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Posts For: March 21, 2008

Dionne, Confused

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

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The “Iraq Recession” Fallacy

I couldn’t believe my ears when I was on a radio program a few days ago with Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the most liberal members of Congress (she represents Berkeley and environs). She referred to our current economic difficulties as the “Iraq recession,” blaming the downturn not on the mortgage crisis or other commonly cited factors but on the Iraq War. This is a nonsensical argument on its face: If the recession is due to the war in Iraq, why has it started (if in fact it has started—the evidence isn’t definitive) after five years of war?

In a slightly more sophisticated form, Barack Obama picked up this theme in a speech yesterday in West Virginia. Obama is too savvy to come right out and call it the Iraq Recession but he hints at the same linkage: “Because at a time when we’re on the brink of recession–when neighborhoods have For Sale signs outside every home, and working families are struggling to keep up with rising costs–ordinary Americans are paying a price for this war.”

He then goes on to blame the war for the high cost of oil: “When you’re spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you’re paying a price for this war.” But why blame the war for the increase in oil prices?

According to page 36 of the Brookings Iraq Index, Iraq this month will produce 2.44 million barrels of oil a day, close to the peak prewar level (2.5 million barrels). Iraqi oil exports, at 2.11 million barrels a day, are actually higher today than at some periods before the war when exports ranged from 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

In short, it is absurd to suggest that a lack of Iraqi production is responsible for the rise in oil prices; the likely culprits are increased demand in China, India, and other emerging markets.

Obama is more on target when he laments the continuing cost of the war which is running at some $120 billion a year. What he leaves out is any context. The overall size of our economy is $13.1 trillion. So the Iraq War is costing us less than 1% of GDP (0.91% to be exact). Even if you add in the entire defense budget that still only gets us to roughly 4% of GDP—roughly half of what we spent on average during the Cold War, to say nothing of previous “hot” wars such as World War II (34.5% of GDP), Korea (11.7%), and Vietnam (8.9%). (A handy chart may be found here.)

You can make a lot of arguments against the war in Iraq, but the one Obama is now making is the least persuasive of all—that this is a war that “America can’t afford.” At least in dollar terms, it is eminently affordable. What we really can’t afford is a precipitous pullout which, among other consequences, could spread turmoil throughout the Middle East that would greatly exacerbate our current economic woes.

I couldn’t believe my ears when I was on a radio program a few days ago with Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the most liberal members of Congress (she represents Berkeley and environs). She referred to our current economic difficulties as the “Iraq recession,” blaming the downturn not on the mortgage crisis or other commonly cited factors but on the Iraq War. This is a nonsensical argument on its face: If the recession is due to the war in Iraq, why has it started (if in fact it has started—the evidence isn’t definitive) after five years of war?

In a slightly more sophisticated form, Barack Obama picked up this theme in a speech yesterday in West Virginia. Obama is too savvy to come right out and call it the Iraq Recession but he hints at the same linkage: “Because at a time when we’re on the brink of recession–when neighborhoods have For Sale signs outside every home, and working families are struggling to keep up with rising costs–ordinary Americans are paying a price for this war.”

He then goes on to blame the war for the high cost of oil: “When you’re spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you’re paying a price for this war.” But why blame the war for the increase in oil prices?

According to page 36 of the Brookings Iraq Index, Iraq this month will produce 2.44 million barrels of oil a day, close to the peak prewar level (2.5 million barrels). Iraqi oil exports, at 2.11 million barrels a day, are actually higher today than at some periods before the war when exports ranged from 1.7 to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

In short, it is absurd to suggest that a lack of Iraqi production is responsible for the rise in oil prices; the likely culprits are increased demand in China, India, and other emerging markets.

Obama is more on target when he laments the continuing cost of the war which is running at some $120 billion a year. What he leaves out is any context. The overall size of our economy is $13.1 trillion. So the Iraq War is costing us less than 1% of GDP (0.91% to be exact). Even if you add in the entire defense budget that still only gets us to roughly 4% of GDP—roughly half of what we spent on average during the Cold War, to say nothing of previous “hot” wars such as World War II (34.5% of GDP), Korea (11.7%), and Vietnam (8.9%). (A handy chart may be found here.)

You can make a lot of arguments against the war in Iraq, but the one Obama is now making is the least persuasive of all—that this is a war that “America can’t afford.” At least in dollar terms, it is eminently affordable. What we really can’t afford is a precipitous pullout which, among other consequences, could spread turmoil throughout the Middle East that would greatly exacerbate our current economic woes.

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Sectarian Strife–Amongst The Dems

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

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The Other Primaries

In Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton leads by over 15 points on average in recent polling. I am actually in Pennsylvania at the moment and can report that Obama’s radio ads are omnipresent and Clinton’s are not, and tthat there is a surprising lack of lawn signs, bumper stickers, and other indications of grassroots interest in both candidates.

So if an Obama win, or even a respectable finish, seems unlikely there, how do the other states look for him? Obama is ahead, but not by a lot, in North Carolina. And at least one poll has Clinton up big in West Virginia. The race will look quite different, post-Wright, if in mid-May Obama’s only win has been a narrow one in North Carolina, while Clinton has tallied wins in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and maybe Indiana (where a total of 258 delegates are at stake). Is it any wonder Obama is not anxious to allow a Michigan and/or Florida revote?

In Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton leads by over 15 points on average in recent polling. I am actually in Pennsylvania at the moment and can report that Obama’s radio ads are omnipresent and Clinton’s are not, and tthat there is a surprising lack of lawn signs, bumper stickers, and other indications of grassroots interest in both candidates.

So if an Obama win, or even a respectable finish, seems unlikely there, how do the other states look for him? Obama is ahead, but not by a lot, in North Carolina. And at least one poll has Clinton up big in West Virginia. The race will look quite different, post-Wright, if in mid-May Obama’s only win has been a narrow one in North Carolina, while Clinton has tallied wins in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and maybe Indiana (where a total of 258 delegates are at stake). Is it any wonder Obama is not anxious to allow a Michigan and/or Florida revote?

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Taiwan, the Next Tibet?

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.

At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.

“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”

So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.

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Playing Not To Lose

Michigan has joined Florida in failing to reach an agreement on a re-vote. It’s obvious why: the Obama camp has no interest in any solution which could give Hillary Clinton more states and delegates. Clinton is in full outrage mode, declaring during a campaign stop in Indiana:

I do not see how two of our largest and most significant states can be disenfranchised and left out of the process of picking our nominee without raising serious questions about the legitimacy of that nominee. So again, I would call on Senator Obama to join me in supporting the rights of the people of Michigan and Florida to have their voices and their votes counted. I have, as the Democratic National Committee has, come out in favor of an effort for a re-vote in Michigan. I do not understand what Senator Obama is afraid of, but it is going to hurt our party and our chances in November and so I would call on him, once again, to join me in giving the people of Florida and Michigan the chance to be counted as we move forward in this nominating process.

She is right that Obama is taking a risk, in essence betting that the superdelegates and regular voters won’t perceive this as a sign of tremendous anxiety about his electability. He is also betting that neither state’s voters will care when the general election rolls around. If the logjam is not resolved Clinton will no doubt continue to press her case to the DNC. If she succeeds in knocking down Obama’s pledged delegate lead by a few dozen, she will then contend that the critical superdelegates should no longer consider Obama “ahead.” The argument will go: they cannot “follow the people’s votes” if all the people aren’t voting. In short, she will try to convince the superdelegates that Obama’s pledged delegate lead is artificial and illegitimate. Will they buy it? It depends on how many states she wins between now and then and how far he sinks in the polls, I think.

Will Florida and Michigan hold a grudge in November if Obama is the nominee? Given that Michigan insists on re-electing Democrats, no matter how incompetent and adverse to their economic interests, it is unlikely it will make much of a difference there. Florida is another story: McCain–who already has a foothold among Hispanics, seniors, and military voters–would, I suspect, like nothing better that to campaign against a candidate who snubbed the state.

Michigan has joined Florida in failing to reach an agreement on a re-vote. It’s obvious why: the Obama camp has no interest in any solution which could give Hillary Clinton more states and delegates. Clinton is in full outrage mode, declaring during a campaign stop in Indiana:

I do not see how two of our largest and most significant states can be disenfranchised and left out of the process of picking our nominee without raising serious questions about the legitimacy of that nominee. So again, I would call on Senator Obama to join me in supporting the rights of the people of Michigan and Florida to have their voices and their votes counted. I have, as the Democratic National Committee has, come out in favor of an effort for a re-vote in Michigan. I do not understand what Senator Obama is afraid of, but it is going to hurt our party and our chances in November and so I would call on him, once again, to join me in giving the people of Florida and Michigan the chance to be counted as we move forward in this nominating process.

She is right that Obama is taking a risk, in essence betting that the superdelegates and regular voters won’t perceive this as a sign of tremendous anxiety about his electability. He is also betting that neither state’s voters will care when the general election rolls around. If the logjam is not resolved Clinton will no doubt continue to press her case to the DNC. If she succeeds in knocking down Obama’s pledged delegate lead by a few dozen, she will then contend that the critical superdelegates should no longer consider Obama “ahead.” The argument will go: they cannot “follow the people’s votes” if all the people aren’t voting. In short, she will try to convince the superdelegates that Obama’s pledged delegate lead is artificial and illegitimate. Will they buy it? It depends on how many states she wins between now and then and how far he sinks in the polls, I think.

Will Florida and Michigan hold a grudge in November if Obama is the nominee? Given that Michigan insists on re-electing Democrats, no matter how incompetent and adverse to their economic interests, it is unlikely it will make much of a difference there. Florida is another story: McCain–who already has a foothold among Hispanics, seniors, and military voters–would, I suspect, like nothing better that to campaign against a candidate who snubbed the state.

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