Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, February 28, 2005

ALL POWER TO THE CENTRIST DEMOCRATS

Here's another Democrat I like. Jeffery Liebman is obviously a liberal who dislikes Bush, and he's writing the Harvard Magazine. But he is open-minded about private accounts.

Given the uncertainties about what form a PRA-based Social Security reform plan will take and the economic impacts it would have, what should a strong supporter of social insurance do? One option is to reject personal retirement accounts and try to solve Social Security's problems with a combination of tax increases (for example, by repealing the cap on the level of earnings subject to the Social Security tax) and benefit cuts. After all, this has been the traditional approach to Social Security reform.

In my judgment there are two reasons to abandon the traditional approach and, instead, to embrace personal retirement accounts. The political reason is that in the current anti-tax environment, it is unlikely that significant tax increases are going to be enacted as part of Social Security reform. Therefore, the only feasible way to devote the extra resources to Social Security that will allow us to maintain replacement rates in the future is to do so via personal retirement accounts.

The economic reason is that we need to save the tax increases for Medicare and Medicaid. Over the next century, the share of national income that we will want to devote to healthcare will likely rise substantially and, because much of healthcare in the United States is paid for via the public sector, we will need to increase tax rates substantially to cover those costs. Although there is considerable debate about the magnitude of the economic costs of taxation, they are certainly not zero. We should therefore try to solve the Social Security problem with as little economic distortion as possible, relying on forced saving via PRAs and leaving the explicit tax increases to pay for future healthcare costs.


Liebman takes care to emphasize that he believes in the principle of social insurance. He is signalling to liberals that he is still on their side. But Liebman recognizes that private accounts are compatible with the principle of social insurance. In some versions, the creation of personal accounts is, indeed, a reform that any liberal who does not consider dependecy on the government to be a good in itself should love.

This idea seems to have gotten through to Senator Joe Lieberman, who-- according to Josh Marshall's best guess-- is on the verge of making a deal with Senator Lindsey Graham to support a reform with private accounts and a hike in the Social Security tax. Lieberman is the most famous example of that (lately) somewhat rare breed: a centrist Democrat. Hopefully, support for a somewhat redistributive but ownership-oriented Social Security reform will become the distinguish badge of centrist Democrats. If Hillary, for example, wants to establish her centrist credentials, this could be a great way to do it.

Meanwhile, a Reaganite conservative, who wanted to establish private accounts in the 1980s, is now against them, because 1) he thinks that a slide in the dollar can't sustain the added debt (this is a variation of what David Levey and Stuart Brown call "The Overstretch Myth"), 2) he opposes the rise in the payroll tax cap that is likely to fund private accounts, and 3) he has what he thinks is a better option:

Social Security can be fixed without raising taxes or saddling the dollar with a debt burden it cannot sustain. In 1981, Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Stephen J. Entin produced a plan that eliminated the Social Security shortfall by changing the initial benefit formula from wage indexing to price indexing.


A move to wage indexing is a great idea, and a downward revision of the trajectory of benefit growth should be part of any Social Security reform bill. But that will make the whole system a worse deal for the young, and it will just be one more tug in the inter-generational tug-of-war that is Social Security. We should try to phase out that tug-of-war with personal accounts. And if the political price for that is a bit of redistribution, it's worth it.

Arnold Kling wrote an article sometime back on "Why the Left Should Favor Social Security Reform (And the Right Should Oppose It)."

The debate over Social Security privatization is starting to remind me of my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh story, In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. At one point in the story, Pooh and Piglet are discussing the best bait to use in a trap for a Heffalump (author A. A. Milne's deliberate mispronunciation of elephant). Pooh, who likes honey, starts arguing for honey as bait. Meanwhile Piglet, who likes acorns, starts arguing for acorns. Suddenly, each of them realizes that he is arguing against his own interest: if acorns are chosen for the trap, then Piglet will have to supply them; whereas if honey is chosen for the trap, then Pooh will have to supply it. So the argument ends, with Piglet giving in first.

I think something similar would happen if the Left and the Right were to think through the consequences of Social Security privatization. Krugman and others on the Left would suddenly realize that they are in favor of it, and conservatives might decide that they should be against it.


The developments I've noted here suggest that Kling was right. Liebman and Lieberman may set a trend. As redistributive Social Security reform gains ground, the battle lines will shift. A lot of conservative Republicans will fight back, but it's hard to imagine the House Republican caucus blocking a plan which enjoys broad public support, bipartisan political support, and is backed by the Bush Administration. Social Security reform could be the welfare reform of our decade, a political compromise that satisfies the public and leads to an era of national consensus, when the political classes go on bickering but a satisfied public loses interest. And gets on with the business of prosperity.

BLACKS SUPPORT WELFARE REFORM, PHASE 2

Blacks were disproportionately dependent on welfare, so they disproportionately experienced the effects of the 1996 welfare reform first-hand. They saw how removing the social cancer of dependency on government was beneficial to values, families and communities. What could be more appropriate, then, but that the next phase of welfare reform is heavily supported by blacks:

Polling from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an independent Washington think tank that focuses on African American issues, shows strong support among blacks for investing a portion of Social Security payroll taxes in private accounts.

A 2002 survey found that 67% of blacks supported the idea. Support jumped to about 79% among blacks 18 to 25, a key target group for Republicans.

"Among younger African Americans, there is a consistent attraction to private accounts and we have seen it for some time," said David Bositis, a senior analyst at the center.

Give Europe some credit, Mark Steyn. Yes, they're in demographic decline, but it's a gradual process; don't write them off yet! Over half the EU-25 supported us in Iraq. In most cases, just diplomatically, but the Dutch, Danes, Italians, and Poles sent troops, among others. And then there's the Brits. Tony Blair is 1) Bush's closest ally, and 2) the most stunning example of courageous political leadership in the world since Thatcher, if not Churchill. And as for the EU imploding in 15 years, you're believing the CIA now?! Come on.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Although I was against it, I offer a qualified defense of Bush's prescription drug benefit in the comments of a recent post, in response to Nato, who recently posted an interesting account of how the Republicans lost him, and why he doesn't like Howard Dean.

Here's a Democrat I like:

The challenge for Democrats, and for anyone else seeking a coherent view of political economy in the era ahead, is this: How do we propose to make the health and pension programs for seniors sustainable while also paying for needed nonelderly initiatives? And how do we do all that while keeping overall taxes as a share of GDP at levels that don't hurt economic growth (without pushing taxes beyond levels Americans are likely to support)?

"I don't think that conversation has yet taken place in the heads of most Democratic economists," says Robert Litan, a former Clinton aide who heads up policy research at the Kauffman Foundation. Many who urge tax hikes to fix Social Security assume we can also raise taxes later to achieve those other goals. But they've never laid out a macro budget that adds this all up. Still, there has to be number locked inside their heads that captures how high taxes as a share of GDP should go to cover the full progressive monty. Think of it as the Democrats' secret number.

So what is it? Triangulating from chats with economists, plus a glimpse of a coming book edited by Isabel Sawhill and Alice Rivlin of Brookings that will (finally) frame these issues explicitly, I'd say the number is somewhere around 28% of GDP.

Well! Federal taxes today are at 16.3 % of GDP, historical lows not seen since the 1950s. At the end of Clinton's tenure, taxes reached nearly 21% of GDP, a historical high. As the boomers retire, everyone knows taxes are going up. Newt Gingrich recently told me so himself. But 28% of GDP? Yikes.

Why does this matter? If Democrats are forced to consider their secret number explicitly, they may discover we shouldn't, or can't, go that high. In that case Democrats may begin to frame the Social Security debate as part of a broader generational budget challenge. Seen through this prism, Democrats might then be open to spending-side changes in Social Security that they rule out today because they're thinking too narrowly—betting unconsciously on their secret number.


To make people take more responsibility for aspects of their lives like health care and retirement is an indispensable element in controlling costs, so as to protect America's free-market capitalist model from exploding entitlement costs. That's why Social Security reform is essential.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Weekly Standard voices its full-throated support for Bush's immigration proposal. Bravo!

[UPDATE: At the same time, while it's great to see a pro-immigration stance in a paper as influential on the right as the Weekly Standard, their logic is not always beyond reproach. For example:

Our immigration system is indeed based on illegality--on a long-standing and all but deliberate mismatch between the size of our yearly quotas and the actual needs of our labor market, particularly at the lower reaches of the job ladder. (my emphasis)


Now, to an economist, the phrase "the actual needs of our labor market" is meaningless. The labor market is characterized by 1) a labor supply function, and 2) a labor demand function, and the interaction between the two gives rise to an equilibrium wage. As long as wages are allowed to adjust freely, there should be no "mismatch" between quantity of labor supplied and quantity of labor demanded. There may, of course, be employers who are unable to find workers who want to do the jobs they offer at the wages they are willing to pay. But that merely shows that either 1) they should offer higher wages, or 2) if they can't offer higher wages and still turn a profit, the job in question should disappear because it is not an efficient use of social resources.

Then there's this rationale:

The idea is not to expand the total number of immigrants who enter the country each year, merely to provide those who are coming anyway--and would otherwise come illegally--with a safe, orderly, legal route. Assuming it works--assuming, as the White House does, that once most jobs are filled by authorized immigrants, there will be little incentive for others to come illegally--it's a simple, pragmatic solution, and that in itself should recommend it to conservatives.


But this is naive. In theory, the economy can create an infinite number of jobs if wages are low enough; in practice, not an infinite, but certainly a very large number. What would stop the flow is not that all the jobs would be filled, which will never happen, but that real wages would fall far enough that there was no longer an incentive for people to come. Again, in theory, the US base wage would have to fall to the world base wage; in practice, it would not have to fall that far, but certainly a long way.

The Standard also offers a hint of the human rights argument for immigration (which is ultimately my view):

Cutting off illegal immigration would require thousands more men on the border, routine sweeps in every city, roadblocks, roundups, massive deportations, a national ID card, and more... we as a nation aren't going to deport 10 to 12 million foreigners. However much they dislike the idea of illegal immigration, the American people aren't likely to have the stomach for that.


Well, I don't they will either, but let's not get complacent. Rather than relying on the decency of the American people, let's be on the safe side and buttress it. If people thought they had to, they might go along with draconian measures against immigration. There's a tendency for immigration advocates to use arguments that are probably misleading, and people are likely to feel, rightly, that they are being tricked. The real solution to immigration is harder.

I'll put my ideas on that in the comments.

TRICKY TIM

Timothy Garton Ash writes:

If the constitutional treaty is approved by all 25 member states, then next autumn Solana will become the EU's foreign minister, chairing the council of national foreign ministers and heading what is to be called, euphemistically, the European External Action Service. The British, and others, did not want it to be called what it really is: a fledgling European diplomatic service. Some friends in the European institutions have been trying to find an attractive acronym to compensate for that cumbersome title. They came up with EXTASE (EXTernal Action SErvice), which evokes suitably un-Eurocratic visions of ecstasy.


It's just a trivial detail. Means nothing, perhaps. But the neologism EXTASE for Europe's proposed diplomatic service reminds me of the Soviet Union. The Soviets liked to name new organizations by pinning together the first syllables of different words. Thus Com(munist) Intern(ational)=Comintern. Polit(ical) Buro=Politburo. The Cheka got their name from the first letters of "Extraordinary Commission...", part of a much longer title. These neologisms were part of the regime's opacity to ordinary people.

To get to Extase, Europe still has to go through a good deal of agony, including some in the original Greek sense of agonia, meaning struggle. The opposition is of two kinds: national and institutional. Many member states, especially Britain and France, don't want to surrender control of foreign policy. As a result, while the constitutional treaty allows for some qualified majority voting in the council of national foreign ministers chaired by the European foreign minister, it also gives every government the right to invoke "vital and stated reasons of national policy". It insists the matter be taken to the European Council of heads of government, where the contentious issue would have to be agreed by unanimity. Eurosceptics lobbying for a no vote in the British referendum are deliberately obscuring this point, suggesting that our foreign policy will now be made by the soulless fiat of faceless Eurocrats. Well, as an old Jewish proverb has it, a half-truth is a whole lie. But with such half-truths they may yet secure a no vote in Britain. Then it would be back to the drawing-board for a European foreign policy.


A common European foreign policy and an independent British foreign policy directly conflict-- right? The more British foreign policy is determined in Brussels, the less it will be determined in London. The title of Ash's article, "Can Europe speak with one voice?"-- this is presumed to be a good thing-- gives the game away: if it could, that voice would not be Britain's. If British voters don't want their foreign policy to be made by the soulless fiat of faceless Eurocrats, that is as much as to say that they don't want Europe to speak with one voice. Ash tries to hide this diametric conflict using rhetorical sleight of hand.

"A half-truth is a whole lie." He's right about that, at least.

Andrew Sullivan thinks the blogosphere has gotten more polarized in the past year:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "My anxiety about the blog world is not that it will put us out of business but that it contributes to an erosion of middle ground, that it accelerates a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left, who are ardently convinced and not very interested in exposing themselves to facts or ideas that contradict their prejudices." - Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, in an email to Jeff Jarvis, who dissents. The point, surely, is that the blog world can go either way. It's not a utopia. It's subject to the same polarizing forces that beset a deeply divided polity. Jeff's blog is one that manages to build some kind of dialogue between the two sides, in his own internal discourse. But that's rare, isn't it? And isn't it rarer now than it was a year ago?


Has the blogosphere gotten more partisan? I don't know how you would measure it. For one thing, no one could possibly read the whole blogosphere. My impression is that it's not so much that the blogosphere is more partisan, but that there's a certain solidarity against the reactionary left among all those who feel they have something to say and have dreams of changing the world, i.e. among bloggers.

Not all. But most.

Here's The Guardian's new take on the war in Iraq:

Much of this is summed up in the current transitional fluidity over the politics of Iraq. The war was a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance. But it has nevertheless brought forth a desirable outcome which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were in most respects.


This may emerge as the conventional wisdom on the Iraq War. Actually, the critics were anything but "right... in most respects"; on the contrary, they were dead wrong at a philosophical level from the beginning, and because of this their predictions didn't pan out. "Blood for oil" seems ever more villainous and fantastic with each passing month. But by smashing straw men for the past two years, while dominating certain powerful institutions like academia and Old Europe, they have at times created the impression of being partially vindiated. And so many (self-)important people have staked their pride on opposing the war that the volumes of anti-war argument that have been generated will have to be given more respect and consideration than they deserve on the merits.

The hawks' view will live on as a sort of secret history, which will never appear in the high school textbooks. One must buy into certain mysterious, antique notions to understand it. Honor. Courage. Visions of glory, and steadfast convictions of right and wrong...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

GREEDY GEEZERS' LAST CHANCE

Conservatives HATE the idea of raising Social Security taxes-- see here, for one among many-- but I don't see how they'll avoid it. It's no use getting the reform just the way you like it if the Democrats will just filibuster it. A combination of

-- indexing high-end benefits to inflation rather than wage growth, thus causing all Social Security benefit payments to converge gradually

-- raising the payroll tax cap to $120,000

-- allowing workers to divert, say, 4% of their payroll taxes to private accounts

will combine reform and redistribution. The traditional Social Security will evolve from a faux-mandatory-savings scheme to an explicit soak-the-rich welfare program. Private accounts will step into the mandatory saving role. The poor and the young will get the better of the tug-of-war over resources. But future generations will be spared the inter-generational tug-of-war that is inherent in Social Security.

From the left, Matt Yglesias and Josh Marshall are attempting to shoot down the proposal. Instead, Yglesias has this unappetizing proposal:

If and when Republicans get their collective nose bloodied on this issue and agree to stop talking phase-out and start talking funding gap, then there will be room for compromise. The GOP will put a package of benefit cuts on the table. Then Democrats will owe the world an alternative proposal, focused on keeping benefits generous. Then centrist deal-makers can try and broker a compromise. But that sort of thing requires us to all be talking about the same thing -- preserving Social Security. Right now the Republican plan is to save the village by destroying it.


I don't see why Marshall and Yglesias think that this debate will go their way. Just because it's difficult to ram the Republicans' preferred reform through-- inertia, and all that-- doesn't mean the Democrats' reform would go through any easier. Any closing of the funding gap, in particular, will involve tax hikes, and Republicans can say, quite rightly, that that's against their mandate. There's no sign of Democrats getting elected anytime soon; and if the first thing they did upon being elected was to raise the most regressive tax on the books, they wouldn't stay elected long.

The Social Security system was always a Ponzi scheme, and now the game is up. If the older generations muscle politicians into keeping the old unfair structure of the system, any social compact between the generations is shredded. We love them and are grateful to many of them individually, but collectively they are The Enemy, hell-bent on robbing us blind. We'll become the majority someday. Then it will be payback time.

An interesting new writing venture here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

THE RIGHT IS GETTING FED UP WITH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

A lot of conservatives are getting fed up with Bush.

First, they're mad about Bush mentioning that he may raise the cap on income liable to Social Security taxes. As the Wall Street Journal points out:

[T]he early direction of reform is looking more and more worrisome. First, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas proposes to finance private accounts with a huge new VAT levy, and now Mr. Bush puts his own tax hike on the table. What an unhappy irony it would be if Republicans finally gained control of the levers of power in Washington only to pass the largest entitlement expansion since 1965 (the Medicare drug bill) in Mr. Bush's first term, and effectively repeal his income tax cuts in the second.


Tech Central Station is also opposed. And Larry Kudlow slams the idea in the National Review, drawing a parallel to Bush I's tax hike, betraying his "read my lips" promises.

Yet, as the WSJ notes, raising the cap while creating private accounts is an excellent way to undermine the original concept of the Social Security program:

[O]ne of the ironies here is that the earnings limit for payroll tax contributions exists because that's the way Social Security's Democratic creators designed it. That is to say, they didn't want it to be perceived as a soak-the-rich welfare program, but as a "universal" compulsory savings scheme. Since payouts would be limited, it was only natural that contributions would be too.


Exactly. By raising the cap while introducing private accounts-- as long as the changes are combined with changes to the benefit schedule-- Bush will turn the old Social Security benefits into a soak-the-rich welfare program, which will lose political support and be sunk like the other welfare programs were. FDR's idea of a compulsory saving scheme will live on in the private accounts. Yes, the payroll tax hike may hurt small business and job creation. If so, Bush can blame the Democrats, for not passing Social Security reform as he originally designed it; and he can challenge America to give the Republicans a bigger majority, or to change the Democratic Party by voting in the primaries, if they want a lower-tax environment.

The National Review is also disgusted with Condi's words of praise for the EU constitution. Here I partly agree. European unification gained a new impetus from the Iraq war, and opposition to America is becoming Europe's raison d'etre. Yet many in Europe continue to support Europe, and by rushing too eagerly into rapprochement with certain unrepentant enemies of Iraqi democracy such as Chirac and Schroeder, our real allies in Europe may perceive that we are leaving them high and dry. Mark Steyn and Niall Ferguson think the recent Euro-American signs of friendship are nothing but talk. Maybe. But if we have a global commitment to liberty, we should be maintain an attitude of vigilant suspicion towards the creeping encroachments of Eurocracy. (Max Borders agrees.)

Some conservatives are also annoyed that Bush shows little sign of trying to override the filibuster option for judicial nominees. I agree with Ron Brownstein that Bush should cut a deal.

Bush won 51%; a solid win, but not a landslide. Republicans should look for consensus and be ready to sacrifice a bit of their agenda, while making it clear which of their policies are concessions to the Democrats, so that voters who dislike these policies will have a reason, not to lose faith in the Republicans, but to put even more of them into office.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"Bush shouldn't pay any price to get Social Security accounts," argues Thomas Bray. I disagree. I welcome Bush's willingness to raise the cap on Social Security payroll taxes to $120,000, and I think the idea of indexing the top level of benefits to inflation, and the lowest level to wage growth, and thus (in effect) introducing means testing gradually, is also a good idea. Together, these changes will move the tax system in a progressive direction-- not necessarily a good idea, since it increases the effective marginal tax rate over one's lifetime and thus reduces the incentive to work and productivity. But the tax cut in Bush's first term seems to me like a politically unsustainable move away from progressive taxation, so he might as well let the pendulum swing back pre-emptively rather than let the Democrats do it instead. Once the private accounts are established, you can introduce changes later: "endow" them early on, perhaps with "dividends" from immigration taxes; top them up in good times on an opportunistic basis, let people borrow against the extra income in them under certain circumstances so that they serve as a form of capital... all for the ownership society.

Wow. Paul Johnson, one of the best historians in the English language, tells it how it is. Everything he says is more or less common knowledge. But when you add it up!...

Michael J. Totten feels that the Iraq war has made fools out of a lot of people on both the right and the left, and concludes:

Great events should shake people and change them. I have a hard time trusting someone who says this never happens to them. After the toppling of Saddam's regime, it happened first to the hawkish right. And now the anti-war left has had its turn.


Unlike Totten, I feel pretty thoroughly vindicated by the whole affair. The positions I've taken on the war, from "Robin Hood Imperialism" to "The Iraqometer" to "WMDs Don't Matter, Stupid" to "Bringing Neoconservatism Home" seem to contain a lot of the insights that, two years later, people are waking up to, and which may be conventional wisdom in a few years' time.

That said, I was timid. For all the bluster of "Robin Hood Imperialism," (before the war) my conclusion had a hint of irony:

So should the US play Robin Hood, freeing millions of people from a tyrant at the expense of being an outlaw against the (rotten) world order, dreaming of a better world, but risking a worse one? An older, wiser man might doubt. But in the ardor, the idealism of youth, I confess that I can’t resist hoping for an adventure in Robin Hood imperialism.


Thoughtful people like me are often useful for avoiding getting sucked into big mistakes and intellectual frenzies. But I doubt that I would have had the courage to take the moral responsibility of giving the order, even if I had a strong coviction that it was the right thing to do. So I shouldn't claim too much vindication.

Friday, February 18, 2005

MOTHERS, TELL YOUR CHILDREN NOT TO DO WHAT I HAVE DONE...

I looked at my mobile phone bill today and I owe $1600. I thought I was signed up for a national plan. It turns out it was some sort of regional deal. It must have been an accident on my part, I'm sure I never would have signed up for a regional plan knowingly. We used the phone liberally in California and Hawaii on our vacation and ended up with that bill. We can't afford it. We've got the money for now but student loans will eat it up.

What's sickening is that this is probably their business model. Offer a decent deal to most people, with huge fees for those who slip up. Screw the suckers! Reminds me of an old song...

Well it's one foot on the platform
Th'other one on the train
I'm going down to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain...

I'm over $80,000 in debt to Harvard. Now another $1,600 in debt to a sleazy phone company. I wish I was dead.

The name of the evil phone company is CINGULAR. Remember that name and be warned.

GO GREENSPAN

The guru of the 1990s boom advocates both immigration and private Social Security accounts.

Some have noted one link between Social Security and immigration, namely that immigration helps keep Social Security viable by increasing payroll tax revenues.

I would add that a link goes the other way too: private accounts change the political equation for immigration.

The major economic reason for US-born individuals to oppose immigration is that it alters the returns to the factors of production in favor of capital and to the detriment of labor. The more you turn workers into capitalists, the more it's in their interest to support open borders.

Private accounts also offer one possible way to implement my proposal to tax immigration instead of restricting it. The proceeds of the tax could be channeled into private accounts as "dividends."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

TYRANNY OF THE MINORITY

Immigration policy is "tyranny of the minority," sure enough, just as this column says, but not in the way they mean it. A small minority of mankind (the US population) shuts out the vast majority of mankind (the developing world's impoverished billions) in order to hide from itself the fact that it is a privileged caste, and insulate its conscience from its brotherly obligations to help the less fortunate. This is wrong. Hail to illegal immigrants! They are the freedom fighters, the symbols of America's greatest tradition, they are the future.

My immigration proposal is in the body and comments (with MaxedOutMama as an interlocutor) of a previous post...

Julian Sanchez answers Tim Cavanaugh's call for "counter-narratives." (See my post as well as Jujitsui-Generis here and here.) What's interesting is that the premise of Julian's article-- that we are promoting democracy in the Middle East, and that "George W. Bush may cite Jesus as his favorite political philosopher, but his ideas on foreign policy bear a distinctly Kantian imprimatur"-- implicitly concedes a claim that made war critics howl with rage a couple of years ago: that the liberation of Iraq, whatever else it may have been, is an advance for freedom and democracy. (Julian questions whether this enhances US security.) The ratchet clicks...

Julian doesn't do justice to democratic peace theory either. The point is that there has never been a war between two democracies. Never. Look it up.

(Disclaimer: I have been known to problematize the notion of universal democratization myself.)

Give Irwin Stelzer credit for defending a politically incorrect position: that deficits don't matter. I differ, but there are a couple of things economists should come clean about:

1. The government never has to pay back its debts. Individuals have to pay back debts because they die. Governments live (as far as we know) in perpetuity, so they can keep rolling debt over forever. So it's not true to say that what we borrow, our children and grandchildren will have to pay back.

2. Even a deficit is sustainable if it's less than or equal to the economic growth rate. Because in that case, national debt will not grow as a percentage of GDP. Suppose that the government runs a budget deficit of 3% of GDP every year, while the economy grows by 3% of GDP every year. This year we may meet that yardstick. GDP growth will probably be around 4%; the budget deficit may be less than that.

So the deficit doesn't mean the sky is falling. That said, a balanced budget is a brilliant, wonderful thing! If capital doesn't get soaked up by the government, it goes to entrepreneurs instead, who do all kinds of creative things with it. Remember the late 1990s? Taxes are bad but deficits are worse, because a deficit is a tax, and precisely on those activities-- borrowing and investment-- that we should encourage the most.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

BIAS IN BIG MEDIA

An old topic, I know, but a new spin, I hope...

Here is the haunting conclusion of the New Yorker's very interesting recent article on "Why Is Everyone Mad at the Mainstream Media":

Journalism that is inquisitive and intellectually honest, that surprises and unsettles, didn’t always exist. There is no law saying that it must exist forever, and there are political and business interests that would be better off if it didn’t exist and that have worked hard to undermine it. This is what journalists in the mainstream media are starting to worry about: what if people don’t believe in us, don’t want us, anymore?


I can't agree with this characterization of the mainstream media: it distorts, it is blinded by its own agenda, and outlets like the NYT rarely surprise. I've mentioned before that I now find it difficult to read the mainstream media at all, and it's not necessarily a good thing. All I see is mediocrity overlaid with bias.

Consider two articles covering the results of the Iraqi elections. Here's "Postelection Optimism Ebbing in Iraq," from the LA Times. The story features a number of quotes from Iraqis, including this one:

"Since the elections, the situation is not so good," said Rasha Mohammed Jassim, 23, a teacher interviewed in Baqubah, a site of frequent clashes between insurgents and U.S. troops over the last year. On Friday a bomb hidden in a vegetable cart and apparently directed at Shiite pilgrims killed 21 people in a village outside the town, underscoring Jassim's sense of omnipresent peril.

"We long for the good old days of Saddam [Hussein], when we could go out at night and see our friends, and not be afraid of car bombs or the Americans," she said. "But those days are not coming back."


In the first part of the article, reporting about violence is mixed with a few neutral and some negative quotes. It creates the impression that Rasha speaks for most Iraqis. Then, near the end, there are a lot of the positive, inspiring quotes that are so familiar to those of us who read the Iraqi blogosphere. The quotes at the end cast a different light on the earlier neutral quotes, some of which were spun to seem negative only by being embedded with facts about bombs and the like. It's a cheap trick: journalists figure readers won't read to the end. Still, I have a feeling this kind of thing doesn't work anymore.

The other is the WaPo's "Iraq Winners Are the Opposite of US Vision," which argues:

When the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq two years ago, it envisioned a quick handover to handpicked allies in a secular government that would be the antithesis of Iran's theocracy -- potentially even a foil to Tehran's regional ambitions.

But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say.


Who is she trying to fool? Everyone knows by now that Sistani is a genuine democrat who does not aspire to Iranian-style theocracy. We want a free and democratic Iraq; we don't mind if it has a more religious flavor than our own society. As news analysis, this is incompetent.

But I'm a conservative, and conservatives respect tradition, and the MSM is a tradition, so I should find something nice to say about it. And it's not too hard.

The LA Times journalist moved the positive quotes to the back of the article, giving the reader who skims the beginning, or reads the headline, a false impression. But the quotes are still there. The journalist gives the other side the ammo to refute his own spin, right there in the article. Likewise with the WaPo article. The only quotes she gives from Iraqis completely belie the thrust of her article. Thus:

Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is a leading contender to be prime minister, reiterated yesterday that the new government does not want to emulate Iran. "We don't want either a Shiite government or an Islamic government," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "Now we are working for a democratic government. This is our choice."


Why do these journalists report quotes that refute their spin? A blogger wouldn't do that. He would report the quotes that made his point. I'm not buying into the myth that bloggers are "partisan." On the contrary, I find that bloggers usually develop their own, subtle, mixed positions that don't conform to standard partisan lines: this blog, for example, is right-wing on most issues but far-left on immigration. A blogger might report positive and negative quotes because he was making a subtle point, like "amidst the joy of liberation, there's an undertoe of nostalgia for the order that tyranny provided." But he would report quotes to make their point.

I was editor-in-chief of a newspaper in grad school, and one takeaway from the experience was that journalistic "objectivity" is a preposterous charade that drove me batty. What's the first thing a high-school writing instructor will tell you. You have to have a thesis. It gets the reader's interest. It tells them why they should read. It determines the relevance and role of every sentence in the essay. The question in reporting was: to have a thesis or not to have a thesis? No thesis meant a formless agglomeration of facts. But a thesis was a bias, a spin, an angle, a slant, an opinion-- the opposite of objectivity.

But however spurious its philosophical motivation, the ethos of journalistic objectivity may engender certain merits in writing. Media bias is clumsy and transparent enough to be ineffectual. Old mainstream journalists are too clueless to realize when the quotes they're including refute their own headlines.

There's something at once admirable and pathetic about these dying traditions. Like the tsar personally taking command of the Russian troops at the end of World War I.

[UPDATE: I might as well extend this analogy. The Orthodox priests in early 20th-century Russia were much less clever than the intelligentsia, and were no match for their reasoning. Yet they were the carriers of a truth far more worthy than anything the intelligentsia possessed. That the blogosphere is cleverer than Big Media doesn't necessarily mean it's on the right track...

I also thought of an analogy for Big Media bias. I was climbing a mountain in the Czech Republic once. A beautiful place, but infested with flies. They weren't bad when you kept moving, but as soon as you sat down they swarmed you. I wanted to eat my lunch, but every time I stopped, the flies gathered and I got up again. Finally I had to eat my lunch despite the flies. They were so annoying that I hardly got any enjoyment out of a very tasty sandwich. But I still managed to eat it. Media bias is a bit like the flies: it's terribly annoying, you have to fight it off all the time, and it takes all the enjoyment out of reading the news; but it probably doesn't do any permanent damage.]

MARK STEYN: MAN ON A MISSION

Mark Steyn chronicles just how far the Germans have gone on the road to serfdom:

An unemployed waitress in Berlin faces the loss of her welfare benefits after refusing a job as a prostitute in a legalized brothel.


Who else would have the gumption to skewer the UN as savagely as Mark Steyn does in this column?

Humor is Steyn's salvation. Without it, he wouldn't be read: he's too extreme right, and some of the stuff he writes is too depressing. Because he makes you laugh, he can get away with being outrageous, and he lightens the mood of some very dark subjects.

Then, between the laughs, you gradually realize... he's right. Chillingly right.

Chrenkoff calls Steyn "the joker in the conservative pundit deck, but also in many ways the shrewdest and the most insightful of the lot."

Amen. Mark Steyn, joker. Mark Steyn, man on a mission.

[UPDATE: Another thing I like about Steyn. In both of these articles, he was defending the honor of women. In the first, he defends a German young woman being forced into prostitution by the state. In the second, he attacks widespread sexual predation by UN troops and other officials. Chivalry is not dead!

Steyn is a modern G. K. Chesterton. He is the only writer I can remember of whom I have thought that I was uncommonly fortunate to be alive at the time he is writing.]

Monday, February 14, 2005

FISKING DEAN

Here's Dean's acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention, upon being appointed Chairman. The good, the bad and the ugly.

If you told me one year ago that I'd be standing here today, as your choice for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I wouldn't have believed you. And neither would have a lot of other people.

But let me say that standing here with the opportunity to lead this Party, is a great honor.

I am thankful.

I am humbled.


It's true that a year ago, Dean wouldn't have believed he would be Chairman of the DNC. He thought he would be President of the United States. This sounds phony from Dean. He can't mask his ego.

We all know that we're the party of the big tent and new ideas.


Okay, so this is funny. It's clear that the Republicans are the party of the big tent and new ideas. Republicans are pro-life and pro-choice; Democratic candidates are exclusively pro-choice. Republicans include libertarians and nationalists, neocons and paleocons; the Democrats are being straitjacketed into consensus by a leader obsessed with emulated the Gingrich Revolution in reverse. And whereas Bush wants to transform the tax code, the legal system, the Social Security program, the international order, the Democrats are increasingly reactionary and standing for the status quo. This is not necessarily bad for Democrats. Dean could have said, "we're a increasingly united party, defending a New Deal tradition that has served America well." Instead, he lays claim to features that characterize the Republicans. Why?

We know that we're the party for young Americans looking for a government that speaks to them… we know that we're the party for working Americans desperate for a government that looks out for them… and we know that we're the party for older Americans and veterans and members of the Armed Services expecting and deserving a government that honors them.

And we know that no matter where you live or who you are, what you look like or how you worship, ours is the diverse party that welcomes you.


So many constituencies! Who votes Republican then?

But right now, as important as all of that is… it is not enough. We have to move forward. We cannot win if all we are is against the current President.


Good, good...

Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress. But the reason we lost control is that we forgot why we were entrusted with control to begin with.


Democrats lost control in 1994 because they went too far. In the wrong direction. Dean seems to be suggesting that the public stopped electing Democrats because they weren't liberal enough.

The American people can't afford to wait for 40 years for us to put Washington back to work for them.


Who do the Republicans work for then? "Special interests?" (Yawn.)

This week, the Republicans introduced a $2.5 trillion budget that deliberately conceals the cost of their fiscal recklessness.

Their budget doesn't account for the cost of the war in Iraq, or privatizing Social Security. It cuts education, children's health, veterans benefits, and community policing.

As far as I'm concerned, this budget does only two things:

It brings Enron-style accounting to our nation's capital.

And it demonstrates what Americans are beginning to see: Republicans cannot be trusted with your money.


I approve of Dean's attack on the Bush budget, not least because the more Dean slams the deficit, the more conservative pundits will follow suit. (In this article, you could cut Matthew Continetti's contempt with a knife.) But is Dean trying to outflank the Republicans on the right, or the left, fiscally speaking? He complains about "fiscal recklessness." But he also claims about budget cuts. Of course, he lists Social Security privatization as an expense, but there he's a lying scum: Social Security privatization alleviates long-term off-budget liabilities, and it's at worst revenue-neutral and likely to benefit the budget.

I was disappointed that Dean didn't say straight out that he wants to raise taxes. I think tax hikes just might work for the Democrats. Unless Bush can cut spending much more dramatically than he did this term, and reverse course from his first term, his tax cuts are unaffordable, and the American people, denied smaller government, might take the next best thing: big government with less debt.

The Republicans know the America they want… and they are not afraid to use any means to get there.


I am reminded of anti-Semitism in the interwar period. A sinister cabal of blood-sucking profiteers preying on innocent working people... C'mon, Dean, what kind of America do Republicans want? Let's test the limits of what left-Democrats are willing to believe about their fellow-citizens!

We Democrats believe in fiscal responsibility and we're the only ones who have delivered it.

The first time our nation balanced its budget, it was Andrew Jackson, father of the Democratic Party, who did it. The last time our nation balanced its budget, it was Bill Clinton who did it. Democratic governors do it every single year.

Not one Republican President has balanced the budget in almost 40 years. Borrow and spend. Borrow and spend. Borrow and spend. Americans cannot trust the Republicans with their money.


It was the Gingrich Republicans in Congress, as much as Clinton, who paved the way to the balanced budget of the late 1990s. Wouldn't it be nice if this could be acknowledged as a bipartisan achievement. But Dean's attack here is not without justice. Being able to attack Bush on the deficit credibly is Dean's best feature. (Somewhat credibly, anyway.)

We believe that a good job is the foundation of a strong family, a strong community, and a strong country. We're going towork to create good high-paying jobs here in America, and we're going to keep good high paying jobs here in America.


The protectionist demon rears its ugly head.

And there is no reason for us to apologize for being willing to stand up for our belief that Americans who get up and go to work everyday have the right to join a union.


Unions are obsolete. Yes, people have a right to form them; but these days they mostly prefer not to, and that's a good thing. They distort the economy and are a sure harbinger of industrial decline. One more ball-and-chain the Democrats are dragging from the past...

We believe every American should have access to affordable health care. It is wrong that we remain the only industrialized nation in the world that does not assure health care for all of its citizens, particularly our children.


Is health care a political issue? And will it ever pay off for the Democrats? The stylized facts about the last decade and a half in politics suggest, No. Clinton's health care plan lost them Congress in 1994. Kerry's health care plan didn't get him elected in 2004. Personally, I don't get it. If I'm sick, it's a private problem, and if I go to a doctor, that's a private transaction. What does it have to do with politics? But the Democrats keep thinking there's some mileage to be had from the issue. Who knows?

We believe the path to a better future goes directly through our public schools.


Ugh. Keep the minorities down! Indoctrinate the religious! Freedom and choice are for adults only!

We believe that every single American has a voice and that it should be heard in the halls of power every day. And most importantly, it ought to be heard by guaranteeing an open and fair vote on Election Day.


There was an open and fair vote. This is really evil. It's important to democracy that losing candidates and parties accept the election result as fair. Dean is undermining that principle.

And finally, we believe that a lifetime of work earns you a retirement of dignity. We won't let that be put at risk by leaders who continually invent false crises to justify policies that don't work… in this case, borrowing from our children and shredding our country's social safety net in the process.


Pure demagoguery.

[I'll skip a bit, it's late...]

We will rebuild our Party because only we are the party of reform. Republicans can stop progress, but only Democrats can start it again.


I've written before that Dean is a "http://lancelotfinn.blogspot.com/2005/02/dean-democrats-and-deficit_07.html." Let me elaborate: Dean's attitude to Republicans is close to analogous to racism. There is the visceral resentment, the unshakable conviction of one's innate superiority, the habit of treating the Other as an enemy. Dean almost sounds like he is denying that Republicans are American. I can't see how this will work as a party-building strategy. Listening, anyone who has ever voted for a Republican will feel like either a villain or a fool-- or else get mad and decide that Dean is a villain or a fool. If the Democrats are to go from being a minority to a majority party, they will have to attract supporters of the other party. Not alienate them.

And we will rebuild our Party because our greatest strength is something the Republicans can and will never match — the diversity represented in this room.


Bush has appointed two black Secretaries of State and a Hispanic attorney general. A black woman is among the leading Republican presidential possibilities for 2008. Republicans got 40% of the Hispanic vote, and increased their share of the Jewish vote. The Democrats were the champions of diversity in the 1960s and 1970s, and they should be proud that they won so thoroughly that the Republicans have now followed suit. Instead, they are bitter.

I haven't given up hope that Dean will be a net positive for America, by turning up the pressure on the deficit, by eclipsing the left-wing deadweight that drags the party down, by providing energy and clarity. But his faults outnumber his virtues.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Here's an article about the UN human rights commission:

The new leadership of the United Nations Human Rights Commission calls to mind an old story. Told that the World Bank would be holding a conference on corruption in his country, a Cambodian official joked, "Why — to learn how to do it better?"

Recently elected to this year's Human Rights Commission "action panel" were Cuba and Zimbabwe. The regimes of two of the world's top rights-abusers — Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro — will now help decide which human-rights complaints will get a hearing at the U.N.

In just the past few years, Castro has drawn international sanction for a roundup of political dissidents, sending them to the island's famous prisons. Mugabe, among his charms, has also recently set out to ban foreign funding of human-rights workers — effectively banning NGOs from the country.


News about the UN often inspires me to link to an article I wrote last fall called "Guelfs and Ghibellines." Read the comments for more.

An ugly immigration bill has just passed the House. Write your Senator today and urge them not to let it become law.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

David Corn asks:

Where are the honest conservatives? I know there are some out there. Or I hope there are. This week, George Bush sent his proposed budget to Congress. Its numbers are more crooked than the books at Enron...

Bush says the deficit will be about $420 billion. That's pretty much a record high, but he claims--not to worry--that his budget places the government on the path to cutting the deficit in half within five years. This is a fantasy...

[Mentions Afghanistan and Iraq, Medicare, improbability of tax cuts being reversed as scheduled...]

Add all of this together--which is something Bush refuses to do--and you come up with budget fraud...

But most Republicans and conservatives are mum. Right-wingers often claim they're for responsibility. Where's their love of responsibility now? If I have missed leading conservatives criticizing the White House for its all-too transparent budget scam, please let me know. It certainly seems most are too far into Bush's pocket to demand honest bookkeeping from the government. With such silence, they are serving their lord, not their fellow citizens.


Well, Arnold Kling cites several conservatives who have complained. And here's Cato banging the drum that this year's cuts are not enough to make up for four years excessive spending.

In general, though, my answer to Corn is: what's the use of complaining when we know the opposition is worse? Democrats have been the party of big beneficent government for three generations. They've shown no sign lately-- at any rate since the end of Clinton's term-- of leap-frogging to the Republicans' right and becoming the libertarian party.

I would guess that many of the 48% who voted for Kerry in 2004 were really voting, not for Kerry, but for gridlock. Much fewer than 48% actually supported Kerry's program. This means the Democrats may have further to fall.

The public is reluctant to trust politicians with their money, and they are particularly reluctant to trust Democrats, because the Democrats have a habit of double-talk. They know the voters dislike the liberal faith, and they have become fairly habituated to use the creeping power of bureaucracies and courts to carry out programs that voters would throw out. The Democrats need to issue a major mea culpa for their past big-spending ways, and articulate a new small-government philosophy. It's not enough to opportunistically parrot conservative words like "responsible." Fools like Kerry should be totally marginalized and virtually druumed out of the party.

ALLAWI IN OPPOSITION

It looks like Allawi has lost the election, and Lee Harris, at Tech Central Station, wants to keep him at the helm anyway:

in the case of Allawi, his task had only just begun -- so that excuse doesn't work in this case. Indeed, here we clearly have the case of changing horses in the middle of the stream -- to use the metaphor Franklin Roosevelt came up with, in order to justify his running for a third unprecedented term on the eve of World War II. Only Iraq is not in the middle of a stream; it is in the middle of a struggle for its survival as a nation. It is in desperate need of continuity, strength, and unity.

Regrettably, the next man to be chosen to lead Iraq will depend for his power on an inherent fragile and unstable coalition of Kurds and traditional Shi'ites, and this means that not only will he be weak, but he will be more interested in keeping the support of his political backers than in winning the struggle against the terrorist insurgents...

Pressure, bribe, coerce -- even send the magnificent and miracle-working Condoleezza Rice, if all else fails. But do whatever it takes to keep Allawi at the helm.


This seems like a bad idea to me. The elections won't have meant much if we overturn their results. One of the difficulties of democratization is that leaders tend to consider themselves indispensable. If Allawi moves out of the spotlight but the Iraqi state hangs together, it will be Iraq's first lesson in the continuity of the state separate from the persons that run it at any given time-- an essential element of democracy, and one of its great strengths, too.

Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Weekly Standard thinks that Allawi was making his share of mistakes:

We are lucky that Iyad Allawi's moment has passed. Spiritually and physically, Allawi would have kept the new government in the Green Zone, the surreal, guarded compound in central Baghdad where the American embassy is located. The United Iraqi Alliance will ensure that it is in all aspects pulled out. No real political progress among Iraqis can be made unless the Green Zone becomes a memory of occupation...

The Alliance and the Kurds will be much more demanding than was Allawi, who built his outreach program to Sunnis in large part on bribery. By offering them jobs in the new army, police force, and intelligence service, Allawi led Sunnis to believe their positions in these organizations would not be subject to democratic politics. Allawi actually created the opposite dynamic among the Sunnis from what he intended. The Sunni insurgency was emboldened. Those elite Sunnis who should have felt the need to compromise and come on board did not do so. With the January 30 elections, the Sunni Arabs now know the old order is dead. The Shia and the Kurds will certainly reach out to them--Sistani has been doing so since Saddam fell--but they are unlikely to continue any form of bribery that touches upon Iraq's military services. Washington should welcome any change of tactics in this direction. Allawi's way was not working.


The other thing Lee Harris misses is the value of Allawi in opposition. Democracies need good opposition parties. A problem with new democracies (in Russia, for example) is a lack of strong figures in opposition. Also, in parliamentary systems, small parties are often disproportionately power because they hold the balance in coalitions. Hopefully Allawi will prove to be a strong opposition politician, loyal to the government, a focal point for secularist resistance if the Shiite clergy become overbearing, strongly pro-American, pro-democratic, a man to be taken seriously; and with less opportunity to discredit himself by big mistakes than he would have in government. Let other Iraqis get leadership experience. (Including Chalabi, who has been making a comeback...)

Belmont Club has more.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

THE RIGHT TO MIGRATE

A comment from a left-leaning Christian friend of mine on an earlier post ("Bush is On A Roll":

I have to say, I'm not usually very excited when I hear Bush quotes (you know me), but this one gave me an emotional rush. Yes!! Yes!! Social security reform needs to be done, and though it could be done wrong or right, I'm glad Bush is tackling it (though the regressive tax cuts make me question his efforts somewhat). But naming immigration reform as one of two main domestic agendas--Hallelujah! This is such a basic issue of injustice, so deeply ingrained in our greedy, nationalistic (often racist) society--for George W. Bush to stand up and say, "Let's let these Mexicans (or whomever) have a decent living, legally," is such a beautiful thing. May God give him the grace to follow through, and may He change hearts throughout the Capitol to bring about greater justice for foreigners in the US. (Which, after all, is mostly a nation of once-despised immigrants.)


1) Glad to see you're reading Seth! Come back often. 2) I get that emotional rush from Bush a lot. 3) I agree completely.

Since then, David Frum at the National Review has warned that the immigration issue could "shatter the GOP." And Bush is risking a damaging fight with Rush Limbaugh on the issue. Yet he's not backing off. Here's what Bush said in the SOTU:

America's immigration system is also outdated -- unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.


This is a courageous statement from a president addressing a country where public opinion is tilted towards even tighter border controls. That Bush presents illegal immigrants as objects for our sympathy-- "hardworking people who only want to provide for their families"-- is especially admirable. Of course, he's also fudging. "Temporary guest workers" are unlikely to remain temporary. And if we give papers to undocumented immigrants that seems to amount to some form of amnesty. Also, does Bush really see this as the most efficient way to prevent "chaos at the border," or does he support immigrants' rights for moral reasons? Even if the answer is "both," is the national-interest or the moral motive first in his mind? (The same question could be asked about Iraq: did he think of Saddam as an intolerable threat, or was replacing tyranny with freedom his chief desire?) It's a fudge in more ways than that, too. To say "jobs Americans don't want" is a dodge: Americans will take the jobs at some wage. Anyway, are we going to verify that illegal immigrants are not competing with Americans in the labor market? Bush is definitely on the side of the angels here, and I applaud him. But is he using the right argument?

I believe a deeper change in our thinking is needed. A widespread view is typified in a recent column by Debra Saunders:

Let me stipulate: I feel for people who, like [California nanny] Perez, want a better life for themselves and their families and come here to improve themselves -- even if they break the law. But I respect those who immigrate here legally. They show respect for the process.

If the law means anything, you don't reward people for breaking it.


At this point it would be useful to remember what Martin Luther King said on the subject of breaking laws:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."


I agree with King. When Debra Saunders and other people of conscience find themselves sympathizing with lawbreakers, they usually do not follow the logic of their thoughts any further. If we do, we will realize that in this case the violators of the law are in the right, and the enforcers of the law are in the wrong.

I believe that a government which denies the right to migrate does wrong, and I would like to see America recognize, in a constitutional amendment, for example, the right of all persons, wherever born, to live and work in the United States. Until this is done, I believe that people of good will have a duty to ignore and/or subvert the law, to assist illegal immigrants as far as it is in their power, and (like M.L. King) to go to prison for this if the situation arises. Civil disobedience will ultimately test the willingness of the US majority (a privileged minority in global terms) to use violence on behalf of injustice. I hope that this duel of wills between people of principle and people of prejudice, should it emerge, will inspire doubt and introspection on the majority's part, and eventually convert the majority: a second civil rights movement.

However, since I recognize that mass immigration would be disruptive of the US society and economy and undermine the wages of millions of workers, I offer this compromise: Allow migration, but tax it. Create a new visa by which immigrants can enter the US at will upon payment of a sizeable deposit. (Restrictions on clear and demonstrable national-security grounds would still be acceptable; in the vast majority of cases, no one claims that national security is a factor in rejecting visas.) The deposit will be used to deport immigrants if they become destitute, and/or upon their request. Then, if their wages rise above some threshold, e.g. $40,000, apply a steeply rising "surtax" to all their earnings, so that marginal tax rates would rise above 70%. If they eventually chose to return home, a large share of the surtax would be refunded to them (and thus constitute a potent form of foreign aid). If they chose to stay, their tax payments will go towards satisfying a certain maximum (e.g. $100,000), after which they would cease paying the surtax and (contingent perhaps upon a few other conditions) would be offered citizenship.

The proceeds of the surtax, net of reimbursements to re-emigrants, would finance a grant savings account, created for every American-born child at birth, as proposed by David Brooks, among others. To assess heavy taxes on immigrants to endow the American-born with assets at birth is not particularly just. But it would allow us to recognize the right to migrate, without harming the class interests of any major American constituency. And because the abstract injustice of borders would have a face, it would gain a claim on our consciences, and that would lead the way to gradually overcoming it.

Monday, February 07, 2005

DEAN, THE DEMOCRATS AND THE DEFICIT

Michael Goodwin calls Howard Dean the Dems' "gravedigger." David Brooks sees Dean's rise as the consolidation of control of the Dems by a cultural elite that (he hints) will only alienate the rest of the country. It's pretty clear the Dems are in a bad way: the Weekly Standard is analyzing the Dems' "Hell Week."

I think Dean taking the DNC chair could be good for the Democrats and the country.

Dean's main virtue, in my view, is his fiscally conservative record as governor of Vermont. Bush should be hounded by the opposition for running up the deficit, but unfortunately when the opposition consists of tax-and-spend liberals, they can't offer the public a credible alternative. Dean might correct that.

My reading of Dean is that he is a liberal bigot. Meaning that he is incapable of understanding or seeing anything of worth in conservatives. He also has delusions of being a populist, which the press exacerbated by flattering him, when really his is an elite appeal. (An elite which has to imagine itself in the role of advocates for the populace as a means of self-legitimation.) But at least he is honest, consistent, and genuine.

And now the Dems have a leader, of which Ann Althouse and Chris Matthews noticed the lack before. Hopefully, Dean will take the spotlight off of Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and co. That would be a great service to the Democrats.

I've said for a while that America has one good political party, while we need two. Maybe Dean will re-invent the Dems into a worthwhile political party again.

But there's one Dean quote that is hard to forgive. Upon Saddam's capture, he remarked that it "doesn't make America any safer." Dean may even be right, for all I know. As a reaction to the capture of a man who caused the deaths of millions, the remark is beyond heartless, it's soulless. The apathy towards Iraqis' welfare is blood-curdling. And you get the sense that Dean would be just about as apathetic if someone threw a few million American conservatives in mass graves. That's a fault on his part.

Meanwhile, good news on the deficit here. (By the way, what does the MSM mean when they mention a "popular program?" Defintion: a program you've never heard of.)

SOLIDARITY WTHIN THE WEST? WHAT FOR?

What is Timothy Garten Ash getting at when he writes

The Chinese and Indians present in Davos watched with sharp, ironic eyes as the Europeans and Americans irritably indulged what Sigmund Freud memorably called "the narcissism of minor differences". Astutely, they said nothing but observed all, quietly conscious of their growing economic power. If the west goes on playing Hamlet, then Asia, like Fortinbras, will inherit the kingdom.


Is Ash arguing that the West had better stick together or world power will pass to Asia?

I'm sure Ash didn't mean it this way, but that sounds like a racist project, a call for white man's solidarity against the yellow man. If so, it's not surprising that such a call would come from a European. Americans are well-trained to avoid racism, and our society is a multi-ethnic one, to a considerable degree happily multi-ethnic. Racism is more prevalent and nearer to the surface in Europe.

If Ash is (consciously or subconsciously) making such an appeal, who is he trying to convince-- Europeans or Americans? Is he trying to convince Europeans to adopt a more pro-American course? Or is he trying to convince Americans that we had better work more closely with Europeans, to avert the rise of Asia? Either way, Ash's appeal won't appeal to either side. If you ask the European left who should run the world, I'm sure their answer would be "Anybody But America." Likewise, my preferences for who should have world power are: Anybody But Europe. In particular, if I had to choose between sharing world power with France and Germany or with China and India, I'd pick China and India any day.

To my mind, the "differences" between Europe and America are not "minor." In America, religion is strong and thriving; Europe is an atheist society where religion is moribund. In this respect, America is more similar to the rest of the world than to Europe.

Again, America's economy is fairly dynamic, with 4.4% growth last year. Europe embraces economic stagnation for the sake of social safety nets. In this respect, too, America is more like fast-growing China, India, East Asia and Iraq than like Europe.

America's birthrate has been rising in recent years, and we are now approaching replacement rate. Europe's population is falling through the floor.

Freedom and democracy, moreover, may be in decline in Europe. This is hard to read. Economic growth can be measured in readily accessible (though imperfect) statistics, but freedom is harder to measure. Democratic deficit as a result of the European unification project, however, is a well-recognized phenomenon. The EU bureaucracy tends to acquire powers from national governments with tenuous public support at best. Europeans have formed a habit of holding repeat referendums, whereby a pro-EU result is considered permanent, but an anti-EU result is considered anomalous and temporary. Of course, the EU apparatus itself has been democratized to some extent; but the initial results of this process are not encouraging. Recently, the traditional Catholic philosopher-politician Rocco Buttiglione was pushed to withdraw from a bid to EU office as Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice for holding Catholic views about homosexuality being a sin (this is old news, of course). If the precedent holds, it means that people of traditional religious views cannot hold high public office in the EU, which will become increasingly problematic as demographic trends render Europe increasingly Islamic in the next generation or two. Buttiglione's humiliation is a symptom of a velvet inquisition of political correctness which is spreading over Europe. Mark Steyn nails it in his reaction to the "scandal" of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume to a party:

German politicians, meanwhile, launched their own rhetorical blitzkrieg, arguing that his choice of fancy dress demonstrated the need for a continent-wide ban on Nazi insignia.

"In a Europe grounded in peace and freedom there should be no place for Nazi symbols," declared Markus Soeder, general secretary of the Christian Socialist Union party. "They should be banned throughout Europe, as they are with good reason in Germany..."

Alas, tyranny doesn't always come with a self-evidently hilarious dress code. And the soft, supple, creeping totalitarian inclinations of our present-day rulers are sometimes harder to resist. If I had to pick the single most revolting remark from this bogus Reichsfuror, it would be this: "I think it might be appropriate for him to tell us himself just how contrite he now is."

That's Michael Howard, the leader of the supposed Conservative Party. What's conservative about demanding people submit to public self-abasement? Wasn't it the Commies who used to insist you recant on TV and then disappear into re-education camp?


By contrast, freedom of speech and expression is taken for granted in America. I suspect that the assumption of a common liberal-democratic paradigm is now more of an obstacle than an aid for an American trying to understand the European polity.

If Ash is (as I suspect) trying to convince Americans, that reveals something about the Euro-elite's idea of Americans. Surely those red-state rednecks are a bit racist, right? They prefer American hegemony to power-sharing with Europe, but surely China and India scare them more? It's hard for Europeans to understand that Americans, for all their politically incorrect religiosity and patriotism and capitalism, are less racist-- and it's precisely because religion and patriotism give them a sense of identity that does not depend on race, while capitalism is not only beneficently color-blind but also gives immigrants and minorities a chance to prove their worth and earn our respect in the free market.

Meanwhile, one of the countries that Ash suspects will play "Fortinbras" welcomed Bush's re-election. Goodbye, France/Germany. Hello, India.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Pity the Democrats. This Victor Davis Hanson philippic is devastating; James Pinkerton, who used to be pretty icy towards the Iraq war, now says the Democrats "barely even register"; even the liberal Washington Post is disdainful of their evasion on Social Security reform. And Krauthammer piles on. Of course, Hanson and Krauthammer are always inclined to argue against the left. But there's something new in the outrage and the disdain with which they pound them now, after the Iraqi election. The Democrats' allies in the MSM are losing their grip on the opinion-making process.

Here, the Wall Street Journal blasts the Democrats' call for an 'exit strategy':

Every so often, an American politician takes an unpopular stand for the sake of what's right: Think of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. Frequently, he
takes an unprincipled stand for the sake of what's popular: Take Richard Nixon's price controls. Sometimes, even, he does what's right, which also happens to be
popular: Ronald Reagan's bombing of Libya.


Only in the rarest of instances, however, do politicians take positions that are both unpopular and unprincipled. That is where the Democratic Party leadership finds itself today on Iraq.



Well, I don't think that asking for an 'exit strategy' is quite as untenable as the WSJ does. It's valid to ask, "We removed Saddam, they have democracy now; why are we still there?" Answer: we're helping our newest democratic ally overcome murderous terrorist subversion.

Mission 1 was to remove Saddam Hussein. We achieved it efficiently and brilliantly. Given the character of Saddam's regime and his refusal (inadequately motivated though it turned out to be) to give weapons' inspectors full access to his country, the war was clearly just. That part of the war enjoyed public support of 70-85%. Bush marked its success by his "Mission Accomplished" appearance on the aircraft carrier.

Mission 2 was nation-building. The objective of the mission was not wholly clear to the public, nor perhaps to those engaged in it. Discipline failures opened the door to shameful episodes of prisoner abuse, which were photographed and humiliated our country. We were an occupying power, and the basis for the legitimacy of our operations was unclear. Militarily, our troops had a task to which they were less well-adapted; not open battle, but urban guerrilla warfare. That part of the war enjoyed about the level of public support it deserved, around 50%-- although, on the other hand, it has been vindicated by the elections. Gerard Baker believes that "Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, Iraq elections will change world history," and he reflects how:

Sometimes moments of truly historic significance are almost instantly
recognisable for what they are. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 proclaimed its
universal importance right from the start. No one needed to be told that the
fall of the Berlin Wall was going to change history. With others the
consequences creep up on us slowly, even surreptitiously. Some wise heads see
the significance; others resist it or are blind to it. It was not immediately
necessarily evident that Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 would lead to the
unrelenting tragedy that unfolded for Europe and the world over the next decade.
We all know better now.

Last Sunday I think will quickly fall into the first category. There is
an unstoppable momentum for change in the Middle East now. In just two years
tyrannies have been felled in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Palestine, the inexorable
clock of human mortality has ended another. But the crucial element was always
going to be the voluntary and courageous act of self-assertion that democratic
and free elections represent — a message heard around the region and the world.


But the best response to the election I've read yet is by this Iraqi blogger:

What we have witnessed is something amazing. I am an Iraqi and a Baghdadi
and should know, and deep down in my heart I knew; yet I must admit that I did
not expect all this. The common Iraqi citizen has taken all by surprise,
including those of us who are indigenous to this land.

It was expected that relatively secure areas in the South and North were
going to see heavy turnout. Yet Baghdad; subjected to a terrorist and
intimidation campaign of unprecedented scale and cruelty; Baghdad, deprived of
electricity, fuel and lately even water( which is more dangerous than anything
else); Baghdad, that lacks security, where the citizens face mortal danger every
moment of their daily life; Baghdad, where life has almost ground to a
standstill; that citizens of this Baghdad should line up at polling stations
braving very real dangers, with mortars raining down and scores of suicide
bombers sent out to blow up people, and moreover that many even brought their
children: this Baghdad was a revelation even to Baghdadis. There were amazing
scenes; not very likely to seen anywhere else. There were acts of heroism.
...

As for some of the Arab scum and other detractors, they are appearing on TV
screens looking like they have just swallowed a cockroach...

Finally, we heard the speech of President Bush Loud and clear. He, and the
American people and their British and other valiant allies have much to do with
this event. All I can say is that this man has all the essential traits of
character that distinguishes the great men of history; the insistence and utter
conviction and the perseverance and steadfastness in the face of all doubters
and detractors. This was no ordinary election, and it was not simply to elect a
constituent assembly. It was the answer of the people, what they really thought
about the liberation, what they really thought of the ideas preached by the
president.


Mission 3 is beginning now: to help a new democratic ally defy terrorist subversion and get onto its feet after a revolution against Baathist tyranny. There's no question of the legitimacy of our operations now. We clearly have the will of the Iraqi people behind us, and soon we are likely to be working hand-in-hand with a democratically elected Iraqi government. There may be another part of this Mission too: with the Shiites in the ascendant now, the Sunnis will need a friend. We should be ready to exert quiet pressure for minority rights and reconciliation if need be. (Of course, if they ask us to leave, that's fine too.) Democrats should be behind this, but they've lost their moral bearings in the swamps of Bush-hatred.

Dean at DNC head will make matters worse, fumes Jonathan Chait. While Chait is persuasive, I've found Dean appealing when I see him on TV. But he symbolizes the Democrats' non-existent moral compass on Iraq. As I said, pity the Democrats...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

THE DEBATE SHIFTS

One liberal anti-war columnist, Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times, considers changing his mind after last week’s elections. What if Bush was right all along? he asks, and concludes that:

If it turns out Bush was right all along, this is going to require some serious penance.


Maybe I'd have to vote Republican in 2008.



Keep in mind that word: “penance.” We’re likely to hear more of it. Here Dennis Prager demands that the left “apologize to the people of Iraq.” Debra Saunders notes the silence from the anti-war left since the elections. Who has the heart to be a skeptic now? Well, Kerry did, and he’s being mocked all over the blogosphere for it. (Mickey Kaus notes: “Kerry is pathetic, but is he that pathetic?”) Meanwhile, past war-disdainers like Josh Marshall are mostly just silent about it, concentrating on Social Security reform instead. John Schrock at the Jujisui-Generis blog blasts Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine’s skeptical response to the elections. The article is gratifying to hawks inasmuch as Cavanaugh writes that “The hawks have been winning the argument over the rightness of the Iraq war all along.” Behind that striking concession there is plenty of sore-loserish grumbling: the hawks are accused of “corny speechifying” and “mawkish elegies,” and while Cavanaugh predicts that the hawks will win the debate in the end, he argues—well, not quite argues, doves have rarely risen to the level of argument for some time now, but implies, suggests, whatever—that that victory will have little to do with really being right. Schrock highlights this passage:

The groundwork for validating the Iraq war is already well in place, and in a few years the case will be embarrassingly easy to make: That wasn't so bad, was it—a few thousand dead to subdue a land mass larger than Vietnam?


Schrock fires back: “I could use many words to describe the 'land mass' of Iraq on Sunday. Subdued would not be one of them.” Yes, but let me add that Cavanaugh has expressed, in one sentence, both a cogent retort to reams of anti-war hysteria about the costs of the war, and a grotesque but perfect example of “moral equivalence.”

Now "moral equivalence" is a term of abuse frequently encountered in the right-wing press, but it’s worth being explicit about what it means and what’s wrong with it. Moral equivalence might be defined as assuming moral equivalence between us and them, but when you put it that way, it sounds like a good thing. Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the same standards we hold others to? Yes, and that’s why the discourse of moral equivalence is so insidious: it bears a superficial kinship to Kant’s categorical imperative, Adam Smith’s “impartial spectator,” Jesus’s Golden Rule, John Rawls’ “curtain of ignorance,” and the other devices moralists use to exhort us to substitute judging others with introspection. The problem is in defining the same standards: what is it that makes the situation the same? It's the glossing over of relevant differences that makes moral equivalence invalid.

“Subdued.” No, we did not subdue the Iraqis. Saddam subdued them. We freed them. Saddam used force to rule them; we used force to let them rule themselves. Our invasion of Iraq is not morally equivalent to, say, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, because freedom and democracy are not morally equivalent to communist tyranny. The Czechoslovaks would have rejected communism if they could. Iraqis are embracing democracy because they can. Cavanaugh’s invalid—but its very invalidity makes it seem clever somehow!—use of the word “subdued” here abolishes these oh-so-important differences. Freedom is slavery is the subtext of Cavanaugh’s rhetoric of moral equivalence. Not that Cavanaugh is aware of that. Up against a wall, scrambling to retain some dignity, he doesn't really how his rhetorical stunts are corrupting him.

The other key passage in the Cavanaugh article is:

The real surprise is how even the war skeptics seem to have no counternarrative to put up against the story of a Miracle In Mosul.


Cavanaugh thinks the doves should have (as Schock puts it) “seen that a sweeping electoral success was inevitable, and [been ready] to prebut with a snappy "counternarrative." But the counter-narratives have been failing for a long time, and they were never very good. There were the paranoid conspiracy-theory counter-narratives, such as Chomsky’s rants, and blood-for-oil. There was the multiculturalist Arabs-like-dictatorship counter-narrative. There was the this-isn’t-in-America’s-national-interest counter-narrative; the Bush-lied-people-died counter-narrative; the “illegal war” counter-narrative. The Vietnam-quagmire narrative, which my fellow patriot-blogger Hamilton rebuts here and Christopher Hitchens demolishes here, was practically the thesis of the Democrats’ presidential campaign this year. So there are plenty to choose from, but are they any good? Bush lied, people died? Well, no, it’s pretty clear he didn’t lie, and even if he did it wouldn’t necessarily invalidate the war; and the point that people died is willfully naïve unless you’re a Gandhian pacifist, for the rest of us accept that sometimes a cause is worth some lives. Blood for oil? Did we want to raise the price of oil (for Bush’s oil-industry buddies) or lower it (for oil consumers)? Since the price of oil has been high since the war, does that represent a failure of our war objectives? And is the motive even relevant? If oil companies sponsored a war only for profit which had the side-effect of liberating millions of people, shouldn’t we celebrate that anyway?


Fahrenheit 9-11 was the most high-profile attempt to frame a counter-narrative. The funny thing was, though, for all the hype, it didn’t try all that hard to construct and follow through with a coherent master-counter-narrative. There were a lot of conspiracy theories, pointing this way and that, but they were usually only half-developed, and despite Moore’s skills as a storyteller, I came away from it just confused about what he was alleging.


Some counter-narratives were refuted by the vote. It’s now clear that Arabs-like-dictatorship-because-of-their-culture is a bunch of huey. The “imperialism” charge has also lost much of its force. I was amused to read from a Middle Eastern commentator:

For the United States and Britain, whose troops invaded and occupied Iraq, these elections may ascertain the Arab proverb: Witchcraft can turn against its sorcerer. It is not at all beyond the realm of possibility that an Iraqi government somewhere down this road to democracy will ask the United States to leave.


Hehe. I guess it’s harmless that this reporter misunderstands the United States and our war aims so much as to think that this would be a bad thing. Of course it would be a great victory. Meanwhile, other counter-narratives have just as much force as they ever did. The claim that the Iraq war was not in America’s national interest has not been invalidated by the Iraq vote. But whatever heartless curmudgeons are unmoved by the Iraq vote know that there’s not much use trying to convince people of their point of view. Heck, blood-for-oil could still be valid, as far as it goes: maybe the oil companies figured a democratic government would make for better business conditions. So what? An illegal war? Maybe, but it's an illegal war that has done a lot of wonderfully good things, so the war's illegality discredits the law and not the war. War critics have plenty to say. But none of it is an adequate answer to the colossal fact of a fallen totalitarian regime and the joy of a people embracing freedom. Most of their arguing, or rather—for generally it doesn’t deserve to be dignified with that word—their posturing was (is; or will we hear from them again?) based on pretending not to see that. And that’s why Bush’s simple “The world’s a better place without Saddam Hussein” was enough to refute them all.


Is it just me, or are the supporters of (leaving) Saddam (in power) becoming an echo of past generations of free-country fellow-travellers of totalitarianism? Many intellectuals in the 1930s, some of them well-respected then, some of them well-respected even now, expressed sympathy for fascism and Nazism. Even more intellectuals, from the 1917 revolution through the 1960s and beyond, supported communism, first the Soviets and later Mao and the Vietcong. Only a couple of years ago did historian Eric Hobsbawm recant from his lifelong support for Stalinist communism. What do such writers and intellectuals do when there is a sea-change and their past views become an embarrassment? Well, they keep somewhat quiet about them. Sometimes they recant, or they offer crypto-recantations, or they re-interpret their past, or they just move on and hope their former views don’t become too crippling a liability. Reading Fred Kaplan piece “Birth of a Nation?” in Slate, you might not guess how fiercely critical he had been of Bush and the war in the past. I’m not saying Kaplan needs to recant: just that the change in tone is notable. Not the first or the last, I predict. Meanwhile, I can’t catalog or give sufficient praise to all the eloquence that has poured from the pro-war stalwarts, from Jonah Goldberg to David Brooks. They don't gloat that they supported the liberation; instead, they just pay their respects to the new Iraq, and let a subtext of we are all neocons now seep in.


As the old doves begin to retreat, the hawks are moving ahead. A brilliant post at Belmont Club shows how closely a recent Newsweek article tracked his own history of the insurgency (one piece of the revisionist history is being written: the insurgency owes much to the diplomatic process, which gave Saddam time to prepare a guerrilla resistance, thus the “rush to war” charge, which was always transparently idiotic, turns out to be the exact opposite of the truth) and adds that:


The strategic center of gravity of the American thrust into the Middle East was not Iraq the geographical entity, as so many have I believe, mistakenly put it, but the Iraqis. The war aim was access to an alliance with an unlimited pool of Arabic speakers, not a puddle of oil in the ground. The return of Iraqi security and intelligence forces will be a nightmare for regional dictators in the short term; but the advent of even a quasi-democratic Iraqi state will, without exaggeration, be their death-knell.


There is a story about a lion who catches a mouse. The mouse pleads for his life, promising that he’ll do anything he can to help the lion in future if the lion sets him free. The lion disdains the mouse’s offer of help—“I’m so strong and you are so small, how could you ever help me?” he asks—but he takes pity on the mouse and frees him. Later, the lion is trapped in a hunter’s net. The mouse finds him there and, repaying his debt, gnaws through the cords so that the lion can go free. I’ve sometimes made the same argument about Iraq—that they may help us in the future if we help them now—but I never really meant it. I was just saying it because I thought it would be good for Iraqi self-esteem if the argument started circulating. But wow. If Wretchard is right, and I second Roger Simon in considering him one of the most penetrating analysts of world affairs writing today, the story of the lion and the mouse may prove relevant to Iraq quicker than I thought.


Anyway, while Schrock thinks that Cavanaugh is charging the hawks of being in bad faith, it seems to me he is almost admitting to a certain amount of bad faith on his own part. Why should doves have to look for counter-narratives? Can’t they just tell us what they think? Some war critics have insisted that the Bush administration was in bad faith, that WMDs, ties to terror and democracy in the Middle East can’t have been the real reason for the war, and have asked: Why are we really in Iraq? Now that the Bush administration has followed through with its promise to carry out elections, now that Iraqis are embracing “the brave new world we thrust upon them” (as Mark Brown put it), it’s time to turn the question around. You have opposed the war. You have given us reasons, but they are not persuasive, and when events invalidate your reasons, you do not recant. Now we hear you musing aloud about what counter-narratives to use next. But, counter-narratives aside, what are your real reasons for opposing the war?


I think the Old Testament contains a hint, in the story of Jonah. Jonah was told to prophesy to the Ninevites, refused, claiming to be afraid that the Ninevites would kill him, caught a ship to Spain, caused a storm, was thrown overboard, and spent three days in the belly of a whale, which made him famous. That’s the part everyone knows. People might also remember that when the whale spat Jonah up on the land, he went to Nineveh after all, and preached, and the people repented in sackcloth and ashes. But that’s not the end of the story. Jonah was angry that the Ninevites listened to him and repented. He complained to the Lord. Jonah was a Jew, and the Jews were supposed to be the Chosen People. Now, with the Ninevites repenting, there was competition. The Jews would lose their privileged place. Jonah wanted to keep God’s word for the Jews alone—that was the real reason that he didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites in the first place. And I think many Iraq war opponents are like that. Why should we want Arabs to be free? Why should we want the Iraqi economy to grow? Right now, we’re the Chosen People, the richest, the freest, the strongest. We can sit at the UN table with a special legitimacy because we are free and democratic. The more democracies there are, the less privileged Americans will be by comparison, the less special legitimacy we will have. Would we really rather live in a world full of free republics, where we were just one of 200+? Saddam was useful in that way: wicked and illegitimate, he had little hope of taking from us that most critical resource, the moral high ground. The Arabs have higher birthrates than we do. As time passes, there will be many more of them, and only a few more of us. They will wax and we will wane. If they are democratic, too, will they eclipse us?


Long live the free Iraq.