Archive for June 4th, 2009

Deep Stupid

June 4, 2009

Today’s winner is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Graham had his private meeting with Sonia Sotomayor, today.  He says he told her frankly that he is troubled by that quote about a Latina woman making better decisions than a white man — told her, he added with emphasis, that if he’d said something similar, his career would be over.

Can we get Sen. Graham’s 8th grade English teacher to re-explain the notion of context to him?

Can we get his 8th grade history teacher to re-explain the, er, colorful history of white males from South Carolina, senators most definitely included, particularly on the subject of race?

Surely if we did that, we wouldn’t have to connect the dots for him.  Surely.  Right?

Rush & Me: Peas and Carrots

June 4, 2009

I get home to find Keith Olbermann outraged again.  I got tired of Olbermann’s outrage shtick long, long ago, and I frequently disagree with his analysis or opinions, but when he stops clutching his pearls, he can be pretty funny.  And he has interesting guests.

Anyway, Keith was outraged this time over Rush Limbaugh’s saying Obama is doing al-Qaeda’s job for them.  Crossed a line.  Over the top.  Over the edge.  Blah blah blah.  The usually very sensible Gene Robinson agreed.  I didn’t.

I said the same thing about the Bush administration.  And it was true.  Cheney is still trying to do al-Qaeda’s job for them.  Rush is doing his best to chip in.  Specifically, as I’ve said before in various ways: al-Qaeda (and the Taliban) are paternalistic authoritarians who see the world in black and white and use extreme violence to rigidly control those they don’t approve of, which is pretty much everybody who isn’t just like them.  Bush, Cheney, Libby, Addington, Yoo — the whole gaggle of them — are also paternalistic authoritarians who also see the world in black and white and also use extreme violence to rigidly control those they don’t approve of.

Did they do it to the same degree as al-Qaeda or the Taliban?  Clearly not.  Nowhere near.  But they did move America decidedly in that direction, decidedly closer to al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s vision of the good society.  They made us more like them.  They sold our soul for . . . I forget what, exactly.

So I don’t think Limbaugh crossed any line of good taste or proper rhetoric.  (Which is the exception with him.)  I’ve got no problem with the saying of what he said.

That doesn’t mean I agree with what he said, obviously.  Except insofar as Obama has perpetuated some Bush policies, I think he’s spectacularly wrong on the facts.  (Actually, it’s hard to even know what facts he has in mind, since he doesn’t seem to have named any specific policies.)  I also think the contexts are different in important ways — the main one being that Limbaugh and his fellow travelers have been trying for a year or more to sell America on the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim who hates America, especially white people.

I’m pretty sure I never said anything similar about Bush.

Update (6/5/09 5:57 pm): Yglesias makes a related point in the context of Obama’s Cairo speech.

Don’t Tread on Me

June 4, 2009

Some interesting discussion of American libertarianism is floating around these days. I more or less agree with Bartlett and Klein, but it seems to me Klein misses something pretty obvious.

He says:

There’s very little libertarian foreign policy out there. Fairly little libertarian social policy. Hang out on Cato’s events page for a few minutes and you’re very likely to find out what to do about regulation and not at all likely to find out what to do about Pakistan.

Um, right.  It probably has something to do with the fact that libertarians are isolationists when it comes to foreign policy, and their most fundamental principles preclude the very existence of social policy.

The libertarian answer to what we should do about Pakistan is, “Nothing.  It’s their country and none of our d@#* business.”  Ask them what we should do about any other country on the globe, and you’ll get the same answer.  Libertarian foreign policy mirrors libertarian domestic policy: butt out.

As for social policy, why in the world would anyone expect libertarians to discuss social policy?  They don’t think it should exist.  Social policy — any social policy — is the government butting in where it has no business.  Plus, libertarian economics intentionally starves the government of any and all funds it might use to conduct social policy (or foreign policy or pretty much any policy you care to name).  The two fundamental questions any discussion of social policy revolves around are: what should we do? and how can we pay for it?  Two questions libertarianism would never even ask.

With the exception of Robert Nozick, who’s now deceased, libertarianism is pretty much a crank philosophy based on a concept of human nature and an epistemology that are 300 years out of date, and is adhered to only by a gaggle of self-congratulating Ayn Rand devotees.

Alan Greenspan is the only libertarian I can think of who’s had any detectable influence on anything in the past, oh, I dunno, 40 years (Barry Goldwater), and Greenspan’s contribution to the polity is looking pretty iffy these days; iffy enough that, in testimony to Congress, he admitted he’s having second thoughts about some of his most basic libertarian economic principles.

All that said, I have a libertarian streak, myself.  The difference between me and pretty much all libertarians, though, aside from diametrically opposed views on the literary and philosophical value of Ayn Rand, is I’ve learned its limited utility.

I think of libertarianism as sort of the Calvinism of political philosophy.  Calvinism is a really beautiful theological system.  It starts from a limited set of concrete posits, and works itself out with extreme logical rigor from them.  That gives it a lot of appeal to some people.  It’s internally consistent.  It makes sense.  Or seems to.  The problem with it, though, is nobody has ever been able to make it work.  That is, you can’t implement Calvinism — can’t live it — with anything close to its own rigor.  You eventually have some kind of psycho-spiritual breakdown.  See, for example, the Puritans.  Or, you know, John Calvin.  It’s inhuman.

Libertarianism is like that.  It starts from a very small set of concrete, seemingly sensible posits, and works itself out very logically from them.  It’s internally consistent.  It makes sense.  Or seems to.  But it’s completely unworkable in reality.  It’s inhuman.

If you’re cognizant of that fact, libertarian philosophy is a useful thinking tool — a handy way to get a different perspective on some facet of a different, workable political philosophy, a different standard to measure against.