Tuesday, November 23, 2004


It's the Stupidity, Stupid

There's a fine little debate going on at my friend Mark's blog, The Decembrist.

Feel free to join in a mix it up. But keep it clean and don't be stupid

The thread weaves its way through some interesting topics such as secret handshakes, spiteful bumper stickers, Social Security reform, and the nature of President Bush’s mandate.

My position is that winning a majority of the 120 million votes cast by a margin of 3.5 million constitutes a powerful mandate to realize the vision that Bush articulated during the campaign.

Mark’s position – and I’m taking a chance here by defining it for him – is that Bush articulated no vision whatsoever unless you count a series of vicious attacks on John Kerry as a vision.

In a narrow sense, yes, many voters made their decision based on superficial personal characteristics of the candidates themselves. But most of the electorate had made up their minds months and weeks before November. That makes me think that individual policy positions played less of a role in this election than did gut feelings about large issues such as war and peace, the role of government, the trajectory of our culture.

If that’s the case then Americans by a convincing majority ratified George Bush’s approach to the war on Islamofascism and rejected the approach that would have us treat Islamist terrorism as a criminal matter rather than an existential threat. Voters gave permission to the federal government to aggressively intervene in the private sphere to forestall another 9/11-magnitude attack and rejected the arguments of those who oppose the Patriot Act and a unilateral surrender of civil liberties. And, if exit polls are to be believed, voters are uncomfortable about treating homosexuality as an entirely ordinary rather than vaguely dysfunctional reproductive strategy.

This doesn’t mean the conclusions of the electorate on these issues are unassailably correct. It means that the political dialogue has moved in some distinct directions.

It means the Deaniacs carrying Bush=Hitler signs and shouting “No Blood for Oil” are wasting their breathe. It means Michael Moore claiming that the Patriot Act is merely the tip of the great fascist iceberg lurking in the path of the ship of state is talking to an empty auditorium. It means gay rights advocates are going to have to make their case in ways that are less polarizing, less threatening, and less condescending to people of good will who have valid philosophical reservations.

Ultimately, the election is not about individual policy decisions. It’s about granting one candidate or the other a certain amount of political capital. The voters gave George Bush a flush bank account on November 2 and he now has the prerogative to spend his political capital any way he chooses.

My hope is that he spends it boldly and wisely.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What Did Margaret Hassan Die For?

With any luck, the murder of Margaret Hassan may have finally assigned the Islamofascists to the category of “barbarians” in the minds of those all too eager to given them the benefit of the doubt.

In the south of Fallujah yesterday, US Marines found the armless, legless body of a blonde woman, her throat slashed and her entrails cut out. Benjamin Finnell, a hospital apprentice with the US Navy Corps, said that she had been dead for a while, but at that location for only a day or two. The woman was wearing a blue dress; her face had been disfigured. It was unclear if the remains were the body of the Irish-born aid worker Margaret Hassan, 59, or of Teresa Borcz, 54, a Pole abducted two weeks ago. Both were married to Iraqis and held Iraqi citizenship; both were kidnapped in Baghdad last month.

If it is true that the orgy of violence that buffets Iraq is the fault of the Americans, how then do you explain killing a woman who devoted her life to helping Iraqis in need, who became an Iraqi herself, and who vehemently opposed the war now being waged against her murderers? If murdering Hassan furthers the goals of the insurgents, what exactly are their goals?

"She came to help us and give us prosperity," said Hashim Hassan, a 41-year-old security guard at a surgery. "These terrorists are outsiders ruining Iraq's image. Iraqis would not destroy their own country."

Unemployed Yusuf Ali, 35, said attacking or kidnapping aid workers was a development that would only harm the nation.

"The enemies of Iraq are attacking power stations, oil pipelines and kidnapping foreigners and aid workers at a time when we need them most. Aid workers would be flowing into Falluja right now if they didn't fear decapitation," he said.

As Tariq Ramadan might ask, who gains from such barbarity?

A destabilized and weak Iraq might please the Theocracy in Iran. An anarchic Iraq would be one less worry for the totalitarians of the region such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Eygpt. And a nihilistic bloodfest seems to be the preferred mode of political expression for the Wahabbi wing of the Religion of Peace®.

And what do the perpetrators hope to gain? Power . . . of some sort. Even if it only the power to destroy. Even if it is only the power to take the life of a bound and blindfolded pacifist.

Should we (can we) negotiate with these people? Should we consider the conditions that have driven them to such actions? Or should we be more concerned about killing them as quickly and efficiently as possible?

Even the Arab world seems revolted by such a cowardly empty gesture:

Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel that was given the video and has aired the beheadings of several Western hostages, refused to broadcast what must rank as a new low even by the barbaric standards of Iraq’s insurgency: a woman executed during the holy festival of Ramadan.

Hopefully their disgust is broad and deep rather than circumstantial. Hopefully, the Muslim world will voice their revulsion and ostracize the minority who commit barbaric acts of cruelty in the name of Islam.

If not, we have enough Marines to kill each and every fascist jihadi. It will take time, and it will be ugly, but that is the direction we’re headed.

Or the Islamic world can reject the extremist cancer than infects it without the need for radical surgery performed by the English-speaking allies (with backup from Drs. Italy, Poland, and Vanatu).

That would be better for everyone involved. We can hope that the for once this fatalistic, self-defeating culture can defy expectations and behave like the wise civilization it claims to be.

That might just give some slight meaning to Hassan's death.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Prairie Bigot

According to The Volokh Conspiracy, Garrison Keillor, National Public Radio's sole correspondant in Red State America, made the following joke recently about how he is coping with the unfathomable victory of George Bush:

"I'm trying to organize support for a constitutional amendment to deny voting rights to Jews," Keillor smirked. "I feel if your citizenship is in the Nation of Israel -- like a Jew's is -- you should give up your citizenship. Sorry, but this is my new cause. If Jews are allowed to vote in this country, then why not Canadians?"

That's the most virilently hateful thing I've heard muttered in public in a long, long time.

Oh, wait a minute. He didn't say "Jews." He said "born-again Christians." That changes everything. That's funny.

Is bigotry alive and well in America? Sadly, yes. And as always, some types of bigotry are more acceptable in polite company than others.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Wrong Move

I enjoy long, gloomy, mid-1970s German films as much as the next guy but I take exception to Wim Wenders’ embarrassing, pre-election, hand-wringing session on the Sabine Christiansen talk show on the German television channel ARD.

The director of dark art such as Alice in the Cities, The American Friend and The State of Things – as well as utterly forgettable big budget sell outs like Wings of Desire and The Million Dollar Hotel -- reveals himself to be as perceptive as Barbara Streisand when it comes to George Bush.

The Transatlantic Intelligencer reports that according to Wenders, America is turning into a fascist state under the boot heel of the Bush Administration.

“They (the Bush Administration) have made this country into an evil mixture [ein ganz böses Amalgam] of big business, petty bourgeoisie, and right-wing religion…. I still live there, but four more years of Bush I won’t live there, I won’t survive it. And the whole country won’t survive four more years of Bush. Before the end of these four years the country will implode like a giant balloon. . . .

. . . his (Bush’s) biggest triumph: his fanatic fundamentalist politics [sic.] has driven this free country to become also a fundamentalist totalitarian state....

Is anyone else troubled by how casually Europeans throw around words like “totalitarian” and “fascist”? I know they have far more experience with fascism than Americans do but it seems like they’ve learned nothing from the experience. In fact, saying the Americans are fascists conveniently devalues the entire concept of fascism and makes Europe’s Original Sin seem a bit more palatable for its heirs.

For that matter, claiming that Christianity and organized religion is “fundamentalism” also allows post-war Euros off the hook since that eliminates yet another of those pesky institutions with the moral authority to assign blame for human history’s most barbaric chapter.

The left doesn’t like all this talk about Good and Evil because they know they were once on the side of jackbooted evil but they can’t admit it because the greatest sin in the Progressive Canon is hypocrisy.

The thing about humanity, though, is that all of us are capable of evil. We have a choice and recognizing our mistakes is not hypocrisy . . . it’s penitence. And penitence requires humility, a resource in short supply in Europe -- particularly among cinemists.

Wenders should know more about the United States than most Europeans. He lives here after all. But he lives in one of the most parochial backwaters of the country (West Los Angeles) and seems to have absorbed a great deal of the local culture. But Wenders makes a mistake common among Europeans – he mistakes familiarity with insight.

Wenders has always been ambivalent about America. In his films it appears as a bleakly foreign land, an inscrutable vaguely malevolent force. “The Amis have even colonized our thoughts,” says one character in his film "Kings of the Road" after he can’t get an Elvis tune out of his head. It’s an intriguing place, but not one that Wenders really wants to know about. The flashing lights and strange colors are enough for him.

To gain a deeper insight into America, Wenders would have to venture into those places he would rather not understand. After all, it’s easier to say someone who is at ease with religion is a fundamentalist than it is to explore the reasons why that person feels such ease.

Maybe this deliberate ignorance is necessary.

I suspect those who are attracted to the group therapy aspects of leftist politics are afraid of getting too close to organized religion because they know they are inherently receptive to that sort of seduction. Look too closely and they’ll be sucked in. If you believe in nothing, you’ll believe in anything.

If Wenders held his nose long enough to comprehend the role religion played in American history and role it continues to play in contemporary culture and perhaps actually showed compassion for those he doesn’t understand rather than contempt, he might actually have the basis of a pretty good screenplay.

Too bad his career ended once he became popular. The opposite seems to be true of America.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Thank God W Won

Too polite to gloat? Or maybe you’re a closet Bush fan deep in the heart of Blue state America.

Paste this sticker on your Volvo and comrade dissidents will know who you are . . . but your Blue State fellow travelers will be none the wiser.

Buy one here.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

kerry stigmata

Democrats and Moral Values

It’s been a week of keening in the mainstream media about exits polls indicating that “Moral Values” was the top concern of voters this year – more than “Terrorism,” “Healthcare” or “The Economy.”

Obviously it was a surge of fundamentalism and bigotry that swept away the Kerry juggernaut.

Well, actually not. “Moral Values” was the top voter concern in 2000 and also 1996 according to exit polls reported by The Los Angeles Times. If it’s a surge it’s neither sudden nor unexpected.

Nonetheless, Values is the flavor of the day and cranks of all stripes are reacting to the “news.”

Jerry Falwell says he will revive his Moral Majority. This is like Chrysler reviving its K-car in response to increased auto sales. Falwell already played his role back in the 80s. We’re far beyond him now.

On the left you have folks like Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the secular National Council of Churches. Rev. Bob says, “You can't read the Old Testament without knowing God was concerned about the environment, war and peace, poverty. God doesn't want 45 million Americans without health care."

I do vaguely remember God discussing health insurance in his Third Letter to the Humana Regional Managers.

If this whole values discussion devolves into a shouting match about whether God supports estate tax exemptions and tighter CAFÉ standards it will certainly be entertaining . . . but hardly illuminating.

The fact is Republicans have a natural edge in the values debate not by design but by default. Democrats are unable or unwilling to talk about values. The best they can do is take existing policy positions throw a values tarp over them.

Thus, when John Kerry spoke about abortion during the debates he was forced into an intellectually untenable position. He said he believed life began at conception but that he couldn’t stop anyone from ending that life once conceived. He claimed his private beliefs were separate from his public positions although in the same breath he said his faith informed his positions on the economy, healthcare, and national security.

Strange how deeply held religious conviction is containable when it comes to a politically uncomfortable issue like abortion (or infanticide if you truly believe life begins at conception.)

Religion makes liberals feel creepy, which is odd since many of the icons of the progressive movement have been explicitly spiritual . . . Rev. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Reinhold Niebuhr.

So rather than accept that religion is an important part of many people’s lives, most Democrats would rather ignore it or mock those who believe it.

My take is that people who are hostile to religion are 1) every bit as absolutist and intolerant as those who do believe in religion, and 2) they are simply too literal in their thinking.

It seems clear that many human beings, regardless of culture or ethnicity, have a strong desire to express themselves spiritually. This is not a rational or practical act. It is a passionate act. It is akin to artistic expression.

An agnostic scratching his head at a devout Christian is like a person looking at Da Vinci’s Last Supper and thinking “This is not the real last supper. It’s just a blurry drawing.” Yes, it is drawn. It is not the actual event. But that doesn’t make it less real. In fact, it’s more real because it was drawn by the hand of a person who never observed the event itself.

It’s odd that progressives are willing to grant validity to any number of dubious artistic expressions, yet are largely intolerant to spiritual expression, which is arguably more authentic than status quo art.

Perhaps all the worry on the left is due to understanding that the coalition that makes the Democrats a meaningful force in politics fractures along religious lines. African-Americans are among those who are most concerned about Moral Values. Yet the Democrats have nothing to offer them on those issues without alienating other parts of the coalition.

John Kerry campaigning from the pulpit of a church in an African-American community is a particularly jarring image not only because that sort of thing is crass, but because he seems so awkward and out of place. Blue state Democrats think that to compete on Values they need to out bible-thump the Republicans. But actually, all they have to do is relax and open their minds to alternative views on some sacred cow issues.

Moral Values is not about excluding others -- it's about recognizing human frailty and making do.

Listen to almost any country music song and you’ll find values and morality discussed frankly and inclusively.

There Goes My Life by Kenny Chesney is a good example or Red Rag Top by Tim McGraw – these two songs hinge on the abortion issue, yet they are not about abortion. They are great songs because they’re not afraid to recognize a fact of life without rendering a verdict.

Play me a song or show me a movie that portrays someone wrestling with the dilemma of abortion and I’ll bet that it was produced in a Red state. For the establishment left, there's nothing to wrestle with. That issue is decided and no one dares to open that box without risking ostracism.

There are no pro-life Democrats in leadership positions. (UPDATE -- I am pleased to eat my words now that Harry Reid will be Senate Monority Leader) There are lots of pro-choice Republicans and the debate is lively in the GOP. In the DNC there seems to be no room for debating abortion.

The same seems increasingly true of gay marriage. That's unfortunate because the country needs to debate this and most of us are adult enough to do it maturely.

It’s been said that conservatives look for converts and liberals look for heretics. This week proved once again that when faced with choice between understanding the concerns of Red state voters, or digging in and not compromising, many Democrats find it easier to not surrender.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


Ironic Quote of the Day

On his website, billionaire George Soros shares his wisdom the day after George Bush’s re-election:

Obviously, I am distressed at the outcome of the election. I hope, but don't trust, that the second Bush administration will have learned something from the mistakes of the first. What is at stake is our ability to recognize our own fallibility.

Hmmm . . . let’s run the numbers here.

One of these Georges just got 59 million votes and won the presidency of the United States. The other George just spent 24 million dollars on hate advertising and lost his money and his credibility as a serious political influence.

This is what’s called a “teachable moment” for one the Georges in question.

One of them, I hope, has learned something from his experience. Take your time. At stake is your ability to recognize your own fallibility.

John and Teresa

Hurray For John Kerry

By leading a vigorous campaign, attracting more Americans to the political process, expanding the debate on vital national issues, and gracefully conceding the election in the face of partisan pressure not to, John Kerry demonstrated that he is a true patriot and an extraordinary American. We should all be proud to count him as one of our own.

Thanks to Sen, Kerry, today we have an opportunity to resolve our nation's most vexing problem. Right now we can stop the cycle of partisan violence. I don't mean physical violence, but emotional and social violence. Our country has always be divided by opinion, but it should never be divided by culture, or outlook, or aspiration. We all lose when we hate our neighbors and dismiss their views as evil.

Divisiveness is a two way street. And this is the day to start to change that.

I volunteer to start.

I like John Kerry more than I was willing to admit. I think it's cool that he kitesurfs. I like his neckties a lot. I was looking forward to him browbeating Chirac in his native tongue. I think Teresa is wiser than she's portrayed in the media. I believe they are passionate about helping Americans less fortunate than themselves. And I think Jonathan Edwards is an extraorinarily beautiful man. (Sorry, I meant to say eloquent leader).

C'mon people, now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Gotta love one another right now.

Accept of course for those barbarians who want to kill us regardless of party affiliation. Let's vaporize them, together

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

bush flag

I Project George W. Bush the Winner!

Not even close, thank God. All the lawyers can go home. But now I have no reason to check the web all day.

Monday, November 01, 2004


I'm Osama bin Laden and I Approve This Message

The indispensable New York Sun reports today that most of the mainstream media misinterpreted a key section of Osama bin Laden’s video endorsement of John Kerry.

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), bin Laden is threatening individual states with retaliation should they give their Electoral College votes to President Bush.

The tape of Osama bin Laden that was aired on Al-Jazeera on Friday, October 29th included a specific threat to "each U.S. state," designed to influence the outcome of the upcoming election against George W. Bush. The U.S. media in general mistranslated the words "ay wilaya" (which means "each U.S. state") to mean a "country" or "nation" other than the U.S., while in fact the threat was directed specifically at each individual U.S. state. This suggests some knowledge by bin Laden of the U.S. electoral college system. In a section of his speech in which he harshly criticized George W. Bush, bin Laden stated: "Any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."
My initial reaction, since I live deep in the heart of a reliably Blue state, is that I can now vote for Bush without any fear of reprisal.

But targeting individual states for terrorist attack strikes me as a not very clever strategy to swing the election. After all, most people in the Blue states have already made up their minds to appease our enemies at all costs and the Red state voters are equally adamant about foiling those who would kill us with steak knives. Undecideds are likely to decide pretty quickly that Osama is campaigning for the Democrats and that they don’t want to be on the side of murderers.

But the real problem comes from executing this threat. If Bush is reelected by a slim majority, will jihadis from the swarthier parts of the globe descend on Idaho? Will the streets of Laramie run red with infidel blood? More importantly, do these guys really want to mess with gun owning religious fanatics who live in parched desert backwaters like Texas?

Hell, bring that on too!