Thursday, March 23, 2006
A Vision, Bruised and Dented by David Brooks
The big question in Democratic circles is, Who can win? The big question in Republican circles is, What do we believe? The setbacks in Iraq, the failure to limit the size of government and plummeting poll numbers have changed the way Republicans talk and govern.
If you wanted to put these changes in a nutshell, you'd say the Republicans have gone from soaring Bushian universalism to nervous, dumbed-down Huntingtonism.
Just over a year ago, Republicans were thrilling to the lofty sentiments of President Bush's second inaugural: that freedom is God's gift to humanity, that people everywhere hunger for liberty. To explain his efforts to democratize the Middle East, Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
Today, many Republicans have lost patience with Bush's high-minded creedal statements. Like the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, they have come to believe that culture matters most. Lofty notions about universal liberty splinter on the shoals of Arab customs.
Heartfelt convictions about reducing the size of government disintegrate inside the culture of Washington. Many Republicans have lost faith in efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn't exaggerate how much we can change.
In the realm of foreign affairs, we have seen the rise of what Richard Lowry of National Review calls the " 'To Hell With Them' Hawks." These, Lowry writes, "are conservatives who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem." They look at car bombs and cartoon riots and wonder whether Islam is really a religion of peace. They look at the mayhem in the Middle East and just want to withdraw. After all, in his book "The Clash of Civilizations," Huntington didn't want to change the Muslim world — he just called for less contact with it.
In the field of immigration, Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is; how slowly the Mexicans assimilate, if at all; how much disorder and strain their presence creates.
There is a chance that in the next few weeks, the G.O.P. will walk off a cliff on the subject of immigration. In the desperate effort to win back their base, Republican senators may follow Bill Frist and embrace a draconian enforcement-only immigration bill (which will lose them Florida and the Southwest for a generation).
Finally, there is the issue of domestic poverty. Hurricane Katrina rekindled a brief resurgence of compassionate conservatism, at least for President Bush. But Republicans in Congress were having none of it. They appropriated the money they had to, but they had no confidence that the federal government could do anything effective to transform the culture of poverty: the out-of-wedlock births, the family breakdowns and so on.
In short, Republicans seem to have gone from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.
Recently, I've spilled a lot of ink stressing the importance of culture as we think about poverty, development and foreign affairs. But it's dismaying to see so many Republicans veer overboard into a vulgarized version of Huntingtonist cultural determinism.
European conservatives from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott usefully remind us of the power of culture and tradition. But American conservatives — from Hamilton to Reagan — have never taken that path precisely because they believe in the power of the American creed, precisely because they have an Enlightenment faith in the power of reason to change minds.
Whether in Iraq or the barrio, history is not a prison. Culture shapes people, but cultures are changeable.
Fortunately, there is a great Republican leader who understood the balance between culture and creed: Abraham Lincoln. In this spring of Republican discontent, his approach and governing method will make a good subject for a future column.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
You can also read about Cardinal Mahony's remarkable fight against HR 4437 at Catholic Cardinal Mahony Rebukes Bush on Immigration, Pledges to Defy Proposed New Law.
Called by God to Help by Roger Mahony
I've received a lot of criticism for stating last month that I would instruct the priests of my archdiocese to disobey a proposed law that would subject them, as well as other church and humanitarian workers, to criminal penalties. The proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives in December and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week, would among other things subject to five years in prison anyone who "assists" an undocumented immigrant "to remain in the United States."
Some supporters of the bill have even accused the church of encouraging illegal immigration and meddling in politics. But I stand by my statement. Part of the mission of the Roman Catholic Church is to help people in need. It is our Gospel mandate, in which Christ instructs us to clothe the naked, feed the poor and welcome the stranger. Indeed, the Catholic Church, through Catholic Charities agencies around the country, is one of the largest nonprofit providers of social services in the nation, serving both citizens and immigrants.
Providing humanitarian assistance to those in need should not be made a crime, as the House bill decrees. As written, the proposed law is so broad that it would criminalize even minor acts of mercy like offering a meal or administering first aid.
Current law does not require social service agencies to obtain evidence of legal status before rendering aid, nor should it. Denying aid to a fellow human being violates a law with a higher authority than Congress — the law of God.
That does not mean that the Catholic Church encourages or supports illegal immigration. Every day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the baleful consequences of illegal immigration. Families are separated, workers are exploited and migrants are left by smugglers to die in the desert. Illegal immigration serves neither the migrant nor the common good.
What the church supports is an overhaul of the immigration system so that legal status and legal channels for migration replace illegal status and illegal immigration. Creating legal structures for migration protects not only those who migrate but also our nation, by giving the government the ability to better identify who is in the country as well as to control who enters it.
Only comprehensive reform of the immigration system, embodied in the principles of another proposal in Congress, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration bill, will help solve our current immigration crisis.
Enforcement-only proposals like the Border Protection act take the country in the opposite direction. Increasing penalties, building more detention centers and erecting walls along our border with Mexico, as the act provides, will not solve the problem.
The legislation will not deter migrants who are desperate to survive and support their families from seeking jobs in the United States. It will only drive them further into the shadows, encourage the creation of more elaborate smuggling networks and cause hardship and suffering.
I hope that the Senate will not take the same enforcement-only road as the House.
The unspoken truth of the immigration debate is that at the same time our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers. They work in industries that are vital to our economy yet they have little legal protection and no opportunity to contribute fully to our nation.
While we gladly accept their taxes and sweat, we do not acknowledge or uphold their basic labor rights. At the same time, we scapegoat them for our social ills and label them as security threats and criminals to justify the passage of anti-immigrant bills.
This situation affects the dignity of millions of our fellow human beings and makes immigration, ultimately, a moral and ethical issue. That is why the church is compelled to take a stand against harmful legislation and to work toward positive change.
It is my hope that our elected officials will understand this and enact immigration reform that respects our common humanity and reflects the values — fairness, compassion and opportunity — upon which our nation, a nation of immigrants, was built.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
About That Rebellion ...
We keep hearing that the Republicans in Congress are in revolt against the president.
Yes, the Republicans defied President Bush on the United Arab Emirates ports deal. But it wasn't over a major principle, like the collapse of Congressional supervision of the executive branch or the incredibly lax security in the nation's ports, or even the security issues posed by this particular deal.
The Republicans dumped the ports deal into the harbor because of xenophobia and electoral tactics. Republican pollsters have been saying the president could be a liability in the fall elections, so lawmakers posed as rebels for voters who, they think, want rebels. They know those voters are unhappy about globalization, and specifically hostile toward Arabs.
The idea that a happy few are charging the White House ramparts is ridiculous. Republican lawmakers don't just turn a blind eye when they learn that the president is making profoundly bad choices, like cutting constitutional corners, abrogating treaties and even breaking the law.
They actually legalize the president's misdeeds.
Take domestic spying, held up as another area of Republican revolt. The program violates the law. Congress knows it. The public knows it. Even President Bush knows it. (He just says the law doesn't apply to him.) In response, the Capitol Hill rebels are boldly refusing to investigate the program — or any other warrantless spying that is going on. They are trying to rewrite the law to legalize warrantless spying. And meanwhile, they've created new subcommittees to help the president go on defying the law.
Over the last couple of years, Republican lawmakers have been given proof that American soldiers and intelligence agents abused, tortured and even killed prisoners, or sent them to other countries to be tortured. Without hesitation, the Republicans did nothing — no serious investigation, no accountability.
Congressional and White House negotiators then watered down the new anti-torture law, which Mr. Bush said did not really apply to him anyway. And they passed another law actually encouraging the abuse of prisoners by allowing the use of coerced evidence at hearings on the prisoners' status.
After 9/11, Mr. Bush created a network of prisons outside the American legal system so he could hold people indefinitely without any hearings. When the Supreme Court said twice that he was reaching beyond his powers, the Republicans in Congress were determined not to let this assault on the rule of law continue. So they rose as one, and legalized the president's actions.
In case there was any confusion about its resolve, Congress told the courts that they could no longer rule on these matters. Mr. Bush got the message, loud and clear. He sent his lawyers right out to inform the judges, including the Supreme Court, that they had to drop all the cases that were already before them.
And all this does not even include the act of open rebellion by which the Senate is helping the White House cover up the hyping of intelligence on Iraq.
With rebels like these, who needs loyalists?
Monday, March 06, 2006
Nuclear Madness By Bob Herbert
The key to understanding the Bush administration and its policies is contained in the widely cited New York Times Magazine article, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," by Ron Suskind.
That's the article in which Mr. Suskind described how a senior Bush adviser contemptuously dismissed the community that most of us live in, "the reality-based community."
The times have changed and reality isn't what it used to be. As the adviser explained, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
This mad-hatter thinking was on display again last week. President Bush, who used specious claims about a nuclear threat to launch his disastrous war in Iraq, agreed to a deal — in blatant violation of international accords and several decades of bipartisan U.S. policy — that would enable India to double or triple its annual production of nuclear weapons.
The president turned his back on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (dismissed, like reality-based thinking, as passé) and moved the world a step closer to an accelerated nuclear arms race in Asia and elsewhere. In the president's empire-based, otherworldly way of thinking, this was a good thing.
For decades, U.S. law and the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty have precluded the sale of nuclear fuel and reactor components to India, which has acquired an atomic arsenal and has refused to sign the treaty. President Bush turned that policy upside down last week, agreeing to share nuclear energy technology with India, even as it continues to develop nuclear weapons in a program that is shielded from international inspectors.
The attempt to stop the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five original members of the so-called nuclear club — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — has not been perfect by any means. But it hasn't been bad. Back in the 1960's there was a fear that before long there might be dozens of additional states with nuclear weapons. But so far the spread has been held to four — Israel, India, Pakistan and most likely North Korea.
A cornerstone of the nonproliferation strategy has been the refusal to share nuclear energy technology with nations unwilling to abide by the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty. Last week George W. Bush decided he would change all that by carving out an exception for India.
Presidents from both parties — from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton — had refused to make this deal, which India has wanted for more than three decades.
"It's a terrible deal, a disaster," said Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment. "The Indians are free to make as much nuclear material as they want. Meanwhile, we're going to sell them fuel for their civilian reactors. That frees up their resources for the military side, and that stinks."
With President Bush undermining the nonproliferation treaty, critics are worried that it's only a matter of time before other bilateral deals are made — say, China with Pakistan, which has already asked Mr. Bush for a deal similar to India's and been turned down.
"We can't break the rules for India and then expect other countries to play by them," said Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is one of the leading opponents of the deal, which will require Congressional approval.
In the early 1960's, President John F. Kennedy, a member in good standing of the reality-based community, tried to convey the menace posed to mankind by nuclear weapons. "Today," he said, "every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
Today, in 2006, as Congressman Markey reminds us, terrorists as well as rogue governments are racing to get their hands on nukes.
"We've had a consensus for a generation," he said, "that the world will cooperate to restrict the spread of these nuclear materials. If this consensus breaks down, then we increase exponentially the likelihood that the catastrophic event that Kennedy warned about will, in fact, occur."
Thursday, March 02, 2006
And is there any end to which Republican leadership will not sacrifice human safety for corporate profits? It appears not.
A New York Times editorial today.....
The Abusive New Federalism
After a murky legislative process distinguished by a lack of any public hearing, the House is ready to rush to approve a special-interest measure for the food industry today. The bill would pre-empt all state food safety regulations that are more protective than federal standards. A bipartisan majority behind this clearly dangerous bill is echoing the industry's line that the goal is simply to end consumers' confusion about varying state regulations that govern warning labels and protective inspections.
If consumers believe that, then we have some bottled water to sell them that no longer warns of arsenic levels, and a salmon fillet that drops the distinction between fish originating in the wild and fish from a farm. Such information and a much larger array of warnings could be expunged under the bill.
Professional associations of state health, farm and consumer officials — denied a hearing before Congress and taxpayers — warn consumers that countless protections on the state and local levels would be gutted in favor of a lowest-common-denominator dictated by food and retail interests.
The broad proposal threatens existing food safety programs affecting things like restaurant sanitation and sales of milk and numerous other vital products. The bill would invent a burdensome process by which states would have to petition federal officials to restore the safety regulations they now have.
The driving force behind the bill seems to be the challenge to industry forces posed by California, which is leading the way in demanding consumer warnings about mercury levels in fish, lead in calcium supplements and other hazards. Other states have followed suit.
Proponents of the bill in the food industry and Congress claim that their goal is being misunderstood. If so, they should pull the bill back and prove their case at open hearings that treat the public interest as something more than a nonentity.