Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rand Paul’s fantastic, long overdue debate performance

As I sit down to write this post, I am admittedly afraid that I may come across as slightly out of touch in choosing to write about last Tuesday’s Republican debate and by focusing on my continued support of a dovish foreign policy in light of the recent, tragic events in Paris. But I’m going to stay the course, and here’s why: First of all, I’ve written about terrorism and the monsters who propagate it on this blog before and all of my readers know where I stand. Secondly, kind souls the world over have rallied in support of the French people in this time of trial and rather than use my blog as a forum to grandstand or show off my righteous indignation, I would rather just stand in quiet solidarity with those who oppose senseless violence. Finally, I remain strongly committed to having a serious discussion about our nation’s foreign policy as we move deeper into the 21st Century and I steadfastly refuse to let the barbaric actions of terrorists dictate my principles. Our nation is war-weary and in debt largely because we have allowed the fear of terrorism to drag us into long, senseless wars in the past. This is a mistake that too many in our political elite are intent on repeating, and now is as important a time as any to remember the dangers of America acting as the world’s police force.

And so, let’s turn back the clock to Tuesday, when eight of the top contenders for the Republican nomination for president met in Milwaukee for a debate hosted by the Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal. In stark contrast to the CNBC debacle from two weeks ago, this debate was laudably focused on policy and the many real disagreements between the candidates on the issues rather than “gotcha” questions and shameless media spectacle. I agree wholeheartedly with Ben Domenech at The Federalist that this was the most substantive Republican debate so far—indeed, I would argue that this has been the only substantive debate up to this point.

The candidates were given free rein to discuss ongoing issues with our immigration system, the financial sector, and our country’s hopelessly complex and inefficient tax code. The answers, refreshingly, represented a wide range of perspectives, at least compared to the virtual lock-step agreement showcased in the two Democratic debates so far. Donald Trump detailed (in all baffling seriousness) his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States, receiving vociferous objections from John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Kasich himself expressed support for raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, which unsurprisingly drew some serious heat from his colleagues. Even the various tax plans presented by the candidates were varied—sure, they all involved cutting taxes and implementing a flatter code, but there were surprising variations on the actual nuts and bolts of how to get there. (I, for one, found it interesting both that Ben Carson admitted that he wanted to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction and that Rand Paul said he would keep it.)

What really struck me about this debate, though, was the one area upon which there was virtually no disagreement: that the United States needs to build up its military and assert itself more forcefully across the globe. That is to say, of course, that all but one of the candidates agreed on this. And that lone dissenter was none other than my endorsed candidate for president, Rand Paul, who finally—thank god, finally—showed up and put on a strong debate performance. As Senator Paul boldly and passionately laid out his vision of an America that seeks peace through strength rather than senseless and expensive war, I found myself asking the same question as Mr. Domenech: “Where did this performance come from?” For the first time, Rand, whose campaign has been quickly fading and struggling for cash, was able to clearly delineate his views and separate himself from the belligerent nonsense of the rest of the Republican field.

He was the only candidate onstage who did not endorse the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria, pointing out correctly and presciently that this would almost certainly commit us to another ground war in the Middle East and could very well lead to American jets shooting Russian fighters out of the sky. “You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world,” he added. He landed one of the few gut-punches that any of the candidates have managed on Donald Trump when he interrupted his rant on China and trade by pointing out that China is not a party to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Most importantly, though, he attacked Marco Rubio—the Republican establishment favorite and news media darling—for advocating another $1 trillion in additional military spending. Every candidate onstage joined Rubio in the tired refrain that America must be the world’s preeminent military power and, as Carly Fiorina put it, “everybody needs to know it.” But Paul pointed out the absurdly obvious truth that America already does lead the world in military might. He noted, correctly, that the United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. As Katherine Timpf at National Review asks, “I mean, seriously, how much do we need to spend for the Republicans like Marco Rubio to be satisfied? More than all the countries combined? When is it enough? Is it ever?”

But it didn’t end there. Paul landed what I view as a solid hit on Rubio by accusing him of not being sufficiently conservative. After all, how can any candidate claim to be a fiscal conservative when they want to blow the defense budget wide open? Paul even went after his Senate colleague for his desire to expand the child tax credit, which also represents a massive, unfunded increase in spending. “You cannot be a conservative,” said Paul, “if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for.” Simple as that. Rubio, of course, responded by branding Paul as an “isolationist”—a label that is anathema to virtually all Republican primary voters and is, in this case, wholly inaccurate. Nevertheless, the fact that Rubio was forced to call upon that trope for aid is itself evidence that the attack hit home.

What’s really astounding to me is that there are so few prominent Republican voices who are willing to question their party’s continued commitment to massive increases in our already bloated military budget. It was so refreshing to listen to Senator Paul on Tuesday night because this is precisely the kind of intraparty debate that never happens but is so sorely needed. Even the neoconservative editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader agrees that “Paul is correct in pointing out that more defense spending does not necessarily mean a stronger defense.” This elementary concept is something that, sooner or later, the Republican Party is going to need to wrap its head around if it ever wants a shot at balancing our nation’s budget. (Paul, by the way, also pointed out on Tuesday night that he is the only candidate whose tax plan also comes with a balanced budget.)

Damon Linker, writing in The Week this past Friday, presented a case for why conservative intellectuals should be disenchanted with the Republican Party. While I usually find the attempts of liberal writers to arrogantly portray the Republican Party as devoid of intellectual merit to be particularly insulting, I couldn’t help but agree with Linker’s caricature of the GOP’s persistent “Green Lantern Theory” of foreign policy. Most Republicans believe, as he puts it, that “the United States can accomplish anything it wishes in the world, provided it displays sufficient willpower”:

Don't like Putin's annexation of Ukraine and meddling in Syria? Fiorina can face him down. Pissed off about China's muscle-flexing in the South China Sea? Trump will show them who's boss. Dying to finally knock ISIS from the Dark Ages back to the Stone Age? Rubio's your man. Itching to undo the Iran nuclear deal so we can put the Mullahs in their place? Cruz will get it done.

And the sad truth is that, essentially, this isn’t a caricature at all. This is basically what today’s Republican presidential candidates believe. All of them, of course, save Rand Paul. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is so important to have a voice like Senator Paul’s in the race for the presidency. It was encouraging and illuminating to finally watch him stand up for his positions amidst a crowded debate field. And, ultimately, that is why he is the only currently active candidate whom I am willing to endorse for President of the United States. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Republican Party’s continued cluelessness

I haven’t written a post on this blog in over two months and I must admit that I don’t feel all that terrible about it. After all, there has been very little to write about in July and August other than the lunatic ravings of Donald Trump and the continued rise of Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. I’d rather save my breath (or keystrokes, I suppose) and write at length about the presidential primaries once we’re within spitting distance of any actual voting. (Having that said, I am very much enjoying watching nervous Democrats panic as they discover once again that Hillary Clinton is a pretty awful candidate. Heck, some party insiders are so desperate that names like John Kerry and Al Gore are being floated around.) But I’d be lying if I told you that my reticence to write about the 2016 election was the main reason why I haven’t had much to say lately.

No, the real reason for my recent silence has been the fact that I just haven’t felt like much of a “conservative” lately, at least insofar as I disagree with the way the American right has responded to just about every recent controversy. I opened up my last post by congratulating the Supreme Court for upholding Obamacare and legalizing gay marriage, and it seems that was just the beginning. My take on the Confederate flag issue notwithstanding, I have found myself utterly disappointed with “conservatives”—particularly those under the umbrella of the Republican Party—and the way they have talked about abortion, gay marriage, and foreign policy over the past few months. Time and again, they have positioned themselves on the wrong side of losing battles as they cling stubbornly to dated ideas that are simply out of touch with the majority of the American public.

First came the Planned Parenthood controversy, as the ironically-named Center for Medical Progress released a series of hidden-camera videos showing Planned Parenthood employees casually discussing the harvesting of fetal body parts for tissue samples to be used in medical research. The activists who produced the videos tout them as undeniable evidence that Planned Parenthood is involved in selling fetal tissue for profit—a patently illegal practice. But, as Sarah Kliff at Vox points out, there is no such evidence, although she goes on to say that there is plenty of reason to believe that Planned Parenthood is operating in an ethically gray area as they alter their abortion procedures in order to harvest better tissue samples. But therein lies my objection to the GOP’s response to these videos—rather than use them as a springboard to launch a serious national debate about the morality of abortion (Do we really think we shouldn’t place limits on when and how we terminate pregnancies? Is it ethical to prioritize leaving fetal organs intact over the safety of the procedure?), Republicans in Congress decided that they should just try and defund Planned Parenthood instead.

This is political showmanship at its worst. Don’t mistake me here—I consider myself pro-choice, but I nonetheless think that we should have a more robust dialogue on abortion in this country than we currently have. Those on the left shun anyone who wants to restrict abortion at any time or in any fashion while those on the right struggle with condoning abortion in even the most extreme circumstances. Targeting Planned Parenthood does nothing toward fostering an honest debate. All it does is perpetuate the myths that PP is primarily an abortion provider (not true) and that it receives one, big $500 million check from the government every year (also not true; most of that is in the form of individual Medicaid reimbursements for medical services which do not include abortion). Responding to those videos by trying to defund a nonprofit organization that provides necessary medical services to women all over the country isn’t a whole lot better than responding to the Charleston massacre by removing the Confederate flag from American culture. It is reductionist and stupid.

Next up was the Obama Administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, in which the Iranian government agreed to drastically reduce its ability to stockpile weapons-grade uranium and submit itself to rigorous international nuclear weapons inspections in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. The agreement, while certainly not perfect and probably not as enforceable as I’d like, is nevertheless the best alternative to another disastrous war in the Middle East, which is likely the only other way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But of course, every Republican in Congress has decried the deal as appeasement toward a terrorist regime, using all the expected comparisons to Neville Chamberlain and the like. Even Rep. Justin Amash, one of the truly “good” Republicans in the House, released a Facebook post yesterday in which he came out against the deal. Granted, he is quite a bit more articulate and quite a bit less hyperbolic than most critics of the deal, but I still find myself disappointed that he is essentially pulling support for a clean diplomatic solution just because it calls itself an executive agreement rather than a treaty. If I had to guess, I’d say he received some serious pressure from the party establishment to come out against the deal and had to come up with some kind of excuse to do so.

I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen of the Republican Party, but America simply cannot start another meddlesome conflict halfway across the world. It is utterly inconceivable to me that a party that is still watching this country pay the price for its past mistakes (in trillions of dollars, in lost prestige, in American lives) would so blindly and so forcefully advocate for a return to those very same policies. Just look at the current pack of contenders for the GOP nomination—Rubio, Walker, and Jeb in particular—and try to discern the difference between their foreign policies and that of George W. Bush. I certainly can’t. How many presidential elections in a row will these morons have to lose before they wake up and realize that it’s not 2004 anymore? But I digress. On to the next point.

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the media storm surrounding Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed earlier this month for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This, I have to say, is a rare issue on which everyone on my Facebook newsfeed seems to agree. That is as it should be, because this is a pretty open-and-shut case. As a county clerk, Ms. Davis issues marriage licenses not as a private individual but as an elected public official, someone who swears an oath of office and is legally obligated to uphold the law of the land. And, since earlier this summer, gay marriage is the law of the land. She is required, per her job description, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. End of story.

Of course it couldn’t be that simple. Many within the Republican Party, including many of its presidential contenders, have decided to abandon their usual affection for rule of law and have tried to frame Kim Davis’s story as the government attempting to stifle a private citizen’s religious freedom. This is, for the reasons stated above, utter poppycock, and I suspect they all know it. But nevertheless, there was Mike Huckabee, standing triumphantly by Ms. Davis as she was released from prison earlier this week. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how I feel about this. All I’ll say is that I am in total disbelief that the GOP thinks the best way to win a presidential election is to try and start a war with Iran and then pump their fists in the air with a law-breaking bigot—who, by the way, is an elected Democrat. If you want to fight for religious freedom, then by all means do so. But Kim Davis isn’t your hero.

Yes, after all this, I still consider myself a conservative—a conservative of the libertarian stripe, but a conservative all the same. I believe in a limited government that stays out of people’s private lives and their pocketbooks. I believe in social change that is brought about by education and unfettered dialogue, not federal edict. I believe in a country where freedom, not central planning, provides its citizens with equal opportunity rather than guaranteeing equal outcome at the lowest common denominator. And today, I find myself seriously questioning whether there is a political party in the United States that cares about what I believe in. A Democratic Party that wants to redistribute wealth, stifle innovation, and win votes by dividing our country along ethnic and classist fault lines is clearly not the tent where I belong. But neither is GOP that refuses to realize the increasingly obvious truth that the old three legged stool of conservatism—social traditionalism, fiscal restraint, and hawkish defense—is simply a dated philosophy. The Democrats had to lose three elections in a row before they finally saw the writing on the wall and changed their tune in 1992. Who wants to bet the Republicans have to lose four before they figure it out? 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We are not Dylann Roof

Politically speaking, it has certainly been a tumultuous couple of weeks in America. Within just the past several days, Obamacare has been saved for the second time in three years, gay marriage has been declared a constitutional right, and our nation has engaged in a serious and soul-searching debate over the appropriateness of the Confederate flag in the wake of a horrific shooting. There is no way I could write about all of this in just one blog post, so I’m not even going to try. I’m behind the Roberts Court on their decisions in the Obamacare and gay marriage cases, so I won’t bore anyone with a long form statement of general agreement. What I would like to talk about today includes a few topics that are considerably harder to write about—namely racism, our nation’s violent past, and an act of incomprehensible evil. And yes, the Confederate flag of course.

I don’t need to remind anyone reading this of the details surrounding the sickening, unconscionable events that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina nearly two weeks ago. Any sane human being can agree that the murderous actions of Dylann Roof are beyond the realm of reason and are antithetical to the values of a civilized society. The massacre that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the very essence of evil. The American people’s response to the shooting has understandably been one of shock, disbelief, and frustration. What’s more, Roof’s undeniably racist motivations have sparked a nationwide examination of racism (both past and present) in our society. This is, generally speaking, an appropriate response. Needless to say, I can think of about a million more desirable scenarios that could have led to such a discussion, but this is nevertheless a debate worth having.

What has struck me as odd, however, are the contours of this debate. This national introspection has, for all intents and purposes, been focused entirely around the Confederate flag. The logic train seems to have gone something like this: a disgusting racist committed an atrocity in Charleston, South Carolina; South Carolina, a former segregationist state and a member of the Confederacy before that, has a bloody history of racism; the Confederate flag flies on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia; we should take down all Confederate flags because their presence in places like the South Carolina statehouse foments racial hatred and creates people like Dylann Roof. This line of thought, while certainly touching on the outline of a real problem, is in my view extremely oversimplified and dangerously without nuance.

Let me say upfront that I won’t (and can’t) dispute the reality that the Confederate flag is irreparably tainted by its own history. It was created by a nation that fought a war to defend its right to practice slavery and was adopted one hundred years later by states that defied the federal government in order to preserve legal segregation. The Confederate flag’s history is impossible to ignore, with even people like Mitt Romney and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley calling for the removal of the flag from the statehouse grounds in Columbia. Rand Paul, the presidential candidate whom I endorse on this very blog, has called the flag “inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery.”

So, do I agree with these public figures that the flag should be removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds? Yes, although I think it’s worth noting that the flag flies there as part of a Civil War memorial that is a separate structure from the statehouse itself—it hasn’t flown directly over the capitol since 2000. I don’t think that makes a terribly huge difference, but I do think that the media has been irresponsible in its portrayal of the flag’s presence in Columbia. Just look at this article in TIME, which explains the history of the flag’s use in South Carolina and couples it with a picture of the flag flying directly over the capitol dome. At least they were kind enough to mention in the caption that the picture was taken in 2000, as if they hadn’t already achieved their intended misdirection.

Having all that said, I want to set aside the specific flag in Columbia for a minute. Instead, I’d like to draw some attention to a very recent Supreme Court ruling that, although it has been entirely lost in the kerfluffle of flashier cases, is nevertheless extremely useful in framing this debate over the Confederate flag. Everyone seems to have forgotten (again, I blame the media) that the Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated decision that dealt with the stars and bars the day after the shooting in Charleston. That our nation’s news outlets resisted the urge to fold that case into the debate over the flag is a testament to their pervasive obtuseness. In Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc., a bare majority of justices ruled that the state of Texas can ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on vanity license plates. These plates, the Court determined, constitute government speech and therefore the government of Texas can tailor that speech to its liking. If the license plates had constituted private speech, as the four justices in the minority contended, the government would have been denying citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech by censoring the flag.

As I said already, this is immensely relevant to the discussion surrounding the Confederate flag. Using the Supreme Court’s logic, state governments have every right to determine that any tacit endorsement of the Confederate flag on their part is inappropriate and they are free to shut it down. I hope the South Carolina state legislature does just that. This principle has two important corollaries, however. The first is that state governments (and the federal government) can censor the flag, but they are not obligated to. It also states rather unequivocally that private displays of the Confederate battle flag are protected symbolic speech.

We ignore these two distinctions at our peril. It may be wise to remove such blatant government validation of the Confederate flag as the display in Columbia, but we should be careful not to use this nationwide reaction to tragedy as an excuse for our government to pretend the Confederacy never existed. And I don’t think I’m being too alarmist when I say we’re already headed in that direction. The Washington National Cathedral has announced plans to remove two stained glass windows that memorialize the Civil War and feature the Confederate flag. The National Park Service has stopped selling Confederate flag merchandise at the Gettysburg battlefield, with Director Jonathan B. Jarvis giving the truly baffling explanation that “Any stand-alone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores,” because “We strive to tell the complete story of America.” Most shockingly, Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton wants to dig up the graves of a Confederate general and his wife and remove their remains from a city park.

This is what a debate looks like when things accelerate too quickly. Yes, our government should strive not to endorse the legacy of slavery inherent in the Confederate flag. That does not mean, however, that that legacy should be erased from our national memory by removing the flag from every memorial, park, and monument in the country. The Civil War, by its very nature, is not like America’s other wars. Our recollection of it need not simply be the story woven by the victors, but rather it uniquely can (and absolutely should) include the stories of our brothers and sisters—Americans all—who fought and died to defend their homeland against what they saw as a Northern invasion. I’m not saying history has proven them right—quite the opposite, in fact—but we would be wrong to pretend that those men and women weren’t born citizens of the United States of America and deny them the respect commensurate with that fact. Removing the Confederate flags from these historical sites is the first step toward erasing their stories entirely.

And let’s not forget the second corollary from the Supreme Court’s reasoning—that private displays of the flag are protected symbolic speech. Now, it certainly doesn’t appear that the government is poised to root out and eliminate private displays of the Confederate flag, but the private sector itself has already engaged in some policing of its own. Just look at Apple, who have purged their app store of any games that display the flag in any manner at all. Same with Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and eBay, who have stopped selling Confederate flag merchandise of any kind. These actions are, of course, well within the rights of these private companies, but they do next to nothing toward solving our nation’s Dylann Roof problem. They are acts of corporate hubris and showmanship, nothing more. And, even more troubling, they punish their customers for something they had no hand in.

And it is here that we find perhaps the most dangerous implication of the wildly-veering debate that we are having today. The actions of Dylann Roof absolutely should not be used as an excuse to declare that white America—and the South in particular—is somehow infested with rampant, violent racism. Does racism still exist in this country? Unquestionably, as so many recent events have proved. Does that mean, then, that every American who flies the Confederate flag harbors secret fantasies of murderous rampage? Of course not. Rightly or wrongly, the vast majority of those who display the flag do so out of a sense of pride in their region, not their race. Just as their ancestors went to war out of a sense of duty to their homeland (yes, let’s not forget that the vast majority of those who actually fought the Civil War owned no slaves), so do today’s flag-wavers take pride in the states where they were born and raised.

It is unfair, irresponsible, and downright destructive to point fingers at the white Southerners of the 21st Century and assign them some kind of vague culpability in the depraved acts of a madman. It is even more reductionist to blame the Confederate flag. Dylann Roof is nothing like the Americans who today fly that flag. For heaven’s sake, we’re talking about a man who wore the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia (Rhodesia?! Is this guy real?) on his jacket. No—as a white Southerner, I say with the utmost prejudice that Dylann Roof is not one of us. He is a monster, plain and simple. Such creatures defy categorization. They are set apart from those of us who value humanity and are utterly alone.

The Confederate flag that flies (at least for now) on the Capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina did not create Dylann Roof. Is there perhaps some unseen font of particularly vile racism that lurks somewhere in American society—somewhere where Dylann Roof was able to tap into it and feed his own demented hatred? Distressingly, the answer to that question may very well be yes. That is why, ultimately, I believe it to be a good thing that we are having a national discussion regarding the presence of racism in our history and our treatment of its symbols today. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times, it is troubling to think that a Millennial could become a race terrorist. I think it is paramount, however, that we examine these questions in a way that brings us together as a people rather than by pointing fingers at our neighbors and denying them the memories of their past or any pride in the present. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Tory Triumph and Its Lessons

At the beginning of this month, a rather magical thing happened in the UK. After five years under a coalition government headed by the Conservative Party and the center-left Liberal Democrats, British citizens went to the polls and shocked the world by giving the Conservatives their first outright parliamentary majority since 1992. This was surprising not only because of the widespread expectation of a hung parliament (in which no one party has an absolute majority), but also because the pre-election polls showed the Labour Party (who had comprised the official opposition in Parliament) running dead even with the Conservatives in terms of seats. Instead, the Conservatives gained 28 seats, Labour lost 24, and the cornered Liberal Democrats plummeted to just 8 seats—a loss of 48. Perhaps the biggest winner of the night was the Scottish Nationalist Party, who completed a near sweep of Scotland, taking all but three seats in their native constituency. Scotland, which had been a Labour stronghold for decades (and the geographic linchpin for any Labour majority) went from having 41 Labour seats to just one.

So how, exactly, did this happen? For starters, SNP’s success on Election Day is probably the easiest to explain. Just last summer, the UK held a referendum on Scottish independence—a concept that rather abruptly veered from far-fetched fantasy to a very real possibility in the days leading up to the vote. Although the referendum ultimately failed by a 55%-45% margin, the message was clear: the Scottish people were not happy with their current arrangement with Britain and they weren’t afraid to show it. That atmosphere of discontent had clearly not faded over the last year and the voters in Scotland sent MPs to Westminster to ensure that their voices would continue to be heard. These were probably more than just protest votes, too, as SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon had expressed a desire to form a coalition government with the Labour Party in order to “[lock] David Cameron out of Downing Street,” even if the Conservatives had the most seats.

Although SNP’s gains might be easy to explain in hindsight, I don’t mean to say that the scope of their election night sweep wasn’t a huge surprise. Just about no one expected them to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street by way of locking Labour out of Scotland. And, in any event, it seems that those two occurrences are nearly mutually exclusive. What is both easy to explain and not entirely shocking is the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, who have been demoted from third party to fourth party status. As the junior partner in the Conservative-led coalition government, the Lib Dems had a great deal of difficulty delivering on anything in their platform from five years before. Indeed, by playing second fiddle to the Tories, party leader Nick Clegg had spent most of his time as Deputy Prime Minister fending off accusations that he himself had become a Tory. Essentially, the Lib Dems had been stripped of their identity as a center-left alternative to the two major parties in Britain and were left with virtually nothing to run on in 2015. I’m not quite sure that many prognosticators anticipated that they would fall quite as far as they did, but everyone knew they would be the biggest losers on May 7. 

Election night was also a sad one for the UK Independence Party, a nationalist and Eurosceptic party run by the ever-colorful Nigel Farage. UKIP campaigned on an exit from the Eurozone and for the imposition of harsher immigration restrictions—a tactic that led them to sweeping victories in the elections for the European Parliament in 2014. Despite placing third in terms of popular votes this month, UKIP netted just a single seat. This is, of course, to say nothing of Labour’s struggles, as their hopes of forming a minority or coalition government were dashed completely to the ground once the votes started rolling in. Once projected to net as many as 284 seats, Labour was left with just 232. Their losses, coupled with the Conservatives’ gains, were the two biggest shocks of election night. Which leads inexorably to the question: How did all this happen?
2010 Election Results
2015 Election Results

Go ahead and take a look at these maps provided by my good friend, fellow political junkie, and cartographic whiz Dodson. (Note: contrary to the traditional colors used in the UK, Conservative seats are shown in red here, with Labour in light blue, Lib Dems in dark blue, and SNP in yellow.) The first map shows the results of the 2010 election while the second shows where things stand now in 2015. You’ll notice two things right off the bat: the complete obliteration of Labour in Scotland as well as the disappearance of the Lib Dems just about everywhere. Obviously, SNP’s takeover of Scotland is at the heart of Labour’s struggles, but what’s really interesting is if you look at who picked up all those seats that the Lib Dems lost.
Status of Lib Dem Seats, 2015
Take a look at Dodson’s third map, which shows who picked up the old Lib Dem seats, with the surviving Lib Dems in green. This map makes it undeniably clear that the real Tory victory on election night was their ability to pick up the lion’s share of their former coalition partner’s losses. Despite the fact that Labour is more closely ideologically aligned with the Lib Dems than the Conservatives ever were, David Cameron was somehow able to convince voters in England and Wales to abandon their party for his. This is especially evident in Cornwall (the southwest corner). All told, the Conservatives picked up 20 seats from the Lib Dems, while Labour gained just 10. That +10 swing in favor of the Tories is a large part of how they were able to gain 28 seats overall.

How was David Cameron and his party able to pull that off? Well, it greatly depends on who you ask. Liberals like Stan Greenberg at Politico Magazine have tried to blame it on the Tories’ use of the “nationalist card.” Greenberg compares Cameron’s doubts about the legitimacy of an SNP-backed coalition government to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-Arab tactics that supposedly won him another term earlier this year. I take issue with such a simplistic and empirically unsound analysis. I suppose it’s possible that the roughly 40% of voters who remained undecided for most of the time leading up to the election decided suddenly to vote for the Conservatives based on some vague fears of Scottish encroachment on English sovereignty, but that seems rather unlikely. Why would one particular appeal to nationalism suddenly motivate a swath of voters who had been unmoved by every previous attempt to woo them?

I think Janet Daley at the Telegraph gets closer to the truth when she notes, quite simply, that many of those undecided voters intended to vote Conservative all along but were merely hesitant to admit it since “the Left has browbeaten ordinary voters into being reluctant to share their real views.” She goes on to put it thusly: 

“Somehow we have arrived at a point where the conscientiously held beliefs and values of the majority of the population have become a matter for secret shame. The desire to do as well as you can in life, to develop your potential and expect to be rewarded for it, to provide your family with the greatest possible opportunity for self-improvement and to do that on your own without being dependent on the state – these are the assumptions that seem to have become so unacceptable that identifying with them is beyond the pale, or at least so socially outrageous that it is not worth the ignominy of admitting to them.”

This is a problem I have touched on before as it pertains to American political discourse. The Left, in its endless pursuit to portray its ideological opponents as one-dimensional bigots, makes ordinary citizens with well-intentioned conservative beliefs afraid to even admit to them. It’s the age old problem of making people feel as if they need to apologize for their conservatism. I think the American Left could learn a thing or two from the elections that took place in the UK this month, especially after the Democratic Party suffered a drubbing of its own just last fall that the pollsters didn’t see coming. Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, promptly resigned after the election results were made clear earlier this month. His party, which had been running on the issues of reducing income inequality and more robust welfare spending, failed to gain any traction with voters. The Democratic Party, who are inching ever closer to that Labour-style populism in the run-up to 2016, should take note. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Senate Flexes Its Muscles

After Republicans decisively captured the Senate in last fall’s elections, the number one question on everyone’s mind was a simple one: could the GOP use their newfound majority to actually govern? This was, of course, a notion worthy of a healthy dose of skepticism, given the Republican Party’s rather unimpressive track record after running things in the House for four years—and that’s to say nothing of the obstructive power that a Senate minority holds. It seemed that Republicans in the upper house did little to help themselves out of the gate, as the media wasted no time in eviscerating Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 46 of his colleagues for signing an open letter to Iran explaining the finer points of constitutional law surrounding treaties and executive agreements.

The letter, which is really quite brief and devoid of any inflammatory language or information that you wouldn’t learn in an AP Government course, inspired an almost comical level of overreaction among the leftist commentariat that is our nation’s news media. (I think my personal favorite was Pulitzer Prize winner Colbert King comparing the letter to the Dred Scott decision.) Apparently, an open letter explaining Congress’s ability to review agreements with foreign countries is treason. Or was it racist? I can’t remember; after hearing these same kinds of laughably overblown accusations thrown at Republicans every single time they exercise their right to disagree with our president, I’ve stopped keeping track or caring at all. But, I probably shouldn’t waste any more words on that here.

What I wanted to mention today was a bill that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted on last week—a vote in which, believe it or not, the Senate seems to have demonstrated some bona fide governing ability. The bill, sponsored by Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), mandates that Congress review any nuclear deal made between the White House and Iran before lifting economic sanctions on Iran’s regime. What was once racist treason is now, it seems, something that every single member of the Foreign Relations Committee will vote for. That’s right—the Corker bill passed committee unanimously, with 10 Republicans and 9 Democrats voting in favor.

Granted, the particulars of the bill are mostly uncontroversial. Although the bill states that a resolution of disapproval by both houses of Congress would prevent the sanctions from being lifted, it also goes to great lengths to make it clear that Congressional approval isn’t necessary to make a deal official. Additionally, in order to get Democratic support for the bill, the original Congressional review period of 60 days was halved to 30 and language was removed that would have required Iran to disavow its support for terrorism. Plenty on the hard right would tell you that those concessions on the part of the GOP majority are some kind of weakness, but I call it reasonable compromise.

In that same vein of compromise, both the House and Senate also managed last week to pass a permanent “doc fix,” ending the 18-year recurring nightmare of Congress making ad hoc adjustments to Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate. The SGR, which affects payments made to doctors by the federal government under Medicare, would (and did) make automatic and sharp cuts to those payments after each year in which medical costs exceeded the rate of inflation. Now, after a 92-8 vote in the Senate, Congress can finally stop passing laws to prevent those cuts year after year. I cannot emphasize enough what a monumental and game-changing act of bipartisanship that is. After negotiations between Speaker John Bohener and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi produced a workable bill for the House to vote on, the Senate demonstrated that they could spring into action and hold up their end of the deal. Now, the specter of the SGR has receded for the first time since 1997, when it was enacted as part of that year’s Balanced Budget Agreement.

But it didn’t stop there. In the time between I started and finished this post, the Senate also managed to get another huge monkey off its back by agreeing on a final version of a long-stalled human trafficking bill. By reaching yet another bipartisan consensus, the Senate is now clear to vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, whose confirmation was held up by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell until an agreement was made on the human trafficking bill. Now, I can already anticipate the Democratic talking points on this one—namely, that Senate Republicans held up Lynch’s nomination for a nearly unprecedented amount of time because (why else?) she’s black. This is, as usual, utter poppycock. It may have been Senator McConnell’s idea to tie her confirmation vote to the trafficking bill, but the only reason that bill was held up in the first place was because of concern among some Democratic senators regarding an abortion provision which, I might add, differed in almost no discernable way from the same abortion language that had been included in every public health bill since 1976. That, and the fact that many GOP senators disagree with Ms. Lynch’s stance on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, are what held up her nomination, nothing more.

So there you have it: not only has the Republican-led Senate managed to reach overwhelming bipartisan compromises on foreign policy and protections for victims of human trafficking, but they managed to fix one of our nation’s most vexing fiscal problems of the past eighteen years. These are no small feats, and Majority Leader McConnell has even drawn praise from both sides of the aisle for returning the Senate to working order after the infamously unproductive years of Harry Reid’s iron rule. Now, of course, only one pressing question remains: will any of this matter come 2016?

UPDATE: As of yesterday, Loretta Lynch has been officially confirmed as the next attorney general by a 56-43 vote. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why I kind of wish Mitt Romney had run in 2016

Much to the delight of Americans everywhere—both Democrat and Republican—the door is firmly closed on a Mitt Romney candidacy for president in 2016. After briefly flirting with a third bid for our nation’s highest office, Governor Romney stated unequivocally at the end of January that he would sit this one out. So, you are probably asking, why am I just now talking about this? Well, it’s simply because (believe it or not) I actually think there may have been one particularly beneficial impact of a Romney candidacy on the outcome of the 2016 Republican primary—namely, he could have kept a certain former governor of Florida from winning.

Before I get too far into the weeds here, I’d like to conduct a quick empirical analysis—something I don’t think I do often enough on this blog. In order to credibly complain about a possible Bush triumph in the 2016 GOP primary, let me first make the case that such an outcome is indeed probable. I’d like to compare Gov. Bush’s current polling numbers amid the (rather crowded) GOP presidential field with those of Gov. Romney at the same point out from 2012. Below is a chart of the results of every poll tracking the support for various potential Republican presidential contenders from March 2010 to March 2011. (Results are courtesy of RealClearPolitics.) Many of these polls included other candidates besides the ones listed, such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, but I chose to include only the four highest-polling candidates in order to keep the graph from getting too messy.

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You’ll notice that this is a pretty straightforward graph. Romney’s level of support remains largely static throughout, hovering between 15 and 25 percent after an initial drop-off. He remains consistently ahead of his closest competitor, Newt Gingrich, by a margin of about 5-10 points for the duration of that time. Both Gingrich’s and Romney’s numbers drop off again towards the end, but that is mostly due to the emergence of Rick Santorum as a credible opponent, as well as several other people not included in the graph. As of March 29, 2011 (four years prior to the day I wrote this post), the RealClearPolitics polling average had Romney with 18.3% support, followed by Gingrich with 11.3%, Ron Paul with 7.5%, and Rick Santorum with 2.2%.

Now, let’s see how the situation on March 29, 2011 compares with that of March 29, 2015. Below is a similar graph to the previous one, this time displaying the polling for the 2016 GOP nomination. Again, I only included the top-polling candidates, which is especially necessary this time around considering how outrageously crowded 2016’s field of Republican contenders is. This graph is definitely different: rather than two dominant candidates, this graph has four. What is initially a tight three-way race between Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul becomes more of a two-way affair as Paul and Huckabee drop off and Scott Walker rockets skyward. (It appears there is a case to be made for Ben Carson, too, at least for the moment.) As of March 15, 2014 (the latest available data at RealClear), Bush is averaging 16.6%, with Walker at an identical 16.6%, Carson at 10.6%, Huckabee at 10.2%, and Paul at 8.4%.

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But how different, really, is this situation from the one in 2012? Aside from being much closer to his nearest competitors (be it Paul last year or Walker right now), Bush maintains the same kind of steady support Romney displayed in his race for the nomination. Aside from a few outliers, his numbers hover right around 15% pretty much the whole time. His 16.6% average is numerically very close to Romney’s 18.3%, and that’s with many more contenders in the 2016 field to chip away at his support. On top of that, Bush’s numbers are on a somewhat upward trajectory over the past year, whereas Romney’s numbers actually dropped somewhat between March 2010 and March 2011. Furthermore, this year’s data is showing signs of shaping up much like the 2012 contest—namely, a series of “anti-establishment” candidates rising and falling as the “establishment” pick floats stoically on top of all the commotion. Who’s to say that Scott Walker isn’t this year’s Newt Gingrich? If Bush continues to maintain the steady level of support he has right now, he could easily translate that into an eventual win just as Romney did three years ago. Granted, I’m comparing apples to applesauce here. The fact that there are so many more candidates for the GOP nomination this time around (and such higher-tier ones, too) makes it tricky to directly compare the numbers. But I just can’t help feeling uneasy that the Jeb Bush of 2015 is running less than two points behind the Mitt Romney of 2011.

And that, my friends, is why I kind of wish Mitt Romney had decided to run for president in 2016. As a well-connected, fundraising-savvy, establishment giant, Romney could have siphoned voters, endorsements, and (most importantly) donors from Bush’s campaign. With the establishment split two ways, neither of them would have won the nomination and the nation would have been better for it. Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where a Bush/Clinton matchup in 2016 looks increasingly likely every day, and that is just downright disappointing. Worse, it’s a little bit scary. Even after all that has changed in American politics over the last decade, the fact remains that the old-guard establishment wings of both major parties still have immense power in deciding which of their cronies runs for president. But change, I suppose, only ever comes gradually. What can I say other than Rand Paul 2016? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why the Supreme Court won’t gut Obamacare

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell, which has been described my many in the mainstream media as the greatest threat to the Affordable Care Act since, well, the last time the Supreme Court took up a case involving a central provision of the law. What differentiates this case from the last one—NFIB v. Sebelius—is that this one is a matter of statutory interpretation rather than constitutionality. Where NFIB dealt with Congress’ ability to establish an individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, King focuses on one particular line within the Affordable Care Act which states that people enrolling in private health plans are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for them if they purchase them “through an exchange established by the state.”

Now, I’m not going to bore you by explaining how the ACA works in its entirety (it is a truly unwieldy law), but those of you reading this should know that these subsidies are an extremely key component of the law. Basically, in order to help achieve its dual goals of increasing the number of Americans with health insurance and ensuring that said health insurance is affordable, the ACA provides subsidies for people who are required by the law to purchase health insurance but earn between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. This seems straightforward enough, but the law also describes two different types of insurance exchanges. On the one hand, individual states can choose to create and run their own exchanges, which many states have done. On the other hand, if a states opts out of making its own exchange, the ACA provides a backup option wherein the federal government creates an exchange to be used in that state.

Which is where we arrive at the controversy central to King v. Burwell. Since the Affordable Care Act states that individuals are eligible for subsidies if they purchase insurance “through an exchange established by the state,” what does that mean for people who live in the 27 states that use the federally-administered exchange? The petitioners in King argue that the law clearly states that only people using state-run exchanges are eligible for the subsidies. Such a policy would have profound implications for the law, since most of the people who are eligible for subsidies wouldn’t be shopping for health insurance in the marketplace if they weren’t getting any financial help. This would shrink the pool of people buying insurance in those states and, more importantly, would discourage healthy people from purchasing plans. The resulting pool of people would be both smaller and higher-risk, causing premiums to skyrocket, which would then exacerbate the existing problem. This is what is called an insurance “death spiral.” Basically, the federal exchange would come crashing down and, with it, the Affordable Care Act.

But enough background already. After oral arguments on Wednesday, the question on everyone’s minds is, “Will the Supreme Court take advantage of this latest opportunity to destroy Obamacare?” In short, my answer is both that they shouldn’t and that they won’t. First of all, we can all assume that Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan will side with the government on this one. Contrarily, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will almost certainly side with the petitioners. That leaves perennial swing vote Justice Kennedy and my man Chief Justice Roberts. After listening to the oral arguments, I am no more certain of Chief Justice Roberts’ position than I was before. He spoke very little (aside from one witty remark toward the end) and seemed content to let the Justices sitting to his left and right do all the dirty work.

Kennedy, though, raised some very interesting points. Throughout the hearing, he spoke extensively about the questions this case raises regarding federalism and constitutionality. (Ilya Somin at The Washington Post has some great stuff to say on this.) Basically, his reasoning was that if you were to accept the petitioners’ interpretation that only state exchanges offer subsidies, then you must also accept the reality that the law intended for there to be a possibility that some states would refuse to make their own exchanges and would thereby forego the ability to offer premium subsidies. Essentially, interpreting the law that way is to read it as “set up a state exchange or the federal government will irreparably screw up the health insurance market in your state.” Kennedy and all of the liberal justices pointed out that interpreting the law this way would violate the Supreme Court’s longstanding practice of interpreting laws in such a way that they do not mess with the “usual balance” between state and federal power.

But it gets even more interesting than that. That same “exchange or die” mentality, if it were intrinsic to the law, could also represent an unconstitutional level of federal coercion of the states. At that point, the provision would fall not because of how the justices are interpreting it, but because the law as written is unconstitutional. John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist lays this out very nicely, noting that the key here is whether or not the provision in question is ambiguous. If it is written ambiguously, the justices are obliged to interpret it in a way that allows the law to function harmoniously and doesn’t upset federal-state relations. However, if the law unambiguously lays out the “exchange or die” choice, it is unconstitutional coercion on its face.

Kennedy also mentioned “Chevron deference,” which comes from the case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. Chevron deference is very relevant to the ambiguous/unambiguous distinction because it states that if a statute is ambiguous and a government agency has acted on their own interpretation of the law, the Court must defer to the agency’s interpretation unless it is unreasonable. For obvious reasons, this is really a golden ticket for the government in this case.

So, you might be wondering, why did I just use 1,000 words to explain all of this to you without giving any personal opinion? I just wanted all of you to know, like I do now, that it seems incredibly unlikely that the Supreme Court will decide that state-run Obamacare exchanges aren’t eligible for premium subsidies. There are simply too many legal roadblocks in the way—the question of ambiguity, followed by interpretation, and then deference. Even if the Court finds that the text is unambiguous in denying premium subsidies to states, they would still have to decide that such a provision is unconstitutionally coercive, which isn’t a guarantee. And then, of course, there is the simple fact that Chief Justice Roberts, for all his conservative bona fides, has already saved this law once. And, as Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker says, Roberts may have hinted that he could leave it up to someone else to screw with it.

Lastly, I feel the need to say that however much I may dislike this particular law, this is absolutely not the way I would want to see it go. I have a deep respect for our nation’s highest court and I am a huge admirer of our current Chief Justice. I would hate to see John Roberts and the institution he oversees lower itself in the eyes of Americans by entering the partisan fray over healthcare reform. If Obamacare is to be altered or repealed, such a thing should be done by Congress, where the American people have at least somewhat of a say in what goes on. And based on the decision in NFIB v. Sebelius, I think the Chief Justice agrees with me. Let’s hope he hasn’t changed his mind. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

I’ve seen Kingdom of Heaven, too, Mr. President

President Obama stirred up some controversy among the conservative community last Thursday with remarks he made at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, an annual interfaith gathering held in Washington, D.C. Among other things, the president discussed the atrocities being committed in the name of religion by the Islamic State, calling them “a brutal, vicious, death cult that…carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.” This, on its face, would seem to be a sentiment that commentators on the Right could unequivocally endorse. Of course, it just couldn’t possibly be that simple. The president followed up by attempting to put these remarks in a broader historical context, saying:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This, understandably, led to some indignant reactions among prominent conservatives. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore even went so far as to call the president’s comments “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.” While I certainly think Governor Gilmore’s remarks are wildly overblown, and even as I won’t join commentators like Jonah Goldberg or Mollie Hemingway in apologizing for the Crusades as a “defensive war” against Muslim aggression, I nevertheless feel the need to comment on the general absurdity and underlying false equivalency of President Obama’s take on the danger of Christians casting the first stone.

The first and most obvious problem with this premise is that the crusades ended over 500 years ago—never mind that the First Crusade came to a close over 900 years ago. The same goes for the Inquisition, which (assuming President Obama is referring to the more atrocious Inquisitions that took place in Spain even as he overlooks the historical fact that there was no single event called “the Inquisition”) officially came to a close nearly 200 years ago after a long period of declining influence. His inclusion of these particular historical events is somewhat baffling to me, not merely because they ended well before any of today’s Christians were even born, but also because they were more a product of their times than of the religion they sought to serve. The Crusaders were brutal and bloodthirsty because they lived in medieval times—an era dominated by barbarism, despotism, intolerance, and violence—not because they were Christian. The Spanish Inquisition was created by Ferdinand and Isabella as a tool to help unify Spain under their absolute control. Just like the dictatorial monarchs of old Europe, they aimed to use religion as a cudgel with which to enforce and legitimize their iron rule. This had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power.

In that sense, at least, President Obama is correct to compare ISIS to medieval Christians. But that is also precisely why invoking these events is so out of place—the Islamic State is engaging in the kind of religiously-justified barbarism that Christians did centuries ago. As Bill Maher (who, apparently, is suddenly a big ally of mine) puts it, “The problem with Obama making this statement is that he doesn't make the follow-up statement that I always do: we did it then, they're doing it now.” Granted, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that slavery and Jim Crow are historical atrocities that hit much closer to home, having happened much more recently and within our own country. It is also true, however, that Christianity was the impetus for undoing both slavery and legalized discrimination. Religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the Christian faith in the way it was intended to be and in so doing dismantled one of the great injustices of American history. This is just one of many historical examples of how those who use their faith for the betterment of their fellow man always emerge victorious over those who would distort it to perpetuate oppression.

I have written in this blog before about how Leftists like President Obama are inexplicably bound up in the past, as they believe that today’s white people need to answer for the crimes of their ancestors or that modern-day states’ rights advocates are somehow racist because people using similar arguments to achieve different ends over a century ago were racist. This is one of the inherent contradictions of “progressivism”: even as they claim to look ever forward toward some grand liberal utopia, they spend most of their time obsessing about things that happened centuries and sometimes millennia ago. Even the laws that they champion as paragons of liberal virtue, such as social security and the New Deal, are quickly approaching 100 years of age.

President Obama, as I’ve noted before, is no exception to this backward-looking school of thought. Rather than tackle the tough questions about the violence being perpetrated today by radical Islamists in the name of their faith, he would rather bind the hands of today’s Christians with the sins of their forebears. What’s really appalling to me is that his allies on the Left seek to silence not only Christian critics of Islam, but Muslim ones as well. The president’s remarks last week are merely the latest example of the Left’s continued refusal to have an honest conversation about the numerous despotic governments and terrorist organizations that distort Islam to bloody and barbarous ends today.

One of my favorite Ridley Scott movies, Kingdom of Heaven, paints a very interesting picture of the Crusades, displaying in gory detail the atrocities committed by both sides. It shows, as President Obama reminds us, that terrible deeds were done in the name of Christ in those days. I find to be particularly poignant one scene where a young Italian priest greets a large group of Crusader knights who are arriving in the port city of Messina on their way to the Holy Land. “To kill an infidel, the Pope has said, is not murder,” he beams. “It is the path to heaven.” I would ask President Obama to consider who you tend to see using such rhetoric today: Christians or Muslims? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Left’s disgusting hypocrisy over Charlie Hebdo

For those of you reading this, I know that I don’t have to relate the horrific events that took place in Paris last week. The deaths of eight journalists working for Charlie Hebdo magazine, as well as six bystanders and three police officers who gave their lives defending them, are the tragic result of an abhorrent act of terror perpetrated by radical Islamists who have been rightly and universally condemned by free people all over the world. As I have written before, all human life is sacred and those who deprive innocent people of that most fundamental human right are perpetrators of the lowest evil.

The negative response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks has taken on a variety of forms, from traditional missives from those on the right about the inherent danger and violence of Islam to those on the Left who have upheld the slain journalists as martyrs of free expression. Some, such as noted religion-basher Bill Maher, have not hesitated to use this tragedy as a springboard for renewed attacks on religious fundamentalism. One particular response that has grabbed my attention, however, is that of a subset of leftists who have chosen to condemn the attacks without explicitly endorsing Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of satire. This, on its face, is perfectly reasonable, as Charlie Hebdo’s editorial cartoons are hardly tasteful and often cross the line from off-color comedy to blatant mockery. Their tone is notoriously antireligious, usually displaying subversive imagery of Christian, Jewish, or Muslim figures.

But that is precisely why I have been baffled by the decision of many liberals to object to these cartoons. Isn’t that attitude of mockery toward religion exactly what today’s Left stands for, particularly those in the United States? From the most ordinary picket-line participant all the way up to our nation’s president, the pervasive attitude is to look down on those ignorant country bumpkins who “cling to their guns and religion.” And yet, we now have people like Remy Maisel at Politico Magazine, who says that the humor perpetrated by Charlie Hebdo is not real satire, but “pseudo-satire” because it “lacks focused intent.” Maisel holds up institutions like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show as paragons of “true satire” because they are brave enough to do things like “highlight the relative ineffectiveness of Republicans at engaging with voters through social media” or reacting to 2013’s government shutdown by exposing “both the ridiculousness of the situation and the ways in which it would affect average citizens, with the added bonus of being funny.”

But Charlie Hebdo, he says, isn’t in the same league as those Comedy Central shows because “[t]here’s just nothing brave about secular white men mocking everybody else.” Ah, yes. Here we see the true heart of this peculiar argument—the real reason why most of the Left refuses to defend Charlie Hebdo. Satire may be funny when you are making fun of the Left’s enemies, particularly Republicans in Congress. But if the humor stems from white people (the Left’s undisputed universal bogeymen) making fun of other people, then it’s not funny at all. It is, at best, distasteful (when it comes to making fun of Christians, who are predominantly white) and, at worst, downright bigoted (when it involves Jews and, especially, Muslims). Silly me. I should have known that the one thing that trumps all other lines of argument, even the sanctity of free speech, is race.

Don’t be fooled. These leftists aren’t condemning Charlie Hebdo because of their general antireligious sentiment, even as they attempt to couch their criticisms in defense of “everybody.” No, they are peeved because this silly French magazine decided to go after Muslims, who are a sizable minority in France. And once you’ve achieved minority status, as far as the Left is concerned, you can do no wrong. Now, let me go ahead and say that liberals are correct in saying that we shouldn’t conflate radical Islamic terrorists with the vast majority of Muslims who live in peace around the globe. And we certainly shouldn’t use attacks like the one in Paris as an excuse to further mistreat religious minorities in Europe and beyond.

But that’s about as much slack as I will give those blatant hypocrites. Just imagine if Charlie Hebdo only ever slandered Christians and was attacked by a band of deranged evangelists. No excuses would be made for the attackers then. But then again, that’s kind of hard to imagine, isn’t it? You don’t often see even the most fundamentalist Christian legislators in the United States rallying to chants of “Death to blasphemers!” Apparently, such things happen in Pakistan. Mind you, that’s the same country where a Christian woman is currently on death row for insulting Muhammad during an argument over whether or not she could touch a bowl of water. And let’s not forget Raif Badawi, a liberal reformer in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” The ugly truth is that, while the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are not terrorists, many of them live in oppressive theocracies that enforce intolerance and bigotry as the law. That is not something the Left wants to talk about. Just ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the world’s leading feminist critics of Islam, who was barred from receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University, one of our nation’s bastions of liberal academia, just last year.

It seems to be a universal truth that the Left won’t defend white people, even if the people in question practice exactly what the liberals themselves preach. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually admire Bill Maher for having the intellectual honesty to stick with his guns (bad word choice, I know) on this one. He’s an equal opportunity offender, going after every religion with equal disdain. He, and many like him, simply believe that religion in the root of many of the world’s greatest ills. That’s a perfectly valid point to make, but the Left ought to know that if a discussion to that effect is to be had, it would be downright obtuse not to include Islam in that conversation. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?