"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bonfires of Liberty

The map above depicts countries that have successfully--or in the case of Iran, unsuccessfully--rejected dictators and instead adopted democratic forms of government. To borrow from Samuel Adams, the protests we are witnessing today are bonfires of liberty in the midst of a desert; not of sand, but of human dignity and freedom.

In his Second Inaugural, George W. Bush spoke about the need for America to promote freedom and democracy in the world as the most powerful antidote to the extremist ideology of hatred responsible for the atrocity of September 11. Ten years on, we are witnessing a wave of protests throughout the Muslim world in opposition to the forces of tyranny.

Perhaps the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the success of democracy there has been an inspiration for others in the region who seek freedom. Certainly, nobody can deny the power of American inventions like Facebook and Twitter which have allowed people to circumvent the censorship and oppression of their governments and to rise up together.

The question now is, "What will Obama do?" Will he rise to this moment and stand with those who seek their freedom, or will he remain silent as he did when protests erupted in Iran? It will be the greatest failure of his presidency if these nascent revolutions are allowed to be crushed--or worse, give rise to fundamentalist regimes like the Taliban--because of his indifference.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

All The News That’s Fit To Print

An example of overheated political rhetoric.

While Congresswoman Giffords struggles for her life at a Tucson hospital, the New York Times carries on the timeless tradition of yellow journalism which was famously summarized by the quote, “You supply the pictures, and I’ll supply the war.” In what purports to be a straight news story, the writer flogs the partisan storyline that the deranged assassin, Jared Loughner, was driven to murder by the tone of political rhetoric—particularly that of the Tea Party (emphasis added):

…Over the past year, Ms. Giffords struggled in a brutal re-election campaign during which her opponent appeared in a Web advertisement holding an assault weapon. The district has become a caldron [sic] of divisions over government spending, immigration, health care and Barack Obama.

Today, the Eighth District stands apart as one of the most emotionally and politically polarized in the nation.

The rampage on Saturday that left six dead and Ms. Giffords gravely wounded may prove to be an isolated act of violence by a mentally disturbed man. The suspect attended at least one of Ms. Giffords’s town meetings before the event Saturday.

Still, the shootings came after a disconcerting run of episodes in this district of mountains and desert, raising temperatures here in a way that some of Ms. Giffords’s friends argue fed an atmosphere that might encourage violence.
According to the New York Times, Jesse Kelly—a former Marine—appeared at a campaign event with an M-16. Although this did not seem to provoke any media comment at the time, liberal pundits are now grasping on the event as proof that the gunman was inspired to kill because of it. Worse still, the use of the weasel-word “may” in the paragraph above suggests that there is some doubt that Loughner is anything but a psychopath who acted alone.

That being said, Jesse Kelly was not the only candidate in Arizona’s eighth district who appeared with a gun during the campaign. As the Washington Times reported last April, Giffords herself was photographed with an assault rifle, which the local media used to tout Giffords' bona fides on border security during the 2010 campaign.

Mr. Kelly challenged the Democrat incumbent [i.e., Giffords] for posing with an AK-47 assault rifle in an Arizona Daily Star article, with a caption that read "Today's been just another day on the border for hard line U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords." The lawmaker wears a dark jacket and brandishes the weapon, with a half dozen fatigues-clad soldiers in the background.

"It turns out the picture has nothing to do with border security and was taken during a trip to South Asia in 2009…"
The Washington Times adds that The Arizona Star removed the photo in question after the reporter who wrote the misleading caption admitted his error.

Of course, the New York Times does not mention this in their coverage of the supposed “climate of hate.” This omission can only be part of a deliberate strategy to promote the storyline that Republicans—and Republicans alone—are the party of extreme rhetoric. This ranks with the standard of “fake but accurate” that the Times employed after the Dan Rather memo scandal. In the end, that sad episode showed the world that the facts are always the Times’ undoing.

The repeated abuse of journalistic integrity suggests that the New York Times’ motto “all the news that’s fit to print” should be amended to include “and much that isn’t.” By using the tragic death of six people and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress to advance a shamelessly partisan agenda, the New York Times proves that they have no quibbles about whether or not their news reporting is fit for publication.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Irrationality of Evil

Even as the fate of Congresswoman Giffords was still clouded in rumor and uncertainty, with erroneous reports of her death circulating on NPR and CNN, liberal pundits and lawmakers quickly grasped on remarks from the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, suggesting the assassin was somehow driven to kill by overheated political discourse. As the Washington Post reported yesterday:

"There's reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol," he said during his televised remarks. "People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."
Calmer voices have noted that the assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, was a deranged sociopath and that his ramblings on MySpace and YouTube have little, if anything, to do with politics. Loughner cited The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf as some of his favorite books, but unlike other historical assassins such as Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, there is little to suggest that Loughner was acting out in support of any particular ideology.

The rush by liberals to pin the blame for Loughner’s actions on our political system is not new. Pundits always seem to feel qualified to take on the role of amateur psychologist whenever our nation is struck by a tragedy of this magnitude. For example, in his biography of John F. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger pinned the blame for the Kennedy Assassination squarely on the shoulders of the American public, and particularly conservatives:

The tension and anonymity of urban life had further sharpened the impulse to violence. Every day the television industry instructed the children of the nation how easily problems could be solved by revolver shots. Fortifying the “Gunsmoke” ethic was a mood of national self-righteousness—the happy conviction of American uniqueness, which smoothed out and washed away the cruelties and sins of the past…
For liberals like Dupnik and Schlesinger, it is impossible to accept that despite our best efforts, good and evil will always exist in the world. One of the tenets of the liberal agenda is that all problems of society and the human condition can be solved by government. Each person is nothing more than a machine, responding to the external stimuli of the world around us. Thus, a deranged killer like Oswald or Loughner is not merely evil, but must be the product of our "culture of violence."

However, the sad truth is that there will never be a rational explanation for what happened this past Saturday. Although many people who interacted with Loughner suspected he had serious mental problems, they could never have known where the unraveling of his troubled mind would lead. Rather than trying to pin the blame on larger forces, we must accept that this tragedy is so supremely evil precisely because of its irrationality.

Friday, January 7, 2011

An Error of Amendment

In today's Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank proves just how obtuse he can be when he applies himself:

The idea of reading the Constitution aloud was generated by the Tea Party as a way to re-affirm lawmakers' fealty to the framers, but in practice it did the opposite. In deciding to omit objectionable passages that were later altered by amendment, the new majority jettisoned "originalist" and "constructionist" beliefs and created - dare it be said? - a "living Constitution" pruned of the founders' missteps. Nobody's proud of the three-fifths compromise, but how can we learn from our founding if we aren't honest about it?
It has probably been said that politics is the greatest sport in America, but if we were to follow Milbank's logic in another great American pastime, referees at football games would have to first call plays according to obsolete rules and then reverse their calls at some random point later in the game. Imagine the unsettling nature of the ref coming on the field during the third quarter to reverse a pass interference call that happened half an hour earlier?

Just as refs keep both teams honest in sports, Republicans chose to read the Constitution aloud in order to remind delinquent Democrats and squishy Republicans that there is actually a set of rules that limit what Congress can do. Instead of reading straight through the Constitution with "track changes mode" enabled, the Republicans chose to present the document in its current form, thus highlighting their commitment to consistent application of the rules.

All of this presents a stark contrast to the anything goes mentality of the last Congress. During the fight over ObamaCare, then-Speaker Pelosi was asked by a reporter if the Democrats' health reform proposal was constitutional. Her response was, "Are you serious?!"

Yes Nancy. We're serious.