Monthly Archives: November 2006

Uncertain Age

I found this poem on my computer. I don’t remember when I wrote it, but it was last edited in April. It still needs a lot of work, but the capital C holds a certain resonance for me.

Uncertain Age

I see them.

In an uncertain age,

they are Certain.

They are the ones to fear.

False prophets

Leading you through lands uncharted

Pretending they have a map

I think I want to be one of them.

The part of the poem that really intrigues me is the last line. What would compel me to write that? The last line feels out of place now, but I wonder if the poem hinged on that last line originally. Aside from the last line, it partly captures a feeling I feel more strongly now, particularly, “They are the ones to fear.”

The Return of Hobbes and The Problem with Saddam

The Return of Hobbes

“Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us.” — Ecclesiastes 1:10.

A few of the things I’m reading about Iraq right now just scream Thomas Hobbes to me. Sullivan finds the description “more chaotic than civil war” from this commentary. The same part he quotes, I find most useful to quote:

“But I felt as though I was witnessing something more: the final, frenzied maturity of once-inchoate forces unleashed more than three years ago by the invasion. There was civil war-style sectarian killing, its echoes in Lebanon a generation ago. Alongside it were gangland turf battles over money, power and survival; a raft of political parties and their militias fighting a zero-sum game; a raging insurgency; the collapse of authority; social services a chimera; and no way forward for an Iraqi government ordered to act by Americans who themselves are still seen as the final arbiter and, as a result, still depriving that government of legitimacy.”

See if you can find the echoes of Thomas Hobbes. Here’s Part I, Chapter 13, paragraph 9:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

In a word: bleak. Hobbes argues in Leviathan that humans need an absolute sovereign in order to have any semblance of order and indeed to have any society whatsoever. Thus, underlying the notion of the Hobbesian sovereign is the idea that any iniquity done by the sovereign is far better than the state of nature. Now, see Jonathan Chait directly follow this line of reasoning in his piece Bring back Saddam Hussein, in which he argues for exactly what the title says. Chait concludes: “I know why restoring a brutal tyrant to power is a bad idea. Somebody explain to me why it’s worse than all the others.” But Chait, if you want someone to agree with, go brush up on Thomas Hobbes.

I want to say something really nasty about his suggestion, but I’ve been starting to have my own doubts and wondering if Thomas Hobbes was right all along. Or rather, more specifically, and way different from what Hobbes actually argued, if a dictator is better than chaos. I did not think that Saddam should be put back in power, but I will confess that recently I’ve been pondering if it’s possible to put al-Sadr on our payroll. And for a while, I’ve been thinking that we wouldn’t have the same problems if we had done this the old-fashioned way — namely, installing a puppet dictator.

Fundamentally, I still believe Hobbes is wrong because it is possible for the sovereign to initiate war with the people (after a long train of abuses). Saddam seems to me a textbook case of Locke’s right to revolt. But I digress…

The Problem with Saddam

There are two problems with re-installing Saddam. 1) I doubt he’ll really do what we say. 2) If it does work, it’s just installing Big Brother USA as the dictator. Would the people accept it? Al-Sadr sure as hell won’t, and the rest of the Shiites definitely don’t want him back in power. Many have already formed their allegiances. How many of them will join Saddam’s government? I don’t think anyone will. No, Chait’s solution won’t result in what he thinks will happen. The Sunnis won’t want to join the US-supported Saddam, or at the very least, the number of supporters will be severely lessened. Moreover, the old dictator’s structures have been destroyed. He no longer has the army or police. How the hell is he supposed to get control? To do so, he has to wield force, and how will he do that without the initial support of a great number of people? Where are all the soldiers going to come from? They’re already in gangs. Putting Saddam in power is just asking to get our asses kicked by the now-armed Shiites, or at least asking for confrontation with a Saddam-led Sunni death-squad coalition. The Kurds won’t accept Saddam and will gladly fight for autonomy.

In fact, any dictator solution (aside from possibly putting al-Sadr on our side) has the same problems. If the US had any power in the first place, it could turn power over to a dictator. But it doesn’t, and a dictator would be hard-pressed to put himself in power even with US support. A dictator is more than a person. He needs an entire infrastructure with which to execute his reign of terror. Any solution relying on the appeal of personality won’t work. Chait argues: “Restoring the expectation of order in Iraq will take some kind of large-scale psychological shock. The Iraqi elections were expected to offer that shock, but they didn’t. The return of Saddam Hussein — a man every Iraqi knows, and whom many of them fear — would do the trick.”

No, it doesn’t. You can’t make me brush my teeth through large-scale psychological shock. I brush my teeth out of habit. His idea stems from an entirely wrong mode of thinking about government. Granted, brushing my teeth isn’t the same as instituting a new government, but the counter to large-scale psychological shock is the same. Shocking people into acting in an orderly fashion makes no sense. They need the “right” (not necessarily morally correct) habits to act orderly; they need the right social infrastructure. As Hart said, “Social institutions are the habits of society.” You can’t “shock” social institutions into place.

Alright, alright… It is possible to institute new orders through force, but 1) it is very difficult to install and to make it stick, 2) this is not equivalent to psychological shock, and 3) Saddam doesn’t have that kind of force anymore.

Old Habits Die Hard

In case the discourse turns out to be like everyone else’s next great American novel (viz., unfinished), I want to get out the gist of it on this weblog — or at least, the gist of my current thinking. It has to do with the habits of societies, and treating tradition as habit. Lloyd, directed me to this article, trashing Bush from a conservative position. He showed me this particularly intriguing paragraph:

Once, while I was a graduate student at Columbia, I took a seminar in important thinkers with Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling. Barzun, in particular, liked to start by identifying the core of a great thinker’s thought. When it came to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution, I offered: “Burke knows that if you tried to tie your shoes in the morning by means of reason you would never get out of the house.” That is, you tie your shoes by habit. Barzun nodded approval but gave this a social dimension, saying, “Burke wanted his morning newspaper delivered on time.” That is, the writing, manufacture, and delivery of that newspaper require a great many actions that are accomplished by habit. Social institutions are the habits of society.

I want to add a moral dimension to this analysis: A good society has good habits. A democracy is not made smiply by the existence of certain laws. One will instantly think that laws must be enforced, but even the ability to enforce laws misses an element. When you have vast amounts of people breaking the law, it is very hard to enforce the law without overwhelming force, and the use of force to impose your will isn’t exactly democracy at work. The moment when a government is established cannot create a democracy. It’s something entirely less clear-cut. A democratic society has the habits of democracy.

If you want a good reason why democracy is so hard to establish, I can simplify part of the answer with an old maxim: Old habits die hard. Case in point, the “habit” of assassination. Here we have a case of assassination in Russia. Note the title of the weblog entry: “Assassination is ‘in’ again.” I would argue that it never was “out.” My emphasis on societal habits might indeed lead to a different paradigm of thinking. (The idea isn’t new, of course, but tradition seems to be generally equated with good things and here I am talking about bad habits.) It would be impossible to declare by fiat that assassination shall not occur. (After all, find me a place where assassination is actually legalized.) It’s much like declaring on New Year’s that I will go to the gym everyday. The declaration doesn’t mean a damn thing. Going to the gym once doesn’t mean a damn thing. Going to the gym off and on for a month, might be slightly more admirable, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it doesn’t mean a damn thing either. Writing a constitution, establishing a new government… it doesn’t mean a damn thing if your society simply reverts to its old ways. Why should we be surprised at all when Russia is becoming as closed a society as it once was?

Don’t buy into my theory of habit? Don’t think a society can have habits? Well, imagine a different America. Imagine if instead of retiring at the end of two terms, George Washington stayed until he died. We would be a much different place. Perhaps we would see each president stay in office until he died. If that were the case, the presidency would’ve had a much bigger role throughout history and been much like a cult of personality. We would reelect presidents that way because it was simply the way it has always been done. Besides, if you were to tell me that society doesn’t have habits, you would say that the entire field of sociology is bunkum because it studies the reproduction of social structures. In my mind, it’s easy to equate reproduction of social structures with habit, especially since it’s easier for the common man to grasp.

Keep in mind, though, that I don’t believe social structures are impossible to change. This idea of old habits being difficult to kill mainly destroys the idea of historical inevitability — that democracy is on the march, or even can march at all. Habits may evolve in certain ways, but rarely do you see bad habits evolve into good ones. Often, there needs to be an agent, or agents, pushing for such change. Hence, the title of the discourse is Principles of Agitation, which can try to say how one might go about making such change (or how one should not go about making such change).

Now, read this column, The Politics of Murder, from David Ignatius. He compares the politics of murder to a disease. It’s the wrong view. It implies that the sickness can be purged. Simply bringing the killers to justice will not do anything. He’s on the right track when he says, “[The UN] must make this rule of law stick.” However, one example of punishment doesn’t make anything stick. The ones who participate in assassination must be repeatedly brought to justice, otherwise, you’ll just get more of the same. It’s not a disease. It’s a habit. And old habits die hard.

Important note: Habits don’t explain everything about government or society. It may be easy to carry the analogy too far, and I wonder if I’ve done so myself, but I do find it a useful way to frame the issue.

Dream of Realignment Still Alive

Check out this: Christian Coalition loses leader in dispute.

Here’s the gist of the article:

The Rev. Joel Hunter, of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, Fla., said he quit as president-elect of the group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson because he realized he would be unable to broaden the organization’s agenda beyond opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

And here’s the part that makes me go “hmmmm”…

“To tell you the truth, I feel like there are literally millions of evangelical Christians that don’t have a home right now,” Hunter said.

Is the Christian Right’s monopoly over faith and politics in decline? Perhaps, perhaps not. This is but one event. Nevertheless, I can’t shake my feeling that a shake-up is imminent (or already occuring). McCain may have already sealed his fate by moving so close to the Christian Right, but there’s still time to change. I sense an opening, but I don’t think anyone in ’08 will be ready to grab it. Maybe 2012. I want to believe that there will be some big shift in political affiliation, but I’m still very unsure.

Are we in the midst of a realignment?

(Found this article via the Daou Report.)

I am a cartoonist

What I put on Chalkboard Manifesto a few days ago:

Do not lose faith, readers. I will update late this Wednesday. I’ve figured out the problem. I usually say to myself, “I am a student. Therefore, I will do my work first, and then my comic.” I have three essays to write in the course of 2 days. That’s why I can’t update now. Yet, I managed to write a political essay for my weblog. I can call myself a satirist and a political commentator as easily as I call myself a student. However, calling myself a cartoonist seems foreign, even though that’s all you know me as. But, dear readers, from now on, I will be a cartoonist. This cartoonist will be taking a brief hiatus until Wednesday. Then, I will return with a new frame of mind. Each time before, I said I was going to “get back on track,” but there was no track to get on. That formulation was entirely wrong. When I return, I will make this comic a bigger part of my life — making it as important to me as it is to some of you. Broken promises were the norm here, but not anymore. Thanks, I hope you continue with me on this journey.

So, now I’m a cartoonist.

A Tale of 3 Neocons

[Author’s note: In my essay, I’ve mistakenly characterized The New Republic as neoconservative. Of course, if you read through, you’ll realize that this isn’t something I can easily correct, as it would change the character of the entire essay. Thus, I leave the essay as it is. Furthremore, despite the glaring error of source, it does not change the fact that I am criticizing legitimate neoconservative assumptions. I still think the essay was useful for initially articulating my conservative critiques of neoconservatism. ]

I’ve opened up 3 different articles on my computer. One is from Charles Krauthammer: Why Iraq Is Crumbling. Another is from the editors of The New Republic: Obligations. The last one is from Mark Steyn: ‘Free to lose’ isn’t good philosophy for the right wing. The only one that deserves any respect is Mark Steyn. While the other two simply bought into some utopian vision of the Middle East, Mark Steyn at least provides other justifications for attempted democratization. After re-visiting bits and pieces of Machiavelli and Burke, I’m convinced that the Iraq project was almost certainly doomed from the start — something at least 2 of the neocons should’ve realized.

Charles Krauthammer blames the Iraqis when he should be blaming human nature. He sums it up, “… [T]he problem here is Iraq’s particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Hussein’s totalitarianism.” Here, Krauthammer finally realizes something Machiavelli wrote down centuries ago. In Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 16, Machiavelli says:

“Infinite examples read in the remembrances of ancient histories demonstrate how much difficulty there is for a people used to living under a prince to preserve its freedom afterward, if by some accident it acquires it, as Rome acquired it after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Such difficulty is reasonable; for that people is nothing other than a brute animal that, although of a ferocious and feral nature, has always been nourished in prison and in servitude. Then, if it is left free in a field to its fate, it becomes the prey of the first one who seeks to rechain it, not being used to feed itself and not knowing places where it may have to take refuge”

I always admire Machiavelli’s ability to be so clear and concise in his writing. We see immediately that Iraq is just another one of those infinite examples of a people who have their freedom come to them by accident, and then have difficulty maintaining it. Thus, we should’ve expected this difficulty from the get-go. Krauthammer gives no indication of that, reducing the task to a simple one: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.” It reminds me of the argument I’ve heard several neocons make (including O’Reilly, I think), that the US has done its part, but the Iraqis have not stepped up and done their part. This view is patently false. You can see how delusional Krauthammer is here:

“It was never certain whether the long-oppressed Shiites would have enough sense of nation and sense of compromise to govern rather than rule. The answer is now clear: United in a dominating coalition, they do not.”

They have never governed by compromise or had democracy before, and yet, somehow, we wished for them to realize the intricacies of said rule. They say hindsight is 20/20, but I think you can forgive me because I’m only 19 and didn’t read Machiavelli or Burke until this year (last semester). But in Burke, it’s quite clear that you can’t destroy ancient orders and establish republican rule upon a tabula rasa. The French Revolution failed in part because of their disregard for tradition. Had I access to this earlier, would it have been that hard to make the connection to Iraq? I don’t think that was a fair expectation of the Shiites. It wouldn’t be a fair expectation of any oppressed people. It’s human nature, not the fault of the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, the editors at the New Republic finally reveal their supremely unconservative previous dogmatism. They regret their support for the war:

“At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of ‘realism.’ Realism, yes; but not ‘realism.’ American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously.”

They’ve finally woken up to the conservative idea of giving respect to tradition. The neocon ideology consists of the belief that American power can transform the world, and we have the responsibility to change the world. Of course, they’re wrong. The history of revolution is a history of disappointment. [A line I was planning on using in my discourse, but I figure why not put it in now.] When even the people of their own nation, such as the French during their revolution, have trouble controlling their own destinies, how can we assume that American power can control the destinies of others? Finally, reality has kicked in. At least, to an extent…

Their proposed solution to the problem just will make it worse. The idea is to bring in more parties to the table:

A new campaign should lay the groundwork for agreements prior to the calling of a peace conference that would include Iraq’s parties and its neighbors, as well as the United States, the European Union, and Russia. What kind of agreement could be worked out? Separate states, a loose federation, a unified government?

They fall prey to the multilateralism they were criticizing all along. What a strange 180 degree turn. Multilateralism can be a good thing, but not in this context. Such a conference is only an invitation to more disagreement and dispute, not a recipe for solution. I’d argue that even a democratic convention was a problem from the beginning. We wondered why they took so long to come up with a constitution initially. There were delays because we were dealing with ancient disputes, and they weren’t solved by that one piece of paper — big surprise (not). I direct you once more to Machiavelli: “…Many are not capable of ordering a thing because they do not know its good, which is because of the diverse opinions among them…” (Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9).

The necessary counterexample is the American constitutional convention that worked, but we had not just overthrown all our ancient orders. The Americans were not starting anew. The Iraqis were. Thus, I agree with Machiavelli, “This should be taken as a general rule: that it never or rarely happens that any republic or kingdom is ordered well from the beginning or reformed altogether anew outside its old orders unless it is ordered by one individual” (Discourse on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9). [Now, you see the origins of a possible more dangerous line of thought.] I’m not saying that it is altogether impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq; however, it is almost surely impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq by expecting the disparate people, used to living under the yoke of an oppressor, to come together and establish one.

Finally, I come to Mark Steyn. I respect him only because it seems as if he gives short shrift to this utopian version of events. For the other neocons, the crux of the invasion of Iraq lies with the democratization of Iraq. See Krauthammer: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.” (Wow, that “always simple” makes me giggle every time.) Mark Steyn recognizes the original conservative argument: “In a discussion of conservative core values, Connerly suggested it wasn’t the role of the federal government to impose democracy on the entire planet. And put like that, he has a point.” He agrees with the idea that it isn’t an inherent role of the federal government to do such a thing. I cannot stress enough how radical a break that is with the traditional neoconservatives. [10 points for the double-oxymoron.] They see the awesome American power as giving us a responsibility to the world (at least, this is the picture I got from Fukuyama, who came to speak at our campus). It’s the Spiderman idea: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Steyn doesn’t want that; he just wants to combat a foe.

Thus, when you compare him to the other neocons, you find his argument highly surprising:

”I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds — first, for ‘utopian’ reasons: If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists’ preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats). But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective: Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads. It’s one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective. In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang.”

The first part is their traditional argument, but he doesn’t give it priority. He says that even when our policy fails, it makes problems for the bad guys of the world. Thus, he inherently recognizes the moral propaganda component of the war. I wonder also if there’s an argument in there that deposing dictators and leaving chaos in a region leaves us better off than promoting stability. I withhold judgment for now on whether he’s right or not, but I respect Steyn because although he supports the Bush Doctrine, he’s arguing from completely different grounds than the other neocons. The others are (or were) delusional radical idealists; they departed from the conservative position because of wishful thinking. Steyn trashes the president’s wishful thinking:

”The president doesn’t frame it like that, alas. Instead, he says stuff like: ‘Freedom is the desire of every human heart.’ Really? It’s unclear whether that’s the case in Gaza and the Sunni Triangle. But it’s absolutely certain that it’s not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, Toronto and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government ‘security,’ large numbers of people vote to dump freedom — the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff. I would welcome the president using ‘Freedom is the desire of every human heart’ in Chicago and Dallas, and, if it catches on there, then applying it to Ramadi and Tikrit.

That kind of argument is more like Reflections on the Revolution in France than Thomas Paine’s liberal answer, The Rights of Man. Bush reminds me of Lafayette, whom Paine quoted in The Rights of Man, “For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.” The horrendous results of the French Revolution proved otherwise. The results in Iraq are showing otherwise. It’s disgustingly simple-minded to think that way. I guess I respect Mark Steyn because that quote from him falls exactly in line with my fundamental beliefs about government. People do not so easily come across freedom, nor do they so quickly desire it. To me, his opposition to Bush’s wishful thinking proves to me that he’s a different, more intelligent (and intelligible), strain of neoconservative. I don’t see that The New Republic or Krauthammer would be so similarly quick to disagree.

What a great day for football

What a great day for football. The Michigan-Ohio game was very exciting, and then I got to see USC beat Cal. (My apologies to Cal fans.)

Unfortunately, that meant it wasn’t a great day for essay writing. Tomorrow and Monday are going to be hell.

The Path To Virtue

I think the path to virtue is through habit. I’ve been trying to force myself to get things done instead of procrastinating. Just little things right now.

My first sentence is an odd claim that I can’t really back up right now, but I’ll get to it eventually. I’m beginning to feel out some very strange views on the mind, habit, and ethics.

Random Dobbs and Random Comments

For some reason, I enjoyed this column from Lou Dobbs, Dobbs: I’m a populist, deal with it. And now, random selections and random thoughts.

But now the name-calling and labeling is reaching a new level, and from all quarters. The political, business and media elites have called me a “table-thumping protectionist” because I want balanced and mutual trade, because I want this country to export as much as it imports. They’ve called me a racist, nativist xenophobe because, in order to win the war on terror, the war on drugs and to stop illegal immigration, I want our borders and ports secured.

Why is current political debate so poisoned? Has it always been this way? Can anything be changed?

I blame us for forgetting that the United States is first a nation, and secondly a marketplace or an economy, and I blame us for being taken as fools by both political parties for far too long. It is not nationalism by any stretch of the imagination for me to remind those in power that our political system, our great democracy, makes possible our free-enterprise economy, and not vice versa as the elites continually propagandize.

Actually, it seems as if some of them would claim that a free-enterprise economy makes possible democracy. After all, look at the democratically-elected Hamas government. For a while, I was inclined to agree that capitalism was a necessary prerequisite for liberal democracy (but by no means did a capitalist system create democracy), but I’m starting to change my mind. I do agree with Dobbs that economic demands take a backseat to nationalistic demands. Yet, if some type of capitalistic system is a pre-req for liberal democracy, it makes a case for economic demands being first to consider. Both systems, though, require the rule of law. It looks rather silly to let all this illegal immigration occur. Perhaps liberal democracy and capitalism are inseparable and should develop hand in hand. Or maybe it’s more complicated. Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. I don’t think it’s so easy to tell the difference between democracy, authoritarianism, and chaos — or rather, it’s not so easy to split them into easily definable categories. Capitalism, socialism, chaos…

Zakaria refers to “CNN’s Lou Dobbs and his angry band of xenophobes” and Jonathan Alter describes those who agree with me as “nativist Lou Dobbsians.” But Alter and Zakaria are far too bright to not know better. I’ve never once called for a restriction on legal immigration — in fact, I’ve called for an increase, if it can be demonstrated that as a matter of public policy the nation requires more than the one million people we bring into this country legally each year.

The world is more complicated than the false dichotomies we try to set up. Maybe a new political paradigm requires seeing that issues don’t only have two opposing sides. Furthermore, when we set up this false dichotomy, we tend to think that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, because both sides are wrong. Well, maybe in between them is wrong too. Maybe there’s a completely different answer.

And what does it mean to be a nativist in the United States in the 21st century when ours is the most ethnically and racially diverse society on the face of the earth? Both Alter and Zakaria are smart enough to know the answer to that question, and they know better than to write such drivel. Neither Zakaria or Alter can substantiate their disappointing attempts at labels with a single thing I’ve ever said or written. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

I’ve never actually pondered this before. I don’t know why, but it reminds me of the recent racial controversy on campus. They characterized the fraternity as a “white” fraternity when in fact it was very racially diverse. What an interesting “reverse” stereotype that played out. Anyway, the “nativist” of today is not the same nativist as yesterday. Just like how the racist of today isn’t the same as the racist of yesterday.

In fact, let me articulate something I’ve been pondering within the confines of my mind: Maybe what politics needs is to declare the old battles over. I’m not saying that somehow we become more happy and just get along. Instead, we move on to new and more relevant battles. Like, instead of debating “cut and run” versus “stay the course,” we could have a healthy debate over what the hell we should do in Iraq. But I will go further than that. Destroy the “liberal vs. conservative” paradigm. Note that I’m not saying we’ll all become one. Maybe it’ll involve finding common ground first, and then fighting on that new ground. Maybe it’ll involve some group saying, “This is what I stand for. Call it liberal, conservative, whatever you want. We’ll fight over labels later.” I’m not proposing an overthrow of a two-party system. I’m just letting my thoughts wander. I’ll try to articulate this vision better at a later date.

The Other Book

I’ve been studying Machiavelli lately in preparation for writing my discourse. I’ve found some very interesting things in Discourses on Livy, specifically, chapter 9 in book 1, “That It Is Necessary to Be Alone If One Wishes to Order a Republic Anew or to Reform it Altogether outside Its Ancient Orders.” Of course, as a conservative, I despise overthrowing these ancient orders. However, I do not wish to ignore it altogether. I may have to split my work into two books. One will be the one I’ve originally planned. The other will be much more dangerous. In fact, I may decide to never write it.

It finally may have caught up with me

I have pretty bad time management skills. So, I had an essay due at 9PM today that I started today. Only, it was really really hard to start. I had so much trouble focusing. I got it in just in time, but I wasn’t very confident about the essay. Not a good sign.

Every time I get an essay back and get a good grade, I say, “Whew. Dodged another bullet.” I may not have dodged this bullet. Maybe it was overconfidence in my ability to finish essays. I’ve got two more due next week. I’m going to tell myself to get them done earlier. I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

I guess the biggest problem at this point is making myself care.

What do you want? Take it.

For some reason, I’d like to take this opportunity to evaluate my New Year’s plan to make every move a killing move. First, what prompted me to do this evalution.

I recently revisited an old post-it note, “What do you want? Take it.” I needed motivation. But then, I thought, “What do I want?” I had no idea what I wanted.

Therein lied the dilemma with my New Year’s resolution. How can I make every move a killing move if I don’t even know what I’m trying to kill? I was trying to make every move have a purpose, but I had no goal. That’s why it hasn’t proven effective. I like the idea of the method, but it’s too focused.

I think of pool and how the purpose is to try to win. However, you can’t just will yourself to win. You have to practice and practice in order to make shots. You have to know how to play. You have to know what you’re playing.

I have no idea what I’m playing or what I’m doing.

Sure, I can tell myself, “Take it.” But what the fuck am I taking? What the fuck do I want to take?

Sorry about the profanity, but this is really frustrating. I’m currently paralyzed with indecision.

I think I’m going to reformulate the resolution to “What do you want? Take it.” At least it acknowledges that there’s a question of what I want.

Even then, I want to be president, let’s say. But I’m not going to make everything in my life push towards that goal. That’d be a very unsatisfying life. I have other pursuits. Hm. I guess that kills the “Every move is a killing move” idea.

I’ll tell you what I don’t want, though. Whatever it is I’m doing now… this college thing… I’m sick and tired. I mean, even if I take a new frame of mind to the issue and look at college as a place with lots of opportunities, I still see my classes as essentially useless. Well, not useless… just… extraneous. Yes, that’s the right word, I guess. I don’t want to be that negative, but that’s how I feel. There are a billion other things I’d rather do. Now, if I could only figure out what those billion things are.

What do I want?

I Wish I Could Spin

Oh how I wish I could use this opportunity to spin, but I’ve become so much more sober and pessimistic recently. I would love to say, “This election was a defeat for Big Government Conservatism.” Then, I would promote a return to basic conservative principles. I would shout that we already won, and our voters threw out a perversion of those principles. We’re poised for victory in ’08 with real conservatism, or we will fight for our candidates in ’08 against the evil big government wing of the party. Alas, if it were only so!

This election wasn’t a rejection or approval of any set of principles. This election was a rejection of incompetence. The people were angry at Bush. He had failed with Katrina and failed with Iraq. The Republican party was corrupt, as evidenced symbolically by the Foley scandal. It wasn’t a rejection of any of the principles of family values, etc — it was the corruption of the principles. The Big Government Conservatives didn’t lose. Some of them were pissed off at the party as we (Limited Government Conservatives) were. Or rather, the Dems gained a good amount of the evangelical vote who cited “corruption” as an issue they cared about. We didn’t vote Republican because of high spending. Moderates and us voted Democrat because of the screw-ups in Iraq. Moderates hated not the corruption of certain principles, but actual monetary corruption — a part of a general theme of incompetence. Democrats, well, they were probably going to vote Democrat anyway.

My point is that none of us changed our ideology even though we may have voted a different way. I don’t like saying that there are “real” reasons for things. This is not so in human minds (uh oh, this could open a whole nother can of worms, so I won’t elaborate), but especially not so in a collective body — each person votes for different reasons. Attempts to find a real ulterior motive will fail because we all voted for different reasons. Still, I think there can be big contributing factors, and we can all find reasons that aren’t justified. If you want to know why Republicans lost, look at Bush’s low approval ratings. Why are Bush’s approval ratings low? He’s incompetent.

So, what does all this mean in the battle of ideas? Not so much, I guess. This election was a peculiarity, as all elections are. Greater historical meaning will be assigned in retrospect.

There’s a huge difficulty in assigning reasons to this loss. People tend to think that most people agree with them. Thus, I’ll tend to say that my reasons for not voting Republican were the reasons everyone voted Republican.

The Republicans lost votes from their base and lost big among independents. Why? I don’t think it was ideology. I don’t know if they are against the War in Iraq, per se. Mostly, they’re angry at the incompetent way it’s been handled. (Or at least, I am, haha.) The Republicans have bungled their rule for whatever reasons. People will assign whatever reasons they think that the Republicans were incompetent, but those reasons will vary. The fact is that the Republicans were incompetent in their governance. It made them unpopular. That’s the basic reason for losing.

But why oh why were we incompetent?

I just don’t think there’s a simple answer. The election itself doesn’t prove things one way or another. Still, I think we can eventually isolate certain elements.

Lloyd replies:

You’re absolutely right… in national politics, the answers aren’t so simple. But in very general terms, I’d say “overconfidence leading to hubris” is a good wrap. Add that to the old saw about absolute power absolutely corrupting, and I think that pretty much covers the philosophical bases. I’m quite sure it’s hard to consider first principles when you’ve got absolute power in hand. It’s so easy to say … “so freaking what.”

How the elections felt

While I’ve said that I’m wandering the political wilderness, I have not yet cut off all my ties. I still belong to the College Republicans at JHU, some of whom appreciated my Why I’m Voting Republican piece. Since I still have some connection to the Republican party, the elections weren’t all dandy for me. I’m still a partisan, I guess.

The closest analogy I can make is that the elections were like pouring alcohol on a wound. It hurt, but it was necessary. I can already begin to feel the relief since I learned of Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. His resignation will also hopefully weaken Cheney’s influence.

What’s next? I’m not sure. I’d like to see bloody civil war between various factions of the Republican party. I’m guessing it’s going to be business as usual, instead of some serious soul-searching. I mean, all-out warfare between the factions is very, very, very unlikely. Meanwhile, the Democrats may stop being so idiotic, and then we’ll really have a long way to catch up if we don’t figure out that something is seriously flawed with Bushism.

If it comes to warring, then I’ll fight, and if my side loses, I’ll probably jump ship. But again, I don’t think it will come to that.

I still can’t shake this idea of a Realignment (yes, with a capital R). I just don’t feel like the current coalitions can hold. New issues will break us apart.

All in all, I feel as lost as I did before.

Bloody Civil War

Dobson issues a statement worth quoting good amounts from:

Conservative Christian leader James Dobson accused the Republican Party of abandoning values voters in the midterm elections – and paying the price by losing control of Congress. “What did they do with their power?” Dobson said in a statement. “Very little that values voters care about.”


“They consistently ignored the constituency that put them in power until it was late in the game, and then frantically tried to catch up at the last minute,” said Dobson, who argued that religious conservatives ensured GOP wins in 2004.

Dobson also criticized other conservatives, including former Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas – an architect of the 1994 GOP House takeover – for complaining recently that the religious right was “too involved” with the party.

“Without the support of that specific constituency, John Kerry would be president and the Republicans would have fallen into a black hole in ’04,” Dobson said. “In fact, that is where they are headed if they continue to abandon their pro-moral, pro-family and pro-life base. The big tent will turn into a three-ring circus.”


“Sadly for conservatives, that in large measure explains what happened on Tuesday night,” he said. “Many of the values voters of ’04 simply stayed at home this year.”


More than four in 10 evangelicals said corruption and scandals were extremely important, and those who felt that way were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than other evangelicals. About a third who were most concerned about corruption cast their votes for Democrats, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the networks.

Hey Dobson, if it wasn’t for people like Dick Armey, there wouldn’t have been a Republican majority in the House to lose. (Contrary to Dobson, I believe the limited government base of the Republican party needs to assert its supremacy.)

Rove’s strategy of courting you is bunkum. The Christianist darling Santorum went down in flames. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to crush clearly liberal Phil Angelides in a clearly liberal state. Within a year, after special election defeats, he turned himself around from being finished to handily winning reelection. Yet, supposed genius Rove didn’t even get Bush the popular vote in 2000. Under Rove’s great guidance, Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet.

So put those two paragraphs in your pipe and smoke it. And that’s just off the top of my head.

If you want to criticize Dick Armey, be my guest. This current big tent is dead. Let the finger-pointing begin. It’s time for bloody civil war.

(Of course, as time goes by, my position will become much more nuanced.)

Quack quack quack

Start quacking, Bush. You’re about to lose the Senate too.

(More brilliant analysis later today. I’m trying to figure out the best spin.)

EDIT: On second thought, I take that back. We might see a “comprehensive” immigration plan, yet. Rinse, repeat in 20 years. (We learned nothing from 1986.)

Speaker Pelosi

Goddamn. Yes, I know, I wanted to the Republicans to lose the House this time around. But Speaker Pelosi?? BAH! A pox on both parties!

My only hope is that the Democrats launch an investigation that disgraces Rumsfeld and forces him out.

EDIT: The day before elections, my guess was 50/50 Senate and +20 for Dems. The second prediction is way off. The first might be wrong too. Webb is ahead slightly in VA. It looks like Missouri or Montana may go to the Dems. The Republicans might lose the Senate too.

EDIT: Missouri is called for Dems. Webb extends his lead in Virginia, but we’ll probably have a recount, especially since it decides control of the Senate. Burns is catching up in Montana, but still behind by 4 points.

EDIT: Schwarzenegger wins big in CA. Hooray bipartisanship!

Screw Hopkins

I shouldn’t have to wake up each morning dreading going to class, hating every single second of class and every second of work I must do for those classes. I shouldn’t go through the course catalogue for next semester extremely unexcited about every class in it. This semester solidifies it: Coming here was a bad decision.

Also, screw the Republican Party this time around. Make sure you vote Democrat tomorrow for House and Senate.

Why I’m Voting Republican This November

My latest piece for The Carrollton Record:

Why I’m Voting Republican This November

Do you really need a reason to vote Republican this November? Ever since the Democrats came to power (about) 6 years ago, taking control of the executive and legislative branches, we’ve had a mess. I’ve hardly enough space to adequately cover this travesty, but I figure quick hits on big issues will be enough.


Under the current administration, we have seen the largest increase of the welfare state since Mr. Great Society himself, Lyndon B. Johnson. These stats make me want to puke:

  • Department of Education budget (since No Child Left Behind): up 51%
  • Department of Agriculture subsidies: up 40%
  • Medicare prescription drug benefit cost: $534 billion
  • 2005 Transportation Act: $286 billion

The highway bill is a joke, laden with $24 billion of pork.1 Unfortunately, the president has never heard of a veto, never seen a spending bill he didn’t like. A Republican president would’ve stopped the nonsense.


The current president is the (un)intellectual heir of Woodrow Wilson. We’ve seen the worst case of moralistic military adventurism in history with the unjust invasion of Iraq in the name of “democracy” and unfound WMDs. Principled conservatives rightly objected to the war all along. Stability comes before democracy. Conservatives know that it is impossible to throw away the traditions of a country and expect democracy to magically appear. That’s Edmund Burke 101. George W. Bush explained it well during one of the debates in 2000: “Somalia started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission and that’s where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price, and so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow a dictator when it’s in our best interests. But in this case, it was a nation-building exercise.” Alas, if only George W. Bush had won in 2000!

Civil Liberties

It is the goal of the conservative to protect the traditions which are the rightful foundations of our liberty, like habeas corpus. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, recently passed by the Democratic Congress, gives undue power to the executive, allowing him to indefinitely detain legal aliens on US soil, without a writ of habeas corpus. Do you trust the president to do this? I wouldn’t even trust a Republican president with that kind of power.

Time and time again, the president has subverted the law. He unlawfully authorized wiretaps when he easily could have gone to Congress to amend FISA. He held detainees in Guantanamo Bay without trial. The rule of law is fundamental, yet this president doesn’t care.

Immediately after 9/11, he hammered through the Patriot Act. It is the conservative’s duty to shout “Halt!” when someone tries to enact sweeping reforms with little forethought. Consistently, the president and Congress throw caution to the wind with our civil liberties, all while pretending to make us safer.

Moral Values

This latest page scandal really shows the true colors of the Democrats. Their champion of protecting children, chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, was caught sending explicit instant messages to underage teens. Talk about hypocrisy!

And still, the Speaker of the House refuses to step down. If this had happened to the Republicans, we wouldn’t point fingers and obfuscate. We would take responsibility. The Democrats continually show that they don’t care about principles; they only care about maintaining and aggrandizing their power.


The Democrats, whilst in control of Congress, have presided over obscene increases in spending and the size of government has ballooned. The president combines all the worst aspects of LBJ and Woodrow Wilson. Congress has done nothing but increase the power of this runaway executive, upsetting the checks and balances between the branches and running afoul of civil liberties. They throw away moral values, all concepts of tradition, and the rule of law in their pursuit of power.

It’s time for a change! Send a message to the president! Send a message to Congress! This November, we need to put the Republicans in charge… huh, what? What are you telling me? Wait a second, you mean, the Democrats haven’t been in power for the last six years?


1All of these statistics come from my Intro to American Politics book, American Government, which in turn took these stats from George F. Will in the Newsweek article, “The Last Word.” They’re also a year old, so I expect the estimates look worse today.


Somebody was asking me questions about something earlier today, and I suddenly remembered this:


Sometimes, we just do things. Then, we make up the reasons afterwards. Or rather, there are lots and lots of reasons we do things, but we like to pick the “real” one when we retrospect. Then, when we retrospect later, our memories change, and we may assign different reasons.

I can’t avert my gaze

I just sat there. During the College Dems vs. College Republicans debate, I just sat there as my fellow Republican defended torture, saying it was okay to make terrorists feel a little uncomfortable. I had a chance. I had a chance to take the question instead of him. I had the chance to say, “I’m not only dismayed, but disgusted at President Bush and the Congressmen who voted for his bill. I’m ashamed of America for endorsing torture. It’s strange that a party could filibuster reasonable judicial nominees, but couldn’t muster up the force to save habeas corpus. But more so, I’m ashamed of the Republican party for its role in torture. This isn’t a partisan issue. Torture is unequivocably wrong.” Instead, I just sat there, staring at my pen, doing my best not to shout out. I just sat there.

Something has been bothering me for the past few days — something I couldn’t quite identify it. I don’t know if this is what it was, but at the very least, it’s really bothering me right now. I know the audience was small, but I’m ashamed at myself for sitting there and doing nothing.

And right now, instead of… of speaking out against this evil, I’m ruminating on race. Granted, race is an important topic and shouldn’t be ignored, but the very fabric of the Republic isn’t at risk of being torn asunder on account of race.

Andrew Sullivan made the most powerful image yet, regarding Iraq. Iraq is the foreign policy equivalent of Katrina. [Note to self: Put YouTube video in this entry.]

I can no longer sit quietly in my corner. I wrote my four-comic series, but why am I not pimping them at every opportunity! I am too quiet.

Thus, I will continue my ruminations on race, but not at the expense of averting my gaze from very important events in American history. I will begin composing my “Dialogues on Torture” and figure out how to start making that Ticking Time Bomb Gone Wrong movie. I will keep writing about politics up until, through, and after Election Day.

Racism is a problem for all races

White people aren’t the only ones who are racist. There are dimensions of racism we seem to be afraid to discuss. No, I’m not talking about some black people not liking whites. I’m not talking about the bone-headed concept of “reverse-racism.” If that’s all I was talking about, I’d be kinda racist myself.

No, I’m talking about Asian people who hate black people. I’m talking about how some black people hate Mexicans because they think they’re taking their jobs. I’m talking about Mexicans who say they’re getting those jobs because black people are lazy. I’m talking about Jews who hate Arabs. I’m talking about Arabs who hate Jews.

Yes, I know I’m grossly over-generalizing, but this is real. I can prove it throughout history. Look at every single ethnic group who came into this country, and look how they were treated not only by the white Protestants, but by the ethnic groups who previously came in. Look at the Germans who hated the Irish. And look at all of them who hated the blacks, who didn’t let them into their unions. Look at the ones who hated the Chinese. Think all Asians look the same? Some Chinese hate the Japanese. Oh, and what about what the Americans did to the Native Americans?

Just because groups may be oppressed, doesn’t mean they’ll band together. Women were disenfranchised and blacks were disenfranchised at one point in time. Some of the women’s suffrage tactics turned against the blacks and used blatantly racist and classist propaganda.

Specific racial groups dislike other racial groups in specific ways. We can’t over-generalize the problem of racism. White racism towards blacks isn’t the same as Asian racism towards blacks. White racism towards blacks isn’t the same as white racism towards Mexicans. Now, I’m not saying that the history of the issue doesn’t show that certain groups did more horrible things. Still, I’m trying to analyze the contours of racism in our modern age. If we’re seriously going to be a multi-cultural society, we need to realize that it’s not all about how we get along. Sometimes, we don’t get along. And how we don’t get along is a very complicated issue that stretches between all races (not just between whites and other races), in very unique ways.

Not Alone

As I wander the political wilderness, I find that I am not alone.

That second link there expresses a lot of what I’m feeling.

I know I said I’d avoid politics this week, but I felt this important to note. I wonder how many more of us are out there.