Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.
“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.
Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”
Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”
At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.
Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.
“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”
Carmona said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.
But the real outrage is buried:
At Claremont Academy Elementary School on the South Side, officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt. (They often are returned after school.) Principal Rebecca Stinson said that though students may not like it, she has yet to hear a parent complain.
It always comes back to parents. Do homemade cookies count as a snack loaded with sugar? If parents aren’t willing to stand up to this Soviet-style waste—the students refuse to eat the food they’re required to buy—then the authoritarian schools and the servile parents deserve each other. The lessons the children are learning at school? Waste is ok, common sense is bad, and doing whatever the bureaucracy mandates is acceptable. There are ways to raise a free citizenry; this ain’t it.
One thing we supposedly knew, though, was that Barack Obama wasn’t going to be a cowboy president. He was measured, intelligent and peaceful. He would never get us mired in a war.
Yet here we are, at the start of a third war. . . .
The Iraq war, he once told us, was a “war of choice.” As an American I would love for my president to inform me how he makes that war choice, how he made this particular choice. I have no idea why we’re bombing Libya, and unlike my friends on the left I’m trying not to jump to the same conclusions they did about our last president regarding our intentions toward their oil.
That we know zero about our purpose in Libya, the president’s rationale toward this war, what we may consider a win, all of it actually fits in with that empty suit who campaigned to be our president and who, in a time of confusion we actually chose. Are we removing Gadhafi? And replacing him with who, exactly? Will we build up the areas we bomb afterward? Is a Libyan democracy the end-goal? Do we have goals? Why is our president still in Brazil when we’re at war?
All good questions Obama will answer with a “let me be clear” followed by no clarity at all.
It’s very strange and odd that President Obama did not seek congressional authorization before launching strikes on Libya.
In his mind, he may have been signaling: this is a humanitarian police action (like Somalia or Bosnia), not a real war (like the Gulf war, the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq).
But he opened the door to his critics alleging: Obama is a liberal one-worlder who thinks that a Security Council vote can substitute for American democratic processes.
Did he possibly fear that Congress would say No?
Is he hoping that he’ll wrap this thing up faster than the debate would have required?
Is he signaling inner discomfort with his own decision, a preference for talking about almost anything else?
Or is he just recklessly forgetting the old rule: if you don’t invite them to join you at the takeoff, they won’t be there for the landing?
America seems to be backing into a war. The single person most responsible for America’s actions remains the president, in this case, Barack Obama. So understanding Obama is necessary for understanding why America is behaving thus.
First, recall Heinlein’s razor:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.
The inhabitants of the fever swamps of the right are hellbent on a malicious explanation, and they’re as wrong as their left wing counterparts were about Bush’s war for oil. Perhaps the most sympathetic assessment of Obama came from Thomas Barnett:
By waiting on virtually every imaginable stake-holding nation to sign off — in advance — before unleashing America’s military capabilities, the Obama administration recasts the global dialogue on America’s interventions. All of a sudden it’s not the “supply-push” US intervention into Iraq, where it’s all “this is what America is selling and if you don’t like it, get out of the way!” Now, we’re back to the type of “demand-pull” crisis responses by the US in the 1990s, where the world (aka, “international community”) asks and America answers.
Moreover, by limiting US military participation up-front, the White House forces further “demand-pull” negotiations by our more incentivized allies (Vive la France!) and nervous neighbors as the intervention unfolds. That way, every step Obama takes can be justified in terms of the facts on the ground and how they make the rest of the world feel, while our cool Vulcan simply mutters in reply, “Fascinating.”
But again, the key revelation: This negotiating tactic does an excellent job of uncovering the actual global demand out there for America’s intervention & stabilization services. A lot of anti-interventionists (and sheer Bush haters) want to pretend that’s a myth and that there is no such demand for the American Leviathan, but the truth is, there’s plenty of demand out there. The question is US bandwidth, which Bush-Cheney narrowed considerably.
Obama’s approach — so long as it works, of course — is true genius. At a time when the US seeks to rehabilitate its national security image abroad, Obama’s Brer Rabbit shtick effectively de-ideologize US participation — essentially “laundering” our motives through others. Plus, it has the virtue of sheer transparency — as in, what you see is what you asked for.
The penultimate quoted paragraph is somewhat confusing: how did Bush-Cheney narrow the bandwidth? Does Barnett mean that America’s other military commitments make for less troops that are able to flow? Or does Barnett mean that literally and we can’t process an overflow of data?
Still, perhaps the most glaring weakness of letting other countries determine when America uses forces is that America gets cut off at the knees if these countries change their minds. Which they frequently do. It might be that 70% of Americans support a no fly zone, but that number will almost certainly drop if more American planes crash. The bulk of the blood and treasure is going to come from the United States, and Obama has outsourced the responsibility to others.
He is almost certainly hoping that they’ll behave responsibly. We hope they do. But the Europeans and the bureaucrats of the UN now have (American) power without any clear responsibility to the American people. This is a formula for mission creep and fuzzy thinking, which gets good people needlessly killed.
When Aaron Poisson stole a Starbucks tip jar, Roger Kreutz tried to stop him. In the scuffle, Kreutz hit his head and died. Poisson fled, was caught, and served a year in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Poisson was a reluctant attendee at an unusual reunion at the store last year, in which two of Kreutz’s brothers and other relatives rewarded Poisson with forgiveness, saying they knew he intended no harm. They hugged and cried together and planted a memorial tree.
There’s a picture of Poisson spreading the ashes on the memorial tree by Starbucks.
The Kreutz family, we’re sure, thinks of themselves as good people. They’ll forgive someone who murdered one of them, after all.
But really, much as we’re sure the murderer wanted forgiveness, forcing him to participate in an ashes sprinkling ceremony is a bit much. There’s a touch of sadism lurking behind the Kreutz family’s ceremony.
And there’s more than a touch of sadism in the family’s lawsuit—not against Poisson, but against STARBUCKS:
The Starbucks coffee shop here should have known it was inviting trouble by placing a tip jar on an open counter, according to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the estate of a customer who died defending it.The suit, filed Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, seeks unspecified damages from the Starbucks Corp. on behalf of the estate of Roger Kreutz and his father, Edward Kreutz Sr.
Poisson was not named in the suit.
It alleges that Starbucks “did not employ security to prevent the perpetration of such crimes” and that it “invited the act of perpetration of said crime” by having a tip jar.
Curiouser and curiouser. One can fulminate, as the Advice Goddess did, about the frivolous law suit. But there’s something deeper and more sinister afoot here.
The Kreutz family is doing something that at first seems cognitive dissonance: they’re being kind to a murderer and vicious to not just a company but also to that company’s numerous employees who depend on those tip jars. Cleaning ladies have a name for such people, “Miss Nasty-Nice,” which means the sort of woman who very nicely does very awful things. The Nasty-Nices are almost impossible to stop, because they’re convinced that they’re both nice and doing things for everybody’s good. C.S. Lewis had this to say about the Nasty-Nices:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
My own observation is that this particular clan of Nasty-Nices has left their habitual domain of the federal government or the university faculty lounge: this story takes place in St. Louis, MO. Nasty-Nice has made it to middle America.
When we first blogged about Professor Chua, we thought about it in terms of the individuals involved. But quite a bit of the blogosphere has been obsessing over societal implications. Some people have had major reactions to Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother article (the book, incidentally, seems more nuanced than the article was; apparently, one of the daughters does rebel). In revealing ways, two bloggers seem to misunderstand Prof. Chua.
As an example, take how Chinese and other Asian students dominate classical music conservatories in the U.S. Yet there is not a single notable music composer of Asian extraction that I can think of. You’d think all that youth wasted rehearsing on the piano would imbue at least one of them with the ability to do more than repeat songs that dead European men wrote, but apparently not. Mind you, composing good music is by no means easy. I know I couldn’t write a song. But then again, I didn’t spend four hours a night, five days a week rehearsing Beethoven when I could have been out being a kid. (Yes, I played in my grade school bands. Laugh it up, knuckleheads.)
This is just one expression of a greater East Asian mental pathology — their inability to come up with any social or technological advancements that they didn’t steal from someone else. They can’t even build on what they thieve from others! Asians rule the classical scene at American universities, but they can’t write a single piece of music. Asian societies mimic the nations of the West, but they can’t produce any advancements on their own. The Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans cannot create, only copy; they are incapable of innovating, only imitating. They are creativity parasites, dependent on other societies to keep their own moving forward. If it weren’t for the technological and cultural progress of the West, the “Middle Kingdom” would still be in the Stone Age — which is where they’ll end up anyway.
It seems unrealistic to note that there are few Asian composers today when there really aren’t any great classical composers in the West, either (quick, name a classical composer who’s been productive since Aaron Copland died in 1990). The best composers these days seem to be working in films—Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Randy Newman—so if you include them, you also need to know something about Asian films, which are massive moneymakers outside of America (and are beyond the scope of this particular blog post).
Asian societies have been playing catch up, true, but they have indeed developed plenty of inventions before the West got around to it: gunpowder, paper, magnetic compasses, etc. Western cultural creativity is, if anything, at a low point. For example, the last great comic book heroes to make a big impact in popular culture came about in the 1960′s: Spiderman, the X-men, etc. Hollywood keeps cannibalizing old comic books and old TV shows. Comic book adaptations from later eras’ source material have flopped. Who watched The Watchmen, which dramatically underperformed expectations and came from the relatively recent Reagan era?
Mr. Bardamu’s real objection comes here: “Those dubious achievements come at a price – they strip the child of any ability to think for himself or challenge the faulty paradigms of the society he lives in.“ In short, Amy Chua’s children won’t become Ferdinand Bardamus. And this is probably fine by her. Prof. Chua is trying to raise reasonable children, in the George Bernard Shaw sense: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Too many unreasonable men bring the house down. And it seems odd that Mr. Bardamu, who has been harshly critical of bad, solipsistic female behavior, is now upset by women raised to be good girls.
Child rearing is also on the mind of the last psychiatrist, and much of his criticism (such as Chua’s contempt for her husband) is justified. Still, his take misses the point:
I’ll explain what’s wrong with her thinking by asking you one simple question, and when I ask it you will know the answer immediately. Then, if you are a parent, in the very next instant your mind will rebel against this answer, it will defend itself against it– “well, no, it’s not so simple–” but I want to you to ignore this counterattack and focus on how readily, reflexively, instinctively you knew the answer to my question. Are you ready to test your soul? Here’s the question: what is the point of all this? Making the kids play violin, of being an A student, all the discipline, all of this? Why is she working her kids so hard? You know the answer: college.
She is raising future college students.
College is certainly on Prof. Chua’s mind, but Asian parents know perfectly well that Ivy league colleges place much higher emphasis on sports and arts (which she forbids) than orchestra. After all, orchestra practically screams white or Asian, and there are too many of those people at most colleges these days anyway; sports and arts are a better bet for the aspiring college student. At most big colleges, how many dim bulbs have gotten orchestra scholarships versus football or basketball full ride scholarships? Orchestra arose in the West, and being good enough to play in Carnegie Hall is a sign that you’re beating white people at their own culture. One prominent American who understand this quite well is former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who once smacked down a professor who claimed that blacks were inferior [emphasis added]: “Who do you think you are? I’m better at your culture than you are. I’m the one who plays Beethoven. I’m the one who speaks French.” Here’s a key point of why the Asians are focusing so hard on Classical music: they’re not so much imitating Western Culture as preparing to surpass it.
“Chinese parents urge their children to excel at instrumental music with the same ferocity that American parents [urge] theirs to perform well in soccer or Little League,” wrote Jennifer Lin in the Philadelphia Inquirer June 8 in an article entitled China’s ‘piano fever’.
The world’s largest country is well along the way to forming an intellectual elite on a scale that the world has never seen, and against which nothing in today’s world — surely not the inbred products of the Ivy League puppy mills — can compete. Few of its piano students will earn a living at the keyboard, to be sure, but many of the 36 million will become much better scientists, engineers, physicians, businessmen and military officers. . . .
There is little doubt that classical music produces better minds, and promotes success in other fields. Academic studies show that music lessons raise the IQs of six-year-olds. Elite American families still nudge their children toward musical study. At Brearley, New York’s most exclusive girl’s school, playing in the orchestra is a requirement. American medical schools accept more undergraduates who majored in music than any other discipline (excepting pre-med).
Any activity that requires discipline and deferred gratification benefits children, but classical music does more than sports or crafts. Playing tennis at a high level requires great concentration, but nothing like the concentration required to perform the major repertoire of classical music. Perhaps the only pursuit with comparable benefits is the study of classical languages. It is not just concentration as such, but its content that makes classical music such a formative tool. Music, contrary to a common misconception, does not foster mathematical ability, although individuals with a talent for one often show aptitude for the other.
Ms. Chua isn’t being American because she’s forcing her daughters to play piano till their fingers bleed; Chinese mothers in China do likewise. Neither, contra the last psychiatrist, is she being particularly American when she boasts of calling her children “garbage”; plenty of Asian mothers (I can testify from experience) compare notes about how they motivate recalcitrant children. Most Asians have the sense to realize that, in regard to children, white people are like a box of chocolates—one never knows when the disgustingly sweet is going to ooze out—and they therefore keep their unvarnished views within the family, not in front of outsiders. Amongst the modern Asians, sugar is out and discipline is in.
Asians have focused on Western Classical Music not simply because of the discipline it demands, but because mastering it is beating the West at its own game (just like Secretary Rice did). Just like the Romans adapted Greek Culture for their own purposes, so too are Chinese attempting to adapt the West for theirs. The answer to the title of this post? America:China :: Greece:Rome.
While I was growing up, my mother coined an acronym for the sort of mother she didn’t want to be: PAM, Pushy Asian Mom. To her, this meant a woman who had lost all perspective about a child’s well being. For example, when one friend was competing in an out of state swim meet that her mother couldn’t go to, that mother went to local swim meets with a stopwatch to scope out competition, get the competitors’ times and splits, and let her daughter know how fast she’d need to be when back home so she could win. That, to my mother, was PAM behavior that she wasn’t going to do.
As soon as I learned of the PAM concept, I did what any properly Americanized son would do: I tried to exploit it. “Gee, Mom, practicing times tables two hours a day? Couldn’t I just use a calculator?”
My tactic was as successful as the human wall versus Vesuvius. She routed me. Now with some perspective, I realized that my mother, though not a crazy PAM, was indeed a good woman who made me learn. My mother the drill sergeant did indeed teach me that doggedness pays off. But she had a degree of perspective that some PAMs seem to lack: as soon as it became clear that I wasn’t malingering and really was sick, it was time to stop work and get better. Whereas the swimmer with the PAM swam on a broken toe for a week.
Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.
Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.
“You can’t make me.”
“Oh yes, I can.”
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?
“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.
“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”
“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”
“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.
“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”
I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.
Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.
Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.
“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”
Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.
We’ll see how long Lulu keeps playing the piano. (Here’s The Little White Donkey, if you’re interested.) My friend the swimmer? She did get a partial scholarship to college based on the swimming, but as soon as she graduated, she stopped. Hasn’t swum a stroke in a decade now.
Hubbard posted this at 9:52 AM CDT on Saturday, January 8th, 2011 as Ex Pede Herculem
[T]here are no frickin’ death panels of disembodied voices in metallic rooms eager to pronounce Trig Palin ‘not worthy’ so the Cylon Centurions can drag him off. There’s a hint of truth to the whole thing in that some kind of government imposed rationing is likely, but it’s still a dishonest, fear mongering claim.
I was not intimidated during J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI hunt for reporters like me who criticized him. I railed against the Bush-Cheney war on the Bill of Rights without blinking. But now I am finally scared of a White House administration. President Obama’s desired health care reform intends that a federal board (similar to the British model) — as in the Center for Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation in a current Democratic bill — decides whether your quality of life, regardless of your political party, merits government-controlled funds to keep you alive.
The death panels will not be anything so monstrous as what Tom described. But under Obamacare, there will be well meaning government bureaucrats who will be forced to allocate scarce resources to those under their control, and they will make those decisions based on considerations like quality of life, length of life lived, and liklihood of recovery. These decisions, abstractly speaking, will be completely rational. Indeed, if any of us were put in the same positions as those well-meaning bureaucrats, we’d probably make the same decisions.
Hannah Arrendt, writing about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, marveled at the “banality of evil” under a modern regime. Most of the decisions that brought about the Final Solution were made by men in offices who never personally killed a Jew. Many, if not most of them, were well-meaning bureaucrats. They pushed papers and allocated scarce resources to those under their control. They did their jobs, earned their salaries, and went home to their wives and children at night without a drop of blood on their hands. It’s a strange definition of “monster” that includes them.
Given the state of rhetoric on this matter, I think it’s incumbent upon me to point out now that the evil of Obamacare will in no meaningful way approach the evil of the Final Solution. But we may use the past as a guide to the future in this regard: that life and death decisions are made in a banal manner by well-meaning bureaucrats in suits does not in any way alter the life and death results of those decisions. If you only define “death panel” in the caricatured way that Tom does, then I suppose there probably aren’t death panels in Obamacare. But if you’re willing to define “death panel” as meaning “a group of well-meaning bureaucrats who will decided whether or not your life is worth saving,” then death panels are at the heart of the plan.*
*Let me say here that there has been much equivocation between health insurance companies denying coverage and Obamacare bureaucrats denying coverage. There’s some equivalence there, but the nature of their calculations is completely different. An insurance company will weigh the cost of a treatment versus its chance of success. So far as I can tell, they don’t weigh in things like your quality of life; particularly, Medicare certainly does not factor in quality of life. Under Obamacare, a treatment may not cost a lot, and it may have a pretty high chance of success, but if you’re not worth saving, you wont’ get it. Just ask the lady with the 105 year-old mother who had a pacemaker put in when she was 100, and Obama said it would have been better to just give her some pain killers. Watch that video, please. Note that he doesn’t say pills – which might possibly have described something that could have helped her. He said “pain killers.” He just said that we should have eased her mother’s death. That he said so in a casual, banal manner does not change by one whit what he said: an Obamacare death panel would have decided she wasn’t worth saving.
Back when he was president, Jimmy Carter ensured that his various staffers would need his permission to use the White House Tennis Courts:
Carter came into office determined to set a rational plan for his time, but soon showed in practice that he was still the detail-man used to running his own warehouse, the perfectionist accustomed to thinking that to do a job right you must do it yourself. He would leave for a weekend at Camp David laden with thick briefing books, would pore over budget tables to check the arithmetic, and, during his first six months in office, would personally review all requests to use the White House tennis court. (Although he flatly denied to Bill Moyers in his November 1978 interview that he had ever stooped to such labors, the in-house tennis enthusiasts, of whom I was perhaps the most shameless, dispatched brief notes through his secretary asking to use the court on Tuesday afternoons while he was at a congressional briefing, or a Saturday morning, while he was away. I always provided spaces where he could check Yes or No; Carter would make his decision and send the note back, initialed J.)
1) Obama blundered initially by getting involved in the first place.
2) By staying involved, he compounds the blunder. If he leans to far one way or the other in this meeting over beers, he’ll be accused of bullying by one party or the other. He opens himself up to more needless criticism.
3) The president might want to acquaint himself with a La Rochefoucauld maxim: “Those who apply themselves too closely to little things often become incapable of great things.”
Marty Perez on the president’s self-congratulatory, manipulative style:
[H]istory has become a competition between and among narratives, self-consciously disdainful of what we used to think of as fact. In this intellectual competition, the losers almost always win or, at least, they win the “moral argument.” Not in real history, mind you, but in many a Western professor’s classroom. And, sometimes, in an American president’s mind.
The truth is that Barack Obama has a penchant for these narratives and yet an inclination to rise above them. Two grand but antithetical stories about the same problem, awaiting him and his Olympian skill for the discovery of “common ground”: That is Obama’s favorite script. He regards himself as a kind of unprecedented referee between histories and philosophies. He likes to think that he can see what others cannot see and that, therefore, they must come to him if they wish to live in peace and with meaning. He did this with race in the Philadelphia speech, articulating what blacks see from their end of the periscope and what whites see from theirs. (Until, that is, he had to dump his minister from the campaign truck as a matter of survival. “Common ground” is sometimes not discovered so much as invented, or imposed.) A man of not especially discriminate empathy, he sees himself in the Whitmanesque sense of containing multitudes.
In addressing American intelligence and security professionals at the National Archives, the president again aimed at bridging differences by showing that apparent contradictions are not contradictions at all and that everything will go together, if only for as long as he is speaking. National security that never compromises national values? No problem. National values that guarantee national security? Say it and it will be done. Yes, we have values that elevate and restrict us at once, the ideal of free men and women that procedurally protects also the guilty and the wicked–and never mind that, absent energetic domestic and international defenses, these principles would be outmaneuvered and outclassed on both fronts. And again at Notre Dame, the same above-it-all structure of rhetorical conciliation was applied by Obama to the subject of abortion. “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.” Nice enough. But the debate on abortion will not be so tidily retired. All of this is rising above but not really reconciling.
One of the surest signs that someone is being intellectually dishonest is when they refuse to acknowledge flaws, contradictions, or trade-offs to their policy proposals or philosophies. If we do things my way, everything will be self-reinforcing and beneficial. There is no acknowledgment either that the world is messy or that people are messy, and that ideas and feelings are sometimes irreconcilable. To paraphrase Madison, such problems may not exist among the angels, but they do among us humans.
Though I’d argue that this kind of thinking is more pronounced on the political left, it’s hardly foreign to the political right. Here’s David Frum on Mark Levin’s Liberty & Tyranny:
What should conservatives think or do about this [the financial] crisis? Levin offers a couple of pages of argument that the whole thing was brought about by overweening government. That’s partially true, but only partially. (Indeed among the actions for which Levin blames the government is the failure to raise interest rates in 2005 and 2006 to prick the housing bubble as it inflated. Then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan refrained from doing so because his libertarian instincts recoiled from the suggestion that he as a government official should decide that asset prices had risen “too high.”)
It’s also true however that manias and bubbles do occur in marketplaces even absent government. They occurred much more often in the less-governed 19th century than in the heavily governed mid-20th. New Deal financial reforms – disclosure requirements, margin limits, and regulation of securities exchanges – have contributed to the greater stability of modern finance, a lesson we have all painfully relearned from the disasters unleashed by the unregulated derivatives market…
None of this interests conservatives very much right now, and it interests Mark Levin not at all. Levin thinks there is nothing to learn from the present crisis, and indeed seems to regard the whole enterprise of learning as ideologically suspect. It’s very striking that nowhere in this book does he ever engage the ideas of intelligent people on the other side. He quotes stupid statements from a fringe group like Earth First! But he flinches from any encounter with any more substantial opponent. He lives in a sealed mental universe, into which nothing new or unsettling can ever penetrate.
I want to give Mark Levin some credit for Liberty and Tyranny. It is in its way an ambitious book, an attempt to offer a major political statement. Levin is not a stupid man, and Liberty and Tyranny is not a stupid book. What it is, unfortunately, is an airless and isolated book, an exercise in pure ideology radically quarantined from the life around it.
Update:Geoff just pointed out the rather profound irony of this post; i.e., bemoaning (in part) Obama’s tendency to create a false balance between opposing arguments, before I segued into a critique of conservatives. On the one hand, I’m rather grateful for the critique. On the other, I want to punch him in the face.
Using my head as a prop, an old teacher gave some good advice to a young teacher. The older one said, “Be careful what you put in here [tapping my forehead] because you’ll never get it out again.” What we teach children lasts, and sometimes the little things—like a teacher using you as an example—can make an impression decades later.
What, then, are the children of Palestine learning when the youth orchestra is disbanded for playing to Shoah survivors? [Emphasis added below.]
Palestinian authorities disbanded a youth orchestra from a West Bank refugee camp after it played for a group of Holocaust survivors in Israel, a local official said on Sunday.
Adnan Hindi of the Jenin camp called the Holocaust a political issue and accused conductor Wafa Younis of unknowingly dragging the children into a political dispute.
He added that Younis has been barred from the camp and the apartment where she taught the 13-member Strings of Freedom orchestra has been boarded up.
“She exploited the children,” said Hindi, the head of the camp’s popular committee, which takes on municipal duties. “She will be forbidden from doing any activities…. We have to protect our children and our community.”
When learning history and music and paying tribute to survivors takes second place to propaganda, there’s no real hope for the future. Is there an Arabic word for doublespeak—how does preventing an orchestra from playing “protect our children”?