Archive for September, 2002

Does Daschle Want Some Cheese With His Whine?

Sunday, September 29th, 2002

“Why was the U.S. Senate so fixated on protecting jobs instead of protecting lives? The U.S. Senate’s refusal to grant this president and future presidents the same power that four previous presidents have had will haunt the Democratic party worse than Marley’s ghost haunted Ebenezer Scrooge. Why did they put workers’ rights above American lives? Why did that 2002 U.S. Senate — on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 — with malice and forethought, deliberately weaken the powers of the president in time of war? And then why did this Senate — in all its puffed up vainglory — rear back and deliver the ultimate slap in the face of the president by not even having the decency to give him an up or down vote on his bill? This is unworthy of this great body. It is demeaning and ugly and over the top.” — Senator Zell Miller, Democrat Georgia, as cited by the Weekly Standard, October 7, 2002.

In Trenton, New Jersey, September 23, 2002, at a campaign stop, President George Bush urged the Senate to pass the Homeland Security Bill. Bush’s words:

“I asked the Congress to give me the flexibility necessary to be able to deal with the true threats of the 21st century by being able to move the right people to the right place at the right time, so we can better assure America were doing everything possible. The House has responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this president, and future presidents, to better keep the American people secure. And people are working hard in Washington to get it right in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. See this isn’t a partisan issue. This is an American issue.”

Bush foolishly and unfairly used the phrase, “not interested in the security of the American people” which can legitimately be interpreted as suggesting that the Senate leadership does not care about security. However, the entire context of the speech also emphasizes bi-partisanship and that “both Republicans and Democrats” had been working together. The speech was certainly not has harsh as some have portrayed. Nonetheless, there was certainly enough ammunition for political hacks to venture onto the cable news programs to fret about Bush “politicizing” defense and security issues.

One would have expected that someone of the stature of Senate Leader Tom Daschle to have delegated this sort of rough-and-tumble argument to others. He could have at least expressed his dissatisfaction in his usual quiet manner. Perhaps it was so much more satisfying to delay Senate business and storm to the Senate floor to whine that Bush had politicized the debate. Rather than maintaining a detached dignity, Daschle exploded in am embarrassing fit of pique. The press painted a picture of the normally dormant Daschle erupting in a lava of complaint.

If this were not enough, Democratic, Senator Robert Byrd, who now that Senator Strom Thurmond is retiring is vying for the title of “Senator Who has Served Too Long,” rose to call Bush’s words “despicable.”

All of this, of course, occurred in a context when, former Vice-President Al Gore, who was perhaps setting himself up for a presidential bid in 2004, wondered out loud why Bush was asking for authorization to use military force “in high political season.” Are we to suppose that important issues should be dealt with only in odd-numbered years? Democratic Congressmen Jim McDermott, who recently visited Iraq, informed us that Bush would lie to get us into a war with Iraq. Others have suggested that Bush’s focus on Iraq it a cynical attempt to draw attention away from a weak economy. Or there are the old standby arguments that Bush wants to go to war with Iraq to help the oil industry or to complete in unfinished job of his father in the Persian Gulf War. The polarization of the debate occurred long ago.

Of course, politicians politicize. That is what they are supposed to do. That is what they should do. If Daschle did not want the Iraq issue to be politicized, why did he and others insist that the matter should be submitted to Congress for debate? You can only avoid politics if there is no room for disagreement.

The real problem is that the issues of attacking Iraq and going after Al Qaeda ought to be debated and argued about. It ought to be a political issue. Hashing out these decisions in public is what democracies are all about. There are principled reasons to question Bush’s approach to these issues. Perhaps we ought to resign ourselves to live with Saddam Hussein equipped with nuclear weapons and hope that our own weapons arsenal will act as a sufficient deterrent. Perhaps not. Let’s argue about it.

There are some Republicans who have misgivings, but Democrats appear to be burdened with the most doubts. Except for a few politicians like Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democrats have been so worried about their prospects in the upcoming elections that their voices have been muted. Even formerly loud and articulate voices like Paul Wellstone’s have fallen almost silent. In 1990, he spoke out passionately against the Persian Gulf War. Now that he is involved in a tight election battle, his sense of moral indignation seems to have fled him.

Daschle is boxed in. The resulting sense of frustration is probably partially responsible for his eruption on the Senate floor. You can tell that like in 1990, in his heart of hearts, he wants to oppose Bush on Iraq, but he does not want to pay the political price, especially with control of the House and Senate in question. Daschle would rather change the argument to who is politicizing what. It is hard to understand why one would want to go into politics if not to debate the important issues of the day. What could be more important than the debate about war? For most Democrats, the Iraq issue is certainly not a “profile in courage.”

The Role of a Soccer Referee

Sunday, September 22nd, 2002

There is an apocryphal story about three soccer referees discussing the different ways they officiate games. In humility, the first referee says, that he calls them as he sees them. Reflecting a little more confidence, the second referee says he calls them as they are. Possessed of even more epistemological certitude, the third referee claims that they are not anything until he calls them. Of course, the story is a way for referees to use humor to deal with the stresses of constantly making public decisions that are under constant critical review by passionate partisans. Any decision generally upsets at least half the spectators.

In many ways, being a children’s soccer coach is more conspicuously rewarding than being a referee. A coach meets the kids, learns their names, answers their questions, shares their joys, and wipes away their tears. Years later, kids will remember the names of their favorite coaches; much in the same way they might recall a teacher. Referees are like furniture. The best one can hope for is to go unnoticed. Few people remember games that are well-officiated, but everyone remembers the critical call that was missed or the game that got out of control.

The pleasures and rewards of soccer officiating are more subtle and sublime. Referees are responsible for maintaining a safe playing environment and enforcing the rules of the game. In the midst of parents, some of whom are living vicariously through their own children, and coaches who want to win, a referee is expected to maintain calm impartiality. Among children and sometimes childish adults, referees provide adult supervision.

Tentative new referees are sometimes confused about the appropriate persona to assume. Are soccer referees to be stern, formal, and judge-like, speaking only sparingly to create an air of authority or does formality unnecessarily increase tension? Should referees be gregarious and friendly to maintain a calm and soothing atmosphere or does pleasantness undermine authority?

The truth is that no one can referee outside of their essential character for very long. Reserved and technically oriented people are likely to appear to be stern referees. Naturally gregarious people cannot help but talk casually to both players and coaches. A person can best referee if he remains true both to his own personality and to the spirit of the game.

Most importantly, a children’s soccer referee has a pedagogical role, not only about soccer, but how to interact with others. How referees talk with and treat children, parents, and coaches with dignity and respect in stressful situations teaches more powerfully than words can. Since a referee is the senior authority at a game, his or her example is perhaps the most powerful. The fundamental responsibility of a children’s soccer referee is to help mold the character of the next generation, the same responsibility everyone else has.

Democratic Reluctance to Address Iraq

Saturday, September 14th, 2002

The isolation of two large oceans makes most Americans happily immune to a preoccupation with foreign affairs. We expect everyone to be like us, content to raise our families and indulge in commercial pursuits. We simply do not pay very much attention to foreign affairs, even affairs that may be crucial to our well-being. For most Americans, Iraq and Saddam Hussein are issues that concerned us ten years ago, when the US and its allies liberated Kuwait from the Iraqis. Most troops returned home to cheers and parades. Events in the region during the post-Gulf War period made the news, but were largely ignored. Nonetheless, the Gulf War and its aftermath do provide some illuminating insight into the American political landscape.

In the run up to the Gulf War, the Vietnam-era, Democratic anti-war movement had moved into full gear. Extrapolating from the Vietnam experience, there were dire predictions of a quagmire in the desert and massive American casualties. Congress very reluctantly approved military action. A majority of Democrats (including the current Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle) and all of the Democratic leadership refuse to endorse military action. The Democrats were deeply and viscerally opposed to any military action and were convinced that sanctions should be used to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait. If that counsel had been followed, Kuwait would now be a province of Iraq.

Despite the military success of the Gulf War, George Bush (41) was not re-elected. Americans once again proved that economic problems trump success abroad. Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, as a “New Democrat” driven less by ideology and more by practicality. Bill Clinton embraced this “practicality” in helping to implement the arms inspection regime to insure that Saddam Hussein was ridding himself of weapons of mass destruction.

For a few years, we believed we were largely successful. It was not until an Iraqi defected that we appreciated the full extent of Iraqi’s program for obtaining weapons of mass destruction. The inspections were a key element in the agreement that suspended hostilities. In the ensuing years, the arms inspectors played a cat and mouse game with the Iraqis. The Iraqis delayed and stalled to prevent a full and complete inspections regime.

By February 1998, Clinton was convinced that Iraqi intransigence implied they were seeking weapons of mass destruction and would use them. In a call for action, Clinton argued that Hussein’s “regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal. Let there be no doubt, we are prepared to act. I know the people we may call upon in uniform are ready. The American people have to be ready as well.”

Unlike the call for action by George Bush (41), this call was welcomed by the Democratic leadership, including Tom Daschle, who co-sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 71. The resolution authorized the president to “take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end it’s weapons of mass destruction programs.”

Why were some Democrats so reluctant to authorize the use of force by the first President Bush against Iraq, eager to so empower President Clinton, and again squeamish about support for the second President Bush. Some Republican and Conservative critics argue that Democrats have no real position and are just playing politics with national defense issues. That explanation is far too simplistic.

Despite the grant of military authority to Clinton by many Democrats, others in the party were far less sanguine about permitting open-ended discretion. Senator Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois confessed that the broad language of the resolution made him uneasy. Senator Max Cleland (D) of Georgia drew a close analogy with Vietnam, explaining that “there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment…as there was with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” While embracing the idea of broad executive authority in domestic affairs, with some exceptions, the core of the Democratic Party is disinclined to grant such authority to a president and is deeply and habitually distrustful of anything military.

Daschle and other Democrats did not really abandon their scruples about US military intervention. The reason that Daschle and others were so willing to grant Clinton military authority and are parsimonious about such grants to both George Bushs is that they fully understand the consequences of such grants. They know that both Bushs were likely to fully employ and exploit such authority. On the other hand, they understood that Clinton would be unwilling to expend much political capital in going after Saddam Hussein with the full military force necessary.

President Clinton would say the right words about Hussein’s regime and warn about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, Richard Cohen, would emphasize that continued Iraqi intransigence would put “Security Council credibility on the line [and]…US credibility as well.” However, in the end, he would not be willing to commit the necessary forces to disarm Hussein’s dangerous regime. Passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 was essentially a no-cost action by Democrats that would provide political cover for their antipathy towards the use of military power.

They were right. By October 1998, Iraq ended all cooperation with arms inspectors. Despite the United Nations resolutions, there would be no more inspections in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. In December 1998, coalition forces launched four days of air strikes, no doubt doing significant damage to Iraqi capabilities. However, after thrashing about for four days, the assault ended. Iraq had successfully remove arms inspectors and were now free to pursue plans for biological, chemical, and nuclear capabilities, while Americans and British provided only a token response. For Iraq, the strategy has worked for at least four years.

D’Souza on Freedom and Virtue

Sunday, September 8th, 2002

The observation is trite, but nonetheless true. It often takes an outsider to appreciate the value of the happy circumstances and good fortune we all too often take for granted. Dinesh D’Souza is one such person.

D’Souza grew up in a middle class family in India. When he was seventeen, he managed to attend a high school in Arizona as a foreign exchange student. He was so taken with the US that he enrolled in Dartmouth College in 1979, where he majored in English. Once there, he help found the Dartmouth Review, a Conservative gadfly publication that ultimately found itself embroiled in campus controversies. After graduation, he wrote for a number of Conservative publications and by 1986, he was on the White House staff for President Ronald Reagan. It was a remarkably far trip from India to the White House taken in a remarkably short time.

Recently, the University of California at Berkeley came under criticism when students decided to issue white, rather than red, white, and blue ribbons in remembrance of the attacks of September 11. Ostensibly, red, white, and blue ribbons would be exclusionary. Fortunately, adults intervened and red, white, and blue ribbons will also be issued.

D’Souza recognized the silliness and meanness of political correctness on campuses earlier than most. He became a conspicuous personality when he wrote Illiberal Education: Political Correctness and the College Experience in 1992. There is no quicker way to be embraced by Conservatives and reviled by Liberals than to poke fun at the pretentious and closed-minded political correctness on college campus.

Even the title of D’Souza’s new book, What’s So Great About America, causes irritation among some who question that there is anything of America worthy of emulation. D’Souza systemically plows through the conventional criticisms of America. While acknowledging that the US, like all human institutions is imperfect, over the last 200 years, the government and culture has proved to be self-correcting. One and a half centuries ago, it fought a bloody civil war to rid itself of slavery and forty years ago it largely rid itself of government sanctioned racial discrimination. In the last century, it also managed to play a pivotal role in defeating Nazism and in the collapse of Soviet Communism.

D’Souza has been most loudly criticized for his treatment of slavery, largely because he has drawn from his own ethnic roots. D’Souza explains how his grandfather retains a strong animosity for white people, particularly the British. No doubt this feeling is explained by the arrogant and racist treatment his grandfather received at the hands of the British.

D’Souza recognizes the reasonableness and rationality of this attitude. However, he also acknowledges that democracy and respect for individuality introduced by the British radically increases the personal opportunities for him.

By analogy, D’Souza argues that American slavery was an immoral, brutal, and cruel institution, but two hundred years later the descendants of the slaves that suffered so much are economically better off and politically freer than most of their counterparts in Africa. D’Souza has been unfairly criticized as an apologist for slavery.

The rancor surrounding this discussion, unfortunately, has clouded the real thesis of his book. His argument is far more important, subtle, and directed at the critique of America and the West in general by fundamentalists in the Islamic World. There is no real dispute that countries that have adopted tolerant and commercial societies that respect individual rights have been more materially successful. The wealth disparity is apparent to all.

The critique is that in the process of creating wealth, Western societies have contributed to personal alienation, attenuated important family ties, and nurtured decadence and indulgence and other self-destructive behavior. The West may be free, but it is not virtuous. Islamic fundamentalists argue that Islamic government would serve the higher value of virtue, not freedom.

This argument is not trivial or unimportant. Western culture as projected in music, movies, and television can promote violence and casual promiscuity, as well as nurture an adolescent preoccupation with self-indulgence and the ethos of materialistic accumulation. You do not have to be an Islamic fundamentalist to acknowledge that respect for individual choice means enduring the consequences of many bad choices.

D’Souza’s response is that a society that tries to impose virtue by creating a theocracy does not produce virtue at all. If behavioral norms are externally imposed, rather than rise from within, they cannot truly be a sign of virtue. Virtue must be freely selected. It is only by allowing the freedom to be evil, that there can be virtue. D’Souza’s argument echoes the words of John Locke who aptly pointed out, “Neither the profession of any articles of faith, nor the conformity to any outward form of worship … can be available to the salvation of souls, unless the truth of the one and the acceptableness of the other unto God be thoroughly believed by those that so profess and practice.”

The response of the West and D’Souza is that the choice is not between freedom and virtue. Rather, one cannot have virtue, without respect for individual freedom. The most important thing that the state can do to encourage virtue is to provide for freedom. Thus, D’Souza reminds us of something we should have remembered all along.

Desperate Efforts of Anti-Choice Forces

Sunday, September 1st, 2002

It is no secret that the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest public school teachers union, opposes granting scholarships or vouchers to students and their parents to enable them to choose what school to attend. The NEA is unwilling to relinquish the effective monopoly they have secured over lower income students who have no choice but to attend publicly-managed schools. The NEA will oppose vouchers at the ballot box and in the courts. Unfortunately for the NEA and other anti-choice advocates, the avenue of the courts now seems strewn with potholes. On June 27, 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Ohio voucher program was neutral with respect to religion and, hence constitutional. The decision opens up the potential for the broader adoption of voucher programs. Specifically, the court held that:

“No reasonable observer would think that such a neutral private choice program carries with it the imprimatur of government endorsement. Nor is there evidence that the program fails to provide genuine opportunities for Cleveland parents to select secular educational options.”

Essentially, if the choice of school is exercised by the parents, not the state, a voucher program that includes religiously run institutions does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

NEA sends its newsletter, The NEA Today, to it members. Recently, the NEA has assured its members, that it is not given up hope in using the courts to win victories it does not win in the legislatures. The NEA Today promised that the “NEA is sponsoring a state court challenge to Florida’s statewide voucher program on the ground that it violates the religion clause of the Florida constitution, which provides that `no revenue of the state’ can be used `directly or indirectly in aid of … any sectarian institution.”’

This time, the NEA succeeded at the state level, when the Florida Supreme Court — the all Democratic institution that drew attention to itself when is was overruled twice by the US Supreme Court on issues surrounding the Bush-Gore election contest in 2000 — ruled that Florida voucher program violated the Florida state constitution prohibition of aid to sectarian institutions.

The little-understood irony is that the relevant provisions of the Florida constitution, which are duplicated by a number of other state constitutions, are “Blaine” amendments. These amendments were designed originally not out of religious tolerance, but out of intolerance and anti-Catholic bigotry. James G. Blaine was a Republican Speaker of the House in the late 1800s who tried to amend the US Constitution to forbid the states from funding “sectarian” institutions. However, “sectarian” did not carry the connotation of “secular” as it does now. The Protestant majority believed that the term “sectarian” described groups out of the Protestant main stream. There was a concern that state funds might indirectly help Catholics who were starting their own schools to avoid the Protestant-centric schools of the time. Blaine amendments were designed to stop this.

The Blaine Amendment for the US Constitution passed in the House, but then it died. The amendment failed to pass the Senate and was never submitted to the states. Nonetheless, Blaine used his political power to influence some states to pass such amendments and to insist that as new states enter the union they attach Blaine amendments to their constitutions.

Given the ugly history of intolerance at the core of these amendments, courts have generally invoked only the narrowest interpretation of them. For example, states have been able to give funds indirectly to religiously-run hospitals with little problem. Given that these Blaine amendments may indeed, if interpreted as broadly as the Florida Supreme Court foolishly has, violate the Federal constitution, the strategy of the anti-voucher forces may be counter-productive. The US Supreme Court may construe Blaine amendments far more narrowly and its decision would be binding over the entire United States. Indeed, in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995), the US Supreme Court showed its impatience with exclusion of religious institutions from otherwise open state programs. The court ruled there that if the University of Virginia collects student fees to fund student-run groups, it could not exclude funding a Christian newspaper.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that anti-voucher advocates are cynically exploiting eighteenth century laws based on anti-Catholic bigotry in a desperate effort to circumscribe the universe of choice available to parents. After all, their attitude seems to mimic that of the Wisconsin Teachers’ Association that in 1865 asserted that “children are the property of the state.”

* The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
* Marvin Olasky, World Magazine, 2002.