Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Platitudinous Mitt Romney

Preface: This is an article I first wrote in April. Since the Republican presidential field has effectively narrowed down to Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee (a point that I address in "I Don't Heart Huckabee"), I felt it appropriate to repost it.

I recently picked up a copy of No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, a new book by Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Flipping it over so that I could read the description on the back of the jacket, I found that the publishers had printed the following excerpt from the text:

It is time for America to pursue the difficult course ahead, to confront the looming problems, to strengthen the foundations of our prosperity, and to secure the sources of our liberty and safety. The sacrifice and hard work will not sap our national energy; they will restore it. I'm one of those who believe that America is destined to remain as it has been since the birth of the republic - the brightest hope of the world. And for that belief, I do not apologize.

Listen, I am not naive. I understand that the writing of politicians - regardless of party, ideological faction, gender, race, creed, or country - tends to suck. As a rule of thumb, one can expect the literature churned out by humanity's would-be leaders to be shackled by slavish adherence to social convention, asphyxiated in anemic and turgid prose, and hopelessly contaminated with platitudes and lesser cliches (after all, anything more stimulating might scare off potential voters). I understand this and, to the greatest extent that I can, have made my peace with it.

That doesn't mean I won't ridicule the hell out of it.

What kind of person does Romney think would actually be inspired by this rhetoric? More disturbingly, to what set of opinions do supporters of the erstwhile governor believe he is acting as a foil? Does anyone really believe that Romney is rebutting the back of some other hypothetical book jacket?

It is time for America to retreat from the difficult course ahead, to ignore the looming problems, to weaken the foundations of our prosperity, and to needlessly imperil our liberty and safety. National energy be damned, we should settle into a culture of self-absorption and laziness. I'm one of those who believe America is doomed to never recapture its early glory - and am convinced that the rest of the world will mock us, and possibly post sticky notes on our backs when we aren't looking. But you shouldn't listen to me anyway, because I don't really have confidence in my own convictions.

Mitt Romney is the kind of man who proves that we need the likes of Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and Jon Stewart to mock our public servants. There can be little doubt that if our national brain subsisted on nothing but the flaccid words of politicians, it would shrivel up and die.

Hypnotizing Jews: Rand Paul & Co. Expose Obama's Diabolical Scheme

As published in "The Rutgers Observer" on November 9th.
Did you think the radical right had lost its marbles when it claimed Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States?
Was it clear that things could get no wackier when they insisted his health care reform bill included death panels to extirpate the elderly and disabled?

Were you certain they’d reached a critical mass of lunacy when they hysterically declared that his back-to-school speech was really an attempt to indoctrinate America’s children with socialism?

In the words of Al Jolson… you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Apparently two Republican members of Congress and a Republican Senator-elect believe one of Obama’s secrets to winning the 2008 election was…

Hypnotizing the Jews.

I am not creative enough to make this up.

According to “The Jewish Forward”, a right-wing coalition of doctors known as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) “published an article in 2008 wondering if Obama is ‘a brilliant orator, or a hypnotist?’ The answer, according to the paper published on the group’s website, is that Obama has used in his speeches ‘covert hypnosis intended only for licensed therapists on consenting patients.’ And those most affected by Obama’s covert hypnosis were Jewish voters.”

Further research has yielded that members of AAPS include Rand Paul, the Republican Senator-elect from Kentucky, as well as his father, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, and another radical conservative, Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia. Given how active these men are in shaping and promoting the agenda of AAPS, they were no doubt both aware of and in agreement with the contents of the article which presented this outlandish argument.

That’s not all. According to the “professionals” at AAPS, Obama didn’t rely solely on oratory in his dastardly plot to hypnotize Hebrews. As the “Louisville Courier-Journal” reports, “the AAPS article notes that the Obama campaign logo ‘might just be the letter ‘O,’ but it also resembles a crystal ball, a favorite of hypnotists.’”

To be fair, it is true that 78% of the Jewish vote went to Barack Obama in 2008. In fact, he received more votes from Jews than he did from members of any other white religious group (Protestants – 34%, Catholics – 47%, Evangelicals – 41%)* or, aside from blacks, any other ethnic group (Latinos – 67%, Asians – 62%, Whites – 43%). Considering that Obama’s overall popular vote performance was 53%, his disproportionate strength among Jews could very well be viewed as suspect – if, of course, one lacks historical perspective.

I mention historical perspective because, with it, one sees that Democrats have averaged 75% of the Jewish vote in every presidential election since 1928.

That was the year Al Smith’s nomination cemented the Democratic Party’s association with the cosmopolitan brand of liberalism that, throughout history, has tended to appeal to Jews. Since then, every Democratic presidential candidate has decisively won the Jewish vote. Indeed, with only one exception (Jimmy Carter in 1980), Democratic support among Jewish voters hasn’t fallen below 60% in that entire eighty year period.

In short, it seems reasonable to assume that the Jewish community’s historic affinity with liberalism – and as such with America’s liberal party, the Democrats – is more likely to have caused Obama’s solid Semitic support than any Svengalian code words or covert crystal balls.

Once that has been established, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and Paul Broun have not only been proven wrong on this specific issue, but have lost the right to ever be taken seriously again. In part this is because society, for the sake of its collective intelligence, needs to draw a line separating the people who disseminate egregious stupidity from the ones who make meaningful contributions to our political discourse. More important, however, is the fact that an unmistakable strain of racism coils beneath the surface of the more vitriolic rumors being spread about our first black president. While there is no reason to question the motives of conservatives whose criticisms of Obama are based on legitimate ideological differences, the stench of bigotry – the kind that is fueled by sheer hatred before being made socially acceptable through the use of an indirect approach – contaminates the over-the-top asininity with which Obama is assailed today. The only thing separating AAPS’s theory from the allegations that Obama isn’t a native citizen, added death panels to his health care reform bill, or tried to spread socialism to our children is that AAPS adds a dash of anti-Semitism to the larger racist brew.

Besides, it’s ridiculous to believe that a tricked out ‘O’ could actually hypnotize Jews into voting for Barack Obama. I’m Jewish and the logo doesn’t have any effect on me…

“Aren’t I pretty, Matt?”

No! I must resist your power!

“Hope……Change…… Hope…… Change……”

I can’t support Obama! He’s a Kenyan Socialist!

“Yes you can……Yes you can……”


* - Author's Note: I was unable to find any reliable data on the voting preferences of Muslims during the 2008 presidential election. Obviously I would be thrilled if anyone could fill this gap for me.

I Don't Heart Huckabee: A Challenge to Supporters of Huckabee for President

The Republican presidential candidate in 2012 will be either Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.

As a liberal, I don’t care which one is chosen. Since Barack Obama’s views are closer to my own than those of the Republican Party, I already know that I’ll support his reelection.

As an American, however, I care very deeply about who wins the GOP’s most coveted prize. This is because, while Romney is merely a man with whom I disagree, Huckabee is something much worse – a man who poses a serious threat to this country.

First, though, let me explain why the nominee will be either Romney or Huckabee:

1) When Republican primary voters are polled as to their presidential preferences, the top four choices are always Romney, Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. Not only does this quartet have a significant lead over all of the other hopefuls, but the financial requirements necessary to run a successful primary campaign are such that neither party has nominated someone who wasn’t in the top four by now since 1976. In short, the GOP’s pick will definitely be one of these individuals.

2) While Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are both loved by the party’s base of grassroots conservatives, neither of them is capable of winning in a general election – and Republican primary voters are savvy enough to realize this. They may wish for a candidate who reflects their beliefs, but they also want to win, and that latter desire will be the downfall of Gingrich and Palin, thus leaving only Romney and Huckabee.

Romney will have a lot of advantages going into that contest, including an excellent business record that translates into strength on economic issues; a center-right image that will appeal to moderate Republicans in the primaries and independent voters in the general election; and a powerful fundraising apparatus. That said, his Mormonism and shakiness as a social conservative may hurt him with the Christian Right, while his responsibility for a health care reform bill in Massachusetts similar to the one passed by Obama could cost him among the Tea Party. If these things happen in such a way so as to deny Romney the nomination, Huckabee will be their beneficiary.

That is a thought that terrifies me, for the simple reason that America can’t afford the risk that Mike Huckabee will ever become president.


We can start with Wayne DuMond, an Arkansas man who was sentenced to thirty-nine years in prison (reduced from an initial life plus twenty years) after he brutally raped a seventeen-year-old girl. Because the evidence that he had committed this crime was irrefutable, normally his case wouldn’t have attracted any special attention.

However, there was a catch – unbeknownst to DuMond, the girl he’d raped was the third cousin of Bill Clinton.

This shouldn’t have made any difference. However, several right-wing extremists decided to spread rumors that DuMond was innocent, a claim that – despite its absolute and obvious falsehood – was embraced by overzealous Clinton-haters. Foremost among them was Mike Huckabee, who not only commuted DuMond’s sentence less than ten weeks after becoming governor, but even skirted federal law by tampering with the parole board (which had twice denied DuMond’s applications) so that it would decide in his favor.

Less than a year after DuMond was released, he raped another woman. This time, he also murdered her.

This may be the most abhorrent thing Huckabee has done, but it certainly isn’t the only one. He also has a history of sexism (1998 - he signs a full-page advertisement in USA Today saying that women should “submit graciously” to their husbands), racism (1993 - he speaks before a white supremacist group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens), and prejudice against Mormons (2008 - he claims that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers). The group for which he has reserved his worst bile are homosexuals, whose sexual orientation he has compared with incest, who he has claimed are committing moral sins comparable with lying and stealing, and whose ability to marry he argues would threaten the survival of civilization itself.

Finally, there is the danger that Huckabee poses to one of America’s most basic and important liberties – religious freedom, as protected by the separation of church and state.

From a speech delivered in his 2008 presidential campaign:

I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards…

My response to Huckabee’s support of theocracy:

Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights.

I didn't write that line, by the way. It was penned by Thomas Jefferson.

Now that we’re aware of what the Sage of Monticello would think of Mike Huckabee, only one question remains – what do you think of him? To anyone who has considered supporting him for president, have these facts changed your opinion?

This isn’t my challenge to you. This is America’s challenge to you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Rise of Reagan: Part Two

The following conversation erupted on my Facebook wall in response to the Reagan article:

Matthew Rozsa
In response to my Reagan article, Dan Reagan decided to post a response in which he asserted that The Gipper did not deserve the racist designation that the three British authors assigned to him back in 1969. Of course, since he didn't have the courage to post this on the message board of this thread (where everyone could read it), I have decided to show generosity of spirit and do that for him:


And now my rebuttal:

1) Danny is ignoring that the people who referred to Reagan as a racist in this piece did so in 1969, more than a decade before he had even been elected to the presidency, much less subsequently deified by the radical right. As such, the entire premise of this piece - i.e., that liberals are retroactively attributing racism to him as a means of promoting our own agenda - is inapplicable in the case of the book I've quoted.

That aside, however...

2) The article conveniently ignores each and every reason why Reagan has been called a racist, instead focusing on public relations stunts committed by the former president to protect himself from that charge (a tactic that harkens back to the days of Strom Thurmond and George Wallace), pointing out that he had black friends as a child and his father once saved a drowning African American (awww... how sweet), and arguing that right-wing programs which some liberals cite as evidence of racist animosity are in fact anything but. That said, the article doesn't discuss:

1) The fact that Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

2) The fact that Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which he claimed was an unjust humiliation of the South).

3) The fact that Reagan fought against measures which would have denied tax-exempt status to schools with racially discriminatory policies, particularly Bob Jones University.

4) The fact that Reagan supported the South African apartheid regime even at a time when many mainstream Democrats AND conservative Republicans were vocal in opposing it.

5) The fact that Reagan was notorious for using racist code language in his political campaigns, from spreading the "welfare queen" bugaboo about African-American welfare recipients to, yes, talking about states' rights.

A thought on that last example. The article you cited claims that liberals call foul on the term "states' rights" because of our deep-seated opposition to everything federalist, American, God, Family, and Apple Pie. In fact, the reason we call foul on it is because the term "states' rights" has a long history of being used by segregationist demagogues as a code for perpetuating racism in the South. It's similar to how I, as a Jew, would be a bit disturbed if an anti-Israel orator began spewing on about how the Jewish State needed its "final solution."

I don't expect you to have the intellectual fortitude and ideological chutzpah to respond to this, but if you do, please be considerate and post it on this thread. I have no qualms about making my work accessible to everyone. You shouldn't either.

Dan Reagan
post your email address so we can discuss this via email..I'm not going to get into a stupid discussion with you via FB because amongst other things, I posted a quote from Bill Parcells on your board..figure that out and when you do you'll know why I won't engage you in this manner any longer...

Matthew Rozsa
‎"They don't know what they don't know."

Yeah, I'm having a real difficult time cracking that masterpiece of tautology. Incidentally, since I do understand it, I can also say that it has absolutely no relevance to the question of why you're unwilling to debate me in an open forum. Needless to say, I'll draw my own conclusions.

Matthew Rozsa
PS: If you can prove me wrong on the countless fact-based points I just made, imagine how much you'll impress everyone who reads this thread?

Dan Reagan
Matt, My point was YOU don't know what you don't know! Period! You're not as smart as you like to believe you are. Remember I knew your father before he met your mother who you like to site for validation on this site from time to time. I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate you in a public forum where your like minded socialist sickos can chime in. If you want to continue this off line you can email me..otherwise..Parcells's line applies to youi! That's what I meant. You're a smart guy, but not as smart as you think! Lou Cannon has written 5 books on Reagan. I've read a couple. They're fair. The article I linked to was written by an intelligent black writer. But since that didn't fit your template or your argument you think you have won the argument. Okay Matt, You win! Feel better! Nobody in their right mind though, who knew the man, and LIVED back then, including Tip O'Neil, would have said that he was a racist. Only you would say it now because your guy is such a colossal failure that you have to say and do anything to change the discussion. Feel better. You win..you're smart Matt. I can't compete with you. I bow to you. If you had ANY intellectual curiosity at all, maybe, just maybe, you'd read a book on Reagan, maybe one of Lou Cannon's 5 books or one of Peggy Noonan's 2 books before you go and make a fool of yourself again. But hey, you win Matt, I can't compete with you!

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) I've read one of Lou Cannon's books.

2) This isn't a question of our comparative intellects; it is a question of who can build the best case based on objective facts. In my response to you, I cited several facts that I believed (and still think) can be built into a persuasive case that Ronald Reagan was a racist - I did nothing more and nothing less, which is exactly what my father taught me to do when debating (he, by the way, is considerably to the right of me on most issues).

On the other hand, in your response, you didn't cite a single fact, or for that matter even address the ones that I raised. All you did was attempt to pull rank on me while insulting my intelligence.

Your son, by the way, shares your ideological vantage point but knows how to conduct himself intelligently in a fact-based and unemotional manner. You could learn a thing or two from him.

3) I gather that the "socialist sickos" to whom you refer are my good friends and mother. Part of me wants to point out that only one of them is actually a socialist (and is still a great guy, by the way), although you're probably unwilling to understanding the distinction between "socialist" and "liberal"; part of me wants to refer to a great quote from Rousseau, who said "Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong."

Instead, I will simply say, on behalf of my mother and friends...

Fuck you.

Dan Reagan
‎1)my first response to you calling Reagan a racist was to reply with a well written article written by a black columnist who made more points then I could ever hope to make in a simple post on FB.
2) He rebutted every one of your points with the exception of maybe one.
3) The fact that he is Black seemed to be lost on you..not a surprise
4) He quoted Lou Cannon's book which you now claimed to have read
5) I never cursed at you nor would I
6) I had asked you to send you your email but you refused so thus we are DONE!
7) I pulled rank? Yes, I have that right...learn to respect your elders..it will serve you well in life!
You don't know what you don't know!!
8) Adios!'

Matthew Rozsa
‎1) You responded with a columnist whose arguments I then rebutted point-by-point. You didn't acknowledge any of those rebuttals but simply became angry that I was capable of providing them.

2) He actually didn't address any of what those three British authors wrote (and let me emphasize that the controversial article "I" wrote was actually an excerpt from a book written by others in 1969, a fact you keep overlooking).

3) I love it how you keep emphasizing that this conservative was black. Does that automatically mean that he is incapable of being a racist, or at least an apologist for racists? There have been self-hating blacks - take James Meredith, the man who broke segregation at Ole Miss in 1962 by being integrated (with the help of President Kennedy), and who later endorsed David Duke for Louisiana Governor and worked for Strom Thurmond. Equivalents exist among other oppressed groups too, from Jews (Bobby Fischer) to women (Phyllis Schlafly). While I'm not going to elaborate as to why certain intelligent individuals decide to engage in hatred against their own group, suffice to say that simply saying "He's black" does not automatically mean "He's credible on everything involving racial politics."

4) I did read Lou Cannon's book.

5) You didn't curse at me, but you referred to my mother and friends as "socialist sickos", which was far worse than my responding with one word of profanity.

6, 7, 8) Wow. Just... wow.

Two final thoughts:

1) The excerpts that I included in my blog article did not focus on race relations; they made a brief reference to them (albeit one that I highlighted) while discussing in general the cultural movements that fueled Reagan's candidacy and the manner in which his mind worked. It intrigues me that you placed such disproportionate emphasis on one aspect of that piece.

2) If your sole goal is to feel good about yourself, then the emotion-based jeremiads to which you have subjected me are fine. If, on the other hand, you want to persuade people, the best tactic is to confront the logical arguments that they make one-by-point, so that objective observers can conclude that your positions are more fact-based and rational. You may notice that this is what I have done both with the article you cited and with the various posts you have put up here. On the other hand, you haven't addressed even one of the five points that I cited as to why Reagan was a racist (from the Voting Rights Act of 1964 to his use of racially-charged code rhetoric in his speeches), or for that matter confronted the tiny matter of how these authors couldn't have been trying to retroactively smear Reagan and/or take attention away from Obama if they were writing this in 1969.

If you want people to respect your ideas, learn how to debate.

Christina Cruz
Ugh, like one black person writing or saying or just knowing you makes you not racist and absolves every racist stance or statement ever made. Exploiting someone's race to try and prove your point? God, thats that undercover ignorant racism that irks the shit out of me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rise of Reagan

Before he was elected to the presidency in 1980...

Before he made his first major bid for that office in 1976...

Before, indeed, he had finished serving half of his first term as governor of a major American state...

Before all of these things, the year was 1968, and Ronald Reagan was best known as a washed up former Hollywood star who had recently become a darling of the radical right.

While being beloved by hard-line conservatives is a surefire path to becoming a presidential favorite today, this was definitely not the case back when the Republican fringe turned to Reagan during the 1968 election. Only four years earlier, the party had gone with its heart and nominated Barry Goldwater, a man whose unabashed conservatism was so extreme that the nation rejected him by the greatest popular vote landslide in American history, both then and since. This caused a predictable reluctance on the part of the Grand Old Party to pursue the route of ideological puritanism again in 1968, a factor which worked to Reagan's disadvantage that year.

Why do I bring this up? Because today, in light of the deification that has occurred on behalf of Reagan from the media and from the apparatus of the right-wing propaganda machine, it is very difficult to find objective assessments of what factors really catapulted him to power. That is why I have decided to post a passages from a book about the 1968 presidential election called "An American Melodrama", one that was published only a year after the contest it covered. While hardly devoted to Reagan, it contains an in-depth analysis of the man and his movement, one made all the richer by the fact that it was written from three British reporters who had a fresh take on American politics and by its advantage in preceding Reagan's actual presidency by more than a decade.

Remember, what you are reading was written in 1969.

What sort of man is Ronald Reagan? And what sort of technique turned him from a disregarded neophyte governor into a conceivable Presidential candidate? Ronald Reagan’s qualifications for the highest office in the land seemed exiguous at best. He had capped a career as a film actor with a late, albeit spectacular, entry into politics – moving, in the fall of 1966, straight into the governorship of what is now the nation’s most populous state. By the time of the Republican convention in Miami, he had been in office little more than eighteen months and had incurred some powerful animosities in that time. A “Recall Reagan” petition drive was a conspicuous features of California politics 1968 – under California’s bizarre election laws the Governor can be forced to undergo another election if enough voters are prepared to request it in writing. This drive was to collapse on the eve of the convention, short of the 780,000 signature target, but no fewer than 440,000 Californians had appended their names to this curious document.

Such an indictment might be expected to take the gilt off any officeholder. But then Reagan is no ordinary political phenomenon. He is, as Goldwater was, a symbol of the old values of God, Home, and Country. His appeal is visceral. The most perceptive of Reagan’s biographers, Bill Boyarsky, said of him: “Reagan’s importance is not as an administrator but as an evangelist warning of the destruction of the American Dream.”

To those Americans who inhabit the Dream – the verdant suburbs – he is especially consoling. He is for lean government, low taxes, and flag-waving patriotism. He is against civil-rights legislation, university radicals, and expenditure of government funds in the ghetto. He is Goldwater mutton, dressed up as lamb. But the dressing is all-important. Goldwater, a man of considerable personal sweetness, was also something of a buffoon. People laughed at, not with, him. Reagan, on the other hand, is a wonderfully smooth performer. A dream candidate for those Republicans – and there were many – who thought that the policies in 1964 were right but that the personality was wrong. As a medium for the message, Ronnie was without peer...

The boldface, by the way, was added by me, as that passage is key to understanding both Reagan's personal coalition and the mentality of those who dominate the American right-wing today.

After discussing Reagan's beginnings as a New Deal liberal, the authors then provide an explanation for his conversion to the cause of conservatism, one which contains the single most brilliant insight I have ever encountered into the workings of his mind:

There are those who claim that Reagan's allegiance to the New Deal philosophy was insincere, that there had always been a right-wing conservative inside screaming for liberation. They cite his style - "always the Boy Scout" - his aversion to the income tax, and his readiness to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. But this is probably wisdom after the event. The explanation is simpler: that the real Reagan, like the celluloid Reagan, inhabits a world composed of "good guys" and "bad guys." Reagan, naturally, prefers to be a good guy. During the Depression and war years the Democrats had a firm hold on the good-guy image for a young man making his way. Then, after the war, everything became complicated. The ranks of the good guys were infiltrated with bad guys*; so the on-etime good guys felt like suckers, a very bad role in real or fantasy life. Reagan felt that he was made to play it briefly, and he did not like the action. He had no intellectual depth, no feeling for the complexity of human affairs. He simply wanted to know where the good guys were so that he could be one again.

* - The "bad guys" are the so-called Communists who were believed to have "infiltrated" Hollywood during the McCarthy Era.

While normally I like to wrap my articles up with a concluding statement, this time I feel my best bet is to allow the material to speak for itself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Abortion

The following piece elaborates on thoughts penned in earlier editorials on the key issue of abortion rights.

The Right to Abortion:

A couple of my conservative friends have pointed out that, whenever I cite Thomas Jefferson's proclamation of the right all human beings have to life (usually as I champion health care reform), I make an assertion that could conceivably be used to support an anti-abortion position. I would like to clarify this misconception right now:

I respect the opinions of those who believe that the unborn are alive, and would never question their right to conduct their personal lives in accordance with that conviction. That said, there isn't any scientific proof that fetuses are "alive"; indeed, from a scientific standpoint, the very definition of what constitutes "life" (apart from the obvious criterion of having emerged successfully from your mother's womb) is sketchy at best. Consequently there is only one question that needs to be asked by any government which is focused on (a) guaranteeing its citizens as much freedom as possible while (b) keeping in mind the need to preserve justice, security, and social order:

What policy toward abortion creates the proper balance between the vital freedoms each individual possesses - i.e., those that allow every man and woman to live his or her life however he or she chooses without governmental interference - and the rights of others to be protected from harm?

The answer, as I see it, is to leave the matter of whether to have an abortion to the discretion of each woman who is forced to make that decision. Pregnancy is a matter of profound significance to a woman, due not only to the ramifications having a child will have on the course of her entire life (even if she puts her child up for adoption), but also to the enormous degree to which it will compromise her sovereignty over her physical body.

There are few civil libertarians who would disagree that, under normal circumstances, a matter of such a deeply personal magnitude should be left solely in the hands of the individuals forced to make those choices. The only reason some have deemed this situation to be an exception to that general rule is because they feel the stakes involve not only the rights of adults, but also of unborn children who equally deserve the designation of "human."

This is a point-of-view that should be respected. At the same time, because the opinions on whether an unborn child is alive are so diverse that they wind up being fundamentally irreconcilable, it behooves us to keep in mind the proper relationship between merely hypothetical rights (i.e., those belonging to unborn children) and rights possessed by entities whose humanity is undeniable (i.e., those belonging to pregnant women). When put in those terms, the resolution to this conundrum becomes almost self-evident:

While the criteria upon which human rights are allotted may or may not apply to fetuses, they are without a doubt applicable to pregnant women. As such, it is illogical and undemocratic to claim that the power regarding if and when an abortion should take place belongs in the hands of anyone other than those whose bodies and lives are impacted by that decision.

The Need for Civility in Debating Abortion:

The following is an excerpt from the memoirs of Barry Goldwater, a libertarian ideologue whose presidential campaign in 1964 launched the modern conservative movement and cemented his status as its founding father:

The Moral Majority and most in the New Right oppose abortion. I oppose abortion. Yet in a pluralistic society the issue is not ours to decide alone. If abortion is both a political and moral issue, as the Moral Majority indicates in pursuing both levels of activity, then it has already lost the political battle and perhaps the national religious fight as well. There is too wide and complex a range of opinion for us to reach a national consensus on issues of morality. The truth is - and no one in the country appears to have the courage to say it - that the American people want it both ways on abortion. Most people are privately horrified by it, but they are either victims of peer pressure or favor it only in limited circumstances.

The Moral Majority has no more right to dictate its moral and political beliefs to the country than does any other group, political or religious. The same is true of pro-choice abortion and other groups. They are free to persuade us because this land is blessed with liberty, but not to assign religious or political absolutes - complete right or wrong.

My wife believed that each woman had the moral and legal right to choose for herself whether she was capable of continuing her pregnancy and then raising the child. I disagreed with her. That's as it is, and must be, in a free and pluralistic America.

With the exception of two sentences (that beginning with "The truth is..." and ending with "...in limited circumstances."), I agree with all of the thoughts expressed above. It is unfortunate that Goldwater had to mar what would have otherwise been a perfect summary of a true libertarian position with one of his characteristic gross oversimplifications.

That said, his larger point about respecting dissenting points-of-view goes a long way toward why I have referred to opponents of abortion rights as being "anti-abortion" instead of using their preferred self-designation, "pro-life." While normally I would not quibble with the right of an ideological faction to affix to itself whatever label it chooses, I acutely resent the implication that those of us who support a woman's right to choose are "anti-life." Just as pro-choicers should respect the honorable intentions of those who are anti-abortion, so too do those who are anti-abortion need to accept that the pro-choice community isn't composed of "anti-life" infanticidal degenerates, but of people who have come to a different set of conclusions on a profoundly difficult question.

For an excellent scientific look at this issue, see:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Conservatism's Founding Father on the Christian Right

Barry Goldwater was more than just a five-term United States Senator from Arizona; he was indisputably the founding father of modern American conservatism.

During his campaign for the presidency as the Republican nominee in 1964, Goldwater mobilized an entire generation of dormant conservative ideologues and helped the group once dismissed as "the radical right" take control of a party they hadn't been able to dominate since the days of Herbert Hoover. Major right-wing figures from Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh and Charles Krauthammer are all Goldwater's direct beneficiaries - and have admitted to being so.

That is why I thought it would be interesting to devote a blog article to some of the thoughts he had about the Christian Right, a group that also began its political activism due to his election bid but with whom he eventually became disenchanted.

We began walking separate roads, however, when the New Right began pushing special social agendas involving legitimate legal, religious, and other differences. I support much of what they say, but not at the risk of compromising constitutional rights. Nor do I believe Republicans should splinter into a wrecking crew of special interests as the Democrats have done. And that is where these narrow but gifted men have been leading us.

For years, the New Right preached little or no spirit of compromise - political give-and-take. Viguerie, Weyrich, and others failed to appreciate that politics is the ordinary stuff of daily living, while the spiritual life represents eternal values and goals. Public business - that's all politics is - is often making the best of a mixed bargain. Instead, the New Right stresses the politics of absolute moral right and wrong. And, of course, they are convinced of their absolute rightness.

James Madison, the father of our Constitution, once wrote, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." But men are not angels, and government is necessary. We settle our daily battles by reason and law, not on the basis of narrow interests or individual religious beliefs. Madison said the great paradox of representative government is this: How does a nation control its factions without violating people's basic freedoms?

Our Constitution seeks to allow freedom for everyone, not merely those professing certain moral or religious views of ultimate right.

We don't have to look back centuries to see such dangers. Look at the carnage in the name of religious righteousness in Iran. The long and bloody division of Northern Ireland. The Christian-Moslem and Moslem-Moslem "holy war" in Lebanon.

Barry Goldwater also had some interesting views on the issue of allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military.

After more than 50 years in the military and politics, I am still amazed to see how upset people can get over nothing. Lifting the ban on gays in the military isn’t exactly nothing, but it’s pretty damned close.

Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar. They’ll still be serving long after we’re all dead and buried. That should not surprise anyone.

But most Americans should be shocked to know that while the country’s economy is going down the tubes, the military has wasted half a billion dollars over the past decade chasing down gays and running them out of the armed services. It’s no great secret that military studies have proved again and again that there’s no valid reason for keeping the ban on gays.

Some thought gays were crazy, but then found that wasn’t true. Then they decided that gays were a security risk, but again the Department of Defense decided that wasn’t so. In fact, one study by the Navy in 1956 that was never made public found gays to be good security risks. Even Larry Korb, President Reagan’s man in charge of implementing the Pentagon ban on gays, now admits that it was a dumb idea. No wonder my friend Dick Cheney, secretary of defense under President Bush, called it “a bit of an old chestnut.”

When the facts lead to one conclusion, I say it’s time to act, not to hide. The country and the military know that eventually the ban will be lifted. The only remaining questions are how much muck we will all be dragged through, and how many brave Americans like Tom Paniccia and Margarethe Cammermeyer will have their lives and careers destroyed in a senseless attempt to stall the inevitable.

Some in congress think I’m wrong. They say we absolutely must continue to discriminate, or all hell will break loose. Who knows, they say, perhaps our soldiers may even take up arms against each other.

Well, that’s just stupid.

Years ago, I was a lieutenant in charge of an all-black unit. Military leaders at the time believed that blacks lacked leadership potential – period. That seems ridiculous now, as it should. Now, each and every man and woman who serves this nation takes orders from a black man – our own Gen. Colin Powell.

Nobody thought that blacks or women could ever be integrated into the military. Many thought that an all-volunteer force could never protect our national interest. Well, it has, and despite those who feared the worst – I among them – we are still the best and will continue to be.

The point is that decisions are always a lot easier to make in hindsight. But we seldom have that luxury. That’s why the future of our country depends on leadership, and that’s what we need now.

I served in the armed forces. I have flown more than 150 of the best fighter planes and bombers this country manufactured. I founded the Arizona National Guard. I chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I think it’s high time to pull the curtains on this charade of policy. What should undermine our readiness would be a compromise policy like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” That compromise doesn’t deal with the issue – it tries to hide it.

We have wasted enough precious time, money and talent trying to persecute and pretend. It’s time to stop burying our heads in the sand and denying reality for the sake of politics. It’s time to deal with this straight on and be done with it. It’s time to get on with more important business.

The conservative movement, to which I subscribe, has as one of its basic tenets the belief that government should stay out of people’s private lives. Government governs best when it governs least – and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone’s version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays.

When you get down to it, no American able to serve should be allowed, much less given an excuse, not to serve his or her country. We need all our talent.

If I were in the Senate today, I would rise on the Senate floor in support of our commander in chief. He may be a Democrat, but he happens to be right on this question.

In short, it makes sense that, in his later years, Barry Goldwater made the following observation about the Christian Right to "The Washington Post":

When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.