Indiana becomes the center of the universe, for a little while

This is where Indiana is, in case you’ve been wondering.

Last week the state of Indiana made the national news by passing a law whose sponsors named it “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Opponents of the claim that this name is misleading, both because it does little to promote religious freedom and because it is significantly different from the US federal law known by the same name and from the laws modeled on that federal law that are on the books in many other states.  Because the law is expected to protect businesses that refuse to serve members of sexual minority groups, advocates of the rights of such groups have protested vigorously against it.

The two things about this controversy I’ve read that I’ve found most helpful are an essay posted on Facebook by lawyer Carolyn Homer Thomas and a blog post by Eve Tushnet.  As the weeks pass, I’ll probably see good things in print, but for now the story is fresh enough that the internet is the richest source.

Carolyn Homer Thomas writes that Indiana’s law differs from the federal law in two key ways:

First, SB 101 expressly recognizes that for-profit businesses which “exercise practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by…the individuals…who have control and substantial ownership of the entity” qualify for religious exemptions. This means that there is NO Indiana regulation that a business cannot theoretically trump by saying their religion forbids compliance. What’s rightfully getting the most attention (because of the gay rights movement) is the risk that businesses will try to trump non-discrimination and employment laws. This is because, until the Hobby Lobby case, most people had understood the earlier federal and state RFRAs to only protect individuals or non-profit religious institutions, like churches and charities. But the Indiana RFRA now allows even for-profit corporations to exercise religion.

“This means that there is NO Indiana regulation that a business cannot theoretically trump by saying their religion forbids compliance.”  A statute that, interpreted by its plain language, would dismantle the entire civil law system of one of the fifty states would seem to pose a threat to every law-abiding citizen of that state.  I can see that members of sexual minority groups are among those who are especially vulnerable that threat, and so it is reasonable that they should be among the major focuses of attention as Hoosiers* try to figure out how to get themselves out of the mess their state legislature and governor have landed them in.

Carolyn Homer Thomas goes on to identify another major problem with the Indiana statute:

Second – this is the most fascinating aspect of the whole thing to me as a religion law geek – SB 101 only protects a business who is actively “exercising” a practice that is “compelled or limited by” religious belief. This means that the religious belief cannot just be a preference — it has to be theologically mandated. So, a business who suddenly changes course, or comes up with a fairly weak theological reason for its action? That is a ground in court to reject their exemption. By contrast, SB 101 protects ANY “exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief” for individuals and non-profits. So it will be harder for businesses to get exemptions than individuals. Indiana will require a much higher showing of religious conflict before it will protect businesses. (I am going to bracket the fact that this difference presents its own Constitutional problems – courts aren’t supposed to, under the Establishment Clause, evaluate theology.)

Giving state courts the power to decide what does and does not count as a worthwhile religious belief would seem to be a pretty big drawback in something called “the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Eve Tushnet, as a conservative Roman Catholic and an out (albeit celibate) lesbian, has a unique perspective on this issue.  Because of her religious beliefs, she understands the scruples of those whose consciences won’t allow them to participate in same-sex weddings:

1. Cooking is an art, cakes are art, compelled creation of beauty is compelled speech. I feel like the denial that cakery is/should be expressive, that food bears meaning, is somehow Gnostic and class-biased (or sexist? if your grandma could do it, it must not be art?), but maybe that’s self-parody on my part. Anyway beauty + meaning, to me, pretty clearly = art. And photography is even more obviously art, right?

At the same time, because of her sexuality, she also understands dimensions of the issue to which other social conservatives are blind:

2. Still… I wonder how different this debate would look if more gay people felt confident that Christians know how common discrimination, harassment, and violence are in our lives. I mean I didn’t really know this myself for a long time. I was very sheltered. The past few years, in which I’ve gotten to know lots of gay people from different backgrounds (mostly Christian, mostly celibate, it turns out this doesn’t protect you–not that any of my friends asked it to), have been eye-opening for me.

And quite often I find straight people are even more surprised than I was to hear about the frequency and sordid creativity of anti-gay acts. I hope I’m remembering this right, but at a retreat I was at, the leader asked how many of the non-straight participants had either experienced violence as a result of sexual orientation ourselves, or had close friends who had experienced this violence. And I think all of us had. (Close friends, in my case.) And the straight people were shocked. When I tell this story now, people’s eyes widen–I mean, straight people’s eyes widen.

The support major corporations and prominent media figures have given to the protests against Indiana’s law has convinced social conservatives like Rod Dreher that America’s power elite is solidly in favor of the rights of sexual minorities, and that he and his fellow dissenters are headed for a future on the margins of society.  Mr Dreher writes, “On this issue, the left has the media, the academy, much of the legal profession, and corporate America on its side. That’s a powerful coalition. It is the Establishment. And you will not escape its view.”  At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski goes even further, declaring that “The Left Has No Concept of Freedom,” and that those leading the charge against the Indiana law portends a “law of the state [that will] expand so much that it leaves the individual no space in which he may determine his own private principles of action.”

Ms Tushnet has a response ready for Messrs Dreher and Tracinski:

We have a sharply bifurcated culture, where like Glee is on tv and Tim Cook is a gazillionaire, and yet countless kids are being harassed, berated, and thrown out of their homes for being gay.

I am not convinced most straight people know that stuff, and think it’s awful. I am definitely not convinced that most gay people trust that our heterosexual brethren know and reject that stuff. That’s some of what you’re hearing in the “slippery slope” arguments, Can they refuse to carry us in the ambulance? Can they kick our family out of the restaurant?

Those slippery slope arguments are pretty hard to forget when you think about small towns and rural areas of a sort that do exist in Indiana, places where public space consists of a handful of businesses, a few fundamentalist churches, and a couple of government offices.  If you live in one of those areas and the people running those businesses decide that it isn’t worth their while to be seen with the likes of you, your life could become very tightly circumscribed very quickly.

I’ll conclude with a very clever tweet from Michael Brendan Dougherty.  Mr Dougherty, who has taken a rightist stand in this debate, posted this:

Well of course they do.  That’s why mainstream political discussion had so little room for the rights of sexual minorities until recent times; most people can’t really imagine themselves wanting to exercise the right to form a same-sex relationship, or to be transgender, or to live any of the other lives that we now group together under the LGBTQI banner.  And it’s also why every other minority group, including religious minority groups, has a hard time finding a hearing from the general public.   I consider this tweet to be very clever because, in a single rhetorical move, it creates a category into which both the same-sexer who has to wonder whether the paramedics will refuse to put her in the ambulance and the photographer who has to wonder she’ll be sued out of business if she declines to take pictures at a same-sex wedding naturally fall.  So he, like Ms Tushnet and Ms Thomas, manages to open a space in the debate for a human voice.

*That’s what people from Indiana are called, “Hoosiers.”  No one knows why, though there is some evidence supporting a theory connecting it with an early-nineteenth century slang term from Yorkshire, “howzher,” which meant “oaf.”  Anyway, though the word may have originated as an insult, people from Indiana insist on being identified as “Hoosiers,” and if you call them “Indianans” they genuinely do not understand what you mean.

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Uh-oh

I added a comment to my post below that I decided I should put into a post in chief.  Remarking on the elevation of Argentina’s Cardinal Bergoglio to be Pope Francis, I wrote that I hope he will:

say the phrase “Malvinas/ Falklands” in a high-profile forum very soon. Another war between Britain and Argentina over the islands may not be particularly likely just now, but it is by no means impossible. And that a churchman who has so emphatically identified himself with Argentina’s claim to the islands should have been elevated to the papacy the day after the Falklanders voted almost unanimously to remain a UK territory does threaten to create the impression that the Vatican is something other than neutral regarding the dispute. Such an impression can do no good and could raise the potential for conflict from its current, rather low order of probability to a significant danger.

I made a similar remarks as a comment on Mark Shea’s blog.  I suspect that if Pope Francis waits more than a few hours to make it clear that he will not be bringing his nationalism with him onto the international stage he now occupies, any statement he makes later will inflame Argentine public opinion.

I’ll also link here to Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece in Slate magazine expressing his reservations about Francis.  I’m not familiar with the issues Mr Dougherty raises, but it shares the crispness and force of all his writing.

Why didn’t Mitt Romney know he was going to lose?

For a week now, articles, columns, blog posts, and wisecracks have been appearing in their thousands about the fact that former Massachusetts governor Willard M. “Mitt” Romney seems to have been surprised that he lost the presidential election.  The foremost of these publications so far is Conor Friedersdorf’s post on the Atlantic‘s website, “How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File.”  Also of note are blog posts by Josh Marshall and Claire Potter, a column by Maureen Dowd, and an article on Slate by John Dickerson.

The most quoted section of Mr Friedersdorf’s piece is probably this:

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what?

You haven’t just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven’t tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they’ve done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

Why do you keep putting up with it?

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses. What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election.

Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense. WorldNetDaily brought you birtherism. Forbes brought you Kenyan anti-colonialism. National Review obsessed about an imaginary rejection of American exceptionalism, misrepresenting an Obama quote in the process, and Andy McCarthy was interviewed widely about his theory that Obama, aka the Drone Warrior in Chief, allied himself with our Islamist enemies in a “Grand Jihad” against America. Seriously?

Mr Dickerson makes the case that Mr Romney himself was among those deluded by right-wing media into the belief that he was likely to win the election by a comfortable margin:

Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. His campaign was adamant that public polls in the swing states were mistaken. They claimed the pollsters were over-estimating the number of Democrats who would turn out on Election Day. Romney’s campaign was certain that minorities would not show up for Obama in 2012 the way they did in 2008. “It just defied logic,” said a top aide of the idea that Obama could match, let alone exceed, his performance with minorities from the last election. When anyone raised the idea that public polls were showing a close race, the campaign’s pollster said the poll modeling was flawed and everyone moved on. Internally, the campaign’s own polling—tweaked to represent their view of the electorate, with fewer Democrats—showed a steady uptick for Romney since the first debate. Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win “decisively.” It seemed like spin, but the Boston Globe reports that a fireworks display was already ordered for the victory. Romney and Ryan thought they were going to win, say aides. “We were optimistic. More than just cautiously optimistic,” says one campaign staffer. When Romney lost, “it was like a death in the family.”

Professor Potter draws harsh conclusions from Mr Romney’s apparent belief in his chances:

Peculiarly, since the race was consistently described as tight for most of the month prior to election day, and Obama had been gaining ground in all the states he needed to win, Mitt was entirely unprepared for the possibility that he was not going to be president. According to the HuffPo, Romney was “shellshocked” that he was not winning on Tuesday night, having genuinely believed that voter suppression would work all the major media polls were wrong. Paul Ryan and both wives were also stunned. According to CBS, “Their emotion was visible on their faces when they walked on stage after Romney finished his [concession speech], which Romney had hastily composed, knowing he had to say something….They all were thrust on that stage without understanding what had just happened.”

Let’s underline this: Romney had no concession speech, despite available data demonstrating that he could lose the election. None of the four adults who had planned to run the United States government, and lead the rest of what we used to call the “Free World,” seem to have understood that this outcome was possible. “On the eve of the election,” Daniel Lippman writes,” a number of polling aggregators, including HuffPost‘s Pollster and New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight, showed Obama with a huge statistical advantage over Romney.” And yet, despite the fact that Nate Silver, the boy genius of FiveThirtyEight, is almost never wrong, Romney chose to believe that these polls were just partisan attempts to persuade his supporters to stay home.

This is the outcome of lying: you have no real compass for when other people are telling the truth and you need to pay attention to it.

Ms Dowd echoes this point:

Until now, Republicans and Fox News have excelled at conjuring alternate realities. But this time, they made the mistake of believing their fake world actually existed. As Fox’s Megyn Kelly said to Karl Rove on election night, when he argued against calling Ohio for Obama: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”

Much of this growing literature seems to be driven by the desire of those who supported the reelection of President Barack Obama to gloat over Mr Romney’s defeat and to make hostile remarks about his party.  Mr Dickerson’s Slate colleague Katherine Goldstein has appealed for a limit to this gloating, but her piece has attracted far fewer readers than his, and there is no end in sight.  Conservatives had raised similar points, speaking from of course different motivations, shorty before the election.  For example, on Election Day Michael Brendan Dougherty provided a list of five points to make in trying to explain Mr Romney’s defeat to Republicans who get their news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh, starting with “Lots of Republican voters died” between 2008 and 2012, and growing more trenchant as it goes.  Political scientists have been wary of entering the fray; political science blog The Monkey Cage has only featured one post that could be construed as part of the discussion, and that was structured as a conventional media-criticism piece, not a jeer of “Hey everybody, look at the dumbass!”

Turning back for a moment, Professor Potter’s remarks struck me as somewhat oversimplified.  So I replied to them.  I wrote:

I agree with most of what you say, but I do want to register one demurrer.   “Mitt was entirely unprepared for the possibility that he was not going to be president… This is the outcome of lying: you have no real compass for when other
people are telling the truth and you need to pay attention to it.”  I often think of George McGovern’s response when he was asked when he realized he was going to lose the 1972 presidential election.  He said the first time the thought entered his head that President Nixon might possibly beat him was about 10 PM on election night.  Granted, Nate Silver wasn’t around then, but there were quite a few polls, and they all turned out to be right.  What kept the senator from taking those polls seriously wasn’t that he was addicted to lies; he was a remarkably honest man, in fact.  Nor did he surround himself with sycophants.

So why did it not enter Senator McGovern’s mind that he could lose, when it was clear to most observers that he was on his way to the short end of an enormous landslide?  I don’t think it really is such a mystery.  If you’re goal is to win a major party’s presidential nomination, it helps to be the sort of person who never for a moment considers the possibility that s/he might fail in anything s/he sets out to do.  Donors who write big checks, activists who give up their free time to volunteer on campaigns, journalists who bet their next promotions on the campaigns they are assigned to cover, and other major players in the political system all want to attach themselves to the eventual winner.  If you’re given to self-doubt and you’re opponent is certain that s/he will win, you are at a disadvantage in the contest to attract the attention of those players.  Besides, major campaigns make extremely heavy demands on the time, energy, and finances of candidates.  If one candidate is doing a realistic cost-benefit analysis while another is proceeding from the never questioned assumption that s/he will win, the first candidate is less likely to meet those demands.

What about Mr Romney?  I would point out, first, that he has enjoyed considerable success throughout his life.  It’s true that he has only won one of the four elections in which he offered himself as a candidate, and that by a narrow margin, but in his years as a businessman he reaped huge profits no matter what he did.  Moreover, as the son of George Romney and a descendant of Parley Pratt, Mr Romney grew up as a sort of crown prince of Mormonism.  All his life he has been surrounded by people who expected great things of him.  It would be very strange indeed if someone coming from that background and going through a career in which hundreds of millions of dollars devolved upon him were not to believe himself to be a man of destiny.

In other words, I agree that Mr Romney’s privileged background and the overall intellectual climate of his party are probably factors in his placid self-assurance.  However, a highly competitive system like those which have produced major-party nominees for US president will select for candidates who exhibit that precisely that quality, and it is hardly a surprise when a nominee is so deeply shaped by it that s/he cannot see defeat coming even when all indications point to it.

I’d also like to add one point to the comment I posted on Professor Potter’s site.  Every candidate who represents a political party is expected to help that party raise money, build organization, and get its voters to the polls.  Even a nominee who is universally regarded as a sure loser will therefore, if s/he is living up to the terms of his or her covenant with the party, campaign until the moment the last ballot is cast.  Few people are interested in giving money, volunteering, or voting for a candidate who says that s/he is unlikely to win.  Imagine your telephone ringing, and a voice on the other end greeting you with: “Hello, I’m Peter Politician, and I’d like to ask you to devote your resources and efforts to my doomed campaign.  As you know, I have no chance of winning this election.  Can I count on your active support?  It will cost you a great deal of inconvenience, and buy you nothing but a share of my inevitable, humiliating defeat.”  I doubt you’d respond very favorably.  Right up to the moment when the candidate delivers his or her concession speech, s/he is telling potential donors, volunteers, and voters that s/he expects to win.  That’s a lot easier to do if you actually believe what you’re saying.

Highlights of some recent issues of The American Conservative

 It’s been a while since I’ve posted a “Periodicals Note” about my favorite “Old Right” read, The American Conservative.  So here are quick links to some good articles from the last four months.

Richard Gamble, author of the indispensable book The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, The Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nationwrites an appreciation of the anti-imperialist essays of William Graham Sumner.  The magazine’s website carries one of these, an 1896 piece called “The Fallacy of Territorial Expansion.”   Sumner was a pivotal figure in my early intellectual development, not superseded as an influence until I came upon the writings of Irving Babbitt.  I am glad to see that Professor Gamble, who has studied Babbitt deeply, also shares my admiration for Sumner.  Not that Babbitt and Sumner would have had much use for each other, I hasten to add.  Sumner (1840-1910) the sociologist was contemptuous of classics and philosophy, proposing that both subjects be removed from the curriculum at Yale, while Babbitt (1865-1933) the humanist was impatient with the nascent social sciences of his day and proposed that those students at Harvard who were fit to study nothing else should be released with a three-year baccalaureate, while the first-rate men who could handle the traditional humanities might stay for a fourth year.  Both were right-wing critics of militarism, but that was a common enough combination in the USA in the early decades of the twentieth century that the two professors would have been unlikely to see it as a source of kinship.

Ron Unz remembers the late Alexander Cockburn, whose name has been a familiar one on this site from its beginning.  Not only have we mentioned Cockburn more frequently here than virtually any other commentator; we have disagreed with him less frequently, and agreed with him more fervently, than perhaps any other.

Two pieces in the September issue remember another distinguished dissident, Gore Vidal.  Bill Kauffmann discusses his correspondence with the great man, and Noah Millman reviews the current Broadway revival of Vidal’s play The Best Man.

Samuel Goldman writes about meritocracy, arguing that elites who can believe themselves to have earned their positions are worse for everyone than are elites that know themselves to be the heirs of multigenerational systems of governance.  The first time this idea occurred to me was in 1988, when I was observing the US presidential campaign between George H. W. Bush, scion of an old New England dynasty, and Michael Dukakis, son of hardworking immigrants.  I was happy to vote for Mr Dukakis, but could understand a friend of mine who looked at a newspaper photo of him playing the trumpet, asked “Have you ever noticed that Dukakis can do everything?,” and went on to cast a ballot for Mr Bush.

In the August issue, Ron Unz wrote an important piece called “Race, IQ, and Wealth,” in which he argued that the work of scholars Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen presents data that directly contradicts Professors Lynn and Vanhanen’s thesis that differences in average IQ among various ethnic groups are unlikely to vary over time and are largely attributable to biological differences among those groups.   Mr Unz goes so far as to say that “an objective review of the Lynn/Vanhanen data almost completely discredits the Lynn/Vanhanen ‘Strong IQ Hypothesis.'”  Professor Lynn replied to Mr Unz here, and Mr Unz rebutted him here.

In that same issue, Michael Brendan Dougherty presented an article about conservatives who have supported and continue to support Barack Obama.  I am neither a conservative nor a backer of Mr O, but Mr Dougherty is always worth reading.

A third piece from the August issue that I would recommend is William Lind’s “America Goes Jousting,” about the remarkably tenuous relationship between US military spending and US security interests.  Mr Lind reports a conversation he once had when he was a senior congressional staffer dealing with the defense budget.  An Air Force general asked him what use he was supposed to have for 18 B-2 bombers.  Mr Lind suggested towing them to county fairs and charging admission.  Mr Lind declares that it is nuclear weapons that keep the peace, and that the Marine Corps is likely sufficient to defeat any enemies the USA might be so imprudent as fight on land. He brands the rest of the US military an elaborate show, useless for national defense, a mere vessel for funneling tax dollars to workers in favored congressional districts and to investors well-connected on Capitol Hill.

A fourth is Michael Brendan Dougherty’s “Faith in the Flesh,” about a German court’s decision to forbid Jews from circumcising their sons.  Mr Dougherty examines the “human rights” doctrines behind this astounding ruling and traces them back to a conception of religion specific to the German Anabaptist movement.  From the Anabaptists, the idea has become widespread among Protestants that religious affiliation ought to be the result of an intellectual decision by an adult to accept certain propositions as true.   This idea is unknown in most of the world’s religious traditions, and was unknown to Christians before the German Reformation.  Even today, it is accepted by only a minority of Christians.  For most of the world, religion is about connections to people first, and affirmations of verbal statements somewhere later on.  So of course one inherits one’s religion from one’s parents.  A disproportionate share of the politicians, jurists, and intellectuals who crafted the doctrines known as “human rights” come from Protestant backgrounds, and take this peculiar idea for granted.  That’s how it is possible that German judges, successors of the very men most thoroughly discredited by their participation in the Holocaust, can quite sincerely fail to see an ethical problem in a ruling that would prohibit Jews from practicing Judaism in Germany.

Back in July, Stephen B. Tippins wrote a column about Fisher Ames, one of the founders of the United States.  Mr Tippins opens with a conversation he had with a friend who was puzzled as to why he would write about Ames.  The friend wanted to know how writing about Ames would help elect Willard “Mitt” Romney as president of the United States.  Mr Tippins didn’t suppose it would advance such a goal.  His friend could imagine no other justification for political writing than the promotion of Mr Romney’s fortunes.  Mr Tippins spends the rest of the piece arguing that readers who develop a proper appreciation of Ames’ work will face no such difficulty, and that they will come to have a view of what politics is for that does not revolve around any one man or any one office.

 June’s issue also contained some interesting pieces.  Sean Scallon contrasts Mr Romney’s career as a private equity operator with his father’s career as an industrialist and finds an ominous indication of the direction American capitalism has taken.

Rod Dreher writes about the growth of Orthodox Christianity in the USA, arguing that this shows that Americans of a conservative bent have grown dissatisfied not only with mainline Protestantism, but with the Roman Catholic church as well.  Certainly, if one takes the word “conservative” literally, the churches of the East are the most conservative parts of Christendom.  So it is not surprising that in a time when the word has such a cachet, Orthodox churches are growing rapidly, albeit from a very small base.*  As Mr Dreher reports:

Whatever role Orthodox Christians in America have to play in this drama, it will certainly be as a minuscule minority. In worldwide Christianity, Orthodoxy is second only to Roman Catholicism in the number of adherents. But in the United States, a 2010 census conducted by U.S. Orthodox bishops found only 800,000 Orthodox believers in this country—roughly equivalent to the number of American Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Yet converts keep coming, and they bring with them a revivifying enthusiasm for the faith of Christian antiquity. One-third of Orthodox priests in the U.S. are converts—a number that skyrockets to 70 percent in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, a magnet for Evangelicals. In the Greek Orthodox Church, around one-third of parishioners are converts, while just over half the members of the Orthodox Church in America came through conversion. For traditionalist conservatives among that number, Orthodoxy provides an experience of worship and a way of seeing the world that resonates with their deepest intuitions, in a way they cannot find elsewhere in American Christianity.

Also in June, W. James Antle reported on Virgil Goode, a former congressman from Virginia who is challenging Mr Romney from the right as the Constitution Party’s candidate for president.  I confess to being rather mystified as to what is motivating Mr Goode to run, and the Constitution Party to support him.  His views do not seem to be far from Mr Romney’s on any of the major issues of the day.  As a congressman, he supported the Iraq War, the so-called USA-PATRIOT Act, and many other measures that third parties left and right tend to view as steps toward tyranny.   He has yet to renounce any of those positions, though in Mr Antle’s eyes it is “clear that Goode’s positions were evolving in the Constitution Party’s direction” when he became the party’s presidential nominee.

*If that rings a bell, maybe you’ve been looking at this cartoon.

 

“We do not believe in appointing Deputies to do what we think it wrong for ourselves to do”

Grover Cleveland, before he entered politics

This summer Mrs Acilius and I read Ryan P. Jordan‘s  Slavery and the Meetinghouse, a study of the great difficulty American Quakers had in the years 1821-1861 trying to decide on an approach to take to the issue of slavery.  Last night I was reminded of this passage, from pages 114 through 115 of Jordan’s book:

The editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Sydney Howard Gay, wrote that the Anti-Slavery Society disagreed “with the philosophy of the Quaker[s]” who when appointed to political positions would not hang a man themselves but “would appoint a Deputy that would.”  “We do not believe,” continued Gay, “in appointing Deputies to do what we think to be wrong for ourselves to do.” 

Gay wrote these words in October of 1848, when many American Quakers were rallying to support the presidential campaign of slaveholder Zachary Taylor.  In the willingness of the ostensibly antislavery Quakers of the day to support a slaveholding president, Gay saw cowardice.  He equated the cowardice he believed he saw in this matter with the cowardice he saw in the same Quakers in regard to the death penalty.  In the seventeenth century, the founders of Quakerism opposed the death penalty, and in many parts of the world that opposition continues even today in an unbroken line of tradition.  The Quakers Gay saw in the antebellum USA paid lip service to that tradition, but many of them merely hid behind others while they became complicit in executions.

What brought this to my mind last night was this tweet from author Michael Brendan Dougherty:

I don’t like Rick Perry. And I think he failed in his answer on this. But it is wrong to say that “Rick Perry has executed” people.

To which I responded:

@michaelbd “it is wrong to say that “Rick Perry has executed” people.” Better Grover Cleveland, who did the job personally, than to delegate

Only someone with a lively interest in nineteenth century US history would be likely to know what I was talking about there, so permit me to explain.  In 1872, Stephen Grover Cleveland was sheriff of Erie County, New York.  The law of the state of New York in those days declared it to be the responsibility of the sheriff of each county to hang the prisoners condemned to death for crimes committed in that county.  As this 1912 New York Times article (pdf) put it, “In the office of Sheriff of Erie County there had for many years been a Deputy Sheriff named Jacob Emerick.  Mr Cleveland’s predecessors had from time immemorial followed the custom of turning over to Emerick all the details of public executions.  So often had this veteran Deputy Sheriff officiated at hangings that he came to be publicly known as ‘Hangman Emerick.'”  Evidently Emerick didn’t enjoy this sobriquet, and Cleveland noticed that the law explicitly named the High Sheriff as the officer responsible for hangings.  So when Patrick Morrisey was scheduled to be hanged on 6 September 1872, Cleveland resolved to execute Morrisey himself.  To return to the Times article, “Cleveland surprised the community and his friends by announcing that he personally would perform the act of Executioner.  To the remonstrances of his friends he refused to listen, pointing to the letter of the law requiring the Sheriff to ‘hang by the neck,’ &c.  He furthermore insisted that he had no moral right to impose upon a subordinate the obnoxious and degrading tasks that attached to his office.  He considered it an important duty on his part to relieve Emerick as far as possible from the growing onus of his title of ‘Hangman.'”   The following year, Cleveland again acted as hangman, putting one John Gaffney to death.  Cleveland was subsequently elected mayor of Buffalo, then governor of New York.  He was the Democratic Party’s candidate for president of the United States in 1884, 1888, and 1892, winning the popular vote on all three occasions and winning the electoral vote in 1884 and 1892.  He remains the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms in office and one of only four candidates to win the popular vote three times.  He is also the only former sheriff to go on to become US president.

It is because of Cleveland’s willingness to look Morrisey and Gaffney in their faces and pull the lever that dropped the platform from beneath their feet that I have more respect for him than I do for Rick Perry.  In his years as governor of Texas, Mr Perry has signed death warrants that have consigned the 234 people to death.  So far from performing these executions himself, Mr Perry seems never even to have attended an execution.  And while Cleveland could acknowledge that performing an execution was one of the “obnoxious and degrading tasks attached to his office,” Mr Perry claims to regard signing death warrants as a carefree exercise.  This difference alone shows that Grover Cleveland lived in a different moral universe than does Rick Perry.  People whose imaginations are shaped by television and video games may think of indifference to human life as a form of strength, and of personal encounters with the object of one’s violent behavior as unimportant.  Such views would likely have struck a man of Cleveland’s sort as a sign of profound moral and spiritual immaturity.  Granted, executions were far more routine in America in the nineteenth century than they are today, even in a death-penalty happy state like Texas.  But does the fact that we execute fewer people today mean that we take the matter of life and death more seriously than the Americans of Cleveland’s day took it?  Or does it simply mean that other features of our society have interfered with the smooth functioning of the “machinery of death“?

The American Conservative, October 2009

american conservative october 2009

The cover may suggest an alarmist piece about Pakistan.  The article actually in the issue, though, is precisely the opposite.  Granting that Pakistan is an important country that has very serious problems, it asserts that there is no chance that it will break up, fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden, or launch a nuclear attack.  If the USA sobers up and pursues a more realistic policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan might even make progress on its real problems.

Elsewhere in the issue, Andrew Bacevich quotes Cold Warrior Richard Pipes’ 1979 declaration to the effect that since Afghanistan is a place of no strategic importance, the Soviet invasion of that country must have been a step towards a goal elsewhere.  Bacevich agrees that Afghanistan was without strategic importance when Pipes said that, and says that it continues to be so.  Where he disagrees with Pipes is in his assessment of the rationality of the Soviet leadership of the 1979-1989 period, and indeed of the US leadership of today.  He claims that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan because they believed that showing power there would shore up their empire; in fact, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the USSR.  Likewise, America’s leaders want to persist in Afghanistan, not because of they have made any rational calculation indicating that they should, but because they are dare not make a calculation that might indicate that they should not.

This issue includes a piece by always-intriguing, highly eccentric writer Eve Tushnet.  Tushnet has a gift for the lapidary; she describes growing up in Washington, DC as one of very few white children in her neighborhood, albeit one “weird enough that my skin color was not one of the obvious targets of teasing.”  Recounting her childhood Halloweens, she writes that “A mask is above all an attempt to communicate, to create and reshape meaning over the silence of skin.”  Quite a provocative phrase, “the silence of skin.”  On a par with her line from 2008, “by religion, I mean an understanding of the nature of love.”

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The American Conservative, 17 November 2008

In a used book store years ago, I bought some old issues, circa 1965, of National Review.  They weren’t all that interesting on their own merits.  What stuck in my mind about them was the sadness that ran through them.  Each article seemed to be a form of mourning for a kind of politics that was no longer possible, for a kind of country that no longer existed.

That’s very much the feeling I got from this issue of The American Conservative.  The cover features a checklist of G. W. Bush’s “Missions Accomplished”: “Start a war (or two); Shred Constitution; Crash economy” etc, etc.  Inside is a five article retrospective on the horrors of the Bush-Cheney administration (including articles by our old friends Alexander Cockburn and Allen Carlson.)  As Bush and company prepare to leave office, these articles take on a strangely distant sound.

Michael Brendan Daugherty looks at the results of California’s Proposition 8 and concludes that it is likely to be the last victory that he and his fellow opponents of same-sex marriage will be likely to celebrate.  Pointing out that Proposition 8 and similar measures have passed only because so many voters aged over 65 backed them, Daugherty claims that “Absent an incredible shift in attitudes, same sex marriage will soon command majority support.”

David Gordon gives a favorable review to James Kalb’s The Tyranny of Liberalism.  Apparently Kalb defines “liberalism” as “the rejection of moral authorities that transcend human purposes,” and from this definition lays great mischief at the feet of the liberal tradition.  I’ve read several interesting articles by Kalb, for example in the journal Telos, and have gone to his blog in hopes of finding more like those articles.  But I must say I’ve been disappointed.  His editors must add a lot of value to his work- the blog usually includes several overly abstract defenses of the Roman Catholic faith that Kalb has adopted, interspersed with current affairs commentary from what it might be charitable to call an anti-Zionist perspective.

I’m getting to be quite fond of their backpage columnist, Bill Kauffman.  This time around Kauffman remembers novelist John Gardner, who like him lived in Batavia, New York.  After describing the lengths to which he and his fellow Batavians have gone to keep the memory of Gardner and his works alive, Kauffman interjects, “You know what?  Gardner is not even among my hundred favorite American novelists.  But he is ours.  That is enough.”  When I was a teenager, I read Gardner’s The Art of Fiction.  I remember that it was pleasant to read, that’s all I do remember of it.

The American Conservative, 14 July 2008 & 28 July 2008

14 July– A special issue on the causes and consequences of World War Two; the cover asks “How good was the good war?”  Seven contributors disagree on various points, but all concur that the international situation confronting the United States today bears very little resemblance to that which confronted Britain and France at the Munich Conference in 1938.  Several contributors cite Wilhelm II’s Germany on the eve of World War I as the state from which the USA could take the most powerful cautionary lesson.

Right-wing third party presidential candidates Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin get friendly writeups.

Steve Sailer (lefalcon’s least favorite blogger, and for good reason) reviews Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City and slashes Florida’s claims about the “creative class” to bits.   Florida claims that culturally tolerant cities are the places where it is likeliest that creative elites will form and develop new, commercially successful products and systems.  Florida’s favorite example is Silicon Valley, which he says owed its genesis to the wide-open mores of San Francisco.  Sailer points out that Silicon Valley is in Palo Alto, 33 miles from San Francisco.  Sailer finds that Silicon Valley’s location is in fact typical of the geographical centers of innovation in today’s economy: “high tech regions don’t sprout in diverse cities but way out in the suburbs.  Think of Route 128 outside of Boston, the Dulles Corridor in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, the two Silicon Prairies west of Chicago and north of Dallas, or the biotech office parks next to Torrey Pines golf course in scenic North San Diego County.”  This pattern, Sailer asserts, holds because “Bohemians don’t invent gizmos.  Nerds do.  The geeks and the golf-playing sales guys who peddle their inventions are usually team players who are relatively monogamous and family-oriented.  They soon wind up in the ‘burbs, where they find backyards and good public schools.”  It’s after the inventions are made and the wealth starts coming in that the cultural openness and sophisticated urbanity Florida talks about comes in.

Fred Reed uses the inside back cover to take the USA to task for being a society that is “unrelaxed, therefore uncontemplative.”  Perhaps that’s why he lives in Mexico now.

28 July– Leon Hadar believes that the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002 was a just war, but that it is now long past time to withdraw US troops from the country.  He argues that it is unrealistic to expect a foreign army to bring order to Afghanistan.

Michael Brendan Dougherty reports on the apparently unanimous support that Roman Catholic bishops in the USA have given to the least restrictive immigration policies available.

David Gordon describes the “Rawlsekians,” a group of young libertarian thinkers who want to combine the egalitarian political philosophy of John Rawls with the neoliberal economics of Friedrich Hayek.  He finds the results unsatisfactory.

Ed West provides an hilarious review of a new book about the bin Laden family.  After running through many outlandish anecdotes about the family, he ends thus:

On the whole the bin Ladens seem to be a sympathetic bunch- charming fellows, mostly.  One has to come to the same conclusion as the FBI: there are millions of bin Ladens running around, and “99.999999% of them are of the non-evil variety.”

The American Conservative, 19 May 08

This issue‘s highlights include:

Bill Kauffman praises Students for a Democratic Society Founder Carl Oglesby as a leader of “a humane, decentralist, thoroughly American New Left that regarded socialism as ‘a way to bury social problems under a federal bureaucracy,'” in Oglesby’s words.  Called upon to name the corrupt system that needed to be smashed in order to create a democratic society, Oglesby chose the name “corporate liberalism.”  In Oglesby, Kauffman finds a fellow admirer of the localist, traditionalist, anti-statist Old Right, one who saw virtues in the contemporary libertarian right but who warned those of that tendency that they might well “remain hypnotically charmed by the authoritarian imperialists whose only love is Power, the subhuman brownshirted power of the jingo state militant, the state rampant, the iron state possessed of its own clanking glory.”  Kauffman goes on to argue that another 60’s leader matched Oglesby in his understanding of the importance of rootedness and community, and that leader was George Wallace.  “If you can get beyond Wallace’s reprehensible race-baiting… certain of his policies overlapped with the humane Left.”  “If you can get beyond Wallace’s reprehensible race-baiting” you will have gone further than any of his supporters ever did.  The Guvnah’s whole national career consisted of race-baiting.  Still, anybody William F. Buckley saw fit to attack as a “country and western Marxist” must have had something going for him.  Kauffman does not mention one highly pertinent fact about Oglesby’s standing as a critic of corporate liberalism and bureaucratization, a fact which emerged in an interview Kauffman himself conducted with Oglesby this year.  Oglesby endorsed the presidential campaign of H. R. Clinton, an avatar of corporate liberalism if ever there was one.

Michael Brendan Dougherty reports on the formation of J Street, a lobbying organization that intends to give a voice to American Jews who do not support the hawkish policies of groups like AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, etc.  Dougherty devotes some space to the prominent Israelis who have declared their support for J Street and its program.

Margaret Liu McConnell argues against institutionalizing same-sex marriage on the grounds that a same-sex couple can become parents to a child only if one or both of that child’s biological parents relinquishes his or her parental role.  She doesn’t argue that same-sexers should be prohibited from adopting children or from using donated genetic material.  Her last sentence: “To those who ask how reserving marriage for one man and one woman is any different from yesterday’s vile prohibition against interracial marriage, the answer is evident in the faces of the… children of mixed-race couples, belonging to and loved by both parents, relinquished by neither.”  Liu McConnell’s argument doesn’t convince me, but it is the first conservative argument against gay marriage I’ve ever seen that actually has any substance at all.  I did see a radical argument against it 10-15 years ago in a law review, but I haven’t been able to track the article down.