Over at RedState, the passage of health care reform has resulted in the kind of thoughtful, rational critique we’ve come to expect from the conservative movement:

Example 1: We’re just like the French Legion marching into battle!

Example 2: Democrats are just like ancient Hebrew monarchists!

Example 3: The passage of health care reform is just like Pearl Harbor!

In all seriousness, this all-too-common thread of reaction reveals where the base of the conservative movement is today. The passage of health care reform does not simply represent a policy agenda with which they disagree – it is an unlawful usurpation of power by an illegitimate anti-American government. Hence the militaristic language and laughable self-identification with combatants in actual wars.

To say they’ve lost all historical perspective and grip on reality is a bit of an understatement.

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Posted by: dshutt | December 27, 2009

Mike Bloomberg, Nihilist Politician

Mike Bloomberg is a weird guy. I think he’s done an admirable job in NYC on some issues – climate change, transportation, etc. But by and large, he seems to be one of those people who would rather appear to be calm and rational than take a calm and rational position. Take, for instance, his comments on “Meet the Press”:

“You know, if you really want to object to something in this bill, number one, I have asked congressperson after congressperson. Not one can explain to me what’s in the bill, even in the House version. Certainly not in the other version,” Bloomberg said during an appearance on “Meet the Press.” “And so for them to vote on a bill that they don’t understand whatsoever, really, you got to question how– what kind of government we have…

“They are not talking about reducing costs,” he added. “They’re talking about changing the first derivate, slowing the growth down. And when you look at where the cost savings are going to be, well, they’re going to cut something out of Medicare and Medicaid. Now anybody that runs for office will tell you, you don’t do that. I mean, the bottom line is it’s so politically explosive, it really would be a first time in the history of the world that they ever cut anything [from those programs].”

This is a bunch of really stupid stuff. First, I’m going to go head and call BS on his claim that he hasn’t yet spoken to a member of Congress who knows what’s in the House bill. That claim is so blatantly ludicrous that I’m just going to chalk it up to hyperbole or a momentary mental break.

The second part, however, is truly bizarre. Bloomberg complains that Congress isn’t really bending the curve, it’s merely slowing the increase. This is a valid point and a cogent criticism – the bill could definitely have gone further in savings. But Bloomberg then pivots and criticizes the savings in the bill, essentially arguing that Congress doesn’t really mean it.

This argument – Congress needs to find savings in Medicare (and Medicaid), but we can’t really count on them to do it anyway – is actually kind of common. It’s also utter nonsense. As Jim Horney notes in this interview with Ezra Klein, you only have to go back to 1997 to find an instance of Congress cutting Medicare. It’s clear that Congress has had some difficulty finding the political courage to make tough Medicare decisions (wonder why?), but it’s also demonstrably false to say that this would be “the first time in the history of the world” that Congress has authorized cuts.

Ezra Klein refers to this kind of thinking as “deficit nihilism” – an overwhelming concern with reducing the deficit, coupled with a rejection of measures specifically  intended to reduce the deficit. How are we supposed to actually reduce the deficit if we reject every deficit-reducing measure out of fear that it won’t be implemented? Where does this leave us? It’s total nihilism, and it carries us into some pointless, miserable abyss of public policy. Hardly calm and rational.

Posted by: dshutt | December 14, 2009

Negotiating in Good Faith

This kind of thing is pretty frustrating for progressives and, really, anyone who values a serious debate on health care. It’s been pretty infuriating to watch Joe Lieberman oppose a health care reform bill that doesn’t exist, inventing his own provisions and contingencies. But it’s even more frustrating to watch him oppose  a measure he specifically endorsed a few months ago:

In the HuffPo article, Paul Begala questions whether Lieberman is dealing “in good faith.” I think it’s hard to argue that he is – there doesn’t seem to be any real principled  opposition going on here. Later in the article, it’s speculated that Lieberman may be motivated by the influence of the insurance industry. This is undoubtedly playing a role, but I think there’s probably something weirder going on.

If Lieberman were primarily concerned with the money he gets from the insurance industry, my guess is that he never would have really proposed these ideas to begin with. After all, momentum for real reform has only really picked up in recent years – before then, it was much more lucrative to oppose any kind of reform.

We probably shouldn’t over-think this. One trend from Lieberman’s career seems to be that he’s governed more by personal prestige than by ideology. He was known for being particularly hard on President Clinton during the impeachment proceedings – to the extent that he came off a bit puritanical. At the time, this made him something of a “maverick” or a statesman (somehow). But this strident opposition to such misconduct seems to have evaporated in the cases of Foley, Craig, and Vitter – there was no prestige to be gained from grandstanding here.

Since 2004, Lieberman has been warning Democrats that they’re doomed to wander in the electoral wilderness. He’s been proven totally wrong by commanding majorities in both houses of Congress, and a fairly progressive Democratic President. These were events in whose failure Lieberman had a vested personal interest. He didn’t want Barack Obama to be President, and he didn’t want Democrats to have serious Congressional majorities. His pride is demolished and he’s throwing his weight around.

So how do you deal with someone who refuses to negotiate in good faith? I think you have to call them out on it. Lieberman will insist that he merely wants the best possible bill, and there’s an easy way to test this. Put together a bill that a majority of Democrats support, then tell Lieberman (and other “centrists”) that they can either negotiate for a better bill or they can sit on the sidelines and the majority will use reconciliation to pass reform. If he’s acting in good faith he’ll want to improve the bill. If not, he’ll go on TV and complain. I think we know where this is going.

Posted by: dshutt | December 14, 2009

Is God Good?

This post by Erick Erickson is pretty unremarkable for its theological content. I don’t know the guy, and I don’t want to weigh in on whatever’s going on his personal life. But he hits some themes that I find a little upsetting, themes that I think are too common in the church.

The theme of the post is essentially the various ways in which God has made Erickson’s life good. Erickson comes to the conclusion that God must be real because God has given him all these great things, like money and career opportunities.

The first problem with this reasoning is one of causation. By what mechanism is God giving you things? Do you honestly believe that God is intervening in the events of the cosmos to make you happy? How exactly is this happening?

But the bigger problem relates to the nature and character of God. If you are eager to attribute the good things in life to God, what will you do with the bad things? Erick Erickson’s blog is successful, and he concludes that God has done this for him. What about the overwhelming and inescapable suffering that surrounds us?

Erickson attributes all these great things to his ability to trust in God and leave things up to Him. I guess that’s great as long as things are going well, but what if you’re this lady? Erickson’s theology implies that she suffers due to some spiritual or theological defect.

Is God “good”? Depends on what you mean. If you mean “God is good because He gives me stuff”, then I’d have to disagree. God doesn’t give you stuff, and even if He does He also takes stuff away for no good reason. If you mean “God is good because He doesn’t let bad things happen to me”, again I disagree. If history has told us anything, it is that terrible things happen to good people for no good reason.

So I don’t know what “good” means when applied to God. Sometimes I think people refer to God as “good” in the same way they refer to their dog as “good.” That is, “good” means behaving, not disrupting me, doing what I expect of you, being polite.  But maybe when we’re talking about God, “good” should mean something bigger. “Good” should mean something that defies our categories of human behavior. Or maybe God shouldn’t be “good” at all.

Posted by: dshutt | December 6, 2009

Which Season?

It’s that time of year again. Time to hear one of the most odious phrases in the English language: “Reason for the season.” This is standard boilerplate that some Christians recycle ever year, with varying motives. Of course there is a perfectly legitimate use for the phrase (I’ll get to that later). But the most enthusiastic practitioners are folks like these, who fruitlessly crusade to make big box stores market Jesus to their customers.

The idea is that saying “Happy Holidays” somehow insults the Christian meaning of Christmas, as if anyone out there is blissfully unaware of Christianity. No, Christmas must be about Jesus! Leaving Jesus out of Christmas renders the season meaningless – devoid of its reason. Right?

This confusion is rooted in a conflation of Advent and Christmas. Advent is indeed all about Jesus – it is the coming of Emmanuel (God with us). Advent is meaningless without Jesus because it is a celebration of Christ’s appearance in our lives and our world. But Christmas – that’s something else entirely. Christmas is what happens in TV movies, Bing Crosby songs, public school plays, and department stores. Christmas isn’t religious or spiritual – it’s cultural, the functional equivalent of a big birthday party.

I don’t mean to denigrate Christmas – it’s wonderful and important. Christmas is a celebration of family, childhood, and tradition. It’s a time for us to interrupt normal life and live in a parallel universe. But it’s also a heady fusion of consumerism and make-believe, and that’s a dangerous combination. It’s potentially troubling, and holds no authority for Christians.

For the next few weeks, “culture warriors” congregated on Fox News will moan and screech about a “War on Christmas”, waged by secularists and people of other traditions. But multiculturalism and diversity is what Christmas is all about – it’s communal. This spirit of Christmas, of the Holidays, belongs in our culture.

The season of Christmas has its reasons, but Christ is not one of them. Christ resides in Advent, which knows no culture or country. Advent doesn’t belong in stores or public schools, and it doesn’t need to be defended by Bill O’Reilly. The season of Advent is for the Church, and we know the Reason.

Posted by: dshutt | May 22, 2009

Everyone’s favorite torture apologist…

…is not doing a great job. Dick Cheney, dishonest? Come on, next you’ll tell me that Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim.

Posted by: dshutt | May 17, 2009

“Seriously Creepy”

That’s how Frank Rich describes the newly uncovered Donald Rumsfeld memos. GQ (!) has a great piece on Rumsfeld, talking to some ex-administration folks about his ignominious career.

If you really want to feel a bit sick, GQ actually has the memo cover sheets in question. Right there, on the intelligence reports Rumsfeld was delivering to the President, are Old Testament verses meant to convey the point that the war on terror is a holy war.

You really have to see these things to believe them – they represent the cynical machinations of a soulless man, playing upon the President’s religious devotion to further his own career.

Posted by: dshutt | May 16, 2009

Why Do I Read RedState?

Theoretically, I visit the site just to know what’s going on over there in right wing land. But I’ve really started to wonder if I should find a community that has a bit more intellectual firepower.

Exhibit A: Neil Stevens has this really dumb post about a new study of the circulation of cold water in the North Atlantic. Stevens is convinced that he’s made a huge breakthrough:

It sounds to me like every climactic model has to be rewritten, and if it were an honest science, it’d be reeling for some time.

Having read the little synopsis of the study, I have to say that it doesn’t sound all that earth-shaking to me. But here’s the point that Stevens doesn’t really understand: I’m not a climate scientist and neither is he. That means that when I look at new studies and information without the proper context, chances are I’m not going to get it right. Maybe he ought to know a bit more before he declares that the entire field of climate science is bunk.

And then the real moment of supernatural idiocy. Who does he blame for all these problems he sees in climate science?

…Al Gore. He was more interested in generating a good crisis, than in publishing a true representation of science.

Ah yes. Because for conservatives, Al Gore is not just a popular cultural face for the issue of climate change – he invented it. No one had ever thought of climate change until Al Gore came up with it one day. 

Exhibit B: This funny piece, totally outraged with Susan Rice for saying that the United States’ record on human rights is “not perfect.” For real. That’s all she said.  But the right-wingers are really pissed, which means one of two things:

  1. They do not know that the United States used to provide legal protection for the ownership of other human beings as slaves OR
  2. They do not consider slavery a human rights issue

Of course, wade into the comments and you’ll see that it doesn’t take long for these folks to start bashing the U.S. government over Roe v. Wade. But no mention of slavery. 

At its heart, though, the post is about the U.N. Human Rights Council, and how silly it is. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think it’s stupid that Cuba, Saudia Arabia, China, et al. are on that council, but I also don’t know of anyone who takes the council all that seriously.

Which brings me to the most frustrating piece of right-wing idiocy. In order to be a real conservative, you must:

  1. Believe that the U.S. should not be participating in the U.N., because it is a violation of our sovereignty
  2. Complain that the U.N. is not effective enough at enforcing its own policies
  3. Not see the blatant contradiction between 1 and 2
Posted by: dshutt | May 16, 2009

Huntsman Goes to China

My favorite potential GOP candidate in 2012, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, will be named ambassador to China. That’s a hard job to pass up, particularly for someone who’s worked in China and East Asia in the past.

Politico seems to think that this effectively removes Huntsman from the field in 2012, but I don’t see why that has to be the case. Ambassadorial positions are not very partisan, and there’s no real partisan divide on the issue of our relations with China. So I’m not sure what Huntsman could do that would alienate the GOP base, aside from participating in some terribly bad deal with N. Korea.

Look at it this way – had Howard Dean served as ambassador to Canada in Bush’s first term, would that have negated any of his criticisms in the 2004 campaign?

Posted by: dshutt | May 11, 2009

Link Dump

Too busy to actually write anything substantive, so I’ll just post some of the stuff I’ve been reading lately:

  • Richard Cohen says it’s tough out there for white guys. Turns out affirmative action is still, yes, a good thing.
  • Evidently the internet is about to change forever.
  • Conservatives don’t know that Stephen Colbert is making fun of them, thus proving my maxim that it is impossible to be both funny and right-wing.
  • Ross Douthat wrote a great first column, examining what would’ve happened if Dick Cheney had run in 2008.
  • Jon Huntsman starts to staff up. He could be just what the doctor ordered for the GOP.
  • The folks at RedState are having a hard time adjusting. They mount a full-throated defense of Jeff Sessions’ racism, then wonder why African-Americans aren’t smart enough to vote for Republicans.
  • Michael Steele and the entire conservative movement have decided that they are adamantly against empathy. Guess that’s not one of the “values” that matters to “values voters.”
  • And finally, some fun:

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