Things We Read Today, 2

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When Ideology Becomes Partisanism

I’m not quite sure how, but I came across this interesting YouTube clip from June, showing Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, and Nick Gillespie (of Reason) discussing the Fast and Furious operation by which the federal government let unmarked guns simply walk, without tracing, into the arms of Mexican drug cartels.  Hundreds of Mexicans died at the killing ends of these weapons, and at least one American, a border patrol officer named Brian Terry.

Most striking, in the video, is the tangent that the group takes when Gillespie calls Maddow “partisan.” Maher makes the point that such as they have to be partisan in the current context because the Republicans are so far beyond (what they consider to be) the pale.

As one who has insisted again and again that I’m more an ideologue than a partisan, I’m actually very sympathetic to that point.  If one party’s principles are irredeemably destructive of the intellectual and ideological ends that a voter prefers, then he or she has little choice but to back politicians in the other party.  For some voters, that may include turning a blind eye to malfeasance on the part of the “better” party.

But that’s a question of degree and line drawing.  Some people will have a higher tolerance for misbehavior on their own team.  Maddow, it seems fair to say, places that tolerance well beyond the point at which ideology can justify it, and well into the territory of rank partisanship.  For a progressive to defend Fast and Furious by brushing it aside as a GOP conspiracy theory is (if anything is) an indication that the line has been crossed.

To be fair, Maher claims the real issue for Republicans to be that two black guys (President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder) sold guns to a bunch of brown people (the Mexican drug lords), which is a way of presenting things that I hadn’t even thought of.  But I’m willing to give Maher the benefit of the doubt that he was just being stupid, not partisan.

And Now a Partisan-Ideological Point Against Gillespie

Nick Gillespie has published, today, “3 Ways Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans Can Woo Libertarian Voters,” and conservatives will likely be with him on all three… with degrees of qualifiers.

  1. Get serious about cutting spending.
  2. Get serious about bringing home the troops.
  3. Get serious about staying out of personal lives.

Number 1 is a clear area of agreement, on the right.  Number 2 will find less harmony, particularly among foreign policy hawks, but conservatives might be open to the possibility that, at this point, any good that can be salvaged in the Middle East and surrounding regions may come at too high a cost to be worthwhile. On the flip side, perhaps some libertarians might be persuaded that, if that’s not the case, then perhaps “getting serious about bringing home the troops” should mean getting serious about achieving strategic objectives, first.

(I should note, by the way, the peculiarity that Gillespie puts his table of government spending under number 2. Sure, national defense tops the list, but that’s only because the table separates Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the first two of which have grown more, since 2001, than defense… and with no 9/11 as an excuse.)

On number 3, though, cooperation will probably have to be contingent.  The size of government and the economy are jointly the critical issue of our day, to be sure.  But the agreement should be to suspend debate on social issues for the time being, not to insist that one side capitulate. That goes both ways; conservatives can’t disarm if it will simply mean that social liberals will force the issues in the meantime.

The deeper problem with number 3, though, is visible in Gillespie’s hedge: “Romney needs to make clear that his limited government philosophy means the feds shouldn’t be intervening in the private lives of individuals unless it’s absolutely central to the survival of the nation.”  I’d say that preserving the institution of marriage and ensuring that the Declaration’s right to life extends even to very young human beings are critical to our survival as a nation.

Our current fiscal emergency may justify a pause in that national debate, but about the best that ought to be promised is not to take advantage of the crisis to take a shortcut around the public debate.

Fitzpatrick’s Fact-Checking Fancy Seems to Run One Way

Last week, Providence Journal political columnist Edward Fitzpatrick criticized Mitt Romney for joking about birth certificates, with its allusion to the “birther” craze over President Obama’s place of nativity.  In today’s column, titled “In some races, telling the truth still matters,” Fitzpatrick encourages voters away from Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan on the important policy grounds that he misstated the time in which he ran a marathon a couple of decades ago:

… my point is: running for public office should be more like running road races; contestants should be far more leery of the misrepresentations that are prompting some observers to call this the “post-truth” era. While partisans sneer at their conclusions, fact-checkers are providing a valuable service by attempting to serve as the impartial clock in an increasingly polarized political world.

Never mind that he begins his column citing with approval fact-checkers’ jihad against Ryan’s convention speech, referring to a claim about a GM auto plant regarding which the fact checkers themselves have proven to be spinning to the point of pants on fire.  Fitzpatrick says that forgetting a marathon time “would be like forgetting the names of your children.”

Well, what about Joe Biden’s… umm… selective memory with regard to his college performance?  Or what about the bio promoting young author Barack Obama as Kenya-born?  Or the “composite” girlfriend, non-tortured tortured grandfather, and other assorted liberties that the younger Obama took with the facts of his biography for one of his memoirs?

As the record of our local PolitiFact illustrates, fact checkers find great fodder in extemporaneous discussion, particularly on talk radio, which is where Ryan tripped himself up.  Speaking live on air veritably lends itself to careless statements and poorly calculated exaggerations.  Books and printed bios, though… one wonders when Mr. Fitzpatrick will express concerns about those.

Look, we can debate whose context trumps whose, but if columnists are going to make grand pronouncements about the importance of fact-checking while only fact checking one side — in the service of explicit advocacy — then we should at least discard the pretense of a non-partisan press.

Dependency Nation

For my part, I’m less concerned with politicians’ biographical details than with the present and future of my country. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Eberstadt offers some data (with graphs) that is truly chilling:

The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.

In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America. Scaled against a notional family of four, the average entitlements burden for that year alone approached $29,000.

One chart shows that nearly 50% of American households are receiving some form of government benefits.  This is a trend that simply cannot continue, and how well an administration will address the existential threat (whether an administration will even try to address it) should be more important to voters than both running times and social issues.



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