The Long View 2008-04-18: The Vindication of Steyn; The Matter with Obama; Days of Dearth


What a different world 2008 was, when someone accused of offensive speech could handily win both in the court of public opinion, and actual courts.

The Vindication of Steyn; The Matter with Obama; Days of Dearth

Mark Steyn's many well-wishers will be pleased to see that the attacks on him through various Canadian Human Rights Commissions seem to have backfired. The statement from the Ontario Commission was the straw that broke the camel's back. The straw in this case was a statement from the Ontario Commission that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the Islamophobia charges against Steyn and Maclean's magazine, but which nonetheless went on to condemn the defendants and what Steyn had said in America Alone, this despite the fact the matter is still before two other Commissions. Steyn himself helpfully supplies us with a compendium of outraged elite opinion:

The Globe And Mail restricts much of its content online but today’s print edition is well worth picking up. This is Canada’s establishment paper and it doesn’t like what it’s hearing from Barbara Hall, Chief Commissar of the Ontario “Human Rights” Commission, the world leaders in labiaplasty jurisprudence.

First, star columnist Rex Murphy:

I'm not a lawyer, so I merely ask the question: Is it normal when declining a case (or, in this case, a complaint) for a commission, court or tribunal to then deliver a guilty verdict? For that's what the press statement, directly, or by forceful implication, did...

The story just gets better and better, from the point-of-view of political comedy if not of jurisprudence. The great secret about totalitarian liberalism is that it has never been hard to rout, in circumstances where someone refuses to be cowed and there is a measure of publicity. This is apparently true even in the extreme case of these Canadian Commissions.

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Speaking of outraged elite opinion, that pseudonymous calumniator Spengler at Asia Times says that he has been asked for advice by a distraught candidate for the American presidency, who reports his problem thus:

I'm in big trouble over something I said to a private group that some busybody posted on the Internet. Just when I was about to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, everyone is on my case because I said that small-town voters in Pennsylvania were bitter about losing their jobs, and cling to their guns and to God by way of compensation.

Spengler's advice is couched as an excerpt from The Arabian Nights as tasteless as it is colorful. He ends with this conclusion:

I suggest you change your name, move to a place where no one knows you, and stay out of sight.

The only surprising thing about this incident is the pretence that the Senator's views are exotic or original. FrenchieCat was one of the few sources I could find online (at least as of a few hours ago) that let the obvious out of the bag:

When Senator Obama was speaking in San Francisco about folks in small town Pennsylvania, he wasn't saying anything new nor anything unheard of. He was talking about some of the same issues raised in the best selling Book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, by Thomas Frank. In fact, Barack Obama discussed that very book with Charlie Rose back in 2004...

What's the Matter with Kansas is well-enough known to have its own Wikipedia Page. It was one of a flurry of books that followed the election of 2004, books in which Democratic theorists considered what to do about the "values voter." Also from this literature, Thomas F. Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie suggested that the Party might prosper by trading gun rights for every other item in the agenda of the cultural Left. Like Frank's book, it argues that values voters suffer from false consciousness, which means that their political views are best understood as symptoms. (As far as I know, by the way, only Mickey Kaus among the major online commentators has dared to use the term "false consciousness" to describe what Obama was referring to.) David Callahan in The Moral Center provides an analysis and prescription that is actually a bit closer to what the Obama campaign has embraced: yes, values voters do perceive real moral failings; progressives should embrace religious language to place those perceptions in a context of Liberation Theology.

These views may or may not have merit, but they are scarcely unusual. Actually, I was under the impression they were the orthodoxy among informed Democratic activists. John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei try to suggest in a posting on Politico that the situation with Hillary Clinton is quite different. I doubt it. There is nothing at all in Hillary Clinton's background and current behavior to suggest she believes otherwise: like Obama, she worked with Alinskyite groups, too, and is familiar with the concept of false consciousness. The difference is that clips of her expounding this sort of analysis cannot be found on YouTube, or at least not yet.

Harris & Vandehei also offer this observation:

Does it seem odd that a woman with a polarizing reputation would be rolling up enormous margins among some of the country’s most traditional voters? Three out of every four blue-collar whites in small towns and rural areas of Ohio voted for Clinton over Obama on March 4. The reality is, this is already an electorate with deep cultural divisions — and that’s in the Democratic Party.

I don't think that Obama will take any great hurt from the incident, at least as far as the contest for the Democratic nomination goes. Obama's supporters agree with him about Frank's analysis. Undecided Democrats will not greatly mind the condescension; people rarely do. The point about the rift in the Democratic Party is correct, however. It's quite as serious as the one among the the Republicans caused by immigration.

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Meanwhile, while we are all nattering about the presidential candidates' latest alleged "gaffe" and moaning and weeping about the rise in mortgage foreclosures, there is good reason to suppose that something appalling is about to happen:

WASHINGTON (Thomson Financial) - Rising inflation, especially in food, could have terrible consequences for the world if it continues and action needs to be taken to keep rising prices in check, the head of the International Monetary Fund said today.

'Food prices, if they go on like they are doing today ... the consequences will be terrible,' IMF managing director Dominque Strauss-Kahn said...In recent months, rising food costs have lead to social unrest in several countries such as Haiti and Egypt as governments grapple with a growing crisis sparked by a whole series of price increases in basic commodities.

In the developing world, governments have been forced to increase subsidies for basic foodstuffs and fuels or to cut back on agricultural exports, as in Thailand with rice, in order to ease price pressures in their home markets.

This is not globaloney, though we may note with disquiet that some of the comments about this development do not always appreciate that the problem is not "inflation": the higher prices are accurately reporting an inadequate supply. Because Paul Ehrlich's population bomb turned out to be a dud, we have forgotten that widespread famines and food shortages have occurred in modern times, and could do so again. Asia Times Spengler has taken note of the matter in characteristic fashion:

The Arabs are a failing people, I have argued in earlier studies (see Crisis of faith in the Muslim world Asia Times Online, October 31 and November 5, 2005). It is not only the triumph of globalized Western culture over traditional society that threatens them, but the ascendancy of Asia. Last week's food riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East bring the point home. Arabs are hungry because Chinese are rich enough to eat meat, and buy vast quantities of grain to feed to pigs and chickens. If the rise in Asian protein consumption portends a permanently higher plateau of food prices, the consequences are dire for populations living on state subsidies, from Morocco to Algeria to Cairo to Gaza. A people that have no hope also have nothing to lose.

Actually, it's not just the Arabs: civil unrest is popping up in quite a lot of places. Not food-price inflation, but real rises in food-prices are just below the political radar in the United States. This could become an issue very soon.

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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