Consummatum Ecch

Writing a good hit piece is harder than it might seem.  You have to stay focused on the target while constantly coming up with fresh angles of attack, lest the audience conclude you are a crank.  You don’t want to sound like you’re preaching to the choir, but you should also avoid temporizing qualifications and caveats; trust in your cause, and express yourself clearly.  Stop short of hyperbole, but just.

Christopher Hitchens is spectacularly gifted in this field, which is why I continue to read him even after he succumbed to "the Orwell temptation."  As delightful as Hitchens’s most recent rhetorical sledgehammer is to read, I can’t help noticing that Hitchens requires the urgency of combatting anti-Semitism abroad to excuse this digression from his day job of rewriting Bush Administration press releases.

I have very little interest in commenting on Mel Gibson’s re-make of Battlefield Earth, and less interest in viewing it.  All I have to say is that any film whose dialogue is entirely in Aramaic and Latin wouldn’t earn a dime without a raging controversy to give it free publicity.


The End Of The Beginning

For better or worse, I’m not acquainted with any passionate opponents of gay marriage, so I have few resources for judging how such opponents view their beliefs and themselves in the larger contexts of progressive politics, constitutional precedent, or human liberty.  But every single member of the political and journalistic establishment that supports the Federal Marriage Amendment has explicitly admitted that they see this as their last chance to stop the spread of this "peculiar institution;" that without the FMA, some "activist" judiciary might decide that Equal Protection actually means Equal Protection and thus require a state to acknowledge the human dignity present in an incident of gay marriage.  In asserting such urgency, proponents of the FMA are both wrong and right.

They are wrong in the legal sense, and here is where I would hope the Democratic nominee will seek the safety that Bill Clinton provided for him.  As much as I was dismayed by the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, the Act clearly permits the states to refuse to recognize marriages, civil unions, or other "proceeding . . . respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex" from other states.  So the claim that, say, Texas will have to honor same-sex unions solemnized in Vermont or Hawaii is entirely false.  At present, 38 states have already legislatively defined marriage as an exclusively heterosexual province, but even if (out of some anti-democratic, social-engineering, moral-relativistic "activism") more state supreme courts follow the path of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and find such legislation to be in violation of their state constitutions, the states are still free to amend their own constitutions as they see fit without requiring other states to recognize their policies.  The Democrats (and sane Republicans, if they like) can and should safely state, "Marriage has never been an issue for the federal government, and we don’t see why it should be one now.  Amending the U.S. Constitution is never to be taken lightly, and this issue simply doesn’t rise to the required level of urgency."  This position is legally sound, factually true, and will compare favorably with the more hysterical advocates that we can expect to hear far too much from in the coming months.

Proponents of the FMA are right, however, when they say that they cannot allow even a single enclave of gay marriage to endure within the Republic; the example of a community that officially endorses the rights of gays and lesbians to enjoy all the benefits of society will be ultimately corrosive to the institutionalized bigotry that imagines marriage needs "defending" and produces such shameful legislation.  The manifest absurdity will bring it all crashing down.  It is helpful to remember that the Secession Crisis of 1860 was provoked not by an attempt by the Federal government to abolish slavery in the South, but by the election of a presidential candidate who advocated merely the prohibition of slavery in newly-admitted states.  The South feared the diminution of their electoral power (60% of their slaves counted towards representation, remember), but more than that they feared the successful examples set by non-slave states; they wanted to restrict the liberty of others because the exercise of that liberty humiliated them.  Had the South simply accepted Lincoln’s program, it is likely that they could have maintained slavery in their own states for many more years.  Instead, they listened to the counsel of their pride and their fears.

Note that I don’t imagine George W. Bush to be a homophobic bigot, any more than I think he believes that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq, or that abstinence-only sex education is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy, or that 60 is the precisely ethical number of stem cell lines with which to conduct experiments.  I do think that Karl Rove approved today’s announcement while mindful that a) this controversy has legs that will be helpfully distracting over the summer and fall, and b) the Bush Administration needn’t actually do anything about it until well after the election.  Putting the FMA formally on the table also chills legal challenges to state-level legislation; if it looks like the U.S. Constitution will override any amendments to state constitution (either for or against gay marriage), few people will get behind such projects.

We are in for a struggle that will be costly in terms of industry, treasure, and spirit.  Thanks to Bush’s shot at Fort Sumter, however, we have the comfort of knowing that our opponents have declared themselves to be the enemies of dignity.


Quelle Surprise

How are those petroleum futures for October lookin’?


Still Haven't Ceased To Be Insipid

I’ll say it before Kaus does: it seems pretty obvious to this tin-foil-head that Kerry’s campaign is behind the most recent Dimmesdalliance; after realizing that Kerry’s base isn’t much more than an electoral Ponzi scheme, Cahill must have decided that the best way to capture some "ho-mentum" would be to engineer a rerun of the Left’s last culture war victory.  It certainly worked on me the last time; I had soured on Clinton after DoMA, but once the bluenoses decided to bet the farm on l’affaire Lewinsky, I was in Bubba’s corner for life.


Snap Out Of It

Jim said this, too.  Someone tell Lileks: if you still feel the way you felt on 12 September 2001, you’re a coward.  If you want to keep feeling the way you felt on 12 September 2001, you’re a narcissist.


Jesus Loves Touchdowns

Colby Cosh wonders why we don’t see more sporting rivalries grounded in religion.  Why not?  After all, whenever I’m watching a European socccer match and have no other reason to prefer one team over the other, I consult which side each team’s city was on during the Thirty Years’ War.

Tin Foil Offering

Jim said it, not me.



Federalist No. 10

Voters—particularly in the Evergreen State—are fond of lamenting that "there’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans," and that parties ought to "stand for something." Of course, many of these voters also wailed last year when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that, gosh, political parties are private groups after all with a 1st-Amendment-protected right to free assembly, including the right to control how their candidates get nominated.  The corollary to Duverger’s Law is that—in general elections—parties will try to minimize their differences in order to capture the political center, with the resulting focus (baffling to my French wife) on candidates rather than on ideology.  The ideological battles, then, are shifted to the nomination process.  It is no coincidence that the movement towards widespread state Presidential caucuses and primary elections has followed the increasing role of television advertising in political campaigns.

Before television came to play such a dominant role, nominees were selected by the party faithful, who were just that; they volunteered their time and energy, they did favors and kept cronies, they argued over the platform and (usually) toed the party line.  Most Americans had little input into the nomination process, which took place in the proverbial "smoke-filled room."  Meanwhile in the state of Washington, voters felt a sufficient abhorrence of "faction" to institute the blanket primary, allowing anyone to vote for the candidates of any party in primary elections "without a declaration of political faith or adherence on the part of the voter."  So long as primaries played a lesser role in nominating Presidential candidates (and so long as the Washington delegations remained negligibly small), the national parties saw little need to challenge Washington’s "impure" primaries.

As presidential politics entered the age of television, national campaigning became much more expensive.  Running for the nomination of one’s party required a greater investment of time and money.  To minimize the waste from unsuccessful intra-party campaigning, the parties decided that the first primary contests should take place in small states with "retail" political markets, so that unviable candidates could be weeded out before the candidates presented themselves to the larger television markets.  Thus the privileged status of Iowa and New Hampshire.  Soon voters in other states (and unsympathetic to the advertising pressures on the parties) began to agitate that their primaries be advanced, lest the nominees be selected before their primaries take place.  Note that while the parties are private organizations, the primary elections and caucuses are at least partially funded by the states.  The states agree to this because the (local) voters demand it, but the (national) parties agree to this because they receive state-financed polling data.

Of course, the type of primary will influence the nature of the results.  The greater party affiliation required by the primary, the more extreme the candidates will be.  As immoderate as Washington’s politics have been, Washington’s blanket primary may have been the most moderate sampling of presidential candidates available prior to the general election.  But, just as many political operatives prefer lower voter turnout to minimize statistical deviation, both national parties determined that allowing "unfaithful" voters to participate in primary elections would taint the sample, eventually compelling the state parties to bring the suit that ended the blanket primary.

My own experience with presidential primaries in Washington is limited, but I believe it illustrates that the nature of the primary matters less than the motivation of the voter.  I gave the caucus a miss in 1988, as apparently many other did; Washington’s delegations to the national conventions were pledged to Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Pat Robertson.  My youthful idealism was still intact in 1992, when I attended my Democratic caucus (in the heart of Darkest Bellevue) and voted for Al Franken Paul Tsongas.  I even hung around to insist that our district caucus consider adding "payment of outstanding United Nations dues" to the party platform (how precious!).

The blanket primary had its greatest virtue/flaw in elections when one party had no serious contest, because faithful members of the uncontested party could sabotage the other party’s results.  In 1996, I considered participating in the Republican primary in order to vote for whom I considered to be the weakest candidate, but I couldn’t make up my mind who that should have been.  In 2000, however, I wanted to vote in the Republican primary for John McCain, not just because I thought he would be a better president than Bush, but because I thought it would make for a better campaign.  Washington’s primary rules were in flux that year, and in order to vote for McCain one had to (falsely, in my case) declare that one considered oneself a Republican.  Before I could commit this fraud I had to ask my grandfather (the original Yellow Dog Democrat) for permission, which was easy enough to secure as he was voting for McCain as well.  In the end, I managed to find my own share of ignominy before Scalia could give a shout-out to his peeps.

Even though I had no grounds to question the apparent media consensus that Kerry had the nomination sewn up, I was too terrified of another four years of the Bush Administration not to do what little I could to influence the Democratic nomination, so yesterday morning I brewed a pot of dark, soul-clarifying coffee, filled my thermos and drove to the neighborhood high school for a . . . discourse with desperate Democrats, chary Independents, and devious Republicans, all claiming to be Democrats For A Day.

Proving the words of Will Rogers, the lack of preparation in evidence was cause for all faithful Democrats to despair.  Several hundred people crowded into the cafeteria, searching for their precincts, which were only demarcated by hand-made signs held aloft by the most recent arrival taller than 180cm.  Forty-five minutes of Brownian motion was brought to an end by the district chair taking wayward voters one by one calling out their precincts, and asking those precincts to make their location known.  I imagine our precinct was not alone in not already having a Precinct Committee Officer who would be familiar with the caucus procedures; as it was, our hastily-elected-by-acclamation caucus chair spent those forty-five minutes reading and explaining the caucus rules, only to have to repeat the process with a couple of late arrivals who challenged his interpretation of its Byzantine decreta.

Twenty-four registered voters signed in at our precinct, which had been allotted five delegates to the legislative district caucus on 01 May 2004.  A candidate would therefore require 4 (3.6) votes to meet the 15% threshhold to be eligible to receive delegates.  The initial vote:


At this point, the caucus chair misread the rules, and no one challenged him: according to the rules, only Dean or Kerry should have been eligible to receive delegates from our precinct.  Instead, the caucus chair (who had already admitted he would sooner vote for Bush than Dean) permitted candidates who didn’t receive at least 15% of the first vote to remain eligible for the second vote.  As I had recorded my support for one such candidate (Edwards; the caucus chair was the other Edwards supporter in the first vote), I was undermotivated to correct this interpretation (admittedly, I had not totally familiarized myself with the rules, either).

We then decided to let one person make their case for each of Dean, Kerry, Clark, and Edwards, and it fell to me to champion Edwards.  I argued that, on the issues, the Democratic candidates are effectively interchangeable; I would vote for any of them over Bush.  The deciding factor in the primary, then, should be electability, and I thought Edwards presented himself best on television.  At the time of the Washington Caucus, Democrats should have been asking themselves, If not Kerry, then who?  Compared to Edwards, Kerry is so uninspiring.  Democrats who support Kerry have convinced themselves that Kerry’s record of taking orders from Gen. Westmoreland and the Senate Democrat leadership are somehow attractive to swing voters; they should talk to President Dole about the electoral importance of war records.  As an orator, Edwards combines the optimism of Reagan and the empathy of Clinton; in a debate, he’d wipe the floor with Prince George.

I guess I was too cynical for my caucus; the second vote:


This resulted in our five delegates being allotted as follows: two for Kerry, two for Dean, one for Clark.  Note that, according to the rules, they probably should have been allotted three for Kerry and two for Dean (the caucus chair voted for Clark the second time around).  I nominated myself for alternate delegate, and I got the #2 spot.  Some other poor sap let himself be elected Precinct Committee Officer (he gets to spend his August distributing yard signs) on the dubious grounds of his being a Poli Sci major.

In describing the "loyalty oath" that the Democrats would ask caucus participants to take following the repeal of Washington’s blanket primary, a newspaper article stated "voters will be asked to sign a declaration that they intend to vote for a Democrat in November."  That was a mischaracterization of the actual declaration I signed yesterday, but my reply to the first locution was to have been "I promise to vote for a Democrat in November if the party promises to run one."  Kerry won’t officially get the nomination until July, but he has time to re-invent himself several times over; I imagine he’ll bear a passing resemblance to a Democrat for a week or two.


Never Again

One of the demeaning aspects of discussing the Holocaust and other similarly (but not, apparently, identically) emotionally-charged subjects is the need to tread lightly lest one provoke censure based on second-order interpretation ("You shouldn’t say that because bigoted/ignorant/stupid/inattentive people will misinterpret you as endorsing their position").  Over at the Conspiracy, Sasha Volokh has been rigorously defending his remark (prompted by the Gibson Passion Play) that he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that the Holocaust is/was "morally unique" (follow-up posts are here, here, here, and here).

While I both sympathize with some of the negative or guarded reactions from others and despise those who breezily conclude that the distinctions Volokh draws are a species of Holocaust denial (or "minimization"), I must admit to an emotional/political cavil at those who would insist on the Holocaust’s uniqueness, moral or otherwise.

Since long before the formulation of Godwin’s Law, I have argued against fixing Hitler and the Nazis at the end of any moral/ethical/political spectrum.  While the Nazis’ crimes (and the contemporaneous advent of motion-picture technology) will secure them immortal infamy, establishing the Nazis as the ultimate evil excuses us from trying to understand why they did what they did and therefore leaves us ill-prepared to prevent similar (but, again, unidentical) atrocities in the future.  Note that this is not a rigorous refutation of arguments that classify the Holocaust as morally unique (Volokh does an admirable job on his own); it is rather an emotional/political conviction that a society (or a global community, or a species) that has already been party to one Holocaust cannot afford the conceit that it was a one-off.


Primary Dolor

The Washington State Democrats are holding their Presidential Caucuses on Saturday, and Mike Kinsley exactly captures the paroxysms of self-doubt afflicting this caucusser ("caucusian"?):
The process the Democrats are putting themselves through resembles John Maynard Keynes’ famous description of the stock market. The game isn't to figure out which stocks are most likely to do well, but to figure out which stocks other investors think are most likely to do well. . . . Something similar may be going on in the Democratic primaries. But the analogy breaks down, because only the Democrats are intent on figuring out what other people want. Republicans know what they want.
I guess that’s what’s meant by "moral clarity."