Sunday, May 28, 2006

Christian Zionism is NOT a Jewish position

The Jewish Press featured a front page essay by Kathryn Jean Lopez, not on Judiasm, but endorsing a particular minority viewpoint within Christianity:

Rov Soloveitchik, in his famous essay, "Confrontation", warned Jews against theological diaglogue with non-Jewish religions:

The Jewish Press itself had recently criticized Rabbi Avi Weiss for actions that they claim cross the line set by the Rov:

So I was particularly surprised to see something that went far beyond dialogue, but an open endorsement of a particular theological position that is a subject of major disagreement among Christian sects today. Indeed, it is this theological dispute that is related to interpretation of end times prophesies, rather than anti-Semitism, that may be at the root of the divestment movements within some Christian sects; here is a position paper from one.

In addition, Ms. Lopez brushes off the fact that many of those same Christian Zionists are spending huge amounts of money to convert Jews to Christianity and have not rejected the idea that Christianity has replaced Judaism in God's eyes. The largest Protestant sect in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, has through its International Mission Board targeted over five million Jews for conversion just outside North America and openly admits such on its internet site. The sect supports "messianic" congregations and publishes aids to help missionaries. Ms. Lopez also defends Pat Robertson, a Southern Baptist minister whose statements can at best be described as bigoted, as pointed out by blogger DovBear:

In addition, Ms. Lopez blurs the differences between evangelical and Jewish positions on abortion, a point described in detail by Rabbi Barry Freundel as quoted by Rabbi Gil Student:

We do ourselves no good by taking positions on Christian theological positions, particularly when they are held by people whose institutions are actively trying to destroy the Jewish people. There are Christian Zionists who disavow such; I blogged about one, Pastor John Hagee, recently:

I see no reason not to accept Pastor Hagee's support. But I see no reason to get involved in the intra-Christianity arguments between evangelicals Christian Zionists and their opponents by taking a position. There have been many liberal Protestants in the past who were very supportive of Israel and Zionism such as Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bishop John Shelby Spong. Open endorsement of their theological opponents is a slap in their face as well as a violation of Rov Soloveitchik's strong admonitions to keep out of such disputes.

Restrictive immigration is NOT in the interests of Jews

In this week's Forward, David Klinghoffer, who identifies as an Orthodox Jew, uses an assimilationist argument to endorse "high hurdles" for immigrants to the United States:

He objects to immigrants flying Mexican flags, not wanting to speak English, and he supports the idea that a "self-respecting culture" make strong demands upon those who wish to join it.

This is an argument for assimilation into the broad fabric of American society. As Jews, to do so means extinction. I regularly attend religious services that are held in Hebrew, not in English, where the flag of the state of Israel and not the flag of the United States is flown, where we recite prayer for the state of Israel, but not the United States, where we say prayers for the IDF but not the United States military, and Hatikvah, and not the Star Spangled Banner, is said. And I know Jews who continue to speak Yiddish or Hebrew at home, rather than English. Does Mr. Klinghoffer really think that we need to give up these customs in order to be good US citizens? Or does he argue for a double standard, one in which Jews ought to be different but not Mexicans?

One of the great things about the United States is that it does not require minorities to give up their identity. Jews have benefitted tremedously from this; there is no place in the world where we are more free to practice traditional Judaism. I currently live in a mostly-Irish neighborhood; many homes and businesses proudly display their green, white, and orange. Until a year ago I lived in a mostly-Italian neighborhood and it was very common to see red, white, and green and to hear Italian spoken on the street. Next week, many Jews will march in the Salute to Israel parade wearing blue and white and waving the flag of Medinat Yisrael. How can Mr. Klinghoffer object to the red, white, and green of Mexico?

And Jews, who have been kicked out of most of the countries that once welcomed us, benefit from open borders! Had there been ANY country with truly open borders in 1940, we would not lost six million. Mr. Klinghoffer's advocacy of restrictive immigration is another example of the misidentification of Jewish interests with that of the non-Jewish majority, another example of the dangers of galut.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Something Rotten in the USA

(via Crooked Timber.)

Here's what they're in for (as of 1996):

(source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin: Prisoners in 1996 pdf)

We're failing somewhere.

I believe that a large part of it is due to conservative policies. Conservatives tend to see social issues as moral ones. They emphasize "personal responsibility" and decry any attempt at understanding criminals as justification for their behavior. Just as many conservatives push "abstinence-only" sex education despite evidence that it's less effective than comprehensive sex ed, they push what I'll call "incarceration-only" social policy despite its ineffectiveness.

The prime example of this "incarceration only" social policy is the way we have been fighting (and losing) the so-called "War on Drugs." Whereas liberals would like to focus on providing education and opportunity to at-risk teens and treatment for users, conservatives focus on just locking people up. Politicians who disagree with the War on Drugs or even suggest that what we're doing isn't working are labeled "soft on crime."

Liberal policies of helping the poor through education and economic opportunity (for many youngsters, selling drugs is one of few economic opportunities currently available) combined with drug decriminalization, drug treatment programs, mental health care, and sensible gun control would do a much better job at reducing crime -- and probably for much less money. I'm no pollyanna that thinks we can cure all addicts just by sending them through a treatment program, but we can do better than just locking them up for a decade with a bunch of violent felons and then releasing them with no money, no job, and no prospects.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment

In June, the House will again revisit the Federal Marriage Amendment. What the Amendment does, in essence, is define marriage nationally as a union between a man and a woman and clarify the Constitution so it does not require granting marital benefits to same-sex couples.

Is the FMA a good idea from a conservative perspective? I believe not. Conservative thought assumes that fundamental social questions ought to be left to the legislatures of each of the fifty states (which is why most conservatives opposed the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts imposing same-sex marriage on the citizens of Massachusetts).

Federalism assumes that each state is better equipped to determine the desires of its inhabitants. If a minority of that state disagrees with a policy, they are always free to "vote with their feet" and go to a state with a different policy. For example, if Kansas passes a law restricting abortion, women in that state can go to New York, where abortion laws are probably less onerous (I am assuming these laws to be facts; I don't really know much about the abortion laws in those states).

The FMA defines marriage nationally, denying each state its opportunity to fulfill the wishes of its inhabitants. If in California they want full recognition of same-sex marriages, why not allow it? People who are opposed to same-sex marriages can always move to Texas, a state that amended its constitution to prohibit gay marriage. Why not give individual states the choice to decide?

One argument in favor of a constitutional amendment is that states are obligated to recognize other state's marriages. So if New York recognizes same-sex marriage, Hawaii might be required to recognize that marriage under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. Even worse, residents of New York might go to Hawaii and get married, basically circumventing the whole idea of federalism. One state could decide marriage policy for the whole nation.

This argument fails for two reasons. First, the Full Faith and Credit Clause has been interpreted to include a public policy exception, where a state could deny recognition because the marriage strongly runs counter to the state's interests.

Moreover, even if the public policy exception would not be applicable in this case, that only leads one to conclude that the Constitution should be amended to give states the ability to pick and choose which marriages they wish to recognize. The Defense of Marriage Act purports to do that, but DOMA is on shaky legal grounds. A constitutional amendment that constitutionalizes DOMA would seem more apt. Each state could then decide the definition of marriage and no other state would be bound by that state's marriages.

Some principled conservatives might support the FMA because they feel the judiciary will step in and find a right to marriage in the Constitution (or that the right of marriage in the Constitution is broad enough to include SSM). That is a fair point. But given the Supreme Court's current structure, I fail to see any way the Court would force SSM on all the states. That just seems implausible right now. That concern is not strong enough to override the principles of federalism, something every conservative should support.

Death & Taxes... Or Both

There is an old famous line that there are only two guarantees in life: Death and taxes. Then, of course, there is the combination of all that is cruel: The estate tax.

Another blog, DovBear, recently had a series of posts regarding the estate tax. The best arguments were not from the posts, however, but rather from the comments section, in a debate between Michael [who is pro the estate tax] and Moshe Potemkin and myself [who are against it, or at least feel it should be limited].

Near the (current) end, Michael made an interesting comment: [edited and split for clarity]
As I explained, the right way for government to tax people is to figure out how much the government needs to spend, and divide that amount by the amount that each individual benefits from that expenditure, and tax each individual accordingly.

This can be done in any number of ways. Consumption tax, wealth tax, income tax, etc. In our society, we have a mixed system.
To this I responded:
I'm most in favor of a consumption tax, which is the closest to actual measurable gain that a person gets.
This would be an interesting aside, particularly for accountants and economists, but the main points in this discussion are on a different tack and were still to come. Michael also argued...
So, the only relevant arguments with regard to taxes are ones that relate to the question of

a) Is the citizen being taxed more than the benefits he gets from government? and
b) (if a is true) Is it moral for the majority to decide to take this citizen's money for the expenditure on which it is being spent? and
c) Is the tax going to have a negative impact on revenue by creating disincentives to wealth building from which the tax is drawn?
I thought these were interesting points, and I responded:
a) Impossible to tell. Always. And it's even harder to weigh individual gains of one person against the other: For some, welfare/WIC/whatever is literally keeping them alive. Should they then pay more taxes? Therefore, this factor cannot be used.

b) Even if you disagree with my conclusion on (a), I don't think so, though obviously DovBear does. There's an old joke: If a man would point a gun at someone in a parking lot and take all their money, that's called a mugging. If he first explains to the other people in the parking lot how he's going to divide it up among the rest of them, that's called democracy in action.

c) Irrelevant, once the first two reasons are not applicable. Though in response, the disincentives do exist, even if at a lesser scale than (say) raising income taxes.
Obviously, we need a fair tax system in this country in order for it to run properly. But is an estate tax a fair [or necessary] tax? Many people pointed out the obvious "double taxation" that exists on [most] portions of an estate, though Michael argued that the concept of double taxation is meaningless. It is fair to say that most people disagree with Michael on that, though he did bring an intriguing argument.

Michael did make a strong argument against another idea many were pushing: That an estate tax creates a disincentive to work. In fairness, the disincentive is far less than (say) typical income taxes, and Michael acknowledged that in those cases there is a clear disincentive to work when taxes are high. But the economic gains from the estate tax, he argued, are greater than that which is lost because of the disincentives from an estate tax. This is debateable and not truly measureable, as it is hard to determine whether some businesses are adversely affected by early retirement and similar occurences.

But one aspect which is very important that was not taken into consideration is how the taxes must be paid. Estates are not made up of pure liquidable money. They are made up of businesses, stocks, investments, real estate, and the like. In order to pay a 40-50% tax on an estate, the heirs may be required to sell off major portions of a business. This would likely result in a terrible economic effect, as the stability of both large and small companies which have majority owners would be shaken. Investors would be less willing to invest in companies with older CEO's, afraid that a death may result in the company having to sell itself, and companies would not be able to produce nearly as much. Workers would be laid off as some companies would simply decide to shut down portions of its operations in order to pay the taxes.

It will not be the tax itself that has an adverse effect on the economy, it will be the payment of those taxes. A large estate tax is certainly not wise, in addition to the arguments above that it simply is not a fair tax. Even if one disagrees and feels it is a fair tax, the tax should be as minimal as possible so as to ensure businesses do not suffer from a lack of stability. Otherwise, the tax hurts far more than it helps.

EDIT: Reading this post again an hour later, I realize that this was not the most clearly written post. I apologize, but I'm going to leave it as is. If you are having trouble understanding any of the points I was trying to make, please note as much in the comments. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Democracy and Originalism

For decades scholars, judges, and legislators have debated how to properly interpret the Constitution. In the mid-80's conservatives scholars started pushing an approach called "originalism" or more accurately "textualism-originalism" The current (and best) understanding of the term is that judges should look at the plain meaning of the text and if the text is unclear they should interpret it based on the original understanding of the people who lived at the time. For example, the Eighth Amendment prohibits "Cruel and Unusual Punishments." Originalists interpret that clause according to the general understanding of what was cruel and unusual in 1791.

The most common justification for originalism is that it constrains judicial discretion. The Constitution is fairly vague and open-ended and subject to a multitude of interpretations. When reviewing a statute to see if it comports with the Constitution, courts are looking to see if they should overturn the will of the democratically elected legislature. If a judge does not have a methodology, he will substitute his own judgment for the legislature's and that is a form of judicial lawmaking. If one believes that the people's representatives should make laws and not nine men in black robes, he should support some form of judicial methodology.

Why originalism then? Laws are made for their time. While a Constitution is supposed to be designed for future generations, it is a public act of that time and is best understood based on the time it was enacted. So originalism both limits judicial activism and interprets the Constitution according to its most proper understanding.

Originalism is not perfect. It is difficult to ascertain how people living well over two hundred years ago understood a specific clause. It does not completely solve the judicial activism problem because judges are still able to frame the question on a higher level of abstraction and avoid the whole question. It does little for us when the phrase is ambiguous. But despite all these problems, no other mode of constitutional interpretation is as effective in protecting democracy from judicial oligarchy.

Polygamy, Incest, And Bestality

The Parade of Horribles (also known as the slippery slope) is often invoked as a reason not to permit X, as allowing it will eventually lead towards permitting Y and Z. Currently, the most frequent use of the Parade of Horribles is in defense of laws prohibiting sodomy or gay marriage. If it is unconstitutional to criminalize sodomy (as the Supreme Court said in Lawrence v. Texas) then why end there? Will polygamy, bestiality and incest be found to be a Constitutional right as well? Lawrence said that it is unconstitutional to criminalize the private actions of two consenting adults. So why not three consenting adults? Or two adults that happen to be related to each other? Or a man and his pet?

Not to worry, say many legal experts. There are valid reasons to prohibit them, while there was none for sodomy. There are strong social reasons to ban polygamy, even all the parties are acting under their own free will. Polygamy often involves marring girls at a young age, while they are still teenagers, where they have little say in their arranged marriage to a man much older than them. Also, polygamy results in a glut of single males, as for every man who takes an additional wife, another man must remain a bachelor. Incest obviously raises health issues, genetics get all screwed up when relatives have children. As for bestiality, the animal can’t consent, so it would be considered animal abuse, so it could remain prohibited.

I agree with the reasoning of polygamy and incest, but I think may people miss the point when it comes to bestiality and animal abuse in general.

Prohibiting bestiality can not rest on the lack of “consent” from the animal. We don’t require consent from a cow when we slaughter it and carve it into roasts and steaks. We don’t ask for consent from a snake when we kill it and use its skin to make shoes and handbags. We ban bestiality because of what it says about a person who engages in the activity.

The same is true for laws prohibiting animal abuse. We allow pharmaceutical companies to test their products on animals. We allow hunters to shoot animals just for the sport of it. There are some activities that hurt and harm animals, and yet we permit them, because they don’t indicate anything wrong with the person doing the harming and killing.

But we don’t allow people to torture animals just for the fun of it- not because it hurts the animals, but because it says something is wrong with the human. Society has decided that this kind of activity is not to be tolerated, not for the animals sake, but for humanity’s sake. And there’s no difference between hurting an animal for fun, and having sex with it for pleasure.

But under the reasoning of Lawrence, what a person does in his bedroom is none of the government’s business. The government has no right to pass laws that dictate morality in how a person seeks sexual satisfaction. I don’t see how, based on the understandings of bestiality and animal abuse laws, how banning bestiality can still be Constitutional. And that is the problem with Lawrence v. Texas, where the Parade of Horribles may actually come true.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Why Bush isn’t as out of line as most liberals think

Much has been written about the Bush administration’s supposed infringements of civil liberties in the name of the War on Terrorism. In a future post I will discuss that so-called War. However, I think it is useful to compare Bush’s actions with the actions of other wartime presidents.

Consider what the Bush administration has done:

Electronic eavesdropping

Collection of telephone records

Suspension/elimination of civil liberties for “enemy combatants”, a legal category that no one had ever heard of before the Bush administration

The Patriot Act (which was actually passed by Congress)

Much of this are of dubious legality.

However, consider what other Presidents did in time of war. First, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Not even Bush dared do that – when the Supreme Court ruled against him, he dared not defy its ruling. But Lincoln did just that! The Supreme Court’s final word on that issue set a very high barrier to any President ever to try that again.

Now fast forward to the 20th century. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson jailed dissidents such as Eugene Debs under the Espionage Act of 1917, the very same law that is today being used to prosecute two former employees of AIPAC. Debs had been one of Wilson’s opponents in the 1912 Presidential election. Could you imagine Bush prosecuting Ralph Nader today? And what immediately followed the war was the worst Red Scare in U.S. history. Under the direction of then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J. Edgar Hoover, warrantless searches, confiscation of mail, destruction of property, deportations of legal immigrants (many to Soviet Russia where they were eventually shot by Stalin), and mass roundups of suspected leftists became the norm in America. Joe McCarthy was mild by comparison – all he did was cost people their jobs. Even Bush has not dared do this. And most of the worst excesses of the Palmer Raids took place in 1919-1920, after the war had ended. Anyone see a parallel between the Red Scare then and the Islamic Scare today?

Franklin Roosevelt also supported massive violations of civil liberties, most notably the internment of Japanese-Americans and the confiscation of their property. But he also used the IRS to target at least one prominent political opponent, publisher Moses Annenberg (who was an inviting target in part because he didn’t have a particularly clean past), engineered the replacement of Henry Ford with his grandson, Henry Ford II, as head of Ford Motor Co., and seized many of the assets of Montgomery Ward, replacing its chairman, Sewell Avery, who was also a political opponent.

Thus Bush’s actions are not excessive compared to at least three wartime presidents. There is, however, the question of whether the United States really IS at war now. That question will be addressed in a future post.

Al Gore in '08

The Democratic longing for Gore to run is all over the internet, spurned on by his movie, An Inconvenient Truth. (Trailer.)

But isn't Al Gore the same boring, supercilious policy wonk who coudn't ride to (statistically significant) victory after being part of an administration that presided over eight years of peace and prosperity? What makes people think he stands a better chance now, especially since the Republican nominee will likely be a stronger candidate than Bush was in 2000?

The obvious reason is that nobody save Hillary thinks she can win the presidency and Democrats are grasping for anyone who can beat her in the primaries. The next obvious reason is that Gore has transformed himself from a robotic, poll-driven, insubstantial candidate to a passionate, inspiring, and human figure. There is truth to both of these reasons, but I don't think they quite capture Gore's newfound appeal.

Sebastian Mallaby, in today's Washington Post, raises a more plausible explanation: that after six years of the Bush administration's "contempt for expert opinion on everything from Iraqi reconstruction to the cost of their tax cuts," "President Bush and the congressional Republicans have created a Ross Perot moment: a hunger for a leader with diagrams and charts, for a nerd who lays out basic facts ignored by blinkered government."

Although his image has improved by being unshackled from the whims of pollsters and image consultants, Al Gore remains at heart a wonk, a "nerd." But in 2008, that might turn out to be an advantage.

In 2000, many swing voters went to Bush because of, essentially, his personality. Bill Clinton was still extremely popular and swing voters weren't unfavorable towards the Democrats on most of the issues. It was personal likeability which swung the election. The media made a big deal out of the fact that people "would rather have a beer" with Bush than with Gore, and Gore undoubtedly lost votes in the debate when he sighed derisively and seemed like the pompous nerd in class that everybody hates.

In 2006, the global warming issue, which happens to be Gore's passion, is also the perfect symbol of the difference he offers from the Bush administration. "That the earth is warming, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising at an accelerating pace -- and that these changes are driven at least partly by fossil-fuel consumption" is a fact accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists -- and by a majority of Americans -- yet Bush and the Republicans have trouble admitting it.

Candidate Bush acknowledged that climate change was a problem; once elected he denied it; then he denied the denial but refused to let his administration do anything about climate. Lately he has talked about ridding the nation of its oil addiction, but that's because oil finances Arab extremism. Bush has been silent on the link between oil and global warming.

Meanwhile, [other Republicans] have been vocal. James Inhofe, the Republican who ironically chairs the Senate environment committee, has described global warming as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He avoids scientists who might put him right: His star witness at a hearing last year was Michael Crichton, a science-fiction novelist.

On its own, global warming is still not an issue enough Americans care about to turn an election. Yet as a symbol of all that is wrong with the Bush administration and other Republicans, it's powerful.

[A]fter years of governmental bungling, of willful indifference to truth, the national mood seems to be changing. Voters have seen that nice guys can screw up. And technocrats with diagrams and charts have never seemed so interesting.

In 2008, the voters may just care more about a candidate's willingness to hear and speak the truth than about who they'd rather drink with.

Here's hoping.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Abortion Poll & Law

The discussions on the post below this immediately brought to mind a number of issues, but one that stuck out in particular was abortion. Here's a reprint of a post that I wrote a few months ago.

Abortion Poll & Law

(via Drudge)

ABC and the Washington Post carried out an interesting poll recently. Normally, I like looking at polls, but pay little attention to them, as they focus on short-term feelings. Polls that ask about general opinions, however, tend to be more accurate, and this poll was far more interesting.

The poll was about Justice Samuel Alito, and asked whether people think he should or should not be confirmed. A decent majority, 54% - 28%, felt that he should be confirmed. What was more interesting, however, was what people thought about abortion.

Roe v. Wade, which I previously discussed here and here, is obviously the most discussed subject. Here's the chart of those polled:

Uphold Roe Overturn Roe
No Religion
Protestants: Evangelical
Protestants: Non-Evangelical
Weekly Churchgoer
Monthly Churchgoer
Less Often/Never

Nothing particularly surprising in those results. What is far more interesting, though not surprising, is what followed:

Roe and Restrictions

Although 61 percent would want Alito to vote to uphold Roe, opinion on restricting its scope is more fragmented. While 45 percent of Americans want the court to leave access to abortion as is, about as many, 42 percent, want it harder for women to get abortions. Far fewer, 11 percent, want abortions easier to obtain.

Attitudes on restricting access to abortion are essentially identical among women and men, but again vary sharply by political affiliation, ideology and religiosity.

It seems that more people would like abortion to be much more difficult to do, but won't overturn Roe v. Wade because they feel that it's better to have it legal for those who need it than completely illegal (my personal stance). The next part was more specific:

Basic Measure

In the most basic measure of attitudes on abortion, 56 percent say it should be legal all or most of the time, while 41 percent say it should be all or mostly illegal. Those numbers in this survey precisely match the long-term average in 18 polls across the last decade.

Few Americans take either extreme position in the abortion debate —17 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases, which is five points below the 10-year average, and 13 percent say it should be illegal in all cases, which about matches the average.

That leaves two-thirds in the middle, saying abortion should be legal in some cases. The debate is about what those cases should be — 40 percent say it should be legal in most cases, 27 percent say illegal in most cases.

It is obvious what the views are of those who want it to be completely legal, illegal, or mostly illegal. Those who think it should be mostly illegal likely feel it should be permitted in situations where the mother's safety is threatened, rape, incest, and perhaps a few other cases (and perhaps not all of those). Those who think it should be mostly legal, however, are hard to pin down: My assumption would be that they feel it should be legal, but they are against late-term abortions, such as those carried out after a certain point (perhaps 20 weeks, perhaps even earlier).

The reason most people are reluctant to overturn Roe v. Wade is they are afraid it will result in all abortions being illegal. I don't think this is the case: It's a poorly written law decision, and should be overturned. In its place, laws about about abortion should be written, specifically stating that abortions after a certain point should be illegal, except for certain, specific, exceptions. Anytime those exceptions are used, and there is reason to think the law may have been abused, it should be reviewed to ensure that it is not being abused, with a substantial burden of proof necessary (perhaps beyond a reasonable doubt) to convict. This is to allow those carrying out these necessary abortions to worry about the mother's safety first and not being put in jail.

I imagine that most Americans would be very satisfied with such a law, as it will limit many unnecessary and immoral abortions but protect them when necessary. The cases that are "in the middle", so to speak, can be debated and perhaps voted upon - but the extremes, at the least, must be covered. Here's a case in point, from James Taranto's Best of the Web last week: (I had wanted to discuss this, but my post got erased.) [Link: Scroll down halfway]
Late-term abortion is serious, hard-core. At 24 weeks, a fetus is at the same stage of development as those gruesome images shown on pro-lifers' protest placards. "The last woman I hosted showed me her sonogram," says Jennifer, a 26-year-old host who lives in Carroll Gardens. "Then she pointed out that the fetus was a boy. God! I didn't know what to say.
Neither do I.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Republican Monopoly On Values?

In today’s Washington Post, George Will asks the question “Just who is a values voter?” The phrase has certainly become a media codeword for social conservatives, but, by its terms, is meaningless. Absent the outright purchase of votes as is often alleged by any side of the aisle during elections season, the act of selecting a candidate or deciding on a referendum is by definition an expression of the voter’s values.

Says Will:

An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is "values voters." It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.

It is odd that some conservatives are eager to promote the semantic vanity of the phrase "values voters." And it is odder still that the media are cooperating with those conservatives.

Conservatives should be wary of the idea that when they talk about, say, tax cuts and limited government -- about things other than abortion, gay marriage, religion in the public square and similar issues -- they are engaging in values-free discourse. And by ratifying the social conservatives' monopoly of the label "values voters," the media are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others.

Today's liberal agenda includes preservation, even expansion, of the welfare state in its current configuration in order to strengthen an egalitarian ethic of common provision. Liberals favor taxes and other measures to produce a more equal distribution of income. They may value equality indiscriminately, but they vote their values.

So why has the label so persistently adhered to social conservatives? To some extent, the label works so well because social conservatives have gainfully framed their politics as morally superior. The conservative revolution, begun by Reagan and solidified with the wild success of Contract with America, derived its success by casting itself as a counterpoint to the ineffectual largesse of liberal spending on issues promoted by the misguided idealism of the left. Like it or not, exit polls conducted during the 2004 elections revealed that 22% of voters listed “moral values” as their primary issue in selecting a candidate . Of these, 80% voted for Bush. Of course, this data does not necessarily reveal that Bush supporters have a monopoly on moral values. Surely voters who selected multilateralism, or any other hot button issue in the campaign, did vote their morals. It does show, however, the wild success the right has had in casting themselves as morally superior to a sizeable segment of the American population. (Or at least the segment of the American population that votes. Rather than assume that those who choose not to vote are morally inferior to voters, I will be charitable and consider that a moral choice as well.)

But you cannot blame Republican genius (e.g., Messrs. Atwater and Rove) at framing issues for the success of this label. Even Bill Clinton had to position himself on the center-right of the Democratic political spectrum, and much of his success derived from the strategy of triangulating White House policy with the liberal mainstream of his party. Welfare reform and the Defense of Marriage Act, the premier acts of triangulation, were geared specifically to presenting his presidency as a counterpoint to two issues that have traditionally been the bulwark of the Democratic party: using government revenue to solve social ills and promotion of gender politics.

The success of the label also points to the right’s ability to promote its agenda as proactive and concrete. The Democrats seem to have settled into the role of an opposition party, but have failed make the final leap that allows an opposition party’s transition into a governing party. That the party has failed to produce a concrete agenda is a common Republican charge and one often repeated by Democrats too. To some extent, this can be blamed on the lackluster, or even the absence of, party leadership. The party selected Howard Dean as their chairman, and he has thus far failed to beat Republican fundraising success. That such a capability was even touted as a primary selling point the party rank-and-file, is even more telling. Where is the ideological leadership? Dean was a little-known candidate who marked his turf with his ideas, often espoused quite loudly, but it is abundantly apparent that he did not convince the mainstream of his own party to select him for his ideas.

At the end of the day, the left’s failure can be read as either a fundamental shift in the political realities of the United States—that today’s voter does see the right’s agenda as morally superior to the lefts, or it can be read as the left’s failure to counter an effective Republican message machine. The mid-term elections are coming up, but they may not be the best indicator of the reality on the ground. Mid-term voters are notorious for punishing the party in charge. A better gauge of reality would be the 2008 elections. The left will have a real chance to both formulate a sellable platform and a chance for someone—anyone—to assert leadership of a headless party.

Endnote (Courtesy of Ezzie):

This article is a perfect way in which to start off this blog. It behooves us to recognize that those who do disagree with us do not do so because they do not have values; rather, they do not share the same values as we do. Or perhaps they do share those values – but they feel that the best way to achieve or protect those values is not the same as our own. Our discussions must be predicated on this understanding and recognition of each other’s values. Our purpose is to see where are values overlap and where they differ, and in what ways we can reach a compromise when it is the latter.

Welcome to Just Another Jewish Conspiracy!

Welcome to Just Another Jewish Conspiracy!

For our maiden post, we thought it would be a good idea to let our readers know what to expect and to introduce ourselves. Given the somewhat fragmented presentation of political debate and punditry in the J-Blogosphere, we thought it would be a good idea to create a blog authored by several bloggers representing diverse viewpoints.

Our commitment is to maintain a quality level of analysis and an avoidance of the hit-and-run style of commentary that is the scourge of political blogs. People on the left and the right can agree on at least one thing—political discourse in this country is as polarized as ever. Therefore, we are also committed to maintaining an atmosphere of comity, both amongst each other and towards viewpoints with which we disagree. Hopefully this won’t take the fun out of arguing on the internet that we have all come to love.

And now to the Jewish part. Just as our politics are different, so are our hashkafic outlooks. All of us take our Jewish identities seriously and while religion should not make or break an argument over policy, it is simply impossible to separate our religious experiences from our view on life, love, and politics.

Finally, as part of our commitment to presenting differing viewpoints, we hope that you will submit guest posts on issues we miss , on aspects we may not have covered, or if you wish to present an alternative viewpoint. All we ask is that your post be well-thought out, well-written, respectful, and polite.

-Just Another Jewish Conspiracy