Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
Okay, I'll blog BrinkLindsey's appreciation of the Bush Administration's plan to eliminate tariffs on industrial goods by 2015. Everybody else seems to be. But really, I'm getting tired of this Administration's penchant for putting out bold plans and then following up weakly. I'd like for once to be surprised by a soft speech being followed up by bold action.

And let me say this as well: Iraq is a test of the Bush Administration's ability to get anything done in the international arena, on any front. If we wind up being Blixed by the U.N., and Saddam is still there, and still armed, in a year, nothing the President says - on any topic - will be taken seriously abroad. And that includes on trade.

I'm reading an interesting book on the origins of nationalism by Liah Greenfield. It's a study of the development of nationalism in Britain, France, Russia, Germany and the United States. From these, she attempts to create a typology of nationalism. I'm going to blog about this again when I finish the book. Right now, I'm done with only the first section, on Britain.

Her thesis so far, and particularly with respect to Britain, is as follows. The word "nation" went through a transformation over the centuries. In medieval days, it was used to mean a faction of the educated elite, particularly at university. In the medieval consciousness, what prompted self-sacrifice for a larger entity was fealty and faith - one might die for one's liege or for one's religion, but it would be difficult to talk about dying for one's country. (Indeed, "country" meant "county" - the locality of one's origin, not some large, political-geographic entity to which one owed allegiance.) The revolution in consciousness that happened in Britain in the 16th and 17th century transformed the word "nation" such that it fused with the word "people" which had, previously, meant the common people or rabble, but now meant the sovereign people, the source of all legitimate authority. She talks alot about the connections between Protestantism, the specific nature of the new Anglican establishment, the tenuous nature of Tudor rule, the rise of the middle-class, and so forth in the development of this new English nationalism, but her key point is not about the causes of the intellectual change, which she thinks are multiple, but the nature of that change. Nationalism did not mean the English suddenly discovering that they spoke English or lived in England, but their self-understanding as a sovereign people.

This is an important point. Nationalism, originally, was about a community that was already governed as a unity suddenly thinking of itself as sovereign - not about a community coming together and demanding independence of a larger entity on the grounds of ethnic difference. Later on in the book, she talks about how this concept changed in the hands and minds of continental Europeans to mean something different: the emphasis shifted from the concept of sovereignty to the concept of peoplehood. As the sovereignty of "the people" came to be taken for granted, the question now became: how to define "the people"? And the answer, for most continentals, was: on ethnic, racial or linguistic lines. (That this was not the original understanding of nationalism in Britain should be clear to anyone reading Shakespeare's Henry V. Henry's troops are English, Irish and Welsh, and see each other as belonging to different ethnic groups. But they are united into one by Henry, not because they owe him feudal allegiance but because he is the single national symbol of them all.)

I am continually interested in this topic for several reasons. First, I don't think we understand much about nationalism, and it is obviously of great historical importance. Second, nationalism is under massive assault worldwide from the Eurocrats in Brussels, and since we don't understand the importance of nationalism we don't know how to respond. Third, I believe that failed nations - not merely failed states - are the crucial problem of the world today, and the greatest challenge to winning the war on terror - far greater than Islamic religious fundamentalism, which is our principal ideological enemy. Fourth, I am concerned about the future of Israel and in particular its failure to ground its own nationalism in an enduring ideology and a state that is the expression of it.

I'm going to come back to this later, but I wanted to give a little preview of my thinking on the last point. Lots of people - particularly Europeans - are critical of Israel, as if the Jewish state is the only national state in the world to be illegitimate (unlike France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, etc. - you get the idea). This is partly anti-Semitism, and partly a lack of understanding of the importance of nationalism (a lot of people think nationalism per se is a bad thing, without stopping to think about what the alternative might be). But it is partly a legitimate complaint. If Israel is to be a national state in the continental European sense of being identified with an ethnos, then ethnic minorities will need to have their interests protected in some fashion, either by outside powers (Jordan could be the protector of the Palestinians, Russia of the non-Jewish Russians, etc.) or through either partition or some kind of autonomy (which might be independently desireable to Israeli Jews as an alternative to a bi-national state like Belgium or Canada). If Israel wants to avoid this, and remain a unitary state, it behooves Israelis to think about what kind of an ethos could be the expression of the state that goes beyond simple ethnic nationalism. I'm not suggesting that Israel become a "state of all its citizens" - I don't think such a thing exists anywhere on earth, including the U.S. I am saying that Israel needs to think about whether there is a way of constructing the state in such a way that non-Jewish minorities can identify with it and assimilate to its ethos even as they fail to assimilate to the dominant ethnic group that gives it its character. The best analogy I can think of is to the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland into Great Britain. The analogy remains an abstraction without thinking about what concrete, institutional arrangements could underpin such a relationship, and create an ethos that Israeli Druze, Bedouin, Arabs, and non-Jewish Russians could identify with sufficiently - while remaining, at the core, essentially Jewish in character - that the state could rest on secure foundations. We've been distracted from this problem by the security situation, but it won't go away - it's getting worse, specifically with respect to the Israeli Arabs and the rise of exclusivist Jewish nationalism on the right. Like I said, I'm going to come back to this again. Just a preview.

The most recent Commentary has an article by David Berlinski (who I think is very interesting) about Darwinism and intelligent design. Unfortunately, it's not on-line. I've blogged about the topic before. I'm returning to it again because I think it's a good intellectual litmus test that most people I know fail. Theocons tend to be soft on intelligent design. They like that it accords with their religious sensibilities, and ignore the fact that it isn't science but is being paraded about as if it is. Libertoids and other rationalists tend to assume that Darwinian macro-evolution is establish scientific fact and that all critics are crypto-fundamentalist religious loons. It is very difficult to have an intelligent discussion about our origins. I find that interesting.

Berlinski's main point against Darwinism is simple: there are strong mathematical arguments against macro-evolution operating in a Darwinian fashion in the amount of time available, and no good mathematical arguments in favor. Those that have been trotted out turn out to be fraudulent; they do not test natural selection but artificial selection. For example, when Richard Dawkins put together a computer program to show how an eye could evolve from a light-sensitive patch of cells, the program knew as part of its design that it was aiming for an eye; it selected not by having organisms with different proto-eyes compete with one another for resources but by killing off the organisms whose proto-eyes were not progressing towards complete eye-dom. That's how dog- and horse-breeding works; it's not how natural selection works.

This, of course, doesn't prove Darwin was wrong. It only illustrates that macro-evolution can't work in exactly the same way as micro-evolution, and that we, in fact, have no good theory of how macro-evolution does work. That's a fair description of the state of evolutionary theory. We have a broad philosophical theory - the theory of natural selection - that we assert is sufficient to explain macro-evolution. And we have a timetable of macro-evolution that makes sense with the fossil record and with our taxonomy of living organisms. But we have very little idea of how it all actually works.

Berlinski's second point, though, I find more problematic. He asserts, basically, that Darwinism is based on a philosophical pre-supposition that is non-scientific. To whit: philosophical naturalism, the assertion that the material universe is a closed circle of causes and effects which explain everything within it. I agree with Berlinski that this is a pre-supposition of Darwinism. I disagree with him that this is non-scientific. On the contrary, I think it is a necessary axiom of science.

To illustrate why this is the case, consider the opposite situation: a science that accepted extra- or super-natural intrusions on the natural order. How could these be "studied" scientifically? Science, after all, is a pragmatic endeavor aimed at predicting future events. Future events can be either strictly deduced from known causes, or can be understood statistically for those phenomena that exhibit an irreducible element of chance. If G-d - or an evil demon - periodically intervenes in the natural world in violation of its natural laws, how could "science" possibly predict these interventions and their consequences? Berlinski rebukes the intelligent design theorists periodically for their refusal to explain how the character of the designer is revealed in the design - why, for example, a peacock's tail of such splendor, and not a donkey's tail? - but this is another way of talking about the psychology of G-d, and psychology is a branch of science. We're talking, ultimately, about reducing G-d to a series of laws similar to those that govern human psychology. Doesn't that bring G-d, in some sense, down into the natural world? In what sense is He outside the natural order if we can devise a predictive psychological understanding of him?

It is not the task of science to provide a comprehensive understanding of reality. Many aspects of reality remain beyond science's grasp, and it is reasonable to speculate - though probably impossible to prove - that they will always remain beyond science's grasp. Berlinski talks about Hoyle's famous disconcert at discovering the nuclear resonance between helium and beryllium, a resonance essential to the creation of carbon, and hence to the development of life. With a slight change in these values, the universe would be lifeless. Does that prove there is a G-d, designing the universe? Or does it prove the anthropic principle that things in our universe are ideally suited to life because we, in retrospect, are here to observe our universe, and thereby called it into being? Or does it prove that there have been a multitude of "universes" existing in different dimensions, with an infinite variety of nuclear resonances, and we, as living beings, of course live in the universe that has the proper resonance for the development of life? Is there any pragmatic difference between these views? Not to a scientist, because none have any utility in predicting the future, and that is what science is for. Properly, then, these speculations lie outside of science, and their pragmatic difference exists in how humans who believe one or another explanation behave.

My own supposition is that there are a number of irreducibles in the universe. I do not believe that consciousness can be reduced. I don't even know how to talk about the question, and all the hard-AI types who are convinced that consciousness "emerges" out of complex systems, or that consciousness is an "illusion" - the Dennett and Pinker types - are just waving their hands and engaging in mystification through language. An illusion is when you see something that isn't there. If my consciousness is an illusion, who is the "I" who is witness to that illusion? I can't see any way of theorizing about the irreducible element of consciousness - the subjective experience of being, of selfhood - that is in any way scientific. So I suspect it is irreducible. I suspect similarly that the deep structure of the universe is irreducible. Asking "why" nuclear resonances are what they are will turn out to have no answer; better: it will turn out to be a poorly formed question. We'll have discussions about symmetry-breaking in the nanoseconds after the Big Bang, and maybe we'll discover that symmetry "had" to break in a particular way. But all that does is push the question down another level: why did symmetry "have" to break that way? Couldn't the laws that determined our physical laws have been different?

There's no bottom to this kind of argument. Science can only investigate how things are. It cannot - by its nature - investigate why things are. Unmoved movers and intelligent designers are outside the realm of science; they live on the parts of the map that read, "here be dragons." That is why science must posit philosophical naturalism - not because such naturalism is true, but because without that axiom you can't do science, and where that axiom does not appear to obtain science has reached an impasse.

The whole debate about evolution and intelligent design usually comes up in reference to education: how do we teach children science without offending religious belief? I do not think this is nearly so difficult as it is usually made out. We do not want to teach scientism; we want to teach science. Therefore, we should frankly tell children that science is not religion. Religion is concerned with the nature of things, in the deepest sense. It tells us why things are as they are, and what we should do with ourselves given that fact. Science is concerned with how things are, not why. Science is about measuring gravity, not answering why it should exist. So with evolution. Since science can only investigate a closed material circle, the proper question for science is: can one come up with an explanation for how the variety of organisms we see came to be? There have been many theories. Perhaps they all came into being together? No; the fossil record is evidence against that. Perhaps the universe has always existed, much as it is now? No, and ditto for the reason. Perhaps one organism evolved into another over time? Perhaps. If so, how? Vitalists would argue that there is a natural force - an elan - "pulling" evolution "upward" towards greater complexity. That's what was usually meant by evolution before Darwin, and it was for this reason that evolution, originally, was embraced by many Christian clergy: the force was identified as the hand of G-d operating in the universe. Unfortunately for advocates of such a theory, there is no evidence of such a force. Perhaps organisms adapt to reality in their lifetime, and their offspring inherit these adaptations? That's what Lamarck thought, but again, it turns out to be unsubstantiated by evidence. Finally, Darwin posits that random variation and natural selection are sufficient to explain the evolution of life. Is he right? Perhaps. We do observe micro-evolution operating through precisely such processes; perhaps macro-evolution operates the same way. And we do observe what looks like macro-evolution in the fossil record: the transformation of dinosaurs into birds, for instance, or the development of the mammalian ear. But we also see things that fit uneasily with the hypothesis of Darwinian macro-evolution - such as the pre-Cambrian explosion - and there are mathematical arguments against the possibility of macro-evolution in the time available. So where does that leave us? Darwin has some evidence, no other theory that passes for scientific has any evidence, hence Darwinism is the working hypothesis of evolutionary biologists and other scientists today. We don't know that it's true. It's not a theory with the strong support of General Relativity or quantum mechanics. But it is still the best theory going, and whatever scientific theory emerges to supplant it will have to do a better job of explaining the origins and development of life, operating from the same assumption of philosophical naturalism, that chance and the laws of the universe are sufficient to explain how the universe works.

Is that account going to offend religious sensibilities? It will certainly offend biblical literalists, but then, any scientific doctrine must offend them. It should not offend any religious believer who also accepts the nature of scientific inquiry. G-d still has plenty of living space out there with the dragons. The spaces where He lives may be the most important ones to us as humans. And mapping out the edges of its domain is properly a scientific project. But there is no place in the science classroom for "theories" about dragons.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Thanks to Instapundit for pointing me to this story about a Boston novelist whose son decides to join the Marines. It's beautiful.

Jacob Levy has a touching obit for John Rawls, and links to many others. I was never much of a fan, I admit. I always classed Rawls with Ronald Dworkin as liberal intellectuals who believed that a sufficiently impressive theoretical edifice could convince everyone to be a conventional liberal like themselves. I also think the veil of ignorance is a deeply wrong idea; we do not, any one of us, start at on original position; we all start where we are. That said, I probably didn't appreciate him enough because I grew up in his world. (Lincoln-Douglas-style high school debaters in my day only had to know two thinkers to have a debate: Rawls and Nozick. And they didn't need to know them deeply, either, just have a few pithy quotes at the ready.) And I grant him this: at least he was wrong. So many others who labor in the same fields are not even wrong, a far more damning indictment.

Stanley Kurtz has another really strong piece against gay marriage on NRO. It's getting harder and harder to argue with the guy. But I still think he's wrong, and I'm going to give it another whirl.

First, where we agree. We agree that the courts have no basis imposing gay marriage on any single state, much less on the country at large. That's a no-brainer. The Massachusetts case for gay marriage is actually a far stronger case against marriage at all. If there is a basis under equal protection for gays to marry, isn't there a basis for unmarrieds to have the same rights and privileges as marrieds? If gay marriage is constitutionally mandated, it would seem to me that marriage itself is unconstitutional. Which is patently absurd. This is a matter for legislatures to undertake. The Massachusetts legislature is pretty darned liberal. If they favor gay marriage, they should screw up their courage and vote for it.

I also agree that a pro-gay-marriage decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court will lead to a huge pro-GOP backlash. I'm going to return to this point at the end; suffice it to say that I'm not sure the backlash will have quite the impact that Kurtz supposes.

What is interesting to me is Kurtz's core argument against gay marriage, to whit: that it will lead to the abolition of marriage itself. I don't think this has to be the case. Indeed, I think a case can be made that gay marriage could strengthen the institution of marriage. But this can only be the case if it is approached pro-actively and in the right spirit. And it can only be the case if simultaneous efforts are made to shore up the institution of marriage at its core.

Kurtz's core idea is that gay marriage would redefine marriage as an arrangement among any group of people who have an affective tie. But this is already the definition of marriage implicit in no-fault divorce laws. If marriage can be ended simply because the partners - or even one partner - wants out, then marriage is, objectively, an arrangement among individuals who have an affective tie. And if that is the case, it is indeed hard to argue why gay couples or groups of individuals should not have the same "rights" to such an arrangement as heterosexual couples.

But that is not what marriage is. Marriage is a covenant between two individuals and between those individuals and the society. It is a social institution that involves the entire community, and not just the individuals in question. As such, to allow it to be dissolved at will is a crime against the community.

If we can agree on this, we can disagree about the degree of importance of religious sanction, or of the complementarity of the sexes, to the nature of that institution, and, while disagreeing about these things, agree that until no-fault divorce is ended there will be no persuasive argument against gay marriage or any other extension of the privileges of marriage.

That's my position in a nutshell. Since that's my position, I reframe the gay marriage question as follows: the question is not whether gays have the right to have their unions recognized by the state as identical to traditional marriage, but whether such unions can be integrated into that traditional institution. I would argue that they can be. Further, I would argue that without an effort to do so on the part of conservatives, the traditional institution of marriage is going to come under greater and greater attack as an exclusionary and backward institution, and will ultimately be destroyed.

If gay marriage does not exist, then gay people have no model for how to be part of the social organism, as that is one of the functions of marriage. They will continue to love and be loved, but they will be unable to express that love in a socially affirming form. (Perhaps they are constitutionally incapable of doing so, though I don't know of any strong evidence either way on this matter. We all know lifelong gay partnerships and we all know what the typical sexual history of a gay man looks like; the one is encouraging in this regard, the other discouraging. In the end, the only way we will know is by giving them the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with it. Call me an optimist on this point.) Assuming they are not constitutionally incapable of the obligations of marriage - that is, to permanently (we hope) subsume themselves in an entity that is greater than either of them, and to fulfil the consequent obligations towards any offspring (natural or adopted) and towards the community as a whole - it is hard to see what the justification is for not giving them some basis for undertaking these obligations. Indeed, denying them this would seem likely to encourage the very social pathologies that form much of the basis of the case against gay marriage.

Obviously, a formal gay union cannot meet the religious and natural requirements for marriage. Gay relationships are not naturally procreative, do not express the complimentarity of the sexes (and their natural destiny to join in marriage), and have no historic religious sanction (in any religious tradition). Nonetheless, covenanted gay relationships could be accorded the status of marriage on the grounds that, in contemporary understanding, the individuals involved do not have the same "nature" as the heterosexual public. In general, the sexes are complimentary and their destiny is to join in marriage. That doesn't work for some people, however, and we don't know why. We can carve out an exception for these people. Historically, marriage has had religious sanction. However, this country has a long tradition of civil marriage and of accepting inter-religious unions. In general, marriage is partly about providing a stable social environment for procreation, and procreation is the normal way to form a family. However, we do countenance adoption as a legally sanctioned route to family formation, and some marriages are not procreative; moreover, we have a whole medical industry devoted to helping non-procreative couples conceive. Gay couples can be fitted into this scheme if their unions are undertaken in the covenantal spirit that is proper to marriage.

How, then, to keep out other unions once gays are "inside the tent"? How to keep, for example, polyamorous groups from claiming the rights and privileges of marriage? The simple answer is that the social organism cannot sustain such groups. And the reason why has to do with children.

Let us imagine a polyamorous group of ten individuals, all sexually involved with one another and raising their children in common. Now let us imagine that the group breaks up. What is to be done with the common children? I can think of only three possible outcomes. One, the children go with their natural mothers. (Or, I suppose, fathers, though this outcome seems highly unlikely.) Two, the children spend all their time shuttling between their ten parents, never living stably in one place. Three, the court grants full custody rights to whatever fraction of the original group is deemed to be the best environment for the children. In other words, acceptance of polyamory means either the abolition of fatherhood (in the end, mothers' rights trump), or the abolition of family (the court assigns children to their parents), or the abolition of childhood (children become tokens passed around for the amusement of their gaggle of parents, not individuals with rights and interests of their own). The case that Kurtz cites of the lesbian couple is a precedent for the first outcome: the natural mother, in that case, was deemed to be the only parent, her former partner having no formal status and the biological father being, presumably, confidential.

For practical reasons like these, I think there are only three models for the family that could be adopted as a universal norm: (1) a father-centered patriarchal model, consistent with either monogamy or polygamy, where wives and children are understood to be in some sense the husband's/father's property or dependency and where women have a lower legal and social status than men; (2) a covenant-based model where a man and woman join their destinies to create a family in the sight of G-d and their communities, and have joint responsibilities for each other and for any offspring; (3) a mother-centered model where fatherhood is abolished and the state has a substantial role in child-rearing and income redistribution. Gay people could be integrated into any of the three models: in the first case, by engaging in compulsory bi-sexuality (taking, for example, a wife for the sake of having children and a male lover for the sake of companionship); in the second, by treating covenanted gay couples as an exception to the norm of complementarity, but otherwise placing the same requirements on them and granting the same privileges; in the third, as individuals fleetingly attached to one or another partner like everyone else. That's why I say that gay marriage is not the issue: the state of heterosexual marriage is the issue.

Above all, what is pushing our society toward family model #3 is no-fault divorce. We already treat heterosexual marriage as a matter of whether the parties are "joined at the heart," as if the society at large was not party to their covenant and had no say in its continuance. And if that is what marriage is, then there is no good argument against gay marriage.

Ending no-fault divorce, not fighting gay marriage, should be the conservative crusade to protect the family. If that battle is not joined, gay marriage will be inevitable, and Kurtz is right about the consequences. If that battle is joined, and won, then I believe that formal gay unions - whether called marriage or called something else, but with not only all the rights and privileges but also all the obligations and restrictions of marriage - will be far easier to integrate into our social fabric than Kurtz fears. And further: so long as there is no institution of gay marriage, heterosexual marriage will continue to be diluted through domestic partnership legislation. I've blogged about this before. The main motivation for such legislation is the desire to give the "bennies" of marriage to gay couples, but of necessity (equal protection and all that) the legislation applies as well to cohabiting couples who are straight. The consequence is that the public recognition of marriage has been progressively diluted to the point where a large number of professional, middle-class people - I know quite a number myself - see nothing wrong with simply never getting married, and cohabiting and having children as it suits them. Rolling back domestic-partnership legislation will be impossible without some kind of legislation for gay unions, and so long as this legislation remains in place it clearly telegraphs that marriage is an exclusively private affair with no special privileges or obligations - precisely the situation that Kurtz is worried will obtain as a result of gay marriage.

One last point, about the politics of the issue. Kurtz compares gay marriage to abortion. Assuming he's right, odds are we will soon have gay marriage legalized all over the country and GOP majorities entrenched in Congress and many state legislatures wringing their hands about their inability to change the law. If Kurtz actually wants to change the law, he had better hope that gay marriage is more like busing or the death penalty, issues where the court was forced to reverse itself after the public showed its overwhelming opposition to court mandates and prohibitions. But I suspect gay marriage will be more like abortion than like busing or the death penalty, because the latter issues affected people directly, whereas gay marriage would directly affect almost nobody. Roe v. Wade has proved instrumental in building an emerging Republican majority in the country. But that majority has achieved next to nothing in its efforts to overturn Roe. Something to ponder before relishing the political impact of a pro-gay-marriage decision in Massachusetts.

I haven't commented recently about the internal struggle in the National Religious Party in Israel, so I'm going to do so now. (Here's an editorial from the Jerusalem Post about it.)

The NRP used to be one of the pillars of the establishment. It was a member of every government in the first 25 years of Israel's life. But it was radicalized in the 1970s and 1980s, turning into a vehicle for the messianic wing of the settler movement. At the same time, Orthodox Jews were making greater and greater strides at integrating themselves into Israel's national life. Most notably, Orthodox Jews now make up something over 25% of Israel's officer corps, and the prospect of an Orthodox Jewish Chief of Staff is no longer remote. (There's a good article about this movement, and the schools that made it possible, in the most recent Jerusalem Report, which unfortunately is not online.) The importation into the NRP of ultra-Orthodox styles of politics - in particular, the reliance on rabbinic blessing for political decisions - further alienated the party from its natural constituency. The result is that modern, centrist Orthodox Jews have increasingly been without a home in Israel at the same time that they have a better claim to represent the "typical" Israeli than ever before.

The recent moderate turn in the NRP is therefore very welcome. But the revolution will not be complete until the NRP reworks its own ideology.

Historically, the NRP represented the religious-Zionist community: Jews who believed that the State of Israel was, in some fashion, of messianic significance. Rav Kook, the father of religious Zionism, believed that it was permissable to cooperate fully with secular Zionism because the secular Zionists were unwitting tools of the divine plan to bring about the messiah, and that G-d would eventually re-establish the Davidic Kingdom and the Third Temple in Jerusalem after the secular state had run its course. The conquests of 1967 radicalized this faction of Jews, but this ideology was never a perfect reflection of the position of religious Jews in Israel or on the subject of the State. Indeed, many Orthodox Jews in Israel and without adhere to no such messianic ideology. The proper question for the NRP to address is not the eschatological significance of the state but what, from a traditional Jewish perspective, is the proper way for a self-governing Jewish commonwealth to conduct itself.

In this sense, the NRP's real mission is to contest with Shas for the votes of Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox but who respond to a message about the Jewish character of the state. There is ample precedent in Jewish history and law for self-governing Jewish commonwealths that are not theocracies. For most of history, the Jewish people either had no central government (which was the case under the Judges), or was not sovereign (during the periods of exile), or had governments that were at least somewhat independent of priestly rule (the First and Second Temple periods). The only exceptions I can think of are under Moses, when the Hebrews were governed by a prophet with direct access to divine revelation, and under the first Hasmoneans, who united the High Priest and King in a single office for a brief period. Shas's notion, therefore, that rabbis should ultimately rule the state - and a similar notion advanced by the radical Jewish Leadership faction within Likud - is a radical innovation which most Jews - including most religious Jews - would heartily reject. But if it is not opposed by a religious voice, it will gain strength, in both the Haredi and the religious-Zionist sectors.

I am not an Orthodox Jew, so I am in no position to express opinion on religious matters. But it does seem to me that this question - what constitutes a Jewish state, and how is it to be governed - is the key question for religious Zionism, and not the question of the redemption of the land. The NRP has three paths before it. It can go the route of the past 3 decades, and become a branch of the far-right, exclusively identified with the radical settlers. That's where Effie Eitam wanted to take the party. Such a move would make the radical right even more radical, split modern Orthodoxy, and damage the cause of Judaism within Israel. The NRP could simply represent the interests of the modern Orthodox around the bargaining table, with no pretention to being an ideological party. This would mean modelling itself on Yisrael B'Aliyah, the immigrant party, or UTJ, the Ashkenazi Haredi party. But any success achieved this way would be short-lived, because the hope is that NRP constituents will be highly integrated into Israeli public and private life, and will not need a party to look out for their parochial interests. The third possibility is to embrace the challenge of providing a religious understanding of the Jewish state that is neither oppressive nor messianic. That would be the most audacious path, but is also the only one that could restore the NRP to its former glory as the natural partner of whichever major party governs.

As an aside, I suspect that the recent change will have little impact on the electoral prospects for the NRP, but might help it slightly. More important, it makes the NRP an easier coalition partner for Likud to woo. Assuming that Sharon heads Likud, and Likud, together with Gesher and the remains of Center, takes 40 seats (1/3 of the Knesset), Yisrael B'Aliyah takes 5 and the NRP takes 5, that's 50 seats for a center-right bloc at the heart of the coalition. Likud could then form a government with any of Shas, Shinui or Labor and clear the 60 seats needed for a government. That puts Likud in a very strong negotiating position indeed.

Monday, November 25, 2002
Why am I bothering to come (briefly) out of my shell to debate Jonah Goldberg? Because his most recent column is so bad that it demands a response.

Recently Jonah wrote a column arguing the proposition that we are now more free than we have ever been in human history. A defensible proposition to be sure, and he made a decent if not terribly distinguished show of defending it. In his response to critics linked above, however, he manages to throw overboard just about every conservative principle I can think of, and winds up defending a concept of freedom that would be far more familiar to a liberal Democrat than to any conservative.

He argues, for example, that the level of taxation (and, presumably, the character of taxation) is less important than the aggregate wealth of an individual. Thus, if the average American now earns, say, $35,000 per year after taxes, and has a VCR, a cellular phone, and an automobile, that ipso facto outweighs the fact that this same average American pays a far greater percentage of his income in taxes than did his grandfather.

By this logic, the courtiers of Kublai Khan were freer than their rough contemporaries, the Vikings of Iceland. Sure, the Vikings paid essentially no taxes, were subject to virtually no central government, did whatever they liked, owned their own ships and their own arms which they used to raid the coasts of nearby (and far flung) nations, vigorously explored and colonized new territories (including in the New World), and, incidentally, lived with a relatively high degree of sexual freedom and status for women. And sure, the Chinese were under the absolute rule of a foreign potentate, lived lives subject to the rigid rules of court etiquette, were restricted in bearing arms, restricted in speech, vastly restricted in association, and kept their women in a state of virtual slavery. Nonetheless, China was arguably the richest and most technologically advanced society in the world, while the Vikings were primitive and dirt-poor, and therefore the Chinese were freer than the Vikings.

Another counter-example: who was freer, Huck Finn or a modern slum-dweller? Finn owned nothing: no home, no vehicle, not even shoes to call his own. His father abandoned him when he wasn't beating him. He had virtually no schooling, had no access to decent hygiene or medicine. The modern slum-dweller, by contrast, may live in public housing, get public-funded meals, may own (as Jonah notes) a television, VCR, telephone, refrigerator - a whole host of modern conveniences. Starvation is almost inconceivable. Health care and education may not be great, but they are available. But who is freer? Huck had his self-confidence, his friend Jim and his river; he could fish or sing for his supper and spurn any authority. By contrast, the slum-dweller may never have left the narrow confines of his immediate neighborhood. He lacks the basic skills to earn a living in his world. He is subject to a reign of terror from criminal gangs, whom he may have to pay for protection to avoid bodily harm. He lacks Huck's basic dignity along with his broader horizons. But he is supremely wealthy by comparison. Who is freer?

It is true that Aristotle felt that to be free one had to be sufficiently wealthy to be free of material cares. But how many Americans are so free today? How many gentlemen do we have who rest of their accumulation and devote themselves to civic pursuits? We worked harder and longer than ever. Perhaps we want to - or perhaps we cannot but do so to pay our taxes and to maintain ourselves at a level of social status to which we have become accustomed. Moreover, Aristotle also thought that freedom was a matter of character and education - that freedom was an inner capacity, not simply a condition of lack of external restraint or economic and technological prowess. Are we ahead of our grandfathers on this metric?

Jonah does talk about certain liberties that have unquestionably advanced: freedom of speech, sexual freedom, greater rights for the accused, and so forth. But he passes over rather quickly how these revolutions came about: by judicial fiat. These advances for freedom came at the cost of a loss of popular sovereignty. Similarly, he glosses over what are unquestionably the most important advances for freedom in America in the past 100 years: the end of legal segregation and the extention of suffrage and then social equality to women. These were fundamental advances because they extended the mantle of popular sovereignty over a larger segment of the populace. The common thread in these omissions is that the freedom involved is the dignity of self-government and membership in the sovereign people. This freedom is the cornerstone of our Republic, what most essentially makes us a free people. By contrast, even the libertarian freedom included in FDR's big four - freedom of speech - is arguably secondary, since true popular sovereignty is likely to bring this freedom in its train, whereas if such a freedom is ensured only by judicial overlords it is likely to be undermined. The hollowing-out of the political core of freedom of speech in recent years is testimony to my argument.

Even the libertarian freedoms Jonah cites are not an unmixed bag. Let's take Jonah's example of sexual freedom. Today, we have abortion on demand and no-fault divorce; our grandparents had neither. Who is freer? On the first, it depends on the moral status one accords the fetus. If it has one, and that status is at all commensurate with a human being, then we are less free, in the same way that the antebellum South was less free than the North. The former may have had a leisure class with pretensions to Aristotelian freedom, but it was freedom purchased with the lash, and therefore worthless. On the latter, it again depends on whom you ask. Men are clearly freer: they are not bound to their wives if they tire of them. To some extent, women are freer, but to some extent less. When their men leave, they are expected, by law and custom, to care for the children. They are not free of that burden. On the other hand, if they have sufficient means, they are free to leave an unloving marriage and find a better one. I don't know which has the greater impact on freedom. But on children, the impact is unquestionably negative. Jonah thinks well-being is an index of freedom. Well, divorce makes children poorer in material goods and in emotional nourishment, and no-fault divorce has unquestionably increased the incidence of divorce. Moreover, even in "good" divorces children are condemned to shuttling endlessly between households, a prima facie infringement on their own freedom. So has this libertarian advance really represented an increase in freedom? Or its diminution? I don't think the answer is clear.

The freedoms Jonah highlights are FDR's four freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Any good conservative will be able to tell you why the last two aren't really "freedoms" in the same sense as the first two - not that they are irrelevant, but that they are not comparable and shouldn't be discussed in the same breath, and certainly shouldn't be netted against the other two. After all, the Chinese Communist Party has, since 1979, provided a good measure of the last two freedoms (at least, if you don't cross the Party), while utterly eliminating the first two. But even advances in the libertarian freedoms are clearly an insufficient accounting from a conservative perspective, since they leave out any dimension of popular sovereignty. What's so infuriating is that Jonah has blithely accepted FDR's conception of freedom. He doesn't talk about character, about whether we are freer in dignity, which would have made sense to the ancients, and which arguably has decreased. He doesn't talk about our freedom to dispose of our assets as we wish, and build our own little realms free of external constraint, which would have made sense to Locke, which has certainly decreased. He talks about how many consumer goods we have and how free we are to consort with as many women or men as we wish. No doubt about it; we've got more of these kinds of freedom than any generation past. But are they really the measure of human freedom? More to the point: does anyone else at NRO think they are? Does Jonah understand the nature of the argument he's deploying? That he has the audacity to quote Hayek in defense of his relativistic argument, when Hayek was attacking precisely the positions that Jonah advances, suggests that he does not.

Friday, November 22, 2002
Who the hell is Tony Parsons and how can I get him a nice bottle of Scotch.

Thursday, November 21, 2002
Apologies to my few but treasured readers. I've been more absent than present of late. The simple fact is: work has been very heavy, and looks to remain so. I've missed a couple of Thursday Torah discussions already, and I expect to miss more. Hopefully y'all won't abandon gideon's blog, 'cause I promise it's not going away. It just might be less daily for a week or so than it has been most weeks.

I wonder sometimes why I continue to blog items like this: Eleven Dead, 50 Wounded in Suicide Bus Attack in Jerusalem.

The murderer came from Bethlehem, a formerly Christian town that the Islamists have largely "cleansed" religiously under PA auspices. (Of course, it would be a major human-rights violation to undo that "cleansing" under IDF auspices. Palestinian Arabs seeking to invade Israel are the only ones with a natural "right to return.") The IDF has been in and out of Bethlehem more times than I can count. The time has come, past time, to end the charade.

I know Sharon is right in trying to keep things quiet before the Iraq war. But how many Jews are expendable in this fashion? And how sure can we be that after the Iraq war, Israel will be rewarded for restraint? Isn't it more likely that the reward for restraint will be demands for more restraint?

If Sharon doesn't start laying the groundwork for the expulsion of Arafat and the permanent reconquest of the territories, he'll be in a pretty tight box after the Iraq war.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Well, the downside of the Mitzna victory is there will be no unity government. The upside is that Mitzna will offer a clear choice, and Labor will lose badly. Which means the party will start thinking all the quicker about what went wrong and what to do about it. Which means that by the next election, the Labor party may have come to grips with its failure and re-made itself into a party capable of contesting for the Israeli center. Or, if not, that the party will have dissolved and surrendered that ground to some other party (such as Shinui).

Assuming Sharon wins the Likud primary (which he will), I don't think it's crazy to think Likud will get 40 seats all by its lonesome, and Labor could get as few as 15. Heck, if Mitzna keeps saying he'll talk to Arafat any time, anywhere, and wants to form a government with Shas, Shinui might get more seats than Labor. You heard it here first . . .

Glenn Reynolds has the right response to Brink Lindsey's piece in NRO. I was trying to write something of the same thing, but I couldn't quite get it together. Glad I don't have to do everything in the blogosphere.

And John Derbyshire has a strong piece on The National Question, also at NRO. If foreign policy is an issue where September 11th fundamentally changed the mind of a fellow like Brink Lindsey, immigration is an issue where September 11th fundamentally changed my views. I'm not in the VDARE came by a long shot. But I'm a whole lot closer than I was on September 10th.

Before September 11th, I would have described myself as pretty much an open-borders type. I believed in the American nation and in the privilege of American citizenship, and I believed strongly in assimilation. I would have thought that the "visa express" program run by the State Department was madness, had I known about it, and of course I still do. But that's a minor if egregious example of our laxity in security matters. The key thing is, before September 11th I would have argued that America is only enriched by large-scale immigration, and that restrictions would harm our economy without any substantial collateral benefit. I don't believe that any more. I still think we need significant immigration economically, and that the cultural costs can be minimized and the benefits maximized with the right policies. But we must enact these policies now, not hope they will be enacted. And we need to get more discriminating about immigration itself.

We have three separate problems related to immigration in this country. First, the issue of security and our penetration by hostile powers. Second, the issue of national unity and national identity. Third, the issue of citizenship and its privileged status. They are related, but not identical. I'm going to give a brief overview of my feelings about each.

First, security. This issue in itself has three parts: the question of spying, or individual treason; the question of collective treason by groups resident in America but hostile to America; and the question of reliance on foreign labor for strategically critical functions.

Let's turn to spying first. This is an issue primarily if we think foreign powers are stealing military secrets. Let's face it: diplomatic secrets are just not that valuable. Far more valuable are designs for specific military technologies. In this regard, the biggest risk comes not from foreigners but from the American government, which has been all too willing to simply give away valuable information and even the weapons themselves to potentially or actively hostile powers. In the war on terror, moreover, spying would be primarily useful for undermining the effectiveness of our counter-terror operation. Are there spies for al-Qaeda in the FBI or CIA? There may well be. But this strikes me as a fairly narrow question that can be resolved without overturning our whole immigration system.

The question of collective disloyalty is much tougher. One doesn't want to over-react here. I'm not just being PC; there are real diplomatic consequences of any action we might take. Rounding up Americans of Japanese descent may or may not have been unjust; liberals like William O. Douglas thought it just, and I don't know why I have to get to his left. (I know, I know; he repented of Korematsu later in life. What does that prove? When the issues were live, he ruled for the government. When the issues were stale and the political climate had made such a ruling unacceptable, he changed his mind. I think the actual decision was a truer reflection of his feelings.) But in World War II we were at war with the Empire of Japan. We are not currently at war with, for example, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. Rounding up citizens - or even resident aliens - of Pakistani, Egyptian, or Arabian descent would have serious consequences. Short of that, what can we do about the question of collective disloyalty? I mean as official policy, not a cultural matter; as a cultural matter, we can clearly register our absolute intolerance for anti-Americanism. It seems to me that the main policy action that we will have to take is substantially increased surveillance of these communities, in what amounts to domestic espionage. Our country has a lousy record in this regard in the past, J. Edgar Hoover and all that. Domestic spy agencies, once created and given power, will use that power in their own self-defense, and thereby corrupt their mission and the government. But it does seem to me that this risk is the lesser of two evils. If a terror attack is being planned in a mosque in Newark, we need to know. We won't know without spying.

Finally, reliance on foreign labor. We continue to do a disastrous job educating our young people and incentivizing them to go into fields like engineering. As a result, our universities are increasingly factories for producing PhDs of foreign descent. Many of these choose to remain in America (who wouldn't?) but it is not obvious to me that this arrangement serves our national interest. It is one thing to want to have the best scholarship in the world, and therefore to want to collaborate across national lines on research. It is quite another to devote much of the educational work of our research institutions to training non-Americans. What to do? We should clearly be changing the rules for our research universities to favor domestic candidates, and we should be reordering Federal priorities in funding university education to incentivize our young people to go into fields where foreigners are over-represented. Let a few more Pakistanis become bond-traders instead of designing missiles, and a few more Americans design missiles instead of becoming bond-traders.

My second concern was national unity and national identity. They are not the same question. We could have a single national identity that is quite weak but produces few fault-lines, and we could have a strong national identity that is nonetheless fractured. Canada, for example, suffers from both problems; Canadian identity is weak tea, and Canada is divided sharply into Anglophone and Francophone. America is not so bad as that on either metric, but we have both problems as well. The former afflicts our elites and our urban centers generally. I cannot tell you how many educated, middle- or upper-middle class professionals I know who have no strong sense of patriotism, no sense of jealous pride about America. I feel in this regard like very much a minority in my own milieu, even, on occasions, in my own family. All these people are unmistakeably American, mind you; in Paris, they would be hated just as much as Rush Limbaugh. But they are casually alienated from their country. Is this an immigration problem? It is in part, largely because these alienated elites run our public education system, and the immigrants who pass through that system thereby pick up the alienation. Adults who come to America and go through naturalization are among our most patriotic and loyal citizens. Their children, though, quickly assimilate to the attitudes they pick up from school, the media, the urban culture at large. Those attitudes are not friendly to the American enterprise. Whether or not we continue to have large-scale immigration, we need to tackle this national question.

But the other problem - national unity - is no longer to be taken for granted either. The great Mexican immigration is the big challenge here, but not the only one. The casual national alienation that afflicts our urban (and many older suburban) areas has allowed alienated communities to grow. The Muslim communities are not the only ones who might turn against America in a time of foreign conflict. This is an enormous challenge. It is not entirely unprecedented in American history, but it feels close. Germans in World War I, Japanese in World War II - these hyphenated communities harbored some who were disloyal, but as a group they were overwhelmingly loyal and eager to prove their patriotism. The Kaiser's boast that 500,000 German-Americans would be a fifth column in the American armed forces was utterly without foundation. Would Chinese-Americans be similarly loyal today in a war against China? I suspect so, but I'm not 100% sure, particularly with respect to more recent and more middle-class immigrants from the mainland. Pakistani-Americans if we go to war with Pakistan? Mostly yes, but a large minority is probably more doubtful. Arabian-Americans if we go to war with Saudi Arabia? I think that would be a "no."

(I must, in this regard, draw attention to my own community. American Jews have been overwhelmingly loyal and served with distinction in all of America's wars, and in numbers commensurate with our population. (The same is true today, by the way; about 2% of the population is Jewish and about 2% of the armed forces are Jewish.) Many Jews obviously have an interest in foreign affairs because of Israel's situation, as do Irish Americans because of Northern Ireland, Taiwanese-Americans because of Chinese threats to Taiwan, Polish-Americans (once) because of the (one-time) subjection of their country to Soviet domination, etc. It is vanishingly unlikely that in any of these cases America would come into direct armed confrontation with the country for whom we have affection, in all cases because of the nature of that country. At worst, we will fail to help them, not fight against them. America's wars have overwhelmingly been just; our enemies have been corrupt and weak (e.g. Noreiga) or profoundly dangerous (e.g. Hitler, Tojo, Saddam). If, at the margins, American Jews try to promote Israel's interests, I do not think this is disloyalty in any sense. If that is the standard, I dare say there are few in America who could be considered loyal; even those patriotic Germans, for example, surely had a particular interest in the war, if only an interest in seeing it end quickly and in an honorable peace, that no more German lives be thrown away by the Kaiser's ambition. But if, for example, Israel were to become an active enemy of America (difficult as it might seem to imagine), I do not doubt that American Jews, anxious though they might be, would support "regime change" in Israel. If they did not, and supported the enemy, I would have to characterize my own community - or, at least, that portion which behaved in this fashion - as disloyal. And I would expect us to suffer for it. Moreover - and this is a historic case - where fringe elements who are disloyal are harbored and protected by the larger community, whether or not the larger community has a true understanding of the seriousness of the matter, this does and should bring the whole community under suspicion. The case I am thinking of, of course, is the Rosenbergs, and more generally the case of Jewish Communists. British Communists and Anglo American Communists were more numerous and more damaging, and loyal Jews were the overwhelming majority; only a very tiny number of Jews were ever active Communists. But a much larger minority of Jews did not - indeed, still does not - understand the Communists to be a threat, and Jewish Communists were unquestionably able to operate more effectively in America than they might have because of mostly unthinking support within the community. I am not surprised that this resulted in a certain degree of suspicion of Jews among the more vigorous anti-Communist elements in America, and even in the halls of American government. I'm not sure this suspicion was unjust - even though, as I say, country-club WASP Communists were far more important in the Party and far more dangerous to America. I trust I have absolved myself of the charge of double-standards. End of digression.)

We have, then, two major challenges with respect to national unity. First, we must resist any trend towards bi-nationalism. We have got to end dual-citizenship, end bi-lingual education, fight every trend that pulls Americans apart and reinforce every trend that pushes us together. We have got to look at even non-cultural policies from the standpoint of the unity of our culture. Our welfare policies for instance. I have no doubt that one reason Mexican-Americans in California are less Americanized than those in Texas is that California has far more generous welfare policies. And second, we have got to become discriminating about immigration. There is no right to come to America, no right to become a citizen, and if there are groups inclined to be disloyal they should see an impact on our willingness to let them come here. I remain optimistic about our ability to assimilate the great Mexican immigration, as we assimilated the Germans and the Irish before them. It is a matter of national will, not the nature of the Mexican character, whether we will do so. What concerns me is that, in accommodating this immigration, we have surrendered too many tools for the defense of our borders against those more likely to be our enemies, and too many tools that are necessary for preventing the balkanization of our society. Our dependency on Mexican labor and our concern for offending our large Mexican-American population may be hamstringing efforts to take more urgent actions related to securing our borders. We can't afford that. If we're going to offend anyhow, let's take the bull by the horns and put some limits on mass immigration, and particularly to limit illegal immigration. There will be economic costs to such limits. But there are security costs to not having them.

(And a brief word about illegal immigration. There is a lot of talk about how immigrants take jobs that Americans won't take. It's a load of hooey. In many cases, there are Americans competing for the same jobs. But an illegal immigrant has certain advantages. His employer won't have to give him health insurance. She won't have to pay his Social Security taxes. She will probably be able to pay a lower wage if only because the illegal immigrant is not paying income tax, and so has a higher after-tax yield at the same salary. This is obviously the case in the nanny business, and I would not be surprised if much of the political pressure against tightening rules against illegal immigration stemmed from the desire on the part of the nanny-employing class to limit child-care costs.)

Third and finally is the question of the special privilege of American citizenship. I could not agree more with Derbyshire that this is indeed a privilege, and one that must be defended. American citizens have the privilege of voting; that is primarily what distinguishes them from resident aliens. That isn't enough. The "due process" guaranteed by the 14th Amendment applies to life, liberty or property. Is a government job any one of these? No. So much for the case that prompted Derbyshire's piece. There is a long history of equal-protection jurisprudence which could potentially apply here (whether it properly should or not) but national security should be a sufficiently compelling interest to survive strict scrutiny. The relevant precedent is Korematsu, the case which established strict scrutiny in the first place. If rounding up the entire Japanese-American population of the West Coast was acceptable under the Constitution, it is hard for me to see how requiring citizenship for a government job fails to be so. I think California's attempt under Prop 187 to exclude aliens from education was stupid and vindictive policy. But discrimination on national security grounds seems eminently sensible.

There is a principle in Judaism that one is supposed to discourage conversion, because Judaism is a responsibility as well as a blessing, and no one should take on that responsibility without being assured they know what they are doing. I would not similarly advocate discouraging aliens from becoming citizens. But it seems reasonable to me to require some sacrifice in order to obtain citizenship's privileges. Dual citizenship ought to be abolished. People who accept foreign citizenship must be ineligible for American citizenship. And first in line for citizenship should be those who have done some service to their new country. In that regard, I would strongly support the continued ability of foreigners to serve in the American military. I can think of few better instruments of acculturation, and few better ways to separate those who come to take from those who come to give than by according preference for citizenship to those aliens who have served in the American armed forces.

To summarize:

* We must be willing to engage in domestic espionage in communities - whether of citizens or no - known to harbor enemies of America.
* We must implement an educational and visa policy devoted to reducing the proportion of non-citizens in our research institutions, particularluy in strategic areas.
* We must eliminate bi-lingual education and restore an ethic of assimilation and national and civic pride to our public education system.
* We must increase border security and take serious action to reduce illegal immigration and surveil and screen prospective immigrants more carefully.
* We should discriminate among countries to select for immigrants more likely to assimilate into American society and against those more likely to be disloyal, inasmuch as this can be determined.
* We must examine our domestic policies that are a "draw" for immigrants to ensure that we attract fewer immigrants who are on the economic "take" and apt to care little for America and more who are able and eager to contribute positively to American society.
* We should give priority to immigrants who have given service to America, particularly in the American armed forces.
* We should eliminate dual citizenship and other arrangements that dilute the significance and uniqueness of American citizenship.

Again, I cannot stress enough that I still believe that immigration is of enormous economic and cultural benefit to America. But continued immigration, at reasonable levels, is not the same thing as open borders. Open borders are more a consequence than a cause of our cultural dilemma. But if we don't address the dilemma now, they may make it politically impossible to address in the future. And if we don't address it now, the risk to our physical security could be devastating.

Brink Lindsey has a very good piece at NRO about the New Barbarians. If you want an explanation for why a some-time libertarian has joined the hawks in the war on terrorism (unlike many of his Cato colleagues), this piece - the first of three parts - is an excellent introduction.

Various political news from Israel:

Aryeh Gamliel is carrying out his threat to quit Shas and start his own party. No polls yet on how it will do, but should get at least a couple of seats on the strength of emotional support for Arieh Deri. More interesting is his apparent intention to make the new party - Ahavat Yisrael - a less explicitly ultra-Orthodox party. I predict this party's seats come exclusively at the expense of Shas - which is good for Likud. Even better: it further splits the ultra-Orthodox bloc, making it more possible for Likud to pick and choose among coalition partners.

Mitzna says his first act as PM would be to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza - not as a gesture of goodwill but because it is in Israeli interests. He promised by this means to deliver the same security on the Southern Front that Ehud Barak delivered in the North by unilaterally withdrawing from Lebanon. (Just kidding.)

Dan Meridor is the leading candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, assuming (as expected) that current mayor Ehud Olmert joins the next Sharon cabinet.

The Arab parties are expected to shrink in the next Knesset, due to low voter turnout. This could potentially be significant for minor parties like Moledet and for the size of Likud's majority. Under Israel's proportional representation system, Knesset seats are allocated according to the share of the vote, with a very low threshold for representation. If Moledet is close to the edge of getting one seat, and the Arab parties lose, say, two seats, that might be enough to push Moledet over the hurdle. By the same token, if the Arab parties lose two seats and Likud gets, say, 40% of the Jewish vote, that would mean one of those lost Arab party seats would go to Likud. Which would make it that much easier to form a government.

(As an aside, several years ago Shas made a serious play for Arab votes. If the new Ahavat Yisrael doesn't take a strong position on security matters, it would be in a position to do something similar. Indeed, a religiously conservative, socially-conscious party would be the natural home for that fraction of the Arab vote that is willing to accept the permanence of the Jewish state - a much more natural home than either Labor or Likud or the left-wing secularists of Meretz.)

The Jerusalem Post correctly points out that Labor has no economic program at all, and that this is a second major reason (along with Oslo) for the party's parlous state. Who does this leave an opening for. You got it: Shinui, which is running on a platform of economic liberalism, among other things.

Finally, I can't help noticing the similarity between the Labor debate and the Democratic Party debate in this country. Labor is currently debating how to oppose Likud given the public's change in mood in the wake of the collapse of Oslo. And the candidate overwhelmingly likely to win today - Mitzna - is the standard-bearer for the notion that Labor has been too hawkish, too much like Likud, and that therefore they need to move left to survive. Kind of the way Nancy Pelosi talks about the Democrats here. Israel's political system is different; there are far more than 2 viable parties. But that cuts both ways. If left-wingers are inclined to vote Meretz rather than support a more hawkish Labor, hawks are more likely to vote Shinui rather than support a more dovish Labor. Which is why I continue to believe that the real sea-change in this election will be the emergence of Shinui as a serious challenge to Labor. After this election, there will be one center-right bloc at the heart of Israeli politics, with Likud at its heart. Arrayed around it will be several other blocs of fairly equal size: a center-left bloc, a far-left bloc, a far-right bloc, an ultra-Orthodox bloc, an Arab bloc and Shinui. Until the political climate changes radically, that's the shape of Israeli politics.

Friday, November 15, 2002
New election polls from Israel suggest (a) a clear Sharon victory over Netanyahu; (b) a clear Mitzna victory over Ben-Eliezer; (c) a weaker showing for Shas and a stronger showing for Likud than I had projected previously. The most recent numbers I've seen look something like this:

* Labor gets 18 to 20 seats. I assume Meimad runs with Labor and they get 20 together. That's down marginally from 25 currently.
* Likus gets 35 seats, with Gesher and Center non-existent and Yisrael B'Aliyah running separately and getting 5 seats. For the center-right bloc of Likud-Gesher-Center-YB'A, that's 40 seats, up from 30 currently for the same bloc.
* T'chelet (the former National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) gets 9 seats, up from 7. NRP gets only 4 - a shocker, that; I thought they would add seats, not lose them (they now have 5). Herut goes from 1 seat to zero, for net no change for the far right: 13 seats before, 13 now. (Though you could argue that, since Herut will never join any government, it shoudn't be counted as part of this bloc, the rest of which is in play.)
* Shas declines from 17 to 10 seats. UTJ holds steady at 5. The ultra-Orthodox bloc thus declines from 22 to 15.
* Shinui rockets from 6 seats to 12. Shinui is probably best described as a Pym Fortuyn-esque party: center-right on security matters, economically liberal (in the European sense of free-market), but fundamentally organized as an anti-religious party aimed at breaking the influence of the ultra-Orthodox on Israeli politics. It's also headed by an iconoclastic public personality, in Shinui's a radio talk-show host and Holocaust survivor named Danny Lapid.
* Meretz stays relatively static at 10 seats.
* The Arab parties stay collectively static at 10 seats.
* The remaining tiny parties - such as Democratic Choice and One Nation - vanish, thanks to the new election law.

Sharon's party and its most natural partners will have 40 seats. He needs 21 more to form a government. Based on the above, he can achieve this with any two of the following blocs:

Ultra Orthodox (Shas + UTJ): 15 seats
Secularist Center-Right (Shinui): 12 seats
Far Right (NRP + T'chelet): 13 seats
Center-Left (Labor + Meimad): 20 seats

Since Shinui won't sit with the ultra-Orthodox and Labor won't sit with the Far Right (assuming Mitzna would form a national unity government at all, which he probably wouldn't), that gives Sharon 4 coalition choices:

Ultra-Orthodox + Far Right. This is the Netanyahu coalition from his last government.
Ultra-Orthodox + Labor. This is the National Unity coalition of the outgoing Sharon government.
Shinui + Far Right.
Shinui + Labor.

The strength of Shinui, in other words, considerably strengthens Sharon's hand in dealing with the ultra-Orthodox. And that, in turn, strengthens his hand in dealing with either Labor or the Far Right. That is good for Sharon. But it is also good for Israel. I'm more optimistic about the upcoming elections than I have been in a while.

As an aside, I've been asked why I favor Sharon over Netanyahu. It's a good question, since I favor the Bibi program of eliminating Arafat and freeing up the economy, as against Sharon's program which is focused on isolating and containing Arafat and imposing economic austerity. There are three reasons.

First, Bibi is a liar. He has lied about everything to everybody just about all the time. He lied to his cabinet, he lied to the American President (who was also a liar, of course), and he lied to himself. I don't like liars. Sharon has offered nothing but blood, sweat and tears. But he's been pretty honest. So if Bibi wins, how much confidence can I have that he will implement his beautiful program. Answer: none.

Second, Bibi is an egotist. It is all about him. He would happily rip the country apart if it helped him win an election. He's effectively doing that now; if he would simply support Sharon, he'd be next in line for the PM spot. Bibi is young; Sharon is old. He could do far more for his country and, ultimately, his career by closing ranks. But he wants to be the big man, and he can't do it by sitting in Sharon's shadow. More even than Shimon Peres, I question Netanyahu's love of country. Sharon, by contrast, is a true patriot. That doesn't mean he's always right and it doesn't mean he isn't political. But it does mean that his ultimate motives are good: he wants to strengthen and defend Israel. I can't say the same about Netanyahu.

Third, the things Sharon is right about are more important than the things Bibi is right about. Bibi is more right about the economy and more right about how Arafat must be dealt with. But Sharon has placed a priority on Israel's relationship with America and on maintaining national unity. And Sharon is right. Israel's greatest strength in the current crisis is not her boldness in action but her firmness. Bibi has often been bold, but he has not shown firm resolve. And he cannot - and does not understand how to - unite the country. Nor does he understand how to play the foreign relations game. Bibi famously allied himself with the Gingrinch Congress. This got him lots of friendly press and favorable Congressional resolutions. But it earned him the undying enmity of the President of the United States, Bill Clinton - who then, taking his cue from Bibi, intervened egregiously in the Israeli elections to ensure the election of Ehud Barak. Sharon has learned from this mistake. Bibi hasn't.

Apologies for not posting in a while. I've been very busy at work.

Some quick thoughts about Iraq and the UN: I feel like the same story gets repeatedly reiterated over and over. We're once again having an argument about who is the fox, Bush or Saddam. Did Bush cleverly maneuver the UN into the US's court, so that now we will have international support to clean up the Iraq problem, or did Bush get maneuvered by Saddam Hussein's friends at the UN into giving the UN a veto on military action? It seems to me the answer to this question comes down to Bush's character: does he intend to eliminate the problem posed by Saddam's regime or does he intend to sacrifice that goal if it looks expedient to do so? In 1998, the Clinton Administration took the latter view. They were all ready for a war in Iraq, and they backed down because Kofi Annan said he was satisfied with Iraq's commitments to comply. Does this show that Iraq outmaneuvered the US? No, it shows that Clinton really didn't want war, and was looking for an excuse to avoid one. The question that is still open - and we have to say this, given the facts so far - is: does President Bush want to solve decisively the Iraq problem, or does he want to appear to have solved it? If the former, the UN cannot stop us - legally, we have the right to take unilateral action, and practically, the UN does not want to become irrelevant, which is what would happen if the US defied it. If he is willing to be satisfied with the appearance of a solution, then Iraq will win, because Saddam is the master at providing such appearances.

I don't know where the optimists about Bush get their optimism. I also don't know where the pessimists get their pessimism. It seems to me that this is the big character test we've been building towards, where we find out whether Hal has really become Henry V. After this winter, it will be much harder to disagree about the President's character.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002
So I guess the only surprise is that they didn't wait until Friday: Iraq accepts UN resolution.

Good piece in NRO on al Qaeda's stupidity.

Correspondent J Martin points me to the following piece by Franklin Foer in The New Republic, about one humane Muslim scholar's fight to survive - literally - as a free independent interpreter of Islam. He's described as someone who argues that religious proscriptions must be construed narrowly, for fear of usurping G-d's authority. He's not a liberal, not an apostate - not that it matters. In any event, he lives, in the United States, in fear of his life from death threats from colleagues, students, and people he doesn't know, who only know that he has criticized Muslim authorities in Saudia Arabia and elsewhere.

We hear over and over again about the ignorance and simple-mindedness of the reigning powers in Islam. The Wahhabis have consciously declared war on the intellect, declaring all thought to be heresy and all disputes to have been settled by the time of the first generation after Muhammad's death. Muslims who weild great influence have had little or no education as Muslims. "Sheik" Yassin of Hamas has a sixth-grade education. Osama bin Laden has no formal Islamic education; he nonetheless issues fatwas (religious rulings) and is one of the more influential decisors alive (which he appears still to be). Even giants of the fundamentalist movement like Qutb had little Muslim education; their ideas were derived from Western sources - specifically, anti-Western sources within the West such as Leninism, or Nazism, or their intellectually respectable underpinnings in Marx, Heidegger, Fanon and so forth. All this is true, and the El Fadl's of the world are right to despair of such a situation.

But somehow, this seems insufficient as an explanation of the current mess that Islam is in. People have to choose to follow ignoramuses. The Saudi princes themselves have decided to mortgage the future of their regime to a bunch of ignorant fanatics. Is that smart on their part? The corruption of Saudi money has destroyed the intellectual idependence and credibility of much of the Islamic world. But is this buying the Saudis anything? Their regime's most fierce critics are those who follow the doctrines they fund most rigidly and fanatically. Muslims all over the world see successful and unsuccessful societies. They see the Great Satan is successful and they are failing, more and more. Meanwhile, non-Western countries from Japan to Mexico have prospered by following the Western example. So what do they decide? To make war on the West and embrace any philosophy, however alien from their own traditions, so long as it is anti-Western. Why? What is it gaining them? They see how essential science and technology are to prosperity and power, and they see how free inquiry and the exchange of ideas is essential to science. So what do they do? They embrace dependency on outsiders for technology and crush any vestige of independent inquiry in education. Why? People must choose to be corrupted, must choose to live in luxury in exchange for lying, rather than live free, honestly and less well-off. Why are their so few El Fadl's willing to do so? Particularly in the West, where the Egyptian secret police cannot get at them, and where a perfectly comfortable life is possible without compromising one's beliefs?

I also think it's simplistic to identify theological conservatism - or even fundamentalism - with fanaticism and violence. There's a large theologically conservative bloc in the Catholic and Anglican churches. There's a strident trend within Orthodox Judaism toward both literalism and traditionalism, exemplified by the Lakewood Yeshivah in New Jersey. There's a spectacular growth of the theologically conservative Pentacostal churches worldwide. And the LDS Church - conservative, heirarchical, secretive, resistant to criticism and downright conservative theologically - is growing by leaps and bounds. But none of these movements are without active, well-financed, angry opponents. And none of of these movements are characterized by political violence. There's a worldwide trend to fundamentalist, conservative, strict and ahistorical approaches to religion. There's a single religion that has taken these trends and married them to terrorism and madness.

At bottom, what we're talking about is cowardice. Muslim students in Iran have the courage to stand up and fight for the freedom of professors who dare to criticize the regime. Muslim students in Berkeley seem only interested in enforcing closed-minded conformity with the jackboot. And well-meaning Westerners are far more eager to help the latter than the former. It is no accident that Muslim "fighters" exclusively do battle with unarmed civilians: children in their beds, teenagers at a discotheque, patrons at a theater, workers in their offices: from Kibbutz Metzer to Bali to Moscow to Manhattan, the common thread is that these brave warriors will never, ever fight like men. They are ready to die - eager to die, in many cases - but in no case ready to fight honorably. They are the essence of cowardice, and this is the essential attribute they share with their intellectual defenders who would rather sell their entire religion into intellectual slavery for a Gulf junket and a quiet life than do what they know their G-d demands.

Nothing will be gained by allying with cowards. Nothing will be gained by not calling them by that most-fitting name. We're constantly being told that this war is partly one for hearts and minds, and that reaching out to Muslims and making them feel at home in the West is an important complement to smoking evildoers. And there is truth in that. But contempt is a weapon, too. And we should not underestimate its power.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Good news from the Israeli right: Eitam says NRP will run alone, will not join up with National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu (which, by the way, is talking about truly merging, not just running on a unified slate, and calling itself "T'chelet" or "blue" - the traditional color of tzitzit and the blue used in the Israeli flag). I think Eitam is dangerous, but he is a plausible partner for a Sharon government, and less of a threat to a centrist coalition than a united right would be.

Since I think a Labor-Likud national unity government is very unlikely, I am really hoping for Shinui to join up with Meimad (I know, that's also rather unlikely) so we could have the next government be Likud-Shinui-NRP and whatever other drips and drabs are needed to make a coalition. But it's really unlikely, I know.

Meanwhile, anyone been following the crackup in Shas? Looks like Deri may actually field a competing party.

It's looking less and less likely that bin Laden is dead. Of course, these things can be faked. But you know, what's the most likely explanation? Most likely, we let the big one get away.

Glad we've got 250,000 troops ready for action in Baghdad. Don't want Saddam living to fight another day too.

I've been known to say that there was only one guy on the Clinton foreign policy team worth talking to: Dick Holbrooke. I forgot about Dennis Ross. Of course, he worked for Bush 41 before, so maybe he doesn't count. Nah, he does. Smart guy. Good man. Wish there were more guys at State like him.

Monday, November 11, 2002
Meanwhile, in other news from Israel, the NRP and National Union-Ihud Leumi are talking again about a unified bloc. Some polling indicates that such an alignment could take 17 Knesset seats.

Just to give you an idea of how dysfunctional Israeli politics is, this faction could be the second-largest in the Knesset. And the result could be that Sharon will be unable to form a government after winning the next election.

Allow me to explain. Israel has a system of proportional representation, and the percentage of the vote necessary to win seats is negligible - 1%, I think. (By contrast, the minimum in Germany is 5% and in Turkey is, I think, 10%.) The result of this system is that no party ever wins an outright majority in the Knesset, but has to form a coalition with smaller parties. Moreover, in the past few election cycles, because of the direct election of Prime Minister, Israelis have tended to split their ballots between Prime Minister and Knesset, and this has increased the strength of the small parties. While direct election of the Prime Minister has been repealed, it's not clear that the small parties will fall back so easily to their former level of strength.

Likud is expected to win the next elections decisively. Whether they run in an alignment with several other parties or run alone, it is easy to identify the most logical partners for Likud: Gesher, the Sephardi party headed by David Levy; and Yisrael B'Aliyah, the immigrant party headed by Natan Sharansky. I assume that this collection of parties will, between them, take between 35 and 40 Knesset seats. The size of the margin depends largely on how well Shas does; the core of Shas voters are ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Jews, but they also draw many votes from other Sephardim who are not so strictly religious, and these voters could vote for Likud in the next election instead.

After Likud and its most-logical partners, four parties will be competing for the honor of second-largest party: Labor, Shas, Meretz and Shinui. Labor will not get more than 20 seats, and could easily get as few as 15. How many they get depends on many factors. Key are: (1) how good a campaigner Mitzna is if he wins the primary, and how well he keeps the peacenik vote away from Meretz; (2) conversely, how effective Ben Eliezer is if he wins, and how well he is able to keep the peacenik vote away from Meretz; and (3) whether Tommy Lapid takes the extraordinary opportunity afforded him in this election to leverage his modest party into the major leagues, and bid to depose Labor as the default choice of the secular middle class. So Labor gets 15 to 20 seats. Shas will not get more than 15 seats. They have 17 currently, but that was a high-water mark caused by the Deri trial. Whether they fall as low as 10 or hold as high as 15 depends on many factors, including most prominently whether Netanyahu connives with them to weaken Likud if he loses the primary to Sharon. (Don't put it past him. Don't put anything past him.) So Shas gets between 10 and 15 seats. Meretz will not become the second-largest party in this election, and will probably stay at their current 10 seats or even potentially lose a couple (though I doubt it; their voters are true believers, and will stay true). But it is in the game for the long-haul, to displace Labor as the left-wing choice. In a couple of more cycles, it could win that fight, depending largely on how successful Shinui is at mauling Labor on another front.

So the most interesting of the four is Shinui. I really do think Shinui has the opportunity in this election to become a major party and a perfectly legitimate partner for governing - and put itself on the road, possibly, to making a bid to govern in its own right. Shinui has the basis for becoming Israel's Liberal party. They are center-right on security matters, largely free-market oriented in economic matters, and stridently secularist. Their reason for being is to promote the interests of secular Israelis against the religious parties, specifically and especially Shas. But In this election they have the chance to parlay that narrow - but growing - niche into something bigger. If they can entice Meimad into running on a unified slate, Shinui will change its image forever with the voters. Meimad is an Orthodox party founded to promote a change in the religious status-quo in favor of greater religious freedom and to provide an Orthodox alternative to the increasingly hawkish National Religious Party. In the last election they ran with Labor; they are not expected to do so again. It's a gamble; Meimadniks are not ultra-Orthodox, and Shinui has no beef with them or their platform, but they are a religious party and they would object to some of the more strident anti-religious rhetoric which has been a staple of Shinui advertising. And if they moderated their message, they would risk losing their base. But we're talking about a calculated gamble. Moreover, if they brought on Meimad they would probably entice a number of Center Party types into joining up with them rather than Labor - particularly Dan Meridor, formerly of Likud and a kind of Mo Udall of Israeli politics. He'd bring some cachet in any case. Bottom line: without doing anything to broaden the party's message, Shinui will take 10 seats in the next election. If they take some gambles, and the gambles pay off, I think their margin could potentially go as high as 15, more likely 12.

So after the election, Likud will be sitting there with 35 to 40 seats, and wondering who to form a coalition with to establish a government. Sharon has made clear his preference for Labor. If Mitzna wins the primary, he will refuse. Who, then, will he turn to? One option is Shas. That rules out bringing Shinui into the coalition. Another option is Shinui; that rules out Shas, and would be very upsetting to Likud's base if Shinui ran a strident campaign; if Meimad ran with Shinui, it would be a much more plausible combination. But either coalition leaves Sharon short of the 60 seats necessary to form a government.

That leaves the far right. So long as the far right was divided between the NRP and National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu, Sharon could play them off one against the other. Neither Shinui nor Shas would object to a coalition with either party. But if the far-right unites into a single bloc, it could potentially be the second-largest party in the Knesset after Likud. Labor would never, under any leader, sit in a government where it was effectively equal to a far-right bloc. And such a party would be in a real position to dictate terms to Sharon. Sharon remembers what the far right did to Netanyahu, and he's aware that they are insufficiently sensitive - to say the least - to the importance of maintaining and strengthening the alliance with America. (To give you an idea of their insensitivity: at one point in the Clinton administration, there was talk on the Israeli right of dumping America and turning to Russia for patronage instead. Seriously.) He will give them representation in his government, but he will never want to form a government that is beholden to them.

If the far-right unites, though, and is as successful as is the polls indicate, Sharon could well wind up in a position where any government he forms is unacceptable. He can either be beholden to the far right that damages the alliance with America or make a coalition with Labor and Shinui that angers his base and leaves him effectively beholding to his natural opposition. By contrast, if the far right remains split between the NRP and National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu, Sharon can form either a coalition of Likud-Shas-UTJ-NRP, a religious-oriented coalition, or a coalition of Likud-Shinui-Labor-NRP, a true government of national unity. Simply having two alternatives would put Sharon in a much stronger position as leader.

Israel badly needs to reform its system of proportional representation. If it can't get rid of it altogether, at least it could adopt a minimum threshold for representation higher than 1%. But even such a reform would not break the deadlock outlined above; all the parties described are projected to win enough votes for significant representation.

As an aside: if the far-right does unite, and Sharon does not bring them into the government, Effie Eitam will be the leader of the opposition. Do you think that will wake up all the fools out there who think Sharon represents the far-right?

The news from Israel is terrible. The murders at Kibbutz Metzer were as predictable as they were horrifying. Salient facts:

* Two children, aged 4 and 5, and their mother were murdered by a gunman firing at point-blank range. Two others were murdered as he fled the kibbutz. He entered the kibbutz in order to murder innocents, as many as possible.
* The kibbutz was known as one of the leaders in promoting real, on-the ground cooperation between Jews and Arabs. Arab village elders from the neighboring village came spontaneously to show their support for the kibbutz.
* The kibbutz is, needless to say, inside the Green Line. The terrorist had to crawl under the security fence to get there.
* Ironically, the kibbutz had led the effort first to get the fence built and then to make sure that it was built on a line that did not interfere with Arab villagers trying to harvest their olive crop. (Indeed, the kibbutz leaders at one point argued that it would be better to have no fence than for the fence to interfere with the livelihood of the Arab villagers.)
* The terrorist is from the Al Aqsa brigades, which are controlled by Fatah, which is controlled by Arafat.
* Fatah has, since the attacks, deplored them, calling them a "mistake" because they didn't know that the kibbutz was inside the Green Line. (Remember, the terrorist had to crawl under the fence supposedly separating pre-67 Israel from the territories in order to get at the kibbutz.)
* The kibbutz leaders have, in general, maintained a firm stance in favor of peace and coexistence, and in favor of an Israeli withdrawal from the territories.

These kibbutzniks, are heroes, people of pure heart who put their values into practice on the ground, and took the risks for it. They are not arguing for peace and coexistence in Santa Monica, or even in Tel Aviv. They are living peace and coexistence on what were once and are again the front lines of Israel's war for acceptance in the Middle East. And that is precisely why Arafat and his terrorists wanted them dead.

The evildoers will not be satisfied until every Jew on earth is murdered in her bed. But first they will kill those who would live in peace with them.

I'm sorry, I'm still on the same damned hobby horse. I just can't seem to get off.

Mickey Kaus has another, very strong blog, about why it's not enough for Democrats to have "new ideas." Specifically: (a) ideas don't just come out of think-tanks; they have to have something to do with what the party believes, and if the Dems don't know what they believe they are in deep doo-doo; (b) it's not enough to reject dirigiste methods and embrace competitive market-oriented means to traditional Democrat ends, since some of those ends have been rejected; (c) in many cases, Republicans have proposed ideas that are the right ones (welfare reform, Giuliani-Bratton-style policing reforms, and perhaps - though he doesn't mention them - Bush's faith-based initiative and school choice. Mickey Kaus also says he's not worried too much about conservative judicial activism. And he concludes by saying that there may be "convergence" between the parties on all the major domestic issues.

Earth to Mickey: what you are really saying, though you are loathe to admit it, is that you agree with the GOP much more than with the Democrats. There is NO convergence between the parties, because the Democrats don't actually believe in any of the stuff that you want them to. And they don't believe in welfare reform above all, which is your absolute top domestic priority. But let's be magnanimous and assume you are right that there is domestic convergence between the parties. Why then support the Democrats on the basis of the neo-liberal agenda that you espouse if both parties agree on it? Which party do you trust more on foreign policy? And which party do you think has a better shot at actually implementing the domestic agenda you say they both agree on? This doesn't seem like a tough call at all. Why are you a Democrat?

Kaus identifies 3 broad Democrat issues that could distinguish them from the Republicans:

(1) A focus on "social equality" rather than economic equality. This is a Kaus staple, and I'm with him on it. I'm all for things like public parks, quality public education, universal jury service, stuff that brings the classes and races together into one people. Good stuff. Thing is, this is the Republican urban agenda in cities like New York. It is not the Democrat agenda, which is focused on a defending the prerogatives of the social-service bureaucracy and implementing politically-correct cultural policies. And the Democrats, a party whose funding base is centered in Hollywood and Manhattan, is in a poor position to be a party of social equality. This is a reason for Mickey to be a Republican.

(2) Kaus specifically identifies universal health-care as something that would promote "social equality." I don't quite see how that is; this sounds like a matter of income inequality to me. Moreover, as noted previously, the one thing that unites people in most industrialized countries is unhappiness with the state of health-care delivery. Is Mickey Kaus so sure this is an issue on which he won't ultimately conclude that the Republicans have a point, much as they do on Social Security? If universal, top-quality care is ruinously expensive, which party does Kaus want to support - the one that proposes to fill the cracks in the safety net for the poor with a moderate expansion of government coverage, or the one that proposes a massive new entitlement for all the elderly, including the ones who don't need it? This is a shaky pillar on which to build a case for the Democrats, and so far it's Kaus's only one.

(3) World government. You read that right. Kaus thinks the Dems should forthrightly propose such a thing, lose massively at the polls but come back strong in 20 years to implement a one-world agenda. I'm sorry, Mickey, but you've been drinking the Kool-ade on this one. Now, what you might mean is that the Democrats need to make a case for rebuilding the American-led international institutions created after WWII and making them more effective at promoting American interests (understood in an enlightened fashion, of course). But that would be something rather different. And it would require a hard-headedness we haven't seen from anyone on the Democrat side of the aisle with only one exception I can think of, and that's Dick Holbrooke. By contrast, what Dems are much more inclined to do is to use a kind of fake internationalism as a balm for their guilt about American power. That kind of thinking and policy-making leads nowhere but to the doghouse, and Kaus should know it, even if he doesn't have much interest in foreign affairs. Kaus's instincts on this matter are absolutely terrible; remember, this is the man who thought that September 11 would be off the front pages by Thanksgiving of 2001. I'd say this pillar is down flat.

Let's face it: the Democrats are a collection of interests groups underwritten financially by a slice of wealthy cultural liberals. It is a party that does not represent a set of alternative ideas competing with Republicans for the center of American politics. Rather, it is a party without fundamental ideas that might appeal to the American center that can only win elections when Republicans over-reach and Democrats can act as a moderating influence.

The Democrat economic and social agenda dominated from the 1930s to the mid-1970s. The coalition cracked in the mid-1960s, but the Democrat agenda continued to dominate the Nixon administration, and an alternative GOP agenda didn't really rise until Ronald Reagan's nearly successful challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976. That new Republican agenda has been dominant in American politics since 1980, and in spite of the closeness of recent elections it is still dominant today because the debate is about that agenda; there is no alternative. You can compare Reagan to Lincoln or FDR, and compare Bush to McKinley or Kennedy. Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan established their parties and their parties' ideas as the dominant ones for a generation. McKinley and Kennedy were (and I suspect, Bush will be) the key agents to cement and extend the dominance of their respective parties for about another generation. (On this analogy, Clinton would be the equivalent of Grover Cleveland or Dwight Eisenhower: centrist, consensus Presidents who adopted many of the ideas of the opposition party, but who did little to advance their respective parties to challenge their opponents for dominance.)

The fact of Republican agenda-dominance does not mean that the Democrats cannot compete strongly and successfully for office. Dominance leads to over-reaching, which gives opportunities for the opposition. There will always be a role for an opposition party to moderate, restrain and meliorate the aggressive agenda of the dominant party. But there is only one dominant party at any time in American politics, and in spite of the closeness of recent elections, I remain convinced that the GOP is that party in our present age. And that means that for folks like Mickey Kaus, who for one reason or another (and I discussed the potential reasons last week) continue to think of themselves as Democrats even though they disagree with their party on many of the issues they deem most important, the question is: stay with the party of opposition and try to push it towards the dominant party's position on key issues, or forsake your old roots and join the party you agree with more.

(I want to stress, by the way, that this is not a question of strategic voting such as a pro-gun Democrat or pro-abortion Republican might face of whether to vote for friendly candidates in an unfriendly party or for the more friendly party even if you disagree with them on other issues. That's an interesting narrow question, but not germane, because when we talk about policy-wonks like Kaus we are not talking about single-issue voters. Narrow, single-issue constituencies are one thing. Broad agendas are another. I believe that folks like Mickey Kaus actually agree with the GOP more than the Democrats on the broad agenda, not just on a couple of narrow issues. So the question for him is not, how will I advance my pet cause best but where will I feel more intellectually useful. In that regard, Kaus is probably right that he is more useful trying to change the Dems than joining the GOP cheering squad. That said, he might advance change within the Dems best by actually voting Republican. And he can do this without compromising his principles because he actually agrees with the GOP!)