The Wet Blanket Movement

Joe Carter at First Things is leery of the Tea Party Movement, saying that true conservatives don’t like enthusiasm or protest demonstrations. He proposes an alternative program to limit government:  The Wet Blanket Movement.  Unfortunately, he says, the proper leader of this movement is dead.  That would be Calvin Coolidge.  He quotes Walter Lippman on the great man:

Mr. Coolidge’s genius for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is far from being an indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity which keeps Mr. Coolidge occupied constantly. Nobody has ever worked harder at inactivity, with such force of character, with such unremitting attention to detail, with such conscientious devotion to the task. Inactivity is a political philosophy and a party program with Mr. Coolidge, and nobody should mistake his unflinching adherence to it for the soft and easy desire to let things slide. Mr. Coolidge’s inactivity is not merely the absence of activity. It is on the contrary a steady application to the task of neutralizing and thwarting political activity wherever there are signs of life.

The White House is extremely sensitive to the first symptoms of any desire on the part of Congress or of the executive departments to do something, and the skill with which Mr. Coolidge can apply a wet blanket to an enthusiast is technically marvelous. There have been Presidents in our time who knew how to whip up popular enthusiasm. There has never been Mr. Coolidge’s equal in the art of deflating interest. The mastery of what might be called the technique of anti-propaganda is worthy of prolonged study by students of public opinion. The naive statesmen of the pre-Coolidge era imagined that it was desirable to interest the people in their government, that public discussion was a good thing, that indignation at evil was useful. Mr. Coolidge is more sophisticated. He has discovered the value of diverting attention from government, and with exquisite subtly that amounts to genius, he has used dullness and boredom as political devices.

via Calvin Coolidge and the Wet Blanket Movement » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

A low point for all sides

Have you followed the Shirley Sherrod fiasco?  Conservative news aggregator Andrew Briethbart posted a video of this African-American Department of Agriculture official saying how she once wanted to refuse to help a particular  farmer save his farm because he was white.  An uproar ensued.  Sherrod’s boss, the Secretary of Agriculture–Sherrod claims under White House pressure–fired her.

But then it turns out that Breitbart had posted only the first part of a confession-and-redemption testimony.  The tape of the speech went on to record Sherrod saying how she  then recognized her prejudice, realized that “there is no difference between us,” and helped the man save his family farm.  (Even though at the time, 24 years ago, she was working not for the government but for an agency focused solely on helping black farmers.  That means her labors on behalf of the white farmer went beyond her job description, something that also was not made clear on the Breitbart clip.)

Now the Secretary of Agriculture and the President are apologizing for firing her and offering her another job, which so far she is declining.  Even the conservative pundits who attacked her “racism” are taking it back.

But just look how low we have sunk in our public discourse and political tag-team wrestling matches.  Yes, we conservatives are guilty.  And look at how low our executive leadership has sunk, firing a person upon impulse without even waiting to get the whole story. And then trying to take it back.  What incompetence.  What contemptible tactics.  Can we have an upturn after this?

There is no need for conservatives to play these sorts of games, given the abundance of actual issues.  And surely liberals can summon up enough leadership to refrain from panicking and turning on each other and to hold the government together for just a little while longer.

See Obama expresses ‘regret’ to fired USDA official Shirley Sherrod.

America’s Ruling Class

According to Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, power in America is held by a distinct ruling class,  comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, a political and social elite that uses the government to advance its interests against the two-thirds of ordinary Americans whom it rules with contempt.  This is not an economic class–just being wealthy won’t get you in–but rather it is a social aristocracy based not on birth but on a particular set of beliefs, social values, and class markers.  The article is long, it defies excerpt or paraphrase, and it is inflammatory.  You’ve got to read it:  The American Spectator : America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution.  Then talk about it here.

States’ rights and gay marriage

A judge has ruled that when states legalize gay marriage, that takes priority over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, with its definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.  Conservatives tend to push states’ rights, while liberals tend to believe federal law should trump state law.   Reactions to this ruling, though, go against those tendencies.  Interestingly, “tea partiers” are being consistent, praising the ruling as a victory for states’ rights.  Here are some details:

A judge’s decision on Thursday declaring that a state law allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts should take precedence over a federal definition of marriage has exposed the fractures and fault lines among groups working to bolster states’ rights.

The decision, by Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston, supports and echoes a central tenet of the Tea Party, 9/12 and Tenth Amendment movements, all of which argue that the authority of the states should trump Washington in most matters not explicitly assigned by the Constitution to the federal government.

Congress, the judge said, had infringed on a question that was the province of local voters and legislators.

But in using the argument to support gay marriage in Massachusetts, where the case arose, the judge created an awkward new debating point within the less-government movement about where social goals and government policy intersect, or perhaps collide.

Some people involved in the campaigns to limit Washington’s reach cheered what they said was a states’ rights victory.

“The Constitution isn’t about political ideology,” said Michael Boldin, the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a group based in Los Angeles. “It’s about liberty, and limiting the government to certain divisive issues — I applaud what I consider a very rare ruling from the judiciary.” . . .

A spokeswoman for one of the biggest Tea Party umbrella organizations, Tea Party Patriots, said that social questions were not part of their mission.

“As far as an assertion of states’ rights goes, I believe it’s a good thing,” said Shelby Blakely, executive director of The New Patriot Journal, the group’s online publication. “The Constitution does not allow federal regulation of gay marriage just as it doesn’t allow for federal regulation of health care.”

via News Analysis – Basis of Ruling on Gay Unions Stirs Debate –

So, is the outcome the only thing that matters to you, or is it important to follow the principle, even though the outcome might not be what you want?


Talk politics and get into big political arguments here.

Dehumanizing your opponent

Conservative commentator Michael Gerson draws some lines that cut through both existing parties and potentially every ideology:

One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, “I hope he fails.” Matt Drudge is an “amoral shut-in” who should “set himself on fire.” Opponents are referred to as “ratf — -ers” and “[expletive] moronic.”

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party — liberal and conservative — have little interest in keeping their views private. “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh,” Ann Coulter once said, “is he did not go to the New York Times building.” Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck “do the honorable thing and blow his brains out.” Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: “We Came Unarmed (This Time).” Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush.” Says John Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

via Michael Gerson – The Ugly Party vs. the Grown-Up Party.

Wanting your opponents dead or sexually humiliated and comparing them to vermin or diseases is, indeed, a long-standing trope of the vilest rhetoric.  It was a commonplace of Nazi propaganda, comparing the Jews, for example, to vermin, who thus need to be exterminated.  OK, maybe you can find examples of Luther talking this way about the pope, but that hardly excuses it.  The key point is that such rhetoric dehumanizes your opponents, and if you do not consider them human, then it is, in fact, easy to kill them, sexually humiliate them, exterminate them like vermin, or wipe them out like diseases.

I think you can be an extremely militant and argumentative conservative or liberal while still avoiding this fault.  Can we agree that it is wrong to dehumanize our opponents?