The Long View 2003-05-22: What this Country Needs....

John said in 2002 that no century in modern times had produced less intellectual history than the twentieth. Another way of putting it might be that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The quoted WNYC story in this post from 2003 is by now clearly right. Our attempt to build representative democracy in Iraq could have been foreseen to turn out exactly the way it did. Brian Lehrer, do you ever look back and think to yourself, "I told you so"?

Unfortunately, part of the dynamic behind why things keep going around in circles in recent history is that no one is on top of the pile for long. Learning from the mistakes of your political enemies may be even harder than learning from your own mistakes. I wonder whether Lehrer questioned the value of democracy in Libya the same way after the fall of Qaddafi, because the same result could have been predicted in Libya, or really anywhere affected by the Arab Spring.

Further evidence that nothing really changes except who is on top is provided by the second section of John's post. In 2003, anti-war liberals were heckled on college campuses. Today, anti-gay marriage conservatives are heckled on college campuses. The behavior is the same, only the approved targets have changed.

Finally, we might note that suit has again been filed to force the Selective Service to accept women. One thing is different now: with a lack of real combat operations for ground troops, no one has to face the cost of putting women in combat roles. This kind of thing went nowhere in 2003. In 2015, it is plausible that it will succeed, precisely because no one will ever see a 19-year old girl in a body bag or a wheelchair now.

What This Country Needs...
Last week, WNYC's Brian Lehrer made what, in effect, was a plea for a military dictatorship in the United States. Here are his key points:
The President's whole approach to democracy in Iraq, is in fact, the opposite of his approach to democracy at home. He is carefully building a transitional Iraqi government based on the idea that all major groups need to have some real decision-making power. The term he keeps using is a representative government - not elected or even democratic government, but a representative one. And he is right to do so. It's a worthy goal....So what about for us? This President squeaked into office in what was essentially a tie vote...[I]magine if he were building democracy in Iraq on the basis of 51 percent winner-take-all majority rule. Iraq would be a Shiite State tomorrow. Too bad on the Kurds, the Sunnis and other minorities...[M]aybe, Mr. President, your foreign policy would work as well at home. While Iraqis get to know you as the Affirmative Action President, maybe Americans whose groups have faced the biggest disadvantages need more opportunities, just like in Iraq. And maybe a more representative form of decision-making would improve OUR democracy too.
That is as clear a statement of post-democratic liberalism as you could hope to find. It puts "representation" before everything else, even at the cost of turning the organs of representative government into mere symbol. Under such a system, the real power necessarily resides with some version of Tommy Franks, who can correct the errors of unenlightened electorates. People who favor "guided democracy" generally assume that they will be Tommy Franks when the time comes, or at least they will be able to choose him. They are almost always wrong about that assumption.
* * *
Speaking of choosing the wrong patsy, no doubt many readers saw the four-hour drama that aired on CBS this week: Hitler: The Rise of Evil. Every generation gets its own Hitler, just as each gets its own Richard III. For myself, I kept wondering why Johnny Depp suddenly wanted to take over Germany. Still, the series was fine. Events had to be slurred and compressed to make a manageable story, particularly for the last year of elections and ministerial crises before Hitler became chancellor. (Hindenburg actually offered Hitler the chance to form a government twice, but Hitler refused to even try to assemble a parliamentary majority: he wanted a presidential appointment.) There are just three points about the program that I would like to highlight:
First, Hitler did not achieve electoral success by emphasizing antisemitism. That was important for keeping part of his base together. When he had the chance to win elections, however, he talked about economics and law-and-order.
Second, the Nazis probably did not burn down the Reichstag. They really didn't need to: they controlled the police and the media, and President Hindenburg was obviously not going to live forever.
Finally, the show had trouble attracting advertisers, at least for the New York City market. It's a bad sign when the commercials for prime time on a major broadcast network are for individual car dealerships.
* * *
Remember back when people first started to complain about political correctness? The problem came to public notice 15 or 20 years ago, when it became difficult for a conservative to speak in any academic forum without being heckled to silence. The fact that anti-war liberals are now having the same problem does not mean the world has become a better place. Still, it's happening. Consider the case of New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, whose antiwar commencement address at Rockford College was shouted down with some enthusiasm.
I'd like to be sympathetic; certainly I hate to be heckled. What lends these events a certain rough justice, however, is the visible outrage of liberal media pundits. They live in ideological hothouses; they often don't know that there are opinions other than their own. They genuinely equate being contradicted with being censored.
Probably the Dixie Chicks don't qualify as pundits, but Bob Herbert of The New York Times does. His remarks in today's column is chiefly about Halliburton's contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, but he does say this in passing:
"The Dixie Chicks were excoriated for simply exercising their constitutional right to speak out. With an ugly backlash and plans for a boycott growing, the group issued a humiliating public apology for 'disrespectful' anti-Bush remarks made by its lead singer, Natalie Maines."
This is confused. The Dixie Chicks were not excoriated for exercising a right. They were excoriated because of the content of what their lead singer said. Government generally can't do that, but private persons can. In fact, the reason government regulates speech only procedurally is precisely to facilitate public reaction to its content. Of course people who say provocative things in public are praised and blamed. That's not "ugly." It's the First Amendment.
* * *
On the subject of confusion, I see that recent comments on homosexuality by Cardinal Arinze caused a walkout by some faculty at Georgetown University. His eminence was listing dangers to family life today, among which he mentioned homosexuality, which he says mocks it. The theologians in particular were shocked.
The interesting thing about this incident was not that a Catholic cardinal was criticized for stating a commonplace of Catholic doctrine at a Jesuit university. The interesting thing was that he was also stating what I gather is a commonplace of Queer Theory. Ideologies of sexual liberation begin with the premise that traditional family roles, and indeed traditional ideas about gender, are oppressive constructs. They must be deconstructed and laughed out of existence, or at least greatly modified. It's a little disingenuous to suggest that the cardinal was being paranoid.
* * *
Finally, this brings us to confusion coupled with depraved indifference to human life. Some under-employed civil liberties groups are bringing suit against the Selective Service system. The argument is that requiring only young men to register is sex discrimination.
Have these people given any thought to what would happen if they win? We are not talking about the promotion of women lawyers at major law firms. If they win, the ultimate result will be bodybags with dead 19-year-old girls in them.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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