Monday, November 14, 2005

A Commentary on the Celebrity Sunday School Teacher

Part-time ex-President and full-time self-promoter Jimmy Carter presents a precis of his latest book, Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, in the ever-obliging LA Times.

On the book, Publishers Weekly has already said (as quoted on Amazon.com), "Too much of the book, however, is a scattershot catalogue of standard liberal gripes against the current administration. Throwing in everything from human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib to global warming, Carter spreads himself too thin over talking points that have already been covered extensively. "

But for the sake of thoroughness, and because commentary is what we do, SWNID here offers the full text of the Times's article with our trenchant commentary. Mr. Carter's words are italicized; the SWNID commentary is in plain type with bold for emphasis.

IN RECENT YEARS, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

The Carter mythology depends on the notion of a bipartisan consensus stretching back to George Washington. We will note below some of the more obvious exceptions to this imagined consensus, some recent, some very old.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.

Like many on the left, and as Carter himself did in the 1980 presidential campaign, Carter equates his partisan positions with categories of virtue. Differences of opinion are not simply that; they are moral failings. Note that this rhetoric seeks to stifle debate, not engage it. Disagree with Carter, and you're immoral.

Also endangered are our historic commitments to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility.

Here the irony is ripe: Carter's rhetoric only works if it silences "dissenting voices," i.e., voices that disagree with Carter. But as to the effect of the so-called lack of respect for dissenting voices, we note that his book was published by Simon & Schuester and his column by the LA Times.

As to state and local autonomy, we believe that the administration that Carter criticizes was lambasted for insisting on some degree of state and local autonomy in disaster response. As to fiscal responsibility, well, we believe that the nation's accounts are have been in better shape in every year since Mr. Carter left office than they were in any year during is misrule.

As to truthfulness, the "Bush lied" thesis has been examined twice by the Senate, and now will get a third hearing because of Harry Reid's hissy fit a few weeks ago. So could we at least assume innocence until guilt is proved, even if the President must be subject to triple jeopardy?

At the same time, our political leaders have declared independence from the restraints of international organizations and have disavowed long-standing global agreements — including agreements on nuclear arms, control of biological weapons and the international system of justice.

Now here's where Carter imagines his own special America. The United States, since throwing off the shackles of British imperialism, has been singularly independent in its approach to world affairs. Remember Washington's warnings about "foreign entanglements"? Remember the Monroe Doctrine? Remember nonmembership in the League of Nations? Our relationship to international organizations and treaties has always been ambivalent at best.

Instead of our tradition of espousing peace as a national priority unless our security is directly threatened, we have proclaimed a policy of "preemptive war," an unabridged right to attack other nations unilaterally to change an unsavory regime or for other purposes. When there are serious differences with other nations, we brand them as international pariahs and refuse to permit direct discussions to resolve disputes.

Yes, this is indeed a difference. Except with Grenada in the 80s. Or Panama, for that matter. Well, and then we weren't exactly attacked in the Mexican-American War. And there's the question as to whether the Spanish really did sink the Maine. And the case for war in WWI was not entirely clear-cut, especially after Wilson (whose policies Bush's resemble remarkably) campaigned on a pledge not to enter Europe's war.

Really, one can make the case that the only clearly justified American war was the Pacific portion of WWII, and then one can make the case that it didn't need to be carried out to its conclusion of unconditional surrender.

As to the nations branded "pariahs," one shudders to think that Carter is ready to admit the People's Republic of Korea back into the family of respectable nations. And one shudders that Carter is indifferent to the manifest reform of such nations as Lebanon and Libya (cf. discussion of human rights below).

In Carter's world, Kim Jong Il is a world citizen and George W. Bush is a world pariah. Hmm.

Regardless of the costs, there are determined efforts by topUS. leaders to exert American imperial dominance throughout the world.

I recall another President who insisted that we "speak softly and carry a big stick." But this Bush's policy is not Teddy's. The First and Better Roosevelt wanted to use American naval and military might to promote American commercial interests. Loosely that can be called imperialism, but of a capitalist variety. Bush's policy, however, is more like TR's projection of power with Wilson's expansion of democracy. Call it muscular Wilsonian foreign policy. Is it imperialism to risk lives, treasure and sacred honor to overthrow someone else's dictator and give that someone else a vote?

Hmm. Sounds pretty American. And pretty bipartisan.

These revolutionary policies have been orchestrated by those who believe that our nation's tremendous power and influence should not be internationally constrained. Even with our troops involved in combat and America facing the threat of additional terrorist attacks, our declaration of "You are either with us or against us!" has replaced the forming of alliances based on a clear comprehension of mutual interests, including the threat of terrorism.

Well, there are a lot of alliances out there, Mr. Carter. There are the 40 or so nations involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are all the nations that voted for various UN resolutions, on the basis of which American and British forces invaded Iraq.

Well, the French aren't there. And do you see how well that's going for them right now?

We didn't mention the five-nation talks about North Korea's nukes, but then to do that would simply bring up another Carter failure, that infamous "agreement" he free-lanced during the Clinton administration with North Korea.

Another disturbing realization is that, unlike during other times of national crisis, the burden of conflict is now concentrated exclusively on the few heroic men and women sent back repeatedly to fight in the quagmire of Iraq. The rest of our nation has not been asked to make any sacrifice, and every effort has been made to conceal or minimize public awareness of casualties.

Sigh. We hate to mention this, but the only war that really fits this "sacrifice" mode that wasn't fought on American soil is World War II. If national mobilization would help, well, maybe someone would propose it. Do you see a place for Victory Gardens in the Global War on Terror, Mr. Carter?

But let's remember that for Mr. Carter, a sacrifice is turning down the thermostat, putting on a sweater, buying a compact car, and pledging not to leave the White House until the hostages are free.

Instead of cherishing our role as the great champion of human rights, we now find civil liberties and personal privacy grossly violated under some extreme provisions of the Patriot Act.

Let's name one clear example of a gross violation of human rights under the Patriot Act, passed 99-0 by the US Senate. Name one, Mr. Carter! We dare you!

Now, let's talk about what's at stake. The last terrorist attack on American soil took about 3000 lives. So are you cool with the idea of the FBI and CIA sharing information in that light?

The Constitution is not a suicide pact. Yet SWNID notices no spooks at our public library branch or listening in on our mobile phone.

Of even greater concern is that theUS. has repudiated the Geneva accords and espoused the use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and secretly through proxy regimes elsewhere with the so-called extraordinary rendition program. It is embarrassing to see the president and vice president insisting that the CIA should be free to perpetrate "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment" on people inUS. custody.

The value of torture as a means of interrogation is debatable. But this moral quandary is not: if torture can yield information that will prevent and imminent terrorist attack that will take many lives, should it be used? Mr. Carter, is your own sense of your moral purity so important that you would not authorize that someone be put in pain and fear so that many other people would not be killed or injured?

Instead of reducing America's reliance on nuclear weapons and their further proliferation, we have insisted on our right (and that of others) to retain our arsenals, expand them, and therefore abrogate or derogate almost all nuclear arms control agreements negotiated during the last 50 years. We have now become a prime culprit in global nuclear proliferation. America also has abandoned the prohibition of "first use" of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear nations, and is contemplating the previously condemned deployment of weapons in space.

As Baroness Thatcher observed before she was a baroness, "You can't uninvent nuclear weapons." The usefulness of American nuclear arms remains their deterrent value. Mr. Kim knows that if he uses a single nuke, he and all of his friends will be vaporized. Those who insist on following Cold War treaties after the Cold War is over risk being labeled Battleship Admirials.

And those who think that if the US reduces its arsenal, other nations will give up their nuclear ambitions risk being labeled naive.

Protection of the environment has fallen by the wayside because of government subservience to political pressure from the oil industry and other powerful lobbying groups. The last five years have brought continued lowering of pollution standards at home and almost universal condemnation of our nation's global environmental policies.

So the rest of the world doesn't like our environmental policies, even though we enjoy a very fine level of environmental quality on our shores? Hmm. So the rest of the world wants us to ratify and follow Kyoto? Hmm. How are they doing with it? Oh, yes: none of the signatories have met their targets so far. Hmm.

To speak plainly: Mr. Carter insists on morally vilifying policies on which there is simple disagreement. Bush and the Republicans simply have a different view on the effectiveness of various kinds of environmental legislation.

Our government has abandoned fiscal responsibility by unprecedented favors to the rich, while neglecting America's working families. Members of Congress have increased their own pay by $30,000 per year since freezing the minimum wage at $5.15 per hour (the lowest among industrialized nations).

Well, I'm glad I'm rich, because I got a nice tax cut from Mr. Bush and company. And how is it helpful to the poor if the government takes away more money from Bill Gates? Does that create jobs, or lower consumer prices, or spark innovation, or encourage philanthropy?

As to that minimum wage: how many people are earning it these days? And how are the higher minimums working in France, just to pick a nation at random? How do you feel about 12% unemployment, with 40% among people 15-25?

And while we're on it, what's your deal for royalties from Simon & Schuester? What's that Presidential pension these days?

I am extremely concerned by a fundamentalist shift in many houses of worship and in government, as church and state have become increasingly intertwined in ways previously thought unimaginable.

We note that you didn't have the nerve to say "a fundamentalist shift in many Americans' religious views." You had to depersonalize and institutionalize it with "houses of worship," as if "houses" believed anything.

First, Mr. Carter, stop dropping the f-word. "Fundamentalist" represents something very specific in American Christianity, and the fundies are not your problem. By definition, fundies are not politically engaged; they withdraw. The evangelicals are your problem. You used to be one, until you were turned off by what you saw in the Southern Baptist Convention. Your social tastes and political alliances drove you from the church of your childhood and adulthood.

Second, how can you criticize Americans for having thereligiouss views that they do and then say that your opponent is being un-American? Are you not down with the First Amendment?

Third, please note that American religion has always tended toward conservatism, revivalism, and the move from faith to social activism.

Fourth, where is this sinister intertwining of religion and government? In the essentially stillborn "faith-based initiatives"? In the discussion of intelligent design in the classroom? These shake the foundations of our freedoms? How fragile do you think our freedoms are?

As the world's only superpower, America should be seen as the unswerving champion of peace, freedom and human rights. Our country should be the focal point around which other nations can gather to combat threats to international security and to enhance the quality of our common environment. We should be in the forefront of providing human assistance to people in need.

Mr. Carter, please note: peace, freedom and human rights are exactly what we're fighting to create in Iraq and Afghanistan. And guess what: it's working. Not perfectly. Nothing does. But it's working. And you know it.

Iraq is free. Tibet is not. See the difference?

It is time for the deep and disturbing political divisions within our country to be substantially healed, with Americans united in a common commitment to revive and nourish the historic political and moral values that we have espoused during the last 230 years.

Spare us the rhetoric on division. You learned that from the other lefty whiners. "Division" for the left is what exists when people dissent from the conventional wisdom of the left.

As to historic political and moral values that we have espoused during the last 230 years, I'd say that we're right in line with those. We're using our considerable economic and military strength to promote democracy. As we declared the Western Hemisphere closed to colonization, as we resisted British attempts to reassert sovereignty, as we fought to liberate the Southwest from dictatorship and blacks from slavery, as we pre-empted Spanish imperialism, as we fought for democracy against imperialism and fascism, as we contained and battled communism, so we are fighting Islamo-fascist imperialsm and its Baathist ally. Sounds familiar to me!

American history is filled with all kinds of nastiness. But to say that the Bushadministrationn is un-American in its policies is, well, uninformed historically and un-American rhetorically.

At least we remember why we all voted against this guy in 1980.

Viva la Reagan Revolution!

2 comments:

Guy named Courtney said...

I was just wondering where Jesse Jackson ranks in as the world most embarrassing Christian, http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=nfl&id=2222464
I mean, Pat Robertson at least hasn't publically supported T.O.

JB in CA said...

Okay, okay, so Carter's book stinks. But you have to admit that it's infinitely better than his poetry.