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Will Any Principled Pro-Life Federalists Please Stand Up?

[ 4 ] November 30, 2007 |

I see that Rudy Giuliani — who Ann Althouse assured us in the august pages of the New York Times was a deeply principled federalist — has come out in favor of federal abortion regulations as long as he favors the regulations. States’ rights! Admittedly, if he were a truly principled federalist like Ron Paul he would favor making abortion first degree murder in all 50 states.

Speaking of which, John Holbo says most of what I would say in response to the second point raised by Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest response on the topic. My short version is that when evaluating public discourse I’m interested in the implications of the policies being advocated, not in the subjective motivations of the speaker. We know that 1)support for abortion criminalization has a strong tendency in the U.S. to be bundled together with reactionary positions on gender and sexuality, 2)given the choice between a policy that is likely to reduce abortion rates but is inconsistent with regulating female sexuality (such as providing greater access to contraception) American pro-lifers will tend to sacrifice the former principle, and 3)American pro-lifers favor some policies that increase injury to women without protecting fetal life at all. I hardly think it’s absurd to infer from this that American pro-life politics may involve things other than the pure desire to protect fetal life, but at any rate it’s the effect of the policies than actually matters.

With respect to the federalism issue, Ponnuru concedes Paul’s inconsistency but goes on to say that “it hardly follows that Lemieux is right to say that almost everybody who says they want the issue to be resolved by the states is lying.” Unless the argument turns on hair-splitting about the distinction between “lying” and “implausibly misinformed about recent political events and/or shamelessly unprincipled,” however, I do want to defend a strong version of this claim. At least when it comes to people with any prominence in American politics, aside from a tiny fraction of libertarians almost none of the people who claim to support the overturning of Roe to “send the issue back to the states” actually believes that abortion should be strictly a state issue. Every single pro-life Republican in Congress voted for the “Partial Birth” Abortion Ban Act. President Bush signed it. As far as I can tell, every major pro-life organization supported it (and, of course, support more extensive federal regulation.) Most conservative pundits who wrote about the topic supported it (see some relevant links here) and supported Carhart II. If Ponnuru can come up with some examples of prominent abortion opponents who consistently oppose any federal regulation of abortion, I’ll retract the charge, but in the vast majority of cases deploying rhetoric about “federalism” is nothing but a cynical prop (or is based on an incredibly misinformed view about what COngressional Republicans actually think about abortion.)

UnFairTax

[ 23 ] November 30, 2007 |

Although I agree that the biggest beneficiary of the Huckabee surge is Rudy Giuliani, it now can’t be considered entirely impossible that Huckabee will get the nomination. Given this, it seems worth pointing out that his national sales tax scheme is completely insane. Beaudrot is especially good on the bait-and-switch that the plan represents:

Frustration with the complicated nature of the tax code is a reason to simplify the tax code, not to enact some crazy regressive tax scheme that would have the side effect of creating a massive informal market in untaxed goods. You could have an income tax that computed your tax liability based on a seventh degree polynomial that you could fill out on a post card, so long as the only input is “How much money did you make last year?”. Instead, our tax code asks you how much you made from working, which is treated differently from money earned from interest and dividends, which is treated differently from capital gains. And then we start asking how much you gave to charity, how much you spent on health care, how many kids you have, whether any of them are in college or require child care, whether you bought a hybrid car, etc. ad nauseum. In addition, all these nickel-and-dime deductions and credits end up forcing the government to increase its overall tax rate on the income that is taxable. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the “broad base, low rates” position that used to be the mainstream position in the Republican party.

Right. As was true with Forbes as well, the trick is to conflate complex with progressive, when in fact the two are logically independent. You can greatly simplify the tax code without making it more regressive. And what’s really sad is that this crackpot plan won’t keep the Hair Club For Growth and other Republican business interests from trying to destroy his candidacy anyway. (Although I can’t wait for Huckabee’s next pandering ad with “celebrity” endorsement: “Hey, I’m Giuseppe Franco. I’m not putting my name on the line for a crank sales tax plan that doesn’t work!“)

Believing Your Own Press

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Thers asks: “what does it mean that The Matrix, the first one, is a watchable movie, when the dialogue is so astoundingly stupid?” Well, it means that a movie can be entertaining even if poorly written and not very well-acted if it has other virtues. But it also means that some movies of significant entertainment value but limited aesthetic mertis — especially if they have a soupcon of pretension — get inexplicably treated as if they were Works of Profound Genius. And what’s worse is that the Wachowskis seemed to take the highest praise given their decent B-movie seriously, leading to the leaden-paced, interminable, suffused-with-Baudrillardian-wankery sequels. Sad.

More on Paul And Abortion

[ 5 ] November 29, 2007 |

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my post about Ron Paul and abortion, but fails to address most of the points. To respond to each of his arguments in turn:

  • Ponnuru calls my argument that bans on “partial birth” objection do not protect fetal life — and hence (unlike a general ban on the procedure, at least in the abstract) cannot be defended in libertarian terms — “absurd,” but doesn’t explain why. On the question of whether such bans may result to injury to women, don’t take my word for it; believe Focus on the Family’s VP, who correctly points out that in some cases beinf forced to perform the D&E means there is greater…danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus.” (Being a pro-choice radical, I do dissent from his belief that more uteral perforation is a good thing.) Unless you believe implausibly that women will just stop getting D&Es, though, the bans also do essentially nothing to protect fetal life. Again, don’t take my word for it; Solicitor General Clement conceded at oral argument that “no woman would be prevented from terminating her pregnancy,” which is just self-evidently true; a woman prohibited from getting a D&X can always get a D&E. I have no idea what the libertarian justification for such an irrational federal statute could be, and Ponnuru doesn’t provide any assistance on the point.
  • On the question of whether Paul’s record is consistent with the assertion that abortion is a state issue, this seems pretty straightforward. When you say that abortion is a state issue and then vote for a federal abortion regulation…I think the contradiction is fairly ironclad. Admittedly, Paul’s inconsistency is lesser than most other “overturning Roe will send the issue back to the states” types; he has, for example, consistently voted against legislation making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. This is in contrast to Ponnuru’s favorite candidate John McCain, who while arguing that abortion should be sent back to the states has not only voted for pretty much every federal abortion regulation to come down the pike but also supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all 50 states. I don’t think elaborate argument is required to demonstrate the inconsistency of such policy positions with the proposition that abortion should be a state issue, but this is pretty much the standard Republican position. While in some cases the federalism dodge may involve a simple error in judgment, when you simultaneously claim that abortion should be a state issue and favor federal abortion regulation I don’t think claims of dishonesty are particularly unfair. Ponnuru also claims that “there are good reasons to expect stalemate at the federal level.” This is probably true insofar as a flat-out ban on abortion is concerned, but 1)there are plenty of abortion regulations short of a ban which may have a chance of being passed (and some of which already have), and 2)such claims often involve the assumption that the abortion debate will displaced to the state level, which given that most opponents of Roe also favor (and logically should favor) federal abortion legislation is quite clearly false.

At any rate, I stand by both of my points: supporting federal “partial birth” abortion legislation is consistent with neither libertarianism nor leaving abortion as a state issue.

UPDATE: I was probably too generous to Paul above. As Tom points out, Paul has also sponsored legislation that would define the fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception. In other words, as long as the 14th Amendment remains in force Paul would make abortion first degree murder in all 50 states, and federal agents would also presumably have to routinely investigate miscarriages, etc. It remains unclear to me how this is consistent with the position that abortion should be left to the states.

To Be Fair and Balanced

[ 0 ] November 28, 2007 |

Given the minor discussion in comments about Sting’s merits as a solo artist, I thought we should things turn over to the man himself:

It hit me the other day, and it was like, “Whoa—that’s so bizarre.” I was sitting at one of my pianos, working out some chords for my forthcoming album The Tepid Heart, when the wife asked me to pick up some diet soda. Since the staff was off (it was a Sunday), and the kids were due home from football practice soon, I said sure and drove down to the cornershop.

When I got there, the kid behind the counter had a tape playing that sounded oddly familiar. It wasn’t really my cup of tea—polyrhythmic and uptempo, with intense emotional energy and electrically amplified guitars instead of acoustic. And the kid was, to be honest, playing it a bit loud. But instead of being annoyed, I found it compelling in a weird sort of way. When I asked the kid who it was, he said he’d found it in a bag of stuff that used to belong to his older brother. “It’s old, but I like it,” he said. “It’s kind of reggae, but it sounds punk, too.”

Well, several weeks went by, but it kept nagging at me. Then, finally, last Thursday, I figured it out. I was in the den, watching some figure skating on TV and reading Parade. (Isn’t it funny how these things always hit you at the oddest times?) Anyway, there was an article about a policewoman who volunteers teaching schoolchildren about pet safety, when suddenly, it clicked: That kid was listening to Outlandos d’Amour, the first record by my old band, The Police!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow… I haven’t thought about The Police in years.” And neither had I, but you know what? It sounds nothing like what you’d expect after hearing “Fields Of Gold.” At first, I thought, “Wait… Is this just my memory playing tricks on me? I mean, I recorded the love theme from The Three Musketeers with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, for Christ’s sake. How cool could I possibly be?” But then I dusted off a bunch of the old LPs and, boy, was I amazed. Those records were actually pretty rockin’! You wouldn’t think that kind of stuff would come from me, but, hey, the opening track, “Next To You”? Come on! And the rest of the album, too: “So Lonely,” “Born In the ’50s,” and you’ve got to admit that “Sally Be My Girl” is one cool song. I was like, “Did I write this stuff? No way!”

Seems about right. I had forgotten about the Three Musketeers thing; I think it took George Harrison longer to write “Got My Mind Set on You“…

Against The Sorkinization of Hollywood

[ 28 ] November 28, 2007 |

A good article by Sudhir Muralidhar that, rather than attempting to project wingnut aesthetic Stalinism onto the public, wonders if anti-war movies are flopping not because the public loves the war and loves George Bush but because they…seem awful?

How else to explain Lions for Lambs, the most inert, predictable, and unnecessary political film to come out this year? Directed by Redford, the movie turns on the choices of three pairs of characters: A Republican senator (Tom Cruise) and a journalist (Meryl Streep) called to interview him about a new war strategy, two idealistic college graduates recently enlisted in the Army and deployed in Afghanistan (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) to employ that strategy, and a young student disenchanted with the American political process (Andrew Garfield) who must defend his apathy to his liberal political science professor (Redford). Lions for Lambs attempts to distill the debacle of the Iraq War through these characters, to demonstrate how the American public’s (students’) disillusionment with our political process allowed Washington elites (politicians and journalists) to deceive the country and send bright, well-intentioned men (young soldiers on the frontlines) to their death.

Such unsubtle frameworks usually work better in theater than in cinema, and it’s no surprise that Lions for Lambs feels much less like a Hollywood movie than a well-financed play. Not a good play, mind you, but a play written by a precocious high school student who watches lots of CNN. Matthew Michael Carnahan, the screenwriter behind this dreck, litters his dialogue with allusions to Abu Ghraib and Iran’s nuclear program but does little more than reference these real-world events. Cruise’s slick Republican senator speaks about his new war strategy in such vague terms that one cannot help but wonder if Carnahan has ever heard a real policy speech or even read an article on the war that was longer than an entry on the Huffington Post.

As I mentioned elsewhere, descriptions of this film remind me of nothing to much as the nightmarishly atrocious post-9/11 episode of The West Wing. (I know, I know, we wrote it in 24 hours or something. The problem is, virtually all of Studio 60 consisted of the same kind of position-paper reading, although at least they didn’t literally lock students into a room while Sorkin preached at them.)

Muralidhar does seem a little more sympathetic to Redacted but concedes its aesthetic failures. I’ll just add that I’m amused by people are talking about a Brian DePalma movie flopping as if this proves something about the administration and the war. People must love Bush if nobody sees Redacted following the incredible box-office success of Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale!

Sorry, But…

[ 48 ] November 28, 2007 |



Do They Know They Celebrate Christmas In Warmer Climes At All?

Roger claims that Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is indisputably the worst Christmas song ever. Now, it’s certainly awful. But its awfulness cannot hold a candle to “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an exceptionally lame song sung by mostly third-rate British pop stars that is also an unfortunate combination of self-congratulatory charity project and egregious racist condescension. Really, it begins and ends any such discussion. Indeed, it’s so bad that even the Canadian analogue (though not a Christmas song) is much better, if only on the strength of Gordon Lightfoot’s shades and Neil Young’s sideburns…

Channel 122 On Your Dial!

[ 6 ] November 28, 2007 |

I’m not sure whether to be happy that the Flames are on national TV (well, quasi-national) tonight, or dismayed that hockey fans across the country will see them get destroyed by the Red Wings again…

In other news, apparently Dennis Miller has a new show that involves recycling lame Britney Spears jokes and applying them to sports. I’m sure he’s on Versus because of the same Hollywood blacklist that pretty much stopped Roger L. Simon from getting work several years before he came out as a reactionary…

Paul and Abortion

[ 31 ] November 27, 2007 |

Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point about Ron Paul: “What strikes me is what a throwback Paul is among libertarians. Hard money and anti-interventionism move him, but he seems utterly uninterested in the lifestyle questions that have taken up so much of Reason for the past decade.” Indeed, he’s not merely indifferent to all such questions but in fact is a proponent of using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies of term. Gillespie and Welch try to get around this by using the classic federalism dodge, asserting that Paul “nonetheless believes that federal bans violate the more basic principle of delegating powers to the states.”

As Ponnuru also notes, however, this won’t wash because he voted for the federal “partial birth” abortion ban. Moreover, from a libertarian perspective the “partial birth” ban is, if anything, less defensible than voting for a total ban. Libertarians could in theory justify a ban because most would see the protection of human life as a legitimate use of state power (although in practice criminalization does very little to actually protect fetal life, and Paul’s libertarian positions on other issues would almost certainly increase abortion rates by a massive extent.) The ban Paul voted for, conversely, does nothing to protect fetal life, but simply tries to force doctors to perform abortions using less safe methods in some cases. Even on its face, therefore, such legislation is about regulating female sexuality and punishing women for making choices the state doesn’t approve of, which is as inconsistent with any coherent set of libertarian principles as it is with “states’ rights.” Paul is more consistent than most Republican-affiliated “libertarians” — he’s not willing to make up ridiculous arguments in favor of the Iraq War, for example — but his libertarianism doesn’t seem to apply to these kinds of issues of individual freedom.

The lesson here is the obvious one: like libertarians, people willing to forego strongly-held substantive preferences in the name of federalism “are as rare as pieces of the True Cross.” And when almost anybody tells you that by advocating the overturn of Roe they want to “send the issue back to the states,” they’re almost certainly lying.

Unintended Consequences

[ 25 ] November 27, 2007 |

Partly because I think you should stick by your predictions as long as they’re still plausible, I still think that Mitt Romney has to be considered the favorite to win the GOP nomination. Matt, however, makes an interesting point about the biggest impediment Romney faces: the possibility that Huckabee will win in Iowa. Assuming (and I think this is right) that Huckabee has enough support to win Iowa but lacks the resources to be competitive in the front-loaded primaries even if he wins, the irony is that the most social conservative major candidate could hand the Republican nomination to the candidate least congenial to social conservatives. Although it’s conceivable that Romney could survive a loss in Iowa, it would be hard to argue that he should be favored over Giuliani if it happens.

Of course, this kind of strange scenario is that result of the fact that there is a prominent hawkish social conservative in the race — who’s uncompetitive largely because of his personal conflicts with social conservative leaders. Between McCain being DOA and the late-entering plain vanilla southern conservative seemingly emulating Wesley Clark’s 2004 campaign we have the current situation in which nobody seems logically capable of winning the Republican nomination. In that context, I still think Romney is the least illogical possibility.

Fake Libertarians

[ 17 ] November 27, 2007 |

D-squared on conservertarians:

They’re always hacks, Brad. Always. Yes even Milton Friedman. The more independent-minded ones will occasionally come up with a liberalish or fair-minded idea or two, but this is purely for display, not for ever doing anything about if to do so would run the risk of a higher rate of capital gains tax. The ideological core of Chicago-style libertarianism has two planks.

1. Vote Republican.
2. That’s it.

The Iraq War has obviously been useful in exposing bullshit libertarians. It becomes comical to assert that the state cannot be trusted to administer a pension plan it has successfully administered with low overhead for many decades, but can be trusted at a massive expense of lives and money to create a liberal democracy ex nihilo in a country whose prior insitutional arrangements were exceptionally inhospitable to the new form. I’m reminded of my favorite recent example, Randy Barnett. What’s especially rich is that you may recall Barnett questioned whether the state would be necessary to enforce contracts — but deposing a regime that posed no significant threat to the United States in order to pursue an exceptionally ambitious, quarter-assed social transformation scheme that will magically supply a security justification to the war is perfectly OK! And war against nation X is justifiable if stateless Islamic terrorists with no connection to secular state X come from the same region, because the miraculous, very consistent with libertarian premises transformation of secular state X will produce even more miraculous transformations in Islamic states Y and Z, through causal relationships better left unspecified! It all makes perfect sense! As d-squared concludes in re: Milton Friedman:

Why are American liberals so damnably obsessed with extending intellectual charity to right wing hacks which is never reciprocated? It reaches parodic form in the case of those tiresome “centrists” who left wing American bloggers are always playing the Lucy-holds-the-football game with. Oh, but their politics are sooo centrist! They’re practically 50% of the way between Republicans and Democrats! Yeah, specifically they’re right-wing Democrats in non-election years and party line Republicans any time it might conceivably matter (note that here, two years after the White House ceremony at which Friedman apparently “spent most of his 90th birthday lunch telling Bush that his fiscal policy was a disaster”, here he is signing a letter in support of more of the same).

I wouldn’t mind, but it’s clearly not intellectual honesty that makes American liberals act pretend that Milton Friedman wasn’t a party line Republican hack (which he was; he was also an excellent economist, which is why he won the Nobel Prize for Economics, not the Nobel Prize for Making A Sincere and Productive Contribution To The National Political Debate, which he would not have won if there was one).

Tragedies

[ 2 ] November 27, 2007 |

Rob has already mentioned the untimely passing of Sean Taylor; hopefully those who shot him will be brought to justice. And although he’s a less prominent athlete, I should also note the death of Joe Kennedy. Most baseball fans have some sore-armed veteran trying to gut out a career that the root for, and Kennedy was always one of mine. Although I watch most games from the cheap seats, once or twice a year I would buy a really nice ticket, and in 2002 it happens that I saw a fantastic pitcher’s duel between Kennedy and Jamie Moyer from right behind home plate. Kennedy won 1-0 with a 4-hitter, and his stuff was very impressive (although admittedly pitching against Moyer probably makes your heater look better.) He was never the same after he hurt his arm the next year, but I always hoped he’d figure something out and stay in the league. R.I.P.

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