The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: January 2010

The State of His Audacity

Watching a video the other evening of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address (and later reading the transcript of it), I was struck by two things: the yawn-inducing banality of everything he said, because he has said it all before; and the blatantly collectivist nature of the speech, one barely disguised by its sugary “progressive” coating. Throughout his speech, it was “I am disappointed with the lack of progress by Congress in implementing a socialist agenda, and so we must stop bickering and get things done.”

Or, as Alex Epstein encapsulated the speech in “Obama vs. the First Amendment” on the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights site:

We need to rise above fear, hesitation, and partisan politics–to give the government all the power it needs to solve all our problems.

That is it, in a nutshell. What are “our problems”? Obama waved the usual shopping list of them that required government action and government spending, representing powers not granted to his office or to Congress in the Constitution, and wealth extorted from productive Americans and redirected to subsidize or finance statist ends.

It is only an ugly association with tyranny that his speechwriters did not attempt to paraphrase Adolf Hitler from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will:

“No one will live in America without working for our country. There is no other work.”


“The Democratic Party proclaimed [or was moved by] only two principles: first, it is a Party with a world view; and second, it wanted sole power in America, without compromise.”

The “world view” is that Americans should abandon their individual rights and liberty and defer to their masters in Washington. And the Democratic Party has demonstrated that it wants sole power in America. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has shown that it is willing to compromise its nonexistent principles.

The petulance in Obama’s manner was marked by a quantum of annoyance with an undefined object, a querulous defensiveness in which he blamed failure on everything but his own and his predecessors’ actual policies — which did not differ fundamentally from his own — and the subdued menace of a gang leader warning that his minions had better shape up — or else. One half expected him to pound a fist on the podium. Missing from his delivery was an hysterical stridency.

Nowhere in his speech was his manner more apparent than in his attack on the Supreme Court for upholding the First Amendment rights of corporations to advocate or oppose candidates or political ideas.

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said.

It is tempting to dwell on the hypocrisy of his words vis-à-vis Obama’s own connections to “special interests,” such as George Soros, numerous other wealthy individuals who contributed to his campaign in 2008, and foreign parties who also contributed to his campaign, all totaling some $800 million. (Thus outspending Republican rival John McCain, who accepted matching federal funds and spent about $10 million; but the subject of the propriety of forcing taxpayers to pay for the election campaigns of candidates for federal office is a separate issue). That is aside from the issue of corporations and individuals who stand to benefit from stimulus money and “green” and “clean energy” contracts. The floodgates of inflation, trillion dollar deficits, and spendthrift government spending — all sanctioned by the administration and Congress — promise to drown Americans for generations to come.

“Special interests”? “Lobbyists”? Obama pointed out in his speech instances of businesses that have benefited from the Recovery Act. Who decides which applicants for stimulus money will get it? Who qualifies for it, and why? Where there are bureaucrats with money to hand out, and beggars pleading their “need” for it, the scenarios do not bear close scrutiny. All one will find are ACORN-like scandals and corruption.

It is the middle class that will suffer most under Obama’s economic policies, as well as under any health care bill. Someone apparently informed him of this, that it was middle class Americans who formed the bulk of the Tea Parties and defiant town hall meetings last year and made known their strenuous opposition to his socialist policies. His solution is to attempt to bribe them with fictive tax cuts that are surpassed by tax increases and private revenue consuming and destroying regulations, and the granting of pointless tax credits for education and jobs. He urged Congress to pass a health care bill regardless of Americans’ opposition to it. He will have his way — or else.

Just as he will have his way over the Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment.

“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

Democratic lawmakers and Obama Cabinet members, surrounding the six of nine justices who turned out for the event, stood and applauded. The justices, in the front and second rows of the House chamber, sat motionless and expressionless. Except for Alito. “Not true, not true,” he appeared to say (other lip readers think he said, “That’s not true”) as he shook his head and furrowed his brow. It is unclear what part of Obama’s statement he was objecting to, although he started shaking his head after the president said “special interests.”

Not true? Justice Alito’s words could be interpreted one of two ways: That Obama was wrong about the ruling, that it would unleash a horde of cash-rich ogres to sway voters and elections, and that the president was misinterpreting the thrust of the ruling, and that its conclusion was based on the founding principle of the separation of the economy from state. But the incredulous expression on the justice’s face, together with the shaking of his head, I am certain he was accusing Obama of lying. One wishes that Alito had risen in protest and left the chamber. It would have been a proper punctuation mark to the growl of naked thuggery.

And, he lied in Baltimore during a “debate” between him and Republicans during a televised House conference. Replying to Indiana Representative Mike Pence’s criticisms of the performance of Obama’s economic agenda and Obama’s and Congress‘s dismissal of a Republican plan for tax relief, Obama replied,

I am not an ideologue. I’m not. It doesn’t make sense if somebody could tell me, “You could do this cheaper and get increased results,” that I wouldn’t say, “Great.” The problem is, I couldn’t find credible economists who would back up the claims that you just made.

Meaning: He did not search for any economists of a non-Marxist ideology who would substantiate Pence’s claims — not that Pence’s claims had any shred of validity to them, either. Tax relief? Why not propose the abolition of those taxes? It isn’t relief from those taxes that Americans need, but freedom from them.

Obama said Republican lawmakers have attacked his health care overhaul so fiercely, “you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.” His proposals are mainstream, widely supported ideas, he said, and they deserve some GOP votes in Congress. “I am not an ideologue,” the president declared.

Yes, he is an unrepentant, dedicated ideologue of the Marxist kind. No amount of televised “give-and-take” joshing with his enemies is ever going to disguise that he is committed to “remaking” America according to Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The rudderless Republicans fall for it every time.

It is symbolically significant, while he thanked the Republicans for inviting him to the “debate,” that he paraphrased a line from the movie, The Godfather: Part II:*

I very much am appreciative of not only the tone of your introduction, John, but also the invitation that you extended to me. You know what they say, ”Keep your friends close, but visit the Republican Caucus every few months.” (Laughter.)

It is no laughing matter. This is the “gangster-government” way. However, it is factually significant that he also made this observation, one of his few honest, truthful ones:

I know many of you individually. And the irony, I think, of our political climate right now is that, compared to other countries, the differences between the two major parties on most issues is not as big as it’s represented.

Beneath the excelsior of badinage with his alleged enemies, one finds a kernel of truth. That is something Americans can believe in.

*Attributed to Sun-Tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Petrarch, but made famous in Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster movie.

Three Horsemen of the Recent Apocalypse

Democrats, welfare statists, ambitious censors, and People for the Un-American Way were dealt a triple whammy of telling defeats in a matter of two days. Air America, the liberal, anemic, and unlistened-to talk radio station that was intended to compete with Rush Limbaugh and other forthright and outspoken conservative talk show hosts, filed for bankruptcy (for the second time; the first in 2006). It was not a total loss. Al Franken, failed comedian and its most notable host, won a Senate seat in the U.S. Congress.

Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown made electoral history by winning the Senate seat held by career welfare statist Ted Kennedy for over four decades in a contest that reflected, on the part of voters, at least, not so much a desire to spurn Kennedy as it was a rejection of Obamacare.

Instead of the usual patronizing and venal blandishments by the late and unlamented Prince of Chappaquiddick, another Kennedy (Anthony) wrote the majority opinion in defense of the freedoms Teddy devoted his life to destroying. The Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, practically nullified the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), citing the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech, reversing itself from having upheld it years ago.

No one mourned or much noticed the passing of Air America, but jubilation over the Brown upset and Supreme Court ruling lit up conservative and Tea Party blogs, while the Mainstream Media and its shills for the welfare state and “progressive” agenda stuttered surprise and dismay, and immediately began rummaging through a slag heap of excuses, regrets and explanations. It was almost as though they were trying to explain why water ran downhill, when they had convinced themselves it ran uphill; their behavior demonstrates their unfamiliarity with reality. Their conclusion was that the Brown victory was simply a matter of voter “frustration,” which must be the political understatement of the month. One could just as easily call the men who fought the British at Concord and Bunker Hill “frustrated.”

Congress, however, in terms of it being a “democratic“ institution, does not believe in the “will of the people” it purportedly represents. That should be obvious given its express train action to pass the health care bill against mounting popular opposition to it, an express train at the moment stalled on the track by doubt, desertion, disaffection, internal squabbling over pork, and a dawning fear of the electorate. The only “will” Congress has believed in is its members’ own “wills.” President Barack Obama, Senator Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seek a “triumph of their wills.”

The reference to Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary on the Nazi Party Congress is not gratuitous. Make of it what you wish, but the fundamental roots of that time and ours, in terms of the growth of government power and its transparent totalitarian character, are the same. The people will be led, willingly, or with whips, to a socialist Nirvana. Only the language, manners, and dress codes have changed.

Scott Brown’s victory is welcome merely as a delaying action — provided he keeps his promise to oppose the health care legislation in the Senate — but any optimism about his victory and intentions should be tempered by a healthy dose of caution. As Scott Holleran notes in his blog column, “From Brooke to Brown”:

Brown, supported by independents, unhappy Democrats, and Tea Party activists, ran on one central idea and campaign promise: to kill Obama’s “health care reform”. The crowd during his victory speech roared with the cry: “Forty-one! Forty-one! Forty-one!” It means he had better deliver on his promise and lead the charge to stop socialized medicine. But there he stood with former Massachusetts Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a moralizing Mormon who forced his conservative Heritage Foundation plan, a carbon copy of Obama’s plan, on the state (Brown supported RomneyCare). Brown also supports Obama’s plan to send more troops to be sacrificed in Afghanistan, seeks a ban on late term abortions, and is thoroughly mixed on favoring individual rights and capitalism. During his victory speech, he did not once mention fighting for man’s rights, free market capitalism, or liberty, and his opposition to ObamaCare is entirely based on practical objections, i.e., that it costs too much, not that it is a violation of rights. Senator-elect Brown also joked at his daughters’ expense and showed that he has the capacity to be terribly unserious.

He should be dead serious about his intentions to vote against ObamaCare. If he doesn’t, he will reap the same wrath which the Democrats are likely to experience in November. As Paul Hseih notes in his Pajamas Media editorial, “Brown’s Victory: The Declaration of Independents,“ it was the force of independent voters who tipped the scales in his favor:

Independents are also the driving force behind the tea party rallies. Many tea party supporters have been quite explicit in warning that their opposition to the policies of our current Democratic president and Congress should not be mistaken as automatic support for the Republicans….So what do the independents want? In a word, limited government.

From the tea party protests to the polling booths, independents have been declaring that they want a limited government that protects individual rights.

The Republicans have won an important victory in Massachusetts — one that will reverberate throughout the country as the 2010 election cycle heats up. But they shouldn’t get overconfident.

If Republicans choose to run on a platform of limited government, economic freedom, and individual rights, then they will retain the support of the independents and win. But if they take these recent election victories as a mandate to promote a divisive “social issues” agenda, then they’ll once again drive away the independents and lose.

The independents have spoken — and they want the Democrats out of their pockets and the Republicans out of their bedrooms.

As for the Supreme Court ruling, it no sooner was broadcast than the White House and members of Congress revealed their “wills.” Constitutional “scholar” Obama blasted the ruling, calling it a defeat for “average Americans” and a victory for “special interests,” not really grasping the point that it is in the “special interests” of all Americans, individually or through organizations that happen to be corporations, to be able to express their advocacy of or opposition to ideas or political issues in any form or at any time they choose, without penalty or the threat of arbitrary government injunctions, such as that exercised by the Federal Election Commission.

“We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” Obama said Saturday, devoting his weekly radio and Internet address to the topic. “And we don’t intend to.” The White House is working chiefly with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, on a bill pushing back on the court decision. The goal is to put forward legislation within two weeks, Van Hollen said Saturday, but the choices are limited by the nature of the court’s First Amendment ruling.

George Soros isn’t a “powerful interest” that does its best to “drown out” the voices of Americans? Are not his lobby and affiliated leftist organizations, including labor unions, guilty of attempting to gag opposition to health care? Did not Obama-connected ACORN and SEIU thugs and hirelings attempt to ride roughshod over Tea Partiers and town-hall meetings?

You want to ask the President: What part of “freedom of speech” do you not understand?

The New York Daily News, citing a portion of the ruling, could help him.

“No sufficient government interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. His decision – joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – shredded previous court rulings barring big business and big labor from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.

Of course, gaffes galore were let loose by various sages of Congress, including one by Maryland representative Chris Van Hollen, who more or less declared the ruling “unconstitutional.”

“This is a very, very sad day for American democracy and this is a very radical, radical decision that came out of the Supreme Court of the United States – a court that said they respected precedent…This throws out decades of precedent designed to protect the citizens and the integrity of our political process against big money special interests. It will open the floodgate, if left unchecked and unchallenged, to more and more special interest money, big corporation money, at a time, as my colleague Senator Schumer said, we need to be reducing the amount of influence of special interest money.”

Although it took Justice Kennedy and his colleagues to pen a 75-page opinion, together with supporting concurrences with other justices, the conclusion they reached was clear. Some excerpts from the majority opinion should be enlightening:

If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech. If the anti-distortion rationale were to be accepted, however, it would permit Government to ban political speech simply because the speaker is an association that has taken on the corporate form.

Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions. It is a ban notwithstanding the fact that a PAC [political action committee] created by a corporation can still speak, for a PAC is a separate association from the corporation. Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.

When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.

The dissenting opinion against the “wholesale” refutation of the restrictions on speech as exercised by corporations, attempted to read the minds of the Founders, whom Justice Stevens claimed were largely against corporations and the power they could wield. He claimed they were “implicitly” singled out by the Founders for exclusion, and so could not claim freedom of speech rights. The majority opinion addressed the premises of the dissenting minority, and handily vaporized them.

Most of the Founders’ resentment towards corporations was directed at the state-granted monopoly privileges that individually charted corporations enjoyed [e.g., the East India Company, which attempted to dump cheap tea on Americans]. Modern corporations do not have such privileges, and would probably have been favored by most of our enterprising Founders — excluding, perhaps, Thomas Jefferson and others favoring perpetuation of an agrarian society

The freedom of “the press” was widely understood to protect the publishing activities of individual editors and printers… But these individuals often acted through newspapers, which (much like corporations) had their own names, outlived the individuals who had founded them, could be bought and sold, were sometimes owned by more than one person, and were operated for profit…Their activities were not stripped of First Amendment protection simply because they were carried out under the banner of an artificial legal entity. And the notion which follows from the dissent’s view, that modern newspapers, since they are incorporated, have free-speech rights only at the sufferance of Congress, boggles the mind.

The journey to first principles, at least for the Court, has been long and arduous. But this, at least, is a start.

The fourth horseman of the Democratic Apocalypse, which would be the Court’s absolute and unqualified upholding of individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, remains to enter the heartening picture that Americans saw last week. When it does, we will perhaps see the resurrection of a constitutionally established republic.

Mencken, Islam, and Political Correctness

Two months after the John Scopes “monkey” trial of July 1925, H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Evening Sun, took to task two prominent publications, the New York World and the New Republic, for castigating Clarence Darrow, chief defense counsel of Scopes, over his conduct during the trial. The World was infuriated by Darrow’s brutal cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan, the state’s star counsel against Scopes, an experience which humiliated Bryan and is thought to have contributed to his death later that same month. The New Republic objected to Darrow having made the issue of evolution vs. the Bible a national, rather than merely a local one, even though the trial was broadcast on radio.

What drew Mencken’s ire was the World’s position that one’s religious beliefs, should be respected and not subjected to criticism or satire.

Once more…I find myself unable to follow the best Liberal thought. What the World’s contention amounts to, at bottom, is simply the doctrine that a man engaged in combat with superstition should be very polite to superstition. This, I fear, is nonsense. The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame….True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force….*

Mencken, an agnostic — “Myself completely neutral in theology, and long ago resigned to damnation” — practiced what he preached. No religion was safe from his biting wit and unbridled contempt. He was an uncompromising enemy of blind belief in assertions, especially religious ones, that contradicted evidence and reason. When they showed their heads, he picked them off with all the skill of Alvin York picking off German soldiers during World War I. Mencken was an intellectual marksman.

Two things about the Scopes trial are noteworthy. First, Mencken wrote that Scopes should have been charged with teaching evolution in defiance of Tennessee’s ban. He argued that since Scopes (actually a high school gym teacher filling in for another teacher) was an employee of the public school, he should have obeyed the ban and the school‘s directives. The second thing is that the trial was intended to be a deliberate test of the state’s constitutional authority to impose such a ban, orchestrated by a businessman, George W. Rappleyea, as a means of boosting the fortunes of Dayton, where Scopes lived and taught. Scopes agreed with Rappleyea to discuss evolution in his classroom and to persuade students to report him to the authorities, and even volunteer as witnesses against him.

The state, Bryan, and other religionists took the bait.

Darrow, at the trial (working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union), changed his strategy from one of defending Scopes’ and any other teacher’s right to teach evolution as a form of freedom of speech — the irony was that evolution was explained in the state-mandated textbook used by Scopes — to one of casting doubt on the veracity of the Bible. Bryan, a Presbyterian Fundamentalist, insisted that the Bible should be accepted as the literal truth, recorded verbatim by its saintly scribes as the word of God himself, regardless of evidence and reason.

Mencken covered the trial for the Evening Sun. Although Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution (and was fined $100, which penalty was overturned by the state’s supreme court), Mencken applauded the airing of the conflict between science and religion. If any men deserved respect, he wrote, it should be the men of science who had expanded man’s knowledge of the universe and contributed to everyone’s well-being, and not the beliefs of those who reject the evidence of their senses in favor of the unprovable. He reserved a poignant disgust with men of science who upheld any brand of religion, and wasted no politeness on them.

What is there in religion that completely flabbergasts the wits of those who believe in it? I see no logical necessary for that flabbergasting. Religion, after all, is nothing but an hypothesis framed to account for what is evidentially unaccounted for. In other fields, such hypotheses are common, and yet they do no apparent damage to those who incline to them. But in the religious field they quickly rush the believer to the intellectual Bad Lands. He not only becomes anaesthetic to objective fact; he becomes a violent enemy of objective fact. It annoys and irritates him. He sweeps it away as something somehow evil.**

Mencken might have been less confounded by the appeal of religion, especially among prominent men of the mind, had he examined more closely the role of religion as a morality and not exclusively as a transparent hash of absurdities, whether in the Bible or in practice. To my knowledge, he never took that approach. So he remained an intellectual marksman, never becoming a general able to direct the battle against superstition, mysticism, and other brands of anti-intellectualism. He never solved the paradox of the power of belief to anaesthetize that part of the minds of otherwise rational men, the part which requires a morality by which to conduct one’s life, and render it reason-proof against all logic and evidence. (That task remained to be achieved by one of his admirers, Ayn Rand.)

That being said, Mencken would have found the whole phenomenon of modern political correctness intolerable, inexhaustibly amusing, perhaps even perilous. He was vehemently opposed to any suggestion that he be told what to think and what to write. Doubtless he would have excoriated those who claim that Islam should be respected and that Muslims be exempted from criticism or mockery of their creed, and lambasted the politically-correct as well as Islam and its practitioners. As he was able to, in his own time, cite chapter and verse of the Bible, he would have mastered the Koran and Hadith in order to expound on their irrational and heinous character.

As propinquity would have it, Muslims just the other day offered an example of what he would have burned holes his typewriter ribbon exposing as unnecessarily sacrosanct, “sacerdotal,” and a candidate for ribald and deserved offensiveness. The National Association of Muslim Police in Britain (NAMP) has lodged a complaint against the government for “stigmatizing” Islam and Muslims in its anti-terrorist program, one which, on one hand, “reaches out” to Muslim communities, but on the other uses it to ferret out real and potential terrorists. The London Daily Telegraph reported:

There have been growing concerns about the radicalization of Muslims in Britain. The failed Detroit bombing on Christmas Day was carried out by an al-Quaeda-inspired extremist who had studied in London.

Mencken might have asked: How can one “radicalize” a Muslim when he is already “radicalized” by his creed? The creed requires a follower to swallow the Koran and Hadith whole, or not at all, in which case he would become an apostate and subjected to some nasty thuggery, a la the Ku Klux Klan (Mencken was particularly hostile to the Klan and its religious mantra). There is no pick and choose, or mix and match, no half-doses of belief in Islam, as there is Christendom, as the numerous varieties of faiths and sects in it attest.

And, what is an extremist but a Fundamentalist of the Bryan kind? It is a believer who is consistent and carries out the tenets of his faith, just as hundreds of his ilk swarmed to Dayton in hopes of seeing Scopes roasted on the spit of righteousness and served up to God with the apple of Eve stuffed in his mouth. What could be a moderate Muslim, but someone who imbibes but a quarter measure of Islam, then, like a once-a-week Christian, gets on with the practical matters of living, leaving moral approval of his conduct to mullahs, priests, imams bishops, and other prestiditators?

The Daily Telegraph quoted from NAMP’s “memorandum”:

“The strategies of Prevent [the program’s name] were historically focused on so-called Islamist extremism. This has subjected the biggest black and ethnic minority community, and second biggest faith group, in an unprecedented manner, stigmatizing them in the process. Never before has a community been mapped in [such] a manner…It is frustrating to see this in a country that is a real pillar and example of freedom of expression and choice.”

Mencken would point out that, first, this is a hilarious instance of political ventriloquism. Having a knowledge of British-Muslim tensions, he would ask how these policemen could adhere to their creed’s diktats, proscriptions, and belligerencies against non-believers, and at the same time uphold “freedom of expression and choice.” He would connect that with how non-Muslim Britons can be charged with “hate speech” if they so much as insinuate in print any criticism of Islam, Muslim behavior and mores, and the dervish-like pirouettes of Sharia law.

How, he would ask, can they reconcile freedom of expression — which no one seems to dare take advantage of — with the campaign by various Muslim groups to smother it and leave non-believers with no choice but to comply and say nothing lest a howl of indignation be heard from the “persecuted“ minority? He would recall seeing signs, on the occasion of the Mohammad cartoon demonstrations, that read, “To hell with freedom of speech” and other placards which brandished similarly offensive and hateful imprecations that damned what the NAMP complaint cited as commendable “British values.” How is it that this band of Muslim brothers is so sensitive to the “insensitive” remarks of non-believers, yet is insensitive to the extinction of those “British values”?

He would then point out that the NAMP objection includes the implication that to “stigmatize” Islam and Muslims is to also to single out Muslims by race. This is a low tactic calculated to guarantee silence, and to leave the authorities sputtering denials and preemptive apologies.

Finally, Mencken would point out the glaringly obvious oversight — if oversight it was — that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks over the last twenty or so years were carried out by, well, Muslims, and that these manqués were obeying the nihilistic imperatives of the Koran, urged on with the advice and blessings of their parish sheiks and imams, and enabled by training and funds provided by sinister Middle Eastern regimes and organizations of a distinctly Islamic character. How is it, he would ask, that so many mosques, where the dullard faithful perform their degrading obeisances in the direction of a rock, also serve as dens of iniquity and crèches of crime? What means this “stigmatizing” recrudescence?

Mencken might have included a disquisition on the purported purity of Islam: “Islam is a creed not so pure as is alleged, certainly not as comparatively pure as the Christian and Hebrew varieties. It is a hodgepodge of the doctrines and practices of the Christian and Jew, as well as those of pre-Meccan pagan faiths of which little is known. Its essential content and color were borrowed liberally but surreptitiously from virtually every permanent and ephemeral species of animism in the region of its origin, and knocked together into the Koran and Hadith by Mohammad and his successors by sword and studied verisimilitude — somewhat in the way the Bible came down to us after centuries of casuist strife and Pecksniffian quibbling.”

Let Mencken, however, end this commentary in his own words, which could have been written about politically-correct speech and the attempted diminution of freedom of speech today by secular leftists, religious rightists, and Islamists. His subject was the desire of Christian Fundamentalists of his day to suppress all criticism of religion.

The common doctrine that religious ideas have a sacrosanct character and are not to be discussed freely and realistically, even when they take the form of schemes to oppress and intimidate those who reject them — in this doctrine I can see nothing save a hollow bombast. Whenever it is entertained human progress is immensely retarded. Nor is there any appreciable gain for religion itself. It becomes the common enemy of all enlightened men, and soon or late, watching their chance, they rise against it and try to destroy it utterly. History is full of examples — and there is not a single compensatory example, at least in civilization, of a theocracy that has endured….To swathe religion in immunities, either by law or by custom, is simply to prepare the way for its corruption and destruction.***

*H.L. Mencken, “Aftermath,” in H.L. Mencken on Religion (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002), pp. 215-216.
** Ibid., “Fides ante Intellectum,” pp. 230-231.
*** Ibid., “On Religion and Politics,” p. 251.

Hollywood vs. America

“When’s the movie coming out?”

I have been asked that question repeatedly over the course of seven years of book-signings for Sparrowhawk at Colonial Williamsburg’s Booksellers by eager patrons who have read the series and wish to see it on the big screen.

“Not any time soon,” I usually answer. “If it is ever produced, it won’t be by Hollywood. And if Hollywood in some episode of hubris thought it could tackle it, it would attempt to maul and dismember it, just out of sheer, doctrinaire meanness, coupled with incompetence. I would likely disown the result. After all, Hollywood hates America.”

I borrow the title of film critic Michael Medved‘s book-long critique of Hollywood (Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). Neither he nor his book is the subject here, but rather the culture that cannot produce Sparrowhawk or any other nominally pro-American, pro-freedom film — including the “traditional” ones which Medved has championed in his book and in various conservative and religious columns (promoting family, God, and other, non-intellectual, non-fundamental values — “Leave It to Beaver“ style, with Ward Cleaver taking questions from the audience).

I don’t think a list of films is necessary that proved Hollywood’s anti-Americanism. I could go as far back as some of Frank Capra’s films (which were not so much anti-American as pro-collectivist), and, working forward, see the list of movies grow exponentially (with a short hiccup in the 1950’s and early 1960‘s), ending with stuff like “Avatar” or “Little Big Man” or “Jarhead.”

The worst film critics happen to be conservative ones. They call for a moral cinema and constantly pine for one that does not now exist. Leftist critics have a near monopoly in the press and mainstream media, but their influence and popularity poll are hard to measure. But, as the Republicans in politics are bankrupt of ideas and cannot (or will not) offer a credible antidote to the leftist ideology of the current administration that does not include God, conservative critics like Medved cannot offer a credible antidote to the leftist mantra that America is an evil country, and an evil empire, and evil in its material comfort and achievements.

Leftists are beholden to the great ghost society; rightists are beholden to a ghost of indeterminate gender and appearance in the ether (or perhaps He’s a resident of the constellation Orion, no theologian in history has been able to pinpoint his whereabouts on the map). The leftists have been able to put over their ghost because society is ostensibly tangible: it’s you, and me, and our neighbors all over the country. The rightists can only cite belief that the creator of individual rights and freedom exists — somewhere, as an entity of semi-infinite dimensions, armed with the contradictory powers of omniscience and omnipotence — and that everything good emanates from Him, including that incidental, unimportant thing called capitalism.

In terms of metaphysics and epistemology, the leftists have a leg up on the rightists. They can “prove” their ghost exists, and why everyone should defer to it today, in personal relationships on up to coercive legislation, while all the rightists can trot out is a tooth fairy on steroids who mandates selflessness and self-sacrifice in the name of life after death.

David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, has written about “Avatar” and the Haitian earthquake. Brooks is a specter himself, materializing here as a progressive, there as a disgruntled conservative. His advice on why the Haitian earthquake was so destructive is nearly spot-on. Haiti has been the recipient of billions in especially U.S. aid to reduce its poverty, yet its infrastructure collapsed and vanished like sand castles at the onset of high tide. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Why?

The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.

Here he implies, but does not identify, that it is freedom that allows countries that have not received aid (extorted from productive men in freer countries) to increase the wealth and standard of living of their citizens. China, even though it is a repressive dictatorship, allows its citizens a modicum of freedom in order to produce wealth (to better tax and expropriate). Countries that receive aid become addicted to it and never develop the morality or political institutions that promote wealth-creation. They remain on welfare, and are not encouraged to break free of it by the “humanitarian” programs of the West, which has a vested interest in being altruistic, altruism being the only virtue it boasts (and which is destructively addictive in its own right). Altruism, after all, is the enemy of selfishness and self-interest. Why would a tax-paid alms-giver want to see a country like Haiti become free of his generosity?

Brooks shows the other side of his spectral being when discussing James Cameron’s “Avatar.” (Avatar: incarnation of Hindu deity, an incarnation of a Hindu deity in human or animal form, especially one of the incarnations of Vishnu such as Rama and Krishna.) In “The Messiah Complex,“ he rightly points out that the film is a 3-D rehash of cinematic shibboleths from the last few decades of Hollywood America-bashing: colonialism is bad, the white race is bad, capitalism is bad, and so they’re doomed to be defeated by the primitive natives. He mocks the film better than I could.

This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

Avid moviegoers will remember “A Man Called Horse,” which began to establish the pattern, and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” More people will have seen “Dances With Wolves” or “The Last Samurai.”

Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”

John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard, whom Brooks cites, is even more severe:

What they didn’t tell us is that Avatar is blitheringly stupid; indeed, it’s among the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen. Avatar is an undigested mass of clichés nearly three hours in length taken directly from the revisionist westerns of the 1960s-the ones in which the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys. Only here the West is a planet called Pandora, the time is the 22nd century rather than the 19th, and the Indians have blue skin and tails, and are 10 feet tall.

They’re hunters and they kill animals, but after they do so, they cry and say it’s sad. Which only demonstrates their superiority. Plus they have (I’m not kidding) fiber-optic cables coming out of their patooties that allow them to plug into animals and control them. Now, that just seems wrong-I mean, why should they get to control the pterodactyls? Why don’t the pterodactyls control them? This kind of biped-centrism is just another form of imperialist racism, in my opinion.

(I especially appreciated Podhoretz’s remark about the natives apologizing to the animals they kill. That politically-correct and probably fictive Indian practice was in the opening scene of the last remake of “Last of the Mohicans” (1992), another turned-inside-out mess which partly moved me to begin work on Sparrowhawk.)

Podhoretz writes, observing the anti-Americanism in the movie:

You’re going to hear a lot over the next couple of weeks about the movie’s politics-about how it’s a Green epic about despoiling the environment, and an attack on the war in Iraq, and so on. The conclusion does ask the audience to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the hands of an insurgency. So it is a deep expression of anti-Americanism-kind of.

But while Brooks and Podhoretz justly explode the story and dwell on the suffocating political correctness and second-handedness of “Avatar,” they don’t defend or advocate anything. Neither of them contends that our civilization is not rotten, that it ought to be defended and preserved, and that it is superior to Pandora’s and even Haiti’s. Neither counters the charge that big corporations are inherently evil, and that its employees are necessarily avaricious monsters capable only of destruction.

Most conservatives are too cowed by their own apologetic philosophy to advocate the superiority of Western culture over Islamic or any other pre-industrial or anti-reason culture. They would be reluctant to take Voodooism to task, for fear of offending a cultural “tradition.” When was the last time Britons heard that British culture was superior to that of the Muslims who want to establish Britain as a suburb of Riyadh? And where, except on Internet blogs, do Americans read that their civilization is superior to the Indians’? It is such ’sensitivity” to Muslim culture that freed Major Nidal Hasan to open up on American soldiers at Fort Hood, in the same way that “sensitivity” to Pandoran culture freed neo-Na’vi Jake Sully to open up on his fellow humans in “Avatar.”

It is this crucial omission (or evasion) by conservatives which allows them to agree with their rivals for political power, the leftists. As the leftists cannot bring themselves to champion individual rights, private property, and selfishness, neither can the rightists. They meet on a middle ground, as they have done for decades in Congress, and agree to an alleged compromise that simply paves the way for the more consistent of them to go whole-hog. As the Obama administration has done.

The Republicans are as anti-American as are the Democrats. As Hollywood. The film that defines America is neither “Wall Street” nor “The Ten Commandments,” but, to date, “The Fountainhead.”

Hearts of Darkness

The moral sewers that are the minds of the likes of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senate majority leader, were revealed this week with the report that Reid has apologized to President Barack Obama (and to other black civil rights leaders) for having said privately in 2008 that Obama was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid’s remark was made public in a new book, Game Change, by political reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The book chronicles the sludge and sleaze behind the Democratic contest for presidential nomination and the race against John McCain and Sarah Palin. The publisher’s website describes what can only be characterized as a chronicle of dirt:

Game Change answers those questions and more, laying bare the secret history of the 2008 campaign. Heilemann and Halperin take us inside the Obama machine, where staffers referred to the candidate as “Black Jesus.” They unearth the quiet conspiracy in the U.S. Senate to prod Obama into the race, driven in part by the fears of senior Democrats that Bill Clinton’s personal life might cripple Hillary’s presidential prospects….And they reveal how, in an emotional late-night phone call, Obama succeeded in wooing Clinton, despite her staunch resistance, to become his secretary of state.

Reid has apologized for the remark but sounded more like he was campaigning for reelection.

In a statement, Reid confirmed his remarks and apologized for them. “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments,” he said today, “I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda. Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African American community.”

He was forgiven by Obama. Well, of course. Reid, together with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has the principal task of getting the socialist health-care bill passed by Congress.

President Barack Obama released a statement this afternoon stating that Reid called him to apologize “for an unfortunate comment.” The president said he accepted the apology. “I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.”

Why would he castigate Reid over a mere slip of tongue and unguarded moment, when more important things are at stake than Obama’s own self-respect, such as vanquishing America? But, the book is not closed. Game Change goes on sale in a few days, and the guided tour by Heilemann and Halperin of the cesspools of Beltway politics should make the authors millionaires.

This is all very revealing about Harry Reid. It should not be surprising that a man who “advances Obama’s legislative agenda” of nationalizing the economy and abridging American freedoms would also harbor the same knee-jerk racist premises as Vice-President Joe Biden and former Senate majority leader Trent Lott. All the minds party to this legislation are vessels of malignity. In public, these creatures appear well-groomed in pressed suits and are on good conduct. Behind the scenes, they are, as Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota suggested, manipulative, foul-mouthed gangsters.

If the Republicans wished to “bring down” Harry Reid as a means of defeating the health-care legislation, they ought to be challenging his political career, premises, and political agenda. They ought to be screaming their heads off about the Marx/Alinsky/Ayers number Reid and his ilk in Congress and the White House are about to pull on the country.

Instead, they are calling for his resignation over a comparatively unimportant racial remark. If Reid is guilty of anything, which is his greater offense? Saying something uncouth, or advocating and working hard to bring about the destruction of American liberty?

The Republican ruse to defeat the health-care legislation is intellectually vacuous. The Republican strategy is as ludicrous and futile as if the Romans accused the Huns of being bad dressers, and so they should just go away, instead of pillaging Rome. Harry Reid may be, in the core substance of his existence, a rotten, hypocritical creature. But in the hearts of Republican leadership, there is only the hollow darkness of moral bankruptcy.

States’ Rights: Dumb Show and Noise

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out , out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

The Republican Party has reached deep into its armory of political arguments and come up with its best shot against federally-mandated health care “reform.” Citing the Tenth Amendment, they are beginning to claim that Congress is overstepping its Constitutional authority to require individuals to purchase health insurance, thus usurping states’ “rights” to do the same thing. The power is not enumerated; ergo, it is unconstitutional.

In the meantime, over two dozen states, also citing the Tenth Amendment, have drafted proposals, resolutions or amendments to their state constitutions that would nullify in situ any federal health care legislation that may pass, because the power of Congress to enact such legislation is not enumerated. This movement smacks of secessionism.

In the meantime, Congress has simply ignored the tea parties and the polls that have made it resoundingly clear that the majority of Americans oppose any form of mandatory government administered and regulated health care. Aside from some specious rationalizations of Congressional power to enact the health care legislation, the original enumerated powers have garnered nothing but the Democrats’ disparaging raspberries.

Congress, the White House, and the Democrats may regard all this as just paper tigers meowing from behind the iron bars of already existing federal power. Just as Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was bribed into becoming the sixtieth vote for cloture on the Senate version of the health care bill (he was assured that federal funds would not be used to pay for abortions and that the bill — or someone or some federal department — would provide extra Medicaid matching funds and grants for Nebraska), Congress could just as well threaten to cut off federal funds to recalcitrant states, and nearly all states depend on federal “subsidy” money or allocations to maintain their economies. It could threaten to withdraw programs in which states are financially and/or politically ensnared, such as highway maintenance, or federal grants to universities, or a multitude of social programs. Or, the White House, in typical Chicago gangster style persuasion, can threaten to close military bases.

The White House, Senator Harry Reid and his allies in the Senate suggested to Nelson that Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base would be put on the Base Realignment and Closure list as “redundant” if Nelson did not help them reach the sixty votes needed.

But, what is the Tenth Amendment, the last of the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791? It reads:

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.

Intimately linked to the Tenth Amendment is the “Necessary and Proper” clause of Article One (section 8, clause 18), which grants Congress the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution….” But, the purpose of the Tenth, as well as the First through the Ninth Amendments, was to constrain Congress from making “all laws” that would violate the letter and spirit of the Amendments.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, together with Kenneth Blackwell of the Liberty University School of Law and Kenneth Klukowski of the American Civil Rights Union, listed a number of protuberant reasons in The Wall Street Journal (January 5) of why the Obama/Reid/Pelosi bill is unconstitutional. To wit:

Under the power to “regulate commerce” clause, commerce by citizens may be prohibited by Congress and states alike, but Congress is constrained from mandating that citizens engage in commerce — in this instance, buying health insurance. Clearly, unconstitutional! Why, we never heard of Congress compelling citizens to purchase “green cars” or “clean” energy!

“The ‘general welfare’ [Article I, Section 8] clause identifies the purpose for which Congress may spend money. The individual mandate tells Americans how they must spend the money Congress has not taken from them and has nothing to do with congressional spending.” Clearly, unconstitutional! Debate on Congressional spending is out of bounds!

The purchase of Ben Nelson’s crucial sixtieth vote was made possible by demonstrably unfair and illegal chicanery. Clearly, unconstitutional! Chicanery never has besmirched the Senate before now!

The health care bill requires individual states to establish “such things as benefit exchanges, which will require state legislation and regulations,” not funded, however, by the federal government. If the states do not comply, the “Secretary of Health and Human Services will step in and do it for them. It renders states little more than subdivisions of the federal government.” Clearly, unconstitutional!

And where in this opinion piece are individual rights mentioned? Nowhere. Where is the moral argument against the government’s initiation of force — by state governments or by Washington? Nowhere. What is the crux of Hatch’s argument?

The federal government may exercise only the powers granted to it or denied to the states. The states may do everything else. This is why, for example, states may have authority to require individuals to purchase health insurance but the federal government does not. It is also the reason states may require that individuals purchase car insurance before choosing to drive a car, but the federal government may not require all individuals to purchase health insurance.

And who is to protect us from our protectors? Who is to object to the states invoking their “states’ rights” and imposing the same powers and regulations as Hatch objects to Congress assuming?

On these points, Hatch is mute. He says nothing in what is a paramount moral issue. His argument, and others similar to his, are clearly irrelevant. The Constitution already contains amendments that obliterate the Bill of Rights and any statement of enumerated powers. He is a poor player, strutting and fretting, sounding furious, but signifying nothing.

In a September 16, 2009 press release about Utah governor Gary Herbert‘s participation in a governors‘ conference on health care reform, Hatch reveals his true colors. He protests the health care legislation then being concocted by the House, claiming that “individual states…have a greater understanding of the specific needs of our citizens,” and that it was “unfair” for strong states to be forced to subsidize the costs of weaker states.

Although Democrats and the administration are still trying to force a path of more government, more spending and more taxes, it is not too late start over and come up with a truly bipartisan and fiscally responsible solution that we can all be proud of. Taking a state-based approach is a great place to start.

Clearly, the Hatch arguments against the health care legislation are irrelevant. Utah already has a semi-fascist “health exchange.” One can only wonder if the irrelevancy is rooted in power-envy or is simply resentment of the prospect of the federal government stealing Utah’s thunder.

Compare the picayune constitutional arguments proffered by opponents of the health care and even the cap-and-trade legislation with this brief description of how the Tenth Amendment came into being:

After ratification of the Constitution, the anti-Federalists continued to voice their concerns over the powers of the federal government. In the course of the states’ ratification debates over the Constitution, states had recommended over two hundred amendments, which fell into two categories: 1) amendments aimed at limiting the powers of the federal government, and 2) amendments that protected individual rights. After ratification of the Constitution, it was feared that the anti-Federalists might garner enough support to call for a second constitutional convention, so James Madison, then Virginia’s representative in Congress, undertook the drafting of a bill of rights.

The Tenth Amendment Center contains a treasure trove of information on the history, significance, and role of the Tenth Amendment in American politics. James Madison, when the Constitution was being debated and was up for ratification by the states, answered the Anti-Federalist demands for provisions in the Constitution that would limit Congressional powers, by proposing some forty-two amendments, which were whittled down to twenty-seven, the first ten of which became the Bill of Rights. (The Twenty-seventh Amendment, which prohibited Congress from giving its representatives pay raises or cuts before the beginning of a new term, was ratified as recently as 1992.) He intended the Tenth Amendment to be broad and clear enough to constrain Congress from violating the first nine. But, a succession of Supreme Court decisions in the 19th and 20th centuries that sanctioned government expansion of powers so dulled the knife of the Tenth that it became extraneous verbiage — much as the Constitution has become to a venal and avaricious Congress.

Couple that with the diminished character, intellectual moribundity, and congenital dishonesty of the majority of Congress’s members, past and present, and it is easy to grasp why America is in the state it is in.

There are signs that many states will revolt against any health care legislation passed by Congress. These movements are a direct consequence of the Tea Parties of 2009. One obvious question is why the advocates of this species of opposition believe that state governments are imbued with the wisdom and competency Congress clearly lacks. But these same states will need to swallow their guilt because, before now, they never stringently opposed or prohibited Congress from assuming undelegated, unenumerated, or unconstitutional powers, and were only too glad to plead for federal assistance. It may be too late to start now.

The issue, nevertheless, is one of force or compulsion, regardless of the level of government. This is the fundamental issue on which any constitutional argument should be based. The Constitution was drawn up to guarantee individual rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. All else is merely dumb show and noise.

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