Archive for December, 2004

Washington to Erect a Cathedral

Sunday, December 26th, 2004

“Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once — the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show. Somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.” — Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham.

In the Middle Ages, one could often tell how prosperous a town was by the size and splendor of its cathedral. The resources of a feudal town might be better spent on fortifications, higher walls on the castle, a broader moat, or more grain storage facilities. The purpose of a cathedral was not only to provide a place for worship. While cathedrals might have to be a certain size to accommodate attendance at large services, the splendor and wealth lavished on cathedrals were far beyond that which could be justified purely on the basis of providing protection from the elements for the devout.

Part of this lavishness was simply an attempt to create a grand space in the hopes of inducing a reverential mood while in the cathedral. However, there was another, perhaps not so noble purpose in these cathedrals. Having a grand cathedral, especially one larger than the neighboring town, was a way of announcing that a town was so prosperous that it could afford to devote, some might say squander, resources that might practically be spent elsewhere. A grand cathedral was part of the cultural glue that could bind a town, a way for everyone to identify with and participate in a town’s prosperity.

Washington D.C. is now deciding that it too would like to erect a modern cathedral, a downtown stadium to house a major league baseball team, the Washington Nationals. The economic arguments against such an investment are persuasive. Though a new stadium might generate some new income for the city, studies have shown that if economic growth is the goal, then investments in other infrastructure would generate more government revenue.

The public schools in Washington are in a physical shambles and are grossly ineffective in teaching. Some have argued that the resources that would go to a stadium should be spent on education. However, the argument that the stadium money should be invested in schools is less cogent. The Washington, D.C. school system already spends $9000 per year per student, far above the national average. The problem with the Washington school system is attributable to poor management not a lack of resources.

An investment in a baseball stadium is not solely an economic calculation, but a spiritual one. A stadium is a statement that a city it is sufficiently prosperous to apply resources to a less than practical enterprise. Its lack of economic justification is part of its attraction. Like a cathedral, a baseball stadium is a spiritual decision — a deliberate choice to embark of unifying cultural enterprise to draw together a city. It is not a green-eye-shade economic calculation.

Each city must make its own decision. A stadium and a major league baseball team is not a good decision for every city. Whatever the economics, the world would be a poorer place now if people in the Middle Ages did not put aside for a moment practical matters and erect beautiful cathedrals. Likewise, the world would be a poorer place if on occasion cities did not feed the spirit and build baseball stadiums instead of filling potholes.

Overcoming the Liberal Mania

Sunday, December 19th, 2004

“Great hearts, my dear master, should be patient in misfortune as well as joyful in prosperity.” — Sancho’s words of consolation to Don Quixote.

Ever since the extremely close presidential election in 2000, it had been clear that some Democrats and Liberals have collectively lost perspective, appearing to more concerned about threats they perceive from President George W. Bush than international terrorism. Now it would be an exaggeration to suggest that all Liberals ail from such a dysfunctional perspective, but the affliction is more common than one would ordinarily expect. Apparently, this “mania” is not a recent phenomenon, but appears to have be an ongoing problem among Liberals, at least as documented by William F. Buckley, Jr.

In 1959, Buckley wrote Up From Liberalism and his description of Liberalism seems almost prescient. He wrote, “that in most respects the Liberal ideologists are, like Don Quixote, wholly normal, with fully developed powers of thought, that they see things as they are, and live their lives according to the Word; but that, like Don Quixote, whenever anything touches upon their mania, they become irresponsible. Don Quixote’s mania was knight errantry. The Liberals’ mania is their ideology.”

The Liberals’ mania may still be their ideology, but the mania has certainly extended to President Bush. Agree with him or not, empirically George Bush is moderate both in tone and policy. He has instituted tax cuts, but so did Ronald Reagan and Reagan’s were more dramatic. He liberated Iraq and Afghanistan in response to perceived threats, but Bill Clinton attacked Bosnia even when all conceded that there was no threat to the United States. Some view the Patriot Act as a frontal assault on civil liberties, but it was passed by 3 to 1 in Congress and any civil liberties issues are trivial compared to the internment of Japanese Americans by Liberal icon Franklin D. Roosevelt or to the deliberate killing of 3000 people on September 11, 2001 by Al Qaeda terrorists. Disagreement on policy is not sufficient to explain the fury against Bush. It has something to do with continual frustration with the 2000 election and it has something to do with cultural animosity of America’s elites with the values of Middle America.

This Liberal “mania” is routed in cultural difference, the reaction of people who fancy themselves elites and are frustrated by apparent American backwardness in the hinterlands. Immediately, after the election, the Left was carping about the “moral issues” motivation of the Americas, but many simply subscribed to Michael Moore’s conviction that Americans, “are possibly the dumbest people on the planet … in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks… We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know about anything that’s happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing.” Given the number of people who paid money to see Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, one supposes that he has a point. In any case, the persistent insults that the Left lavish on American will not particularly endear them and it may help insure future Republican victories. But the mania is too intoxicating for some and they cannot temper either their thoughts or speech.

If they are to survive all American political movements must marginalize their more shrill and extreme elements. In his era, William Buckley pushed avid anti-state and to some extent anti-American government John Birchers from the mainstream of Conservative politics. In the New Republic, Peter Beinart argues for a New Liberalism that can speak authentically about dealing with the threat of terrorism, while eschewing their more fanatical elements on the Left.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, it was not clear if the US would take the necessary national posture and stand athwart Soviet expansionism. As Beinart recalls, “Former Vice President Henry Wallace, a hero to many Liberals, saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress.” Wallace eventually ran unsuccessfully for president under the Progressive banner breaking away from the Democratic Party, which Wallace believed was abandoning the legacy of Roosevelt. Wallace believed that unfettered capitalism led to the suffering of the Great Depression and allowed this fear of free markets to transform him into a reflexive Soviet apologist. He resisted the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe for fear that such involvement by the US in Europe would threaten the Soviet Union. Wallace even opposed the Berlin airlift and blamed the US for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia . Beinart’s critique of Wallace is particularly ironic since Wallace was served as an editor for The New Republic.

Unlike Wallace, Harry Truman accurately understood the nature of the Soviet Union and established what has come to known as the Truman Doctrine, the underpinning for American resistance to Soviet expansion during the Cold War. Truman believed, “that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The doctrine was first applied to assist Turkey and Greece from being pulled unwillingly into the Soviet orbit. According to Beinart, the American for Democratic Action was first formed to insure that American Liberalism would combine a commitment to progressive ideals at home and support to keep free peoples from the yoke of Soviet Communism.Liberals and Democrats are at a similar position with respect to the current struggle against religiously inspired terrorism. The challenge for responsible Democrats is to isolate the irresponsible elements of their party, the Michael Moore and wing. This may prove particularly difficult, given that believes that it is the Democratic Party. Indeed, it proudly boasted of the Democratic Party, “We bought it, we own it, we’re going to take it back.”

It is possible for Democrats and Liberals to maintain their commitment to ambitious domestic social welfare society, while aggressively pursuing the War on Terror. After all, Presidents Truman and John F. Kennedy were leading Cold War warriors. Or Democrats can allow their obsessive and compulsive distaste for Bush to blind them to the very real threats posed by vicious mass killers motivated by a deadly mix of religious fanaticism and a Fascist ideology. They can follow a Henry Wallace’s example of acquiescence to a very real threat or embrace the aggressive pro-American policy similar to the one promulgated by their erstwhile hero Truman. They can credibly recognize the seriousness of the threat despite the willingness of some Europeans to appease Islamic extremists, or they can isolate themselves further from the American mainstream, consumed by their mania, tilting aimlessly at windmills.

Bill Moyers Retires Just in Time

Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Now that he has reached the age of 70, let us hope that Bill Moyers enjoys his retirement and can spend his new free time dispersing millions of dollars on behalf of the Left-leaning charitable foundation that he heads.  And while released from the pressure of hosting NOW on PBS, he will have the opportunity to relax and reconsider some of his recent rash and reckless statements.  After quiet and thoughtful consideration, he will surely blush with embarrassment that he once hinted that George Bush might initiate a coup if not re-elected [1].  He will probably come to realize that arguing that Conservatives and particularly George Bush are engaged in the “…deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America” [2] was irresponsible, campaign-fever induced hyperbole.  Perhaps we can save him a little time in retirement, but offering up evidence that his most recent notions that thee “right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee” and that the mainstream press is insufficiently critical of the Bush Administration does not survive serious scrutiny.

Moyers suffers a common, sometimes calculated, confusion that mixes commentary and news and conflates the popularity of Conservative commentators with Conservative news bias.  Though many people may learn of current events by listening to Rush Limbaugh, David Letterman, or even John Stewart, these outlets are either commentary or entertainment or both.  They are not straight news.  It is a distinction that is as clear as the difference between the front page, the editorial page, and the comics of a well-run newspaper.  Moyers is not stupid.  By not distinguishing between news and commentary, he demonstrates the perpetual frustration on the Left with the popular resonance of Right-wing commentators.

The silly notion that the press has somehow not applied sufficient scrutiny to George Bush and Conservatives is refuted by rather clear evidence. The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University has just completed a review of the Bush-Kerry campaign news coverage.  They simply counted up the number of positive and negative characterization of Bush and Kerry on the broadcast news channels.  They found that Kerry’s press was 58% to 42% positive.  George Bush faired far worse.  He received only 36% positive coverage and 64% negative coverage.  “Until this year the record holder was Walter Mondale with 56% positive evaluations in 1984.”  It is amazing to realize now that Reagan won in a landslide, while he received a record low 9% positive news coverage.  Positive press coverage does not always correspond to electoral victory.  George Bush’s election victory is not an indication of the lack of sufficient scrutiny by the media.

And surely, if the mainstream press was so concerned by the bottom line as Moyers suggests they would not have been so credulous in allowing forged anti-Bush documents on the air, devastating CBS News’ credibility and depressing its already sinking ratings. Indeed, its seems that CBS News was too willing to risk the bottomline if it meant putting out questionable “news” critical of Bush

There have been many studys of members of the national media that demonstrate that they are overwhelming Liberal, particularly on social questions, and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  However, this does not necessarily prove that coverage is Liberally biased.  It is possible to at least imagine that news coverage and editing could be sufficiently professional and introspective that the political inclinations of the reporter, broadcaster, or editor would not have an impact.  After all one can engage a plumber, electrician, or dentist without regard to any political affiliation.  There is no reason to believe that a Liberal dentist, moderate electrician or a Conservative plumber would mend your teeth, wires or pipes in a discernibly different way.

In attempting to assess media bias, there is the problem of finding a reasonably objective measure.  From a vantage point on the Right or the Left, a centrist perspective to coverage might appear biased.

It is also important to remember that the political spectrum shifts over time.  What may have at one time been an avant guarde position may now be mainstream.  The only objective way, it would seem to estimate the center of the political spectrum, from which we can measure deviations to the Left or Right, is by using the votes of the polity.  One may be the Left or to the Right of elected officials, but it seems fair to define the middle as the middle of the political spectrum as voted by the electorate.

Tim Groesecose of both UCLA and Stanford University and Jeff Milyo of the University of Chicago have made an attempt to arrive at such measure.   The researchers began with two assumptions.  The first is that the votes of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate represent the political spectrum of the United States.  Second, there are a number of “think tanks” leaning Left and Right whose research and policy recommendations are used to buttress the arguments of the Left and Right.  For example, those who are on the Right are more likely to positively cite the Heritage Foundation than they are the Brookings Institute.

The Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) regularly rank Congressmen and Senators by their voting record.  A perfect 100 in ADA’s eye is a perfect Liberal “hero” and 0 is a perfect Conservative “zero.”  For example, in 2003, ADA ranked Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) a perfect 100, while Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was tagged with a perfect zero.  The mean score of the House of Representatives is 44.5 and 40.0 for the Senate.  According the ADA, the House and the Senate are shifted Conservative.  Hence, it can be asserted that the mean position of the country is somewhere in the lower 40’s on an ADA scale of Liberalism.

Groesecose and Milyo then correlated the ADA rankings of the Representatives and Senators how often they positively cited various think thanks for support from the floor of either the House or the Senate.  News programs also cite these think tanks in their reports.  The thesis of Groesecose and Milyo is that the more Liberal or Conservative the perspective of a news program, the more likely they are to cite positively those think tanks cited by Liberal and Conservative representative and senators.  In this way, they could devise an imputed ADA score for major new outlets.

Fox News’ Special Report had a score of 36, slightly more Conservative than US Senate but still floating comfortably down the US political mainstream.  The Drudge Report ranked a 55, pretty much in the middle as estimated by the imputed ADA score, but to the Left of both the Senate and the House and presumably the people who elected them.  The major network news programs, ABC, NBC, and CBS News, scored 58, 58, and 70, respectively.  This places broadcast news somewhat to the Left of the American mainstream and CBS far to the Left.  CBS’s score was almost identical to that of the New York Times.

By the empirical measures of Groseclose and Miylo as well as the Center for Media and Public Affairs, Moyers really has little to complain about in terms of media coverage.  His real complaint is that the country has moved to the Right, and he is now far out of the American mainstream.  One supposes that one should be sympathetic towards Moyers, lonely as he is on the sparsely-populated Left bank of American politics, abandoned as yesterday’s news.


  1. Charlie Rose Show, November 2, 2004.
  2. Cited by Johns Nichols, The Nation, June 9, 2003.

Hastened Departures

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

Under the judicial doctrine of “original understanding,” there is no doubt that capital punishment is constitutionally permissible. However, this does not mean that there are no prudential reasons against the use of this irreversible punishment. Regardless of the fact that guilt is determined by a jury of one’s peers in an adversarial hearing, regardless of the availability of modern forensic DNA tests, and regardless of all the procedural safeguards that can take years to pay out, it is still possible that the innocent may be killed. Once a person has been executed, there is no recourse if we later decide that the sentence was incorrectly applied.  Given human imperfection in making even protracted life-and-death decisions, it appears wholly irrational to go blithely along like the Netherlands believing that doctors can decide which lives are worth living and which are not.  The procedural safeguards to prevent the unnecessary death of presumed criminals in the United States appear enormous compared to the feeble protections afforded the terminally ill in the Netherlands.

When euthanasia [1] became legally sanctioned in the Netherlands, the promise was that such “mercy” killings would be performed only upon a patient’s thoughtfully-considered request and consent.  The patient was to be completely informed about his prognosis. In addition, the physician in charge must be convinced that the patient’s suffering is unbearable.

It turns out that over time, these safeguards have radically eroded, if indeed they were ever more than perfunctory.  A 1991 Dutch study found that 6,000 people had been killed without explicit request or consent for euthanasia.  These deaths account for about 4% of the deaths in the Netherlands [2].  Some people have requested death and had their request honored while not terminally ill, but while suffering from severe depression or suicidal inclinations.  There is one known case in the Netherlands of a despondent gentleman with the HIV virus having been euthanized even before symptoms of full blown AIDS had appeared.

There is no reason to believe that the Dutch are a particularly heartless or uncompassionate people.  It is just that the natural tendency of bureaucracies is to make life easy for themselves. Severely ill people are an emotional and financial burden both to doctors and their families.  It is little wonder that euthanasia has extended far beyond the extraordinary cases proponents originally argued they would be limited to.

The problem is complicated by socialized medicine in the Netherlands.  There are limited alternatives, especially among those with average economic means, to opt out of the choices offered by government health care.  It is bad enough when one has to struggle with parsimonious medical providers to have them cover this or that condition. Imagine what could happen, if there were implicit financial incentives to hasten the permanent departure of patients.

It is not just a question of setting up a well-structured system for euthanasia.  Even if the natural human tendency to rid ourselves of inconveniences could be overcome and even if one could, in spite of the evidence, erect enough procedural safeguards so that euthanasia is performed only upon fully competent, emotionally stable, informed, terminally ill patients, euthanasia as a public policy is still unwise and immoral. Given modern palliative measures pioneered by many hospices, there is almost no reason that people cannot be made comfortable in their last moments.  Hospices, too few of which are available in the Netherlands, have specialized in making deaths both less painful and more dignified.  Hospices allow for a death at home surrounded by loved ones rather than in the clinical setting of a hospital.

The path of euthanasia in the Netherlands can not be said to have descended down a slippery slope.  Rather, the system has fallen precipitously over a cliff.  Now, Groningen University in the Netherlands has established the “Groningen Protocols” for the euthanasia of terminally ill children who, we are assured, are suffering unbearably [3].  The protocols apply to infants and children up 12 years old. One shutters at how quickly this is likely to turn into the elimination of children who are a little too disabled, a little too retarded, or a little too imperfect.  If experience with adult euthanasia is any measure, disabled infants in the Netherlands are in mortal danger.

It is not clear just how much input will be allowed parents under these protocols.  Will they have a veto over euthanasia or will they just be consulted?  What choices might desperate parents have if the state-provided health care system refuses the expensive palliative and rehabilitative measures appropriate for their child?

Perhaps the best that can be said of the euthanasia experiment in the Netherlands is that it provides empirical evidence as to just how dangerous any such system inevitably and insidiously becomes. If the ethical senses of the Dutch can be dulled to the point where life can be casually disposed of with nary a shrug, then the moral astuteness of any people can be corroded under such a regime of death.


  1. Technically euthanasia also includes the cessation of extraordinary medical treatment.  When we use the term here, we refer to active euthanasia.
  2. Wesley Smith, “We ignore the Netherlands at our own peril,” National Review, December 18, 2000.
  3. Hugh Hewitt, “What the Groningen Protocol says about our world, and where it might lead next,” The Weekly Standard, December 2, 2004.