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Ephemerides (March 2004)
March 31, 2004 For further liberal ventures into Unreality, let us turn to Senator Kerry’s energy program, as outlined in a speech in San Diego yesterday. Gasoline prices have been rising, largely because economic expansion has increased demand while political uncertainties (not just in the Middle East but also in Venezuela and Russia) have dampened supply. The Democratic candidate-presumptive’s proposed response is to halt purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move that, even if prudent, would cut oil demand by no more than one-fifth of one percent. For the longer run, he relies mostly on magic: kindly behavior by OPEC and miraculous improvements in automotive fuel efficiency. Ruled out are any practical steps to develop new energy resources.
All of that is to be expected from an unadventurous liberal Democrat. What is disturbing is the paranoid tone of the Senator’s remarks. He alludes to how “George Bush and Dick Cheney have bent over backwards to help their big contributors in the oil industry” and promises that, under his administration, “our young men and women will never have to fight and die for foreign oil”. If a Republican candidate sprinkled his speeches with talk about the Trilateral Commission, we would all wonder about the state of his psyche. Should casual Democratic references to two leading themes of conspiracy theorists go unnoticed?
It is, of course, highly unlikely that John F. Kerry seriously believes that the Bush Administration’s energy and Mideast policies were devised to serve the interests of the American oil industry rather than of American citizens as a whole or that the invasion of Iraq was a “war for oil”. Yet he seems strangely unwilling to address those issues on their merits. Or not so strangely. Among a lot of Democrats, some of them highly placed, weird concepts of how the world works are taken for granted. The party’s Presidential nominee must keep those elements happy, and he will be hard put not to employ a lot of them should he reach the White House. Imagine the mirror image of a hypothetical Republican Presidency staffed by Birchers, and you’ll have a glimpse of what may be in store for the United States next year.
Further reading: The Wall Street Journal, “What’s Up With Oil?”
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 29, 2004 Those of us who suspect liberals of dwelling in an alternate universe vastly distant from reality found confirmation in yesterday’s Ellen Goodman column. Best of the Web took note of its alternate history. Recounting last week’s arguments before the Supreme Court in the Pledge of Allegiance case, Miss Goodman writes,
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, “there are so many references to God in the daily lives of this country” that the words in the pledge have no more religious meaning than the words on the coin. Maybe so. But remember that adding “In God We Trust” was also a political sop to opponents after Lincoln rejected their proposal to insert Jesus Christ into the preamble of the Constitution.
The motto “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins with the 1909 Lincoln penny. That’s rather late to be “a political sop” to advocates of any proposal rejected by a man who died in 1865, who in turn was born a few years too late (1809) to influence the preamble to the Constitution (drafted in 1787).
A survey that I saw the other day indicated that high school students are evenly split on whether George Washington or Ulysses S. Grant accepted the British surrender at Yorktown. Miss Goodman presumably belongs to the latter camp.
But this innocent confusion about the past is less appalling than her tendentious ignorance of the present. Explaining why she believes that “Under God” should be excised from the Pledge, she asserts,
One of the problems today, in post-9/11 America, is what [Susan] Jacoby [author of Freethinkers] calls a “melding of religion and patriotism. The insistence that patriotism must be religious and to be religious is to be patriotic.” And even if this case is way down my list of priorities, doesn’t a Pledge of Allegiance suggest that you can't be a loyal American unless you believe in a nation “under God”?
Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to pro-patriotic discourse since 9/11 knows that Miss Goodman has the facts backward. Figures like Glenn Reynolds and Christopher Hitchens, to name two men whose post-9/11 views she undoubtedly deplores, cannot be accused of insisting that patriots must invoke God. In fact, I cannot recall seeing anybody anywhere arguing recently that love of country is conditional on religiosity. On the other side of the aisle, though, there have been many insinuations that Christian and Jewish believers are ideologically indistinguishable from the Islamic “fundamentalists” with whom we are at war. When liberals denounce “the Taliban wing of the Republican Party”, who is trying to “meld” religion and patriotism, albeit in a fashion designed to discredit both?
But I forget that the facts are different in Ellen Goodman’s universe, the one where Abraham Lincoln wrote the Constitution on the back of a penny during his redeye flight to Gettysburg. [To comment, click here.]
March 29, 2004 This week’s Hunt Watch interrupts the political kerfuffles to consider Al Hunt's take on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. My verdict is that Mr. Hunt is very eager to be offended and not especially good at coming up with tenable reasons for his outrage. Whether or not the movie is any good, it is not a proper topic for secular polemics. [To comment, click here.]
March 25, 2004 For any citizens of Gondor reading this site: HAPPY NEW YEAR!
But in Gondor the New Year will now always begin on the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and you [Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee] were brought out of the fire to the King.
[To comment, click here.]
March 24, 2004 David Frum has plowed all the way through Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, which is more, I’m sure, than most of Mr. Clarke’s new-found admirers have done. He reports that, as he read it, disapproval turned to dismay.
Here is a once great public servant engaging in the shabbiest kind of name-calling and George Soros-style paranoia. . . .
Still, there are things that can be learned from the book. One is that for all the praise that Clarke pours on Bill Clinton personally, he presents an absolutely damning account of the terrorism record of the Clinton administration. Time and time again, he and his team agree that a course of action is vital . . . . And nothing happens. Either the bureaucracy refuses to carry out the order or the military drags its feet or (most typically) President Clinton rules out courses of action that carry any risk at all. . . .
Sometimes reading Clarke’s book makes you wonder whether the United States had a president at all between 1993 and 2001. . . .
The core of Clarke’s unhappiness with George Bush is that Bush disregarded the “expert” advice of government professionals after 9/11. Clarke saw 9/11 as a reason to continue and expand the policies of the Clinton years: to hunt down individual terrorists while taking one more whirligig ride on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, so-called. Bush’s breakthrough after 9/11 was his willingness to rethink old assumptions and to consider new and seemingly radical ideas – because only such ideas were equal to the newness and radicalism of the situation.
When a set of ideas are tried over eight years – and result in one of the greatest disasters in American history – you’d think that might tend to discredit those ideas. You’d think so – but as we’re discovering in this campaign season, you’d be wrong.
The failed strategy – treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, bending to the preferences of foreign governments with different interests from ours, shying away from risk, trying to pummel Israel into making concessions to its enemies – already looks like the essence of the Kerry campaign in the foreign policy arena.
In Mr. Clarke’s testimony today before the 9/11 Commission, he sounded like a full-throated Kerry spokesman, despite making heavy weather of Fox News’ revelation of an August 2002 press briefing in which he asserted that the Bush Administration had continued and accelerated all of its predecessor’s anti-terrorism policies. His explanation of the prima facie contradiction is that he was working for the White House then and was just putting a “positive but not untrue” veneer on the facts. The flaw in that claim is that the 2002 briefing went well beyond generalized praise of the Administration (like that included in his flattering resignation letter, which doesn't mean very much). It contained specific factual assertions, such as that President Bush had, by Spring 2001, decided “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda”. To reconcile that statement with Mr. Clarke’s current insistence that the President did not attach a particularly high priority to destroying al-Qa’eda is not easy. If resources were quintupled to deal with the minor threats, imagine what must have done about the major ones!
Another aspect of the Clarke saga also deserves attention, though the tale that it tells is depressingly familiar. A large number of reporters were present in August 2002 and heard Mr. Clarke’s words. When he emerged as a “strident” (his word) critic of the Administration, however, nobody except Fox seemed able to remember what he said back then. Instead, he has been almost unanimously presented as a credible figure with no motivation but a desire to tell the truth, and the Administration has been not too subtly derided for “efforts to undermine” him. It isn’t hard to figure out why the burden of proof was distributed that way.
Further reading: George Neumayr, “Weasel a Happy Tune”
[To comment, click here.]
March 23, 2004 In the face of terrorism, large segments of the Western world remain – frivolous. No other word more aptly encapsulates this week’s two leading War on Terror stories: the widespread condemnation of Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the welling controversy over whether the Bush Administration took al-Qa’eda seriously enough before 9/11.
To European Union Foreign Minister Javier Solana, Yassin’s death was an “extra-judicial killing” and therefore deplorable as a violation of due process of law. The conventional liberal wisdom echoes that view. Presumably Israel should have assembled evidence of the Sheikh’s culpability in the nearly 400 murders and 2,000-plus woundings that Hamas has carried out over the past 3½ years, obtained an indictment and sent police officers to arrest him. He could then have received a fair trial, though the EU would have become very irate if he had been hanged. Its anti-death penalty absolutism objects to killing murderers with or without judicial process.
The premise underlying Sr. Solana’s mindset is that terrorist attacks are large-scale street crimes rather than acts of war. That is not, however, how Sheikh Yassin saw matters. His objective as he plotted the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of civilians was classically military: to seize territory from the “enemies” who currently occupy it. The presence of this political goal distinguishes Hamas from an organized crime syndicate. The Mafia doesn’t steal and commit violence out of a desire to conquer New York or Chicago; its capi just want to get rich. Detrimental as ordinary crime is, it is not a threat on the same order as enemy invasion. That is why methods of defense that would be unjustified in peacetime, including shooting down enemy soldiers without arrest, charges or trial, are proper when waging war.
In the Middle East, the commanders of Israel’s enemies for a long time enjoyed a peculiar exemption from the normal risks of combat. Though they were directing assaults against Israelis, they were treated as immune to retaliation. Thus they could operate openly without fear of personal consequences, which made them more effective generals and doubtless emboldened them to employ more barbaric tactics than if they had been compelled to worry about their own safety.
Those who denounce Israel for making Sheikh Yassin undergo the same dangers as he inflicted on Jewish women and children are arguing that the immunity rule should remain in effect for anti-Israeli generals. One side – the pro-Western – is to abide by the laws of peace while the other follows the laws of war. That isn’t a rational position, but rational men can mouth it, because they are not engaged in serious thought. (The exception is those who don’t think that a Jewish state should be allowed to defend itself in the same manner and to the same extent as other nations. They are not frivolous, just antisemitic.)
The only real question that ought to be asked about the anti-Yassin operation is whether it genuinely advanced the Israeli cause. The argument that it didn’t, as uncharacteristically presented by The Daily Telegraph, is that “the world” is revolted by “the spectacle of helicopter gunships rocketing an old man in a wheelchair outside his mosque”. The quick rejoinder is that Israel is never going to be popular with a “world” so selective in its revulsion. Hamas under Sheikh Yassin has blown up babies in their mothers’ arms. Where were the demonstrations then?
“World opinion” long ago lost its ability to influence Israeli actions, because nothing that Israel does will please it, and nothing that Israel’s enemies do will draw its condemnation. If the ferocity of its sentiment has been aggravated by the untimely death of a man who routinely ordered the murder of innocents, the increment is barely perceptible. Similarly of no significance is any supposed increase in Palestinian animosity. When Israel didn’t target Palestinian commanders, rank-and-file Palestinians nonetheless hated “the Jews”. The hatred is partly a product of a genuine clash of national interests and largely the effect of incessant anti-Jewish propaganda by the likes of Yassin. It wasn’t assuaged by mild treatment and can’t be made much worse by sterner measures.
Against these gossamer negatives are the positive effects of removing a key enemy captain. One item on the positive side of the ledger hasn’t, however, received much attention. Two weeks ago, Islamofascist terrorists pulled off their biggest atrocity in a Western country since 9/11 itself. The West reacted by doing nothing – until the Israelis killed a highly visible anti-Western leader. While retaliating for the Madrid carnage was not Ariel Sharon’s primary motive, he undoubtedly saw the Spanish bombings as the harbinger of a new Islamofascist offensive, and that realization helped impel him to act. In any event, Israel’s action ended the eerie de facto truce that had rewarded the Madrid bombers.
What obscures this connection is another aspect of Western frivolity: We don’t recognize the elementary truth that wars have two sides and that every combatant on each side is affected by the fate of its allies. Sun Tze counseled generals to strike their foe’s friends. Al-Qa’eda followed that advice when it attacked Spain and was rewarded with an easy, important victory. The West, by contrast, compartmentalizes. Thus our enemies fight in unison, and we pay attention only to the particular hand that strikes the particular blow – often wasting time peering at fingerprints when we ought to be cutting off heads.
To grasp the proper logic, we need only look at al-Qa’eda’s. It set off bombs in Spain in order to discourage that country from continuing to support the eradication of Ba’athist holdouts in Iraq. We ought to have replied by demonstrating to al-Qa’eda’s friends how dangerous it is to back America’s enemies. Instead, we dithered. Israel at least had the right idea.
Both the useless paradigm of terrorism-as-crime and the foolish concentration on trees instead of forest have dominated the latest phase of the controversy over “who was responsible” for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks.
Asking “who” makes sense when the persons under scrutiny knew or should have known what to do and failed to do it. Someone should have furnished Titanic with a full complement of lifeboats. Someone should have dispersed the aircraft on the ground at Pearl Harbor. Someone should have established proper audit procedures for the U.N.’s oil-for-food program in Iraq.
In the case of 9/11, the obvious flaw in that kind of inquiry is that, if every single person had carried out his duties perfectly, that attack would still, barring amazing good fortune, have taken place. What failed was our strategy, not its execution, yet strategy goes unexamined in favor of blame-placing.
9/11 was one of the worst disasters in American history. And after a disaster like that, you’d think that just about the first order of business after mourning the dead would be to try to figure out what the nation did wrong – so that such a thing could never happen again. And yet if there is anything that has characterized the nation’s debate on terrorism since 9/11, it has been the utter absence of self-criticism. The United States is not acting like a country serious about winning a war; it is acting like a country serious only about winning a presidential election. [David Frum, “Are They Serious?”]
The most loudly mooted question is whether the past two Presidents were “serious enough” about combating Osama bin Laden. Based on what we know now, it is easy to say that they weren’t, but would more “seriousness” have mattered? Seriously pursuing an unworkable strategy is no more effective than doing nothing.
The Clinton strategy was to hunt down Osama bin-Laden in the same way that one might go after a fugitive drug kingpin, with the aim of extraditing him and an overriding concern to avoid procedural missteps that might jeopardize a future trial. That approach didn’t work, though its failure has made Clinton Administration alumni all the more vigorous in asserting how “serious” their intentions were.
Which brings us to this week’s 15-minute celebrity, Richard Clarke, invariably described by the media as an “ex-Bush advisor” though he served longer and played a more important role under President Clinton. The central point about Mr. Clarke, at least in his current retelling of his tale, is that he embodies “seriousness”, but it is seriousness frivolously directed.
As early as the mid-1990’s, according to himself, Mr. Clarke advocated destroying al-Qa’eda. His plan was essentially to wipe out its bases in Afghanistan through missile attacks and covert aid to opponents of the Taliban regime that protected (or, to put it more accurately, was controlled by) it. President Clinton didn’t adopt those ideas. Mr. Clarke holds no grudges on that score. Mr. Clinton’s “seriousness” absolves his futility.
President Bush, on the other hand, is excoriated for lack of seriousness, primarily because he was not interested in al-Qa’eda in isolation. After 9/11 he did not focus the entirety of American resources on extirpating every last trace of that one organization. Rather, after overthrowing the Taliban (the very step that Mr. Clarke advocated), he turned to a broader War on Terror. Mr. Clarke cannot figure out why. Unlike President Bush, he thinks not of war but of a series of crimes and arrests. Thus it escapes him that al-Qa’eda, to which he has devoted so much attention and energy, is not the central problem. So long as the structures that prop up Islamofascism remain in place, the destruction of one terrorist group will merely lead to its replacement by others.
George W. Bush’s virtue as a war leader is that, after 9/11, he did grasp the nature of the challenge that we face and acted to deprive the terrorist mosquitos of their swamps. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was the self-evident first target but not the last. To follow up in Iraq was natural and prudent, because the Ba’athists were sympathetic to the terrorist cause, potentially able to equip it with deadly weapons and give sanctuary to its personnel, and – a key consideration – extremely vulnerable, a “soft underbelly” of Islamofascism. Deposing Saddam Hussein did not finish the war in a single stroke, but it has shortened the terrorists’ reach, reduced their lethal capabilities and put them on the defensive. Those results came about not because the Bush Administration was more serious than its predecessor but because it adopted a strategy that can defeat the enemy. Other viable strategies are no doubt possible, but we aren’t likely to hear about them from the Administration’s critics. They are still lost in their frivolous fantasies.
Further reading: Bret Stephens, “The Fear Factor”; Melanie Phillips, “The Killing of Sheikh Yassin”; Israel National News, “The Ten Worst Hamas Attacks”;  John Podhoretz, “Dick's Tall Tale”; Stephen F. Hayes, “On Richard Clarke”; Mansoor Ijaz, “A Dick Clarke Top Seven”; Barbara Lerner, “Osama and Friends”
[To comment, click here.]
March 22, 2004 Many liberals like to think that “progressive” taxation is an unalloyed good. To complaints that escalating marginal tax rates discourage economic output, they respond by asserting that, to the contrary, upper-income folk facing the confiscation of a steadily increasing chunk of their earnings will simply work harder in order to achieve their “target income”. Possibly, they may concede, near-100 percent rates B la Sweden are too high, but there is no real detriment to the current U.S. progression or any good economic reason not to make it steeper.
Economist Edward C. Prescott has taken a long step toward demolishing the target income theory in a new paper published by the National Bureau for Economic Research. In  “Why Do Americans Work So Much More Than Europeans?”, he observes that Americans between ages 15 and 64 work on average many more hours per year than people in European countries: 14 percent more than Britons, 33 percent more than Germans, 47 percent more than Frenchmen and 56 percent more than Italians.
Yet Americans didn’t always have so superior a work ethic. Three decades ago (Dr. Prescott’s data are for 1970-74), U.S. work hours per person were below those of Germany, France and Britain, and only about 20 percent, rather than more than 50 percent, ahead of Italy. What changed between then and now?
One noteworthy change was the decline in U.S. marginal income tax rates, with the top federal bracket plummeting from 70 percent in 1970 to 39.6 percent in 1996 (the last year in the period included in the study). There were no similar decreases in progressivity in Europe.
Dr. Prescott expected to discover that a multitude of labor market, cultural and other factors contributed to the contrast between the two periods. Instead, he found to his surprise that differences in marginal tax rates on labor income “account for the predominance of the differences [in labor supply] at points in time and the large change in relative labor supply over time”. While individual cases varied, some were strikingly clear. For example, “[V]irtually all the large differences in the U.S. labor supply and those of Germany and France are due to differences in tax systems.”  Put simply, people work harder when they are allowed to keep more of their incremental income, less when they must turn more over to the government.
When he was an undergraduate at Yale, John Kerry abstained on a Yale Political Union resolution calling for an end to the graduated income tax. Today he is an advocate of making the graduation steeper. Another example of how one can be wiser in youth in age.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 21, 2004 After long neglect, “Hunt Watch”, my irregular evisceration of America's most fatuous liberal, returns, taking up Mr. Hunt's contention that President Bush flip-flops more than John Kerry. [To comment, click here.]
March 20, 2004 On May 10, 2002, Tanya Liu was horrifically injured in a train wreck. Her skull was cracked open, and the treating physicians declared that she was in “a persistent vegetative state”. Seeing no hope for recovery, they recommended that her family “let her go” (a euphemism for depriving her of fluids and nourishment until she starved or dehydrated to death). Her brother-in-law responded, “Ask Tanya and if she says yes then we will let her go.  But if she cannot answer you, you follow our word. You are just a doctor – you cannot act as a god.”
Today’s Daily Telegraph reports the sequel:
Within two months of the crash, however, in July 2002, Ms Liu regained consciousness. Over the next year, she had to endure six operations – twice for brain surgery – and was not able to stand up unaided until near the end of 2002. Last week, however, her painful journey to rehabilitation was almost complete when she returned to Hong Kong, and declared that she intended to return soon to her work as a television presenter with a local satellite station on a part-time basis.
Very few tragedies have such an ending, but which is worse: to keep people alive who will never recover or to kill the occasional, improbable Tanya Liu? [To comment, click here.]
March 18, 2004 Okay, let’s take a look at a political race closer to home than the Presidency. Last Tuesday Illinois Republicans and Democrats nominated their Senate candidates. The GOP choice is named, really and truly, Jack Ryan, a fellow who left a multi-million dollar job on Wall Street to teach at a mostly black inner city parochial school. Displaying the Democratic Party’s well-known revulsion as “the politics of personal destruction”, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee started the campaign on this high note (as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s subscription-only (but only $3.95 a month) Political Diary):
Democrats like Jon Corzine and John Kerry strike poses that they are merely being “tough” guys while the other side somehow plays unfair. To wit, Mr. Kerry’s crotch-grabbing threat displays in which he called Republicans “lying” and “crooked” in a meeting with union types. Another example: Mr. Corzine’s constant invoking of the Republican “attack machine” as a way to raise money for Senate Democrats. Yet Tuesday’s Illinois Senate results were hardly final before Mr. Corzine was issuing press releases calling attention to Republican Jack Ryan’s divorce from actress Jeri Ryan and his decision not to release sealed files related thereto. In fact, Mr. Ryan has already released all but 40 documents that pertain specifically to custody rights over his nine-year-old son, which he wants to keep out of the press for obvious family reasons.
Sen. Corzine, the former Goldman Sachs boss who now runs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, obviously is trying to scare away Mr. Ryan’s supporters while memories of failed Democratic candidate Blair Hull’s divorce (and spousal abuse, and drug usage, and other eccentricities) are still fresh. This is especially pathetic because Mr. Corzine fervently backed Mr. Hull’s campaign, which eventually threatened to turn the whole race into a laughing stock.
The court documents relating to child custody undoubtedly include information about the boy’s development and relationships with his parents that no nine-year-old could bear having printed in the newspapers, so Senator Corzine is essentially hoping to force Mr. Ryan to choose between enduring baseless political assaults and humiliating his son. There may be something to be said for making candidates for office open up the portions of their divorce files that concern only themselves, but to make a little boy into a political pawn. . . . Senator Corzine, have you no decency?
One can only hope that the Democratic nominee, a personable young state senator named Barack Obama (whom Senator Corzine utterly ignored during the primary), will have the character to repudiate his party leadership’s tactics.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 17, 2004 It’s not my intention to follow the Kerry campaign day-by-day for the next 7½ months. We have Mickey Kaus for that. But it’s hard to resist noting the oddities of what may turn out to be the most bizarre Presidential bid since Ross Perot’s. Peter J. Wallison has a pointed piece today on NRO that summarizes a contradiction that I noted below:
So all of this leads to some troubling conclusions about Senator Kerry – if, of course, we take him seriously. He will act unilaterally, and ignore the objections of our trading partners, when it comes to changing our trading arrangements. But when the issue is our national security, he will not act if other countries object. It is hard to believe that most Americans – no matter how concerned they are about the loss of jobs – would see these positions as the right priorities for a president. They may not indeed be Senator Kerry’s priorities, but then we have to wonder why he got himself into this quandary in the first place – and what that would mean for the country if he actually became president.
I think that I can explain “why he got himself into this quandary”: Like many American liberals, he is very concerned to remain “respectable” in the eyes of left-wing elites abroad. On the other hand, the well-being of ordinary people in other countries, not being of much interest to the elites, doesn’t impinge on his thinking. Thus he can demand that the U.S. obtain French and German (and now Spanish) approval for our foreign policy but can pursue domestic policies that would inflict real damage on those nations’ economies.
Meanwhile, an NRO Corner reader has zeroed in on the fatal flaw (if self-parody isn't fatal enough) in Senator Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for Iraqi reconstruction and funding U.S. troops] before I voted against it”:
His stance is that he voted for an amendment that would have approved the $87 billion if the tax cuts were rolled back. Without that in the bill he voted against it.
This should be spun [sic] as “Kerry valued raising taxes more than he valued giving our troops the support they needed.”
That isn’t “spin”. It’s a simple fact about the Democratic candidate-presumptive’s priorities.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 16, 2004 The tale of John Kerry’s pooka-like foreign backers has one more twist that hasn’t yet, I believe, drawn much comment. In a statement denying that the claimed endorsements are figments of his imagination, Senator Kerry said, “I’m talking about people who were our friends nine months ago [emphasis added]. I’m talking about people who ought to be on our side in Iraq and aren’t because this administration has pushed them away.”
Nine months ago was the middle of June 2003, over a month after Saddam Hussein left Baghdad for his spider hole. Except for the very recent defection of Spain, which allies has the anti-terror coalition lost since then? And what nefarious American actions does the Senator believe “pushed them away”? If one takes his words seriously, he objects not to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein but to our subsequent support of democratic reform in Iraq. Shouldn’t he make those objections explicit? The military campaign is history, but post-war will still be going on after January 20, 2005. If President Kerry plans simply to walk away or to install Islamofascists in power or to turn all responsibility over to a United Nations bureaucracy mired in Saddamite corruption (vide Therese Raphael, "The Oil-for-Food Scandal"), he should tell the voters now.
Vide etiam Foreign Leaders for John Kerry.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 16, 2004 A sad and lovely threnody, "On Hearing that Spain Has Capitulated to the Terrorists":
From Burgos to Valencia
in the bright Spanish air
The spirit of the Campeador
 has journeyed in despair,
The great sword that Alfonso gave
 he breaks upon the shore.
El Cid has risen from his tomb,
he's parted with Ximene,
His people, whose bright honor still
has never suffered stain,
Now run from battle, hide their heads:
he is ashamed of Spain.
* * * *
And who will speak their requiem?
A poet who bore a gun:
Miguel Cervantes, who was there
in fifteen seventy-one
And boarded the great galley when
the fight was not yet won.
"My masters, on the golden hills
of Leon and Castile
The windmills now unchallenged turn,
the Don in fear will kneel
Before a wooden giant who
is nothing but a wheel;
"But you have kept your honor bright,
and though it was in vain
To guard the walls of Europe then
that would fall down again,
In exile and forgetfulness,
where you are, there is Spain."
May there be no further occasions for such words. [To comment, click here.]
March 15, 2004 About the last place where one expects to see a discussion of the Shakespeare authorship “controversy” is in an automobile advertisement, so I was, if not astonished at least startled, when Thomas Larque drew my attention to a Volvo ad on The Guardian’s Web site. The text consists of a point-counterpoint, the first part dragging up a bunch of hoary anti-Stratfordian clichés and the second refuting them succinctly. Quite a sensible production (far superior to the treatment of the question a couple of years ago in The New York Times), though it probably will not lead to my rushing out to purchase a Volvo.
 Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 15, 2004 Today's Wall Street Journal reports [link for on-line subscribers only] that “outsourcing” does, as protectionists allege, have a significant impact on jobs in the U.S.: It creates them.
Last year, American companies imported services (e. g., call-in technical support from India, data entry from South Korea) worth $77.38 billion, but service exports were $131.01 billion – a surplus of over $50 billion. The favorable balance has risen by about 70 percent since 1995.
The white-collar trade issue has risen to the top of the political agenda and has led to legislative proposals to prevent outsourcing, or expose it when it occurs. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, wants U.S. companies to reveal to callers that their telephone inquiries are going overseas. Others in Congress legislation to restrict government contractors from sending work abroad.
Politicians have largely ignored the jobs created in the U.S. when Americans sell white-collar services to foreign customers.
“I can understand why members of Congress are responding to what a lot of constituents feel, and I can understand why their constituents feel that way because there has been so much publicity about the potential loss of jobs,” said J. Robert Vastine, president of the Coalition of Service Industries. But, he said, “a lot of it is hype, and one of the big problems in this debate is there hasn’t been enough analysis.”
You might expect John Kerry, the candidate of analysis and nuance, to notice such matters. If the U.S. starts cracking down on what Senator Kerry labels “Benedict Arnold CEO’s”, does he imagine that other nations won’t take steps to discourage their own “unpatriotic” executives? Even on the narrowest view of American self-interest, a trade war in the services sector would lead to defeat all around.
 Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 15, 2004 With all due respect to the Democratic Presidential nominee-presumptive, it is a bit late for him to high-mindedly declare that he will not “betray private conversations” with those “foreign leaders” who supposedly endorse him. The betrayal has already occurred. It happened as soon as Senator Kerry purported to recount what went on at the tête-à-têtes. True, he didn’t identify his interlocutors, but the category “foreign leaders” is not a large one, and the whereabouts of its members at any particular time can be reconstructed pretty precisely. If meetings between Senator Kerry and important foreign political figures really took place, reporters will eventually ferret out the times and places. Effectively, if the Senator was telling the truth, he has created, for modest political gain, serious diplomatic problems for the leaders whose approval he craves.
This incident could have long-lasting reverberations should a President Kerry be inaugurated next January. Ministers in London and Paris and Berlin and Moscow and Tokyo will inevitably wonder whether they can speak frankly off-the-record with the new American leader. Can they be sure that their unguarded statements won’t later be recounted in a Kerry speech or press conference to bolster the speaker’s political stature? Conducting U.S. foreign policy is a challenge under the best of conditions. Senator Kerry has imposed a grave additional handicap on himself.
Addendum: According to the Drudge Report, the Boston Globe reporter who first wrote about Senator Kerry’s boast of support from “foreign leaders” now insists that he mistranscribed the tape and that the real words were, “I’ve met more leaders”, not “I've met foreign leaders”. If that’s really so, one is puzzled at the Senator’s failure to mention it himself. Surely he is aware of his own words. It is in fact quite clear from context that “foreign” is correct. Here is the quotation in full:
I’ve been hearing it, I’ll tell ya. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I’ve met [disputed word] leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that. So there is enormous energy out there. Tell them, whereever they can find an American abroad, they can contribute. [italics added]
What the reporter’s clumsy attempt at a cover-up suggests to me is that at least one liberal journalist is worried about how this stroke of public stupidity reflects on his preferred candidate’s fitness to be President – and desperately wants to pretend that it never happened. [Addendum to Addendum: Instapundit points out further discrepancies between the cover-up and reality.]
 Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 14, 2004 Before long, we'll start hearing that the Spanish election outcome demonstrates the folly of "going it alone" in the War on Terror. Au contraire, if the rest of Europe is as easily intimidated as Spain, it demonstrates that unilateralism, whether or not it is a desirable strategy, is the only possible one. Allies who cut and run in the face of a single terrorist attack are barely worth having. In many conceivable circumstances, they are a liability. Bare is back without brother behind it; barer yet when the brother unexpectedly runs away. We should be grateful that, thanks to America's swaggering cowboy mentality, we depend little upon Spanish troops, and not at all upon French or Russian or German.
Addendum: After I posted the preceding item, I saw that Eugene Volkokh had the same idea, though he expressed it more cogently than I:
[T]here are three possible reasons for a position that we shouldn't do certain things without multilateral support. One is purely pragmatic: if we don't have much foreign support, the theory goes, our task will be too hard, either because we won't have enough material help, or because the lack of foreign support will undermine our credibility with (say) the Iraqis. A second relates to legitimacy: certain kinds of actions, the theory goes, are only morally or legally legitimate if we have support from certain foreign bodies, or perhaps from a certain range of foreign countries. A third relates to foreign support being probative of the need for action: if we don't fully trust our government's judgment, then we might consider other countries' judgment as evidence of whether the action is practically and morally justified.
But the second and third reasons, it seems to me, are pretty weak if we think foreign countries are likely to be influenced by the risk of terrorist retaliation. The foreign countries' decisions may simply be probative of their own desire not to be attacked, not of what's the morally right thing to do in the abstract, or what's the practically right thing to do for us (or even what's in the aggregate interests of humanity generally). And I don't see why we should ascribe to a view of legitimacy that makes our actions illegitimate whenever the terrorists are able to force other countries to oppose us.
I would add only that the pragmatic argument is weakened, too, for the reason that I mentioned: Unreliable allies are rarely of much use and may prove dangerous. If a country may desert the cause at a crucial moment, better than it was a nonbelligerent from the start.
[To comment, click here.]
March 14, 2004 Today is the 121st – or, as the Hobbits would say, eleventy-eleventh – anniversary of the death of Karl Marx. Whether the defunct father of evildoers will find a refrigerium in today's Spanish election results, I don't know, but the ghost of his fellow anti-Western fanatic Osama bin-Laden is certainly rejoicing.
As I write, it looks like the Popular Party has dropped nearly 40 Parliamentary seats, which the instant analysts unanimously attribute to widespread sentiment that its pro-U.S. policies are to blame for the bombing in Madrid and that the proper response is not defiance of terrorism but speedy acquiescence in the terrorists' demands. So Spain will have a Socialist Prime Minister, a man who has, by the way, already endorsed John Kerry for President, will withdraw its 1,300 troops from Iraq, and will try to opt out of the War on Terror.
This retreat of an important ally into more-or-less antagonistic neutrality is a disappointment in itself. The way that it came about makes everyone's life a little less secure. If ten bombs in Madrid can bring about "regime change", we can be sure that the tactic will be tried again.
The best, perhaps the only, way to counter that impression in the terrorist leaders' minds will be for the United States to strike a series of vicious blows against their apparatus. There is no need for the target to be precise. Though al-Qa'eda apparently carried out this particular attack, the principle of collective responsibility – all allies of terrorists are liable to punishment for any terrorist act – would be a useful one to instill. Isn't it past time for the devastation of several Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade camps? And shouldn't we be funneling assistance to rebellious elements in Syria and Iran (not promising the mullarchy help against what it calls "terrorism", as a certain Presidential candidate has urged)? The lesson of Madrid ought to be that every killing of civilians by Islamofascist thugs will trigger massive retaliation against the whole movement. If that isn't the lesson, we won't like the one that will be drawn instead. [To comment, click here.]
March 13, 2004 If, as appears increasingly likely, the Madrid atrocity was an al-Qa'eda operation (or a joint venture with the ETA), the motive is transparent. In fact, a Norwegian think tank found it explained on an Islamofascist Web site several months ago (as reported by Bjørn Stærk):
To make the Spanish government pull out of Iraq, the Muslim resistance forces must direct blows against the Spanish forces, and these must be joined by information about the situation in Iraq . . . . [O]ne must take maximum advantage of the approaching election in Spain in March next year . . . . We expect the Spanish government won't withstand more than two, maximum three, such attacks, because of pressure from public opinion. If they nevertheless should remain in Iraq, their continued presence will become an important issue for the Socialist Party.
The election is tomorrow. We shall see whether terrorism works in Spain. Elsewhere it is working already. The Guardian, beacon of the British Left, has issued the first call for surrender:
Europe . . . needs to mould a different response to its September 11. Spain has a history which places it at the crossroads of the European and Arab worlds. It understands both traditions. It is a country where once Jew, Muslim and Christian lived together. An international conference, to bridge the divide between Muslim and Christian communities, should be one first step. But there are many others. We need to take the fight against terror out of America's hands. We need to get beyond the them and us, the good guys and the bad guys, and seek a genuinely collective response.
In other words, ask the terrorists on what terms they will allow the West to return to the comfortable, post-historical sleep from which it was rudely awakened two and a half years ago. What will the victors demand? Obliteration of the state of Israel, for sure. Non-interference with Islamofascist organizing throughout Europe? A blind eye toward private violence against Jews? The prohibition of "anti-Islamic propaganda"? Perhaps peace conditions like those will not seem inordinate to the editors of The Guardian.
From our side of the pond, it is vital to face unflinchingly the possibility that the spirit of appeasement may prevail throughout much of Europe, that we will, within the next few years, stand essentially alone in defense of civilization and liberty. Happily, America is not in the position of Great Britain in 1940. We are vastly stronger than our enemies, not dangerously weaker. But strength does not prevail simply by existing. It must be exerted. A neutral or hostile "community of nations" can make the struggle a wearying prospect and multiply the temptation to retreat behind our own borders, where we will try to keep ourselves safe through passive defense. That strategy is already, in essence, the one advocated by the Democratic Party. Its short-term benefit would be a relaxation of the European elites' hectoring. The cost of that benefit would be decades, indeed generations, of living in fear, giving up a bit more liberty each time defensive tactics proved inadequate against a new attack. It is strange to hear liberals denounce the mild measures in the Patriot Act while they propose policies that would inevitably lead to Patriot Act II, III, IV and on till America really does become a Police State.
Still, while Europe may shrink into dhimmitude, that is not the only road that can be taken. The other option, the one that The Guardian palpably dreads, is that those European nations that have hung back will at last join the battle whole-heartedly. If that occurs, we will have reached not just the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end.
Further reading: The Daily Telegraph, "The World at War"; Mark Steyn, "These Guys Want to Kill Us Anyway"
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 12, 2004 As Charles Krauthammer says, "Kerry has made the major – indeed, only discernible – theme of his foreign policy 'rejoining the community of nations' and being liked abroad again." For a lot of reasons, I don't think that "being liked abroad" ought to be a high priority Presidential goal, but, if that is indeed what we should aim at, would it not be wise to pay attention not just to European elites hectoring us about matters that little concern their countries (what is France's national interest in Iraq?) but also to the needs of ordinary citizens?
When the U.S. and what Senator Kerry calls our "fraudulent coalition" deposed Saddam Hussein, the only Frenchmen whom we injured materially were those on Saddam's secret payroll. There are other American actions, though, that can create real distress and may plausibly form the basis for justified resentment. For example, James K. Glassman writes,
Indians are angry and bewildered by what's happening here. India had been the world's most prominent example of autarky, a backward policy of protectionism. Partly because of pressure from the United States – and partly from observing the economic success of smaller countries like Singapore and South Korea – India has eased that policy in recent years.
Imports and exports have soared, and India's growth rate has doubled to 8 percent. The world's largest democracy, with a population of one billion, is getting more prosperous, creating what could ultimately become the best market in the world for American goods and services.
Meanwhile, India has been critical to American foreign policy. The war against terror forced us to lavish aid on India's arch-rival, Pakistan, and a nuclear war between the two countries over disputed Kashmir seemed possible. But peace is now closer, and despite provocations, India has proven a steadfast ally.
Now, many Indians feel they are the scapegoats for America's cyclical economic downturn in what they see as a racist campaign. Isn't this the way trade works? "On the one hand you talk about opening up our markets. On the other, you want to ban . . . outsourcing," said India's deputy prime minister.
Penalizing companies for hiring Indians for jobs that they can perform most efficiently would directly damage the economy of the second most populous member of "the community of nations". It would, in fact, be the economic equivalent of hundreds of air strikes on New Dehli and Calcutta and Bombay. A man who is eager to earn the good will of other peoples surely would not advocate that course. If it was wrong to offend the amour propre of the great poet-statesman Dominique de Villepin by carrying out a military operation that cost not one French life or euro, how much worse to take away the livelihoods of thousands of middle class Indians?
And yet the prospective Democratic Presidential nominee wants to do exactly that. He rails at "Benedict Arnold CEO's" and urges that the tax law be changed to punish U.S. investment abroad. The specific provisions that he complains of, allowing some earnings of foreign subsidies to escape U.S. tax so long as they are reinvested overseas, have been part of the Internal Revenue Code since its inception – good enough for Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK, but inducements to treason in the eyes of JF***K.
So we face the question: In trade and commerce, will America remain in the community of nations, or will we pursue a path of unilateralism, fraught with the hostility of the rest of the world? John Kerry has given us his answer.
Addendum, 3/13/04:Why, BTW, do people who insist that Third World poverty is the "root cause" of terrorism object so vehemently to developments that improve the standard of living in the Third World? Is prosperity in Hyderabad worse than bombings in Madrid?
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 11, 2004 It's been obvious for a long time (in fact, I said it a long time ago) that former economist Paul Krugman is deep into Loony Left conspiracy paranoia, despite his position as a New York Times columnist and respected figure in mainstream media circles. Tim Blair now reports that, in an interview on Australian TV, Professor Krugman ruminated about "the possibility that [President Bush and his supporters] just would not regard it as a legitimate thing if someone else were to take power", because "Quite a few people as part of the Republican movement have said that God chose Bush to be President. I don't know whether they would accept the idea that mere mortal men should choose for him not to be President for another four years."
Isn't this reaching a point where a compassionate Times editor should insist on medical intervention? The unraveling of a formerly brilliant intellect is a sad thing to watch.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 11, 2004 Whether carried out by ETA or al-Qa'eda, today's atrocity in Madrid reminds us that we and the rest of the civilized world are still at war. The barbarians have not called a cease fire, whether or not their targets want to "move on" to a more comfortable state of affairs.
Astonishingly, the next Democratic Presidential nominee was just a few days ago talking about the conflict in the following terms (as quoted by David Frum):
Iran presents an especially difficult challenge. Our relations there are burdened by a generation of distrust, by the threat of nuclear proliferation, and by reports of Al Qaeda forces in that country, including the leadership responsible for the May 17th bombings in Saudi Arabia. But the Bush Administration stubbornly refuses to conduct a realistic, non-confrontational policy with Iran even where that may be possible. As President, I will be prepared early-on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam a decade ago. Iran has long expressed an interest in cooperating against the Afghan drug trade. That is one starting point. And, just as we have asked that Iran turnover Al Qaeda members who are there, the Iranians have looked to us for help in dealing with Iraq-based terrorists who threaten them. It is incomprehensible and unacceptable that this Administration refuses to broker an arrangement with Iran for a mutual crackdown on both terrorist groups.
Is that a War President talking? The Iranian mullarchs are openly seeking nuclear weapons and giving shelter to anti-Western terrorists, so we are to be "non-confrontational" and even to help them deal with their own internal security problems. The democratic opposition – by all reports gaining momentum since last month's rigged elections – gets nary a nod. Senator Kerry may, in some recess of his heart, pray for its success, but he is evidently unwilling to aid it with more than prayer. Not so much as encouraging words.
At the 1944 Democratic National Convention (vide David Broder, "Would FDR Run Those 9/11 Ads?"), one speaker exclaimed, "How many battleships would a Democratic defeat be worth to Tojo? How many Nazi legions would it be worth to Hitler? . . . We must not allow the American ballot box to be made Hitler's secret weapon." That was hardly fair to a Republican candidate who firmly supported the war effort, but would it have been unreasonable if Governor Dewey had been looking for "areas of mutual interest" with the enemy?
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 11, 2004 Yesterday was, I'm told, the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. It was also the 911th day since September 11, 2001. Who says that coincidences mean nothing? [To comment, click here.]
March 11, 2004 Anti-immigration zealot Mark Krikorian has the oddest argument yet for keeping people out of America: Newcomers work too hard. Citing an article about the teenage job market in the Boston area, he writes:
[I]mmigrant competition is elbowing teenagers out of jobs they would otherwise be filling. One economist said employers "like the fact that immigrants can work more hours and more shifts than teenagers." A job counselor said, "Typically when kids apply for a summer job they might want a week off to go to camp or do something else. I tell them, 'You can't do that. You are up against someone who is going to be there every day and you need to deal with that.'"
Employers prefer workers who don't vanish for a week now and then, so Mr. Krikorian proposes to take those people out of the labor pool. He seems to view low-wage jobs not as part of the real economy but as a kind of social values education program.
Is it healthy for the future of our society to freeze our children out of low-wage, rite-of-passage jobs? When I was younger, I washed dishes in restaurants, packed tomatoes, did lawn work – this kind of thing is essential if we are to preserve a middle-class society that values work. . . .
Let's see. Kids don't get jobs, because they aren't willing to work as hard as other applicants, and thus are discouraged from learning that work is valuable? The future health of our society depends on making sure that jobs are available that won't be too hard for the little darlings?
I'm beginning to grasp the reason for the emotional ferocity of immigration restrictionists of the Krikorian ilk. It is a cover for their cause's intellectual decrepitude. [To comment, click here.]
March 9, 2004 Senator Kerry's rather strange declaration that "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this; you've got to beat this guy; we need a new policy' – things like that" invites the obvious rejoinder from Right Wing News:
Since when [did] candidates for the Presidency start trumpeting the fact that "foreign leaders" wanted them to win? I thought that sort of sentiment went out of fashion about the time the Revolutionary War ended. Maybe Kerry should start getting interested in serving AMERICAN interests instead of sucking up to "foreign leaders" who can't vote and don't have America's best interests at heart.
But, out of respect for international comity, I'm willing to waive that point. What fascinates me is that the Senator has been a very busy man since he started running for President and hasn't had a lot of leisure time for get-togethers with "foreign leaders", nor do any such meetings appear to have been reported by the news media during the past several months. Did they really take place, or is the Democratic candidate-in-waiting, er, sexing up his story?
Update, 3/12/04: The Washington Times has pored over Senator Kerry's travel schedule, compared his whereabouts to those of foreign leaders, and concluded that he almost certainly has not met privately with anyone answering to that description during at least the past 14 months. In other words, his claim of sotto voce foreign endorsements is very likely just what I labeled it – in old-fashioned terms, a lie.
When I knew John Kerry in college, he may have been a bit of a self-obsessed bumbler, but he was not the sort of person who told silly fibs. Apparently, a career in the United States Senate has not been character building.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 9, 2004 Eugene Volokh, a libertarian law professor who has no strong objections to same-sex marriage but does strongly believe that the matter should be left to the states to decide, has offered a further refinement to the Hatch Marriage Amendment. He doesn't like the first sentence ("Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof"), partly because he thinks "that the Massachusetts voters should save themselves from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, rather than having the rest of the country save them" and partly because it won't necessarily accomplish the objective of saving the Massachusetts voters (because there are non-trivial arguments for construing "legislature" as meaning "legislative enactments as interpreted by state courts in the light of state constitutions"). He suggests that the first sentence be dropped and that, if one wishes to make future Goodridges impossible, the second be revised to read:
Nothing in this Constitution or in any state Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.
As to whether Goodridge ought to be rendered impossible, my view is that the balance of costs and benefits is strongly in favor. Prohibiting state courts from imposing same-sex marriage is no serious obstacle to its adoption when and if it becomes a popular, accepted institution, while allowing them to do so opens the way to a series of bitter, unnecessary battles to amend state constitutions (like the one about to get under weigh in Massachusetts). Even from the point of view of same-sex marriage advocates, aren't those battles better left unfought? Aside from arousing divisive emotions, they will end up making opposite-sex marriage a constitutional mandate in many states, thus making it harder, should public opinion ever shift, for the same-sexers to win their fight.
And I still wait for John Kerry, self-proclaimed advocate of leaving marriage to the states, to offer his opinion on any version of the Hatch Amendment.
Update, 3/10/04: Steve Paulson, Cleveland, Ohio, writes:
Having explored a little of your web site beyond the Shakespeare materials - reading the History pages as a warm up before a dip in what promised to be a political bain froid (my blood pressure remains about the only normal measure of health I have, by the way) - I was not seriously baited until I saw this proposal for a constitutional amendment, apparently from a Libertarian law professor: "Nothing in this Constitution or in any state Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman."
Forget the idea of Gay Marriages for the moment: If there is ANY residue of state's rights left, surely the question of how the individual states interpret their own Constitutions is part of it. While the State Constitutions may all have equal protection and due process type provisions, what those provisions mean in a state context has always been the province of the states themselves. I would have thought that the only proper response for anyone who has any belief in states rights to something like this proposal is a brisk "It's none of your damn business how we interpret our Constitution."Which it is and ought to be, provided those provisions are not in conflict with federal law.
Moreover, what’s the point of allowing a state to grant Gay marriages by legislation but not by their Constitutions?  This language is at best irreparably sloppy. It would prevent, for instance, the people of the State of Ohio amending their Constitution by vote with specific language granting marriage rights to Gays – even specific Constitutional language mandating the allowance of Gay marriages would have to be “construed” to be effective in the absence of legislative action. I realize that the intent is to shut the backdoor to Gay marriage through the interpretation of other Constitutional clauses, but I cannot see how a provision denying the states the right to interpret their own equal protection clauses can be written in any enforceable way - let alone in any way consistent with our federal structure.
If you want to ban Gay marriages, ban Gay marriages - although doing so by way of the Constitution would, to my mind, be contrary to the purpose and spirit of the document. Otherwise, leave it to the individual states. If the good people of Massachusetts want to ban Gay marriage, there are Constitutional means at their disposal to do so. If they do not want to overturn the Court, then that is their right as well.
The federal Constitution has from its inception limited state autonomy in many ways. Under the original Constitution, a state cannot impair the obligation of contracts, make anything but gold or silver legal tender, establish an hereditary governorship, impose tariffs on imports from other states or legislate in many other areas traditionally within the purview of sovereigns. Forbidding courts to interpret state constitutions as mandating same-sex "marriage" is a lesser impairment, since it leaves the states free to recognize those unions through legislation.
Professor Volokh suggested an alternative that would permit the explicit amendment of state constitutions to allow same-sex marriage ("No provision of this Constitution or of any state Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman, unless the provision explicitly provides for such an extension"), but that strikes me as an unnecessary refinement. Any same-sex marriage supporter who imagines that legalization through state constitutional amendment is a realistic goal doesn't live in 21st Century America, as the example of Hawaii, a socially ultra-liberal state that a few years ago voted two-to-one for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, demonstrates.
The main reason for barring judicial action in this arena is that it leads inevitably, as in Massachusetts, to heated electoral battles that do nothing for civil peace. Forcing the majority to go to a great deal of trouble to restore the status quo ante is an unnecessary exercise that does nobody, particularly including homosexuals, any good.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 9, 2004 The report on payroll growth in February (essentially nil) will give John Kerry a few weeks of sound bites, but what does it really mean? Business output has been expanding at a boom-like rate for a couple of consecutive quarters. Why haven't private companies been adding workers?
The answer implicit – and often explicit – in criticisms of the "jobless recovery" is that the appearance of economic growth is somehow an illusion. Household net worth may be at the highest level in history (above the previous peak in 2000), but households are in frightful distress.
Merely to state that thesis refutes it. How fast new jobs are being created is not the primary economic issue for the 94.4 percent of the work force who have jobs. Of greater interest to them is whether their employers are making money (so that their jobs will continue to exist in the future) and how their investments are doing (that is, whether other employers are making money, too).
Payroll growth is also a secondary concern of the "frictionally unemployed", those whose lack of a job is due to the imperfect flow of information in the labor market and similar factors. Economists estimate frictional unemployment at about five percent under contemporary conditions (not a precise quantification, of course).  That leaves roughly one-half of one percent of the work force for whom the current economic situation can reasonably be termed negative.
But should even that small segment of the electorate automatically vote Democratic in November? If fast economic growth isn't producing new jobs, what will? Are businesses going to hire more workers if, as Senator Kerry urges, their taxes go up and they are compelled to pick up a larger share of health care costs? (Vide Grace-Marie Turner, "The Kerry Plan".) The closest that the Democrats have come to dealing with slow payroll growth is gimmicky proposals to give short-term tax credits for hiring additional employees. Experience has shown that businesses inevitably respond by churning workers, in order to get government subsidies for slots that already exist, not by adding long-term positions.
In all likelihood, job creation will accelerate in coming months. That has been the pattern of every past recovery.The next phase of the debate will be, "Okay, there are a bunch of jobs, but they're not good jobs", to be succeeded by, "Health insurance costs too much." In heaven, these guys will complain that their clouds are scratchy.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
March 4, 2004 Senator Orrin Hatch, of whom I may have spoken too harshly a few days ago, has put forward a version of a Federal Marriage Amendment that ought to win the approval of anyone who, like Senator John Kerry, claims to want to leave this contentious issue to the states to resolve. The Hatch Amendment reads:
Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.
As National Review remarks,
This amendment would not only clearly allow civil unions to be enacted by legislatures; it would even allow legislatures to enact full-fledged same-sex marriage. But it would bar federal or state courts from imposing either.
Some conservatives will object that this amendment does not go far enough. But what it does is meet the challenge that actually inspired an amendment in the first place: the threat that judges will impose same-sex marriage or its equivalent in disregard of the public will. Hatch's language has the additional advantage of being clear and understandable to the layman. For most people, the notion that legislators should be making these decisions will seem like simple common sense.
Let me predict that the self-described states'-righters will have a lot of trouble perceiving "simple common sense". And, if my prediction comes true, it will be only reasonable to ask whether their professions match their true beliefs.
My view, like that of the great majority of same-sex marriage skeptics, is that questions about matrimony are best left to natural social development. If same-sex unions ever become a genuine institution, rather than an in-your-face enthusiasm, the law will accommodate them, just as it has accommodated, for instance, the waning of male dominance in the family and the (regrettable) unwillingness of couples to abide by lifetime commitments. The problem that we face right now is that various liberal and libertarian forces don't want to wait and are looking to judges of their own persuasion to force "gay marriage" upon an unwilling people. The only legitimate argument for adding a Marriage Amendment to the Constitution is to keep marriage within the purview of the democratic process. Senator Hatch's amendment would accomplish exactly that, and nothing superfluous.
Update, 3/8/04: Tom Maguire writes:
Is there a source for the Hatch amendment beyond the National Review? Not that I doubt it (this is my preferred compromise), but there is no mention at Hatch's website.
And bonus headscratcher – one observer has noted that Loving v. Virginia, overturning state laws banning interracial marriage, would not be allowed under this amendment; presumably, states could resume banning inter-racial marriage.  Not going to happen? Of course not, but one wonders what might happen – unforeseen consequences, etc.
I assumed that it would be easy to find further references to Senator Hatch's proposal, but neither the Web nor Nexis has anything that, so far as I can see, doesn't derive from the National Review story. If I were paranoid, I would wonder why the news media, in the course of tens of thousands of words about the same-sex marriage controversy, fails to mention a fairly noncontroversial (except to the fringes of the debate) way to resolve it.
The suggestion that the Hatch Amendment would overturn Loving v. Virginia is advanced at Polysigh, a site that is strongly pro-same-sex "marriage". On its face ,the argument is preposterous. The language of the amendment would prevent courts from construing the U.S. Constitution "to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman". It wouldn't limit the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to other aspects of state domestic relations law. Contrary to Polysigh's contention, the first sentence of the amendment does not give state legislatures "unlimited power in this area". It is merely procedural, specifying that the definition of "civil marriage" is within the purview only of "the legislature or the citizens". Those lawmakers still must exercise their authority in a manner that conforms to the rest of the Constitution. Not only would it not be constitutional for a state to prohibit interracial marriage, but one that did decide to recognize same-sex unions could not restrict them to same-race couples.
I expect that we will hear many similarly outlandish claims in the coming months, because there are plenty of people who do not want this issue left to the whims of democracy.
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March 1, 2004 The tone of Laura Bartholomew Armstrong's "A Shameful Past" is rather bitter. Then, too, Mrs. Armstrong is a Marine widow whose father died in combat in Vietnam when she was eight years old. She won't be voting for John Kerry.
As the kid of a real war hero who did not come back, I'd like to comment not on Kerry's service, but his postservice activities. Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Mr. Kerry's organization of choice when he returned from his shortened tour of duty in Vietnam (and his springboard to fame), was known to me even as a child. The organization, while providing a place for angst-ridden vets to land after coming home, had an awful effect on those of us who lost our fathers.
It was bad enough to hear our dads criticized by those who hated the military, but to hear vets allege rampant war crimes and call their fellow soldiers evil before all the world really twisted the knife. Mr. Kerry led the way, proud in the company of Jane Fonda and others we believed had caused the deaths of good men. This group's testimony tarnished honorable actions. After taking the oath to preserve and protect, they grandstanded, throwing service awards in a show of defiance that diminished each sacrifice. Their stories dominated while the stories of thousands of honorable vets went untold. I don't hold it against them after so many years, but I'm dead sure I don't want their darling Kerry, the man who voted against funding our guys in Operation Iraqi Freedom, to be our next commander in chief.
Letter of comment, 3/9/04: Jerry Baker of Athens, Alabama, in a letter of comment, gives us an example of thoughtful, reasoned liberal commentary aimed at addressing the substance of issues rather than casting aspersions on the honesty or sanity of the other side:
My first thought was that here is a woman very much in need of counseling, based on the bitter tone of her opinion article. After looking at all of the facts however, it is just obvious she is just a biased journalist loyal to Bush. War is a nasty business but I came home from Viet Nam and like Kerry, my opinion had changed on supporting the war (we fought for that right). It is unfortunate for any 8 year old to lose a father but it appears Ms Armstrong is also from a military family and her bio states she is also a Marine widow and her story indicates a brother who was a CH46 pilot in the 1st Gulf War. Kerry helped to stop the Viet Nam war by his protests which forced Nixon to finally end actions. It was after more than 500,000 [sic] Americans had died but at least it kept more from following suit. So after first having concern for her mental health I ended up with a disdain for her unproven, unsupported allegations and generalizations of her opinion which characterize the right wing misinformation to the public.
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