — and functions of other organizations and institutions as well — should be performed at the lowest, smallest, most local level that is competent to perform them adequately. That means, for instance, that whenever possible, I want to push functions down from the federal to the state level (think education) and from the state to the local (think all those MANY things that state legislators oversee in SC that should be local).

The purpose of the larger levels are to perform the things that the smaller ones can’t, effectively. The federal level needs to handle relations with foreign countries, from diplomacy to trade to war, regulate interstate commerce (mostly to keep it free and flowing, unlike under the Articles of Confederation) and do a very few other things. One of those things, I’ve come to believe, should be setting up one gigantic, universal health insurance pool, because the economies to be gained far exceed what any state or locality could manage.

Oh, dang. You went and got me started. How did we get from Bergdahl onto this subject anyway?

One more point: What Bud is addressing is one of the reasons why I will never feel comfortable in either the “liberal” or “conservative” camps, as they are popularly defined and organized. I agree with one side on more or less as many issues on which I agree with the other. On some, I agree with neither. That’s because I think about each issue. And my agreement or disagreement with each camp turns on a lot of points other than the relative involvement of “government.”

But it’s true that you will find consistency, for the most part, in my opposition to the propositions of libertarians. I say “for the most part” because there are areas of disagreement. I agree on the importance of the basic freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and in cases in which they are truly threatened, I will stand as staunchly as anyone in their defense. I just think libertarians tend to see threats where they don’t exist. But I’m with them on issues here and there: For instance, I see “hate crime” laws as fundamentally unAmerican, and a violation of the first and most important human right, the right of freedom of conscience, which is enshrined in various forms (speech, press, religion, assembly) in the First Amendment.

But I regard their hand-wringing over Edward Snowden’s revelations as absurd. You can no doubt think of many other areas of strong disagreement.

So I’m neither a liberal or a conservative. Or perhaps I’m a “liberal-conservative” or a “conservative-liberal.” I would say you could call me a “Democratic-Republican,” except that back when there actually was such a party, I probably would have been a Federalist…

Brad Hutto’s new TV ad

Here’s the TV ad Democratic SC Sen. Brad Hutto just released. Two quick thoughts:

  1. From start to finish, it’s nothing but empty populist sentiments of the “Them ol’ politicians don’t know nothin’, and should stay out of Washington and spend their time settin’ ’round the kitchen table listenin’ to regular folks” variety. The thrust is to complain that we have a smart, energetic senator whose opinions are sought out and respected in Washington. What a terrible state of affairs, eh?
  2. I’d like to hear the thoughts of people contributing to this campaign, in terms of what they think they’re buying, and what they hope to accomplish. Is this nothing more than a throw of the dice based on the belief that Thomas Ravenel, running as an independent, could create a situation in which the math works for a Democrat?

 

Reparations and ‘the monster in the closet’

Doug Ross suggests that there would be great interest in a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece in The Atlantic on the subject of reparations.

OK, so I’ll raise the subject. I can’t really comment this morning because I don’t have time to read the rather lengthy piece myself. I did, however, skim over the synopsis that Doug provided.

It tells me that what Coates suggests is not so much reparations in the sense of dollars. Rather, he wants to authorize a commission that would cause us to talk about the subject:

Calling the essay the “case” for reparation is equally misleading. Coates produces plenty of facts and figures that would be used to argue the case for reparations, his role though, is less that of the prosecuting attorney than that of the Grand Jury. He’s merely presenting enough evidence to make it clear that there ought to be a trial.

The “trial,” in this case, would be a study conducted by a congressionally appointed committee under the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, a bill that has been submitted by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in every Congress for the past 25 years, but has never been brought to the floor.

The purpose of the bill is “To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”

The Commission would have no authority beyond the ability to compel testimony and gather information, and would be authorized to spend $8 million–a sum utterly trivial in the grand scheme of the U.S. budget. Its conclusions would not have the force of law, and could not require the U.S. government to take any action whatsoever.

This brings us to the monster in the closet. Coates believes that the United States, as a people, has never been fully honest with itself about the extent to which black Americans were subjected to institutionalized discrimination. Further, to the extent that we have acknowledged discrimination, the U.S., as a country, has never made an honest effort to assess what it cost the country’s black citizens.

That’s what we’ve locked away in the closet, he argues, and the Conyers committee’s charge would be to open the door and find a way for the United States, as a people, to kill the monster. It’s that effort itself, Coates writes, done under the imprimatur of the federal government itself, which would be the true act of making reparations.

“Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely,” he writes.

“What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt….

The only reaction I have is, “More talk?” Perhaps because of what I have done for a living for so many years, every time someone says we haven’t talked enough about the subject of race in America, or some aspect of the subject of race in America, I wonder where they’ve been.

But hey, I’m a talker. Let’s talk away. I just don’t know where yet another talk can realistically be expected to take us…

‘Nuns on the Bus’ organization to hold meeting here on Saturday — I think

This item came in over the transom, in PDF form, late this afternoon:

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I pass it on in case it is actually legit, since it’s tomorrow morning. I failed to check it out in the most direct manner — calling the number provided, and sending an email. No one answered at the phone number, and honestly I just this minute sent the email — but then, I had only received this notice minutes before that.

So, if you want to check it out — and I find the Nuns on the Bus to be an intriguing outfit — you might want to show up at the library. I may, but only if I can rejuggle some other stuff I had planned for in the morning.

On the somewhat retro topic of Tebowing

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I almost never read Cal Thomas’ columns. I find they tend to have a certain sourness about them, whatever the point. Or maybe the expression on his mugshot just inclines me to perceive a sourness.

Whatever the case, I was drawn in to his column in The State this morning by the image of Tim Tebow kneeling.

The main point of the column didn’t interest me much — it was of a certain type, which we see written from the perspective of an ideologue complaining that ideologues of the opposite camp have a double standard, and criticize people of the writer’s camp for doing a certain thing, but don’t criticize people of their camp when they do the same thing. You know what I mean. You’ve read this one a million times.

In this case, he was angry that people who vehemently defend a guy named Michael Sam — apparently someone who people who follow football know all about — did not equally defend Tim Tebow when he was playing the game and taking a lot of flak.

The part of that that interested me was the Tim Tebow part.

And here, I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me as I propose an anachronistic topic. I realize that everybody who follows football, or is really into Culture War stuff, thoroughly hashed and rehashed everything there is to say about Tebow years ago. Well, I didn’t. I get interested in stuff when I get interested in it. Like “The West Wing,” which I will continue trying to interest y’all in discussing until I run out of episodes to watch on Netflix… and probably far beyond.

The advantage to you of a topic like this is that y’all have already thought it out and have wonderfully well-honed, nuanced positions on it. So you’re ahead of me. Assuming you can still remember your positions after all this time.

While everyone who followed football was really, really into taking strong stances on Tebow, I was peripherally aware of him. And what I was aware of was the kneeling thing. The “Tebowing.” Because it was kind of hard to miss, permeating visual media the way it did.

And each time I saw the image, as this morning, I wondered what to think of it. And I was always of two minds, at least.

On the one hand, it’s great that a guy isn’t embarrassed about his faith, and willing to witness to it in public — and in his case, in a considerable spotlight. On the other hand, it was awfully showy and “look at me,” seemingly a textbook example of what Jesus spoke against in Matthew 6:5.

And I find myself wondering whether Jesus’ judgment on this topic was culture-specific. He was speaking in a time and place when public prayer was a way of raising yourself in public esteem. Whereas, as Tebow himself can attest, doing so now subjects you to considerable abuse and ridicule. Especially when you play for a New York team.

Finally, on the third hand (yes, I know this metaphor is no longer working), I like the Tebowing gesture totally apart from theological questions. I’m a big fan of Arthurian legend — I may have mentioned that before — and Tebow’s gesture evokes the kneeling knight, his sword held before him like a cross. Which, to a geek like me who thinks pre-Raphaelite paintings are cool and not at all trite or corny, is appealing.

Thoughts? Or is this just too anachronistic for y’all? If so, I won’t try yet again to get a thread going on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars…

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USC dean sends out memo re academic freedom

This was sent out to faculty by USC Arts and Sciences Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick this morning:

PLEASE DISTRIBUTE TO ALL YOUR FACULTY

TO: Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences

Dear Colleagues:

In the past few months, academic freedom has become a hotly debated issue in our state. I need not rehearse all of the controversies that have erupted over certain reading assignments and performance events, as you are no doubt aware of them.

These controversies provide us with a valuable opportunity to affirm our most fundamental and profound principles. First, as university faculty, we can and we must be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth in our disciplines, and second, it is our right and our responsibility as faculty to determine the curriculum of our academic programs.

It is not often that academic freedom is the subject of numerous media reports and broad discussion among citizens. We should therefore welcome this chance to explain who we are as an intellectual community, our purpose and aspirations, and our vision “to transform the lives of our students and improve the world they will inhabit by creating and sharing knowledge at the frontiers of inquiry.”

I proudly invite you to read one such explanation written by Professor Ed Madden, a faculty member in the Department of English and the director of our Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Published in The State as a guest column on May 1, 2014, his explanation is both eloquent and moving.

http://www.thestate.com/2014/05/01/3419090/madden-is-this-a-pornographic.html

As your dean, I am deeply grateful for your commitment to our vision and for all that you do for our students.

Cordially,

Mary Anne

At first glance, I thought the memo was going to be about the national debate going on now about intellectual freedom on campus — the one sparked by all the student protests of invited graduation speakers. The WSJ had yet another op-ed piece about it this morning, this one headlined “Bonfire of the Humanities.”

And having made that mistake, now I have an appetite to read what academic leaders in this state might have to say about that national trend. Has anyone seen anything like that?

In the meantime, I suppose y’all could discuss this memo…

Lawmakers, listen up! Here’s how you can fix ethics mess

You knew Cindi would have a good column reacting to the ruling by Judge Manning that she had foreshadowed with dread, and today she did. Read it here.

It’s all good, but on the chance that some of our lawmakers are reading today, I want to call attention to the part in which she explained what they could do to fix the situation. Noting that there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court will reverse the circuit judge, she urged lawmakers to act today:

The best chance this year for making that fix could come Wednesday. That’s when the House could make final changes to an anemic ethics-reform bill, before it goes to a House-Senate conference committee. This stage is crucial, because it’s the last time legislators can insert new language into the bill by a simple majority; after this, any new language will require two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate.

So, what we need is for someone to propose an amendment to make it clear that ethics violations are crimes and that the attorney general is free to prosecute them. It needs to be a clean amendment — one that doesn’t also grant other forms of immunity, or raise the standard for prosecution, or make any other nefarious changes that reduce the chance that legislators who violate the law will be punished.

There are lots of other shortcomings of that bill, but frankly, no loophole in our ethics law even approaches the significance of the one that Judge Manning just discovered. If the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn his order or the Legislature doesn’t pass the fix, then I’m not sure anything else in the ethics law will really matter very much.

The only people who would vote against such an amendment are those who believe that legislators should remain above the law. No, not even that: It would be those legislators who are so arrogant in their power that they are willing to admit that they believe they are above the law.

Here’s hoping her words have a positive effect.

Revisiting an intriguing proposition: Hillary Clinton as LBJ (rather than MLK or JFK)

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I was interested to read, in today’s excerpt of Jim Clyburn’s book in The State, the congressman’s account of his disagreement with the Clintons just before the 2008 SC presidential primary:

That charge went back to an earlier disagreement we had about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s suggesting that, while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had done an excellent job promoting the issues of civil and voting rights for black people, it took a sensitive president such as Lyndon Baines Johnson to have the resolution of those issues enacted into law. In a New York Times article referencing an interview Mrs. Clinton had with Fox News on Monday, Jan. 5, 2008, she was quoted as saying “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The article went on to say that Mrs. Clinton thought her experience should mean more to voters than uplifting words by Mr. Obama. “It took a president to get it done,” Mrs. Clinton said.

It was an argument I had heard before while growing up in the South, even from white leaders who supported civil rights reform. It took black leaders to identify problems, but it took white leaders to solve them, they said. I had accepted that argument for a long time; but in 2008 it seemed long outdated, and it was frankly disappointing to hear it from a presidential candidate. When the reporter called to ask my reaction, I did not hold back…

Actually, Clinton is misrepresenting what Hillary Clinton had said. I don’t think he’s doing so intentionally. I believe he truly remembers it that way, in those black-and-white terms.

But then-Sen. Clinton didn’t really put it in terms of black leader vs. white leader. Basically, she put both Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy in one category — that of the inspirational figure — and Lyndon Baines Johnson in the contrasting role of the less-inspirational leader who nevertheless follows through and gets things done.

I found her proposition intriguing at the time. She was posing the question, What do you want — inspiration or results? I wrote a column about it at the time, which ran on Jan. 20, 2008, just six days before Barack Obama won the SC primary.

Now that we’ve had several years in which to evaluate the kinds of results that Mr. Obama has produced as president, and as we look forward to a 2016 election in which the Democratic nomination is Mrs. Clinton’s for the taking, I think it’s interesting to revisit that column. So here it is:

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
BARACK OBAMA and Hillary Clinton decided last week to put their spat over MLK, JFK and LBJ behind them. That’s nice for them, but the rest of us shouldn’t drop the subject so quickly.
Intentionally or not, the statement that started all the trouble points to the main difference between the two front-runners.
And that difference has nothing to do with race.
Now you’re thinking, “Only a Clueless White Guy could say that had nothing to do with race,” and you’d have a point. When it comes to judging whether a statement or an issue is about race, there is a profound and tragic cognitive divide between black and white in this country.
But hear me out. It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”
She wasn’t insulting black Americans — intentionally — any more than she was trying to dis Irish Catholics.
To bring what I’m saying into focus, set aside Dr. King for the moment — we’ll honor him tomorrow. The very real contrast between the two Democratic front-runners shows in the other comparison she offered.
She was saying that, given a choice between John F. Kennedy and his successor, she was more like the latter. This was stark honesty — who on Earth would cast herself that way who didn’t believe it was true? — and it was instructive.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the Master of the Senate when he sought the Democratic nomination in 1960. If he wanted the Senate to do something, it generally happened, however many heads had to be cracked.
LBJ was not made for the television era that was dawning. With features like a hound dog (and one of the most enduring images of him remains the one in which he is holding an actual hound dog up by its ears), and a lugubrious Texas drawl, he preferred to git ’er done behind the scenes, and no one did it better.
Sen. Johnson lost the nomination to that inexperienced young pup Jack Kennedy, but brought himself to accept the No. 2 spot. After an assassin put him into the Oval Office, he managed to win election overwhelmingly in 1964, when the Republicans gave him the gift of Barry Goldwater. But Vietnam brought him down hard. He gave up even trying to get his party’s nomination in 1968.
But he was a masterful lawmaker. And he did indeed push the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, knowing as he did so that he was sacrificing his party’s hold on the South.
He brought into being a stunning array of social programs — Medicare, federal aid to education, urban renewal, and the War on Poverty.
So, on the one hand, not a popular guy — wouldn’t want to be him. On the other hand, President Kennedy never approached his level of achievement during his tragically short tenure.
You might say that if Sen. Obama is to be compared to President Kennedy — and he is, his call to public service enchanting young voters, and drawing the endorsement of JFK’s closest adviser, Ted Sorensen — Sen. Clinton flatters herself in a different way by invoking President Johnson.
They are different kinds of smart, offering a choice between the kid you’d want on your debating team and the one you’d want helping you do your homework.
Sen. Obama offers himself as a refreshing antidote to the vicious partisanship of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. That sounds wonderful. But Sen. Clinton has, somewhat less dramatically, formed practical coalitions with Republican colleagues to address issues of mutual concern — such as with Lindsey Graham on military health care.
Sen. Clinton, whose effort to follow up the Great Society with a comprehensive health care solution fell flat in the last decade, has yet to live up to the Johnson standard of achievement. For that matter, Sen. Obama has yet to bring Camelot back into being.
As The Washington Post’s David Broder pointed out, in their debate in Las Vegas last week, the pair offered very different concepts of the proper role of the president. Sen. Obama said it wasn’t about seeing that “the paperwork is being shuffled effectively,” but rather about setting goals, uniting people to pursue them, building public support — in other words, about inspiration.
Sen. Clinton talked about managing the bureaucracy and demanding accountability.
Sen. Obama offers a leader, while Sen. Clinton offers a manager. It would be nice to have both. But six days from now, South Carolinians will have to choose one or the other.

Hillary

Mrs. Landingham, we hardly knew ye


The West Wing by Habzapl

Wow. Last night, I watched the Season Two finale of “The West Wing” not once, but twice. It was one of the best episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen.

Just thinking about Mrs. Landingham telling Jed, for the second time in their long association, that if he didn’t want to proceed because he didn’t think it was right, fine, she could respect that, but if he didn’t try because it would be too hard, “Well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you”… well, I get goose bumps right now, just typing it.

On a previous thread, we were talking, in the context of the military, about what it means to live for a purpose greater than yourself. Well, this TV show is getting to me, and it’s on that level.

I’ve been watching this show nightly while working out, and loving it. (I never saw it when it was on the air.) It’s probably not good for my mental health, though, because I’ve become so very jealous of those characters and what they have together. I don’t always agree with the things they’re trying to do, but that’s beside the point. The fact is that they get to do it as part of a group of people just as committed to serving their causes as they are. And what they do actually has an effect on the world around them.

I mentioned that Ainsley, the young Republican lawyer who joins the staff, is possibly my favorite character (my second favorite may be Toby, although I really like Leo, too). She disagrees with this bunch of Democrats even more than I do, and is a wonderful foil for them. But she, too, is a member of the group; she feels the sense of mission perhaps more purely than they do — because she is there solely in order to serve her country, rather than the president’s party or anything like that.

It’s no accident that the episode I saw last night uses Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to such effect. That’s the appeal of the show. These people are all brothers in arms, in a cause greater than themselves.

The show creates in me a longing. I couldn’t serve in the military for medical reasons. I’ll never be a senior adviser in the White House because, Ainsley aside, you not only have to be a partisan, but a professional partisan, to get there these days.

But I know there are people in this world who have something like what those characters have, and I’m deeply envious.

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Daily Beast: ‘The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise’

Free health care.

Free health care.

Often, when talking to people who are horrified, appalled, mortified at the notion of a single-payer health care system — or who show contempt for the very notion that the government can do anything constructive — I speak of the way I grew up as a Navy brat during the Cold War.

I spent relatively little time in the cocoon of the military base — a couple of years in the run-down old Navy base in New Orleans (few amenities; most of the WWII-era buildings were boarded up), a couple more at MacDill Air Force Base, a place I only ever had to leave to ride the bus to my high school (my brother attended an elementary school on-base). The Army and Air Force, with their large garrison communities, always seemed to have the best recreational facilities and other amenities. The Navy’s focus was at sea.

But whether I lived on- or off-base, I had access to certain basics, such as free health care. My Dad gave his service to his country, including going to war, and in return he and his were taken care of. It made sense, and it worked.

Well, I see that Jacob Siegel at The Daily Beast has taken it to another level, with a piece headlined, “The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise.” An excerpt:

It probably comes as a surprise to many, but the army may have more in common with Norway than Sparta.

The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known….

It’s not a terribly original idea, and I think he takes it a bit far. And does pure socialism have, as he notes, a strict, chain-of-command hierarchy? Is it informed by personal honor and devotion to duty? I suppose it could be, but those concepts suggest something other than an economic system to me. And there’s a good bit of Sparta in the life, for the active-duty people.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the proposition with you…