Sunday, September 23, 2012


There is something just so uncomfortable about our presidential elections. Other than Kelly Ripa there are few things that make me cringe as much as a presidential candidate with certainty (unless, of course, it is end zone or sack dancing). Unfortunately, a candidate's certainty may be a personality trait as necessary to getting elected as evincing their belief in God.  I suppose the dream candidate I would admire who who would say "I don't know" a lot, admit there are policy issues which are too complex or he isn't up to speed about and that he hasn't reached a firm conclusion about everything, would not get very far in an election, if he could possibly win a nomination. But, I can't help myself. I just generally prefer people who say "I don't know" about things they don't know about or aren't certain about everything. And, I can dream.

I'm going to hedge on this right away. That doesn't mean when we think we are right, we shouldn't say so, even with a certain degree of confidence, particularly about a fact of which we are certain. It is fine to have a political, scientific, historical opinion too and feel strongly about it.  You can call me a bozo for insisting that presidents usually win another term when we are in a war (a fact I had to once insist upon against virulent opposition), but, though we can't be absolutely certain about anything, I can reasonably have a far greater sense of certainty about it than I can about a theological point or quantum physics.  False humility or hedging isn't so attractive either, particularly in an argument, and I would not ask for it. Simply put, as obvious a point as this should be, the more speculative a subject, the less certain we can be. Why do I bother then to write about it? Because all too often we find that people are more certain in areas they should be less so, and less certain where they should be. The certainty of presidential candidates of what they will attain if elected falls into the earlier class, particularly when there is not an overwhelmingly supportive congress behind them. I note with a grimace that I just heard Mitt Romney say on tv that he is going to win (with implied certainty) without any protest from his interviewer, but get heat for not saying exactly what all of his plans are, because he acknowledges he is going to have to work them out with others. It should be precisely the opposite.
When I was a wee laddie, my mother told me that the smartest man who ever lived was Socrates, because he knew that he knew nothing. I was always attracted to the idea even though that is really not quite what he said. Later on, I actually read the Plato dialogue,  The Apology, where Socrates discusses his lack of wisdom in defending his life. Apology there means a defense and not an expression of regret. Socrates wasn't sorry at all for what he had done (or not done).

The Athenians had just spent decades fighting the Peloponnesian War and thanks to the democracy's own hubris and designs of empire, Sparta eventually garnered some powerful allies, not to mention a kick ass navy which vanquished Athens' highly trained fleet and defeated them. But, they let Athens, which had survived some near crushing disasters and plague during the war, survive yet again, although they tore down her long walls and put the city under a hated oligarchy.  The tyranny didn't last long. The Athenians soon wrested back control and regained their democracy for a while.  Their Periclean golden age was past already and it could be a dangerous place for self proclaimed gadflies like Socrates. He found himself charged with certain moral crimes but the underlying problem was his association with two former students, one the leading oligarch (also, Plato's cousin) who had only been recently turned out, not to mention killed  and another who was a leading citizen but became a traitor during the long war.
Socrates defended himself but unconventionally challenged the jury, almost dared them to convict him.  And, they did. Then they sentenced him to death, the knucklehead. And then he didn't take the opportunity to escape offered him and drank the Hemlock. This led, centuries later to one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite 18th century painters, Baroque, Jean-Jacques David, which I only mention here as an excuse to prettify my blog.  His death also led to a lot of regret among Athenians, who put up a bronze statue of him not too long after they put him to death. 

During the trial, Socrates had to defend his teachings and his character. Doing so, he denied that he thought of himself as the wisest man.  “This one of you, O human beings, is wisest, whosoever, like Socrates, perceives that he is in truth of no value to wisdom,” he quoted an oracle, with great self-effacement. It is harder to say what that exactly means, but I think what my mother taught me, which is the conventional English translation, is close enough.

I've tried some cases in my days as a lawyer. One thing I could have assured Socrates, without ever needing to test it, is that it would not be a good idea for me to tell the jury that I was the wisest of men even if I qualified it that it because I knew I knew nothing. But, this post is not about arguing to a jury. it is about knowledge.

And, there is no doubt in my mind that this much Socrates (or to be scrupulous - perhaps it was Plato) rightly understood - that we know so little and can be sure of almost nothing. I have much to criticize Socrates/Plato about, but not in this. It is an easy enough concept in the abstract, but very difficult to apply in real life, especially as it seems from our everyday experience. Certainly Socrates was not the first or only one to recognize it.  How apt a description of Socrates' own style of questioning is Chapter 3 of the Tao te ching (we think, but can't be sure, that the Tao, which tradition says was written in the 6th century, B.C., is the older of the two as the earliest records scholars have of it appear to be from the 4th century, B.C.; that is, about the time Plato was writing his dialogues and after Socrates' death):

The Master leads
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know."
How similar in concept this is to Socrates' self evaluation, if different in style:

". . . For I am not clear-headed myself when I make others puzzled, but I am as puzzled as puzzled can be, and thus I make others puzzled too. So now, what virtue is I do not know; but you knew, perhaps, before you touched me, although now you resemble one who does not know. All the same, I wish to investigate, with your help, that we may both try to find out what it is."
You could also make an argument that the same point was understood by the author(s) of The Old Testament when God banned Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of knowledge. You might even argue that in even more primitive terms The Epic of Gilgamesh concerns itself with the uncertainty of knowledge, perhaps the limitations of immortality, although hidden in Gilgmesh's attempt to learn the secret of immortality.
Even now, fully one fourth the age of Lincoln (no, seriously, I am), I spend a lot of time thinking about the limitations of knowledge. I've learned some people find this negative or at least, not positive. I couldn't disagree more.  My own interests in this area is so acute, that I find myself immediately drawn to any recognition of the subjects by writers throughout history, and the rest of this post simply speaks about some recent sightings in my studies.
Recently I have become interested in Jacobus Acontius Tridentius a/k/a Giacomo Contio Acontius, a relatively unknown 16th century Protestant writer.  Arguing against the tyrannical religious oppression of Jean Calvin, who is near impossible for Westerners to appreciate these days, except for his obvious intellect, as a result of his somewhat successful attempt to squash any sense of religious freedom beneath the homicidal power of the state, Acontius was deeply affected by the burning of the saintly yet insistent  Michael Servetus, who merely asked for a more theological rationality and a little less dogma. In Acontius' Satan's Strategies there is included this epistemological gem where you didn't expect to find it:
"When a man is convinced of anything, he cannot but be astonished that there should be anyone who cannot what he sees; and unless, as soon as he has indicated his reasons, his opposite succumb to them, he falls into a passion, as though it were evident that this refusal to be convinced came of mere perverseness and obstinacy; and so it is odds that he fall to reproach and railing."
How relevant are these century's old words today with visions of Middle Eastern riots dancing in our heads.  But, you can't help but notice, the ever certain Calvin has been, at least superficially, far more successful than  Acontius, even if, put to the question, few modern Westerners would deny, at least in the abstract, Acontius' sentiment. Why isn't Acontius better known?  Or his predecessor Castellio, who pointed out that men had been arguing about theology for centuries and clearly weren't capable of knowing the truth for certain, and who has been very influential among Protestant theologians, or even Servetus himself, better known than Calvin? I would say part of the reason is that mankind is almost hypnotically attracted to certainty and the more unknowable the subject, the more they want it. Someone who is willling to give it to them will be more persuasive and appreciated.
It occurred to me long ago that many people are much more sensitive about a-rational beliefs than they are their rational ones.
I came across the following paragraphs one day in The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a "philosophy" book I read slowly and carefully, and with which I find that I agree with almost all of  "points,"  but find lots to criticize in his emphasis, style and overstatement (and which I've covered on other posts). He appreciates the same philosophers and social commentators I do - Hume, Popper and Hayek in the main, but others to, from whom I could find endless quotes to burnish this post. But, most modern folk would much rather read the breezy Talib, who claims writers should not quote famous philosopher's much except to disagree or mock him (although he quotes as freely as anyone). He writes:
"Someone with a low degree of epistemic arrogance is not too visible, like a shy person at a cocktail party. We are not predisposed to respect humble people, those who try to suspend judgment. Now contemplate epistemic humility. Think of someone heavily introspective, tortured by the awareness of his own ignorance. He lacks the courage of the idiot, yet has the rare guts to say "I don't know." He does not mind looking like a fool or, worse, an ignoramus. He hesitates, he will not commit, and he agonizes over the consequences of being wrong. He introspects, introspects, and introspects until he reaches physical and nervous exhaustion.
This does not necessarily mean that he lacks confidence, only that he holds his own knowledge to be suspect. I will call such a person an epistemocrat; the province where the laws are structured with this kind of human fallibility in mind I will call an epistemocracy."
. . .
Everyone has an idea of utopia. For many it means equality, universal justice, freedom from oppression, freedom from work (for some it may be the more modest, though no more attainable, society with commuter trains free of lawyers on cell phones). To me utopia is an epistemocracy, a society in which anyone of rank is an epistemocrat, and where epistemocrats manage to be elected. It would be a society governed from the basis of the awareness of ignorance, not knowledge.
Alas, one cannot assert authority by accepting one's own fallibility. Simply, people need to be blinded by knowledge--we are made to follow leaders who can gather people together because the advantages of being in groups trump the disadvantages of being alone. It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one. Those who have followed the assertive idiot rather than the introspective wise person have passed us some of their genes. this is apparent from a social pathology: psychopaths rally followers.
Once in a while you encounter members of the human species with so much intellectual superiority that they can change their minds effortlessly."
I have to say, I am not certain at all whether that last line is meant to be sarcastic or not. But, I will end with it . But, next week, I intend to return to my initial rant on presidential politics with a thought to applying in part the principle stated here coupled with my deep desire for a third party in America more to my way of thinking.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Take a stand, Mr. President

I am an admirer of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Muslim woman who came to the West and has shrugged off her faith and courageously weathered the terrible consequences. She is just one brave person over the course of human history who has said "No," to those who would kill her for it and insisted on freedom. This act of bravery knows no time period, no geography or ideology. It is noble far beyond the silly titles any country bestows on a family because of their unexceptional DNA.

I want to first reprint a few paragraphs from a September 17, 2012 Newsweek article written by Ms. Ali which struck me as sad and inspirational at the same time. In a year we must suffer through the exaggerated and petty political attacks of our politicians against one another, it is a dose of oxygen in a noxious room. You can find the entire article in Newsweek, of course, but I read it at, which I was led to by www.realclearpolitics,com, one of three websites that pops up immediately when I connect to the internet on my computer.  Montana Don told me about it a few years back and it has since been among the most treasured of sites for me. It not only maintains a balance of ideology in the articles it publishes, but its polling averages have become a standard in the industry.

Okay, shutting up. Here's the article excerpt: 

Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate
. . .

For a homicidal few in the Muslim world, life itself has less value than religious icons, such as the prophet or the Quran. These few are indifferent to the particular motives or arguments behind any perceived insult to their faith. They do not care about an individual’s political alignment, gender, religion, or occupation. They do not care whether the provocation comes from serious literature or a stupid movie. All that matters is the intolerable nature of the insult.
. . .

I know something about the subject. In 1989, when I was 19, I piously, even gleefully, participated in a rally in Kenya to burn Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. I had never read it.

Later, having fled an arranged marriage to the Netherlands, I broke from fundamentalism. By the time of Sept. 11, 2001, I still considered myself a Muslim, though a passive one; I believed the principles but not the practice. After learning that it was Muslims who had hijacked airplanes and flown them into buildings in New York and Washington, I called for fellow believers to reflect on how our religion could have inspired these atrocious acts. A few months later, I confessed in a television interview that I had been secularized.

. . .

The change had consequences. Asked about the poor integration of Muslim immigrants into Holland’s civic culture, I recommended the emancipation of girls and women from a religious practice that motivates parents to remove them from school as teenagers and marry them off. Through emancipation, Muslim integration into Dutch society would come faster and endure. But I soon learned that by making such statements, I had unwittingly blasphemed three times: by associating terrorist attacks with a theology that inspired it; by drawing critical attention to the treatment of women in Islam; and—the worst blasphemy of all—by leaving the Muslim faith.

. . . The week before I was sworn into Parliament, I gave an interview to an obscure paper in the Netherlands that caused an uproar. Dutch Muslim organizations had been demanding that the age of marriage be lowered from 18 to 15, touting the Prophet Muhammad as their moral guide. In response, I suggested that some of the actions of the prophet might be considered criminal under Dutch law. This prompted a delegation of ambassadors from Turkey, Malaysia, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia to knock on the door of my party leader shortly after I took my seat in the legislature, demanding my eviction from Parliament for hurting the feelings of Muslims—those not only in Holland, but everywhere in the world, all 1.5 billion of them.

. . ." But that was nothing compared with what happened when I made a short film with Theo van Gogh (titled Submission) that drew attention to the direct link between the Quran and the plight of Muslim women. In revenge for this act of free thinking, Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man, murdered van Gogh—shooting him eight times and stabbing him with two knives, one of which pinned a note to his body threatening the West, Jews, and me. As he was dying, my friend Theo reportedly asked his assailant, “Can’t we talk about this?” It’s a question that has haunted me ever since, often in bed at night. One side proposing a conversation; the other side thrusting a blade. ... We must be patient. America needs to empower those individuals and groups who are already disenchanted with political Islam by Islam by helping find and develop an alternative. At the heart of that alternative are the ideals of the rule of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression. For these values there can and should be no apologies, no groveling, no hesitation. It was Voltaire who once said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” As Salman Rushdie discovered, as we are reminded again as the Arab street burns, that sentiment is seldom heard in our time. Once I was ready to burn The Satanic Verses. Now I know that his right to publish it was a more sacred thing than any religion.

Now, my corresponding open letter to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President, I know that I write things about you that you cannot appreciate. I think you have ideas that are very bad for us and worse, in order to get your policies through, have engaged in distortions of good ideas and promoted bad ones, used parliamentary tricks and when necessary, bullied, bent and misinterpreted rules to get your way. It is no excuse that other presidents have done so too. It is no excuse that you are opposed by those seeking to throw you out of office fairly or unfairly. If that is the standard, then you give succor to those who believe we should immediately do away with the farce of civilization and just battle it out. I know there are some people who actually want that, or, think they do anyway, but I bet you agree, it is not a good idea. That's because you are in fact a good man who just disagrees with me and many others on what is best for us, but believes in the American dream of Washington, Lincoln and King, seen through your eyes. I have always argued, chided and even teased those who have maligned you without reason, whether it was about your homeland, your religion or the quality of your intentions. But, you stand at a crossroads.

After the election, which I believe you will win unless something unforeseen and drastic happens, either you will find yourself, à la Bill Clinton, trying to find compromise with the Republicans in congress or you will fight a fierce war with them on the issues that are important to you. If you do the latter, which is what I expect, then I also expect things will get much worse for us and that the imagery of the cliff in front of us will take on a clearer shape. You will blame those who stand in your way, as if more spending and more taxing and more regulation has ever worked over the long term. We get it. We already know because Paul Krugman is what you might become if you have nothing left to lose.

But, despite my pessimism in this regard, there is one area I hope that you will rethink and try to find common ground with other Americans you might disregard because they do not share your international policies of greeting the mailed fist with an open hand, or even those you hate because they hate you. There are among them, those who read Ms. Ali  with sympathy, not irritation, and also believe that the American ideal is the hope of the world.

To continue to be that hope, in John Winthrop's words, now trivialized by politicians, we need to be a story and city upon a hill. In order to do that, we must continue to face the great challenge of those who would oppress us, as certain that they are right as we are. But, the difference is, they seek to do so by force or intimidation. It does not matter that they are inspired by communism, fascism or religion. It is the lack of tolerance and use of pressure to get their way that is the problem.

You know that America is a country based upon an idea. A faulty one, but one in which we stated right at the outset, that we would strive to make better. And it is an idea that grew out of what we call the enlightenment. The values that stem from it are in many cases really very old, but they became much more advanced and developed by writers and politicians during the 17th and 18th century, often by those then seen as heretics or traitors, but which values had the power to attract and convince others that there was a better way than our being subjects to the most powerful people. That's why I call the values that stemmed from Britain and other places during this time period "enlightenment values," for short (though I certainly did not make up the phrase). By enlightenment values I mean things like free speech and conscience, due process and the rule of law and equal protection under the law. I couple with it the simple notion that Americans agree with at least in the abstract as central to civilization and which runs through the history of the world like a cool breeze in hell - Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

The attacks on our embassies are important, the lives lost precious, but the real battle is for our collective will. We do not need, Mr. President, to shut up. When we tell the film maker who made the movie (if there was even a full movie) to shut up or we intimidate him openly or covertly (have you had his tax returns gone through yet?) we insult the memory of people like Theo van Gogh. The principle of free speech is so important, was developed so slowly, and will be so hard to recover if lost, that it must be not only protected, but cherished. And we must scream it to the world when villains would trample it.

I know you believe that it is wiser to placate the angry Muslim voices that we see on television who claim that they want the freedom to practice their religion without having their prophet mocked. I care not if they have ulterior motives - that is their claim.  But, if you believe that the film maker, whose name I don't even know, was foolish to express himself - and his speech caused lives to be lost, I have to say to you, you have it backwards and are dead wrong. To even hint at that will do nothing but give courage and inspiration to those who seek to make others shut up by threatening them. It is the people who have killed and are rioting upon the claim that they don't like the speech that are wrong and we must say so very loudly, very clearly.

Years ago, a philosopher I admire greatly, Karl Popper, wrote the following words in one of my favorite philosophical works, The Open Society and Its Enemies; The Spell of Plato:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

If you can't understand this, then I feel even stronger that you must lose this election.  Whatever Mitt Romney's faults, he will almost certainly take the more courageous stand here. Were I even in agreement with you domestically, and I admit I am not, I would vote for him rather than you if you cannot see that this demands argument by our president on our behalf.

This means I want you and Mrs. Clinton and others to stop saying or implying that the film maker is at least somewhat at fault or that he is disgusting or that you don't approve. I want you to say that it doesn't matter what he said so long as he did not threaten anyone - that the crime against civilization that has been committed throughout the Muslim by rioters and killers and would be killers so far dwarfs any unwisdom in speech, that it must stand alone as the object of our outrage and justice.

And, I will say more. If you cannot one hundred percent back our system of free speech and conscience, you not only insult those who died in Benghazi, making a mockery of their dedication and courage, but you insult those like Ms. Ali and the American-Muslim immigrants who fled places where they could not worship and live freely to the one place they knew they could.

Stand up and be a president. Be an American president. At no better time can you shove down the throats of those who hate you most in this country the idea that you are unpatriotic or don't get it. Or will you blow this opportunity to do something good by wasting your time telling everyone that Romney and Ryan want to throw Medicare under the bus?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Political update for September, 2012

It took me two weeks to write this post, and I think I know why. Yes, a little busy the past two weeks but really, I didn't like what I was concluding here, but feel driven to write. The financial scenario we face is far more dangerous than any war we've fought, the great depression, any recession we've faced so far. Probably only the explosion of a nuclear weapon in the continental United States or one of our allies would be comparable. It is not that Mr. Bernanke or David Walker (Bush's comptroller general), Alan Greenspan or any other so called expert tells us this. It is patently obvious to anyone whohas ever paid their bills that you just can't spend that much more than you have or will have without their being a vast reckoning. And, our debt is far, far worse than the 16 trillion we routinely talk about as "the debt." The uncounted and unfunded numbers are the truly staggering ones. The real debt is so large that we would have to be idiots not to realize what is going to happen. Yet, on we go. Us and the rest of the world.

With that in mind, I am disappointed, though not at all surprised, that I don't have confidence that Romney is going to succeed. Not that he is a messiah (the usual conservative slur on Obama followers) by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it is important. Though I also believe we will survive and prevail, someday, no matter what our financial stupidity leads us to.  But, it will be much darker and more difficult, and, we best find a way to like it.

But, nevertheless, this bleak preface being done, here's my sense of what has happened and what will happen.

Thank GOD they are over

Okay, the conventions are over. Now, seriously, is there anyone who isn't dependent upon them or makes money off them in some way, who actually enjoys them? They are worse than the Oscars, the gold standard for productions which should be fun, but are stultifying, and which at least have the benefit of celebrity watching and the occasional few seconds when something actually happens, like a celeb we like gets to take home a statue and make a speech.

But, I learned something from the little watching of these conventions that I did and I can't say it makes me happy. Obama is, unless something drastic happens, likely to win, much as I would prefer he wouldn't. What was the highlight of the Republican convention? Clint Eastwood, right? Not that he was really all that good. His shtick was derived from old Morey Amsterdam and Woody Allen routines and was neither smoothly delivered or original. Even the media didn't seem as hyped up as they were four years ago. In the end, the broohaha over Eastwood is largely irrelevant because it really had nothing to do with anything except his own opinion.

And, how much can you remember from the Romney or Ryan speeches? I thought that John McCain gave the best speech of either convention, but, I'm partial to him and still think he should have been president in 2008. And, isn't that really what it comes down to? If you like someone, you often think more of their speech? Did any liberals really like Eastwood's speech, or Romney's or Ryan's? Any conservatives really like Clinton's, Obama's or Biden's? I guess there must be some somewhere who would say so, but you will have to work to find them as they keep it quiet. Moderate independents may seem to have a little more leeway, but instead, they often find themselves disappointed by just about everyone.

What was the highlight of the Democratic convention? A sad spectacle with none of Eastwood's charm. The Democrats vote on their platform concerning the inclusion of God and calling for recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was perhaps the most brazen piece of political chicanery and shamelessness since the passage of the health care act. It was the equivalent of a Potemkin Village. Some might think my feeling is based on bias because I support Romney (at least over Obama - I will likely vote for Gary Johnson) but then you would have to explain why so many at the convention booed the ruling on the vote so heavily. It's not because as some on the right have conjectured, that they were booing God, but instead they were booing both the craven and undemocratic nature of it and mostly, getting robbed. Ultimately (my word for the day), it doesn’t matter much more than the Eastwood speech, as it was an internal matter that has nothing to do with any meaningful issue between the parties. Are we to pick our leaders based on whether they want God mentioned in their platform? Some would say yes, but I think they are a minority. The Jerusalem question is an actual policy issue, but, realistically speaking, both parties have treated the question the same. G. W. Bush issued the same waivers to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that Clinton did and now Obama has. I find it hard to believe that Romney would act much differently, whatever he may say as a candidate. All three previous presidents have claimed that act as a congressional usurpation of presidential powers. I disagree, but history is history.

My feeling during the conventions - both of them - was that ordinary people who vote, but do not spend much time thinking about it (the non-political class) just didn't care much and that was certainly borne out by the ratings.

But, if they are meaningless and boring tripe, for the most part, when the conventions are over, we can often have a better sense of who is going to win. Look at the polls. While you can't take any poll too seriously, and a trend can swing in a single day, for a long time Obama has been winning in most of the battleground or swing states. That is what matters most. Few things are as unimportant as national polls, even if that is primarily what the simple minded media focuses on (and Obama has been consistently up in those too). Take a look at The New York Times or even Fox New's websites, particularly the electoral college maps. That, much more than national polls, tells the story of the election. Around the same time last year, it gave me the bad feeling that Obama was going to win and they do again. I know, anything can happen. But, I feel Romney is already trapped in the narrative of his campaign and it is not getting any traction.

Half right Republicans are too late with too little

Paul Ryan tells us that Obama is taking us down "a path of decline." He’s half right. Obama believes if you redistribute income, and there is nothing else to call what he says is “paying your fair share” in reality, but he did not do this alone, of course. The suggestion that he did for political purposes excites his base but makes some independents made. Obama is doubling down on policies that haven't worked for one hundred years. For example, more recently, some of our financial "geniuses" tried to create a system where by selling mortgages in bulk, the ones likely to fail were hidden in the huge numbers. Perhaps they believed the bad would be watered down by the good. Perhaps that no one would ever  notice. They actually had impossibly complicated and very wrong formulas to prove their theory.  It failed, as all such experiments must fail. But, Obama did not start that system or the welfare state or the endless borrowing. You could argue we’ve been on this path from many points in history, but in some sense it started in the early 1900s, with increased meddling of the government in the economy – things like the income tax and the central bank, the first supposed to create a system where a little bit of our income (no longer little) was hoped to be used to make everyone’s lives a little better and the second to enable the government to fund enormous projects, including, of course, war, and flatten out economic downturns. Both seem, in retrospect, foolish. It was like riding a tiger by its tail. Not only could they not control the economy, but the ability to spend more money just increased congress's fervor to spend yet more.   

It doesn't work because it can't. Picking winners and losers is a terrible development for our country. Can we not see the difference between using tax dollars to build a highway system and giving the same tax dollars to a specific company or industry. Both parties know they are guilty of this. But, we will not stop. Until we do, we cannot expect long term success.

Romney, in my view, would be better than Obama, or Bush for that matter, because I do believe that he means what he says to some degree - that he will at least marginally try to stem the debt, reduce the budget, get rid of business-crushing regulations (some few, anyway) and try and get government out of the way as best as he can. Obama will not do this at all. Instead, he will likely continue to try and take more money from business and taxpayers (now and in the future) to redistribute, but, I believe, harming them. We all know that this doesn't work. We need to slowly change our system (even Ron Paul says slowly) so that we have safety nets, and insurance, not huge entitlement programs. The notion of entitlement, other than to equal rights under the law, has to leave our system of government, except perhaps for those who can neither care for themselves nor are capable of getting the help from friends or even charity. Our economy has not kept pace with the change in our culture that people do not want to share living quarters, or live with their families, or keep granny in the house when grand pa dies. And, all this costs money. Plus, people who are sick, or failing or old are much less likely to die and that costs money. And, we have become the policemen of the world and that costs money. Not least, technology continues to make many jobs unnecessary, or, at least, less valuable. And that is a problem for job seekers.

I may be the only one in the country who thinks the scheduled automatic cuts might be good (I mean, other than John Stossel), but I think they will if allowed to happen. Don't believe Leon Panetta. This is not going to gut our military for generations if anyone there has a brain in their head up in the military, this will make it leaner and smarter. But, only if they are willing to root out corruption and waste.

But, we could go on and on about the economy, and I've covered that before many times. Let's talk politics.

The actual reasons

Why are the Republicans probably going to lose? These are my beliefs.

The Republican Party is much like the Democrats of the 1950s-60s or the Whigs of the 1840s-1850s, split politically and culturally. The split can be seen in a macrocosm at the tea party rallies (Are their tea party rallies anymore? I haven't even heard of one lately.)

One aspect is the libertarian, fiscally conservative, deficit/debt reduction, smaller government, less regulation side.

The other aspect is the pro-religion, pro-life, anti-gay rights (they would say religious freedom) side. I include something specific like gay rights along with the more general religious aspect because it looms so large in our public discourse.

I would hazard a guess that most Republicans feel relatively strongly about both aspects, certainly relative to Democrats and liberals. But, relative to each other, they do not. It seems to me that the economic aspect is more generally felt among Republicans, but that the religious side is more passionately and pro-actively felt. This is the reason that the Republican candidates were able to keep making runs at Romney, but ultimately, either self-destructed or could not satisfy enough fiscal conservatives to succeed. They had economic plans too, but they campaigned on religion. Gingrich said in a debate that people who don't pray have no judgment. Perry said he wanted to bring religion back in the White House. Santorum announced in the first debate that this is what it was all about. Let's face it - "anyone but Romney" was not because conservatives did not believe Romney was a capitalist or fiscally conservative enough, but because they do not believe he is really dedicated to their social values. For my part, I've backed him, but one reason is because I believe he gives the more religious notions of his party lip service and will make them as small a part of his administration as he can make it while not completely pissing off his base.

But, the policy schism of Republicans is not just an in-house affair. It is of the deepest importance to the election because, as I keep reminding anyone who will listen (and, I think even Rush Limbaugh has figured this out now), independents will decide the election. More so, the independents in about a fifth of the states will decide it. I would even guess that most independents have made up their mind already. So, it is really just the super-independents now who matter most, or, those who can still be swung.*
[*I've written previously on what I think being an independent means and don't want to go into it here, but, especially in an election year, the number of independents seems to me to include people who call themselves that, but will almost certainly vote for the party with whom they have always been most comfortable for any number or real or imagined reasons. And, though I don't fully understand why, it also seems to me that many liberals are not as comfortable with their ideological affiliation as conservatives and relatively more of them call themselves independents, but are not. I could not guess at the numbers. But, if I am correct, it is important, as it gives the Democrats a small hidden advantage in the election. And a small advantage with "independents" is all any candidate needs.]
It is impossible to tell, of course, what will tilt enough independents to swing the election. That's what makes them independents. It might be the candidates looks or height, but also temperament. It might also be a feeling that one party is more competent than another or that they share one side's values more.

I am troubled by the example of a young man I know who was very liberal, but has moved more and more over to the fiscally conservative side. But he refuses to vote for Republicans because he believes too many in that party despise him because he is gay. I could, if so inclined, say an analogous thing.  Right now and for a long time, I have more in common in terms of economic theory with Republicans than Democrats. But I am well aware that many conservatives look down on atheists, or, at least stand by quietly while their compatriots disparage them or call for measures that I believe violate the first amendment religion clauses in significant ways. Unlike the young man I know, I deal with it, because, overall, we live in such a tolerant society, the intolerance towards atheists by conservatives, is almost always harmless. I spent 4 1/2 years living in the Bible Belt. There was some discomfort by some friends/acquaintances of mine when they learned I was not a believer. But, they were certainly not violent nor did it end up affecting our personal relationships in any significant way. If anything, it just made them feel bad for me and be curious. Frankly, my personal views on a host of seemingly less controversial matters cause people much more discomfort. There is occasional violence against gays and it is horrible, but it is really rare. And, the ban on their serving openly in the military is now gone. Gay marriage is becoming legal in more and more states and I believe in a generation - say 20 to 25 years - will be to a large degree a non-issue. Similarly, I believe, even if we continue in the endless war with radical Islam, the bias against American-Muslims is relatively mild and will disappear in time. I am not saying there is no important discrimination (it is always more painful when you are the subject of it) but that it is not sufficient now for me to vote Democratic in the presidential election. Times could change that. I have voted for Democrats before and might in the future.

But, that's me. It's not everyone. And I believe there are sufficient numbers of true independents, not liberals thinking they are independents, who are disgusted by conservative social positions and will not vote for them. There was a time that I voted based on those same issues, so it is difficult for me to be too critical of those who still do, but, I think they are making a mistake.  It doesn't mean conservatives need to give up their values, but they do have to live with the consequences.
Neither life nor politics is particularly(or think we are). Two politicians might bang away at each other but one may get beaten up by the media for it and the other not. Two politicians might make gaffes and one gets the reputation as a flubber and the other not. I thought that both Al Gore and George Bush said relatively equal amounts of dumb things in the 2000 election. Yet Al Gore was mocked mercilessly for it and Bush, not so much (then, later on the media tortured him for the same reason). In 2008, I counted three bone-headed statements by Joe Biden (as, apparently, is his wont) in the Veep debate with Sarah Palin and only one by her. But, despite the fact that he was considered the pro and she the newbie, outside of Fox and talk radio, the media and I think independents gave him the nod (not that I think it was a major factor in the election). That's the way it goes. Right now, most of the television and news media is clearly and demonstrably for Obama. They are not fair to Romney on a number of fronts (though he does little to help himself and much to hurt). Obama and his supporters are dreadful with him. And, he and his followers are dreadful about Obama. This much is to be expected. I only concern myself with independents. My impression is that the Romney attacks on Obama are not viewed well by many of them , while they shrug at the unfair attacks by Obama on Romney. It may be that more independents are liberals than I think. It might also be that people just like the usually loose Obama more than the stiff and easy to caricature Romney.

But one reason that criticisms about Obama are falling on deaf ears is that conservatives have for the longest time criticized Obama about everything. The attacks on Reagan were fierce. The first Bush, though he didn't get a second term, seemed to avoid it. But, revenge by the conservatives was taken on Clinton, and then by liberals on Bush, each time increasing in tone and mockery. But, the attacks on Obama have been as great or even greater in my view. Some of them are plain foolish and others too personally disparaging. I include online comments by ordinary readers because other people read them.  It is part of the reason I will blame the far right if Obama wins. This kind of stuff just pisses people off who aren't inclined to hate the president already. The birther claims were completely bogus. Even Sean Hannity knew enough to say he didn't believe it. There were birth notices in two Hawaiian papers, for crying out loud, and don't tell me they knew he'd be running for president some day and were covering. I personally know conservatives who still swear that he is a secret Muslim (and, for some, at the same time, a Black Liberation Church Christian) and an enemy of America. They can't explain how they also criticize him for doubling down on the popular war, Afghanistan, at the same time, continues his drone assassinations and made the call on bin Laden, while he was supposedly secretly hoping for an al Qaeda victory. Please. And, while easy to criticize on domestic policies, he is much less so on foreign affairs. Yet, nothing he does seems in the world seems above criticism to conservatives with the single caveat that many of them grudgingly acknowledge that he gets some credit for at least giving the go ahead to take out bin Laden. Very grudgingly.

To the contrary, while, like all presidents Obama makes foreign policy errors and is tossed about by the things out of his control, Romney's attacks on Obama's foreign affairs all come out as contrived and simply to criticize him. Obama, who went into the presidency naive and a complete foreign affairs beginner, is now - sorry conservatives - much more experienced than Romney. I just say that the economy is so important right now, that foreign affairs just doesn't matter so much. Without a sound economy, we will have no foreign affairs worth discussing except to mourn our loss of prestige and power.

The foreign affairs criticisms may be the best example of why Romney, who should be only talking about the economy and explaining in the simplest terms why socialist or social democratic or progressive economics is a disaster, and never say a word about foreign affairs except that he will learn on the job or general platitudes, is fumbling it big time. He continues to make statements trying to look knowledgeable, yet looks foolish, be it about Russia, China, Israel, the embassy attacks and so on.

It's not that Obama does not have foreign affair faults. He is naive about the Middle East.  He thought he could pacify the jihadist strain of the Islamic world by telling them they are great and just different than us. His rhetoric in this manner exceeded Bush's. His apology tour, though not as bad as claimed by his antagonists, was in fact an apology tour. His vaunted speech in Cairo, though also not as bad as his antagonists claim, sent the wrong message. You can't just talk nicely to everyone. We share many things in common with Islamic countries, but there is a large strain that accepts violence as the solution to disagreement and we cannot reason with them. This is evident by his handling of the embassy crisis ongoing, particularly in the speech of his secretary of state, who pretty much said that free speech is debatable, and their system just a different view, while, of course, condemning the violence. I was also disgusted by our giving billions of our money to Gaza early in his administration, thereby helping Hamas, after Israel justly defended herself against them. And I thought his actions against Libya, while well intentioned, was impeachable and an usurpation of congresses authority that is a signal to future presidents and maybe himself, that congress is irrelevant when it comes to war.

But, unless I am leaving something out that just hasn't occurred to me, that is it. The rest is not so bad and occasionally good. He did get us out of Iraq carefully. He has not abandoned Afghanistan allies, who now understandably depend on us, despite tremendous provocation from their own idiots, and I despair that any president could handle it better without also finding himself somehow on the losing end. Afghanistan is among the most difficult of foreign affair pickles affairs we face, and no good can come of any solution. Despite the impeachable offense of attacking Libya from whom we faced no threat without the permission of congress, he handled it well. No American lives were lost, and though, naturally, it took much longer than he claimed, one of Americas oldest nemeses. Conservatives can mock leading from behind"" all they want. I like it. What we did militarily was exactly what we should be doing more of if we are going to fight a war. Use our technological advantage and spare American military families more suffering. Let others carry the torch. We've done enough as a nation militarily and we all know, even our enemies, that if push ever comes to shove in the world again, all will look to us again.

There is not much he can do with Russia or China. I find nothing he did that some criticize more than carping. They are formidable opponents who are too experienced and self-sufficient to be bullied by us. Ronald Reagan was himself criticized with great fervor by Republicans for being soft on the Soviet Union, particulary when they shot down KAL007. He rightly asked, short of war, what would they have me do? Romney's pre-election aggression towards both those countries is preposterous. He will eat crow for it if elected. They are not our allies, and sometimes cause us grief, but they work with us on many issues. Russia takes our astronauts into space, for crying out loud, and we trade with China as if they were a 51st state. We do oppose them on human rights and they do oppose us when we try to stop their client states or preferred trading partners from committing atrocities, but, we are not going to war with them any time soon (I admit, there are times I have qualms that one day we will wake up and China will be in Taiwan, though they have kept their promise not to do so.)

As for Israel and Palestine, it is another intractable problem that no president has been able to settle. But, I like the way he has handled it better than Bush. First, Israel is not always right and our presidents have always quarreled with them. To use Reagan a second time, no conservative I know with the exception of Ron Paul will even acknowledge that Ronald Reagan had his U.N. Secretary vote to condemn them. CONDEMN THEM. He regularly bickered with them as have both Bushes and Clinton. None of this is secret history (though I like to dwell on these things, I don't have room today.) Bush publicly called for a two state solution at the BEHEST OF SAUDI ARABIA and Obama's suggestion on the borders barely differs from his predecessor's.

With respect to Iran, this is another very thorny problem no one seems to be able to solve. Bush was not equal to it and neither is Obama. Any conservative who wants to criticize Obama for not resolving the dispute has to explain why Bush was helpless to solve it or North Korea either. I certainly would not be surprised that Iran is moving towards a nuclear device, but, I know when I am biased, and there is no smoking gun. We've already done Iraq without evidence and cannot do that again. It is quite possible that we've already taken actions with Israel in killing Iranian scientists and attacking their nuclear industry that are not only despicable, but international crimes, if in fact they are not making a weapon. I say this while despising Iran's government. Israel's own former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan has been outspoken in saying that there are years to go before they have a bomb and we have some time. Ironically, he was on 60 Minutes tonight (I didn't watch, as I have no faith in the show in having even relatively unbiased journalists - but he has spoken elsewhere on it.) What Netanyahu and Romney claim they want is premature. WWII taught us many lessons, but they are not the only lessons. It is not appeasement to refrain from attacking a country when there is not substantial proof they are doing anything wrong. That might be because Iran is very good at hiding it. But, this is a risk we take in the nuclear world. I doubt we will ever outright attack any powerful nation who can harm us because they want or have a nuclear weapon.

I can't be comprehensive, but look at the latest crisis. As I said above, I don't like Obama's verbal response to it. He criticized the message from the Egyptian embassy staffer prior to the outbreak of violence, but after that Clinton's speech was worse and sent the same message. But, let's not pretend that there is anything he can really do other than send warships over there to rattle sabers, threaten financial consequences (and I believe Obama did so to get Morsi and Egypt more in line). He may have done a good job with Egypt, but it is hard to say yet. The governments in the countries where the violence is going on are mostly on our side, at least outwardly. We work with them on terrorism every day. We trade extensively. These countries do not want to become persona non grata in the banking world, which is probably the strongest tool in our belt.
Let me use Reagan, the icon of the right, as another great example. When enough Marines were killed in Lebanon (and mass bombings happened twice in 1983, not just once as is sometimes thought) Reagan had us retreat off shore. Certainly many conservatives cringed when we did but they did not act as if Reagan was incompetent or too willing to accomodate.

The world started changing after WWII. People understood that they could not hope to defeat those so much more powerful than them. Government are more inclined to cooperate, but others are not. So, they found another way. The greatest threats to peace are not just governments, but non-governmental organizations like al-Qaeda and Hizbollah. The only change that will make any long term difference will be internal to the Muslim world, a rejection of violence in response to perceived deviance and an acceptance of what I call the enlightenment values. Short of a modern crusade coupled with genocide, which I do not expect in any way, the war between the cultures will be long and hard fought. No one really knows how to fight it. We just know we have to kill the bad guys and hope to kill as few good guys while we can as we do it, because it is really hard to tell the difference. We will almost always screw up in this manner. No one can claim that Obama has not tried to kill as many "bad guys"as he reasonably could.

But, while considering internal change, let me finish this post with the question - what will happen to the Republican Party internally if Romney loses? The Limbaughs and Gingriches, etc., will claim that it is because they did not go with a true conservative and insist the next candidate be of that mind. By that they will mean, among other things, that they want someone who is against gay marriage, any abortion (for some excepting the situations involving the health of the mother, or rape and incest), wants to prevent Muslims from building mosques in America and establish prayer in school and religious symbolism (mostly Christian) in our government institutions. If they are successful, I believe they will fail in the general election again, and then there will be no defense to the economic policies of the liberals in the Democratic Party.

Another Republican group will claim that the Limbaughs and Gingriches (I use them merely as examples) are the problem. I tend to agree with that, but if that group is successful and right wing third parties may result in the most energetic part of the party ensuring liberal success just the same.

The only resolutions I see that I can at least stomach right now are a Romney victory or, in the event he loses, the unlikely advent of a true middle ground third party, more right than left in economy and law, and more left than right in the religious aspects.  Good luck to me on that one. But, the Republican Party was itself a third party that eclipsed the Whigs. So, you never know.
There is always hope.  

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .