Thursday, October 31, 2002
Thursday is Torah day. Let's talk about the parshah. Because of thje nature of the parshah, most of this discussion will be characterological rather than theological, ethical, or classically midrashic. Which will, perhaps, make it more accessible; who knows.
This week's parshah is Chayey Sarah - "life of Sarah" - so called because the first words are "Thus was the life of Sarah." This is the standard formulation for announcing the number of years lived at the end of a life, and indeed that's how the sentence concludes. The irony - a parshah called "life of Sarah" begins with her death - has been frequently noted. Rather than dwelling on Sarah's life, the parshah dwells on the settling of Abraham's household after her death. Specifically: Abraham needs to bury his wife, and make provision for a general family burial plot in a new land (his own family's plot was presumably back in Ur of the Chaldees); he needs to marry off his son and heir; and he needs to settle his affairs generally and prepare his will.
Sad to say but true, there is a sense, with the passing of Sarah, that a much trouble has been lifted from this family. Sarah's infertility prompts her to give her handmaid Hagar to her husband. When this plan is successful, and Hagar conceives, Sarah is furious, and drives Hagar away with harrassment. When she is finally, in old age, granted a child of her own, she drives both Hagar and Abraham's son Ishmael from their house in jealousy, causing Abraham much pain. When Abraham takes Isaac up on the mountain, the near-sacrifice appears to have been sufficient to push Sarah over into the grave; indeed, there is a midrash that Satan told Sarah that Isaac was in fact murdered by his father on the mountain, and Sarah died at the report. In any event, she does not speak to Abraham again in the text before her death. We do not know how the match between Abraham and Sarah was made; unlike with Isaac and Jacob, we have no wooing scene, and no indication that it was a match that G-d had in mind. With Isaac and with Jacob, we have testimony from the text of their loves for Rececca and Rachel, respectively; we have no similar attestation of Abraham's feelings, nor of Sarah's towards him. Sarah was infertile, but unlike Elkanah or Jacob, who professed their love of their wives in spite of their infertility, the lack of an heir clearly gnawed at Abraham, and one does get a sense that his marriage never really recovered from the strain. (And we do know it was Sarah who was infertile; Abraham has numerous children at a very old age by his concubines taken after Sarah's death.)
Abraham's first act upon Sarah's death is to look for a proper burial site. There's a lovely scene of bargaining with the children of Heth, with indirect mention of the burial plot's price (an extortionate price, in fact, of 10-20 times the fair value for the land) hidden within a protestation that the land is an outright gift. The burial plot is in Hevron, and can still be visited today; it is a holy site to both Judaism and Islam, and has a massive Herodian-era building atop, still intact, constructed in the same style as (though much smaller than) the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Hevron is a very touchy subject in contemporary terms; it has been an inhospitable city for Jews for many decades (even centuries), and currently there is a tiny, embattled Jewish enclave surrounded by one of the most hostile Arab populations in Judea and Samaria. The Jews of Hevron are among the most aggressive and extreme in their political views as well. The place they occupy is very holy to Jews, and there is an understandable loathing to give up an essential part of the Jewish physical patrimony in the land. Moreover, it is a part of the patrimony where the title could not be clearer: the bible states twice that Abraham, by his purchase of the field, established an uncontested title to the land for eternity. By contrast, much of the land of Israel is deeded to Israel by G-d and by right of conquest by Joshua, but not by legal contract with its prior owners and inhabitants. In some sense, then, Israel has a better title to Hevron than to anywhere in Israel. And yet it is difficult to see how the holy city can be retained without violence. What is to be done?
I think a useful insight into this question comes from Maimonides, who opined on the question of whether one is permitted to walk on the Temple Mount where once the Temple in Jerusalem stood. Maimonides argued that it is not permitted to do so, and the reason is that the Holy of Holies is still in operation, even though the building around it has been destroyed, and by walking on the Mount one might trespass on the Holy of Holies, which is a terribly grave sin, as that spot can only legitimately be entered by the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur, the most awesome day of the year. Why, then, does he argue that the Holy of Holies is still in existence? The reason, he argues, is that while the First Temple was built on conquered land - David took the city from the Jebusites, and his son, Solomon, built the First Temple - the Second Temple was built on purchased land, and with the permission (indeed, the encouragement) of the conqueror, the Emperor of Persia. Since the First Temple was established on violence, it could be destroyed by violence; since the Second Temple was established by consent and contract, it could not be destroyed by violence.
What are the implications? I draw several. First, since the Machpelah burial cave of Hevron, like the Second Temple in Jerusalem, was established by contract and consent, the title is secure, and cannot be voided by subsequent conquests. But second, I note that the current inhabitants have their own claims based on residence and descent from Ishmael and so forth, and that it is therefore necessary, on a religious level, to establish our own claims as uncontested; for if the claims are pressed by violence, they may be voided by violence. But yet third, since the Jewish claim to Hevron is based on ancient and uncontested title, it can only be voided in an ultimate sense by consent and contract; therefore, if Israel wishes to retain that claim, and not repudiate Abraham's purchase, it must not consent to the surrender of those claims. To summarize: the Jewish people have a legitimate claim; they should not press that claim violently lest they risk having that claim voided; and neither should they surrender that claim voluntarily, for there is no turning back from such a surrender.
This analysis of Hevron holds infinitely more significance for Jerusalem. When Prime Minister Barak was negotiating at Camp David and Taba for the future of Jerusalem, and offered to give up the Temple Mount to non-Jewish sovereignty, most of the discussion focused on the practical absurdities of this decision. But there was a deeper problem: by offering to surrender Jewish claims to this place, Barak put in terrible danger the Jewish character of the State of Israel. For, had the offer been accepted, religious Jews would have been faced with two possibilities. Either (a) the Jewish people had relinquished voluntarily their claim to the Holy of Holies - and, by implication, to the possibility of the reconstruction of the Temple there - which is religiously impossible; or (b) the decisions of the State of Israel have no enduring significance for the Jewish people, a conclusion which would make it difficult to sustain the proposition that Israel is a Jewish State (as opposed to being a state with a lot of Jewish citizens). I hope that, when the time comes for a new attempt to resolve the problem of the two peoples in the Land (and the time will eventually come, however many decades it takes) that the leaders of the Jewish State have enough Jewish consciousness to take these considerations into account in their negotiations. After all, Yasser Arafat, not a particularly good Muslim, took them into account on his side; he argued that he had no authority to negotiate about Jerusalem and its holy places because they were the property of all Muslims for all time, and not only for the Palestinians in this generation. Even more so for Jews and our holy places.
Enough of today's problems; back to the text. After burying his wife, Abraham sets to finding a wife for his son. Now this whole bit of narrative is very strange, and forces one to ask: why does Isaac not go himself? Why is Eliezer sent instead? Isaac is no longer young; he is old enough to wive. Jacob, his son, will woo his own wife, as will Esau, as will Moses. Moreover, even if it were improper to woo on his own, why would not the two go together? Isaac's passivity is marked his whole life: he is the passive near-victim on Mount Moriah; his wife is chosen for him and brought back to him; and, as we will see in the next parshah, his wife is the prime mover in their household, working behind Isaac's back to establish the inheritance of the blessing by her favored son, Jacob. It is striking, moreover, that when Rebecca first comes to Isaac, the text says that by this means was Isaac comforted for the loss of his mother. It is a strange man of full age of whom you would talk this way; his relation to the world seems almost childlike here. Isaac is markedly successful in his endeavors, digging wells and otherwise improving the land. But he is terribly passive in his relations with people.
(An aside: Robert Alter notes that the wooing-at-the-well appears to be a biblical trope or type-scene. Imagine that there is an archetypal wooing-at-the-well scene, where the hero comes to the well, gives water to a maiden, and is then brought in to meet her father and be matched with her. Now see how the various biblical well-wooing scenes vary from this archetype, and how that variance sheds light on the relationships in question. First, Isaac does not go to the well himself; rather, his father sends a messenger to woo for him. Then, rather than the wooing man providing the maiden with water, the maiden provides him (or his father's servant) with water. All this points up Isaac's passivity and Recebba's strong-willed nature, which will play out throughout their marriage. In the next generation, Jacob woos at the well. In his case, it is necessary for him to remove a heavy stone to get at the water. This prefigures the struggle Jacob will have to win his wife, Rachel, from the wily Laban, her father. Finally, in the Book of Exodus, Moses will come to a well in the land of Midian and drive away bandits who are harrassing the daughters of Jethro; afterward he is matched with Jethro's daughter, Miriam. This certainly ties in well with Moses' own career as his people's liberator. It's a neat pattern, isn't it?)
This passivity is troubling. One wonders whether it has something to do with Rebecca's falling from her mount when she first spies her promised husband. The trait is so pronounced that one modern rabbi - Avi Weiss - has speculated whether Isaac was afflicted with Downs Syndrome. (This is something of a polemical point with him, not a serious historical or midrashic one, since Rabbi Weiss has had a long and noble involvement in the effort to bring Jews with mental and other disabilities into the religious community.) But, as with people with Downs, Isaac's passivity appears to be tied to some very positive traits. In spite of their troubled history, Isaac clearly has a positive relationship with Ishmael and Hagar. Isaac waits for his bride in Be'er le-Hai Ro'i; this is where Hagar had her comforting visitation from the angel when she fled from Sarah's harrassment, and where, according to midrash, she had settled, and Isaac was paying her a visit there. (After Abraham's death, Isaac settles in the same area.) And when Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael bury their father together in the cave. Abraham clearly feared that his son, Isaac, would not be able to hold his own against his half-brothers. While Sarah made him send off Ishmael, no one forced him to send off his numerous sons by his later concubine, Keturah. He did it of his own volition, while he was alive, and presumably in order to shield Isaac from the threat that they would seize his inheritance, since Isaac was named sole heir in Abraham's will. In any event, while that may have been prudent, it is striking that Ishmael - who overran all his brothers, and became a great king - seems to have remained on basically good terms with Isaac, his passive, simple and holy younger brother.
(Another aside: each of the patriarchs is responsible for inaugurating one of the three daily prayer services. Abraham, who waited outside his tent in the morning for the visiting angels, is responsible for the longest service, the shacharit or dawn service. Isaac, who meditated in the field at the onset of evening, is responsible for the minchah, or afternoon service (aside with the aside: I believe the root of the word is the same as the word for "rest" which would suggest that this is the "siesta" service!). And Jacob is responsible for the ma'ariv or evening service, said after dark which is, according to the Jewish reckoning, actually the beginning of the next day. Since the shacharit service is ideally said at dawn, at the beginning of one's day, and the ma'ariv can be said at the very end of the day, before retiring, they fit neatly into the daily routine. The minchah service, on the other hand, is a break in the routine. One who regularly prays the minchah service is therefore considered to be particularly pious. Another point in Isaac's favor - and again, I think, not unconnected with his general unworldliness and consequent passivity.)
Abraham dies satisfied - "full" literally. The bible does not say this of many other men. (Does it say it of any?) The contrast to Jacob, who becomes Israel, is particularly striking; when Jacob meets Pharaoh in his old age, all he can do when asked his age is to summarize the woes and misery of his life ("few and evil have been the days of the life of your servant"). I wonder if seeing Isaac living near Hagar gave him comfort and satisfaction when he knew that he, Abraham, would soon be sleeping beside Sarah.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Michael Kelly demolishes the Chicken Hawk argument. I've nothing to add. It's a gem.
Whoops! I guess I shouldn't have predicted the opposite only a few hours ago: Israeli government falls. Well, not exactly. Sharon still has enough votes to stay in power, so long as he keeps the far right (NRP and Yisrael Beiteinu/National Union) and the haredi parties (Shas and UTJ) happy. Which I guess was part of Fuad's plan: defect from the government to gain standing in the primary, and push Sharon to the right to make the general election environment more hospitable. Trouble is, Sharon isn't afraid of new elections; if he does something to anger the right, he can dare them to topple him. New elections might not be so soon even if the government is gone. Meanwhile, at least we'll see someone in the Foreign Ministry who's loyal to the government.
(Aside: I have never thought Peres was disloyal to Israel. I just think he's a megalomaniac who thinks only he knows best how to serve Israel, and the government who employs him and the Israeli citizens who elect the government should properly defer to him, since he knows best; and if they won't, why the only patriotic thing is to do what he thinks is best regardless of their instructions.)
Another really strong piece from Ron Unz on the subject of the Colorado English initiative. It seems Dick Lamm, former Governor, has joined the fight.
Which leads me to the following observation. It has been clear to me for some time that one of the most achievable, cheapest and most clearly good reforms we could effect in our public schools would be to eliminate bi-lingual education. Bi-lingual education is a hugely expensive, utterly wasteful, socially and educationally destructive policy with no honest defenders left on earth. Its only beneficiaries are teachers' unions and Latino demogogues (and Spanish-language broadcasters). But hard-core conservatives - like current Colorado Governor Bill Owen, opponent of the Colorado initiative - have almost uniformly refused to make this a core issue, while the more pragmatic types - like Richard Riordan, former Los Angeles Mayor and loser in this year's California gubernatorial primary - have at least occasionally climbed aboard. What does that say about who is principled and who is not? I judge someone principled not by the extremity of his political views but by his willingness to spend capital to achieve the public good even if it is not particularly to his political advantage.
(Dick Lamm, by the way, is primarily known for having once said that the old and infirm have a duty to die, and for being seriously considered for the 1996 Reform Party Presidential or Vice Presidential ticket. He's not clearly a conservative or a liberal. He's for privatizing Social Security, cutting Medicare and Medicaid substantially, free trade, immigration restriction, higher taxes, a balanced budget, and generally telling everyone that life is getting worse. I don't know what his views on the "social issues" are. He would be out of place in today's Democratic Party, at least at the national level, though he is still nominally a Democrat.)
Bernard Lewis wrote about it in the 1980s, in his book, Semites and Anti-Semites. Now Ha'aretz picks up on the fact that radical, racial, eliminationist (to use Goldhagen's phrase) anti-Semitism is rampant in the Arab world, among our "allies" as well as among our enemies. It is the one element holding together conservative, reactionary regimes like Saudi Arabia with revolutionary Islamists like the mullahs of Iran and the Hezbollah with secularist dictatorships - whether pro- or anti-Western - like Egypt and Iraq.
I've said before that states would have little reason to use nuclear weapons if they were certain to lose a war, because there would be no good military purpose to their use. But Hitler used gas - which he was deterred from using against British or American or even Russian troops - against Jewish civilians, and diverted important resources away from the front to assure his "victory" over the Jews. I still maintain that nuclear weapons are primarily weapons, with battlefield utility, and that even terrorism is primarily a political/military strategy to achieve concrete goals. But when the ideology animating the enemy defines murder as victory - if killing Jews, for example, is the objective of war, not gaining territory or resources or control of a state - then, as with Hitler, all bets are off.
I guess I should have predicted this, since it's happened half a dozen times already: Compromise reached on budget; unity government preserved. (This is in Israel, in case you couldn't guess.)
Does the Wellstone memorial pep rally do just tribute to the Senator who died before his time? Or is it a travesty? Based on my limited knowledge of the man, I'd say the former. But I still understand why Republicans would be mad.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
And one reason to hate Canada, from the inevitable Charles Johnson.
Monday, October 28, 2002
Two reasons to love Canada: The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Mark Steyn.
This is interesting if unsurprising. In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, most Americans did not blame Islam. Since then, U.S. unease with Islam has jumped. Why? Because the spokesmen for Islam in America have done little or nothing to acknowledge the religious civil war in which the Islamic world is embroiled, and has done little or nothing to apologize for the war on the West being waged in Islam's name by one side in that war.
And it looks like the National Unity government in Israel is coming to an end. Fuad has boxed himself into a corner; I don't see how he backs down from his threat to bolt the government, and I don't see how or why Sharon would back down. Ben Eliezer is doing what is best for his party and his career, and, unwittingly I suspect, for the country. Likud now has a functional majority of support; it should have a stronger hand in the Knesset. After elections, it will. And then Labor will decide whether they would rather be a decidedly junior partner in a national-unity coalition government or whether they would rather lead the opposition to a government beholden to Effie Eitam and Avigdor Lieberman. I suspect the latter, and that would not be good for the country. But we'll see.
So first off, kudos to The New Republic for publishing people like Adam Garfinkle's piece on how to deal with North Korea. Yeah, I know, TNR is hawkish on Iraq, so Garfinkle is an ideological soul-mate. But I think it's noteworthy that under Peter Beinart's leadership, which has steered TNR's ship firmly in a more liberal direction, the magazine continues to publish strong and important pieces by people like Peter Berkowitz, Gregg Easterbrook, Adam Garfinkle, Robert Kagan, Leon Kass, Charles Krauthammer and John McWhorter, any of whom you might just as well read in The National Review Online or the Weekly Standard as in TNR. There's no comparable publication out there, on the right or left. End of commercial.
That said, I'm highly skeptical of Garfinkle's proposal for dealing with Korea (in a nutshell: get all the Great Powers together to coax and pressure North Korea into a slow, staged surrender to a South Korean takeover), because it is premised on the very unlikely agreement among the great powers in this matter.
Russia is not going to give up the Kuriles for cash, and Japan is not going to pay for them. And apart from cash, Russia has no incentive to go along with this deal, since it is minimally threatened by North Korea. (Similarly, Russia would be a minimal obstacle to unilateral American action to "take out" North Korea, since the Hermit Kingdom is not a Russian but a Chinese ally.) Russia has an interest in avoiding a refugee crisis in its Far East, true. But they are hardly going to surrender territory to prevent one.
China, meanwhile, would be horrified of the prospect of American troops on its border. And no amount of reassurance would convince China that this would not be the outcome of reunification. Russia, it was said, was similarly afraid of German reunification, but it happened nonetheless. But it happened because of a remarkable confluence of circumstances, including the implosion of the East German regime, the fundamental weakness and naivete of Mikhail Gorbachev as a leader, the determination of the Kohl government to achieve reunification, and the general collapse of Soviet power. The North Korean state has not imploded, and it's not obvious that the "Dear Leader" understands that extortion cannot go on forever. The South Koreans have not shown determination to absorb the North, but to befriend it; they are led by a Willy Brandt, not a Helmut Kohl. Moreover, they have the example of German economic failure since reunification to caution them against the economic consequences of such a policy. Finally, and most importantly, the Chinese are not weak, are not led by a Gorbachev, and they have the example of German reunification before them to illustrate the consequences of retreat at the frontier: collapse at the center. The Chinese, as we, believe that the end of the Soviet Empire began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. They do not want the same to happen to them.
And how does North Korea threaten China? If the Japanese showed any sign of nuclearization, that might indeed frighten the Chinese into cooperation. But there is no sign of such a movement; rather, Japan seems determined to withdraw further and further into its shell. So long as Japan and South Korea are willing to pay ransom, North Korea's aggression serves Chinese interests. And if we let China know that we're expecting it to bring North Korea to heel, then North Korean aggression could serve Chinese interests even more, as China gets to play good cop to North Korea's bad cop, and extract Western concessions in return for the promise of keeping North Korea relatively restrained. China's long-term foreign policy aim is the expulsion of the United States from the western Pacific and the establishment of a Chinese zone of dominance stretching from Kamchatka to Indonesia. Selling out one of their few clear allies will not serve that objective in any way.
Finally, Japan. Japan will go along with whatever we devise for the penninsula so long as there is no threat of war. But without a threat of war, there will be no incentive for China, much less North Korea, to cooperate with an effort to bring about peaceful reunification. That's our key problem. If Japan were threatening unilateral action, the United States could come in and say to China: your interests are better served by our mediation than by Japanese rearmament. You bring North Korea along and we'll bring Japan along. But so long as Japan is more inclined towards appeasement, we can make no credible threats, and so long as we can make no credible threats any plan will ultimately devolve into appeasement.
And this brings me around to a major bugaboo of mine: America has forgotten how to have allies. We have gotten used to thinking of our allies as dependencies, and this has corrupted our relations with them. The Left thinks they are dependencies, and is embarrassed, and so wants us to defer to them, restrain our power, subject ourselves to international institutions where one state has one vote regardless of the relative natures (free or unfree) or power (weak or strong) of the regimes in question. The Right thinks they are dependencies, and expects them to heel, and obey their master. These are both terribly wrong attitudes, and are getting us into more and more trouble.
We do not want weak allies. We want strong allies. Strong allies must be reckoned with in their own right; they cannot be counted on simply to follow our leader. Of course, we will aspire to remain by a fair margin the strongest among our allies as among our enemies. We shall seek to remain the dominant power. But we cannot defend all of our common interests that we share with our allies without our allies' active and vigorous support. Our position on Iraq is weaker than it might be because European nations - who are more threatened than we by the rise of radical Islam - are trying to avoid their responsibilities as they did in the Balkans. Our position on North Korea is weaker than it might be because Japan - who is more threatened than we by a nuclear armed lunatic in Pyongyang - prefers not to assert itself in its own defense, and leaves us seeming silly should we try to assert ourselves in their stead. We need allies who are strong and vigorous, who assert themselves against us some of the time even as they understand that their most important relationship is with the world's superpower, because allies who do not do this are unlikely to be useful to us when we need them.
If this is true, it has significant implications both for our choice of allies in the world (the only major, rising power in the world whose interests roughly coincide with America's is India) and for how we relate to longstanding allies like France and Germany. It has even more significant implications for how we relate to internal political developments in countries like Japan, Turkey and Israel, where we have tended to prefer governments that are tractable to government that are more nationally assertive, even if the latter retain a pro-American orientation.
As for what I think we can do about North Korea, I honestly don't know. My instincts tell me, though, that Kim Jong Il will not be toppled gently from his pedestal unless he is utterly deprived of outside support. That means stiffening Japan's spine and driving a wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang. These are predicates as well of Garfinkle's proposed solution. But neither he nor I know how these are to be accomplished.
(An aside: the biggest threat from North Korea is not that they would nuke Seoul or Tokyo, though that is significant, but that they have happily assisted the development of the Iranian, Iraqi and Lybian nuclear and missile programs. In other words: it's not the evil, it's the axis. But in this regard we may have passed the point of no-return; after all, we've read that Pakistan was the source of much of North Korea's nuclear know-how, and now the DEBKA-oids are claiming that North Korea's nukes include Iranian bombs sent there for testing. The cats are out of the bag. Anyone have a plan for herding them back in?)
You're never going to get on my bad side by bashing a French President (particularly one responsible for the "special relationship" between France and Iraq), so here's to Tim Hames for giving taking it to him soundly.
I'm the last man in the blogosphere, obviously, to weigh in on the death of Paul Wellstone. Nonetheless, a few comments.
* One of the first things I thought of when I heard of his death was Brutus' line from Julius Caesar (well, I was at a Shakespeare festival at the time): "There is tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition." Being a politician is not usually considered a hazardous profession. But flying around from one corner of the state to the other, over and over, to remote airports, in all kinds of weather, is quite hazardous. It's apt to get a significant percentage of those fired by ambition for high office killed. Ambition may be yoked to honorable or base motives, but in either case can be deadly.
* I never met Senator Paul Wellstone, and did not know him as a person. The testimonies to his character have been moving. But I cannot join the chorus who laud him as a leader on the grounds that he was a politician of integrity. Faithfulness to ideology is not integrity, and that, I believe, is what Paul Wellstone manifested as a Senator. I'm pleased and impressed that he showed warm personal feelings for ideological opposites like Senator Jesse Helms, and I think that speaks well of him as a man. But such comraderie across party and ideological lines is, actually, not terribly rare in politics, witness the Jeffords-Lott, McCain-Kerry and Kennedy-Hatch friendships. So: those who knew him attest that he was a kind and loving man. Was he an admirable leader, because he remained true to his convictions? I cannot say that. From my little experience of him, his convictions were not learned and labored over but received. And what he practiced was not the art of leadership but that of noisy dissent. It is relatively easy to elect oneself a martyr to principles; much harder to lead people in a principled fashion. I'm not saying Wellstone was the worst sort of Senator. I prefer his sort to the Jim Jeffordses of the world. But he was no Ted Kennedy. And no Barry Goldwater either; I don't recall Senator Wellstone leading a movement to purge the Democratic Party of its accommodationist wing, damn the electoral consequences. My point is not that he wasn't principled; he was. It's that he wasn't a leader. He was less interested in seeing his principles achieved - and making the deals or leading the intra-party fights necessary to do it - than in showing his willingness to stand against consensus in the name of principle. I know I sound a little peevish pointing all this out about a man who died tragically. I have no doubt he was a good man. But when we eulogize we set a standard, and Wellstone was not my model of a good Senator. I would frankly prefer a Senate full of Charles Schumers - who has, I suspect, a pretty similar voting record - to a Senate full of Paul Wellstones.
* Moreover, I think the torrent of conservative encomia are in somewhat bad taste. I do not remember any of these people saying that Paul Wellstone was their favorite liberal Senator when he was alive - or, if they did, it was with imperfect ingenuousness. To whit: conservatives liked to cite Wellstone as being an "unabashed" or "honest" liberal - one who was unafraid to speak his full agenda. They liked to cite him as such not because they admired such forthrightness but because they think his principles are generally unpopular; by calling him the "real deal" they tarred all of those dissembling liberals with the Wellstone brush. An entirely fair move; don't get me wrong. But it does make me less than impressed with their outpouring of posthumous support.
* I heard the news when in the company of members of my family and their friends. Democrats all, they were uniformly convinced that Senator Wellstone's death was a blow to Democratic fortunes. (I disagreed, citing Missouri's Senate race last year and this year's race in New Jersey; with Mondale potentially the candidate, I think it's even clearer that this seat, once within GOP reach, is now a long-shot, Ramesh Ponnuru's wishes notwithstanding.) What was much more disturbing was that no fewer than three people immediately speculated on whether this was a hit, whether the GOP or its allies planned the death in order to ensure a Republican takeover of the Senate. Now, these were educated people, people who had never feared for their lives from the American government, who had never lived in a regime based on corruption and political repression. These were not people who grew up in Argentina during the dirty war, or in Communist East Germany, or even in post-Communist Russia. These were people who had never known anything but freedom and security, and yet it did not seem odd to them to speculate that American was a country where a major political party routinely engaged in murder to win power from the other major political party. I was always disturbed by the paranoid fringe of the Clinton-hating right, the sorts of people who thought that the black helicopters were coming for them and that everyone who ever died and knew Bill Clinton was bumped off. But in general I wrote these people off as obvious fools, people who could entertain such fantasies of corruption because they had never come close to power, had little of it themselves, had little education about the world, and got their ideas from cheap novels or movies. But how to explain a comparably paranoid style by doctors, lawyers and such, educated people who probably have met Senators, or have met people who have met Senators, people who in general are not afraid of the world and the unknown, who get their ideas from purportedly reputable newspapers? These are the most bitter wages of the New Left, the spring from which Senator Paul Wellstone drank deeply: that a great many "right-thinking" and educated liberals out there assume they live in a functional dictatorship, assume that murder is a routine tool used by those in power in our Republic, assume that their ideological opponents as a class - not merely one dubious individual - are willing to do anything to remain in power. This is the important backdrop to understanding the outrage over the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, and the willingness of Vice President Gore to accuse (implicitly) the Bush Administration of starting a war for political reasons. It's hard for me to express how disturbing I find these kinds of casual allegations, and they are made - casually - by all sorts of people on the left, up to and including the highest-ranking Democrats in our politics.
Back from Stratford, and the trip was wonderful. Moses' first time on a plane, first trip out of the country, and first stay with a non-relation as babysitter. As for the shows, reviews to follow, hopefully later today.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Off today with the wife and kid to the Stratford Festival of Canada (never to soon to introduce a youngster to culture, I say). I'll post reviews some time after our return; last round of reviews, from this June's trip, are here.
Since I'm leaving this morning, I won't have time to post much about this week's parshah, which includes, among other episodes, the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah and the binding of Isaac. On the latter, see here for a September 11th related post that touches on this critical moment in the Torah. See here for an old Rav Riskin drash that I liked on the same episode.
With respect to S&G, I will just point out three things. First, contrary to popular belief, this story is not primarily, if at all, about homosexuality. Rather, it is about hospitality. Abraham meets the three strangers (the angels) and goes out of his way to be hospitable to them, inviting them to eat and sit with him and preparing an elaborate meal. He is established, in this incident, as the epitome of hospitality. Later, when the angels descend into the city, Lot and his family are the only ones who take them in. And when the denisens of the city surround Lot's house and demand to "know" (which certainly seems to imply to know carnally) the strangers, Lot offers them his virgin daughters instead. To such an extent does traditional hospitality extend. The rabbinic exegetical tradition upholds this view of the story, and has a grand old time imagining the depths of depravity of Sodom's citizenry; they are imagined as living in a kind of moral Bizarro world, where it is a crime to show hospitality, a crime to give alms to the poor, etc.
Second, the whole conversation between Abraham and G-d where Abraham bargains with G-d for the city of Sodom has always bothered me. After all, we know in real life that the presence of righteous people in a city will not save the city from destruction if destruction is decreed. Moreover, it seems like the principle at issue cannot be a matter of numbers; Abraham's argument - of 50, why not 40? If 20, why not 10? - seems to be extendable down to 1, and even below, to a single righteous deed of a single person. So it occurred to me that the whole conversation is best understood as a discussion between Abraham and G-d after the fact of the destruction. In other words, the party of G-d attempts to argue that the destruction of the city was an unequivocal act of justice, because of the utter wickedness of the city, while the party of man argues that you can't call it justice if the righteous are destroyed along with the wicked - indeed, if the party of G-d promulgates such a view, then they will defame the name of G-d as a righteous judge. The cataclysm must therefore be understood differently.
Third, it has struck many commentators that Abraham argues for Sodom but does not argue for his own son when G-d's decree of destruction (apparently) falls on him. Why is this? In the traditional Jewish moral psychology, humans are understood to be possessed on both an impulse to good and an impulse to evil. Both are part of our G-d given nature, and therefore both must have a purpose. As is traditionally understood, the "evil" impulse is better called a "selfish" impulse, and so there is an expression: without the evil impulse, no one would ever build a house, or found a business, or start a family. Greed, pride and lust are necessary to the development of the earth. Where they get us into trouble is when these desires are in charge of our natures, and not harnessed to serve the moral faculty. Why do I bring this up? Because it is said that Abraham is the only man in history to have completely vanquished his evil impulse. And it seems to me that is related to the fact that Abraham cannot argue on behalf of his son. Had it not been his own son, he might have seen the injustice in G-d's apparent command, as he did with Sodom. Because it was his own son, he effectively "recused" himself, and so, had he not heeded the second command of the angel, a terrible evil would have been done, one that would have effectively destroyed the presence of G-d's blessing in the world. There is a danger is striving for selflessness, a danger that can lead to a more terrible kind of immorality even than selfishness.
Have a good weekend; see y'all on Monday.
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
By the way, in case anyone wondered in the wake of my comments on the northeastern GOP that I'm just a namby-pamby socially-liberal but fiscally conservative type, nothing makes my blood boil quite like stories like this one about the attitudes of abortion providers towards statutory rape.
(Actually, taking campaign contributions from Red China gets my blood boiling even more. But let's let that pass for the moment . . .)
The funny thing is, I understand how the Planned Parenthood types think. I know they think they are doing what is best for these girls. They think that if anyone else gets involved, the girls will be more frightened, less "in control" of their lives, and less safe. Far better the girl get an anonymous abortion and then undergo counselling for whatever other "issues" she has that may have contributed to her pregnancy (notice how, in a statutory case of rape, it's now her fault; what happened to blaming the perpetrator, not the victim?) than for her to be thrown into the criminal justice system against her will and forced to deal with her crisis in front of so many other people (parents especially). And besides, so many of these girls are in troubled circumstances: broken homes, family abuse and neglect. Shouldn't we just place our trust in the abortion providers and let them do the job that needs to be done?
I went to school in the early-90s heydey of date-rape hysteria, and even then feminists got themselves all confused on the subject of underage sexuality. They wanted teens to be entirely free to control their destiny - have sex if you want, with whomever you want (preferably of the same sex), and deal with the complications however you want (if these include pregnancy, preferably by means of abortion; you don't, after all, want to "ruin" your life). And they managed to hold all these opinions simultaneous with a terror of male predation and opinions that sexual relations between men and women were per se oppressive. If you can hold all these notions in your head simultaneously, and you have convinced yourself that an abortion is an entirely morally neutral decision, and if you have convinced yourself that sexual experimentation is a positive good, then it makes perfect sense to hold a young girl's right to an anonymous abortion to be more important than bringing a statutory rapist (and possibly a forcible rapist) to justice.
I'm sorry, I'm getting a little upset. I'm going to go back to work.
You know that line about how all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing? Good Men Do Something, in Indonesia.
Remember that scene in A Fish Called Wanda, when John Cleese's wife discovers John with Jamie Lee Curtis on the sofa, and then Kevin Klein pops out from behind a door (or a curtain; I forget) and explains that this isn't what it seems: it's a complicated intelligence ploy of some sort. At which point it turns out that Cleese's wife is the daughter of the former head of British Intelligence, and Klein begins spinning like mad to explain his supposed intelligence scenario - and then ducks out of the house to escape. At which point John Cleese is off the hook because everyone has been so confused by Klein's appearance that they've forgotten all about Jamie Lee Curtis. You remember?
Is that the sort of thing Glenn Reynolds is talking about?
David Frum has a great series going at the Telegraph, Four Myths and a Truth (about America's impending - or, rather, about to escalate - war with Iraq. In five parts. Here's part I, part II and part III. IV and V to follow tomorrow and the next day, presumably. Really worth a read.
Ben Domenech has his own predictions (not the same as wishes, of course, but there's always some bleed) for the Senate: GOP up 2. He gives us CO, MO, SD, NH and MN, gives them AS, IO, NJ and GA, for a net gain of 2 seats. But I note the GOP gets 5 nail-biters while the Dems appear clearly ahead in the 4 races he mentions. (Never say never, and I'd love to see the GOP win in Iowa and New Jersey, but that's not what it looks like 2 weeks out.) So I think +2 is the best the GOP is likely to do, with the worst being a loss of 3. Losing 3 is less likely than gaining 2 - there are good reasons to think all the nail-biters are GOP-favored - but gaining 2 is also, I think, more wish than prediction. We'll see in November.
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Last word on the electoral hobby horse for the night:
There are five Senate races that I'm watching closely: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina and South Dakota. The GOP looks like it's coasting to victory in North Carolina and Tennessee, and bully for them; the candidates in those races are robots whom I could care less about. Iowa looks to be lost, and too bad, 'cause Ganske seemed like a decent fellow and Harkin is a blowhard and an ideologue. Minnesota has not been looking good lately, and it would really be too bad to lose it because Norm Coleman is practically a template for the kind of pragmatic candidate the GOP needs to run in the northeast and Wellstone practically the template for the kind of hopeless Democratic ideologue that needs to and can be beat. Missouri I'm interested in mostly because the Carnahan appointment was ridiculous, and it looks like Talent is more likely than not to pull it out. Good for him. He seems a little oily for my taste, but whatever. South Dakota everyone is following for all the obvious reasons; I'm following it for the same. South Carolina I'm following both the Senate and the gubernatorial races, in both cases because the candidates running seem like the real deal: honest, committed individuals who could make a real difference to how the country is run. (Also because anyone willing to run against the gambling interests in that state deserves victory.) And I'm following five other gubernatorial races: Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts. Arizona looks to be lost, which is too bad; Salmon was one of the good guys. California looks to be lost, too, and that's a real tragedy because Riordan would have walked away with this race and the GOP wouldn't have him. The GOP in California is - and I mean this in the most insulting way possible - behaving like northeastern Democrats, and they deserve to lose because of it. (I'll grant you that Riordan ran against the GOP in that state. So what? In the last New Jersey Governor's race, Schundler ran against the GOP as well, only from the right. I thought he was doing New Jersey a service. I thought Riordan was doing the California GOP one, pointing out what was rotten and an election-loser and running against it.) Florida, frankly, I can't make myself care about. I know I should, but I've long though that Jeb was the stupid Bush and he has governed exceedingly poorly. I want the President to get what he wants in this race, but I can't make myself care for its own sake. Maryland and Massachusetts, meanwhile, seem like additional test-cases for my northeast GOP theory, so I am very eager to see GOP victories here - particularly in Maryland, where the Democratic nominee seems so profoundly odious, as Kennedys always do.
That's my list. We'll see if I get my wish.
And now, a couple of words about the New York gubernatorial race and what it says about the health of the Democrats and the GOP in the Northeast. That's right: I'm going to get on my hobby-horse again.
The national GOP is convinced that the liberal northeast must be written off. This is truly, deeply stupid, for three reasons. First, writing off any huge region of the country is stupid. Why give the other guy comfort? Second, in writing off the northeast, the GOP writes off a whole host of groups and their issues who could be promising GOP targets. Such as: urbanites, immigrants, non-whites (I recognize there's some overlap here). And these groups are increasingly important outside of the northeast. By ceding the region, the GOP makes it tougher to make the case to the same groups of people in the Midwest or the Pacific coast states. And when you write off those regions, well, you're back to that red-and-blue map of the 2000 election. Which is not where you want to be. Third, writing off the northeast threatens to make the GOP a regional party (centered in the South and Mountain States) which, in turn, causes the GOP to betray its principles. How? Because a regional party will always be more beholden to narrow sectional economic interests than will a broad-based national party. The GOP has gotten increasingly shaky on free trade because it keeps losing some of the most pro-trade constituencies: the economic regions of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The only solid pro-trade GOP region is the farm belt, and the farm belt is in favor of open markets, not free ones; it's very happy to suck at the public teat through subsidies so long as it can sell wheat around the world. Hence the catastrophic farm bill. The GOP should not be ceding the high ground on economic matters. But they are getting nibbled to death because they have not been able to expand their base beyond the core - and while that core is expanding, it just isn't enough.
But finally, the biggest reason why writing off the northeast is stupid is that the Democrats of the northeast are a disaster. And you don't have to look any further than New York to see it. In 1988, when Mario Cuomo ran for re-election, he walked to victory over a divided opposition that split its vote between the GOP and the Conservative candidate, neither of which was a serious contender. Now, George Pataki is coasting to victory over an opposition divided between Carl McCall and Tom Golisano. No one can figure out if Golisano is running to Pataki's right or McCall's left (because Golisano keeps changing his pitch; his only goal is to come in second, and it doesn't matter how). But what's clear is that the vulnerable candidate is not Pataki but McCall. And this is in a state with an overwhelming Democratic advantage.
Why is McCall vulnerable? Not because he made phone calls to help relatives; if his base were excited about him, that wouldn't matter for an instant. But his base isn't excited. He's not beholden to the far-left ideologues or the racial thugs who control part of the Democratic base. And Pataki has given him little room to pander to the unions (again, some overlap here) who control another part of the base (more on that below). The party machinery could still deliver the nomination to him against the stunningly awful Cuomo kid, but they can't deliver the state.
The Cuomo-McCall contest was, in many ways, similar to the Green-Ferrer primary contest for mayor: an abrasive and stupid white liberal against a time-serving and innocuous non-white liberal. In the mayoral race, Ferrer played the race card hard, and almost took the nomination from Green; because of the nastiness of the primary, Green was unable to win in the general election. In the governor's race, McCall let the race card speak for itself, and didn't make an issue of it publicly, and the machine delivered for him (and, to be fair, for other reasons, like the fact that McCall had loyally served his time and that Cuomo was an obviously awful candidate). But McCall has been getting it coming and going, because he's not a "race man." If he had lost, black voters would probably have punished the victor who knocked out the black candidate. But now that he won, he's getting punished for not being black enough. In any event, the similarity between the two contests is that in each case the Democrats have destroyed their own nominee through ideological and racial litmus testing, leaving the field open for a Republican win in an overwhelmingly Democratic city and state.
There is a reason why Republicans are going to retain the statehouse in New York, may retain it in Massachusetts, and may capture it in Maryland. These are overwhelmingly Democratic states, and the Democratic Party in these states has gotten ossified and inbred and deserves to lose. The GOP has made hay out of these victories in individual contests, but hasn't translated it into an institutional presence in the northeast. And I believe that's because no national GOP leader has been ready to build on the Giuliani achievement and build a northeastern Giuliani wing of the GOP. It would be a wing devoted to urban issues, and focused on a simple message: we are the only party competant to govern. The Democrats will spend all the money on absurd ideological projects. We will focus on economic development, improving the schools, cutting bureacracy, cutting taxes, and improving the quality of life. I don't think the GOP in the northeast should be a "Rockerfeller Republican" party; I don't think the opening is for RINOs. In fact, I think the RINO phenomenon is the result of the GOP's lack of attention to the region; the assumption is that the only way to win is to be a "me-too" and so no thought is really put into developing a coherent alternative message. It's a lot easier for Pataki to win re-election by coopting the unions than stretch himself and try to tackle, say, the education monopoly, or rent control. But these issues matter, and there's a downstate opening for a party that spoke to these issues. If you want a blueprint for what the northeastern GOP could be, read CityJournal, the publication of the Manhattan Institute. You'll find an occasional piece there about abortion, or gun rights, or other issues that work well for the GOP nationally. But you'll find a constant stream of articles about effective policing, and freeing up the housing market, and rebuilding downtown, and bringing competition to education, and liberating urban entrepreneurs from stifling regulation. This stuff matters, and you'd be surprised how many liberal urbanites who would never dream of voting for someone who they considered a "gun nut" or a member of the "religious right" would consider voting for a party that actually promised to govern and improve life, in stead of fighting about race or about obscure ideological issues. Maybe the GOP should do what Minnesota's populists did many decades ago, and call themselves something else (the Farmer-Labor party), only loosely and belatedly affiliated with the national Democratic Party. But one way or another, we've got to get moving on building an actual party in the northeast, and not just a shell to be filled by this or that candidate taking advantage of Democratic folly and weakness for a single election cycle.
My Dad would love this: What European Tribes Think About One Another.
I'm glad to see the Chief Rabbis of Israel are keeping their eyes on the main issue, per my post yesterday about the opposition to the IDF's dismantling of illegal outposts. Unfortunately, in the settler community, the rabbis don't count for much.
Monday, October 21, 2002
Meanhwile, the death toll in the bus bombing is twelve, fourteen if you count the murderers. Jihad Islami has claimed responsibility. But actually, if you think about it, isn't it more logical to believe that the real perpetrators aren't from the group who admitted it, but from those who really stand to benefit: the bus companies. After all, someone is going to have to pay for a new bus to replace the one they just craftily blew up. I say, investigate Grumman. And what about the rent-a-cop firms? They've certainly never had it so good. And they've got just the right training and know-how to pull this kind of thing off. And the Red Cross! All that demand for blood everytime there's a "terrorist" attack! I can the PhD thesis now: Hemoglobalism: the War on Terror and the Price of Blood. Someone alert the Daily Californian.
I've got a theory. The Daily Californian - or, more likely, the University of California - is the actual organization behind the World Trade Center and Bali massacres. Without a war, after all, there can be no anti-war movement. And without an anti-war movement, Berkeley just wouldn't be Berkeley. It's all very neat. And much more logical than believing that the attacks were the work of an Islamist terrorist group that has declared war on America, and the West generally, and even more generally on all Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and any Muslims they don't like, and that has admitted to numerous acts of terror including the World Trade Center massacre. And hey, I've met people from Berkeley; they are perfectly capable of this sort of thing. I've never met a member of al Qaeda. (Or a member of the Bush Administration, for that matter. Maybe it doesn't really exist, either. Maybe it was made up by Ralph Neas as a fundraising ploy. I wouldn't put it past him.)
A good piece from the Jerusalem Post on the hopeless ambition of Chaim Ramon to "lead losing Labor." Here and here are my own thoughts on the future of Labor (and of Likud), and here is the platform of my dream party.
I don't know how much people out there are following developments in Israel. The big news over the past few days (now somewhat eclipsed by the latest bombing, in Pardes Hannah - eight dead so far, and what else is new) was the fight over the illegal outpost known as the Gilad farm. Basically, the settlers claim that they had come to a compromise with the government, and that Fuad, the defense minister, broke the deal and brought in the army to dismantle the place. What followed was something of a mini-riot as well as a crisis in the cabinet between the NRP and Labor.
The crisis has three components. First, there is the issue of the supposed broken promise. This is hard to evaluate; no one independent of the matters at issue can affirm that there was any such deal. Second, there is the particular issue of Sabbath desecration. The Israeli Defense Forces includes a substantial contingent of observant Jews; I've read estimates that they form 40% of the officer corps, for example. In general, these soldiers are allowed to be Sabbath-observant - with the attendant restrictions on work - unless they have to go on a mission that requires Sabbath-breaking (as pretty much any mission would). The presumption is that all missions are for the saving of life, and this takes precedence over the Sabbath. (A religious Jew would not, for example, be required to do a training exercise on the Sabbath, but would be required to join a combat operation). So how does this mission fit the bill? Is it an operation "necessary" for the saving of life or is it discretionary? This should not be something that individual soldiers question for even an instant; they should be able to rely on rabbinic rulings that they must trust their commanders and obey orders. And, indeed, that's what the soldiers did - but the rabbis are now angry that they were never consulted on the operation, and saying that they would have rejected it if they had been. The problem with that is that the army doesn't trust the rabbis to make a neutral halachic judgement on the matter, because the rabbis in question (those affiliated with the settlement enterprise) are in favor of these illegal outposts and against their demolition, and therefore will rule that the removal is not necessary for the saving of life not because that is the only reasonable halachic stance (in general, the rabbis show great deference to the IDF's determination of what constitutes a necessary operation, as well they should) but because that is the conclusion that best accords with their political views.
And this brings us to the third and most important reason: politics. The left - even that portion of the left that agrees with the necessity of the current war - views the settlers as an obstacle to peace. The right, meanwhile, is divided between those who view the settlers as an important bargaining chip and those who view the settlement enterprise as an essential good in itself. (An analogy that readers might recognize: the SDI debate of the mid-1980s. There were those who believed that the pursuit of strategic missile defense was in and of itself a threat to peace, and should be abandoned. Most of the Democratic Party stood on that ground, and much of it still does. There were those who thought that the pursuit was a positive because it put pressure on the Russians, and would force them to make concessions in other areas like intermediate-range nuclear weapons; much of the GOP stood on this ground. And there were those who thought that the pursuit was a positive because it would lead to deployment and thus would protect our country from nuclear missile attack; that's what Ronald Reagan believed, along with his strongest supporters, and it's where much of the GOP stands today. Similarly, the Labor party in Israel and everything to its left is against the settlements per se, but some Labor leaders (including Fuad) believes that it is important not to concede on the settlements in the absence of a more general agreement. Meanwhile, part of the Likud and everything to its right believes in the settlement enterprise for its own sake, but a good portion of the Likud leadership (possibly including Sharon; it's hard to know) believes that the settlements are useful mostly because without them the Palestinians would never agree to anything.
So the right charges that Fuad called in the army to break up the Gilad farm because that was the only way to fend off attacks from Chaim Ramon, who is challenging him for the party leadership. Taking on the settlers would show his independence from and influence on the government, which is important for him to demonstrate since he is the only Labor leader running who is in favor of the national unity government. Meanwhile, the left points out - correctly - that the outpost was unauthorized and that these outposts put the IDF in danger, since the army has to defend them once they are in place. The settlers, thereby, steer government policy by themselves, which, it is alleged, has been leading to disaster. Moreover, it is charged, now the settlers are escalating the matter by rioting against the IDF and charging that religious soldiers can no longer trust the army command to deal with them honestly.
I think both sides have a point, but I think the left has the better of this particular argument. The settlers are indeed setting national policy by establishing these outposts, and they need to know that they are subject to the state's needs, not the drivers of it. And the rabbis need to restrain themselves on this business of Sabbath desecration. It is for the army to decide what is a critical operation for the saving of lives, and not for the rabbis; if this operation fell into a grey zone - and it clearly did; there was no imminent threat to anyone's life at the Gilad farm - then the rabbis have to give the benefit of the doubt to the army. If the army didn't inform the rabbis in advance, that's a breach of ettiquette, not the basis for a major crisis. Whether Fuad acted from base motives, well, the right may be right about that, but the place to settle that particular score is at the polls. There is no excuse for damaging national institutions when there is a democratic basis for settling the dispute.
The left is rightly afraid of the latent violence on the Israeli settler right. And the right-wing settlers are rightly afraid that the Israeli political leadership, and a good section of the public, does not support them, even though they live on the front lines of the current war. But who on the right thinks that the solution to this problem is to undermine national institutions like the IDF? There is a part of the right in Israel that considers itself more legitimate than the state. That's not an acceptable stance; it's a stance that, carried to its conclusion, ends in civil war. The last time such logic was followed to its conclusion, the Second Temple was destroyed. That ought to be enough of a caution to get Effie Eitam to calm down.
The only winner in this dispute, meanwhile, is Sharon, who is above the squabbling of his ministers and can make a big show of bringing them both to heel.
The Atlantic is funny! I really need to subscribe.
Friday, October 18, 2002
James Fallows in the Atlantic has a pretty exhaustive run down the implications of a war with Iraq. His assumptions: that we will go to war; that we will have virtually no allied support; and that we will win easily. He then asks: what next?
I think it behooves all of us who are pro-war to reckon with the issues he raises. I think he's right that a lot of those in the pro-war camp are blase about the aftermath, assuming that once the case for war is made, the argument is done. It isn't. As I've expressed before, I'm highly skeptical that Iraq will easily become a functioning democracy - heck, I'm skeptical that it will become a functioning state of any kind. I think it will be a ward of the international community for years if not decades. And the occupation will be a long-term drain on the U.S. Treasury.
But I still favor war. I favor war because the costs of not going to war are higher, far higher, than the costs of war and post-war occupation. I favor war because I believe that while the costs of war and post-war occupation will be high, the risks are over-estimated by "realist" opponents of war. I do not believe that the region will explode as a result of war, or that pro-American regimes will fall across the region. I do not believe that terrorism will be greater after a war with Iraq than before; indeed, I believe that backing down now will give great encouragement to the terrorists that will be far worse than any reaction to a war with Iraq. I do think that a strong American show of force followed by a clear commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq will give great encouragement to the pro-American forces in the region, particularly in Iran but also within the ruling cliques of countries like Egypt, where the case for staying friends with America, even if their people are restive, will have been made crystal clear. I also believe that the death or trial of Saddam Hussein will be understood by our enemies as a great defeat for them, and they will be weakened as a consequence. But I do worry about whether the pro-war party has thought through the post-war environment sufficiently. The United States can do this all alone, if we want to. The question is whether we have steeled ourselves for the cost the commitment entailed.
I worry about this for a particular and somewhat paradoxical reason: the war is going to be too easy. Twice before in American history, the United States conquered an enemy, imposed its will and reconstructed the enemy's society. The two instances were: the Civil War and World War II. In each case, the United States was fully mobilized for war, was engaged in combat for years, suffered significant losses before the war was over and achieved an unambiguous victory over the enemy's entire society. None of this will be true in Iraq: we will fight without anything like total social mobilization; we will win quickly and hopefully without many losses (the latter is hard to be sure about; what if Saddam has a bomb, and uses it? Or what if his nerve gas is a more effective battlefield weapon than Gregg Easterbrook thinks it is? But even so, the war will be over quickly); and we will win a victory over a regime without popular support - assuming we win it at all, for it is possible that Saddam will escape as Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden did. For all these reasons, America will not be reconciled to the heavy responsibilities and cost of reconstruction, and Iraq will not be reconciled to the justice of a long-term American presence. We will not be used to shouldering a heavy burden, and Iraq will not feel conquered, but liberated - liberated for each group to pursue its own sectarian vendettas or to struggle for the spoils of a fallen state. For these reasons, Iraq will look very little like Japan or Alabama. And yet our task will be rather similar.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the pre-Civil War period in American history. It seems to me that many of the pro-war faction on Iraq are as right on the merits and as naive on the consequences as the pro-war faction in the antebellum North. War with the Slave Power was inevitable; burning Kansas proved it beyond any question. The moral case for war was as strong as the strategic case, and vice versa. But many Northern supporters of war had little idea of what the war would mean in terms of social transformation and psychic cost; they romanticized the sacrifice of blood and the glory of combatting evil, not reckoning with the horrible evils of war itself. They were right on the merits, but their naivete discredited them in the post-bellum period, and contributed to the tragic failure of Reconstruction. We should not make the same mistake in Iraq.
Ohio has opened the door to the teaching of "intelligent design" theory in science classes. This is a very bad decision on Ohio's part, and conservative organs like The National Review should not be applauding.
The scientists quoted in the article - saying things like "science is not a democracy" and "science is not a viewpoint" - are 100% right. Science is a discipline. It has rules. We "believe" in science because of the objective results of the discipline - specifically, it has a successful track record of predicting the future. There is absolutely no justification for diluting or confusing the nature of the discipline, as nothing good can come of it, for science or religion.
There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Darwinism. Many scientists and philosophers of science have articulated them, among them the late Stephen Jay Gould, scourge of the creationists. And some evolutionists cross the line from science to scientism. Sociobiology is notorious for this defect (so notorious that I hesitate to call it a branch of science) but it also shows up in the writing of mainstream evolutionists like Richard Dawkins. Moreover, some evolutionists - I'm again thinking of Dawkins - evidence their positions with thought experiments that actually are better proof of their contrary. Thus, for example, when Dawkins tries to build computer models that simulate the evolution of the eye, he builds in a factor that selects for designs that are closer to a functioning eye. But this isn't evolution at all; it's design, because the selection process operates with an end goal in mind. That doesn't mean his thought experiment "proves" intelligent design; it doesn't prove anything at all. But it provides no proof for evolution and confuses the discussion about what evolution is.
So it's not a bad idea to teach that evolution is a theory, not a law, and to teach some of the problems the theory has manifested. But intelligent design is not an alternative scientific theory; it is not a scientific theory at all. The designer in intelligent design theory, by its very nature, cannot pass Occam's Razor, because the intelligent designer is necessarily a more complex entity than the entire edifice of physical law. Intelligent design begins with a teleology, the assertion that the universe has a purpose. Absent that assertion, the theory falls to pieces. That assertion is not scientific; it cannot be evidenced or refuted by its very nature. Admitting such discussion into the science classroom destroys the integrity of scientific education.
One could argue, I suppose, that a version of intelligent design theory - a theory, say, that posited a natural direction for evolution, pulling life upward towards greater complexity and awareness of the universe, a kind of vitalist theory - could be scientific. But two points are relevant in this regard. First, a vitalist theory, if it presumes to be scientific, should enter the lists in the tournament of science, not politics. We should be presented with evidence and arguments for how vitalism should and must work. Such theories have been presented before, and have attracted some worthy adherents - I count Erwin Schroedinger as one, and I suspect that Roger Penrose is another. But they have not been generally accepted, and they have not proven to have greater explanatory power than Darwinian evolution. But second, and equally important, a vitalist theory would have to acknowledge that life evolved from one form to another over time. It would have to acknowledge macro-evolution, in other words; its dissent would be in denying that this process was random rather than directed. Intelligent design as usually presented is not a vitalist theory, but a "theory" of miracles: life was created in all of its diversity by a force operating from outside the universe. If you don't believe in macro-evolution, and you accept the fossil record, then you believe that new forms of life come from . . . where? It should be obvious that what we're talking about is religion, and radically supernatural religion at that, and not science, and that it has no place in the science classroom.
The defenders of policies like Ohio's like to say that all they are calling for is "balance." But science should not be balanced. Theories that are not scientific should get exactly zero representation in a science classroom. An argument can be made that science should be more humble - that teachers should be articulate about the limits of science; about how scientists sometimes change theories in response to new evidence; about how science does not presume to level value judgements but only to explain the world in a way that enables us to predict the future with reasonable confidence in certain narrow ways. But it should never be balanced with non-science or anti-science.
Thursday, October 17, 2002
Okay, I'm actually going to do the parshah discussion on time this week. The downside is that I don't expect it to be terribly coherent.
The parshah begins with G-d's command to Abraham (actually, Abram, at this point in the narrative) to leave his native land and head to Canaan; it ends with the circumcision of Abraham's entire household on the command of G-d. Along the way, we get the story of Abram presenting his wife (then called Sarai) to Pharaoh as his sister; the arrival of Abram and Lot in Canaan, and their agreement to divide the grazing lands between them; the war among the cities of the plain; G-d's elaboration of His promises to Abram; the change of Abram's name to Abraham, and Sarai's to Sarah; the birth of Ishmael, and the flight and return of Hagar.
I've going to zero in on a few points and make some probably not very interesting observations.
(1) A couple of times in the parshah (versus 12:8 and 13:4), when Abram builds an altar and sacrifices to G-d, calls in the name of G-d - the ineffable Name, the tetragrammaton. This is not the only name that G-d is known by in the Torah, and not the only name in this parshah. I want to call attention to only one use of another name for G-d, by Melkizedek, who is called the priest of "the most-high G-d." I'm not sure that this is the only use of that particular title in the Torah, but I think it is. Melkizedek blesses Abram in the name of "the most-high G-d, possessor of heaven and earth." After Abram tithes, we then return to the post-war negotiations with the king of Sodom (Melkizedek has vanished as mysteriously as he appeared) and Abram, in refusing any spoils, tells the king of Sodom: "I have lifted my hand [i.e. sworn an oath] to HASHEM [the tetragrammaton, the ineffable name], the most-high G-d, possessor of heaven and earth."
What Abram has done is appropriate the divine epithet favored by the priest-king Melkizedek to his understanding of G-d. This, to me, is enormously significant. In Near Eastern religion, epithets of a god and idols of the god and objects for worshipping those idols and so forth frequently took on the attributes of gods themselves. Thus we find incriptions not only to Canaanite gods such as 'Il and Ba'al but to the 'Il of such and such place or the Temple of Ba'al or the Asherah of 'Il of the Temple of such and such place - and these all were considered as, in some sense, separate beings. Many of the Hebrew names fod G-d are shared in common with the names of Canaanite deities; most notably, the word "G-d" in Hebrew is "El" which is the same word as the Cannanite god, "'Il" - whose name, incidentally, means "god." By appropriating Melkizedek's epithet for G-d and annexing it to the ineffable Name, Abram is doing two things. First, he is identifying Melkizedek as a righteous gentile, one who understands the true nature of G-d, and not an idol-worshipper or one who denies G-d's sovereignty. Second, he is saying: this most-high G-d is the ineffable in whose Name I call. He is making a profoundly monotheistic statement.
The significance for us is illustrated when we ask: how have different biblical religions identified Melkizedek? Jewish tradition understands him to be the king of Jerusalem. He is called the king of Salem, which is understood to be the same city; moreover, tzedek, or righteousness, is an epithet of Jerusalem. He is also understood to be Seth, the son of Noah, the ancestor of all the Semitic peoples. He is a marker, then, for the historical unity of the region and a remnant of its true connection with the one true G-d, as well as a link to the future manifestation of the G-d in the Holy Temple in the city that he ruled. In orthodox Christian understanding, Melkizedek is an antetype for Jesus, and prefigures Jesus' own universalization of the divine blessing that is promised to the world through Abraham. And finally, in LDS theology, Melkizedek is the bearer of a more powerful and universal priesthood than that of Aaron, a priesthood lost until its restoration in the generation of Joseph Smith. For all three traditions, Melkizedek is a figure who points toward the universal manifestation of G-d's blessing. When Abraham, the progenitor of the Jewish people and the carrier of G-d's particular blessing, arrogates Melkizedek's epithets to the ineffable Name by which he knows G-d, he is saying: your universal blessing is in no conflict with my particular blessing, for both spring from the One whom we both acknowledge as the only sovereign of heaven and earth.
(2) In verses 15:9 through 15:21, G-d makes a very peculiar covenant with Abram. Abram has just been promised a multitude of descendants, and he is frankly skeptical. It's been a while since G-d started making these promises, and there've been no kids. It appears, in fact, that Eliezer, Abram's servant, will inherent all his wealth and, presumably, the blessing. To prove the veracity of the promise, G-d tells Abram to take a heifer, a goat and a ram, and cut them in half. The sun sets, and Abram has a sense of deep dread and foreboding. G-d then appears, and reiterates the promise, but with an unexpected twist: Abram will indeed be father to a great nation, but that nation will be enslaved for 400 years before coming into its inheritance. (I sense a bit of poetic justice here: Abram is upset that a slave will be his heir, so G-d reveals to him: your own descendants will be your heir, but they, too, will be slaves!) And then, as the sun sets, a flaming brazier appears between the halves of the animals, and the covenant is reiterated, promising to Abram and his descendants all of what would be called the Land of Israel.
So what is the deal with the flaming brazier and the bi-sected animals? No, this is not an antetype of Damien Hirst. Rather, we're dealing with another ancient Near Eastern symbol. When two kings made a covenant, they might bisect and animal and stand between them, saying, effectively: if I break this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me. When G-d commands Abram to bisect the animals, He is enacting the same kind of pantomime, playing the part of the king. Effectively, G-d is saying: if I do not perform on my half of the covenant, may I be split in two like these animals. I leave the question of what it might mean for G-d to be split in two to more inventive theologians; suffice it to say that it is a powerful image, fully capable of inspiring deep dread and foreboding in a Patriarch.
(As a side note: the Covenant between the Pieces makes a prominent appearance early in the Passover Haggadah, because this is the first point where the slavery and exodus from Egypt is prophesied.)
(3) Last week I talked about Noah and the debate over how righteous he was - was he especially righteous to have held on to righteousness in a wicked age, or was he only righteous in comparison with that wicked generation, and not at all righteous when compared with Abraham or Moses. The phrase used to describe Noah is: Noach ish tzadik tammim hayah bedorotav; et ha-Elohim hithaleich Noach. ("Noah was a simple righteous man in his generation; Noah walked with G-d.") In my translation last week, I left off the word "tammim" - simple. This word could also mean honest, innocent, or perfect; when you look at the list of associations, the general idea is of something unspoiled. The use of this word tips the scales for me to the positive end with respect to the character of Noah. So notice what G-d says to Abram just before giving him his new name (in 17:1): Ani El Shaddai; hithaleich lephanai ve-heyei tammim - "I am G-d Almighty [or the G-d of the Mountain]; walk before me and be simple/honest/innocent/unspoiled." Noah is described as walking with G-d and being unspoiled. Abram is charged to walk before G-d, and to be unspoiled - on the one hand, to exceed Noah and walk before G-d, to do G-d's work in the world unprompted; on the other, to aspire to Noah's condition, to be simple and true as he was.
A moving editorial from The: Jerusalem Post on Rabin's yahrzeit. See here and here for my own thoughts on the great and tragic man.
Jonah Goldberg goes through the Times' archives, and finds their editorial in praise of appeasement of North Korea. Anyone want to give odds on the NYT admitting error? Anyone want to give odds on them recognizing that these revelations have some bearing on war with Iraq?
(Anyone want to bet that the reason the North Koreans admitted this finally is that they recognize, per our threats to Iraq, that we're now serious about taking out potential nuclear rogue states, and that if they stonewalled they might well be next on the U.S.'s target list? Anyone think the Times will figure that out some time in this century?)
Wednesday, October 16, 2002
So I've been kind of thinking about this for a while, and I thought I'd take a stab at it today:
Why am I a Republican?
(For those of you who are shocked that I am a Republican: you have not been paying attention. For those of you who have no interest in me talking about myself, please skip this post entirely.)
I was one of those freakish kids who was way too interested in politics from a young age. As a kid, I read an awful lot of Robert Heinlein and basically picked up his outlook on life, which could be described as: technologically optimistic, fervently anti-Communist, generally libertarian and strongly in favor of large-breasted women. And I went to a Zionist day school, and picked up some more of my outlook from there. Since I understood nothing about economics (indeed, I had only the vaguest notions of what constituted "work" for adults), that meant I picked up two doses of patriotism - Jewish and American - which stuck, and a bunch of social and economic ideas that contradicted each other and cancelled out. I think by the time I was thirteen I was convinced that the state was evil and property was evil, fighting for one's country was good but having to go to work was selling out. I was a kind of patriotic anarchist. Which doesn't make much sense. In other words, I was a kid. I mention this pre-history of me only because I think the impressions one forms at what they call an impressionable age do linger. One is stirred emotionally by things that one no longer believes consciously, and this shapes what one does believe. As a trivial example, while the first President I recall consciously is Jimmy Carter, the man who is forever President in my mind is Ronald Reagan. I knew Reagan was controversial, and I wasn't politically mature enough to have a meaningful opinion on the sources of controversy. What I knew was that Reagan was President. And he always will be, on some level. And that, in itself, shapes what I expect of a President.
Anyhow, then I got to high school, and with it, high school debate. For those of you who didn't do competitive debate in high school, you don't know what you were missing. It was a serious intellectual and hormonal hothouse. At least in my day, high school debaters got props from their peers for taking on big, he-man arguments with lots to say on all sides, especially military or foreign-policy arguments. Intermediate-range nuclear missile deployment, the Strategic Defense Initiative, nuclear proliferation, Chinese encirclement: these were what were called "meatballs," and real men wanted to debate them all the time. (It goes without saying that whatever the topic actually was, you got props for artfully changing the subject to one of these meatball topics.) So I learned a lot of information that would be useful to me if I ever planned to launch a career as the next Tom Clancy. But my political convictions progressed from uninformed and radical to painfully boring. How boring? In my senior year, the first Presidential election in which I could vote, I supported Al Gore for President.
Nonetheless, in the midst of my boringdom, I recall that high school debate taught me my first lesson on the road to becoming a member of the GOP. I remember vividly the experience. High school debaters, as youngsters, tend to favor action, of whatever sort, and to be attracted to doomsday scenarios. When supporting a proposition, the emphasis was always on the horrible things that would happen if x or y was not done; when opposing, the emphasis was always on the horrible things that would happen if x or y was done. Very little emphasis was placed on how likely it was that x or y would actually be effective in preventing the horrible things. Somehow, all of a sudden, I realized that in fact there was often very little evidence for this important point, that most debaters were unprepared to argue that their proposed initiatives would actually work. It happened in a debate against a team from Gulfport Mississippi - wonderful boys, by the way, both spirited and polite - who had put together a new affirmative case: they argued in favor of signing a treaty to ban chemical and biological weapons. And I realized that we had done no research on this topic (no one was arguing it; the official topic was Latin America) and that we were therefore in a bit of a pickle. So we were thrown back on our wits, and had to figure out why this treaty was a bad idea without having any doomsday scenario evidence (such as that we would need chemical weapons to win a war against China, or some such). At which point it dawned on me that the treaty was utterly unenforceable and would never work. And it was largely on the strength of that reasoning, together with some research we had on nuclear nonproliferation treaties and their problems, that we were able to win that debate.
I know this sounds fairly trivial, but it didn't feel that way at the time. I'd been basically a full-time debater for four years (classes were a secondary, if not tertiary committment), but it felt like I'd only just figured out how to do it. It felt like a revelation, like a whole new perspective on reality had been revealed. We made it to the finals of that tournament, our best performance at the most competitive tournament we'd attended, and did so largely on the strength of repeated attacks on the likely effectiveness of opponents' plans at solving the problems they were attended to address.
The next comparable revelation happened in the fall term of 1989, my sophomore year in college. I was taking a political science seminar called Comparative Socialist Politics, by which was meant comparative politics of the Communist bloc, with a special emphasis on the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe. This was my first exposure to the history and politics of these countries, and we came at them from a peculiar angle, neither clearly anti-Communist nor clearly pro-Communist. (As you might guess, the professor was an expert on Yugoslavia, the heretic of the Communist world.) Some books we read were particularly ridiculous; Theda Skocpol's book, States and Social Revolutions was a classic example, a mendacious hymn to Maoism and permanent revolution disguised as a sober, scholarly analysis of revolutionary movements and states. Other books we read were real eye-openers, such as Miklos Haraszti's book, A Worker in a Worker's State (in Hungarian: piece rates), which described what life in a Communist factory was really like, and how the workers coped with living under management that was not so much brutal as absurd. Both the similarities and the differences from Western factory life were telling. And this was not a book I would otherwise have encountered. In any event, we're poking along in our way, learning about Hungary's experiments with a more market-based agricultural policy and other obscurities (I wrote my essay on Yugoslavian and East German environmentalist movements), and then we get to the end of the term and the Berlin Wall comes down.
Back when I was a high school debater, one of the more loony debate arguments was something called Russian Revolutions. The premise, derived largely from the writings of Richard Pipes, was that Russia was on the verge of collapse from internal rot and that anything we do to let up on the pressure on them will delay or prevent that collapse, so we should keep the pressure on and thereby win the Cold War. This struck virtually everyone on the debate circuit as utter folly. Surely the heirs of Stalin would never let their empire simply crumble under them; surely they would maintain their power by force if necessary. Besides, it was crazy to think that just because Communism produced lousy consumer goods that it was going to collapse; after all, they seemed to have no trouble producing armaments. Even the kids who made the argument didn't believe in it. And now, only a couple of years later, the Soviet Empire was crumbling before our eyes. Pipes, whom we had ridiculed, had been right.
(That summer I travelled to Eastern Europe, and I did so again two summers later. I was hardly the only American college student to make the trip, and I admit my interest in the region's political development took a backseat to strenuous efforts to meet and get physical with the local girls. So while the visits did produce additional revelations, they are not particularly germane to the topic at hand.)
A second revelation that happened during my college years involved the Gulf War. Again, I agreed necessarily with all my peers and my professors that the war was going to be a disaster; that it was deeply ironic and arguably unjust since we had been arming Saddam only years before; and that Kuwait, a corrupt monarchy, was hardly worth defending with American blood. I took all this very seriously, and began to make plans, at least in my head, for what I would do if there were a draft. I decided, in conversation with a couple of friends, that if the war looked like it would drag on a while, we would join the navy. We reasoned that Iraq did not have a navy, so we'd be safe, and that as long as we actually joined the armed forces we'd be doing nothing dishonorable.
In any event, because I, like everyone I knew, thought that the war was folly, I went to an anti-war rally. And I was genuinely shocked to hear the speakers gleefully predicting civil unrest in America, and whooping the students into repetitive chants about refusing to serve if called. I don't know why I was shocked; now it seems obvious that that is how anti-war protesters would talk, that the focus would be on making noise and trouble while keeping oneself safe from harm, rather than on articulating arguments against the war. But I guess I was idealistic enough at the time to think these were the thinking people, the ones who weren't just following orders but were considering the consequences of our national actions, and responding as they saw was appropriate. So it was a jolt to discover that it wasn't the case.
Another debate revelation: I spent a couple of years going occasionally to meetings of the Political Union, which fancied itself as something like its counterpart at Oxford but whose members demonstrated considerably less eloquence. I once embarrassed myself there by being spectacularly wrong on a matter of fact in front of Elliot Richardson, who interrupted my speech to correct me, at which point I sat down and conceded. In any event, one evening they were having a debate about Roe v. Wade. The proposition was that it should be overturned. I was, of course, on the anti side. I was taking a Constitutional Law class at the time, and so I thought I knew a thing or two. But I decided to give a more personal speech. I had a friend at the time who had just discovered she was pregnant, and she was planning to have an abortion. It did not occur to me that she had any choice in the matter; she was in no position financially to support a child, nor was her mother an appropriate parent for a variety of reasons. Having a baby would have, as they say, ruined her life. And I didn't want her life ruined any more than she did. So I stood up at the P.U. podium and began my speech: "I have a friend who is planning to have an abortion. Which one of you will take the child?"
I thought it was a pretty good rhetorical point. If someone wants to oppose abortion, they should admit that they are saying that women should have to bear the children they conceive even if they can't afford, financially or emotionally, to raise them, and so they should, if they have the courage of their convictions, be ready to relieve them of that burden by other means if they will not let them do so by abortion. What I was unprepared for was the response of one student, a member of Campus Crusade for Christ, who responded, "I will." It turned out his aunt was trying to adopt, and would have eagerly taken a call from my friend, supported her during her pregnancy, and taken the child when it was born.
Needless to say, this put something of a kebosh on my speech. I was unfortunately unable to do anything for the fellow's aunt. I had fudged the facts slightly in my speech, as my friend had already had her abortion; I thought it worked better rhetorically to place the event in the immediate future. But the exchange opened my eyes to another aspect of the world that I had not considered. I had never been comfortable with the idea that abortion was morally neutral; I had thought of it as sometimes the lesser of two evils, and saw it as such in my friend's case. Now I saw that it was not always necessary to choose between evils; sometimes one can choose good. And why wouldn't one, if one could? Why wouldn't everyone? Why wouldn't we want to spend at least as much energy trying to make those choices possible as trying to protect the right to choose between evils? And why had I thought of the Campus Crusade types as, basically, the enemy, when they were the very ones trying to do this?
(A minor revelation from the same debate: none of the pro-Roe side of the debate could muster a single constitutional argument in defense of their position. I thought this was appalling - so appalling that I rose to make a second speech, in violation of P.U. convention, laying out the basic constitutional defense. It was only as I did so that I realized how weak it was as a court decision.)
One final revelation, also personal. My sophomore year in college, I got involved in a rape crisis counselling group. Now, this sort of thing was all the rage in the early 1990s, the heyday of the date-rape hysteria. This was the period, as well, when Ms. Magazine chose to run a story - they gave it the cover - calling on all good feminists to believe those who claimed to have been victimized by Satanic ritual abuse. If culture-studies types weren't afraid to lay into feminists, that whole episode of American cultural history would be a gold mine: a perfect updating of the Salem witch trials. In any event, what was I doing in such a group?
Well, the simple answer is that I was trying to do good, and trying to do penance. Without going into any real personal detail, I didn't feel like I'd treated the young women and girls who were my peers in high school especially well, and I felt very guilty about it. And this seemed like a good way to do penance and assuage that guilt.
It was, that. I have to say, the whole process of being indoctrinated in rape-crisis stuff was devastating to my personality for a while. But I do believe it did me good. It taught me, for one thing, how to listen to people who are in distress, for whatever reason, which is an invaluable skill and not one I possessed beforehand. I met some very impressive women in the group who, political disagreements aside, I still admire enormously. I can't say I helped any women in crisis. Let's face it: a rape crisis center without male volunteers is like a fish without a ballistic missile defense. I was pretty superfluous, and had little to do. But I kept some of the other volunteers company on long lonely nights when no one called the hot line. And no one ever called the hot line. Which was how I figured out that the whole date-rape epidemic thing was pretty much a hoax.
Pretty much, but not entirely. By the end of my time at college, I did become convinced that something was deeply wrong in relations between the sexes. I didn't think that men were animals and women were helpless victims. I didn't think that all sex was rape. And I didn't think that Antioch rules were much use in dealing with the intricacies of the human heart, or even the pressures of human hormones. But I did think something was broken, and badly. And I came to this conclusion one night when I, along with several other folks from the rape-crisis group, went to talk to male students at a nearby prep school about date rape.
Now here was a venue where I could actually do something. These were teenage guys, smart, hormone-filled, cocky and arrogant, and they were not inclined to listen to what the rape-crisis women had to say. All the boys wanted to focus on was how unfair the new date-rape rules seemed to be, how a guy shouldn't be faulted because a girl changed her mind the next day, etc., etc. I didn't want to lay the party line on them, which was that all that complaining proved that they hadn't had their consciousness raised sufficiently. And I didn't want to be a lawyer, and say: I don't make the rules, I'm just telling you what they are and how to live by them and stay out of trouble, So I tried to change the topic on them. I said to them: what kind of man do you want to be? Do you want to be the kind of man who maybe took advantage of a girl? Do you want to be known as the kind of guy that girls should avoid? Do you want to have on your conscience that you pressured a girl into doing something she didn't want to do? Does the conquest mean so much to you that you'd risk hurting someone to win it? Or are you so weak that you can't control your impulses - once you get excited, if a girl doesn't satisfy you, you're not responsible for your actions. Are you proud of yourself for having no self-control? What kind of a man do you want to be?
The whole talk kind of threw everyone off-balance. To be honest, I think I confused the other rape-crisis counsellors a bit, and the conversation turned back to more conventional paths. But I remained convinced that this was the kind of talk that was missing from these boys' lives. No one was telling them how to be a man, or that being a man meant something other than winning, that it had something to do with chivalry and self-control and honor. These were not kids from a slum; these weren't gang-bangers. They were the wealthiest, most priviledged boys in the country. And they were not sexually inexperienced, I suspect. And they had only the vaguest idea of what mature sexual relations were like.
It's hard for me to articulate how this particular, personal revelation fed into political matters. I don't think it did for years, probably not until the impeachment crisis, when I came face to face with a President who was, really, not very different from the boys at that prep school.
Anyhow, by the time of my senior year my outlook had changed a great deal but my politics hadn't changed at all. I was still terminally boring. How boring? I supported Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primaries. Why Tsongas? Because he was a tightwad, and I was the kind of guy who worried about the deficit. And because I didn't trust Clinton. I didn't care about Whitewater, and I didn't care about Gennifer Flowers. What I cared about was that letter explaining how he wasn't going to serve his country like he promised. The one that talked about preserving his "viability" within the system. That letter disgusted me. I could deal with Clinton even if he avoided the draft legally; I understood the desire not to put one's life in danger, and not to have to kill people one had no desire to kill, all for a cause that seemed pointless or even wrong. And I could deal with him even if he openly refused to serve; I don't know if I could have voted for him for President, but I could have respected him as a person. But I could not deal with a personality who thought his political career was more important than his integrity, someone who thought the system should exempt him because he was too valuable to lose. People with such high opinions of themselves are profoundly dangerous.
But I voted for him anyhow. I thought George H.W. Bush was a putz, and his Veep was an idiot. I thought the recession was deep and serious, the S&L scandal proof of Republican corruption and the inevitable failure of deregulation. I thought we needed a vigorous industrial policy like Germany had. And Clinton said all kinds of nice things to a moderate like me: he was for more police, a tougher policy on China and Yugoslavia, better teachers, welfare reform, making abortion rare, a New Covenant and all that. I bought it all.
And then: the hangover. The obvious incompetance of his first year in office, particularly in the arena of foreign affairs. I never made sense of Hillary's health plan, and I consider myself a smart person. The only things that were clear about it were: it was complicated; it was massive; and it was assembled in secrecy. The scandals of the first year didn't affect me much. What affected me was the sense that these guys were, pardon the expression, bush-league. I'd always thought "our" guys were so much smarter than "their" guys. Turned out, brains weren't everything.
And then: the New York City mayoral election. In spite of all his massive flaws, which I was well aware of, I was reluctant to vote against Dinkins. I really thought he was a decent fellow, and I really thought Giuliani was a grandstander and a thug. I was ambivalent right into the voting booth, and I couldn't make myself pull the level for a Republican. I voted for the devil I knew. And when Giuliani won, I was quietly pleased.
It was only later that I became actively ashamed of my vote. The city, my city, the city I loved, began to improve almost overnight. I worked at a hedge fund in Times Square, and the transformation of the immediate vicinity, both the Times Square and Grand Central area, from a slum to prime real estate, was astonishing. The city really was turning around. And it was turning around in large part because we'd elected a mayor determined to get tough on the forces of chaos that had laid the city low. Giuliani had an enormous impact on my outlook, and more than anyone made me a Republican. Indeed, if I had to say what kind of Republican I am, I'd say: a Giuliani Republican. Your typical conservative is a liberal mugged by reality. Well, I'd grown up in a reality of mugging, and assumed that was normal, and so I was still a liberal. I'm a liberal who was floored by the success of conservative ideas in changing reality - particularly, the reality of mugging.
Working at a hedge fund, I was learning a little something about the markets and the economy, and this also influenced my political outlook. Seeing the power of the bond market in 1993 and 1994 to lay low the best-laid plans of Democratic Presidents mainly reinforced my own deficit-hawk convictions. But it also made me realize that the entire old-style Democratic discussion about the economy was completely divorced from reality. I gave Clinton credit from the first for jettisonning his entire economic program in the face of market opposition. But it didn't escape me that it was the core Democratic economic program that he was throwing overboard, and Eisenhower Republicanism that he was embracing. The remaining economic debate, it seemed to me, was between supply-side Republicans focused on taxes and green-eyeshade Republicans focused on deficits. Democrats, it seemed, had little to say.
And then: Oslo. I had long believed that Israel needed to get rid of the majority of the territories captured in 1967 to achieve peace. I thought Israeli rule over the Palestinians was unjust and damaging to Israel, and that a Palestinian state shouldn't be ruled out so long as it was demilitarized. But I was always skeptical of Arafat's intensions. I never forgot who he was. And I watched how, as early as 1993 when the accords were signed, Arafat began to violate them systematically. And I saw how the most extreme groups could use the accords to build their own power base, attacking Israel in an effort to torpedo peace, leaving Israel stuck with the choice of striking back and undermining their "peace partner" Arafat or sitting and being hit, and watching their deterrence wither. By 1994, I was convinced that Oslo was a failure. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin almost turned me back into a dove, but not really. What it did was awaken me to the danger of Jewish extremism. But the awareness of that danger did nothing to reduce me concern about the danger of Palestinian extremism. I visited Israel in 1996, and it struck me that the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem, which I had visited without fear even during the intifadeh of the 1980s, was now, in a time of a supposed peace process, too dangerous to visit. Some peace. But while the experience of Oslo was hardening my views on Israeli matters, this had no impact on my domestic political views for some time.
The GOP sweep of 1994 had a long-term psychological effect on my politics, in that it scrambled the categories I was used to. The Gingrich Republicans were brash, opinionated, and eager for change. They wanted a balanced budget, a missile defense, welfare reform and a more efficient, reduced government. These were all things I favored - indeed, apart from missile defense they were all things I thought Clinton favored, but that he'd shown little interest in once elected. I didn't agree with everything on the agenda, but at least these guys looked like they were committed to moving the ball downfield.
And even some of the old guard showed some real courage on issues that matter. I remember that Bob Dole was one of the few American leaders who called for arming the Bosnian Muslims. I was aware of the complexity of the situation in Yugoslavia (that Comparative Socialist Politics course had actually come in handy!) but it was obvious that the Bosnian Muslims were the least wrong and the most wronged of the various warring parties, and that the U.N. regime was consigning them to being slowly murdered by the Serbian army. If the West was unwilling to impose a solution, the least it could do was allow the Bosnians to defend themselves. And it did not escape me that in the absence of Western arms, Iran and Saudi Arabia were becoming the Bosnians' staunchest allies.
By the 1996 elections, it was clear that I could not vote for another Clinton term. Everything he had done that I had supported he was pressured into by the GOP, the welfare reform bill above all. He was utterly incompetant in foreign affairs and his domestic agenda, when I didn't disagree with it wholeheartedly, was in tatters. And the sleaze factor was piling up. I was no longer afraid of apostasy. I was still a registered Democrat, but I voted for Dole.
And then: the Chinese revelations. It is difficult for me to overstate the degree to which I was radicalized by the news that the Clinton White House had taken money from the People's Liberation Army. There is no question in my mind that Clinton knew where the money was coming from; he was interested in plausible deniability, not in staying clean. The subsequent impeachment debate about perjury and sexual harrassment struck me as to some extent a poetically just reward for a man who had supported the independent counsel law and the erosion of privacy in sexual harrassment cases, but let's get real: this was petty stuff; taking money from Red China was treason. I didn't like Clinton before. Now I was a card-carrying Clinton hater.
And, for the first time, a Gore hater. Remember, I'd supported him way back in 1988, as a teenager. But he was right in the thick of the Chinese fundraising, and there was no way he didn't know what was going on, and no way he wasn't corrupted. He had bought into the Clinton-Arkansas crony capitalist system of government. I would never forgive him. I don't really understand why Marty Peretz did.
The rest of the story is less interesting. I switched parties formally in 1998. As you might imagine, given the foregoing, I was an enthusiastic McCainiac in 2000. He was the first candidate I raised money for. He was, to say the least, a disappointment, vain and self-destructive as a campaigner and, I believe, ultimately a guy who wanted to lose. In retrospect this was all predictable. But I still have enormous affection for him, and I still listen to what he has to say. In the meantime, I got to know George W. Bush. I admit, I had a lot of contempt for him at the start of the campaign. I'm still angry about how he campaigned in South Carolina. But I got to know his virtues. It was hard for me to vote for him - I wrote myself (and my family) a 20-page essay explaining why I was going to, which I won't post here - but I ultimately knew I had no choice.
And after September 11th, I heaved a huge sigh of relief that Gore was not in office. I have my quibbles with the way the Bush Administration has handled one thing or another, but if anything my criticisms have tended to come from the right, not the left. And that's on domestic matters as well as the conduct of the war. I'd have to describe myself now as fairly conservative, and the GOP is my natural home. And if it weren't, if I grew disgusted with the Republican Party - as I have been, at times - I could not go back to the Democrats. I look at the farce of the Democratic mayoral primary in 2001. I look at the absurd and really evil way that Tom Daschle plays politics with our nation's security - that's the only way to describe the majority leader's stance on Iraq. I look at how beholden the Democrats are to posing idiots like Barbara Streisand, people who have never had to grapple with the simple realities of life, much less thought about what it means to govern a country. I look at the utter hollowness of the party I was raised in, and I realize: there's nothing there to go back to.