Quantcast

Tilting At Blandsville

When I was a teenager in sleepy Salem, Oregon my friends and I (who are still my friends today) stirred up trouble to break the ennui.

We rigged up complicated traps for cars in our residential neighborhood. They involving fishing line, beer cans, and a lawn sprinkler. (Don’t ask.) We dismantled street signs (I know, I know) and tore up the rival school’s football field with the parents’ Thunderbird.

I can’t do stuff like that anymore. Well, I can, but I’m married, have a professional job, and live in a house with a yard and two cats. So I try to act like an adult whenever that’s possible.

Sometimes I miss the days when I could get away with being a prankster. We were busted by cops for every above infraction and more, but not much ever happened to us. I wouldn’t go back, but still.

Christopher Hitchens likes to go back. In his own way.

Is Fun City turning into Blandsville? So says rumpled Vanity Fair scribe Christopher Hitchens, who laments the mayor’s quality-of-life initiatives as the product of “the tiny Bloombergian mind.”

Hitchens, a British-born gadfly and barfly who once penned a takedown biography of Mother Teresa, spent a recent afternoon trashing all sorts of city and state laws, an account of which appears in the issue available Wednesday.

Wearing a disheveled suit and shades, Hitchens squatted on a milk crate in the subway, rode a bike without his feet touching the pedals, fed Central Park pigeons and puffed his way across the city in wheezy protest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban.

For all this lawbreaking, he received nary a warning.

Bloomberg’s staff shot back that most of the laws Hitchens ridiculed were passed before the mayor took office in 2002.

“This current Niagara of pettiness and random victimization may well be Bloomberg’s attempt at a wannabe reputation as heroic crime-fighter and disciplinarian,” writes Hitchens. “One of the world’s most broad-minded and open cities is now in the hands of a picknose control freak.”

Some people will probably look at this and think Hitch is just getting attention. I think he does it because it’s fun.

UPDATE: Michele Catalano has more on the Bloombergian mind.

Mainstreaming the Fringe

Wesley Clark is supposed to be the alternative to Howard Dean. He’s the man with a military uniform who projects an image – an image – of credibility on national security.

Here is Jay Nordlinger:

In a recent column, I attributed the following comment to [Wesley Clark]: that President Bush “is more concerned about the success of Halliburton than having a success strategy in Iraq.” The Associated Press reported that Clark had said it; Reuters reported that his spokesman, Chris Lehane, had said it. It seems that it was Lehane.

Either way, the remark is in perfect harmony with current Clarkian rhetoric.

The general has told us, “I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in occupying countries to extract their natural resources. I think you buy them on the world market.”

I agree with Wesley Clark. We should never occupy countries to extract their natural resources. I mean, for crying out loud, what kind of person could support such a policy? Thank goodness I’ve never heard a single person say they do, never read a single column by any writer supporting anything like it.

The problem, of course, is that Wesley Clark is obviously implying that some people do think we ought to invade other countries to steal their resources. And we all know who that is. Iraq was all about ooooooil. According to Wesley Clark.

But let’s not photoshop a tin-foil hat onto the general just yet.

I don’t believe for a minute that Wesley Clark has bought what he’s selling. This is a cynical Say-Anything-To-Get-Elected moment. He’s trying to siphon votes from Howard Dean.

That’s what politicians do. But he’s mainstreaming the fringe while he’s at it.

Try to imagine mainstream Republican candidates ranting about Satanic Darwinists on school boards and black helicopters in Montana. The moderate middle would scramble to the left as fast as you can say boo!

The 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston was really something. This was where Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan declared a fundamentalist Culture War on America. Blame Ross Perot on Bill Clinton’s ’92 victory if you want to. But that turkey show in Houston kept me and a lot of other people out of the GOP for a decade.

Wesley Clark and his rival Howard Dean are doing what the Republicans did twelve years ago – stirring up the fringe for votes and attention. They are letting loose forces that will not soon vanish, that cannot be accomodated, that will be their own undoing.

I know of so many people who have never supported Republicans who are shaken and disillusioned by what is happening to the Democrats. I don’t know of a single person, anywhere, who is moving the other direction.

The damage will last a long time.

UPDATE: Mithras says I took Clark’s quote out of context. Here is the full context. Okay, so Clark was referring to the occupation rather than the invasion. Still, saying we are occupying Iraq to extract resources is hardly less batty than saying we invaded Iraq to extract resources. Either way, I still don’t think Clark believes what he’s saying. He’s pandering. And he’s pandering to the fringe.

Oliver Willis thinks that because I found Clark’s quote from Jay Nordlinger my entire argument is invalid.

Michael Totten masters alchemy in the act of extracting the idea from stone that Democrats are becoming extremists – get this – from a National Review story…Newsmax says Tom Daschle eats baby’s brains. It must be true.

The same quote can be found at clark04.com. Oliver, you may not like National Review but they aren’t in the habit of making up quotes from scratch.

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm and Randal Robinson comment.

Unilateralism to the Rescue

Here is Victor Davis Hanson on the fruits of American unilateralism in 1973.

Thirty years ago, during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, most of the Europeans of the NATO alliance refused over-flight rights to the United States. We had only hours in which to aid Israel from a multifaceted surprise attack and were desperately ferrying tons of supplies to save it from literal extinction. In contrast, many of these same allies allowed the Soviet Union — the supposed common enemy from which thousands of Americans were based in Europe to protect Europeans — to fly over NATO airspace to ensure the Syrians sufficient material to launch and sustain their surprise attack on the Golan.

American “unilateralism” in those days meant acting alone not to let Israel perish. Had we gone “multilateral” and listened to our NATO allies — Germany, France, Greece, and Turkey all prohibited American planes from flying supplies in their space in transit to Tel-Aviv — there would be no Israel today at all.

Whoops

Via Dr. Frank and Mary at Exit Zero comes this “story” in the Washington Post.

AP Kills Limbaugh Painkillers Story

The Associated Press

Saturday, January 3, 2004; 5:06 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Please kill the story Limbaugh-Painkillers, V9991.

Rush Limbaugh has not been charged with doctor shopping.

A kill is mandatory.

Make certain the story is not used.

This is posted at the Washington Post as a news article. Who knows how long it will be there? But it’s there at the time of this posting.

Mistakes like this can happen even at the best newspapers. What’s really downright strange about this is that the “story” has a dateline, and a copy-editor actually put a headline on it.

History and Total War

When I was a teenager and first learned about the Holocaust, something precious and small, not hope but perhaps faith, slipped away and was lost to me forever.

I have read about it in books. I have seen it in movies by Polanski and Spielberg and Benigni. My maternal grandfather was shot (but not killed) by the Nazis. My mother went to grade school on an American base in Germany during de-Nazification. Still, almost everything I know is third-hand. I’ve never met a Holocaust survivor, at least not knowingly. It was not so long ago, but it was before my time. It feels remote, though it is not.

Our country is still embroiled in the moral arguments of war. For some of us, the Holocaust hangs around out back. The Islamofascist jihad has already killed millions (not thousands) in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Sudan. Most of us didn’t notice so long as far-away foreigners were the ones doing the dying. But when it arrived with apocalyptic fury in the heart of our own cities, we had neither cause nor the right to remain neutral or passive.

We’re still arguing about Iraq after the fact. And sometimes this discussion seems so petty. Compared to other people and ourselves in other times, we are spoiled. The Holocaust informs my view, but what we have suffered is nothing – nothing – nearly as bad as that.

Even if you opposed intervening in Iraq, surely you realize that some moral good has come out of it; a tyrant is gone. And we didn’t need to nuke Baghdad to get him out.

The perceived immorality of our action may weigh heavily on your soul. But it’s nothing compared to what we might have to face if our goal of limited war for democracy fails.

Do you want to know what a truly terrible moral dilemma looks like? Read this interview with left-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris in the liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz. (Via Allison Kaplan Sommer and Roger L. Simon.)

“Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist.”

I don’t hear you condemning him.

“Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”

Benny Morris, for decades you have been researching the dark side of Zionism. You are an expert on the atrocities of 1948. In the end, do you in effect justify all this? Are you an advocate of the transfer of 1948?

“There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands.”

We are talking about the killing of thousands of people, the destruction of an entire society.

“A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy it. When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it’s better to destroy.”

There is something chilling about the quiet way in which you say that.

“If you expected me to burst into tears, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I will not do that.”

So when the commanders of Operation Dani are standing there and observing the long and terrible column of the 50,000 people expelled from Lod walking eastward, you stand there with them? You justify them?

“I definitely understand them. I understand their motives. I don’t think they felt any pangs of conscience, and in their place I wouldn’t have felt pangs of conscience. Without that act, they would not have won the war and the state would not have come into being.”

You do not condemn them morally?

“No.”

They perpetrated ethnic cleansing.

“There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide – the annihilation of your people – I prefer ethnic cleansing.”

And that was the situation in 1948?

“That was the situation. That is what Zionism faced.”

That is what total war against a jihad looks like. That is the terrible moral equation we Americans might one day have to face if our morally attractive liberation strategy doesn’t work.

We in the West have not seen total war since the defeat of the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We have not had to explode nuclear weapons. We have not had to firebomb large urban centers to make a ferocious enemy capitulate.

But war is part of the world, and total war may be in our future again. Total war is being waged as we speak by Palestinians against the Israelis. Don’t be so sure we are finished with it forever.

Some Americans and many more Europeans have convinced themselves that total war is a thing of the past, that we in the modern world have moved beyond such nasty necessities. But human nature is eternal. History does not stop. As Robert Kaplan put it in the opening of a recent book: There is no modern world.

UPDATE: Benny Morris visited Berkeley recently to give a lecture. The Berkeley crowd has swooned over Morris in the past, but they were not very happy with him this time. Judith Weiss has the details.

Homage to Catalonia

In the next post down is a mention of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. You can read the entire book online here if you have that much patience.

Dean Hate

Over-the-top Bush-hatred is matched by over-the-top Dean-hatred.

In the new Club for Growth ad, a farmer says, “Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading …,” as his wife finishes, “… Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs!”

Last year I voted (kicking and screaming) for a local tax increase for schools that lost money due to the recession. (Oregon got hit hardest of all 50 states.) I drink at least one latte a day. I eat sushi once in a while. I like Volvos and I read the New York Times. I also think Hollywood makes some of the best movies ever (along with some of the worst). I’ve never been to Vermont, but it is often compared to my own state of Oregon which I truly and dearly love.

So count the number of ways people just like me were screamed at in the new anti-Dean ad. Count the number of ways the right’s new bigoted ad disgusts me.

From the same article:

As to the shocking latte-drinking charge, it should be noted that Vermont has just two Starbucks stores. Iowa has eight. Texas, the home state of President Bush, has 395.

Downtown Portland alone has 395 Starbucks, which is not quite enough as far as I’m concerned. Free advice to GOP strategists: Don’t play that ad in my state.

(Via Jeff Jarvis, who just keeps getting linked around here.)

Martian Ground

One of the sharpest images ever taken on the surface of Mars, via the Washington Post.

Purging as Damage Control

Ideological lockdown is a symptom of a movement in decline.

Witness:

Jeff Jarvis mentions in passing that he is a Democrat, and out came the witch-hunters saying he isn’t actually a liberal at all.

Oliver Willis says in the comments

Seriously, stop presenting yourself as a “liberal” by any stretch of the imagination Jeff.

Jeff answers him further down.

Who the hell made you the holder of the definition of liberal?

And how dare you put yourself above to decree who and who isn’t liberal? That’s really quite haughty. Very unliberal, I’d say.

Want to hear what I say about health insurance… abortion… gun control… welfare… and, most importantly, human rights (even the rights of Iraqis).

Hell, I’ll bet on many scales I’m more liberal than Howard Dean.

You don’t know what you’re talking about because what you’re talking about is me. So don’t presume to label me, mister. I find that insulting and offensive.

Jeff’s detractors are annoyed that he isn’t a party-line team player. But you know, folks, politics isn’t a game of football, nor is it war. It is okay if you think the other side is right once in a while (most people do, after all), and it’s also okay for a writer, any writer, to focus on whichever topics he or she chooses. Just because Jeff would rather write about new media and foreign policy instead of conventional liberal domestic issues doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold liberal views on those questions he puts in second or third place.

Regular readers of this site know that I can relate to Jeff’s experience and frustration. And the end result of all this has been for me to finally agree and say to heck with it, I’m not one of you after all. I’m an Independent now. And despite the fact that I still hold several liberal opinions, I no longer feel any sense of loyalty or affection for the Democratic Party.

Purging non-conformists might make you feel good, but it doesn’t help your side an iota.

I can’t help but think the intended audience for public heretic-banishing isn’t the target him or herself. It’s the heretic-banisher’s comrades. People on the losing side of political arguments know their support is bleeding away, so dissidents are furiously denounced as an object lesson for anyone else who might waver. It’s a form of damage control, which is why they don’t care if the tactic doesn’t make them any new friends.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has more here, and he’s not very happy about it.

UPDATE: Armed Liberal jumps in, too. He asks the heretic-banishers to read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, one of the best books ever written about the left by a leftist. What does Orwell’s book have to do with this political scrap? (Hint: It’s about left-wing anti-fascists, the Spanish Civil War, and the purge of dissident leftists by Josef Stalin.)

UPDATE: Photodude (who takes and posts better pictures than I probably ever will) joins the fray as well. He once invited me to join his Fence Party, and I accepted because the people in the middle make the most sense to me. At least for now.

UPDATE: Jeff at Caerdroia also prefers the middle. Unlike me, he was driven to the center by the excesses of the right.

Editors Wanted

2003 was a great year for writing. I fired up my blog in the second week of January and it took off far beyond what I expected. One of my articles was published in the Wall Street Journal’s online Opinion Journal, and Nick Shulz was kind enough to let me write a series of pieces for him at Tech Central Station.

I am tremendously grateful to all the other bloggers who link to my site, to the editors who took a chance and published my work, and most of all to everyone who shows up to read what I have to say.

This year I’d like to ramp it up. I have plenty of time to write. Who says I need to clean the house? (Um, your wife — ed.) And I’d like more of my work to appear in print and in other online publications.

Make no mistake. I still plan to write for Tech Central Station as long as Nick Shulz will have me. He is a terrific editor and I’m not looking to replace my working relationship with him for one with somebody else. What I want to do is expand.

So if you’re an editor who is looking for new writing talent and think my work might be a nice fit, please, by all means, write me a letter and let’s talk. Most of what I write is political commentary from a centrist perspective, and like I said, I have plenty of time to write. After a great 2003, 2004 is no time to sit back and stagnate.

And to my readers (bless you all), I’m not shutting down the blog any time soon. There is nothing like push-button publishing with instant feedback. Besides, I’m having way too much fun to quit now.

(Sincere thanks to Glenn Reynolds, Roger L. Simon, and Jeff Jarvis for their advice and support.)

Liberals and Leftists

Several times in this space I’ve said that liberals are not leftists. Each time I received at least one email from a reader asking me to explain myself. And each time I promised to answer online.

So here it is, the explanation I’ve put off for too long.

First of all, I want to get the traditional definition of liberal out of the way.

Broadly defined, a liberal is a person who believes in social, political, and economic freedom. In the United States, both major parties are liberal. Most members of both support democracy, civil and human rights, and a market economy.

Each party is more liberal than the other in certain ways. Today the Republicans are more likely to defend the rights of individuals to make stupid bigoted comments otherwise known as “hate speech,” customers to smoke cigarettes in restaurants, citizens to carry hand guns, and proprietors to operate businesses with minimal regulation. Democrats are more likely to champion the right of gays to marry, individuals to grow marijuana, criminals not to be executed, consenting adults to do as they please in their homes, and suspected terrorists to have an attorney.

Not all these positions are popular. Some aren’t popular at all. But that isn’t the point. Both parties champion freedom in different ways, and they do it on principle. Both parties have different liberal priorities, but they’re both generally liberal.

In conventional political terminology, liberal is often used as a stand-in for Democrat, just as conservative is often used as a stand-in for Republican. But liberal still has that traditional meaning so, as Steven Den Beste likes to point out, it is possible to be both a liberal and a conservative at the same time.

To be sure, there are liberal Republicans like Arnold Schwarznegger and there are conservative Democrats like Zell Miller. But for the most part, in the conventional sense, liberal means Democrat. And these are the liberals I have in mind when I say that liberals are not leftists.

The liberal agenda, or the platform of the Democratic Party, changes over time, as does the character of people we refer to as leftists. But the line which divides liberals from leftists remains mostly unchanged. And it is this:

A liberal (substitute with Democrat if you want to) believes in reform. And a leftist supports revolution. Liberals (Democrats) are the left-wing of the Establishment. Leftists are radicals who seek to overthrow the Establishment (either through violence or the ballot box) and replace it with something else.

Winston Churchill once outlined some differences between liberalism and socialism, socialism being leftist. Though his words date back to the early part of the 20th Century, they’re as true today as they were then.

Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle. [...] Socialism seeks to pull down wealth. Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference [...] Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.

Liberals and leftists are still, as ever, broadly separated as reformers versus revolutionaries and radicals. In today’s American political landscape, liberals and leftists differ in more specific and easier-to-recognize ways.

Liberals fly the American flag. Leftists burn it.

Liberals see America as the land of opportunity and freedom. Leftists see America as the bastion of Imperialism, Racism, and Oppression.

Liberals want higher taxes on the rich because it’s fairer to the middle and working classes. Leftists want to soak the rich out of class hatred.

Liberals want universal access to health care while leaving the system as market-driven as possible. Leftists would destroy the health care industry altogether and replace it with a state-run monopoly.

Liberals want to ban clear-cutting. Leftists want to ban the logging industry.

Liberals support globalization and trade and see it as an opportunity for economic growth and also as an opportunity to boost labor and environmental standards in the Third World. Leftists hate trade because they think it’s all about the West raping the rest.

Liberals blame the September 11 attacks on religious and political extremism in the Middle East. Leftists blame the September 11 attacks on America.

Liberals root for success in Iraq whether they supported the invasion or not. Leftists hope (either publicly or secretly) that America will lose and “learn a lesson.”

Liberals support the right of Israel to defend itself. Leftists support the Palestinian intifada.

Liberals support the troops. Leftists support the Iraqi Baathist resistance and put “terrorism” in sneer quotes.

Liberals support mainstream Democratic Party candidates in primary elections. Leftists support fringe candidates or a third party (Communists, Socialists, or Greens) to the left of the Democrats.

Liberals who marched against the Iraq war are disturbed by the Stalinism of the rally organizers in International ANSWER. Leftists view ANSWER as comrades or are unmoved by its agenda.

Some of today’s prominent leftists include Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Ted Rall, and Gore Vidal. The range of prominent leftist publications includes Z Magazine, Counterpunch, Adbusters, and The Nation.

Some of today’s prominent liberals include Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Al Franken, and Salman Rushdie. The range of prominent liberal publications includes The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Salon, and The New Republic.

Whenever I’ve mentioned that liberals are not leftists, I did so in one of two contexts. I was either criticizing leftists at the exclusion of liberals, or I was defending liberals against attacks by conservatives who lumped them in with leftists.

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me about specifics. I don’t think this ought to be the last word on the subject. But even a polemicist like Ann Coulter must know, on some level, that the views of Noam Chomsky and Tom Daschle don’t differ in degree, but in kind. The interesting argument is about where, not whether, to draw the line.

UPDATE: Matthew Stinson has more on this theme.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing comments, too.

Ego Link

Tim Blair’s feisty new piece in the Australian Daily Telegraph begins with a breakfast cereal theme and moves on to the sane and the insane left.

Oh, and he mentions me, too.

(A side note to Tim: I’m not really a part of the sane left anymore. I’m either an independent, a moderate, a centrist, or an objectively pro-Bush yeehaw flag-waving nationalistic warmonger, depending on where you sit.)

France is Cleared

Last week I harped on the French police for letting seven possible terrorists go. The FBI matched their names on Air France flight manifests to those on a US terrorist watch list.

Forget I mentioned it. France did nothing wrong.

As it turned out, those who were detained were caught up in mistaken identity.

Their names were coincidentally the same or only similar to those on the terrorist watch list. One of them was only seven years old.

It looks like incompetence. But it’s also to be expected when officials need to act quickly on imperfect and murky intelligence.

”A check was carried out in each case and in each case it turned out to be negative,” a [French] ministry spokesman told AFP.

“The FBI worked with family names and some family names sound alike,” the spokesman said, noting that some of the names had been transliterated from Arabic, which uses a different alphabet from French and English.

“The difficulty is compounded when you have no first name or date of birth,” he said.

If it hadn’t taken a week for all the details to emerge, this would have been a non-story.

UPDATE: The first story I linked to said seven people on terrorist watch lists were found to have purchased tickets on Air France flights. And the second story said six were released. I wondered what happened to the seventh person, but chalked it up to sloppy reporting.

Turns out, the seventh person ran away and no one knows where he is.

One passenger who did not show up for the flight has fled and cannot be found, a U.S. intelligence official said. He was described as a male of Middle Eastern descent who is a pilot, according to another U.S. intelligence official.

(Via Jeff Jarvis.)

Flailing at Dean

Ever since September 11 I’ve found myself in the awkward position of defending George W. Bush, a man I didn’t vote for and even hated, from scurillous attacks.

I won’t vote for Howard Dean either. But I can tell already that if he does win the presidency I’ll spend a great deal of time defending him, too. I’ll even get pulled into his camp (happily, I might add) if he does a good job.

Dean opens himself up to a great deal of criticism with his crazy pop-off remarks. His opponents don’t do themselves any favors, though, if they can’t figure out what his actual problems are.

Here is Cal Thomas, Fox News regular, in the Washington Times.

Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself.

Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Thomas, but it seems to me that he’s sneering. It’s the use of that word “entitled,” and that he says it’s someone else (of the dreaded l-word persuasion) who thinks this way.

Maybe he doesn’t believe he’s entitled to sort out the truth for himself, that both he and Howard Dean (as well as the rest of us) are supposed to take dogma from feeding spoons. But that’s not the way most Americans think, and no one who can’t think for himself is qualified to be president.

Mr. Dean’s wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.

What’s strange at best is that Cal Thomas even mentions this in the first place.

I’d like to know what wouldn’t be “strange,” considering the makeup of Howard Dean’s family. Are Christians automatically entitled to come out ahead of Jews in religious disputes? Are part-Jewish children supposed to ignore half their heritage? I’ll be charitable and assume that’s what he’s getting at, although that in itself means he has some explaining to do. Christian supremacy isn’t the endearing quality that it used to be. The only other explanation is that Mr. Thomas thinks Howard Dean shouldn’t have married a Jew in the first place.

What exactly does Mr. Dean believe about Jesus, and how is it relevant to his presidential candidacy? “Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised,” he told the Globe, “people who were left behind.” Mr. Dean makes it sound as if He might have been a Democrat.

Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. In the Middle East. He was not a Republican, and neither is God.

I’d like to pause a moment and quote from a letter to the Weekly Standard back in January 2003.

The “culture war” isn’t driven by unbelievers, who are wrongly given first and second billing in the “secularist” credits. It’s a religious clash, and the big player in the game is Christianity–America’s majority religion. The Democratic party is not the “Party of Unbelievers.” It’s the Other Party of Christianity.

Speaking as a Republican agnostic, I object to being drawn into this dispute, much less having the entire dispute blamed on our miniscule percentage of the population. Non-believers have to deal with a 54 percent unfavorable rating and the fact that George W. Bush will never appoint us to the federal bench. Isn’t that enough? We’ll continue fighting the occasional Supreme Court case and sulk, marginalized, on the sidelines. Let us know what happens when y’all are done arguing about which party God belongs to.

And that’s enough about that.

(Back to Cal Thomas.)

“He [Jesus] fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything,” the candidate continued. “He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it.”

Not really.

Not really? Jesus didn’t fight self-righteousness? He didn’t say it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God? (Matthew 19:24) He didn’t set an inspiring example that lasted 2,000 years? What, exactly, did Jesus “not really” do?

If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations,” to be read or not, according to one’s inspirational need.

When did Dean say that is “all” Jesus was? He didn’t. I know “strawman” is an overused buzzword, but it’s completely appropriate here. Cal Thomas is attacking a strawman. It might be fun, but it doesn’t fly.

C.S. Lewis brilliantly dealt with this watered-down view of Jesus and what He did in the book “Mere Christianity.” Said Lewis, who thought about such things at a far deeper level than Howard Dean, “I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I can’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse.”

I see the logic here, but there is a problem.

I used to be a Christian. I left the religion more than a decade ago. For a couple of years I hated Christianity and looked at Christians with contempt. I forced myself to get over it. Bigotry doesn’t suit me. Besides, most Americans are Christians, and I’m not about to go through life despising almost everyone in my country.

But Cal Thomas and C.S. Lewis would make my position impossible. I left the faith. So according to these characters I must condemn Jesus as a madman or demon. I’m not allowed to admire the man or even say anything nice about him. In order to be logically consistent (or whatever) I’m supposed to be an offensive religious bigot. Thanks, guys!

One hopes that the next journalist who gets a chance to ask Mr. Dean about this will inquire as to which Jesus he is talking about, if for no other reason than to gauge whether Mr. Dean is being sincere or a political opportunist who seeks to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats.

Maybe Dean is trying to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats. He’s a politician, after all. But something tells me Mr. Thomas doesn’t care a whit about the sensibilities of Democrats unless they defect and vote Republican. If Dean wins the nomination I might do just that. It certainly won’t be to join Mr. Thomas. He’ll be no comrade of mine.

That reporter might also survey Christians in New England (there are more than Mr. Dean thinks) as to whether they are as offended by his reference to their region as Southerners were to his characterization of their symbols and driving choices.

So Mr. Thomas doesn’t care for regional bigotry. Fine, neither do I, but he destroys his own point with his conclusion.

I can’t wait to see how Mr. Dean panders to Californians. Fruits and nuts, anyone?

Way to go, Cal. The biggest state in the union is full of a bunch of fruits and nuts. I guess that’s why they elected Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarznegger as governors.

2004

Happy New Year everybody.

Since so many people like to tout their New Year resolutions on the Internet, let me tell you about the last time I made one.

I resolved never again to have a New Year resolution. It’s the only one I’ve lived up to.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Michael J. Totten's blog