Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

They Said It:

[Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.  Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think.  My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.

Voltaire, “Farewell, To Frederick the Great,” January 1, 1753.



As you undoubtedly recall, it was eight years ago this week that the world came to an end.  Or, to put it more accurately and less melodramatically: eight years ago this week, Lehman Brothers, one of the firms that had previously employed us and paid us our meager salary in stock, came to a quick and painful end, and in the process killed our hopes of retiring (early or otherwise), precipitated the panic that led to the financial crash, and savagely exacerbated the “Great Recession.”

Less than two weeks later, with the financial world in chaos, Senator John McCain – who also just happened to be the Republican presidential nominee – added greatly to the sense of panic by suspending his presidential campaign and racing back to Washington to “lead” the nation through its time of trouble.  Two days later, the time of trouble was, apparently, over, and McCain resumed his campaign.  He lost that race, of course, in no small part due to the fact that people came to see this quixotic campaign suspension as edifying and thus to see him as emotionally unstable.

People tend to forget about McCain’s personal panic attack, if for no other reason than it appears, in retrospect, to have been inconsequential.  He got beaten, and he got beaten badly, by a man who stirred the emotions and energy of the American people.  What’s to know?  Well, what’s to know is that the race was actually very close in September when McCain freaked out.  He was even leading in some polls.  Many voters wanted to vote for Obama, but didn’t know if he could be trusted to handle the weight of the toughest job in the world.  And then McCain lost his mind, suggesting to the voters that it was he, not Obama, who couldn’t handle a crisis.  And the rest, as they say, is history – remarkable political history.

We mention all of this today for a reason (other than taking a gratuitous swipe at the “Bank of Evil”).  In all our years of covering Washington, we have never seen a presidential nominee self-immolate like McCain did back in 2008.  He could have been president.  And then, all of a sudden, he had no chance.  It was as dramatic and shocking a moment of campaign malfeasance as we’ve ever seen.

Until, maybe, this weekend.

We’re not saying that Hillary Clinton is definitely going to lose this race, but if she does, we will all look back and tag this past weekend as the turning point in the campaign.  She could have been president, we’ll say.  And then, all of a sudden, she had no chance.  And like John McCain before her, she did it all to herself.

Now, just to clarify, we are not picking on a poor old woman for getting sick.  As far as we’re concerned, Hillary’s pneumonia is irrelevant.  Heck, as far as we can tell, that’s the least of her . . .  mmm . . . “illnesses.”  You take a nearly seventy-year-old woman, put her on the road for weeks on end, in a high-stress position, with a terrible, grueling schedule and no regular meals, and then you add in the fact that she shakes hands with literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people every day, and frankly, we’re surprised that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often.

The pneumonia is treatable.  What’s not treatable is her contempt for the American people.  As you may have heard, last Friday, just before she made headlines by stumbling around New York like Ted Kennedy on St. Patrick’s Day, Hillary made some pretty nasty comments about Donald Trump’s supporters, which is to say her fellow Americans.  Specifically, she said:

You know, just to be grossly generalist, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.  And unfortunately there are people like that.  And he has lifted them up.  He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million.  He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.

Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

Part of this, obviously, is the fact that Hillary, as a member of the ruling class, is inclined to detest the country class and to find its wants, desires, and needs to be stupid and bothersome.  We have written about this phenomenon countless times in these pages, most especially in the run-up to both of the last two Congressional midterm elections.  The members of the ruling class – in BOTH parties – have plans; plans that are delicate, complicated, and require endless gobs of money.  And the last thing they need are the stupid citizens messing up these plans with their own “ideas” and “votes” and other anachronisms.  One of the themes of this election and, indeed, of our current political era, is the unmitigated contempt in which the powers that be in Washington hold the people of the country.  We put it this way a couple of months ago in the aftermath of the Brexit vote:

Several years ago – when this whole rebellion started with the Tea Party – we concluded something about the populist insurgent spirit and about those who criticized it.  The Tea Partiers, you may recall, used to talk a great deal about “taking their country back.”  And in turn, their critics used to say that this was proof positive that the entire movement was racist, nativist, xenophobic, etc.  After all, the critics insisted, who else could these people want to take their country back from but the black man in the Oval Office, and the Hispanics streaming across the border, and the ever-growing minority population that would strip the “tea baggers” of their majority status and their white privilege?

We doubted that very much.  Indeed, we knew better.  We knew that the Tea Partiers were upset about a great deal more than Barack Obama.  Sure, Obama’s soft authoritarianism galvanized them, but they were every bit as unhappy with George W. Bush.  And Hank Paulson.  And the Bush-Paulson TARP boondoggle.  They were every bit as angry with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the RiNOs from Maine.  They were every bit as ticked off with the lily white Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the federal establishment.  True, they were mad at the pointy-headed intellectuals and bureaucrats, but that didn’t make them George Wallace.  It just made them normal, average, everyday people who were tired of other people trying to “rule” them, rather than simply to govern.

We concluded at that point that anyone who mocked the phrase “take back our country” or insisted that it was proof of the provincialism of the Tea Party movement was part of the problem.  The people didn’t want to take back their country from Obama or the illegal immigrants or even the non-white population.  They wanted to take back their country from the arrogant and self-satisfied elites, the political, educational, and media establishments.  In short, they wanted to take back their country from anyone who would think that taking back their country was a bad thing.  And thus any contemptuousness for taking the country back became a sort of shorthand for us, identifying those from whom the country should be taken back.

Hillary has, of course, been among the members of the ruling class for longer than almost anyone else still living.  Her husband was the Governor of Arkansas for twelve years before the two of them moved to the White House.  And they moved to the White House a full quarter century ago.  Almost from the day she walked into the family’s residence in “the people’s house” Hillary has sought additional power, far more than any First Lady before her ever had.  Today, she is the undisputed Queen Bee of the Washington hive, and she has no intention whatsoever of letting the dumb, toothless yokels back in . . . America, ruin this for her.

Many of the right-leaning pundits who commented on Hillary’s verbal diarrhea took this line of attack, this populist revulsion with her “demonization” of those she finds unworthy.  For example, Paul Rahe, a distinguished professor of history at Hillsdale College, was appalled but unsurprised that Hillary “borrowed a line from Barack Obama’s playbook,” and “let the mask slip,” saying “out loud what she and a majority of her fellow liberals think about the rest of us.”

Rahe made his comments by way of commending Donald Trump, whom, he claimed, had responded to Hillary’s comments quite brilliantly.  “Hillary Clinton is an insider, supported by powerful insiders,” Trump said, “attacking Americans who have no political power.”  “She revealed herself to be a person who looks down on the proud citizens of our country as subjects for her to rule over.”

All of this criticism of Hillary’s attitude toward the people is accurate, but it is the lesser part of her frustration with and detestation of this “basket of deplorables.”  And we don’t want the rest of the story it to get lost in the shuffle.  You see, her bigger problem is that these people have the audacity to disagree with her, not just about the direction in which the country should move or her own personal wonderfulness, but about much bigger and more fundamental matters as well.  They disagree with her about the definitions of such terms as “right,” “wrong,” “good,” and “evil.”  And for her – and indeed for all of the contemporary Left – this is by far the greater transgression.

Nearly a decade ago, Barack Obama defined “sin” as “being out of alignment with my values.”  Hillary Clinton agrees wholeheartedly, except that she’s pretty certain that her values are even better than Obama’s.  This is simply the way the contemporary political Left thinks and operates.  This is how the Left defines its world.  Those who agree with me are righteous.  Those who do not are evil.  And never mind that my definitions can and will change.  Failure to keep up with me and my revisions is enough to justify and even to require the condemnation of you.

As with the ruling-class business above, this “clash of moral codes” has been a foundational theme of ours for at least two decades, not because we are would be moralists, but because it has significant implications for public policy.  And last Friday, Hillary made the point in much clearer, much more transparent and alarming terms than we had ever done.

As fate would have it, Hillary ranted against her fellow Americans just two days before the nation commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the Islamist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Like most Americans on anniversaries such as this, we reflected on that unspeakable day and on its implications for our land, our people, and our republic.  As has become our habit over the years, we watched, re-watched, and reread some of the commentary and responses produced in the hours and days after the attack.  One of our favorites, not surprisingly, is President Bush’s address to the nation, delivered that evening from the White House.  Bush started and ended his speech with an appeal to that greatest of all American virtues, freedom:

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts . . .

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.  America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.

None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night and God bless America.

These words are bold, powerful, stirring, and, in the current political milieu, completely and utterly pointless.  Bush talked about defending freedom across the globe, about defending Americans’ rights and liberties from foreign evildoers who would try to diminish them.  What he didn’t understand and couldn’t possibly have known is that the real threat to American freedom came not from a handful of lucky goatherds in the Afghani mountains, but from the on-going course of domestic political events.  Al Qaeda and its offshoots may well constitute an implacable and vicious enemy, but contemporary culture and its political advocates are every bit as dangerous and unrelenting.

That said, here is the important take away from Hillary’s comments last Friday:  to her and to those who share her ideology, there are people in this country who hold “unacceptable” beliefs.  Note this well.  It is not that these people hold silly, stupid, or even incorrect beliefs.  It’s that they hold unacceptable beliefs, beliefs that place them outside of the protections normally afforded the citizens of the state.  To Hillary, these people are not just intolerant, but intolerable.  Their beliefs are illegitimate, which is to say that they cannot and WILL not be permitted by the state.  These people are, therefore, “not America.”

On the one hand, of course, no one thinks that racism or sexism or anti-Semitism are attractive characteristics.  And indeed, the state has a vested interest in rooting out both the causes and effects of these characteristics.

On the other hand, our Constitution, our Founding documents, the entire history of Anglo-American jurisprudence is dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal and remain equally deserving of their Creator-endowed rights, regardless of the offensiveness of their ideas.  Not only does the state not have the right to determine which ideas are “deplorable” and thus deserving of opprobrium, it actually has the responsibility to protect those who hold offensive ideas every bit as diligently as does those who hold only amenable beliefs.

That is, in fact, the whole point of the Lockean-Jeffersonian-Madisonian social contract.  The state exists first and foremost to defend the rights of ALL men and women.  And chief among those rights are freedom of expression and freedom of religion.  For a prospective president to label people holding unpopular beliefs “deplorable” “irredeemable” and “not America,” is for that candidate to repudiate, openly and unabashedly, the very notions on which this nation was founded.

On the third hand (there are two of us, after all), Hillary’s comments must be placed in the broader context of political and social upheaval in this country, and that, in turn, makes them even more unsettling.

As a general rule, when Americans think of the protections afforded them by the First Amendment, they think of “Freedom of Speech” first.  This is understandable, given the role that free speech has always played in the nation’s development.  Nevertheless, from a historical perspective, the other freedoms guaranteed by the amendment may matter more, which is why it begins with these freedoms:  “the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion  . . .”

We know it sounds a bit trite, but the fact of the matter is that the United States was founded specifically as a nation dedicated to the free exercise of religion.  And while the country hasn’t always lived up to this foundational principle – as Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, can attest – freedom of religion has always been foremost among the rights to which the nation has professed its dedication.  In 1784, the Commonwealth of Virginia proposed a tax assessment on Christian Churches in order to promote “public morality.”  The Father of the Constitution, James Madison, responded with an amendment to the bill.  That 15-point amendment would become known as the Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, one of our most important but also most forgotten founding documents.  Madison put it this way:

Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.  This right is in its nature an unalienable right.  It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.  It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.  This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.  Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.  We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.  True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Over the course of the coming decade or so, one of the most important and most contentious issues that will be debated by the solons of our political establishment will be how to deal with people who hold “deplorable” religious ideas, which is to say religiously based ideas that marriage should be the union of one man and one woman.  Donald Trump is known on the political scene as the man who proposes ending illegal immigration and pausing even legal immigration of Muslims from radical parts of the world.  And yet when Hillary rattled off her list of deplorable, irredeemable ideas, “homophobia” came up before either xenophobia or Islamophobia.  That may have been coincidence.  It may have been the fact that she was speaking to an audience made up of gay activists.  Or it may have been her way of signaling that she understands just who the real “deplorables” are and how to handle them.

The risk here is that the state – under the direction of the likes of Hillary Clinton – will determine that the “deplorables” simply do not have the right to believe what they believe, namely that marriage should adhere to the ancient one man-one woman standard.  Indeed, the state has already made its position clear on this matter.  It is simply unacceptable for anyone, anywhere to defy the state on matters that the state has determined merit its intervention.  The state’s moral code supersedes any individual moral code.  The deplorables must be ostracized or broken.

It is worth remembering, in this context, that the above bit from Madison was written in opposition to the establishment of a state religion, as an expression of firm belief that the establishment of a state faith would lead, inevitably, to the crushing of dissent and the violation of others’ inherent rights.  And that is precisely where we are again today, on the verge of the establishment of a sort of state moral code, a state religion.  Or as Yuval Levin noted last year in the wake of the kerfuffle over Indiana’s religious liberty bill:

[T]his is also the essence of the argument that a wedding vendor who wants to remain free to refrain from participating in a same-sex wedding would advance.  The question of the definition of marriage is, for many people, a fundamentally religious question.  It is, of course, also a civil question in our country.  But some religiously orthodox wedding vendors are finding themselves effectively compelled by the civil authorities to affirm an answer to that question that violates their understanding of their religious obligations.  They would like to be relieved of that compulsion, but they are being told they can’t be because the larger society’s understanding of the proper answer to the question should overrule the answer prescribed by their religious convictions, and if they want to participate as business owners in the life of the larger society they must give ground. . . .

This distinction between individual and institutional religious freedom has actually been at the core of a lot of the religious freedom battles we’ve had in the Obama years.  It has been more prominent in the HHS-mandate debates, but it’s very much a part of this argument about whether a florist shop or a pizza parlor can be Christian.  In a country with a non-Christian state religion that it takes seriously, the answer is basically no.  The florist can be Christian as an individual, but his store can’t be, because institutions, unlike individuals, are creatures of the law and our law already has a religion: progressive liberalism.

As we’ve said, we have long been sympathetic to the idea that people should be free to choose whom they love and with whom spend their lives.  At the same time, we are adamantly opposed to the idea that this type of “tolerance” must be compelled by the state.  If the state can determine that 3000 year-old belief systems are, suddenly, immoral, unacceptable, “deplorable,” then there is nothing – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – that the state can’t do.

The good news is that we think that Hillary Clinton has hurt herself politically by speaking about her own belief system so bluntly.  She was before a friendly audience, one which shared her beliefs, and she spoke frankly.  This will hurt her, and hurt her badly.  Calling your fellow countrymen “deplorable” is a grave and politically unforgiveable offense, no matter how much of the ruling class agrees with you.  If she loses in November, her comments last Friday will be a big reason why.

The bad news is that she is hardly alone.  Donald Trump, populist that he is, may be willing and able to articulate his concerns about the “little guy,” but he doesn’t seem to care one whit about the inalienable rights guaranteed by our social contract.  He doesn’t seem to have any compunction whatsoever about violating citizens’ rights in pursuit of his own ends.  All of which is to say that he cannot be counted on to repudiate the state religion.

Worse still, this religion has taken hold among our ruling class, even in the most unlikely of places.  As we noted a few weeks ago, the Libertarian presidential ticket, headed by former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, thinks that it is “the federal government’s job” to prevent discrimination “in all cases.”  Johnson is dismissive of religious liberty, believing that it is a mere excuse for some people – presumably deplorables – to “discriminate” in their behavior toward same-sex marriage.  Think about that:  the LIBERTARIAN nominee for president doesn’t believe that the free exercise of religion is an important enough right to preclude government coercion where same-sex marriage is concerned.  And if we can’t count on the Libertarians to defend our liberty, on whom can we count?

The answer, sadly, is no one, at least in the current political atmosphere.  All we can do is be grateful that Hillary Clinton is a very inept politician, which is to say that she may still lose this deplorable race.

Copyright 2016. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.