Archive for February, 2006

Iraqi Decision

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

When the English settlers in America broke loose from Great Britain and founded a nation at the end of the eighteenth century, the prospects for a republican form of government, a government that derives its authority from the assent of the governed, were not clear. Could such a nation survive and prosper? Indeed, over eighty years later the United States fought the Civil War testing whether, in the words of Abraham Lincoln “any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Fortunately, that question was answered in the affirmative, but not before hundreds of thousands of Americans died.

The rapid spread of democracy in the latter half of the twentieth century makes it easy to forget that democracies do not always successfully take root. Regular elections are a necessary, but not sufficient condition for democracies. Democracies also rely on the rule of law and transparency in public commerce. Democracies depend on a mature political culture. People must be willing to respect the political process and the liberty of others. People in successful democracies recognize that sometimes political decisions do not go your way. Political losses are not a reason to take up arms.

In his book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Fareed Zakaria argues that wealth is a key component to successful liberal democracies. He cites the scholarly work of Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi who found that per capita income is highly correlated to the longevity of democracies. In countries with a per capita income of $1500 (in current dollars) or less, a democratic government lasts only eight years. Longevity increases with per capita income. The values between $3000 and $6000 appear to define a transitional range, where the results could go either way. Frankly, for democracies to survive a majority, or at least a strong plurality, must have an economic stake in the survival of democracy. The advantages of maintaining democracy must out weigh the disadvantages of loosing transient political arguments so that citizens internalize the self-imposed disciplines of democracy.

With the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra and the attendant unrest leading to even more deaths, Iraqis appear to be reaching a critical political point. Will the various groups, the Shiites, Sunnies and the Kurds realize that a small minority is deliberately trying to sow violence? Will they allow their tribal and religious sensitivities to overwhelm their judgment and reward those who would destroy a mosque for political advantage? The question reduces to whether enough Iraqis have a sufficient stake in a democratic and free Iraq to isolate and remove extremists.

Iraqis are rightly proud that their land was the “Cradle of Civilization.” But those glories are millennia old. Before the Iraqi people is a real and present choice whether to be the cradle of democracy in the Middle East or to descend into internecine violence. Ultimately, it will be an Iraqi decision, one that cannot be made on their behalf.

Perhaps we should cling to the optimistic hope that this bombing could split Arab Sunnis from those foreign insurgents with whom they have been allied. After all, if the country descends into chaos, Arab Sunnis are dramatically outnumbered. If Iraq splits into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions, the Kurdish and Shiite regions will be oil-rich and the Arab Sunni region will be oil-poor. In a very real sense, Sunnis have the most to loose if Sunni extremists manage to divide the nation into separate countries or provoke Shiites and Kurds into a militant response.

Of note here is the fact that the CIA World Factbook lists the current per capita income of Iraq as $3400. This places Iraq on the dangerous end of countries that may or may not maintain long-term democratic institutions.

The Smile on GOP Faces

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

“You will never be happier than you expect. To change your happiness, change your expectation.” — Bette Davis.

The most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence, the sentence which captures the philosophy of the document andthe views of the signers of the Declaration, is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The entire purpose of government is to insure these rights. The Declaration does not claim that happiness itself is a right. We can only demand of our government the scope of freedom necessary to pursue happiness.

Well, how successful are we, and how effective has our form of government been? Although happiness is not guaranteed, it would seem that those countries that appear to have happier citizens are the countries most adept at creating environments where happiness can be pursued. The Harris Polling Corporation has performed a number of inter-country polls that show that Americans are a happy lot, happier, in general, then their European counterparts.

A recent study of Americans by Pew Research confirms the general happiness of Americans. About 34% claim to be “very happy,” 50% are “fairly happy,” while only 15% were “not too happy,” 1% did not know. These divisions have been consistent since 1972, when the polling began, through many presidents and good and bad economic times.

The Pew polling suggests that even among Americans there exist systematic differences in degrees of happiness. Some of their results are expected. For example, married Americans are happier than unmarried ones. Approximately 43% of married Americans claim to be very happy, while only 24% of unmarried Americans make the same claim. The regularity of attendance at church is also directly correlated to happiness, with church regular attenders consistently happier than others who attend church sporadically or not at all.

Counter to the admonition that money cannot buy happiness, Pew’s research found that wealthier people are happier than the less affluent. Only 23% of people in families with less than $20,000 a year of income claim to be “very happy,” while 50% of those with household incomes over $150,000 are happy. Of course, the causal direction of this relationship is not clear. Does having more money make people happier, or are happier people more productive and adept at earning money

One interesting result of the Pew polling is that Republicans are consistently happier than their Democratic friends. About 45% of Republicans say they are very happy, while only 30% of Democrats do. At first glance one might guess that the difference between Republicans and Democrats might simply be a reflection of differences in income. If Republicans are more affluent that might explain their greater claim on happiness. However, according to Pew “If one controls for household income, Republicans still hold a significant edge: that is poor Republicans are happier than poor Democrats, middle income Republicans are happier than middle income Democrats, and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.”

Perhaps happiness is associated with a feeling of control over our lives, of being the masters of our own destinies. Certainly, this would explain why rich people are happier than poor ones. The more wealth one has the greater the scope of control over life one enjoys. More money means we can live where we wish to live and engage in those activities that please us. Does this feeling of control associated with happiness explain the differences between Republicans and Democrats?

The Republican ethos is associated with individuality and the conviction that we are independent agents, responsible for our own lives. In the Democratic perspective we are victims of others or of unfortunate circumstances. Victims require a government to protect people from misfortune.

Now Democrats would argue that they are trying to increase happiness by making community resources available to the less fortunate and there is merit to the argument. However, they can not consistently view the world as a nasty place from which we all need protection without internalizing dependence and victimhood. This greater perceived reliance on others, the notion that our well-being is in the control of outside forces, leads Democrats to feel powerless. Of course, there are Democrats that are self-reliant and Republicans who require government help. However the more the one embraces the general view that one is largely responsible for one’s own pursuit of happiness, the happier one is likelier to be.

This is one reason Democrats are so frustrated. They can’t seem to wipe the smile off of Republicans faces.

Danish Cartoons and the Press

Sunday, February 12th, 2006

“All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation.” – John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689.

In the Supreme Court Building, a careful observer will note a frieze depicting historical figures in legal history from Moses to the first US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. One sculpted figure is a representation of the Prophet Mohammad grasping both a Koran and sword. The depiction is honorific recognizing Mohammad’s contribution to the law. Some Islamic groups have requested that the figure be sand-blasted away. Representations of Mohammad are discouraged in some Islamic sects and this figure offends certain religious sensibilities. Representations of Mohammad are allowed is other Islamic traditions. The Supreme Court declined the request because removing the figure would compromise the historic and artistic integrity of the work. There have been no violent responses to this refusal.

In September of 2005, the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons lampooning and deriding Mohammad as leading a violent religious tradition. It is reasonable to expect that some Muslims would take offense at the ridicule of their key religious figure. It was tasteless for Jyllands-Posten to criticize radical Islamists in a way that more broadly insults all Muslims. Some upset with the cartoons demanded that the Danish government take action against the newspaper. The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has rightly and courageously stood up for press freedom. He claims that he has no authority to control the press and he would not want any such discretion. As a consequence, some outraged Muslims have resorted to burning embassies and threatening those associated with the cartoons with violence. Some the violent protests have resulted in deaths. There is no doubt that Syria, Iran, and some radical Muslims have deliberately inflamed emotions and incited this violence. There are even some particularly egregious images that are purported to be published by the Danish newspaper, which were never published by them.

The two depictions of Mohammad, in the Supreme Court and in the Jyllands-Posten cartoons are different. One is honorific and the other insulting and critical. Yet both are equally protected expressions. A free society allows for open expression, the congenial and scholarly as well as the exploitive and mean-spirited. Enduring offense is one price we pay for freedom. In the modern Western world, this principle is not in dispute.

The reaction by some in the Islamic World reflects a pre-Enlightenment view of belief and is one more indication of the present clash of civilizations. Radical Islamists are not only devote and certain believers, but are convinced that this certainty entitles them to compel proper observance on the part of others. This mirrors the medieval views of a Christianity too anxious to use force to enforce belief. The modern ethos recognizes that orthodoxy cannot be imposed. If one manifests outward compliance with religious observances out of intimidation, there is no genuine faith and belief. Teaching and personal witness are the means that others are brought to faith.

What is somewhat more disconcerting is the confused reaction of the Western press. One the one hand, some European newspapers, in solidarity with their Danish colleagues, have republished the controversial cartoons. If such republication were a journalistic judgment that showing the cartoons was necessary to understand the controversy that action would be appropriate. However, in some cases this republication was just an assertion of the right to publish. This approach is counterproductive. Imagine for example if a newspaper published a racially-bigoted cartoon. Would republication be salutary? It is possible to separate assertion of a right of publication from the gratuitously offensive exercise of the right.

One the other hand, some news organizations appear to apply a double standard with respect to publication of religiously offensive material. When a controversial photographer Andres Serrano displayed a crucifix in urine, CNN and other mainstream organization had little difficulty in showing the photograph to make clear to readers and viewers the nature of the controversy. By contrast, now there is a reluctance to publish the Danish cartoons out of an excessive deference to Muslim religious sensibilities. Why?

One possibility is that the dominant media sources have internalized terminal political correctness believing that it is impermissible to offend any group save Christians, especially Conservative Christians.

Another possibility is that media have been successfully intimidated. Offended Christians may generate complaints, pickets, and boycotts, but little violence. By contrast, certain radical Islamic groups can be counted on to react violently to media interests abroad. If the media can be forced to alter their coverage by violence or potential violence, they will only encourage more of it.

Whether out of political correctness or fear and intimidation, the double standard of the main stream media with regard the publication of offensive material has been less than noble and heroic.

Abraham Lincoln and George Bush

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

History is the combination of the singular and the general. There are points in history when it is clear that the actions of a single person or a small group of people re-directed the flow of history. There are also large political and economic forces that drive history. For example, the Industrial Revolution altered everything from the availability of consumer goods and means and strategies for war making.

While it is possible to learn from singular events or individuals, it is not possible to predict with confidence when such singularities will occur. Americans have been uniquely blessed with the ability to usually choose the right leaders for the right times and the ability to suffer graciously through the less apt choices. President Abraham Lincoln was one of the singular individuals who changed history.

In drawing lessons from history, present day observers often reveal more about their own political perspectives by picking and choosing historical events to buttress their own judgments than recognize the broader truths of history. Writing in the Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner wants President George Bush to read and learn from Doris Kearns Godwin’s Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln. Through warmth of personality and “generosity of spirit,” Lincoln was able to pull together his political rivals into a cabinet that led a divided country through the Civil War. Kuttner argues that, by contrast, Bush wins by dividing rather than uniting.

It is more than a little presumptuous to expect of anyone the rather unique capacities of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln pulled together his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. Indeed, William Seward was the odds on favorite to win the nomination, while Lincoln was the compromise candidate the party turned to at the last minute. In a very real sense, Lincoln needed a unity cabinet within his own party more than George Bush.

Perhaps Bush would have been better served by asking Senator John McCain, his competitor in the primaries of 2000, to be his Vice-President or to join his Cabinet. In 1860 William Seward and Salmon Chase carried with them large followings in the Republican Party. They brought their wings of the party to Lincoln’s Administration. At best, McCain has a modest Republican following with a large appeal to independents. It should be remembered when Bush chose Dick Cheney, Collin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld for Vice-President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, respectively the general consensus was that he had selected experienced and mature advisers. The Cabinet was not viewed as divisive.

Kuttner’s real argument is that Bush has been unnecessarily divisive and he appeals to Lincoln to diminish Bush. While one might be able to find an ill-chosen statement or two, Bush has been largely collegial. He has certainly not engaged in the vitriol of the Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean who proudly proclaimed, “I hate Republicans and all they stand for.” Nor has Bush matched Democratic Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid who had to apologizing for telling high school students of Bush, “I think the guy is a loser.” Even in the heat of a political campaign, Bush never labeled an adversary’s policies as “unpatriotic” as General Wesley Clark did when he was running for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

It is impossible to argue against the proposition that we would all be better off if Bush had more of the qualities of Lincoln, especially Lincoln’s rhetorical capacity. However, there are some intriguing similarities between the Lincoln and Bush Administrations that Kuttner might have observed in Team of Rivals if his mind were less welded shut with ideology. Here are a few examples:

Team of Rivals begins with a quotation from the New York Herald of May 19, 1860 after Lincoln won the Republican nomination:

“The conduct of the Republican Party in this nomination is a remarkable indication of small intellect, growing smaller. They pass over… statesman and able men, and they take up a fourth rate lecturer, who cannot speak good grammar.”

Perhaps this snobbish arrogance with regard to Lincoln could serve as a salutary lesson to those on the Left who divide their time between arguing that Bush is a dolt or an evil genius.

During the Civil War the “Peace Democrats” or `Copperheads” were a faction of the Democratic Party who constantly argued for peace, searching for a compromise that would leave the country divided with slavery intact. Has Kuttner considered the lesson that perhaps some Democrats are yielding to the same temptation with regard to the War on Terror?

Seward was a leading light in the Republican Party, a well-educated lawyer from New York. As Secretary of State, many were convinced that Seward was the real power behind Lincoln’s Administration. Lincoln was the untutored Western puppet tethered to Seward’s strings. This miscalculation is presently mirrored in the assertion that Bush is a figurehead behind the real powers, Vice-President Dick Cheney or alternatively political adviser Karl Rove.

Both Lincoln and Bush suffered under ineffective or self-aggrandizing subordinates. Lincoln could never persuade General George McClellan to wage an aggressive campaign on Confederate Armies, while the general spent his time complaining and blamed others for failures. McClellan is reminiscent of terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who through two administrations managed not to deal effectively with the Al Qaeda threat, yet always managed to paint himself as the put upon hero.

While Seward was a rival that became a friend and confidant to Lincoln, another rival Salmon Chase effectively managed the Treasury in the Cabinet, but would not relinquish his presidential ambitions. He constantly worked behind the scenes to undermine Lincoln, confident that the Republican Party would turn to him in 1864. Lincoln tolerated this while he needed Chase at Treasury. When Chase submitted his resignation in a fit of pique over a Treasury appointment, Lincoln quickly accepted the resignation and replaced Chase with a more congenial person. This is reminiscent of Collin Powell’s experience. Though Powell was not seeking the presidency, he and professionals in the State Department were quietly undermining presidential policies through leaks to the press. At the end of the first term, when Powell submitted his resignation, Bush quickly accepted. He replaced Powell with the supportive Condoleeza Rice. Powell did not even last to the second inauguration.

Godwin’s Team of Rivals reminds us of many important lessons we can learn from Lincoln and how truly singular Lincoln was. As usual, the Left ignores the most important lessons and reveals an animosity to Bush not unlike that endured by Lincoln.