Archive for May, 2010

Data Point

May 31, 2010

In recent months, I’ve been endeavoring to prove that certain media elites in the conservative movement are perfectly willing to mislead their audiences. It’s true of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Andrew Breitbart, and Andy McCarthy, among others. And this attitude has consequences.

As Byron York shows, we can now add Erick Erickson to the list. In fact, he is the first on the list to acknowledge that he deliberately misled his readers because he perceived that he could make gains against his ideological enemies by doing so.

George W. Bush: Western or Southern?

May 30, 2010

Jacob Weisberg writes:

One way to understand the divisions in the Republican Party is as a clash of regional philosophies. Northeastern conservatism is moderate, accepts the modern welfare state, and dislikes mixing religion with politics. Western conservatism is hawkish, hates government, and embraces individual freedom. Southern conservatism is populist, draws on evangelical Christianity, and plays upon racial resentments. The big drama of the GOP over the past several decades has been the Northeastern view giving way to the Southern one. To see this transformation in a single family, witness the shift from George H.W. Bush to George W. Bush.

In this taxonomy, isn’t George W. Bush more “western” than he is “southern”? He was hawkish and hated government. That’s two of the three western qualities. And while he drew on evangelical Christianity, a “southern” trait, I cannot recall him playing on racial resentments, nor did he strike me as a populist — he was much closer to the big business wing of the GOP than the populist wing, which makes sense given his personal background and governing philosophy.

(His position on immigration is the single best example of this.)

My Biography Subject Influences Events More Than Anyone Else

May 29, 2010

In a New York Times op-ed that coincides with the release of his Rush Limbaugh biography, Zev Chafets writes:

THERE are many theories for why very conservative Republicans seem to be doing so well lately, taking their party’s Senate nominations in Florida, Kentucky and Utah, and beating Democrats head-to-head in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. Some attribute this to a generalized anti-incumbent mood. Others say it reflects the tendency of parties in power to falter in midterm elections. Recently it has been fashionable to ascribe right-wing success to the Tea Party movement.

But the most obvious explanation is the one that’s been conspicuously absent from the gusher of analysis. Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh.

So let me get this straight: the longstanding, amply documented tendency of American voters is to trend against the incumbent party during midterm elections and times of economic strife. Here we are, a Democrat in the White House, mid-term elections on the horizon, and the economy in tatters. This coincides with a conservative resurgence. And the “most obvious explanation” is a talk radio host whose listeners mostly vote overwhelmingly conservative anyway?

Suffice it to say that the influence of Mr. Limbaugh is less than obvious to me, especially since as recently as the 2008 presidential campaign, the supposedly all powerful GOP kingmaker watched as his party’s primary voters narrowed the field to the single candidate he most abhors and repeatedly railed against, John McCain. Months later, President Obama succeeded in passing health care reform of a kind that the GOP successfully staved off since the early days of the Clinton Administration.

It is nevertheless worthwhile to explore what it would mean if Mr. Chafets is correct, and Mr. Limbaugh is “the brains and spirit” behind a GOP resurgence predicated on being “the party of no.” Best as I can tell, this would mean that Republicans gave up negotiating marginal improvements to a once in a generation health care bill that passed even without their support in a form less favorable to their interests, and in exchange they’re going to elect a marginally more conservative Congress in the 2010 midterms.

This would make perfect sense if electoral politics were an end rather than a means, but neither the GOP nor Rush Limbaugh have quite understood the difference in a very long time.

One additional excerpt deserves scrutiny:

When the Tea Party movement emerged, Mr. Limbaugh welcomed it. The movement’s causes — fighting against health care reform, reducing the size and cost of government, opposing the Democrats’ putative desire to remake America in the image of European social democracies — were straight Limbaughism. A very high proportion of the Tea Partiers listen to Mr. Limbaugh. Sarah Palin’s biggest current applause line — Republicans are not just the party of no, but the party of hell no — came courtesy of Mr. Limbaugh. (Ms. Palin gave the keynote address at the first national Tea Party convention.) Glenn Beck, who is especially popular among Tea Partiers, calls Mr. Limbaugh his hero.

So why the lack of attention? Mr. Limbaugh has studiously refrained from claiming credit for the movement.

If Mr. Chafets himself acknowledges that Rush Limbaugh reacted to the emergence of the Tea Party, why does he write as if the talk radio host could legitimately claim credit for it?

Inside the Information Loop

May 27, 2010

On the subject of the American right, and whether or not its rank-and-file receive accurate information from the opinion leaders they trust, the events I’m about to lay out are telling.

On May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, five students at a high school in Morgan Hill, California wore American flag attire to class. “The vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out,” the local NBC affiliate reported. “When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.” The story got picked up in the national media, bloggers debated whether the boys were being patriotic or deliberately insensitive, and almost everyone at least agreed that in this country they were well within their rights to wear the American flag.

I am very interested in one aspect of the discussion that followed this story. The conservative blog Stop the ACLU is a natural place to begin. “Cinco De Mayo Means Suspension of Free Speech and Patriotism,” their post began. “At least in Morgan Hill, California where they live by the rules of political correctness gone crazy.” The ultimate reaction: “Absolutely ridiculous! Where is the ACLU?”

Says the most trusted man in conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh:

So they were sent home because the authorities thought they were trying to start trouble. Cinco de Mayo is not even an official Mexican holiday. Start trouble. American flags. Start trouble by wearing American colors in the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay area, Morgan Hills. Right. American flag, American colors, red, white, and blue are now judged in certain parts of the country as trouble, or hate speech, provocative. They were trying to incite violence. That’s what they were accused of: wearing American colors, inciting violence. That’s why they were sent home. They were sent home, they were viewed as troublemakers in the Bay Area.

I have a story from 2006 or 2007 in the Arizona Daily Star. It’s outta Tucson. The story is about a man who was arrested for burning a Mexican flag in Arizona. Arrested for burning a Mexican flag. Now, nobody gets arrested for burning the American flag. In fact, they are celebrated. They are elevated to hero status. And they have the ACLU and others coming after them to defend them.

At David Horowitz’s News Real Blog, David Forsmark writes:

The “American” Civil Liberties Union has forfeited any right to that moniker, and the proof has never been clearer than this week. The ACLU has defended students’ “rights” to do, say, and WEAR, just about anything while on a high school campus. But this week, they have nothing to say about the Morgan Hill Live Oak Five who were suspended for wearing American flags because they were “incendiary.”

Conservative Ralph Wenzinger, writing in the Bakersfield Californian: “This is the flag of the United States. It causes me to wonder if they fly an American flag at the school or whether that, too, was taken down. Maybe Morgan Hill has seceded from the United States? It also causes me to wonder, “ACLU, where are you?”

Speak Now America writes: “Two or three years ago a story in the Arizona Daily Star a man was arrested for burning a Mexican flag in Arizona. Arrested for burning a Mexican flag? You can’t get arrested for burning the American flag. In fact, they are celebrated. They are elevated to hero status. And they have the ACLU and others coming after them to defend them.”

Elijah Friedman: “There is not apology forthcoming from the school. And don’t cross your fingers about the ACLU getting involved this; defending the right to show patriotism isn’t exactly their type of case.”

The blog Pirate’s Cove: “The boys and their families have nicely told those offended by the wearing of American flags to shove it where the sun don’t shine. Good for them. Will the ACLU jump in and protect the rights of these boys? Doubtful.”

The Old Jarhead: “If they had burned the flag, the ACLU would already have the school officials in court.”

Jules Crittenden mentioned the controversy. Said his first commenter: “Where are the ACLU, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and their myrmidons to protest such egregious actions?”

At Radio Voice Online, a commenter asked, “Question of the day: why is it that when students wear Che shirts or pseudo erotic, near prostitute quality garments, or wear gang colors, or have their pants hanging mid thigh, the ACLU cockroaches come out of the woodwork to defend the student’s first amendment rights, but when students act patriotically, as in this case, the are suspended and sent home?”

Says another at Uncoverage.Net, “What will REALLY be interesting is: Will the ACLU jump right in and defend these student’s constitutional rights, just as they did in the Vermont case? I won’t hold my breath waiting….”

Dr. Hugo at The Mighty Righty conversation board:

I’m also puzzled at why, when such an obvious transgression upon those students individual rights of freedom of speech and expression was committed that the ACLU (American Communist Lawyers’ Union) didn’t immediately rally to their side and file an action in the appropriate District Court? Maybe they were conflicted and were considering filing on behalf of the Mexican-America students!

The blog Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: “Can you imagine had this been July 4th and the school officials sent the Mexican-American kids home for wearing the Mexican flag on their tee shirt? The ACLU would have been all over that.”

I could go on. Other examples abound at outlets well-known and obscure, from big names and small, creators and commenters, all of them operating on the right side of the blogosphere. I didn’t even attempt to dig through radio archives or television broadcasts, though I’ll post other examples if they are sent to me.

Oh, if you haven’t caught on yet, the ACLU predictably sided with the American flag wearing students in this case:

Last week, five students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., were sent home on Cinco de Mayo for wearing T-shirts bearing the American flag. The students were reportedly sent home after Vice Principal Miguel Rodriguez told them the shirts posed a “safety issue” on a day celebrating Mexican heritage.

Punishing students for wearing T-shirts with the American flag is a clear violation of their free speech rights. The ACLU of Northern California responded to the incident by sending a letter (PDF) to Morgan Hill Schools Superintendant Dr. Wesley Smith, reminding him of the speech rights students are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution and California law.

The letter points out that students’ wearing of the American flag wouldn’t have been controversial but for the interest of other students in celebrating their Mexican heritage on Cinco de Mayo. The students’ patriotic display was particularly meaningful because of the context, and their right to express their patriotism in light of that context must be honored. The right to wear an American flag every day but Cinco de Mayo would do little to advance the important work of the First Amendment, whose protections must be enforced every day.

There is another important lesson for the school here. For displays of the American flag to create such a strong concern about disruption, it’s likely the school has underlying racial and cultural tensions that need attention. Using censorship to suppress student speech is exactly the wrong thing to do in this kind of situation. While the school superintendent did make a statement reaffirming the school district’s support for students’ speech rights, it’s also important that the Live Oak teachers and administrators use this incident as an opportunity to teach students tolerance, diversity and mutual respect.

A PDF of the more formal letter sent to the school is here. This shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the actual ACLU, as opposed to the movement conservative caricature of it. And indeed, a quick e-mail exchange with the ACLU’s admirably efficient Rachel L. Meyers yielded a summary of other cases where the organization took very similar stands on behalf of folks adorning themselves with the patriotic symbol:

Sampson County Schools Prohibit Student from Wearing American Flag T-shirt — September 2007 — the ACLU of North Carolina received information that a student in Sampson County was banned from wearing an American flag t-shirt to school the previous day to commemorate 9/11/01. The ACLU-NC contacted the school board attorney and sent a letter to the principal and superintendent, advising the school officials that this ban violated the student’s First Amendment free speech rights. By the end of the day, the school district notified all parents in Sampson County that the policy would not be enforced. On September 13, 2007, the Sampson County superintendent sent us a letter confirming that the policy had been repealed.

High School Honors Student Disciplined for Wearing an American Flag in Her Back Pocket — April 2006 — Fallbrook Union High School officials ordered 15-year-old honors student Malia Fontana to remove the small American flag she was carrying in her back pocket. The ACLU wrote a letter calling on the San Diego County school district to stop its practice of censoring students’ wearing of flags and comply with the constitutional protection of student speech laid out in Tinker v. Des Moines, which affirmed the right of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. The letter also demanded that the school clear Malia’s school record and provide a written apology to Malia and her mother.

Longboat Harbour Condo Association (FL) — 1989 — Our affiliate defended the right of a man to fly an American flag at his condo unit. The case was settled and then the Florida legislature passed a statute specifically allowing American flags to be flown at condos.

It being extremely rare for authorities to crackdown on American flag wearing in the United States, it says something that the ACLU has invested resources in four separate instances of this behavior.

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

Awhile back, Jonah Goldberg doubted whether or not there were actually compelling examples of epistemic closure on the right. Well, there you go: an information loop so faulty in explaining the ACLU to its audience that even a blog called Stop the ACLU doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The right cannot adeptly navigate a political environment that it is systematically misled about.

The Manifold Inaccuracies of Andy McCarthy's New Book

May 26, 2010

This week, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy celebrated the release of his new book, “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.” On its page at, Rush Limbaugh offers his endorsement.

“Our freedom is under assault as never before,” the talk radio host writes. “For years, we’ve known about the Left’s campaign to undermine our constitutional liberties and about radical Islam’s campaign to destroy our way of life. What we now see, thanks to Andy McCarthy’s piercing eye and gripping narrative, is that these campaigns work together, seamlessly.”

It is astonishing, if not entirely unexpected, that these two men would collaborate on a book title and cover blurb that accuses the Left of willful treason. But these days, the marketing of a book, however vile, doesn’t necessarily reflect its contents. Fortunately, Mr. McCarthy informed his readers at National Review that three excerpts from his book are available online. This post is an attempt to assess the first excerpt on the merits of the text, ignoring its ugly wrapper. Subsequent posts about the remaining excerpts are likely.

Excerpt number one is titled, “Obama Afraid to Call It a War on Terror.” It begins as follows:

President Obama’s administration has been roundly ridiculed, and deservedly so, for its aversion to the language of war — indeed, for the word war itself. From the Bush language purge, though, it was but a short hop to this sorry destination. Short and inevitable.

Saul Alinsky, Obama’s community-organizing inspiration, waxed at length about language in “Rules for Radicals,” about the power of words to inspire … or to enervate.

The president learned his lessons well: bloodless prolixity deftly imposed from who knows where within Leviathan’s sprawl. It was not the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or even the National Intelligence Directorate but the Office of Management and Budget that advised the Pentagon that the word war is now out.

“This administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror,’ ” said the new, March 2009 guidance. Our warriors were curtly told, “Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ “

The most amusing aspect of this passage is the pejorative invocation of Saul Alinsky, who is cited as if the notion that words have the power to inspire or enervate is a radical leftist insight. As Mr. McCarthy well knows, the power of words is something politicians have understood for the whole of human history. It insults the intelligence of his readers to pretend that it is unique or radical for a politician to marshal them strategically.

The headline and opening passage also leads readers to believe that President Obama is “afraid” to use the word war. Is that true? Let’s peruse his major speeches. Near the beginning of his inaugural address, he said, “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” In his most recent State of the Union address, he said, “One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.” In the 2009 State of the Union address, he talked about the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.”

President Obama goes on:

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war. And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

There is ample evidence — far more than I’ve quoted — demonstrating that President Obama is perfectly willing to use the word war, and to acknowledge Al Qaeda, the threat from terrorism, and the need to combat extremists half a word away. Mr. McCarthy objects to the strategic renaming of what President Bush called The War on Terrorism, but rather than make a straightforward argument against a change in how we refer to that struggle inside the federal bureaucracy, he dishonestly asserts that President Obama has a radical, ideological opposition to the word war itself, something that would indeed be troubling were it true.

Here is Mr. McCarthy’s next passage:

That this “overseas contingency” on which we are “operating” has left a rather large (and still unfilled) hole in the ground in lower Manhattan apparently was beside the point. Or, better, was exactly the point.

War is a powerful word, redolent of power, force, zeal and national purpose. That is why the left routinely invokes war in its beloved campaigns against poverty, obesity, and other abstractions.

Real wars, the forcible defense of our nation and the pursuit of our interests, are to be avoided. So are real enemies.

Here is President Obama addressing West Point cadets in 2009:

To address these important issues, it’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda — a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents.

Mr. McCarthy would have us believe that President Obama refuses to acknowledge the September 11 attacks, the appropriateness of the word war, or the fact that our current military efforts abroad are directed at real enemies. Yet here is a speech where the president does all those things in the space of one brief passage. The degree of misrepresentation that Mr. McCarthy permits himself is staggering.

Elsewhere in that excerpt, Mr. McCarthy writes:

As in the final Bush years, “Islam” is not to be uttered in conjunction with “terror.” Our “contingency” is only with “violent extremists,” and we wouldn’t presume to suggest that they are motivated by anything other than, say, George Bush, Abu Ghraib or the existence of Guantanamo Bay.

Yet in that same passage above, President Obama acknowledges the Al Qaeda attack that preceded Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, specifically noting that its perpetrators “distorted and defiled Islam” to justify it. Mr. McCarthy would perhaps argue that it wasn’t a distortion of Islam that motivated the hijackers, but the real thing. It would be fine for President Obama and Mr. McCarthy to disagree on this point if the latter didn’t dishonestly pretend that our president refuses entirely to acknowledge that extreme religious beliefs play a role here.

Mr. McCarthy writes:

In Obamalogic, people who live in foreign sharia societies where women are stoned for adultery somehow appreciate the American jurisprudential distinction between detention under the laws of war and detention under civilian due process. And what do you know? Just like the American left, they turn out to be profoundly offended by the military detention.

That, we’re told, is the root cause of terro– er, violent extremism — notwithstanding that there was no Gitmo on 9/11 or during the raft of atrocities that predated it.

The word terror is passe. We wouldn’t want to use a term that comes straight out of the Koran. Rather than terrorism, Obama’s hapless Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained, she prefers the term “man-caused disaster.”

At times, the Obama Administration has made a strategic calculation against using the word terrorism. I don’t have strong feelings about that decision one way or another, and in my own writing, I frequently use the locution “The War on Terrorism.” I am certainly open to the argument that to do otherwise is harmful.

But it is fantasy to say that President Obama and his government have made the word terrorism “passe,” or that they are ideologically opposed to its use — indeed, President Obama and the executive branch of the federal government use that word all the time, though Mr. McCarthy doesn’t inform his readers about that easily verifiable fact. CNN has video and transcript of one instance where President Obama talks of terrorism, terrorist attacks, his counter-terrorism advisor, etc. There are many others.

Or go to the White House Web page, click on the Homeland Security tab, and see if it squares with the alternative reality portrayed by Mr. McCarthy. Here is one sentence a Grand Jihad reader wouldn’t expect to find: “The President is committed to securing the homeland against 21st century threats by preventing terrorist attacks and other threats against our homeland, preparing and planning for emergencies, and investing in strong response and recovery capabilities.” The single specific threat mentioned is terrorism!

Under the “Guiding Principles” headline on that page, the first one listed in boldface is “Defeat Terrorism Worldwide.” Father down, under the subhead dedicated to intelligence, we find this: “Gathering, analyzing, and effectively sharing intelligence is vital to the security of the United States. In order to prevent threats, including those from terrorism, we will strengthen intelligence collection to identify and interdict those who intend to do us harm.” Again, the single threat to America specifically noted is terrorism.

On the White House blog, how did President Obama’s communication staff tease the speech he gave in the aftermath of the Times Square bombing attempt? Here is their headline: The President on Times Square: “But as Americans, and as a Nation, We Will Not Be Terrorized.”

Mr. McCarthy writes:

A civilization fights to preserve itself or it dies. Has ours become so hollow, such a pale imitation of its former self? Do we lack the capacity even to speak of the evils arrayed against us? Have we become so cowardly that our censure is reserved for our saviors, not our pillagers?

The answer is obviously no.

It is perfectly fine for Mr. McCarthy to forcefully disagree with the rhetoric President Obama uses when discussing national security. Unfortunately, this first excerpt of Mr. McCarthy’s book isn’t an argument against President Obama’s rhetoric, it is a wildly, serially misleading, factually inaccurate account of the rhetoric he uses that better resembles an alternative universe.

It is so easily shown to be false that it ought to exist only in the author’s mind. Unfortunately, this misinformation is being touted by Rush Limbaugh as piercing, Michelle Malkin is recommending it to her readers, and Mark Levin is calling it “thorough” and “cutting edge, and few of their listeners will question the facts the book presents because they foolishly if understandably underestimate the capacity for intellectual negligence perpetrated by these hosts everyday.

They rave about a book.

I’ve read a single excerpt, and already the mistakes demonstrated by simple Google searches are multitude.

Epistemic closure, indeed.

Thoughts on Goldwater, Cont'd

May 24, 2010

Over at The Washington Post, Dave Weigel wades into a disagreement between Matthew Yglesias and I. I’ll briefly recap that exchange before replying — if you’re up to speed on this conversation you can jump down to the sentence I’ve put in bold below.

Matt Yglesias began by pointing out that conservative icon Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Obviously liberals have been wrong about things in the past as well, but according to conservatives this was a foundational moment in their movement! Whenever I bring this up, people quickly rush to assure me that Goldwater didn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important political issue of his time out of racism, instead at the decisive moment in his career he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists out of principled constitutional reasoning that made it impossible for him to do otherwise. But this is actually more damning. You could imagine the founder of a movement being afflicted by an unfortunate character flaw that his followers lack. But the argument is that Goldwater didn’t suffer from a character flaw. Instead, having acquired a major party presidential nomination he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important issue of the day because his sincere political ideology led to horribly wrongheaded conclusions.

Odd hero.

In reply, I wrote that conservatives aren’t alone in making icons out of leaders who were on the wrong side of racial issues, mentioning the Founders, and focusing on FDR’s anti-Japanese racism/internment policy, Robert F. Kennedy’s racism against blacks/tapping of Martin Luther King Jr.’s phone, and President Lyndon Johnson’s racism.

My point here isn’t that progressives are wrong to see FDR, President Johnson, and RFK as icons in their ideological movement — it’s that America was an egregiously racist country for a very long time, it’s become radically less racist just in the last several decades, and it’s basically unavoidable to have very racist people as icons of your ideological movement if it began at a time when the vast majority of the country’s leaders were unapologetic racists. Though I rue the fact that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act, and would’ve voted against him solely because he was wrong on Civil Rights, the fact that he didn’t suffer from the character flaw of racism seems to me a mark in his favor.

Mr. Weigel finds this unpersuasive.

I’ll address his critique in pieces.

He writes:

Even if Goldwater lacked “the character flaw of racism,” he stood with racists to oppose Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act, arguing that a defense of de jure discrimination was necessary if such discrimination was constitutional. By lionizing him and crediting him with the creation of the modern, activist-driven Republican Party, conservatives imply that a “strict constructionist” defense of institutional racism is an important part of their history.

Agreed that Mr. Goldwater “stood with racists,” although that alone isn’t devastating — when the ACLU “stands with racists” in the name of protecting the 1st Amendment, for example, it doesn’t prevent us from seeing that organization as an icon of civil libertarians. Motivations matter. Of course, Mr. Weigel and I agree that Mr. Goldwater was wrong to oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But I strongly contest the assertion that by lionizing Mr. Goldwater, conservatives are automatically implying that a strict constructionist defense of institutional racism, or opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is a celebratory moment in their history.

I’ve known a lot of people who see Barry Goldwater as an icon, and all of them disagree with his position on race circa 1964 — indeed, they are uniformly glad that Goldwater himself eventually repudiated that position. I grew up around Republicans in Orange County, California. It is therefore likely that my impression of what conservatives think about Barry Goldwater differs starkly from someone who grew up in The South. Still, the folks at The Corner all seem to repudiate opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and lionize Barry Goldwater, as does the blogospheric right generally, so while I am sure there are conservatives out there who take the contrary position, it is both possible and widely practiced to think of Barry Goldwater as an icon even while explicitly repudiating his stance on race.

Were Mr. Goldwater lionized as a politician, I’d object — it would be incoherent to say, on one hand, that he was absolutely wrong to participate in a political coalition based largely on opposing the Civil Rights Act, and on the other hand, that he is what conservative politicians should be like today. To use another example, I’d join Mr. Weigel in criticizing conservatives if they lionized Richard Nixon as a political model, citing his Southern Strategy.

But Mr. Goldwater was a failure as a politician, as a builder of coalitions, and as a translator of principle into policy. The right lionizes Ronald Reagan for those things, whereas the enlightened way to lionize Barry Goldwater is as a man of principle who practiced his main virtue to a fault. To borrow a line from Ross Douthat, today’s Goldwater apologists should say, “no ideology survives the collision with real-world politics perfectly intact. General principles have to bend to accommodate the complexities of history, and justice is sometimes better served by compromise than by zealous intellectual consistency” — so while I admire Barry Goldwater for articulating and sticking to first principles, which were generally correct, I also wish like hell he would’ve abandoned zealous consistency in the singular instance of Civil Rights.

Mr. Weigel writes:

There is really no comparison between the stances Goldwater took and the statements from Democrats that Friedersdorf rounds up. Why? Because even if they harbored racist sentiments, these Democrats acted to break down de jure racial discrimination.

This actually isn’t true when it comes to FDR and Japanese Americans — he acted to ratchet up discrimination against them. More generally, it isn’t just that the left looks to FDR as a political hero who cast votes on the right side of history in some instances. They look to him as much for the ideological principles he stood for and articulated, not just in domestic policy, but in foreign policy too. Surely a liberal can make a “fighting faith” sort of argument that invokes FDR as an icon of “tough on national security and fighting totalitarians” liberal principles without implicitly saying that internment is core to that belief system.

Later in his post, Mr. Weigel writes:

Goldwater’s votes were essential components of his 1964 presidential campaign, not something you can say about the decisions and subsequent campaigns from FDR and RFK. And there is no debate among liberals about whether FDR and RFK were wrong — liberals agree that they were. Conservatives and libertarians, however, still debate whether Goldwater was really wrong to oppose the Civil Rights Act, all things considered. Hence, Rand Paul.

That’s a fair point — in my initial post, I wrote that despite being a fan of Mr. Goldwater, I would’ve voted against him, due to his position on Civil Rights. Insofar as conservatives lionize him as a politician, or think that he was correct to oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they ought to stop doing so. Again, though, I don’t think it is inherently problematic to see him as one icon of an ideological movement, even if he is an icon whose flaws are evident.

In the remainder of his post, Mr. Weigel writes at length about how Civil Rights era gains weren’t inevitable, they took political courage to pass, and the left suffered politically for championing them. This is obviously right, I agree wholeheartedly, and I don’t think those points are at odds with any argument that I’ve made.

Mr. Weigel, Mr. Yglesias and I all agree that Civil Rights were the most important domestic issue in the 1964 presidential election. That many conservatives don’t agree doesn’t reflect particularly well on the right, but it’s true. And that, I think, is the stronger ground for criticism here.

Joan Didion wrote in the Foreward to Political Fictions, her acclaimed 2001 essay collection:

I was asked with somewhat puzzling frequency about my own politics, what they “were,” or “where they came from,” as if they were eccentric, opaque, somehow unreadable. They are not. They are the logical product of a childhood largely spent among conservative California Republicans (this was before the meaning of “conservative” changed) in a post-war boom economy. the people with whom I grew up were interested in low taxes, a balanced budget, and a limited government. They believed above all that a limited government had no business tinkering with the private or cultural life of its citizens. In 1964, in accord with these interests and beliefs, I voted, ardently, for Barry Goldwater. Had Goldwater remained the same age and continued running, I would have voted for him in every election thereafter.

In my experience, folks who make an informed decision to cite Barry Goldwater as an icon in the history of their ideological movement are doing so for these reasons, and are no more opposed to the Civil Rights Act or the advances of those years than was Joan Didion, who grew up a westerner as naive about the historical context of race in America as so many of us did. [On second thought, “naive” is the wrong word, or at least incomplete. What I want to say is that many Westerners are “insufficiently connected to the issue of race and its complexity.”]

The Icons of Ideological Movements

May 21, 2010
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four term...

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As I noted in my last post, Rand Paul is egregiously wrong in opposing the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as has been capably argued all over the blogosphere. In the ensuing discussion, Matthew Yglesias writes:

I always find it shocking that conservatives in 2010 openly say that the political founder of their movement and an icon to be admired is Barry Goldwater, and that Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign was an admirable thing that constitutes a key foundation stone of the modern conservative movement. After all, on the most important issue of the early 1960s Goldwater was totally wrong.

He goes on to lay out Barry Goldwater’s egregiously wrongheaded position on the Civil Rights Act, and writes:

Obviously liberals have been wrong about things in the past as well, but according to conservatives this was a foundational moment in their movement! Whenever I bring this up, people quickly rush to assure me that Goldwater didn’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important political issue of his time out of racism, instead at the decisive moment in his career he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists out of principled constitutional reasoning that made it impossible for him to do otherwise. But this is actually more damning. You could imagine the founder of a movement being afflicted by an unfortunate character flaw that his followers lack. But the argument is that Goldwater didn’t suffer from a character flaw. Instead, having acquired a major party presidential nomination he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists on the most important issue of the day because his sincere political ideology led to horribly wrongheaded conclusions.

Odd hero.

Well. It seems no more odd to me than thinking of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln as foundational heroes despite the fact that they held abhorrent views on matters of great importance, nor do we need to go back that far to find people lauded as founding heroes of ideological movements despite being wrong about matters of grave importance.

As Bruce Bartlett points out in his book “Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past,” leaders that today’s progressives cite as political founders of their movement thought some terribly racist things that had significant policy impacts.

Via Bruce Bartlett, here is Franklin Roosevelt, who later oversaw the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, quoted in 1925:

Anyone who has traveled to the Far East knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results. . . . The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful Japanese. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to have thousands of Americans settle in Japan and intermarry with the Japanese as I would feel in having large numbers of Japanese coming over here and intermarry with the American population. In this question, then, of Japanese exclusion from the United States it is necessary only to advance the true reason–the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples. . . . The Japanese people and the American people are both opposed to intermarriage of the two races–there can be no quarrel there.

Here is Lyndon Johnson:

President Truman’s civil rights program “is a farce and a sham–an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I have voted against the so-called poll tax repeal bill. . .. I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill.

And another Lyndon Johnson quote, this one from 1957:

These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.

Of course, Lyndon Johnson moved in the right direction on this issue later in life, but so did Barry Goldwater, who repudiated his earlier views on civil rights before he died.

It was Robert F. Kennedy who authorized tapping the phones of Martin Luther King.

And here’s Jimmy Carter, hardly a founding father for modern progressives, but a past president in good standing:

I’m not going to use the federal government’s authority deliberately to circumvent the natural inclination of people to live in ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods. . . . I have nothing against a community that’s made up of people who are Polish or Czechoslovakian or French-Canadian or blacks who are trying to maintain the ethnic purity of their neighborhoods.

My point here isn’t that progressives are wrong to see FDR, President Johnson, and RFK as icons in their ideological movement — it’s that America was an egregiously racist country for a very long time, it’s become radically less racist just in the last several decades, and it’s basically unavoidable to have very racist people as icons of your ideological movement if it began at a time when the vast majority of the country’s leaders were unapologetic racists. Though I rue the fact that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act, and would’ve voted against him solely because he was wrong on Civil Rights, the fact that he didn’t suffer from the character flaw of racism seems to me a mark in his favor.

In any case, he is no more odd a hero than a great many American icons.

(Thanks to Bruce Bartlett for rounding up those quotations.)

Fetishizing Federal Power

May 20, 2010

In a post about Rand Paul, who should definitely support the 1964 Civil Rights act, Ezra Klein writes:

There is a category of scandal that I call “area politician believes kooky but harmless thing.” A candidate who thinks he was abducted by UFOs would fit here. It’s weird, but it doesn’t have many implications for public policy. What’s gotten Paul in trouble, however, is that he’s so skeptical of government power that he’s not even comfortable with the public sector telling private businesses that they can’t discriminate based on race. That, I fear, does have public policy implications.

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not “area politician believes kooky but harmless thing.” It’s “area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly.”

That this is the best Mr. Klein can do lays bear the absurdity of fretting about the prospect of Senator Paul. There is just no possible way that the federal minimum wage is going to be repealed, and even if it were, states are perfectly capable of setting their own minimum wage laws, as many do. Readers can follow all the links in this post to see how it’s worked out to have the federal government pass a law requiring that toys be tested for lead. It is more than implausible to imagine that a Senator Paul would be part of a Congress that repealed the prohibition against hiring illegal immigrants, and laws exist in every single state preventing liquor stores from selling alcohol to minors.

That the federal government should be empowered to pass environmental regulations is true, so I too await how Rand Paul would answer questions about oil drilling, but otherwise, Mr. Klein is casting some positions as extremist that are nothing of the kind, and other issues he mentions are about as likely to come into play as UFO abduction. There are times in American history when strict adherence to states rights would’ve been morally wrong and practically disastrous. This isn’t one of them, nor is this a time when the devolution of significant powers to state government is plausible.

But all sorts of federal abuses and misguided policies are possible. Indeed we see them in every administration. I need to read more about Rand Paul’s opponent in the general election — I actually don’t even know who it is — and to bone up on Paul’s beliefs on civil liberties, foreign policy, and executive power. Presuming they are Cato-ish, I’d much prefer Senator Paul to the kind of Democrat who voted for the Patriot Act and the Iraq War, especially if they’re also the kind of Democrat that don’t seem to care very much about a Democratic President asserting truly troubling powers in the War on Terrorism.

That is a higher priority than laws concerning lead toys and liquor store regulations.

The Hacktastic Andy McCarthy

May 19, 2010

“It makes no sense, except as an exercise in pandering, to criticize a law because it can potentially be abused.” — Andy McCarthy

“Opinion elites didn’t like what the editors imply is the “hysteria” of her “death panels” charge. Many of those same elites didn’t like Ronald Reagan’s jarring “evil empire” rhetoric. But “death panels” caught on with the public just like “evil empire” did because, for all their “heat rather than light” tut-tutting, critics could never quite discredit it.” — Andy McCarthy

On Rand Paul's Victory, and His Detractors

May 19, 2010

In a post lamenting Rand Paul’s primary victory in Kentucky, David Frum writes that it is “obviously a depressing event for those who support strong national defense and rational conservative politics.” Funny, I support those things, and I am downright delighted that Dr. Paul won his race.

Mr. Frum goes on to ask, “How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?”

I’d say that the GOP has lost its ability to discredit candidates with libertarian foreign policy sympathies by backing an enormously expensive, strategically ill-conceived war in Iraq. They’ve compounded that error by refusing to publicly acknowledge that many of their judgments about the war have proved utterly wrong.

Were I a Kentucky voter, I’d have cast my ballot for Rand Paul, despite the fact that I disagree with some of his views about the financial system, the gold standard, and various other matters. This reflects my estimation that it is vanishingly unlikely Dr. Paul will cast a decisive vote to abolish the federal reserve, and that a far greater danger is a reflexively hawkish GOP Senator foolishly backing a future military campaign as ill-conceived as Iraq.

I always appreciate Mr. Frum’s arguments, especially when he grounds them in analysis that draws on his long experience observing American politics. So I am persuadable that he is right about Dr. Paul, and I am wrong. But an effective case will require that he grapple with Iraq, its effect on American politics, and my contention that even if we sent five Rand Paul’s to the Senate, their most ill-advised policy beliefs wouldn’t stand any chance of being implemented.