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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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
 
I have no idea if these are President Clinton's 21 favorite books, and I don't agree that it's a purely political concoction, per Terry Teachout. It's a bit too weird for that.

I'm most inclined to believe that Becker spoke deeply to Clinton, and I don't mean that as a compliment. I suspect he genuinely enjoyed the Garcia Marquez, Thomas Wolfe, Bill Styron, Ralph Ellison. I'm not at all surprised he greatly admired Taylor Branch's book; Branch is an old friend, and Civil Rights is the glorious crusade Clinton wants to be associated with by virtue of his baby-boomerdom.

I haven't read the Lincoln biography, but Presidents are supposed to read about prior Presidents, and I should think a "human" treatment of Lincoln would particularly appeal to Clinton. (Everyone should be moved by Lincoln, but I imagine different people would prefer different Lincolns. John McCain's Lincoln, I imagine, is rather different from Clinton's. I myself was very moved by Alan Guelzo's book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, a "spiritual" biography; that tells you more about me than it does about Lincoln.)

Other books (Angelou's autobiography, Hillary's campaign-feeler coffee table job) require no comment.

Then there are the books that raise an eyebrow of suspicion. Marcus Aurelius? That doesn't sound like Clinton, a man of notorious indiscipline. The Four Quartets? Eliot? Really? That can hardly be Clinton trying to sound intellectual; Eliot is so 1955. It's almost quaint to think of him thinking back to a college-era experience of Literature with a capital "L" - that's the only way I can explain it.

Other books strike me as ephemeral; they are books Clinton read recently, and so remembers vividly, though I doubt they will be among his favorites for a decade.

Then there's Homage to Catalonia, a particularly interesting choice as Teachout notes. The book had a profound impact on me (I read it in college, as part of a seminar on the Spanish Civil War), but Orwell has something for just about everyone (everyone intelligent, at least). It takes a particular sort of writer to earn the admiration of a reactionary like John Derbyshire (who loves quoting Muggeridge on Orwell: "he loved the past, hated the present and dreaded the future"), an iconoclastic Enlightenment crusader like Christopher Hitchens (who wrote a whole book about Why Orwell Matters), and a (rhetorical) bomb-throwing anti-American radical like Noam Chomsky (who drew heavily on Orwell's account in Homage in his essay, "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship" from American Power and the New Mandarins). So I don't know how much we learn about Clinton from the fact that he claims Homage as one of his favorite books, other than it means he's smart and well-read, which we already knew. I'd be very interested to know why that book is among his favorites, though, what it meant to him, when it meant that to him, etc.

Monday, November 24, 2003
 
Finally, I'm very eager to read George Will's speech to the Manhattan Institute from last Wednesday (cited by Mickey Kaus - scroll down to Nov 20th posts), due to be published in City Journal. Which is, I should note, a really impressive magazine. Foreign Affairs are kind of far from their normal beat; they are primarily focused on urban issues. But they've nonetheless published good pieces from across the conservative spectrum, from Victor Davis Hanson (generally somthing of a cheerleader, though his latest piece is much less so) to Stanley Kurtz (strongly pro-war but skeptical of the prospects for democracy in Iraq - somewhat similar to my position) to (now) George Will (supportive pre-war, but angry about bad intelligence and highly critical of the neo-Wilsonian tendencies of some Administration figures). And they have Heather MacDonald on staff, who was strongly against the war from the beginning, on the grounds that it was a distraction from the fight against al-Qaeda and would, indeed, make that fight harder by alienating potential Muslim allies. She wrote a very good piece on how our intelligence and law-enforcement organs were systematically hamstrung and prevented from doing their job well, and how that led to 9-11. It's a very impressive publication all around. Go subscribe.

 
Norman Stone, meanwhile, has an excellent piece in today's WSJ about the terrible events in Turkey. (He thinks the attacks are a PKK operation, by the way.) Why were the British hit?

I am afraid that, to some extent, it has been our own fault. The Americans moved their embassy people in Istanbul into a very unlovely, but safe, concrete fortress miles up the Bosphorus. We, with a superb 19th-century building, refused to shift, and Roger Short, the consul general (he was a good friend of mine) absolutely would not budge: He said, English-fashion, If they are going to get me, they will get me.

I know they shot McKinley (Karl Rove's model for GWB), but this kind of throws a harsh light on Bush's security operation in London, no? They shot Teddy Roosevelt, too, and he went on and finished his speech.

Stone's larger point is that Turkey should be more involved with Iraq, not less - specifically, the Kurdish Catalonia should not be part of Iraq but part of Turkey. He makes a very good case (pretty much precisely the case I've analogously made with respect to Jordan and the Palestinian-dominated parts of Judea and Samaria). But I understand why the Turks want no part; they have enough trouble with the Kurds they have. I do wonder if the latest events will change their cost/benefit calculation at all.

We'll know the more idealistic neo-cons have won if we actually try to create an independent Kurdistan. We'll know the more hard-headed realists have won if the Turks are actually enticed to take over Iraqi Kurdistan. We'll be living in the real world of compromises and half-measures if neither happens, and we try to muddle through with an Iraqi version of Lebanon - pre-1970s-era, thank-you very much, with God's help.

 
Next on the paranoia express: the Saddam Hussein and 9-11 conspiracy coverup.

This is Laura Mylroie's and Stephen Hayes' beat. And let me admit a few things up front: (1) by about 12:00 noon on 9-11, I was arguing with people about whether Iraq was involved (I assumed it was); (2) I consider it a no-brainer that Islamist terror groups and nationalist/fascist terror groups can work together happily against a common enemy - even if they spend much of their down time trying to oust each other (see, e.g. the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of Fatah and the Islamic Jihad, who have conducted joint operations in the West Bank); (3) I don't consider myself competent to evaluate the details of Mylroie's and Hayes' claims.

But I have a general aversion to conspiracy theories. And this one in particular makes no sense. We now know that our government committed us to war with Iraq on the basis of intelligence that was deeply flawed. What happened to Saddam's biological and chemical arsenals we don't know - they may have been destroyed long ago; they may be in Syria or Iran; they may still be in Iraq, hidden. But we thought he had an active nuclear weapons program; that was a major justification for the war; and he didn't.

There were numerous reasons for us to go to war with Iraq, and numerous legal justifications, extending back to and including the assassination attempt on the first President Bush. But the two justifications that would garner the most public support, domestic and international, were: that Saddam was building nukes, and that Saddam was involved with al-Qaeda.

The government was clearly willing to hype equivocal intelligence on the first point as part of making its case for war. That was never the entirety of the case, but it was certainly part of it, and an important part. Why on earth wouldn't the Bush Administration have beat the drum loud about the al-Qaeda connection if it was so clear?

Mylroie and Hayes fall back on charges of bureaucratic infighting to justify the government's refusal to state, boldly, the evidence of a connection. Three problems with this: (1) it applies in spades to the WMD claim (where there was a lot of public debate, not to mention the presence of the weapons inspectors to complicate any Administration claims); (2) the same Office of the VP and Pentagon outfits that looked into the WMD claims were - and are - looking into the al-Qaeda connections; (3) it paints a pretty pathetic picture of President Bush, a leader capable of ordering his government to war but unable to get the truth about the reasons for that war out of his own cabinet secretaries.

This won't hold water. Saddam's connections to international terrorism are not disputed. He was closely involved with the PKK, with Abu Nidal, and with anti-Iranian terrorist groups. The odds that his intelligence services had some contact with al-Qaeda operatives over the years must be counted very high. I'm sure his people talked with Hezbollah as well, even though Hezbollah's primary backer is Iran and their patron is Syria; after all, Iran graciously agreed to hold on to Saddam's airforce during Gulf War I. Even Hitler and Stalin cooperated when it was in their mutual interest. None of this is sufficient to prove that Saddam's intelligence services were behind 9-11. And it just beggars the imagination to suggest that, if the government had any really good evidence of such a connection, it would suppress it for petty bureaucratic reasons.

I'm not going to dismiss this stuff out of hand. The connections themselves make a lot of strategic sense. But the coverup alleged does not.

Anyone disagree with me on this? What am I missing?

 
Back in the USA. Had a very productive trip to London, though the food hasn't improved as much as people say. Then had a very tiring weekend of family obligations.

While I was gone, neo-con paranoia seems to have increased even as they increasingly seem to be winning (at least part of) the argument.

Take this example from David Frum. Before the President's trip, Frum was fretting that the trip would be a debacle because of huge protests, apparent public revulsion towards the President among the citizens of a key ally, damage to the British PM because of his closeness to the President, etc. He went so far as to accuse folks in the State Department of having deliberately set the President up for a disaster because of their opposition to the Iraq war.

Well, the trip went very well: polls registered stronger than expected support for Bush, Blair and the war; the protesters were fewer in number than expected, and their antics were treated with less respect; and other news - the Michael Jackson indictment and the terrorist attacks against British civilians in Turkey - gave the visit a more positive-spin context (in the one case by making the media seem shallow, in the other by reminding people who we're at war with, and why).

So Frum was wrong. But he's still grumpy, and suspects, in retrospect, that Bush's security-related precautions, which kept him behind closed doors for almost the entirety of the visit, made him look insecure and ceded the streets to the radicals. But this objection entirely contradicts his pre-visit objection. Frum, after all, would have had Bush not go at all, but meet Blair in Bermuda or some such.

He can't have it both ways. Either Bush is widely hated in Britain, and, rather than make this fact obvious, he should have avoided the country. Or he is *not* widely hated and, rather than allow a bunch of fringe lunatics to represent British public opinion, he should have gone to Britain and appeared in public to shows of support as well as opposition, and strengthened his position there and around the world. And if the latter is the case, then Frum's paranoid musings - inasmuch as they might have been shared by others in the Administration - contributed to what is likely to be the biggest self-inflicted damage of the trip: namely, that Bush appears to be overly paranoid about security.

From conversations with folks around the office, what most Brits resented about the visit was the fact that the Bush team was so heavy-handed about security. Now, I know the City is not representative of Britain at large, but I didn't hear people saying nasty things about Bush or regretting Britain's alliance or otherwise opposing the visit. I did hear people complaining specifically about the idea of having American helicopters flying over Buckingham Palace to ensure the President's security. Folks wanted the Americans to trust them more and not to treat them like amateurs when it comes to security. That may be a fair criticism or it may not be. But it doesn't sound like the attitude of people sympathetic to the protesters.

As for that sympathy: unbidden, the cabbie who took me back to my hotel one night asked me if I was American and, informed that I was, proceeded to apologize for the dreadful reception his country was giving our President. He was genuinely ashamed of how Americans back home must perceive British sentiments and feelings towards America after seeing the toppling of the Bush statue in Trafalgar. I reassured him that no one I knew took seriously what these people did, and we proceeded to discuss his plans to visit New York with his family and his difficulty finding an affordable, decent hotel in Manhattan. I do think there are a lot of Britons like him, more embarrassed by their compatriots' behavior than by anything. It's unfortunate that Bush didn't have the confidence to bring them out of the woodwork. It's unfortunate that, to the extent that opinions like Frum's predominated before the visit, they discouraged that confidence.

Thursday, November 20, 2003
 
First two synagogues, now a British bank and consulate. D'you get the feeling these guys want all non-Muslims out of the Middle East?

All eyes now on the Turkish military. There is a meme going 'round about Algeria's recent civil war that the military should have let the Islamists win - that this would have been democratically correct, and would have averted the subsequent violence that claimed 100,000 lives. This could not be more wrong. The last - only? - patriotic thing the corrupt and thuggish Algerian military ever did was cancelling that election. The Algerian civil war got so vicious and bloody because the terrorist groups that formed an important part of the Islamist coalition targeted increasingly large swathes of Algerian society as their prospects for winning power dwindled. They couldn't kill their way into power, but they could at least kill those of whom they disapproved. The Nazis, after Stalingrad, substantially stepped up their pace in murdering the Jews, so that they would at least complete one objective of their war. The Islamist terror groups are no different: if they can't kill their way to power, they will at least try to kill as many of their enemies as they can.

The Turkish military, of course, has a far better relationship with their country's people than did the Algerian, and the country is broadly supportive of the Turkish state. We are not going to see an Islamist insurgency in Turkey. We are, however, going to see more and more terrorism in countries like Turkey - or Indonesia, or Malaysia, or what-have-you: countries the terrorists can hit. More often than not, I suspect the tactic will backfire, as I expect it to do in Turkey, and will push the targets closer to the West. That prospect won't deter the killers; suicide bombers and their masters don't get deterred.

It's ugly out there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
 
Sorry, one more bit: I am, of course, upset by the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, but not at all surprised. I do not think that conservatives will succeed in preserving a common understanding of marriage in the face of the latest assaults. Increasingly, conservatives - particularly religious conservatives - will embrace the "privatization" option: eliminate marriage as a civil institution, but have the state recognize religious communities' laws with respect to personal status. I explain why this would be a disaster - particularly for America, with its anti-Establishment tradition - here. But that's what I expect to happen. If the courts are going to order the abolition of marriage on civil rights grounds, it will take a constitutional amendment to stop them. And the Constitution is very, very hard to amend. I don't think it'll happen. So what will happen instead is an armed retreat, and a further contraction of our common culture, our common language, a further division of our common people. A bad outcome.

 
Out of town this week on business - in London, UK, as it happens. So I expect posting to be sparse, as the company didn't go through all the expense of flying me across the pond for me to waste time bloviating.

I will say, though, that here in the City there's no discernable signs of the promised violent protests. I don't know what things looked like last night outside Buckingham Palace, but I ate dinner last night in Covent Garden, which is not *that* far away, and I didn't even hear anything.

Saw David Frum debating a grandmotherly Lib Dem peer and a Muslim arty type with very peculiar hair last night on television (jetlag). The Lib Dem pretty clearly won; she seemed relaxed and friendly and said many kind things about America, putting good words in for free trade and Ronald Reagan even. Frum seemed uptight and somewhat condescending. The third fellow seemed simply bizarre.

The lads in the office's attitude is very British: they mock the Yanks for being so paranoid and are generally more phlegmatic than either enthusiastic or outraged about the war. Had a lively conversation with a Scot from the office about Michael Howard's prospects (he's bullish - but I think he's a Tory, though he might just be a political junkie).

Enough for now. I need another cup of tea (jetlag).

Thursday, November 13, 2003
 
Hey, David Frum: if you think something you wrote has a "risk of sounding paranoid," it probably does.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
 
Andrew Sullivan misrepresents the conflict over the Federal Marriage Amendment. But I don't think this invalidates the heart of his argument, which remains telling.

First: the misrepresentation. No one is suggesting that the government check whether people are having sex before granting them marriage-like benefits. Indeed, the whole point of the additional sentence in the amendment is precisely the opposite: the government, under the amendment, could *not* premise benefits outside of marriage on the existence of a sexual relationship. That's the status-quo now in, for example, New York, where roommates can register as domestic partners with no suggestion that they are necessarily romantically involved.

Whether this is a conservative position is another story, but that's effectively the position that the proponents of the additional sentence have signed on to: states and localities (and, presumably, the Federal Government) can extend the incidents of marriage (piecemeal) to any other arrangement, so long as there is no limitation to gay couples.

It should be clear from the foregoing that Sullivan's key argument - that the social right, in embracing this idea, is effectively siding with the radicals who want to end marriage altogether - is entirely correct. The revised amendment would do nothing to shore up the status of marriage. Indeed, assuming the entire country went on to establish domestic-partnership laws - or even laws covering groups - with its own body of family law, the question could quite legitimately be raised why marriage continued to exist as a legal concept?

On any sane utilitarian calculus, and even assuming that public recognition of homosexuality is morally damaging, getting rid of domestic partnerships should be a much higher priority for the social right than preventing that public recognition, because domestic partnership powerfully and directly undermines the ethos of marriage among straights. Indeed, we are far enough gone down that road that major cultural changes will be needed to get marriage back on track to being a social norm.

But I'm not even sure that a civil unions law that was open only to same-sex couples necessarily does imply public approval of gay sex. Why should it? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the LDS Church decided that the best way to keep gay Mormon men from sinning would be for them to form celibate pair-bonds with other gay Mormon men - let's call them "buddies." Such buddies would be analogous to the companionships formed on mission, which are similarly pairs of men who live together and are charged with keeping one another from sin. If a civil-unions law existed in, say, Arizona, such a gay, celibate Mormon couple could go to a judge and be joined in the eyes of the civil law. And, by the same token, a gay couple with a sexual relationship could do the same before the same judge under the same law. So the same civil ceremony is used by one pair of men to cement a celibate companionship devoted to mutual aid through life in, among other things, resisting the sin of homosexual sex, and by another pair to cement a companionship devoted to mutual aid through life and, as well, a romantic and sexual relationship. Ergo, the law itself doesn't imply approval or disapproval of gay sex per se. A civil unions law would recognize that marriage (the union of a man and a woman) doesn't work for everyone, and that close companionship for gay people is a positive good for which society should provide structural support. But it's not clear that it says anything at all about the proper sexual content of such companionship.

(I'm not completely clueless here, by the way; obviously pretty much all if not precisely all of the couples who take advantage of such a law will do so in the context of a sexual relationship, will kiss in front of the judge, will bring their own readings attesting to their love, etc. etc. But nothing in the law requires this to be the case, and I should think that would be sufficient fig-leaf for the social right if the issue is public endorsement of homosexual behavior.)

Monday, November 10, 2003
 
You know, I don't often bother to link to Andrew Sullivan's Maureen Dowd bashing, 'cause it's just too easy and, besides, it doesn't matter; she only talking to herself anyhow. But this particular edition is especially well-noted.

Thursday, November 06, 2003
 
I guess this is First Things week. Last month's issue includes a piece by David Hart called Christ and Nothing that I can't get out of my head.

Hart's basic argument is an inversion of Nietzsche and Nietzsche-indebted Continental philosophy. Specifically: he argues that Christianity is "to blame" for what he describes as our culture's pervasive nihilism because, by destroying the old pagan order with its tragic myths and virtues, it exposed the nihilism that lay behind those myths. In his words:

"Christianity shattered the imposing and enchanting fa├žade behind which nihilism once hid, and thereby, inadvertently, called it forth into the open.

I am speaking (impressionistically, I grant) of something pervasive in the ethos of European antiquity, which I would call a kind of glorious sadness. The great Indo-European mythos, from which Western culture sprang, was chiefly one of sacrifice: it understood the cosmos as a closed system, a finite totality, within which gods and mortals alike occupied places determined by fate. And this totality was, of necessity, an economy, a cycle of creation and destruction, oscillating between order and chaos, form and indeterminacy: a great circle of feeding, preserving life through a system of transactions with death."


Having destroyed this worldview, exposing its myths as empty, Christianity opened the door to escape this tragic economy, and enter into the realm of blessing, what Harold Bloom calls "more life in a time without boundaries." But when that door closes - as it has closed for those who fully absorb the ethos of modernity - we are left alone with the nihilistic void, the forces of chaos that the old myths sought to contain with lies, lies we can no longer believe.

This all rings very true to me. But its truth to me, as a Jew, is not so modern, not so new. It seems to me that long before modernity, the pagans lost their faith. Late Roman antiquity is not exactly notable for its practice of the pagan virtues. And earlier: Plato's myths are sterile and cold, and Aristotle rejected even these, leaving us living exactly where? Exactly how far from where we are today? Sure, Greek tragedy is about fate and the domestication of Dionysus. But Aristotle, that ruthless pragmatist avant la lettre, has already reduced this to psychology rather than Truth. Once the magician tells you his magic is an illusion, are we really still operating in the realm of faith?

The most modern, least cathartic, and least Christian tragedy is undoubtedly King Lear. Sam Johnson, our most sensitive Christian critic, famously could not abide the death of Cordelia; it leaves us, properly, inconsolable. The whole play is the savagely ironic exposure of our delusion: Gloucester the blind is "resurrected" in play-acting by his disguised son, and feels himself redeemed from death; he dies happy, redeemed by a lie. Edmund dies apparently repentant - "some good I mean to do/Despite of mine own nature" - and dies not knowing that his good has done no good; he, too, presumably dies happy, in a lie. And Lear, most pathetic, dies in madness - not happy, but in the most horrible lie of all, deluded that Cordelia is revived. It is the most nihilistic tragedy if such exists. But what is its effect? If it does not provoke cathartic reconciliation - and it doesn't - does King Lear move us to exalt the self as the only good, as David Hart would presumably predict? I can't imagine how it does. We are reconciled in the end not to tragic necessity (the deaths are manifestly unnecessary) nor are we moved to Edmund's self-glorification (his deathbed conversion utterly destroys his own credibility as a nihilistic apostle). We are moved by the faithfulness of Kent and Edgar in a world where God's sovereignty is manifestly absent.

Perhaps I am too much a Semite, too little an Indo-European - or perhaps too much an American, something new under the sun, a believer in Progress. The Christian myth, inasmuch as it departs from its Judaic source, has never really moved me. It takes too much away from human agency, makes us too much observers of a drama acted in the mind of God. It makes us too little partners in our own redemption. I know that God made covenants with my ancestors, and for a finite self to covenant with God is to assume a stature of enormous dignity. I wonder whether, lacking recourse to the z'chut of Abraham, a Christian is more vulnerable when confronted with the awesome power of the void.

The Christian God overcomes the world, and so implicitly leaves the Indo-European tragic description of the world itself intact. The Jewish God instructs us how, with His help, to redeem the world. We were born into a Garden, a world without the tragic economy of the ancients. We were exiled from that world into this, and to reconcile our natures with this world means either to change our natures or to change the world. And with the destruction of His holy Temple, God is exiled with us. This is why, I think, a Jew is more at home, spiritually, in a liberal order than a Christian (or, for that matter, a Muslim). Liberalism is nothing more than a Good Idea, a way of getting along in a world whose nature is essentially alien to our own. It is not necessary to reify the pragmatic axioms of liberalism into Platonic truths. And so it is not necessary to war with liberalism, so long as one can live in exile.

This paradigm of exile, it seems to me, fits the condition of the man of faith in the modern world better than any other. The Church, once sovereign, is now a vagabond. We Jews know something about this condition, and I cannot say definitively that it does not represent spiritual progress of a sort. Rather than long for another Constantine, or embrace a world-denying aceticism, perhaps the Church could learn something about living in exile from her elder brother.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003
 
Took another look at the 2004 Senate contests. Not too different from the last time I looked; a little more GOP-leaning because of Bob Graham's retirement. As things stand, the GOP looks likely to pick up between 1 and 2 seats on the strength of the continuing Democratic meltdown in the South. Winning less than that would be a surprise, indicative of either serious GOP incompetance or a national trend towards the Democrats. Picking up more than 2 seats would be a sign of a strong, national GOP trend.

The 2004 Senate will be like the current one, only more so: more partisan, more polarized. There are no especially vulnerable prominent liberals or conservatives. The GOP looks likely to take 3 seats from the Democrats in the South: North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. You can bet that the GOP nominees will be down-the-line conservatives. They also have an excellent chance at picking up Florida, as the Democrat nominee alternatives look like a mess. The Democrats, meanwhile, look likely to pick up Illinois and will probably take Alaska, too. Alaska's Senator, whoever wins, will likely be a relative moderate, but an Illinois Democrat will be a solid liberal. The GOP could pick an additional Southern seat if John Breaux retires in Louisiana, and if that happened the new GOP Senator would probably be another conservative vote.

It's not really a surprise that liberals in liberal states like Schumer of New York or Dodd of Connecticut keep getting reelected. Their crusades (against judges, in Schumer's case, and against foreign-policy related appointments in Dodd's) are helping elect GOP Senators in places like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. But they aren't hurting these guys at home. But there are more vulnerable liberals out there, notably Barbara Boxer of California and Patty Murray of Washington. These two Senators are awful in every way: partisan, ideological, ill-informed and lazy. They are not especially good at bringing home the bacon, nor are not shrewd deal-makers (both fair descriptions of Schumer, for example). Good nominees should be able to take 'em. But the GOP can't seem to put up good nominees, so they are very likely to be reelected. The GOP is having a hard time this season coming up with candidates like Norm Coleman of Minnesota, which is the kind of candidate they need to beat a Patty Murray or a Barbara Boxer. And I don't really understand why.

The GOP is also unlikely to pick up seats in Nevada, South Dakota and Arkansas, each of which should be vulnerable based on the political profile of the states in question. They can't find a strong challenger for either Harry Reid in Nevada or Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, and Tom Daschle is the Senate Majority Leader (and therefore a tougher opponent for likely challenger John Thune, who lost in '02, not to mention that, having lost, Thune is less attractive). And that's pretty much it for possible GOP pickups. For them to win more than 2 seats net, then, the GOP has to retain either Illinois or Alaska (both long-shots), or pick up one of the theoretically vulnerable seats in California, Washington, Nevada, Arkansas and South Dakota (all long-shots), or John Breaux has to retire (unpredictable, though there have been a remarkable number of Democrat retirements this year).

Apart from likely-Democrat pick-ups in Illinois and Alaska, though, there are only really two places where Democrats have a shot at a turnover. And in each case, it would take a GOP screw-up to give the seat to the Democrats. Republicans are understandably annoyed at the self-regarding Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter. A primary upset doesn't guarantee a loss in the general; look at what happened in New Hampshire in '02. But Specter is popular generally in the state (unlike Bob Smith), and Pennsylvania is more Democrat-friendly territory. If Specter falls, Toomey will have an uphill battle against any decent Democrat opponent. How concerned is the White House? Bush is going to be fighting hard to win the state in '04. Does he benefit more from a Toomey Senate candidacy that brings GOP stalwarts out with enthusiasm, or from a Specter candidacy that gives Democrats less reason to come to the polls? Probably the latter. So Bush has two reasons to back Specter: the desire for a strong GOP Senate and the desire to keep the Dems quiescent in the general election. The other vulnerable GOP seat is in Oklahoma, due to Don Nickles' retirement, and I don't know much about the possible replacements. But given the political complexion of the state, it seems to me this one should be the GOP's to lose.

For the Dems to hold the GOP to less than a 1-seat gain, to say nothing of actually picking up seats, they'll have to either win one of the contests in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (which would be tough) or pull out a win in Oklahoma or Pennsylvania (either of which would depend more on GOP mistakes than their own success).

Which is why the 2004 Senate will be more polarized and partisan than even this one is. Vulnerable liberals are not going to be toppled. We'll likely see a new liberal Democrat in Illinois and new conservative Republicans in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. There aren't really any vulnerable conservatives, a GOP moderate in Pennsylvania faces a serious primary challenge (and one in Alaska faces a tough general election). So get ready for another season of angry, vituperative, ideological battles in the U.S. Senate, even as the GOP augments its majority.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
 
The latest issue of First Things has a long piece about the Catholic Church and the Holocaust. This is a little bit of a surprise to me, given FT's position on the front lines of advocacy for the canonization of Pius XII. (Yes, I know, you don't campaign for or against canonization. But it's manifest that both Catholics and non-Catholics have been engaged in exactly that kind of active campaigning for a number of years now, so why pretend?) The article doesn't focus on Pius XII, but rather calls the Church generally to task for being too easy on itself with respect to the Holocaust.

The article is quite lengthy (and a bit repetitive), but its point can be succinctly summarized. No, the Vatican was not an advocate or conscious abettor of Hitler's genocide. Yes, the Church clearly and strongly condemned Nazi racialism as idolatry. Yes, many Church officials, high and low, took personal risks to protect individual Jews, sometimes in significant numbers. But: this does not absolve the Church, for two reasons. First, because the Church did not ever clearly and explicitly come to the Jews' defense. Second, because the Church was, in its own teaching, "objectively anti-Semitic" (to use Leon Wieseltier's now-famous phrase).

I want to make each part of the argument clear before I go further.

To take the second first: the Catholic Church held not only supercessionist views that necessarily negate Judaism as a religion, but many in the Church endorsed an ideological anti-Semitism. That is to say: they went beyond saying that Judaism is false, and that Jews can only be saved by embracing Jesus Christ. They also said that the Jews produced other, more dangerous falsehoods - liberalism, capitalism, Bolshevism, etc. - that were, by virtue of their genealogy, essentially Jewish. And many in the Church - and, you could argue, the Church itself - taught that social restrictions on Jews and their freedom to participate in national culture, politics and in the economy, were a reasonable response to the threat posed by these essentially Jewish ideas.

Further, while the Catholic Church did not endorse persecution of the Jews, much less call for their murder, and while organizationally and individually many officers of the Church saved many Jews, the Church did not articulate in any meaningful sense that the fate of the Jews was a concern of Christians. That is to say: the Church was concerned that Christians not perpetrate crimes against the Jews, but it was not concerned with the fate of the Jews per se, even if it did extend help to individual Jews in many circumstances.

I think it's fair to describe the views expressed in the first of those two paragraphs as "objectively anti-Semitic." Political advocates of that ideological program called themselves anti-Semites, and proudly. And I think they fairly characterize quite mainstream notions in Catholic circles, including at the Vatican, before WWII and even for a while after. They are also, objectively, wrong. "The Jews" didn't invent liberalism, capitalism or even Soviet Communism, first because they didn't (for all that there were many Jews who embraced liberalism and Bolshevism, both were largely gentile projects, not to mention being mutually opposed, and capitalism has no author; moreover, there were prominent Jewish Tories and even prominent Jewish fascists in Italy; Jews have been prominent in pretty much every political movement since Emancipation). And second because "the Jews" don't exist as an entity. There is not, and never was, nor ever could be, any kind of organized Jewish conspiracy to do anything. (There are and have always been Jewish mutual aid organizations, but these have always been entirely above-board and public, and modern Zionist organizations have similarly been so.) So even if all these phenomena are objectionable - and I'll certainly go to bat for capitalism and liberalism - to attribute them to the Jews, and to suggest that an anti-Semitic ideology is in some sense a solution was and remains simply and objectively wrong.

But is the problem that these views were objectively wrong or that they were categorically wrong. That is to say: is the problem that Catholics believed false things about the Jews or that believed evil things about the Jews?

I'm not sure what the answer is to that question. To say that the problem was that they believed false things is, in a real sense, to absolve the Church of any sin in anti-Semitism and any complicity in its attendant atrocities. After all, it is not the Church's job to know whether "the Jews" really are plotting, say, to undermine Christian morals. That's an empirical matter, and the Church can be as wrong about a matter of empirical fact as anyone else; moreover, officers of the Church are as subject ito human failings such as bias as anyone else. The Church raised no protest against the political inequality of women either; condemning them for that is pure moral hindsight. It might be within the Church's competancy to say that, say, liberalism is a Bad Thing, and it might seem perfectly reasonable for the Church to look to others (or to itself, but wearing its prudential "hat") for how to deal with this Bad Thing, and, hearing the response, "restrain the Jews!" think to itself, "that sounds reasonable." But this conclusion is not terribly satisfying. These false beliefs had manifestly evil outcomes, and one would like to think that a great Church would have done better than to embrace these beliefs, and thereby contribute to that outcome.

But to say that the problem was that they believed evil things raises problems of its own, all the problems of political correctness with which we are familiar in our day. How, for example, is one to confront the problems of our current war if we are forbidden from debating the social or political structure of the Arab world, or the various religious ideologies of Islam? If thinking ill of categories of "others" is categorically out of bounds, how are we ever to understand these "others?" No one wants to give free license to bigotry, but by the same token ruling certain lines of inquiry presumptively out of bounds (because to think some thoughts is categorically evil) is in a real way to limit knowledge and therefore to retard progress in solving problems. Moreover, it is very likely to exacerbate the very bigotry it is intended to suppress.

The second paragraph is equally problematic, though equally true. The Church condemned Nazi racism quite clearly. Equally clearly, the Church accepted elements of an anti-Semitic program as entirely legitimate, and equally clearly too, the Church failed to stand up and defend the Jews, to say not merely that it is wrong to persecute Jews but that there is a Christian duty to protect the Jews from unjust persecution.

But is there such a duty? Surely there is a duty to help any individual in distress, but that's not what we're talking about here. What was special about the Jews that made them deserving of this special duty? The Church, in an earlier era, objected to the Atlantic slave trade and to slavery per se. But the Church never articulated a duty to refuse to cooperate with slave powers, a duty to suppress the slave trade, a duty to free slaves from captivity and hide runaways from the authorities, etc. etc. Indeed, the Church accepted slavery as legitimate, if unjust, and structured its response accordingly.

With hindsight, it is obvious why the Church had a special obligation to speak out on behalf of the Jews. The sheer scope of the destruction to come was horrifyingly unprecedented, and the ideological anti-Semitism that the Church accepted and even endorsed clearly did make it easier for the Nazis to go about their evil work. Could the Vatican, say, with better foresight, have known that this would be the case? Could they have known that Hitlerian racial anti-Semitism was the moral challenge of their day, that it was not enough to identify evil and reject it, that evil had to be resisted? Could they have seen the connections Rhonheimer sees now between Christian anti-Semitism and the disarming of that impulse to resistance? Could they have seen that this connection imposed on the Church a special duty with regard to the Jews, above and beyond the charitable obligations to all people in distress?

I think about the history of Catholic anti-Judaism as well in the context of Andrew Sullivan's increasingly hysterical reaction to anti-homosexual agitations within the Church. The notion that we are poised on the brink of some kind of catastrophe for gay people strikes me as quite implausible; gays, unlike, say Jews, are quite literally our brothers and sisters, our parents and our children. Come what may, I have a hard time picturing the rise of a persecuting society in America that targets members of our own families. But maybe I'm wrong. The Church, it seems to me, is moving from a position of simple sexual ethics (homosexual acts are sinful) to an anti-gay ideology (in the words of John Derbyshire, "frank and open homosexuality is a subversive force") that seeks to combat what is understood as an ideological homosexualist opponent. Contra Sullivan, this does not mean the Church is becoming committed to a policy of persecution. But it does mean that it is becoming committed to ideological opposition to his preferred program, a program which Sullivan sees as coextensive with his very identity, and, given that understanding on his part, I see why he interprets the Church's stance as persecuting. Sullivan, surely, is convinced that the Church is objectively wrong in this (or, those elements moving in this direction are wrong). Is that all he thinks? No. Quite clearly, he thinks that this ideological turn is categorically wrong, and that one can easily explain how it is categorically wrong by comparing it with anti-Semitism. (I don't know that he achieves anything by the comparison. Rather, I think he makes anti-Semitism seem more reasonable by his analogy.)

For the sake of argument, let me take his position seriously. Assume that it matters whether the anti-gay ideologues are correct or incorrect, but that proving one or the other will be difficult, a matter of judgement on which you cannot expect perfect concord. In other words: if the anti-gay ideologues have a point, that has moral and policy consequences, and that you are unlikely to convince them that they don't have a point. What is the duty of those who propound such an ideology towards their targets? Is it enough to say, "of course don't persecute people, don't harm them physically or deny them a livelihood, etc. etc."? Rhonheimer's piece would seem to imply that the answer is no, it is not enough, because the proponents of this ideology must be wary of giving aid and comfort to those who would ignore the moral restraints that are articulated, and, further and more important, that the articulation of such an ideology will weaken the moral resistance to such evil on the part of those who are inclined to abide by these moral restraints, even if they are sympathetic to the ideology in question. And this presumably has bearing on the proper way to debate, for example, the notion of gay marriage.

Oscar Wilde wrote that "each man kills the thing he loves." I don't think that's true, but it may be true that each man loves the thing he kills - or is obliged to do so. That is to say: the very existence of enmity creates a species of obligation. Sullivan has challenged those opposed to his program to provide an alternative that is responsive to the needs he identifies. That challenge should be taken up, not only because it would be a good in itself but because the very facts of enmity and opposition between Sullivan and the Church creates an obligation. That, in any event, is the moral I derive from Rhonheimer's piece.

I'm not sure where I've wound up after all that. It's a difficult topic. We say "never again" all the time, but we don't know what we mean by it. In any event, I applaud First Things for publishing the piece, which I sure was not an easy thing for them to do.

 
I have a backlog of things I wanted to blog about, none of which are particularly timely, so prepare for a series of long posts that may be spaced out over a long period but which you can read at your leisure just as I wrote them at mine.

 
Warren Buffett has an article in the latest issue of Fortune decrying America's soaring trade deficit. The same issue has a piece about how the problem in China might not be that growth is overstated in official statistics, but that it is *understated* and the economy is overheating, heading for a crash.

Normally, I wouldn't bother linking to either Fortune nor to a piece by Warran Buffett. But the persistent American trade deficit - and its corollary, the massive Chinese trade surplus - is something I worry about, too, and a topic on which views are wildly divergent. So I thought it was worth exploring a little.

Buffett makes the classic home-economics argument against a trade deficit. He posits two islands, Thirftyville and Squanderville, who each produce one product - food - and each have one asset - land. The Thrifties work really hard, and produce more food than they need. The Squanders barely work at all, and import the extra food they need from Thriftyville. They finance this trade deficit initially by selling Squanderville bonds, and later by selling their only asset - land. In the end, having sold all their land to the Thrifrties, and heavily indebted to them as well, the Squanders are reduced to the condition of tenant farmers working for their Thrifty masters.

Sounds ominous, no? And Buffett duly points out that America, by consuming more than we produce, and financing this consumption by selling debt and assets (equities and real estate), we are heading down the path of the Squanders. His solution is appropriately drastic: a strict limitation on the dollar value of imports to equal the dollar value of exports, with "import credits" created by exports and then tradable for value on the market. The massive distortions this solution would create I leave to readers to imagine.

But there's another way to spin the trade deficit story, and it's the one generally told by the Wall Street Journal and other "what, me worry?" commentators on the subject. Imagine two other islands - not Thriftyville and Squanderville, but Innovativeland and Stodgyville. The Innovators of Innovativeland and the Stodgies of Stodgyville each work hard, albeit the Innovators tend to work longer hours. But the Innovators spend half their day upgrading their land - introducing irrigation, inventing and building tractors and reapers and so forth - while the Stodgies spend their entire day working the land in the traditional way. The Innovators can't grow enough food in their half day of work, so they import food from Stodgyville, and finance the imports by selling bonds and by selling equity shares in their land. The Stodgies shake their heads, and predict doom for the Innovators when they run out of land to sell and can't service their debts. But after several years of running a deficit, the Innovators' productivity has increased so much that they can produce vastly more food on their remaining land in a half-day's work than the Stodgies can produce on their whole island in a full day.

What do the Innovators do now? Well, they could simply out-produce the Stodgies, selling them food so cheaply that they don't see the point of working. They would thereby turn the Stodgies into Squanders, and steadily take control of their island as the Thrifties did in the Buffett scenario. But why bother? With their new technology, they can already produce plenty of food; why do they need tenant farmers? Alternatively, they could become Stodgies, producing enough food for themselves and neither importing nor exporting - except that, with their advanced technology, they can achieve this with much less work. Regardless, it seems pretty clear that the Innovators, not the Stodgies, have come out on top, contrary to the Stodgy predictions.

But why should the Innovators stop here? They could keep on going as before, working as much as possible on innovation so as to perpetually reduce the amount of time they need to spend growing food, and continue importing from the Stodgies to make up any food shortfall caused by the amount of time they spend innovating. But this isn't the most efficient strategy, because the Stodgies, working in the old way, produce food that is relatively expensive (relative to the cost of land). So the most efficient thing for the Innovators to do is to sell their innovations to the Stodgies, thus upgrading the Stodgies' productive capacities and lowering the price of the food they import. The Innovators can now innovate faster, because they can import more food at a cost of less debt (or fewer land-sales) and devote a greater percentage of their day to innovating, making themselves even more productive.

This is pretty much the story that the WSJ and others tell about the US-China (and US-World) trade imbalance. The US is focused on increasing productivity rather than producing enough low-value-added goods to support domestic consumption. So we import both goods and capital - goods to satisfy domestic consumption needs, and capital to invest in productivity-enhancing innovations. We import both from China, and export our latest innovations to them to enhance their productivity, and thereby lower the cost of the relatively low-value-added goods we import from them. We could always stop importing, or refuse to export productivity-enhancing technology, but either would slow our pace of innovation, so how this benefits us in the long run is unclear. So long as our imports of financial capital increase the value of our human and physical capital (because of increased productivity) by more than the rents we have to pay to the owners of that capital, America has come out ahead.

But this isn't the end of the story either, because both my thought experiment and Buffett's assume that the two islands are monolithic entities. They should, rather, be fully articulated societies, with diverse populations in terms of native talents, values and so forth. Every island has some Squanders and some Thrifties, some Stodgies and some Innovators. How does this diversity affect the story above?

Well, among the Innovators, those who actually do the innovating are the ones whose human capital has been upgraded, and who (presumably) own the innovations. If we define savings as the change in value of net assets owned, then the innovators save a great deal, even though Innovatorland imports capital. But those who do *not* innovate are in a very different position. Previously, they might have worked producing food, but the cost of land (measured in terms of food) has gotten so high that there is no way to make a living doing that in Innovatorland. And the steady demand for Innovatorland debt keeps interest rates very low, making debt-financing very attractive even to those who are not innovating enough to shoulder the burden of debt. The non-innovators in Innovatorland increasingly resemble Buffett's Squanders, enticed into debt-financed consumption by the low interest rates and cheap imports made possible by the Innovators in their midst.

And what about the Stodgies? Well, innovative types among the Stodgies have to compete with the Innovators for capital. There is presumably some reason why the Stodgies are stodgy; either they have less of a talent pool or their political and economic system discourages innovation. In either case, an Innovator among the Stodgies will have a hard time competing with the Innovators of Innovatorland. So he'll do one of two things. Either he'll become a conduit for the transmission of innovations from Innovatorland. Or he'll try to move to Innovatorland to maximize the value of his own talents. The Stodgies, then, see a steady export of their most productive citizens.

And it's not just the innovative types who want to move. Thrifties, too, if they live among Stodgies, will be strongly inclined to move to Innovatorland. Why? Living among the Stodgies, where prices for goods are high relative to wages, and looking across the water at life in Innovatorland, where wages are high relative to the price of goods, the opportunities for a Thrifty among the Innovators would seem obvious. (Why is there this differential in wages? Because the price of goods will be set quickly on a world market, as goods are sold globally, while labor is less mobile. Labor migration to Innovatorland will, over time, drive down wages there, and the resulting relative scarcity of labor in Stodgyville will keep wages higher there than they would otherwise be, albeit both effects may be swamped by other factors in practice.)

So the population of Innovatorland gets more economically stratified by relative productivity, the less-productive portion of the population gets progressively more indebted even as the society as a whole gets richer and more powerful. These disparities, moreover, result in an increasing swell of migration of Stodgyville's most valuable citizens - its Innovators and its Thrifties - to Innovatorland.

Doesn't that sound like the relationship between America and China? (Or between America and the world, if you prefer.) America's greater productivity, and our focus on productivity as an economy and a society, is the major driver of the trade deficit, because it creates an enormous demand for capital. Our productivity growth is financed by foreigners who share in the benefits of our productivity (by purchasing our innovations and by earning rents on their share of our capital stock or our debt). But the benefits of that growth are not evenly distributed in our society, and they result not only in differential economic results domestically but significant migrations of population.

Is there anything that can be done about this situation? Well, everything has a cost. As Buffett has noted, we could end the trade deficit - and, consequently, our imports of capital - by fiat. But the cost (in addition to the enormous friction added to commerce) would be a capital crunch that would reduce our productivity growth, but also increase wage rates in the short term (as businesses substituted labor for more expensive capital). Long-term, our society would be poorer, even if short-term there was some redistribution from Innovators to the rest of society. The same effects would be observed with any redistribution scheme; some would have more transaction costs or friction than others, but all would reduce the long-term growth potential of the economy. Ditto with restricting immigration; this would surely raise wages temporarily among America's less-skilled workers, but it result in reduced productivity for the economy as a whole and reduce our domestic capital stock (since we'd no longer be importing Thrifties). Mind you, immigration reform that focused on reducing rent-seeking immigrants (those who come to consume services, not to work and save), or reforms that focused on the negative externalities associated with immigration (e.g. the cost of acculturation, the inevitable arrival of less-productive immigrants under family unification, etc.) are another story.

What are strategies that would *increase* the growth potential of the economy and help redress these imbalances that Buffett worries about? Well, I can think of three.

First, we can eliminate aspects of our tax and regulatory regime that discourage saving and reward consumption. Buffett's story is true to the extent that our society is composed of Squanders, and the WSJ is true to the extent that our society is composed of Innovators. If our society were perfectly balanced between Thrifties and Innovators, we'd produce enough capital internally to fund our productivity growth. So whatever we can do to promote thrift among our less-innovative classes is a Good Thing. For example: we could remove the many incentives to consume rather than save. They are legion. They start with obvious things like multiple-taxation of income, extend to less-obvious things like tax deductions for mortgage debt and liberal bankruptcy laws, and (I would argue) extend very much to entitlements: Social Security, which strongly discourages personal saving, and Medicare/Medicaid, which encourages the elderly to spend down their assets rather than saving them for the event of illness or to pass them on to the next generation. Personally, I have long been an advocate of a universal and unlimited savings deduction; we'd continue to tax income, even at highly progressive rates, but all net savings and investment would be fully deductible. This would strongly encourage savings and discourage personal consumption. A much less expensive (in terms of transaction costs) but more regressive way of achieving the same result would be to simply replace the income tax with a national sales tax or value-added tax. We're probably not going to eliminate the trade deficit this way; our appetite for capital is quite prodigious. But we'd eliminate it to the degree that it is unproductive financing of personal consumption, rather than productive financing of capital investment.

Second, we can do whatever we can to upgrade the productivity of other countries. In relative terms, this would make America's competition fiercer, which could be construed as a negative. But in absolute terms, it would increase the value of the world's human capital. So long as America's productivity doesn't fall behind other countries', we should have nothing to fear from other countries' productivity increases, and, indeed, we would benefit from a more balanced world that would result if other economies experienced high productivity growth as well, not to mention that we would benefit from the more rapid pace of global innovation. Even if we come out ahead because of our trade deficit, that doesn't mean the current imbalance is optimal, only that it may be the optimal result of structural imbalances in the productivity of different economies. How we raise other countries' productivity is a tough problem, however, and beyond the scope of this piece.

Third, we can focus our domestic public spending on public goods that are used by the citizenry at large. This is really a response to the economic stratification that is the inevitable result of a productivity-oriented economy rather than to the trade deficit. Even if our population were entirely composed of Innovators and Thrifties, we'd still see massive economic stratification. The proper - American - response is not to try to make all outcomes the same (which would result in a catastrophic drop in productivity) but to focus on social equality and the public goods that make social equality possible: public parks and civic spaces, a high-quality education system, and so forth. Some of these things aren't government goods at all; religion, for example, can be a binder of classes, although sectarian America tends to religiously segregate by class as well. This isn't an easy one either, but to the extent that the government can foster a common culture, something that binds different classes together, that's very much a good thing in a dynamic economy where disproportionate rewards flow to the most productive.