Party hack?

I had a fascinating conversation with a friend of mine from Boston today, this friend being one of the few liberals at my college. (The majority of the students here are conservative, though not Republican; in a voter registration drive held recently, over 95% of the new voters registered independent.) The content of the conversation itself was boring enough, rehashing talking-points about the election. What was fascinating was a comment he made at the end of the discussion, after I said that nationalized health-care would be terrible for the country.

He said, "I hate talking politics with party hacks."

Now, I appreciate the general sentiment, having felt that way myself often enough. But I had told him at least three times in the previous hour or so that I am an independent. He still identified me as a "party hack," presumably for the Republican party. As I understand it, a party hack is loyal to his party above all, regardless of the ideology that the party should be advancing at the time. He will defend policies that he knows to be flawed, simply because they are proposed by his party.

I was almost immediately reminded of a story my father often tells. I no longer remember if the story happened to him, or to a friend of his, but in either event it is instructive. The subject was having a political conversation of some sort with a friend of his, who was considerably more liberal. He was making some point in opposition to the liberal program. The friend grew agitated and said, "You don't really believe that!"

My father took from this the following insight: a liberal believes that his worldview is completely self-evident, and that all people really know deep down that the liberal agenda is the right thing to do. Therefore, nobody can honestly oppose liberalism out of principle, since liberalism is right. Therefore, anyone who opposes liberalism must be doing so selfishly or dishonestly. It is impossible to legitimately hold a philosophical viewpoint opposed to liberalism, and to advocate action based on this philosophy, because such a philosophy is manifestly wrong.

Examples: the Laffer Curve is a fabrication to excuse Tax-Cuts for the Rich™; opposition to Affirmative Action makes you a racist; et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Therefore, for me to be advocating ideas opposed to liberalism to my liberal friend, I was by definition doing so not because I thought they were right, but because I was a "party hack."

This attitude is disturbing. I, and most conservatives, can readily accept that most liberals genuinely believe in the validity and righteousness of their views. This allows us to acknowledge that even if their methods are flawed, their hearts are in the right place, and they are generally good people in their way. But if the converse is not true—if the average liberal believes that anyone disagreeing with him is doing so from base motives—then it justifies extreme actions taken against the opposition. Stealing political signs and barricading campaign headquarters, and perhaps worse, are justified because the actions impede the advance of a dishonest agenda.

I am not a party hack. I genuinely believe that capitalism is preferable to government control, that personal responsibility is better in general than dependence on others and the growth of moral hazard, and that people exist in the world who need to be killed for the benefit of all. I do not tie these beliefs to a party platform. Republicans are just as capable of being scum as anyone else; consider Bush the Elder, who incited the Iraqi Shia and Kurds to rebellion and then hung them out to dry, to be slaughtered by Saddam. But Bush the Younger, for all his numerous flaws, has got the essentials right as far as I am concerned. And I honestly believe that too.



With my workload picking up, I have not been able to devote the time necessary to keep this blog up to date. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time looking at other blogs, detracting from my work. So I'm taking a break, probably for the next month or two. I may end up posting anyway if a subject is of burning interest, so please check back every so often if you like.

I shall use this opportunity to pontificate on matters near to my heart. Take these commands as worth the price of admission:

1. Self-reliance. Learn First Aid and CPR. Know how to cook. Keep disaster-preparedness supplies in your home, especially if you live in earthquake or hurricane country. Do not rely on the availability of fresh water, electricity, or plentiful supplies of gasoline. Ask yourself the following: if basic services were all shut down for a week, would you be able to take care of yourself and your family?

2. Financial Prudence. As Einstein said, the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. If you have savings, this works for you in a big way. Start early. The biggest edge you can get in the savings game is by starting early. If you sock away a little money in Treasury bonds every year from age 25, you will be well ahead of someone who starts investing in nanotech stocks at age 40. But if you are in debt, compound interest works against you. Pay down your credit cards! You are effectively getting a guaranteed return of 12% or more, which is pretty good by any standard. Pay down your other debt too, if you have the free capital—assuming that it doesn't make more sense to invest the money.

3. Charity. Charity is one of the best investments you can make. You are investing in other people's lives, your own soul, and your continued moral refinement. Plus, you can be assured that all the money you give will find its way back to you in the end, only more so.

4. Resolve. Like it or not, we are in the middle stages of a conflict which began generations ago and will last generations more. (Read John Loftus's article on the Muslim Brotherhood for a full account of the Nazi origins of al-Qa'ida.) We cannot allow our innate feelings of mercy to weaken our determination or cloud our judgement. The murder of innocents for political gain must be ended by the systematic annihilation of all who would do such a thing. I am sick of sharing the Earth with these vampires.

And to those who believe that "violence begets violence," and would therefore abstain from this war: to say that we cannot take arms against murderers is to strip human life of its value. It is to say that the evil powers of the world can have their way with the rest of us, killing whoever they wish, because we will not resist. Not this Jew. Not now. The millions who perished in the Holocaust for want of a few brave souls willing to do violence, and the millions who were saved from death because prisoners rose up and destroyed Treblinka and Sobibor, stand before me in my heart and cry warning against submission. A moral nation must only kill others when there can be no other way, but when that moment comes we CANNOT do anything besides bloodying our hands in hopes of saving more than we destroy.

Stay well, and may God bless you in all of your handiwork.


Election Turmoil

In Afghanistan, millions of people voted for the first time in defiance of threats from the Taliban (which turned out to be relatively toothless). But it seems that people closer to home are not taking this to heart. Some Americans apparently believe that violence against your political enemies will yield dividends for your cause. Or else, they have stopped caring anymore.

In several cases, Republican campaign offices have been shot at. Others were broken into, with only the computers containing voter data being stolen. Reports of vandalized Bush signs or cars bearing Bush bumper-stickers are numerous. (Kerry signs have also been vandalized, but in far fewer numbers.) These cases, though unprecedented in my living memory, could perhaps be dismissed as the acts of individuals. More troubling are the cases of AFL-CIO thugs attacking Republican campaign offices, with the support and approval of the national organization.

Here we have a dangerous development. A high-profile national organization has carried out acts of violence against a political party espousing differing views. Moreover, the acts are praised and held up as exampes of "voter advocacy." In some of the more noxious corners of the Internet, such as Democratic Underground (I will not link to them out of principle), people post of plans for violent outbreaks should Bush win reelection. We are beginning to see the lawless wing of the Left emerge in all of its rancid glory.

It is telling that despite all of the caterwauling about "right-wing gun nuts," not a single Democratic campaign office has been shot at. Nor have Democratic offices been mobbed by violent crowds sent by the Christian Coalition/Karl Rove/the Evil Neocons. You know things are getting lopsided when even the New York Times attributes the most vileness to the Left.

I wonder at the Democratic Party's wisdom in letting slip the dogs of war in this fashion. I don't see how they expect to convince the American people that they are the best party to run the country this way. Besides, the extremists had better hope that they don't provoke a reaction from the Right. They are, after all, heavily outgunned...


The Modern "Debate"

Having just watched the Vice-Presidential Debate this evening, my thoughts naturally turn to the merits and flaws of the debate structure presently favored in America. I should say that tonight's debate was unusually good in that it largely turned on real policy differences, and every time Edwards tried to bring up Haliburton, Cheney's voting record from decades ago, and other irrelevancies, he was properly smacked down for it. But the debate still suffered from the usual systemic flaws.

Back in the Good Old Days™ (say, Lincoln-Douglas), debates lasted several hours. The cadidates had the time to lay out comprehensive, structured arguments on their policies and those of their opponents. Statements would often be longer than two hours, as would be the rebuttals. This was all to the good, as we are in theory electing officials to construct policy.

Tonight, the longest either candidate was allowed to speak was two minutes. (Though there were a few blatant violations which the moderator did not interrupt.) Rebuttals were ninety seconds, then thirty seconds. Questions were not known in advance, requiring answers to be entirely off-the-cuff, or else stock answers that had little relevance to the question.

Now I have a little exercise for the reader. Take a stopwatch, set it to two minutes, and within that time do an oral presentation to a friend on why we [should/should not] be in Iraq. You may repeat this exercise for any major policy issue such as Social Security reform, taxes or the lack of same, or why every citizen should own an M1-A Abrams tank. You will quickly find that two minutes is insufficient for presenting anything more than key phrases, broad generalizations, and the bare outlines of any complex topic.

The conventional logic is that the modern debate is intended not to be about policy, but about the candidates. The viewers can see how the candidates react to unscripted situations, and develop a "feel" for who the candidate really is. This logic is partly undermined by artificial debate formats, for example in the first presidential debate where the candidates could not rebut each other. But let us take the argument at face-value.

What skills are being tested by the present format?

1. Proper speaking method and style.
2. Memorization of talking points and key phrases.
3. Rapidly formulating new arguments in response to the question or the opponent's statement.
4. Mastery of the cutting remark.
5. Quick thinking, wit, and self-control.

While these can be valuable to an elected official, it is less important to think quickly than it is to think deeply. Truly deep thinkers pause when they are thinking. They need to examine the subject carefully before formulating a response to it. Deep thought is penalized by the two-minute format in favor of glib speech (which will not always be backed up by coherent thought). More than that, the skills listed above are largely superficial, having little bearing on questions of policy. Modern debates are testing the wrong skills; they should be testing the ability to explain and defend an agenda.

The simplest thing to do would be to allow more time for statements, so that real policy matters can be discussed. Ten minutes per segment would be nice; most college courses on speechmaking, including the one I took, require the student to give a detailed presentation with citations in ten minutes. This simple rule change would get us away from the usual fluff and back on the solid ground of the things that really matter.

For that reason, I think the two-minute segment isn't going away soon. Both parties are pursuing miserable policies and try desperately to divert the attention of the electorate from the long-term trend. Neither side wants to face unpleasant truths such as the looming implosion of Medicare and Social Security, or the failure of the War on Drugs, or the ease with which enemies could circumvent security at the U.S. border or elsewhere. "Policy bad, sound-bite good" seems to be the order of the day.


Oil for Graft Program

The news from the Times of London is not especially shocking, except for the sheer scale of corruption in the Oil for Food Program that it reveals. Benon Seven, director of the program, received almost a million dollars from sales of Iraqi oil contracts, provided to him by Saddam at cut-rate prices. A French oil firm linked to Jacques Chirac bribed U.N. inspectors to forge documents. Members of Vladimir Putin's staff were also on the take. Et cetera.

Two thoughts:

1. Well, this explains a lot! I can only imagine how terrified the corrupt officials throughout the U.N. and Europe were that their venal ways would come to light after Saddam's overthrow. I hope that the rule of law will now prevail, and these crawling toads will be thrown out of office (and perhaps in jail?). Of all the crimes that are commited by government officials, accepting bribes is possibly the worst.

2. No leader of a free nation should submit his country's safety to the demands of these clowns. I am in favor of an organization like the United Nations in principle, but episodes such as this prove that the present organization must either clean up its act or be dismantled like any other organization of lawbreakers. This is also a warning against forming a "global government" in which the states would give up sovereignty. Immanuel Kant, in his essay "Perpetual Peace," advocated a federation of independent states, and warned that a true world government would become a "soulless despotism." There is no way to check the power of a world government, which will inevitably encroach on its citizens until it becomes a true tyranny.

In other news...

This essay by Radek Sikorski provides some needed perspective on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. My favorite quote:

Tens of thousands of people died in this country every month in the 1980s during the war with the Soviet Union and it wasn't news. Hundreds died every month in the 1990s from mines and the civil war and that wasn't really news either. Today, casualties are in the dozens most months, and suddenly it is news, taken by some as evidence of imminent collapse. For the first time in a quarter century, more Afghans are now dying in car accidents than in politically motivated violence--a miracle, even allowing for atrocious Afghan driving.

Read the rest, it's quite good.