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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Safety in numbers? Yes. Also weakness.

"The many obey, and obey to the point of allowing suffering and death to be inflicted on them, while the few command. This means it is not true that number constitutes a force. Number, whatever our imagination may lead us to believe, is a weakness. The masses are not in subjection despite the fact of their being number, but because they are number."
—Simone Weil

Retaking the American university

Roger Kimball. Nobody does a better job of tracking the heart-wrenching idiocy that so often passes for sane discourse at the contemporary American university. His latest piece ("Retaking the University: A Battle Plan") is must reading, especially in the wake of Harvard president Larry Summer's serial lynching by the inclusive, diversity-celebrating pluralists who've proved so successful at removing humanity from the university's Humanities enclave. If you're new to Kimball's work, you can do no better than to start off your summer reading with his classic (in the sense of widely respected, quoted, admired) book Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, or his latest work The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art. I heartily recommend adding Kimball's The New Criterion to your list of bookmarked sites.

Homeschooling

Their numbers are growing, and some of them actually live in your town, perhaps in your very neighborhood. Good news for a change: They're not a threat. Except maybe to those who subscribe to the idea that people do best with fewer options. I'm talking about parents who take responsibility for educating their kids at home. My latest article is posted at my Web site. Money quote:
Many homeschooling parents say there’s still a widespread assumption “out there” that families who opt for home education are … a little … strange. This from a Marin mom who agreed to speak off the record: “At first I was amazed at the looks on people’s faces when I mentioned that we’re a homeschooling family. It was like we were members of some strange cult. I learned to joke about it by adding: ‘But our house does have electricity and running water, and we even own a motor vehicle.’”
Homeschooling is not an easy row to hoe, but more and more parents are obviously concerned enough about growing public school trends to seek alternatives. What kinds of trends? Well, A Santa Rosa, California, public high school now makes birth control supplies available right on campus. To my mind, this policy doesn't go far enough. Here's what I suggested in a previous post here at Sane Nation.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ann Elk

I mentioned her in the previous. Ann Elk (played by the inimitable John Cleese) is one of the truly great characters from classic Monty Python. (H = very proper British host called Chris, played I think by Eric Idle or maybe Graham Chapman; A = Ann Elk.) H: Now, Miss Elk - Anne - you have a new theory about the brontosaurus. A: Can I just say here, Chris for one moment, that I have a new theory about the brontosaurus? H: Uh... Exactly... What is it? A: Where? H: No! No, what is your theory? A: What is my theory? H: Yes! [getting peeved] A: What is my theory that it is? Yes. Well, you may well ask what is my theory. H: I am asking. A: And well you may. Yes, my word, you may well ask what it is, this theory of mine. Well, this theory, that I have, that is to say, which is mine,... is mine. H: I know it's yours! What is it? A: ... Where? ... Oh! Oh! What is my theory? H: Yes! [Furious] A: Ahh! My theory, that I have, follows the lines that I am about to relate. [starts prolonged throat clearing] H: [under breath] Oh, God... [Anne still clearing throat] A: The Theory, by A. Elk - that's "A" for Anne", it's not by a elk. H: Right... A: [clears throat] This theory, which belongs to me, is as follows... [more throat clearing] This is how it goes... [clears throat] The next thing that I am about to say is my theory. [clears throat] Ready? H: [wimpers] A: The Theory, by A. Elk [Miss]. My theory is along the following lines... H: [under breath] God! A: ...All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end. That is the theory that I have and which is mine and what it is, too. H: That's it, is it? A: Right, Chris! H: Well, Anne, this theory of yours seems to have hit the nail right on the head. A: ... and it's mine.

Multiple dimensions: left & right

Warp speed in the blogosphere. I start a post on how transcending a simple binary right/left model doesn't cover all the necessary territory, when I get an email from Kevin Baker making precisely that point:
The general consensus is that a simple one-dimensional political scale is horribly inadequate. At a minimum, a two-dimensional map is required, with "Left (liberal) - Right (conservative)" being one axis, and "Libertarian - Authoritarian" being the other axis. Even this is inadequate but it is much more informative than the simple Left-Right dichotomy. There's even a "Political Compass Test."
I heartily agree with Kevin on this. A. Lawrence Chickering, in a book called Beyond Left and Right: Breaking the Stalemate, argues similarly that, at minimum, any useful conversation has to posit that both left and right have their respective freedom wings and authoritarian wings; hence "free left" and "order left"; "free right" and "order right." Philosopher Ken Wilber pushes the envelope further with his own quadrant system. Wilber is a brilliant thinker and an excellent writer, but his highly theoretical work is not light reading. But if you're up for serious exploration of these concerns, start here for the theoretical underpinnings of his integral model of knowledge. Then take a look at his essay specifically about integral politics. After you've finished all that, you'll deserve a break, so I suggest perhaps going here and bringing along some of this. Don't despair if you're not heavily into theory, or if the right/left divide (two parts? four parts? more?) doesn't usually rob you of a good night's sleep. I do Big Theory here only rarely, partly to honor my favorite Monty Python character, Ann Elk. OK, I can't leave it there. See next post.

Beyond Left & Right

Interesting reflections from East Coast thinker Michael Ostrolenk in The Free Liberal, a left-libertarian journal of politics and economics, about what he sees as the potential for "a new transpartisan politics." Money quote:
Another reason this group of people can be considered beyond left and right is that their critique of power consists of both those from the traditional American left and the old right. They are concerned with all forms of concentrated power and authority. Government bothers them as much as transnational corporations. They look askance at the media, consumer culture, government propaganda, authoritarian religious institutions, and our so-called educational systems.
Kevin Rollins and Jim Turner offer this definition: "A Free Liberal is a person who values individual freedom, is alive to the dangers inherent in all forms of power and authority, and believes in the possibility of the rule of law, equal justice, fundamental rights, and a free and prosperous society."

Why men earn more

Longtime gender fairness advocate Warren Farrell will be on ABC's 20/20 Friday night (May 27th at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific, 9 pm Central) to talk about the themes in his important new book, Why Men Earn More. Here's how Publisher's Weekly describes Farrell's book:
Why do men earn more than women? Because they deserve to, argues this contrarian challenge to feminist conventional wisdom. Men work longer hours at more dangerous and disagreeable jobs. They more readily accept night shifts, hardship postings to Alaska and entrepreneurial risks. Men get in-demand degrees in engineering, while women get degrees in French literature. Female librarians earn less than garbagemen, not because of discrimination, but because so many applicants compete for the safe, clean, comfortable, convenient, fulfilling jobs women prefer. Indeed, the author insists, statistics show that women and men with equal experience and qualifications, doing the same job, for the same hours, under the same conditions-get paid the same. Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power, usefully points women towards high-paying, male-dominated fields that are becoming female friendly and suggests that ambitious women marry stay-at-home husbands. But he considers men the real victims, taken advantage of because of their innate chivalry and social expectations that they trade earning power for love and sex and be "willing to die to support the wives and children."
Farrell is one of the best thinkers around when it comes to men-women issues. He is the only man ever elected three times to the Board of the National Organization for Women in NYC, back in the days when feminism was actually about attaining legal equality, rather than demanding preferential treatment, for women. Over the years his focus has shifted to equal tretment men against the onslaught of feminist special pleading. Warren has been a strong advocate for what's best for kids in custody disputes. Fact: Study after study show that kids do best when both parents are actively involved in their lives (assuming, of course, that both parents are fit, not addicted or abusive, etc.).

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Where I stand

"But where do you personally stand, now that you've exited the left?" I understand why this continuing question is of interest, given the thrust of my recent essay. In many ways it's an obvious and necessary question. Tell us where you've gone, now that you've left. Since my essay was unapologetically first person about leaving, why not the same approach to where I've gone. Point taken. In an interview on the opening page of my Web site I discuss in broad terms how my political perspective has evolved and what matters most to me now, and why. As for specific issues, stay tuned over time. What I post here tends to track items in the news. I don't have a party platform to put forward, nor my own version of a Contract with America. Newt Gingrich tried that — look where it got him. If you resonated with what I wrote in Leaving the Left, hang around. I plan to explore, amplify, articulate those ideas. Since many of you have asked: Yes, I have decided to write a book that will give a fuller account of my political journey — from there to here, and from here on out. Thus ends my commentary about the essay. Let's move on.

Binary myopia

A frequent response to my essay was summed up by a reader who wrote to say: "So, you've said goodbye to the left. But you didn't say where you've gone instead. By definition, the only other alternative to staying on the left or going further left, is to head in the opposite direction. No thanks; I have no interest in hanging out with Dick Cheney and Tom Delay." It's an excellent point, and one that my essay didn't address. The piece ran right up against the word limit that the San Francisco Chronicle allows. If I could do it all over again, I would have implored my editor to let me run a little bit longer, so I could speak to the important question of "life after the left." It's a subject I intend to address soon at length, but I'm eager to offer a few thoughts straight away, since many readers raised the same point. Imagine a light switch, a classic binary system. It's got to be either on or off. You can do your best to toggle the switch in the middle, but even if the switch does seem to be at the exact midpoint, the light is going to be on, or off. Can't be on and off at the same time. Using binary logic — "two choices only" — my correspondent is correct. Leaving the left does seem to require moving right.
L ——————>———>———————————————R
But who said politics has to take place in a binary universe limited to two choices? There's another option entirely. It's called: leaving the left/right line altogether. Most people have no idea how free they are to leap off the left-right continuum at any time — free to start making political decisions unfettered by assumptions about what's consistent with fixed notions of right and left.
X ^
^
^
L ————————————————————————R
Taking that leap, escaping the gravity of the left-right baseline, doesn’t involve abandoning principal. It becomes possible to act on conviction in light of a fuller, more integral perspective. In bidding farewell to a political affiliation that no longer seems vital, it's not necessary to take out a membership card in a new ideology. What matters is knowing what you value, honoring what you knowing, and staying open to finding new allies in unexpected quarters. "X" in the graphic indicates someone who has leaped off the left/right line. I envision the post-leap environment as similar to the experience of astronauts in space: floating, able to move around in new ways. The "X" above is fixed in one place, near the centerpoint. If I knew how to use Flash technology, Person X would be seen moving back and forth from left to right — to indicate not wildly shifting political sentiments but simply the capacity to borrow from both left and right, depending on the issue. A person who has stepped off the line (interesting, how often we're told to "get back in line" and "line up") — a "transpartisan" person — might choose to gravitate more toward one pole or the other, on most issues. The main point: freedom to move beyond prescribed political categories. What I'm describing is not the same as traditional bipartisanship, which sometimes seems to be a good thing because bipartisans spend a lot of time reminding us how good and virtuous they are because they are cooperating rather than fighting. The alternative I'm describing might better be termed "transpartisanship." It's a rather awkward term, and it reminds me of Thoreau's counsel to "Beware of all activities that require new clothes." I think the same generally applies to new words. That said, the idea is fairly simple, at least conceptually. Trans means "across, over, beyond." Or we could play with "metapartisan," since the prefix meta generally indicates "more fundamental or comprehensive." But of course it's not a new word we need, but a new way of thinking. These musings aren't meant to be comprehensive, but suggestive. And my main point, to repeat, is that only in a binary political cosmos is "If not left, then right" logically necessary. For instance, one can choose to embrace ideas more commonly discussed on the right than the left these days, such as self-responsibility, while still remaining a Democrat. Especially Democrats who hope to start winning elections again.

Life after the left

I've heard from readers who hugely dislike and disagree with the thrust of my essay. A few (and relatively few, I would add) have cast the obligatory accusations about being bought off by Karl Rove and selling out to all the reactionary forces afoot in the world today. Makes perfect sense: If one's particular style of narcissism is founded on seeing oneself as "progressive," then by definition someone who says "goodbye to all that" must be ... regressive. Several have demanded that I submit to a test that basically comes down to this: "So it's clear what you don't like about the left, but now you are obliged to say precisely where you stand on all of the following issues..." The issues range from Abortion to Gun Control; Worker's Rights to Single-Payer Health Care; Iraq to the Patriot Act. Here's my response: No. I have no such obligation. Here's why. If I find out there's a crack house in my neighborhood, you can be sure that my mind is going to get powerfully concentrated around one goal, namely how to get that house closed down. If I go to a neighbor for help in this task, and if he says he shares my concern but doesn't want to act against the crack house until we have a plan for a new use of the house once the house has been vacated, I'm going to shake my head, walk away and go looking for neighbors who understand why the crack house needs to be closed, period, now. I'm guessing that metaphor is going to drive some readers ballistic. They'll say I'm declaring that everyone who identifies with left-of-center thinking in any way is comparable to a crack user. That's decidedly not what I am saying. I know that many people who favor, say, a larger role for government, or who don't like what's happening in Iraq, aren't crazy about the dogmatism of the politically correct left, especially the academic left that spawns reactionaries like Ward Churchill. So let me be precise about my analogy. I'm convinced that the cultural left as defined in my essay is indeed extremely dangerous to "the neighborhood," by which I mean our culture. Possible future uses of what's currently a crack house are irrelevant to the task at hand: recognizing the dangers posed by the activities of that house, and acting accordingly. Doing so would be nothing extraordinary. Not doing so would be insane.

Comments — resolved

Prior to publication of my manifesto Leaving the Left, this blog was set up to receive comments (pro or con or in between) from readers. Then a handful of character assassins and assorted anonymous demogogues began posting obscene and hateful attacks. I decided to disable the comments feature because I refused to host a forum for that. Then I realized: That's how intellectual bullies operate: They can't win in the realm of ideas so they work to close down venues for free and open discourse. See Harvard or any major college campus in America for constant reminders of political correctness in action. So I restarted the comments section, with this proviso: I would remove posts that engage in the kinds of attacks described above. What I failed to realize is how that would set me up to constantly police my blog. Who needs that? So the comments are once again gone, but with this new proviso. I look forward to occasionally featuring the perspectives of smart, informed people who may agree or disagree with what appears in this space. When I learn something new from people who think I'm off base, I'll occasionally present their views, anonymously. So the comment section is gone, but the opportunity for genuine feedback lives on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

History lesson

Spot quiz. Who made the following statement: “The free use of private property is just as important as ... speech, the press, or the free exercise of religion.” A. James Madison B. Thomas Jefferson C. Adam Smith D. Bobcat Goldwaithe Answer: none of the above. Janice Rogers Brown made that statement. But it sounds a lot like Madison or Jefferson. So what is it that has "progressive" opponents of Brown's nomination to the D.C. Court of Appeals screaming like Bobcat? Here's what: Brown had the audacity to declare that courts have the responsibility not run roughshod over groups that are unpopular or lack political power. Say what? Isn't that what people on the left also say they believe? Yep. But on the left it's fine to discriminate against groups that don't meet the left's ideological litmus test, like property owners. In San Remo Hotel vs. San Francisco (2002), the majority upheld the exorbitant fee that San Francisco charges owners of small residential hotels if they want to rent rooms to tourists rather than housing the homeless. These mostly mom-and-pop businesses are “a relatively powerless group” that have been arbitrarily singled out for social- welfare duty, Justice Brown wrote. The Fifth Amendment, she noted, prohibits government from forcing “some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.” In Justice Brown’s view, requiring hotel owners to maintain and use their property for the benefit of the poor, thus decreasing the value of the property, amounted to an unconstitutional taking. California Senator Dianne Feinstein disagrees. Feinstein says Brown's dissent places her far "outside the mainstream" of judicial thought. But Brown's dissent adhered strictly to United States Supreme Court precedent in the area of takings law. It was consistent with the Supreme Court’s holdings in Nollan and Dolan, as well as Erlich, a California Supreme Court takings case. Feinstein and her multi-millionaire developer husband Richard Blum live in a magnificent mansion in the exclusive Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. Well, at least it looks pretty magnificent, from a distance. The uniformed guards make it somewhat difficult to get a close look. But let's not bring up class. That would take us far afield — way out of the mainstream, for which populist Senator Feinstein obviously has such a strong intuitive feel.

The left's list of "acceptable" blacks

"Achievement is not what liberalism is about. Victimhood and dependency are." So writes Thomas Sowell, a columnist who regularly brings a refreshing reality check to issues of race, culture, ideology, and history. Money quote:
Liberal Democrats, especially, must keep blacks fearful of racism everywhere, including in an administration whose Cabinet includes people of Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, and Jewish ancestry, and two consecutive black Secretaries of State. Blacks must be kept believing that their only hope lies with liberals. Not only must the present be distorted, so must the past -- and any alternative view of the future must be nipped in the bud. That is why prominent minority figures who stray from the liberal plantation must be discredited, debased and, above all, kept from becoming federal judges.

Media alert update

I'm still doing Rusty Humphreys' show Tuesday night — except it has been moved an hour back, to 8:30 pm West Coast time.

Thompson media alert

Tonight I'll be a guest on the syndicated talk radio program hosted by Rusty Humphreys ("Your brother from another planet") to talk about ... you know ... the article. That's Tuesday May 24 at 7:30 pm Pacific Time. For people educated in the critical thinking department at Harvard, that's 10:30 pm Eastern Time. (Here's the general rule: Harvard is three hours faster than the left coast. But we're gaining on you, according to 1) a physicist I know and 2) recent elections.) To listen to the show live, go to Talk Radio Network and click "listen live" on the left-side column. I'm sure I don't need to explain to Harvard's critical thinkers which side is left. But how many of you actually know which side is up?

Monday, May 23, 2005

The American way — this time for real

So the GOP and Dem moderates have brokered a deal that the whole Senate's going to go along with — until it breaks down, which, after the votes on the first three judicial nominees, may well happen. Members of the Senate who want to defeat a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court will have the option to opt out of the deal by declaring that nominee so "extraordinary" (as in extraordinarily bad) as to be deserving of filibuster. Unless, of course, Mr. Bush chooses to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy with the newly sworn-in nominee to the D.C. Court of Appeals, namely Janice Rogers Brown. The president need only say how impressed he is with her, and of course Barbara Boxer and the Nay Sayers Caucus will not be able, credibly, to say nay in her direction, given that Brown was just vetted for the appellate seat. That would be a brilliant move. But that's not what's foremost on my mind tonight. What's got my attention is that Ralph Neas, head of the powerful People for the American Way, has announced his group's intention to go all out to defeat Brown, Owens, and Pryor. How are they going to try to do that? The old-fashioned way. They are going to try to get more senators to vote against those three nominees than senators who vote for them. When I worked as a Senate staffer (for Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio) that's how Senate business was routinely conducted. "Up or down vote" wasn't a conservative rallying cry — it was how the Senate functioned. Yes, filibusters were used on occasion, when I was there. In fact, Metzenbaum led a few rousing ones during his memorable tenure. And I think the filbuster has its place — but not as a blanket means of preventing a duly-elected president from nominating judges. ("Duly-elected" is a civics class flourish, hope you like it.) Did the GOP in fact keep 60 Clinton judges from even getting committee votes? I seem to remember that they did. What I also recall is that Clinton didn't make it much of an issue. He didn't spend much political capital to enlist his constituency in his behalf. But then, Mr. Clinton wasn't a guy who liked to create currents, at least around issues. Better to split the differences in advance, rather than have a royal fight. Better to let that political capital accrue. Clinton may have been the most risk-averse president in U.S. history. (Ask Lani Guinier.) To the contrary, the GOP has gone all-out in behalf of Bush's judges. I admire them for doing so, separate from the merits of each judicial nominee. They know what they want and they fight for it. If the Democrats had felt really strongly about their bottled up 60 judicial nomineeds, they, too had the right to make a fight. They chose at the time not to go beyond merely formal protests. Take your cookies when they're passed. Maybe next time they've got a president in the White House, they'll be willing to fight harder. For now, I've grown weary of hearing Barbara Boxer and Pat Leahy (among others) talk about how "unfair" it is, in retrospect, that they didn't fight they way the GOP is fighting now. How ungenerous it is that the Republicans want all their nominees confirmed. Is it unreasonable for any president to want his nominees to be approved? To want this enough to fight hard? Of course not. Welcome to Senate lobbying, Mr Neas. You were not able to prevent a vote from taking place, but "A" for effort. Now, do your best to defeat whom you consider the evil three. Do this by urging undecided senators to vote against them. Since you're into the American Way, why not give it a try. You might find you like it. And then, a lot more people will get the whole thing with your group's name. See the point?

Free to leap

Is leaving the left synonymous with moving right? By strict binary logic, the answer would seem to be yes. But not so fast—all choices in the real world aren't limited to sets of mutually exclusive twos. Contrary to popular belief, politics need not be a game in which the only way to move from the left is to head squarely in the opposite direction, or vice versa. There's another alternative, one that people on both sides of the continuum are getting hip to: We are free at any time to leap off the left-right line altogether and begin making political choices liberated from the gravity of the ideological continuum, whose pull turns out to be surprisingly escapable. As with any right, however, there is a corresponding responsibility. Before leaping, it is crucial to know what you value; important to honor what you know; good to stay open to surprises and new opportunities for learning. Now as before, I consider myself a liberal — but in the classic sense that Jefferson and Madison understood. The word comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “free, befitting a free person.” It also means “independent,” which is why I refuse to abandon it just because it has become synonymous in the popular mind with its antithesis: commands issued by an elite from on high. I cannot conceive of a better word than liberal for the animating spirit that employed Jefferson’s pen to render this majestic sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What gives these words lasting vitality is not that America has always lived up to its creed. To the contrary, when this nation has fallen short, as with slavery and segregation and second-class status for women, the fall has been egregious. What most validates the American democratic quest is its genius for self-correction. When we get things wrong, we work to set things right. More than any other quality, this is what makes the phrase “American exceptionalism” not an abstract theory but a self-evident fact, confirmed in the best scientific sense by countless experimental trials. It goes without saying that love of country is real for a great many Americans who play politics left of center. Faith in government activism is not somehow intrinsically at odds with patriotism. Yet it must be said that for over three decades the cultural left’s center of gravity has shifted decisively toward the conviction that America is synonymous with an unending series of crimes and depredations against humanity. (I discuss this in my essay Busting the Moral Equivalence Racket.) Opening to this truth does not require embracing the GOP platform, or for that matter, signing up with the supposed correctness of, say, a rightwing ideology that's as myopic as its left-wing counterpart. I say this in response to those who assert: "Okay, Keith. It's clear why you've left the political left. Now, it's incumbent on you to apply the same criticism to the political right." Actually — no, it's not incumbent on me to do that. Here's why. I haven't been laboring in the vineyards of conservative politics for most of my adult life, such that criticizing the right would be to criticize my own tradition. Whereas I have lived on the left, in such a way that coming to terms with my past commitments involves self-criticism. This is not to say you won't hear criticism of ideas that may be popular among some on the right. When you've stepped off the left-right line you become free to reject particular tenets from either side, as well as to embrace tenets from eithe side. Libertarians know this especially well. I have considerable sympathy with the freedom quest of libertarian thinking, although for me the word "libertarian" — like the words "liberal" and "conservative" — are more appealing these days as adjectives than as nouns. And, yes, you will hear me embrace conservative ideas that make sense to me. I'm now very willing to make common cause with conservatives when I think they’re right. I don’t have a problem, say, with Bill Bennett's view that the 1960s-inspired project of fostering self esteem separate from encouraging personal achievement has been a cultural disaster. I only wish more people on the left would join the campaign, because America doesn't need a generation of unaccomplished kids with inflated opinions of themselves. Likewise, I’ll be glad to cheer when the Children’s Defense Fun gets around to advocating dedicated parenting as kids’ first and foremost need. Until then, I’ll keep saying to Dr. Laura: You go, girlfriend.

Big Bad Jerry

More than a year ago, when I began privately voicing my concerns about the direction of America’s cultural left, many of my friends and colleagues were quick to nod agreement. But when I said I planned to write a newspaper piece, I was surprised by the intensity of their opposition. I kept getting the same response: "Your case is strong about where the left has gone wrong, but you dare not go public because you’ll only give aid and comfort to right-wing extremists like Jerry Falwell." That got me wondering. If Falwell is an extremist, what does that make Al Qaeda? Bin Laden and his henchmen stone women for adultery and beat them for showing an ankle; they throw homosexuals to their deaths from the tops of towers; they murder thousands of civilians by flying airplanes into skyscrapers. A sedentary Baptist minister from Lynchburg, Virginia, is somehow a greater threat? I don’t think so.

Comments are Back

Later I realized that removing the option for readers to post comments here, simply because a few demogogues resorted to ugly name calling, plays exactly into what such people want: to close down discussion and debate altogether, rather than face the indignity of comments that challenge their deeply entrenched ideology. People who wrap themselves in the banner of the Free Speech Movement, spend their free time shouting down those who would freely speak contrary truths. This of course is the intellectual equivalent of what the friends of Michael Moore hope to accomplish by blowing up buildings and beheading innocent people in Iraq. The purveyors of terror will go to great lengths to ensure that the rituals of self-governance do not take hold in Iraq. One of their goals is to keep decent people cowed in silence. Well, it ain't gonna happen here. Express your views strongly and clearly; make your case on issues and ideas. But if you resort to name calling of any kind, your comments will be deleted, period.

Media Update

I'm on live tonight (Monday, 23 May @ 8:00 pm EST) with Bruce Elliott, veteran talk radio host at WBAL AM 1090, exclusive radio home for the Baltimore Orioles. We'll talk about the subject of my last few posts: my essay Leaving the Left. Tune in and listen live via streaming audio. It's not a long appearance — 20 minutes or so.

Rush

Yes, that was me speaking to Rush Limbaugh live a few moments ago. I was the one celebrating Bobby Kennedy. Rush was the one who was remembering Hubert Humphrey with respect. So it goes in the amazing political landscape called America. Who knew? The Founders of the Constitution did. They understood what they were making during those hot Philadelphia sessions in the summer of 1789. "A republic, if you can keep it," as Franklin put it. Amen to that...

Comments

...I've turned them off — the feature that allows readers to post responses to my postings, and to the remarks of others about what I post here. I did so because several people who disagreed with my essay Leaving the Left decided to register their contempt in vile and obscene terms rather than meeting me on the ground of ideas. I'm pretty close to an absolutist when it comes to freedom of expression, but I feel no obligation to provide a forum for people whose political vocabulary consists of profane epithets. I can still be reached by email, of course. Know that I plan to feature regular comments from folks whose opinions may differ from mine but whose capacity for expression isn't limited to the verbal equivalent of Robert Mapplethorpe "art."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Post-Manifesto

So — I write an essay called Leaving the Left, and what happens? Several hundred responses, from far and wide. It is hard to describe the richness and, let me say, the beauty of the vast majority of the responses that showed up in my in-box today. The predominant theme: Welcome Home. "We left the light on for you," said one writer. Because the piece got picked up by several right-of-center online publications, it's not surprising that my musings got a decided thumbs-up. Here's what surprised me, and what I find heartening: A large number of self-described SF Bay Area readers (more than 200 at last count) said I had given voice to their largely unexpressed doubts about what the left has become. Frankly, I expected a lot of hostile responses from the San Francisco left. Accordingly, I braced myself. To the contrary, here's a passage that's representative of what I heard from people who described themselves as actively engaged with left, liberal or progressive politics: "Just because I disagree with the conduct of the Iraq war and oppose private Social Security accounts doesn’t require me to cheer a liberal-left agenda that’s clueless about the differences between the nihilism of Al Qaeda and the appropriate force of American self-defense. Bravo for saying what so many of us are thinking…" That theme was repeated over and over. Quick overview:
"I may not like all of Bush's judicial nominees; I don't think there needs to be a constitutional amendment on gay marriage; I don't want drilling in the Arctic ... But ... I hate the academic left's politically correct posturing; I can't take another day of gender-feminist male bashing; if the GOP had the guts to condemn David Duke, why can't the Democrats manage to send the same message to Al Sharpton?"
If you're familiar with the resentment-driven politics of San Francisco's hard left, you will probably be as amazed as I was that I received a mere handful of hateful ("compassionate") messages. Five or six angry correspondants insisted I had sold out to the radical, extreme right wing of the Republican Party. I emphatically disagree. Still, I am decidedly grateful for the suitcases of cash that arrived during the day from Rupert Murdoch and Ken Starr. Several writers who liked the thrust of my essay wondered how I "stayed on the left for so long." Excellent question, given that I described the left's mocking of the Iraqi elections as my breaking point. Where was I in the '90s and '80s? When I left politics in the 1980s to commit willful acts of journalism, I wrote more than a few stories about creative people making positive changes in their communities. Gradually (and I must say in hindsight inevitably), the destructive effects of political correctness and social engineering began to be the focus of my writing. For instance, I wrote a story about public schools that expel 6-year-olds for using theit thumbs and index fingers as "guns," thus violating co-called "zero-tolerance" rules toward "violence." I remember how hard it was to take an "objective" perspective toward such mind-numbing social stupidity. It occurred to me that everything that needed to be said, could be said in an opinion column. Now, I'm a blogger. So, yes. The left's refusal to celebrate the Iraqi people's quest for self-determination was pivotal in itself, but also because it became the occasion for me to look hard and think clearly about larger themes at the heart of my work. Being the father of a young son likewise has had a slow and steady effect of getting me to clarify what kind of culture I want him to grow up in. And, of course: September 11. It's not exactly that it "changed everything." Rather, it brought everything that mattered into clearer relief. Back to the present: If you liked what I wrote, please know there's more to come. On the other hand, if you hated what I wrote, please know there's more to come. There was a time when being a ‘liberal’ was all about championing a larger sense of self and its place in a larger context of community. If we’re serious about self-government, we’ve got to have selves worthy of governing — yes? That's a question I'll be exploring at some length in future posts. Well - it's late. I'm more than a little brain dead from staring at the computer for such a long spell. I'll say so long for now, with many thanks to everyone everyone who took the time to write. Including the person who suggested there is probably good reason for me to be concerned about the species lineage of one or both of my parents. I paraphrase, but that's pretty much the gist.