Integrity and Office

Mr Westmoreland-White here offers an “explanation” for why the GOP reacts differently to scandal than the Democrats. One wonders if he knows any conservatives or republicans. He could, you know, ask one or two what their reason for caring about scandal, unlike the Democrats who apparently don’t. The point is, I’m a conservative. The reason I’ve given and heard from other conservatives why personal scandal matters for politicians is the same every time. And it’s not the reason he gives, to whit:

It seems to me that the difference is the hypocrisy factor.  The Democratic Party in the U.S. has not tried to set itself up as the “morality police.”  Democrats sometimes campaign as “strong family people,” but this is seldom the center of the campaign. They don’t claim to be morally superior.  They don’t try  to claim that voting for them is the only way to save the American family.  Republicans do make such claims–usually by implication, but sometimes in almost those very words.  Further, Republican politicians loudly call for Democratic politicians to resign if they get caught in sex scandals–and claim that voting for them is a way to restore the moral fabric of the nation.

This is uncharitable. It is not any reason that he, I suspect, or I have ever heard given. So that liberals and progressives get this straight, here is why the GOP (in office and out) call for Democrats caught in sex and other scandals to resign from public office.

Conservatives believe that private dishonest is reflective of personality. That a person who is dishonest in his personal affairs will also be dishonest in public and is not worthy of public trust. Cheating on a spouse affects a number of people, the wife, the children, and the social community in which the person resides. It is at the core, a breaking of trust. Conservatives believe that a person who is dishonest in these things will cannot be trusted in other things. That dishonesty of this sort disqualifies one from public office where great trust over money and power is given to a person for whom integrity is important.

The question then redounds to the liberal side. Why do they for their part feel that a person who lacks personal integrity is worthy of public office? I might suggest reasons why I might think that liberals like Mr Westmoreland-White might feel that personal integrity is unimportant to those in public office, but unlike him I fear that any reason I might sugggest would be uncharitable. So … I’ll await suggestions from him and from other liberal/progressive readers to answer that question defending the notion that personal integrity is unimportant.

Why I’m Conservative

Last week, Mr Dreher noted an essay by Mr Coates a progressive blogger for the New Atlantic. Mr Coates offers his reasons “why I’m a liberal,” which Mr Dreher disputes. This weekend this came up in conversation and a friend offered “why he’s a conservative”, and offered a point on which I agree. In brief:

I’m a conservative because our civilization is fragile.

Liberal/progressives don’t believe that to be the case. Unlike Mr Dreher, who says:

I am not a liberal because I do not share the same view of human nature that most liberals do, and because I think that in my culture and country, our traditions and institutions, broadly speaking, are a wise guide to our life in common. And I believe liberals have such an unrealistic view of human nature that they typically run off to tear down fences without any regard for why the fences were erected, so to speak.

Not that I disagree strongly with that viewpoint, but that the more important thing is the fragility of the order in which we live. They believe they can whack away, merging politics and science strongly regarding climate, futz with marriage, redefine sexual mores and roles, bludgeon our healthcare establishment, and so on. That the structures that drive and which serve as the foundation of our civilization is fundamentally fragile. Our very progressive President has grand plans to restructure society. Progressives forget the disasters they reap. For example it was the progressive movement which brought us Prohibition and the twin progressive reforms of the 60s easing divorce and of welfare which annihilated the inner city family structure so effectively. And don’t examine Europe … the 20th century history is a wrecking yard of progressive ideas which foundered on reality.

How is that they don’t realize that their progressive failures are disappointing failures and disasters most of the time? They use a few mechanisms and repeat as needed. The primary mechanism is to forget that the failures were progressive innovations … they pretend that they were innovations pressed on society by the conservative faction … even though that very idea should resound with cognitive dissonance. The other mechanism is ignorance. For example, Black slavery in the New World was a progressive innovation introduced by a Spanish nobleman in order to allay and ease maltreatment of native central American peoples by the conquering Spanish peoples. And yes, it wasn’t his plan that the evils of the triangle trade might arise … but that’s always how it goes … and this is the third mechanism. Because the “plan didn’t work out” … the massive suffering that entails the enterprise is exonerated. Throughout the 20th century, Western European and American liberal establishment was enthralled with Marxism and the communist bloc. They ignored the suffering and pain because that wasn’t in the plan. It wasn’t intended.

Take science for example, Mr Polanyi notes in Personal Knowledge that the transmission from master to apprentice is the primary way in which our scientific methodologies are transmitted. He notes that University culture has been transplanted into a variety of cultures and settings and the results by and large have not been as successful as would be expected, in many places it hasn’t worked at all to this point. The key here is that the culture on which our scientific progress depends is fragile. It is hard to construct. It took centuries to arise and … didn’t arise in many other places which were more literate, wealthier, and had more time. Likewise our social customs and practices fit together to form our society … are very fragile. They took centuries, millenia to build up in a way in which they fit. It is a progressive conceit that they have “new ways” of social arrangement untried and unconsidered by anyone in the previous 5000 years. They believe that their scientific knowledge will protect them from error at the same time at which is retreating rapidly from the notions that it has anything to offer in moral and social arenas. Odd that. 

I’m conservative because I’m aware our track record at intentional innovations in engineering and fixing our society is very very poor. I’m conservative because the effort to make decent human society was bought at great price. 500 years ago the “Emily Post” etiquette manuals of behavior had to instruct individuals to eschew public defecation in dining areas at mealtime. Our manners, our culture, and the institutions which bind us together took great effort to erect. They are fragile. The first impulse should not be to whack them indiscriminately as they are planning and doing right now.

Deckchairs on the Titanic

Mr Obama and those in his coterie want to press for a major shift in our healthcare system to one which far more strictly controlled by the government. I think Mr Obama’s interest in healthcare in this manner is likely a charitable impulse for the 10% at the bottom combined alas with a disregard for the state of the middle 85% which will likely be substantially harmed by this shift and the realization that those at the very top (of which he is one) will be unaffected. The question for future elections will be how well will the Democratic party be able to re-write history and shift blame for the disaster that this will become. For if they fail that project then their predicted demographic demise of the GOP will not occur, but that a decade from now the two-party system which naturally arises in the American project will not include one which coins itself the “Democratic party”.

In the interest of completeness, is should be pointed out that the AMA hawking for market control of healthcare is a somewhat disingenuous plea. The AMA strictly controls their medical school graduating population into the various specializations in a centralized manner attempting to predict and fix the markets and quantities of various specialty (and generalist) numbers. Their plea for market forces is more in the nature of a complaint that power which had been theirs might be lost.

Today it was noted (by a liberal blogger no less) that approximately 10% of medical expenses go the mostly loudly demonized portion of the industry, i.e., the pharmaceutical companies. Given the effects of the advances that internal medicine has been able to achieve in the last few decades if that the result of 10% of our expenditure … there should be no grounds for complaints. Those touting “gains” in efficiencies of the proposed system fail to recognized the following (or at least have failed to counter them in anything I’ve read):

  • To get a drastic gain in efficiency has to mean that today there are drastic inefficiencies. To this matter, a question should be asked. In your visits in hospitals and doctors offices do you see Doctors the nursing staff just doing busy work? Or are they at at task dealing with patients? In my experiences with medical staff, one sees busy doctors and the industry standard “waiting room” time is on account of emergency and other over-booking and under estimates of the time it takes to deal with individual patients. The point is, if doctors and nurses and other practitioners don’t have idle time and are actually working close to capacity … where’s this big gain in medical capacity going to come from?
  • It is claimed that government involvement will streamline and make the paper work and billing matters more efficient and more streamlined. Why just stating this doesn’t cause those touting this notion’s head to explode with the cognitive dissonance is beyond me. Government. Increased efficiency. Aren’t those antithetical concepts? There is no project, no task, no aspect of life in the past 2000 years that government bureaucracy has added efficiency and smoothed out the wrinkles. Less paperwork and lower costs with more government involvement. Riiiight. Name just one time in the past where that transpired.
  • If improvements in medical costs and quality of care are to be actually realized, it’s going to be when more and more of your medical interactions are in the form of something more like a internet subscription service, i.e., far fewer doctors managing a largely automated network. It’s going to take real innovation and paradigm shifts in how medicine is done. So let me ask, will entrenching our medical culture and industrial complex into a large government beaurocracy will make things more or less amenable to large changes? Less likely seems the realistic answer. If you think the answer is “more likely” … again I’ve failed to even see this issue addressed anywhere … so what is the argument to that. 
  • Finally, the insistence that increased administrative efficiency and methodology is where the solution to the so-called healthcare problem is to be found is harmful in that it causes thousands if not millions of people to be looking for the solutions in the wrong place.

Here are three fatal flaws with every “unified government run” healthcare proposal such as the ones that the Democrats are pushing.

Bucking Separation, One Argument

Separation of church and state is as a necessary element for a free society is a fundamental block in the foundational grounding assumptions on which our country is based. Americans assume that this is necessary and that it leads to a much better and happier society. But … is it even true?

Supporters of this claim point to Eastern European post Reformation wars which were nominally religiously based, i.e., the Protestant/Protestant and Protestant/Catholic struggles. There certainly was a strong religious element to element to many of these conflicts although in many cases religious differences lay parallel to other important political, cultural, and economic fault lines and therefore religion was not the sole cause of many if not all of these struggles. However, the Eastern Roman history lies as a counter-example. Over one thousand years of unbroken church/state intermingling to which one cannot attest clearly that the lack of church state separation was harmful, in fact it may have been the reverse.

An important factor however distinguishes those governments in which church/state mingling “worked” and those in which it didn’t. In the ones which “work” the religion practiced in the state was almost completely uniform, that is one single religious tradition was unquestionably dominant to the point in which it did not need to suppress or put pressure on the others. This an important distinction.

So, consider the case in which one religious tradition exists within a state. In this case when that religion is not separated but can work closely with each other this can be beneficial for both. Religious traditions can stabilize the state and build trust in its institutional organs. On the other side, the state can recognize and validate in the state arena religious sacramental activity. One might suggest that if “pursuit of happiness” were the goal that indeed people would naturally be happiest in a state which is supported and supporting of their religious tradition.

Yet, we dwell in Babylon. There is not one religious tradition in American or perhaps in any country of the world. So the question might be posed, is there any way to reap the benefits of non-separation and at the same time the protections that we hold dear that are derived from separation? Here is one suggestion. By allowing the smallest parts of government, the village, the precinct or the rural whistle-stop to incorporate and use religion and soften the church/state boundary, we retain the global protections of separation but may at the personal level reap some of the advantages of non-separation.

The logic of this is as follows.

  • People in aggregate are happier when church and state are not separated.
  • However, this only holds when church in question is of a tradition which is the same or very similar to a great majority of the population.
  • This is not possible at a national level in any modern state.
  • However, it is possible at a much finer level.
  • So … perhaps it should be allowed in places which do present a uniform church tradition within a community.

Objections? Comments?

Hope, Change, and Danger Danger

The claim that the current Administration and their supporters trend to ‘socialism’. My co-blogger at Stones Cry Out wonders if this is an appropriate phrase and as well if the term is being abused to the point of being meaningless. Freydrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom might be read as a clarion call not specifically warning against socialism itself but a more general tendency highlighted in Chapter 2 of Chantal Delsol’s  The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century essay which I’m in the process of blogging my way through. Many of the tendencies and hopes (for change?) that the movement which propelled Mr Obama to the White House are in fact identified by Ms Delsol in her essay (and Ms Delsol being first of all a French national, a philosopher, and writing an essay that pre-dates Mr Obama’s run to the Presidency should be noted). Utopian dreams and the totalitarian consequences is the real danger. It should also be noted that many themes in this chapter resonate well this week as the abortion ethical question returns to the surface propelled by the killing of Mr Tiller.

A recurring theme of Ms Delsol’s is that the crux of the unlearned lessons lie in the continued acceptence of the fatal flawed that lie as the basis of the 20th century utopian totalitarian projects which were so very costly in human life and dignity. While we reject specifics of those projects we accept very many of their premises and therefore lie likely (easy?) prey for finding new ways to explore life in a totalitarian dystopia.

Ms Delsol begins chapter two, which is entitled The insularity of the human species.

Totalitarianism, of whatever persuasion, emerges when we get caught up in the belief that “everything is possible.” It might be worth recalling just how difficult it was to have this idea accepted, or, for instance, to remember how reluctantly the thought of Hannah Arendt was received in France. To deny that “everything is possible,” to make the postulate of unlimited possibility the cornerstone of the errors of the twentieth century, was, it was said, to equate terror and utopia, or to liken the perversities of man’s annihilation to ideals about reshaping human nature. To do this was unthinkable as long as ideological dreams were still persuasive.

Several decades of perseverant reflection, however, finally made it possible to state openly that the idea of that “everything is possible” represents the birth of the twentieth century. This little phrase, which was to reveal itself to be so terrible, essentially means two things. “Everything is possible” is a way of determining who is human: one can then arbitrarily set a boundary here or there between humans and “subhumans” and declare a particular category to be nonhuman, which is what Nazism did. “Everything is possible” is also a way of determining what it is to be human: one can then arbitrarily decree that humans can or should live without authority, without personal secrets, without family, or without gods, which is what communism did. In fact, communism ended up adding the first consequence of “everything is possible” to the second and denied the humanity of those who made no effort to become other than they were.

The essential defense against “everything is possible” is the axiomatic ontological insistence on the irreducible dignity of the human being, which must be and remain a foundational certainty. Human dignity in this context implies two important things. First that man may not be treated as a thing. This contitutes a ontological distinction between man and the rest of nature. Second, that there is therefore an essential bond between all men.

The modern secular (and many liberal deist) thought continues the project of defining man by his attributes and denying his essential axiomatic dignity. Discoveries (and the rise of scientism … see the quote excerpted Sunday), have blurred the biological and neurological differences between man and the animal world. Medical and biological capabilities have expanded our understanding of man’s development and our ability to affect this.

The Kantian was hoped would deflect the necessity of ontological axiomatic dignity. Kant argued persuasively that man deserves respect by virtue of being endowed with moral autonomy. This results however in the tempting substitution replacing “It is not man who has dignity, but man insofar as he is autonomous. [emphasis mine]” One characteristic is not sufficient to defend man. Thus the newborn, the dying, the handicapped become less than human. As our abilities at genetic screening expand, the fine tuning of our exclusion from the ‘truly human’ can narrow.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was felt that the rise of reason and our understanding of the physical world would do away with the need for religion. But, especially inasmuch as religion provides a framework in which to base the necessary axiomatic irreducible dignity of man the reverse is true. The necessity and place for religion, instead of being done away with, is ever more needed and required as a bastion holding a multitude of totalitarian dystopias at bay.

A final note which may connect to the currently vogue resurgence of the abortion question in the light of current events.

Prudential wisdom consists precisely in acting within shadowy areas, where bearings have a tendency to disappear. but prudence is not a form of pragmatism; it is a virtue. It may dispense with overly strict principles on the condition that its eyes remain fixed upon points of reference that lie above those principles: there is an immense difference between allowing someone to die and decreeing that all the dying who have reached a certain point are no longer persons.

Dying and fetus I’d offer might be exchanged in the above.

On the Advise/Consent Thing

Back when Mr Bush was nominating people for President, I made what I felt was a strong argument that the Senate should have readily nominated his appointees. I stand by this argument now that the other party is now in the White House. I based this argument on Mr Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #76. Mr Hamilton notes:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

He also notes just prior, mentioning consequences of what might occur if the Senate took too active a role in vetting and selecting nominees.

Hence, in every exercise of the power of appointing to offices, by an assembly of men, we must expect to see a full display of all the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly. The choice which may at any time happen to be made under such circumstances, will of course be the result either of a victory gained by one party over the other, or of a compromise between the parties. In either case, the intrinsic merit of the candidate will be too often out of sight. In the first, the qualifications best adapted to uniting the suffrages of the party, will be more considered than those which fit the person for the station. […] And it will rarely happen that the advancement of the public service will be the primary object either of party victories or of party negotiations. [emphasis mine]

In view of the last two decades of despicable SCOTUS and other similar interviews, Mr Biden and his parties behavior during the Thomas hearings comes to mind, a rejoinder to Mr Hamilton might be, “D’ya think? They might put considerations of party before who might be fit for the station.”

Mr Hamilton suggests the Senatorial advise/consent be exercised to insure the nominee free from “unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.” If Ms Sotomayor is free from these issues, my view would be to approve her to the position.

Church, State, and Separation

Jeremy Pierce at Parableman offers (I think for the Christian Carnival tomorrow) an interesting short essay on the establishment clause regarding education, creationism, and the Establishment Clause and the associated Free Exercise Clause, err, Phrase. I think his argument makes sense, but likely ignores much of the the larger part of Constitutional lore that lawyers depend on, which is the larger body of prior rulings, i.e., stare decisis. Specifically two cases are mentioned, Lemon and Lynch … but I’m willing to bet the cases cited in precedent number in hundreds or perhaps thousands.

However, us lay members (see Pelikan: Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution) of the US with respect to the body of law have little but (note Mr Pierce does refer to several SCOTUS cases) the text of the Constitution from which to judge whether a ruling or act is Constitutional. In some sense that might actually be a good thing.

Creationism is one of the “standard” issues regarding church/state separation that comes up in conversation and in blog essays. However a decidedly more radical one is one I’d offer. I think it can be argued, along similar lines as the argument presented in the linked essay noted above that the following is in fact Constitutional. Would it be Constitutional for a State to establish the death penalty and restrict its application to those who profess faith and believe in an effective soteriology. Or in plainer English, only those who believe in the afterlife might be put to death by the state.

I think the fundamental problem with Supreme Court doctrine on this sort of issue is that none of this has much to do with what the Constitution actually says. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause reads, “”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Together with the misnamed Free-Exercise Clause (which is a phrase, not a clause, which adds “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” we have the entirety of the Constitution’s pronouncements on religion. The founders were preventing the establishment of a church state, such as Great Britain’s Church of England. Congress is prevented from making a law respecting the establishment of religion.

So. Examine for a moment Mr Pierces discussion about what “respect to” or “giving respect to” might mean.

The term ‘respecting’ could mean either “with respect to” or “giving respect to”. I tend to think it means the former, which is a broader prohibition. Congress can’t make any laws about the setting up of religions. Religions are free to do as they choose in setting themselves up, without laws prohibiting their free expression. But even in the more restricted second reading, Congress is only preventing from making laws that show respect for a religion. In that case, it still doesn’t mean that government employees can’t show respect for a religion (never mind show disrespect). This is about laws prohibiting certain religious conduct or establishing a state religion.

The question that I find no ready answer for, is how is that sense of “respecting” religion betrayed by failing to execute men (and women) who don’t believe they are assured of an afterlife. If you take a persons deeply seated beliefs seriously, a Christian for example, should not fear death, for it has no sting. An atheist on the other hand has plenty of reason to fear the ending of his days, for that is the end of him … there is more there. Basically the statement is saying, the state will only execute people who are in an essential way, OK with being killed. That seems to me ultimately respectful of religions and in a real sense cognizent of the role of religion regarding soteriology.

A Serious Generic Criticism of Mr Obama’s Administration

In the nineteenth century in California a housing bubble popped. Californians promised themselves that never again would they come to believe that could depend on housing prices would rise indefinitely.

In the nineteenth century scientists consistently and continued to deny the possibility that rocks (so-called meteorites) could fall from the sky (via Personal Knowledge), evidence be damned.

Today we too believe ourselves immune to this failing. We insist that our epistemic armor has no chinks. We think that our understanding of man, society, and our surroundings is improving and in the main correct.

Epistemic humility, to know that we do not know, is as was noted just a few (countable number of) weeks back by that Socrates fellow that knowing the actual extent of our expertise and knowledge is the first step to wisdom.

One of the consistent features of the political left and specifically our Administration today is a distinct lack of epistemic humility. They are the “smart” ones who have the answers. They will avoid the sins and faults of other side committed because they are far more clever, because their epistemic skin has been dipped in the Styx and is invulnerable to the slings and arrows and mortal failings unlike the clueless other guys. How long will it take then for Paris, aka reality, to slide the poisoned arrow into their ankle?

Three Values and Three Political Movements

Equality. Liberty. Virtue. These are all features which all citizens of almost every state will agree are good and required for a civil and stable union in some measure. I’ve claimed before that today’s progressive/liberals, libertarians and conservatives differ largely in that the different groups differ in the relative importance they place on these values. That is liberal/progressives value equality the most, libertarians liberty, and conservatives virtue. And it’s not that progressive/liberals find virtue or liberty bad, just that these things are less important than equality and so forth.

What does it mean that one values virtue in a civic sense? There are certainly things it should not mean but often does, that is often this is confused with the idea that particular virtues are required and preeminent. The Greek political thinkers thought that the primary purpose of the state was to create an environment in which the virtues of its citizens would and could be cultivated. Virtue for them was the road to happiness. In our day and age, so many confuse happiness with pleasure and therefore forget the importance of virtue. Now, the Greek city states were small enough that a much more pronounced uniformity of opinion about what constitutes virtue could be established in one community. This helped of course but is not essential.

C.S. Lewis in the The Abolition of Man suggests the notion of a universal sense of right and wrong within all people. Put in the context of virtue, there is a common core notion of what virtues are which all societies and people hold common. Different societies value different virtues with varying gradings and, again at the periphery, some virtues are thought vices and vice-versa, for example modern educators think self-esteem is a virtue and many Christian fathers taught self-esteem a vice. The existence of these differences is however often used mistakenly to suggest that the common notions of virtues in the main are held all cultures and societies.

From the standpoint of political thought and theory however the matter is that a multicultural society, of which most of us belong, can and should foster the development of virtues in its citizens and that this can be done without prejudicing which virtues its citizens value and are being in effect fostered and developed by the state. The primary purpose then of a state is to create an environment in which its citizens can cultivate virtue. So that we can be come better, happier as individuals. As a consequence this requires freedoms (liberty) and equality. But the goal of that liberty (and therefore also where it may and might be restricted) is to foster virtue. Again, where the purpose of equality between citizens is to allow each to cultivate his or her own virtues. Enforcement and encouragement of that equality is not for the purpose of granting equality qua equality to each but to allow each full opportunities to cultivate individual virtue.

Mr Obama: Stupid or Evil?

Much ink, likely some of still non-virtual, has been spilled over the Democrats framing Mr Limbaugh as a leader of the GOP and Conservative movement. As to this topic I’d like to frame a question, which will take a bit of setup.

Obama and the liberal media punditry are framing and identifying Mr Limbaugh as the leading light of the Conservative/GOP. If we examine, what effect does this have and who, besides Mr Limbaugh, benefits then a problem arises. Clearly there is a partisan benefit. Democrats will glean a tactical advantage via this identification. However, looking at the slightly wider picture,  the real question is is how does that benefit the nation at large to identify Mr Limbaugh as a leading speaker for the loyal opposition? It seems to me quite clear that the nation is not aided by this identification.

It seems clear that a strong principled loyal opposition is a clear benefit to the nation. Given that, the best thing for the President to do is to identify the best people within his party and the opposition and ensure the people who are framing the debate(s) over policies are principled and well spoken. The best of us on either side of the aisle. That ensures lively and healthy discussion and ultimately is the best for the nation.

Mr Obama as a point man who is doing exactly not what is clearly in the best interest of the nation. Isolating and focusing on Limbaugh (arguably not the best and brightest of the loyal opposition) is clearly running counter to this idea. So if this is right, he then faces the “stupid or evil” accusation with respect to this matter. Either he is not intelligent enough to realize the implications of what he is doing or he is evil, i.e., working to further partisan/personal factions over and above a clear national interest.

Considering Government and Authority

Jason Kuznicki has some remarks spinning from a previous post of mine on Jim Anderson extended blog-based discussions on the ethics of vigilante activity. Here is Mr Kuznicki’s post. Here’s the post of Mr Anderson’s to which he refers and the original proposition and … for completeness my first post on this matter.

Mr Kuznicki offers:

To the extent that there must be laws (and only to that extent), the laws should be clearly expressed and regularly enforced. Laws that are unclear in their expression or irregular in their enforcement allow the legislators and law enforcement agents too much leeway. They give the state too much power. They also sap private initiative, because it’s important for private actors to have some reasonable expectations of how the state will behave in the future.

What this leaves out, and what one might have expected to have been the case in part in the Western folkway, is what is the case (even in the idealized “paradise” situation) in which the state has laws which it expects citizens to enforce. Consider the example of personal assaults in an idealization of the Western folkway. In the first case, of personal assaults such as battery or rape, the statutes and penalties against such things were minimal. A likely reason for this is that it was expected that individuals and their families would “take care” of such insults themselves. Now this led on occasion of course to the much celebrated mountain feuds between Western folkway clans in which the insult to one family matter would be “handed” in a way that the original injured party found excessive and responded in kind … leading to a never ending chain of responses. However, my guess would be, not having studied the matter, that feuds of that type were the exception not the rule. That most of the time the culture/society had a shared understanding within the society of a reasonable response and meeting that was the norm. Continue reading →

Considering the Stimulus and Response

Economists are by no means exclusively Keynesian (or more properly append a “neo” to be hip to that term), however our beltway denizens are almost to a man Keynesian. Climate scientists are not “settled” by any means on anthropomorphic causes for global warming but, again, politicians are. Why is this? It think the answer boils down to a logical fallacy hinging on simple psychology.

When your child has the flu the desire is to actively do something to combat the illness. After all, your kid is (gasp) sick and hurting. Some, but certainly not all, pediatricians will cater to this desire of the parent and prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections. But it gives the appearance of action. After all antibiotics fight diseases and your child has a disease. So, therefore there is some notion that the pill or potion is helpful. The real active palliative measures that should be taken in the case of flu is to provide rest and fluids, i.e., basically do nothing. That is a moral equivalent to “do nothing” for rest and fluids are the response taken in the case of any illness, be it bacterial (in which case antibiotics will help), or cancer, or other.

Similarly Keynesian economics offers to the government the notion that specific actions in the times of economic change are helpful. Do “X” in inflationary times, during recession provide “stimulus”. During economic expansion, act to curb growth (that one I really really don’t get). The point is these actions have two effects. They cater to two strong impulses that governments are vulnerable. The first is the above, it gives justification for action in the face of crises. It provides an explanation for why antibiotics might help the virus infected patient. The second is more pernicious. All governments for a variety of reasons find growth necessary and good. All of these actions provide reasons for larger and a more active central government. Keynesian economics thereby provides an excuse for central/federal expansion in the face of economic crises of any flavor. Continue reading →

About the Hate Filled GOP

The problem with not getting out and about is that you can form some pretty insular about people far away. In a recent discussion it was remarked that (my remarks quoted from a previous comment in italics):

I actually personally don’t know any GOP members who “hate gays”, perhaps they are a mythical bugbear put forth by the left or a small minority?

I think you’re in some serious denial about the Republican base. You stick to your elitist blogs and big-brained philosophers and tune out the Rush Limbaughs and the Michael Savages and the Joe the Plumbers of the world. The people who make up and rally the real base.

Now, this is reminiscent of a liberal diatribe/book I read some time ago about fundamentalism and conservative theology “stealing” Christianity from the liberals. The salient point I’m drawing here is an intended non-ironic remark the author made upon discovering during a conversation with a person at a gathering … when they found out that the person with which they were conversing was exactly one of those people. And to the authors surprise the person was intelligent and quite nice. This, I suggest, is a more generic phenomena. That those one the left, who characterize as those on the right, especially conservative Christians, as “haters” and “bigots”. When they actually, meet those they despise, in non-confrontational social settings are surprised that they are actually quite nice.

Church pot-lucks as social interaction, personal involvement in charity, and in general an open and friendly manner these things characterize rural and small town flyover communities. These are the people who make up the real base. If they also posses a natural suspicion of academics and the East and Left coast elitist intellectual movement who simultaneously would tell them how to think and act and despises them, I would suggest that intuition is not just natural but that it is right. Northern Europe is much further along in their social experiment and progressive change that those same said elitists want to implement. It is also undergoing catastrophic demographic collapse, has been hit harder in general by the recession, and in general if held up as an “example” of the benefits of progressive practices put into play serves as more as a really good … bad example.

If a Senator Were I

What would my course be if I were one of the 100 Senators voting for confirmations for Mr Obama’s Presidency. My result may come as a surprise, being as I am a member of the loyal opposition, that I would vote to confirm. Don’t get me wrong, I would advise that many of these appointees are regrettable choices and will do more harm than good to the country and to his administration. Take Mr Geithner and Mr Holder for example. Both I think have lied about the past issues on which they were questioned. I think Mr Geithner withheld taxes knowingly and it is likely that Mr Holder was a willing participated in the pardons-for-cash (and favors) and suggesting Mr Rich during the embarrassing pardon spree at the end of Mr Clinton’s term in office.

However … Federalist paper 76 is clear and I think in fact right. When the Senate intrudes too much into the appointment process then the dangers of which Mr Hamilton warns are evident by the disastrous confirmation proceedings we’ve seen in the last decades when such advice was ignored. A primary example of this is Justice Thomas. The reasons for rejection suggested by Hamiton were:

It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.

That is not the case with either candidate … therefore, I it were up to me I would vote to confirm … even though I think they have considerable talents for prevarication being demonstrated, oddly enough, in these confirmation hearings.

Ontological Freedom, Christians in the Public Sphere, and Liberatarian Ideas

John Rowe (for example this post at Positive Liberty) is just one example of many who frequently cite the notion that Christian theology is not one of freedom. Putting it quite strongly, a commenter Andy Craig apropos of the post above notes:

A pretty good argument as to why biblical Christianity is on the whole a fundamentally authoritarian worldview and has little place in a world of individual liberty, actually. It’s one of the main reasons I rejected Christianity and religion in general (most religions take a similar view of government authority).

In the post itself, it is noted that Romans 13 written by St. Paul in the rule of Nero (who it might be noted did have a predilection for augmenting lighting public fixtures with Christian corpses) specifically enjoins the Christian,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

which is pretty straightforward … it seems. However, this in a large measure misses the point. Continue reading →

A Book Arrived

This book arrived via inter-library loan …. Justice as Fairness by John Rawls. This is the sort of notion that seems a central facet of liberal/progressive thinking. Inasmuch as we have difficulty seeing and understanding those on the “other” side of the aisle … this book seemed a useful thing to peruse. As well, blog neighbors Jim Anderson and David Schraub at decorabilia and the Debate Link respectively both mentioned him (Rawls) recently.

I’m not expecting to be convinced or cajoled … however I’m hoping to glean some insights in to the mysterious workings of the liberal/progressive mindset and thought processes.

One thing I might do … is to read this side by side with Bertrand de Jouvenel’s A Pure Theory of Politics, which I’ve owned for a while and have been meaning to read.

Law and Ethics

Tom Daschle is back in the news today. Oddly enough Mr Daschle’s name is linked in my noggin with a quote probably bugged me as the most wrong thing I’ve every heard a politician utter. There was some scandal he was defending another Democratic from and he said something like,

What X did was unethical and immoral, but it was not illegal.

This to me seems to get it exactly backwards and should not be used to defend anyone’s actions. Your actions should be moral and ethical … and its always a good thing if they are also legal. But if the two are at odds, i.e., the ethical/moral and the legal are not the same, we should always choose the ethical and let the cards fall where they may regarding the legal.

That Little Thing Called Race

Apparently the left and progressives, as noted recently, find that race and its consequences are the most important historical axis/issue on which to judge American history. On Monday I had asked:

Is this what the left believes, that “race is the single most important and consequential issue in all of American history.” Really? Wow.

There are a number of arguments against this. Here is the first one. What is the most important issue, what is the most important factor to track when viewing history of American and indeed the larger international history?

Math. Specifically, the history and development of the body of Mathematical knowledge.

Consider first the following. Imagine for a moment American history without race. No civil war, no civil rights movement and so on. Possibly without a civil war America would have been in a different place regarding the power of the central government and perhaps in that light a weaker America might have reshaped the outcome of the brewing European conflicts.

But … picture instead a world history without technology, without the advances in power such as steam, oil, and electricity; without the transistor, the printed circuit; without automation and industrialization. Picture instead, America in a world in which technology was still at the level of the Roman era. Wars were still fought with spear, sword, and javelin. There were no airplanes, instead galleys and sailing vessels still plowing the seas.

Continue reading →

Alternate Electoral Methods

In the realm of alternate electoral methods, the somewhat “out there” novel Courtship Rite by (if I recall the mathematician) Donald Kingsbury. In this science fiction novel set an a colonized planet quite a number of customs have arisen among the humans living there that are very alien to our customs today. One of the societies, from which a number of our protagonists derive, for example practices polygamy as well as cannibalism. There is actually a logical reason for the latter, being that on this alien world most animal and plant life is poisonous to the colonists … and there is no meat available other than man for consumption. Anyhow, that is not the point for today’s little essay. Given the current season and year in the States it might be more topical to offer some of Mr Kingsbury’s unusual suggestions for government.

In an age where the Democrats urge universal (and in fact arguably foreign) enfranchisement and participation in our elections the suggestion in Courtship Rite is quite the reverse. The radical society in that culture was a full participatory democracy … with a catch. On laws, one could only vote on their passing if one was an expert on that particular law. How did one become an expert. By becoming a participant in the discussions involved in framing the text of that law and in discussion on its merits, consequences, and implementation. Anybody could vote on any issue and law, but in order to vote, one had to become knowledgeable and and expert in that.

Further, the executive as well as selected in another manner. Mr Kingsbury suggests essentially that one of the primary qualities this society felt was necessary in a leader or the executive was to be able to accurately predict the unfolding of political and global political trends. People who wished to become executive submitted to a repository, dated predictions of future events. There was likely some (but the details of implementation were left to the reader) weighting of predictions based on the importance of the event and how far in advance the prediction was posted. Whomever had the highest score at this “prediction” game was the Executive. Any citizen could call for a “re-tally” like a vote of no-confidence and possibly in that way remove the current leader. Of course, one way to get predictions to come true, is to make predictions and then work to make them come true. In this way, the Executive very often had a good deal of influence which enabled him to have his predictions fall in line.

Mr Obama is a Socialist Redux

It seems there is another connection for the “Mr Obama is a socialist” notion. He was a socialist is a factual statement. He was a member of the Alaskan separatist “A New Party” political party at one time. Wiki defines their political orientation taxonomically as following the ideas of “social democracy” which might be summarized as:

The nature of social democracy has changed throughout the decades since its inception. Historically, social democratic parties advocated socialism in the strict sense, achieved by class struggle. In the early 20th century, however, a number of socialist and labor parties rejected revolution and other traditional forms of Marxism and went on to take more moderate positions, which came to form modern social democracy. These positions often include support for a democratic welfare state which incorporates elements of both socialism and capitalism, sometimes termed the mixed economy or the social market economy.[2] This differs from traditional socialism, which aims to end the predominance of capitalism and replace it with a worker-controlled economic system. Social democrats aim to reform capitalism democratically through state regulation and the creation of programs that work to counteract or remove the social injustice and inefficiencies they see as inherent in capitalism.

So it may be that he is not today a socialist, he however certainly has been one in the past.

Mr Obama is a Socialist
Mr Obama is not a Socialist

David Schraub objects to classifying Mr Obama as a socialist … and he is right and wrong at the same time.

Well, that is, of course, because it all depends on what is “is”. Oops. Sorry wrong word. Actually, it really depends more strongly on what you mean by socialist. By a strict definitional standpoint, a socialist is

Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society. Modern socialism originated in the late nineteenth-century working class political movement. Karl Marx posited that socialism would be achieved via class struggle and a proletarian revolution which represents the transitional stage between capitalism and communism.

So, by that definition, strictly speaking Mr Obama is not a socialist. He doesn’t want a “transition” to a Marxist regime and doesn’t want the government to fully control have collective ownership of corporations (that is except for the banks). So in a strict sense, he is not a socialist. So, Mr Obama is not a socialist.

However, by a more casual usage of the term “socialist”, there is a continuum between those (precious few) who believe in a completely unregulated economy and a strict Marxist/socialist. In that sense, the notion that Mr Obama is pressing policies that would engage more government’s distribution of goods, such as “spreading the wealth” than are currently in place, it is perfectly true that he is trending toward socialism and at the same time his critics would prefer the reverse. Their claim that from their point on the spectrum, “he is a socialist” is true in that sense. Liberal and conservative are fuzzy terms, which honestly really mean “more liberal than me, and more conservative than me” for a lot of people who commonly view themselves as somewhere near the center. Socialist in this sense, would mean “more tending to socialism” than either me (or my perception of the “middle”). In that sense, Mr Obama is arguably a socialist. So, Mr Obama is a socialist.


Ethics and the State

In Genesis, 18:22-33 the Lord and Abraham have a conversation of a political nature:

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

One of the things which the author of this passage is relating, succinctly, is that political ethics are not exactly the same as personal ethics. The dialogue does not run down to “Suppose there is one there”, the reason for that is that in politics there it is not possible ethics are a muddier thing than in personal interactions. War, for example, can be just, justly executed, and be necessary that is “a fighting of the good fight” and at the same time innocents will as with any other war, die. It is not that the deaths of those innocent is “good”, but that in execution of one thing, which is necessary and good (the war), innocents will die, which in an of itself does not make the war “not good” or necessary.

Continue reading →

Two Virtues

This post examines to characteristics of the two candidates, which are strong negative aspects of their personality. This isn’t meant to be a thing to point out deadly flaws of either candidate. But is a (for me) relatively even handed discussion of two aspects, possibly even related, in which both candidates both have in these two characteristics respectively demonstrated symmetric negative character flaws.

Mr Obama, we have come to understand, at least in his public persona has little or no sense of humor, for example there are clips of their recent public joint comedy appearance. Mr McCain by contrast, came through with comedic timing and sense, does not share this flaw in fact quite the reverse, that he can be quite funny. Inability to tell a joke, for the Meyer-Briggs crowed is probably tell-tale for a distinctive personality type. Now, it may also be that in private, Mr Obama has quite the sense of humor, but that in public he can’t pull it off, but remember, Mr Obama is by all accounts quite the demagogue … which might lead one to discount the notion that it is a public/private matter.

On the flip side, much has been said about Mr McCain’s temper. I have written not just a few times about the virtue of apathy, from the Greek apatheia, or dispassion. Apathy as a virtue is that one is not driven by passions. Anger and rage are strong passions and publicly (or privately) giving way to this, especially when not controlled, is certainly problematic. Mr McCain reportedly has, in private, quite the temper problem. By all accounts, Mr Obama, while not as famously dispassionate as those two NFL apatheia exemplars, Coach Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, is himself highly controlled.

So, in the virtue vice column, Mr McCain has an excellent sense of humor, Mr Obama does not. Mr McCain has anger/temper issues, Mr Obama is dispassionate. A plus for each and a negative for each.

As an aside: one wonders if the virtues noted above are not unconnected to the vices mentioned. That is, is Mr Obama’s “control” and dispassion linked to his lack of a sense of humor and on the flip side is the emotional lack of same control on the side of Mr McCain also linked to his also having a sense of humor?

Me, I’m “Progressively” Color Blind … How About You?

An interesting point made by Mr Boonton,

The article’s thesis centers on abortion but it’s generally that people are supporting Obama because they are imagining he has their policies….presumably if only they knew his real policies (as if 30+ years of abortion debate has left even the more than average misinformed person confused as to which party usually stands where on abortion in presidential elections) they wouldn’t be so eager….

I think this misses the point of Obama’s appeal and likewise illustrates the problem with the GOP worldview that has resulted in this mess for them. This view is premised on a ’92 Bill Clinton policy wonk type of election. I don’t think Obama is getting support because voters are imagining their favorite grab bag of policies as being part of his agenda. The model the right should be looking at is 1980 and Ronald Reagan.

And he’s right, I have no idea what is the basis of the appeal of Mr Obama. He does nothing for me. All I see are a tissue of lies. Recall the recent YouTube with Howard Stern, in which a number of Harlem a citizens where interviewed, they to a man stated policy was why they followed Mr Obama, and agreed that they liked those policy statements which were, alas, Mr McCain’s. Policy is not why they or many people follow Mr Obama. Again, that being said, I have no clue what comprises his appeal. I find him as unauthentic as any and every other politician.

Boosterism Indeed

I am asked:

So is there even a half hearted attempt to make a fair evaluation of Sarah Palin or are you just going to be her booster come hell or high water?

My response … not really … or at least I think in the torrid political clime it is next to impossible to make a “fair” evaluation of Mrs Palin … and I will in fact continue to be “her booster” come hell and high water, for the same reason my left-leaning democratic interlocutors will stick with Mr Obama come “hell or high water.” [aside to the Obama supporters reading this: To that notion, what at this juncture could Mr Obama do or say which would lose him your support? If nothing … why criticize My “boosterism” of Mrs Palin?]

While my political notions don’t match up exactly (or even very well) with the GOP, they surely match up far less well with the Democrats. For one such as that, no matter which side you’re on, the election is over. The election for those who are in stark disagreement with the other party, i.e., the “non-uncommitted”, is called “the primary.” The primary is over. There is little left to be said.

However, a few personal thoughts of mine on Mrs Palin might be not untoward:

  • Mrs Palin is running as a VP running mate. She is highly unlikely to be stepping into the Presidency in the next four years (we’ve had 43 Presidents and how many VPs stepped in … 3? or was it 4? How many of those made a darn bit of difference in what was left of there term, I make that as exactly one (Mr Truman).
  • That being said, my Democratic interlocutors make the claim that Mrs Palin is being sold as non-exceptional. I haven’t seen that, except from those remarking on her from the left. From what I understand her rise in state politics has been largely driven by rising in the froth of a fight against state corruption. We could certainly use some more of that.
  • Much has been made of her lack of an “academic” and (for the remarks) lack of a “political” interest mostly prior to her gubenatorial post. Her non-attentiveness after becoming governor I understand is largely because she’s focused entirely on learning the ropes of the Executive office (which it might be repeated, experience Mr Obama and Mr Biden and for that matter Mr McCain all lack). Again, given the former “bullet-point”, that is not unsurprising. She has bluish collar background and within that context seems exceptional, and I am not enough of an intellectual elitist to require intellectual elitism of the politicians I support.
  • As for Academic credentials being a qualifier for Executive office, it might very well be argued looking at the example of Kings and Emperors from Rome (both sides), and England that academic leanings make for a poorer not a better Executive.
  • Finally, she has, apparently, a similar talent to Mr Obama in that she has the makings of a demagogue. Good public speaking and being telegenic is a talent with which she is gifted. Bob Dole, for example had the reverse. Apparently in private company, Mr Dole is a very friendly very funny engaging guy. That never came across his in public speaking. In the fifth grade, I resolved that Mr King Jr and Mr Hitler shared the property of being demagogues and decided that demagoguery itself is a publican’s vice and I would never support it. I still remain resolved never to vote for a demagogue, as their ability to inspire men to stop thinking and vote purely on emotions evoked is something which we need less of in the public square. I remain committed to that resolution these many decades later.

Implications Of the Current Race

As far as mudslinging goes it is useful to recall that in these latter days of the American Republic, mudslinging is a lost art form. Rarely if ever, unlike the heady days of when the Republic was fresh do opponents in races accuse the other side of corrupting infants or worse … stealing them.

Mudslinging, machine politics, and the rest came of age in the first few elections, notably I think when Mr Arnold almost stole an election in New York by virtue of good organization. Very quickly the high minded concepts of Madison and the rest of the Constitutional convention designers had in mind were thrown aside by the rough and ready actualization of their political structure.

Step back for a moment, and examine the political process. Consider the skills and virtues (and vices) required to win an election. Set that aside and consider the virtues and skills we wish a leader to possess. We’re getting leaders who excel at “spin” and the 6-12 second sound bite. Who looks good in makeup and can memorize talking points effectively and is talented at delivering speeches teleprompted speeches written by somebody else. Well, is a person who excels at that … likely to be the wisest among us? We get blathering fools, pretty empty suits, ex-military heroes and hockey moms because … that’s what rises to the top of our particular process. If you don’t want that … too bad. It’s what our system is designed to produce. That’s a natural consequence of our Constitution for better or worse. The best way of making those esteemed knuckleheads less relevant is insisting that they become less relevant.

When comparing Thomas Payne and John Adams it is useful to remember that while both excelled at tearing down the old (the Colonial system) only one, Mr Adams did the hard work of building a new system. This is why, here, one finds often essays not just on what is wrong, but on the importance of “localizing” politics and political decisions and power. Why? Because within the system it is the only way there is which might see us clear which will preserve the American ideals and way of life. Changing the Constitution is very difficult … but localization could be enacted within the framework of our current Constitutional system. A certain amount of legal precedent would have to be overturned, but no Constitutional dicta would have to be let go. The difficulty with my notion is that it has to be a groundswell insistence … because as is well known the default instinct of the government is to govern more … rarely, if ever, less.

Just yesterday I mused that anti-trust legislation should not just guard against monopoly, but mere size as well. It was proposed that if a company got “too big to fail” then that’s problematic enough because it requires a bailout and therefore that corporation no longer needs to be competitive. Likewise with government programs. Government programs don’t “have to be good” or compete in the market of ideas because they “are too big” to fail when at the federal level. Localization means that if a village or precinct is royally screwing things up … people will leave (recall that one of the primary freedoms that the “higher level” county/state/federal systems need to guard is the freedom of people to choose their locale and thereby their associations). We should fight for your right to be enslaved and jailed … as long as the door remains open.

On Mr Ayers and Mr Obama
Or the Curious Incedent of the Dog Barking in the Night

Missing the point, is the problem on both the right and the defenses from the left.

The point isn’t Mr Ayers regrettable (and alas not-regretted) past. It isn’t how close in bed where Mr Obama and Mr Ayers and what did who know when. That is a political wart which will not change the election. But …

The point is they both miss the point on education. Badly.

Mr Obama in a commencement address earlier this year spoke to college grads of not giving themselves to money and career but “doing something for change”. Mr Ayers also sees education as a platform to educate “children for freedom and against oppression”.

Alas, that ain’t the problem. The problem is the scarcity of good engineers and scientists coming out of our schools. It isn’t “more poetry and freedom” that needs to be taught, it’s path integrals and Riemann surfaces. It’s tensors and logic and PLL amplifiers. Mr Ayers (and Mr Obama) are brought up looking in the wrong direction for the “problem” and … that is the problem with their association.

Some Remarks On Mrs Palin

Mrs Palin is widely attacked on by those on the left. We’ve heard over and over how Mr Obama’s experience is far more applicable to serving in their respective offices. As well, various criticisms of interviews and tidbits from her past which cast here in a unfriendly light have dominated the press. At the Hugh Hewitt blog, I’d like to highlight two posts from last week which I think might elicit comment. I’ve asked in the past, in regards to her overwhelming negative portrayal in the press how she comes to be our most popular governor (when the Senate from which the other candidates derive their past has a collective approval rate in the low teens).
Continue reading →

Mr Obama and Mr Ayers

From a comment string, which I’m not promoting here for more exposure about the connection between Mr Ayers and Mr Obama. The contention (from the left and Mr Obama) is that their relationship was casual and distant. Mr Kurtz has dug up some at this stage possibly circumstantial evidence that it was more than that. There is support in Mr Obama’s own writing that this is likely not to be truthful. Recall at this point in his campaign, Mr Obama has well established that like Mr Clinton before him, and perhaps like many modern educated lawyer/politicians, he has at best a spotty history at being forthright and truthful about his past.

Consider the following excerpt:

To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.But this strategy alone couldn’t provide the distance I wanted, from Joyce [a former girlfriend] or my past. After all, there were thousands of so-called campus radicals, most of them white and tenured and happily tolerated. No, it remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.(pp 100-101 of Dreams

Now consider that young man going to Chicago. Might Mr Ayers qua Mr Ayers-the-bomber cum activist/radical be exactly whom/what a young Mr Obama would seek as an acquaintance? After all, here is a person for whom the accusation “sellout” and who “showed whose side he was one” was established.

If that is in fact the case, I’ll admit that many on the left who idolize and view with rose tinted lenses the “heady activism” of the 60s and 70s don’t find such things off putting and therefore find there no reason to disassociate oneself from Mr Ayers company. However in the center and the right … a past which includes preparing nail bombs to use on military bases at best makes one a pariah.

I find it unlikely that Mr Obama, on (and before) meeting Mr Ayers, did not know of his past. I for example did not, and would not have, for I have not even a passing interest or knowledge of the membership of the “who’s who in the hagiography of the radical loony left.” It is hardly feasible that Mr Obama, on the other hand … had such lack of knowledge. And from that account it is also highly likely that he sought out Mr Ayers friendship and company. I also find it disingenuous at best to think that interviews of the people in question will be forthright about answering question at this date about such a relationship.

The real question isn’t however “what did Mr Obama see in Mr Ayers”, but the converse, i.e., What did Mr Ayers see in Mr Obama which he found worth promoting?

I will also observe, being a contemporary of Mr Obama’s, myself at the U of Chicago while he at Columbia … I will say that there were some small number of campus “activists” who might be similar to Mr Obama’s disposition/description. I didn’t think much of them then. I have to say I haven’t changed my opinion on that now almost 30 years later (We stayed up at night discussing things like <em>Godel Escher Bach</em>)

Will It Matter?

For a final political post for the night, apparently both Mr Obama and Mr Biden voted for the bill and down a revision which which was aimed at the removal of Mr Stevens “bridge to nowhere”. Mrs Palin, whom the Obama campaign targeted as “for earmarks before she was against them” of course has absolutely nothing to do with earmarks … unlike the Senators. Because, as we all know, Legislation (and earmarks) are enacted by Congress … not governors. So I guess Mr Obama and Mr Biden where, uhm, substantially for the earmarks in question but are now actually (perhaps) against them, now that that position is politically convenient.

Mr Obama different, how? Perhaps he’s dropped the “Change Change Change” mantra because its becoming increasingly clear that he is emphatically not a change. Why do his supporters think that he’s going to be not just a less experienced replay of Jimmy Carter in office is beyond me. If I was a little more cynical, I think I might start supporting him. If he wins, it will take decades for the Democratic party to recover the damage that I think he will do.

And I’m thinking of doing something like Mr McCain and having a week-long moratorium on campaign links and posts next week … except for October 1 for reasons which will become clearer then. Are you for or a’gin that notion?


I’ve been requested to be more attentive to reading stories from the “other point of view” before posting.

Well, what do we make of things like this then?

Seems to me that would be a career ending statement if Mr Hastings was in the GOP. But then again, that party of the “big tent” seems to be mighty comfortable with a lot of bigotry, no?

Some Modest Proposals

Wacky ideas have been floating in my noggin.

  • It might be an interesting political strategic move for the GOP, if President Bush, in a few weeks announced that on account of mistakes and failure to heed warning signs in the financial sector … that he’s resigning his office. President Cheney then makes a few moves to unbalance the Dems and then fades back into the background (where it might be noted, the President is … and I think that’s largely because the GOP strategists think that gives Mr McCain the best chance to win). How do you all think a surprise resignation might ruffle the waters?
  • The Roman Empire divided into East/West in late antiquity because of the size of the Empire. Modern communications have made that unnecessary … however the complexity of the world has increased. Perhaps a “split” Executive office might be better for the Administration of the US in the modern era … perhaps dividing between a Domestic and Foreign Executive seat?
  • One might suggest that voters tend to fall into two broad categories. Issues voters and character voters. Some want to dive into policy details, others into character and the psyche of the candidates. It might be interesting if some of the News outlets recognized this and specialized reporting those perspectives instead of a mishmash.

A Tale of Two Candidates

If one was to look at the tale of two crises and how our respective candidates reacted to them, the difference between them becomes clear.

In the Georgia/Russia scuffles, McCain immediately reacted speaking out against Russia’s aggression. Obama, in brief, did and said nothing of any note for quite some time, until the dust mostly settled and then … asked for a UN security resolution against the act (somehow overlooking the fact that any resolution would have to pass a Russian Federation veto).

In the current AIG/Merril/Banking crises, Mr McCain has asked for the retirement of the SEC head. He has suggested some regulatory mechanisms which he thinks might be helpful, and pointed out that he was warning about a upcoming crises of this sort for some time. Mr Obama has criticised everyone else, but has not actually suggested anything … yet. Like the above, it would be my bet that when a (liberal) consensus of “what to do” has arisen in his camp, he will put forward a relatively useless and vanilla proposal.

Mr Obama, I suggest, is not a leader. He may someday grow to be one after all he is young an inexperienced and has much learning and growth in the poitical process yet ahead of him. But he has not (ever?) demonstrated any leadership qualities. He may be able divise and find a consensus in within a party which has substantial agreement on the basics. But he has not demonstrated he can take the risks and gambles necessary to lead.

Mr McCain is a more instinctive leader, he may lead you astray sometimes, he may not. But he will lead. And that is an important quality in a leader.

The Notion of Experts and Smarter Policies

One of the primary talking points of Mr Obama’s campaign is that what is needed (as a change) are “smart” policies. But there is a fundamental problem with that, it’s wrong. Let’s start with this quote which is in line with what I’m trying to say:

America’s regulatory structure is mostly the child of the Progressive Era, when well meaning, well educated protestants thought that they could save the world by putting bright technocrats from the right kind of families in charge of the messy, sprawling economy and make it clean and tidy and safe.  That sounds sarcastic, but it wasn’t entirely unreasonable. The first great victory of the Progressive Era, the major revolutions in public health, did just that:  made life safer and nicer for everyone, with minimal inconvenience, by putting experts in charge of things like sanitation and quarantine and the water supply.  Before Hayek, we didn’t have all that much reason to think that this feat couldn’t be repeated elsewhere.

But now we have had Hayek, and the failure of the Soviet Union, and a hundred other ways to learn that in any sizeable economy, the information problem is simply too big.  Even leaving out the various incentive problems ably detailed by both Marxists and public choice economics, a well-intentioned bureaucrat cannot know enough about what’s going on in the world to thoroughly manage even a static economy, much less one that has to cope with millions of constant changes, from hurricanes to new babies.

In the context of the current financial kerfuffle, an oft noted claim has been that what is needed is “better smarter regulation.” As if that will somehow so fundamentally change the market structure so that risk will not be taken and occasionally those risk takers will overreach. Economic and social management cannot be done by “being smarter” as the complexity the problem means it is intractable. The only solution is to yield control. The setting of policy has to be done by the millions not by the hundreds of experts. Individually those experts may be nominally smarter than a great majority (but likely not all) of the millions for whom their decisions are replacing. But the complexity of modern society means the problems and issues cannot be comprehended by any single or group of experts no matter how smart they are.

What is not needed is an Executive who believes he can either by himself or a conciliar consensus of “experts” figure out the “solution” to the problems that will face him. This is exactly the opposite of what we need. We don’t need a smart leader who thinks (or knows) he’s smart and is seeking an inteligent solution. We need a wise leader who knows he isn’t smart and the best he can do is to suggest a direction and perceptive enough to notice which of us have figured out a “better way” and pass the word.