Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Well, the Justice Department has opened civil and criminal investigations into the events that led to the continuing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

I have a suggestion for the oil company if they wish to get Mr. Holder off their back: Just tell him that BP stands for Black Panthers and neither Mr. Holder nor his Justice Department will give them any more trouble.


Defender of the Faith (Pt. I)

Somehow Jim Wallis of Sojourner's has become the media's chief arbiter of what it means to be a Christian. Some time ago he wrote a book titled God's Politics in which it turned out that God was an uber Democrat, and ever since then whenever Christian conservatives start feeling a little feisty Wallis shows up on MSNBC or HuffPo to set us all straight as to why these benighted rubes don't really represent the true Gospel. Now he has a piece in the Huffington Post wherein he argues that the Tea Party movement, because it embraces a libertarian political philosophy, is unbiblical.

There are two major shortcomings to his argument: First, Wallis fails to give a fair picture of libertarianism. Second, the Tea-Party is comprised mostly of conservatives, not libertarians.

Wallis writes:

Since the Tea Party is getting such national attention, our God's Politics blog is going to begin a dialogue on this question: Just how Christian is the Tea Party Movement -- and the Libertarian political philosophy that lies behind it?

Libertarians are social and economic minimalists when it comes to government. They want the maximum individual freedom in both spheres that's consistent with an orderly society. They believe that government has certain limited constitutional roles and that our modern government has far exceeded those bounds. The difference between conservatives and libertarians is complex, but basically conservatives would assign a stronger role to government in regulating our social life (unlike libertarians, they would not oppose, and would even favor, government regulation of pornography, obscenity, drug use, and abortion on demand. Libertarians would be indifferent to gay marriage whereas conservatives generally oppose it.).

On economic matters the differences are generally matters of degree. Libertarians are laissez faire with regard to the marketplace whereas most conservatives think government does have some role to play in protecting the consumer and the environment from abuses and unscrupulous business practices.

Tea-partiers are, by and large, social and economic conservatives. Surely there are libertarians among them, but libertarianism is not the official philosophy of the movement. The people in the Tea Party are simply citizens who are fed up with a government that is spending recklessly and unsustainably and which aspires to total control of every aspect of our economic life. One need not be a libertarian to object to the irresponsible spending of the last two administrations.

Wallis pronounces Rand Paul's views on the Civil Rights Act, and the administration's criticisms of BP, to be unChristian, but he fails to do Rand the courtesy of elaborating on Rand's reasons for saying what he said. Then, having blurred the distinction between Tea Party conservatism and Rand Paul's libertarianism, he tries to discredit the former by impugning the latter.

Wallis writes:

The Libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the pre-eminent Christian virtue. Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good, a central Christian teaching and tradition. The Christian answer to the question "Are we our brother's keeper?" is decidedly "Yes." Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. Loving your neighbor is a better Christian response than telling your neighbor to leave you alone. Both compassion and social justice are fundamental Christian commitments, and while the Christian community is responsible for living out both, government is also held accountable to the requirements of justice and mercy.

This is what rhetoricians call a straw man argument. It consists in misrepresenting an opponent's argument, the more easily to discredit it.

First, Tea-Partiers are not philosophically opposed to government itself but rather to statist government, an all-encompassing, economically smothering state that seeks to transfer wealth from those who produce it to those who don't.

Second, conservatives do not wish to emphasize individual rights at the expense of the well-being of other people (Indeed, this is actually a trait of the Left which perpetually fights against obscenity and pornography restrictions on the basis of individual rights). What Tea-Partiers want is a government that will not trample individual rights, particularly property rights.

Wallis seems to think, absurdly, that because I don't want the government taking money out of my pocket to give to others whom it thinks deserve it more than I do that I'm being unChristian. In fact, the major objection among Tea-Partiers to government welfare does not arise from a lack of concern for the poor but rather from the obvious fact that government only exacerbates the problems of the poor, perpetuates their poverty, and wastes our money.

Thirdly, the commandment to love our neighbor is not one that Jesus enjoins upon government. It's given to us as individuals. I don't want Barack Obama or Jim Wallis telling me how best to love my neighbor or who, exactly, I should be helping. The government should provide a minimum safety net for the helpless, but beyond that it should let the people decide for themselves how and who they will assist.

Wallis goes on to defend his view that government should be deeply involved in social welfare by citing a number of Old Testament passages which really don't support his case:

Just look at the biblical prophets in their condemnation of injustice to the poor, and how they frequently follow those statements by requiring the king (the government) to act justly (these requirements applied both to the kings of Israel and to foreign potentates). Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well."(Jeremiah 22:16). Amos instructs the courts (the government) to "Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts" (Amos 5:15). The prophets hold kings, rulers, judges, and employers accountable to the demands of justice and mercy.

Of course any government should act justly, but that doesn't mean, necessarily, that the government should confiscate your property and give it to others, or, as candidate Obama put it, "spread the wealth around." What it means is that the laws of the state should protect the poor from being victimized, exploited and harmed by the rich and powerful. The meaning of these justice passages seems so obvious, and so incompatible with what Wallis wants them to say, that one wonders why he cites them.

We'll look at the rest of Wallis' essay tomorrow.


Why the Outrage Against Israel?

In the aftermath of Israel's completely understandable resort to deadly force in response to the beatings of their soldiers by Turkish Muslims Victor Davis Hanson wonders what explains the irrational reaction of so much of the world to what the Israelis did (For those who need to get caught up go here and here):

What explains this preexisting hatred, which ensures denunciation of Israel in the most rabid - or, to use the politically correct parlance, "disproportionate," terms? It is not about "occupied land," given the millions of square miles worldwide that are presently occupied, from Georgia to Cyprus to Tibet. It is not a divided capital - Nicosia is walled off. It is not an overreaction in the use of force per se - the Russians flattened Grozny and killed tens of thousands while the world snoozed. And it cannot be the scale of violence, given what we see hourly in Pakistan, Darfur, and the Congo. And, given the Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish histories (and reactions to them), the currently outraged Turkish government is surely not a credible referent on the topic of disproportionate violence.

Perhaps the outrage reflects simple realpolitik - 350 million Arab Muslims versus 7 million Israelis. Perhaps it is oil: half the world's reserves versus Israel's nada. Perhaps it is the fear of terror: draw a cartoon or write a novel offending Islam, and you must go into hiding; defame Jews and earn accolades. Perhaps it is anti-Semitism, which is as fashionable on the academic Left as it used to be among the neanderthal Right.

Perhaps there is also a new sense that the United States at last has fallen into line with the Western consensus, and so is hardly likely to play the old lone-wolf supporter of Israel in the press or at the U.N.

The world condemns the Israelis for defending themselves, as if it were a crime against humanity for Jews to preserve their own lives, but the world has been almost completely silent about the North Koreans sinking a South Korean vessel killing a dozen or so South Korean sailors. Nor has the world condemned the Palestinians for their incessant attempts to kill Israelis nor for their attempts to procure more rockets with which to blow up Israeli children. About these atrocities the world is silent.

For Muslims, and increasingly for the western Left, the very existence of Israel is a crime and nothing anyone who hates Israel says or does is beyond the pale. Israel blockades Gaza to keep weapons such as rockets out of the hands of vicious thugs and the world condemns them for it, even though they allow humanitarian goods to pass. The world doesn't condemn Hamas for using the weapons, mind you, they condemn Israel for trying to keep them from getting them. The Israelis seek to turn back ships, leased to a known terrorist organization, trying to run the blockade and the crew set upon the commandos with guns, iron bars, knives and other weapons. The Israelis reluctantly draw their sidearms to defend themselves, and the Left everywhere condemns whom? The crew? No, the Israelis.

To get an idea of the twisted thinking of those on the Left when it comes to Israel listen to Helen Thomas assuming that Israel "deliberately" massacred the jihadis on the ship:

It's beginning to smell like the 1930s all over again.