"Each Home Lost Is Ground Zero For the Family Who Lived In It"

June 22, 2010

That’s the headline on an e-mail I just received from the National Council of La Raza, and it also appears in the text that follows:

It is estimated that more than 1.3 million Latino families will lose their homes to foreclosure between 2009 and 2012. From this financial calamity, we will see exponential consequences that will adversely affect the nation. Each home lost is ground zero for the family who lived in it, and only after years of recuperation will some individuals understand the impact foreclosure has had on their household.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) intends to chronicle these families’ stories. Our nation’s memory is short, and if we do not gather personal experiences, we will lose the significance of this crisis.

I’ve no objection to this project — may it inspire a modern day Dorothy Lange — but I can’t help but find the 9/11 allusion creepy — not to mention overwrought, an assessment I make fully understanding how awful it is to have one’s home foreclosed upon. As a beat reporter, only the homes I saw destroyed by fires left the families that inhabited them more devastated.

This use of “ground zero” is reminiscent both of our longstanding national affinity for proclaiming wars on various abstractions to lend a cause rhetorical heft, and the more recent co-opting of 9/11, terrorism, and all things related to them. In a foreclosure, a family is forced to move from their home, sometimes with nowhere else to go, other times to burden family or friends. That is sufficiently sad and powerful, and it need not be embellished with allusions to national tragedies or nuclear blasts.

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Patriots Can Commit War Crimes

June 9, 2010

When the American Enterprise Institute hired Marc Thiessen, I argued that the organization suffered a blow to its credibility — it employs so many top-notch thinkers, and they deserve better than to have the reputation of their think tank sullied by its association with a man whose work frequently fails to meet even minimal standards of factual accuracy.

Those complaints stand, but today I want to focus a different flaw revealed in Mr. Thiessen’s latest post at the AEI blog. It is titled Hero or War Criminal, and the sloppy thinking on display is an intellectual embarrassment.

He writes:

The Washington Post reports today on Monday’s memorial ceremony at the CIA, at which a dozen new stars were placed on the wall honoring CIA officers and contractors who have given their lives in defense of our country—including those killed by an al Qaeda suicide bomber at a CIA base in Afghanistan.

One of those stars commemorated a CIA officer whose identity was only made public yesterday—Jennifer Lynne Matthews, a mother of three from Northern Virginia who was the chief of the CIA base struck by the terrorists. According to the Post, Matthews “had been one of the CIA’s top experts on al-Qaeda and a veteran targeteer in the agency’s air war against terrorist groups.”

As I point out in the Washington Post today, in the eyes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Nations, this makes Matthews not a hero, but a murderer. According to the ACLU, Matthews was engaged in a “program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing” and that “violates international law.” According to the UN special rapporteur, her actions “constitute extrajudicial executions.” In fact, neither is true. Matthews was not a war criminal; she was a patriot who gave her life so that the rest of us can live safe from terror. She deserves better.

As commentary on the Sean Hannity show, this would do well to rile up the least thoughtful members of the audience by appealing to their jingoism instead of there brains. That Mr. Thiessen is offering it up to AEI’s audience ought to be insulting to them. The phrase “war criminal” is loaded with negative connotations and often used pejoratively in political discourse, but that doesn’t change the fact that whether or not someone has committed war crimes is a legal question, not a moral one. A patriot is someone who loves their country. It is perfectly possible to be a patriot, to perform patriotic acts in a war, and to commit a war crime in the course of doing so. A dispassionate analysis renders the point rather obvious, which is why Mr. Thiessen’s readership at AEI should be insulted by the post. Apparently he thinks that by using loaded terms like “war crimes” and “patriot” he can write a post that makes no sense without anyone noticing. Indeed, if you click over, via the link Mr. Thiessen provided, to his Washington Post column, part of his argument is that President Obama is exposing patriots in the CIA to legal jeopardy by conducting assassinations by drone without appropriate legal cover. In other words, they may be guilty of war crimes, even though Mr. Thiessen believes that this would be deeply unfair, and could be remedied if only President Obama would conduct things differently.

Now consider another part of the AEI post. Stipulated is that the tragically deceased CIA patriot, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was a targeteer in the CIA’s drone war against Al Qaeda. Mr. Thiessen writes:

According to the ACLU, Matthews was engaged in a “program of long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing” and that “violates international law.” According to the UN special rapporteur, her actions “constitute extrajudicial executions.”

I don’t know whether Ms. Matthews violated international law — let’s say for the sake of argument that she did not, and that she is not a war criminal. Let’s further stipulate that in her duties she only killed Al Qaeda terrorists, never harming so much as a single innocent person. It is nevertheless obvious that a targeteer in a CIA drone war is engaged in “long-premeditated and bureaucratized killing.” What other fate could possibly befall a bureaucrat after her bureaucrat bosses assign her to killing-people-by-drone duty in the bureaucracy responsible for such things, and she follows the orders?

As obvious is that her actions “constitute extrajudicial killings.” She killed people outside the judicial system. That is what CIA assassins do.

Is Mr. Thiessen uncomfortable defending long-premeditated, bureaucratized, extrajudicial killing, and so trying to change the name? Is he savvy to all this and just trying to distract the reader with illogical rhetoric? I cannot say, never having been able to understand what it is that goes on inside the mind of Mr. Thiessen. But I do know that AEI should be above blog posts of this kind appearing under its banner, and that if I were one of their scholars I’d be furious. Unless I were Lynne Cheney, in which case I’d probably love that blog post.

It Depends Who Writes the News

June 7, 2010

An article in the Columbia Journalism Review explored the differences between political journalism and political science. As a result, Chris Beam wrote about what would happen if academics started writing the news. It’s a wonderful piece, but Mr. Beam frames it as if all academics are political scientists.

What if sociologists wrote the news instead?

Untangling Race & Gender from Catastrophic Incidences of Corporate Exploitation In Semi-Natural Ecosystems: A Case Study

by Tenure C. King, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Tulane University

NEW ORLEANS — Absent from the dialogue surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010 following an explosion that killed eleven workers, are the roles of class, race and especially gender. Due to the environmental devastation wrought by the catastrophe, which is likely to fall heaviest on the working poor, it is understandable that attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.

It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

Among other things, this raises important questions as to whether Gulf Coast populations most affected by the spill will see mitigation efforts as legitimate. Asked about this issue, Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers, a legal researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, noted that “any comprehensive investigation of the impact of providing legitimacy by female board members on corporate performance should not be limited to profitability (which is mostly concerned with shareholders profit), but should include, for example, social and market performance and the satisfaction of relevant stakeholders.”

Thus far, however, neither a protocol for evaluating the satisfaction of stakeholders nor a safe space where they might be interviewed has been established by the disproportionately white, male pubic servants with a responsibility to respond..

Despite the fact that the United States has institutional frameworks insufficient to adequately safeguard environmental assets through federal intervention, other observers are calling for President Barack Obama to assume a greater role over efforts to stop the spill. While his participation would certainly improve upon the actual and perceived diversity of oil mitigation efforts, a long pattern of institutional racism in American history and the resulting exclusion of African Americans and other people of color from the Oval Office means that scholarly data cannot predict how an increase in racial diversity would impact performance in mitigating the environmental impacts of an oil spill.

“Diversity scholars have argued that demographic heterogeneity in work groups is associated with decreased job satisfaction and organizational commitment of employees,” said Sungjoo Choi of Southern George University. “As a result, employees in the diverse work groups tend to show higher probability of turnover.”

Asked for comment, a White House staffer who requested anonymity out of habit said that Barack Obama has no intention of resigning from the presidency due to job dissatisfaction or any other reason. “The President has a long list of agenda items that he is eager to accomplish,” said the staffer, alluding to the recent re-articulation of policy proposals made as an attempt to aggregate together into a cohesive whole the disparate discourses of Democratic candidates competing in the mid-term elections.

Both the textual and sub-textual paradigms emanating from the White House are likely to shift after election day.

Rush Limbaugh + Andy McCarthy = Obligatory Blog Post

June 4, 2010

Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, whose error prone book is titled “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America,” went on the Rush Limbaugh show Wednesday to discuss his argument that the American left is allying itself with our Islamist enemies. near the beginning of the segment, Mr. McCarthy described his biography for the talk radio audience. “I was a federal prosecutor for close to 20 years. Back in 1995 I was the lead prosecutor on one of our first big terrorism cases in Manhattan federal court,” he said. “That was the case against the blind sheik and 11 other jihadists, who not only had carried out the bombing of the World Trade Center but also were plotting something even more ambitious, a simultaneous attack on New York City landmarks — The Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters, and the United Nations.”

I found this particular exchange noteworthy:

RUSH: Andy McCarthy, and the book is The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. I’ve got about 30 seconds. Have you gotten any threats or any sort of negative reaction, anybody trying to intimidate you yet?

MCCARTHY: No. There’s negative reaction to the book. I didn’t exactly write the left and the Islamics a love letter so you sort of expect that, and as for the rest of it that die was cast long ago in my case so I don’t really pay it much case.

RUSH: That’s true. I mean when you prosecute the blind sheik, you can’t go much farther than that. Well, Andy, thanks very much and good luck with this. It’s great that you did the work and I know that your family is going to be extremely proud of you.

Interesting, isn’t it? “…when you prosecute the blind sheik, you can’t go much farther than that.” It seems as though Mr. Limbaugh is asserting that prosecuting a terrorist in a Manhattan federal court is basically as far as a man can go in establishing his anti-Islamic terrorism credentials. Is that right? Some would argue that trying an unrepentant terrorist in federal court would inevitably “prompt a hugely costly three-ring circus of a trial, provide a soapbox for al-Qaeda’s anti-American bile, and create a public-safety nightmare for New York City.” Indeed, these same critics say, a federal prosecution would be “a years-long seminar, enabling al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies to learn much of what we know and, more important, the methods and sources by which we come to know it,” laying the ground work for “an unprecedented surrender of our national-defense secrets directly to our most committed enemies.”

In fact, come to think of it, Andy McCarthy himself asserts all this. His interlocutor, Rush Limbaugh, is also on record against trying terrorists in federal court, characterizing it as a “disgusting travesty.” Quoth the talk radio host, “This is more insidious than you can possibly imagine. I’m talking about bringing these terrorists up from Gitmo and trying them in New York City.”

You’d think Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Limbaugh’s position is basically than when Andy McCarthy and his colleagues tried terrorists in federal court, it was a laudable endeavor that establishes their anti-terrorist bonifides, whereas when Barack Obama and Eric Holder take the same approach, it proves their complicity in a “Grand Jihad” against America.

Astonishingly, even that would underestimate the mendacious hackery of Rush Limbaugh. Why? Because when former prosecutor Andy McCarthy comes on his radio show to plug his book, the prosecution he helped lead in Manhattan is cast as a praiseworthy endeavor and a victory against the jihadists. But what does Mr. Limbaugh say about that trial when the rhetorical advantage at another moment is best served by being against it?

True to form, Mr. Limbaugh plays the terrorism card. That is to say, he implies nothing less than that Mr. McCarthy’s trial was to blame for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There have been all kinds of people on television today being asked, “Bringing them into New York, doesn’t that make New York a bigger terrorist target?” Hey. And they all say, “Well, no, no. New York’s always a terrorist target. Look at ’93. We tried those guys in 1993, and nothing happened.” What do you mean, “Nothing happened”? You ever heard of 9-11? We tried these guys and convicted the blind sheikh in 1993 and nothing happened except 9-11.

You can listen here for yourself.

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 Amazon.com, 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.