Questions and Comments encouraged.
April 25, 2006
Potheads and Sudafed
By JOHN TIERNEY
There's big money in being a right-wing pundit. While a confirmed lefty might scrounge a $5000 payday for a speech at a university, right-wing pundits can (and have) pulled in six figures for giving a single boiler-plate speech at a handful of corporate conventions within driving distance of one another over the course of a weekend. Without even discussing fat endowments from the Bradley or Heritage Foundations or book sales engendered by free publicity on right-wing talk radio, there's plenty of lucre out there for anyone willing and able to spout pro-Republican nonsense in front of captive audiences.. With all that money at one's command, why throw it away for idealistic beliefs? Why have any real beliefs at all? William Safire, who rarely turned down any speaking fee, often sounded to John Dean (among others, as Dean relayed to me in a brief conversation in KPFA's hallways a few years ago) as if he really didn't believe most of the claptrap he was spewing. But he sure made a lot of money spewing it. However, if one got Safire to talk about free speech and the constitution, he was a different guy: passionate and idealistic, as one could see from his Times columns on the subject. So too with John Tierney when he's talking about the federal government's idiotic obsession against marijuana --- and now Sudafed. This is a different John Tierney than the guy who wrote Saturday's lame column about Earth Day.
Police officers in the 1960's were fond of bumper stickers reading: "The next time you get mugged, call a hippie." Doctors today could use a variation: "The next time you're in pain, call a narc."
Washington's latest prescription for patients in pain is the statement issued last week by the Food and Drug Administration on the supposed evils of medical marijuana. The F.D.A. is being lambasted, rightly, by scientists for ignoring some evidence that marijuana can help severely ill patients. But it's the kind of statement given by a hostage trying to please his captors, who in this case are a coalition of Republican narcs on Capitol Hill, in the White House and at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
They've been engaged in a long-running war to get the F.D.A. to abandon some of its quaint principles, like the notion that it's not fair to deny a useful drug to patients just because a few criminals might abuse it. The agency has also dared to suggest that there should be a division of labor when it comes to drugs: scientists and doctors should figure out which ones work for patients, and narcotics agents should catch people who break drug laws.
The drug cops want everyone to share their mission. They think that doctors and pharmacists should catch patients who abuse painkillers — and that if the doctors or pharmacists aren't good enough detectives, they should go to jail for their naïveté.
This month, pharmacists across the country are being forced to lock up another menace to society: cold medicine. Allergy and cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, a chemical that can illegally be used to make meth, must now be locked behind the counter under a provision in the new Patriot Act.
Don't ask what meth has to do with the war on terror. Not even the most ardent drug warriors have been able to establish an Osama-Sudafed link.
The F.D.A. opposed these restrictions for pharmacies because they'll drive up health care costs and effectively prevent medicine from reaching huge numbers of people (Americans suffer a billion colds per year). These costs are undeniable, but it's unclear that there are any net benefits.
In states that previously enacted their own restrictions, the police report that meth users simply switched from making their own to buying imported drugs that were stronger — and more expensive, so meth users commit more crimes to pay for their habit.
The Sudafed law gives you a preview of what's in store if Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, succeeds in giving the D.E.A. a role in deciding which new drugs get approved. So far, despite a temporary success last year, he hasn't been able to impose this policy, but the F.D.A.'s biggest fear is that Congress will let the drug police veto new medications. In that case, who would ever develop a better painkiller? The benefits to patients would never outweigh the potential inconvenience to the police.
Officially, the D.E.A. says it wants patients to get the best medicine. But look at what it's done to scientists trying to study medical marijuana. They've gotten approval for their experiments from the F.D.A., but they can't get the high-quality marijuana they need because the D.E.A. won't allow it to be grown. The F.D.A. actually wants to know if the drug works, but the D.E.A. is following the just-say-know-nothing strategy: as long as researchers can't study marijuana, they can't come up with evidence that it's effective.
And as long as there's no conclusive evidence that medical marijuana works, the D.E.A. and its allies on Capitol Hill can go on blindly fighting it. Representative Mark Souder, the Indiana Republican who's the most rabid drug warrior in Congress, has been pressuring the F.D.A. to crack down on medical marijuana. Last week the agency finally relented: in return for not having to start busting anyone, it issued a statement stressing the potential dangers and lack of extensive clinical trials establishing medical marijuana's effectiveness.
The statement was denounced as a victory of politics over science, but it's hard to see what political good it does the Republican Party.
Locking up crack and meth dealers is popular, but voters take a different view of cancer patients who swear by marijuana. Medical marijuana has been approved in referendums in four states that went red in 2004: Nevada, Montana, Colorado and Alaska. For G.O.P. voters fed up with their party's current big-government philosophy, the latest medical treatment from Washington's narcs is one more reason to stay home this November.
April 23, 2006
Cheer Up, Earth Day Is Over
By JOHN TIERNEY
Now that we have survived another Earth Day — the annual attempt to heal the planet by making its human inhabitants feel worse — I have a short quiz to cheer you up:
1) In most places in the United States, is the air dirtier than it was two decades ago?
2) Has the amount of forest land in America been shrinking?
3) To combat global warming, which country is leading new international efforts to reduce annual emissions of greenhouse gases by a greater amount than the Kyoto Protocol?
If you correctly answered "no" to the first two questions, you're doing better than the environmental studies class I surveyed during its recent field trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. None of those high-school students — nor their teacher — got both questions right. Most got them both wrong.
What Tierney leaves out is that George W. Bush's 2003 "Clear Skies Initiative" will increase pollution in certain areas, weakens mercury pollution limits, loosens the cap on Nitrogen Oxide, (a major contributor to smog), weakens caps on Sulfer Dioxide (a contributor to acid rain and smog),does nothing about CO2 emissions (the major cause of global warming and climate change), and exempts pre-existing power plants from updating their smog control systems. (Sierra Club) George W. Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" limits environmental analysis and public participation in forestry decision-making, accelerates aggressive "thinning" of forests, and allows the Forest Service to give away trees to lunber companies as goods for services. To again quote the Sierra Club, "The President's ill-named "Healthy Forests Initiative" will do little to protect communities and homes from forest fires, instead this sweeping initiative is concentrated on decreasing public involvement, reducing environmental protection and increasing access to our National Forests and other federal lands for timber companies."
Most air pollutants have declined sharply in recent decades, and the amount of forest land hasn't been shrinking at all — it's been fairly stable since 1920 and has actually grown in the last decade. But cheery facts like these don't get much attention in environmental studies classes or Earth Day events.
What we're seeing today are many of the positive effects of the environmental polices of the Clinton/Gore Administration, most of which will be substantially reduced by the policies of Bush Administration if they're allowed to continue.
Earth Day has traditionally been the occasion for apocalyptic predictions: global famines due to overpopulation, cancer epidemics from synthetic chemicals, cities destroyed by accidents at nuclear plants, species wiped out by deforestation, crippling shortages of energy. Humans, especially Americans with their technological hubris, were doomed to be punished unless they forsook gas-guzzlers, turned off the lights and toiled in their organic gardens — complete, of course, with compost heaps.
The current apocalypse, global warming, is a more realistic danger than the previous ones. But after all the past doomsdays that didn't arrive, a lot of people are understandably skeptical of the ecoprophets, especially when the prophets start prescribing the same old penance.
Many of those past "doomsdays" did arrive in various forms. We've seen severe famines in Africa; cancer clusters in Massachusetts, California and Idaho, a cancer epidemic in Belarus and the Ukraine due to the Chernobyl tragedy (for more detailed information in a digestible form, read Martin Cruz Smith's most recent novel, "Wolves Eat Dogs" ). As for the rest, species die-off is discussed in Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, and in the upcoming book by the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe. As Flannery explains in his book, there is a direct correlation between gas-guzzlers, use of electricity and flown-in vegetables with increased CO2 in the atmosphere, leading directly to global warming. Tierney is conflating chemical use and unsafe nuclear power plants with the results of global warming.
The Kyoto Protocol appealed to environmentalists' sense of virtue because it required big sacrifices, particularly from Americans. One reason the United States dropped out is that it couldn't get proper credit for the new growth in its forests. While the growing trees would indeed remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this solution lacked the requisite dose of masochism.
That's a smokescreen. The real reason is that Americans did not sufficiently believe in global warming due to the well-funded disinformation campaign led by such stalwarts as Frederick Seitz, whose previous work was doubting the effects of second-hand smoke, for which he was paid over half a million dollars by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, as outlined in Mark Hertsgaard's fine article about global warming in this issue of Vanity Fair. The official reason was elucidated by the U. S. Senate: The treaty did not require "new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gasses in Developing Countries within the same compliance period." As Sen. Trent Lott put it, "And what would the developing nations contribute? Nothing. The treaty lets them off the hook." (Flannery, p. 230). Also mentioned, of course, was the possible loss of jobs, which pops up in Hertsgaard's article. The work of such contrarians as Sen. James Imhofe, as detailed in Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science, hasn't helped either.
But even the proponents of sacrifice have a hard time keeping their promises. Europeans are having trouble cutting their emissions to meet Kyoto targets. In America, President Bush is blamed by Democrats for rejecting Kyoto, but how many of the Democrats now howling about high gasoline prices would vote for the best way to comply with it: a stiff tax on gasoline, coal and other fuels?
The Democrats haven't been given a chance. Hertsgaard notes that the Bush Administration is really a lame duck when it comes to global warming." 'It is very clear that Congress will put mandatory greenhouse-gas-emission reductions in place, immediately after George W. Bush leaves office," says Philip Clapp of N.E.T. "Even the Fortune 500 is positioning itself for the inevitable. There isn't one credible 2008 Republican presidential candidate who hasn't abandoned the president's do-nothing approach. They have all adopted the approach the rest of the world took at the Montreal talks—we're moving forward, you're a lame duck, and we have to deal with it.'"
The most practical way to combat global warming is not through asceticism but through technology — the way we averted the famines and energy shortages forecast on past Earth Days. Air pollution has declined not because Americans drive less and turn off lights but because cars and power plants have become cleaner.
With no help from the Bush Administration, nor frankly from Detroit which Flannery reports still has its head in the sand over hybrid technology, not quite getting the idea. The Bush Administration, as noted above, has backed off on getting older power plants to clean up their act. It was the Clinton Administration that worked hard to improve our air. Flannery notes that technology is all well and good, but Tierney's derided "acetisicm" helps too. Hertsgaard's sources put the figure at 60%, but Flannery says that we need to lower our CO2 emissions by 70% if we are to put off disastrous climate change. Upgrading from an internal combusion engine to a hybrid will lower any individual's transportation emissions by that 70%, but that doesn't address home consumption. In fact, even if we achieve all those goals, he says, we're still in trouble unless we find a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, a technology that does not yet exist.
While Europeans have been reveling in their moral superiority in adopting the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has been pushing technologies that involve less pain but more gain, like new nuclear power plants and methods of sequestering carbon. America has offered to help India build nuclear plants and is working in China to generate cleaner electricity. It's leading a 15-nation program to cut down emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by turning it into a profitable source of energy.
Flannery notes that while use of methane as a source of energy is a move in the right direction, leakage into the atmosphere is a problem, and methane is the second most dangerous greenhouse gas after CO2. He also notes that if all coal-powered plants in the world suddenly switched to methane, it would only lower greenhouse gasses by 30%, not nearly enough to make a difference.
As for nuclear power, yes it is far cleaner than coal. However, until a technology is devised that will avoid all future Chernobyls, its future is still a very mixed bag. As Flannery reports, seven percent of the population of the Ukraine suffered illness as a result of the meltdown; only one percent of Belarus is free from contamination, 25% of the Belarus farmland is permanently out of production, and nearly a thousand children each year die from thyroid cancer. And did we mention terrorism, or waste disposal?
These programs have gotten little attention. (I managed to find a total of one newspaper article devoted to the methane project). But if you add up the projected annual reductions in carbon dioxide from these efforts, the total is greater than what Europeans are planning to cut through Kyoto, according to David Victor, the director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford.
That sounds better than it really is. Most of Europe has moved away from a coal-based energy supply (coal-fired plants being the primary Co2 culprit in the world), whereas India and China are just getting started. These countries, particularly India with its enormous population settled in areas ripe for global-warmed rising sea levels, are terrified of the consequences of climate change. Thus, greenhouse gas reductions in those two giant nations now dependent on fossil fuels would certainly be greater than any reduction via Kyoto in Europe. Both India and Kyoto signed on to the Kyoto Accords in 2002, which means that they were searching for new energy sources and came, hat in hand, to America.
We also must remember the role of Enron in its rapacious displacement of millions of Indians during the company's thieving heyday in the late 1990s, as delinated by Arundhati Roy in her book, "Power Politics." Trusting the United States to do the right thing in a developing country is a dicey affair at best.
"The Bush administration's nuclear deal with India by itself could do almost as much as Kyoto," Victor says. "While we should cut our own emissions at home, we need to work on more deals like this in developing countries, because they'll be producing most of the future carbon dioxide and they don't want to address global warming unless it serves their own needs."
David Victor is the Director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University. His comments regarding Kyoto must be seen in light of his belief that its backbone, emission trading, is doomed to failure. Flannery is also skeptical of emission trading but adds: "It is of paramount importance to understand that the Kyoto Protocol is the only international treaty in existence created to combat climate change. For those who urge abandonment or who criticize Kyoto, there are two questions: What do you propose to replace Kyoto with, and how do you propose to secure international agreement for your alternative?"
It's fine to exhort rich Westerners to live frugally, but people in poor countries will not be swayed by appeals to asceticism. When you live without a car or electricity or running water, every day is Earth Day.
Tim Flannery discusses global warming and his book "The Weather Makers" in an interview I conducted with him last week in Berkeley. That interview can be heard in its entirety at alternet.org. It will be heard in part on Thursday, May 11th at 3 pm on KPFA-FM in Berkeley as part of our spring fund drive, in which copies of the book will be given away to new and renewed subscribers.
April 16, 2006
The Good Fight, Done Badly
By DAVID BROOKS
In 1955 Sloan Wilson published "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," and in 1956 William H. Whyte published "The Organization Man." Both books captured the spirit of the times, when young men graduated from college and were absorbed into large, anonymous corporate organizations.
Whyte described the bland conformism that prevailed in these bureaucracies. The young men, he wrote, don't see the system "as something to be bucked, but as something to be cooperated with." The Organization Men, he said, are technicians, not innovators; conformists, not rebels. They are "obtrusive in no particular, excessive in no zeal."
At about this time, smarter and more daring young men were also entering the work force. But these renegades rebelled against the organizational mediocrity they saw around them. They may have looked and dressed like all the other corporate cogs, and they tended to go into business like the others. But inside they were hostile to stultifying organizations, and contemptuous of protective, slow-moving bureaucracies. They saw themselves as anti-Organization Men, as bureaucratic barbarians who would crash through the comfy old routines and wipe out corporate sloth.
Donald Rumsfeld, who graduated from Princeton in 1954, was of this type. Athletic, heroic, he never met an organization he didn't try to upend. He made it to Congress in the early 1960's and challenged the existing order. He was hired by Richard Nixon and quickly reorganized the Office of Economic Opportunity, slashing jobs and focusing the organization. He wrote to Nixon that he would upset the education bureaucrats and destroy "their comfortable world."
As his career went on, he took his streamlining zeal to the Pentagon, and then to G. D. Searle & Company, where he dismissed hundreds of executives, spun off losing businesses and streamlined the bureaucracy.
Rumsfeld's style appealed to political leaders who were allied with the corporate world, but hostile to self-satisfied corporate fat cats. Nixon loved Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, the rebel in chief, quickly hired him.
This uses the really weird Fred Barnes spin on George W., who he calls the "Rebel in Chief." It's really weird because George W. Bush is the epitomy of the kind of satisfied corporate fat cat that Brooks derides. When a company's direction is going south, a smart "anti-organization" CEO fires those responsible and brings in a new team. The War in Iraq has been a military disaster virtually since the fall of Baghdad. Rumsfeld should have been removed on the heels of Abu Ghraib. That he wasn't testifies to Bush' s incompetence as the CEO-in-Chief.
On Sept. 10, 2001, Rumsfeld held a town meeting in the Pentagon that almost perfectly summarizes his career. There is an organization that threatens the security of the United States, he warned. "With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas." The adversary is close to home, he concluded: "It's the Pentagon bureaucracy."
Anti-Organization Men like Rumsfeld value the traits needed to mount frontal assaults on vast bureaucracies: first, unshakable self-confidence; second, a willingness to stir up opposition and to be unmoved in the face of it (on the contrary, to see it as the inevitable byproduct of success).
Anti-Organization Men tend to love fast-moving technology for the way it renders old structures obsolete. They tend to see themselves as event-making characters who exist above their organizations, or in a tightly organized renegade band. Rumsfeld wrote his own rules, and many of them sing the glories of disruption: "You can't cut a swath through the henhouse without ruffling some feathers."
These anti-Organization Men did a lot of good. If you look at the corporations that reinvented themselves in the 1980's — G.E., Chrysler, Citibank, I.B.M., Xerox — you see they were led by men who were viscerally hostile to organizational inertia and willing to take gigantic risks to shake things up.
Unfortunately, we've learned that though Rumsfeld is a perfect warrior for peaceful times, his virtues turn into vices during wartime. War is nothing but a catalog of errors, and in fluid, unpredictable circumstances, the redundancies of the World War II style of organization actually make sense. When you don't know what you will need, sometimes it is best just to throw gigantic resources at a problem. You can adapt later on.
Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.
If you just looked at his résumé, you might think he was the best person to lead the Pentagon in time of war, but in reality he was the worst because his whole life had misprepared him for what was to come. He was prepared to fight organizations. He was not prepared to fight enemies.
David Brooks has spent the last five and a half years promoting the reckless endangerment policies of Donald Rumsfeld. Now that he's striking a different chord, he should not be let off the hook. The disasters of this administration, while certainly the responsiblity of those in charge, are also the responsiblity of their propagandists. Brooks should not be let off the hook.
This column also ties in with the neocon mantra that the problem with Iraq (and all other problems with the Bush Administration) stems from bad management and implementation, rather than any inherent failure of the administration's philosophical framework or broad policy decisions. This is an extremely important point historically ---- when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, all of its governmental philosophies were sufficiently discredited to kill any further implementation for at least decades to come. Should the administration's free-market/neocon policies wind up equally discredited, it could lead to a sea change in American politics and a return to the liberal Democrat/Rockefeller Republican duality that existed from the end of World War II to the Reagan years. You only need to look at what's happening in Latin America and athe rise of leftist populist regimes to understand what's at stake here.
Now the bureaucracy he assaulted is rising up against him. In other times their enmity would be a mark of accomplishment, but now it's a symptom of failure. He has become a past-tense man.
Now the gauntlet is thrown down. This is an important column because now it's not only the generals, it's also the senior conservative columnist in the New York Times. Prediction: Rumsfeld will be gone by June first, probably much sooner.
Addendum to David Brooks' column on morality, dated April 9th.
Brooks writes (to paraphrase) that the Duke rape accusation is in line with a moral decline caused by an inability to see things in moral terms. While being coy about whether morality is actually different today than in the 1950s, Brooks writes, concerning an e-mail one of the Duke players wrote the night of the event,
"You would say that the person who felt free to send this message to his buddies had crashed through several moral guardrails. You would surmise that his character had been corroded by shock jocks and raunch culture and that he'd entered a nihilistic moral universe where young men entertain each other with bravura displays of immoralism. A community so degraded, you might surmise, is not a long way from actual sexual assault."
Not directly in response to Brooks' column, but in response to comments like those made by Brooks, former SF Chronicle columnist Glenn Dickey writes about the same event:
"Historically, women have been reluctant to make rape accusations because the questioning, either in police interviews or in a trial, can be brutal. But more and more, they’re coming forward. I don’t know how the Duke case will turn out – DNA testing did not show any matches with the white players – but the fact that it was even brought is significant. Forty years ago, that kind of accusation would never have happened...athletes kept their secrets, with the cooperation of sportswriters, who didn’t write about any of it. Babe Ruth was a notorious womanizer, but that never reached print – and there was no TV or Internet and virtually no radio...there’s been a sea change since then. For the last 40 years, writers have probed relentlessly into personal details of athletes’ lives. Imagine if the writers of their times would have done the same to Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle...The fantasy world that once was sports no longer exists. For some, both fans and media, that’s disturbing. Everybody likes to cling to their childhood dreams, of a supposed purity that never really existed. But we all had to give up on our childhood dreams of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too. Realizing that athletes have the same wishes and desires as the rest of us – though with more money to satisfy them – is a healthy thing."
April 13, 2006
The Past Meets the Future
By DAVID BROOKS
This entire column is predicated on the idea that the United States invaded Iraq for idealistic reasons, to remake the Middle East as a democracy. Take that for what it's worth.
Mr. Past: Your big problem is you don't understand the limits of what governments can achieve. Before this whole Iraq thing, you should have read Elie Kedourie's essay on the British occupation in the 1920's. This isn't history repeating itself, it's the same unbroken pattern.
Elie Kedourie (1926-1992) was a politically conservative historian. To quote neocon Martin Kramer: "Armed with a potent and lucid style, he waged a determined defense against the siege of Middle Eastern history by leftist theory, the social sciences, and fashionable Third Worldism. Kedourie’s iconoclastic work forms the foundation of a diffuse school that views the post-Ottoman history of the Middle East not as an “awakening,” but as a resurgence of its own despotic tradition, exacerbated by Western dissemination of the doctrine of self-determination." Most Google searches on Kedourie yield neocon essays. Ntohing much coming from the center or the left.
Kedourie shows the whole history of Iraq is a story of "bloodshed, treason and rapine." He shows how Iraqi politics have always been marked by "murderous currents," "demonic hatreds," "grisly spectacles," Sunni violence and Shiite fanaticism. He shows naïve Westerners who thought they could change all this. He even quotes a memo from a British officer saying Britain should threaten to withdraw because then the Iraqis will be forced to behave responsibly. It's all the same!
The central lesson of the past three years is that societies are not that malleable. Evils do not grow out of manageable defects in the environment that can be neatly fixed. We need to change our mentality, scale back to more realistic expectations.
Mr. Future: Actually, I did read Kedourie, but last night I also reread the Exodus story. The Exodus story reminds us that human beings can transform themselves and their situations. It reminds us that people who embark on generational journeys are the realistic ones, because they are the ones who see all the possibilities the future contains.
Mr. Future is Jewish. Last night was the first night of the Passover Seder, in which the Exodus story is recounted. For the next eight days, some members of my own family will use matzoh for their shrimp salad sandwiches.
The finest things humans have done have been achieved in an Exodus frame of mind. This country was settled and founded by people who adopted the Exodus mentality. The civil rights movement was also led by such people.
Not really.The Israelites were escaping from Egypt, not attempting to change Egypt's racial structure from within. In a larger context, this story, and America's, is one in which people persevere in creating a new world for themselves because they had no place in the old one. This idea is partly created through optimism, but also arrives through necessity. The Israelites had no choice, and neither did many of the immigrants who came to America. It's more refined than just some George W. Bush-style gut-induced optimism.
Martin Luther King learned from Exodus that it is not enough to sit back and let history slowly evolve. It's sometimes necessary to venture into the hazardous wilderness.
Okay, but Brooks is conflating actual wilderness with metaphorical wilderness.
There are times amid the journey when the Promised Land can seem a long way off, when the words "next year in Jerusalem" seem unrealistic.
"Next Year in Jerusalem" is a direct quote from the Seder service. Obviously it's achieved a certain metaphorical status because any of us, with a little cash and time on your hands, can spend next week in Jerusalem if we'd like -- let alone next year's Seder. For my own family, it was This Year in New Jersey, and Next Year in Mount Kisco.
But those are the times when the words mean the most. So of all the lessons to learn from the past three years, the worst would be to settle back into your cold-hearted acceptance of the status quo.
Mr. Past: You had no right to force others to sacrifice for your distant visions of milk and honey. How long is the young woman in Najaf supposed to be oppressed while you wait for the Arab journey through chaos to end?
Your problem is that in your innocence, you have no idea how long historical processes take to work themselves out. You have no idea of the deep cultural continuities that stretch back over centuries and shape behavior. The people who suffer for democracy should see the wages of their labor sometime in their own lives.
Mr. Future: Because you are so arrogant, you assume I am an idiot. The Exodus story prepares us for all that. It is not the story of liberation, but of the long, troubled march to freedom.
Brooks is riffing on the literary style of the Hagaddah here, which is why it sounds so stilted.
The Israelites had been damaged by their own oppression. They longed for freedom but were not ready for it. There were fights and divisions.
Moses told his men to "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor," thus ordering the murder of 3,000 Israelites.
Tocqueville gets at this when he writes that freedom "is ordinarily born in the midst of storms, it is established painfully among civil discords, and only when it is old can one know the benefits." The adolescence of freedom is painful, but what is the alternative?
Mr. Past: The alternative is to develop a mind-set in which you don't try insanely to solve great historical problems, but you understand that history is one unexpected thing after another. You seek balance. You navigate through the storms to keep some reasonable order intact for one more day. It never ends.
Mr. Future: You will be surprised by the habits of mind you fall into. You will stop trying to end tyranny and pretty soon you will stop condemning it. You will develop a hardheartedness that flatters your moral vanity because it seems mature.
Remember, fewer Iraqis have died in the second Iraq war than in the first, when Saddam crushed the Shiite uprising we fomented. The world wasn't bothered by that extermination — there were no rallies in the streets. We were all being realistic.
The nation will adopt one mind-set after the trauma of Iraq, yours or Moses'. Right now, the public mood is with you, but I can't imagine yours will long prevail.
America was dragged into this war because of fears about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and what he might do, not because of some idealistic (or hubristic) idea of sending Americans to die for Iraqi democracy. To that degree, this entire column is a lie. The war, for the overwhelming majority of the American public, was never about Mr. Past or Mr. Future. It was always about Mr. 9/11.
Addendum to April 9 column: DNA evidence seems to show that the Lacrosse team was not involved in the rape.
April 9, 2006
Virtues and Victims
By DAVID BROOKS
All great scandals occur twice, first as Tom Wolfe novels, then as real-life events that nightmarishly mimic them. And so after "I Am Charlotte Simmons," it was perhaps inevitable that Duke University would have to endure a mini-social explosion involving athletic thugs, resentful townies, nervous administrators, male predators, aggrieved professors, binge drinking and lust gone wild.
If you were to read The New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle, you'd barely be aware of this scandal's existence. A "great scandal"? No, probably not. The college athletic field is often rocked by these kinds of scandals. But that's really not the point of this column.
If you wander through the thicket of commentary that already surrounds the Duke lacrosse scandal, the first thing you notice is how sociological it is. In almost every article and piece of commentary, the event is portrayed not as a crime between individuals but as a clash between classes, races and sexes.
Now we're getting to the heart of it. Intellectual analysis looks these events, in search of reasons and in search of answers in order that future similar events do not happen. Analyses such as these are not "moral" because they're not supposed to be. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and it's important to look at the petri dish to discover why the bacteria grows. David Brooks knows this, and he's about to create a straw man.
"This whole sordid party scene played out at the prestigious university is deeply disturbing on a number of levels, including those involving gender, race and the notion of athletic entitlement and privilege," a USA Today columnist wrote.
"The collisions are epic: black and white, town and gown, rich and poor, privilege and plain, jocks and scholars," a CBS analyst observed.
The key word in the coverage has been "entitlement." In a thousand different ways commentators have asserted (based on no knowledge of the people involved) that the lacrosse players behaved rancidly because they felt privileged and entitled to act as they pleased.
This broad generalization would have us assume David Brooks has found "a thousand different ways" commentators have asserted why the players behaved as they did, when we know full well there weren't even close to a thousand different ways nor a thousand different commentators. As we'll see, he's taking comments literally (in the sense that the commentators never mentioned "morality" therefore they did not see a moral component) while Brooks' own comments are not be taken literally.
The main theme shaping the coverage is that inequality leads to exploitation. The whites felt free to exploit the blacks. The men felt free to exploit women. The jocks felt free to exploit everybody else. As a Duke professor, Houston Baker, wrote, their environment gave the lacrosse players "license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech and feel proud of themselves in the bargain."
It could be that this environmental, sociological explanation of events is entirely accurate. But it says something about our current intellectual climate that almost every reporter and commentator used these mental categories so unconsciously and automatically.
Several decades ago, American commentators would have used an entirely different vocabulary to grapple with what happened at Duke. Instead of the vocabulary of sociology, they would have used the language of morality and character.
...and no one would have learned anything about the sociological nature of the events. Journalism as professional scolding is bad journalism because it filters everything through an emotional sieve. The result is the kind of rotten reporting we received when Clinton got a blowjob.
If you were looking at this scandal through that language, you would look at the e-mail message one of the players sent on the night in question. This is the one in which a young man joked about killing strippers and cutting off their skin.
You would say that the person who felt free to send this message to his buddies had crashed through several moral guardrails. You would surmise that his character had been corroded by shock jocks and raunch culture and that he'd entered a nihilistic moral universe where young men entertain each other with bravura displays of immoralism. A community so degraded, you might surmise, is not a long way from actual sexual assault.
Or you might not surmise that at all. Brooks is a scold who sees society being degraded all around him, and never seems to notice that his own Straussian lies nor and the Straussian lies of the people he supports, nor the financial degradation of people like Tom DeLay and the Republican Party (who all hide behind Jesus and the flag), nor most importantly the idea that the marketplace is always right, form the bulkwark of this nihilistic universe he so hates.
You would then ask questions very different from the sociological ones: How have these young men slipped into depravity? Why have they not developed sufficient character to restrain their baser impulses?
College athletes are generally Republicans, aren't they?
The educators who used this vocabulary several decades ago understood that when you concentrate young men, they have a tropism toward barbarism. That's why these educators cared less about academics than about instilling a formula for character building. The formula, then called chivalry, consisted first of manners, habits and self-imposed restraints to prevent the downward slide.
At least that's the myth. Back in those good old days, rapes were covered up completely because things like the internet didn't exist. Brooks is living in a fantasy land molded by Hollywood movies of the '40s and '50s.
Furthermore, it was believed that each of us had a godlike and a demonic side, and that decent people perpetually strengthened the muscles of their virtuous side in order to restrain the deathless sinner within. If you read commencement addresses from, say, the 1920's, you can actually see college presidents exhorting their students to battle the beast within — a sentiment that if uttered by a contemporary administrator would cause the audience to gape and the earth to fall off its axis.
Probably because such a manichean philosophy is considered simplistic and intellectually dishonest. However, what we're looking at here is Brooks' own manichean viewpoint, how he believes people really are. He's also setting the stage for.... (see below)
Today that old code of obsolete chivalry is gone, as is a whole vocabulary on how young people should think about character.
But in "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Wolfe tried to steer readers back past the identity groups to the ghost in the machine, the individual soul. Wolfe's heroine is a modern girl searching for honor in a world where the social rules have dissolved, and who commits "moral suicide" because she is unprepared for what she faces.
Many critics reacted furiously to these parts of Wolfe's book. And we are where we are.
This could very well be the first salvo in the battle for a manichean view of the universe that will eventually result in Iran being labeled a "bad guy" in order to propagandize a first-strike air attack of Iranian civilians by the Bush Administration.
April 8, 2006
Ángels in America
By JOHN TIERNEY
CHICAGO -- Ángel Espinoza doesn't understand why Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to deport Mexicans like him. I don't get it, either. He makes me think of my Irish grandfather.
They both left farms and went to the South Side of Chicago, arriving with relatively little education. My grandfather took a job in the stockyards and lived in an Irish boardinghouse nearby. Espinoza started as a dishwasher and lived with his brother in a Mexican neighborhood.
More bad news from Iraq. More bad news for Republicans from the major polls. Yesterday we learned that Bush lied to the American people about the Valerie Plame affair. So what does John Tierney talk about? Yup, immigration.
April 6, 2006
Scuttling Toward Sanity
By DAVID BROOKS
The Great Diversion continues.
I had a horrifying experience in the House of Representatives last week. The House Immigration Caucus held a press conference so members could compete to see who was the biggest blithering idiot in the group.
"Anybody who votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter, 'A for Amnesty!' " one aspiring idiot thundered. There's "a foul odor that's coming out of the U.S. Senate!" bellowed Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, who then went on to win the prize by suggesting that instead of using illegal aliens to harvest crops, we force felons to do it. "I say, Let the prisoners pick the fruits!"
Rohrabacher said the same thing on Bill Maher last week. The audience was too stunned to react. But this is Rohrabacher, a neanderthal who spent much of the hour defending Bush's seven comatose 9/11 minutes by arguing there was nothing Bush could have done, so he might as well keep reading.
Here was a seemingly mentally competent adult recommending that we force a largely minority population to go out in the fields and pick lettuce and cotton. You wanted to hit him over the head and scream: Is this ringing any bells, Representative Rohrabacher? Are we repealing the Emancipation Proclamation, too?
But this week the action moved over to the Senate, where pomposity generally has a restraining influence on stupidity. And indeed the major bill in the Senate, first conceived by John McCain and Ted Kennedy and refined by Arlen Specter, was immediately more sensible than anything that had emerged from the House.
The Specter bill acknowledged a few realities. First, a highly skilled nation like ours needs to import unskilled workers to do miserable jobs. Second, government is simply not powerful enough to hold off the global economy. You cannot build a wall around the United States that will successfully keep out the workers the U.S. economy demands.
The Specter bill balanced border enforcement with worker programs. It would build sluice gates regulating the flow of immigrants, not a wall.
But the Specter bill didn't have enough Republican support to pass. So an amazing thing happened. Senators tried to find a viable center.
Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel forged a compromise proposal. McCain and Kennedy latched on. So did Bill Frist (who decided he'd swung too far over toward the anti-immigrant crowd) and the White House.
This proposal also recognized some realities, namely that the longer an immigrant is here, the more valuable to America he or she becomes. New immigrants are going through the shocks of assimilation. But veteran immigrants, even illegals, usually have excellent work records. They've put down roots. Their children are golden. These U.S.-born children go on to earn as much as children of natives, and pay taxes that compensate for the welfare costs of the first generation.
The Martinez-Hagel compromise would allow illegals who have been in the country five years to work toward citizenship, while imposing a higher hurdle for those who haven't. The measure was sufficiently tough to win support from 15 or so Republicans who couldn't support the Specter bill.
The Republicans were delighted with their progress, but then ran into trouble with the Democrats. At first they blamed the Democrats' lack of response on Harry Reid's desire to deny Republicans a victory. But then it became evident that the unions and other Democrats had leapt up to oppose the compromise because it might give legal status to illegal workers already here. The unions have a semilegitimate concern that large numbers of these workers lower wages for U.S. workers. This is probably true, but the effect is so modest that after thousands of studies, reputable economists have not been able to agree upon how much wages are reduced or even if they are at all.
"Reputable scientists" also don't agree on global warming even as we pass the tipping point (Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers" pretty much lays out that case). Reputable economists paid for by such foundations as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, et al will argue against union claims, and economists with union ties will argue the other way. In this short amount of time, I've been unable to find a neutral source.
Senate Democrats were also afraid that a half-baked Senate measure would be ripped apart in conference by Jim Sensenbrenner, the House negotiator who in past conferences has eaten senators for breakfast and cleaned his teeth with their bones.
What happened next is comprehensible only to devotees of the Senate. A trifling few differences about substance erupted into a furious disagreement about who would control the schedule on the floor.
As darkness settled last night, aides were boiling with frustration and ladling precriminations to me over the phone. Nobody could quite put their finger on exactly what was holding up a deal. And yet the Democrats might end up defeating a liberal immigration bill over a trifle.
"This is the sweet-spot deal," said the immigration expert Tamar Jacoby. "It makes moral sense. It makes practical sense. It's a little convoluted, but it's workable. If it fails, what a shame."
The House may be vulgar, but at least that body gets things done.
Come on, Brooks. No immigration bill at all is better than the one in the House. Sometimes statis is better than action. And how about talking about something else?
April 4, 2006
Border of Insanity
By JOHN TIERNEY
This is a special edition of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," news, debate and opinion. Live from Pyongyang, North Korea, Lou Dobbs:
Good evening from North Korea. We had to go halfway around the world, but we've finally got good news for the working men and women of America angry about illegal immigration. Tonight you'll hear our exclusive report from the nation that proudly calls itself the Hermit Kingdom.
Paul Krugman put it best when he said that "for now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness."
I will reiterate what I said regarding earlier columns on immigration: it seems this is one great diversionary tactic: Bush stays on the side of the angels, and nobody talks about the problems facing America today that are the direct result of the Administration's policies --- not to mention the ongoing corruption scandals which have finally forced Tom DeLay out of Congress. The bottom line here in terms of Congressional votes is that the anti-immigration forces simply do not have enough support to make a difference, given a potential veto by Bush (or even not). So it's really just a lot of posturing and hot air. I disagree wtih Krugman when he contends the issue is hurting the Republican Party. I think it's actually helping them in that it makes the party appear open to multiple points of view but more importantly, it hides the issues that would really hurt Republicans.
April 2, 2006
On the Road With JK and the V.P.
By DAVID BROOKS
At first glance this reads like a nonpartisan humor column. But look a little deeper, and it turns insidious.
I'm afraid I've been unable to complete my foolproof plan for North Korean nuclear disarmament because I've been unable to rip my eyes away from the celebrity hotel and backstage requirement lists that have lately been posted on the Internet.
First came the leaked document from the vice president's office letting us know that when Dick Cheney has some downtime at a hotel, he likes nothing better than to crack open a diet caffeine-free Sprite in a well-lit 68-degree room and watch a television preset to "Hannity & Colmes." Then I saw the documents, also posted on thesmokinggun.com, revealing that my idol Bruce Springsteen requires raw oats, whey powder and nonfat soy milk in his backstage dressing room, and that Mary J. Blige demands "No Dairy or Pork of Any Kind!!" for her preconcert meal, even though she doesn't look neocon.
The equal time paragraph. A sentence devoted to Cheney and one to Springsteen, both very mild.
Now there's a leaked memo from the John Kerry campaign to hotel managers, informing them that "JK hates celery" (too spicy, perhaps); that, ungratefully, he does not eat tomato-based products; and that his Cobb salads must have both balsamic vinaigrette and ranch dressing on the side (flip-flopper).
Now we come to it: the rest of the column is mostly a rip against John Kerry, yet another declared Democratic candidate for President, albeit one we know fairly well from last time out. Teachers of propaganda tell us that ridicule is an effective weapon. David Brooks has taken that to a high art: "light-hearted" ridicule that doesn't appear political but clearly is. He's not making fun of Republicans when he has columns like this. It's always Democrats, whether Joe Biden the blabbermouth or John Kerry the weird Hotel Guy. Because he's playing it under the guise of humor column, Brooks doesn't have to talk politics when he does his character assassination. He can just do it "good naturedly." But underneath it all, it's just more Republican propaganda. So now we're rounding out the list: Hillary Clinton has no political purpose; Al Gore has turned crazy; Joe Biden never shuts up; and John Kerry is just plain weird. Some time in April or May, we'll see the Russ Feingold column. As usual, it will be "amusing" and "apolitical." Yeah, right.
I've long argued that the first time you see the Kerrys you think he's normal and she's weird, but after you observe them for a while you realize that inwardly he's the weird one and she's normal. This is confirmed by Teresa Heinz Kerry's entirely sensible hotel requirements list: good air circulation, flax bread and chicken Caesar salad with lots of garlic. When I saw that Mrs. Heinz Kerry prefers Starwood Hotels' Heavenly Bed, I felt that surge of solidarity we all feel toward those whose hotel mattress tastes are identical to our own.
You may call this new passion of mine voyeuristic snooping, but I call it piercing sociological research, and I discern in these leaked memos highly significant historical trends, which of course is my job.
No, your job is to write propaganda, which you're doing here.
In the first place it's interesting to watch politicians and their staffs try to come up with lists of items intended to produce sensual pleasure. People who go into politics tend to be the sort of hyperambitious workaholics who have repressed the Dionysian side of their natures in order to become high school tools, college applicant all-stars and twenty-something mentor magnets, in pursuit of their dreams of someday becoming deputy under secretary of commerce. Then they flock to Washington, a city with an erogenous zone the size of a pea. These are not people with highly developed hedonism skills.
What they come up with, as they contemplate pleasure, is a sort of dweeb decadence. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll are beyond them. Their fantasies run in the direction of really well-selected energy bars. Their memos call for an orgy of decaf, a Mardi Gras of bottled water, a Caligulan binge of chamomile tea. It's like watching the Taliban production of "Entourage."
The other thing these memos illustrate is the psychotic nature of the staff-boss relationship. Remember, it's overeager staffers who write the memos — supercompetent types who magnify their importance and indispensability by making arduous demands on behalf of their superiors.
The relationship between staffer and boss is marred by the Jeeves Principle, which holds that in most large organizations the really intelligent people end up as subordinates while the blandly charismatic, effortlessly slender, excessively well-groomed ones end up as top dogs.
Political and corporate aides have all the requisites for success except the most important one: a complete absence of self-irony. Intellectually superior but personally thwarted, the staffers respond to this disharmony in the cosmic order, first by mixing their affection for their bosses with rich veins of ridicule. (What else are we to make of the Kerry aide's assertion that hotel in-suite movies "make JK very happy"?)
Second, they exact psychic revenge on their bosses by reducing them to infantile dependence. Through flattery and by assuming responsibility for all the normal details of life, these master puppeteers turn their bosses into helpless Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, who require squads of eager, efficient young people to pull them along.
If we allowed the bosses to write their own hotel requirement memos, they wouldn't be filled with picayune bottled water specifications. They'd be more honest: "Please praise me from the moment I walk in the lobby to the moment I'm out your door. Please lose my schedule and misplace my ambition. Please supply me with comfy bathrobes and give me back my youth."
The rest of the column is mostly good stuff. But as with most of David Brooks' columns, there remains that subtext, and as many people will tell you, subtext is all.
April 1, 2006
King Canute at the Border
By JOHN TIERNEY
George Bush is the King Canute of the immigration debate, and I mean that in a nice way.
Canute has an image problem today because so many people think of him as that batty old English king who thought he could command the tide to recede. But that's the wrong spin on his legend.
In the original tale, he was a sensible ruler who was tired of hearing flattery from his courtiers about his great powers. When they told him that even the tides would obey his command, he went down to the sea to teach them a lesson in limits.
Today's courtiers are the Republicans in Congress and the others demanding that America "secure the border." They're furious at Bush for suggesting that a crackdown at the border will not stop the tide of illegal immigrants.
And so on. All the talking heads are babbling about immigration, and not just from the right: both Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins' most recent columns focus on the same issue. While there's no question it's a real one, one has to ask "Why now?" Which causes the paranoid to note that it could all be a diversion. After all, now we know that not only is global warming real, but it's possible the past five insane Bush years have helped push Earth past the tipping point; we all know that New Orleans relief is a joke, and FEMA a horror story; we all know that Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been sentenced, and several other GOP apparachiks will be joining him shortly; we all know the Iraq War is getting worse and worse and the media is now reporting the erection of permanent bases; we're just learning that the goverment-owned Smithsonian Institution has just cut a deal with a private corporation (Showtime) that will impact negatively on PBS documentarians.. In other words, an immigration story where George W. Bush is on the side of the angels is just what the doctor ordered. You have to wonder.
March 30, 2006
Immigrants to Be Proud Of
By DAVID BROOKS
As with the immigrants Brooks is talking about, today's facts are virtually all undocumented.
Everybody says the Republicans are split on immigration. The law-and-order types want to close the border. The free-market types want plentiful labor. But today I want to talk to the social conservatives, because it's you folks who are really going to swing this debate.
I'd like to get you to believe what Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas believes: that a balanced immigration bill is consistent with conservative values. I'd like to try to persuade the evangelical leaders in the tall grass to stop hiding on this issue.
My first argument is that the exclusionists are wrong when they say the current wave of immigration is tearing our social fabric. The facts show that the recent rise in immigration hasn't been accompanied by social breakdown, but by social repair. As immigration has surged, violent crime has fallen by 57 percent. Teen pregnancies and abortion rates have declined by a third. Teenagers are having fewer sexual partners and losing their virginity later. Teen suicide rates have dropped. The divorce rate for young people is on the way down.
These are nice facts, to be sure. However, what do they mean? Is Brooks saying that violent crime, as well as teen sexual activity, pregnancy, abortion and suicide rates, is down over the country? If so, does that also mean it's down in areas with concentrations of immigrants? Is he talking about legal immigrants from all over the world, or illegal immigrants from Mexico. Is he making generalizations that could be disproved by more specific information? In reality, because of this, he's really not saying anything.
Over the past decade we've seen the beginnings of a moral revival, and some of the most important work has been done by Catholic and evangelical immigrant churches, by faith-based organizations like the Rev. Luis Cortés's Nueva Esperanza, by Hispanic mothers and fathers monitoring their kids. The anti-immigration crowd says this country is under assault. But if that's so, we're under assault by people who love their children.
My second argument is that the immigrants themselves are like a booster shot of traditional morality injected into the body politic. Immigrants work hard. They build community groups. They have traditional ideas about family structure, and they work heroically to make them a reality.
This is evident in everything from divorce rates (which are low, given immigrants' socioeconomic status) to their fertility rates (which are high) and even the way they shop.
Are we still talking all immigrants, or illegal immigrants? Is this information documented, or is Brooks pulling it out of his ass, based on a half-hour in front of Telemundo? We liberals know that Brooks lies, conflates, and makes leaps of logic using the "yes set" and other rhetorical techniques. Should social conservatives trust him because he's "one of them", or is he, as a Straussian liar, scamming them as well?
Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants have less money than average Americans, but they spend what they have on their families, usually in wholesome ways. According to Simmons Research, Hispanics are 57 percent more likely than average Americans to have purchased children's furniture in the past year. Mexican-Americans spend 93 percent more on children's music.
Real research from a real consumer research company. Of course, if we assume that Hispanic immigrants tend to be mostly within the confines of parenting age, their birth rate would be higher than the average American of all ages (if, as Catholics, it isn't already higher than comparable white Americans), and therefore so would purchasing of children's materials.
According to the government's Consumer Expenditure Survey, Hispanics spend roughly 30 percent more on gifts than non-Hispanic white Americans. They're more likely to support their parents financially. They're more likely to have big family dinners at home.
While social structure plays a role here, it's also likely that the correlation between undocumented immigration and generational poverty is high. Therefore, these immigrants would be more likely to support their parents financially because the parents are less likely to support themselves than non-Hispanic white Americans (who also get pensions and social security). Family dinners are more likely at home when the family doesn't have a lot of money and the kids haven't grown up on American fast food.
There's nothing wrong with Brooks' point of view, whether one is socially liberal or conservative. He's lauding a group of immigrants who sound like a fine bunch of folks (religious prejudices toward women and gays notwithstanding). But most of his arguments seem based on thin air.
This isn't alien behavior. It's admirable behavior, the antidote to the excessive individualism that social conservatives decry.
My third argument is that good values lead to success, and that immigrants' long-term contributions more than compensate for the short-term strains they cause. There's no use denying the strains immigration imposes on schools, hospitals and wage levels in some markets (but economists are sharply divided on this).
So over the long haul, today's immigrants succeed. By the second generation, most immigrant families are middle class and paying taxes that more than make up for the costs of the first generation. By the third generation, 90 percent speak English fluently and 50 percent marry non-Latinos.
The argument by induction: what has been true in the past will be true in the future. But social conditions change, and we can't be sure this will continue to be the case. Thus far, Hispanic immigrants have leapfrogged over Blacks in the social order. My own personal experience amongst Hispanic immigrants and their families suggest Brooks is correct in his understanding and assessment. But this is anecdotal evidence which cannot be translated into broad statements. What about the gangs of East L.A.?
My fourth argument is that government should be at least as virtuous as the immigrants themselves. Right now (as under Bill Frist's legislation), government pushes immigrants into a chaotic underground world. The Judiciary Committee's bill, which Senator Brownback supports, would tighten the borders, but it would also reward virtue. Immigrants who worked hard, paid fines, paid their taxes, stayed out of trouble and waited their turn would have a chance to become citizens. This isn't government enabling vice; it's government at its best, encouraging middle-class morality.
The Draconian measures promoted by the anti-immigration people are beyond inhumane: they're genocidal. That said, illegal immigration floods the job market with workers willing to accept lower pay than their American counterparts, driving down salaries and often, quite literally, taking jobs away from citizens. If Brooks really wants to make headway with social conservatives who are not part of the wealthy power structure, he must address this issue.
Social conservatives, let me ask you to consider one final thing. Women who have recently arrived from Mexico have bigger, healthier babies than more affluent non-Hispanic white natives. That's because strong family and social networks support these pregnant women, reminding them what to eat and do. But the longer they stay, and the more assimilated they become, the more bad habits they acquire and the more problems their subsequent babies have.
What Brooks is really saying is that undocumented workers would be better off staying in Mexico because America is a seething hive of social decay.
Please ask yourself this: As we contemplate America's moral fiber, do the real threats come from immigrants, or are some people merely blaming them for sins that are already here?
In other words, the anti-immigration folks are pulling facts out of their asses. But we also know David Brooks is pulling facts out of his ass. What a tangled web we weave blah blah blah.
Addendum to March 28 column: France may be in a "malaise," but at least it's a malaise in a country where workers are treated very well, and fairly. Sometimes it's not just about making money for executives (see this column by David Sirota on how American executives are ripping off stockholders, with the support of Congress and the Administration). In addition, France may be having troubles with young second-generation immigrants, but the United States, with its Black underclass, isn't any better. Has Tierney forgotten the Rodney King riots? Nothing's changed.
March 28, 2006
Who Moved My Fromage?
By JOHN TIERNEY
As student protesters and workers try to paralyze France today, I don't suppose many of them are looking to America to come to their country's aid. Nor do I suppose many Americans are in the mood for a new Marshall Plan. But I have a modest proposal anyway.
Someone needs to rescue France from its self-proclaimed malaise. Close to a quarter of its young people are unemployed, but they're too busy burning cars to look for jobs. They're protesting a new policy allowing workers under age 26 to be hired for a two-year trial period during which — quelle horreur! — they could be easily fired.
Tierney's "modest proposal" is to bring America's self-help gurus like Tony Robbins and Donald Trump to France. Given the troubles, it's very easy to gloat at the French, so of course Tierney, like all right-wingers, will kick at the easy target.
March 26, 2006
Lincoln's Winning Strategy for 2008
By DAVID BROOKS
Let's say you're one of the 36,000 people thinking of running for president in 2008. You're wooing donors (like Zero Mostel in "The Producers"), rounding up consultants and pretending you respect journalists so they'll give you good press when you need it later on. But in the back of your mind you are wondering: How am I going to inspire a war-weary nation? How am I going to unite a bitterly divided land?
Zero Mostel's Max Bialystock had no shame whatsoever, lying to and seducing elderly women in order to steal their money for a flop show. A strange opening for a column built around moral framing. Bialystock is, at least on a personal level, amoral at best and immoral at worst. Politically, Bialystock has nothing but contempt for the politics of playwright Franz Leibkind -- when out of Liebkind's sight, the first thing Mostel/Bialystock does is remove his Nazi armband and spit on it with such vehemence that for a second it looks like fellow actor Gene Wilder is honestly surprised. Zeo Mostel, a noted leftist and anti-fascist, spent the better part of the 1950s into the 1960s on Hollywood's blacklist.
If you're going to frame a successful campaign in these circumstances, you're going to have to learn from Lincoln, a man who knew about war and division.
Brooks uses the word "frame." Interesting.
The Civil War was of course bloodier and more dismal than anything we're facing today. Leadership blunders led to more American deaths in single hours than we've seen during three years in Iraq. Lincoln's opponents argued that the South was too culturally and economically dissimilar to be reconciled with the North, that blacks could not live freely and equally with whites.
But as the situation grew dire, Lincoln did not scale back his ambitions or grow more "realistic." On the contrary, he enlarged and revolutionized the meaning of the war. He emancipated the slaves. He portrayed the war as a front in a worldwide struggle for liberty.
Now we're coming to the heart of this column. It's not about the election of 2008. It's really a comparison of George W. Bush's framed "goal" of democratizing the Middle East with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. We can forget about WMDs, conflating Saddam Hussein and al Queda, the Nigerian connection, and even overthrowing Saddam Hussein for the good of the Iraqi people. No, it's all about "democratizing" the Middle East. All other considerations are forgotten in light of this moral goal. That the moral goal was a sidebar in the original run-up to war seems to be something Brooks can ignore, either directly (as in the column on Republican idealism) or indirectly (as in this column)...
"This kind of response to Southern secession might seem counterintuitive — to take on more burdens, instead of less, just when the night was darkest," Paul Berman has written. But Lincoln understood that the American creed was his strongest weapon. He knew it would attract allies and manpower.
Paul Berman is a contributing editor at The New Republic and on the editorial board of Dissent. He and Brooks are on opposite sides of the political fence. However, this paragraph is pretty standard history.. Later on, we'll get to Allen Guelzo, whose book "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President" is revered by the Christian movement.
While never losing sight of the ultimate purpose — the triumph of freedom — he pursued his ends with amazing prudence. The historian Allen Guelzo has shown that Lincoln intended to emancipate the slaves from the very first, but he was cautious in the way he proceeded.
Guelzo takes the view that Lincoln's decision to emancipate the slaves was primarily a moral one. This is a slight bit of revisionism in that recent historians have placed Lincoln's moves in a political context, to the point of some claiming the Emancipation Proclamation was purely a political act and the freeing of the slaves was a mere sidebar to history. Because Guelzo elevates Lincoln's status as the moral president and the model for other presidents to emulate (morality being a byproduct or function of religion), this view is one very popular with the religious right (notwithstanding unrepentent Southerners). See the reviews at Amazon.com..Because George W. Bush has used the religious/moral gloss in his public pronouncements, a subtextual comparison becomes obvious. It's funny, though. By using the lying Max Bialystock as his archetype, Brooks on some level is saying all speeches are "frames," and all politicians (Bush included, one would suspect) are liars.
His first inaugural was so full of concessions, it enraged his evangelical allies. He brought men of wildly different opinions and interests into his cabinet, as Doris Kearns Goodwin has reminded us. He sought to eradicate slavery gradually, with compensation for slaveholders, and within the framework of the Constitution. Even when the Emancipation Proclamation came, it was a famously dry, uninspiring document.
Brooks seems to be lfiting this last sentence from Peter Schramm's review of the Guelzo book. The Goodwin sentence is gratuitous and seems used solely to bring the eminent impartial historian into the argument, conflating (as it were) she, Berman and Guelzo's views on Lincoln.
He was guided by a sense that God is self-concealing. Over the long run, the course of providence is toward justice, but the path is mysterious, so a prudent person is ready for setbacks, lulls and ironies. Lincoln could take startling chances — Emancipation was one — but he could also wait.
His brand of ironic, prudent idealism was evident in domestic policy as well. He had a long-range vision of a just society, implied in the Declaration of Independence. The U.S. was to be a land where all people would have "an open field and a fair chance" for their "industry, enterprise and intelligence." It would be a land of hard-working people striving to rise and transform themselves. His government did everything it could to enhance social mobility.
But in the meantime, he was cautious. He was suspicious of those who tried to divide the nation between the haves and the have-nots, and between natives and immigrants. These sorts of divisions are generally exploited by people trying to get something for nothing.
Far from regarding immigrants as culturally alien, Lincoln saw them as a "replenishing stream." They were true Americans, just as if they were "flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration." He rejected schemes to give immigrants second-class citizenship. These are the schemes kings are always devising, he argued, products of the "same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it."
More of Guelzo here. In choosing the Guelzo perspective on Lincoln, Brooks argues for a moral imperative that transcends political considerations, which ties in with the frame that the Bush Administration is an idealistic one concerned with moral imperatives. In a weird, backhanded way, without actually using the words, Brooks is now directly equating Bush with Lincoln.
The people who run for president in 2008 will find themselves campaigning in a weary nation. They will also confront an old form of multiculturalism that has been given a new life. This is the multiculturalism that puts aside the universal claims of the Declaration of Independence, which Lincoln cherished. Instead, it says, democracy is good for many cultures, but not for Arabs. America has benefited from other immigrants, but not the current wave of Mexicans.
Once again, without saying so, Brooks is using the moral frame to support the Bush Administration in Iraq.
This is a multiculturalism born of frustration, embraced by people who have been so soured by the course of change that they've given up on the destination.
Okay, now we've got it. This column, from top to bottom, however one reads the specifics, is an attack on, and a plea to, Francis Fukuyama and his former neocon cohorts..
The candidates who hope to reinspire such an electorate will have to devise foreign and domestic policies that pursue Lincoln's core goal: "The theory of our government is universal freedom." But they'll have to show they can be prudent in pursuit of that difficult ideal.
The difference between Lincoln and Bush is prudence, or perhaps even wisdom, in the implementation of the moral imperative. If we get past the framing built for the rest of us (it's not the goal, it's the implementation) and narrow down to the particular message, it appears Brooks is saying to Fukuyama and the like that they can't just give up because things have gotten difficult; bad decisions on the part of the Bush Administration, rhetoric notwithstanding, have led to this impasse. Chins up!
March 25, 2006
On Campus, a Good Man Is Hard to Find
By JOHN TIERNEY
When a boy opens his acceptance letter from college, he now has to wonder what most impressed the admissions officers. Did they want him for his mind, or just his body?
The admissions director at Kenyon College, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, published an Op-Ed article this week revealing an awkward truth about her job: affirmative action for boys. As the share of the boys in the applicant pool keeps shrinking — it will soon be down to 40 percent nationally — colleges are admitting less-qualified boys in order to keep the gender ratio balanced on campus.
This week's revelation did not please Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, who told me that she might challenge the legality of affirmative action for male applicants. She and I are not normally ideological soulmates, but I have some sympathy with her on this policy.
One of those weird columns that sits somewhere between "yeah, so what?", "who cares?", "what are you really trying to say?" and "Tierney get a life."
March 23, 2006
A Vision, Bruised and Dented
By DAVID BROOKS
The word is out: Today's Talking Point It's all about Republican idealism, how the Republicans are the party of idealists. David Brooks writes about how idealism was murdered by unchangeable cultures in the Mideast and Washington. Debra J. Saunders in the Chronicle talks about how Bush's idealism shows he's a good leader. Victor David Hanson of the Heritage Foundation talks more about patterns changing, citing how Democrats were the ones who used to be idealists. Saunders' column, by the way, is particularly laughable in its support of Bush, and once again brings up the question about whether these people actually believe the crap they're writing.
What's astonishing is how each of these articles is so very different: Brooks seems to be talking about the Republican Party; Saunders about Bush's forthrightness; Hanson about changes in recognizable political fault lines in the context of the history of his old farmhouse. But the frame is the same in each column. I know there's no conspiracy here, but it's as if someone, a right-wing George Lakoff type, said, "Okay, David, you focus on Republicans; Debra, you focus on the president; oh, and Victor, write something that says the Democrats aren't idealists any more (planting the idea that Republicans still are). It's possible every other right-wing column in the country is about other topics, from the arguments in the Supreme Court to Barry Bonds. But it looks like there's a pattern here, and the pattern is PROPAGANDA.
The big question in Democratic circles is, Who can win? The big question in Republican circles is, What do we believe? The setbacks in Iraq, the failure to limit the size of government and plummeting poll numbers have changed the way Republicans talk and govern.
If you wanted to put these changes in a nutshell, you'd say the Republicans have gone from soaring Bushian universalism to nervous, dumbed-down Huntingtonism.
Samuel P. Huntington (b. 1927) "is a political scientist known for his analysis of the relationship between the military and the civil government, his investigation of coup d'etats, and his thesis that the central political actors of the 21st century will be civilizations rather than nation-states." His primary work is titled "The Clash of Civilizations."
Just over a year ago, Republicans were thrilling to the lofty sentiments of President Bush's second inaugural: that freedom is God's gift to humanity, that people everywhere hunger for liberty. To explain his efforts to democratize the Middle East, Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
In other words, Bush's idealism. Of course, one can easily say that the second inaugural speech was a combination of platitudes and false optimism. Save for the comment about America's addiction to oil, Bush's speech was notable for saying pretty much nothing.
Today, many Republicans have lost patience with Bush's high-minded creedal statements. Like the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, they have come to believe that culture matters most. Lofty notions about universal liberty splinter on the shoals of Arab customs.
Republican Idealism shattered by Arab culture. Tends to make you forget the lies about weapons of mass destruction, the conflation of Saddam and 9/11, Iraq selling weapons to al Queda, helping the Iraqi people get rid of their evil dictator. No, we went to war for Republican idealism, for the idea that other cultures should share our democracy. This is beyond even Thomas Friedman, who at least understood that the purpose of establishing democracy in the Middle East was to protect America's interests. None of that here: it's all about creating a better world for its own sake. Brooks is pretty good at rewriting history but even this one is a stretch for him.
Heartfelt convictions about reducing the size of government disintegrate inside the culture of Washington. Many Republicans have lost faith in efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn't exaggerate how much we can change.
Back in 1994, the frame issued forth that the Contract with America turnover brought dozens of new Republican idealists to Washington. And sure, some talked a good game: they would only serve three terms; they would shrink government and vote against pork; they would ensure America didn't go off half-cocked around the world. It sounded good, but it belied other things, like the K Street Project, the purpose of which was to gear ALL lobbying toward Republicans. Well, here we are twelve years later, pork spending is beyond anything served up by Democratic Congresses, lobbying corruption is rampant, and American foreign policy has turned into a disaster of epic proportions.
But really, outside of a handful of honest conservatives or fundamentalists (some of whom voluntarily left after their self-described term limits were up), most Republicans had no problem serving the interests of corporate America, and those who sometimes bristled were strong-armed by Tom DeLay, who took his cues less from Washington culture than from movies like "The Godfather." But let's not get too far afield: this generation was no more idealistic than any other Republican generation, and a damn sight less idealistic than the Democratic Congresses of the late '70s who came in after Watergate and were eventually red or pink-baited to death by the Reaganites.
In the realm of foreign affairs, we have seen the rise of what Richard Lowry of National Review calls the " 'To Hell With Them' Hawks." These, Lowry writes, "are conservatives who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem." They look at car bombs and cartoon riots and wonder whether Islam is really a religion of peace. They look at the mayhem in the Middle East and just want to withdraw. After all, in his book "The Clash of Civilizations," Huntington didn't want to change the Muslim world — he just called for less contact with it.
Conservatives have never been comfortable using force abroad. It's one of the things that made them conservative. Even Victor David Hanson knows this: "Conservatives were hard-headed realists who counseled us to keep our distance from a scary world." The neocons had, and have, their own ideas about using force abroad. There are some neocons, like Francis Fukuyama, who have changed their tune, and Brooks is addressing this paragraph to them. But he shouldn't conflate "neocon" with "conservative." Brooks is clearly splitting off from those neocons who are not merely distancing themselves from the Bush Administration's implementation of the war, but from some of the philosophical bases of neocon thought.
In the field of immigration, Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is; how slowly the Mexicans assimilate, if at all; how much disorder and strain their presence creates.
Since the days following reconstruction, Republicans have traditionally been the party of xenophobes and racists, which is why eventually the entire South turned Republican, and why the Archie Bunkers of the North were Republican, and one reason why immigrants coming to America in the 20th Century seemed to always register as Democrats. In fact, the Republican Party has traditionally been known as the white and nativist party. Brooks continues to pull phony history out of his ass.
There is a chance that in the next few weeks, the G.O.P. will walk off a cliff on the subject of immigration. In the desperate effort to win back their base, Republican senators may follow Bill Frist and embrace a draconian enforcement-only immigration bill (which will lose them Florida and the Southwest for a generation).
This is hyperbole. Hispanics in the Southwest have traditionally been Democrats for the same reasons cited above. Republicans have made inroads into Democratic support, and some of that will disappear. But it's not as if Democrats themselves are united on immigration policy. Florida is a different story because of the huge influx of Cuban refugees who supported the Republicans' hard-line stand on Cuba. As long as Castro is in power, that won't change.
Finally, there is the issue of domestic poverty. Hurricane Katrina rekindled a brief resurgence of compassionate conservatism, at least for President Bush. But Republicans in Congress were having none of it. They appropriated the money they had to, but they had no confidence that the federal government could do anything effective to transform the culture of poverty: the out-of-wedlock births, the family breakdowns and so on.
He's conflating Katrina and his own obsession with out-of-wedlock births and family breakdowns. Rebuilding Louisiana and Mississippi has nothing to do with changing the culture of poverty. It's another case of apples and oranges, or even apples and fax machines..
In short, Republicans seem to have gone from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.
This is another one of those "where does he come up with this nonsense?" moments.
Recently, I've spilled a lot of ink stressing the importance of culture as we think about poverty, development and foreign affairs. But it's dismaying to see so many Republicans veer overboard into a vulgarized version of Huntingtonist cultural determinism.
That's exactly what Brooks did when he discussed why lower class children were unable to adapt to middle and upper class society. Cultural determinism.
European conservatives from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott usefully remind us of the power of culture and tradition. But American conservatives — from Hamilton to Reagan — have never taken that path precisely because they believe in the power of the American creed, precisely because they have an Enlightenment faith in the power of reason to change minds.
Conservatism, from smaller government to isolationism, has virtually disappeared from the Republican Party. Now what we have are right-wing ranters on radio and television, people like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, who pretty much say that anyone who questions Bush policy should be incarcerated or killed as a traitor. This is "reason"?
Whether in Iraq or the barrio, history is not a prison. Culture shapes people, but cultures are changeable.
This particular sentence, which Brooks treats as a truism, is a theory that may or may not hold water. We know that cultures change, but whether cultures are "changeable" in a conscious way by outside forces, is an overwhelmingly hubristic notion and very much open to debate. In the short term, through a barrage of propaganda, culture may appear to change in the way propagandists want, but in the longer term, the results are, to say the least, problematic. We can look at this seemingly innocuous sentence another way: If we see Brooks as a Straussian, then we understand that he believes he and other superior beings like him have the right and the ability to manipulate cultures and peoples in whatever way they deem fit. This column may well be an example of that philosophy: Brooks knows he's lying, but it's within his right to lie in order to achieve Straussian ends.This is why critics have said that all Straussians are liars.
Fortunately, there is a great Republican leader who understood the balance between culture and creed: Abraham Lincoln. In this spring of Republican discontent, his approach and governing method will make a good subject for a future column.
The frame that the current Republican Party has its roots in the leadership of Abraham Lincoln is a useful tool, but it's not an accurate one. Today's Republican Party owes more to the philosophies and ideals of former Democrats like Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan than to events that took place a century and a half ago. Yes, Reconstruction was an attempt to forcibly change the culture of the American South, there is that. But anyone who lived through the tumultuous days of the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s understands that it was the Democratic Party that sought to change American racial culture in the 20th Century, and that the mainstream and conservative ends of the Republican Party wanted little part in that.
Last Sunday, I wrote that Plato used the word "eros" to signify the appetitive part of the soul. This isn't the first time I've been led astray by the power of eros. The correct word is "epithymia."
No mention of the thumos/thymos conflation. Walter Kirn writes a scathing review of Professor Mansfield's opus on Manliness this week in the New YorkTimes.
March 21, 2006
Passing the Dinar
By JOHN TIERNEY
The rats deserting the sinking ship are moving quickly now. Tierney is taking the same view as David Brooks: It wasn't the idea of the invasion; it wasn't the phony evidence nor the lies; it wasn't the philosophy behind it all. No: it was merely the execution, in particular Rumsfeld's idea of a scaled-down army keeping the peace. We have to ask, not for the first time --- and as Paul Krugman put it so well yesterday --- where were these rats then? Answer: they were cheering on Rumsfeld and slamming those who questioned the security failures.
Two months before the Iraq war began, David Kay reported to the Pentagon for a job in the agency being formed to run postwar Iraq. Kay, a former Defense Department scientist and weapons inspector in Iraq, was supposed to oversee the police.
He assumed this meant preparing for the looting and crime to be expected when any regime collapsed. But those problems didn't seem to be on anyone else's mind, he told me, recalling his first day on the job.
"I said our first priority should be to establish order quickly, but that was considered a peripheral issue," he said. "The attitude was that it's not a problem, and if something happens the military will deal with it. I had one of the worst feelings ever in my gut, that this was going over a cliff."
On his second day on the job, he resigned — an excellent career move in retrospect, although Kay doesn't believe it took any special clairvoyance. There were tough questions before the war, like figuring out whether Saddam had W.M.D. or forecasting the strength of the insurgency. But the looting and disorder were easily predictable, and Kay wasn't the only one making the predictions, as Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor document in their new book on the war, "Cobra II."
Rumors of various plans abounded in the summer and fall of 2003. But nothing further was heard because cheerleaders like John Tierney and David Brooks were so loud in their applause and optimistc delight that anyone who questioned administration policies was deemed a traitor.
Before the war, Dick Mayer, a former policeman working for the Justice Department, came up with a plan to send in thousands of international police officers to maintain order after the invasion. But Pentagon officials bristled at the expense, and the White House rejected the plan.
A similar plan was proposed in a prewar briefing at the Pentagon by Robert Perito, a veteran of peacekeeping operations in other countries. He told the Defense Policy Board, the advisory group led by Richard Perle, that neither Iraqi authorities nor American soldiers could be counted on to maintain order, and that the U.S. should send in a constabulary force as soon as it occupied Iraq.
"The group at the Pentagon liked the concept and said it was a worthwhile thing to do," Perito told me. "But as one member put it, 'Not this war.' Their feeling was that the conflict in Iraq would be over so soon and things would be back to normal so quickly that it wasn't worth the effort."
And even Richard Perle joins the rats on the gangplank. Just curious: if Richard P jumped ship following Brooks, Will, and Fukuyama, would that be Perle AFTER swine?
Some Pentagon officials did warn of civil disorder and crime, but they didn't do anything about it. They passed the buck to Gen. Tommy Franks, even though he didn't have enough troops or money for the job and showed little interest in postwar planning. He simply assured President Bush that there would be a "lord mayor" in each city and large town to deal with civilian problems.
Looting, crime, mayhem — that was always someone else's department. The buck-passing reached its most absurd level at a briefing in the Situation Room just before the invasion, when Bush heard about the postwar plan to rely on Iraqis for law enforcement. According to Gordon and Trainor, the president was told of an intelligence report concluding that the Iraqi police "appeared to have extensive professional training."
That was like concluding that Inspector Clouseau appeared to be a master detective. During Saddam's era, when his security forces were the prime enforcers of order, the Iraqi police were notorious for corruption and lethargy. Officers waited for citizens to report crimes and expected bribes for investigating them. To the police, preventing crime, or even doing street patrols, was not their job.
When the regime fell, they didn't even protect their own police stations against the mobs of looters, a lack of professionalism that came as no surprise to the Iraqis I encountered shortly after the invasion. Nor were they surprised by the initial outbreak of violence against the buildings built by an oppressive regime.
But they were shocked at how little the Americans did in response. The looting went on so long that it became a regular job. Thieves methodically dismantled office towers, removing wires, pipes, walls, floors, escalators. In the summer of 2003, they took the "broken windows" theory of social disorder to a new level — to broken buildings — and Iraq has been paying the price ever since.
Not to mention the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, and the destruction of so many sites of historical importance. Those first days it was more important for troops to guard the offices of the oil companies than to keep order. Hey, Mr. Tierney, that was in the news --- big headlines --- the opening days of the occupation. Where were you?
That summer, as Iraqis watched looters and criminals taking control, they kept asking why nobody put a stop to the crime. The answer from officials in Washington, it turns out, is the same one that would have been given by the old Iraqi police: not my job.
Let's talk about buck-passing for a minute. In the march to war, the media played a decisive role: never asking the serious questions (such as What will victory look like? When will we be able to leave? What happens if the optimism is unwarranted? and so on) and more often than not playing the role of administration flunkies. Even today, most editorial boards are refusing to look in their own mirrors, not understanding that the tragedies of today only occurred because they did not bother ferreting out the truth.
But there's more serious buck-passing at work. The real villains, beyond the Administration today and its toadies in Congress, are the right-wing and centrist pundits who pushed for this war, who spent three years thereafter lauding the Bush Administration, conflating Saddam Hussein and 9/11, finding
daily "proof" of the existence of WMDs, and "reporting" optimistc turning point after optimistic turning point. It's no accident, as has been already posted, that the phrase "recent surge of violence" kept being repeated in the media. The noise machine was so loud it drowned out memories of last year's, last month's, even last week's violence. John Tierney talks about passing the buck inside the administration. Well, he's now doing his own passing of the buck. It's because of people like him we're in this mess. The buck stops here, right now, with John Tierney.
March 19, 2006
All Politics Is Thymotic
By DAVID BROOKS
Let me tell you what men want. Let me tell you why some middle-age men wear the sports jerseys of semiliterate behemoths half their age while others customize their cars with so many speakers they sound like the hip-hop version of the San Francisco earthquake as they roll down the street.
Recognition. Men want others to recognize their significance. They want to feel important and part of something important.
What about women? Brooks avoids talking about women until the end of the column because his goal is to mostly endorse a book called "Manliness" by a rabidly right-wing Harvard professor named Harvey Mansfield, which proclaims the view that "men are more willing than women to stick out their necks for causes, ideas, and people. They possess a greater taste for the physical and intellectual combat that has led to mankind's (yes, mankind's) greatest achievements." (From the Boston Globe).
Some people believe men are motivated by greed for money or lust for power. But money and power are means to get recognition. They are markers of success, and success makes men feel important and causes others to pay attention when they walk in the room.
Nonsense. This is the armchair philosopher at his most hubristic. Recognition is certainly important, but to imply that it's the be-all-and-end-all is a load of crap. Power trumps recognition any day, and frankly, the ability to live luxuriously, while not up to power and recognition, isn't bad either. I've known several screenwriters who've made excellent livings without either power (their screenplays weren't produced) or recognition (their screenplays weren't produced). It's not a fully satisfying life but it beats holding a nine-to-five job. Recognition is great and important, but it doesn't pay the bills.
Plato famously divided the soul into three parts: reason, eros (desire) and thymos (the hunger for recognition). Thymos is what motivates the best and worst things men do. It drives them to seek glory and assert themselves aggressively for noble causes. It drives them to rage if others don't recognize their worth. Sometimes it even causes them to kill over a trifle if they feel disrespected.
A lot of things are going on here. Mansfield (at least according to the Globe review) uses the term "thumos," meaning "spiritedness," not "thymos," and it's not clear the two are the same. The general definition of "thymos" (insofar as I've been able to determine) is "the arrogance of the male ego," not "the hunger for recognition," though one certainly doesn't preclude the other. "Thumos" and "thymos" have often been used interchangeably --- they have the same pronunciation --- so for Brooks to mistake one for the other does have precedent. What's important here, though, is that while Plato may use the word "thymos," it' is scholarly interpretation which defines Plato's meanings and not Plato himself, and scholarly interpretation varies. (In a graduate course at the New School taught by a visiting Columbia professor several years ago, it was my understanding that Plato deliberately conflated words and meanings in a near-Joycean way, so to choose one specific definition for anything he said is to deny the multi-dimensionality of his prose. But that itself is an interpretation).
But for a moment, even if we assume Brooks' interpretation is a correct one, it doesn't mean that Plato has the answers. The Straussians admire Plato's Republic and its sense of philosopher-kings, so it's not surprising they have this dim view of human motivation. Of course, if we start taking Platonic psychological insights at face value, maybe we should look at his view of sexuality in The Symposium as well. Bet that isn't what David Brooks or the Straussians has in mind, is it?
Plato went on to point out that people are not only sensitive about their own self-worth, they are also sensitive about the dignity of their group, and the dignity of others. If a group is denied the dignity it deserves, we call that injustice. Thymotic people mobilize to assert their group's significance if they feel they are being rendered invisible by society. Thymotic people mobilize on behalf of those made voiceless by the powerful. As Plato indicated, thymos is the psychological origin of political action.
...though Plato's use of the word "thymos" may not mean "the hunger for recognition." However, for the moment, let's assume it does and go from there.
Injustice is often about dignity and disrespect. But Nicholas Kristof's outrage about Darfur isn't about either. It's about genocide. Injustice is also about pain, starvation, survival, physical and mental hardship ----- not just a cry for recognition. David Brooks lives in a rarified atmosphere where everything comes easy and where life is never a struggle. He's a wealthy middle-aged white male with a cushy job in a cushy environment. For him, injustice comes down to disrespect because life is so easy. Maybe Kristof should bring Brooks along with O'Reillly on his trip to the Sudan.
If I had the attention of the world's politicians for one afternoon, I'd lead a discussion on the nature of the thymotic urge. I'd point out that if politicians weren't consumed by a hunger for recognition, none of them would agree to lead the miserable lives they do. I'd point out that in the thymotic urge, selfishness and selflessness are intertwined. Men compete for personal glory. But thymos also induces them to sacrifice for causes larger than themselves.
Politicians lead miserable lives? Sure, recognition is a huge part of the political life, whether for its own sake or in light of putting ones' principles into action. But the perks are also pretty extreme: Never having to wait in lines, theatre tickets at a moment's notice (best seats in the house), restaurant reservations at the last minute in the best places, vacations to expensive resorts ostensibly for work-related reasons (sometimes actuallly for work-related reasons). Essentially, living the high life. The cost is high as well, but to call a politician's life miserable? Give me a break.
Beyond recogntion and power and perks, there are many politicians, philanthropists and common people who do good deeds without thought of recognition. The person who loans money to a friend anonymously; the politician who helps a constituent with no chance of payment or little thought of recognition, the philanthropist who donates to a cause either anonymously or without any real recognition. Twice every year, subscribers give KPFA close to a million dollars in pledges during our fund drives. Few get recognition --- a couple get their names on the air. But they do it anyway.
David Brooks has an awfully mean opiinion of the human soul. Maybe it's because his own is so bankrupt.
I'd point out that if you see politics as a competition for recognition, many things become clear. The economic and literary backwardness of the Arab world has set off a thymotic crisis, as Arab men lash out to make the world pay attention to them. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not only a squabble over land; it's intractable because each side wants the other to recognize its moral superiority. Democracy still has good long-term prospects in that region because it's the only system that meets rising expectations about individual dignity.
You can see politics as a competition for recognition, among other things, and gain a new perspective. But what Brooks is really doing is showing us his philosophy of humankind: everything, whether good or bad, is done for ego's sake.
In this country, when workers strike, they're not enraged over a few cents an hour. They're enraged because they feel their company is not acknowledging their worth.
Brooks is wrong. They're often enraged over a few cents an hour. Has Brooks ever lived hand-to-mouth? George W. Bush was able to bribe large portions of the country with his $300 giveaway in the first year of his administration because for many, $300 is a lot of money. And union squabbles (it sounds like Brooks just saw the revival of The Pajama Game with its seven and a half cent wage increase) these days are over benefits. Health care costs are not about a few cents an hour. They're about literally thousands of dollars in costs for the workers. The difference between a gold watch and a permanent pension at retirement may be about recognition, but it's more about the pension.
When social liberals squabble with social conservatives, each group is trying to assert the dignity of its own lifestyle.
Horseshit. It's about ethics. This is the selfish man's understanding of political differences.
The partisanship in Washington is a thymotic contest on stilts.
Now we come to it: Brooks is utterly myopic in that he only sees the difference between Bush and his political opponents as one of status. Has he even looked at the literature of the left? This is the cynic's take on politics, where recognition and money trump ethical behavior. It's no wonder Brooks is able to write what he does --- saving his clearly hypocritical comments on morality --- it's because he feels people do not have moral cores.
The Bush administration goes out of its way to show how little it respects the Democratic opposition.
Funny. I thought the Bush administration was pushing its own agenda down everyone's throats because it could actually get what it wanted.
The history of the Democratic Party over the last five years is the history of a party trying ever more furiously to assert its dignity.
Funny. I thought the Democratic Party's history of the last five years was trying to find a way back to power, and --- at the very least --- blocking the more odious policies of the Bush Administration because that was the ethical thing to do.
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are extremely thymotic men. President Bush is a thymotic man partially chastened by Christianity.
Why "chastened by Christianity?? Because he worked with Bono on African problems? All of Bush's statements and actions say "Recognize Me" in big red letters. He has consistently complained that he doesn't get the respect a president deserves. This is pure pro-Bush propaganda on Brooks' part. He's also separating Bush from Cheney and Rumsfeld, both of whom could well go down the toilet before the year is out.
Democratic activists have increasingly spurned measured, reasonable men for aggressive, thymotic ones: Howard Dean, James Carville and the post-2000 Al Gore.
Brooks is doing frame games here. Now we have: Biden runs at the mouth, Hillary is unprincipled, Kerry is two-faced and Al Gore is aggressively hungering for recognition. Howard Dean, of course, is the prime proponent of "Deanism," a term Brooks uses to describe genuine anger Democrats feel at the horrors of an out of control right-wing administration.
But let's look more closely: Al Gore in 2000 was extremely measured and reasonable. John Kerry in 2004 was extremely measured and reasonable. Bill Clinton was extremely measured and reasonable. Hillary Clinton is extremely measured and reasonable. The question is: How well does "measured and reasonable" stand up to attack dogs like Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reillly or Sean Hannity, or the Swift Boats people, or the hate talkers of right wing radio, or the rants of Dick Cheney? It's about finding a way to counter the Republican onslaught. As for the change in Al Gore ---- Gore went into seclusion for a while, then re-emerged fighting mad. Is it possible his anger has to do with the policies of the Bush Administration, not to mention the realization that the 2000 election was more than just "maybe" stolen?
If I had those politicians for an afternoon, I'd point out that even though the thymotic urge drives so much of public life, we really don't talk about thymos anymore. I'd add that when you read the ancient political philosophers on thymos, they treat it as a male trait. But over the past century women have been expressing their thymotic urges more and more, and people over 40 have a complex about female thymos that people under 40 generally don't have.
Actually, I'd put the age closer to fifty than forty.Tellingly, Mansfield is over seventy.
I'd ask them to read Harvey Mansfield's new book, "Manliness," which is two books in one. First, it's a subtle exploration about the virtues and vices of the thymotic urge. It's also a series of troublemaking generalizations about the differences between men and women.
From the Norton Reader: "Harvey Mansfield has called himself the only “openly” conservative member of the political science faculty at Harvard University". Mansfield has also been a strong suppoerter of Bush's illegal surveillance program. In fact, as early as 2002, Mansfield was a strong supporter of an executive branch which had the right to impinge on Americans' civil liberties. He writes for right-wing publications such as American Enterprise On Line and David Brooks' own Weekly Standard. (Hmm, how surprising).
It's hard to imagine anything Mansfield writes as "subtle." This guy actually believes a woman's place is genetically in the home Jeez.
Over the next few weeks, Mansfield and his feminist critics are going to brawl — thymotically — over his assertions.
As opposed to a non-thymotic brawl? The only reason such a brawl would occur is because people like David Brooks take Mansfield seriously. This sounds like a guy desperately in need of anger-management training.
I'm not as impressed by Mansfield's generalizations as he is, but he'll have one advantage: he understands the nature of thymos, which shapes this fight, and so much of our political life.
Except that --- at least according to the Boston Globe review --- Mansfield talks about "thumos," not "thymos." Go figure.
March 16, 2006
By DAVID BROOKS
David Brooks has been remarkably silent on the conduct of the Iraq War, preferring instead to lambaste Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, or those who would like to see America withdraw from involvement and bring the troops home. Today therefore represents a major break, not unlike the recent statements by Francis Fukuyama, William F. Buckley and others. A few weeks ago, Brooks was a tentative rat ready to jump ship. Today he's got his foot on the gangplank.
Some weeks nothing happens; some weeks change history. The week of March 24, 2003, was one of those pivotal weeks. U.S. troops had just begun the ground invasion of Iraq. They were charging north, but hadn't reached Baghdad. The Fedayeen had begun to launch suicide attacks and were putting up serious resistance in Nasiriya.
Everybody denigrates pundits and armchair generals, but immediately the smartest of them recognized that something unexpected was happening: the U.S. was not in the midst of a conventional war, but was in the first days of a guerrilla war.
Brooks appears to have forgotten history. Check out this article from March 3, 2003 in which Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki is lambasted by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for having the temerity to suggest American forces were underrepresented in Iraq (Shinseki remained Chief of Staff until August 1st of that year --- neither pundit nor "armchair general."). A June 2003 article in USA Today has former Army Secretary Thomas White saying that "senior Defense officials 'are unwilling to come to grips' with the scale of the postwar U.S. obligation in Iraq." Brooks himself mentions General William Wallace. The fact is that It wasn't merely pundits and antiwar critics (who Books conveniently ignores) who said Rumsfeld was doing it all wrong. It was several people in the army and government. But for Brooks to admit that would be to admit he was an unthinking stooge, so it's better to denigrate the anti-Rumsfeld chorus as "pundits and armchair generals." Addendum: Reporter and author William Rivers Pitt recently found an extremely curious bit of reportage that ties in with this column. Brooks, in making his break with the Administration, ignores three years of non-stop violence in Iraq. So apparently does the rest of the media. Take a look at how frequently the phrase "recent surge of violence" appears on the press. (From Truthout.com)
Michael Kelly, embedded with the Third Infantry Division, wrote a column describing how Fedayeen guerrillas had taken control of towns like Najaf. Kelly predicted the war would be long and tough. David Ignatius in The Washington Post wrote that it was "time to shelve the rosy scenarios" for the war and face the fact that the U.S. was confronting a difficult battle against resistance fighters.
Brooks is conflating pundits and reporters. Pundits sit at home and tell the rest of us what's going on in the world. David Brooks is a pundit. In essence, Brooks is saying that it made sense to believe government propaganda over the eyewitness reports of journalists in the field, such as the late Michael Kelly.
Gen. Tommy Franks was slighting the insurgents as a mere speed bump, but the terrorism expert Rachel Ehrenfeld estimated there were at least 30,000 insurgents "and they are dangerous." Gary Anderson, a retired Marine colonel, suggested the chief threat would not be Saddam's Republican Guard, but a drawn-out guerrilla war against the "occupation."
Some of the most prescient pieces came from the Islamic world. In Pakistan, a retired politician named Shafqat Mahmood wrote: "This is becoming a kind of war where holding territory or even cities is meaningless.... Saddam Fedayeen and all manner of Republican guards and security forces will take off their uniforms and vanish among the people. They will regroup and continue the fight. We are heading towards a guerrilla war."
All of this, and a great pile of similar commentary, was written in the first few days of the ground war.
And where was David Brooks? A glance at Brooks' columns from 2004 and 2005 shows great optimism in the face of a worsening situation. On April 17, 2004, even though he said he "never thought it would be this bad" , Brooks added that posterity would show Bush policies were correct. He was even more optimistic on July 23, 2004: "Since the transfer (to an Iraqi government) I've had candid conversations with four senior officials with responsibility for Iraq. They are more cautiously optimistic than at any time over the past year. One puts the odds of a successful outcome at three to one."
Not a single writer or reporter or pundit that I've spoken with since the war began bought into any of this nonsense. The corner was never turned; things never looked brighter than before. But then again, these folks believed that not only was Rumsfeld's strategy horrific, but the war itself should never have been fought.
In TV studios and on op-ed pages, the debate shifted that week. If the U.S. was confronting an insurgency, more boots on the ground would be needed. Ralph Peters, a retired officer, wrote stinging op-eds in The New York Post and elsewhere savaging Donald Rumsfeld for not understanding that you can't prevent sabotage or ethnic cleansing without a large troop presence. The Weekly Standard, which had been bashing Rumsfeld for years for shrinking the Army, echoed Peters's argument on its Web page. Retired officers poured into TV studios, calling for more troops.
Not everybody looks prescient in hindsight.
David Brooks, for instance.
The brilliant historian John Keegan doubted that there would be an insurgency. But when you look at the commentary — at least during that week — you are struck by how smart a lot of it was, and how the commentariat responded sensibly to facts on the ground.
Sir John Keegan (b. 1934) is the author of numerous books on military history. Due to illness, he was never in the military and never participated in any war. Revisionism concerning his scholarship may be on the rise. Keegan's views on the first Iraq War appeared in a five-part series on the right-wing National Review On Line.
Notice that nowhere in this column does Brooks question the rationale behind the war, or the invasion itself. One of the difficulties in parsing Brooks is in seeking the underlying assumptions in his arguments. The assumption here is that the war was right, but the implementation was not. This is one reason why anti-war critics are ignored here in favor of conservative reporters like Michael Kelly or conservative historians like John Keegan.
The debate inside the administration was different. We now know a lot about events inside the Pentagon in that crucial week, thanks to "Cobra II," the definitive account of the war by The Times's Michael R. Gordon and Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor.
The officers on the front lines saw the same thing the smart pundits saw, and in more detail. But Rumsfeld and Franks stifled the free exchange of ideas, and shut out the National Security Council. They dismissed concerns about the insurgents and threatened to fire the one general, William Wallace, who dared to state the obvious in public. The military brass followed the war in real time on computer screens. As long as the blue icons representing U.S. troops were heading north to Baghdad, the U.S. was deemed to be winning. The technology seemed to provide real-time information, but it was completely misleading.
The week of March 24 is vital because if Rumsfeld had made adjustments to the new circumstances then, much of the subsequent horror could have been averted.
But it is also a reminder of the reality one sees again and again: Debate inside any administration is less sophisticated and realistic than the debate among experts outside. The people inside have access to a bit more information. But they are more likely to self-censor for fear of endangering their careers. Debate inside is much more likely to be warped by the egotism, insecurity, power lust and distracting busyness of people at the top.
The Republican Propaganda model: (a) deny until you can't deny any more, then (b) say that everyone else does it. So it's not the Bush Administration that stifles this kind of debate, it's "any administration." Even as he shifts away from the Administration, Brooks still can't quite put the responsiblity where it belongs.
That's true in general, and it's true in spades in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. "Cobra II" makes Rumsfeld and Franks each seem like Barry Bonds: a formerly intimidating figure who now just seems pathetic.
Barry Bonds has now gone seven for nine (a .778 batting average) during spring training.and homered yesterday for the second day in a row.
Those two were contemptuous of the armchair generals and the TV kibitzers. But at the crucial moment in their lives, they got things wrong, and the pundits often got things right.
Once again, we have to be clear here. Brooks is not questioning the war itself, or the invasion. He is questioning the conduct of the war, in particular the decision by Donald Rumsfeld to keep the number of troops lower than necessary to "pacify" Iraq. In a sense, Brooks and some of the other neocons are looking for a way out. The problem with Iraq was not, and is not, the policy. It's the implementation. This still remains Thomas Friedman's argument --- though Friedman does go a step further in recognizing that he should have known the Bush Administration would screw up and therefore this was not the time to attempt an invasion. Brooks will never even go there.
Addendum to John Tierney column: John Tierney misrepresents the situation in New Hampshire. This is not a local effort. The man spearheading the attack is a Los Angeles businessman named Logan Darrow Clements. Clements describes himself as an "objectivist," a acolyte of Ayn Rand. A proponent of venture capitalism, in 1993 (a year after graduating from the University of Rochester) Clements started the on-line American Venture Capitalism Exchange, which he later turned into American Venture magazine. One of the chief architects of the Gray Davis recall campaign two years ago in California, Clements made a run for governor in the primary, finishing 131th out of 135 candidates. He now runs Freestar Media, an objectivist/libertarian right-wing propaganda effort, out of Los Angeles. Despite efforts by publications such as the Weekly Standard to make Clements look good, the main purpose of his campaign seems to be (along with revenge on Souter) to further the career of one Logan Darrow Clements. In a Google search, it turns out that Clements ia a new rising star of the right-wing. In blog after blog after blog, his name appears triumphantly, though not everyone is sold on him (scroll down on this one). He is virtually under the radar of both the mainstream press and liberal blogosphere.
March 14, 2006
Supreme Home Makeover
By JOHN TIERNEY
When we reached Justice David Souter's home, a ramshackle old farmhouse along a dirt road, Keith Lacasse explained his plans for it if he's voted onto the town's Board of Selectmen in the election today.
The first plan, which Lacasse and his friends drew up right after hearing of Souter's vote in the Kelo eminent-domain case last year, was for the town to seize Souter's property and turn it into a park with a monument to the Constitution. But then Lacasse, a local architect, switched to an idea proposed by an activist from California: turning it into the Lost Liberty Hotel.
"Actually, it would be more like a bed and breakfast," Lacasse said. "We'd use the front of the house for a cafe and a little museum. There'd be nine suites, with a black robe in each of the closets."
So far Souter has not joined the local debate on the proposal, something that makes him fairly unusual in this country town near Manchester. The Lost Liberty Hotel has dominated the campaign debate and the pages of The Weare Free Press. There seem to be two main factions: those who oppose the Kelo decision and want to punish Souter by taking his property, and those who oppose the Kelo decision but want to leave him alone.
"I don't agree with the decision, but I love David to death," said Matt Compagna, a mechanic. "When our barn burned down, he was there at 3 a.m. helping us. Coldest night of the year. He's a decent man. Why should he lose his house even if he made the wrong decision?"
The answer from Lacasse and a fellow candidate running on the same issue is that taking the house would serve a larger "public use" — the same reason given in the Kelo decision for taking people's homes in New London, Conn. That 5-to-4 decision set off a revolt in Weare and across the country because of the way Souter and the rest of the justices in the majority interpreted the Fifth Amendment phrase.
Most Americans have the traditional idea that property can be taken for "public use" if it is actually going to be used by the public as, for example, a road or a park. But that definition gradually expanded over the last half-century as the Supreme Court ruled that property could be seized and turned over to private parties if there were special circumstances and an overriding public benefit, like eliminating "blight" in a poor Washington neighborhood or breaking up an land oligopoly in Hawaii.
The Kelo case, however, went way beyond those decisions, allowing the town of New London to seize property that wasn't blighted simply because it thought it could find a developer to make better use of the property. It was a new version of the field of dreams theory: if you tear it down, they will come.
"The Kelo decision wasn't compelled by legal precedents," says Richard Epstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. "It wasn't a case of eliminating blight or breaking up an oligopoly. There was no precedent for kicking people out of their private homes just to warehouse the land for future development."
The Kelo case was an opportunity for the justices to put limits on the use of eminent domain — and to look at how the power had been abused since cities had begun using expanded powers of eminent domain half a century ago. As Clarence Thomas pointed out in his dissenting opinion in Kelo, "In cities across the country, urban renewal came to be known as 'Negro removal.' "
Activists of all political stripes have been fighting to preserve neighborhoods and complaining that eminent domain is unfairly destroying homes and displacing small businesses to make room for large retailers and corporations.
If Souter and the other four concurring justices had ever thought that they could be lose their own homes, they would probably have paid more attention to the critics of eminent domain. I doubt that they would have worked so hard to reinterpret the Fifth Amendment. But as much as I admire Lacasse's plans for the Lost Liberty Hotel, at this point I think it would be overkill.
There's an implicit assumption here, which is that all judicial decisions are based on personal self-interest, that is to say, if Souter and company ever thought they could lose their own homes, they would have voted differently, rather than for what they felt was legally justified. In a sense, it's an admission of the fraudulent nature of Bush v Gore wherein the justices of the majority in that case did vote solely for their self-interest without looking at the constitution or precedent. In this case, it seems likely that the five majority justices were sufficiently out of touch with the abuse of eminent domain that they didn't understand the damage they were causing. It's also possible, in a roundabout way, they were forcing state legilslatures to tackle the problem of eminent domain abuse by legislating limits. Many states, in fact, have begun doing so.
However the vote comes out today, Lacasse and his allies have succeeded in embarrassing Souter, and that's enough. Compagna is right: a judge should be able to make a bad or unpopular decision without losing his home. But he does deserve a reality check, and Souter's neighbors have obliged.
David Souter and the other majority justices apparently made a terrible decision on the Kelo case. But the idea that some locals would attempt to take revenge on Souter in this manner is a repulsive one and shows a continued lack of civility in public discourse and debate. Souter's "reality check" came in the form of criticism and in the spate of state bills to legislate eminent domain. But there's something else going on here: deliberate revenge against a Republican appointee for his independence. The American right wing has been waiting a long time to "teach Souter a lesson," and now they have their chance. That this column supports such ugliness tells us a lot about the mind and ethics of John Tierney