Getting outside of the bubble: taking liberal arguments seriously

Paul Scott challenged us to look at what Eric Garland, a Progressive blogger, has to say and to take it seriously as a way to win the White House.  Paul is right — we cannot make a convincing argument unless we know what our opponent in the argument believes.  Insulting Paul doesn’t make us stronger.  Rather than spin around in our own fish bowl, we have to look at what others are saying, correct their misconceptions, and either challenge or concede to their arguments head-on.

In that spirit, I’m taking a serious look at Eric Garland’s post.  I’m not giving anything away here when I say that, having weighed it carefully, I’ve found it wanting.

Eric might also want to look seriously at conservatives, since he seems to be have accepted several canards propounded by the media and other liberal sources.  In that regard, I would remind him that the Wheel of Political Fortune has tended to rotate in roughly eight year cycles:  Reagan’s conservativism got 12 years (counting Bush); Clinton’s Progressivism got 8 years; Bush’s compassionate conservativism got 8 years; and Obama is now getting his 8 years.

Whether Obama will also get his own addendum years, as Reagan did with Bush Sr., remains open to question.  Americans are a generous and forbearing people, but unless Obama significantly improves the economy, or significantly re-educates Americans so that they lower their economic and employment expectations, Obama’s next four years may be the Democrats’ last four for a while.

Let’s start with Eric’s contention that he is the kind of voter that Republicans seek:

  • My family lineage goes back to the MAYFLOWER, BOAT ONE!!! (Garland family of New England-> John Adams -> Howard Alden -> Plymouth colony ->KINGS OF MUTHAF***IN’ ENGLAND)
  • I am a heterosexual, married to the super Caucasian mother of my two beautiful children who are, inexplicably, EVEN WHITER THAN I AM.
  • I am college educated (Master’s degree!) and affluent.
  • I am a job creator and small businessman.
  • We pay a lot of taxes! Every year!
  • I grew up in a rural area and despise laziness!
  • Having started my own business, I have complained at length about the insanity of federal, state and local bureaucracy – and its deleterious impact on the innovative small businessman.
  • I currently live in the suburbs in a historically Red state.

I’m not sure Eric is the perfect specimen he thinks he is.  Or rather, he’s the perfect specimen only if you accept his rather ugly view of conservatives.

Family lineage:  As a first generation Jewish American conservative, I was unaware that the Republican party had admissions criteria based upon 1950s WASP country club rules.  To the contrary, the Republican party, unlike the Democratic party, does not classify people by race, religion, or country of national origin.  Instead, it seeks values voters.  As I use it, and as the the conservatives I know use it, the term “values voters” should be understood to encompass constitutional values such as individual liberty; market-based capitalism; small, affordable government; freedom of speech; freedom of worship; etc.  In other words, the oldies, but goodies.  These are values intrinsic too all Americans regardless of the divisive victim identities that the Democrats and Progressives have sought to impose on the American body politic since the 1960s.  We understand that people like Eric can’t help their boring lineage.  They are still welcome amongst conservatives.

Sexual orientation and race:  By boasting repeatedly about his, and his family’s, whiteness and heterosexuality, Eric sounds a little too much like a candidate for the KKK (which was, as his high education level surely informs him, a Democrat connected party).  Eric’s obsession with his race and sexuality highlights the Democrat/Progressive habit of parsing Americans into sexual and racial boxes.  Honestly, we conservatives really don’t care about those archaic, eugenicist classifications.  What we do care about are shared values, tied to the Constitution.  I know bunches of gays, whites, Jews, Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics (and whatever other little boxes Progressives like to check) who believe in limited government.

What all conservatives have figured out is that, once government gets big enough (and ours certainly has gotten that big), it can start picking winners and losers.  That’s good for the winners.  Unfortunately, as Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Communists, and the mentally disabled discovered in Nazi Germany; as Kulaks discovered in Soviet Russia; and intellectuals and glasses-wearers discovered in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, if a Big Government identifies you as a loser, you’re pretty much dead.  The smaller the government, the less risk for minority groups.  Ideally, as the Founders perfectly understood, one wants a government that’s big enough to protect all of its citizens, but not one so big that it does what Eric does:  parses them into “in” groups and “out” groups, and then punish the “out” groups.

College educated and affluent:  It’s great that Eric and his family are college educated and affluent.  I’m sure his mother is very proud.  It may come as a surprise to Eric that many conservatives are educated too. And almost as many conservatives have spent many years trying to unlearn the Left wing pap that made up that education.

The real world doesn’t put the same premium on the Ivory Tower that the Ivory Tower puts upon itself.  Womyn’s Studies contribute little to intellectual attainment or economic betterment.  And if you’ve got an MBA predicated on Keynesian economics — well, you’re about to see that economic view take a hit in the real world, just as it did when Roosevelt put it into effect (with the Depression massively worsened under his aegis), or when Europe put it into effect with its now-collapsing soft-socialism, and as America will see play out as the Harvard-educated Obama continues to pick winners and losers in today’s economy.

The secret that hasn’t yet infiltrated the Ivory Tower is that governments are slow, inefficient, and corrupt.  They analyze data inefficiently, apply their analyses unfairly, and then pervert the market (using taxpayer money) to prop up their so-called “winner’s” failures.  Today’s education, which is directed at creating a Leftist man, rather than a broadly educated man, is nothing to boast about.

A job creator and small businessman.  Again, that’s great.  Conservatives believe that job creators and small business people should support conservative values, because lower taxes, fewer regulations, and less government control (not no government control, but less) enhance small businesses and create more jobs.  We find bewildering the number of small business owners who willingly vote for politicians who impose ever greater burdens upon them, stifling their building to thrive and grow.

Pays lots of taxes:  Eric sounds almost enthusiastic about those taxes.  One wonders if he’s ever asked himself if the government makes better decisions about spending that money than he does?  I’m sure Eric doesn’t quarrel — and neither do I — with government spending it on core government functions that all civilized nations support, such as national security, roads, public health, etc.  I wonder, though, if he’s thought seriously about the economics and morals of taking stimulus dollars and deciding which businesses, interests, and individuals should get special treatment using American tax dollars.  Likewise, I wonder if he’s ever considered the wisdom of tethering people more and more tightly to welfare by taking dollars out of the market and then having the government channel those same dollars to people rendered unemployed by the deleterious effect high taxes have on jobs.

Rural and not-lazy.  Again, good for Eric.  Republicans like rural, not-lazy people.  Republicans also like suburban or urban not-lazy people.  Basically, Republicans like people who are willing to put some energy into living their own lives, rather than sitting back complacently, waiting for a hand-out.

Complained about bureaucracy:  It’s rather peculiar that Eric hates bureaucracy, but still supports Obama and his Democrats.  This headline explains my bewilderment:  “Obama Administration Proposes 6,125 Regulations And Notifications In Last 90 Days.”  Why would someone who dislikes the burdens of a large bureaucracy vote for the candidate whose promise is to increase government interference in and control of every aspect of our lives?

Red Stater:  I bet Eric likes living in a Red State.  His taxes aren’t as high as they could be (try living in Blue California), and he’s not dealing with the failed economies that plague the Blue States (have I mentioned California?).  In other words, Eric is living well thanks to Red State, conservative values voters, who have supported lower taxes and more individual freedom.  It’s ironic and sad that his current goal is to reduce the entire United States to a wacky economic combination of Detroit (bankrupt), California (bankrupt), Illinois (bankrupt and corrupt), and other blue stated wonders, filled with “smart” people and big debt.  It’s not just the states that are bankrupt.  Bankrupt states produce bankrupt individuals.

(Thinking about this makes me kind of sad that I didn’t pursue my original law school goal of becoming a bankruptcy attorney.  It seemed like such a great idea during the recession that existed when I was started law school.  As the Reagan economy improved, through, I rethought things, and went for general business litigation.  Now would be a good time to be a bankruptcy attorney.  Take a firm like Wadhwani & Shanfeld, for example, which clearly started as a two attorney enterprise, and now has five offices scattered throughout meatless-Monday Southern California.  That’s the great thing about America — there’s always a silver lining for someone.  Also, I like that firm because it’s quite clear that the founders are from different cultural/racial backgrounds, but they came together to create a successful all-American enterprise.  Woo-hoo!)

But back to my main point….

Per Eric’s definition, the modern Republican party would desperately like to look like the old Democrat KKK, which utterly fails to explain why it celebrates extraordinary people and politicians such as Mia Love, Marco Rubio, Allen West, Herman Cain, Bobby Jindal, and other Americans who are concerned more with values than with little boxes on government survey forms.

Eric reveals his blinkered view of conservativism when he claims he is a prize of the type conservatives seek.  It’s nice that he pays taxes, creates jobs, is educated, works hard, and lives in a Red State, but he’s flattering himself a little too much.  It isn’t what he is taxes and education that matter, when it comes to elections, it’s what he believes — and honestly, his beliefs aren’t so hot.  What Eric believes leads down a single road:  higher taxes; fewer jobs; continued Leftist educational indoctrination; higher welfare and food stamp rolls; a population made up of disparate groups all vying to be crowned “biggest victim”; and Red States joining their Blue compatriots in bankruptcy and corruption.

Perhaps if Eric could see beyond his Jon Stewart, New York Times, MSNBC definition of conservatives, he might realize that the conservative ideology offers him and others a great deal more than he ever imagined, without interfering too greatly with what I assume are his core values.  Let’s take his critiques of conservatives one at a time:

Science - One of the reasons my family is affluent is that my wife and I have a collective fifteen years of university education between us. I have a Masters degree in Science and Technology Policy, and my wife is a physician who holds degrees in medicine as well as cell and molecular biology. We are really quite unimpressed with Congressional representatives such as Todd Akin and Paul Broun who actually serve on the House science committee and who believe, respectively, that rape does not cause pregnancy and that evolution and astrophysics are lies straight from Satan’s butt cheeks. These are, sadly, only two of innumerable assaults that the Republican Party has made against hard science – with nothing to say of logic in general. Please understand the unbearable tension this might create between us and your candidates.

As far as I can tell, in the last election, it is a sad truth that the Republican party managed to field a few idiots, such as Todd Akin, Tom Smith, and Roger Rivard, who are genuinely ignorant, in a very mean-spirited way, about rape.  Otherwise, though, Republicans are like other Americans, in that they understand that horrors of rape and the morally difficult consequences that result from rape.

Thus, conservatives recognize that rape is a terrible thing, one that becomes a permanent, damaging part of a woman’s psyche.  What some pro-Life conservatives say, though, is that this purely an evil act may nevertheless have resulted in something good:  an innocent life.  To them, it would compound the evil of rape if it was followed by the murder of an innocent.  They are not unsympathetic to the rape victim, they just believe that, in the balance, two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with them, because the topic deserves a post on its own.  I’m simply saying that candidates such as Paul Ryan, Richard Mourdock, Joe Walsh, and John Koster have set out a moral position that has nothing to do with science.  In the same way, there’s nothing science-related about Barack Obama’s repeated willingness to oppose a bill that would have required physicians to care for late-term babies that, rather than being aborted as planned, end up living.

The question of an innocent life within a full-realizedwomen is one of morals, not science, and it’s a profound cognitive error to conflate the two.   Also, I can’t resist adding that, when it comes to idiots, the Democrats have managed to field quite a few of their own cranks, crackpots, gaffe-meisters, and other mean-spirited, ignorant people.  The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that, while the Republican idiots didn’t get elected to office, the Democrat idiots did.

Climate - Within just the past 18 months the following events have come to our attention: a record-breaking drought that sent temperatures over 100 degrees for weeks, killing half the corn in the Midwest and half the TREES on our suburban property – AND – a hurricane that drowned not New Orleans or Tampa or North Carolina but my native state of VERMONT. As an encore, a second hurricane drowned lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island. The shouted views of decrepit mental fossil Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma that this is a fraud perpetrated on the American people by evil, conspiring climate scientists is belied by such events and is looking irresponsible to even the most skeptical.

I’m always amazed at the way supposedly educated people confuse correlation and causation.  The one does not imply the other.  That is, just because we’re seeing impressive climate events at the same time that most Americans drive cars doesn’t mean the two are related.

Most conservatives willingly acknowledge climate change.  Indeed, they’ll go further than just focusing on the changes that took place since Al Gore, in the early 1970s, was convinced that the earth would soon freeze over.  They’ll concede that the earth’s climate has been changing non-step since the earth first came into being.

Where conservatives differ with the self-identified scientifically brilliant climate change crowd is in believing (a) that human activity can change climate and (b) that warming is a bad thing.  (The picture below is of Greenland, which was once Green and sustained significant Viking colonies.)

With regard to human activity, conservatives admit that humans can affect the environment, most notably with pollution.  Most conservatives believe that they are the earth’s stewards and that this stewardship requires acting responsibly so that we do not make filthy the world around us, or carelessly destroy nature’s bounty.  We do not believe, though, that the climate change crowd has adduced sufficient evidence to show that today’s bad weather is human-kind’s fault.  News about Climategate, or the profound errors regarding Himalayan glaciers, indicates that we are right to be suspicious.  (Regarding glaciers, for example, we know that they’ve advanced and retreated relentlessly for most of the earth’s lifespan.)

And with regard to the apocalyptic view of warming, those of us reasonably conversant with history know that a global warming trend is good for humans.  It increases the growing season, releases more water (which is essential to all human existence), and makes available more land on which to grow food.  For example, the periods both before and after the mini-Ice Age were good ones for human development.

A few more things to throw into the mix:  We know that it’s only since Victorian times that people have been keeping accurate weather records, which means that we’re basing a lot of conclusions on only 150 years of data.  We know that the computer models on which much climate hysteria is based have frequently proven wrong.  And we know that many of the problems we’ve seen from hurricanes have happened, not because hurricane are worse (and after all, our records are only 150-200 years old), but because we have very dense coastal populations.  It’s like the difference between a fatal car crash involving one passenger and a crash involving seven:  it’s the same crash, but the mortality rate in the second instance is seven times greater.

Healthcare - My wife and I are quite familiar with America’s healthcare system due to our professions, and having lived abroad extensively, also very aware of comparable systems. Your party’s insistence on declaring the private U.S. healthcare system “the best in the world” fails nearly every factual measure available to any curious mind. We watch our country piss away 60% more expenditures than the next most expensive system (Switzerland) for health outcomes that rival former Soviet bloc nations. On a personal scale, my wife watches poor WORKING people show up in emergency rooms with fourth-stage cancer because they were unable to afford primary care visits. I have watched countless small businesses unable to attract talented workers because of the outrageous and climbing cost of private insurance. And I watch European and Asian businesses outpace American companies because they can attract that talent without asking people to risk bankruptcy and death. That you think this state of affairs is somehow preferable to “Obamacare,” which you compared ludicrously to Trotskyite Russian communism, is a sign of deficient minds unfit to guide health policy in America.

Eric’s analysis about the US healthcare system works only because he is relying on the WHO metric –that is, he’s looking at access, not quality.  I’m not going to beat this horse here, because I don’t have to.  Scott Atlas’ masterful The Worst Study Ever explains the difference between socialized and American medicine, as well as the flaws in the WHO study.  More than that, he does so concisely and in terms even the well-educated can understand.

There’s no doubt that the pre-ObamaCare American system was inefficient and needed improvement.  Turning it into England’s National Health Service, however, which serves the young and healthy sort of well, but is bad news for others, is not the way to reform American medical care.

War - Nations do have to go to war sometimes, but that Iraq thing was pretty bad, to put it mildly. Somebody should have been, I dunno – FIRED for bad performance. Aren’t you the party of good corporate managers or something? This topic could get 10,000 words on its own. Let’s just leave it at: You guys suck at running wars.

Eric might want to explain what happened in Libya, which was Obama’s war:  Why did we go in, how much did we spend, and what did we get for the money, aside from some murdered Americans, including the first U.S. Ambassador killed since 1979?  Eric might also want to look into the skyrocketing deaths on Obama’s watch in Afghanistan — deaths that are wasted, because we already know that they will be followed, not by victory, but by retreat.  Lastly, Eric might want to contemplate that, since 1900, most of the wars in which America got involved started on a Democrat’s watch:  WWI (Wilson), WWII (Roosevelt), the Korean War (Truman), the Vietnam War (Kennedy and Johnson), and the war in Libya (Obama).  Perhaps having a stronger hand at the helm might have avoided those wars in the first place.

Deficits and debt - Whenever the GOP is out of power, it immediately appeals to the imagination of voters who remember the Lyndon Baines Johnson (!) administration and claim that the Republican alternative is the party of “cutting spending” and “reducing the deficit.” The only problem with your claim is that Republican governments throughout my entire 38 year life (Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43) have failed to cut spending and deficit and debt EVEN ONCE. I hope you understand that your credibility suffers every time you promise one thing for three decades and do the EXACT OPPOSITE. Egads – if you actually were the party of fiscal responsibility – you might win our votes despite your 13th century view of science!

I’ve got to agree with Eric — the Republicans have been stinky at fiscal responsibility.  Really stinky.  The only ones who have been worse are the Democrats.  James Taranto nailed it in his column explaining that, right up until the Tea Party got serious about the deficit, the only thing that the Republicans did was to temper Democrat spending:

Deficit hawkishness was the main strain of postwar Republican conservatism until the Goldwater movement of 1964. When lefties long for the “mainstream” Republicans of yore, this is a large part of what they have in mind. A conservatism that cares only about balancing the books not only fails to challenge the encroachment of the welfare state but actively aids it by taking political pressure off the left.

Here’s how politics would work in a world in which deficit hawks dominated the Republican Party: The Democrats would propose a new entitlement. Some Republicans would oppose it, but once it was clear it was going to pass, they would drop their opposition and push for tax increases instead.

It’s a win-win for the Democratic left. They not only fulfill their ideological goal of ever-expanding government, but they get the political credit for doling out benefits and they shift the blame to Republicans (or at least share it with them) for the concomitant tax increases. Conservatives are reduced, to paraphrase Newt Gingrich, to acting as tax collectors for the welfare state. With Republican cooperation, Democrats can be the party of generous benefits and low taxes. Lyndon B. Johnson dramatically expanded the former while reducing the latter.

The current strain of conservativism, birthed by the Tea Party, is small government conservativism.  The Big Tent has room for social conservatives, but the real press here is what got Reagan into office on his second run for the presidency:  shrinking the federal government.  As Taranto explains in the article quoted above, talking about shrinking government is easier than actually shrinking government, but the focus is still on restraining growth, not just on figuring out a way to pay for it.

Eric’s attitude — which is that Republicans are wastrels, so I’ll vote for the party that’s even more irresponsible with taxpayer money — is a classic example of cutting of ones nose to spite ones face.  Eric should be demanding more small government conservativism, not retaliating against Republican profligacy by opening his checkbook even wider for infinitely worse Democrat profligacy.

The bottom line in the rational world, and one that Eric, as an educated man and businessman, should know well is simple:  over the long term, you cannot spend what you don’t have.  When your spending outruns your earning by too great an amount, you have very limited choices:  continue to spend yourself into bankruptcy, which is the Obama choice; cut your spending, which is the Tea Party choice; and earn more money, which is what Obama contends is his choice, one made by using the government’s taxation powers.  Where Obama errs is that it is impossible to close the gap by taxing the rich.  Instead, by killing the goose that lays the golden egg, Obama’s approach will merely accelerate the bankruptcy.

Gay marriage - As the child of Baby Boomers who got divorced (as was the fashion!) in the 80s and 90s, and for whom 50% of my friends had their homes broken by divorce in the critical years before age 18, I sure am unsympathetic to your caterwauling bullshit that “gays will destroy the sanctity of marriage.” Perhaps if everyone in your generation didn’t take the period of 1978 – 1995 to start surreptitiously banging their neighbors and coworkers, only to abandon their kids because “they just weren’t happy,” I would take your defense of marriage more seriously. The institution of Middle Class suburban marriage was broken by the generation of aging white Baby Boomers who populate what is left of the Republican Party, so your defense is wrongheaded and disingenuous. And moreover, as someone who got called “faggot” about 127 times a day from the years 1985 through 1991 – guess what – I grew up to be pretty good friends with actual homosexuals, whose sexual orientation is usually the least significant thing about them. The Republican perseveration on homosexuals as any sort of threat consigns them to history’s trough of intellectual pig dung.

Eric errs (again!) in assuming that, because conservatives haven’t embraced gay marriage, they hate gays.  Not so.  As with abortion, this is a complicated issue that sees a clash of differing liberties.  As I’ve written often, “marriage” has two distinct components:  religious and civil.  When church and state were one, that wasn’t a problem; when they parted ways, with the Constitution guaranteeing that the government would stay out of the religion business, the potential for conflicts arose.  As we’ve seen with the ObamaCare contraception/insurance mandate, when the government issue edicts that conflict with doctrine, the Constitution is directly implicated.  So too with “gay marriage.”  It’s extremely easy to posit a situation in which a church refuses to marry a gay couple, which then sues the church, claiming that it violated their civil rights.

My suggestion, and I think it’s a good one, is for the government to get out of the marriage business and into the civil union business.  It is then free to define civil unions however it wishes:  male/female, female/female, male/male, goat/cow, etc.  The state’s concern would be “What’s good for the state?”  Considerations would be population replacement or control, economics, stability, etc.  This would leave marriage as a purely religious union.

Frankly, if there wasn’t such a mad rush towards gay marriage, people would be able to step back for a moment and contemplate what their goals are and what the potential pitfalls are.  I don’t have a problem with ensuring that committed gay couples obtain the same civil benefits (and burdens) as other committed couples.  I do have a problem with a pell-mell rush into changing an ancient institution in such a way that it creates a certain clash with faiths, in such as way as to lead to a serious Constitutional crisis.  Am I anti-gay?  No.  I am pro-civil rights, pro-religion, and pro-Constitution.  But in all the rush, nobody is listening to people like me.

Meanness- Your party is really mean, mocking and demonizing everyone who does not follow you into the pits of hell. You constantly imply – as Mitt Romney did in his “47% speech” – that anybody who disagrees with you does so not by logic or moral conviction, but because they are shiftless, lazy parasites who want “free stuff” from “traditional Americans.” Wow, you guys managed to follow up a stunning electoral defeat with insulting the very people you wish to attract for a majority in the political system! Brilliant! You are losing elections because being angry and defensive and just-plain-mean is more important than being smart and winning elections – and thus you deserve everything happening to you.

First all all, mean is not an argument; it’s simply an ad hominem insult, and deserves little consideration.  In the spirit of finger pointing, here are few examples of mean from the other side of the aisle.  I’m too lazy to find links, but anyone wishing to do so can easily find examples:  Conservatives are lambasted as Nazis, racists, homophobes and misogynists.  It’s mean to call them those names.  Israel, the only true liberal democracy in the autocratic, totalitarian, antisemitic, anti-Christian, homophobic Middle East, is routinely castigated as a Nazi, apartheid state that deserves to be destroyed.  That’s mean too.  During the Bush presidency, Democrats characterized Bush as a Nazi, as Hitler, as a chimpanzee, as a murder, and as an idiot.  That’s not very nice.  Barack Obama spent his entire 2012 political campaign ginning up class resentment against rich people or, as I like to call them, employers.  That’s not nice.  Obama’s Occupy movement raped women, attacked people, defecated all over the place, brought barrels of human waste into buildings, rioted, destroyed public property, and harassed people in their own homes.  That’s mean too.

I hope that I have established to Eric’s, and everyone else’s, satisfaction, that calling people names is (a) a game that both sides can play and (b) completely pointless in terms of moving the ball from one side of the debate to the other.

Oh, and by the way, it’s really nasty to call your opponents in the argument “A-holes.”

If you want to know exactly where you failed in 2012, and will continue to fail, here it is. Look you assholes, I’m as traditional an American as it gets, and I do not “want free stuff.”  I am a taxpayer, and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. I got my first job – dragging bags of cow manure, horse feed and fertilizer around a farm store – when I was 12. I started my first company when I was 28. I have followed the vast majority of the rules set out for middle class white males (for good and for ill.) And if it weren’t bad enough that your policy positions are a complete clusterfuck for the reasons I lay out in great detail, you manage to follow up the whole exercise with insulting me, my wife, and my friends of every stripe who didn’t vote for your political party – all of whom are hard-working, taxpaying, job creating, law abiding, great AMERICANS of EVERY COLOR AND CREED.

In my experience, people revert to obscenities and crude insults only when they’re boors or when they have no ideas — or both.  Eric has a few good points (Republicans need to spend less), but mostly, he wallows in myths, canards, and insults.  In that last paragraph quoted, when he drops the pretense of facts and objectivity (all of which are easy to counter), he reveals his true self:  he is not a serious or a decent person.  He is, instead, a bully.

Having escaped my bubble and carefully examined Eric’s arguments, I understand both where he’s coming from and where he is going — and I can’t say I like either his point of origin (an ideological location I once shared) or his ultimate destination.  Eric argues from ignorance and heads to obsolescence.  Let us hope that, in the coming years, his world view does not prevail.

The different faces of the military — two SEAL autobiographies

Within the last two weeks, I’ve read two Navy SEAL books:  Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War and Chris Kyle’s American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.

The books have a lot of similarities, separate from the fact that both are books about SEALS seeing service in Iraq during and before the Anbar awakening.  Luttrell and Kyle are both Texas boys (who, unsurprisingly, are friends); they both value the triumvirate of Country, God, and Family, although not necessarily in that order; they both have a superhuman capacity for exertion and suffering, which is a necessity for a SEAL; they both describe the devastating long-term effects on their bodies from constant training and battle, hardships they willingly endure because they love their jobs and their country; and they both are fiercely, almost fanatically devoted to the SEALS.

What’s different about the books, and what makes it worthwhile to read both, is tone.  Despite being a Texas good ol’ boy, Luttrell’s view of the SEALS is almost reverent.  His SEALS don’t come across as choir boys, but they are remarkably close to the PG-rated, family-loving, lite beer-drinking SEALS in Act of Valor. After his Afghanistan ordeal, Luttrell’s subsequent service in Iraq comes close to a martyrdom, as he struggles against debilitating physical injury in order to be out there with his Teams.

Kyle adores the SEALs, but has no reverence.  These are hard charging men who drink, brawl, and haze each other with cheerful, impartial brutality.  When they’re off duty, and have nothing else to do, they play computer games and watch porn.  These are the R-rated SEALS.  These are men who naturally have testosterone infusing their testosterone.  I have a suspicion that they’re closer to the real deal than are Luttrell’s SEALS, who seem to have come out of central casting, circa the John Wayne era.  Kyle clearly loves war.  He’s no sadist, but there is pleasure for him in defeating an enemy he describes as “savage” and “barbarian.”

I’ve been wondering about the different approach these two men take to describing their comrades.  Are Luttrell and Kyle so different in personality that they simply see their team members through a different filter?  Or are they writing for very different audiences?  Luttrell gained national prominence because of his experiences in Afghanistan, whereas Kyle may be more of a military phenomenon.  This means that Luttrell has to appeal to — and is selling the SEALS to — a broader spectrum of Americans than Kyle.

The books are a perfectly matched set (and you know how I love my matched sets), so I recommend reading both.  Combining Luttrell’s more cerebral approach with Kyle’s earthier stories gives a well-rounded view of the brave and slightly insane (in a very good way) men who willingly engage in uncomfortable, brutal, and dangerous warfare so that the majority of Americans can live out their lives in comfort and safety.  I have inordinate admiration for these men, but I do get the feeling that you have to be as tough as they are to function around them.

Also, both books offer a good insight into the chasm between actual fighting in the field, and the political fighting at home that so often handicapped them.  Frustration is the name-of-the-game for front line fighters who have the enemy in their sights and are constrained by almost arbitrary rules of engagement.  The theory behind the rules of engagement is to leave a loving population behind.  But war is not loving, and things would probably have gone better if the government had trusted the troops a little more, and allowed them to wage a quick, clean-ish war, rather than a slow, enervating war.

The savagery of Europe *UPDATED*

Americans, especially Leftist Americans, will invariably assure you that Europeans are more civilized than Americans are.  When pressed for details, they’ll cite art, music, architecture, skinny French women, and gun control.  By those standards, I have to agree that the Europeans are indeed more civilized.  I’ll go even further:  when it comes to art, music, and architecture, Europeans, from the Greeks forward, are the most civilized beings who have ever walked the earth.

However, if you have a slightly richer definition of what constitutes “civilization,” I’m sorry to say that the Europeans are just as savage as anyone else — and maybe more so because, when they burst their “civilized” banks, they tend to do so with a peculiar vengeance.  Just off the top of my head, the Europeans have blessed history books with a series of wars that left death and destruction in their wake on a scale unimaginable on our comparatively peaceful American continent:

  • The Hundred Years War
  • St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre
  • The Thirty Years War
  • The Napoleonic War
  • The Slave Trade
  • The Colonial Occupations of Africa and Latin America
  • World War I
  • World War II

Our own Civil War, while undeniably bloody, was amateur hour compared to the games the Europeans have played.

Even when the Europeans aren’t at war, it turns out that their blood lust still needs to be slaked.  Bruce Kesler directed me to a book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, that doesn’t just examine the murderous years of WWII, but also examines the carnage Hitler and Stalin wrought during the 1930s, in the lead-up to WWII.  Bruce explains why this book is a “must read” — and it has certainly moved up to the top of my reading list.

Another book that reminds us that little but a gloss of art separates Europeans from their savage Darwinian roots is Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II.  The carnage in the World War II’s aftermath is actually unsurprising:  millions of people uprooted, brutalized by six years of war, and scrabbling for incredibly scarce resources.  I doubt any culture would respond well to those circumstances — and the Europeans certainly didn’t.  The Russian soldiers, especially, didn’t.  Although the Russian attack on German civilians doesn’t have a memorable name, a la the dreadful “Rape of Nanking,” it was certainly comparable in terms of ferocity and misogyny.  You can learn more about Savage Continent here.

UPDATE:  Two things:  First, Danny Lemieux’s comment is correct, insofar as it reminds that I forget to include socialized medicine in my list of things that Leftists find civilized about Europe.  He’s also correct that it worked only because America essentially paid for it during the Cold War.  Second, Eugene Podrazik, who blogs at Elkhorn Creek Lodge, saw The Hunger Games and, as I read his post, found it remarkably reminiscent of what Europe will be in a decade or so and what we will be in a few decades, if we follow Europe.

Weak presidents make wars

Liberals/Progressives/Democrats (the whole crew on the Left) voted for Obama in significant part because they thought he was the antidote to the wars that Bush fought.  I wonder if any of them have noticed that, on Obama’s watch, there’s actually been more war in the headlines.  To his credit Obama continued the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan for quite a while, although he destroyed that credit when he announced in advance planned “pre-victory” withdrawals, giving Islamists time to re-group and turning our troops into sitting ducks.  He also expanded the fight to include Pakistan, he took the fight to Libya, and now there is every indication that our troops will be in Syria sometime soon.  In addition, civil wars are simmering and boiling all over, and there’s no doubt that the situation between Iran and Israel will soon come to a head.

(It’s worth noting that, even if the liberals have gotten their heads out of their . . . um, whatevers, they’ve been remarkably silent.  That is, they’ve ceased entirely the incessant anti-War squawking that characterized the Bush presidency.)

Unlike those few observant liberals who might be surprised by the global war frenzy, I am not surprised at all.  First, I’m not surprised that various pots are boiling over.  A weak American president is an absent cat — which means that the war-mongering mice can play all over.  Nor am I surprised that Obama himself has escalated fights, made them more vicious and impersonal, and taken us to battlefields that Americans haven’t seen before.  There is no more aggressive fighter than a cornered narcissist.  Cowardice flees when his own sense of self is finally at stake.

I’ve got to run, so this isn’t a very well-developed post, but I just wanted to get it in writing after reading the headlines today.

War is not, and should not be, sporting

I’ve been thinking today about unmatched combatants and a combatant’s willingness to take hits in order to win a fight.  I think about the former often because, when I do jujitsu, I am an unmatched combatant.  I’m usually the only woman in the adult classes, which means that the people (i.e., men) with whom I’m rolling are 8 to 14 inches taller than I am, and outweigh me by 40 to 90 pounds.

Interestingly, these men, all of whom are nice, thoughtful people, are more scared of me than I am scared of them.  When we face each other before rolling, I look them in the eye and say, “Remember to give only about 50%” and, with those words, some of them just collapse in front of me.  They are so afraid that any move they do will hurt me that they do nothing at all.  Instead, they just kind of lie there, which isn’t fun for me or for them.  It’s only the strongest black belts who have sufficient control to give me a run for my money without hurting me.  I optimistically assume that the black belts have some fun with this careful grappling, because they get to focus on skill, rather than strength.

I had the same experience of being an unmatched combatant back in the day when I used to play tag football.  My specialty was sacking the quarterback.  After the snap, I’d just charge him.  (It was always a him.)  Invariably, the quarterback in these informal games would react as if a mosquito was attacking him — he’d back off quickly.  Had I been bigger, I know he would have gone forward, because he wouldn’t have worried about hurting me.  As it was, seeing me buzz around, the guy’s instinct (and this was true for whichever guy was quarterback) was to retreat, not attack.

Interestingly, I’m also an unmatched combatant when I end up in a class with teenagers — boys or girls — who are much closer to me in weight and overall size.  While the grown men are over-controlled, the teenagers are under-controlled, especially the girls.  I’m strong, agile and reasonably skilled, but I also have the slowness and slight rigidity of someone several decades older than these teenagers.  These kids don’t understand slow, their joints feel no pain, and they have cat-like flexibility.  I’m much more frightened of a 110 pound 15-year old girl than I am of a 180 pound 40-year old man.

There’s actually a point to these ruminations about unmatched combatants.  In the examples I’m giving, I am talking about sports combat.  People want to win, but they want to have fun, and it’s no fun when you hurt your friends.  Even the teenagers don’t want to hurt me.  They just have a very limited understanding of what will hurt me.

Problems arise when foolish people (by which I mean Lefties) try to apply the rules of sportsmanship to war.  War is not about winning for fun, it’s just about winning.  The fact that a war may be asymmetrical doesn’t mean that the larger power has to handicap itself to give the other side a fair chance.  Certainly, the winning side shouldn’t engage in sadistic massacres, but that’s not because sadism and overkill are unsportsmanlike.  It’s because they are (a) an unnecessary waste of resources and (b) morally bad for the bigger army.

After adjusting for necessary force and moral decency, the bigger army should do whatever is necessary to win, and it should do so without regard to the other side’s weaknesses.  When Lord Wellington reputedly said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, he wasn’t talking about fair play.  He was talking about the brutal field sports public school students used to play, in which no quarter was asked or given.

Part of this willingness to do whatever it takes to win in true combat means a willingness to take the hit.  One of my favorite mil bloggers, America’s 1st Sergeant, wrote a wonderful post about dealing with bullies, a necessary life lesson for him because his father’s military career meant that, as a boy, Am’s 1st Sgt, was repeatedly tested by the bullies at a series of new schools.  He learned, very quickly, that you’re going to get hurt taking on the bullies, but you’ll get hurt worse if you immediately acquiesce.  Bullies do not believe in sportsmanship.  Or, if they do, the only sports that interest them are blood sports — with you being the one who bleeds.

Gunnery Sergeant Ryan P. Shane shot while trying to rescue fatally wounded Marine at Fallujah

What the Leftists conveniently ignore or forget is that it’s not size, but intention, that makes the bully.  They believe that because America is the biggest force, it is the bullying-est force, and that it must yield to smaller forces in asymmetrical warfare.  That Americans fight to win in a legitimate defensive war against a culture dedicated to world conquest, and do not fight simply to destroy, torture or convert, is a subtlety that eludes the Leftist elites, who root for the smaller, more brutal Al Qaeda or Taliban forces.  At the same time, the Leftists cannot stomach the fact that our troops, recognizing the nature of a fight with a bully, are willing to engage, even if it means taking very painful hits, because that’s the only way to win.

Leftists are bullies, that goes without saying.  But the American elite believe in a bloodless bullying that involves hectoring, embarrassing, humiliating and disempowering those who are ready, willing and able to take the real fight to the real enemy.  It’s rather sad that the Leftists reserve their savagery for their first defenders, while demanding that these same defenders hew to completely irrelevant rules of sportsmanship that have no place on the field of battle.

Hospital bedside blogging, with my thoughts turning to evil

Mom’s in the hospital again and suffering greatly, not in body, but in mind. She’s mildly delusional, and very paranoid, angry and anxious. I can’t imagine how grim it is to live in her head.

I slipped away for an hour and had lunch with Don Quixote. Our conversation turned to evil. I believe evil exists. Don Quixote pointed out, correctly, that many people who commit evil believe in their own heads that they’re doing a good thing.  They believe in their revolution or their God, and believe that they are serving that revolution or God (and, therefore, the greater good) by torturing or murdering mass numbers people who “get in the way.”

I’m going for moral absolutism here:  I believe that my system, which is predicated on maximum individual freedom within a framework of stable laws, is the best.  If two systems, mine and another that is more repressive, find themselves clashing over physical or mental control of people, I believe my system must win, and the other system must be defeated, even if that battle spills blood and causes the death of innocents.  I justify these deaths on the ground that, over the long run, my system will provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people, while any other system (e.g., Communism or radical Islam) will force great suffering on people for an indefinite amount of time.

At this point in my thinking, I don’t care that the Islamist or the Communist things I’m the evil and he’s the good.  If I lie down right now and refuse to do battle, he wins, and I will have perpetuated what is, in my absolutist universe, the greatest wrong of all, which is to allow evil — admitted evil as I define it — to flourish.

What do you say?  Does evil exist?  Am I evil for taking an absolutist position and being willing to fight and kill to defend it?  (Or more accurately, given my armchair warrior status, sending others to fight and kill to defend it?)

I am very interested in what you have to say on the subject.

Incidentally, it’s worth thinking in this regard that part of my Mom’s continuing mental anguish is that she spent WWII interned in a Japanese concentration camp in a war the Japanese started and that she spent the Israeli War of Independence getting shot at by Arabs who refused to recognize the Jewish state.  Those events created a lifelong anxiety that kept her alive during war, but that is slowly and depressingly killing her in old age.

Winston Churchill writing about Islam

Winston Churchill wrote the following in a book published in 1899 about the Sudan.  It is remarkably prophetic (emphasis mine):

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Our government would do well to remember the nature of the forces arrayed against us, and to remember Churchill’s advice about recognizing the enemy sooner, rather than later:

“Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

But I think our current leader would be happy to live as a slave, because he does not see much in our culture that is worth saving by fighting.  I know that Obama suffers from a vast historical ignorance, one he reveals on a regular basis, so I doubt he has more than a passing familiarity with Churchill’s life or thinking.  Nevertheless, it was entirely fitting that our Quisling, Vichy-esque President, as one of his first acts in office, got rid of the Churchill reminder occupying space in his office, and sent it on an ignominious trip aback to its land of origin.

Charles Krauthammer lays out Obama’s warped priorities re American wars & foreign policy

My belief, getting stronger by the minute, is that Obama’s sole Afghanistan policy was to be the un-Bush.  Bush’s critics claimed Iraq was the bad war and Afghanistan the good war.  So Obama immediately stated that he’d focus on Afghanistan.  Obama, though, true Leftist that he is, and with his deep affinity for totalitarian rulers and Islamism, never had his heart in Afghanistan.  So, as Bush’s presidency recedes into the past, Obama abandons Afghanistan — and our troops too.  What a despicable man.

Why not victory

Bruce Kesler sent around an email asking whether we thought victory was possible in Afghanistan.  My reply was that I don’t think the Democrats can conceive of victory as a possible outcome.  As I wrote to him, I’m the child of parents who fought in WWII and the Israeli War of Independence.  Although they were bone-deep Dems and loathed Goldwater, they too understood that the only way to fight a war is to win.  Otherwise, you’re just sacrificing your own troops needlessly in an endless slow bleed.

I don’t think the Democrats are capable of conceiving an outcome to a war that is tantamount to “victory.”  To them, all wars are failures because they are . . . wars.  This means that there are no strategic goals that the Democrats can contemplate that will justify continuing to fight a war.  They will therefore approach war in a half-hearted way, waiting, not to win, but to withdraw.

Obama’s support for the war in Afghanistan has never been a committed belief in the necessity of destroying the Taliban there and protecting Pakistan.  It has always been a political move to distinguish himself from Bush:  “Bush never focused on the real war.  That’s why I focus on that war.”  Obama, though, is a Democrat and believes that all wars are unwinnable, so he’s doing the Democratic thing.  He’s throwing in bodies, but actively supporting cutting costs and appeasing the enemy.

Taking own his practical experience in Vietnam, and his breadth and depth of knowledge, Bruce came up with a post that intelligently develops my own instinctive feeling that, with war, as with pregnancy, you can’t just be “a little bit” engaged in that situation.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  I urge you to check out Bruce’s post and cast your vote on the side of true victory in Afghanistan.

The world continues to be too insane for satire

During the 1970s, there was a post-Yom Kippur War joke that was very popular in Jewish circles:

Arab soldiers realized that at least half the Israeli troops they were fighting were named David.  They decided to use this information to deal with situations in whch they were facing Israeli fighters who were hidden from sight.  The order came down from on high that Arabs were to holler out “Hey, David!”  When the Israeli soldier stood up or waved in answer, he would get shot.  Alas, the best laid plans….

When the Arab soldiers hollered out “Hey, David!”, the Israeli soldiers, instead of standing up or waving, would hell back, “Is that you, Mohammed?”  The Arab fighters would instantly stand up and wave, at which point they’d get shot.

It’s a pretty awkward joke, but it came to mind almost irresistibly when I read this news story:

Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.

The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,’ followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna — Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!

The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round NATO mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”

Max Boot, who brought this story to my attention, thought that the story was a joke, but it’s not.  The only good news is that Germans are relaxing the above requirements so that they can actually kill the bad guys, while preserving their own lives.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what it means to live in a world that sees yesterday’s jokes as today’s reality — with ourselves as the butt of every punch line.  I’m pretty darn sure, though, that it’s not a good thing when it comes to long-term survival.

False syllogisms

For many years, I’ve thought that people confuse fairly neutral conduct with bad motives, resulting in false syllogisms.  I first came to this conclusion after reading John McWhorter’s wonderful Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America.  Although my memories are a bit hazy about the details of the book, I seem to recall reading him bemoaning the fact that part of the Black community’s self-sabotage was the refusal to engage in the “white” work ethic of being reliable.

The message I took away from the book was that the Black community created a false syllogism:  Slavery was work and slavery was evil, therefore all work is evil.  Merely to state the proposition is to expose how flawed it is.  Slavery wasn’t about work.  It was about owning human beings and treating them like animals, rather than free agents, who could select their employment and be properly compensated for their contributions.  The work of a free agent in a free market isn’t evil.  It is, at least as far as I’m concerned, a good thing or, at the very least, a neutral thing.

Another false syllogism is that the Vietnam War was a bad war, therefore all wars are bad wars.  Wars are certainly hell, and there have been bad wars, but not all wars are bad. War is part of a human condition, and what matters in determining a war’s validity is the motives of those who fight a given war.

Looking at things from the American perspective, I truly believe that WWII was a good war, and that was despite mismanagement and mixed motives.  I believe the Civil War was a good war, and that was despite mismanagement and mixed motives.  And I believe the Revolutionary War was a good war.

What made those wars good despite the blood-bath element?  The fact that, on our side, the American side, they were being fought to free people, not to enslave them.  That a particular post-war period didn’t necessarily see freedom being put into effect as one would wish (especially with regards to slavery in the post-Revolutionary era and Jim Crow in the post-Civil War era) does not change the fact that these wars were fought for the highest human ideal:  freedom.

In the same vein, I would categorize the Vietnam War as a good war, since we were trying to rescue Vietnam from the slavery of Communism.  That we failed — and we failed mostly because of our own Fifth Column — resulted in those poor Vietnamese and Cambodians being subject to precisely the Communist slavery we sought to avoid.

Another false syllogism is that, because people have killed in God’s name, religion is evil and should be abolished.  In fact, as history shows, while people have used religion as a vehicle for their evil motives, it has also been the light shining the way to their greatest good.

Certainly there are things in the Jewish Bible that anti-religious people can criticize:  The unfair killing of the First Born in Egypt, merely because Pharoah was stubborn; the Jews’ scorched-earth policy when they first returned to the Promised Land; the harsh prohibitions against homosexuality; and the mandate to kill witches spring to mind.

But overall, compared to the moral landscape in the ancient, pagan world around them, the Jewish Bible was a hugely moral book.  Just to name a few examples, the Jews were the first people in the ancient world to limit slavery, requiring that Jews free their slaves after a set number of years.  The rules around Kosher food, too, were humane:  When the Jews mandated that animals be killed swiftly by having their throats cut (something animal rights activists find horrifying today), they were doing so against a backdrop of ritual animal slaughter that saw animals having their bellies slit open and their entrails slowly removed, while they still lived, so that they priests could read the “signs.”  The rule against mixing meat and milk was also humane in intention, because the Jews thought it indescribably cruel to cook an animal in the milk that once gave it life.

And yes it’s true that, in the medieval world, the Christian message was often perverted to allow the powerful to put their enemies to death, whether it was the Spanish Inquisition or the religious wars that convulsed Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Those were human twists on Christ’s words, though, not the words themselves (something that stands in stark contrast to Mohammad’s words, which enjoin his followers to slaughter and subjugate unbelievers).

By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Christianity was paving the way for the freedoms we recognize now:  our Constitutional freedoms, which the Founders believed came from their Judeo-Christian God; the abolition of slavery, which was, first and foremost, an Evangelical concern; the end of child labor, another Evangelical concern; and the end of Jim Crow, which also found footing amongst church groups, at least in the North.

In other words, religion is as easily a force for good as it is for evil.  Man can go either way, and it is his intentions that determine the use to which religion is put.  Religion as a force for good becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with each generation teaching its morals to the next.

It’s worth thinking about this last point when you hear Sarah Palin being taunted as a religious “extremist.”  What, precisely, is extreme about her religion?  She believes in God, she prays to God, she has the humility to hope that she is doing God’s work, and she chooses a child’s Life over woman’s inconvenience, which is not great for many women, but is certainly the more humane, less pagan/medieval option, etc.  The extremist tag comes about because, on the Left, a false syllogism has taken root:  Because bad things have happened in the name of religion, religion is bad — and anyone who takes religion seriously is, therefore, bad too.

I bet you can find other false syllogisms permeating Leftist thinking, especially as this political race heats up.  As for me, I’m tired and I’ll leave that thinking to you.