Vox Populi

Radical acts of shocking normality.

Proponents of same-sex marriage rights have mined public opinion polls for auspicious results, and there are several positive indicators — a Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research Associates poll this week shows that American under 30 overwhelmingly favor legal recognition of same-sex relationships. An Annenberg Election Survey poll published this week reveals that Americans oppose a constitutional amendment such as the FMA supported by President Bush by a 50-42% margin. What these polls don’t illustrate is how Americans in the middle arrive at acceptance from a departure point of skittishness and discomfort. In response to the relative calm in what could’ve been a tumultuous week in Boston and around the nation, ShriekingViolet offers some answers.

Subject: “Radical acts of shocking normality
From:     ShriekingViolet
Date:     Fri May 21 1027hPerhaps the most amazing development in the dawn of gay marriage in Massachusetts is the near absence of controversy. There’s been a fair bit of mouth-frothing histrionics from the usual suspects, but mainstream America seems mostly to have collectively shrugged at this historic occasion.

Perhaps this is because the recent acts of marital civil disobedience in San Francisco and elsewhere stole the thunder from Massachusetts. This week’s events have been perfectly legal and mundane by comparison.

Perhaps it’s because the news is still dominated by disturbing pictures of straight men and women piling straight, handcuffed Arab men into naked pyramids. After a month of that mess, the sight of happy brides clutching marriage licenses and posing for photographs seems too mundane and conservative to register on the shock meter.

Perhaps it’s because there really is a slippery slope at work here. After years of slowly discovering that gay men and women are essentially the same as everyone else, and pose no threat to any person or social institution in America, the whole country is sliding down a dangerous path toward common sense.

Yours truly, ever the eternal pessimist, has actually begun to look at this issue from a glass-half-full perspective. Because no movement can ultimately succeed when the majority of people identifies more closely with the opposition.

Most white Americans, however uncomfortable they may have been with racial integration, ultimately took a good, long look at the ministers and peaceful marchers of the Civil Rights movement, and at the firehose-wielding police and the hatemongering Klansmen who opposed them, and sided with the protesters.

It is my hope, and indeed my belief, that most Americans will take a good, long look at the happy, perfectly normal men and women beaming with pride as they take their wedding vows, and at the wild-eyed angry people carrying “God Hates Fags” signs and taunting them, and see more of themselves in the newlyweds. Folks in Massachusetts will have two years to watch this drama unfold before the Constitutional Amendment turns up on their ballot. They will be asked to choose between upholding the vows of love and commitment made by decent people, or stripping away those marriage licenses to appease the wrath of those who preach discrimination.

It’s just a hunch, but I think the shocking normalcy of gay marriage may ultimately sway moderate voters to take the side of something they understand — love and marriage — against something they don’t — puritanical anger against an act of love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Early Returns: Democratic fraysters aren’t taking kindly to William Saletan’s new feature, Kerryisms. Saletan pokes fun at Kerry’s serpentine sentence construction and burdensome oratory, just as Jacob Weisberg has built a cottage industry mocking President Bush’s malapropisms and on-the-job English language ulpan. Here, TheJew attributes Kerry’s free use of subordinate clauses and modifiers as the candidate’s

attempting to deal with sound bite culture and right wing distortion. The fact that he has to insert clarifications every five words is simply a result of the fact that he may only get ten words to some ears.
Iron_Lungfish offers the best indictment of the feature, namely that it’s beneath Slate to join the food fight of anti-intellectualism:
What is created here is an equivalence between intellectualism and ignorance…Jacob Weisberg has argued to great effect that George Bush’s idiocy is a chosen idiocy … What Bush has counted on is the long and shameful American tradition of equating folksiness and ignorance with the masses, and intelligence and learning with elitism … What is happening here is not the stigmatization of wealth, background and privilege - what truly create the “elite” — but the stigmatization of intellect. George Bush wants you to hate smart people, and Slate is happy to tell you that’s okay.”Bushisms” accuses the president of being clumsy and stupid. Of what does “Kerryisms” accuse the Democratic candidate? Of “pointless embellishments.” Of not speaking “plain english.” Of being “evasive.” Now, Kerry’s overwrought rhetoric is a lot of things — it’s anachronistic, it’s long-winded, it’s campaign poison. But how exactly is using a lot of big words inherently “evasive”? Kerry’s full quote reads like an awkward mess — but there’s nothing being hidden by this overly-flowery speechifying.

What kind of a statement is Slate making with this new feature, then? It can’t simply be a devotional stance to journalistic tit-for-tat — Slate already has Mickey Kaus to drudge up any “Kerryism” out there. The only statement it makes is the statement George Bush has already been making: You can’t trust that one. He’s not like you. He’s smart.
But MikeMillennium puts a positive spin on Kerryisms:
Saletan is performing a valuable service … by stripping out the senator’s qualifying verbiage, he’s giving us an image of the Kerry we’d prefer to have, a man of boldness and vision who has firm ideas and speaks in clear-cut sentences. With luck, this could persuade some that Kerry is worth a vote despite the problem of his equivocating. Then if he’s elected, we’d have to hold our breath and hope that Kerry becomes bolder in deed than he was in word.
Moloch-Agonistes makes a quasi-Hegelian “case for Kerryisms” here, arguing that
whining about this new feature is kind of counterproductive. You just look like a sorehead–same as people who bitch about the Bush version … by complaining you’re more or less conceding the point that Bushisms was simply a hatchet job. If it’s a “snarky” dig to compare simple declarative sentences with the ones that actually come out of Kerry’s mouth, then the justification for parsing the, ah, simple declarative sentences of his opponent moves several notches backward on the PartisanYammering-SoberAnalysis continuum.Moroever, with the advent of Kerryisms, I think an argument can be made that its Gnostic twin got a whole lot more interesting. For a significant part of the electorate, this election really is in part about whether the model of a political leader ought to be “someone like me” or “someone I look up to.” Looked at dispassionately, Kerryisms simply cuts JFK’s remarks down to what he would have said if he were an example of the “something like me” model. It’s not that this is what Saletan thinks he should have said, it’s that this is what he might have said had he, like his colleague from Conn — ah, Texas, been a member of the pork rinds and motor oil school of electoral politics.

Basically, by moaning about Kerryisms you’re removing an excellent post-facto justification for laughing at Bush. I think it’s pretty clear that the examples chosen thus far are pretty much softballs. Unless you are truly a fan of Airplane-Cabinese, Kerry comes out looking fairly good, especially in comparison to G. Walker Texas Ranger.
And Publius — baron of brevity — sees and raises Saletan hereKA2:55 p.m.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Left Turn Only: Embedded deep inside a thread initiated by DallasNE on BOTF is a post by AdamMorgan on last week’s upset election of the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress. According to AM, the central factor in the Congress victory is that “the rural poor weren’t participating in the economic prosperity,” the same reason that the BJP won in 1998. AM writes:

If … the rural poor are going to benefit from the economic prosperity, and the political party in power is likely to benefit from it, the relationship that the central government has in Indians lives has to change.

Specifically, manufacturing jobs have to be created, as they were and are created in China. This is going to take a large investment in infrastructure development: roads, ports, railways. If this is going to happen, the government is going to have to collect taxes, much more than it’s presently doing. And, if this is going to happen, the corruption that the central government is infamous for is going to have to be addressed seriously.
There’s a wild card, too, in India’s potential ascendancy — one that can be found in China’s burgeoning (overheating?) economy:
Japan has been strongly involved in China’s rapid economic development since the mid 1980s. Specifically, they have a large soft loan program … with the specific interests of aiding Japanese manufacturing companies. Japan, a couple of months ago, announced, after China launched a manned space ship, that it’s going to phase out the $120 billion program it lends China and almost all of that money is going to be redirected to India. This could have as dramatic effect on India as it did on China. Concerning the politics, the next government, the Congress Party, could very well hugely benefit from this large Japanese investment.
Fray_Editor has yet to read a post on Gandhi’s decision to drop out of the race for Prime Minister, but welcomes commentary on Dispatches Fray and Foreigners Fray on that or Congress’ attempts to build a coalition government. Here’s the Pitch: Longtime Sports Nut reader august feels like Uni Watch has run its course. Here’s his take:
I don’t care about uniforms. I know that there are people out there who pay enormous sums of money for jerseys, and I would be interested in reading about that, but for Slate the story seems to be the clothes rather than the people who wear them…If there are legions of “Uni Watch” fans out there, feel free to raise a chorus of dissent … I suspect Slate is trying to take on stories that differ from the near ubiquitous sports coverage on the web and in other media, but somewhere in the quest to be unique you have grasped onto topics so esoteric that they completely miss your audience (which I take to be the portion of your well-educated readers who care about sports).
A steamy august tosses out some pitches for future sports nuts, including:
A few years ago there was a book, Bowling Alone, that suggested connections between participation in sports and participation in politics and other aspects of civic life. You could look at a few neighborhood leagues and see how this plays out…I don’t think it would kill Slate to do traditional sports stories … or (if this seems too redundant), then foreign sports. I’d like to know more about India and Pakistan’s recent cricket series, Arsenal’s undefeated season in English Premier League (call Nick Hornby!), who’s likely to win Rugby world cup…
For the record, Fr_Ed believes that Major League Baseball home teams that wear solids should be banished — teams east of the Mississippi to old Exhibition Stadium and teams West to Candlestick Park. On the Crown: So far as john_majiro’s (1) Q = k / (F - n) quality-of-posting formula, if you’re scoring at home, Demosthenes2 has to be this week’s Fantasy Frayster league leader. Check out his posts here, here and here. The Offer Still Stands: I’ve notified the PTB that doodahman’s bags are still packed … KA 10:45 a.m.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

How much responsibility does the citizenry bear for a nation’s course — particularly in a time of war?  And while there are those who feel that staying the proverbial course is essential in a time of crisis, have we failed as a nation to take proper inventory of our collective moral and political spirit?

Subject: “Quomodo sola sedet civitas
From:     Fritz_Gerlich
Date:     Fri May 14 0057hThe United States is losing in Iraq, just as it lost in Vietnam, and for the same reason: we long ago put our faith in technology (and its administrative cousins, management and public relations) rather than in spirit. “Spirit” not as in metaphysics or religion, but in the sense of elan moral, moral force or thrust, the temporary fusion of individual and group wills that lifts people to do great (and often terrible) things. Brief wars against greatly inferior enemies (which describes every war the United States fought between Vietnam and the present Iraq war) do nothing to test a nation’s spirit, and hence may be won solely by a professional military wielding lethal technology. Long, hard wars requiring national sacrifice, including especially the re-examination of dearly held notions and emotions, cannot be. They quickly reveal their emptiness of widely shared moral purpose; and then they become monstrous by attracting the worst instead of the best, Calleys instead of McCains. This is one reason war is nothing to trifle with.

Leadership does not create spirit. But it recognizes, articulates and channels it. “Leadership” does not mean just the White House; it means the collective national leadership, as most potently symbolized by the president. From the standpoint of the evocation of spirit, our leadership is comically inept. It is easy to make the current hapless president the whipping boy, for his malapropisms, his shapeless thoughts and clumsy evasions, but in truth his more clever and articulate colleagues in both parties (with exceptions that might be counted on the fingers of a well-maimed hand) have no more ability than he to command broad loyalties oriented toward the noble. Citizens understand that the entire system was corrupted long ago by money and well-intentioned deception; the current president merely makes blatant a reality that had been sloppily veiled.

Myopia and pretense at the top lead to confusion at the bottom. Here, “bottom” can mean both the soldiers and sailors hired to carry out the will of the leadership, and also the citizenry. Increasingly, it appears that American forces within Iraq are confused about their mission (to defeat an enemy? or to rebuild a nation?) and frustrated by their inability to feel progress in accomplishing whatever it may be. The misbehavior of the prison guards and interrogators is one symptom of this moral degeneration within the military; many others are doubtless still hidden from sight. But little frustration is yet evident among the citizens. In all probability that because it is an election year, and most people are hoping that these issues will be sufficiently clarified by the election to be able to make a choice, and if necessary a change, to set matters right. An illusion, alas, in view of what was said above about the labyrinthine fraudulence of the political system. Mere substitution of a president cannot in itself supply the missing ingredients: a viable objective, a plan based on knowledge and critical thinking, and the inspiration of citizens to adopt that plan as their own and be willing to discipline themselves for the sake of it. With those, indeed, a new leadership might be able to accomplish something. But the president is just the most colorful clown on the stage. Yanking the old one and putting a new in is not going to change the fact that it is still a clown show.

Meanwhile, we are still the same rapacious, impatient, self-righteous nation we always were. These characteristics express themselves irrespective of political party. And the probability is that they are going to keep getting us into trouble, as they always have. Either they will entice us to further rash military entanglements which then begin to disintegrate along now-familiar lines (since they will have no more moral force behind them than the present one does), or they will drive us into abrupt changes of course not in the interest of regional or world stability, or in our own best interests.

Actually, the United States is one of the greatest causes of instability at present, because of its abiding Cold War conviction that it has both the right and the ability to meddle anywhere around the globe. During the Cold War, this was somewhat constrained by our recognition that we could not “contain communism” without building lasting alliances, which required us to behave in predictable ways and with the consent of others. But now that we choose weak targets of opportunity, like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and North Korea (not to speak of anybody anywhere whom we label a “terrorist”), we dispense not only with meaningful or lasting alliances, not only with international institutions, but even with international law. How a freelance global hegemon like that could be anything but destabilizing is hard to see. The end point of such a trajectory, if it is not cut short by internal decisions, is the formation of an international alliance against us. Niall Ferguson said in Slate just a week or two ago “that is now just a matter of time.”

Our reckless international trajectory will not be stopped by internal political developments. Our civic culture has decayed to the point of incoherence. Our political culture is a matter of bribery under other names (and it is very likely only a step or two away from street warfare, especially if Mr. Bush is re-appointed president). In such soil authentic leadership does not thrive and spirit, therefore, remains subterranean. This leaves the way open for opportunists who crave the presidency like Romans of old schemed and murdered for the emperorship. After all, the American president now rules with the prerogative of private war — covert, overt, or both, as he chooses. (The present war retired any lingering illusions about an opposition party making him actually prove a case for war.) Few other modern leaders have that … except in the countries we now choose as adversaries.

The future is bleak for the United States. The reason is not so much any external trend or adversary, as who, and what, we have become. September 11 called upon us to exact due vengeance, to protect ourselves, and above all to conduct a great national inquiry into who we are and who we should try to be. It gave us a priceless opportunity to question whether the habits and instincts built up over the preceding half-century were the best to serve us in the next half-century. It was a moment of our history that cried out for greatness. And we were found wanting.

Our walls still stand, pennons still fly from the battlements. But where the spirit has fled, vultures gather.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Moral Equivalency, Part II: In response to locdog’s Vox Populi, frankly_ writes:

As soon as I start regarding my government and members of my armed forces as terrorists and holding them up to the same standard as a bunch of fucking terrorists, I will start agreeing with your “what they did was far worse than what we did” argument.
“It’s not enough to repeatedly assert that American democracy is self-evidently good, and militant Islam is self-evidently bad,” writes Thrasymachus here:
You’re looking at identically shitty examples of human conduct and saying that they symbolize two completely different things because Americans are “good” and militant Islamists are “bad”.

Goodness is as goodness does, Loc. Atrocities have been committed in our name, on the orders of our government’s lawful representatives, by people who wear the American flag.

Does what happened to Berg change the smallest detail of that horror? Should it mediate our response in any way?
Shrieking_Violet tells locdog, “Though we may disagree on nearly everything else in American politics,” she shares his view that
this whole Mess-o-Potamia has now become a front in the war against AQ and militant Islam. This is a war we need to win, and we cannot afford to run away or allow our enemies to convince the world that we are no better than they are.
SV continues here:
We can’t merely be BETTER THAN the terrorists. We have to be near-flawless examples of why democratic values are superior. The policy of performing random street sweeps, and subjecting civilians, many of them innocent, to brutal interrogation methods was not the result of a breakdown in the chain of command. These orders came from the top, and the people at the top need to be held accountable for creating an environment where this could happen.

Yes, it’s damned hard to hold our military to civilian legal standards in wartime during a guerilla insurrection. This is why it was a very risky idea to invade Iraq in the first place. But we’re there now, and we need to pull it off.
SV sets the bar in Iraq exactly where it should be. Ticking Clock: Was 60 Minutes II wrong to have broadcasted the Abu Ghraib photos to the world? Mickey Kaus agrees with Jonah Goldberg that it was a lousy decision. A host of fraysters disagree, including sb1564 here and greedytriallawyer (!) here:
All Democratic institutions pre-suppose the public has enough sense to make rational decisions if provided with the relevant information. What otherwise is the hope of a system that entrusts the vote to beings incapable of deciphering right from wrong and truth from untruth.

In supporting are true free press, I mean to support publishing all relevant information, regardless of which candidate it hurts or helps. That means that the decapitations see the light of day, as readily as do the prison photos…If we are too weak or timid to face the truth, there is no future for Democracy.
While greedy conjures up John Stuart Mill in his post, drlaz offers a more deliberate, point-by-point rebuttal of Kaus:
(1) The Iraqis who were suffering torture knew all about it. Perhaps photographs sped up the recruitment of terrorists, but as the victims re-entered society, word would inevitably spread. And as usual with cover-ups, the American people would have been the last to know. Indeed, we would have been sitting there like idiots, saying “Why do they hate us and our enlightened occupation?” Kaus says that a description would have been enough, but it isn’t because…

(2) Far fewer Americans would have believed this story in the absence of seeing photos with their own eyes. Why do you think we made Germans walk through the liberated concentration camps instead of hearing all about them on the radio, or some other non-visual way? Kaus says OK if we didn’t remedy the problem, then CBS could show the photos, but that’s silly because…

(3) The coverup was already in place. Even now the Administration is desperately trying to divert attention from its network of black-hole prisons at Gitmo, Afghanistan, and Iraq…
Irony alert: The new batch of photos is being withheld at present in part for legal considerations. Which considerations are those? The Geneva Conventions—the release of said photos may violate the privacy of Iraqi prisoners … KA 9:10 a.m.