June 14, 2004

America: Not So Polarized After All

The conventional wisdom - which isn’t half as wise as conventional wisdom thinks it is - says Americans are more politically polarized than ever, at least since the days of the Civil War. Left-wing Bush-haters compare the president to Adolf Hitler while the more obnoxious partisans on the right denounce the Democratic Party as a near-treasonous de-facto ally of Osama bin Laden. The leftovers of the 1960s culture war are warmed up again and again in the microwave, as if we hadn't yet had enough of it all twelve years ago when Pat Buchanan railed against the liberal side at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston.

(And let me tell you something, folks. The vast majority of people in my generation think the culture war is idiotic. It's just not relevant to people who are 30 years old. The whole "values" debate is an eye-rolling intra-Boomer squabble spawned from, apparently, Woodstock or something. I don't know a single person my age, other than myself, who has ever used the phrase "culture war" in a sentence. And politics comes up a lot in my circle. The culture war is old. It's older than we are. Knock if off, already.)

We keep hearing about the Red States versus the Blue States, as if it means something important. Oh sure, there's something to it. No doubt California is a different place from Oklahoma. But it seems so overblown to me. My own state of Oregon was only declared “blue” after first being lumped in with the red. Al Gore squeaked past George W. Bush from behind in 2000 by a minuscule percentage only as the last votes were counted. I live in a seriously blue neighborhood in a heavily blue city. But my state is only half blue. It's actually purple. Or checkered. Or striped. Or something.

Anyway, John Tierney in The New York Times cites the work of several political scientists and says the whole polarization concept is a load of fatuous nonsense. It’s the polical elites (who apparently include activists, intellectuals, pundits (ahem), and apparatchiks) in both parties who are polarized. Meanwhile, most Americans are in basic agreement about most things.

[D]o Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens?

[…]

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

These academics say it's not the voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma Desmond might put it: We're still big. It's the parties that got smaller.

[…]

"If the two presidential candidates this year were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, you'd see a lot more crossover and less polarization," said Professor Fiorina, mentioning the moderate Republican and Democratic senators. He is the co-author, along with Samuel J. Abrams of Harvard and Jeremy C. Pope of Stanford, of the forthcoming book, "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America."

"The bulk of the American citizenry is somewhat in the position of the unfortunate citizens of some third-world countries who try to stay out of the cross-fire while Maoist guerrillas and right-wing death squads shoot at each other," the book concludes. "Reports of a culture war are mostly wishful thinking and useful fund-raising strategies on the part of culture-war guerrillas, abetted by a media driven by the need to make the dull and everyday appear exciting and unprecedented." [Emphasis added.]

Maoist guerillas and right-wing death squads, eh? Odd metaphorical choices for writers who say we aren’t really even polarized in the first place. But I get (I think) what they’re saying. It gets easier every day to find political hacks who describe their opponents using just such language. If it’s true that we’re mostly centrists, whichever party knocks this off first could mop the floor with the other.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 14, 2004 11:23 PM
Comments

Appeal to the best in all Americans -- win maybe 49 states. Ahem, Reagan

Posted by: SM at June 14, 2004 11:57 PM

"Left-wing Bush-haters compare the president to Adolf Hitler..."

By the way, "obnoxious partisans on the right" aren't that different. Pat Robertson, for example, once said (literally) that liberals are Nazis. And this view, I think, isn't too uncommon among the far right.

Posted by: sombody at June 15, 2004 12:22 AM

....here's that quote by pat, which, and I don't have to tell you this, is totally repugnant:

"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history."--Pat Robertson, 1993 interview with Molly Ivins

Posted by: sombody at June 15, 2004 12:26 AM

God, how I love to hate Pat Robertson...

But, yeah, Michael, that little bit about the culture war being pretty idiotic to 30-year-olds is damn inspiring. And it's not just 30-year-olds, I'm 22 and identify wholeheartedly as would the vast vast majority of my friends across the "cultural" spectrum. It's beyond dumb and just doesn't resonate with the live-free-or-die generation.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 15, 2004 12:37 AM

....speaking of Pat (this is kind of off-topic, sorry), did you guys here about his vision -- the one in which god told pat that bush will win the election? It's funny, because he had the same vision about daddy bush, who lost. According to the Bible, he should be stoned. Pat Robertson should be glad he doesn't live in the theocracy he so much wants to create.

Posted by: sombody at June 15, 2004 12:44 AM

Pat Robertson really is some kind of a fascist.

More fun quotes.

If Christian people work together, they can succeed during this decade in winning back control of the institutions that have been taken from them over the past 70 years. Expect confrontations that will be not only unpleasant but at times physically bloody.... This decade will not be for the faint of heart, but the resolute. Institutions will be plunged into wrenching change. We will be living through one of the most tumultuous periods of human history. When it is over, I am convinced God's people will emerge victorious.

[...]

The strategy against the American radical left should be the same as General Douglas MacArthur employed against the Japanese in the Pacific . . . bypass their strongholds, then surround them, isolate them bombard them, then blast the individuals out of their power bunkers with hand-to-hand combat. The battle for Iwo Jima was not pleasant, but our troops won it. The battle to regain the soul of America won't be pleasant either, but we will win it."

[...]

You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.

Then there's my all-time "favorite":

The silly so-called intellectuals of academia will find themselves considered first irrelevant and then expendable when the real power begins to operate.

Pol Pot could have said something like that. (Wait, he did.)

Sean Hannity had Robertson on his Fox show a few nights ago. He just adores the bastard. I could not be in the same political party as those two.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 15, 2004 12:50 AM

I could not be in the same political party as those two.
***************************************************
Then you will eventually end up in a party of one? ;-)

As for the Red/Blue demarcation, I see it as a geographical divide by not by States as much as major metropolitan Beltways and Flyover land.

A better look is not the 2000 election by states but by counties.

I saved a image of that.

Oh I also recall I put the California election on the same page.

http://www.angelfire.com/ky/kentuckydan/countrymap.html

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at June 15, 2004 01:26 AM

Ooooooooh, Michael, you've forgotten a few...

"The concept of one God, 'thou shall have no other gods before me', will somehow upset a Hindu, that's tough luck! America was founded as a Christian nation"
-Pat

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians"
-Pat (again)

"In the Old Testament and the New Testament, boys and girls didn't make decisions like this, they were betrothed by their parents. We've got a couple here at Regent University whose parents arranged the marriage and they're very, very happy. I honestly think if we went back to that kind of thing you'd have a whole lot less problems. It'll help."
-Pat (my personal fav)

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 15, 2004 01:40 AM

Yep, he actually supports arranged marriages. Don't believe me. I can back this up. Go and dig up a transcript of the 700 CLUB broadcast for February 14, 2000. It's there.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 15, 2004 01:48 AM

Is it just me, or is this thread -- intended to be a discussion based on Michael's post, in this case on polzarization in America -- is becoming on PatRobertson-bashing. SWEET!

More:

"When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. `What do you mean?' the media challenged me. `You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?' My simple answer is, `Yes, they are.'" --from Pat Robertson's "The New World Order," page 218.

"The mission of the Christian Coalition is simple," says Pat Robertson. It is "to mobilize Christians -- one precinct at a time, one community at a time -- until once again we are the head and not the tail, and at the top rather than the bottom of our political system." Robertson predicts that "the Christian Coalition will be the most powerful political force in America by the end of this decade." And, "We have enough votes to run this country...and when the people say, 'We've had enough,' we're going to take over!"--Pat Robertson

"The Constitution of the United States, for instance, is a marvelous document for self-government by the Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that's what's been happening." -- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, Dec. 30, 1981

"It is interesting, that termites don't build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into (our) institutions (today) are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have.... The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation."--Pat Robertson, New York Magazine, August 18, 1986

"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don't have to be nice to them."--Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history."--Pat Robertson, 1993 interview with Molly Ivins

"NOW is saying that in order to be a woman, you've got to be a lesbian."--Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," 12/3/97

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." -- Pat Robertson, fundraising letter, 1992

(talking about Planned Parenthood) "It is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism-everything that the Bible condemns."--Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," 4/9/91

"I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that's the way it is, period."--Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," 1/8/92

"The public education movement has also been an anti-Christian movement...We can change education in America if you put Christian principles in and Christian pedagogy in. In three years, you would totally revolutionize education in America." --Pat Robertson,"The 700 Club," September 27, 1993.

"You see what happened in 1962. They took prayer out of the schools. The next year the Supreme Court ordered Bible reading taken from the schools. And then progressing, liberals, most of them atheistic educators, have pushed to remove all religion from the lives of children...The people who wrote the "Humanist Manifesto" and their pupils and their disciples are in charge of education in America today." --Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," January 13, 1995

"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."-- George Bush

"If anybody understood what Hindus really believe, there would be no doubt that they have no business administering government policies in a country that favors freedom and equality. ... Can you imagine having the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as defense minister, or Mahatma Gandhi as minister of health, education, and welfare? The Hindu and Buddhist idea of karma and the Muslim idea of kismet, or fate condemn the poor and the disabled to their suffering. ... It's the will of Allah. These beliefs are nothing but abject fatalism, and they would devastate the social gains this nation has made if they were ever put into practice." --Pat Robertson's "The New World Order," page 219.

"I am bound by the laws of the United States and all 50 states...I am not bound by any case or any court to which I myself am not a party...I don't think the Congress of the United States is subservient to the courts...They can ignore a Supreme Court ruling if they so choose."--Pat Robertson, Washington Post, June 27,1986)

"How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?"--Pat Robertson, The New World Order, p.227

"There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore." --Pat Robertson, November 1993 during an address to the American Center for Law and Justice

Posted by: sombody at June 15, 2004 02:12 AM

New Age worshipers of Satan does have a nice ring to it, though. I mean, it rolls well off the tongue.

Enough thread hijacking, though. I'm done.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 15, 2004 02:25 AM

It's Michael's blog and HE wanted some Pat-bashing.

But isn't it a bit similar to what Reagan-bashers were doing to avoid discussing the issue? I mean, instead of discussing whether or not communism was evil, there was discussion about how simplistic Reagan was, etc.

To what extent Western Civilization, and US society, will be following secularism, and excluding believers, is an important question. Even if Pat remains simplistic and odious in many ways.

I thought Maoist guerillas vs right-wing death squads captures the armchair elitist pundit hate-fests all too well.

Posted by: Tom Grey at June 15, 2004 03:21 AM

M.J.T.: "The vast majority of people in my generation think the culture war is idiotic. It's just not relevant to people who are 30 years old. The whole 'values' debate is an eye-rolling intra-Boomer squabble spawned from, apparently, Woodstock or something."

This might be meaningful if you spelled out what the "culture war" involves. Is it "idiotic" because the issues (whatever they are) are insignificant, or because they've been resolved one way or another?

My experience is that people who dismiss debates about "values" also tend to regard their own values as self-evidently "correct". In other words, these people tend to be shallow and ureflective.

Posted by: MDP at June 15, 2004 03:29 AM

The whole Red/Blue thingy strikes me as a transparent attempt to motivate and mobilize. Politicians use it to scare their base of support into action, Media types use it to attract eyeballs.

I'm an O-30 conservative in Massachusetts who has lots of friends who all appreciate a solid evening of political discussion. Maybe because we are friends first and political enemies second the debates, while animated, are civil, informative, and fun. We end up agreeing pretty often on the ends with our disagreement mostly centered on the means. Oh, and I can't recall anyone, anytime, ever saying the phrase "culture war" in the context of an argument.

So forget Red and Blue, I see nothing but Plaid (topped off, of course, with a striped shirt)!

Posted by: steve at June 15, 2004 03:45 AM

David Brooks has a weird take on political polarization in his NY Times opinion column. He bifurcates the strife between the two poles among educated voters along occupational rather than class lines.

"The percentage of voters with college degrees has doubled in the past 30 years. As the educated class has grown, it has segmented. The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers — teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists, decorators and so on — who live and vote differently than their equally well-educated but more business-oriented peers.

Political scientists now find it useful to distinguish between professionals and managers. Professionals, mostly these knowledge workers, tend to vote for Democrats. Over the last four presidential elections professionals have supported the Democratic candidate by an average of 52 percent to 40, according to Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, authors of "The Emerging Democratic Majority."

Managers, who tend to work for corporations, brokerage houses, real estate firms and banks, tend to vote Republican. Thanks to their numbers, George Bush still won the overall college-educated vote."

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/15/opinion/15BROO.html?n=Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fOp%2dEd%2fColumnists%2fDavid%20Brooks

Posted by: Moonbat_One at June 15, 2004 04:31 AM

"New Age Worshipers of Satan"

Dibs on the name for my hypothetical band!

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 15, 2004 04:45 AM

So forget Red and Blue, I see nothing but Plaid (topped off, of course, with a striped shirt)!
Posted by steve at June 15, 2004 03:45 AM
****************************************************
I still think that is premature. The webpage I posted shows a divide, not East/West North/South, or any former geographical demarcation, but does seem to indicate by the county distribution of voting results, a definite major metropolitan/hinterland separation.

In one of the posts it is stated. "Professionals, mostly these knowledge workers, tend to vote for Democrats."

The largest concentration of those voters are found where? ;-)

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at June 15, 2004 04:59 AM
MDP, I think to a large extent the Culture Wars have been decided. The remaining battles have been smaller and smaller guerilla confrontations that seem relevant only to true believers.
  • Bush floated the “Defense of Marriage” amendment and it turned into an albatros. Same-sex marriages will be commonplace in ten years. Andrew Sullivan should realize he’s won and get back to the battles that need to be fought.
  • God is still in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the silence of the rioting and/or pogroms roars through the land.
  • Abortion is still legal. It’s still a hassle. Clinton was right: “Safe, legal, and rare” is exactly what the vast majority want. What the vast majority wants it usually gets.
  • Home schooling is happening. Some home-schooled children excel, some don’t. Pretty much the same deal as public schools.
  • I can’t remember where I heard this, but there’s a saying that the lower the stakes, the more vicious the debate. Pat Robertson keeps dropping weight classes. So does Ted Rall. So does Pat Buchannon and Maureen Dowd. They get louder because the messages themselves get less convincing. When somebody turns purple and screams, that usually means they’ve lost the argument.

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 15, 2004 05:09 AM

Michael, I couldn't agree more. We talk about this all the time at the centrist coalition, and other centrist sites cite the same thing: outside of the chattering halls of pols, pundits and the journlistic elite, there's reasonably broad consensus on a range of issues: a majority leans fiscally conservative/responsible because they understand bureaucratic waste and don't like paying higher taxes, and worries about how, long-term, debt might crush our standard of living. And a majority leans, if not socially liberal, at least socially tolerant: they believe in minding their own business when people are up to things that don't harm others, and like it when people return the favor by staying out of their affairs.

John Avlon's Independent Nation discusses this in some detail. A few centrist quotes, the Tsongas being my favorite:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves - in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”
—Abraham Lincoln

“It is only common sense to recognize that the great bulk of Americans, whether Republican or Democrat, face many common problems and agree on a number of basic objectives.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The core of America is not racist. It is not hostile to women. It is increasingly offended by gay bashing. Yet it abhors government waste. It believes strongly in fiscal responsibility such as balanced budgets. It is pro-economic growth. It is concerned about the environment. It is intolerant of people on welfare who disdain the notion of work. But it wants poor kids to have school lunches and it wants to spend money to have good schools. In sum, most Americans are sensible, good-hearted, and prudent. The issue, then, is whether there is a political party that can welcome them home.”
—Senator Paul Tsongas

Indeed, is there a party independents and centrists can call home? The partisans of both wings would have us focus on our differences...http://centristcoalition.com/blog/

Posted by: bk at June 15, 2004 05:28 AM

I've used the term 'culture war' in conversation, but I'll qualify that by stating that I use the original term 'kulturkampf' (which you can all go look up). That and I'm older than MJT.

I'll note that for all practical purposes, it's over, and has been for a while. I think it was over by 1970, but that's me.

That said, the stridency of pundits is nothing new really, but it's just that people are more aware of them now, what with the desmise of the main stream media monopolies and the rise of the internet and blogs and so forth.

These pundits get their 15 minutes of fame, but I gaurantee, if they stop writing they will be forgotten about in a week.

Posted by: Eric Blair at June 15, 2004 06:11 AM

John McCain is nobody's moderate. He's a guns-for-all, abortions-for-none conservative. He smiles on TV, and his jokes are often good ones, so he gets a pass, but make no mistake, he's hard right. I wish the writer would have cited somebody like Lincoln Chafee, who actually is a moderate Republican.

There's an interesting article in this month's Atlantic by P.J. O'Rourke, with the subhead "when was the last time talk radio changed a mind?" He's dead on. The Coulters and Frankens and Moores and Hannitys of the world are preaching to their respective choirs, and very few people are talking across the middle.

Posted by: pdf at June 15, 2004 06:20 AM

I can’t remember where I heard this, but there’s a saying that the lower the stakes, the more vicious the debate.

I think that the quote you're thinking of was from Henry Kissinger. He was talking about campus politics of all things. Something like "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small".

Posted by: Dave at June 15, 2004 06:36 AM

Moonbat One,

I read an analysis a while back, can't remember who wrote it, that the divide between Dem and Rep was a function of how people make a living. But it was a little different than the divide you spoke of.

Republicans made their living by being responsible for the making of money. Democrats were of the "creative classes" - artists, actors, creative programers, etc. - who resented the restraints placed on their creativity by the demands of the "money poeple", the "suits." Added to this list are the teachers and professors, who also see themselves as independent operators who chafe at the demands of those in the money responsible "system."

Posted by: thedragonflies at June 15, 2004 07:06 AM

Michael:

I'm, ahem, over-qualified to have any firsthand notion of what you and your age cohort consider important or trivial. But, believe me, the Baby Boomers thought that quite a few of the issues referred to as the culture wars were unimportant as well. But that was before they had children/grandchildren, mortgages, IRA's, vested pensions, etc. and before they heard the Grim Reaper tiptoeing up behind them. All of these things do encumber one but they can also work wonders to focus the mind.

All of that having been said I do agree that the "politically polarized" bit is overstated. Perhaps it's because we've become increasingly a culture of outrage in which it's not the majority but whoever is the most outraged that gets to have their say. And that's not a new thing, either. Remember "it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease"?

Posted by: Dave Schuler at June 15, 2004 07:42 AM

While we're in the middle of the p*ssing contest and feeling smug the other sides' various moronathons, boys and girls, we should all remember what my daddy told me once.

Everybody has an ssh*l.

Buy the vowels from Vanna.

Posted by: Bill at June 15, 2004 07:55 AM

Thank God (or something)for your generation, Michael, because mine is brain dead with all this polarization.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at June 15, 2004 08:30 AM

Has Pat Roberstson ever stopped to think that some of the left's animosity to evangeligal christians is due to his ilk's ranting against them?

He has a legitimate point but that point gets lost in his way overblown demonization of the left.

Posted by: tallan at June 15, 2004 08:30 AM

>>>"He has a legitimate point but that point gets lost in his way overblown demonization of the left."

All I see on this thread is demonization of the Right. No polarization at all.

Posted by: David at June 15, 2004 09:16 AM

John McCain is nobody's moderate. He's a guns-for-all, abortions-for-none conservative.

Um, no. Sure, he talks a good talk on gun rights. But by his actions, McCain is at the forefront of the anti-gun movement. The Brady Campaign, the VPC, and the "Million" Moms together haven't done a fiftieth the damage, in recent history.

Between that and CFR, McCain is public enemy number one as regards both the First and Second Amendments. He is anything but "conservative".

Posted by: dipnut at June 15, 2004 09:32 AM

David: All I see on this thread is demonization of the Right.

Pat Robertson isn't "the Right." He's the Christian counterpart of Islamofascism. Good for him that his "flock" doesn't go around blowing people up, but the ideology is the same. He thinks America deserved the September 11 attacks for its "Godlessness." He's earned every bit of demonization he's getting in here.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 15, 2004 09:38 AM

>>>"He's earned every bit of demonization he's getting in here."

I haven't disputed that. I've only observed that I see a blind spot here. It could mean nothing at all, but I'm simply observing it.

Posted by: David at June 15, 2004 09:47 AM

Great post, Michael. I think it explains some of why my son-in-law (a cogent liberal) and I (a right-of-center moderate) run into problems communicating at times. Neither of us falls off the cliff in our general direction, but feel pushed that way by one another.

Others in my generation view me as an extremist in one direction or the other. Makes me feel pretty good about my values!

Posted by: Mike at June 15, 2004 09:51 AM

Well, we could pile on Ted Rall if it would help, but wouldn't that just prove the point that real political discussions today (and maybe forever, but that would require documentation and references) tend to devolve into choosing sides and throwing food?

Pat does deserve the rotten tomatos tossed his way. But we really have more imporant fish to fry these days.

Nothing like a good mixed metaphor, I always say.

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 15, 2004 09:54 AM

>>>"It’s the polical elites (who apparently include activists, intellectuals, pundits (ahem), and apparatchiks) in both parties who are polarized."

Apparently we are of the political elites.

Posted by: David at June 15, 2004 10:02 AM

>> To what extent Western Civilization, and US society, will be following secularism, and excluding believers, is an important question.

This an excellent statement. I am a non-believer - I don't care the least little bit about religion and not much more about the notion of G-d. Historically, however, this nation was based upon notions of freedom of religion and we have spent more than 2 centuries integrating freedom of religion into our society and government. It seems to me that there is a strong radical secularist segment of our society that wants "believers" excluded from participation in our government (with, perhaps, a growing animosity for anything our of the Judeo-Christian heritage). I don't support that trend and I believe its worth discussing rather than just allowing it to go unchallenged.

Just because 30-somethings and younger don't percieve a "culture war" doesn't mean there isn't one. Those of us older than 30-something have put children into or through the public education system. Somebody above mentioned home schooling. Much of the populace looks at this trend and sees nothing more than some whackos pulling their kids out of the public school system. That is increasingly not the case - more and more very ordinary people are choosing to opt out of the public education system. The reason for that is that our public schools are increasingly failing our children.

Pat Buchanan is an easy target. The entrenched establishment that is more concerned with preserving the status quo than with adapting to a changing world is not nearly so easy a target.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 10:03 AM

I dont undrstand your perspective Knucklehead.

There is a difference between secularism and athiesm. Athiesm is the renunciation of god and religion on the level of belief systems. Secularism is merely the focus on the worldly, as opposed to the spiritual dimension in a given situation. Secularist attiutudes toward government are wholly in line with the notion of church/state separation. They are not anti-religion. They are wholly consistent with freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion in this country is grounded on the notion that the government will not take sides in the spiritual life of its citizens - they are free to pursue and to practice their individual or collective faiths as they see fit.
Government exists to carry out the secular civil functions of a free society - nothing more.

Nobody has raised a finger to "exclude believers" from government. We do resist however, when believers who are in government try to use the power of government to impose their belief systems on everyone else.

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 10:21 AM
And let me tell you something, folks. The vast majority of people in my generation think the culture war is idiotic. It's just not relevant to people who are 30 years old.

I won't be 30 for another three months so I guess I can sign onto this. And then, come September, it's straight into the minority I go.

Posted by: Allah at June 15, 2004 10:21 AM

I think tone is a big matter in political discussion. I've had conversation with far-left anarchists that were very pleasent despite the fact they're very removed from my beliefs. At the same time I've had near screaming matches with centrist Democrats who are ideolgically very close to me. It comes down to whether a person wants to use their beliefs as a club, or actually have a conversation.

Posted by: wil at June 15, 2004 10:23 AM

>> There is a difference between secularism and athiesm. Athiesm is the renunciation of god and religion on the level of belief systems. Secularism is merely the focus on the worldly, as opposed to the spiritual dimension in a given situation.

Of course. One may be a secularist without being an athiest. And one may be an atheist and believe that secularism can be overdone, or radicalized into some psuedo-religion.

>> Secularist attiutudes toward government are wholly in line with the notion of church/state separation.

Yes, certainly. Until they become something approaching radical anti-religionism.

>> They are not anti-religion. They are wholly consistent with freedom of religion.

If you are a secularist and wish to disown the anti-religion bigots, that's fine. There is no shortage of anti-religion bigots who are working hard to exclude "believers" from the politcal process. There is nothing in the American concept of freedom of religion that is intended to exclude religious believers from participation in the political system.

That is the point I am making. The First Ammendment does not guarantee a political process, or a society, that is free from religious influences nor is intended to ban religious adherents from the political process.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 10:32 AM

"The culture war is old. It's older than we are. Knock if off, already."

What the hell? I'm only 41 but I discuss concepts "older" than you all the time. Get over yourself, already.

Posted by: jefferson park at June 15, 2004 11:13 AM

I'm a little late to the party, but here goes anyway.

Pat Robertson is one man. Yes, he's a repugnant man in many ways. Yes, there are undoubtedly many more like him.

But when I am discussing politics with my conservative friends, we don't use Robertson's rhetoric to describe the opposition.

At the same time, I cannot discuss politics with my liberal friends, because they only use Robertson's rhetoric (really, Moore's rhetoric) to describe the opposition.

It's a truism that extremists on both sides say stupid, repugnant things on a regular basis. In my neck of the woods, however, it's the liberal street that echoes the extremist sentiment, not the conservative street.

Posted by: Peter A. at June 15, 2004 11:20 AM

What Tano said.

Knucklehead: There is no shortage of anti-religion bigots who are working hard to exclude "believers" from the politcal process.

Who are these people? I've been accused of being one of them plenty of times, and boy is that ever off the mark. I know there are anti-religion bigots. But are they really trying to ban religious people from the politcal process. Not that I'm aware of, and I live in the least religious state in the union. I'm fully behind those who want to keep religion out of politics. I'd like "God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance, and I'm considering writing a post about why that is so. But keeping religious people out of politics would require full-bore totalitarianism on the Stalinist model. I'm not seeing a push for anything like that from any quarter, not even Indymedia.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 15, 2004 11:23 AM

Thank you for expanding on your views a bit, Kunck, but I still dont see your point. With Michael, I dont see any effort anywhere to ban religous people from government.

Actually, one could make the opposite point. Consider what the probablities of success that any political candidate, for any position, would have in this country if they were to stand up on the campaign hustings and say "I do not believe in God". My guess is that their chances would be basically zero - except perhaps in certain distant corners of the landscape.

IOW - 100% - let me spell that out - one hundred percent, of all major officholders in this country either believe in God, or profess to do so. We are about as far away from the situation that you describe as it is possible to be.

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 11:36 AM

You can laugh at the far right; it's easy and doesn't burn many calories; but it's the far Left that has gained mainstream acceptance. It isn't Pat Robertson who gets film awards at Cannes, and 25 minute standing ovations by in-the-know Liberals and Leftwing fundamentalists. Yet you pat yourself on the back for your astuteness and political acuity.

Posted by: David at June 15, 2004 11:49 AM

I'm conservative. I also registered as a Republican this year for the first time so I could participate in the primaries that generate most of the elected officials in this state.

The polarization I see exists mainly at the top...the slim demo of politically active Americans/those with vested interests in the process and power at stake.

The vast majority of people who merely vote just want a bearable government that will hopefully do less harm than good.

One thing that under-thirties don't have is memory of the sevenites. That's important to remember because all the income redistribution/social engineering/class warfare that is the menu of the Left resulted in Reagan's two landslides. If you weren't there for polyester, disco, double digit inflation/interest rates, and the malaise index you might actually think there is something of value to stealing from the productive to buy votes from the poor.

I'm for less government. I'm not for activist courts, confiscatory taxes, or any politician that stands on a stump and proclaims any demographic of this country a victim.

We've got thousands of people from all over the world literally dying to get here. They make the trip to exploit the opportunities that exist here and nowhere else on the planet. Those people are voting for the system with their feet.

There will always be conflict in a democracy. The process for choosing a path is dependent on ideas and results appealing to the most people. The majority of the electorate is not going to be as interested (or more importantly, as informed) as participants in forums like this. That's just fine; the majority speaks in broad terms, the constitution serves to keep government in check beyond mere staffing issues.

If I had to pick the issues that drive my interest in politics the top ones would be the war on terror, the ongoing attempts of the left to coopt courts as a legislative branch beyond control of the people, and immigration. Education is important, too...matter of fact schools and courts are the two institutions most damaged by left ideology and activism over my lifetime. My support doesn't just go to a party - it goes to the individuals that I judge to be the best at dealing with issues I support.

The Republicans are leaving conservatism. They may well find themselves in the same boat as the old mainstream Euro parties if they don't return to their roots. The Dems are already there at the national level. Any party that depends on victims for core support is going to always be in trouble in a nation as stable and self-correcting as America.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 15, 2004 11:51 AM

A major reason that our national political discourse is more polarized than voters are overall is the defective constitutional process for drawing House districts. Somewhere around 80% of the Members of the House of Representatives represent districts that voted for the Presidential nominee of that Representative's party by a margin of at least 2-to-1. Drawing districts this way to ensure a safe seat for the incumbant also encourages the election of candidates who are much less "moderate" than the state or country overall.

Posted by: Markus Rose at June 15, 2004 12:09 PM

Given the challenges by Michael and Tano I will have to reconsider my impressions of the attitudes and activities of organizations such as the PFAW, ACLU, etc. where they intersect with people of faith and public office and issues of faith and civil affairs. Since I find matters of religion quite easy to ignore it is entirely possible that I misundertand the relentless opposition of these organizations to anything or anyone who seems related in any way to religion. I find them far more disconcerting than the "Religious Right", but that may be unfair on my part. All impressions should be periodically reviewed, I'll revisit this one.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 12:35 PM

I know this is a bit off topic, but Utah has raised an issue that I have always been wondering about. For it seems to me to represent a conclusion that does not follow from declared premises.

I am referring to his comments about the judiciary supposedly encroaching upon legislative perogatives. Of course, from the other side, we see conservatives as trying to destroy the notion of an independent judiciary.

First principles - stated in a manner that I sense most conservatives accept.

People, as individuals are soverign. They have inherint rights (from "God", if you will). Government is granted power, through the Constituion, to infringe on those rights in certain circumstances. But the default is to respect the inherint rights of the individual vis a vis government.

Our democracy is about majority rule AND minority rights. There are limits to the scope of power of the government. Having a majority does not equate to dictatorial power. The Constitution provides checks and balances to restrain the tyrannical impulses of government.

The judiciary in this country, at least since Marbury v Madison, has played the role of defending the people from the encroachment of government - by striking down laws passed by the legislature that do not conform to the limits imposed on the government by the Constitution.

Thus the judiciary should be the favorite branch of government of small-government conservatives, for its inherint role is to protect the rights of individuals from the majorities that control the legislature.

And yet we see this relentless attack upon the judiciary by the modern right. They seem upset that the judiciary is doing what it is supposed to be doing - prevnting the legislature from interfering with the rights of individuals.

Should the government have the power to protect a newborn child, or does that power extend to an egg in a woman's Fallopian tubes, at the moment a sperm penetrates it? One view is consistent with an expansive view of government power.
Does the government have the power to declare theism the official position of the nation, and to make that clear to all children in its public schools? An expansionist view of government power would say so.
Should the government have the power to grant priveledged status to couples of opposite sex but not to couples of same sex. because such distinctions are important in majoritarian religous traditions?

Power is a drug. I sense that conservatives are willing to blow past all of their qualms about expansive government the moment that they sense that they can raise a majority vote on a particular issue that they might support. I see this as a moment for real clarity regarding ones principals. Do you accept the restraints on power, including the role of the courts, at the moment when you yourself sense you can command a majority?

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 12:41 PM

Markus, do you have a cite for that 80% stat? I find that fascinating, and your connection a compelling one.

We have SERIOUS gerrymandering problems here in MA. Elbridge Gerry was from here.

Posted by: bk at June 15, 2004 12:48 PM

Roger L. Simon's comment here. First misses the thrust of the post ("Not So Polarized After All"). Second hints absurdly that the smallish GenX/Y cohort undoes massive political polarization. And, one supposes since he was not one, disregards the phenomenon of Reagan Democrats. That Reagan Democrats existed in the numbers they did is really all the evidence one should need that the "culture wars" are and have long been over. I'm not pretending that issues stopped being debated under Reagan. Or since. But the postulate of a nation of entrenched enemy camps defining the electorate is sooo Time/Life Books 60's. And Michael, "The whole "values" debate is an eye-rolling intra-Boomer squabble spawned from, apparently, Woodstock or something." Well Michael, it's "or something". It's more a demographic than generational deal. Boomer chattering-class and bi-coastals are the one's gnawing that bone. A good friend and Berkeley-ite, a card carrying, 10% tithing CPUSA member ceased to tithe when the cash came from her first paycheck rather than her student grants. So did her boyfriend. She drives the biggest Mercedes you ever saw. Ain't that America?

Posted by: Stephen M at June 15, 2004 01:52 PM

bk -- I'm having trouble finding a citation for 80%, but I'll keep looking.

Jeffrey Toobin has a very good article on the science of gerrymandering, and how it has made about 400 of the 435 House seats "safe":
http://www.newyorker.com/printable/?fact/031208fa_fact

The Center for Voting and Democracy has lots of articles and data on the shortcomings of winner-take-all elections.
http://www.fairvote.org/index.html

Posted by: Markus Rose at June 15, 2004 01:58 PM

My problem with long debates about whether or not "God" should be in the Pledge is that a lot of resources go into something that makes very little practical difference.

Listen, the evangelical atheists who are against God's cameo in the Pledge have a right not to like it; they have to actually talk to their kids and explain to them why God is the same thing as the Tooth Fairy but with much better press. That must be painful.

But for the people who believe in God, and the people who put God in with everything else that they're going to think about Some Other Time, "God" gets as much thought as "Justice" (which is another abstract principal that, if you asked a bunch of people to define it, would end up being not nearly so universally understood as we all tend to believe.) Most people do not have a dog in this hunt, or wouldn't if it weren't pushed by certain well-connected interests.

But I really think sometimes focusing on a nitpicky-this-won't-change-a-thing fight is a way to avoid uncomfortable questions. My problem with that is uncomfortable quesions on occasion literally explode on us.

I'd really like to see the column inches used on one dad's crusade to save his daughter from evangelical peer pressure instead devoted to whether or not Iran's nuclear stance is a threat, immanent or otherwise.

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 15, 2004 02:02 PM

>> I know this is a bit off topic, but Utah has raised an issue that I have always been wondering about. For it seems to me to represent a conclusion that does not follow from declared premises.

>> I am referring to his comments about the judiciary supposedly encroaching upon legislative perogatives.

There are certainly some among us who believe that the judiciary (or some courts at least) have stepped well beyond their enumerated powers and, thereby, have usurped legislative powers. We don't much like the idea of being governed by "Judicial High Priests" so often unaccountable to the electorate.

If there is a trend toward judicial usurpation of legislative powers, however, some of the blame lies with the legislatures themselves. You mention below that "power is a drug". Power also abhors a vacuum and if legislatures refuse to deal with some of the big issues then the judicial or the executive branches will step in. It is the nature

>> Of course, from the other side, we see conservatives as trying to destroy the notion of an independent judiciary.

I don't want to go back down any "what is a conservative and what is a liberal" rabbit holes. In terms of the US Constitution (the structure and enumerated powers of our form of federal, representative democracy) I almost certainly fall into the category of "conservative". When in doubt regarding the meaning of the constitution, go to first sources and be resistant to change or at least demand that any changes meet rather onerous conditions before being implemented. Its a brilliant piece of work, give the framers credit and try to be as "authentic" as possible when interpretting it. Some today would call that a "constructionist".

Others prefer an "activist" or "living document" interpretation that is sensitive and can be easily molded to social sensibilites.

Reality is that we almost certainly need some of both. One of the time honored knocks against democracy is that, in pure form, it would tend toward "mobocracy" (more later). Interpretation and implementation of our system of governement must adapt to the world we live in. What made sense for 5 or 6 million people living in a primarily agrarian nation in 1787 does not automatically make sense for 300 million people in 2004. But those who push modification and adaptation are best yoked to a very heavy weight to drag.

>> First principles - stated in a manner that I sense most conservatives accept.

Don't be surprised if acceptance is your "first principles" is less than universal.

>> People, as individuals are soverign.

I don't accept this in total. The government established by consent of the governed is sovereign. Individuals keep to themselves those rights they have not specifically surrendered, by will, to the government. The rights of each individual are tempered by the restrictions inherent in recognizing precisely the same rights for all other individuals (my right to "free speech" doesn't give me the right to keep you awake all night by shouting through a bullhorn - a weak analogy but you probably get my drift).

It is in this area of the "soveriegn individual" that I believe "liberals" and "conservatives" might have some significant level of disagreement. At least some of what passes for "liberalism" seems to reject all notions that the rights or behavior of individuals is subject to limitation or, oddly enough, that individual rights are fully trumped by notions of "collectivized freedoms" such as "freedom from unemployment" or "freedom from anxiety" or "freedom from insult" - the "social justice" crowd as far as I can tell.

>> They have inherint rights (from "God", if you will).

I personally don't care what the source of the inherent or natural rights of man is. I find the reference to the source as "the Creator" or "God" a quaint and harmless relic. Others seem to require, for purposes of logic or higher authority or whatever, something "bigger". The document itself is enough for me. I choose to make that the "power" I recognize that grants me rights and, conversely, limits my rights.

>> Government is granted power, through the Constituion, to infringe on those rights in certain circumstances. But the default is to respect the inherint rights of the individual vis a vis government.

I would phrase this differently, I suppose, but it seems close enough for purposes of discussion.

>> Our democracy is about majority rule AND minority rights.

Our democracy is about a system that protects ALL individuals from both the majority and the government itself. We need to protect "minorities" from the whims of "majorities". But the system is really about majorities and minorities, its about individual rights, restrictions thereof, and enumerated powers of government. The effect is nearly identical, but it seems to me that defining it in terms of "minorities" and "majorities" is too easily abused into things like "identity politics".

>> There are limits to the scope of power of the government.

Indeed. Or at least, of rights, there ought to be ;)

>> Having a majority does not equate to dictatorial power. The Constitution provides checks and balances to restrain the tyrannical impulses of government.

And the faddish or mobbish impulses of the masses. The structure and enumerated powers were a balance struck between those who feared the potential tyranny of "the king" and those who feared the potential lunacy of "the people". It frees, but also constrains, "we the people".

>> The judiciary in this country, at least since Marbury v Madison, has played the role of defending the people from the encroachment of government - by striking down laws passed by the legislature that do not conform to the limits imposed on the government by the Constitution.

Marbury vs. Madison was the seminal decision which defined this as a power and duty of the judiciary. The record of the judiciary in this regard has been, of course, a bit spotty over time (see "Dread Scott"). But it is a fair enough characterisation.

>> Thus the judiciary should be the favorite branch of government of small-government conservatives, for its inherint role is to protect the rights of individuals from the majorities that control the legislature.

Here's a big disconnect. The legislature should be the favorite branch of government for people regardless. Its the branch we can directly effect. The executive we have some small ability to effect and the judiciary we are "stuck with". But the job of each is to restrain the others. The system was designed to be a perpetual power struggle of sorts. We are SUPPOSED to be contentious and conflicted. Its the whole point of the Great Experiment.

>> And yet we see this relentless attack upon the judiciary by the modern right.

Since I have no doubt that you lump me in with the "modern right" despite the fact that I find myself quite a liberal person and am consistently amazed by the "illiberalness" of those from the "modern left", I am prone to "attacking the judiciary". I believe they regularly overstep their power by legislating (and taxing) "from the bench".

>> They seem upset that the judiciary is doing what it is supposed to be doing - prevnting the legislature from interfering with the rights of individuals.

I certainly don't agree with this statement. The purpose of the legislature is to create such laws as needed to conform to the will of the people. The judiciary's role is to provide a check on the power of the majority, via the legislature, to abrogate the rights of their fellow citizens.

As citizens the legislative branch is OURS. The executive is there to interpret and implement, in the grungy little day to day sense, the laws WE create through the legislature. And the judiciary makes sure neither gets out of line.

One thing that troubles me about the trend is that neither the legislature nor the executive seems interested in fulfilling its role as a check and balance on the judiciary. Keep in mind that each of the three branches should operate as a check on the other two. The judicial branch was never intended to be "supreme" to the other two branches.

>> Should the government have the power to protect a newborn child, or does that power extend to an egg in a woman's Fallopian tubes, at the moment a sperm penetrates it?

That's a legislative decision. Same with same sex marriage. There's absolutely NOTHING in the definition of our structure of our government that says, "Well, when we run up against these gnarly little social or scientific issues lets just hand it over to the Judicial Brach". When we do that we get silly constructions like Roe v Wade where some robed elitists twist up some contrived right to "privacy" out of whole cloth. If the people want to define a right to abortion or "privacy" then they should tell their legislature to make it so.

>> One view is consistent with an expansive view of government power.

You've lost me. I think the structure is downright elegant given the circumstances in place when it was created. If "we the people" want an "expansive government" (what is that, BTW? Is that a governement that restricts things like "reproductive rights" or one that decides how to distribute the fruits of the people's labor to achieve "social justice"?) then we the people should vote in the legislators who build us that under the watchful eyes of the other branches. But when all is said and done it should be the people who decide what is and what is not a "private matter between a woman and her doctor" and "when a lump of cells is subject to the protection of the government". That's not a judicial or executive decision.
Does the government have the power to declare theism the official position of the nation, and to make that clear to all children in its public schools? An expansionist view of government power would say so.
Should the government have the power to grant priveledged status to couples of opposite sex but not to couples of same sex. because such distinctions are important in majoritarian religous traditions?

Power is a drug. I sense that conservatives are willing to blow past all of their qualms about expansive government the moment that they sense that they can raise a majority vote on a particular issue that they might support. I see this as a moment for real clarity regarding ones principals. Do you accept the restraints on power, including the role of the courts, at the moment when you yourself sense you can command a majority?

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 02:12 PM

Tano -

A valid point of view.

The existence of a minority does not mean that it is oppressed. There's not an individual in this country that doesn't enjoy the same basic rights as anyone else. That they may be an adherent of an agenda that fails of majority acceptance and have resolved to get around public debate via the courts damages the system of checks and balances that protect us all.

The mere existence of the Ninth Circus court is a testament to the utility of judicial activism as a way around legislative debate and accountability to create statute.

Government isn't granted power to infringe on rights. It is authorized to deny them after due process. That's a very important distinction, in my opinion. Your rights are protected, and inviolable, until you are suspected (warrants) or convicted (sentenced) for a crime. The entire thrust of the Bill of Rights is to lay out a common foundation for society. They are rights of the individual that transcend any government's franchise to grant.

Judicial activism and initiative processes are legal...but have weaknesses inherent to any lawmaking mechanism that removes public interest OR accountability from action. As legislators shuffle contentious issues off to the ballot box and narrow-interest groups legislate by suit, the electorate that has to live with the results drifts further and further from connection to the process.

Initiates may well be democracy in action but I reserve the right to point out that I already pay a group of legislators to investigate and study the issues in my stead. Does it take awhile for important issues to wend their way through legislatures? Yes, and there's not a thing wrong with that. At the end of the process there is a public paper trail of who supported and opposed and why...which cannot be said of the initiative process.

"Power is a drug. I sense that conservatives are willing to blow past all of their qualms about expansive government the moment that they sense that they can raise a majority vote on a particular issue that they might support."

You are mistaken. Conservatives, true conservatives, see the approach of tyranny in every new GS-14 hired to oversee a new program. You want to talk about power? Which end of the political spectrum sees tax increases and redistribution of wealth as a winning combination?

You know what I want from government? I want the 'ethnicity' block removed from all government documents. I want post-purchase government regulation of private property to be tied to mandatory fair-market compensation to the owner for inability to transfer or develop the property should those conditions pertain as a result of the regulation. Delete the letter "M" from the alphabet. I want a four-term limit for congressmen, a two-term limit for senators. Any legislation aimed at a specific problem (disaster recovery/education grant programs/job training programs, etc) should have a sunset clause not to exceed five calendar years, with a requirement for GAO audit and public notice of what the performance vs. expenditure of the program has been, followed by either deletion or renewal. I want civil service hiring and firing procedures reformed so that the decision is made within two management levels of the subject employee. I want a supermajority vote required for any tax increase. I want the current campaign finance law scrapped and a system by which every donation is identified by donor and source, with a felony-level penalty for attempting to shell-game funds through false fronts. Scrap matching funds for incumbents; their name recognition from their office is worth more money than any campaign ad their opposition can come up with or pay for.

Recently I started looking at the history of tax litigation; just where does a tiered tax system fit against equal treatment? I believe we'll see a flat tax on income (after a court fight pivoting on equal treatment and general welfare) within the next decade or so. It makes so much sense in so many different areas like efficiency, fairness, and getting the electorate connected back to the budgetary process.

I have no interest in injecting religous belief into government policy, or education. I don't think any item on the wish list above takes a thing from any citizen. I know, there was a real cornball item there, but I just wanted to make sure the entire list was read.

"Reform civil service hiring procedures"....like that will EVER happen.

I want the least government I have to overpay for. Nothing else.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 15, 2004 02:55 PM

Knucklehead -

That's an incredible post. "Elegant" and "illiberal" - I am in complete agreement.

It seems to me that one end of the political spectrum wants to keep people free to succeed. The other end thinks that unless everyone succeeds, some sort of injustice is happening, and somebody must pay.

Makes for an interesting debate, doesn't it?

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 15, 2004 03:01 PM

I dunno about this culture war polarity argument thing.

Example, at the lame-gone-lamer Superbowl wardrobe malfunction, I was not so mad at Janet for showing her boobie-with-the-borg-implant, but rather Justin (Bleh) ripping open her bustier.

Does that put me on Pat Robertson's side of the Culture war? Does it put me on Andrea Dworkin's side? Or does it put me on the side of the Culture War waiting for Condi Rice to get her Dream Job as NFL Commissioner so we can have halftime shows that don't suck (or just get rid of them all together).

Posted by: Bill at June 15, 2004 04:02 PM

Thanks, tmj. I take that as a complement although the whole thing clearly got away from me and somehow wound up pushing the post button before I'd finished or had addressed all of Tano's questions. But I'm back ;)

Tano...

>> Does the government have the power to declare theism the official position of the nation, and to make that clear to all children in its public schools?

The government certainly doesn't have that power (the part about declaring "theism the official position). In theory We the People have that power, but we'd need to revoke the first ammendment and the mechanism for doing so is so onerous that it won't happen. So that's a non-starter and I daresay you know it is.

As for the some portion of the "establishment" being able to use the public school system to make something "clear to its children"...

Well, there's some evidence we see that happening now to foist "modern left" values upon the polity. That's why we see so much pressure to "escape" the public education system. At best it creaking to a terrible halt. At worst its irretrievalby broken. One of postitions I cannot fathom of the "modern left" is its stubborn refusal to "let our children go!" Rather than fix the clear failure that is the worst of our public education system the left insists on holding the most "disadvantaged" children hostage to something - I can't even guess what it is. I find it one of the more reprehensible aspects of the "modern left".

>> An expansionist view of government power would say so.

Say what?

>> Should the government have the power to grant priveledged status to couples of opposite sex but not to couples of same sex.

I assume you mean the SSM scream. There is NOTHING in the structure of our political system that says we can or cannot due precisely that. If the people want SSM they will have their legislatures implement the laws. If they don't want it we won't have it. Marriage, same sex or otherwise, is not an enumerated right of our federal system. What irks the heck out of "conservatives" like me is the use of usurpist courts to impose SSM over the heads of the electorate without individual states, or the nation as a whole, having the cat fight about whether or not "traditional" marriage is something we want or are willing to let drift away. It don't matter to me if homosexuals marry or not, but the hissey fits of people such as our host and Andrew Sullivan are disingenuous and completely overwrought, IMHO.

>> because such distinctions are important in majoritarian religous traditions?

You're going to have to expand upon this "majoritarian religious traditions" stuff. Its been a long time since marriage required any religious component. I'll leave it to you to tell us when a simple civil ceremony wasn't sufficient to consumate a marriage or when the notion of "commonlaw" marriage wasn't recognized.

>> Power is a drug. I sense that conservatives are willing to blow past all of their qualms about expansive government the moment that they sense that they can raise a majority vote on a particular issue that they might support.

Not all conservatives are of the "small gubmint" variety. On a personal level I would love to be in that category but events (such as the Euros going nuts and fomenting global conflict, the commies threatening World Revolution, the Islamoids wanting to put my daughters in Burkas, etc) keep getting in the way. A preference for "small government" is only representative of a subset of "conservatives". There a Buchananites who want a massive government that protects everyone's jobs (very sophisticated and Euro) and keeps the Chinese and Indians and Mexicans in their their place while constructing a Great Wall around our borders. I think they're bonkers, but what do I know.

>> I see this as a moment for real clarity regarding ones principals. Do you accept the restraints on power, including the role of the courts, at the moment when you yourself sense you can command a majority?

No, I don't accept current trends on the courts as "restrained power". I think there is a painful amount of unrestrained power being exercised from that branch.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 04:18 PM

Utah,
Could we focus a little? You respond with long list of contentious issues, each of which could be a discussion in itself, but dont address the core issue that I raised. I would be glad to discuss each and every one of your points, but for now, how about the issue at hand?

Do you accept that the government should have a limited scope, and that one of the roles of the judiciary is to strike down laws, passed by the legislature, that transcend that scope?

If so, then why would you consider it judicial activism if the courts rule that the government has infringed on the rights of individuals?

Remeber, the courts do not initiate jurisprudence. They sit there waiting around for something to do. An individual citizen comes to them and claims that the government has overstepped its bounds, and the individual asks for the courts protection, or relief. The court then has to decide. The tenor of your arguments seem to be that the court should somehow not decide, or should always give deference to the government (the legislature). But why is that?

If you support individual rights, and are against the tendency to "mob rule", you should be cheering on the judiciary when it holds for the individual.

There are some very basic, and very simple principals here. Can the majority, through the legislature, do whatever it wants, or are there some things it can never do - even if 99% of the people would vote for it?
And if so, then what power on earth could stop that 99%, other than the judiciary?

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 04:48 PM

Knuck,
You are putting out an awful lot for me to respond to, so excuse me if I try to sift through it all to find some deeper level principle on which our disagreement might hinge.

You strke me as being totally unsympathetic to the notion that the "will of the people", expressed by a majority of the legislature, should have any, or very many restraints.

And I see that as counter to the most important principles that underlie our system of government. Perhaps my comment on this quote from you might focus us on a significant point of difference:

"Marriage, same sex or otherwise, is not an enumerated right of our federal system"

Without addressing the particular issue here, I want to comment on the notion of "enumerated rights". This is crucial.
As I tried to explain in my first piece, our rights are NOT enumerated - not by the Constitution, not by laws, they are not GIVEN, or LISTED by any authority or document. They are ours INHERINTLY.

Part of the confusion arises from the fact that we have a "bill of rights" - which seems to directly contradict what I said. But it doesnt.
James Madison, primary author of the Consitution, was actually originally opposed to having a bill of rights, because he feared later generations might misundertand the fundamental relationship between the people and government.

"It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power[to the government], it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system".

Madison eventually agreed to have a BoR, but only after including the ninth and the tenth amendments, which, in his view, would make the matter clear:

IX:The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

X:The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In other words, it is NOT a question that one must search the Consitution for a reason to recognize some indiviual right - to the contrary, one must search the Consitution for some reason why the government should have power to restrict that right.

Thus when the judiciary recognizes some right of the people, that is not necessarily spelled out in the Constitution (the process that conservatives seem to have a fit over), they are doing EXACTLY what Madison et al intended them to do.

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 05:14 PM

Tano- are you saying that gay marriage is an inherent right?

Posted by: mnm at June 15, 2004 05:18 PM

Tano,

I am not presuming to speak for tmjUtah. As far as I can see he is fully capable of articulating his views and defending them.

But I very much enjoy the discussion you've intiated. I wish we'd all talk more and scream less and do our best to challenge one another in a civil manner.

>> Do you accept that the government should have a limited scope, and that one of the roles of the judiciary is to strike down laws, passed by the legislature, that transcend that scope?

The scope of our government is, ultimately, whatever we decide it should be. That scope is pragmatically limited by the structure and the ammendment process, but we could theoretically modify our constitution any which way we choose and make the scope of government as small or large as we consent to. We get the government we want. Nearly 220 years ago an amazing group of people got together and gave us the best they could manage. We owe them our thanks, but if we run it into the ground we have to blame but ourselves.

>> If so, then why would you consider it judicial activism if the courts rule that the government has infringed on the rights of individuals?

That depends on the ruling. Sometimes they rule perfectly sensibly, sometimes they trample on the will of the people (as a duely constituted government) to protect or create some dubious right for some "individuals". The courts are no more perfect or infallible than either of the other branches.

As for other governments, their scope is presumably whatever those people consent to or whatever some thug saddles them with.

>> Remeber, the courts do not initiate jurisprudence. They sit there waiting around for something to do.

This is true only in most "theoretical sense". We are a litigious society and there is no issue that will not be brought to the courts in short order. Not even the eating of freakin' hamburgers. Nobody in the court system is "waiting around for something to do". In fact, to paraphrase a lawyer friend, "If you want 'justice', don't go to court. Courts are about clearing the docket, not justice." If anyone doubts that I suggest you periodically go to your local municipal court and sit down and observe for a few hours. As The Immortal Yogi once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."

>> An individual citizen comes to them and claims that the government has overstepped its bounds, and the individual asks for the courts protection, or relief.

Individual citizens can, and do, bring issues before the court. But so do organizations with agendas. Somewhere above I mentioned the ACLU and PFAW. There are no end of well-funded organizations who bring their favored issues to the courts. The typical individual citizen does not have the resources to wage battle via the modern court system and if they do they are, as we recently saw, subject to being rejected as having "insufficient standing". And you are fully aware of that, aren't you?

>> The court then has to decide.

And it may do so in whatever fashion it likes. Do you ever read court decisions? Roe v. Wade, for example. If that isn't twisted logic I've never seen twisted logic. Did you read the MA Supreme Court's decision re: SSM? I did. I found the dissent far more convincing that the majority opinion. And if I were a resident of MA I would have been even more aggravated than I was that one of the majority opinion judges had to reach into some Canadian provincial court decision to justify his ruling. Canadians are free to do whatever they want but their civil laws, in this citizen's opinion, are completely irrelevant to our laws.

>> The tenor of your arguments seem to be that the court should somehow not decide, or should always give deference to the government (the legislature).

I didn't make the argument, and I haven't fully digested tmj's points yet, but IMO the courts should recognize the limits of their power and if they don't the legislature should smack them down - its their job.

>> But why is that?

Not speaking for tmj, but that is because the courts are just one part of our government and they are fully subject to being checked and balanced by the other two branches.

Why do you seem to have unlimited confidence or deference to the courts? Are there no court decisions you believe are incorrect? Why is it that an "independent" judiciary is that which consistently comes down on the "modern left" side of every argument? Wouldn't an "independent" judiciary be better served by representation from something approaching the full panoply of political sentiment?

Posted by: Knuckehead at June 15, 2004 05:27 PM

>> Thus when the judiciary recognizes some right of the people, that is not necessarily spelled out in the Constitution (the process that conservatives seem to have a fit over), they are doing EXACTLY what Madison et al intended them to do.

Ummm.... I suggest you reread "Marbury vs. Madison". Given our modern propensity to declare eveything we don't like a "coup" (see the screaming re: Electoral College and the 2000 presidential election, Marbury is a fascinating case and a great example of young democracy groping its way. As departing Secretary of State Marshall neglected to issue a warrant appointing Marbury a judge in the DC district. Adams had run a classic "midnight appointments" schtick, ordered his Secretary of State to make the appointments, and then appointed his former Secretary of State the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court before calling it a career. Marbury sued to get his appointment and Jefferson thought he had Marshall over a barrel. In a very interesting and, well, completely unprecedented move Marshall, in essence, used the opportunity to rule against Adam's midnight appointments actions and, at the same time, declare that the Supreme Court possessed the right of Judicial Review of the constitutionality of congressional actions (the defeated Federalists were being pricks to the incoming administration). I love Jefferson and think him possibly the most widely beneficial political figure of the past quarter millenium, but he got his clock cleaned by Marshall in that case. So Marbury vs. Madison was the case wherein the Supreme Court essentially granted itself the power to be the final arbiter regarding constitutional questions. There's nothing in the original that clearly enumerates this power to the Supreme Court.

Ahh... the early days of The Great Experiment. Its a miracle we've gotten this far intact. I think we can squeeze another 220 years out of the Old Girl provide we don't let you "modern leftists" have your way ;>

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 05:48 PM

mnm,
Marriage, as a private, or religous function is an inherint right - in the sense that it is something that free people seem to want to do, and the government has no right to stop them.

The gay marriage issue is not so much about the absolute right for gays to marry - they can do that now in a church that chooses to marry them - but whether or not the government should recognize that marriage.

So the legal or consitutional issue comes down to this: can the government grant recognition - which amounts to a priveledged position in the eyes of the law, with financial and civic rights consequences - to some couples but not others? Given that the marriages take the same form - ie. two people who live together, profess commitment to each other etc., I dont see how, under the notion of equal protection of the laws, that the government can discriminate.

In any case, the MA supreme court has found no powers in the ACTUAL WORDS of the MA Constitution to allow the government to make such discriminations. THerefore, there is no legal basis for the government to deny that recognition.

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 06:06 PM

ummm...

And the MA constitution specifically makes provision to "countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence,... sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people. [See Amendments, Arts. XVIII, XLVI, XCVI and CIII.]..."

Yet both their Senior and Junior senators are subject to relentlessly blathering vile accusations about everything and everyone they disagree with. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

For those interested in the case, google up the MA decision re: SSM. Read both the majority and the dissent and see which you find more convincing. The "modern left" is thrilled with courts that support issues they can't push through legislatures and will go to any length to vilify and prevent the appointment of any judge who shows any likelihood of even so much as delaying the implementation of their social agenda. The MA SSM decision, for example, is just "sensible law". The 2000 Supreme Court decision, on the other hand, was a "loathesome judicial coup hatched in TX".

BTW, the previous to the current issue of "American History" has a interesting little article regarding Supreme Court involvement in political matters it isn't ordinarily a party to (typically entered into at the behest of the Executive). I apologize for forgetting which Justice wrote the article, but it was interesting and thought provoking.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 06:33 PM

"The MA SSM decision, for example, is just "sensible law"."

It is NOT "sensible law". It is a recognition that the government does not have the constitutional right to discriminate in its treatment of citizens.

Bush v Gore is a whole nother matter - lets not let the conversaton get waaaaay out of control.

Posted by: Tano at June 15, 2004 06:45 PM

Some whiskey before commenting, so bear with:

Rights are what societies decide they are. Nothing more, nothing less. Strong societies are confident that they know what those rights are. Weak societies have little or no faith in rights.

The Jews in Germany, the Intellectuals in Cambodia, the etc. in etc., had no rights in the eyes of the executioners. And saying the executioner is wrong may serve a purpose, but none to the dead.

Gay marriage is a right because a hell of a lot of people think that it's rude if we don't treat it as a right. If you agree with that, I think you're on the right side of history. If you disagree with that, you'd better be able to convince a lot of us that you aren't.

Because we do care. And we are a strong society.

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 15, 2004 07:22 PM

Markus Rose sez:
"A major reason that our national political discourse is more polarized than voters are overall is the defective constitutional process for drawing House districts. "

Yeah, gerrymandering is a major structural cause of extremism. Another is Campaign Finance "Reform," which has tended to reduce the power of parties and increase the power of single-issue groups. A party might find it in their interest to moderate their position on, say, gun control. But the NRA and the Violence Policy Initiative have no reason to do so.

Posted by: ralph phelan at June 15, 2004 07:23 PM

For Tano and those who doubt that there is "judicial activism" today: After Marbury v. Madison, the next time a law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court was more than 50 years later. Today, the courts declare laws unconstitutional at the drop of a hat. The vast majority of court decisions overturning acts of the legislature have been in the last 50 years. Whenever the courts interfere in political matters like this, political debate suffers (as matters are taken off the table), the nation polarizes (nobody debates the merits anymore because they are too busy either attacking or defending the court decision), and the courts themselves are delegitimized.

Although I have not done the research to back this up, based on my knowledge of the subject (which is reasonably extensive), I think it would be a safe bet that more laws were declared unconstitutional by the courts in the last ten years than in the first 150 years of our nation. SOMEHOW, the republic managed to survive those early years when the courts were not meddling in politics by interfering with the will of the majority.

Posted by: Ben at June 15, 2004 07:33 PM

I think Markus is right about gerrymandering. In politics, a landslide is commonly defined as an election in which the victor's percentage of the total vote is 10% or more above the loser's percentage of the total vote. Accordingly, any time the victor wins with at least 55% of the vote, there is a landslide. We have 435 total seats in the House of Representatives. In a grand total of 52 of those seats, the victor won with less than 55% of the vote. For a country that is supposedly divided 50/50, this is sad.

Posted by: Ben at June 15, 2004 07:37 PM

>> Knuck,
You are putting out an awful lot for me to respond to, so excuse me if I try to sift through it all to find some deeper level principle on which our disagreement might hinge.

This exchange has gone way further than I ever anticipated and has run away from me, so I won't hold it agin you if you don't get to each and every particular.

If you are looking for a "deeper level principles", look no further than what are commonly known as the second half of the "The Ten Commandments" (the ones restricting personal behavior). I find them a reasonable guide to personal behavior and social intercourse. Additionally, when in need of Guiding Light I turn to the preambles to the Declaration of Independance and the Constitution of the United States and the "Bill of Rights". I try to keep it simple. Those represent the "social contract" I recognize as my requirements to participate in a civil society.

"You strke me as being totally unsympathetic to the notion that the "will of the people", expressed by a majority of the legislature, should have any, or very many restraints."

On the contrary I am VERY sympathetic to restraints on the behavior of individuals (myself included) and also on the "will of the people" as expressed through legislatures. It is fundamental to my "world view" that EVERY right possesed by an individual carries with it a corresponding obligation, or duty if you will, to recognize that right for every other individual. The effect of this is to severely restrain the exercise of individual rights. Additionally the rights enumerated as "The Bill of Rights" represents the absolute minimum level of rights each and every person, minority or otherwise, is guaranteed and no legislature may step on those. Clearly that is not absolute (see draft laws for major wars). Somtimes the needs of the nation trump the rights of the individual. But "the will of the people" is, ultimately, the whole point of consentual government.

Keep in mind that there are MANY examples where "the will of the people" directly disagrees with my view of "ideal". I accept, however, that my views will not be completely reflected in the laws. If I disagree, tough luck for me. I can vote with my feet and move on to someplace better. I've been around a fair bit and I'll take my chances right here in the Good Old US of A, thank you very much. I challenge anyone to identify a more diverse collection of citizenry anywher enear as large as this anywhere on this earth who live among one another more peaceably. Since so violently settling the issues around involved in the Civil War we have done nothing but grow larger and more diverse and not set to anything even approaching slaughtering one another. That's what most demographers would count as five or six generations. Find me one case of five or six generations of Sophisticated Euros living without slaughtering one another. But I digress.

>> And I see that as counter to the most important principles that underlie our system of government.

The most important principles underlying our system of government are spelled out quite clearly. I don't see how my acceptance of those principles is confuses anyone or runs counter to anything.

>> Perhaps my comment on this quote from you might focus us on a significant point of difference:

"Marriage, same sex or otherwise, is not an enumerated right of our federal system"

>> Without addressing the particular issue here, I want to comment on the notion of "enumerated rights". This is crucial.

You have have a valid point here and I used that term very carelessly. The powers of our government are expressly "enumerated" as are a "minimum" level of personal rights (which are presented as express limitations on the power of governement).

Individuals are not expressly limited to the "rights" enumerated within the constitution. On the other hand, that upon which the constitution is silent are not necessarily "rights".

>> As I tried to explain in my first piece, our rights are NOT enumerated - not by the Constitution, not by laws, they are not GIVEN, or LISTED by any authority or document. They are ours INHERINTLY.

As I mentioned above, this a valid point, but only to a point. You will notice, I trust, that the constitution is silent on matters such as "murder". Yet we don't have any right to murder anyone. Inherent rights carry with them inherent limitations upon those rights. Rights are not absolute.

>> Part of the confusion arises from the fact that we have a "bill of rights" - which seems to directly contradict what I said.

You noticed! JK. They actually represent explicit limitations of the government. A fine distinction, but important. Keep in mind, however, that the Bill of Rights is a series of Ammendments to the constitution. They are not inherently guaranteed. The constitution includes the methods for ammending it and we could, theoretically, repeal any and all of the ammendments comprising the Bill of Rights. There is nothing preventing the "will of the people" from explicity declaring those "rights" null and void. The chances of it are slim, fat, and none, but it is possible in theory. I wouldn't like it one bit, but if the majority wanted it so nothing I could do would prevent it (although if it were to happen before I get much older and fatter I suppose we might find ourselves "elbow to elbow and backs to the wall" manning the ramparts ;>)

>> But it doesnt.

>> James Madison, primary author of the Consitution, was actually originally opposed to having a bill of rights, because he feared later generations might misundertand the fundamental relationship between the people and government.

And he was correct. Very few modern American citizens have any concept of the structure of our government, how it was formed, why the choices that were made were made, why the compromises, why a structural document rather than a policies document (such as the EU constructed), etc. Americans are forever blathering about the constitutional rights and generally haven't a clue what they actually are or what corresponding responsibilities they carry.

But I'm not sure how that matters to this discussion other than that such people fail to understand why some of us oppose them or that we have every right to do so. Many Americans seem to believe the executive is some mini-dictator who should be really nice to us or we'll vote for somebody else. Ask them to describe the role and responsibilities of the executive branch, or why we have a bicameral legislature and they'll look at you like you have two heads (maybe more).

Add to that the fact that the concepts of government Madison and the other founders were framing were completely radical for that day and age and his concerns were not only prescient, but he would have been a fool to not have had them.

>> "It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power[to the government], it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system".

>> Madison eventually agreed to have a BoR, but only after including the ninth and the tenth amendments, which, in his view, would make the matter clear:

I> X:The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Upon which we base many, many of our laws and percieved rights. But that doesn't make it an open bood where "anything not expressly forbidden is inherently permitted".

X:The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In other words, it is NOT a question that one must search the Consitution for a reason to recognize some indiviual right - to the contrary, one must search the Consitution for some reason why the government should have power to restrict that right.

Of course. Nonetheless we (or the courts) find many cases where the constitution seems to grant the government the power to restrict rights. See commercial speech. There are MANY cases where the courts have found that the government may restrict individual rights. And there are many cases where the courts have ruled that the question at hand is not the province of the federal government (those powers left to the states!) or any government.

You want to use the "what is not denied is always permitted" argument. I don't believe that holds water.

>> Thus when the judiciary recognizes some right of the people, that is not necessarily spelled out in the Constitution (the process that conservatives seem to have a fit over), they are doing EXACTLY what Madison et al intended them to do.

And, conversely, do "liberals" not "have a fit" when the government sometimes finds limitations to individual rights? Did you miss the whole FCC/Howard Stern pissing contest?

Now, regarding what Madison intended to do.... Please find me some reference where Madison showed any intent to grant the Supreme Court the power of Judicial Review over acts of congress. Marshall cooked that up and made it stick. It wasn't Madison or any of the other framers' intent at the time the doc was written. It was a "coup" by Marshall that made him forever the "Father of the Supreme Court". A somewhat minor point, but...

Thanks for the conversation. Our basic point of disagreement seems, to me at least, that you believe there are no "inherent" limitations on individual rights, or that legislatures have no right to limit individual rights - especially if some court says so. I believe the courts are just one branch and are subject to being checked and balanced by the other branches (in addition to specifically being "forbidden" certain powers such as levying taxes and making laws).

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 15, 2004 07:41 PM

"Do you accept that the government should have a limited scope, and that one of the roles of the judiciary is to strike down laws, passed by the legislature, that transcend that scope?"

You hit the nail on the head. If they were content to reject laws that didn't stand up to constitutional scrutiny, that would be well and good. The habit of prescribing relief in forms from designing bus routes to designating wilderness areas to defining when human life begins exceeds their mandate. It springs from the precedent established (yes, beginning with Marbury v. Madison) over two hundred years of incremental encroachment on the legislative branch's duty.

Limited scope. Before Gay Marriage became a cause celebre', were there laws prohibiting anyone from entering into a partnership intended to protect property/custody/survivorship? No. A stroke of the pen by the court has plastered a definition on the matrimonial state that contradicts the custom and belief of ninety percent of the population. That relief far exceeds the right of equal treatment; it amounts to the opinion of nine people establishing custom for three hundred million.

The government didn't define marriage. It accomadated the preexisting institution. Now that homosexuality has become more socially acceptable, what loss would there have been for the court to acknowledge its lack of standing in defining the term...but at the same time pointing out that contractual partnerships entered into by ANY two people are recognised nationwide, the relationship has ample precedent, and carries the full protection of the law.

I do want strict constitutionalists. I don't want men and women dedicated to solving the world's problems on the court. I want jurists who recognise that every precedent they set can and will be used to dilute and weaken the limits intended to shield individual citizens from heavy-handed state interference in their lives. That we are in our third century and doing as well as we are is a testament to the soundness of the original design, and in no way representative of any high level of conscience or good intent on the part of courts.

Posted by: TmjUtah at June 15, 2004 07:41 PM

Kausfiles is also doing the "polarization" thing and has a list of what he thinks are reasons for it. His fourth is very relevant to the current discussion about judicial activism:

Pursuit of social change through constitutional rulings by unelected courts--which, as Prof. Robert Nagel argues, is always enraging to the losing side, which is unable to bargain politically for half-satisfaction and which gets told not only that it has lost but that it's wrong, un-American and dumb

Posted by: ralph phelan at June 15, 2004 07:45 PM

tmjutah --

Actually, gay marriage represents the opinion of 4 people, not 9. The Massachusetts Supreme Court has seven members, and it imposed gay marriage by a vote of 4-3. If this is not an affront to our democratic republic and a substantial majority of its citizens, I don't know what is.

Posted by: Ben at June 15, 2004 08:04 PM

Ben: imposed gay marriage by a vote of 4-3. If this is not an affront to our democratic republic and a substantial majority of its citizens, I don't know what is.

Nothing was imposed. You will not be forced to marry a man. You will not be forced to do anything at all, actually.

Some people were granted a little more freedom, though, which is quite the opposite of having anything imposed. That's what the courts are supposed to do. Guarantee the freedom of minorities from majorities who would take it away from them. Call is judicial activism if you want, I don't care, but that's their job.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 15, 2004 09:13 PM

This article, "Conciliating Hatred", in the current issue of First Things is relevant to the discussion here:

http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0406/articles/smith.htm

A few, key, sentences: "Some of the Justices, including some who are most centrally placed on the Court, seem to have a very different self-understanding. They seem to see themselves as performing the political function of national conciliation. In this more charitable interpretation, these Justices see themselves not as taking sides in the culture wars but rather as working to reconcile the warring factions. Things fall apart; the center (meaning the Court) must hold them together."

"Whether the Supreme Court is qualified to serve as such a conciliator is a different question. [...] Like it or not, the Court is still in some sense a court. It cannot just round up the interested parties and broker an acceptable political compromise; it must act, or at least pretend to act, like a law-interpreting institution."

"But underlying the surface differences in doctrine and vocabulary, a favored strategy seems to be emerging: we might call it the 'evil-motives strategy.' Asked to justify a law, program, or regulation, the government that sponsored it will predictably offer up some respectable-looking purpose or interest. If the Justices want to uphold the measure, they can simply accept that justification. But if they want to invalidate a divisive measure, they can find the stated purpose to be merely a cover for some more nefarious motive—for racial or religious bigotry, or 'animus,' or 'a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group' (quoting now from the 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans). In essence, the measure is struck down for being a product of hatred."

"More generally, the Court’s approach not only countenances but indeed mandates a discourse of demonization in which adversaries are required to litigate their differences by asserting and withstanding ascriptions of bigotry, intolerance, hatred, and 'animus.'"

Smith's main (but not only) examples are Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, both decision that struck down sodomy laws. But does the argument apply to the Massachusetts SSM decision as well?

Posted by: Michael Brazier at June 16, 2004 01:05 AM

Michael, Tano -- imagine a Supreme Court that decides that an "individual" begins having rights at conception. (This follows current science and DNA) That, therefore, a woman certainly has the choice to give her baby up for adoption, but does not have the right to kill it.

I doubt that you would be happy with such a judicial decision. Yet your logical support for judges having such power to decide on individual rights seems to preclude opposition.

Some people were granted a little more freedom, though, which is quite the opposite of having anything imposed. That's what the courts are supposed to do.

Is their job to support fetal people, too? If not, why not? [A fetus is not a person, no rights! (says who?) A fetus does have different DNA -- and gets rights as soon as the Sup. Court says they have them. Or is that the legislature?]

In their next Sup decision, in order to protect the fetal individual, they decide a mother can not: smoke, drink, or take drugs (except prescriptions for life threatening illness).

Now we get some imposition on some, in order to protect others. Don't the fetal people deserve it? At least as much as blacks needed busing…

What happens in Mass, today, when believers come out and say gay behavior is sinful, and wrong, and should not be practiced or advocated? There has been a case in Canada where professing such belief is labeled hate speech, and censorship has been imposed. Similarly, already in most gov't schools some belief profession censorship HAS been imposed. Like public professions of belief and prayers in Valedictorian speeches being restricted.

The secular fundamentalists (min) ARE in a culture war against the tolerant believers (maj); and while there are more tolerant secularists (maj), and some religious fundamentalists (min), the CHANGES happening are, primarily, of a secular fundamentalist nature.

The current gay marriage issue is similar, but far less polarizing as the 'aborted' abortion debate. (Which will only essentially end when the PC Leftists push adoption instead of selfish abortion--so it really DOES become rare.)

Posted by: Tom Grey at June 16, 2004 03:16 AM

Michael --

Gay marriage absolutely was imposed on everyone. Everybody is now required to recognize gay marriages and offer benefits to gay partners. There was no fact finding, debate or even public discussion of the issue. Four people simply decided that because they were in favor of it, it should be a law.

The decision by the Mass. Supreme Ct. does not recognition of a right enshrined in the Constitution or generally recognized by society -- it is legislation by the judiciary. Legislation is the province of the elected representatives of the people. That is the essence of a representative form of government. Short circuiting that undermines our society and system of government and is both imprudent and wrong.

Posted by: Ben at June 16, 2004 06:25 AM

Michael Brazier,

Thank you for the pointer! Smith's article helps a bit with a recurring "what the heck is going on?" problem I have. It consistently seems to me that before I can even give a surface level of due diligent thought to some issue people have reduced it to nothing more than one another's "hatred" or "bigotry" motives. We each seem to get accused of those base motives out of hand. We all struggle with our hatreds and bigotries but as far as I can tell most reasonable people will make an attempt to put those things aside when it comes to making important decisions. I know I do. I'm constantly smacking myself upside the head telling myself my "feelings" are not "the issue at hand". And I find other people (assuming they haven't gone over the emotional edge at the time) will chuckle and blush and get control of "feelings" and focus on the issue under consideration.

We can't resolve things if we consistently run straight to the cover of assuming those who disagree with us do so out of nothing more than hatred or bigotry or, worse yet, are too stupid to recognize that their position is based on nothing more than malintent and that their "reasoning" is nothing more than subconscious rationalization for that malintent.

While I certainly don't agree that we, as a nation, are "more divided than ever" it does seem to me that we've lost track of the ability to try and understand the reasoning that brings someone to some position with which we disagree. We also seem to have lost track of any willingness to accept that sometimes, in a democracy, we don't get it the way we want it. If we don't like how the vote turns out we want some "moral authority" to strike down the "hateful majority" - we run to the courts. According to Smith the courts are more than happy to play the "high priest" role for us.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 16, 2004 06:52 AM

Tom -- I wouldn't like a judicial decision endowing the fetus with individual rights, but I think that it IS an issue for the courts to decide, not the legislature. We give the judiciary the right to overturn laws that conflict with the Constitution. We also recognize that some constitutional rights are IMPLICITLY, rather than explicitly, stated. (Well some of us recognize this.) If you or I are strongly opposed to some such decision, we can try to pass a constitutional amendment overturning it. (By the way, if the fetus IS endowed with individual rights, wouldn't a woman who hires an abortionist to kill her fetus have to be treated the same way as a woman who hires a hitman to kill her husband?)

Ben -- you may disagree with the reasoning of the Massachusetts court, but it is simply false to say that they engaged in no fact finding, debate or public discussion of the issue. A public hearing was conducted on the suit brought by the plaintiffs, questions were asked, a written decision was released that explained the courts justifications.

The Mass. Supreme Ct. decided that the right of homosexual individuals to enter into the contract of marriage with another consenting adult of their choice, and receive the full set of state and federal benefits available under that contract, was being abridged under state law, and the court instructed the legislature to act.
As a result of the small minority of individuals affected by this discrimination, as well as the continuing prejudice against homosexual relationships by large segments of the heterosexual majority, the legislature was unable to remedy this, leaving a judicial remedy in order.

If you disagree, no court can prevent you from trying to gather a supermajority of representatives together to pass a state (or federal) constitutional amendment to enshrine discrimination against gays, or any other minority group for that matter.

Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to do this in 2006. Those of us who support extending marriage to gay people hope and predict once the heterosexual majority has had the time to see that gay marriage has no negative impact on their lives, they will decide not to overturn it.

Posted by: Markus Rose at June 16, 2004 07:20 AM

Markus --

I'm sure the court did conduct fact finding and debate. My point is that it should be done by the legislature so that the public has input. That is the nature of a democratic republic.

Posted by: Ben at June 16, 2004 07:26 AM

"imagine a Supreme Court that decides that "an "individual" begins having rights at conception. (This follows current science and DNA)"

Tom, With all due respect, this statement is completely inaccurate. First off, science and DNA do not indicate anything about individuality beginning at conception. At conception, there is a mingling of paternal and maternal dna to form a unique set, no doubt, but "science" does not indicate that this fulfills the definition of an "individual". The fertilized egg is entirely dependent on the mother, and will remain so for several months at least. It is as necessarily a dependent part of her body as any other of her cells. In addtion, their are probably other cells in her body that have, at least slightly different dna configurations (somatic mutations).
So there is no scientific basis for declaring the fertilzed egg as an individual. Its genetically unique, but not in any way an individual.

"What happens in Mass, today, when believers come out and say gay behavior is sinful, and wrong, and should not be practiced or advocated?"

They exercise their free speech. They have been saying this, unimpeded since the founding of the commonwealth. And I am sure that they will continue. They simply will, hopefully, no longer have the power to impose those views on those of us who do not suscribe to them.

"Like public professions of belief and prayers in Valedictorian speeches being restricted"

Yeah, well lots of speech in graduation ceremonies is restricted - to what the school officials consider appropriate for the occasion. One can imagine a long list of potential speeches, given by any member of the long list of high-school subcultures, that would be deemed inapporpriate for such an occasion.

"the CHANGES happening are, primarily, of a secular fundamentalist nature."

I'll agree with that, without the "fundamentalist" word thrown in. The march of freedom. Part of the ongoing American narrative.
The 'government space' is being made ever more neutral, thus allowing free people to exercise their own spiritual beliefs freely.

Perhaps you are a christian who thinks that increasing numbers of christian adherents would be a good thing for this country. If so, then go for it. Do your best to make that happen. But just resist the temptation to use the instruments of government (political POWER) to accomplish your mission.

Posted by: Tano at June 16, 2004 07:56 AM

We're grinding this dead horse into fine powder, but...

"...and the court instructed the legislature to act. .."

The MA court essentially told the MA legislature that the MA marriage laws, as constructed, were unconstitutional. Like that decision or not, it would have been perfectly valid had the court stopped right there. But they didn't stop there. They gave instructions to the legislature concerning what the new law should look like and set a deadline for the legislature to construct such a law.

At the point of the decision the marriage laws of MA should have been null and void and the people of MA should have been up in arms and decided how to deal with the nasty situation they found themselves in. The court legislated. Courts should not legislate.

Posted by: Knucklehead at June 16, 2004 08:32 AM

No doubt California is a different place from Oklahoma. At least on the central and southern coasts....

Posted by: crionna at June 16, 2004 10:55 AM

Deborah Orin, Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Post, has a must-read column in today’s edition, titled Reporting for the Enemy. You can read it on my Blog, where I have posted it along with a link to the original article.
For links to news, views, politics, and government, bookmark All Things Political.

Posted by: All Things Political at June 16, 2004 11:34 AM

"All things Political" -- Ms. Odin's article was unpersuasive to me. Showing a video of Saadam's torture tactics is irrelevant to the discussion of the US prison interrogation scandal. Publicizing it now is simply a morally relativistic attempt to draw away attention away or minimize criticism of one atrocity by comparing it to a much greater one. The other thing is that, as far as I know, Saadam never claimed that he wasn't a tyrant. Are you suggesting that Iraqis protesting the US now have FORGOTTEN how bad Saadam was? Isn't that a bit condescending?

Posted by: Markus Rose at June 16, 2004 01:51 PM

Markus --

The issue is one of proportion. Nobody disputes that what the US soldiers did was wrong. The question is whether it is a story worthy of dominating the news for weeks on end.

Posted by: Ben at June 16, 2004 03:37 PM
Michael J. Totten: "Pat Robertson isn't 'the Right.' He's the Christian counterpart of Islamofascism. Good for him that his 'flock' doesn't go around blowing people up, but the ideology is the same. He thinks America deserved the September 11 attacks for its 'Godlessness.' He's earned every bit of demonization he's getting in here."

I am an agnostic, so I disagree with Robertson's religious premises. I also find his demeanor creepy. But he didn't invent the idea of a just and vengeful god who punishes wayward nations. See, e.g., Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln:

link Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."

link Lincoln: "And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?"

Mr. Totten, you should read the whole text of Lincoln's "Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day". If anyone said or wrote something similar today, you'd probably write them off as a "counterpart of Islamofascism". That kind of thougtless dismissal would be as crude as anything that's passed Pat Robertson's lips.

Posted by: MDP at June 16, 2004 04:48 PM
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