Monthly Archives: March 2006

Taliban Yalie redux, the liberals, and Jim Sleeper

I have written twice before about the saga of Rahmatullah Hashemi, a.k.a. Yale Taliban man — the former Taliban spokesman who is now studying in a special program at Yale and may be admitted as a full student next fall. The latest from the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund, who has been on the trail of this story, here.

Among other things, Fund reports allegations that Richard Shaw, the former dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale (and now an official at Stanford), “ran roughshod” over the committee designated to approve the selection of special students when he steamrolled through Hashemi’s admission.

Fund also reports on some interesting reactions on campus:

The Yale College Council, the undergraduate student government, last night debated a resolution urging that in seeking to develop future leaders Yale must recognize that goal “can only be fulfilled by those individuals who possess a genuine moral concern and consideration for others unlike themselves.” The Yale College Council debate ended last night with no resolution and will continued. Several student representatives pleaded for “tolerance” for Mr. Hashemi even though he wasn’t even mentioned in the mild resolution.” But is there any doubt that by defending and promoting the Taliban’s reign of terror, Mr. Hashemi fails Yale’s own test of moral character?

….

Last week, I attended a talk at Yale by Malalai Joya, a 27-year-old member of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban parliament. She spoke in English about her concern about U.S. policies which she believes are indirectly supporting warlords and retarding women’s rights in her country. She was applauded vigorously.

But after her prepared remarks, she denounced Mr. Hashemi’s presence on campus. Her message could not have been more clear. “The freedom-loving people of the USA should raise their voice against existence of such criminals in your country,” she shouted. After her remarks, the crowd of 200 was completely silent, until the moderator stepped forward and invited questions. None of the six questioners mentioned Mr. Hashemi, even though he had just been condemned in the strongest possible terms by one of his nation’s most prominent politicians.

Why? Makai Rohbar, Ms. Joya’s backup translator that evening, believes that the lack of reaction might be explained “because of it being easy to worry about something far away from campus, but not when it is right next to you.” Other students I interviewed at the reception afterwards more or less concurred that discussing Mr. Hashemi was more difficult because, as one put it, “he’s now part of the Yale community.”

You have to wonder: would the same acceptance as “part of the Yale community” be extended to a former Ku Klux Klan spokesman, particularly a barely repentant one who regretted only not being more soft-spoken in presenting his emssage? Fund reports on the outrage at Yale when a legal scholar named Kelly Camara was invited to speak on a panel. In 2002, Camara was at the center of a controversy when, as a first-year student at Harvard Law School (at the age of 17!), he posted some class notes on his website referring to blacks as “nigs” in discussing a property rights case which helped end racially resrictive covenants. Camara quickly took down the notes and repeatedly apologized, but that has not been enough to satisfy some:

When it was learned Mr. Camara would be speaking at Yale, a campus petition was circulated urging that his invitation be reconsidered. When he did show up, one-third of the audience–including law school dean Harold Koh–stood up and walked out in protest. Mr. Koh told the Yale Daily News he left because he considers “racist speech to be an affront to each and every person in our community.”

And propaganda for a murderous, repressive, misogynistic regime, apparently, is not.

Meanwhile, Jim Sleeper, lecturer in political science at Yale, who previously reacted to the story by slamming Fund, is at it again. In another column at The American Prospect Online, he levels the charge of liberal-baiting at those who have criticized Yale over the Hashemi admission — including yours truly. Sleeper once again pushes the idea that the admission may have been engineered not by diversity-mad liberals but by conservatives eager to exploit Hashemi’s possible intelligence connections. He once again does not mention that Fund discussed this possibility in his second piece on the story. He trumpets (but does not link) Hamilton Stephens’ blog item on the subject, which, he says, “produced a 1996 Outside magazine profile of Hoover by New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel that mentioned Hoover’s CIA and State Department contacts.” Well, not quite. The profile said:

Hoover entered Afghanistan 22 times with NIFA to cover the war against the Soviet Union, which invaded the country in 1979. Much of his footage ran on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Freelancers like Hoover were among the few sources of information, and he says that twice he was debriefed in Washington by William Casey, then head of the CIA.

Thus, it was Hoover himself who mentions his CIA debriefing (as I previously asked, would he do that if he really had intelligence ties?); there is no mention of any State Department contacts.

In any case, I will repeat my earlier question: let’s suppose that, in fact, a coveted place at Yale is being used as a reward for cooperation with U.S. intelligence. Surely that’s as scandalous as a former Taliban spokesman being admitted to Yale as a diversity pick. In fact, to liberals, it ought to be even more scandalous. So, where’s the outrage? Certainly not in Sleeper’s column. This is all he has to say on the substance of the story:

Impressed with America, Hashemi had regretted his spin-doctoring for mullahs and is now, at 27, a special student at Yale. Although administrators there had known of his past and vetted him, the Times report took most of us who teach there by surprise.

And … that’s all? Does Sleeper believe that Hashemi, whose “regrets” are very limited and who still defends most of his actions, belongs at Yale? What does he have to say to Malalai Joya? Really, I’d like to know. Instead, he lashes out at Fund, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and me for supposedly “running and shouting, ‘Liberals, liberals, liberals!’” Well, that sounds like Hannity all right, but I don’t see that Fund is doing that in his columns on the Yale Taliban story (in fact, he has quoted liberals who disagree with the school’s decision to admit Hashemi), and I’m certainly not doing that. This shouldn’t be a liberal vs. conservative issue.

Speaking of which, Jamie Kirchik, another Jim Sleeper target, has an excellent column in the Yale Daily News, “Two Afghanis,” about Hashemi and Joya. Money quote, as Andrew Sullivan would say:

Whether one believes Hashemi should be at Yale or not, his presence has been instructive in one way: It has caused a reckoning at Yale over the issue of cultural relativism.

Outrage over religious fascism ought to be the province of American liberals. But in Hashemi’s case it has been almost entirely trumpeted by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and right-wing bloggers. A friend of mine recently remarked that part of his and his peers’ nonchalance (and in some cases, support for) Hashemi has to do with the fact that the right has seized upon the issue. Our politics have become so polarized that many are willing to take positions based on the inverse of their opponents’. This abandonment of classical liberal values at the expense of political gamesmanship has consequences that reach far beyond Yale; it hurts our national discourse.

Something, perhaps, for Jim Sleeper — who has derided Kirchick as a faux liberal — to ponder.

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Apologies for the long break

A lot of other things got in the way. I’ll just promise to be more punctual in the future, and at the very least to post “no blogging” update to let you all know I’m alive and well. Thanks for those who’ve emailed to express concern.

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Male reproductive rights, continued

My post on “Roe v. Wade for men,” i.e., a law that would give men the ability to terminate their parental rights and responsibilities to an unwanted child within a brief period of learning of the pregnancy, sparked a lively debate both on this blog and on others. One response that I’d like to reply to comes from Jane Galt:

Myself, I just can’t get worked up about those poor, powerless men. As I’ve said before, reproduction is never going to be fair, and the current law strikes me as a reasonable compromise between the needs of the women and the needs of the child. Men get the short end of the stick there . . . but they don’t have to breast feed, or lose their figure, or have to rush to get married because their biological clock is ticking, and I’ve never heard them clamouring for a legal remedy to any of that. Although I might change my mind if men who want to terminate their parental rights were willing to undergo painful surgery with a non-zero chance of killing or sterilizing them in order to secure their “choice”.

It’s interesting that the woman and the child are the only two parties Jane seems to consider. As for the argument that other biological disparities in reproduction favor men, it is something that I have considered myself. But here’s a point to ponder: our society has, in fact, been steadily evolving toward remedying — technologically, legally, and socially — the reproductive inequalities that disadvantage women. Women can escape the burden of unwanted pregnancy by having an abortion and using birth control (there is still no “male pill”). Women who don’t want to rush into marriage because their biological clock is ticking can now have a baby on their own without being stigmatized; see, for instance, this New York Times Magazine article, published the other day, about women pursuing artificial insemination. (As I noted in my other the concern about children being born with no right to paternal support seems missing in those cases.)

But the reproductive inequalities that disadvantage men remain, and they include a few others — besides having no option to avoid the burden of unwanted parenthood once conception has occurred — that Jane overlooks. For instance, a man who wants to be a father can have his child’s existence concealed from him, for years or even forever. (See more below on that subject.) And a man who has trouble finding a mate will find it a lot more difficult than a single woman to reproduce on his own: he’s need to find a surrogate mother, not a sperm donor. The biological clock is, of course, a female disadvantage — one which I am now facing myself, as a single 43-year-old woman. But I wonder how many men who are single and childless at 43 actually go on to father children; for most, I suspect, male biology provides only about 10 more years in which they can fool themselves with the thought that it’s not too late.

This isn’t really a plea for “those poor men.” I don’t believe that men in America are an oppressed class. But I do believe that, as we grapple with unprecedented changes in gender roles, we need to address the issue of equality in reproductive rights and responsibilites more seriously.

Which brings me to my column in today’s Boston Globe: “Equal Rights for Unwed Fathers.”

WHILE THE ”Roe v. Wade for men” lawsuit filed in Michigan earlier this month seeks the right for men to terminate their financial obligations to a child in case of unwanted pregnancy, another dispute over male reproductive rights has been making news as well. Last week, a front-page New York Times story explored the plight of unwed fathers who fight for children placed for adoption by the mothers.

One of the men profiled in the article, 23-year-old Arizona resident Adam Clayton Jones, learned that his former fiancée — who had ended their relationship — was pregnant and seeking to put up the baby for adoption in Florida, where they had met while attending college. An adoption agency called Jones to ask for his consent to the adoption. He refused, fully intending to raise the baby himself. But Jones did not know that in order to exercise his parental rights, he had to register with the state registry for unmarried fathers. Because he missed the deadline, he lost all his rights and has never seen his child, now 18 months old.

Sadly, this case is all too typical. While divorced fathers complain that they are often treated as second-class parents, never-married fathers are much lower on the totem pole. True, their situation has improved since the 1970s, when an unwed father’s children could be given up for adoption without his consent even if he had raised them.

Today, partly as a result of several legal controversies in which unmarried fathers successfully contested adoptions, the majority of states have ”putative father registries” by means of which a man can assert his paternity. But the purpose of these registries often seems to be less to protect the rights of the father than to protect the rights of everyone else: the mother who wants to give up the baby, the adoption agency, and the adoptive parents. Some would say that they also protect the rights of the child. But that depends on whether you believe that a child is better off being adopted than being raised by the biological father.

In most states, the unwed father has to file with the registry either within a certain period of the child’s birth — from five to 30 days — or, as in Massachusetts, at any time before the adoption petition is filed. But neither the mother nor the adoption agency has any obligation to notify the man of the adoption, or of the fact that he is a father or father-to-be. Even when the father is notified, he may not be told about the putative father registry — which is what happened to Jones, whose attorney, Allison Perry, refers to the Florida registry as a ”well-kept secret.” That is the situation in most states. Not only are most men unaware of the registries’ existence, even some lawyers don’t know about them.

Amazingly, many specialists believe that it’s too much of a burden on the woman or the adoption agency to require that a man be notified of his paternity. Instead, they argue that it should be his responsibility to file with the putative father registry every time he enters a sexual relationship with a woman, on the off-chance that a pregnancy may result — a requirement that, if nothing else, smacks of a humiliating invasion of privacy. Surely, it is far more efficient and less invasive to limit the notification requirement to cases in which a pregnancy actually happens, and to place the burden on those who are aware of the pregnancy.

You would think that, unlike men who seek to avoid their paternal responsibilities, fathers who want to be responsible for raising their own children would at least encounter societal sympathy and support. Sadly, that has not generally been the case. Unwed fathers who contest adoptions are often faulted for not taking affirmative steps to find out about the child’s existence, and in some cases are blamed even if they were actively deceived by the mother. Often, they’re suspected of being abusers whose real hidden motive is to control the mother.

The issues of men burdened with responsibility for unwanted pregnancies, and of men who are not allowed to be fathers to wanted children, are linked by a common thread. Biology has made men and women unequal with regard to reproduction. In recent decades, thanks to both technology and social change, we have made strides to alleviate the inequality for women, helping them avoid unwanted childbearing. But we have lagged far behind in equalizing the situation for men. We cannot ask men to be equal parents while giving virtually all the power in reproductive decisions to women.


More: The question of what constitutes reproductive “advantage” and “disadvantage” is, of course, a complicated one, and depends very much on a person’s own values and priorities. To me, for instance, being able to reproduce without going through the physical ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth seems like an unquestionably good thing, and if technology made it possible for fetuses to be safely incubated in an artificial womb, I’d think, myself, that women should be cheering. Yet I’ve heard quite a few women say that pregnancy and childbearing give them a sense of connection to the child — and of their life-giving power — that they would not give up for mere physical convenience.

I’d also like to add something here about a proposal one of my commenters, mythago, made in the Roe v. Wade for men thread: instead of allowing men to “opt out” of unwanted paternity, to have an “opt-in” system in which an unmarried father would be presumed to have no paternal rights or responsibilities unless he declared his paternity by a certain deadline (or unless he could show that he had been misled about the birth of the child). I have serious reservations about this because, basically, I don’t think that “no paternal involvement” should be the default position, for cultural/social reasons at least as much as economic ones. In fact, I think that in the unlikely event that the law changes to allow a paternal “opt-out,” also known in some circles as a “male abortion” (the legal termination, within a certain window of time, of all paternal rights and responsbilities), the procedure should (1) impose non-negligible financial costs, and (2) include the requirement of serious pre-termination counseling. That would include discussing the experiences of men who have committed themselves to fatherhood despite the child being initially unwanted, and making sure that the man fully understands the possibility that some day he may want to reconnect with his growing or already grown child but will most likely have no chance to do so.

I don’t think that “walking away” should be encouraged.

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Yes, Virginia, there is anti-Muslim bigotry

A lot of the time, the word “Islamophobia” has been gratuitously thrown around to smear any critic of militant/radical Islam, or anyone who discusses the dangerous strands in contemporary Islamic culture. I don’t think that either religion or political ideology based on religion are beyond criticism. However, I do think that in some quarters, hostility to radical Islam translates into — or becomes a smokescreen for — out-and-out bigotry directed at all Muslims, including secularized but traditionally Muslim populations (such as the Albanians in Kosovo).

Here’s a rather striking example.

Last night, I followed a link from an Andrew Sullivan post to a post on a site called Infidel Bloggers Alliance about the firing of a Daily Telegraph editor who had published an article about extremism among British Muslims. (In a subsequent update, Andrew noted that it was unclear whether her firing was related to the article.)

When I glanced at the previous posts on the Infidel Bloggers Alliance blog, a post titled “A Memorable Moment in the Milosevic trial” caught my attention. Both the post and especially the comments treat Milosevic as a misunderstood hero who was actually fighting back against the jihadist peril in Europe. Typical comment:

Yeah. . . Ever since 9/11, one question after another about whether we were on the wrong side in the Bosnian conflict has come up.

The only thing you can trust a Muslim to be is a Muslim.

Of course, prior to his death, Milosevic had repeatedly tried to capitalize on 9/11, and the War on Terror, to present himself as an early crusader, so to speak, against Muslim terrorism. For a dose of reality, go to this article by Christopher Hitchens, whom no one can accuse of being soft on militant Islam.

Just to set the record straight, I am not for a moment implying that Andrew Sullivan shares the repugnant views of the author of the Milosevic post (though I personally think it’s a good idea to look around a site before you link to it). However, I do think that critics of radical Islam should be very careful to avoid the trap of anti-Muslim bigotry — which, in some cases, can evidently lead to excuses for genocide.

More: Those inclined to generalize about Muslim intolerance would do well to read this fascinating post by neo-neocon about Muslim-Jewish relations and, specifically, Muslim rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

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"Roe v. Wade for men"

While South Dakota’s Roe-testing abortion ban is in the news, also making some waves is the “Roe v. Wade for men” lawsuit filed by the National Center for Men.

The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose.

“There’s such a spectrum of choice that women have — it’s her body, her pregnancy and she has the ultimate right to make decisions,” said Mel Feit, director of the men’s center. “I’m trying to find a way for a man also to have some say over decisions that affect his life profoundly.”

Feit’s organization has been trying since the early 1990s to pursue such a lawsuit, and finally found a suitable plaintiff in Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Mich.

Dubay says he has been ordered to pay $500 a month in child support for a girl born last year to his ex-girlfriend. He contends that the woman knew he didn’t want to have a child with her and assured him repeatedly that — because of a physical condition — she could not get pregnant.

State courts have ruled in the past that any inequity experienced by men like Dubay is outweighed by society’s interest in ensuring that children get financial support from two parents. …

Feit, however, says a fatherhood opt-out wouldn’t necessarily impose higher costs on society or the mother. A woman who balked at abortion but felt she couldn’t afford to raise a child could put the baby up for adoption, he said.

Jennifer Brown of the women’s rights advocacy group Legal Momentum objected to the men’s center comparing Dubay’s lawsuit to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to have an abortion.

“Roe is based on an extreme intrusion by the government — literally to force a woman to continue a pregnancy she doesn’t want,” Brown said. “There’s nothing equivalent for men. They have the same ability as women to use contraception, to get sterilized.”

Feit counters that the suit’s reference to abortion rights is apt.

“Roe says a woman can choose to have intimacy and still have control over subsequent consequences,” he said. “No one has ever asked a federal court if that means men should have some similar say.”

“The problem is this is so politically incorrect,” Feit added. “The public is still dealing with the pre-Roe ethic when it comes to men, that if a man fathers a child, he should accept responsibility.”

Feit doesn’t advocate an unlimited fatherhood opt-out; he proposes a brief period in which a man, after learning of an unintended pregnancy, could decline parental responsibilities if the relationship was one in which neither partner had desired a child.

Some discussion of the issue here, here, and here; and a particularly interesting two-part discussion by neo-neocon, to which I will return later.

Whatever the merit of Dubay’s and the NCM’s legal claim, I do think that the case illustrates rather strongly the unfairness to men of the current legal regime. With legal abortion, a woman who gets pregnant can get out of this situation with minimal consequences (unless you believe that an abortion is a profound trauma, which it does not seem to be for most women). For a man in his mid-20s to be ordered to pay $500 a month for the next 18 years — and presumably more if his income increases — is no trivial burden. It means a radically altered lifestyle, including seriously reduced opportunities to have a real family if he wants one.

I’m also struck by the attitude taken by feminists like Shakespeare’s Sister, who says:

Men have plenty of “say” over this decision—but it all happens before the pregnancy. They have “say” over the women with whom they choose to have sex. They have “say” over whether they choose to discuss in depth with a partner what they would do in the case of an unintended pregnancy—and what their partners would do. They have “say” over whether they put a condom on.

I’m struck by it, of course, because it reminds me so much of what right-to-lifers tell women — perhaps most pithily encapsulated in a photo I saw many years ago, in pre-Internet days, of an anti-abortion demonstrator (male) holding a placard that says, YOU HAVE A CHOICE: DON’T SCREW.

Shakespeare’s Sister also says:

A man and a woman make a child together. If the man doesn’t want the child, he should be able to opt out of the responsibility, and the woman should be responsible. Of course, the flip side of this coin, which is left out of the article, is that men’s rights advocates also believe if a woman doesn’t want the child, she should be forced to be responsible to carry it to term at the man’s wishes. (In the latter case, this is usually referred to as “fathers’ rights,” although they like to leave any reference to “fatherhood” out of the discussion of the former, as in this case, where the child is not even referred to as his daughter; the use of language alone is informative as to how these men want it both ways.) You’ll notice in both cases, the woman is expected to be responsible—by allowing the father freedom from child support payments, by either getting an abortion or giving the child up for adoption if she can’t support the child on her own, or by not getting an abortion or giving up the child for adoption even if she doesn’t want a child but the father does. Funny how that works.

As far as I know, this is factually incorrect: the men’s groups that support a paternal veto for abortion are distinct from those that support “choice for men.” Unless Shakespeare’s Sister can produce actual examples of men’s rights advocates who support both, her statement is quite misleading. And by the way, under the present Roe regime, the reality is, precisely, the flip side of her sarcastic summary of the men’s rights position: A man and a woman make a child together; if the woman doesn’t want the child, she should be able to opt out of the responsibility, but if a man doesn’t want the child, he should be forced to be responsible to support that child until adulthood at the woman’s wishes.

Neo-neocon takes a much less belligerent approach; but she, too, ends up coming down on the side of her present regime. Her basic conclusion: there is no good solution to this problem because of the basic reproductive asymmetry of men and women, and the present approach — imperfect as it is — may be the best there is. And she may be right about that, but I do think that she underestimates the unfairness of the current system toward men, and the extent to which it favors women rather than children.

In neo’s words:

[T]his is where another overriding principle, the “best interests of the child” comes in. And this, once again, is because the child was not a party to that contract, and the child is the helpless result of the decisions of both these adults, and as such must be protected. It is in society’s interests to protect that child–or so goes the argument–and to compel both parents to support that child financially until it reaches its majority.

But consider this: a single mother is not obligated to seek child support from the father. For instance, in 1999, according to the Census Bureau (warning: PDF file), 38% of all single mothers with minor children, and 52% of never-married mothers, did not have a legal child support award. Of the mothers without an award, nearly 40% said that they did not seek an award either because they didn’t want the father to pay child support or because they didn’t want the child to have contact with the father. (11% also said that paternity had not been established.) Under the law, the government can compel the mother to name the father, and seek child support from him against the mother’s wishes, in one case only: if the mother applies for government welfare benefits. In other words, a mother’s choice to have no contact or even potential contact with the father of her child cannot be overridden by societal interest in the child having support from both parents.

A single woman can also exercise her reproductive autonomy by going to a sperm bank, thus denying her child any chance of getting a penny from the man who supplied the DNA, and the government will do nothing to stop her. Sperm donors have long been protected by law from child support liability.

Also, in her comments, neo raises an interesting scenario:

[I]f the unwed father successfully stops a mother from giving a child away for adoption, she is compelled to pay him child support for that child (although she never wanted or expected to), and he is free to raise it.

As a factual matter, I’m not sure this is correct. Usually, the father is at a disadvantage in such lawsuits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he typically forfeited child support. At least, in cases I have followed in which the birth father contested an adoption, the mother’s potential child support obligations never came up as an issue. Maybe some family law specialists can shed some light here?

As it happens, I wrote an article on men’s reproductive rights for Salon.com six years ago, and I think its conclusion is still relevant here:

Given [biological] realities, it may be nearly impossible to come up with a solution that wouldn’t be unfair either to men or to women. The current situation is clearly inequitable to men. But allow a veto for fathers, and it raises the disturbing specter of giving a man authority over a woman’s body. Allow choice for men, and some will find it galling that a woman who wants to avoid the burden of parenthood has to undergo surgery or drug treatment with unpleasant side effects while a man merely fills out some forms.

The argument for at least notifying the prospective father of an abortion (with a waiver for cases in which the woman has a reasonable fear of bodily harm from the man, or the pregnancy results from rape), seems compelling. [Arthur] Shostak, co-author of “Men and Abortion,” believes that a man should have an opportunity to “plead his case” to a woman if he wants her to have their baby.

There is also a strong case for providing some options for men to terminate their paternity. (At the very least, a woman who never bothered to let the man know that he was a daddy shouldn’t be able to hit him up for back pay 10 or 15 years later.)

Of course, “choice for men” could have complications beyond the issue of children’s economic welfare; for one, the man could later have a change of heart. While proposals for a “paper abortion” would make the procedure irrevocable, [men's rights advocate] Fred Hayward concedes that “it’s a tough one,” since sometimes the child could clearly benefit from reestablishing a relationship with the father.

[Melanie] McCulley [an attorney who advocates "choice for men"] believes that a quick, early paternity termination would be better for the child than long, traumatic and often ultimately unsuccessful battles to extract money from an unwilling father. More intriguing, some proponents of men’s right to choose, such as Jack Kammer, author of the online book “If Men Have All the Power How Come Women Make the Rules,” argue that the option of declining fatherhood would make child abandonment less common.

“The notion of fatherhood as a trap, a burden, a yoke is strong in male culture,” says Kammer. “By making fatherhood a choice, we will allow it to become an obligation freely taken, not to be resented or avoided.”

And that, advocates for men say, is the real point — not men’s ability to control women or to desert children, but the ability to have input in decisions that profoundly affect their lives.

Maybe there is no good answer to the dilemma of male reproductive rights. Still, it is an issue that should prompt us to rethink some deeply held assumptions. It should make us realize that, if men who want a right to be released from their parental obligations seem callously egocentric to many people, that’s how women who want abortion on demand look to many anti-abortion advocates. It should make us ponder the fact that, while paternal desertion is often cited as evidence of male irresponsibility and selfishness, more than a million American women every year walk away from the burdens of motherhood.

Above all, perhaps, the issue of men’s reproductive autonomy brings home the fact that abortion can create a radical imbalance rather than equality between the sexes. For years, women have been sending a mixed message to men: Sometimes we expect them to be full partners in child-rearing, sometimes we treat them as little more than sperm donors, walking cash machines or bystanders. If men’s parental role is to be taken seriously, women need to assume a moral, if not legal, obligation to involve their partners in any decision about pregnancy and we all need to have a serious conversation about men’s reproductive rights — no matter where that conversation may lead.

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The Yale Taliban saga continues

To start with: my Boston Globe article on the subject can be found here.

Imagine if you were in college and found out that the guy next to you in class had worked as a propagandist for one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times.

For some Yale students, this is not a theoretical question. Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban government, was admitted to the university last year as a special student in a nondegree program; this spring, he plans to apply as a regular student.

Hashemi’s story came to light after he was profiled in an article in The New York Times Magazine. In 2001, not long before the destruction of the World Trade Center and the subsequent removal of the Taliban regime by the US military, Hashemi visited the United States on a speaking tour defending the Taliban.

Now, the 27-year-old Hashemi’s presence at Yale is the center of a controversy. Is his admission an example of bridge-building or diversity gone mad?

A person with a bad past may deserve a second chance. Yet Hashemi’s recent statements show a consistent tendency to whitewash his former masters. He suggests that the Taliban regime went bad because ”the radicals were taking over and doing crazy stuff” — as opposed, presumably, to the sane and moderate early days. On the public executions of adulterous women, he explains to the Times of London that ”there were also executions happening in Texas.”

On his 2001 trip to the United States, Hashemi had a public exchange with a woman who tore off a burqa and denounced the plight of Afghan women. His response (preserved for posterity in Michael Moore’s ”Fahrenheit 9/11″) was, ”I’m really sorry for your husband. He might have a very difficult time with you.” What does he think of that incident today? To the Times of London reporter, he noted that the woman did get divorced.

One striking aspect of this controversy is the reaction from Yale’s liberal community. Della Sentilles, a Yale senior, recently wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News denouncing such manifestations of rampant misogyny at Yale as the shortage of tenured female professors and poor childcare options. On her blog, a reader asked Sentilles about the presence at Yale of a former spokesman for one of the world’s most misogynistic regimes. Her reply: ”As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one culture is more sexist and repressive than another. American feminism is often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own imperialist ends.”

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal, who has been following the story, writes that the Yale students he interviewed were unanimous in their opinion that the reaction to Hashemi would have been more hostile if he had been associated with, say, the apartheid regime of South Africa. One senior told Fund that the general feeling was that it wasn’t appropriate to be as judgmental toward non-Western regimes.

And the reaction from faculty? Jim Sleeper, a journalist and political science lecturer at Yale, has responded in the online edition of The American Prospect by attacking Fund (whom I know personally) instead of addressing the issues.

Sleeper also suggests that Hashemi’s ”enrollment was facilitated less by the ‘diversity’ ethos than by yet another of Yale conservatives’ recent, bumbling efforts to revive the university’s old conduit to national intelligence.”‘ (To this end, he gratuitously insinuates that Hashemi’s American patron, filmmaker Mike Hoover, may have intelligence ties.) Perhaps that was a part of the motive. Either way, the fact is that Yale officials thought that Hashemi was someone who, in the words of one former dean, ”could educate us about the world.” Whether coming from conservatives or liberals, that’s a severely blinkered mentality.

If there is a justification for Hashemi’s admission, it’s that he can learn something from us. Chip Brown, the author of The New York Times Magazine story, tells the Hartford Courant that ”America would be a lot safer from terrorists if there were thousands of Rahmatullahs being educated in the US instead of the madrassas of Pakistan.” Good point. But surely, these educational efforts could be directed toward young Muslims who don’t have a record of collaboration with a brutal extremist regime — and don’t make excuses for that regime.


Also today, John Fund has a follow-up piece on the subject, containing a truly remarkable story:

Yale won’t let anyone comment officially, citing student privacy issues and hoping they can keep silent and last out the storm. But unofficially, some Yale administrators are privately trashing critics. One even anonymously sent scathing emails to two critics calling them “retarded” and “disgusting.”

That official–Alexis Surovov, assistant director of giving at Yale Law School–did talk to me. Last Wednesday, Mr. Surovov sent an angry email from a Columbia University account to Clinton Taylor and Debbie Bookstaber, two young Yale grads who are so frustrated at their alma mater’s refusal to answer questions about Mr. Rahmatullah that they’ve launched a protest. Called NailYale, it focuses on the Taliban’s barbaric treatment of women, which extended to yanking out the fingernails of those who wore nail polish. In a column on TownHall.com, they urged alumni “not give one red cent this year, but instead send Yale a red press-on fingernail.”

Mr. Surovov, a Yale alumnus who has worked in its development office for three years and is on the board of the Yale Club of New Haven, wrote Mr. Taylor and Ms. Bookstaber at their private email addresses with the subject heading: “Y [sic] do you hate Yale.” Here is his email in its entirety: “What is wrong with you? Are you retarded? This is the most disgraceful alumni article that I have ever read in my life. You failed to mention that you’ve never contributed to the Yale Alumni Fund in your life. But to suggest that others follow your negative example is disgusting.”

Intrigued that someone had looked up his wife’s giving record, David Bookstaber, a Yale computer science graduate, used Columbia’s publicly accessible IT account database to trace the anonymous email. The trail led straight to Mr. Surovov’s Yale office. On Thursday Mr. Taylor phoned Mr. Suvarov, who told him he was angry because the furor over the Taliban official was hurting fund raising and could lower Yale’s rankings in the next U.S. News & World Report college survey. He also accused Mr. Taylor and Ms. Bookstaber of “terrorist tactics,” which when challenged he amended to “terror tactics.”

I called Mr. Surovov Friday morning for a candid 30-minute conversation. Why had he sent his blistering attack anonymously? “I’m not sure,” he replied. But he nonetheless stood by a subsequent email he had sent Mr. Taylor using his own name in which he said “I regret nothing” about his previous attack. He did reluctantly concede to me he had made “a poor choice” of one word–”retarded.” When asked if a day earlier he had verbally accused Mr. Taylor of “terror tactics” he paused for several seconds and said “I don’t recall.” He did tell me he viewed their protest as “a reactionary stunt.”

Mr. Surovov made clear that even though he had used Yale equipment to launch his anonymous attack he acted solely in his personal capacity. When I asked how he had known the giving records of the two alumni, he insisted he had gotten them from public records. Despite repeated requests, he did not explain how he had obtained Ms. Bookstaber’s private email address and her maiden name.

According to Fund, no Yale officials will comment on the issue of Surovov’s bizarre behavior — which surely calls for a reprimand and an apology, at the very least! — or on the underlying issue of Rahmatullah Hashemi’s presence on campus.

Curiouser, as they say, and curiouser.

In other developments, over the weekend I have received a private email communication taking me to task for failing to explore Jim Sleeper’s suggestion that Rahmatullah’s admission to Yale had to do with his possible ties to U.S. intelligence. Sleeper (a political science lecturer at Yale) asks, addressing Fund:


And why don’t you look a little more deeply than you did into the provenance and motives of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi’s patron Mike Hoover, who commended him to Yale’s admissions office? Why don’t you ask if Rahmatullah’s enrollment was facilitated less by the “diversity” ethos than by yet another of Yale conservatives’ recent, bumbling efforts to revive the university’s old conduit to national intelligence and to framing grandiose “grand strategies”?

Because I myself don’t know the answers to the two questions I’ve just posed, I wish I could rely on you to be “on the trail,” as your column moniker puts it, of the truth rather than of the enemies du jour of your predictable Party line.


The odd thing, though, is that Fund did ask the questions Sleeper accuses him of not asking. Here’s the relevant passage from Fund’s second “diary” piece on the “Taliban Man at Yale” controversy, referenced by Sleeper:

P.J. Crowley, a former official in the Clinton National Security Council, speculated that perhaps Mr. Rahmatullah had been an intelligence asset for the U.S. and his admission was a reward for that help. But my calls to several sources turned up no hint of that. Laili Helms, a former spokeswoman for the Taliban who lives in New Jersey, claims that Mr. Rahmatullah met with officials at the CIA and the State Department during his 2001 tour and proposed the Taliban hold Osama bin Laden in a fixed location long enough so the U.S. could find and kill him. My sources at both agencies say there is no evidence such a proposal was ever made.

So the mystery deepens. Even Mr. Hoover, who frequently visited the Taliban in an effort to secure an interview with Osama bin Laden, is vague about the details of why his charity is paying for his friend to come to the U.S. Indeed, it sounds as if he is shifting responsibility. When asked why Mr. Rahmatullah is here, he told Fox News: “Those are questions for all of the people all down the chain of command that have backed him coming to the country, starting with the American generals who OK’d it for him to come, the people in Islamabad that gave him the visa and the people at Yale who decided to put him on into the campus.”

As for who finances his foundation, Mr. Hoover said it was a group of friends who after finding out “about his background, and heard his ideas, they were behind helping fund him to go to Yale.”

Kurt Lohbeck, who worked with Mr. Hoover as a contract reporter/producer for CBS News in Afghanistan is skeptical about the whole matter. “I worked in the region for 10 years, and there are a lot of people there who should go to Yale before Rahmatullah,” he told me. As for Mr. Hoover’s curious ambivalence today about the Taliban, Mr. Lohbeck said Mr. Hoover would not have been able to go back so frequently as a guest of the Taliban “unless he had kowtowed to them on the first visit. They would have had to grease the skids for him.”


Hampton Stephens
addresses the issue as well:

Mike Hoover, the cameraman who befriended Rahmattullah in Afghanistan and eventually steered him to Yale, has apparently been involved in intelligence activity in the past, according to an Outside magazine article I found. Outside published this 1996 profile of Hoover because, in addition to his experience covering foreign wars, he is a legendary adventure filmmaker. The profile reveals that, after spending much time in Afghanistan in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion, Hoover debriefed U.S. intelligence at the highest level:

Hoover entered Afghanistan 22 times with NIFA to cover the war against the Soviet Union, which invaded the country in 1979. Much of his footage ran on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. Freelancers like Hoover were among the few sources of information, and he says that twice he was debriefed in Washington by William Casey, then head of the CIA.

With those kind of connections in Hoover’s past and if it’s true, as Sleeper says, that a contingent of Yale professors has been trying to revive Yale’s connection to American intelligence, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that there is more to Rahmatullah’s presence at Yale than meets the eye.

I’m not sure that Hoover’s CIA debriefing translates into “being involved in intelligence activity.” For one, if Hoover was actually working with intelligence, would he be open about it in a magazine interview? But let’s allow for a moment that there is really more here than meets the eye, and that a coveted place at Yale is being used as a reward for cooperation with U.S. intelligence. Surely that’s as scandalous as the scenario of a former Taliban spokesman being admitted to Yale as a diversity mascot. Shouldn’t liberals be outraged even more?

On a tangential note: Sleeper accuses Fund of being disingenuous for characterizing Jamie Kirchick, a Yale senior and Yale Daily News columnist, as a “liberal Democrat” when Kirchick


has been celebrated and defended by conservatives for years for his work with Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz “outing” liberal anti-war professors and for his work for the neoconservative newspaper The New York Sun.

Over the weekend, I found out a little more about Jamie Kirchick. A look at his past columns in the Yale Daily News (some of which are linked from this article) shows that he is hardly afraid to dissent from any kind of conservative party line, and is, if anything, a New Republic-style “liberal hawk.” (See also this column by Kirhick.) His “work with David Horowitz” consists of a single article for FrontPageMag.com, in 2003, criticizing an antiwar rally at Yale. (In an email, Kirchick told me that he is now a registered independent and that he disapproves of Horowitz’s tactics.)

I would say that if it was disingenuous for Fund not to mention Kirchick’s conservative ties when characterizing him as a liberal Democrat, it was equally disingenuous for Sleeper not to mention his own rather loaded history with Kirchik related to the FrontPage article. For more on the subject, go here, here, and here.

I say this with regret, because, as I said in my earlier blogpost, I have always respected Jim Sleeper’s work and his willingness to rise above ideological divisions. I suspect that he is motivated, in this case, by loyalty to Yale and distaste for seeing the school criticized by outside sources, particularly sources on the right known for often exaggerated and histrionic attacks on the liberal academy.

Yet the truth is that if conservatives have been able to use the “Taliban Man at Yale” story as a political weapon against Yale’s liberal establishment, it was the liberals’ silence that enabled them. Rahmatullah Hashemi’s admission to the university — as a prize student, no less — should have caused an outcry from Yale’s liberal community. As Fund’s new story shows, some liberal alumni are, in fact, quite unhappy with the situation. But the silence from the faculty continues, handing more ammunition to the right.


More: I spoke to John Fund earlier today; he tells me that when he identified Jamie Kirchick as a self-described liberal Democrat, he was unaware of the fact that Kirchick had written an article for David Horowitz and had had some affiliation with Campus Watch. As someone who follows the conservative press fairly closely, I can certainly attest that Kirchick is no right-wing celebrity; and, as I previously said, a look at his Yale Daily News columns suggests that he is a pro-war liberal in the New Republic mold. So I’d like to clarify that I am not, as the wording of my post implies, accusing John of being disingenuous in failing to disclose Kirchick’s conservative ties. Frankly, I’m not sure why that’s even an issue. As I said in my earlier post, the point is that liberal Democrats should be up in arms about Rahmatullah Hashemi’s presence at Yale, and if just about the only liberal Democrat willing to publicly speak up against it is not-quite-a-liberal-Democrat, well then so much the worse for liberal Democrats.


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Depends on what the meaning of "breach" is

The debate continues about whether the tapes and transcripts of White House Katrina meetings are damning to President Bush, who said after the flooding of New Orleans that “nobody anticipated the breach of the levees.”

Much of this debate now focuses on the distinction between “topped” and “breached.” The White House was definitely warned that the levees could be overtopped by the hurricane; but is that the same thing?

Well, not quite. A breach is clearly more catastrophic. However, it does seem clear that the possibility of levee failure had been raised, and Bush’s statement did suggest that it came as a shock. Furthermore, according to the Associated Press:

specific mention of possible breaches was raised at an Aug. 29 teleconference that included Joe Hagin, deputy White House chief of staff.

The tapes and transcripts leave no doubt of the incompetence of state and local officials — no question about that. But they also do, it seems to me, confirm the increasingly widespread view of the Bush White House as incompetent, lacking in public accountability, and either dishonest or ill-informed.

And, as always, the partisanship of this debate is rife with irony. Right now, we have a lot of people passionately arguing that the distinction between “breached” and “topped” is (a) vitally important, and it’s dishonest and misleading to conflate the two, or (b) meaningless semantic nitpicking and a transparent ploy to get the White House off the hook. How many of those people would have magically switched sides in this semantic dispute if this was the Clinton White House we were talking about?

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Come, Mr. Taliban…

Does high altitude impair the functioning of brain cells? I read the New York Times Magazine article on the former Taliban envoy who is now a student at Yale University in the International Herald Tribune on the airplane while flying home from Italy, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it set off no alarm bells. For some odd reason, I assumed that the Taliban Yalie, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, was not only a former but a repentant Taliban envoy — one who perhaps airbrushed his service to one of modern history’s most repressive regimes as a mere youthful error but at least was clear about the nature of what he had served. Well, apparently not. This excellent article by John Fund in The Wall Street Journal sets the record straight, and it is not a pretty record.

Some excerpts:


Mr. Rahmatullah became an apologist for [the Taliban's policies toward women] during his propaganda tour of the U.S. in the months before 9/11. Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ captured one testy exchange he had with an exiled Afghan woman who told him, “You have imprisoned the women. It’s a horror, let me tell you.” The Afghan diplomat responded with a sneer: “I’m really sorry for your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you.” Asked by the Times of London last week if he regretted that statement now, he replied: “That woman, for your information, did divorce her husband.” He told the New York Times that if he had it to do over again he would have been “a little bit” softer in his 2001 speeches.

….

He does say that some of his views have changed. “I was very young then,” Mr. Rahmatullah, now 27, told the Yale Daily News last week. “At that age, you don’t really have the same sensibilities that you may have later.” He has told fellow students he now believes in free speech and the right of women to vote. He told the New York Times the Taliban were bad for his country because “the radicals were taking over and doing crazy stuff,” implying that the early days of Taliban rule were benign. He says he believes that after graduation, he can serve as a bridge between the Muslim world and the West.

If that’s true, it’s time that Yale and the State Department, which issued his student visa, realize that there’s evidence his views are still pretty unreconstructed and, in fact, would be rejected by most of the world’s Muslims. Mr. Rahmatullah isn’t giving interviews now, but last Wednesday he did talk with Tim Reid of the Times of London. He acknowledged he had done poorly in his class “Terrorism: Past, Present and Future,” something he attributed to his disgust with the textbooks. “They would say the Taliban were the same as al Qaeda,” he told the Times.

He shifted blame for many of the Taliban’s brutal practices onto its Ministry of Vice and Virtue, even though he had defended their actions in 2001. As for the infamous filmed executions of women in Kabul’s soccer stadium? “That was all Vice and Virtue stuff. There were also executions happening in Texas.”

Lovely.

Even more mind-boggling, however, is the reaction from some “progressive” Yalies:


James Kirchick, a senior who describes himself as a liberal Democrat, is appalled that campus feminists and gays trash American society as intolerant but won’t protest now that “an actual, live remnant of one of the most misogynistic and homophobic regimes ever” is in their midst. “They have other concerns, such as single-sex bathrooms and fraternities,” he told me.

There was a time when some at Yale summoned outrage at the Taliban. In 2000, a band of 30 protesters gathered outside Pierson College when it hosted a “master’s tea” for Taliban representative Abdul Hakeem Mujahid. While the protesters chanted outside, Mr. Mujahid calmly told his audience that “99% of [Afghan] women approve” of the Taliban and that the regime was committed to elevating the status of women in society. Eli Muller, the reporter who covered the event for the Yale Daily News, was shocked that his lies “went nearly unchallenged.”

After the talk, Mr. Muller observed someone approach a spokeswoman for the Taliban and invite her to give a talk at the law school on women’s rights. Mr. Muller concluded in an op-ed piece entitled “Sympathy for the Devil” that the “moral overconfidence of Yale students makes them subject to manipulation by people who are genuinely evil.” That year, Lynn Amowitz, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, found that 18% of the 223 women she interviewed who lived under Taliban rule had attempted suicide by drowning in local rivers, drinking pesticides or overdosing on children’s medicines.

Six years later, even after 9/11, the Yale community represents the world turned upside down. Beth Nisson, a senior, writes that Mr. Rahmatullah’s admission to Yale “should serve as a model for American higher education.” Della Sentilles, the co-author of a feminist blog at Yale, insists one can’t be judgmental about the Taliban. “As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one culture is more sexist and repressive than another,” she writes. “American feminism is often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own imperialist ends.”

Ziba Ayeen, a Afghan-American who fled her native land with her family in the 1980s, isn’t amused by such thinking. “The irony of Yale educating an official in a regime that barred women from going to school is too much,” she told me.

When I asked several people at Yale if the reaction to Mr. Rahmatullah would be different if he were, say, a former official of the apartheid regime of South Africa, the reaction was universal: Of course he would be barred. When I asked why, I was told I had no idea how liberal a place Yale was. “But what is liberal about the Taliban, then or now?” I innocently asked. Eric White, a senior, told me that many students believe that regimes run by whites, such as apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, come out of Western traditions and are judged differently than non-Western regimes. “There’s a real feeling that we don’t have the right or understanding to be able to hold those regimes to the same standards.”

Boldface added.

Reading Ms. Sentilles’ inane remarks, I was reminded of the story in the 1983 Twilight Zone movie in which a modern-day American bigot gets a time-warped taste of life as a Jew in Nazi Germany and a black man victimized by the Ku Klux Klan. Would it be too harsh to wish upon Ms. Sentilles a short trip back in time to life as a woman under the Taliban? She’d gain a whole new perspective on whether some cultures are more sexist and repressive than others, and learn not to sound like such a twit.

Kudos to John Fund for an excellent piece.

More: Commenters point me to two harsh critiques of Fund’s article, by Jim Sleeper in The American Prospect and by Peter Zengerle on the New Republic blog. Zengerle points to a rather iffy passage in which Fund attributes evil thoughts to Hashemi’s long stare at the World Trade Center towers after a spring 2001 visit to the offices of the Wall Street Journal. I agree, but this unnecessary bit of melodrama is rather tangential to Fund’s overall argument. As for Sleeper, who now teaches at Yale, his article is, disappointingly (since I know Jim Sleeper, and think highly of his work), a lengthy ad hominem attack on Fund which criticizes the article on only one specific point: apparently, the Yale student whom Fund identifies as a “liberal Democrat” — and who is critical of Hashemi’s presence at Yale — in fact works with David Horowitz. I agree that the characterization is somewhat misleading; but actually, this makes Fund’s case even more damning, since apparently no bona fide liberal Democrats could be found who would express any misgivings about the situation.

Here, for full disclosure, I should add that I dated John Fund for several years in the early to mid-1990s. I have my share of disagreements with things he has written and said over the years. In this case, I think he happens to be on the right side of the issue, and the overall journalistic conduct of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which Sleeper brings up, is irrelevant unless it can be proven that this particular article distorts the facts.

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Harry Browne and the libertarian legacy

First of all, once again, my apologies for falling so far behind on the blog. Things got rather hectic after my return from vacation.

Today’s Boston Globe column examines libertarianism as an alternative to conservatism and liberalism. The sad occasion is the death of former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne.

HARRY BROWNE, once a successful author and later an unsuccessful presidential candidate, died last week at 72 from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was a man for whom I never voted, but sometimes wish I had — though only as long as I could be sure he wasn’t going to win.

Browne ran for president twice on the Libertarian Party ticket and was probably its best-known nominee (because of his books on investment). He got about half of 1 percent of the vote in 1996, and even fewer in 2000. Yet he represented something important in American political culture, something increasingly disappearing from its mainstream: the Jeffersonian belief in a small government that intervenes minimally in people’s lives.

”Democratic and Republican politicians believe Americans are dysfunctional children who need government to act as their parents,” Browne wrote on his website. ”Both parties seek to impose their values and recognize no limits on their authority.”

It’s hard to argue against this description. The Republican Party has long claimed to be the party of small government, and in the 1980s Ronald Reagan made strides in lessening the tax burden on Americans and deregulating the economy. But Reagan’s Republican coalition included social conservatives whose agenda was to regulate personal morality.

The congressional Republicans who came to power in 1994 likewise talked about getting the government off our backs, but most of them also wanted it in our bedrooms — sometimes even to the extent of supporting antisodomy laws.

Meanwhile, most Democrats who support choice on abortion also seem to believe that Americans aren’t smart enough to manage their retirement or their children’s daycare and schooling. They support not only greater government reach into the economy but their own version of government-imposed morality (through workplace diversity measures, for example).

Under President Bush, the Republican Party seems to be losing its connections to small-government ideals. Republicans now control all three branches of the federal government, yet spending still skyrockets. Bush openly embraces the use of big government to further conservative goals — including the promotion of faith and marriage. As much as I dislike the hysterical cries that Bush is presiding over a fascist state, the open defense of encroachments on privacy and liberty in the name of security is deeply troubling.

The Republican slide from small government to nanny state makes me look back rather fondly on the Libertarians, and wish I could change my 2000 vote for Bush to a symbolic one for Browne.

Symbolic only, of course. Browne’s vision of minimal government allowed for no state role in environmental protection, health and safety regulations, or building and maintaining highways. His platform included immediate repeal of the federal income tax and dismantling of Social Security. In a 1996 article in Reason, editor Nick Gillespie criticized Browne, noting that his vision of a radical transformation of society from above involved the same arrogance for which classical, limited-government liberals such as Friedrich A. Hayek had assailed big-government liberals.

In its own way, purist libertarianism is no less utopian than communism, and no less naïve in its apparent faith in the fairness of markets and the goodness of humankind. This is particularly evident in foreign policy, where Libertarian doctrine boils down to the isolationist belief that we would face no dangers abroad if we just stopped meddling. Browne’s recent writings illustrate this naïveté. Much of his criticism of the conduct of the war in Iraq rings depressingly true; yet he also saw fit to downplay Saddam Hussein’s atrocities and declared the war on terrorism a ”War on Strawmen.”

It’s unlikely that Browne’s radical philosophy could have attracted the support of more than 2 or 3 percent of Americans. A true alternative to the twin leviathans of the two-party system would have required a more moderate and realistic libertarianism. Nonetheless, it’s often the radicals who pave the way for moderates. And in our day and age, Browne’s warnings about expansionist government and the loss of personal freedoms seem more relevant than ever.

An embarrassing revelation: I may have voted for Harry Browne in the 1996 presidential race, but I don’t remember for sure. A friend tells me that at the time I told him that I had, or that I was going to. I know I was considering it at the time, since I wasn’t going to vote for Clinton and I didn’t find Dole particularly appealing. Of course, I live in New Jersey, where the Democrats have a lock on the presidential race anyway and it is safe to throw away a vote. I know I was still thinking about it on my way to the polling station. But what happened after that curtain was drawn is a complete black hole.

If I did vote for Browne, I am not embarrassed about it, vehemently though I may disagree with many of his position. Browne was a rebel with a cause; and we need more of those, in the dreary landscape of today’s American politics.

Browne’s website is here; his last article, “Why You Are a Libertarian” — dated December 18 — has an eerie feel to it, since its summary says, “In the final analysis, your reasons are very simple, and they apply to almost everyone in the world.” I wonder if the very ill Browne meant it as his legacy. I don’t, incidentally, find the article particularly convincing; it requires a logical leap “almost everyone in the world” is not willing to make — the assumption that some degree of coercion by a democratically elected government (e.g. requiring people to pay taxes to support common social projects) is absolutely no different from violent coercion by individuals or groups of individuals. Nonetheless, it is at the very least a point worth pondering, at a time when so many of us uncritically accept a definition of “compassion” as “spending other people’s money to help the needy.”

This is the article I cited in my column, in which Browne downplays Hussein’s atrocities (and, for good measure, repeats the “no mass graves found in Kosovo” canard with a citation to a 1999 article — when, in fact, a number of mass graves have been found since then). This piece is actually a good illustration of the complex figure that was Browne; in this same article, he makes what I increasingly believe is an eminently sensible prescription:

Iraq should really be three different nations — Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish. Instead, the three should-be nations have been joined at the hip and are expected to operate a British-style parliament.

Sadly, he also renders his own case irrelevant with needless (and disturbing) attempts to minimize the evil that was the Hussein regime. He also seems to take the position, rather odd for a libertarian, that loss of life as the price of the overthrow of a tyrannical regime can never be worthwhile. Like quite a few libertarians, Browne was led down some strange paths by his vehement opposition to American policy.

More about Browne can be found in this post at Reason’s Hit & Run (lots of links).

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