Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

Apparently, John McCain is seriously considering Condy Rice to be his Vice President, and she wants the job. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I do think she will do little to help him with moderates, and such a choice will further alienate real conservatives.  This issue is unusually important because of McCain’s age and health; his vice-president stands a reasonably good chance of assuming the office.

First, I think he is likely to choose her because he’s expressed unease about attacking Obama.  He can’t muster the same passion against him that he could against an Edwards or Clinton.  (Could you imagine McCain firing a staffer for an anti-Hillary youtube video?)  For McCain, Obama’s race is like a shield, and McCain acts like any other guilty white liberal on race, as evidenced most dramatically by his embrace of America-destroying immigration policies.  Condy gives him a get out of jail free card and also allows him to further his own vanity, proving to himself and everyone how progressive he is on racial matters.  

Second, there is no daylight between McCain and Condy on the war. It’s true the war is unpopular, and McCain’s reprise of Bush’s ’04 electoral strategy appears less likely to be effective this time around, but it’s clearly something the two of them are very sincere about. Far from balancing the ticket, McCain seems disposed to pick a lackey type who will not challenge his oversized ego and unorthodox ideas.

Finally, Condy is a messianic liberal who, like Bush, is able to paint the imperial policing job in Iraq in the grandest of terms:  the installment of sacred democracy and the expiation of our national “birth defect” of slavery.  McCain likes this sort of talk; it elevates his merely instinctual “politics of duty” to grander historical purposes.  Rice frequently ties this back to her own life, equating slavery and Jim Crow with any recognition of group differences, including the conservative criticism that Iraqis cannot profitably handle democracy and self-government.

Rice has no apparent leadership qualities, is a weak public speaker, is totally out to lunch on the Palestinians (often comparing their treatment to black civil rights activists) and has accomplished literally nothing at all as Secretary of State.   She is a race-obsessed liberal and incompetent, but McCain may still pick her.  Her race, her minimal qualifications, and her hawkish views on Iraq are enough for him.

Consider her record.  She failed after 9/11 to be a voice of reason by not defending racial profiling of Middle Easterners and distinguishing this from the Jim Crow policies of America’s past.  She failed as National Security Advisor to pull Bush off the rails by saying, “If we’re to pursue this ambitious course, we need many more troops regardless of what Rumsfeld is saying.”  In works like Fiasco and Cobra II, she appears to have done very little in her role at the NSA, being bulldozed and parried by aggressive folks like Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Perle, and Feith.  Since becoming Secretary of State, she has been tone deaf in our dealings with Serbia, Russia, Israel, China, and many other parties, the worst example of the “ugly American” we’ve ever seen in this role.  

Worst of all, when she is not insulting foreigners, she insults America and its past with half-educated bromides, usually dealing with slavery and discrimination.  Her habitual appeal to these examples show that she is far too traumatized and alienated by her youth in Alabama to be entrusted with stewardship over the country as a whole.  The United States is still a white majority country, where most of its people see much to admire in our history.  Most of us, particularly on the Republican side, view the Founding as a glorious chapter in our history, the exact opposite of a “birth defect.” 

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One thing that liberals have done quite effectively is take advantage of our collective ignorance by re-writing the past.  Under their worldview, the Allies were complicit in the Holocaust; America was a hateful and oppressive hell-hole until the mid-60s; women had no jobs or other opportunities before the rise of feminism in the 70s; and blacks were uniformly oppressed, held down, disrespected, and mistreated for no reason by racist whites.  Just as liberals rewrite the past, they rewrite the present.  We all know of the rape accusation levied against the Duke Lacrosse team.  Do we know there are higher rates of crime among Hispanic and black communities? Do we know about the black-on white horrors of Auburn, UNC Chapel Hill, and Knoxville?

Consider how the following story from Time Magazine in 1957 reveals the innacuracy and moral poverty of the standard leftist account of “our racist past”:

The most ticklish law-enforcement fact in many a big Northern city is that the crime rate among Negroes is far higher than that of any other segment of the population—and few elected officials want to antagonize vote-conscious Negroes by saying so. None knew this better than the unhappy city fathers of Kansas City, Mo., who, during the first three weeks of 1957, saw the number of armed robberies, burglaries and thefts run 40% beyond the 1956 rate, while four out of five robbery victims reported that the holdup men were Negroes.

One day last fortnight, seven Negro businessmen called on Kansas City’s Police Chief Bernard Brannon to complain that robberies and burglaries in the Negro district were threatening to put them out of business. Suddenly, Chief Brannon thought he saw his chance.

How would Negro leaders react if the police staged a mass raid on Negro nightspots to round up suspects? asked Brannon tentatively. To his surprise, the businessmen assured him that they would speak up to defend the police if the Negro community raised an outcry. A few nights later, in Kansas City’s biggest police raid since 1941, nine teams of detectives—with at least one Negro cop on each team —stormed into Negro-district bars, restaurants, pool halls, nightclubs. Three paddy wagons shuttled back and forth for three hours, hauling 276 men and three women to headquarters for questioning. The police released most of the suspects that night or the next day, but held 50 on assorted charges from shoplifting to narcotics peddling. Acting on tips from men arrested in the raid, the cops jailed another score of suspects, including holdup men who had pulled off 49 known robberies within the previous two months.

Consider all the details:  black businessmen partnering with law enforcement; a major national magazine candidly discussing higher rates of black crime; politicians (then as now) afraid to anger voters of any race; pre-Miranda law enforcement actions that still preserved the rights of the innocent; cooperation among black leaders with the white “city fathers” against the black lower classes; and, an aggressive, but popular, approach to crime that employed racial profiling, but cannot reasonably be called racist.

The Time search engine is a real asset, a way to look into the past without the filter of today’s propaganda-laden universities and journalists.  It shows a healthy, sometimes complicated, American past that belies the tales of woe and misery that Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama have spun in recent weeks. 

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Good Friday seems a good day to discuss this.

It is tempting for white Americans weary of being called racists to embrace this proposal by former NAACP diretor Michael Meyers. Meyers calls for “color blindness” and criticizes Obama for giving what amounts to a detailed description of racial differences that does not lead us out of the present cycle of escalating black anger and defensive white fear:

I would say that Barack Obama’s “momentous” speech on race settled on merely “explaining” so-called racial differences between blacks and whites — and in so doing amplified deep-seated racial tensions and divisions. Instead of giving us a polarizing treatise on the “black experience,” Obama should have reiterated the theme that has brought so many to his campaign: That race ain’t what it used to be in America.

Meyers concludes, “The man or woman who talks plainly about our commonality as a race of human beings, about our future as one nation indivisible, rather than about our discredited and disunited past, is, I predict, likely to finish ahead of the pack and do us a great public service.”

This “race blindness” approach certainly has some appeal, but it’s not a realistic approach. Race, like ethnicity, is a real category of human identity.  Obama is correct to note that the two races see things differently, have different histories, different sensitivities, and that blacks in particular are sensitive to their former treatment as inferiors complete with legally imposed subordination. (more…)

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We sometimes forget that Veterans Day began as Armistice Day:  11:11 A.M. November 11, 1919, the last day of the “War to End All Wars.”  The conceit of that phrase is somewhat astonishing, though it finds parallels in Bush’s mantra that “Freedom is On the March.”

Below is a thoughtful reflection on the passing of World War I’s veterans.  Apparently, only one remains alive.  Richard Rubin writes:

At the end of his documentary “The War,” Ken Burns notes that 1,000 World War II veterans are dying every day. Their passing is being observed at all levels of American society; no doubt you have heard a lot about them in recent days. Fortunately, World War II veterans will be with us for some years yet. There is still time to honor them. But the passing of the last few veterans of the First World War is all but complete, and has gone largely unnoticed here.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Almost from the moment the armistice took effect, the United States has worked hard, it seems, to forget World War I; maybe that’s because more than 100,000 Americans never returned from it, lost for a cause that few can explain even now. The first few who did come home were given ticker-tape parades, but most returned only to silence and a good bit of indifference.

Veterans of all wars deserve to be honored.  But the follies in which their courage is wasted should not be forgotten either.  From the Banana Wars to WWI to our present conflict in Iraq, all too often the will and wisdom of politicians is a dim shadow of the valor of our fighting men.

One factor in the current cult of the Greatest Generation is a revisionist view of WWII as the “good war,” whose chief function was saving Europe from the Nazis and their horrors.  In this account, we forget the inconveniences of the Pacific Theater and Pearl Harbor.  This ideologically-tinged history is one where we should feel a little guilty about the realism that delayed our entry into WWII.  War is about justice and the use of American power to protect the innocent.  We are, in Madeline Albright’s words, the “indispensible nation.”  For neoconservatives and liberals alike, WWII is the blueprint of all interventions.  From Kosovo to Iraq, the rhetoric is always the same string of cliches about Munich and Hitler and Democracy and Isolationists. 

For these cliches to have any persuasive power requires a certain forgetfulness about America’s improvident interventions before World War II.  These include the wars against Spain, Germany, the Philipines and various Latin American countries.  While often portrayed as hard-hearted and selfish, it was this legacy of waste and arrogant moralism to which the America First movement successfully appealed prior to Pearl Harbor. We should not forget this hardly ancient history of the early Twentieth Century.  It is absolutely necessary to counter those for whom history begins in 1939, quietly skips over the Vietnam War, and arrives confidently on the Kosovo plain and the hills of Waziristan ready to fight yet another doomed war.

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Someone over at Sully’s site writes:

I sometimes wonder what Reagan would have to say about where our country has careened since 9/11.  We openly debate torture as a policy, allow unprecedented access to personal information, and tolerate secret prisons devoid of oversight.

Well, let’s look at how he approached the wars in El Salvador and Central America.  Liberals criticized him extensively for allowing American Special Forces to train and cooperate with “death squads.”  This was considered a great moral failing of America and the seeds of “another Vietnam.”  Bush is no Reagan, but Bush’s willingness to be aggressive in the war on terror is not one of the reasons.  People forget that Reagan’s “optimism” was a function of his belief in America and American power.  It stood in contrast to the dim pessemism of the Democratic Party, which was dejected after Vietnam and willing to accomodate Soviet expansion globally.

No one quite knows what Reagan would have thought about torturing a small number of guys like Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Ramzi bin Alsheib.  But his record shows he wasn’t Pollyannaish about the bad guys, nor was he particularly wary of engaging in extra-legal activities behind closed doors–e.g., arms-for-hostages—to accomplish the broader mission.  Among other events, he bombed Libya without Congressional authorization in response to terrorism and was also known for his rough treatment of hippie rioters as Governor of California.  Reagan likely would not have shied from “waterboarding” or anything else he deemed necessary to win the war against al Qaeda.

Libertarians and moderate conservatives are enamored of an imaginary Ronald Reagan, a sainted figure misconstrued through the distortions of gauzy nostalgia.


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It’s a sign of real degradation in our republic that two families, whose claim to authority chiefly consists of great skill in acquiring power and dispensing benefits to loyalists, are now alternating rule in our country. Where are we . . . Iraq? Since 1988, either a Bush or a Clinton has been President. If Hillary wins, one wonders if Jeb or George P. Bush (who has been grooming himself for a run since college) is next? Geoff Wheatcroft criticizes this trend in the Washington Post:

Among so much about American politics that can impress or depress a friendly transatlantic observer, there’s nothing more astonishing than this: Why on Earth should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton be the front-runner for the presidency?

She has now pulled well ahead of Sen. Barack Obama, both in polls and in fundraising. If the Democrats can’t win next year, they should give up for good, so she must be considered the clear favorite for the White House. But in all seriousness: What has she ever done to deserve this eminence? How could a country that prides itself on its spirit of equality and opportunity possibly be led by someone whose ascent owes more to her marriage than to her merits?

We all, nations as well as individuals, have difficulty seeing ourselves as others see us. In this case, I doubt that Americans realize how extraordinary their country appears from the outside. In Europe, the supposed home of class privilege and heritable status, we have abandoned the hereditary principle (apart from the rather useful institution of constitutional monarchy), and the days are gone when Pitt the Elder was prime minister and then Pitt the Younger. But Americans find nothing untoward in Bush the Elder being followed by Bush the Younger.

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Noah Sweat in the Mississippi legislature giving perhaps the most skilled “political” speech in history:

My friends,

I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

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Notice how much more coherent, articulate, and balanced his rhetoric is compared to our current crop of “conservatives.” In particular, notice that he recognizes our country’s earlier failings without rejecting these failings as something that wipe away all moral legitimacy to our past, as Bush and Rice have done repeatedly, comparing the savage atrocities of Iraq’s savage insurgents with the brave soldiers on both sides of America’s War for Independence and Civil War. Finally, he is far more steeped in the traditions of Western Civilization, quoting Tocqueville, C.S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers,  Isaiah, Tom Paine, and Jesus Himself.

How far the quality of our political life has declined in my own lifetime.  Transcript here.

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David Bernstein asks this question at the Volokh website.  He raises a number of good points, including probably insoluble ones about whether we can generalize about the ethnic character of any ideology held only by certain members of a group.  After all, most American Jews are not neoconservatives, either explicitly or otherwise. 

But his and others’ virulent opposition to such a characterization has an air of insecurity.  After all, most neoconservatives are Jewish, and they famously support Israel in all of its endeavors (other than displays of weakness or compromise).  Some explicitly defended the Iraq adventure on the grounds that it was good for Israel.

In the contentious discussion, no one acknowledged or defended the problematic application of dual standards by neoconservatives themselves.  Neoconservatives routinely criticize Muslims and Arabs as evil, speaking with forked tongues, and as disloyal to the Western World and its values. They similarly criticize Christians, most viciously in their attacks on Mel Gibson’s Passion.  Why is generalization about the ethnic and religious character of these groups appropriate, while none whatsoever is appropriate about neoconservatives themselvess, especially when such a characterization finds numerous facts in support.  After all, the neoconservatives’ flagship magazine is a publication of the “American Jewish Committee,”  and it is pretty easy to connect the dots between interests and policy in this case, particularly on the issues of immigration and Israel.

More important, if neoconservatives and neoconservatism aren’t Jewish in character, then why is it anti-Semitic to say that neocons are wrongheaded, stupid, unusually entranced by the interests of a nation with whom we have no defense treaty, and totally indifferent to America’s historic ethnic composition? I mean, can’t we just say these things on the merits without constantly being called anti-Semitic?  Since a great deal of ink is spent by neoconservatives on the Jewish Character of Jewish Thinkers, it seems fair that the Jewish character of neoconservatives and other thinkers can be looked at in less hagiographic ways.  It’s simply a debater’s trick for ethnicity and religion to be a one-way ratchet, whereby ethnicity is invoked to bestow praise and dignitas, but also used as a canard when that same identity is brought up in negative ways.

On this matter, I’ve always enjoyed this excellent and very honest contribution by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic:

It is not true that the moral life is lived only individually, even if acts of good or evil are the work of individuals acting together or alone. Individuals belong to groups, and it is a cost or a benefit of their belonging that they are morally implicated by their groups, which are moral agents, too. One can oppose the misdeeds of one’s group, but one cannot secede from it, I mean not neatly after the fact.

For this reason, I am not hurt when I am interrogated about the misdeeds of Jews or the misdeeds of Americans, because I have chosen to be known as a Jew and as an American. I understand why they are coming to me with their questions, even with their slanders. I accept that I have some explaining (or refuting or apologizing) to do. To be sure, I am not just a member of my groups, I am also an individual whom they cannot entirely reach or entirely rule; but I cannot hide behind the fact of my individuation, behind the doctrine of individual responsibility, when the going gets rough.

So, what’s my point? It is a fairly mundane one.  Neoconservatives themselves tell us that their ideology is partly a Jewish movement that asks the old question of any policy:  “Is It Good For the Jews?” Neoconservatism is also a type of “liberalism with guts” that contains strong and influential views on foreign policy. But this variant of liberalism has especially great appeal among a group whose interests and historical way of life matched liberalism’s handmaiden, modernism itself—individualistic, mobile, unrooted to time or place. This viewpoint demands a universalist foreign policy for the nascent universalist nation, which will be made more “pure” in time with mass immigration. 

In this new “nation” that is not creedal accidentally, but is by design united in nothing else, no minority will stand out, and no minority group at home or abroad will have to go undefended. This principle of a universal obligation to protect the universal values of democratic capitalism applies most especially to the Jewish nation surrounded as it is by illiberal Arab wolves in the Middle East.  The historic American nation and people will be obliterated.  But their sins—racism, the delayed entry into WWII, the 1924 Immigration Act—will be atoned for once and for all by this new universalist entity fighting for democratic capitalist values the world over.  We’ll even have a non-American military to boot if Max Boot has his way. 

Neoconservatism is an imposter with little relationship to authentic conservatism, which is rooted in the actual and the historical.  Neoconservatism’s differences start with its fundamental liberalism.  Like any liberalism, neoconservatism  is hostile to the historical American nation and attractive to many Jews, because the historical American nation–the nation of WASP Presidents, the English language, Ivy league quotas, discriminatory private clubs, nepotism, and blue laws–is one in which Jews would always be, at least in part, outsiders and a minority. 

One can defend this ideology on its own terms.  Certainly some of its contributions are quite valuable.  But the sinusoidal embrace and rejection of the Jewish character of neoconservatism is insulting to the intelligence of ordinary people.

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We’re told the habeas protection being denied the foreign enemy combatants being held in Guantanamo is a major national scandal that puts too much power in the hands of the executive. I disagree, not least because Constitutional protections have never previously been extended to enemy prisoners captured abroad in a time of war. Their treatment has traditionally been the exclusive province of the President, an incident to his powers as commander in chief and the chief of military policy. Also, the interpretation and application of treaty obligations was left to his discretion.

But the major premise of critics that more judicial process generally favors liberty also seems to be accepted uncritically by defenders of the executive. This view of process does not take into account that too little government can be just as dangerous to liberty as too much, because disorder and a lethargic government unleash forces that are controlled even by the most powerful rulers. This is apparent when we view areas of the world where lawless, nonstate actors undermine the government’s protection of vulnerable citizens.

An overly legalistic application of habeas engendered greater oppression in the Deep South in the 1870s, as relayed in Eric Foner’s A Short History of Reconstruction:

[A] government willing to suspend normal legal processes and employ armed force could mount an effective response to the Klan. But as many a modern government has discovered, the suspension of constitutional rights carries its own risks, especially the possibility of transforming perpetrators of violence from criminal into victims in the eyes of citizens who sympathize with their motives if not their methods. Nowhere was this dilemma more apparent than in North Carolina, where Gov. William W. Holden’s use of the militia provoked a reaction that brought down his administration. In 1870, the government dispatched white militia units raised in the western North Carolina mountains to Caswell and Alamance counties, under the command of former Union Army officer George W. Kirk. About 100 men were arrested, and although the state constitution did not authorize the governor to declare martial law, Holden suspended the Klan-controlled local courts, ordered the prisoners tried before a military commission, and refused to honor a writ of habeas corpus issued by the state’s chief justice. Ironically, Democrats then appealed to the federal courts under the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, originally enacted to protect blacks and white Unionists. Holden was forced to release the captives, and the campaign against the Klan collapsed.

I guess, as today in our war against al Qaeda, if reconstruction-minded governors resorted to swift and extra-legal methods against the Klan, we’d be no better than the Klan and the terrorist regime they aimed to establish. It’s better, I suppose, that the Klansmen were released under the banner of habeas corpus, even though their release meant they could continue to conduct a military-style campaign of terror against blacks, unionists, and so-called carpetbaggers.

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