Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Liberals Hate Conservatives

A few weeks ago Dennis Prager interviewed John Podhoretz about his recent editorial in New York Post the magazine concerning the dustup over JournoList, an email list in which some 400 left-of-center journalists emailed one another with advice in how to promote the leftist agenda in their reporting. One of the issues to emerge from some of the emails that have been disclosed is the visceral hatred felt by these leftist journalists for conservatives, most notably exemplified by an email by NPR producer Sarah Spitz in which she said she would "laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out" if she were to see conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh suffering a heart attack. In boasting that she would gleefully watch a man die in front of her eyes, Spitz seemed to shock even herself. “I never knew I had this much hate in me,” she wrote. “But he deserves it.”

Prager said these revelations made him append an idea he has repeated many times (and which I have written about myself on this blog), that goes this way:
conservatives think liberals are misguided, liberals think conservatives are bad.
To this he has added,
Many liberals--or at least leftists--hate conservatives, even to the point of wishing them dead.

So important did Prager find this that he spent a full 2 hours of his program exploring the issue and took many calls from listeners for their theories on why this might be the case. One caller struck me as particularly useful in that he had, prior to the 1980s, been an arch liberal, and confessed that he had passionately hated conservatives before experiencing an ideological conversion. Here's a transcript of part of the call:
PRAGER: When you hated us (conservatives), why did you hate us?
CALLER: I, as a liberal person, previously when I was liberal, believed in the inherent goodness of people, and I thought that the reason why people "went bad" so to speak was because society...
PRAGER: Right, right, poverty causes crime, that sort of thing.
CALLER: Well, yes that's part of it. Basically...
PRAGER: But again, what does that have to do with hating us? Let's say we just differ on that point.
CALLER: Okay, okay. So here's the reason. In believing that people were inherently good and that the world had gone bad in so many ways, I felt the answer was for good people to love other people, to love one another. And if we loved and supported one another, the inherent goodness that is in each one of us would, would expand and everything bad would become good and wonderful, and ultimately if we all did that we would live in a sort of paradise. Now conservatives, or I as a conservative now, believing in the flawed, imperfect, selfish nature of man, um, I support what conservatives generally support now which is making demands on people, and which liberals misinterpret as, as being mean to others and not supporting them in their goodness. So conservatives are doing the very opposite of what they should do if we want to live in a sort of paradise.

What this caller has elaborated from his personal experience is what Thomas Sowell so brilliantly explored in depth in his trio of books, Vision of the Anointed, A Conflict of Visions, and The Quest for Cosmic Justice. At the heart of this issue is a difference in worldview between liberals and conservatives, a different vision of human nature. Sowell named them the constrained vision--for the classic Judeo/Christian view of fallen humanity, constrained by the limitations of a flawed and sinful nature--and the unconstrained vision--for the liberal view of human nature as pure and perfectible and able to achieve utopia through reason and enlightened social engineering. Perhaps more than any other thing this difference in vision is the origin of what become political differences between people--and the resulting behavior they exhibit due to those views.

If one believes in the possibility of utopia through government, anyone who believes in limited government is not just a political opponent, not just an ideological dissident, he is a fiend, a kind of sadist who revels in the misery of others as long as his own interests are preserved.

For the conservative looking through the lens of the classic constrained vision, adherents of the unconstrained vision are objects of pity, amusement, possibly even disgust--but not hatred (with the exception of those leftists whose hatred of conservatives impels them to acts of malice, duplicity or violence.) I've often heard conservative friends express bewilderment at the strange ideas held by leftists--ideas, for instance, about human nature that seem so obviously contrary to reality. How can one believe in the perfectibility of human society, the trustworthiness of big government, or the feasibility of unilateral disarmament when every single historical example show them to be empty myths or producers of disaster?

Yet the arguments against conservatism tend not to be arguments at all, but rather vilification and impugnment of the character of the conservative; in other words ad hominem (to the man) attack. The examples are legion, from Howard Dean (former Democrat presidential candidate, and then speaking as head of the Democratic National Committee) saying, "we, in contradistinction to the Republicans, don't want children to go to bed hungry," to the most recent example of president Obama in a speech to union leaders saying, "what is it about working people that Republicans don't like?", all with the same underlying message: Republicans are bad--greedy, venal, oppressive, heartless. And all with the same countervailing psychological reward: making them feel compassionate, ennobled, and heroic. And the greatest irony is, believing so thoroughly their own imputation to conservatives of depraved motivations, they deem us haters (sexist, islamophobic, xenophobic, homophobic, intolerant, racist, or bigoted), while they absolve themselves of their own hatred because they judge their motivations pure. They consider their own feelings not hatred, but rather righteous indignation.

In his recent book Intellectuals and Society Thomas Sowell describes this tendency by leftists to "argue without arguments" with examples going back to the 18th century. Thomas Malthus, a proponent of the classic constrained vision, said of William Godwin, an early proponent of the unconstrained vision, "I cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I am unwilling to doubt their candor. "But when Godwin referred to Malthus, he called him "malignant," questioned "the humanity of the man," and said "I profess myself at a loss to conceive of what earth the man was made." And early in the 20th century Bertand Russel said,
If you address an audience of unselected men on the prevention of war, you are sure to come up against the middle-aged man who says, with a sneer: "Wars will never stop; it would be contrary to human nature." It is quite obvious that the man who says this delights in war, and would hate a world from which it had been eliminated. (emphasis mine)

In our own time consider how often leftists pundits attribute the motivation of hatred to anyone, for instance, who is opposed to governmental recognition of same-sex marriage, without ever once giving an example of the persons in questions saying they hate homosexuals. Thus the equation is: expressing a governmental policy, cultural normative, or philosophical view contrary to leftist orthodoxy = being a "hater." You don't agree that illegal immigrants should be given full citizenship rights? It's because you hate hispanic people. You don't believe that ever expanding welfare entitlements are good for the country? You hate poor people. You don't believe that all American children in public schools should be given free lunches at the expense of the taxpayer? You hate children. You don't think that women and racial minorities need government-enforced quotas in business hiring and preference in college admission? You are a misogynist and a racist. You disagree with reducing America's military budget? You are a warmonger. Finally, you are appalled at the direction that Barak Obama has taken this country in the less than 2 years he has been president, or simply disagree with his fiscal policies? It's because you are in reality filled with bigoted, white supremacist, spittle-flecked rage at the moral abomination, the against-the-natural-order-of things of a black man being president. How could it be anything else? They judge you a racist...and they hate you for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Debate with Paleo-Conservatives

An acquaintance sent me an article and a lot of links from/to what I would call "paleo-conservative" websites. The article in question was by a Brit by the name of Andy Worthington, and can be accessed here. In case you're unclear about what I mean by "paleo-conservative", the term refers to conservative ideas that characterized the movement long before William F. Buckley Jr. helped to reshape American conservatism to a more centrist movement from the isolationist and conspiracy-theory obsessed one it had been in the past. If you're still in doubt, think of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, two of the most notorious representatives today of paleo-conservatism.

Following is my response to my acquaintance.

To be perfectly candid with you--and I hope that's what you prefer--I strongly disagree with the positions taken by the Andy Worthington article--and, I would guess by their titles, the articles linked on pages of the website "Americans against world empire, americans against bombing." These ideas are held by a subset of conservatism, sometimes referred to as "paleo-conservative" espoused by an element of conservatism somewhat detached from the larger conservative community. This is due in part to the strange alliance they have with some of the most radical elements of the left, most notably the beliefs, as stated in the article, that the US military and intelligence agencies torture our prisoners, and that America has engaged in adventures of empire throughout her history. In fact, I'm fairly certain that Worthington, the author of the article, is indeed a British leftist with virulent antipathy to the United States.

The leftist trope that America is a brutal imperialist power has found its latest expression in the accusation that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are an illegitimate exercise of US brutality for any number of fanciful reasons: to steal Iraqi oil; George Bush's personal revenge against Saddam Hussein for his attempt to assassinate his father; (and most absurd of all) to enrich his "buddies" at Haliburton. To this and the ancillary argument that Bush lied to the world and somehow managed to trick and coerce congress into authorizing military action, I would point to several books that give an account of the actual process: Party of Defeat by David Horowitz, Shadow Warriors by Kenneth Timmerman, and War and Decision by Douglas Feith. Consider, for instance, that one reason there was so little debate in congress prior to the almost unanimous vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq was that the debate had already occurred in the Clinton administration when congress voted and Clinton signed the official policy of the United States as working for regime change in Iraq.

To the accusation shared by the radical left and isolationist right (such as Ron Paul) that the United States' history is one of brutal imperialism, invading, slaughtering, and exploiting smaller, weaker countries around the globe, I would offer Colin Powell's eloquent statement to the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2003. When asked in a Q&A session after his address by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey if he felt the U.S and its allies had given due consideration to the use of "soft power" versus the "hard power" of military force, here, in part, is how Colin Powell responded to Carey's question:
There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power -- and here I think you're referring to military power -- then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with.
I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.

So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world. [Applause.]
We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we've done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.

Concerning the central argument of Worthington's piece--that the American military and intelligence agencies use torture against its prisoners and detainees--I would again offer other's work (far more persuasive and authoritative than any argument I could make) in rebuttal. Andrew McCarthy, former US attorney (who successfully convicted the "Blind Sheik" and others for the first World Trade Center bombing) has written considerably on this issue from a legal perspective in National Review. His newest book (which I haven't yet read) most probably deals with this, as well as other issues. It's called The Grand Jihad: How the left and Islam sabotage America. Marc Thiessen, former speech-writer for President Bush has a book that deals very specifically with the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used by military and CIA interrogators, called Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack. (I know it seems odd that a mere speech writer could write authoritatively on this issue, but he explains how, in preparation for writing the speeches that President Bush gave to the United Nations and congress defending the enhanced interrogation policy, Thiessen was given full access to both the lawyers who wrote the policy as well as the interrogators who implemented it.)

Worthington's and other's assertions that the very act of detention of the illegal combatants constitutes torture I find to be fatuous. Every country engaged in war detains its prisoners; it's one of only 3 options available: 1) let them go (we've done a lot of that, only to find them return again to terrorist activities and kill American soldiers and civilians), 2) detain them, or 3) kill them.

Likewise the idea that illegal combatants be given full Constitutional rights under our criminal justice system is absurd prima facia. The war that we are engaged in with transnational Islamic terrorists cannot be effectively fought as a criminal justice action, as Andrew McCarthy persuasively argues in his book, Willful Blindness (which I have read), the story of his prosecution of the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing. The pertinent matter here, it seems to me, is that these men are not American citizens committing crimes, but foreign nationals carrying out acts of terrorism under the aegis of a quasi military organization. Even those few who are American citizens, by virtue of acting under the direction of these transnational terrorist groups, place themselves in a category outside our criminal justice system and under the military tribunal system. The legal precedence of military tribunals--of even American citizens--is clear in the case of the 8 German saboteurs tried by military tribunal (one of whom, Ernest Peter Burger, was a naturalized American citizen) during World War II, 6 of whom were executed days after their conviction. The Constitutionality of this was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Ex parte Quirin .

The last topic is the assertion that the illegal combatant detainees should be given Geneva Convention protections. First, those who espouse this view never seem to acknowledge that under GC rules, all intelligence gathering from detainees would instantly end, as all questions except name and rank, are prohibited of legal combatant prisoners of war. But the unassailable refutation of this position is to be found in the Geneva Conventions themselves, specifically Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, in which irregular forces are entitled to prisoner of war status provided that they are commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, carry arms openly and conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. If they do not do meet all of these, they may be considered "francs-tireurs" (in the original sense of "illegal combatant") and punished as criminals in a military jurisdiction, which may include summary execution. The facts about the terrorist detainees are as follows:
• They are not signatories to the Geneva Conventions
• They do not wear uniforms, nor fixed sign or insignia
• They do not conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war

Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these matters with you, matters about which I am very passionate, as I'm completely convinced of the fundamental goodness of our country, the idea of American exceptionalism, and the righteousness of our war with Islamic jihadism, both in principle and in application.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Large and the Small of it

One of my cultural heros, Dennis Prager, has coined a new aphorism which he repeated in his recent talk to the Republican congressional gathering in Maryland to a standing ovation: "the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen." Here's a video of him talking about this.

There are several reasons I love this. First is it satisfies a dire need in the American conservative movement for crafting our message in easily digestible bites; something the liberal or progressive movement has consistently beaten us at for probably well over a century. Propaganda and sloganeering has been a central tactic of the left from the beginning, and they are far ahead of conservatives in this regard (not hard to do considering that the conservative attempts are almost non-existent). Consider one example tackled by Michael Medved in his most recent book, The 5 Big Lies About American Business:
The odd notion that "when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" received recognition and publicity in the jaunty foxtrot "Ain't We Got Fun," instroduced as part of the vaudeville revue Satires of 1920 and then recorded by Van & Schenk in a version that became a worldwide hit.

The point being that this catchphrase that so clearly embodied one of the most potent of economic fallacies--that economics is a "zero sum game" so that rich people only become rich by exploiting poor people, thereby "making" them poorer--had
already estalished itself as such a cherished cliche' by 1920 that the songwriters knew the audience would reach for the familiar word to rhyme with "surer," and they deliver a laugh by mentioning "children" instead.
(The line went There's nothing surer, The rich get rich, And the poor get...children.)

So Dennis Prager's slogan is a brilliant example of the kind of thing that desperately needs to be done for the conservative argument.

But the other reason I love it is that it perfectly states the overarching principle of American conservatism, and I would argue, for the American system of government as established by its founders: the virtue of small and limited government.

This is an idea that still resonates with the American people, regardless of party affiliation, age, race or educational demographics: Americans still resist the idea of big government, which is why president Obama, even as he works feverishly to expand the size and scope of government to historically unprecedented levels, claims that he doesn't want to ("it's not because I like bigger government...I don't!").

Notice I use the word "idea" with reference to the American people and big government. Admittedly Americans are somewhat Schizophrenic on this issue. Their resistance to government enlargement tends to end when encountering entitlements to which they themselves benefit, which is why once a government entitlement is started it can almost never be stopped. The socialist democracies of Europe are learning this the hard way as they watch their economies and their common currency, the Euro, teeter on the edge of collapse from lavish social programs, yet are rebuffed by their voters at every attempt to rein in the largesse.

Nevertheless, the "idea" of big government is still repugnant to most Americans. This is the impetus behind the populous revolt demonstrated in everything from the election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts to the rise of the Tea Party movement. And to whatever degree the Republican party violated its own platform principle of small and limited government, low taxes and curtailed spending--which under the Bush administration was a large degree--it bears the responsibility for its loss of power and the disaffection of many of its own members. For myself, this is where I most strongly differed with President Bush whom, for the most part I supported.

This fundamental precept of Americanism--that when those who govern us become too powerful, when the machine of government grows too large, when too much of our honestly-earned money is confiscated through taxes, even under the pretext of coming back as help and benefits--we are all diminished and enfeebled, is one we must take every opportunity to repeat.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.