Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

They Said It:

John Stuart Mill called conservatives “the stupid party.” One is tempted to apply that judgment to Republicans, nowadays.

Russell Kirk, April 23, 1969,  “Silly Tinkering With The Electoral College,” Progress-Index (Petersburg, VA)



We’re not sure if you heard, but last week, the Supreme Court of the United States discovered a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, thereby making “marriage equality” the law of the land.  Many millions of people – at home and abroad, straight and gay, libertarian and progressive – celebrated the decision and welcomed the good ol’ U.S. of A. to the Twenty-first century.  And while they likely did so more furtively than the countless Facebook users who turned their profile pictures into rainbows in the hours after the Supreme Court decision, we suspect that somewhere, the leaders of the Islamic State and the Islamic “Republic” of Iran and the People’s Republic of China and even Mother Russia also celebrated.  This was, for all of them, a big day as well.

How, you ask, do we know that the world’s “bad actors” are excited about same-sex marriage in the United States?  And while we’re on the subject, why, would this particular crowd of evildoers in particular celebrate gay marriage?  After all, half of them – the Mullahs and ISIS – oppose homosexuality as a matter of religious principal and have a nasty habit of tossing off of buildings the men and women whom they find in flagrante delicto with members of their own sex.  Another – Putin – is technically a secular political leader but nevertheless shares the religious fanatics’ distaste for homosexuality and has made gay men and women the scapegoats in some of his more bizarre nationalist fantasies.  Why, pray tell, would any of these rabid homophobes think that gay marriage in the United States is something to celebrate, something about which they should be excited?

This is poor form, we know, but let us answer the above questions with a few of our own, or, technically a few more of our own.  What occupied your newsfeed on Friday?  When you look back, what do you think was the biggest news story of the week?  What story dominated the newswires on Friday and the network talk shows on Sunday?

The answer to all of these questions, obviously, is the same-sex marriage decision.  That’s what mattered to most people – on both sides of the issue.  That’s what priests discussed from the pulpit on Sunday.  That’s what presidential wannabes talked about all weekend.  That’s the issue about which most Americans and even a great many foreigners cared most.

And yet, that wasn’t the only story last week or even the only story on Friday.  Friday morning, for example, the Islamic State carried out terrorist attacks on three continents, including in the heart of Europe.  Islamist terrorism has been the central geopolitical issue of the last decade-and-a-half.  Islamist terrorists are resurgent in the Middle East and have regained the ability or the operational wherewithal to conduct attacks anywhere they please.  And nobody cares.

Well . . . that’s not true.  Some people somewhere care.  But not in the United States, apparently, and certainly not in the American political class.  All of which is to say that the terrorists have to be rejoicing at their good fortune.  Once upon a time, terrorist attacks dominated the news and, on occasion, prompted a war or two.  But now . . . meh.  Or as Bari Weiss, a book review editor for the Wall Street Journal, put it on her paper’s op-ed page this weekend:

On Friday my phone was blowing up with messages, asking if I’d seen the news.  Some expressed disbelief at the headlines.  Many said they were crying.

None of them were talking about the dozens of people gunned down in Sousse, Tunisia, by a man who, dressed as a tourist, had hidden his Kalashnikov inside a beach umbrella.  Not one was crying over the beheading in a terrorist attack at a chemical factory near Lyon, France.  The victim’s head was found on a pike near the factory, his body covered with Arabic inscriptions.  And no Facebook friends mentioned the first suicide bombing in Kuwait in more than two decades, in which 27 people were murdered in one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the country.

They were talking about the only news that mattered: gay marriage. . . .

It is increasingly eerie to live in this split-screen age.  Earlier this week I received an email from a progressive Jewish organization about how Judaism teaches “that the preservation of human dignity is important enough to justify overriding our sacred mitzvot.”  The rest of the email was about respecting dignity by using preferred gender pronouns.

On my other computer screen, I looked at a photograph of five men in orange jumpsuits, their legs bound.  They were trapped like dogs inside a metal cage and hanging above a pool of water.  They were drawing their final breaths before their Islamic State captors lowered the cage into the pool and they drowned together.

What was that about human dignity?

The barbarians are at our gates.  But inside our offices, schools, churches, synagogues and homes, we are posting photos of rainbows on Twitter.  It’s easier to Photoshop images of Justice Scalia as Voldemort than it is to stare evil in the face.

Now, on the one hand, this is sort of the way the world works.  People tend to focus on what’s important to them in the immediate sense and to put things that are happening to other people, halfway around the world, out of their minds.  That’s their problem, in other words, not ours.

On the other hand, this is important stuff.  The ongoing Russian attack on Ukraine could cause a global economic slowdown.  If the Russians continue to push further and further into Ukraine, the European Union will feel it necessary to respond, most likely by issuing sanctions.  And if the Europeans sanction the Russians, Putin will all but certainly retaliate, most likely by messing with the supply and cost of natural gas shipments to Europe.  And if you add a severely disrupted energy market to the possible complications of the now seemingly inevitable “Grexit,” then things could get ugly quickly.  The slow growth seen the past few quarters in Europe could disappear, plunging the continent – and perhaps the rest of the West with it – back into recession.

Likewise, the Chinese are at a critical moment in their economic development, with markets crashing, rates being cut, and people beginning to panic.  More importantly, though, the Chinese are already in the process of waging war on the United States, whether the United States wishes to acknowledge it or not.  The cyber-attack on the Office of Personnel Management was not just your average, everyday hack of a government computer system.  It was, rather, a brazen declaration of cyber-war.  Or, as the Blogfather, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds (who also happens to “moonlight” as a legal scholar at the University of Tennessee), put it:

About 14 million current and former federal employees are in a state of collective panic over the loss of their information.  Former State Department employee Matthew Palmer was quoted as saying, “Who is in danger?  I listed friends on those forms and my family members. . . . Are some hackers going to start going after them?. . .

Possibly.  The U.S. military, even in its current somewhat shrunken state, remains an irresistible force in conventional warfare.  But this trove of information is perfect for “fourth-generation warfare,” in which conventional strengths are bypassed in favor of targeted attacks on a stronger nation’s weaknesses.  With this sort of information, China will find it much easier to recruit agents, blackmail decision-makers and — in the event of a straight-up conflict — strike directly at Americans in the government, all without launching a single missile.

That’s why experts are calling this security breach a “debacle“ and “potentially devastating.”  Some are even calling it a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Perhaps that’s a bit strong: Unlike the real Pearl Harbor attack, there are no burning and sunken ships full of American sailors.  On the other hand, if the Japanese in 1941 could have kept the U.S. from interfering with their Pacific conquests through subtler means than air-dropped torpedoes, they no doubt would have been happy to do so.  And that’s the situation that China, with cyberattacks such as this one, is trying to bring about.

As for the Islamic State, what can we say?  The crazies in Iraq and Syria have long surpassed al Qaeda as the premier Islamist terrorist group, which is to say that they are no longer the “jayvee team,” as our fearless leader once put it.  Last week, either the Islamic State or an affiliate killed more than three dozen people in Tunisia and injured three dozen more.  At the same time, an Islamic State wannabe in France cut off his boss’s head and then tried to blow up the American-owned chemical plant where he worked, while Islamic State agents blew up a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, killing at least 25 and injuring another 200.  And just to make sure that everyone got the point, for good measure, on Monday, assassins with the Islamic State’s Egyptian branch detonated a large bomb, killing Hisham Barakat, Egypt’s Prosecutor General.

All of this, naturally, raises a couple of questions:  who’s next?  And when will they hit the United States?  The answer to the first question, apparently, is “almost anyone,” while the answer to the second, unfortunately, is “almost any time now.”  Or a Max Boot explains over at the Commentary magazine blog:

The exact connections between ISIS and the foreign attacks remains to be determined but the fact that ISIS claimed credit for the Kuwait and Tunisia attacks suggests that it is expanding its attention, from Syria and Iraq toward a more international wave of terror designed to better compete with Al Qaeda, which has long been focused on the “far enemy” (i.e., the U.S. and its allies).  Already ISIS sympathizers have been linked to attacks in the U.S. such as the thwarted attempt to shoot up an exhibition of Mohammad cartoons in Texas.  It’s a safe bet that the U.S. will not be exempt from ISIS’ growing foreign focus, and that some future attacks will succeed.

Now, you take this, which is just plain old common sense, and add it to the fact that the FBI and Homeland Security have issued a terrorist warning for the Independence Day weekend, and then mix in the former Deputy Director of the CIA, Michael Morrell, saying yesterday that this warning in particular has him very worried, and you can’t help but come to the conclusion that the proverbial merde is about to hit the fan.  As Morrell notes, some 50 people have been arrested in the United States over the course of the last year for “being radicalized by ISIS, wanting to go fight there or wanting to conduct an attack here.”  Additionally, again as Morrell reminds us, the Islamic State has issued a global call-to-arms during Ramadan and has, in other places, managed to turn this call into the blood of “infidels.”  The presumption that the United States will somehow be immune from this in perpetuity is a fantasy.

All of which brings us back to the notion that same-sex marriage is, perhaps, not really the most important issue in the world right now.

Some of you may recall that just over a decade ago, Thomas Frank, who currently writes for Harper’s and used to have a weekly column at The Wall Street Journal, wrote a wildly popular book called What’s the Matter with Kansas?  Frank’s basic argument – then and ever since – is that rabid, right-wing nut cases have duped poor, stupid Kansans (and other Red-staters) into voting against their best economic interests by waving the bloody flag of cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage in their faces.

Some of you may also recall that we have repeatedly ridiculed Frank’s theory, noting that it is arrogant, intellectually vapid, and relies heavily on the notion that Red-staters are just too stupid to understand their own best interests.  In short, Frank’s book is the perfect distillation of the Progressive attitude for over a century now and the leftist attitude for over two centuries, i.e. if those stupid dolts would just acknowledge that we know what’s best for them, then we could immanentize the eschaton and make the world a veritable utopia.  Stupid democracy!

We want to be careful here that we don’t leave the impression that we are making the same argument, only from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum.  For starters, unlike Frank and the rest of the “social issues are stupid and blind people to their true interests” crowd, we don’t blame voters for focusing on social issues rather the issues that we favor.  Truth be told, we tend, more or less, to be social issues obsessives ourselves.  Of course, we think that social issues and economic issues are intricately linked, but then, that’s a story for another day.

Given that, we don’t think that the voters are the problem here.  In a democratic republic, the voters are always right.  And, by extension, the ruling class narcissists who think they know better than the voters are always wrong.  That’s the case when the narcissists are liberals like Thomas Frank.  And it’s also the case when the narcissists are conservatives, as they are in this case.  Consider, if you will, the following.

In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling, a handful of the supposed frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination went out and beclowned themselves, either because they believe what they say or because they think that Republican primary voters agree with what they said.  In either case, they did themselves no favors, did their party no favors, and made the Mullahs, ISIS, and the rest squeal with delight.  Senator Ted Cruz, for example, told Sean Hannity that Thursday and Friday had been among the “darkest 24 hours in the history of the Republic.”  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Hucakbee declared war on the Supreme Court, insisting that he would never ever (ever!) “acquiesce to an imperial Supreme Court.”  Former Senator Rick Santorum joined him, insisting that “the stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to five unaccountable justices.”  For our part, we wonder what “will of the people,” Santorum is talking about, given that a recent Pew poll showed that 57% of Americans support gay marriage and only 39% oppose it.  We suppose he could make an argument that the people are wrong; they often are.  But it’s hard to couch such an argument in terms of the “will of the people,” which is to say that Santorum is his usual incoherent self on this issue.

Two of the party’s most serious contenders – the aforementioned Cruz and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – took the opportunity to insist that the Constitution should be amended to undo what the justices had done.  Walker put it this way:

I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake.  Five unelected judges have taken it upon themselves to redefine the institution of marriage, an institution that the author of this decision acknowledges ‘has been with us for millennia.’  In 2006 I, like millions of Americans, voted to amend our state constitution to protect the institution of marriage from exactly this type of judicial activism.  The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas.  As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.

That’s just swell.  Did we mention yet that nearly 60% of people in the country support gay marriage?  That’s gonna make a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s decision difficult, we think.  More to the point, it’s going to make getting elected president while prattling on endlessly about how the Court was wrong and the equal protection clause should be amended out of existence even more difficult.  And if you’re looking for an explanation of the joy bubbling over in Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, and Raqqa, that’s it in a nutshell:  if Republicans try to make this campaign about their opposition to a Supreme Court ruling that upholds a policy supported by nearly 60% of the country, then the eventual GOP nominee will lose.  Period.  And Hillary will win.  And Putin will giggle in his sleep about the fact that the ditzy nonentity who tried to hand him a literal “reset button” was actually promoted by the American people and now runs the whole show.  If the Republicans don’t realize – and soon! – what they’re doing and saying and the effect that it’s all having on their election prospects, then they will march obliviously on to defeat.  And that will mean the continuation of the Obama Doctrine, such as it is, for at least four more years.  They don’t call the GOP the “stupid party” for nothing, we’re afraid.

Here’s the thing:  we don’t believe that Republican presidential candidates need to agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.  We don’t think anyone has to agree with it.  At the same time, any Republican who has any hope of winning the presidency has to understand that this particular issue will be used as a litmus test of sorts by a great many otherwise undecided voters.  If a candidate can’t avoid saying something stupid or cruel or potentially offensive on the question of gay marriage or gay rights in general, then he (or she) might as well kiss his (or her) presidential hopes goodbye.

Don’t believe us?  Consider the case of Ben Carson – Dr. Ben Carson, that is.  By all rights, Carson should be a fantastic addition to the GOP presidential primary and should be considered a frontrunner for the VP slot, even if he is unable to must support in his primary campaign.  He is, after all, a staunchly conservative, black brain-surgeon.  The guy should have mass appeal.  But his campaign will be a dud.  Two years ago, Carson sealed his fate by lumping gay men and women in with pedophiles and beastiality advocates.  This past March, Carson, compounded his previous problems by saying that homosexuality is “absolutely a choice,” and one need only look at sexual behavior in prison for confirmation.  Even though he has garnered some support in early polls, we expect that Carson will go nowhere.  He will not win a primary and will not make the shortlist for VP.  He is wasting his and everyone else’s time.  He may be a fantastic doctor and a great political story, but his comments have ended his campaign before it’s really even underway.  The guy is toast.

And the rest of the field will be toast too, if they don’t figure out how to traverse this proverbial minefield.

Now, we understand that there are procedural problems with the way the Supreme Court has imposed its will on the people.  We know that this confirms that the Supreme Court is, in the words of Andy McCarthy, “a political branch, not a judicial one.”  We get all of that.  But that doesn’t mean that Republican presidential candidates have to be so tone-deaf as to make a huge deal out of it, knowing full well that the mainstream media will turn any comment about the procedural flaws in the country’s adoption of same-sex marriage into an attack on gay men and women and the principle of equality.

Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, in a piece titled “What’s the Matter with Republicans,” we warned that the GOP had better decide how to handle the question of gay marriage lest it forfeit its political aspirations and, by extension, the best interests of the country.  We put it this way:

What this means, then, is that the GOP is in a bit of a spot – and it’s a spot that will directly affect the future of the country because it affects the electoral viability of Republican candidates, the only possible tonic for the Democrat-induced pathologies from which the nation is currently suffering.

On the surface, it might appear simple, even given the admonition against the GOP dropping cultural issues entirely:  make peace with gay marriage and move on.  But it doesn’t work that way, much as we and countless others may wish.

The fact of the matter is that gay marriage is not a discreet issue, easily separated from the rest.  Gay marriage is not just about feelings about homosexuality and equality and the rights of men and women “love whomever they want.”  It is, in the end, about religious liberty and the future of religion in this country.

As we have said countless times, we are actually rather sympathetic to the cause of gay marriage.  At the same time, we know that the political Left is manipulating this issue for its own benefit.  We know as well that the push for gay marriage won’t end once it is legal.  It will end only when no one – and we mean NO ONE – is able to oppose such unions and still be a part of “respectable” society.

Gay men and women may want nothing more than the rights and responsibilities of that straight men and women have.  And who can object to that?  But the ideology pushing the issue knows that there is far more at stake and that this issue in particular gives them the opportunity to severely cripple the one institution responsible for maintaining the old cultural hegemony, namely traditional religion, Christianity and Judaism specifically. . . .

Obviously, we don’t have the answers to these questions.  And if we did, we’d be big shot 1%-ers advising the next President of the United States, not political hacks working in our jammies in our basements.

In the final analysis, we suspect that this fight – like all of the important fights – will not be won in Washington.  As we have said many times, Washington is merely where the score is kept.  The battle itself will be fought and decided, as Gramsci knew, in the nation’s churches and synagogues, schools and universities, media and entertainment centers, and living rooms and dining rooms where family discussions occur and where children learn from the adults around them about morals, mores, manners, values, honor, prudence, courage, and what it means to be responsible citizens. . . .

The Right faces an exceptionally delicate task.  Winning the hearts and minds of the voters by promising more liberty sounds easy.  But doing so while balancing competing notions of liberty and simultaneously battling those who prefer power to liberty is a far greater challenge.

The fact that we wrote this over 16 months ago, tells us two things.  First, this is an issue that did not sneak up on anyone.  It was clear enough to two hacks almost a year-and-a-half ago, and so it should have been clear to the big shot politicians and their big shot advisers long before that.

The second thing this tells us is that despite the fact that this is an issue that has been obvious and obviously problematic for some time, the Republican presidential candidates did absolutely nothing whatsoever to prepare either themselves or the political landscape for it.  The Republicans didn’t go out and “win the hearts and minds” of anyone.  Instead, they cowered in their campaign headquarters and prayed that the whole issue would somehow go away.  But it didn’t.

Of all the Republicans running for president – and there are a bunch of them – only two had responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling that show that they have given the question any thought at all.  The first was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who said the following:

I think it’s a transformational moment.  There are a lot of upset people who believe in traditional marriage.  They’re disappointed, they’re down right now.  But, the court has ruled, so here’s where I stand.  If I’m president of the United States, here’s what would happen.  If you have a church, a mosque, or a synagogue, and you’re following your faith, and you refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, because it’s outside the tenets of your faith.  In my presidency you will not lose your tax-exempt status.  If you’re a gay person or a gay couple, if I’m president of the United States, you will be able to participate in commerce and be a full member of society, consistent with the religious beliefs of others who have rights also.

This is a solid answer.  There’s no whining about persecution or the collapse of the republic here, just a basic common-sense statement in which Graham says he’ll do his best to ensure everyone’s rights are upheld to the fullest.  What more could anyone ask?

The other Republican candidate who handled the issue deftly was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who advocated a policy proposal that we ourselves have favored for many years now, getting the government out of the business of marriage.  To wit:

The Constitution is silent on the question of marriage because marriage has always been a local issue.  Our founding fathers went to the local courthouse to be married, not to Washington, D.C. . . .

The government should not prevent people from making contracts but that does not mean that the government must confer a special imprimatur upon a new definition of marriage.

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do — taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it.  It is hard to argue that government’s involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.

As Paul points out, this addresses not only the marriage equality question, but is also a solid small-government argument.  His proposal gets the government out of the business of sanctioning people’s relationships, which is a business it never should have been in in the first place.

The irony in the fact that these two candidates, and only these two candidates, handled the issue deftly is that these are the two least qualified candidates in the campaign to address the other, critically important issues that should not be forgotten in this election.  Graham and Paul represent the two opposite extremes on the foreign policy spectrum, and neither is fit for higher office based on his foreign policy views alone.  Graham, as you might know, is a disciple of John McCain’s, which is to say that he thinks that potential wars are everywhere, from Libya to Russia to Syria to the South China Sea.  If Graham had his way, American troops would be occupying every country in the world, save maybe Canada, and then only “maybe.”

As for Paul, he’s a knee-jerk isolationist who thinks that defense spending should be cut, that Israel is coddled by the United States, and that the world would be a far better place if the United States cut its foreign involvement drastically and brought all its men and women back home.  Rand is not as over-the-top isolationist as his father – the GOP’s crazy uncle in the attic – but he’s far more so than any other major party candidate in recent memory.

This is a sad, sad state of affairs.  If being stupid and saying stupid things with respect to gay marriage disqualifies a Republican candidate from the presidency and thus from saving the country from Hillary’s all-but-certainly-doomed foreign policy, then only two candidates remain.  And those two are the only two we can say for certain would actually be worse than Hillary.

If we were the Mullahs or the ChiComms or Putin, we think we’d be celebrating too.  Happy Days are here again.  Or at least they will be if the mainstream GOP candidates don’t get their acts together.


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