40% of South Carolina Republican Voters are Stark Raving Mad

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I look at my fellow Southerners in South Carolina with a feeling of exacerbation. Newt Gingrich, a pseudo-conservative, a “big government conservative,” a supporter, along with the late Jack Kemp, of affirmative action, a warmonger, and a supporter of torture as U.S. policy, won the Republican primary. He seems to desire conflict with Iran every much as Mr. Santorum. While I appreciate his conciliatory tone tonight, he resembles George W. Bush too much on both foreign and domestic policy. Ron Paul, who has the only sensible policy on foreign policy, received only 13% of the vote–thank goodness for the 13% who see beyond the lust for war and an ignorant Premillenial theology that has led to an unbalanced support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Paul has opposed the arrogant Wilsonian triumphalism that Mr.Gingrich supports.How does Mr. Gingrich expect to balance the budget while expanding defense spending and pushing toward military conflict with Iran?

Mr. Gingrich said some good things in his acceptance speech about the Tenth Amendment–but this does not seem consistent with his policies earlier in his career. I have other questions: Does Mr. Gingrich support the free trade policy that has effectively destroyed American manufacturing? Does he really mean to appoint only strict constructionists to federal courts who will neither support the radical secularist agenda nor expand the power of the federal government over matters that should be reserved to the states? Is he willing to reconsider his position on torture? If American is as “exceptional” as he claims, surely he could support America being on the moral high ground by never participating in nor officially supporting waterboarding and other forms of torture? I doubt it,and unless I see evidence of a change of Mr. Gingrich’s positions on foreign policy and on torture, and if Mr. Gingrich wins the Republican nomination, I and other antiwar Republicans may have no moral option other than to vote for either the Libertarian or the Constitution Party candidate. The only votes that are wasted are those that violate one’s conscience. If Mr. Obama wins re-election as a result, so be it.

The United States and “Evil Enemy States”

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There has always been a strand of Puritanism in American thought that survives in part as a Manichean division between good and evil. Rather than seeing the United States as a mixture of good and evil, many Americans see it as “the good guy” in the world with no major faults. Individuals who disagree are labeled as “unpatriotic,” told to “go to Russia,” or are called “America-haters.” Although I do not deny that there are individuals and groups of people who hate their country, not every critic of American practices hates the United States. Nor is someone who points out that there is much good in countries considered to be enemies of the United States, such as Iran. Many Americans want an overpowering, evil enemy state because many Americans are more Manichean, believing in sharp lines between good and evil, than they are Christian. Christianity recognizes that no being created by God is totally evil–traditionally, since evil is a lack of good, and thus a lack of being, a totally evil being could not exist. If Americans of all stripes are honest with themselves, they will see that they are capable of great evil. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed how “good” people can turn evil when they have great power (as prison guards) over others (in this case, students who played the “prisoner” role). He notes the power of situational factors that can lead to a good person torturing and even killing innocent human beings.

Reinhold Niebuhr recognized that groups are capable of great evil just as individuals are, and Zimbardo’s work showed this to be the case. Nation-states are groups of people, and in any group unethical practices can arise that lead to people doing things that are evil under group pressure. No nation is immune to this. Was the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” as President Reagan affirmed? I would say “Yes,” with the qualification that there was good even in the old Soviet Union, and evil in the United States of America. In the War between the States, Generals Sherman and Sheridan engaged in the first modern war (with Lincoln’s endorsement)–both these generals and President Lincoln believed that war should be engaged against the civilian population. The brutality with which federal troops put down the anti-draft riots in New York as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea are evidence of the results. The United States Army was brutal in the Philippines war in the early part of the twentieth century, mowing down men, women, and children. The United States Army Air Corps engaged in the saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. President Roosevelt placed thousands of Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. In the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs than it did in the whole of World War II. The atrocities and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba) are well known–torture has not been totally eschewed as the official policy of the United States, and the U.S. still sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. Civil liberties, from the genocide of the American Indians to the mistreatment of the Irish, the Chinese, and of African-Americans, have not been uniformly honored in the United States. Does this mean the United States is an evil country? I do not think it is as evil as a totalitarian society such as the old Soviet Union or China under Chairman Mao, but it does mean that the notion of the United States as the paragon of virtue and (during the Cold War) the Soviet Union as the epitome of evil is a Manichean view that does not reflect the good and evil mixture found in all nation-states.

President George W. Bush held a simplistic, Manichean view of the world that many Americans eagerly followed. Saddam’s Iraq was an evil state, and the good United States was obligated to attack the evil state (at first for the alleged but missing “weapons of mass destruction” and then to “save the Iraqi people from Saddam”). Americans’ hubris was expanded by its view that it was the hero country liberating the Iraqi people from a Satanic dictator. Now Iran is the enemy, and the Neoconservative war cries are loud–and Americans are buying into the new lie as well. Yes, Iran’s president holds an evil position in his denial of the Holocaust. Nothing can justify his views, nor his support of the radical religious groups that have held the country hostage since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, Iran also has a working democracy, unlike many other states in the region, including states the United States supports. Israel has a vital interest in what Iraq does, and if Israel wants to defend its vital interests militarily, that is Israel’s task, not that of the United States. However, the Neoconservatives are appealing to American Manicheanism and demonizing Iran as the new “evil empire.” Hopefully Americans will see that all people are “fallen,” as well as all nation-states, and any positing of “We good, they bad” is misleading and leads to unnecessary wars and bad foreign policy decisions.

Liberalism and the Failure to Recognize Human Limitations

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Do you remember your mother or father telling you the old saw, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” You were a child and wanted something your parents could not afford. You may have thrown a fit, but if your parents were responsible, they would not give in in order to teach you a valuable lesson about human limitation. Human beings can only buy as much as their resources allow. Any responsible parent knows that going into unnecessary debt can harm the entire family. A family receives a finite income every year. A family whose income is $50,000 a year should not buy a $40,000 car or a $1,000,000 home.

Businesses also realize that they can overreach–when a business overspends beyond the benefits and loses money, that one failure can sometimes destroy, or at the very least weaken–that business. The same thing is true with local governments and most state governments. California, with its past history of profligate spending, is an important exception–and an important lesson on recognizing that resources have limits.

The federal government has not learned these lessons. George W. Bush began the current spending spree, with the mainstream Republicans in Congress, wanting to gain votes, appropriating the money. When the banking crisis occurred, Mr. Bush and Congress spend billions on a massive bail out. But what Mr. Bush did is child’s play compared to Mr. Obama’s free spending ways. What was billions in debt quickly became trillions, to the point that there seems no end to the massive debt of the United States. China holds us over a more precarious pit than was present in the Bush administration. Problems with the Euro have helped the dollar to survive as a viable currency despite massive supply due to the government printing more money–but eventually supply and demand will catch up with the dollar. The threat of hyperinflation looms over the United States to a greater degree than in any recent decade except the 1970s.

The American people’s desire for a utopia on earth has driven massive spending. Unlike Europe, which spent freely due to people wanting la dolce vita after seven years of brutal war, American’s desire to benefit from government had already begun in the 1930s with the Roosevelt administration‘s rapid expansion of federal programs in response to the Great Depression. Americans, no longer disciplined by hardship and war, turned to government to solve social problems and to provide benefits for the middle class. The idea was that only government had the massive resources to fight poverty (Lyndon Johnson‘s “Great Society“)  and protect the middle class through social security, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid. Now government has been used by Mr. Obama to solve another financial crisis and to expand social welfare benefits. Cuts in defense spending are not nearly enough to make up for massive social programs. Thus the problem of debt is just as unsolvable in the United States as it is in Western Europe. Mother was right–money does not grow on trees–and the worth of money is not guaranteed by the government’s printing more bills.  Currency traders will not ignore economic reality forever. The United States, like Western Europe, will be driven to recognize its limitations if it must be driven kicking and screaming.

Classical liberalism is superior to social democratic liberalism, but it still has an overly optimistic view of human nature and often does not recognize human limitations. Many classical liberals believe that science and the private sector will create an ideal society, and such a belief can clash with economic and other human limitations. Adam Smith believed that a society made up primarily of virtuous people, civilized by Christianity and Western culture, would make the “invisible hand” work. With the breakdown of key virtues such as taking responsibility for one’s behavior and integrity, the capitalist system will be corrupted. Even if it were not corrupted, resources for the well-being of people are finite, not infinite. Science and the market can substitute for God just as much as “the People” substitute for God in Marxism.

The truth is that there is no ideal world that any economic system can make. The world will always be a mixed bag of good and bad. People can do what they can to alleviate the negative and “accentuate the positive” (as my late colleague Parker Wilson used to say). To do so with massive government aid programs or social engineering programs creates programs that almost always fail, and the government spends more money and goes deeper into debt. Because social democratic liberals cannot follow a mother’s or father’s aphorism that “Money does not grow on trees,” the country in which I was born and reared may become unrecognizable sooner rather than later.

The Budget Crisis: Facing Limitations

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Despite liberal claims to the contrary, the United States does not have unlimited resources for government programs. Even in a floating currency market, the supply of money is finite, and printing more merely lowers its value. The massive spending at the end of G. W. Bush’s term and throughout Mr. Obama’s term is unconscionable. Mr. Obama’s budget was dominated by bailouts of Wall Street, the stimulus, and funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, as a social democrat he increased spending for entitlement programs. Now the country is near bankruptcy, and despite the deal over the current budget, it will remain in a precarious state for generations because of the mistakes of this generation. Members of both parties–and even Mr. Obama–realize that deep cuts must be made in federal spending. Those cuts should include both domestic programs and “national defense” (i.e., war) programs. The current welfare-warfare state will end–either by choice of elected officials or by a ruined economy.

Robert E. Lee rightly predicted the rise of the modern American state when he said something to the effect that the American empire would eventually become a tyranny at home and aggressive abroad. Indeed, Congress came close to ruling with dictatorial power after the War for Southern Independence. One vote failed to convict President Andrew Johnson, and with Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s the ruins of the Old Republic were preserved for a time. With the rise of industrialism and eventually the domination of industrialism, with its uprooting of families and breaking of traditional ties, the government stepped in to care for the unfortunate, a work that had previously been carried out by the local community, family and friends, and churches. The mood in the country was optimistic, and the problems of industrialism’s mistreatment of workers were remedied by the government (by child labor laws, for example). During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt supported massive government programs–the extent to which they eased or prolonged the Depression is still debated. In an America which believed both in the perfectibility of man and in unlimited resources, massive government programs seemed to be the solution to social problems caused by the industrial state. As late as the mid-60s, the welfare state expanded exponentially under Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” The United States economy was still basking in the post World War II glow, something that would come crashing down with the 1973-74 recession. Instead of mankind being perfectible, government programs made many people worse morally and worse economically, permanently dependent on the state. Instead of having unlimited resources, the budget deficit ballooned, with only a brief respite during Mr. Clinton’s presidency due to the money saved by the U.S. not fighting the Cold War. However, George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, whom one might expect to show fiscal responsibility, did not, and domestic spending rapidly increased. In addition, the needless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost the country in both lives and money. Mr. Obama tried to continue to fight the wars but with massive increases in domestic spending–and thus we come to the present disaster. If the welfare state does not control its spending, it will collapse–then what happens to the millions of people dependent on government aid? That is the choice the President and Congress face–to either get spending under control or to continue spending and place the United States on a permanent “bad credit” status, leading to exploding interest rates, sharply lower stocks, and an economic depression. This is really no choice at all. The American empire will fall–either by voluntary choice or by economic realities. Americans will realize their own finitude. Perhaps this will lead to a less aggressive America, and one with a smaller government that is less intrusive in everyday life.

Bloodthirsty Evangelicals

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A sad fact of contemporary American Christianity is the open-ended support many Christians give to war. Among the most fervent supporters of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have been conservative, Evangelical Christians. This is not to say that all Evangelicals support the wars–as with any group, there are exceptions. However, Evangelicals, who are mostly politically “conservative” (though I fail to see what is “conservative” about waging war) have tended to support U. S. military intervention abroad. Many Evangelical churches will have special services to honor our “heroes,” the troops returning from Iraq or from Afghanistan. Evangelicals in general are the most zealous supporters of “American Civil Religion,” with a U. S. flag prominently displayed in church and with patriotic songs sung at services on or near the date of national holidays such as July 4. Christians who protest the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are labeled as “wimps,” “liberal peaceniks,” or worse. Sometimes the rhetoric comes across as saying that a person who opposes these war is less of a Christian than those who support the wars. And some Evangelicals I have heard are bloodthirsty–there is no other accurate description. They will talk about nuking all “enemies of America” with an expression of sadistic glee.

Even if a Christian supports the notion that war is sometimes necessary, that does not imply that the Christian should accept the justness of any war a nation wages just because he is a citizen of that nation. Some advocates of just war theory opposed the Iraq War in particular–Iraq had never invaded the United States and was not a threat to the United States. “Preemptive war” is nowhere a part of just war theory. Yet millions of traditional Christians naively supported Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in their execution of an unjust war that killed many thousands on  both sides.

Even if a war is necessary, no Christian should support it with glee, nor should the Christian rejoice at enemy deaths. Such a message is contrary to Christ‘s command to “love one another” and to “love your enemies.” A bloodthirsty attitude toward killing is incompatible with Christianity. Such an attitude is so contrary to the message of Jesus that, from a traditional Christian point of view, it is difficult to see how one who accepts that attitude could live in the eternal presence of God. Hatred of others and joy in killing and in war are products of Satan, not of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps Evangelical Christians, who are so literalistic on other parts of the Bible, should follow this advice literally.

Libya: Another Foolish U.S. Intervention

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The neoconservatives, nation-building liberals, and a few pseudo-libertarians are whining about the opposition to another foolish U. S. and European intervention–against Qaddafi in Libya.  “We’re just trying to overthrow a cruel dictator,” or “We’re trying to save innocent people” are the excuses such individuals give for bringing the United States into another Middle Eastern conflict. The U. S. only removes dictators it finds inconvenient–it does not remove the authoritarian regimes in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The U. S. did not militarily intervene in Pinochet‘s Chile when he was in power murdering his people, nor in the semi-dictatorial China. The sheer hypocrisy of American policy is nauseating. Long-term, that is how those in the Middle East, even those who appear to support the U. S. intervention, will view the United States. The direct involvement of France, which sent fighter jets, will not help matters–the old North African colonial power strikes again. Despite claims of limited U. S. involvement, pressure will mount for further bombing and eventually for the introduction of U. S. ground troops. Hopefully Mr. Obama will at least fight that suggestion. He has followed the warmonger Hilary Clinton‘s advice too much already. Mr. Obama has become, in effect, George W. Bush II. Not only has he intervened in Libya, he has not brought back most of the troops in Iraq, and he has expanded U. S. intervention in Afghanistan. He has not renounced the use of torture in the treatment of prisoners held by the U. S., and he has not closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The United States has become a permanent warfare state–and wars cost not only lives on both sides, but also money. Although it may be a matter of time before U. S. national debt is so large that the U. S. imperium will collapse, much harm can occur in the meantime–and is occurring. It is long past time to stop the influence of warmongers on the left and on the right as well as the influence of the military-industrial complex on United States foreign policy.

Bush Still Doesn’t Get It

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Former President George W. Bush is out of hiding and into the limelight again as he promotes his new book. From the interviews I have read, there isn’t much new that redeems his poor performance as president. One positive is that he appears to question (just a little) the wisdom of the “Patriot Act.” And he admits that pushing belief in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a mistake. How many people died for that mistake?

Bush admits his mistake in not foreseeing the economic crisis. He and his advisers ought to have seen the mortgage crisis coming. Either someone did not warn Mr. Bush who should have warned him or he ignored the warnings he did receive. In either case, it was the Administration’s almost complete deregulation of the banking industry that allowed financial institutions to make so many bad loans–the government policy of forcing banks to loan to the poor does not, by itself, explain the extent of the crisis. Mr. Bush bears some responsibility.

Despite appointing two excellent Supreme Court justices, overall, Mr. Bush’s presidency must go down as an abysmal failure. The good he did was outweighed by two wars, excessive defense and excessive domestic spending, and the collapse of the economy. His dependence on Neoconservative advisers such as Vice-President Dick Cheney virtually destroyed his presidency. Sadly, Bush still doesn’t “get it.” Perhaps one day he’ll swallow his ego and take more responsibility for the damage he did to the United States and to other countries.

Mr. Bush is unapologetic on torture, claiming that waterboarding gave the United States and Great Britain some useful intelligence. Thus Mr. Bush still supports a practice that is now almost universally acknowledged as evil and barbaric. Unfortunately his successor hasn’t closed the door on torture–so the post-911 madness of America continues.

Bush gives his policies credit for there being no more attacks on the U.S. before the end of his term as President. This reminds me of a story (from Ann McGovern’s book Ghostly Fun) about a man who hired a wrinkled old witch holding a broom outside his front door. His wife, horrified, asked him why. His reply: “To scare the elephants away.” His wife said, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” Then her husband says, “See! It works!” There are too many causal factors that could have prevented a post 9-11 attack for Bush to give himself credit. But this is one president who has no problem with failing to restrain his ego.

Apparently Mr. Bush had asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Thank God that war did not materialize, though I would not put it beyond Mr. Obama to start one. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Unlike Israel, it has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And although I find Iran’s president to be morally reprehensible, that does not justify war with Iran. Mr. Bush, consistent with the neoconservatives, rarely found a war he didn’t like.

Mr. Bush did considerable damage to the Republican Party; it is only because of the ineptitude and radical ideas of President Obama that the Republicans gained so many seats in Congress this year.

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