The Possession Fallacy

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One of America’s most enduring, and at least faintly humorous, historical images is that of Europeans landing someplace on the continent and claiming everything from there to the next ocean as the property of the high and mighty prince, King Such and Such of Somewhere.

On June 14, 1671, Francois Daumont, Sieur de St. Lusson, an agent of that most puissant monarch Louis XIV, stood at “the Soo,” the rapids of the St. Mary’s River, and took possession of the Great Lakes, Manitoulin Island, and “all other countries, rivers, lakes, and tributaries contiguous and adjacent thereunto, as well discovered as to be discovered, which are bounden on the one side by the northern and Western seas and on the other side by the South Sea including all its length and breadth.” “This formula,” says F. Clever Bald, the historian of Michigan, “he repeated three times.”

The ruling assumption is that, so long as you have enough faith in your own righteousness, you can own something by just sticking some words on it.

There is a verbal equivalent. It is the act of seizing on some word or concept and using it to impose your standards of morality, history, or logic on everything that could possibly be related to it. Let’s call this the Possession Fallacy. It might also be called, colloquially, Blab It and Grab It, after an idea current in American Christianity. Some evangelical Christians have the notion that if you pray for something in the right way, if you name it in your prayers, then you are also making a legitimate claim to it, and God must give it to you. The idea is known by Christians who espouse it as Name It and Claim It; by Christians who are skeptical about it as Blab It and Grab It. In either case, the ruling assumption is that, so long as you have enough faith in your own righteousness, you can own something by just sticking some words on it.

Ours is the great age of self-righteousness, and therefore of the Possession Fallacy. It’s always absurd, but one of its most absurd manifestations is the attempt of Republican publicists to claim for their party all the virtues of American history, simply by pretending that “Republican” and “Democrat” mean today what they meant, say, 150 years ago. Sean Hannity, who knows less about history than anyone but the inhabitants of the House of Representatives, has been doing this for years. Rather than quoting Hannity, who never says anything in less than 1,000 words, I’ll quote an essay published this month in the Aspen Times. Attacking the “hypocrisy” of present-day Democrats, it says:

It was the Dems who defended slavery against the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln; it was the Dems who were behind racial segregation in the South; it was the Dems who opposed civil rights laws; and it was the Dems who bombed government buildings and attacked policemen during civil unrest in the ’60.

It was the Dems of the Ku Klux Klan who lynched blacks and occasionally Jews, and persecuted Catholics.

Et cetera. Some of this is pure nonsense: it was communists, not Democrats, who bombed government buildings. But the deep nonsense is the idea that because some Democrats did X, Y, or Z, this means something about all Democrats — or Republicans — who have ever lived. Anyone who read a book could write endless numbers of sentences in the same form: “It was the national Republicans who advocated Prohibition, while the national Democrats resisted it. It was the Republicans who victimized working people with high tariffs and a national bank, while the Democrats insisted on low taxes, hard money, and decentralized banking. It was Republicans who represented white Southerners in opposition to Northern Democrats during the conflicts over civil rights.” Et cetera.

Slipping into my perpetual role as Mammy lecturing Miz Scarlett: I done tole you an tole you, the two American political parties are organizations designed to get votes. (See, for instance, Liberty, February 2005, pp. 19–24.) Seeking this prey, they wander across the ideological and historical landscape, vacuuming up ballots wherever they can reach them. There is no political idea or program that one or the other party did not, does not, or would not advocate, if votes might be acquired in that way.

One of its most absurd manifestations is the attempt of Republican publicists to claim for their party all the virtues of American history.

How preposterous it is to act as if, by saying the name of a political organization spanning generations of history, you can score points either for or against it. This is almost as preposterous as the Left’s current attempt to get its way by labeling people of the distant past as “racists,” “sexists,” “imperialists,” and what not. In today’s terms, Jefferson was a racist, as was virtually the entire population of the world. What are we to deduce from this? That he should be treated as racists are justifiably treated today? Here the assumption is that some leftist agitator, who like Hannity has never read a real book, has the right to name and claim Jefferson’s reputation, on the basis of his own moral superiority — which is quite an assumption in itself. Or is it the idea that not only Jefferson’s memory but also his principles should be treated as those of a racist? “All other countries, rivers, lakes, and tributaries contiguous and adjacent thereunto . . .”

There’s never been a moment in my lifetime when someone wasn’t discovering that the Declaration of Independence is, in the present vocabulary, racist and sexist: racist, because Jefferson was a slaveholder, and sexist, because the document says that “all men are created equal.” If the Declaration were a cow, this would be a constant attempt to rebrand her. But words have meanings, no matter who wrote them, and these particular words, correctly understood in their obvious meaning, provided the intellectual foundation of the abolition movement. When, 81 years after the Declaration, in the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Taney tried to explain that they didn’t apply to anyone but white people, he shocked almost everyone — including slaveholders, who were happy to hear this new interpretation. As for women — if Jefferson had wanted to say “males” he would have said “males.” The default meaning of “men” in almost every period and region of the English language has been “human beings, people.” Those who assert that “men” equals “males,” unless proven innocent, are trying to snatch the common language and claim it as their own.

There is no political idea or program that one or the other party did not, does not, or would not advocate, if votes might be acquired in that way.

There has lately been a competition to see who can use the Possession Fallacy in the most egregious way. The game is very aggressively played, but right now, Robert Francis (“Beto”) O’Rourke, candidate for president, appears to be ahead. O’Rourke kindly interrupted his demanding campaign schedule for some informational “speaking with immigrants and refugees,” and told them:

Here we are in Nashville, I know this from my home state of Texas, those places that formed the Confederacy, that this country was founded on white supremacy and every single institution and structure that we have in our country still reflects the legacy of the slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression, even in our democracy.

O’Rourke’s syntax was characteristically muddled, but there’s general agreement that by “this country” he meant the United States of America, not the Confederate States of America — although the latter actually was founded on white supremacy, and the former was not, unless you agree with Chief Justice Taney. So he was talking about the United States when he said that “every single institution and structure that we have in our country still reflects” racist practices, up to and including slavery.

When people use the Possession Fallacy, they’re ordinarily making a claim to the whole ranch and every cow on it, whether or not they know how many cows there are, or, indeed, have ever seen a cow. If they went the other way and tried to gather all the cows that bore their brand, they might not come up with any. To put this in a different manner: Possession can usually be identified as a fallacy when you ask the possessor to name the specifics, and he can’t come up with any. In most cases, asking that question is a waste of time; the most he’ll do is point at Ol’ Bossy and some theoretical cow on the other side of the hill, and that will be enough for him to keep claiming that he owns the whole county.

When, 81 years after the Declaration, Chief Justice Taney tried to explain that its words didn’t apply to anyone but white people, he shocked almost everyone.

But you can ask yourself some questions. What do you suppose would be on O’Rourke’s list of “every single institution and structure”? Does the Presbyterian Church still reek of racism? How about “Sesame Street”? The NAACP? Planned Parenthood? The Democratic Party, USA? Is that what elected O’Rourke to Congress — a racist system? These are just the first questions that came to my own mind. I could expand the list. So could you. I think it would be fun to include all the big-government programs that Beto voted to fund. Since, by his own declaration, these are all racist, he must be a racist too, and an especially sneaky one, since most of those “institutions and structures” are purported to be anti-racist.

Sorry; I’m just taking his words seriously. And that’s the problem for users of the Possession Fallacy. If they want to possess everything, they’re making themselves responsible for everything.

Jeffrey Epstein certainly has a lot to be responsible for, but former President Clinton once tried to take on even more responsibility: he made a strenuous attempt to possess Jeffrey Epstein. Clinton stepped up to the plate, shouldered the burden, bit the bullet, and went whole hog. In 2002, on one of the four trips that Clinton says he took on Epstein’s private plane, he and some (other) people from the world of entertainment journeyed to Africa to “tour HIV/AIDS project sites.” It’s appalling to imagine what people dying of AIDS must have thought when these White Gods showed up to stare at them. How was it possible to explain this lavish expenditure of wealth on the egos of Epstein’s junketing celebrities? The answer seemed easy: just appropriate every concept of technocratic goodness you can think of, and deed the whole thing to Mr. Epstein, who would, by association, deed it back to Mr. Clinton and the other gawkers, making it their lawful property. “Through a spokesman” Clinton described the enormous intellectual ranch on which Epstein’s charitable cows were nurtured:

Jeffrey is both a highly successful financier and a committed philanthropist with a keen sense of global markets and an in-depth knowledge of twenty-first-century science. I especially appreciated his insights and generosity during the recent trip to Africa to work on democratization, empowering the poor, citizen service, and combating HIV/AIDS.

Clinton left out the part about raising the dead. He didn’t want to go too far.

It would have been interesting if anyone had asked Clinton to discuss some specific features of the vast mental property notionally possessed by Jeffrey Epstein, college dropout, high school math teacher, options trader, and consultant for a Ponzi scheme. He might have been asked to say what he meant by the large term citizen service. I don’t have a clue. Neither can I guess what he meant by in-depth, democratization, empowering the poor, or work on (when used of people taking a jaunt on a billionaire’s plane). Clinton, presumably, could have said what he meant, because he had made himself the owner and possessor of these phrases. But he didn’t, and I suspect he never will. He is now at pains to indicate that he barely knew Jeffrey Epstein — although he is not at pains to distance himself from the wonderful work that Epstein once helped to finance. He still wants contributions for that.

It’s appalling to imagine what people dying of AIDS must have thought when these White Gods showed up to stare at them.

This is one of the ways in which conceptual mortgages come due. There are others. Let’s return to O’Rourke’s our democracy, a sappy phrase if ever there was one. I remember it from my ninth-grade civics text. Even then, it seemed childish. Like so many other uses of our, it was an obvious attempt to make kids think that they owned something they could not possibly own: our history, our families, our ideals, our cities, our highways, and so forth. The idea seemed to be that it wasn’t enough to praise motherhood and apple pie; one had to speak of our motherhood and our apple pie.

This tactic has now been sickeningly revived by Democrats maddened by the election of Trump. For them, nearly everything in political life involves Trump’s attacks on our democracy. The popularity of our democracy now eclipses that of the equally icky in this country, which the Democrats always used to tack onto the end of their sentences: “We must fix healthcare in this country”; “We must enable everyone to vote in this country”; “We must build more affordable housing in this country.” As you can see, in this country was the kind of phrase that nags use. It was a bitchy reminder that America is not exceptional; it is a country like every other country, no better, no worse, except that it’s worse. The phrase went nicely with only country in the world: “America is the only country in the world that lacks universal healthcare.” Such statements were never likelier to be true than the pious our country phrases, but they had a critical edge. Progressives would die rather than say in our country, but in this country came readily to their lips. Eventually, even the Republicans took it up, reciting it with the zombie-like expression of people who don’t know what they’re saying — which they didn’t.

Motherhood, bah! Trump had a mother.

Now our democracy is the obsessive phrase. Inevitably, Republicans have started using this one too, but in any statement made by a Democratic politician you can depend on hearing it four or five times. If you can believe US Representative Elijah Cummings (D, MD), it has spread to the general public. Cummings told ABC: “No matter where I go, what I'm hearing over and over again from my constituents is, ‘Please save our democracy.’"

This is a clear example of the Possession Fallacy. Here is a phrase with no literal meaning, a succession of sounds with as much connection to reality as the incantations of the Sieur de St. Lusson, but intended to lay claim to a continent full of ideas and attitudes. No one says what kind of “democracy” is implied, or what kind of ownership is denoted by “our.” It is merely assumed that the speaker knows the meaning, even as a carpenter knows his tools, and that he is eminently qualified, even as a master carpenter is qualified, to determine this tool’s proper use in shaping the otherwise recalcitrant materials of life. In the present crisis in our democracy, the recalcitrant material is the monster Trump. If there is one thing that is clear about our democracy, it’s that our democracy is anything other than what Trump is about. Motherhood, bah! Trump had a mother. To talk of motherhood is to deny the existence of Americans who are not mothers. Let us talk instead of our democracy.

The distasteful thing — well, there are a lot of distasteful things, but one distasteful thing — about our democracy is that it’s a double trick of possession. The first is the implicit but dogmatic assertion that the speaker knows what it means and, without any pretense of defining it, can make it the basis of argument. The second is that while pointedly excluding some people from membership in the mystical social union (Trump, or whomever) it suggests that you, whoever you are, actually own the thing. “Our” means “mine and yours."

From "my" to "our" to "your," the check goes around the table, until it winds up in front of your plate.

Perhaps you think that Robert Francis O’Rourke isn’t smart enough to play tricks on anybody, but you must remember that he didn’t invent this little act; he’s just copying others’ performance. But there’s a third trick going on — did you notice it? It’s the owning-not owning trick. “Our” is first a way of appropriating a concept for private use; then it’s a way of coopting the audience into feeling as if it owned the thing too; and then (the third trick) it’s a way of leaving the audience holding the bag. Beto isn’t saying that he is responsible for the racism of our democracy. How could he be?

He wants you to vote for him. He’s saying that you are responsible. From my to our to your, the check goes around the table, until it winds up in front of your plate.

And that’s how the Possession Fallacy works. It’s a means of forcing responsibility on other people for one’s own acts of ownership. I make something up, and you’re supposed to believe it. If you do, you’ll be the one who pays.




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The Abyss Gazes Back

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“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Though I’m a Libertarian, and in the Left-Right fight I am both-yet-neither, I’m hardly on the 50-yard line. At this stage of my political evolution, I’m considerably more likely to vote Republican than Democrat when no other option is available. In the Arizona senate race this year, I cast my ballot for Martha McSally. I did so without much enthusiasm. I am close enough to the 50-yard line — yet far enough from the field — so that when I vote either Republican or Democrat, I usually end up regretting it.

President Trump, to put it frankly, is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem, to me, inclined to do the same thing. Martha McSally is no exception. There were several times in her campaign when I had reason to think, per the old Marx Brothers routine, “Oh, Martha! Slowly I turned, step by step!”

Her opponent, now Senator-Elect Kyrsten Sinema, thinks it’s dandy for Americans to join the Taliban? That was the charge leveled against her by the McSally campaign. (“Step by step . . inch by inch . . ”) Actually, my very first thought, once McSally began making this claim, was that she thinks we’re all idiots. But in the 2003 interview in which Sinema made the “Taliban” comment, talk-radio host Ernie Hancock — himself a libertarian — was trying to show how liberal Sinema really was. His point was that she liked spending the taxpayers’ money on causes she considered noble. Flabbergasted when he said that as an individual, he had every right to join the Taliban (because the taxpayers wouldn’t be paying for it), and certainly thinking he was just trying to get her goat, she told him to go ahead and join: “Fine. I don't care if you want to do that, go ahead." The notion that she genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

President Trump is a drama queen. He plays every scene bigly. Those who cling to his coattails seem inclined to do the same thing.

Congresswoman McSally’s views are closer to libertarian than Sinema’s, that’s for sure. It’s why I pulled the lever for the former instead of the latter. McSally generally believes in smaller government, at any rate. Though Sinema’s antiwar stance is significantly closer to mine, she is indeed a big-government booster on nearly every other issue. And I find political histrionics tiresome, regardless of which side indulges in them.

McSally used to be an Air Force fighter pilot — one of the nation’s female firsts. “I was shot at by the Taliban,” she tells us. The obvious and understandable emotion behind that assertion doesn’t change the fact that Sinema made an offhand, unscripted remark. It was a “gotcha” moment, plain and simple.

The fact that what she said would have been terribly insensitive (at the very least) had she meant it seriously does not change the fact that it was never meant to be taken seriously. She undoubtedly didn’t realize that, a decade and a half later, it would be scrounged up and used against her. But the fact of the matter was that Sinema didn’t think McSally should have been in the Middle East, flying a fighter plane, to get shot at in the first place. The whole point she’d been trying to make was that she was against the war.

The notion that Sinema genuinely exhorted a middle-aged political pundit to become a terrorist is so absurd that it’s insulting anyone would expect me to believe it.

Shenanigans like this are why libertarians — capital “L” or small — get frustrated with Republicans. The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves. We want substance — logic — but what we so often get is emotional razzle-dazzle.

Politics these days reminds me increasingly of a black-and-white comedy. Lacking the wit of the Marx Brothers, it’s more on the level of the Three Stooges. Whenever a charge is lobbed by one side against the other, the opposition’s response is, basically, “But you started it . . . nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!” They’re forever poking their fingers in one another’s eyes and smacking one another on the head.

Yet as buffoonish as many politicians are, their antics don’t stay funny for very long. They’re taking our money and meddling in our lives. Republicans may do it less than Democrats, but they do it, all the same. When we gaze into the big-government abyss, the abyss gazes back. And there’s nothing funny about that.

The red-meat GOP base loves to call its political opponents “snowflakes.” But too often, they give the impression of being pretty snowflaky themselves.

We need a third option on the ballot: one with an “L” beside it. The only other choice in the Arizona senate race was a Green Party candidate, appropriately named Angela Green, who withdrew from the contest once it became obvious that Sinema needed her votes. Thousands of people still voted for Green, but in any case those wouldn’t have gone either to McSally or to a Libertarian.

We libertarians are prone to second-guessing our votes. The Republican Party in Arizona has done everything it can to keep us off the ballot, by rigging the system to deny us third-party status. To be frank, that didn’t endear McSally to me, either. What I probably should have done, in the choice for the senate, was vote for nobody at all.

With no third option (I would have voted for Groucho Marx before I’d have chosen Angela Green), I cast a lackluster vote, for a candidate I knew was trying to manipulate me. Though it made no difference to the outcome, I feel sullied and used. Now we have Kyrsten Sinema, a big-government, tax-and-spend “progressive,” in the US Senate seat formerly held by an at least somewhat libertarian Jeff Flake.

I believe the Republicans are fighting with monsters. The Democrats have little left in their arsenal besides cheap emotional appeals. But in stooping to their opponents’ level in the tactics they use, and in cynically shutting other candidates out, the Republicans are turning into monsters themselves. Voters are gazing into the abyss, and the abyss is gazing back.




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The Great Anti-Climax

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I do not believe in the saying that “all politics is local.” If that’s true, why are we always getting into wars in other countries? But during this election cycle I was very interested in California, which is my own locale.

As predicted, California elected as its next governor one Gavin Newsom, a wealthy former mayor of San Francisco and currently lieutenant governor of the state, who is about as smart as the average doorknob. This was a year in which handsome men were thought to have an enormous advantage; they seemed to remind people of John F. Kennedy, who when you think about it was handsome only when compared with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Newsom is handsome-for-a-politician, but that’s not why he won. He won because the Republican Party in this state dissolved about a decade ago, giving place to a fairly well-oiled Democracy run by the state employees’ unions. The surprise is that Newsom’s opponent, a small-government tax hawk named John Cox, received 41% of the vote and was considered a remote possibility to win. Cox was an excellent campaigner and got his votes by himself, with little help from a rumored “Republican Party.”

The same amount of help was rendered by that party to the biggest ballot initiative, Prop 6, which would have rolled back a large tax increase imposed in 2017 by the Democratic legislature, supposedly to “fix the roads.” When people list the core items that they expect to see in any state budget, roads usually rank first or second. But not in California. The money that should go for roads — even money granted by the voters in previous ballot propositions — goes instead for bike lanes, parks, and other “environmental” matters, and for astronomical employee salaries. (I don’t mean that the employees are astronomers; if they were, they might actually do some work. California is a place where people often have to wait seven hours to do their business at the DMV.) Before the latest tax increase, California already had the highest gas taxes in the nation; now they are higher. The new gas tax is one of the most regressive imaginable. It means that breadwinners have to pay the government about $400 a year, extra, or not be allowed to drive to work.

This was a year in which handsome men were thought to have an enormous advantage.

Prop 6 was designed to end this tax and not let it happen again. It was the brainchild, not of the Republican Party, but of a gay, hyper-energetic San Diego talk show host, Carl DeMaio, who is very good at pushing a cause. Pre-election surveys indicated, predictably, that two-thirds of voters were in favor of a proposition rolling back the gas tax. But Prop 6 went down, 45 to 55. Why? Because the Democratic secretary of state entitled and summarized it as an attack on road repair:

ELIMINATES CERTAIN ROAD REPAIR AND TRANSPORTATION FUNDING. REQUIRES CERTAIN FUEL TAXES AND VEHICLE FEES BE APPROVED BY THE ELECTORATE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

SUMMARY

Repeals a 2017 transportation law's taxes and fees designated for road repairs and public transportation. Fiscal Impact: Reduced ongoing revenues of $5.1 billion from state fuel and vehicle taxes that mainly would have paid for highway and road maintenance and repairs, as well as transit programs.

Note that telltale “as well as transit programs,” which clearly indicated, to anyone who read that far, that the money, as usual, would be spent on other things than fixin’ the roads. California voters didn’t read that far.

Yet while naïve voters were killing Prop 6, they were also killing Prop 10, which would have permitted and encouraged more than 500 local governments to impose rent control on the helpless population. They voted this one down by 62 to 38.

Large majorities on each side. Why? How? I don’t know. You tell me.

Note that telltale “as well as transit programs,” which clearly indicated, to anyone who read that far, that the money, as usual, would be spent on other things than fixin’ the roads.

Turning now to the nation at large: we’ll see whether there was a blue wave or a red wave when we see some kind of sophisticated, non-axe-grinding study of voters. We may wait a long time for that. In the meantime, we can say that if there was a blue wave, there was a red wave to meet it.

But remember: most congressional races in this country were decided on the yaller-dog principle: “Some people will vote for a yaller dog as long as he’s on the Democratic [or Republican] ticket.” That’s how New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert (“Bob”) Menendez got reelected, 53 to 42, despite his public repute as a crook and not a smart or likable one, either. And that’s how California House District 50 (eastern San Diego County) got decided. The Republican incumbent, Duncan Hunter, to whom nobody ever gave much credit for brains, is under federal indictment for using about $250,000 of campaign money for vacations, eating and drinking, “personal relationships,” and other fun, though basically penny-ante, stuff. His Democratic opponent was Ammar Campa-Najjar, age 29, another one of this year’s handsome young men. Until Hunter’s indictment, Campa-Najjar, a former Obama organizer and scion of a family of Palestinian enragés, was a purely sacrificial candidate for the Republican 50th. Hunter’s indictment united almost everyone in the county, Republican and Democrat, in scorning and deriding Hunter; it dried up his campaign money and unleashed a deluge of funds for Campa-Najjar, who is said to have spent ten times more money than Hunter. But it was all for nothing. Hunter’s district was safe Republican, and remained such. He was reelected 54 to 46.

Nationwide, a lot of electoral activity consisted simply of voters returning to their natural allegiance. Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Tennessee — these are Republican states, and it was strange that they should have Democratic senators to begin with, or (in the case of Tennessee) that they should consider having one now. In other states, where there were real contests, the vote could usually have gone either way; the outcome therefore didn’t mean much on the philosophical plane. I’m thinking of the Florida Senate and governor race, the Wisconsin governor race, the Arizona and Nevada Senate races, and even the Montana Senate race. I’m not thinking of the Texas race, where the Republican governor won overwhelmingly, while the Republican senator, Ted Cruz, won merely respectably. Cruz, who was up against another “handsome,” “Kennedyesque,” but also overbearing “young” man, is virtually the only politician in the country who is less likable than Hillary Clinton. His Democratic foe had so much out-of-state money that he couldn’t think of ways to spend it all. But Cruz won — because Texas is Texas and Robert (“Beto”) O’Rourke is not.

Most congressional races in this country were decided on the yaller-dog principle: “Some people will vote for a yaller dog as long as he’s on the Democratic [or Republican] ticket.”

In Massachusetts, voters went overwhelmingly for a politician even less likable than Cruz, Elizabeth Warren; they also went overwhelmingly for the Republican gubernatorial incumbent. Maryland also voted Democrat for almost everything except its governor. The expression “the bland leading the bland” may apply; remember that Mitt Romney is a former governor of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts as well as a former Republican nominee for president. Romney was born in Michigan, has lived mainly in California, was governor of Massachusetts, and has now been elected a senator from Utah — a remarkable career of disaffiliation. Anywhere he hangs his hat is home, for now.

I don’t know enough about the folkways of Massachusetts and Maryland to guess why they elect conservatives to the statehouse and liberals to other offices; maybe the conservatives and the liberals are both members of the Faux Party, and the electorate loves and cherishes them for that reason. I do know that there isn’t any basis for another piece of folk wisdom, just now being uttered ad nauseam — the idea that the American people split their tickets between parties because they want balanced and limited government. Chris Stirewalt, a person who masquerades for Fox News as a political analyst, said on election night that there is “a preference among Americans for divided government.” Stirewalt instanced the coming Democratic House and Republican Senate.

This is so fatuous, it’s hard to find words for it. The completely safe districts that elect 80% of Congress are not populated by people who vote for a Democratic congressman and a Republican senator in order to preserve balanced government. When it comes to Congress — and usually every other office — they vote a straight party line. We have divided government only because other people vote an opposing straight party line. There are exceptions, as in the Republicans elected to the governorships of Massachusetts and Maryland, but they are just that — exceptions. Californians did not vote for big government when they turned down Prop 6 and then vote for little government when they welcomed Prop 10 because they wanted to balance big and little government. They did it because they didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t read beyond the title of Prop 6 but for some unknown reason sensed that Prop 10 was a danger. We don’t have sheep and wolves because someone decides that sheep and wolves need to balance each other; we have sheep and wolves because sheep engender sheep and wolves engender wolves.

Mitt Romney was born in Michigan, has lived mainly in California, was governor of Massachusetts, and has now been elected a senator from Utah — a remarkable career of disaffiliation.

It seems that Trump did marginally better than most other presidents at limiting his midterm losses in Congress; he lost fewer House seats than the average, and he picked up at least one valuable Senate seat. But we can’t assume that “he” was the crucial factor. He had an effect, surely; he “energized” many voters for and against him. It’s my bet that the energized Democrats were going to show up and vote anyway, but many of the energized Republicans would have stayed home, had not Trump inspired them. Yet in some cases, “he” probably “won” races despite himself. Ron DeSantis, the Florida senatorial candidate whom Trump endorsed, probably had a harder time in the general election than his primary opponent would have had. DeSantis seems to have won the general election by only four-tenths of 1%. I doubt, however, that the (failed) Republican senatorial candidate in Montana would have gotten within three percentage points of his incumbent rival without Trump’s efforts.

But speaking of the Montana election, it came within perhaps 1000 votes of being swung by the finally unwilling candidacy of a big-L Libertarian, Rick Breckenridge, who got 2.8% of the vote despite having dropped out, late in the game, in favor of the Republican. The LP guy had been polling at about 4%, but when he left, many votes had already been cast. No one knows for sure, but I assume that LP votes in Montana come mainly out of the Republicans. Some Democrats in Montana assume that too, because they sent out mailers urging “true conservatives” to vote for Breckenridge instead of the Republican — tactics that led Breckenridge to endorse the Republican.

Contrary to constant press reports about the remarkable popularity of the Democratic incumbent, Jon Tester — “a rural Democrat who still connects with the people,” etc. — the Libertarian Party appears to have been responsible for electing him in both 2006 and 2012, years in which Tester’s margin of victory over his Republican opponent was .87 and 3.72%, respectively, and the LP candidate’s vote was 2.6 and 6.56. It is painful to ask this question, but is it the LP’s job to elect members of other parties?

When it comes to Congress — and usually every other office — most people vote a straight party line. We have divided government only because other people vote an opposing straight party line.

Donald Trump may be enjoying the prospect of the next two years. In the Senate, he has achieved a significantly more Trumpian majority — no more Flake, no more McCain (although Mitt Romney will be glad to obstruct any non-RINO programs). In the House, he has gone from a slim Republican majority, out of which he got nothing except the tax cut, to a slimmer Democratic majority. God’s gift to him is the Democrats’ custom of automatically awarding committee chairmanships by seniority, which means that most of the key positions will go to elderly and loquacious men and women elected from extremely safe districts — a recipe for disaster if the election of 2020 is nationalized, which it surely will be. Maxine Waters does not play well on the national stage. She plays a little bit better than Nancy Pelosi.

But certain it is that this election was God’s gift to people who write about politics and enjoy laughing at politicians. The cast is irresistible . . . Trump . . . Waters . . . Pelosi . . . Schiff . . Nadler . . . Warren . . . To paraphrase yet another old saw, “politics is a tragedy for those who think and a comedy for those who feel — that a lot of good jokes are coming.”




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Unite and Conquer

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October 8. Gavin Newsom, “progressive” candidate for governor of California, in debate with his Republican opponent, said this about President Trump’s proposed border wall: “The wall is intended to divide this country.”

October 8. Tucker Carlson, conservative pundit, said this about the attitudes of “progressive” Democrats, who, he asserted, wished to divide the nation: “Only a nation divided between warring tribes can be ruled effectively.”

The root concept is “divide and conquer” — a phrase frequently heard on both sides of the recent Kavanaugh-Ford slugfest.

How exactly did it work? If you were a Republican, you divided the Democrats, and then you conquered them?

I first encountered that cliché when I was in high school. It appeared in discussions of political strategy, and it seemed to make sense. If you were the emperor of Russia, you would naturally be looking for ways to divide the Austrians from the Prussians, so you could, if you wished, conquer them one at a time, or let them try to conquer each other. Books told me that “divide and conquer” was what Napoleon set out to do, and sometimes did, to the powers of Europe. And the “divide and conquer” idea often came up in comments about American political affairs.

But I always had a bad feeling about it. How exactly did it work? If you were a Republican, you divided the Democrats, and then you conquered them? How did you do that? What happened to the various pieces of the Democrats? Did some of them vote for you? Maybe. But wasn’t that just another way of saying that some of them liked you better than their own party?

The best example appeared to be the election of 1860, when the Democratic Party came apart and nominated two rival candidates, producing a contest in which the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the presidency with less than 40% of the vote. Yet there was still a problem with the concept. Lincoln hadn’t divided the Democrats; they had divided and conquered one another, and he was happy to pick up whatever votes he could get out of the mess.

Another possible divide-and-conquer situation was the election of 1968, when disaffected Democrats allegedly elected Richard Nixon by not showing up to vote for Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee. But Nixon hadn’t concocted some scheme to fund Vietnam War protestors while encouraging Humphrey to maintain his fatal support of the war. Nixon simply continued to support the war himself, while promising that he had a secret plan to end it. He didn’t divide his opponents and conquer them; he just got more votes than they did.

Lincoln didn't divide the Democrats; they divided and conquered one another, and he was happy to pick up whatever votes he could get out of the mess.

Now, imagine that you are Abraham Lincoln or Richard Nixon or any current, down-at-the-heels partisan politician, the kind of person of whom Tucker Carlson spoke in his October 8 TV program, calling them “hacks and joiners and drones.” If that’s you, would you rather “divide and conquer” your opponents, or simply get them to join your side and vote for you? The latter, surely. Even a Russian emperor would have preferred his opponents to join him instead of opposing either him or one another. That’s why the European powers contracted holy alliances. They would rather be allies than competitors, so long as they could maintain their power. This is human nature.

Coming down to the present, and Newsom and Carlson’s comments: why would Trump want to divide the country, instead of getting most of it to support him? Why would the Democrats find it easier to rule a nation “divided between warring tribes”? Does this make sense?

Suppose that you’re a modern “intersectional” foe of Republicans, and you’re trying to arouse antagonism to them by asserting that because they are “opposed to women,” they are also opposed to “senior citizens,” “people of color,” “the LGBTQ community,” “undocumented immigrants,” “working people,” and, for all I know, Finnish-Americans. Your goal may be to conquer, but it certainly isn’t to set the Finnish-Americans against the African-Americans, and the African-Americans against the immigrants. It’s to get as many groups as possible onto your side. You may call your opponents racists and sexists and so on, but that’s not because you want to divide the racists from the sexists; it’s because you want to shame, scare, and neutralize people who, you think, will never vote for you anyway. But this is not “divide and conquer”; it’s just denouncing your opponents.

Even a Russian emperor would have preferred his opponents to join him instead of opposing either him or one another.

If you want to understand how things really work, picture the two great American political parties as a pair of vacuum cleaners, roaring back and forth across the continent, sweeping up every vote and dollar that’s not nailed down. There isn’t any vote that they don’t want. Republicans can and do actively court gay and black voters; Democrats court evangelicals and conservative Catholics by quoting fondly from the Bible. This is not divide and conquer. This is unite and conquer. Each party dotes on the idea of “uniting this great country.” And neither is kidding about that. They want the whole thing, if they can get it.

I can’t picture Hillary Clinton holding a meeting in which she said, “To defeat Trump, we have to set the women against the gays, and the blacks against the Hispanics. It’s divide and conquer!” But I can picture her holding a meeting in which she said, “How can we ensure that all gays, blacks, Hispanics, soccer moms, overpaid executives, mainline pastors, police unions, publishers of provincial newspapers, Medicare patients, millennials, techies, former prison inmates, police unions, farmers, professors of Harvard college, and did I mention soccer moms, will support me? How can we unite them all behind us?” Again, this is not divide and conquer.

Akin to “divide and conquer” is the idea that politicians willfully create enemies so that they can unify their followers in opposition to the hated foes whom they have conceptually divided from the rest of the populace. This also is a strange idea, when you think about it. Yes, politicians are always attacking “enemies”; they blame things on “enemies”; and “enemies” are sometimes politically useful. But I can hardly think of a case in which politicians have simply created enemies in order to oppose them. Hillary Clinton denounced the “deplorables,” doubtless intending to inspire the non-deplorables to more fervent efforts on her behalf. But she wasn’t trying to manufacture an enemy; she was identifying enemies that she thought she already had.

Picture the two great American political parties as a pair of vacuum cleaners, roaring back and forth across the continent, sweeping up every vote and dollar that’s not nailed down.

Perhaps — and this is a big perhaps — Hitler gained massive political support by attacking the Jews. But he didn’t attack the Jews just because he thought that by doing so he would unite the other Germans. He attacked the Jews because he had a maniacal hatred of them. (And no, I am not — I repeat, not — making a moral equation between Adolf Hitler and Hillary Clinton.)

The current American antifa orgs are not attacking speakers who disagree with them in college forums, or people who happen to drive down the streets of Portland while they are showing off, because they want to arouse support by creating common enemies. They attack people who disagree with them because they don’t like people who disagree with them. They attack random motorists because they are in the way, and because they themselves are angry. This is not the arbitrary creation of enemies. This is self-expression, of a peculiarly non-strategic kind.

I suppose — indeed, I know — that I should now try to account for the fact that many intelligent people think that “divide and conquer” and “make up enemies” are profound and potent concepts, crucial to the understanding of political processes. But I can’t.




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Courting Disaster

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Even before the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, even before his prissy, petulant meltdown on live TV, even before he repeatedly perjured himself in response to fairly innocuous questions about juvenile sexual terms and the extent of his youthful drinking, Brett Kavanaugh was unfit to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. The fact that he will shortly be confirmed to that post anyway says a great deal about the values of both parties at the present moment.

In a number of ways, Kavanaugh might look the part of a Supreme Court justice. He graduated from Yale Law, one of two, maybe three permissible schools for a justice to attend; he clerked for a Supreme Court justice (Anthony Kennedy, whose seat he is attempting to fill); and he did time in the US Circuit Court of Appeals in DC, widely regarded as the second-most powerful court in America. Yet compared to any of his peers with similar attainments, Kavanaugh does not stand out: both Merrick Garland and Neil Gorsuch, to name only the two most recent nominations, had more distinguished careers on the DC Circuit, and there are plenty of other appellate judges on other circuits who are both smarter and younger. So why was he appointed, and why did the GOP stand by him long after it became clear that his nomination was in danger?

The answer to both questions is that, as a party hack, Kavanaugh is without peer. His introduction to public life was as Ken Starr’s sidekick, chasing after feverish conspiracies like the supposed murder of Vince Foster, and writing much of the Starr Report urging impeachment of Bill Clinton as well as aggressive and explicit questioning of the president in the actual trial. (Note that Bill Clinton, like every other American president going back quite a ways, should have been impeached and imprisoned for war crimes, at the very least. But that’s another matter entirely.)

Why was Kavanaugh appointed, and why did the GOP stand by him long after it became clear that his nomination was in danger?

Kavanaugh then joined George W. Bush’s legal team in time to argue against the ballot recount in Florida; eventually he would be made White House Staff Secretary, responsible for all documents going to and returning from President Bush’s desk, as well as for coordinating policy makers and speechwriters. In this capacity, he would have had immense latitude to shape the legal doctrines that made the Bush presidency such a disaster: the prosecution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the internment of prisoners without due process in Guantanamo Bay and their torture in Abu Ghraib and a variety of other black sites around the world, the invocation of “national security” to justify warrantless surveillance and a vast expansion of domestic spying operations, the use of signing statements to exempt the president and the Homeland Security apparatus from actually being bound by any laws, et very much cetera.

It is difficult to know exactly how influential he was in his three years on the job because the Republicans controlling the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to request or review more than a tiny fraction of the relevant records; it seems unavoidable though that he was one of the central figures in the development and prosecution of the War on Terror, not to mention such culture-war efforts as those to ban gay marriage and restrict abortion. His service to the party earned him many friends, as well as his appointment to the DC appellate circuit, where he would continue his work to expand the power of the imperial presidency.

However, it took three years for Kavanaugh to get confirmed, because Democrats worried that someone so near the heart of the Bush administration might not aspire to impartiality when it came to questions of executive power or national security. And he set about proving them right, in opinions supporting the government’s vast warrantless surveillance program, defending the use of military tribunals and the removal of what few legal protections were left for Gitmo detainees, and giving the FBI and military free rein to torture even American citizens swept up in terror operations.

As a party hack, Kavanaugh is without peer.

Worse, Kavanaugh established himself quickly as perhaps the most hardline circuit judge with respect to criminal justice. In a speech last year to the American Enterprise Institute, Kavanaugh said he admired William H. Rehnquist’s attempts to eliminate Fourth Amendment protections, in particular the exclusionary rule preventing unlawfully obtained evidence from being admitted in trial, and the established Miranda rights requiring police to inform arrestees of rights including representation. From the bench, Kavanaugh has made his own contributions to this cause, among them a denial that attaching a GPS to a suspect’s vehicle constituted a search, a refusal to consider the lack of probable cause as any barrier to a random search, and a rejection of any limit on the qualified immunity granted to police. Kavanaugh’s preferred world, like Rehnquist’s (and unlike Kennedy’s), is one in which the police would be even more empowered than they are today, where the painfully slow pushback of the last few years against police and prosecutor misconduct, as well as against the wider United States prison gulag system, would effectively be wiped out.

There’s plenty more, but I won’t labor the analysis here; you can read his record as well as I can. The point to be gathered is Kavanaugh’s devotion to Republican Party policy, and in particular to the validation of his work on the greatest blunder in contemporary geopolitical history, the US War on Terror. And that rehabilitation campaign is one in which the Democrats are fully complicit—not just in the reliable bipartisan support for treasury-wrecking outlays on defense, but also in more personally galling ways such as the media airbrushing of George W. Bush, making him a kindly grandfather figure who pals around with Michelle Obama, rather than a war criminal whose conscience obviously isn’t burdened by the hundreds of thousands of people who died and the millions more who continue to suffer because of his decisions.

This is a big part of why the Republicans are so desperate to have Kavanaugh rather than any other nominee: his confirmation will mark another stage in the normalization of our nightmare of endless war. But it’s also why the institutional Democrats, this time around, refused to go after him on policy issues: their future lobbying prospects depend on cozy relations with weapons manufacturers and the thinktanks authoring white papers in support of ever more, and ever more expensive, conflict.

Kavanaugh’s preferred world is one in which the police would be even more empowered than they are today.

(It’s likely also why they refused to inquire further into any sources of funding underlying Kavanaugh; it’d be hard to find a figure in Washington without some source of dark-money funds underwriting them. The mystery of how Kavanaugh had hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt mysteriously wiped out, or how he afforded his country club fees or bought a house beyond his means, is probably attributable to wealthy family members writing him checks. But there’s much larger-scale questions to be asked about the dark money pouring into groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, which banked $28.5 million from one undisclosed donor alone and backed Kavanaugh, like Gorsuch before him, to the hilt. Obviously Kavanaugh wasn’t going to betray any knowledge of the identity of his benefactors, but it would have been good to get him on the record, under oath, denying it.)

So the Dems were left with his boorish high school and college behavior, which isn’t disqualifying; the accusations of assault, which would be, but which would be near impossible to demonstrate to the point of changing anyone’s mind; and his lies under oath, which should rule him out entirely but clearly won’t. Not many people, certainly not those with congressional voting privileges, were really concerned about him growing up an entitled brat or being generally a dick in his early years; many of them are dicks themselves, and certainly all of them are familiar with the awful DC-suburb prep schools that incubate Kavanaugh’s ilk. If he owned to that, he could even spin it into a narrative that in Catholic circles dates back to Augustine at least: the dissolute youth made good. But he insisted on presenting himself as some kind of goody-two-shoes, too busy studying and playing wholesome team sports to do much partying, and too uncool to be invited to too many parties even if he wasn’t hitting the books. His bizarre insistence on declaring himself a longtime virgin—as if that had any bearing on the commission of sexual assault!—typified the overcorrection; plenty of other people regret who they were in high school, it’s relatable, but he refused to relate it.

The institutional Democrats refused to go after him on policy issues: their future lobbying prospects depend on cozy relations with weapons manufacturers and the support of ever more, and ever more expensive, conflict.

The odder outbursts of his testimony—the ones that lost him the support of former Justice John Paul Stevens, Lawfare blogger Benjamin Wittes, and a few thousand members of the America Bar Association, among others—seemed attached to questions about his drinking, especially his nasty retort to Amy Klobuchar when she asked about him about blacking out. It’s a relevant question: if you drink to blackout point, you might do something and truly believe you didn’t, because you would have no memory of that action. But Kavanaugh, who by the accounts of many had the reputation of a heavy drinker even at a heavy-drinking prep school and college, thought it better to turn around that question, a move recognizable to anyone who’s ever confronted a friend or family member on similar grounds.

Kavanaugh’s performance was so bad—and maybe worse, weird—that it suddenly looked like the 51-seat Republican majority might crack. In play now were Susan Collins (R-ME), who had previously agreed to support any candidate from a list provided by the Federalist Society; Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), whose support usually could be secured by federal monies heading to her state; and above all Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who exemplified the so-called “never Trump” Republican by loudly declaiming against the president’s bearing before voting for almost every one of his policies. Several of the conservative Democrats who crossed party lines for Gorsuch after the Republicans nuked the filibuster rule for the consideration of Supreme Court justices—Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN)—would declare themselves as “No” votes, leaving only Joe Manchin (D-WV) to keep it from the rarity of a purely party-line vote for a Supreme Court nominee.

Flake, for the merest of moments touched by something approaching a conscience (or perhaps just aware of how footage of him callously shutting an elevator door on sexual-assault survivors might play in the 2024 presidential primaries), called for an FBI investigation into the claims. What followed was a brilliant, extremely cynical tactical move by the GOP: after Flake in his original statement called for a week-long span, the White House placed additional restrictions on the investigation (even as the president tweeted lies about there being no restrictions).

What followed may be perhaps most cursory, slapdash FBI investigation ever—not the most unethical, Lord knows, but usually the feds have some sort of standards even when they set out to destroy someone’s life. After three days, the FBI announced they were wrapping up; they had interviewed only 11 people, including neither of the principals—Christine Blasey Ford being set to one side as seemingly irrelevant, and Kavanaugh himself being placed firmly off limits, as were any questions relating to his consumption of alcohol now or decades back. I’m pretty sure I interview more people, and ask harder hitting questions, on an average afternoon at a Libertarian National Convention.

His performance was so bad—and maybe worse, weird—that it suddenly looked like the 51-seat Republican majority might crack.

The resulting report will not be available for any of us to read, not for decades, at least unless some future president declassifies it. In a process demonstrating the weird, cultish protocols that accrue in a cursed place like Congress, any senator wishing to read the report had to descend to the Capitol basement and view it in a room on complete lockdown, no cellphones or recording devices allowed, not even so much as a notebook. The process is a holdover from Obama’s early days, and is yet another example of how that regime’s lack of transparency enables the unapologetic opacity of this one, such that everyone entering the room was enjoined against discussing the contents of the report in any but the most general sense. But since it was merely a theatrical gesture to begin with, it was never going to change any minds. Certainly Flake felt like he now had the cover to do what he had wanted to do all along: vote yet again to support the agenda and nominee of the president he has said is “ruining our country” through “tribalism.” Once Collins was aboard—the supposedly pro-choice, “pro-woman” senator basking in the spotlight, taking almost an hour to justify supporting a candidate who will snap at the chance to restrict abortion in any way that presents itself—the scam was complete.

Throughout all this, at precisely the time (well after it, actually) when he should have been shutting up, Kavanaugh wrote a jaw-droppingly self-serving op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he apologized vaguely for “a few things I should not have said.” He didn’t say exactly what those things were, presumably among them the idea that this whole ordeal was “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” or the threatening statement that in US politics “what goes around comes around”—i.e., the precise sort of partisan motivation that the institution of the Supreme Court was designed to avoid. He tried to present these statements as “very emotional” moments—despite the fact that they were part of a prepared statement he had drilled on for days. As genres of apologies go, his fell in the “I’m sorry you made me do that, I won’t do it again (unless I have to)” camp familiar to many unhappy homes across the nation.  But any apology, however vaporous, was beside the point: the column was ultimately a presentation of Brett Kavanaugh’s personal mythology, the way he clearly sees himself and wishes to be seen.

In this statement, you can see why the Republicans are bound to Kavanaugh, why they can’t just jettison him and tap someone like Amy Coney Barrett, who would comparatively breeze through hearings and rule almost exactly the same way on the bench. Kavanaugh, more fully than any other contemporary figure, represents all sides of the Republican Party as presently constituted. He’s the Fox News side that spouts whatever conspiracy theories align with his personal grievances, and he’s the Wall Street Journal side who clings to the shreds of intellectual respectability by publishing in the house organ of the neoconservative thinktank Right. But the thing is, those sides have never really been at odds; they might dislike how the other goes about its business, but that business is one and the same: the expansion of unaccountable executive power, the tacit encouragement for government agents to abuse that power, the removal of any consequences when that power is inevitably abused, and the personal enrichment of everyone making possible all of the above.

As genres of apologies go, his fell in the “I’m sorry you made me do that, I won’t do it again (unless I have to)” camp familiar to many unhappy homes across the nation.

The Democrats share much of this central goal, and what they don’t share they’re too ineffective to actually counter; Chuck Schumer will surely go down as one of the most laughably weak opposition leaders in the congressional annals. Some Dems seem content to vote a tepid “No” and just let Kavanaugh be confirmed, possibly out of a belief it will help their election prospects in the midterms. But the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and we can expect Kavanaugh, at 53, to be bolstering the powerful and blocking reform for two, maybe three decades to come, far beyond any temporary and likely illusory electoral advantage.

Expect to see a lot of handwringing about process in the days and weeks to come, much of it from the Republican side. Ignore the bad-faith invocations of “sexual McCarthyism,” especially from those who have had to pay a lot of money to make accounts of their own abusive behavior disappear. Know that the process they followed was to take a bad candidate, hide most of the documentation of his past, bumble through a crisis that would have sunk almost any previous nominee, put him through (or allow him to put himself through) a series of increasingly embarrassing media moments—any of which could have demonstrated his unfitness for a job requiring gravity and personal reserve—stage the most transparently flimsy of investigations, then ram his nomination home regardless.

This is nothing more than a demonstration of pure power politics, a statement of intent from a group of people who intend to get theirs without any recourse to process, or norms, or any of the other words that politicians use when they’re trying to disguise what they’re actually doing. The Republicans apparently don’t think they have to hide behind that anymore. They are comfortable in showing that this—cruel, cynical, conspiracy-minded operators, united behind a party hack who will do immense and lasting harm to the cause of liberty—is who they are. And, as the saying goes, when people show you who they are, believe them.



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My “Me Too” Is a “Walk Away”

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Social media places a priority on joining. Not merely a particular platform, such as Twitter or Facebook, but the movements generated on them. Most of them, I prefer not to get behind. I’m really not much of a joiner. But every once in a while, there rises a tide so irresistible that I get swept along.

As I stated earlier on these pages, I have chosen to sit out the #MeToo craze. Though it had some validity, it has quickly become exactly that: crazy. Instead of providing a forum for women to stand up for themselves against lecherous brutes, it’s degenerated into a man-hating witch (or wizard) hunt. When it stopped making sense, I had to disassociate myself from it.

Then I discovered #WalkAway, the brainchild of a gay New York City hairdresser named Brandon Straka. This young man has become the unlikeliest of conservative heroes. Having been a liberal Democrat most of his adult life, he grew disillusioned with being treated like a slave on the “progressive” plantation. And in his exodus to freedom, he’s determined to bring as many other former slaves as possible along with him.

We’re tired of being told what to think and how to feel. Of being pandered to, then taken for granted.

Having listened to his YouTube video and read several of his interviews, I find myself agreeing with nearly everything Straka says. Actually, much of what he says, I have already been saying for a long time. No longer do I feel as if I were shouting into a vacuum. Though I’m a very libertarian conservative — actually more of a classical liberal — I have found a kindred spirit. And in the movement Straka has begun, I’ve joined a growing army of thousands more.

We’re tired of being told what to think and how to feel. Of being pandered to, then taken for granted. Of voting for people who do nothing for us. In fact, of being expected to support a political faction that — far worse than merely doing nothing — works against every cause it claims to support. As many in our ranks have observed, it isn’t so much that we have left the Left as that the Left has left us.

Like most of the others who have walked away from the regressive Left, I have values and core convictions that really haven’t changed. I still believe in equality — though I now realize that only equality of opportunity is achievable, whereas equality of outcome is impossible. As a lesbian, I still hold dear the principle of equal treatment for all under the law — though I reject identity politics and special favoritism. My conception of religious freedom is not narrower than that of social conservatives, but broader still. Both as a gay conservative and as a gay Christian, I refuse to leave unchallenged the lie — perpetuated by many on both Left and Right — that I do not exist, or that my conservatism or Christianity are any less real than anyone else’s.

It isn’t so much that we have left the Left as that the Left has left us.

This is not, it seems to me, a simple matter of “Left bad, Right good.” The seeds of both salvation and destruction can be found on both sides. What makes both sides dangerous — particularly in their big league political party forms — is their insatiable lust for power. Taken to its inevitable conclusion, that drive leads to totalitarian government and to enslavement of the human spirit.

I have changed my party affiliation from Democratic not to Republican, but to Libertarian. The fact that all the GOP has figured out for certain is how to win elections isn’t nearly enough to make me want to join that party. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to join them. Regardless of party label, however, I believe that when the best and brightest defect from Left to Right, it will only improve both conservatism and libertarianism.

Leaving the statist Left behind means departing from a narrow perspective into a broader universe of ideas. I’ve found, from others’ experience as well as my own, that it seldom means hopping from one tiny rock to another. The Left’s loss is a gain for the rest of the spectrum.

What makes both sides dangerous — particularly in their big league political party forms — is their insatiable lust for power.

If the only way to fight statist leftism is to totally defeat everyone who supports it, the political Right will fall (to an even wore degree than it already has) into corruption and decay. A struggle for power inevitably turns into a race to the bottom. Those who dream of total conquest wish to rule unchecked and unopposed. If, on the other hand, the Right is replenished with defectors from the other side, it will become stronger. It will also be improved in ways that, despite their necessity for its long-term survival, it would otherwise be disinclined to approve.

Any political movement that abandons its own principles deserves to die. Both liberals and conservatives — the genuine sort — are necessary to a healthy society, so we can’t afford to let either die. Those who walk away from modern liberalism are its only hope. And because we will hold the Right to actual standards, we may also be its best hope of survival.




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When Stupid Thinking Happens to Smart People

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An age-old question, pondered by those who think weighty thoughts, is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many books have been written on the subject. It’s one of the first questions kids ask their parents after they’ve stopped wondering why the sky is blue. This libertarian Christian’s answer would be, “Because, unlike government, God doesn’t try to micromanage every aspect of human life.” I’m reasonably satisfied with that explanation, but an altogether different question has perplexed me: why do smart people think stupid things?

Anyone who pays attention to the political scene is bound to observe the prevalence of what those in Twelve-Step recovery call “stinking thinking.” When we hear a particular stupidity once too often, something in us snaps. My own “snap” comes not when a dumb oaf commits this infraction, but when the guilty party is someone whose intelligence I generally respect. It happened again only the other day. Since I enjoy a good outrage as much as anybody, I’m writing about it while my irritation is deliciously fresh.

Those who presume to control the lives of others think themselves smarter and morally superior to the poor dolts over whom they would rule.

In a theology study group, where the president’s name had no conceivable reason to be mentioned, a friend of mine enthusiastically shared what she was reading in her spare time. It was yet another allegedly damning expose of “how the Russians stole the election for Trump.” She told us about this as if it were a conclusion as inescapable as the fact that the sky is blue. Now, I’m no great fan of Donald Trump, didn’t vote for him in 2016, and have no idea whom I’ll vote for (if anyone) in 2020. But perhaps because I thought this particular woman too intelligent to fall for this “Trump-Russia is the New Watergate” malarkey, I’d had all I was willing to take.

As we were obviously no longer discussing theology, I asked her if she had the slightest clue why most of those who voted for Trump cast their ballots as they did. I noted that in the months prior to the election, few people thought him a man of sterling character. That people who voted for Trump weren’t voting for a best friend, or for someone to babysit their dogs, marry their daughters, or stand as godfather for their grandkids. And that nothing the Russians could have said or done would have made Hillary Clinton any less trustworthy, in the judgment of those voters, than she already was.

The conversation was quickly steered back onto the subject at hand, but I believe I made my point. Not that I changed my friend’s mind. She will probably go right on believing that Trump voters are all horrible sexists and racists who want the poor to starve to death and the elderly to get sick and waste away. In the partisan bubble in which she lives, she isn’t permitted to think anything else.

Progressive bubble-dwellers’ nutty notions about Trump’s victory can be traced to one primary cause: their own mountainous vanity. They cannot conceive of how dangerous and destructive millions of Americans believe Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party to be. Only a dastardly conspiracy of Republicans and Russians could keep voters from bowing before the shining wonderfulness of the Dems. Vanity, in general, goes a long way toward explaining why so many stupidities are so readily believed by people who really ought to know better.

We might also recall that vanity was one of Lucifer’s chief sins.

Vanity also explains the prevalence of statist thinking on both Left and Right. Those who presume to control the lives of others think themselves smarter and morally superior to the poor dolts over whom they would rule. In contemporary America, we don’t like to take the blame for anything. Because we’re too smart to ever screw up, every undesirable occurrence simply must be someone else’s fault.

This vanity encourages us to believe that we can run other people’s lives better than they can. We might also recall that vanity was one of Lucifer’s chief sins. He thought he’d make a better god than God.

As this is not a theology discussion group, I know I shouldn’t mention that. But such a lapse can’t possibly be my fault. I blame it totally on my progressive friend.




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The Republicans’ Hidden Motive

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I knew a man who owned a house in an upscale suburb, and instead of maintaining a carefully manicured front yard, he planted sweet corn in it.

Strange — but why shouldn’t he have a garden like everybody else? And why shouldn’t it be corn? Why should anybody assume that a little strip of cropped grass is the badge of middle class respectability, just because hundreds of years ago English aristocrats maintained enormous parks of such stuff? Corn is much more beautiful. And useful!

The man clearly had reason on his side. But aren’t you thinking, “No amount of money would make me grow corn in my front yard?”

If you’re a Washington Republican, you’re free to campaign against Obamacare or endorse schemes to reduce the deficit or bewail government regulation, so long as such advocacy is without prospect of success.

That’s the way I think too — but why? Presumably, it’s because I know that my neighbors — most of whom are utter strangers, whose lives have no interest to me at all — would disdain me, and I would suffer a loss of status, at least in my own mind. It would be worse if my colleagues and friends got wind of it and disdained me also, or just thought I was crazy.

Now, picture a conservative political figure, a member of the Republican Party — congressman, senator, senior staff employee. He (or it may be she) identifies with what class of people? People who live in small towns in New Mexico and plant corn in their front yards? No, he does not, even if he comes from New Mexico. This professional inhabitant of Washington identifies with people who graduated from important colleges, people who eat at stylish restaurants, people who know what positions the EU takes, people who consult for things called NGOs or serve on the boards of banks, people who spend Sunday mornings reading the New York Times, thereby representing the height of intellectual culture. He does not identify with Pentecostals, people who wear shirts with their names over the pocket, people who drink Budweiser, people whose factories are about to close, people who wait tables while they’re attending trade school, or any other people who voted Republican. The person I have in mind is burdened by a $2,000,000 mortgage, contracted because “there’s no other way to live in Washington.” He would rather die than come to the office in a Hawaiian shirt, or wearing a MAGA cap.

The people you dine with in Washington don’t care. They think it’s just the price of doing business.

This publicly concerned American may be a trust-fund baby, or he may be an incarnation of Jay Gatsby, the kind of person who wants to have been a trust-fund baby, but the effect is nearly the same. Status is all in all to him. In his mind, a veneer of culture (so called) and professionalism (so called) is worth a hundred times more than the world from which he came and the political values that allegedly summoned him to Washington.

If you’re a Washington Republican, you’re free to campaign against Obamacare or endorse schemes to reduce the deficit or bewail government regulation, so long as such advocacy is without prospect of success; the rubes back home may care, but the people you dine with in Washington don’t. They think it’s just the price of doing business. Your staff doesn’t care, either; they majored in Poli Sci like everyone else.

The question is whether you care. Maybe you did at some time. But now you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, because now you have the chance to do something with your political ideas. You have the chance to end all these government programs you’ve been promising to end. But you just can’t bring yourself to do it. If you think for a moment about actually, seriously, attempting to reduce the growth rate of the NEH or the NEA or Amtrak or anything in the government, you feel that if you did, you couldn’t face the people at the next cocktail party. You couldn’t face your interns the next morning — even if you’ve never succeeded in remembering their names. They wouldn’t say it out loud, but you know what they’d be saying to one another behind your back. You’ve heard them saying it about other people. “Knuckle dragger” would be the nicest term.

You can’t face that. What you are able to face is the mainstream media, which will always proclaim you a courageous statesman if you betray your constituents and your political party. After all, every proposal for change has something wrong with it. There’s always a Section F, Paragraph 14a, about which you can hold a press conference, declaring that you cannot, in good conscience, vote for a healthcare reform that would prevent the stepchildren of soldiers wounded in battle from receiving free measles vaccinations. The question isn’t whether the reform is beneficial, or whether your constituents favor it, or whether you and your party were elected by advocating it. The question is whether you lose social status or gain it. Which will it be?

Now you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, because now you have the chance to do something with your political ideas.

Like conservatives and modern liberals, libertarians tend to explain human behavior by reference to an extraordinarily short list of motives. The usual suspects are money, power, envy, hatred, and sex. The result is that these explainers of human life are continually perplexed by some very common human actions.

A notable instance is the inability of Congressional Republicans to pass any of the Republican president’s key proposals. It’s not that they fear a loss of power, campaign contributions, or bribes. If they voted their alleged convictions, they would gain immensely more power, and enjoy an immensely larger share of the money that ordinarily accompanies power. They might lose the contributions of the Chamber of Commerce, but it’s amazing how small most political donations really are. And they would get others, while avenging themselves royally on their envied and hated enemies. As for the sex motive, I’m not sure that it’s easier to get sex as a liberal than it is as a conservative, but I am sure that the ordinary person with pretensions to gentility would rather die than face the day when his daughter comes home from Wellesley and demands to know why, as her professors suggest, he’s a fascist.

If you’re in Congress, you’ll cling to your seat no matter what you do — you’re likelier to die before the next election than you are to lose it. But loss of status among the nice people you know, or do not know, would be unendurable.

Unless, of course, you actually believe in the political ideas you espouse. Probably, however, they’re just your way of gaining enough status to enable you to renounce them.




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Every Knee Shall Bend

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When I was younger, I was a sports nut. We had season tickets to the Phoenix Suns’ games from their second season in existence, 1969–70, until I was well into my 20s. I went to the very first regular season game the Suns ever played. All I remember about that night was that the other team had green uniforms and that the pages of the program smelled funny. At six, I didn’t pay much attention to the action on the court.

As I advanced through grade school, I came to love the game. We even showed up, when the home court was in the old Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, while the state fair was going on and the whole place reeked of cow manure. The closest the Suns ever came to a title, in those early years, was in 1976, and I’m still inclined to think that the Celtics robbed us. It’s a vague feeling, probably not backed up by the facts, but fans in Western cities tended to feel that we weren’t getting a fair deal. The East Coast-based powers-that-be in the league and the media didn’t take us seriously, and treated our team as if it had broken some sort of a sacred rule by having dared to advance that far in the playoffs.

My childhood hero was Suns’ star forward-guard Dick Van Arsdale. He’s a gentleman through and through, and has always been gracious to his fans. I have about 50 of his autographs, and at least half a dozen of his identical twin brother, Tom, who played alongside him on the team in their final year as pros. In ’76, 13-year-old me wrote Dick a letter inviting him to our house for a postseason dinner. He actually took the time to send me a handwritten response (with all those autographs in my collection, I knew no secretary had penned it), thanking me for my kind offer but saying that his family was headed out of town for some much needed rest.

We even showed up, when the home court was in the old Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, while the state fair was going on and the whole place reeked of cow manure.

The Suns’ sister franchise, the Phoenix Mercury, captivated my attention from Day One of the WNBA. And my all-time highlight as a sports fan will always be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ World Series victory over the mighty New York Yankees in the turbulent wake of 9/11. I still follow the fortunes of the baseball and basketball teams of my college alma mater, Grand Canyon University. But over the years, my enthusiasm for professional sports has waned considerably. It has turned, of late, into a hearty dislike.

I’m certainly not a knee-jerk hater of sports in general, as I believe my history makes clear. But I find it increasingly difficult to overlook the fact that there are always any number of teams complaining that their arenas or stadia are out-of-date and attempting to extort the taxpayers into building them new ones. And few of the players, these days, have the humility or grace of a Dick Van Arsdale, a Luis Gonzalez, or a Michele Timms. Far too many behave like spoiled brats, and some are downright criminal. Moreover, a growing number expect us not only to be interested in their political opinions, but to pay them ever higher salaries and lionize them as heroes for having aired them.

Take the current controversy over former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Yes — and do take it, please. For those who’ve been hiding under a rock on the dark side of the moon, last season he refused to stand for the national anthem before some games, choosing to kneel instead. He was protesting something having to do with slavery, police brutality, racism, or oppression in general — take your pick of which. In any case, the young man was grievously aggrieved, and the whole world was expected to care.

It's increasingly difficult to overlook the fact that there are always any number of teams attempting to extort taxpayers into building them new arenas.

He showed up at a press conference, supposedly to explain himself, in a Fidel Castro t-shirt and socks that mocked police officers as pigs. It was immediately apparent that we were supposed to care not only about the causes he espoused, but about him. Perhaps the reason it’s so difficult to figure out exactly what he’s been trying to say is that the message that drowns out any other has consistently been “Look at me!” Celebrities with high-profile opinions tend to have that effect on the public. Few of us remember what it is they want to tell us, because what we seem to be especially expected to notice is that they are saying it.

I think I’ve written somewhere before — maybe here — that professional sports are training Americans to be morons. In my own opinion, that is by far the worst strike against them. It isn’t only that the stars of the game try to manipulate us into supporting the causes and candidates they prefer. It’s that we come to see politics as spectator sports. The entire Republican-Democrat duopoly that keeps our nation’s doings in its iron grip is, indeed, modeled after a neverending game.

It’s all about who wins or loses. Fandom for the favored side is seldom based on any sort of rational thought. And the mega-rich who run the show from behind the scenes rake in endless boodle — at the taxpayers’ expense.

The entire Republican-Democrat duopoly that keeps our nation’s doings in its iron grip is modeled after a neverending game.

Now the overlords of the NFL are worried that, since the onset of the Kaepernick kerfuffle (now ramped up, for his own apparent political gain, by President Trump), attendance has declined. While this is terrible news for them, and for the crybaby players, it may actually be great news for We, the People. It shows where the power really lies — and how much of it we truly hold. It also proves that even in our increasingly socialized nation, the free market is still powerful enough to win the game.




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Washington Post Arranges Win for Trump

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Before Tuesday, which was election night in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, I hadn’t been following the affair. I knew there would be a special election to replace a Republican congressman — Tom Price — whom President Trump had appointed to the cabinet. I also knew there was something funny about the Democratic candidate: the guy didn’t live in the district.

Jon Ossoff, a former Democratic staffer and “documentary film maker,” was typical of a class: a young, pretty-for-a-politician, supposedly charismatic person who was used as a target for big-money donations, most of them from Hollywood. A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future, a leader whom the citizens of Anytown, USA, will certainly hail as a savior, if only he or she is well-funded. These people almost always lose. The locals just don’t like ’em.

But Ossoff pushed the envelope. He didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live in the district. Oh, I see. His opponent, Karen Handel, a standard Republican, created what seems to have been the only memorable moment of her campaign by asking Ossoff, in a debate, whom he intended to vote for. Long silence from Ossoff, who couldn’t vote because he didn’t live in the district.

A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future.

So that’s what I knew before Tuesday, June 20, when I saw the morning headline in the Washington Post: “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.” That headline was No. 1 all day in Google News Top Stories. It was run as if it were a locally generated headline by online newspapers across the world. And it got my interest. Polls were showing a 50-50 race in the sixth district of Georgia, but the guys at the Post hated Trump so badly that they couldn’t keep from betting all their chips on Blue. If, contrary to their fervent hope, the Republican happened to win — so would Trump!

That was enough for me; I decided to follow the returns as they came in. Clicking around, I discovered that the best sources for updates on the vote were the special live sites of the Atlantic and the New York Times. Both of them offered frequently refreshed totals, and the Times added maps of the district clearly showing where the votes for each party were coming from.

By contrast, CNN’s TV coverage was absurdly bad. A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities; but if you wanted the vote totals, you wouldn’t get them from CNN. Sample: At 9:16 Georgia time, CNN showed Ossoff ahead by 2%, with 156,000 votes counted, while the Atlantic showed Handel leading by 4.5%, with 184,000 counted. Oops. Guess we missed something. CNN’s vote analyst kept talking about votes still being awaited from places that according to the Times were mainly counted already, and must have been, to reach the current totals. At 9:53, when the Times’ vote analysts called the election for Handel, she was 10,000 votes ahead with only 30,000 remaining to be counted; but at 9:50 the vote total on CNN was still 20,000 behind, and at 9:54, 42,000 behind.

Ossoff didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live there.

Fox News followed the vote only sporadically, perhaps because it wasn’t betting on the success of the Republican, but it had an absurd moment too. At the point where the vote total reached 120,000, Bret Baier, its most respected news anchor, was brought in for an interview, and he prattled on about how it was still early in the evening, only a fraction of the votes had been counted, who could tell?, etc. Dauntless researcher that I am, I had just been checking Wikipedia to determine the number of votes that are usually cast in the district. I easily and accurately predicted that 250,000 would be counted on June 20, but Baier had obviously not benefited from such research. It was clear from discussions on both Fox and CNN that their people hadn’t noticed the difference between the percentage of precints that had (fully) reported and the percentage of votes that had actually been counted.

Suddenly, at 10 PM, CNN’s vote total miraculously caught up, and it conceded what had been obvious for almost an hour before: the election had gone to the Republican. The Times election-returns site called the election at 9:53. Right to the end, however, the Times itselfkept the headline it had been running all day (also high up on Google Top Stories): “Georgia’s special election comes to a nail-biting finish.” And the Post kept its own headline, which, as I mentioned, was “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.”

One minute after CNN declared a victor, its irrepressibly behind-the-curve anchor Don Lemon opined, “The results were actually really close.” No, they weren’t. Except in safe districts, a vote of 52-48 is well within the “decisive” range in an American election.

A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities.

So Trump had won? I doubt it. Ossoff was the kind of gasbag who in his concession speech informed his followers: “As darkness has crept across this planet, [you] have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country, and for people around the world.” Well, Ossoff may not have had any self-awareness, but he did have money — something between $20 and 40 million in funding, making this the most expensive congressional election in American history. Still, it wasn’t enough to cancel the fact that he didn’t even live in the district. As for Trump, he appears to have been popular in some parts of the district, but not in others. What a surprise.

So who knows? Unfortunately, either the Republican or the Democrat had to win.

Now, I know that the Washington Post sees things differently. But I’m still waiting for the headline that, according to its own logic, it should now be running — the headline that says, “Trump Wins Referendum.”




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