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Meditations on a Wiener

Just a few thoughts on Congressman Wiener and his big reveal this past week.

Most defenders of Wiener have provided the baffling defense that what he did was legal, so it really isn’t our business. Who the hell cares about that? It’s icky. And as Megan McArdle points out – marriage norms are worth protecting with stigma. Also, shaming online creeps seems like a worthy exercise too.

Anyway, Hendrick Hertzberg offers this opinion:

The problem is that lying is an inherent part of adultery and, by extension, of any illicit or potentially embarrassing sexual activity or proclivity. By itself, the fact that a person has lied about sex tells you nothing about that person’s general propensity to lie.

Would he say the same thing about lying on your taxes, or expense reports? Perhaps some people really do only ever lie about one thing in their lives- they compartmentalize. But that is precisely the kind of mental exercise that we don’t want politicians to engage in – to make special expemtions for themselves.Of course, this is a routine failing in our politicians.

My colleague and friend Daniel McCarthy had the exact opposite reaction as I did to Wiener’s press conference. I found his confused looking sobbing and general helplessness excited my pity for him. McCarthy writes:

Weiner’s blubbering was worse than the mischief itself. If you’re going to fool around in the first place, at least have the anatomy not to grovel once you get caught. What does the voting public get out of seeing a man snivel and cry on live TV? Better a brazen reprobate than a box of soggy Kleenex — and Weiner was meant to be a tough-guy Noo Yawker. You wouldn’t have seen Warren Harding moist-eyed and quavering if the newspapers had caught him mailing naughty Daguerreotypes to young flappers. But Weiner is an oh-so-sensitive cad

No, no, no. If he was actually charming a series of 20 years olds into his bed, it might work on the stage to give the James Bond grin and move on. But the sniveling and crying perfectly matches the pathetic nature of his indiscretion. This guy started Facebook stalking a girl after she wrote “hott” on a video of him speaking. A man could be perversely proud of boffing a series of hot liberal chicks; he cannot take pride of matching juvenile puns to pictures of his shirtless torso with his cats. There is nothing left but the old fashioned blubbering American altar-call, “Just as I am, Lord.”

Fox House

In an otherwise informative and interesting article in New York magazine about the Fox network, Roger Ailes and their relationship to the GOP going into the 2012 election cycle is this assertion:

That the GOP Establishment’s bench seems so thin now is a by-product of how the party, and Fox, reacted to Obama’s presidency.

The thesis of the article is to say that Ailes and Fox cynically created the Tea Party (i.e. it’s not a real movement), and then to say that the Tea Party has made GOP politics crazy, and now all the serious Republicans regret it.

But this just isn’t true. Fox and the Tea Party are not the reason that Mitt Romney isn’t credible; he simply isn’t credible. Tim Pawlenty’s record as governor is unremarkable, and he cannot speak t conservative crowds with any sense of fluency. That’s not Fox’s fault. Same with Jon Huntsman.

The fact is that the bench isn’t deep because few Republican governors and Senators have distinguished themselves in the past fifteen years. Their tax cuts were accompanied by expanded government commitments. When states could no longer collect higher and higher tax revenues, the states were drowning in debt. Did Fox make Bobby Jindal look bad for his SOTU response? No.

Though one could argue that Fox has had a role in shaping the GOP constituency for abrasive figures like Michelle Bachman, the fundamentals were there already. The GOP is no longer the party of Rockefeller, and hasn’t been for a long time. The conservative movement sees itself as an insurgent political force, unfairly held down by malignant forces in the media, the academy, and in politics. Fox only reflects that sense back to it.

Huckabee Out

Ross Douthat sings the funeral lament for Huckabeeism in today’s Times:

He’ll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that’s common in American life but rare in America’s political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it’s tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.

Daniel Larison snaps back:

There was no danger that Huckabee was going to link this identity politics up with any new policies, which was why the hysteria his candidacy provoked was so unfounded, but the slightest hint that an era of Republican political dominance had not much benefited working- and middle-class Americans was so scandalous that it had to be shut down as soon as possible. Huckabee presented himself as someone with a chip on his shoulder, and happily contrasted his biography with that of his more privileged, loathed opponent in Mitt Romney.

Well, as I remember. At the Values Voters conference in 2007 where Huckabee effectively denied a religious right endorsement of Mitt Romney, the biggest applause line was about trade. From some reporting I did then:

Asked about economics, Huckabee claims to be “a Main Street Republican, not a Wall Street Republican” and preaches a message of economic independence—even nationalism. Speaking to a group of social conservatives, he declared, “A country that cannot feed itself, that cannot fuel itself, and that cannot fight for itself with its own weapons which it manufactures itself is a nation that is not longer free. … I don’t want to see our food come from China, our oil come from Saudi Arabia, and our manufacturing come from Europe and Asia.” Yet Huckabee has not called for an end to NAFTA or for implementing protective tariffs, insisting against evidence to the contrary that he is a free trader.

Huckabee might have linked up some of his populist rhetoric with policy if he ever got to govern. But during the campaign he was either determined never to be pinned-down, or he was a policy illiterate. I happened to enjoy Huck’s campaign, or at least the spectacle of it. He flouted the conservative movement’s role as policeman of discourse on the Right. There is nothing like personal animus to make the television screen crackle, and so Huckabee launching himself like a tomahawk missile at the Romney campaign produced an amusing wreck.

I’ve always believed that the hatred of Huckabee was disproportionate to his policy differences with the conservative movement. After all, this is the same conservative movement that was able to endorse Mitt Romney four years ago. But Huckabee encountered it because he validated an argument that conservatives were long trying to make: that cutting government spending was not cruel. Huckabee made it sound like small-government people were small-minded people, or rather small-hearted. When someone on the left does it, it agitates a conservative. When someone on the right does it, it makes them crazy.

A War to Make You Hate All Wars

Chistopher Hitchens reviews Adam Hocschild’s new account of WWI, “To End All Wars.”:

Without President Wilson’s intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. In this light, the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs, who publicly opposed the war and was kept in prison by a vindictive Wilson until long after its ending, looks like a prescient hero. Indeed, so do many of the antiwar militants to whose often-buried record Hochschild has done honor.

The history of World War I should be much better known in America. President Wilson, who had run on keeping America out of Europe’s conflagration, sold the war to Americans in the highest of high ideals. There would be peace without victory, victory without spoils, and freedom would once again reign. The Germany people were not to blame, only their government. And besides, the Allies were about to win anyway, he thought. America would only have to send over some ships, drop some depth charges on U-Boats, and then Wilson would help to shape the peace. Little did he know that once he committed the Republic to war, Britain and France would inform him that they were about broke and that without some kind of help soon, the Germans would be occupying Paris. Oh and by the way, we have all sorts of secret agreements dividing up German land and colonies among the victors. Send the Sammies over soon!

In America, dissidents were jailed under new sedition acts, and the war fever got so hot that President Wilson had to publicly disapprove of the lynching of German-Americans. Robert Prager, a German-born bakery worker in Illinois had even tried to enlist in the U.S. Army. After his unsuccessful bid to join a local union, he was stripped by a mob and wrapped in the American flag and beaten. The police put him in jail partly for his protection, but they yielded to the mob who dragged him out into the countryside, allowed him to write a farewell letter to his German parents and then lynched him. The New York Times condemned the act. But the Washington post remarked that it was a “healthful and wholesome awakening” to the evils of German-sown dissent in the heartland.

Wellington House propaganda had convinced Americans that German soldiers were spearing Belgium’s babies and cutting off the hands of those poor defenseless democrats. No journalist actually discovered a Belgian whose arm had been sawn-off by a Hun, but it hardly mattered. American’s fell in love for “poor, democratic Belgium,” even if the Belgians themselves actually were sawing off arms in the Congo.

Wilson’s high idealism constantly ran against the desire to revenge Germany. Even as Herbert Hoover was reporting from Germany after the armistice that the Germans were starving to death because of the British blockade, Winston Churchill was coldly suggesting that there were 20 million too many Germans after all. Certain economic-minded members of Britain’s delegation to Versailles suggested calculating the number of calories a German needed to survive and measuring them against Germany’s ability to pay reparations. The New York Times’ editorialized during the  peace talks  that “The punishment Germany must endure for centuries will be one of the greatest deterrents to the war spirit.”

I know these are all random observations about WWI, but they are all a way of saying that I’m glad Hitchens could find at least one war to oppose.


Chief Wahoo and Us

Over at my baseball-side project, The Slurve, I argue with Indian’s blogger Stephanie Liscio that Chief Wahoo should stay.

Anyway, consider the Fighting Irish logo of Notre Dame. Here we have a man dressed as a leprechaun, posed in the absurd fighting stance Conan O’Brien assumes when playfully immitating early 20th century boxers. The Fighting Irishman is as ghostly white, as Chief Wahoo is red. And we should remember that the Irish were once considered a race unto themselves, one uniquely prone to drunken brawling and subject to discrimination in America. But no one thinks that the Fighting Irish logo “is a racist caricature, something akin to Little Black Sambo.” If you believe that, I can convince you that that Syracuse’s Orange Squish ball, Otto, is belittling depiction of Scottish Protestants.

I also argue that these anti-caricature campaigns have the perverse effect of making sports more white. We can depict whites as noble fighters like the Trojans, as irrational Fighters like the Vikings or Fighting Irish, but we can’t depict Native Americans or Blacks at all. This is actually a shame. Racist caricatures are of course bad, but caricature itself isn’t.

More from the Bin laden Man-Cave

Clearly this story could be a bit of psychological warfare being used to demoralize truly religious Islamic terrorists. Though we do know that the 9/11 hijackers frequented strip clubs.

I can’t put aside the head-spinning weirdness of finding the idiom “porn-stash” in a lede on a Bin Laden story.

Instructions in Latin

I have a quick reaction to the Vatican’s latest instructions regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, over at the newly re-branded Crisis Magazine.

So far it seems I’m the only one who expresse any worries about it.

Here’s a good part:

A close reading of this instruction seems to reduce bishops to a welcoming committee. It’s almost as if Pope Benedict XVI has built a bridge between himself and these small groups of faithful through the office of Ecclesia Dei, and this structure is built over the bishops.

Here’s a bad part

The document also states that new saints and new prefaces can and ought to be inserted into the 1962 Missal. This is dangerous stuff, I’m afraid. Sure, some would like to have Divine Mercy Sunday in the old form, for instance. But there is just not enough trust built between traditionalists and the larger Church to begin making revisions to the old Mass yet. I even wonder if these will be followed at all. Certainly the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) won’t follow them, and they do have the influence of example on Ecclessia Dei communities. The Extraordinary form Masses I’ve attended haven’t even incorporated Benedict’s revision to the Good Friday prayer for the Jews.

Read it all.


KJV is the Commoner’s English too

Nifty video showing how we still use the language of the King James Bible today:


Traitor to my Generation

I must be the only person in the world not enthralled by the middle-school choir at New York’s PS-22. Their teacher seems to be doing a competent job: they sing well! The songs they perform are of the same level of difficulty as those I remember singing in middle-school. But of course, they are unbearably hip. They do Lady Gaga, and now: The Smiths.

I happen to think the weird catalog of middle-school choral music as perfect precisely because it was un-hip. Middle-school is perhaps the most vicious time in life status-anxiety-wise. In my day, anonymous, un-heard-of chorus music seemed to build character, to get me to stretch out from the merely popular to the merely mediocre.

Bin Laden, Ineffectual

This FoxNews story about Osama Bin Laden is enough to make me re-evaluate almost everything I had thought about terrorism. Here is OBL, safely ensconced with his journal, watching the BBC, or watching videos of himself. He writes down ideas for plots, none of which seem to have been in any stage of operation. He kept tabs with people and tried to micromanage the plots that toher AQ affiliates might convince themselves they are hatching.

“He was like a prisoner at the compound,” the official said.

How odd, no?

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were utterly spectacular successes for Bin Laden and his terrorists. And the train and bus bombings in Europe, while smaller were also successful. But are we really supposed to be afraid of this anymore?

It is actually relatively easy for any one of us to imagine a campaign of terrorist attacks that would be cheap and easy to execute, and utterly devastating to life in the U.S. All  you need are people willing to die for their trouble, and maybe a few guns. I find it unlikely that Islamic terrorists haven’t thought of these themselves. After all, terrorists have occasionally blown up cafes and pizza shops in Europe.

And yet after nearly a decade of the Great Satan’s depredations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Pakistan and now Libya, this hasn’t happened. Isn’t that remarkable? For all the worries about winning hearts and minds over there, and the Peter King-style fantasies of radical Muslims near Detroit or whatever: nothing. It is as ginned up as the threats of German-American sabotage during the Great War.

For a while I wanted to argue with the apologists for “regional transformation” that we weren’t fighting the Soviets, who had nukes they could deliver by the bushel, we were fighting people living in caves. Well, it’s more pathetic than that: we were fighting someone living in his man-cave. You can almost respect an enemy flinty enough to live in caves. But we were fighting a cable-news fanatic. And who got especially lucky to meet Khalid Sheik Mohammed a man with enough kinetic energy to pull of a major disaster. Whereas Bin Laden had gone after soft targets in rather crude way in the 90′s, KSM was able to organize crude tactics into a kind of masterpiece of destruction and chaos.

Even though our wars haven’t produced a wave of blowback attacks, I still believe that provoking these people is a fantastic waste of our resources and the lives of our servicemen. Does anyone really think Iraq is so utterly changed that it has reduced the chance of terrorism in the United States? I didn’t think so.

Gottfried’s Theses

Paul Gottfried has some smart reactions to my TAC cover story on white Evangelical Protestants and their unmatched clout in the GOP. And I particularly like his line that many Evangelicals are functionally “divine-right monarchists” supporting whoever, in Providence, the GOP bossess have selected for them. But the good professor has some criticism for me. Gottfried writes:

My biggest problem with Michael’s interpretation, however, is his attribution of a biblically driven ethic to the Religious Right that defies human reasoning. In this case we are speaking specifically about Evangelicals, as opposed to Catholics and traditional Reformed Protestants, who do not operate from this moral perspective. Unfortunately there is nothing identifiably biblical about the way the Religious Right formulates most of its positions. What in the Old or New Testament requires Sarah Palin to be in favor of lowering taxes or noticing the government’s deficit spending when the Democrats are in office? Are these decisions the result of reading certain biblical passages—or are they driven by partisan considerations and the desire to win office as a member of a party that claims counterfactually to be “getting government off our backs”? Where in the Bible do we discover that the US should wage wars against other countries, not because as in Judges they are idolatrous but because they do not grant women equal rights? Pray tell, how did the war in Iraq help Christian interests in that country, let alone fulfill any biblical precept?

Michael would be on firmer ground if he pointed out that the Religious Right favors a foreign policy that has little to do with the Bible.

Indeed. I didn’t mean to give credence to the idea that the GOP’s foreign policy actually derives from a faithful and reasonable interpretation of the Bible. But many Evangelical Christians do believe that when they are supporting the policies of the GOP, they are applying a “Biblical worldview” to politics. Even most Evangelicals would admit there is no direct Scriptural commands addressed to the American president and his handling of (say) Russia, but they sure can take a few verses from Proverbs or the New Testament and build support for a GOP policy on that very issue. This may not stand up to truly critical exegesis, but Richard Land even tried to tie in his preferred foreign policy to the words of Jesus.

I just didn’t think this particular article was the place for me, a Latin-Mass Bible Believing Catholic, to school Evangelicals on their Scriptures. If one lecture from one of me could deliver Evangelicals from the extra-Biblical doctrine of American Exceptionalism, we’d be halfway to restoring the Holy Roman Empire by next Thursday.

What I wish Prof. Gottfried had picked up was my assertion that today’s Evangelicals and neoconservatives have such similar ideological journeys into the Republic Party in the 1970s and early ’80s- even if they were driven there by different events. Both came to talk almost incessantly about “values”, and saw their enemy as a creeping moral relativism. Neoconservatives saw it in the counter-culture left which heroized Palestinians. Evangelicals saw it in the counter-culture which equated any kind of domestic arrangement as equal in dignity to the family.

Just to return a few volleys. Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani was an outlier. At the grassroots level, abortion is still the important issue for Evangelicals and it unites them more powerfully than Christian Zionism.

I am familiar with the Great War’s Protestant cheerleaders, who equated Germany government with the anti-Christ and despotism, and democracy with the Savior of our Souls. Writers used to say things like, “Now the complete opposite of the mind of Christ is the Prussian idea of the State, and the quality of individual man thereby required.” ANd this isn’t too far off what some would vis-a-vis Islam today.

The only thing I’d like to add to Gottfried’s analysis is that neoconservatives are able to “drive the discourse” only insofar as their assumptions align with the larger and dominant managerial culture. The only reason talk of “transforming the region” of the Middle East isn’t dismissed out of hand is due to the fact that our educated classes really do believe that all human problems can be managed, so long as the administrators are good-hearted and practical enough. The big lie is one not just of administrative competence, but of outsized human capacity. The neoconservatives appeal to liberals, to progressives, and to Evangelicals because they repeat the comforting untruth that we are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like us.