Thursday, August 4, 2005

<i>Argumentum Ad Snarkum</i>

Our local newspaper, The York Dispatch, ran an editorial on the president's perfectly sensible comments on teaching Intelligent Design last Wednesday that might best be described as argumentum ad snarkum. The editor wrote:

Yet here's the president of the United States, saying schools should teach both "theories" on the creation and development of life.

And global warming has no scientific basis, mercury pollution is not the threat most scientists say it is, drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge will have no effect on one of the world's last great wildernesses -- and are there really such things as endangered species?

Well, maybe so. If sarcasm was a reason to accept an implied conclusion then the paper would have a strong case against the Bush administration's attitude toward science-related issues, but it's not and they don't. Each of these issues is framed by the writer in a highly tendentious way. The controversy surrounding global warming, for instance, is not about whether it's happening but about its cause. No one claims that drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge will have no effect. The debate is over whether the effect will be significant and permanent. Part of informing one's readers is accurately presenting the facts, but this the editorial fails to do, preferring the rhetorical appeal of snarkiness to the difficult work of thinking.

The writer then gets to the point he/she really wishes to make:

Intelligent design is not a "theory," but strictly a religious concept that may have its place in Sunday school and in the home -- not in high school biology class.

Not a theory? Does the editor mean that ID is not a proposed explanation for a set of observations? Does the editor know what a theory is? Has he/she ever actually read anything written on ID by a prominent advocate?

And what about ID makes it a "strictly religious concept"? Is it religious because some wish to use it to promote a religious agenda? Is Darwinism fascist because some have employed Darwinian principles like survival of the fittest to justify the extermination of the less fit? Is ID religious because it posits a Designer? How, exactly, would that make it religious?

The president's view on intelligent design would, no doubt, warm the heart of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential candidate and anti-evolution champion in the Scopes trial who saw Darwin's theory as heralding the end of western civilization.

But for a man who presides over the most powerful and most scientifically advanced nation on earth to be spouting such a fundamentalist mantra in the name of "improving" education is more than unseemly, it's irresponsible and embarrassing.

Why is it irresponsible for the president to state his personal views on this issue when asked to do so? He didn't say that ID should be federally mandated. He merely opined that it would be a good thing to stimulate students to think about a very important question. Why is it embarrassing to hold a view consonant with the opinion of the majority of people one leads? Is it that the editor is embarrassed that the president lacks the same level of scientific enlightenment possessed by his/her fellow sophisticates in the media?

Moreover, what does the Dispatch mean by calling the president's words a "fundamentalist mantra"? Does the paper mean to suggest that only creepy fundamentalists believe that an intelligence underlies the world of our observation and that it's appropriate to mention this possibility in a science class? If so, what epithet does the editor assign to those who think it perfectly appropriate to discuss in science classes the view (called Darwinism) that no such intelligence is required to explain the biological phenomena we observe?

What is really "unseemly, irresponsible and embarrassing" is lazy, otiose polemic masquerading as informed argument. The editor of the Dispatch knows nothing of what he/she is talking about so, like a middle schooler caught in an argument over matters he does not understand, the writer just sputters insults. It's pretty immature, actually.

For a more adult response to President Bush's comments go here.

NYT Hot on the Scent of Scandal

Michelle Malkin wonders why the NYT has the time and resources to devote to looking into John Roberts' adoptions of his children but have been absolutely mute, as has been almost the entire liberal media, about the scandal involving the liberal radio network Air America. Good question.

You'll find lots of links to other commentators on this story as well as a statement of quasi-explanation by the Times at Michelle's site.

Wallis' Advice to Dems: Become Conservatives

Jim Wallis is a good guy, I'm sure, but he says several things in a NYT editorial that suggest that he's just not the guy to be giving Democrats advice. He writes:

Because the Republicans, with the help of the religious right, have captured the language of values and religion (narrowly conceived as only abortion and gay marriage), the Democrats have also been asking how to "take back the faith."

If Wallis really thinks that values and religion means only "abortion and gay marriage" to conservatives then he's too uninformed to serve as an effective advisor to the Democrats on these matters. If he's deliberately distorting what conservatives value then he's being dishonest. Conservative values encompass a wide range of moral issues, both social and economic. They include, but are not limited to, maximizing economic freedom, equality under the law, equality of opportunity, minimizing the corrosive effect of the entertainment industry, strong commitment to one's family and God, a commitment to individual and property rights, a bias in favor of innocent life and a commitment to justice for those who harm others, peace through strength, the importance of hard work and charitable giving, a willingness to help those who are willing to help themselves and a reluctance to help those who aren't, and a belief in the wisdom of abiding by the original intent of the constitution written by the founding fathers. This is a little more comprehensive than Wallis' insulting caricature but much more accurate.

The discussion that shapes our political future should be one about moral values, but the questions to ask are these: Whose values? Which values? And how broadly and deeply will our political values be defined? Democrats must offer new ideas and a fresh agenda, rather than linguistic strategies to sell an old set of ideologies and interest group demands.

Wallis is implying, in other words, that Democrats must cease to be liberals. After all, how can they "offer new ideas and a fresh agenda" without changing who they are?

To be specific, I offer five areas in which the Democrats should change their message and then their messaging. First, somebody must lead on the issue of poverty, and right now neither party is doing so....Democrats need new policies to offer the 36 million Americans, including 13 million children, who live below the poverty line, as well as the 9.8 million families one recent study identified as "working hard but falling short."

Is this the new vision Wallis is offering the Dems? Do something for the poor? I'm sure that Democratic pols everywhere are saying, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?"

In fact, the Democrats should draw a line in the sand when it comes to wartime tax cuts for the wealthy, rising deficits, and the slashing of programs for low-income families and children. They need proposals that combine to create a "living family income" for wage-earners, as well as a platform of "fair trade," as opposed to just free trade, in the global economy....Many Americans, including religious voters who see poverty as a compelling issue of conscience, desire such a platform.

Mr. Wallis' "new ideas" for the Democrats sound very much like the old ones. Resist tax cuts for the wealthy, resist welfare reform, and establish a guaranteed income. Anyone who wonders how this is any different from what the left has been advocating ever since Karl Marx gets a star.

Similarly, a growing number of American Christians speak of the environment as a religious concern - one of stewardship of God's creation. The National Association of Evangelicals recently called global warming a faith issue. But Republicans consistently choose oil and gas interests over a cleaner world. The Democrats need to call for the reversal of these priorities. They must insist that private interests should never obstruct our country's path to a cleaner and more efficient energy future, let alone hold our foreign policy hostage to the dictates of repressive regimes in the Middle East.

The environment is more than just clean air, and it's not in trouble because it's getting dirtier. In many ways it's healthier now than it's been in the last 700 years, at least in the developed world. The chief environmental problems we face today are the loss of terrestrial habitat for many species of wildlife and the depletion of ocean fisheries. These problems have little to do with oil. Even so, if Mr. Wallis wants a cleaner more energy efficient future the simplest, most effective long term means to that end is to build more nuclear power plants. The first Democrat willing to support that please raise your hand.

On the issues that Republicans have turned into election-winning "wedges," Democrats will win back "values voters" only with fresh ideas. Abortion is one such case. Democrats need to think past catchphrases, like "a woman's right to choose," or the alternative, "safe, legal and rare." More than 1 million abortions are performed every year in this country. The Democrats should set forth proposals that aim to reduce that number by at least half. Such a campaign could emphasize adoption reform, health care, and child care; combating teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse; improving poor and working women's incomes; and supporting reasonable restrictions on abortion, like parental notification for minors (with necessary legal protections against parental abuse).

Not only are none of these suggestions new, Wallis gives us no clue as to how any of them are to be accomplished. What he seems to be advising his fellow Democrats is that they should accept what conservatives have been advocating and working toward for decades. Fat chance of that happening.

As for "family values," the Democrats can become the truly pro-family party by supporting parents in doing the most important and difficult job in America: raising children. They need to adopt serious pro-family policies, including some that defend children against Hollywood sleaze and Internet pornography. That's an issue that has come to be identified with the religious right. But when I say in public lectures that being a parent is now a counter-cultural activity, I've found that liberal and conservative parents agree.

In order to do what Wallis recommends Democrats would have to repudiate no-fault divorce, moral relativism, their sympathy for single parent households, and much of modern feminism. They would also have to endorse at least some form of censorship and consequently antagonize their deep-pocket friends in Hollywood and elsewhere in the entertainment industry. In other words, once again Wallis' advice to liberals is to become conservatives.

Rather than fighting over gay marriage, the Democrats must show that it is indeed possible to be "pro-family" and in favor of gay civil rights at the same time.

The two things he advises here are mutually exclusive. How do Democrats stop fighting for gay marriage and still demonstrate to the left that they support gay civil rights? Conservatives have been opposing gay marriage while supporting other civil rights for gays for a couple of decades now, and as far as the left is concerned they're all just a bunch of homophobes. To ask the Dems give up the fight for gay marriage is to ask them to cast off another one of the boards in the liberal tree-house.

Finally, on national security, Democrats should argue that the safety of the United States depends on the credibility of its international leadership. We can secure that credibility in Iraq only when we renounce any claim to oil or future military bases - something Democrats should advocate as the first step toward bringing other countries to our side.

This is just nonsense. We've had bases in Europe and Asia ever since WWII and so far from detracting from our leadership of the world, it has insured it. As for the need to renounce any claim to Iraqi oil, what claim is there to renounce? The U.S. has made no claim to the oil in Iraq, and for Wallis to insinuate that such a claim exists is bizarre.

While Republicans have argued that international institutions are too weak to be relied upon in the age of terrorism, Democrats should suggest reforming them, creating a real International Criminal Court with an enforcement body, for example, as well as an international force capable of intervening in places like Darfur.

Yet again Wallis is trying to revivify leftist ambitions that have long been moldering in the museum of bad ideas. What's novel about the proposal for a strong ICC? It's a terrible suggestion, but it's not new. What's new about the idea of an international quick reaction force? The U.S. has been trying for decades to cajole the United Nations into being something other than a slush fund for corrupt bureaucrats to wallow in, but to no avail. Unless the United States is prepared to use its military muscle no other western nation will. Even if we do employ our power most other nations are content to sit back and say let's you and him fight. The institutions Wallis is talking about don't need reformed, they need abolished.

Stronger American leadership in reducing global poverty would also go a long way toward improving the country's image around the world.

The question must be asked again: Exactly what does Wallis suggest we do that we haven't done? Hurl money at the problem like Live 8 urges us to do? To what end? Throwing money at poverty only lines the pockets of dictators and undermines the ability of indigenous farmers and tradesmen to make a living because they can't compete with the cheap goods that flood their markets from the donor countries. The U.S. has been the chief agent in trying to alleviate poverty around the world for fifty years and our image is what it is. Tossing more money overseas isn't going to change it. As long as we're successful and they're not their resentment will cause them to hate us. Giving people help only exacerbates the resentment because it makes them feel inferior to have to rely on us and underscores the disparity between our accomplishment and their failure.

Until Democrats are willing to be honest about the need for new social policy and compelling political vision, they will never get the message right. Find the vision first, and the language will follow.

Unfortunately, Wallis offers nothing in this essay in terms of either vision or solutions. To the extent that he proffers any substantive advice at all it's that Democrats either need to adopt the same old failed nostrums that leftists have been proposing for the last century and a half or transform themselves into conservative Republicans. The latter course seems much the wiser, but liberal readers of the Times surely aren't likely to follow it.

Sinking in the Mire

Just when you think the left can't sink any lower it surprises you:

The NEW YORK TIMES is looking into the adoption records of the children of Supreme Court Nominee John G. Roberts, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. The TIMES has investigative reporter Glen Justice hot on the case to investigate the status of adoption records of Judge Roberts' two young children, Josie age 5 and Jack age 4, a top source reveals.

Judge Roberts and his wife Jane adopted the children when they each were infants. Both children were adopted from Latin America. A TIMES insider claims the look into the adoption papers are part of the paper's "standard background check."

Roberts' young son Jack delighted millions of Americans during his father's Supreme Court nomination announcement ceremony when he wouldn't stop dancing while the President and his father spoke to a national television audience. Previously the WASHINGTON POST Style section had published a story criticizing the outfits Mrs. Roberts had them wear at the announcement ceremony.

One top Washington official with knowledge of the NEW YORK TIMES action declared: "Trying to pry into the lives of the Roberts' family like this is despicable. Children's lives should be off limits. The TIMES is putting politics over fundamental decency."

One top Republican official when told of the situation was incredulous. "This can't possibly be true?"

One would think it couldn't be true, one would think that no one would stoop this low, but then one reminds oneself that these are liberals we're talking about, and for these people standards of decency are all relative to the political demands of the moment.

The New York Times has embraced the ethics of the National Enquirer and has become the journalistic equivalent of dumpster divers.

The War in Western Iraq

Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail gives a little background to the fighting in western Iraq which led to the deaths of two dozen Marines in the last several days. He also discusses a meeting of disparate insurgent groups that took place recently in Lebanon to try to find some common ground. Apparently there was none to be found.

Details of that meeting can be found at Iraq the Model.