Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Abortion: It Terminates a Biography

Ruth Marcus
Columnist Ruth Marcus writes in today's Washington Post ("In a Supreme Court brief, lawyers bravely tell their own abortion stories") that "Their point is to let the justices know that, even if they do not realize it, they almost certainly know women who have had abortions, women whose biographies are not so different from theirs."

The "they" in that sentence refers to professional women, mostly attorneys, who have told the Supreme Court that having undergone abortions has enhanced their personal biographies. They could not have attained their present status as women professionals had they carried their fetuses to term, and so they urge the justices to, in a pending court case (Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole), disallow recent attempts by states to make abortions harder to get.

Marcus's sentence mentioning professional women's biographies, however, has persuaded me in the exact opposite direction. It occurs to me, as a result of pondering Marcus’s column, that an abortion abruptly terminates a biography: that of the fetus.

True, the fetus's biography is more potential than actual, but so is the rest of yours.

True, the bio of a woman who does not abort her pregnancy will turn out to be vastly different than if she does have the abortion. Possibly it will be, from a certain quite reasonable point of view, worse. But it's also true that she might wind up with a better life, owing to the fact that she will very likely wind up as a different sort of person with different intentions and values. Put another way, her biography might well have a different happy ending.

Being a successful professional woman is a good thing. Keeping a fetus alive and bearing a human being into the world is also a good thing. I believe the latter to be a better thing than the former, though, because abruptly terminating a potential biography is worse than constraining the biography of someone who is already born. People can find happiness despite constrained biographies. People can find no happiness at all if they have no biography whatsoever.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pope Francis Weighs In On Climate Change

Thank you, Holy Father!

Your encyclical Laudato Sí ("Praise Be To You") arrived on Thursday to the joy of liberal Catholics, myself included. Also, it drew great consternation from conservatives, Catholic or otherwise. The reason: it establishes a crucial link between the Catholic Church's traditional social-justice agenda and the need for us all to be concerned about what we are doing to the planet, namely, engendering adverse climate change.

An op-ed appearing in today's Baltimore Sun captures the gist of your argument. David Cloutier, an associate professor of theology at Mount St. Mary's University here in Maryland, writes:

Francis calls us "to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God's eyes." The rest of the world — animals, plants, even mineral resources — is not merely raw material for human consumption. Pope Benedict [your predecessor] insisted that there is a "grammar of creation," an "inbuilt order" that is from God and must be respected and cherished.


... proper care for the environment is only really possible if we love our neighbor rightly. The idea that "everything is connected" is repeated throughout [your] encyclical.

So we need, all of us, to do more than just cease misusing the Earth's natural resources to our own selfish ends. We must likewise change "the dynamic of an economy where workers are just another 'resource' ... [as well as] the dynamic of a sexual culture where we use other people for our own pleasure."

Not caring for the environment and not caring for people are really rooted in the same [unjust] moral stance [Cloutier writes]: a practical relativism that, in Francis' words, "sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one's own immediate interests."

We are all connected by virtue of the fact that we are all creatures of God — humans, animals, plants, even mineral resources and the fertility of the soil. I begin to see that your extending the template of social justice to include all of Mother Nature ought not to be as much of a surprise as, frankly, I myself find it to be.

At one of his talks, I once asked Father Thomas Reese, SJ, senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, "Why is it that the words Catholic and environmentalist are not often found in the same sentence?" His bemused answer suggested to me that he found my question well taken.

Until now.

You show in your encyclical, manifestly, the extent to which the pronouncements of our previous two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, agree with your core ideas, so maybe I was wrong. Maybe care for the natural world is indeed part of "Catholicism 101," as has been said of Laudato Sí (see "Why Pope Francis’s climate message is so hard for some Americans to swallow," from a recent issue of the Washington Post).

That article has it that

The Pope’s entire case for caring for “our common home,” as he puts it, is moral.

We as Christians and as human beings accordingly have a moral duty to "address the planet’s vulnerability," in other words.

As Americans in particular, moreover, we need to rein in our vaunted individualism, replacing it with a newfound "communitarianism." That's a tough one, I admit. All of what you say in Laudato Sí amounts to as hard-to-follow a moral prescription as any aspect of Catholic teaching is. Yet I do see that your encyclical weaves for us a "seamless garment" of commitment that we all need to put on right now.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

More on Misogyny

Amanda Bennett, author-journalist and former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote the piece "Snapchat CEO’s e-mails show need to confront misogyny" for the the June 2 Washington Post op-ed page. It echoes my own beliefs about the rise of shameless misogyny in today's America.

Bennett writes of certain e-mails, recently published, that went back and forth among Kappa Sigma frat boys at Stanford back in 2009-10 and how those messages betokened a craze for misogynistic sexual behavior among many — though by no means all — young men nowadays.

Snapchat Inc. CEO
Evan Spiegel
Snapchat Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel, who has apologized for his crass undergraduate behavior, was apparently one of the frat boys who took part in the Kappa Sigma crudities.

"Let us .... thank both him and the anonymous leaker," Bennett writes, "for the x-ray vision they have given us into a world that many suspected existed but had no real way to know for sure. Then, after giving thanks, I would like to exhort all mothers, fathers, college administrators, young men, young women and, above all, employers to take a deep breath and read the e-mails in their entirety."

Then, says she, all those concerned should "consider: Are these just words? Clearly there is a lot of hormonal prancing there. Yet, given what we know about binge drinking on campus, I think we all know that the references to blackouts are real. Aren’t the references to sexual domination and contempt real, too? And if we long ago acknowledged that what we now only coyly refer to as the N-word is a real word with real powers to hurt, then why do we feel differently about allowing ourselves, our daughters, our sisters to be called bitches and whores as if it were funny?"

My attitude: Bennett is being, if anything, way too tentative here. There can be no doubt — none at all — that applying the B-word and the W-word to women in general is beyond the pale of honorable, decent, civilized behavior. It always has been, it always will be.

There was a time, long ago, when the prancing hormones of young men led them to become knights errant, sworn to uphold the dignity and honor of womankind. Women have more recently said, "We don't need to have our dignity and honor upheld by men; we can do that ourselves. And we don't want to be put on a pedestal."

Men seem to have responded by now dragging women through the sexual mire instead.

Can't there be a happy medium?

Amanda Bennett
Finding it is mainly up to the young men themselves, I'd say. Bennett writes, "Young men: I completely agree with the #notallmen hashtag. It is clearly not all men who are this vile. You who are not need to stand up against those who are."

I'd add that there needs to be a way for men to swear an oath of proper behavior towards women. Oaths are sworn before others, publicly. They are not taken privately. Wouldn't it be nice if the oaths they swear to when joining a college fraternity would contain such language?

Finding the happy medium, Bennett says, also will have to involve parents, schools, employers ... and the young women themselves. She addresses this last group by saying, "You are party to this, too. Read those e-mails. If you like what you see, keep going to those [fraternity] rages. Sex on your own terms is great, ladies. But are you sure it is on your terms? Is it sex you read in those e-mails, or power? Is that really where you want to be on the power spectrum."

Feminists point out that sex was really about power, back in women's pre-liberated past. It still is today. It's just that men have nominally lost their former positions of power ... so they've now begun trampling women beneath their prancing hormonal feet instead. The relative power relationship is the same. But now it's concealed not by the veil of centuries-old tradition but by the haze of alcoholic stupor.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Code of Honor

Petula Dvorak's May 27 Washington Post column, "#YesAllWomen: Elliott Rodger's misogynistic ravings inspire a powerful response on Twitter," reveals how appallingly crazy the culture has gotten in terms of men's attitudes toward women.

Rodger is the young man who went on a shooting rampage in California last week, targeting young college women — women who, he said in a previously made "selfie" video posted on YouTube, would not deign to go to bed with him. Rodger died of a gunshot wound to his head, possibly self-administered, during the ensuing police chase.

Dvorak (@petulad on Twitter) says Rodger was but an extreme example of the misogyny that affects "millions [of men] who share the same twisted view of women that he did."

Women by the "hundreds of thousands," Dvorak writes, have posted their resentment of this widespread misogyny on Twitter, using the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Here's an example:

Dvorak adds:

Elliot Rodger has exposed the sick world of the Men’s Rights Activist movement, self-described "alphas" who fume about any and all the times they don’t call the shots with women, specifically the airbrushed, inflated and photo-shopped creatures they assume are there for them.

Mostly, it’s about sex. Or the lack thereof.

A group of them call themselves Pickup Artists. And some sell their wisdom — tips that include stale bar tricks, ways to insult and ignore women as part of their seduction — as online courses, apps or seminars. They call this ability to get women to sleep with them "Game."

When desperate men who shell out cash thinking it will buy them Game fail, they lash out online. Not at the men who try to sell them Game, but at the women who didn’t buy the act.

Of Elliott Rodger himself, Dvorak writes:

He may have been mentally ill, but he was also the product of a culture that objectifies, demeans and sexualizes women. Nearly one in five American women report being raped at some time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The raging sexual assault epidemic in our military and on our college campuses is a reflection of the entitlement too many men feel they have to women’s bodies.

Every day we hear of another military man — powerful, disciplined, bulging with Game — who sexually assaulted a woman in uniform. This month, investigations began at 55 colleges and universities over the way their officials have handled sexual assault. These are our nation’s thought leaders — privileged, educated, bursting with tweedy Game — who have rebranded rape as 'non-consensual sex' so they won’t have to deal with the misogyny on display on their campuses.

Think it’s not real? Consider the texts and e-mails allegedly exchanged between members of a banished frat at American University. The young men — who also were identified as scholars, interns at prestigious nonprofits and senators’ offices — show a shuddering hatred and objectification of their female classmates.

Hatred of women? Objectification? Sexualization? "Game?" Sexual assaults? Rapes? Why is all this happening? And what can we do about it?

Those two questions, I realize, might draw our attention in different directions. The why question suggests we might be able, if we but knew the answer, to pluck out the entire problem by its taproot, as we would dig up a dandelion in our garden.

The what question suggests the problem will have to be solved more indirectly, as when we spray a dandelion with weed killer instead.

My own first inclination would be to go for the taproot. But what, then, is the deepest source of all this blatant misogyny?


I suppose there were misogynists in earlier times, most of them secret, undeclared woman-haters. Today, it's different: misogyny is rampant and blatant. What's changed, and why? Well:

  • Women nowadays occupy societal roles they were once excluded from: as students at coed universities, as soldiers in the military, in professional careers.
  • The sexual revolution put paid to virginity and chastity as cultural norms, particularly for women.
  • Women and men now wait longer to settle down and get married, leading to a time of life experts call "post-adolescence" or "adultescence." (This has to do in part with how long young people are staying in school today. Elliott Rodger was 23 and still a college undergraduate.)
  • The Internet has made porn readily available.
  • Social media have opened up avenues for misogynist rants and other craziness to reach a critical mass.

These fairly recent changes in our culture fall generally into two overlapping categories:

  1. The victory of individual liberty over censorship, as with the availability of online porn, the sweep of unfettered social media, and even our having gotten out from under yesterday's sexual norms of purity, virginity, and chastity.
  2. Changes that no feminists or right-thinking progressives would ever want to roll back: more college- and graduate-level education for both sexes; women in all walks of life; women, unlike in the olden days, being "allowed" to enjoy sex.

If changes of this sort are the taproot of today's blatant and rampant misogyny, or at least the feeder roots, then I guess I'd better reconsider my first inclination, which was to pluck out the misogyny by its roots. The deepest feeder roots are, after all, sacrosanct to feminists, to right-thinking progressives, and to proponents of civil liberties and open exchanges of ideas.

Putting weed-killer on the dandelion of rampant misogyny can, though, only go so far, I feel. We hear of reconfiguring how the military handles sexual assault. We hear of the Obama administration trying to get universities to do more to stop abuses on campus. Worthy approaches, I'd say, but not nearly sufficient.

What we really need is a new code of honor: individual young men need to swear themselves to proper behavior toward women.

It could come as part of a 12-step program, à la Alcoholics Anonymous. Call it Misogynists Anonymous. AA participants are encouraged to confess to their fellows that they have a drinking problem. MA participants would have to confess that they have a woman-hating problem. Then the healing could begin.

As part of it, they would have to pledge to give up what amounts to their "bottle": calling women sluts and whores after picking them up and having sex with them; calling women stuck-up snobs after failing to pick them up and sleep with them; and like expressions of misogynist hostility.

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Blush Before You Flush

The Maryland General Assembly recently passed Senate Bill 212, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has just signed into law. Officially called the "Fairness for All Marylanders Act," it protects the rights of transgender people not to be, due to their gender identity, discriminated against in: 

  • places of public accommodation
  • the housing/real estate market
  • employment and the job market

"Places of public accommodation" include public restrooms and "saunas, shower rooms, locker rooms, etc.," as long as these facilities are available in some degree to the general public. That is the understanding I get from the Web site of, an organization that is trying to gather enough signatures to force a November ballot initiative. The initiative would, if passed, set aside the act.

MDPetitions says transgender persons can now, under the new law which they call the "Bathroom Bill," use restrooms and similar facilities heretofore considered off limits to anyone not of the designated sex. So, those men who “sincerely [hold] as part of [their] core identity” that they are actually women, despite what their body says, cannot be barred from public ladies' rooms.

A real worry is, accordingly, that men will falsely claim to be transgender so they can prey on women performing their most private acts.

And, of course, vice versa.

How would it be handled? Say a person who is outwardly male walks into a ladies' room. Perhaps a female patron complains to the management, and the police are called. The nominally male person comes out of the ladies' room only to be put into handcuffs. Later in court, s/he tells the judge s/he sincerely self-identifies as a woman. Case dismissed.

S/he may have been telling the truth, in which case s/he has been needlessly inconvenienced and embarrassed.

Or, this person may have been lying about being transgender ... but how would the prosecutor ever prove that to the judge?


Let's now studiously ignore that legal conundrum and look just at the situation without regard to the inner gender identity of the one who, outwardly male, walks into a ladies' room. Let's look at it from the perspective of the woman who went in just before (I'll use the masculine pronoun) he did.

All she really knows is that a man followed her into the loo.

She may or may not call to mind the notion that his inner gender identity is the same as hers. She may even support the right of a transgender individual to occupy the adjoining stall. But she can't really be sure this guy isn't just a sexual predator, can she?

Put bluntly, she's doing her business in a stall next to an individual who had a penis. That's the bottom line. It's downright odd, at the very least. It's discomfiting. It's threatening.

Now turn the situation around: A woman walks past a row of men using the urinals in a men's restroom at the ball park. She goes into a stall. (Or does she actually belly up to a wall-mounted fixture? Such things are never out of the question.) Is this act an assertion of her inner maleness, or is it just a way to avoid the long line at the ladies' room? Whatever ... if she is detained and required to go before a judge, she legally has an out.

Meanwhile, the shoe of discomfiture and embarrassment, undoubtedly well known to truly transgender individuals, is now firmly on the other foot. Pre-SB 212, those unusual individuals had to do their business in the "wrong" room, the "wrong" facility, every time. And one does feel sorry for them.

Still and all, there clearly is no practical way to make sure no one experiences such discomfiture and embarrassment. It's an imperfect world, and there will always be someone, no matter the laws on the books, who will have to blush before they flush.


I am a liberal democrat who generally is in favor of LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) rights, but I do not support the new law as presently configured. It will subject untold numbers of people to discomfiture, embarrassment, and even implicit threats of sexual predation, just so a tiny minority can feel more comfortable in places of public accommodation. I don't think that's right.

The law does provide for the possibility of gender-neutral restrooms alongside more standard ones ...

... and I think that's good. People could use them or go to the usual men's/ladies' rooms. But few establishments have these extra added attractions. So my objection still stands, and I invite all who agree with me to sign the petition.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Obamacare and Cancelled Individual Health Coverage

I support the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare; let that be stated at the outset. Its rollout since Oct. 1, though, has been abysmal. The website where many Americans need to go to sign up for coverage has been down way too often, slow way too often, and so poorly imple­mented that insurance companies can't be sure who in fact has signed up for coverage. home page

The kerfluffle over that has however been overshadowed in the last week by the issue over cancelled insurance. Presi­dent Obama promised on many occasions going back to 2009 that "if you like your current health plan, you can keep it." Well, as it turns out, that's not exactly so.

Glenn Kessler, the "Fact Checker" at The Washington Post, recently awarded the president a maximum number of hated "Pinocchios" — four — for "Obama’s pledge that ‘no one will take away’ your health plan."

Obama said in a speech to the American Medical Association, June 15, 2009, "... no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

President Obama addresses
the American Medical Association
June 15, 2009

Alas, it wasn't, and still isn't, exactly true. Kessler writes:

... a key part of the law is forcing insurers to offer an “essential health benefits” package, providing coverage in 10 categories. The list includes: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

Health benefits packages that lack those features will have to be discontinued as of next year. Some people who get their health insurance through their employers may notice increased premiums to help pay for additional coverage. But hundreds of thousands of those who buy their own insurance are now receiving outright cancellation notices.

In many cases, those unfortunates will have to buy completely new health packages that will probably cost them a lot more.

Yet some luckier ones will get no cancellation notices. They will find that their existing plans were "grandfathered" into the government's implementation of the Affordable Care Act, meaning they can keep them.

The unfortunate ones whose plans were not grandfathered in are very likely ones who bought those plans after the magic cutoff date, March 23, 2010, when the ACA was signed into law. Only individual plans that were in hand prior to that date are grandfathered in.

Those who have to scramble to get new, expensive insurance, says the lead article in today's Washington Post, "For consumers whose health premiums will go up under new law, sticker shock leads to anger," are finding the plans that are claimed by their insurers to be the lawfully mandated replacements for their cancelled plans are way more costly:

Marlys Dietrick, a 60-year-old artist from San Antonio, said she had high hopes that the new law would help many of her friends who are chefs, actors or photographers get insured. But she said they have been turned off by high premiums and deductibles and would rather pay the fine. 
“I am one of those Democrats who wanted it to be better than this,” she said. 
Her insurer, Humana, informed her that her plan was being canceled and that the rate for herself and her 21-year-old son for a plan compliant with the new law would rise from $300 to $705. On the federal Web site [], she found a comparable plan for $623 a month. Because her annual income is about $80,000, she doesn’t qualify for subsidies. 
A cheaper alternative on the federal exchange, she said, had a premium of $490 a month — but it was an HMO plan rather than the PPO plan she currently has. “I wouldn’t be able to go to the doctor I’ve been going to for years,” she said. “That is not a deal.” 
And both the HMO and PPO exchange plans she examined had family deductibles of $12,700, compared with her current $7,000.


David Prestin, 48, who operates a gas station and diner at a truck stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was unhappy to learn recently that his premiums are slated to rise from $923 to $1,283 next year under Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The insurer said it needed to add maternity care to comply with the Affordable Care Act. 
The issue of maternity coverage is a sensitive one for Prestin and his wife, Kathie. They had one child seven years ago, but after she had five miscarriages, they discovered she had an immune issue that prevented her from successfully completing a pregnancy. 
At the same time, Prestin said, the new plan would reduce coverage for things he and Kathie need, such as free annual checkups. 
The Prestins explored They are not eligible for subsidies, but they found a cheaper plan than the one being offered by their insurer. However, there was another problem: It would have required the couple to switch from the doctors they have seen for more than 16 years and travel more than 100 miles from their home to the nearest major hospital center for treatment — in Green Bay, Wis.


After receiving a letter from her insurer that her plan was being discontinued, Deborah Persico, a 58-year-old lawyer in the District, found a comparable plan on the city’s new health insurance exchange. But her monthly premium, now $297, would be $165 higher, and her maximum out-of-pocket costs would double. 
That means she could end up paying at least $5,000 more a year than she does now. “That’s just not fair,” said Persico, who represents indigent criminal defendants. “This is ridiculous.”

Deborah Persico,
whose individual health insurance
plan is being cancelled

In fairness, I have to note that the plans that are now being forced into cancellation by the ACA are ones in which the insureds were able to cherry-pick the types of coverage he/she/they wanted. Don't need maternity coverage? Leave it out. Never expect to need pediatric services? Bypass it. That keeps the buyer's premiums and deductibles down.

But it also keeps dollars from said cherry-pickers from moving through the system to help cover maternity and pediatric care for those buyers of individual coverage who need them but truly otherwise can't afford them. I imagine Marlys Dietrick, who makes $80,000 a year, can scrimp and save and ultimately afford the $490-per-month plan that would make her, sad to say, need to switch doctors.

Yet it's also true that nothing the president said in the last four years adequately prepared Ms. Dietrick — or the Prestins, or Ms. Persico — for this.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Stop Arguing, Start Growing

Lawrence H. Summers

In this morning's Washington Post, economist Lawrence Summers has a great suggestion. A professor and past president at Harvard, Summers was Treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, and economic adviser to President Obama from 2009 through 2010. In his op-ed piece "In shutdown debate, focus should be on growth instead of deficit," he asserts:

Data from [the Congressional Budget Office] imply that an increase of just 0.2 percent in annual growth would entirely eliminate the projected long-term budget gap. Increasing growth, in addition to solving debt problems, would also raise household incomes, increase U.S. economic strength relative to other nations, help state and local governments meet their obligations and prompt investments in research and development.

In other words, Congress and the president should stop arguing "about the precise timing of continuing resolutions and debt-limit extensions" and start working together to spur economic growth.

Summers says this can be done — indeed, must be done — in a bipartisan way:

Spurring growth is an area where neither side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on good ideas. We need more public infrastructure investment, but we also need to reduce regulatory barriers that hold back private infrastructure. We need more investment in education but also increases in accountability for those who provide it. We need more investment in the basic science behind renewable energy technologies, but in the medium term we need to take advantage of the remarkable natural gas resources that have recently become available to the United States. We need to ensure that government has the tools to work effectively in the information age but also to ensure that public policy promotes entrepreneurship.

Infrastructure investment
is sorely needed today

Breaking this down by political sides: Democrats want more public infrastructure investment; more investment in education; more investment in the science behind renewable energy technologies; and for the government to be given the tools to work effectively in the information age. Republicans want reduced governmental regulatory barriers; increases in accountability for schools and educators; acceptance of natural gas, as a bridge to "clean" energy as a way to fight global warming; and U.S. policies that favor, not hinder, private entrepreneurship and investment.

There is ample room here for Republicans and Democrats to "meet in the middle" and to take the conversation from wrangling over the budget to talking instead about America's economic growth. Says Summers:

If even half the energy that has been devoted over the past five years to “budget deals” were devoted instead to “growth strategies,” we could enjoy sounder government finances and a restoration of the power of the American example.

Post columnist
E.J. Dionne Jr.
As Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says in "Obama can’t waste this moment" on the same October 14, 2013, op-ed page:

The United States should build [a strong economy], not just cut [the federal budget]. We should invest again in an infrastructure whose decayed condition ought to shame us. We should deal with high ongoing unemploy­ment, reverse the rise of inequality and give poor and working-class kids real opportunities for upward mobility.

My fellow liberal Dionne sadly doesn't mention the conservative priorities Summers lists as needing also to be included in any eventual deal.

A recent opinion column by moderate-to-conservative Post economics writer Robert J. Samuelson, "The shutdown heralds a new economic norm," however, takes a similar pro-growth tack:

Post columnist
Robert J. Samuelson
The story behind the story [of the budget battles] is that prolonged slow growth threatens to upend our political and social order. Economic growth is a wondrous potion. It encourages lending because borrowers can repay debts from rising incomes. It supports bigger government because a growing economy expands the tax base and makes modest deficits bearable. Despite recessions, it buoys public optimism because people are getting ahead. ...

Slow economic growth now imperils [the post-WWII order that saw much economic expansion]. Credit standards have tightened, and more Americans are leery of borrowing. Government spending — boosted by an aging population eligible for Social Security and Medicare — has outrun our willingness to be taxed. The mismatch is the basic cause of “structural” budget deficits and, by extension, today’s strife over the debt ceiling and the government “shutdown.”

Samuelson agrees with Dionne and Summers (and me): what we most need today is government policy — a compromise policy, as Summers says — that boosts economic growth.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

— Song lyric by Johnny Mercer

During these tense times when the government is partially shut down, we may wonder what has gone wrong. Why are we so polarized between liberal Democrats and hard-line Republicans that we can't pass a budget or even a continuing resolution through Congress, and possibly can't head off the threat of a default on paying our government's bills?

Washington Post columnist
George F. Will
George F. Will has a column in today's Washington Post that gives some insight. "When liberals became scolds" has it that liberalism went wrong in America as far back as the time of the Kennedy assassination in 1963. President John F. Kennedy was shot to death in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Friday, November 22, 1963, and within two days liberals were downplaying the identity of the putative assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, and playing up a kind of collective American guilt that stemmed from “the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots," per then-Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Will extends the thought:

New York Times columnist
James Reston
The next day, James Reston, the New York Times luminary, wrote in a front-page story that Kennedy was a victim of a “streak of violence in the American character,” noting especially “the violence of the extremists on the right.”

(Oswald was actually a self-styled communist, not an "extremist on the right," nor a "bigot." The Warren Commission, headed by the then-Chief Justice, determined that Oswald acted alone in killing JFK, though many have since believed he had co-conspirators.)

Will's point is this:

The bullets fired on Nov. 22, 1963, could shatter the social consensus that characterized the 1950s only because powerful new forces of an adversarial culture were about to erupt through society’s crust. Foremost among these forces was the college-bound population bulge — baby boomers with their sense of entitlement and moral superiority, vanities encouraged by an intelligentsia bored by peace and prosperity and hungry for heroic politics.

Liberalism’s disarray during the late 1960s, combined with Americans’ recoil from liberal hectoring, catalyzed the revival of conservatism in the 1970s ...

... and, he adds, led to the election of the conservative President Ronald Reagan, who was first sworn in in 1980.

Adversarial culture? Will says:

Under Kennedy, liberalism began to become more stylistic than programmatic. After him — especially after his successor, Lyndon Johnson, a child of the New Deal, drove to enactment the Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid — liberalism became less concerned with material well-being than with lifestyle and cultural issues such as feminism, abortion and sexual freedom.

35th president John F. Kennedy

As a 16-year-old in 1963, I lived through those times. And, yes, we had a lot of material well-being ... though we also discovered the "other America":  a large minority of our citizens who were mired in poverty from one generation to the next. Too, we all had to confront the reality of racial prejudice in the land. But as of the time of JFK's assassination, most Americans of a liberal bent were still inclined to "ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive" more than rue the negative.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

By 1968, at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War and in the wake of the twin assassinations that year of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, that had flipped. To many who were then speaking from and for the left, America was now considered a poisonous place. The country's history was mainly one of several negative -isms: racism, sexism, imperialism, and the like. "Tear down the walls!" went the leftist mantra.

If you were a liberal, no matter how close to or far from the center, you were infected by it. America: angry leftists wanted to end it, moderate liberals wanted to mend it ... but all on the left came to think more in terms of its historical poison than about the sheer nobility of the grand American enterprise.

That's what George Will is getting at:

Hitherto a doctrine of American celebration and optimism, liberalism would now become a scowling indictment ... 


The new liberalism-as-paternalism would be about correcting other people’s defects.

Those "lifestyle and cultural issues such as feminism, abortion and sexual freedom" which took over the liberal mindset were typically couched, accordingly, in negative terms. Liberals' occasional perfunctory nods to America's greatness were at odds with an overarching narrative of American guilt. This is a narrative which — I think Will is correct here — has not played well with American audiences in general.

President Obama
ought to look like this
more often
Thus during the Obama presidency we have heard the president called, by his enemies, not a real American. Thus the endless foolish assertion that he was not really born an American citizen. Thus the claim that Obamacare is actually a foot-in-the-door for an alien socialism. And thus the tea party, which would rather bring down Obamacare than make sure the federal government has enough funds to stay solvent.

I think Will is right: liberals started shooting themselves in the foot as far back as the JFK assassination. I call myself oldstyleliberal because I would rather we liberals take back the night and start talking up America's fundamental greatness again. Then, after we have stopped demonizing the right, and vice versa, perhaps our politicians can get back to doing what they're supposed to do: engaging in the fruitful art of compromise.

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