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    Posted by Sean at 11:31, September 25th, 2011

    At my parents’ place for the weekend. Kitty the Younger says, “How is it possible that there are more humans in the house than usual?” I’ve tried to explain that I have no sympathy, having spent the last week navigating through makeshift checkpoints to get to my own apartment building while the neighborhood was overrun with UN types and their hangers-on. “But they didn’t look in at you while you were trying to sleep.” Okay. Point taken.

    Dumdums in Paradise

    Posted by Sean at 08:38, September 21st, 2011

    Instapundit links to David Brooks’s latest repellent column, in which he uses the old trick of repeating the same self-abasing apology over and over and over in the hopes that his audience will say, “Well, gee, don’t beat yourself up over it; it wasn’t that big a deal”:

    Being a sap, I still believe that the president’s soul would like to do something about the country’s structural problems.* I keep thinking he’s a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away. He whispered about seriously reforming Medicare but then opted for changes that are worthy but small. He talks about fundamental tax reform, but I keep forgetting that he has promised never to raise taxes on people in the bottom 98 percent of the income scale.


    The president believes the press corps imposes a false equivalency on American politics. We assign equal blame to both parties for the dysfunctional politics when in reality the Republicans are more rigid and extreme. There’s a lot of truth to that, but at least Republicans respect Americans enough to tell us what they really think. The White House gives moderates little morsels of hope, and then rips them from our mouths. To be an Obama admirer is to toggle from being uplifted to feeling used.

    The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.

    Why, yes, you are! And a ninny. Not that that’s anything new. Years ago, someone (I think Diana Mertz Hsieh, though I can’t seem to find it in her archives) made the point that a lot of people who congratulate themselves on how “moderate” they are are trying to prioritize several conflicting things at once. Packaging themselves as friendly and accommodating means they don’t have to make hard decisions about priorities or look for the flaws in their own logic. It means they can think they sound saintly, rather than moronic, when they bleat things like “I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country.” Which stale ideological debates? Those in which each of the two major parties is at pains to show that the other has a worse record of pork-barreling and pandering to beneficiaries of major entitlements? Okay. I’m happy to call that one a draw.

    But then we still have the debates over how much earnings the government should commandeer and spend, whether the government should try to pick winners and losers in industry, and how best to exercise our role as a superpower. We may get sick of discussing those things, but they’re only “stale” if you wish the opposing side would just shut up and accommodate you already.

    Also, hovering in there is the unsavory implication that those who let themselves be duped by Obama are still superior because they were motivated by caring too much. Brooks ends, after all, with yet another “I’m a sap,” not “I’ve learned my lesson and won’t let sentiment get in the way of my principles again.” This is the sort of thing I’m seeing a lot of here in New York: acknowledging that one was a sucker for Obama’s rhetoric but concluding that, really, it’s better to be hopeful, optimistic, willing to take chances, willing to believe…than to be a crabby, cynical libertarian like some other people in the room.

    Sorry—no sale. I feel a great deal of sympathy for those who agonized over their vote in 2008, recognized that they were making a necessary compromise, and decided that Obama’s excesses would probably be reined in by the rest of the Washington machine. I feel no sympathy whatever for people who were more concerned with affirming their own ability to dream than with looking reality in the face. (And yes, I know that Brooks may not be a naturalized citizen and may not have been able to vote; his cheerleading was offense enough.)

    * And you thought repellent was too strong a word, didn’t you?


    Posted by Sean at 18:02, September 11th, 2011

    Just about everyone I know here in the City wants to “move forward,” which is a slightly euphemistic way of saying “not spend time thinking about 9-11 and what it meant.” I was living abroad at the time and don’t know what it was like to be here, seeing the ash cloud and the absence where the towers used to be without the mediation of the camera. Not reliving a personal trauma you can do nothing to alter is a sensible way of dealing with it, and we Americans have moving forward in our blood. Our ancestors were the ones who didn’t just sit still and accept the trouble they’d been born into; they moved and left it behind.

    That’s a good way to be, right up to the point at which you’re conveniently ditching the lessons of the past in addition to its grudges. I’m not happy with everything we did in response to 9-11, but I think we were right in the main. The spy capers and cops-and-robbers action many people were suggesting toward the end of 2001 sound nice, but they require more coordination to pull off than our super-bureaucracies have shown themselves capable of. (Naturally, we had to add one [Homeland Security] and inflate the power of another [the TSA] so that it’s now body-searching American air passengers with an avidity normally associated with the more disreputable South African diamond mines, but my libertarian ire at those developments is a topic for another day.) I’ve supported the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions since when they were announced, and I still think they were the best serious plan anyone had proposed. I don’t like the idea of America as the world police, but I do like the idea of showing terrorist groups and the regimes that support them that they had better not try that again. I’ll be overjoyed if the result is an efflorescence of democracy in the Middle East, but the most we can make a priority is leaving behind functional societies that know the US is not to be trifled with.

    9-11 and what came after have seen the best in many Americans: acts of bravery both by ordinary citizens thrust into extraordinary circumstances and by our trained defenders who put themselves in harms way to keep the rest of us safe. There’s nothing morbid or solipsistic about failing to “move on” with such alacrity that we don’t take time to honor them, or to reflect on the eternal truth that barbarism is always looking for ways to bring down civilization. Our way works, and we’re right to hit back, hard, when it’s attacked.

    Added: Sarah has a post up in which she says the following:

    We can stop looking like the patsies of the world. We can stop being so easy to hate. That starts one on one, and person on person. You do not let foreign friends, in fact or online, talk about the US as being responsible for their plight. You just don’t. You man up; you woman up; you adult-it up. You educate yourself and you come back with facts. You tell them the truth and shame the devil.

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people will accuse you of “politicizing” a discussion on a social occasion if you respond to some casual America-sucks/the-West-is-oppressive-and-awful remark of theirs with an actual, like, dissenting response. It can be immensely satisfying, if still wearisome, to maintain an amiable tone of voice while asking exactly what is political about saying, “I think President Bush has done an admirable job of staying restrained under trying circumstances, considering what most global military powers through history would have done immediately after an unannounced attack on their people,” and not about saying, “Cowboy! Quagmire! Root causes! Disproportionate force!”

    It’s especially odd to hear this stuff in Japan, the very model of a country that took its competitive impulses into the sphere of the market after our grandparents bombed them into recognizing that it was pointless to keep them in that of the military. The Japanese archipelago has few mineral resources, and its arable land would fit into my parents’ backyard in Pennsylvania, but Japan focused on the resources (dogged human effort and learning) it had and figured out how to make them into prosperity and an orderly society. What exactly is America doing to prevent other countries from doing the same? Colonialism had a lot of bad effects, and our history classes in the US rightly point them out. But the burden of proof is on post-colonial-studies types to explain why countries that are now independent are supposed to be full of people who can only chafe resentfully at oppression.