Category Archives: left and right

Sotomayor: the right’s great white whale?

Richard Viguerie, one of the lions of conservative activism, thinks the Sonia Sotomayor nomination could invigorate conservatism.  Viguerie  writes:

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor has so far managed to unite all wings of the conservative movement — economic, foreign policy, social, traditional and libertarian — in a way we haven’t seen since the early Clinton years.

Is this true?   Most conservatives aren’t thrilled with the nomination, but I also don’t see a whole lot of passionate opposition (except among those who would passionately oppose any Obama nominee, even Mother Teresa).  For an example of not-exactly-thrilled but muted conservative reaction, see, for instance, these posts by Jonathan Adler on The Volokh Conspiracy.   Adler writes:

Looking at the race-related cases in which Judge Sotomayor has disagreed with her colleagues leads me to the following conclusion (although it does not convince me to oppose her nomination).  Compared to the other judges on her Cirucit, Judge Sotomayor appears more inclined to accept aggressive and innovative use of equal protection arguments in race-related cases and seems to be more accepting of the use of race to achieve diversity in the workplace. This does not make her an “extremist,” and it certainly does not make her a “racist,” but it does suggest she would fit comfortably on the “liberal” side of the current court on such issues, and is consistent with the inference one could draw from her speeches. Insofar as one disagrees with this approach to race-related cases, this could be cause for concern.

A new article by The New Republic‘s Jeff Rosen, who has caught flak in the past for his criticism of Sotomayor, argues that she would be a liberal-but-not-too-liberal, and definitely not knee-jerk  liberal or hardcore ideological, presence on the Supreme Court.  It’s unlikely that any Obama appointee would be “better,” from a conservative/libertarian point of view.

Meanwhile, rallying around opposition to Sotomayor would be unwise for conservatives for a few reasons.   It would be hard to paint her (convincingly) as an out-of-the-mainstream radical.  Also, the right would be investing a lot (scarce) political capital into attacking a Hispanic woman; giving her impressive credentials, trying to paint her as a less-than-competent “affirmative action baby” could easily come across as sexist and racist, particularly given some of the nasty rhetoric already directed at the judge.

This does not mean that conservatives and libertarians should not criticize Sotomayor.  There’s plenty to criticize.  This is not, however, a wise fight to pick as the mother of all battles.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics.com)

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Hate speech

Paul Krugman thinks the recent murder of abortion doctor George Tiller and yesterday’s shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC are related to an upsurge in extremism caused by irresponsible, inflammatory, Obama-is-leading-us-into-fascism rhetoric from the right, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Let me make it clear: I despise the “fascism is coming!” scaremongering.  That said, I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that 88-year-old neo-Nazi James von Brunn — who, as Jonah Goldberg puts it in his NRO column, was “considered a dangerous nut even within the dangerous-nut community” — was inspired by the likes of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, or Glenn Beck.  Von Brunn no doubt regards the conservative establishment as controlled by the Jews (The Weekly Standard was reportedly on his hit list).

Trends in anti-Semitic hate crimes make it hard to speak of a pattern linked to overall political trends.  However, it’s fair to say that a lot of anti-Semitism in recent years has been linked to, and fueled by, left-wing rhetoric against Israel and its supporters.  I think Jonah goes too far in suggesting that swipes at “neocons” are usually code words for anti-Semitism, but the connection, in many cases, does exist.  Discussions of “the Israel lobby” on the Internet certainly do draw the Jew-haters out of the woodwork.

That aside, Krugman’s a good one to talk about political hate- and panic-mongering, after eight years of hysterical warnings from the left about Republican fascism.  Remember Naomi Wolf’s “Fascist America” screed, followed by a book called The End of America?  Wolf was given a voice in such respectable venues as the Colbert report and National Public Radio, and her paranoid rants about Sarah Palin as “the muse of the coming Rovian police state” were hosted by The Huffington Post.  And that’s just one example.  Hate and hyperbole have become an endless cycle in American political discourse, and while there are stylistic differences between the left and the right, no one is innocent.

(Cross-posted to RealClearPolitics blogs.)

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Filed under anti-Semitism, left and right

Post-inaugural thoughts

The speech: The best inaugural address since Ronald Reagan, says Thomas Sowell.  That’s pretty high praise.  “A fine speech,” says Michael Goldfarb on The Weekly Standard blog, particularly impressed by Obama’s emphasis on the role military force has played in maintaining American democracy.   Ron Radosh likes the speech too, while The New Republic‘s John Judis doesn’t (particularly the overly Bushian “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”) and neither does Paul Krugman, who thinks Obama’s assertion that we’re all collectively at fault for the economic mess we’re in is a cop-out.  (I couldn’t disagree more; I’m glad it was said in so public a venue.)  This is not to say that Obama is generally making a better impression on conservatives — at least, those of a neoconservative bent — than liberals, but he certainly continues to confound expectations.

Incidentally, Jonathan Last at the Standard blog thinks that Obama’s  reference to “worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics” was a potshot at conservatives, but Ron Radosh thinks it was a reference to dogmas of both right and left (notably, Judis disliked it).  I’m inclined to agree with Ron, since at least so far, if the Obama presidency has an ideology, it’s trascendence of ideology.   Take this passage: Continue reading

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Filed under Barack Obama, left and right, race

More Palin: The other side of the culture war

Yes, more Palin. Bear with me.

We all know that there have been some very nasty attacks on Palin from some feminists, as well as a lot of condescension from the Maureen Dowd types who look down their noses at a small-town, gun-owning, Walmart-going, Bible-believing mom with five kids. But it takes two to do the culture-war tango.

For instance, in The American Spectator, one Jeffrey Lord rightly deplores the feminist attacks on Palin. Then he goes on to say:

This election is now being fought openly between, as Whittaker Chambers once described the same fight in a different era, “those who reject and those who worship God.” Between those who believe “if man’s mind is the decisive force in the world, what need is there for God?” — and America’s own Joan of Arc, Sarah Palin.

If Barack Obama is an atheist, that’s news to me. And I certainly hope that Palin doesn’t actually see herself as Joan of Arc on a God-given crusade. (It’s interesting how the left-wing caricature of Palin is barely distinguishable from the right-wing icon.)

Praising Palin’s decision to keep her baby with Down’s Syndrome and to encourage her pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol to bear her child, Lord writes:

Twice over in two now ongoing and very public situations, Sarah Palin has focused on the love of God rather than herself. To those who have vested their life and career comfortably believing there is little need for God because what of what rolls around aimlessly in their heads and those of their like-minded friends at any given moment, to those who view government and the power of the state as an object of worship, this is taken as a serious, gut-level threat. A threat to the existence of their own very carefully structured non-religious secular value system.

Glossing over Lord’s apparent assumption that Palin expects to have no personal joy or satisfaction from her special-needs child or her grandchild, and that her decision was solely a sacrifice to God, this is a pretty nasty portrayal of secularists. Further down, it is compounded by nasty swipes at insufficiently masculine liberal men (“Glutted with Hollywood pâté, Al Gore would have a coronary trying to keep up with Palin, who probably wouldn’t be bringing along any seriously good wine as he races through the backwoods. Once off the basketball court, Obama would be clueless on snowshoes with a gun and a charging moose”).

On a less hysterical note, Jonah Goldberg in National Review defends Palin against the “she’s not a real woman” attacks … and then sneers that the same people would consider “a childless feminist who looks like a Bulgarian weightlifter in drag” a real woman. On Townhall.com, Kevin McCullough speculates that “modern feminists” hate Palin because she’s a real woman:

She has a manly, and (according to several women I’ve overheard) handsome husband. She is content in their life together as a couple where each goes out and works hard. As a mom she is parenting her kids giving them what mothers give best, and her husband, gives what only a father can.

She’s not afraid to don some lipstick and use her comely attraction to romance “her guy” one night, and turn around and beat back corruption as a fierce defender of what is right the next day.

As opposed to, say, the notoriously unwomanly Geraldine Ferraro (married mother of three) and Nancy Pelosi (a married mother of five whom a poster on Michelle Malkin’s blog charmingly described the other day as “the result of mixing June Cleaver with Code Pink, Steroids and a strap on”)?

And a final item, by Jim Brown at OneNewsNow:

A pro-life activist suggests one of the reasons liberals despise Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin so passionately may be because she gave birth to her son despite a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

… Mark Crutcher, the president of Life Dynamics Incorporated (LDI), notes that in America today, 90 percent of all Down syndrome children are killed in the womb.

“I wonder what the people who are doing that — the parents who are ‘choosing’ to have their child executed — what they think when they look at Sarah Palin and her family, when they see the example of that family welcoming a Down syndrome child in and loving that child. I wonder what those people think,” Crutcher contends. “I also wonder whether this is where you’re seeing some of this hatred and venom that’s coming from the godless Left directed at [Palin]. I’m beginning to wonder if Sarah Palin isn’t rubbing their noses in their own shame.”

What hateful tripe. If 90 percent of people who find out they are carrying a fetus with Down’s Syndrome terminate their pregnancies, there must be quite a few non-liberals among them (and even, I daresay, quite a few conservatives). And frankly, if Sarah Palin’s example is going to be used as a moral club to beat those who make the choice to terminate a pregnancy under those circumstances, an angry response will be justified.

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Filed under antifeminism, conservatism, left and right, Sarah Palin

L’affaire Beauchamp: The sound of many knees jerking

The Scott Thomas Beauchamp brouhaha is a proverbial tempest in a teapot. The claims Beauchamp made (as the barely pseudonymous “Scott Thomas”) in his “Baghdad Diarist” New Republic article about American soldiers behaving badly are fairly trivial; the war in Iraq does not stand or fall on their truthfulness. Nonetheless, the blogosphere’s reaction to the story has been sharply divided along pro-war and anti-war lines almost from the start, and this across-the-board knee-jerk response is, perhaps, the most interesting (if depressing) aspect of the entire affair.

Right meme: it’s a liberal media conspiracy to besmirch the war effort by encouraging a leftist literary poseur to publish fictional or embellished stories painting soldiers as depraved sociopaths. Left meme: it’s a right-wing cyber-lynching of a soldier telling the ugly truth about the war. TNR’s announcement that it has confirmed the story to its satisfaction has not changed any minds.

There is no question that some of the right-wing rhetoric directed at Beauchamp and at TNR was indeed shockingly ugly, violent, and paranoid (Beauchamp was a leftist mole who had deliberately infiltrated the military in order to destroy it from within!). But the defense of Beauchamp from the anti-war camp seems misguided.

Factually, the critics have the point that the incident of mocking an injured woman occurred in Kuwait, not Iraq. And, unless more facts emerge, that’s it.

But the location is not a triviality in this instance. Beauchamp’s piece opened with a shocking tale of how he and a buddy publicly mocked a woman on their base in Iraq — a woman whom, he wrote, he saw at almost every meal in the chow hall — whose face was badly disfigured by an IED. After three soldiers told TNR fact-checkers that they did remember a loud conversation in which the woman was mocked within her hearing range, but it happened at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, prior to the unit’s arrival in Iraq, Beauchamp acknowledged the error. But was it an error? After all, with the correct location, the anecdote would not have fit into Beauchamp’s narrative. His point was that war messes up one’s moral compass, including his own. In this case, logic is on the side of The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb when he writes:

TNR says in this new statement that “Shock Troops” “was about the morally and emotionally distorting effects of war.” But now we find out that Beauchamp hadn’t even gotten to Iraq when this incident allegedly took place.

For an analogy: Suppose a conservative magazine ran an article about the baneful effects of same-sex marriage on general attitudes toward matrimony. Suppose it opened with an account of a conversation overheard by the author on a college campus in Massachusetts, a few weeks after that state’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex unions must be legalized, in which several college students favorably discussed polygamy and group marriage. Suppose some questions were raised about the accuracy of that account, and then it turned out that the conversation did take place — only it was a month before the same-sex marriage ruling and it happened not in Massachusetts but in Virginia. Would anyone consider that a trivial error?
Shakespeare’s Sister (Melissa McEwen) also thinks that Beauchamp deserves credit for coming clean about his error; but I’m not sure there’s much virtue in that, considering that three soldiers had already told TNR’s fact-checkers the incident had taken place on the base in Kuwait.
As for the other incidents chronicled by Beauchamp: Ace of Spades does a pretty convincing job of “fisking” the one in which a soldier wore a piece of a skull on his head. It’s clear that Beauchamp did not entirely make up the story; whether he considerably embellished it is a different matter. The final anecdote, about a soldier who ran over stray dogs with his Bradley fighting vehicle for a hobby, is confirmed inasmuch as it is in fact possible to target a dog with a Bradley; but the part about the dog being neatly severed in half with such a hit still seems highly dubious.
And then there is the curious matter of Beauchamp’s first diarist piece, “War Bonds” (subscribers only). In it, Beauchamp tells the horrifying tale of chatting with a friendly Iraqi boy while changing a flat tire, only to find out the next day that the boy, who called himself “James Bond,” had his tongue cut out by insurgents for talking to Americans. Some critics have focused on the improbability of Beauchamp’s claim that he was changing a tire in a “dark brown river of sewage.” But there are bigger problems with the story than that. How about, for instance, the fact that Beauchamp and the boy engage in pleasant chit-chat while standing in reeking excremental fluids that, according to the writer, swallow up the boy’s lower torso — and no mention is made of what, surely, had to be a suffocating stench?
Then, we get to Beauchamp’s account of what happened next. A private from his unit who had patrolled the same neighborhood brings him the news:
“… That James Bond kid you were telling me about–did he run around in an Adidas hat?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Those fuckers cut off his tongue.”

“What? Who?”

“Shia militia, the police, I don’t know. Apparently he had been talking to too many Americans.”

“No fucking way.”

“Yeah. Fuck them, man. I hate when this shit happens to kids.”

We didn’t go back to Little Venice for a raid or patrol or mission of any type for quite some time–maybe a month or two. But when we did eventually go back, I didn’t have to look very hard to find Ali. He was mixed in with the throng of children who waded up to our convoy screaming for us to throw them chocolate or soccer balls. Of course, he wasn’t screaming, but he was smiling and his hands were outstretched to catch whatever a soldier with a generous streak might be kind enough to throw athim. I wanted to yell, “Hey, James Bond! I hope you get to California!”–but I didn’t. I just watched him scramble for the soccer ball that went bobbing away toward an alley and out of my field of vision.
Now, I know that life in a war zone does strange things to people. Still, a boy is horribly mutilated by insurgents for talking to Americans … and a month or two later he is back on the same streets, hanging around Americans and waiting for handouts, smiling happily and sprinting after a soccer ball? He is not shunned by other kids, if only for fear of further retaliation? His family has not thought to keep him off the streets, or maybe try to get out of that neighborhood altogether? None of it rings true — though I’m certainly not denying that the insurgents could have done such a thing. I also wonder if it’s odd that no one else has reported on this incident. While there are plenty of horrible things happening in Iraq right now, a child having his tongue cut out is an incident that would stand out even against this grimmest of backdrops; and besides, this is exactly the kind of thing the U.S. military would publicize as an example of the barbarism we’re up against.
Of course, no one questioned that story because no one has a political or emotional stake in disproving atrocities by insurgents. But it does, for the reasons listed above, get a pretty strong reading from my B.S. detector. It would be interesting to see a follow-up investigation, though I’m not holding my breath.
So yes, I think there are good reasons to question Beauchamp’s accuracy, and neither TNR nor liberal bloggers are doing themselves any favors by coming uncritically to his defense. But conservative bloggers aren’t covering themselves in glory either when they stridenly insist that TNR gave Beauchamp a platform in a nefarious plot to smear and slander the troops. TNR is not some far-left rag that revels in spitting on American soldiers; it is a centrist magazine that initially supported the war in Iraq. Indeed, while I think the story of the boy who had his tongue cut out raises further doubts about Beauchamp’s credibility, it also points to the aburdity of claims that TNR editors were eager to publish Beauchamp because his writings put U.S. troops in Iraq in a bad light. (Unless, of course, one wants to claim that TNR and Beauchamp cleverly conspired to ensure that his first diarist piece focused on atrocity by the insurgents in order to avert suspicion of anti-Americanism — which is probably not too paranoid for a few websites.) I think Beauchamp wanted to write gritty, vivid, human-interest-rich accounts of the horrors of war, and TNR wanted to publish them.
On the other hand, I think it’s not entirely accurate to claim that Beauchamp’s piece had no larger implications beyond “some soldiers are jerks.” His whole point was that war turns good, caring people (such as, he modestly suggests, himself) into the kind of people who would mock disfigured women, desecrate human remains, and run over dogs for sport.
At the same time, if Beauchamp and his editors at TNR truly wanted to slander the troops, you’d think they would come up with something more damning and more significant than boorishness, macabre humor, and animal cruelty. These claims are so insignificant that it’s doubtful anyone had noticed them at all if the right-wing blogosphere hadn’t made a fuss about it. (I can’t see The Associated Press or Reuters running a news story headlined, “Serviceman makes shocking claims about U.S. abuses in Iraq: Soldiers mocked disfigured woman, ran over dogs.”) John Cole points out an amusing contradiction in a post by Matt Sanchez, saying that the soldiers on Beauchamp’s base have never heard of the “Baghdad Diarist” saga — and, three paraphraphs later, that this saga is “taken so personally” because of all the soldiers who have died in Iraq. One irony of this affair is that many conservative bloggers make it sound as if the reputation of American troops in Iraq would indeed be compromised if Beauchamp’s account were corroborated.

I also think Andrew Sullivan probably has a point when he speculates that one reason for the Beauchamp brouhaha is that, unable to discredit the real bad news coming from Iraq, war supporters have targeted the Beauchamp story as a weak link. There are also far too many on the right who do not want to hear, or to accept, any bad news about the conduct or the morale of American troops. Yet we know that the bad news is out there — even in a Pentagon report, issued last May, which found that fewer than half of the soldiers and Marines believed that Iraqi non-combatants should be treated with “dignity and respect,” that most would not report a team member for mistreating civilians, and 10 percent (not an insignificant number) admitted to such mistreatment themselves. One might add, too, that if conservatives want to get indignant at those who suggest that morally degenerate behavior is fairly “normal” for American soldiers in Iraq, they should have directed some of their ire at Rush Limbaugh when he suggested that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was just a way for American soliders to “blow off some steam” after being shot at every day.
But none of that changes the fact that a magazine like TNR (whose current issue, by the way, features a magnificent, poignant selection of photos from Iraq by freelance photographer Ashley Gilbertson) owes its readers real accuracy, not just a “close enough.” Truth in journalism matters; that’s why the Beauchamp saga is not entirely trivial. And even those who are rightly disgusted by the hysteria about “slandering the troops” should not overlook this fact. In the end, Beauchamp and his persecutors may well deserve each other.

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Filed under blogosphere, Iraq, left and right