Jon Stewart’s Daily Show exemplifies the media’s horrible whitewashing of communism

Forced labor in a Soviet GulagIf you read Timothy Snyder’s wrenching Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin about life West of Russia and East of Berlin from 1933 through 1945, the first thing you’ll learn is that Hitler wasn’t an innovator when it came to mass murder. Instead, he learned about it from Stalin, who had been practicing mass murder for almost a decade before Hitler really caught on to its possibilities.

It was Stalin, after all, who killed tens of millions in the Ukraine by confiscating every single bit of grain they produced, including the grain that was needed to seed the next season’s harvest.  He did this for two reasons:  (1) to break the back of the independent farming class, which did not want to become cogs in the socialist machinery; and (2) to sell the grain overseas to create the false impression the Communism was economically self-sustaining.  Hitler was inspired.

Hitler was also inspired by Stalin’s Gulags.  Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History, explains what was going on in these labor and death camps.  Jonah Goldberg introduces just two of the terrible stories Applebaum tells:

A slave who falls in the snow is not helped up by his comrades but is instantly stripped of his clothes and left to die. His last words: “It’s so cold.”

Hava Volovich, a once-obscure newspaper editor turned slave laborer, has a baby, Eleonora, in captivity. Eleonora spends her first months in a room where “bedbugs poured down like sand from the ceiling and walls.” A year later, Eleonora is wasting away, starving in a cold ward at slave “mothers’ camp.” She begs her mother to take her back “home” to that bedbug-infested hovel. Working all day in the forest to earn food rations, Hava manages to visit her child each night. Finally, Eleonora in her misery refuses even her mother’s embrace, wanting only to drift away in bed. Eleonora dies, hungry and cold, at 15 months. Her mother writes: “In giving birth to my only child, I committed the worst crime there is.”

Multiply these stories by a million. Ten million.

Goldberg wasn’t retelling these horrific narratives just to depress us.  Instead, he’s challenging the anodyne, bloodless narratives in which the American media is engaging during its Sochi Olympic’s coverage:

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

Bad as the Olympic coverage is on NBC and other news channels, what happened on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the other night is worse.  Staff member Jason Jones went to Russia for the show and did a so-called “humorous” piece in which he looks longingly back on the good old days of the Cold War.  He commits so many fact crimes along the way that it’s hard to keep track.

The one that irked me most was the way Jones created a significant lie by telling a half-truth.  Thus, he gave deserved credit to Gorbachev for signing the paper that ended the Soviet Union, but forgets to show that Gorbachev did so, not just because he was courageous and principled (which he was), but also because the system was already collapsing.  He could retreat elegantly or be buried under a pile of bullets and rubbish.  Between the intense moral pressure from Pope John Paul II, Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Lech Walesla; and the economic pressure from Ronald Reagan, the Soviet system, which was always unsustainable, finally ended, not with a bang, but with a long, drawn-out whimper.

More subtly horrible is the way Jones, playing a Stephen Colbert-esque stupid American, deliberately allows Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Duma member, to run rings around him. Jones may be smart enough and informed enough to be in on the fact that Nikonov is whitewashing the Soviet Union’s past and Russia’s present, but I’m quite sure that the 18-35 demographic watching the Daily Show has no idea what the reality is and was.

When Nikonov brushes off the fact that the Soviet Union was an “Evil Empire,” Jones challenges him by teasing his accent.  Jones next allows Nikonov to boast about the fact that the Soviets defeated the Nazis, and at great cost too.

While it’s true that the Soviets lost more people to the Nazis than did any other nation or nationality, those horrific losses were in large part due to the sheer inefficiency of the Soviet War machine. The Communists quickly turned their factories to war production, but the products were dreadful. More than that, it was always cheaper for Stalin to throw men at the Germans to absorb the German bullets, than for Stalin to waste his own bullets on the Germans. The sheer number of bodies Stalin had at his command was his greatest weapon — and Russia’s greatest tragedy.

Jones’ and Nikonov’s silly, staged argument about who won the war also obscures a much more important fact: until Hitler’s megalomania got the best of him, he and Stalin were allies during the first years of World War II. Right up until the maddened Nazi dog turned on him, Stalin was perfectly happy to make common cause with Hitler.

And so it goes, with Jones’ being the stupid American schooled by the polished Nikonov. None of it’s funny (as in, at a pure comedy level, it’s poorly done) and all of it is a huge steaming pile of pro-Communist misinformation, ending with Jones begging for a return to the Cold War and laughing at Americans who feared nuclear annihilation.

Here — see for yourself:

Goldberg opened his masterful slam against the media by talking about Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, “the banality of evil”:

The phrase “banality of evil” was instantly controversial, largely because it was misunderstood. Arendt was not trying to minimize Nazism’s evil but to capture its enormity. The staggering moral horror of the Holocaust was that it made complicity “normal.” Liquidating the Jews was not just the stuff of mobs and demagogues but of bureaucracies and bureaucrats.

Thanks to the Daily Show, we’ve seen that banality sink to new lows.  It’s become the stuff of comedy.  And worse, it’s not the devastating comedy that exposes evil for what it really is.  Instead, through bad jokes and canned laughter, it gives moral stature to an evil system, all the while ridiculing the country that liberated tens of millions of people from endless slavery and brutal death.

Wednesday Wrap-Up (and Open Thread)

Victorian posy of pansiesI didn’t watch Obama’s SOTU.  Between cooking and carpooling, I had neither the time nor the inclination.  I’ve never been impressed by “Obama the Orator,” and his speech’s details had already been leaked, so the whole thing fell into the “Why Bother?” category.  I did hear one interesting thing about it, though, while I was walking the dog and listening to Rush.

A caller named Jesse found Obama’s homage to Cory Remsburg off-putting.  I too found it off-putting, but Jesse put his finger on the problem:  Obama’s focus was about Remsburg the warrior but was, instead, about Remsburg the victim.  Obama made no real mention of Remsburg’s actual service.  Instead, Obama spoke about Remsburg’s injuries and his recovery (which is laudable, of course).

Obama could have given precisely the same speech been given about someone in a bad car accident.  Jesse and Rush both noted that, in previous administrations, when the president celebrated this or that veteran, at least some of the praise focused on the veteran’s bringing war to the enemy.  Now, though, the Left finds noteworthy only the injury part of “injured vets.”

Jesse felt, and I agree, that Obama’s purpose in talking about Remsburg was to highlight his opposition to the military, to America’s wars, and to the notion of manliness itself.

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For those of you interested in a conservative take on Obama’s SOTU, Bryan Preston offers one.

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Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s resident “fact checker” seems to have soured on Obama.  Rather than doing the old “false but accurate shtick” that characterized Obama’s first term, Kessler simply points out that Obama is making up things as he goes along.

I don’t believe Kessler has actually seen the light.  As was true for all of the MSM, he knew what was going on the first time around, but wasn’t going to do anything that might derail a second term.  Members of the Left might have gotten over its love affair with Obama, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still wholeheartedly approve of his agenda.

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A new book calling for a socialist revolution features contributions by Obama’s buddy Bill Ayers, among others.  As you chew over that, think about this too:  Back in the 1930s and onward through the end of the Soviet Union, the vast majority of Americans were staunchly opposed to Communism despite the fact that they really hadn’t seen it in action.  Countries such as the Soviet Union or China were closed to them (or run through the Duranty-filter), so those Americans who hated Communism did so because they knew — without data — that Communism stifled freedom and created a tyrannical state.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of China revealed that Communism was worse even than anyone had guessed.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the kulaks that Stalin “re-educated” in the Ukraine or the Chinese who were around when Mao started his Great Leap Forward.  Oh, wait!  You can’t ask them because they’re dead.  Depending on estimates, Stalin killed roughly 7,000,000 kulaks through execution or starvation.  He was a piker compared to Mao, though, who killed 50,000,000 or more during his Great Leap forward, again through execution or starvation.  Despite knowing these facts with certainty nowadays (rather than merely guessing them, as we once did), communism and socialism are no longer considered dirty words.  This is what 40 years of Progressive education has wrought.

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Ted Cruz has written a really good Wall Street Journal opinion piece about Obama’s imperial presidency:

Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat. On Monday, Mr. Obama acted unilaterally to raise the minimum wage paid by federal contracts, the first of many executive actions the White House promised would be a theme of his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The president’s taste for unilateral action to circumvent Congress should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology. The great 18th-century political philosopher Montesquieu observed: “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates.” America’s Founding Fathers took this warning to heart, and we should too.

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And speaking of Obama’s imperial presidency, Victor Davis Hanson has written one of his best works about Obama’s lawlessness.  I highly recommend it:

We are reentering Nixonian times, or perhaps worse, given that a free press at least went after Nixon’s misdeeds and misadventures. Now it has silenced itself for fear of harming a once-in-century chance for a fellow progressive’s makeover of America. We live in an age when a CNN moderator interrupts a presidential debate to help her sputtering candidate, and when a writer for the often ironic and sarcastic New Yorker sees no irony in doing a fawning interview with the president, tagging along on a shakedown jet tour from one mansion of crony capitalists to the next — as Obama preaches to the head-nodders about inequality and fairness in order to ensure that the bundled checks pour in.

Without the media acting as a watchdog, the administration has with impunity found the IRS useful in going after political opponents. When Obama’s IRS appointees were exposed, he for the moment called their deeds outrageous; when the media did not pursue the outrage, he wrote it off as a nothing story.

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And finally, Megan McArdle points out that even Democrats are beginning to realize that there’s truth to the saying “be careful what you ask for; you might get it.”  It turns out that when they have a president desirous of fulfilling their wish list, some of the more intelligent among them are realizing that this way lies economic madness.  (Of course, that hasn’t stopped Al Franken from trying to push a constitutional amendment to forbid corporate speech, while keeping alive and well union, especially government union, speech.  Apparently it’s not enough for him that almost all of the largest donors in politics are Leftist unions.  He wants all of the largest donors to be Leftist unions.)

The wages of socialism — mass murder

Ukrainian peasants starve to death in the streets, 1933

Last year, my friend Bruce Kesler, who blogs at a wonderful conservative group blog called Maggie’s Farm, directed me to a book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. What makes this book different from other books about that era is that it doesn’t just examine the murderous years of WWII.  Instead, it also examines the carnage Hitler and Stalin wrought during the 1930s, in the lead-up to WWII.  It is an absolutely devastating book, describing the unimaginable scale of death that two socialist leaders — Stalin and Hitler — visited on the region between their two countries.

Although Hitler industrialized the killing machine, it was Stalin who created the model when he decided to destroy the Ukrainian kulaks (independent small farmers) who were standing in the way of his vision of a collectivized agrarian nation.  To achieve his goal, he brutally starved these farmers to death — 20 to 30 million of them.  Reading author Timothy Snyder’s description of their suffering is horrible — but it’s something that we need to read in order that we never forget how fundamentally evil socialism is.  The ones who really should read this book, of course, are American socialists, but sadly, they’re unlikely to do so.

If you can get a socialist to read Bloodlands, but he has still failed to learn his lesson about what happens when government — which lacks a conscience — decides that its job isn’t to enable individual freedom but is, instead, to control all people without regard to individualism, have him read Yang Jisheng’s book, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Hard as it is to believe, Stalin and Hitler were just the warm-ups for Mao, the Chinese leader who, inspired by Stalin, may well hold the record for being the biggest mass murderer in human history.

Arthur Waldron, writing at The New Criterion reviews Jisheng’s book and his review shows that this is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand why Leftists are fools when they’re frightened of corporations and, instead, want desperately to place control over every aspect of their lives in government hands.  It is impossible for a corporation to wreak the kind of havoc that socialist governments have visited upon their people.  The estimates for Mao’s killing fields during his “man-created disaster” range from 36 to 70 million.  (The higher number includes the babies that never got born to a starving population.)  As happened with Stalin’s socialist-created famine, people in dire straits did unspeakable things to survive, including cannibalism.  As Snyder said in his book (and I paraphrase), “an orphan was a child whose parents died before they ate him.”

When word of the Chinese famine got out, Mao blamed unspecified natural causes, and a credulous, Left-leaning, Walter Duranty-esque media dutifully passed this on.  It was a lie, of course.  There was nothing unusual about Chinese weather patterns from 1958-1962.  Moreover, even as the people died in the millions, food filled warehouses and party officials dined in style.

Jisheng knows firsthand about the famine:  alerted that something was wrong in his native rural area, he left the city with a rice ration, but arrived too late to save his father who, though alive, had become too starved to do anything but die.  When this happened, Jisheng accepted the party line and didn’t question the thousands of deaths in his area of rural China.  It was only during the mid-1960s Cultural Revolution, which saw many millions more die, that Jisheng began to realize that the problem wasn’t nature or farmers or people who needed re-education — it was Mao’s socialist policies, all of which officials throughout China unquestioningly accepted, either because they were true believers, because they were mindless party drones, or because they were afraid.

Although Jisheng’s book isn’t the first to tell about the famine, Waldron thinks it’s the best:

Tombstone, however, is without a doubt the definitive account—for now and probably for a long time. The Chinese original is two volumes and banned in that country. In Hong Kong it has sold out eight printings. The English version has been most skillfully shortened, edited, and rearranged by a team of Western and Chinese scholars, with an eye to making what is very much a massive compilation of statistics and reportage into a volume more accessible to the English-speaking reader.

This is a book whose importance must be compared with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (1973) in that it documents beyond the possibility of refutation ghastly horrors that were first rumored, then denied, then written about a bit, but only with Solzhenitsyn and Yang were so thoroughly documented and analyzed as to place them beyond question.

You should read Waldron’s review and then, if you have the heart and stomach for it, read Jisheng’s book.

When socialism fails, as it invariably does, the American Left equally invariably claims that the failure isn’t because the plan was fundamentally flawed.  To socialists, the problem is always implementation and the culprit is always the Republicans who made it impossible for the Democrats fully to implement their plans.  Books such as Bloodlands and Tombstone remind us precisely what happens when the Left has unfettered access to a helpless population.  Every person in America should be thanking God for Republican foot-dragging, and should hope that they drag their feet ever harder and faster.

Statism not only controls and, ultimately, kills people, it destroys their humanity

A few months ago, I read a wonderfully written, totally depressing book called, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. In it, author Timothy Snyder graphically described the way in which, during the 1930s and 1940s, the lands to the East of Berlin and West of Moscow were turned into killing fields the likes of which had never been seen.  Although Hitler is remembered for the bloodbath he made of these lands, it was Stalin who started these state-sp0nsored killing sprees when he decided to get rid of the independent farmers in the Ukraine, as their very existence was an affront to Stalin’s plan for a Marxist takeover of the farming economy.

Ukranian children

The book goes into dreadful, tragic detail about the mass starvation that resulted from Stalin’s policies — and please understand that starvation was a goal, not a byproduct, of the policies.  When Stalin talked about getting rid of these farmers, he meant it.  With this kind of famine occurring, cannibalism became inevitable.  Thus, Stalin not only stripped these Ukrainians of life, he stripped them of their basic humanity.  Once prosperous, moral, farming communities became feral.  The phrase that stayed with me after reading Bloodlands was (and I’m quoting from memory here) that “an orphan was a child whose parents hadn’t eaten it.”

The ugliest parts of history have a dreadful habit of repeating themselves, and that is the case with North Korea, a state that is the true heir to Stalin and Mao.  Reports are surfacing of a terrible famine in North and South Hwanghae.  The famine originated with a drought, which is terrible enough for people living in a government-run economy that keeps their farming to a medieval, subsistence level.

North Korean child

North Korea’s Marxist government, though, dramatically increased the drought’s effects.  Rather than behaving as a civilized capital city governed by Judeo-Christian values, which would have meant sending relief to these suffering people, Pyongyang worsened the famine by confiscating what little food remained in Hwanghae in order to feed the military and government class in Pyongyang itself.

In addition, rather than sending some form of financial relief to the drought-stricken region, Kim Jong Un’s government has been investing its small capital heavily in nuclear tests, presumably to shore up its reputation as a true nation among nations.  The result, of course, is mass starvation and, yes, cannibalism.

At the risk of getting redundant, let me remind everyone that a state unconstrained by religious morality does not love its people.  The people exist to serve the state, and not vice versa.  The Founders, of course, understood that the only healthy relationship between individuals and the state occurs when the state is the servant, not the master:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Personalities matter

At Cal, I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand that I was being taught the Marxist version of history.  All I knew is that my love for history was predicated on the power of personalities, while the history they taught at Cal ignored individuals and focused on mass movements that were described in terms of a Marxist economic narrative.

Would England have had a schism from the Catholic Church without Henry VIII’s lust for Anne Boleyn and his belief that she would give him a son?  I doubt it.  Anne Boleyn’s personality played a part in it too.  Things would have turned out differently if she’d just yielded, as her sister had, and become his mistress.

And how about Elizabeth I’s refusal to marry?  Whether she just didn’t want to share power or had a deeper psychological fear of marriage (death by beheading or childbirth), the fact remains that her single status made for an interesting balance of power during her reign — and handed the monarchy over to the Stuart line.  The Stuart line, of course, led to a stubborn Charles I who refused to yield on his royal prerogatives, triggering a revolution — which could be said to have paved the way for our own Revolution.

My examples are from the era of absolute monarchs.  Modern times are no different, though.  Germany was not a totalitarian dictatorship when Hitler entered politics.  His personality and beliefs transformed it into one, and his paranoia and sheer evil made it one of the worst places on earth.

Speaking of paranoia and evil, would a tyrant other than Stalin have murdered 20 million of his own people?  Do mass movements and Marxist economics create killers (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot), or is there a horrible alchemy that brings such individuals to the fore?  I don’t know.  But I do know that different tyrants would have resulted in different tyrannies, with different targets, and different MOs.

I mention all of this because of the Petraeus affair.  Up until six weeks ago, most of the nation, Left and Right, viewed him as a military visionary and a strong, noble hand at the helm of the CIA.  Now, it turns out that his personal failings, his libido and his arrogance, may have contributed to a web of deceit, as well as systemic corruption and antagonism.  Had he been less egotistical, events before, during, and after the Benghazi affair might have played out quite differently.  That is, if he hadn’t had a Sword of Damocles hanging over his head — one he placed there himself through his unethical conduct — and if he’d had better relations with his own people, he might have had more flexibility in dealing with Benghazi, and more incentive to be honest.

Could Iraq be the reason Obama is so hostile to Poland?

Obama has not had a good week vis a vis Poland.  First, he insulted Lech Walesa; then he managed to insult the entire nation.  In the old days, before we got PC, we would have told a Polish joke . . . about Obama.  (Here’s an old, un-PC joke:  What do you get when you cross an Italian and a Pole?  A person who makes you an offer he can’t understand.)

Has anyone asked why Obama is so hostile to Poland?  The obvious reason, of course, is that Poland was the lever the broke the old Soviet Union.  (Would that make Walesa Archimedes?)  From Obama’s view, that falls into the “Shame on Poland category,” for messing with the great Socialist experiment that was ongoing in that nation.  (And who can ever forget that great Russian lab tech, Stalin, who may have said, and certainly believed, that “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”)

I wonder, though, whether Obama is also hostile because Poland was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Gulf War coalition.  I’m reading American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. In it, Kyle has nothing but praise for the Polish special forces with whom he worked during the War in Iraq.  See, this makes the Poles double plus bad ungood.  Not only did they bring down Communism, the also embraced the evil George Bush’s War for Oil in Iraq.

Obama is a theoretical leader; Romney a practical one

One of the most startling features of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, a book that examines the killing fields that Stalin and Hitler created in the lands between Germany and Russia proper, is the way in which these socialist leaders were so willing to kill people in the millions to make reality accord with their theories.  This chasm between ideas and reality was most obvious in the Soviet Union.

Soviet leaders could not account for the fact that, contrary to Marx’s predictions, the first socialist revolution occurred in an agrarian, almost feudal economy, rather than in a totally industrialized economy.  Obviously, reasoned the Soviet theorists, theirs was an incomplete revolution.  To be complete, the Soviet Union would have to be industrialized, and then the Soviet workers would cheerfully unite behind a socialist government, rather than hoarding food and trying to live out their lives as individuals.

Stalin, imbued by faith in his theory, and with no regard whatsoever for the sanctity of human life, decided to “industrialize” the Ukraine by getting rid of the small farms that dotted that verdant breadbasket.  He would create vast, government-controlled collectives, complete with Soviet-made tractors, that would stun the Western world.

Indeed, if Walter Duranty hadn’t been a profoundly evil man who shilled for a murderous regime, the world would have been stunned.  It would have been stunned because it would have seen kulaks (small landowners) and peasants relocated, shot, and starved in the millions over about five or seven years.  In this way, Stalin advanced socialist theory over the factually dead bodies of his own people.  At the end of it all, of course, the collectives were much less effective than a market economy would have been.

I see theory over fact regularly in the liberal world I inhabit.  One of my favorites is the liberal who refused to believe that a drop of sugared tea can create a sticky spot on the floor or counter.  “There’s too little sugar,” she said, “for any stickiness to result from a single drop.”  The fact that I could show her sticky spots was irrelevant.  Her theory said there couldn’t be spots, and therefore there weren’t — actual sticky spots notwithstanding.

Likewise, when I was packing some boxes alongside a liberal, I asked for directions about what should be put in one of the boxes.

“Put these six items in the box,” the liberal told me.

I did.  The box was very, very heavy.

“What did you put in there?” asked the liberal.  “It’s way too heavy.”

“The six things you told me to put in there,” I replied.

“No,” said the liberal, “you couldn’t have.  Those six things are not that heavy.”

“But they are,” said I, “pointing to the box.”

“No, they’re not,” said the liberal, completely ignoring the reality in the box at his feet.

Obama, of course, is a purely theoretical leader.  Barring a short stint in private practice when, as a junior associate, he would have had minimal responsibilities, Obama has always worked in the worlds of academia and community organizing.  In the latter role, every one of his initiatives failed.  In the former role, of course, he had no initiatives.  He could immerse himself in theory without ever cross-checking those theories against the real world.

Now that Obama has taken on the hard task of governing, it’s really no surprise that he clings to his theories.  They’re so much nicer than dirty, messy facts, governed by real world principles such as supply and demand, good guys and bad guys, weather, etc.  How much nicer to simply announce that what is is, because the theorist says that it is.

Romney, by contrast, has worked and governed.  He may be a little too inclined to abandon conservative principles for political advantage, but that may be due to his essential pragmatism.  He will do what works.  He’s had to.  That’s how he made his fortune.

I’d like to think that Romney’s pragmatism involves understanding that the private sector is always more efficient than the government (“Your government — applying yesterday’s solutions today”).  Even if he does deviate from a principled understanding, though, I know Romney will never get caught up in what should be, rather than what is.

And now that I’ve opined about the dangers of theory, let me hand the microphone over to Bill Whittle, who says everything I was thinking, only he does it better:

 

Christmas thoughts from a Jewish blogger

I’m about to wade into theology here, so feel free to beat me around the head (politely, of course), if I’ve committed some egregious doctrinal sin.  Before you do, though, please follow my argument to its conclusion, to see whether I’m on the right track.

I got to thinking about evil today. In my earlier post, I took it upon myself to define what I believe constitutes good (as opposed to evil) at a societal level:  Maximum individual freedom within a framework of stable laws.  What I want to discuss in this post is the evil of the individual, whether it’s just a handful of individuals committing acts of great evil, or evil on the vast scale of Stalin, Hitler, Mao or Kim Jung-Il (as well as their minions, who kept the leaders’ hands free of actual blood).

As I contemplate evil men, what always strikes me is that they are distinguished from “merely” bad people by the way in which they view their fellow man.  Your ordinary bad guy is motivated by greed, fear, anger, jealously, etc.  His own feelings drive him.  He’s not thinking about the relative worth of the people against whom he acts.  He’s simply thinking about his own needs.

People who commit evil on a grand scale, whether their victims are small in number or large, may fall prey to these passions, but these all too human emotions are not what drive them.  Instead, they commit their evil acts because they feel separate from and above ordinary humanity.  In their own minds, they are a superior species, a pleasant fact that entitles them to starve the kulaks, kill the Jews and gypsies, or turn their own nation into a giant prison camp.  The root cause of evil isn’t an unloving mother or a bourgeois upbringing or a racist society.  Instead, it is the evildoer’s fundamental lack of humanity.

Which gets me to the birthday the Christian world celebrates on December 25.  Christ was not like other gods.  The Greek and Roman panoply of gods was filled with beings who, while they suffered from more than their fare share of human foibles, nevertheless were always aware of their separation from mankind, and treated mankind as pawns in the godly games.  Christ, however, embraced human-kind.  His passion was the human passion.  Rather than rejecting human-kind, he took upon himself human pain and, in return, gave grace.  By giving himself over to humanity, rather than holding himself above it, Jesus was the antithesis of evil.

(To those of you who are hoping I’ve converted, I haven’t.  If there is any religion in me, my allegiance is to the Jewish God, an abstract, overarching figure that created human-kind, embraces His creation, and judges human-kind with a creator’s loving objectivity.  To my mind, both good and evil are concepts too small to describe the enormity of the Jewish God.)

So, while I am not now, and probably never will be, a Christian, I join with all of you in celebrating Christmas — a holiday that truly celebrates the good in all of us.

Merry Christmas!

Evil is as evil does

Michael Ledeen has a written a wonderful article that uses the evil in the world’s recent past (Hitler, Stalin), as a springboard for discussing the West’s resolute refusal to see the evil in its midst. I think the following paragraphs are the core of his argument, but the whole article is well worth reading:

By now, there is very little we do not know about such regimes, and such movements. Some of our greatest scholars have described them, analyzed the reasons for their success, and chronicled the wars we fought to defeat them. Our understanding is considerable, as is the honesty and intensity of our desire that such things must be prevented.

Yet they are with us again, and we are acting as we did in the last century. The world is simmering in the familiar rhetoric and actions of movements and regimes – from Hezbollah and al Qaeda to the Iranian Khomeinists and the Saudi Wahhabis – who swear to destroy us and others like us. Like their 20th-century predecessors, they openly proclaim their intentions, and carry them out whenever and wherever they can. Like our own 20th-century predecessors, we rarely take them seriously or act accordingly. More often than not, we downplay the consequences of their words, as if they were some Islamic or Arab version of “politics,” intended for internal consumption, and designed to accomplish domestic objectives.

Clearly, the explanations we gave for our failure to act in the last century were wrong. The rise of messianic mass movements is not new, and there is very little we do not know about them. Nor is there any excuse for us to be surprised at the success of evil leaders, even in countries with long histories and great cultural and political accomplishments. We know all about that. So we need to ask the old questions again. Why are we failing to see the mounting power of evil enemies? Why do we treat them as if they were normal political phenomena, as Western leaders do when they embrace negotiations as the best course of action?

No doubt there are many reasons. One is the deep-seated belief that all people are basically the same, and all are basically good. Most human history, above all the history of the last century, points in the opposite direction. But it is unpleasant to accept the fact that many people are evil, and entire cultures, even the finest, can fall prey to evil leaders and march in lockstep to their commands. Much of contemporary Western culture is deeply committed to a belief in the goodness of all mankind; we are reluctant to abandon that reassuring article of faith. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we prefer to pursue the path of reasonableness, even with enemies whose thoroughly unreasonable fanaticism is manifest.

This is not merely a philosophical issue, for to accept the threat to us means – short of a policy of national suicide – acting against it. As it did in the 20th century, it means war. It means that, temporarily at least, we have to make sacrifices on many fronts: in the comforts of our lives, indeed in lives lost, in the domestic focus of our passions – careers derailed and personal freedoms subjected to unpleasant and even dangerous restrictions – and the diversion of wealth from self-satisfaction to the instruments of power. All of this is painful; even the contemplation of it hurts.

Then there is anti-Semitism. Old Jew-hating texts like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” now in Farsi and Arabic, are proliferating throughout the Middle East. Calls for the destruction of the Jews appear regularly on Iranian, Egyptian, Saudi and Syrian television and are heard in European and American mosques. There is little if any condemnation from the West, and virtually no action against it, suggesting, at a minimum, a familiar Western indifference to the fate of the Jews.

Finally, there is the nature of our political system. None of the democracies adequately prepared for war before it was unleashed on them in the 1940s. None was prepared for the terror assault of the 21st century. The nature of Western politics makes it very difficult for national leaders – even those rare men and women who see what is happening and want to act – to take timely, prudent measures before war is upon them. Leaders like Winston Churchill are relegated to the opposition until the battle is unavoidable. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to fight desperately to win Congressional approval for a national military draft a few months before Pearl Harbor.