By macleans.ca - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 2 Comments
The American electoral scene has been swamped by disillusionment
From a call for hope in 2008 to a cry of anger in 2010. The politics of the United States is nothing if not malleable.
After Barack Obama’s historic and hope-filled ascension to the presidency two years ago, the American electoral scene has been swamped by disillusionment over the policy direction of the federal government, massive increases in public spending, persistent unemployment and a sense of unfulfilled national promise. The surprising success in this week’s mid-term elections of the Tea Party movement, a loosely organized group of mostly Republican voters, has revealed a legitimate and deep-seated anger among American voters. It may be flawed, but the Tea Party cannot be ignored.
Inspired by an on-air rant in February 2009 by CNBC business editor Rick Santelli, the Tea Party has quickly grown into a political movement with very specific interests. Its supporters are hyper-focused on limiting the powers of the federal government, lowering taxes and bending Washington’s ear to these demands. Critics contend, with some justification, that such simplicity ignores the complexities of the real world. And a few high profile Tea Party candidates are clearly not ready for prime time. But simplicity sells. Grassroots populist movements such as the Tea Party have a long and respectable history in North America because of their ability to express popular sentiment. And anger seems a perfectly understandable emotion for Americans to be feeling in 2010.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
What went wrong for the Democrats, what to expect now, and why Obama isn’t done yet
When he strode into office in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the question was whether Barack Obama could rally the nation behind him and emerge as a historic leader, or whether the crisis would destroy him altogether. The answer is becoming clearer. While he can take credit for steering the country away from a full-fledged depression, he hasn’t emerged a greater figure for it. He’s been more like an incredible shrinking president.
“I can’t stop the war / I can’t save the sons and daughters / I can’t change the world and make things fair,” crooned Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow in a downbeat anthem at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the satirical gathering by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that drew hundreds of thousands of Democrats to Washington’s National Mall on Oct. 30. It was hardly “Hope and Change.”
Indeed, “hopeless” might be a more fitting term after the stunning but expected defeat suffered by the Democrats in Tuesday’s mid-term elections. Obama’s party had previously held the House of Representatives by 255 seats to the Republicans’ 178. By the time Maclean’s went to press on Tuesday night, the GOP had decisively won control of the House. In the Senate, Democrats appeared to have held on to a shrunken majority, but one far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome Republicans’ use of filibusters to block votes on legislation and nominees. And across the United States, Republicans made huge gains in gubernatorial races, all the while raising the spectre of the 2012 general election—and that the United States might be witnessing its first one-term presidency since George Bush Sr.’s two decades ago.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 11:11 AM - 0 Comments
Alex Himelfarb considers how progressives can respond to anger.
Canadians deserve an alternative that recognizes that, yes, the system is failing the poor and squeezing the middle and that more of the same won’t cut it; that we are all made weaker when inequality deepens, our environment deteriorates, and our democratic institutions erode; that only through greater equality and democratic revitalisation can citizens retake some measure of control of their lives and their country. A laissez-faire approach of ever lower taxes and less government simply gives a free reign to the very rich and powerful – but in the end serves no one’s interest. Yes we do need to reinvent government, but not to undermine it. We need to open up government, focus it on what it does best, show the value citizens are getting for their taxes, and challenge citizens to get engaged and share responsibility for the future.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp explains how the left should respond to what the right is currently selling.
They say government is too big. We should say poverty, unemployment, and injustice are too big.
They say taxes are too high. We should say there are more important things to tackle right now than reducing taxes for rich people.
They say they’ll give everyone some of their money back. We should say paying for tax cuts by running deficits is theft from our children.
They say it’s time to sell off and privatize schools, hospitals and public services. We should say there are some important things best done together – like good public education for our kids and good health care no matter how big your wallet is.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
The move toward libertarianism is having extreme consequences, as one Tennessee homeowner discovered
It was a situation that seemed unambiguously wrong at first glance: earlier this month, the fire department from South Fulton, Tenn., let a house burn to the ground because the owner hadn’t paid a $75 fee for fire service in rural areas. But according to many U.S. conservatives, the fire department did the right thing. “Letting the house burn,” wrote Jonah Goldberg, author of the bestselling Liberal Fascism, “will probably save more houses over the long haul. I know that if I opted out of the program before, I would be more likely to opt in now.”
There was more. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said that if the fire had been put out, owner Gene Cranick would have been an example of “sponging off your neighbour’s resources.” Bryan Fischer, writing for the Christian conservative group the American Family Association, said that “the fire department did the right and Christian thing”—“we cannot make foolish choices and then get angry at others who will not bail us out.” Fischer added that Christians who believe the house should have been saved have “fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity.” It’s a trend in the Tea Party era: defending the seemingly indefensible.
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 15, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Arnold Schwarzenegger has advice for Russia, Naomi Campbell’s unwitting good deed, and Kim Jong Il’s other son
The prince gets down
Prince Charles, donning a red bindi, charmed locals with a charmingly poor dancing form while visiting the northern Indian city of Jodhpur during India’s Commonwealth Games. After some cajoling, he began to follow the movements of the elderly farmers, and began to smile as he twirled about.
And long may you run
Omemee, Ont., a wide spot on the highway between Lindsay and Peterborough, is the early childhood home of rock icon Neil Young. It’s also the site of Youngtown, a museum packed to the rafters with rock memorabilia of every sort, and a tribute to the Young family, including Neil’s late father, storied sportswriter and author Scott Young. Last week Neil and his older brother, Bob, visited the museum for the first time since it opened in 2008. “The hour-long visit was simply an awesome experience for this writer,” museum founder and collector in chief, Trevor Hosier, wrote on Youngtown’s Facebook page, “and I’m glad to report that we passed the audition.”
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Arizona’s tough-talking cop is a Tea Party favourite, in spite of accusations of financial irregularities
Joe Arpaio’s reputation as a tough-on-immigration sheriff in Arizona is garnering him rock-star status among Tea Party members. And increasingly his influence is extending outside the borders of his home state. Last weekend he headlined a fundraiser for Colorado gubernatorial candidate and Tea Party fave Tom Tancredo.
Arpaio joined Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman in singing the praises of Tancredo, whose anti-immigration bona fides—he lambastes the “cult of multiculturalism”—are as impeccable as those of the sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Arizona’s capital Phoenix. And early in September, Arpaio gave a strong thumbs-up for Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate trying to unseat Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid in next-door Nevada. Angle reciprocated by stating every state needed a police chief like Arpaio.
For the ﬁve-term elected lawman, going after illegals involves more than stopping them crossing the border.
“Let’s say lock them up in the interior,” he declared at a rally near the border with Mexico, organized in part by the Tea Party Caucus. He claims to have arrested, investigated and detained more than 40,000 migrants in the past three years, in part by having officers stop people in immigrant neighbourhoods for minor infractions, such as jaywalking, and then ask their immigration status. Critics call the technique racial proﬁling, a charge Arpaio denies.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was praised for rising above ideology
“Mr. Layton charged the Conservatives’ economic plan was following “some rigid ideology,” as opposed to dealing with the reality of relatively high unemployment.”—Financial Post, Sept. 16
“Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe also took aim at Harper over the gun registry, accusing him of adopting an “ideological” stance to please his political base in the West.”—Montreal Gazette, Sept. 21
“First and foremost, we need to take ourselves seriously again, to pursue an active foreign policy informed by facts and compassion, rather than by ideology.”—Paul Heinbecker, Globe and Mail, Sept. 24
There is no more serious accusation in Canadian politics than that of having an ideology. Politicians would confess to killing their own grandmother rather than own up to such a thing: what the dictionary defines as “a body of ideas.” Possession of cocaine is a charge you can probably survive. But possession of ideas is career-ending.
Rather, practical men that they are, politicians prefer to say they live in the real world, guided, as Ambassador Heinbecker says, by facts, not ideology. “I’m not ideological,” many will say. “I just do what works.”
By John Parisella - Friday, August 27, 2010 at 6:29 PM - 0 Comments
It has been five years since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of…
It has been five years since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico and the bordering states. Many reports this week are showing the incomplete but nonetheless significant resurgence of New Orleans. The citizens of the Gulf states, most recently affected by the BP oil spill, have endured much in the last few years. But they are examples of the American character in action—resilience and the ability to rebound have once again won the day.
What is it in the American character that promotes this capacity to recover, to reverse course when necessary and act in a way that brings progress? Some will argue that American history is full of examples where values and principles gave way to expediency. When slavery was abolished, segregation soon took its place. Yet today, America is governed by an African-American. It may take time, but it seems this most influential of all nations eventually gets it right.
The ongoing resurgence of New Orleans, the resistance to despondency by New Yorkers after the terrible events of 9/11, and the ability to revisit decisions like the one to go to war in Iraq speak to the nature of the American character. The mood in America has been decried of late as angry, with the rise of the Tea Party and the bitter debate over the Ground Zero mosque cited as evidence. This weekend Glenn Beck will deliver an angry address at the Lincoln Memorial, an attempt to simulate the Second Coming or his version of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Meanwhile, the upcoming election cycle has already been interpreted as a rejection of America’s current course of action. But somehow Americans will make it through this period of fierce polarization. The one consistent trait of this country is its character. Five years after Katrina, that much should be clear.
[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec's Delegate General in New York City]
By John Parisella - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 1:21 PM - 0 Comments
The political landscape has changed dramatically since Obama’s election
The origins of the Tea Party movement can be traced back to the winter of 2009 and a rant by CNBC anchor Rick Santelli claiming the Obama administration did not understand what the American people were facing with high unemployment and mortgage foreclosures. Spurred on by Fox News personalities like Glenn Beck, it was not long that public displays of anger soon became part of mainstream media reports. Eventually, last August’s town hall meetings on healthcare reform laid the groundwork for a more organized national movement.
Unlike the Republican social conservatives of recent decades, the Tea Party fed on economic uncertainty using a message that married libertarian politics with strict fiscal conservatism. Its initial audience was an angry segment of the electorate, but its influence soon spread to the mainstream parties, the extent of which became clear by the time the Republican primaries rolled around. While liberal newscasters like Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow were quick to present the movement as a far-right outlier supported by Fox News, right-wing bloggers, and Rush Limbaugh, it seems the so-called fringe movement was much more than that.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 9:57 AM - 181 Comments
Crazed militias. Grassroots revolt. A capital at war. The country is tearing itself apart.
Late last week, as families across the U.S. prepared for Easter, gubernatorial staff in state capitals across the U.S. were busy dealing with a strange homegrown security threat. An organization calling itself the Guardians of the Free Republics, according to its website committed to the “behind-the-scenes peaceful” dismantling of the U.S. government “without controversy, violence or civil war,” had sent letters to all 50 governors telling them to resign within three days or face removal. The demand was part of a “Restore America Plan,” launched, said the group on its website, after “consultation with high-ranking members of the United States armed forces.”
Part of a “sovereign citizenship” fringe in the U.S. that repudiates government and such modern realities as taxes, the Guardians of the Free Republics argues that “illicit corporations” usurped the U.S. federal government in 1933, and refers to the Internal Revenue Service as a “foreign bank cartel.” Its plan seeks a fundamentalist return to the American constitution and an end to both the “foreclosure nightmare” and the horrors of Department of Motor Vehicles registration, which the group refers to as a “hijacking of automobile ownership.” While FBI investigators said they did not believe the letters themselves were threatening, they did worry the group’s anti-government message might spur others to violence.
No wonder. So much has the U.S. surrendered to its anxieties over the last 18 months, to caustic political division and wild conspiracy theory, that the surreal concerns of the Guardians of the Free Republics can sound almost mainstream. Oddball debates over the birthplace of Barack Obama—who so-called “birthers” charge is ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya or Indonesia rather than Hawaii—his religion, and the depth of his relationship with former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers, have collided with the recession’s near-double-digit unemployment and substantive policy debates over industry bailouts, stimulus spending and health care, to trigger an angry grassroots conservative movement almost without parallel in the U.S. Made up of anti-government, anti-tax and anti-abortion agitators, it is now opposed by a Democratic party newly galvanized by its successful passage of health care reform.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 1:10 PM - 29 Comments
George Packer considers the way we discuss this stuff.
Broder wasn’t analyzing Palin’s positions or accusations, or the truth or falsehood of her claims, or even the nature of the emotions that she appeals to. He was reviewing a performance and giving it the thumbs up, using the familiar terminology of political journalism. This has been so characteristic of the coverage of politics for so long that it doesn’t seem in the least bit odd, and it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way. A couple of weeks ago, the Times ran a piece by its lead political reporter, Adam Nagourney, about a Republican strategy session in Hawaii: “Here in Honolulu, the strains within the party over conservative principles versus political pragmatism played out in a sharp and public way, especially as the party establishment struggled to deal with the demands of the Tea Party movement.” The structure of the sentence, and of the article, puts the emphasis entirely on tactics and performance. This kind of prose goes down as easily and unnoticeably as a glass of sparkling water, with no aftertaste. Readers interested in politics drink quarts of it every day without gaining weight. And Broder and Nagourney are at the top of their game.
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
It takes a village to raise an idiot
Jacques Rogge and the rest of the executive board of the International Olympic Committee have relented and will allow the Australian International Olympic Committee to fly its iconic “boxing kangaroo” flag from a balcony of the Vancouver Olympic Village. The flag was ordered removed because the IOC bans unauthorized commercial symbols, and the cartoon ’roo is trademarked, albeit only to the Australian Olympic Committee. The dispute ﬁred up Aussies everywhere. Deputy PM Julia Gillard called it a “scandal.” Vancouver radio phone-in callers raged at the IOC’s bully tactics. IOC spokesman Mark Adams called the issue “a storm in a teacup.” Meantime, athletes are streaming to the Oz sector of the village for a photo with the giant ’roo.
He did it for the kids
It was death in the afternoon for any bull that Jairo Miguel Sànchez Alonso faced Saturday at an arena in southwest Spain. The 16-year-old killed six bulls without mussing his sparkly white suit of lights. He returned to Spain after several years apprenticing in Mexico, where there is no minimum age for fighters. He almost died there in 2007 when a bull gored him. Alonso holds no grudges. “I feel quite bad when the bull has been good and you see the expression on his face, the innocence,” he says. “He has given you his bravery.” The event, while bloody, had a softer side. It was a fundraiser for children with autism.
Bad times for burkas
French Prime Minister François Fillon announced this week he’ll deny citizenship to a Moroccan national who forces his French-born wife to wear a burka. “If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country,” he said. Meantime, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a law banning full burkas is gaining steam. He has declared the full veil and body covering “not welcome” in France, and inconsistent with the country’s values. It’s certainly not welcome in Paris post offices. Two burka-clad robbers walked into a post office in the Paris suburb of Athis Mons, an area with a large immigrant Muslim population. They pulled out handguns and stole the equivalent of $6,000.
Blades of glory
Germany’s Katarina Witt and Canada’s Elizabeth Manley met on the ice in Vancouver Sunday, 22 years after the Teutonic bombshell and Canada’s sweetheart squared off in Calgary during the 1988 Olympics. Witt won gold but Manley, under enormous home-country pressure, pulled off the skate of her life to finish second. Both women are doing television colour commentary in Vancouver, but they took a turn on the Robson Square ice rink with young members of the Coquitlam Skating Club. “We’re not here for a rematch,” joked Manley, 44. “Not at our age, I’m 20—plus tax.” Replied a razor-sharp Witt: “Oh, my God! How much are taxes here?”
Tea time in Tennessee
Cranky country singer and musical comedian Ray Stevens’s flagging career was ready for a death panel. Then the 71-year-old singer of such novelty hits as Ahab the A-rab and Gitarzan wrote We the People, a lighthearted attack on President Barack Obama’s health care initiative. The video, which shows Stevens strumming a bathroom plunger and singing, “You vote Obamacare, we’re gonna vote you outta there,” is a YouTube hit and an unofficial anthem of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. Stevens sang at the group’s convention in Nashville on the weekend, where Sarah Palin raised eyebrows with her $100,000 fee for giving the keynote speech. “That’s a lot of damned tea,” grumbled one delegate.
Do as I say, not as I…ahh-choo!
As deputy health minister for the Czech Republic, Michael Vit has the job of deciding whether to impose mandatory swine flu vaccinations on “all people indispensable for the functioning of the country.” The day after receiving the assignment, Vit came down with H1N1 himself. “I have muscle problems, a headache, simply all symptoms of the flu,” he said. The deputy health minister admitted he had yet to receive the vaccination. “As you see, I’m a living example.”
‘Funeral’ for friends, and strangers
Canadian orchestral rockers Arcade Fire made it to the Super Bowl last weekend, when the group’s stirring anthem Wake Up, from their hit CD Funeral, was used in a series of NFL promo ads. While the group is protective of licensing its music, they had their reasons in this case. They turned over the fat licensing fee to Partners in Health, an agency with deep roots in Haiti. Band member Régine Chassagne’s family came from the island. She expressed her grief in an article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “I am mourning people I know. People I don’t know. People who are still trapped under rubble and won’t be rescued in time.”
Broom versus stick
Icy, obsessed with winning and not above the occasional cheap shot. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and hockey are a match made in heaven. Hockey is “deeply reflective of the character of the nation,” he explained in a pre-Olympic interview with Sports Illustrated. Harper, who has studied the origins of the sport, said it contributes to “a uniquely Canadian sense of belonging in a community across the country.” Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff waxes poetic about a different sport: curling. Naturally, he identifies with the skip. “It’s the leadership and the precision, and the quiet,” he told the Globe and Mail. Apparently he’s not the sort of skip who shouts unseemly commands like, “Hurry, hurry hard.”
Very, very teed off
A Kelowna, B.C., entrepreneur is cashing in on Tiger Woods’s extramarital mayhem. Mike Caldwell has produced the Mistress Collection, a boxed set of 12 golf balls, each bearing a portrait of one of Woods’s mistresses. “He likes to play a round with them…and now you can, too!” notes his website, tailofthetiger.com. Caldwell says he sold 1,500 sets at US$54.90 in the first six days. Less than impressed is Joslyn James, an adult film star and alleged Woods mistress. She called a news conference to denounce the balls as hurtful and in bad taste. “It bothered me to think that someone would be standing with a dangerous club in their hands hitting a ball with my photo on it,” she said. She then showed her sensitive side by releasing 100 tawdry text messages she said she received from Woods.
You don’t want a visit by Oscar
Oscar the cat has a near infallible ability to detect which of the patients in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., is next to die, says Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician. When Oscar curls up with a patient, staff know to phone the next of kin. “It’s like he’s on a vigil,” says Dosa. Such insight would come as no surprise to cat owners, who are themselves terribly smart. Certainly smarter than dog owners, according to a study by Dr. Jane Murray at the University of Bristol. Winston Churchill was a cat lover. Paris Hilton loves dogs. Want more proof? Cat owners (if anyone really owns a cat) are 1.36 times more likely than dog owners to hold a university degree. They’re also 100 per cent less likely to have to follow behind their pet and scoop droppings off the sidewalk.
Gay but not cheerful
The headline in the Seattle Weekly says it all: “Gay, mentally challenged biracial male cheerleader claims discrimination.” All that high school student Benjamin Grundy wants is to shake his pom-poms like the girls on the squad at Garfield-Palouse High School in tiny Palouse, Wash. Instead, the cheer coach suggested he’d make a great mascot. He was eventually given a cheerleader’s top but denied the rest of the uniform, pom-poms, and the right to join the dance routine. “I was reduced to standing there and moving my arms,” he says. The school board denies discrimination, but Benjamin’s mother, Suzanne Grundy, is pressing the case with the ACLU and her congressman. “The combination of a biracial, mentally challenged gay male may be too much for them,” she told the local TV station.
L’état c’est moi
Quebec’s Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne has revived a tradition that ended 44 years ago—awarding medals, in gold, silver and bronze, and bearing his coat of arms, to those making contributions to their communities. The practice of awarding such medals ended in 1966 after Quebec nationalists condemned the symbolic tie with the monarchy. Duchesne has no such qualms: he also invoked royal privilege to avoid testifying before a national assembly committee on how he spends some $1 million annually in taxpayer money. His refusal to testify was condemned by all sides of the legislature.
Disharmony in the house of Wang
It was Hong Kong feng shui master Tony Chan’s skills in arranging buildings to create a positive life force that drew Chan to the eccentric, pigtailed property magnate Nina Wang. He began a 15-year affair with Wang, 23 years his senior. Now, he’s accused of arranging her $4-billion fortune in a manner auspicious to himself. When she died at 69 in 2007, he claimed to be her sole heir. Her family contested the will, and he’s charged with forgery.
She also has a Ph.D. in thankless tasks
Leila Ghannam, a former Palestinian intelligence officer, is the first woman governor of Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the West Bank. Her challenge is to quash a resurgence by hard-liners in Hamas. “My intelligence experience, like my degree in psychology, helps me carry out my job,” she says.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:49 AM - 109 Comments
Does the U.S. face a period of indiscriminate populism in its political life? New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks so:
Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year. The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.
…The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.
When I got to end of the column I said to myself, “Okay, so Brooks thinks the financial crisis has created a general crisis in social authority.” But look closely: Brooks doesn’t actually mention the financial crisis or the recession at all. He provides a prediction without a shred of diagnosis. He doesn’t, technically, get beyond mentioning a “sour mood” in pinpointing the reasons for populist reaction.
I don’t know that his story holds up. Is opposition to abortion stronger in the United States now than it was in, say, 1982? There are a lot of evangelical Tea Partiers, but what appears to make the Tea Partiers different from the old Moral Majority is precisely the lack of shared religious premises. The premise is, “Get off our backs.” The movement is an instinctual, angry resistance to political engineering by centralized, distant authority, whether it’s the engineering of communities, individuals, or small businesses.
To a first approximation it looks libertarian. It’s actually subsidiarist: it’s against big central authority because it is big and central, not because it’s authority. Procedurally, a lot of libertarians are practical subsidiarists on the grounds that this is the best way of broadly guaranteeing liberty. Small local authorities have natural limits to their power (they can’t become totalitarian), they can be shamed by comparison to immediate neighbours, and they are easier to vote against with one’s feet. But subsidiarism should not be confused with libertarianism or classical liberalism. They are, to some degree, orthogonal quantities.
And in some ways they are inherently in tension with one another. In the U.S. context (and in ours), some federal interventions, Roe v. Wade being an obvious example, are designed to protect the individual from her community. The essential comic heart of all American politics, beating loudly in the breasts of every Tea Partier, is that the U.S. Constitution is the big, centralized, dumb, unconditional, non-local authority to end all such authorities—a personal guarantee, to every living soul from sea to sea, of liberal republican government whether he likes it or not. The Constitution is often considered to have the stamp of divinity upon it, and is spoken of that way even by people who may not literally believe such a thing; and every party cites the Constitution (leaning on its spirit or its letter, as the occasion requires) against every other, just as opposition parties in monarchies used to argue that the king needed “rescuing” from his evil advisors.
(Don’t snicker too loudly, by the way: Canada shall end up that way before too long. We have already seen our Charter of Rights dissociated from the modest, limited intentions of its framers, some of whom are still alive, and cited against them. The document is acquiring a nimbus of divinity before our eyes.)
Anyway, what was I talking about? Right, David Brooks. He raises the interesting possibility, though tacitly, that the economic train wreck of 2008-09 may have helped promote or dignify climate-change doubt. Politicians and policymakers, listening carefully to the best advice of a consensus of accredited experts and considering the implications, led us headlong into a bramble of bad mortgages and crazy debt-commoditization instruments over the objections of a few commonsensical skeptics. But don’t worry: when it comes to the climate, those same educated people are really really sure they’re right!
There are all kinds of reasons laymen should beware of making a connection like this, but some certainly are. To the degree that the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is a product of “hard science”, that science does not deserve to be compared to macroeconomics, where first principles are still poorly confirmed and subject to wide disagreement. “Hard science” is, in general, the most successful intellectual project in the history of the species. On the other hand, there’s hard and then there’s hard. AGW actually involves a chain of propositions ranging on the “hardness” scale from stainless steel to porridge, it can only be as strong at most as the weakest of those propositions, and any practical policy recommendation concerning AGW inherently involves another layer of goopy softness. There is also the problem that the “hard science” reaches us largely through summaries and reports concocted, and perhaps distorted (consciously or otherwise), by the politicians and policymakers at the front line of the process.
The science-media-politics network (I sound like a Tea Partier calling it that, I guess) deserves trust: it has helped bring us out of a world of hookworm, typhoid, and killer smogs. It also had us eating trans-fatty margarine instead of butter in the name of health for 20 years, waiting in terror for a North American heterosexually-transmitted AIDS epidemic that never turned up, and gulping Vioxx like candy. In other words, what we have is a good old-fashioned Hegelian dialectic: we forget very easily how much “expert” scientific knowledge invisibly enhances every hour of our lives, and yet “experts” working at the margins of established knowledge do sometimes grow overconfident and execute pratfalls. This, I guess, brings us only as far as where Andrew Coyne already started out.
By John Parisella - Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 4:18 PM - 88 Comments
Jimmy Carter stirred up controversy recently by saying Barack Obama’s opponents are primarily motivated…
Jimmy Carter stirred up controversy recently by saying Barack Obama’s opponents are primarily motivated by racism. His comments provoked far right talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh (himself no stranger to controversy) and other conservatives to attack Carter for using race to shut down debate over the president’s agenda. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd sang a similar tune earlier in the week about the current climate in America. Both pointed to posters and drawings that depict Obama as a witch doctor or make reference to his Kenyan roots, with some even calling him the new Hitler. Whether or not one agrees with Dowd and Carter, racially-inspired slogans and cartoons were indeed present at the Tea Party in Washington last Saturday, along with an even more disconcerting sign that read “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.” These types of depictions deserve to be condemned and repudiated as being unrepresentative of the spirit behind the demonstrations. Unfortunately, very few, if any, spokespersons or organizers of the protest have come out to set the record straight.
A number of prominent Republican leaders have adeptly argued against too much government, huge deficits, rampant debt and Obama healthcare plan. All are legitimate issues over which to call a peaceful demonstration. But no one has said a word against the marginal fringe. Where are Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney? (The same argument could have been made against liberals and their indulgence of the more zealous factions of the American left during the George W. Bush years.)