Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
They Said It:
Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.
Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters – speaking the “in” language – serves as a badge of identity.
Angelo Codevilla, “America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution,” The American Spectator, July-August, 2010.
CLIVEN BUNDY, REDUX.
So, as it turns out the erstwhile American hero, ol’ Cliven Bundy, holds some rather distasteful ideas about ethnic minority groups. And that, in turn, means not just that he is a bad person, but that his cause is unjust as well. Anyone who can’t see that or doesn’t understand it is a fool. Heck, they’re all fools for failing to discover more about the man before they embraced his cause in the first place. And now the wise and civil thing to do is to back away from him – with all due haste. Get back to talking about the things that real Americans care about, like . . . well . . . the interminable yet nonetheless “settled” debate over health care. Or something like that.
The “lessons” of the Clive Bundy affair are pretty clear, it seems. Everyone – or at least everyone who is anyone – knows those lessons. And they knew them beforehand. On the Right, Charles Krauthammer put it bluntly: “It is truly appalling . . . there are times when somehow simply because somebody takes an oppositionist stand he becomes a conservative hero. You gotta wait. You gotta watch. You have to think about it.” On the Left – and in the mainstream press – the lessons were even more gripping, if also more obvious, at least to anyone with the sense that God gave geese. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank put it this way:
Bundy boosters are right to be appalled, but they should not be shocked.
The anti-government strain of thought that Bundy advanced has been intertwined with racist and anti-Semitic views over several decades. Not all people who resist the authority of the federal government are motivated by race, of course, and not all racists are anti-government. But there is a long symbiosis between the two.
Among those who rallied to Bundy’s defense in Bunkerville, Nev. — the supporters Heller labeled patriots — was Wiley Drake, an Internet preacher affiliated with the “Oath Keepers” movement. According to reports from the scene, Drake told a crowd of Bundy supporters that they shouldn’t bow to the “half-breed” President Obama.
In general terms, Bundy’s notion of state supremacy — “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing” — is a variant of states’-rights claims that go back to the Civil War and were revived in the segregationists’ opposition to civil rights laws. Because the federal government has been the protector of minority rights, states’ rights have long been used to justify discrimination.
So there you have it: conservatism – or at least federalism – is inherently racist and therefore everyone should have known that Bundy was a racist. And even if they didn’t know, they shouldn’t have done anything to support his case because, well, he could have been racist, in which case his cause is pointless anyway. Only Republicans could be stupid enough to embrace causes that are also embraced by racists, which is to say Republicans should embrace no causes unless and until they know precisely who else might, even hypothetically, support the same causes. And those, we are told, are the lessons of the Cliven Bundy affair.
Maybe it’s just us, but that strikes us as pathetic, dissembling even. And that, in turn, suggests to us that the real lesson of the Cliven Bundy affair is the fact that our almighty ruling class remains both as useless and as far removed from the cares and worries of the country class as it has ever been, perhaps even more so.
Let us explain.
Now, as you may recall from our discussion of the Bundy affair last week, we don’t actually think that he is much of a hero. More to the point, we thought this BEFORE he revealed himself to have some peculiar thoughts on race and race relations. In fact, it struck us as foolish to enlist a rather obvious scofflaw to make a broader point about the intrusiveness of the federal government. After all, Bundy knew the rules, disregarded the rules, fought the rules, lost several fights over the rules, and continued nevertheless to break the rules. None of that ever said “hero” to us. Indeed, it suggested precisely the opposite.
Of course, that’s not to say that there weren’t reasonable and debatable arguments made in Bundy’s defense. In our estimation, it is ridiculous for the federal government to own nearly 90% of a state and to use its ownership of that land to push bureaucratic causes at the expense of the people who actually live there. Or to put this in another way, it is completely and utterly absurd for the government to push hard-working men and women out of the businesses in which they and their families have been engaged for decades, all in pursuit of dubious environmental (i.e. “common good”) ends. And perhaps most importantly, it is obscene that the Bureau of Land Management would have its own sniper squad, much less employ these individuals to collect back grazing fees against a lone citizen. The post 9/11 paramilitarization of every government entity – from the Punxsutawney PD to the IRS – is one of the ugliest and most freedom-threatening developments in contemporary American history. And the BLM’s behavior in the Bundy case was both reckless and disgraceful.
It just so happened that it was (and is) our opinion that all of these issues could and should be addressed outside of the Bundy phenomenon. We didn’t see the need to muddy the proverbial waters regarding important constitutional issues by tying them so directly to man who was (and is) a crackpot of sorts. But, again, that’s not to say that those who did should be ashamed for doing so.
No, those who should be both ashamed and embarrassed are those who played the Bundy game for personal or partisan benefit: either those who denied even the possibility that the federal government is an overbearing beast, simply because they don’t like Cliven Bundy; or those who supported Bundy’s crusade until they found out that he holds some unsavory views on issues unrelated to the federal government and its ownership of most of the Western part of the country. All of which is to say that virtually the entire ruling class, the entire political establishment, has behaved rather reprehensibly in this matter. And this is true regardless of Cliven Bundy’s actions or words.
There are, we’ll concede, a group of men and women who think that everything that the federal government does and has done in the Bundy case is simply great. They like the fact that Bureau of Land Management’s holdings make it, as Mark Steyn noted, the 26th largest country on earth. They like the fact that the federal government is more concerned about tortoises than people. They like the fact anyone who crosses the government will be visited by a federal SWAT team that is better armed than most armies in the world. And they like they fact that the government is the final arbiter of right and wrong, good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable.
This group includes such people as the current President of the United States as well as its Attorney General and Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. For lack of a better term, we call these people – in polite company, at least – radical authoritarians. And unfortunately, their ranks continue to grow, year by year, as does their will to power. Some are socialists, dedicated to the proposition that private property is a crime against human-kind. Some are environmentalists, dedicated to the proposition that private property is a crime against animal-kind. Some are merely statists, dedicated to the proposition that while all men are equal, some are more equal than others. We will also concede that in the case of Cliven Bundy, this group did nothing particularly embarrassing, or at least nothing extraordinarily embarrassing. They merely did what they always do, which is to cheer the power of the state in its endless battle to bury the rogue individual. That’s who they are. And that what they always do.
Outside of this collection of wannabe autocrats, there are a variety of “special interest” groups made up of people who make their livings beating on one very specific breed of horse. Any headline making event is viewed by them as an opportunity to take the stage on behalf of their particular “cause.” There are the feminists, the environmentalists, the Islamists, the open-borderists, the abortionists, the atheists, and, of course, those whom J.C. Watts once called the “race hustling poverty pimps.”
While these folks fight for their causes, they live in fear that a victory would put them out of business. So they become practiced in the art of hermeneutics, the interpretation of texts. They seek evidence of evil everywhere, particularly in the words of conservatives, whom they view are cagey enemies who disguise their real motives behind code words such as “liberty,” “freedom,” “independence,” and “small government.”
This quest for evil intent has become an especially desperate one for the race baiters as actual evidence of overt racism has become harder to find. Dana Milbank is archetypical of this group. Like a Panda bear looking for bamboo shoots, he looks for racism everywhere. It is his livelihood. So naturally, he hawks the incredibly uncreditable view that “the anti-government strain of thought that Bundy advanced has been intertwined with racist and anti-Semitic views over several decades.” Ergo, and unsurprisingly, he hears “dog whistles” in every conservative utterance. He can’t actually prove racism. But he doesn’t really need to. He writes for an audience who share his view that everything everywhere is premised on race.
Like all of those who fight for a “cause,” Milbank believes in “individual rights,” at least in theory, but only as long as the individual in question is of the proper political caste, which is to say a fellow-traveler. Political “principles” are malleable in the eyes of his ilk, designed for use as weapons in their role as paladins for a “cause.”
And rarely has this disgusting disregard for principle been so openly exposed as it has been in the case of Cliven Bundy.
Sadly, the recalcitrant statists and the exploitive grievance mongers are not the only ones to have been exposed by the Bundy fiasco. Their compatriots – and fellow ruling class members on the Right – have been likewise revealed.
Last week, recall, we couched our criticism of the ruling elite in terms of the “rule of law” and “equality under the law,” concepts which are vital to the performance and survival of a free society. The rule of law, we argued, has been thoroughly trashed and completely forsaken in recent years, and particularly under the current administration. Average men and women are, under such conditions, apt to see exertions of power on the part of the government as expressions of disfavor, rather that enforcement of the law. If others – the “favored” – can be excused for their own violations of the law, then the law becomes a mere tool of privilege rather than a defense of liberty and a measure of justice.
This week, sadly, we see the other side of the ruling class’s disdain for the rule of and equality under the law.
The men and women of the right, who stood with Bundy last week and who are running from him this week, are every bit as pathetic in their defense of the foundational principles of a free society as are the statists and the postmodernists. We don’t agree with Cliven Bundy. That much we made clear. But if we did agree with him last week; if seven days ago, we did believe that the values for which he was standing were critical to the maintenance of American way of life; if, in short, we did think that he was a hero fighting the tyranny of the state before he stuck his foot in his mouth, then we would still think so today.
The fact that he also happens to be a racist jerk doesn’t change ANY of that. Cliven Bundy may be a small and petty man, but that doesn’t mean that his case is small and petty, or at least it shouldn’t mean that to the people who made such a big deal out of his case before they knew about his personal beliefs. Either he’s a victim of overbearing government or he is not. And his views on slavery and welfare don’t change that one lick.
Last week, in the wake of Bundy’s comments and the full-speed Republican backpedal on the issue, the inimitable (and aforementioned) Mark Steyn commented briefly on the situation. Steyn, as some of you may know, has particular insight into this subject. A Canadian by birth, he was rather famously brought before his home country’s “human rights” commissions for the “crime” of offending Muslims by repeating the apparently hurtful words of a Muslim imam. He won his case and devastated the Canadian “human rights” establishment, but not before he exposed the cynicism and dishonesty of said establishment, showing its support for “free speech” to be entirely contingent upon the political palatability of the speaker in question.
Unhappily, Steyn is undergoing a similar ordeal today in his adopted country, these here United States of America. He is being sued in D.C. court – a venue in which he neither lives nor works, but which is favored by tort-seeking plaintiffs – for the analogous “crime” of offending the climate change/global warming establishment by calling one of its founding members, Michael Mann, a “fraud.” In any case, Steyn summed up the hypocrisy and the rank self-interest of the “conservative” ruling class as follows:
Let’s stipulate that Cliven Bundy is a racist. Let’s also assume, if only to save time, that he’s Islamophobic, homophobic and transphobic. So what? Does that make criticizing the Bureau of Land Management “racist” or “homophobic”?
During my battles with Canada’s “human rights” commissions, defenders of the racket liked to point out that the people it targeted were generally pretty unsavory. And I’d respond that the reason the standard representation of justice in statuary is a blindfolded lady is because justice is supposed to be blind: If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, it makes no difference whether the pedestrian you hit is Nelson Mandela or Cliven Bundy. Or at least it shouldn’t: one of the basic building blocks of civilized society is equality before the law.
Likewise, if what the Bureau of Land Management is doing is wrong, the fact that Cliven Bundy is a racist sexist homophobe whateverphobe doesn’t make it right – any more than at Ruby Ridge FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shooting Vicki Weaver in the back of the head as she was cradling her ten-month-old baby and running away from him is made right by the fact that she allegedly had “white supremacist” sympathies.
Steyn is right, of course, and that’s what is so frustrating about this whole business and what portends such trouble for the polity going forward. This goofball, Cliven Bundy, stated for all the world that he and the federal government were at an impasse over the rights and responsibilities of both parties under the law of the land. Then, unrelatedly, he proved himself to be a bigot. And the responses of the ruling class ranged from: “We will crush you!” to “See. We shoulda waited to learn more about him before we agreed with him;” from “Told ya so!” to “Whoops! Guess we don’t really agree with him at all.”
In this situation, the only appropriate response from our would-be republican guardians is “so what?” So he’s a numbskull? What does that have to do with anything? Either he’s right, or he’s wrong. And there’s no two ways about it.
In a poll released last week, Rasmussen Reports revealed that the American people, as a whole, think that their “representatives” are fairly UN-representative of their constituents. To wit:
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 53% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is fair to say that neither party in Congress is the party of the American people. That’s up six points from 47% last October and matches the previous high found in June 2012 during the last national election cycle. Just 28% disagree, while 19% are not sure . . .
Just six percent (6%) of voters now think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Seventy-two percent (72%) say it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were defeated this November . . .
Interestingly, 52% of Republicans and a plurality (44%) of Democrats agree that neither major political party is the party of the American people. But 65% of voters not affiliated with either party feel that way.
Is there anyone, anywhere who can honestly say that these results are the least bit surprising? If anything, the only whiff of shock is the fact that the numbers are not higher, although that’s not to say that they won’t get higher. It’s a long time between now and November, after all, and an even longer time to November 2016.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the world seems, more or less, to be falling apart. America’s globals influence is at its lowest point in at least 35 years and possibly in more than a century. The “summer of recovery” is revving up for its fifth revival, even though all five previous versions have proven unsuccessful. Even the markets, the only bright spot in the Obama economic record, are starting to show signs of uncertainty. Nothing is well. Nothing is stable. And more than anything, the world and the American people desperately crave true leadership.
In the midst of all of this, the American Secretary of State is exposing his long-simmering and barely latent anti-Semitism. The Vice President is demonstrating that he has no earthly idea what the word “literally” means. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is mocking his own members for not wanting to legalize the illegal immigrants who will immediately vote the Democrats back into power. And the President of the United States – the most powerful man in the world! – is waxing philosophic about the most pressing problem he can think of: racism in the NBA. Meanwhile, the plight of the racist cattle rancher Cliven Bundy has gone from being the Sagebrush Rebellion, Part II to a non-event because, as we know, politics trumps principle.
Again we ask: Is there anyone, anywhere who is surprised that a majority of people think that neither party is for “the people?” Are you, like we, just a tad bit shocked it’s not higher?
As we noted last week, we really don’t care much for Cliven Bundy or his belief that he can unilaterally decide which laws he will and will not obey. Still, we are grateful to him and to his supporters for bringing his case to the public’s attention. Fact is they have done us a valuable public service by reacquainting the American people with the shallowness and self-absorption of the Washington elite.
As it turns out, no one supports the principles for which Cliven Bundy claimed to stand. They all supported the idea of Bundy as a means by which to raise campaign cash, or boost ratings, or to wrap themselves in the flag. He was just a means to those ends. And while we find it difficult to feel sorry for Bundy, in a way, we do. He is an American citizen, after all, whether he acknowledges it or not. As such, he is governed by the hapless fools by whom the rest of us are governed. And if that isn’t a reason to feel sorry for someone, then no such reason exists.
ISRAEL, APARTHEID, AND KERRY’S “YALTA MOMENT.”
At some point, we suppose, we will attempt to address the “why” of John Kerry’s declaration that Israel will become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t acquiesce to his and his boss’s will and agree to trade its security for fleeting international approval. For the time being, though, we thought we might focus, ever so briefly, on the “what” of his statement, as in “What has he done?”
It is, we will posit, rather unusual for a country to betray one of its allies in such an open, public way. And let’s be honest about what happened: that is precisely what Kerry did. He betrayed Israel, declaring plainly that Jewish state is, in his opinion, the “bad actor” in the Middle East. As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin noted, if Israel is on its way to becoming an “apartheid state” simply by maintaining the status quo, then it is, to the Obama administration, already a malevolent actor, an unfair, unjust, uncivil polity in the heart of an oppressed region.
We will posit further that when states do, on that rare occasion, betray allies openly and forcefully, they do so because they are in the process of reevaluating priorities and alliances, changing sides as it were. In this case, however, that does not appear to be the case. At nearly any moment prior to this one, any time in the history of modern Israel’s existence, such a declaration of disfavor by an American administration would undoubtedly have constituted a surprising Arabist tilt, a move away from affiliation with Israel and toward greater friendship with Israel’s Arab enemies. But as it turns out, this is not such a moment.
Israel’s longstanding Arab enemies are, to put it mildly, in disarray at present. They are fighting among themselves and, more to the point, fighting against the Persians for supremacy of the Muslim world. The war against Israel may well be an important one to the Arabs, but at present, it is also a distraction, diverting energies from the real enemy, the Shi’ite “heretics” who have grown strong and aggressive over the last decade-plus.
Moreover, those Arabs who are, at present, concerned about Israel and who have the means to do anything about it – i.e. the Saudis – are actually more interested in maintaining the Jewish presence than in destroying it. The Israelis are a valuable, if somewhat antipathetic, ally in the war against the Shi’ites. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
Now, it is at least theoretically possible that the Obama administration is indeed changing sides, abandoning Israel and embracing the Iranians, leaving the Jews for the Shi’ites. But we doubt it. Not only would such a move represent geopolitical suicide for an administration that is currently locked in war-of-wills with Iran’s chief global sponsor, it would represent domestic political suicide as well. Jewish Americans are one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal and forgiving constituencies. And while many far-Left Jews would be willing to tolerate or even to celebrate an embrace of the poor, oppressed Palestinian/Arab cause, almost no one anywhere in the Jewish community would do the same with respect to a switch to the Iranian side.
For that matter, the same stipulation exists even without the “in the Jewish community” modifier. Almost no one anywhere in the country would celebrate or embrace a switch to support for the Iranian side. Oppressive, nuclear-weapon-seeking, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-American regimes tend to be far down the list of most Americans’ favored allies. Support for the Iranians over the Israelis is not, we suppose, out of the question for this administration, but such bold and open support strikes as highly unlikely.
What this leaves then, is likelihood that John Kerry and his boss have chosen to do something highly unusual in geopolitics, that is to sell out an ally in pursuit not of other global and national interests, but in pursuit of their own personal predilections.
Obama and Kerry, like all good postmodern Leftists, believe, deep down inside, that the sole Western power in the Middle East is also the problem in the Middle East. Kerry’s choice of words – “apartheid state” – gives away the game. Israel is, of course, the Middle East’s only democracy. It also the only country in the region that grants full rights to women AND to ethnic minorities. Labeling it an “apartheid state” makes sense only in the context of “emotive” posturing. To the postmodern Left “apartheid” is the greatest insult imaginable. It doesn’t really matter if the insult is, in any way, accurate. To them, it means “evil,” no more, no less. And Israel is evil. It is thus an “apartheid state.”
Although the substitution of personal preference for national interest is exceptionally uncommon, it is not, we’re afraid, entirely unprecedented. Indeed, the contemporary liberal godfather, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did so at the end of World War II – with disastrous results. Whatever else it may have been, the Yalta Conference, which took place in February of 1945, as the Allied power were closing in on victory, represented the triumph of Roosevelt’s personal will over interests of the country and indeed the interests of the world.
FDR saw himself as a global savior of sorts, who would unify the two great Left-ish powers – the United States and the Soviet Union – to create a world of peace, unity, and social justice. The vehicle for this partnership, of course, would be the United Nations, Roosevelt’s primary utopian dream. And, as history records, the American president happily sold out the Poles –and eventually the rest of Eastern Europe – to realize this “dream.” As the historian and statesman Amos Perlmutter put it in his classic In Making the World Safe for Democracy, A Century of Wilsonianism and Its Totalitarian Challengers:
[Roosevelt’s] vision for a postwar world was neo-Wilsonian, totally at odds with reality. He would help create a new international order, presided over in an equal partnership by the two emerging superpowers, the United States and the USSR, and buttressed by the newly created world organization, the United Nations.
FDR’s wartime diplomacy, geared to his vision of the postwar world, was fueled by what could almost be called a desperate desire to fulfill the dream that the Soviets would be America’s postwar partner. This required an amazing ignorance, a willingness to ignore past and present facts, and a complete misunderstanding of the Soviet system and of Stalin. FDR was right that the United States and the Soviet Union would be the postwar superpowers, but he was absolutely and disastrously wrong about the nature of their future relationship. According to George Kennan, “The Russian involvement in this struggle is not the result of any concern for the principles underlying the Allied cause . . .
The world he envisioned and so desperately wanted to create never materialized and, more important, never had a chance of materializing because it rested on a false premise, buttressed by willful ignorance. FDR did not have a glimmer that the pursuit of his vision, and the concessions he made to it, would result, not in a partnership with Stalin and the USSR, but rather in its opposite, in the onset of the Cold War that would last almost half a century. The Yalta Conference, according to Kennan, “was the last of the summit meetings still outwardly dominated, at least on the American side, by the cultivation of this essentially fictitious and misleading scenario.”
It would be unfair to blame Roosevelt for the Cold War. Stalin was a murderous psychopath who would have done great evil regardless of Roosevelt’s actions. That said, the American’s naïveté and self-absorption certainly aided the Georgian monster’s cause, set the stage for the Cold War, and sent a clear message to the oppressed people of the world: we are dedicated to your well-being, but we are confused as hell about what that might be.
Needless to say, Roosevelt’s choice to substitute his own will for that of the country had serious and deadly consequences. Will the similar Obama/Kerry decision likewise has similar consequences? We can’t say for sure, but we aren’t hopeful.