Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Democracy Is Still Best

Michael Ledeen, who has a great deal of experience with the history of 20th Century fascism, tries (here) to put into perspective the free Palestinian elections that swept the terror group Hamas to victory. He says that “the Palestinians were offered a Hobson's Choice between two tyrannical organizations”

Ledeen admits that people will sometimes freely choose tyranny over freedom, but says this is no reason to oppose the extension of democratic societies. He cites the popularity of the fascist regimes of 20th Century central Europe, which he also says are the best models for today’s Islamofascism. “The horror of fascism … is precisely its popular success.” He briefly explores the psychology behind the drive to “escape from the burdens of freedom.”

Ledeen scoffs at the view that some people are simply incapable of democracy. He says contemporary history gainsays this view. “It's silly to believe that a society without democratic traditions can't create a democracy; if that were true there would never have been any democracies at all.”

Ledeen argues that the two ways to tame tyranny are by internal uprising or external war. He suggests that Iran is ripe for internal uprising and that Iraq is a good model of war achieving this goal. He says that while desire for and fear of freedom are universal, “most human beings will fight for freedom when the time is right.”

Ledeen argues that current conditions make this the right time. He calls for moving rapidly to support “the revolutionaries with the enthusiasm they deserve.” Of course, Ledeen’s critics say he “is apparently capable of viewing diplomacy only through the barrel of a gun.” But his critics have few (if any) promising ideas, so why trust them?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Would You Vote For This Man II

Edmund F. Haislmaier takes exception with Sally Pipes’ take (see my previous post) on Romney’s health care proposal here. Of course, Hailmaier has been one of the chief architects of the Romney plan. Drawing an analogy between the automobile business and the health care industry, he says:
“The solution offered by the Left has been to standardize coverage and benefits. In practice, that ends up looking like Henry Ford's auto market — only one or two car models (all painted black), but obtainable from lots of independent dealers.

“The Romney approach is the inverse of the Henry Ford model. Call it the "CarMax" model — lots of different kinds of cars to choose from, all obtainable through one giant dealership.”
Haislmaier says, “Like a stock or commodity exchange, Romney's health-insurance exchange would be a clearinghouse but never a product regulator.” He also argues that the plan is the best they can hope for because Mitt lacks sufficient votes to completely scrap the existing bad system.

Haislmaier takes Pipes to task on several of her statements. One should really read both articles. Haislmaier admits that the plan requires universal participation, but tries to take the edge off by arguing that it is actually more fair than the current system. The Libertarian in me chokes on that.

Maybe Mitt’s not such a bad guy after all.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Would You Vote For This Man?

If you’re a conservative that has been thinking you could support Mitt Romney in his presidential run, think again. If what he is attempting to do in Massachusetts is a harbinger of his thought on federal policy, conservatives have good reason to keep him out of the White House.

Sally Pipes says here, “In a nutshell, then, the Republican presidential hopeful is pouring political capital into creating a new state health-care bureaucracy, further regulating health insurance, forcing individuals to spend their money on a government designed product, and increasing spending by $200 million.”

Why is this bad? “Conservatives who believe in free markets simply cannot accept the rhetoric equating morality and compassion with universal third-party health insurance coverage.” Pipes says that government regulations bear a significant portion of the blame for the high cost of health insurance. She argues that Romney should be abolishing agencies and deregulating if he is truly interested in helping those that can least afford health insurance.

Here is another interesting article about how reducing government interference can help create “a vibrant, competitive medical marketplace that puts constant downward pressure on prices while striving to improve quality” that will ultimately serve everyone better.

I’m afraid that Romney’s Massachusetts proposal throws him in the same boat with Hillary. Sure, he looks better and hits on the power phrases in speeches that give conservatives goose bumps, but actions speak louder than words.

The Church of Recycling

If you think the whole Intelligent Design thing is about following irrational dogma, check out James Thayer’s article about the church of recycling. He notes that Seattle’s sanitation workers have been given police powers to enforce the once voluntary but now mandatory recycling program.

I live in a city with curbside recycling. I have wheeled my often-full recycling bin to the curb every other week for years while my heart has filled with environmentally friendly warm fuzzies.

Thayer killed all of my little warm fuzzies by putting evidence in front of my face that shows that there is no rational basis for our municipal recycling programs. It appears that all of them are more expensive than traditional methods of waste disposal and none of them is necessary. Nor are they truly environmentally friendly.

One quoted expert says recycling is an environmentalist “sacred cow,” while another calls it an “irrational religion” in which “perfervid faith compensates for lack of factual support.” The only things of value these programs apparently provide are warm fuzzies – but they come at a cost.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The War Against the People

My dad, who is an immigrant to this country, is a great student of history. He recently remarked to me that there has been a tug-of-war been two opposing philosophies about people in this country since its inception, with elitism on one side and populism on the other.

Rachel DiCarlo captures the spirit of this conflict in her article about the war against the automobile. In discussing the freedom to choose the best transportation option, she says, “Cultural elites and central planners aren't interested in arguments about these types of choices because they think that, given the choice, ordinary citizens will usually make the wrong one.” This conflicts with the populist view that the voice of the people will ultimately be better than the voice of a few high-minded snobs.

DiCarlo doesn’t gloss over the problems created by cars, but she also discusses the significance of personal automobiles to culture, society, and individual lives. She explores the fact that the rise of the automobile has been the single most important factor in raising the standard of living, with the greatest positive impact being on the working poor.

DiCarlo takes on many of the anti-car crowd’s most cherished arguments. She notes the steady increase in personal driving as opposed to the recent decrease in use of mass transit. She seems to suggest that, although the car presents a number of problems, we should get busy addressing meaningful ways to resolve them, as many of the elitist solutions are not working.

DiCarlo concludes with yet another example of the elitist-populist tug-of-war. Describing the anti-car crowd’s world view, she says, “To them, the car is a symptom of an entire lifestyle they find objectionable: that is, mobility and choice for all.” In fact, when you look at the elitist proposals, they don’t even do much to hide this philosophy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Does Our Society Treat Boys Like Defective Girls?

I grew up with four brothers and no sisters. I have four sons and one daughter. I have worked with Boy Scout groups for decades. Believe me, I understand this boy thing. But our society doesn’t, at least not officially.

The current Newsweek cover story by Peg Tyre, The Trouble With Boys says today’s education situation a crisis for boys. The article starts with the story of a struggling sophomore boy in Salt Lake City whose mother is divorced. Tyre makes the point that this boy’s situation is hardly unique.

Three decades ago as feminism was making tremendous inroads into our culture, it was noted that girls academically lagged behind boys in many areas. That was news to me. All of the smartest students in my class were girls – except for Neal Chambers, but hey, he always wore a dress shirt with the top button buttoned until he finally unbuttoned it toward the end of our senior year. But then you could see the collar of his white undershirt. He was, of course, our valedictorian. But he was an anomaly.

We have spent the ensuing decades refashioning our education system to cater to girls. As girls were catching up with boys, the performance of boys was trending downward. A decade and a half ago, when this was noted, we behaved like C.S. Lewis’ analogy of people running around with fire extinguishers in a time of flood, and we increased our emphasis on catering to girls.

We did this because we were assured that all differences between males and females were mainly superficial, and were the result of socialization. With proper socialization, crude males could become refined as well. As a society we have come to (officially) believe that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls because we train them to do so. It has been the height of political incorrectness to assert the obvious — that boys and girls are physiologically and psychologically different by nature. Their brains are different. They develop and learn differently.

Boys now fail school at critical rates. We dope up an amazing number of them to get them to behave more like girls so they are more manageable in classroom settings. They are woefully underrepresented on college campuses. Michael Thompson, coauthor of Raising Cain says that we have institutionalized girl behavior as the gold standard and treat boys “like defective girls.” The result of our policies and attitudes cannot be surprising. When it comes to education, boys are in crisis. The Newsweek article reveals study after study that comes to the apparently shocking conclusion that boys and girls are indeed inherently different.

The main problem, Tyre says, is the lack of a good male role model in the lives of many boys. In our headlong rush to secure female independence, we have worked to make fathers irrelevant. Rich Lowery is more succinct about it here.
“What we have witnessed recently — with more evidence of the differences between men and women, and the importance of the old-fashioned two-parent family — is biology's revenge. If we deny what is deep-down in our nature, people get hurt — in this case, the rambunctious boys missing out on the great adventure that is learning.”
Tyre discusses a number of efforts that are now underway to deal with the crisis. Different teaching methods are employed for boys and girls. Teachers are trying out more action-packed methods. Boys without father figures are being paired up with mentors from the community. Some of these programs are having an impact, but it will take many years to reverse the damage we have caused.

Despite this crisis, our society is working hard to promote tolerance to the point of destroying the institution we need most – the traditional two-parent family with both a male and a female role model, where both parents fulfill their responsibilities to each other and to their children. Even as the pop culture regularly portrays men as unfeeling dolts, the tolerance crowd continues to blindly claim that their proposals will not harm the basic institution of our society, but long-term evidence shows that this is not true.

I’m not advocating a return to obviously bad sexist attitudes. My question is whether we can rebound from the damage we have already caused. Unfortunately, it takes 30 years to find out for sure. If the current trend is not reversed we will soon have a generation of powerless, ignorant men. Imagine the whirlwind we will reap from that.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Let's Really Limit Federal Corruption

With all of the howling about congressional earmarking (see my previous post) and related corruption, I wonder how many of the howlers and their adherents realize that some of the biggest beneficiaries of earmarks are state and local governments. I wonder how many realize that these government entities are exempt from many of the lobbying rules intended to curb corruption.

John Fund has an article in today’s WSJ that explores this particular issue. Even our lovely Beehive State merited dishonorable mention. “The Utah Transit Authority, which provides public transportation in the 41st most densely populated state, spent $1.6 million on federal lobbyists in 2003.” You can argue that Fund’s blithe statement ignores the realities of population density along the Wasatch Front, but that sidesteps the issue.

As I noted previously, lobbying firms now actively solicit government entities, virtually guaranteeing them an earmark or two. Citing a particular instance in Northern Virginia, Fund notes that lobbyists were essentially selling federal money for 2.6 cents on the dollar. That’s a pretty good investment from the perspective of state and local governments, but it’s not good for the country.

How did we traverse from 1817 – when James Madison vetoed federal spending for local roads, bridges and canals because such was not specifically enumerated in the Constitution – to 189 years later where vast amounts of the federal budget are devoted to such local projects? Fund says that while we did not amend the Constitution to permit this practice, we have “so undermined our founding document by degrees that we now find ourselves mired in earmarks and in peril of squandering our birthright for a mess of pottage and pork.”

We have moved from the paradigm of a strong central government to the paradigm of an ultra-strong central government that is über Alles. Most government spending is now controlled more or less by Washington D.C. The feds control the purse strings and dish out unfunded and strings-attached mandates to states. State and local governments often feel that they have no alternative other than to engage in high stakes panhandling inside the beltway. Congressional representatives and senators feel like their performance is judged by how much federal money they send back home. The more money government controls, the more business springs up to get a piece of the action. It’s simple market economics. Corruption inevitably ensues.

There are lots of reform efforts underway because this has now got the public’s attention. Utah Rep. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) argues here that state legislation to prevent local governments from lobbying Congress is a good step. Fund says that all of the current reform efforts will only treat the symptoms. The real problem is that we have long given up on limited government. While it is often necessary to treat symptoms of a disease, it is never good to do so while ignoring the root of the disease. We need to treat the disease itself. That means a meaningful return to limited government. How can this be done? Does the intestinal fortitude exist to do it?

I have previously referred to LaVarr Webb’s excellent essay about returning to limited government. He says that leaders do a poor job because government has gotten too big for them to do a good job. Webb uses computing as a model for government, arguing for a departure from the old mainframe environment to step into the modern times of networked computing. He suggests that government can work similarly, with duties being handled at the most appropriate level of government and inter-government relationships being handled via established interfaces.

Webb admits that his vision would be nearly impossible to implement, but he also says, “We won’t have successful leaders at the federal level until the federal government is downsized and right-sized.” I agree. We won't limit federal corruption in a meaningful way until then either. This process will be painful, so let’s get going and get it over with before the disease gets any worse.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Orson Scott Card Speaks Out On ID

Renowned author Orson Scott Card has written a well thought out article that seeks to tackle the Intelligent Design (ID) issue. After reading so much demagoguery from both sides on this issue, it was refreshing to read Card’s take. Unlike the demagogues, Card accurately explains ID in a rational manner. Card then lists the most common arguments against ID and discusses each issue.

For the first two-thirds of the article, I thought Card was writing as an ID apologetic. He lambastes the anti-ID arguments as the epitome of unscientific dogmatism. He takes on Darwinism (but not evolution) with great zeal and accurately describes the problems with it. He notes that new scientific knowledge shows that Darwinism is simply inadequate to explain biological complexity. Card reveres Darwin’s research, but points out that not all of his conclusions can still be held to be valid. He says that Darwin helped show the way, just as Columbus showed the way to the New World, but that just as Columbus arrived at erroneous conclusions, so did Darwin.

But then Card turns around and accurately describes the problems with ID. Card doesn’t have a problem with the science behind ID, just as he has no problem with the science behind Darwinism, but he does have a problem with IDers making the unscientific leap from pointing out problems with Darwin to boldly stating that the only possible solution to the puzzle is an intelligent designer of some sort.

The science behind ID brings to light new questions and demonstrates the inadequacy of Darwin. But both Darwinists and IDers have the same problem. The conclusions they draw from their observations do not withstand scientific scrutiny. They are not the only possible answers to the observations. One side claims that science proves there is no God, while the other side claims the opposite. But neither side has devised a scientific test that proves or disproves their conclusions. Card says that what we have here is a religious squabble – a battle of faith rather than a battle of science.

Card slams demagoguery and unscientific arguments on both sides of this issue. He argues that “real science” is open to inquiry. It regularly challenges established theories. It asks questions and seeks scientific ways to adequately answer them. It accepts and incorporates whatever answers result. But real science does not ignore observations and it does not dogmatically adhere to theories proven to be inadequate. Card says, “If both sides would behave like scientists, there wouldn't even be a controversy…” He tells us what he thinks ought to happen:
“In fact, what every school board in this country should decide is to ignore both sides' demands that the schools teach their faith, and allow the public schools to perform their public service: educating children in our shared culture, including what we have learned through the scientific method.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Please, Keep My Money

“There is no such thing as government money, only taxpayer money.” – William Weld

The State of Utah currently has a large revenue surplus. According to the KSL Editorial Board (here), “Most Utahns are less interested in getting money back than in seeing their tax dollars directed toward resolving issues related to the state’s burgeoning growth.” Let me understand what they are saying. Most Utahans would prefer that the government spend their money for them, right?

How does this reconcile with numerous long-term polls that show that most Utahans want limited government? By this reasoning, you give the government more money and it magically gets smaller. What does this say about the quality of our education system?

The editorial board statement also brings to mind a question has been running around in my head for many years. Utah has been experiencing population growth for some time. Presumably, with that growth comes a commensurate growth in tax revenue, so governments have more money as a result of that growth. Yet, somehow, there are always voices clamoring that government needs more money due to population growth.

What’s up with that? The big government reasoning here is that, we have more people so we have more money, but we need more of each person’s money because we have more people. You’d get whacked in a high school debate for using circular reasoning like that. Besides, doesn’t having more people allow government to take advantage of economies of scale, thereby, reducing its per-person cost?

Of needs and wants
I have been amazed at the number of “conservative” legislators that have recently made comments to the effect that taxes should not be cut or should only be cut in a limited way because there are so many “needs” and “under funded” items. To me, this means that government is funding too many “items.” If we limited government to only what it should actually do, there would be fewer “items” to fund, thereby, reducing under funding.

Our problem is that we are accepting creeping socialism. Every year we expect government to do more – to provide more services and to develop more infrastructure. To be sure, there are some things that only government can do and a few things that government does better than any other institution. But how many things does this list include? We are confused about needs and wants.

It amuses me when politicians and the media constantly use the word “needs” to describe existing or potential government programs. To paraphrase, the needs ye have with you always (see here). The clamor for more government involvement, expanded government programs, and more government-sponsored infrastructure will never go away.

Why limit government?
We constantly hear people say, “The government should do something about that.” In the next breath they say that government has become too big, unwieldy and intrusive. Well, folks, you can’t have it both ways. LaVarr Webb eloquently pointed out here that a government that is not limited becomes ungovernable. He suggests that this is the source of many of our problems with government and politicians today.

Isn’t it possible that reducing the funds available to government might force some efficiency and innovation? We might, for example, end up with more public-private partnerships on various efforts – maybe even (this might be blasphemy) in public education.

One more point. Has anyone stopped to consider the economic effect of a tax cut? Why is it that when we debate tax cuts we act like the economy will remain static regardless of our choice, when all evidence shows that this is not true? Regardless of what detractors say (and regardless of my differences with the Bush administration), the booming U.S. economy owes much of its vibrancy to the Bush tax cuts. It has caused a real increase in total tax revenues. (Unfortunately, spending has increased to more than consume the revenue increase). A well-designed Utah tax cut can also have a positive local economic and tax revenue impact.

Back when the Bush tax cuts were originally being debated, I saw an interview with a groomed middle class couple on one of those inane morning shows that I usually avoid watching. These people seemed very sincere in stating that the federal government should spend the money rather than return it to them. I had several responses to this.

First, I wanted to vomit. Having once worked for the federal government, I know first hand how inefficient it is and how poor of a tool it is for many of the efforts to which it is applied today. Mind you, the state government doesn’t rank much higher. Second, I thought, “Well, if you love government spending so much, put your money where your mouth is. Send your tax refund back, but don’t tell me what to do with mine.” Third, I thought, “You know, if most citizens think like these people, they deserve the sprawling government that results from this kind of thinking.”

There seems to be a general disgust for “lobbyists” and “special interest groups,” but has anyone stopped to consider that the efforts of these people have proliferated primarily due to the expansion of government? If government didn’t cover so many programs and control so much money, there wouldn’t be as many people out there that make a buck off of professionally holding their hands out to government. Many of our corruption problems would diminish or disappear.

Mark Steyn magnificently argues here that affluence and socialism combined beget a selfishness that results in a lower birthrate that will lead to the demise of Western culture. He argues that limiting government can help combat this malaise, but he pretty much gives up on Western Europe as a lost cause. Gerald Ford famously said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”

Check the mirror
Certainly, there will always be arguments for expanding government, but there are also valid arguments for limiting government. When Rex E. Lee was president of BYU, he said (can’t link to talk, but you can search for it here) that the American people only have great leaders when they themselves are great. He said that the leaders reflect the people, and that immoral and poor leaders are only a reflection of our society as a whole. If most Utahans truly want the government to keep their money, we deserve what we get.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Problem With Intelligent Design

Adam Wolfson has written an article that hits the nail on the head with regard to the problem with Intelligent Design (ID). For all of the cries that ID is not science, Wolfson tells us that it is … and it isn’t.

That is, there are two sides of ID. One side is scientific, and the other is not. Wolfson quotes two eminent scientists as praising ID promoters for aptly noting through biochemistry and mathematical physics “that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection cannot explain the existence of some complex biological systems.” They have shown scientifically that there are “various difficulties in orthodox Darwinian theory.” “They have better than most shown how natural selection comes up short as a universal meta-explanation.”

But then there’s the unscientific side of ID, which teaches that the only possible answer to the resulting paradox is a “Designer-God.” Wolfson argues that this conclusion in unscientific. It might be reasonable, but it cannot be tested scientifically.

Interestingly, there is also an unscientific side to dogmatic Darwinism, which has been misused as “a battering-ram against religion.”
“If the point of Darwinism is to refute the existence of God, as these popularizers tend to claim, then it too would have to be excluded from the science curriculum. The Supreme Court, after all, has ruled that the state must remain neutral between religion and irreligion. In their more heated polemics, Darwin's popularizers paint themselves into this intellectual corner.”
Somehow this point seems to be lost on our education and judicial systems.

Wolfson laments that the unscientific portion of ID is preventing the scientific portion from gaining any traction. The unfortunate result is that “the mistaken notion that Darwin defeated God--not only reigns culturally supreme, but also apparently increasingly has the legal backing of the state.” He concludes that the fact that orthodox Darwinism cannot be questioned in schools “marks not so much enlightenment's progress as a narrowing of our intellectual horizons.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why Do U.S. Mormons Vote Mainly Republican?

I have recently had discussions with several acquaintances and have read several blogs that have centered on the same subject: why do Mormons largely vote Republican? It cannot be denied that this is actually the case, particularly along the Wasatch Front. In Utah state politics where the majority of voters are LDS, the Democratic Party is more like a third party, while the Republican Party sort of acts like the two main parties, loosely having a more conservative branch and a less conservative branch.

Progressive and Conservative Lamentations
Mormons with more progressive or liberal leanings can’t understand how someone that believes in the LDS version of the gospel can support big business over the common laborer and war over peace. They don’t understand how Mormons that have a church welfare system and a system that promotes communal care for its members can oppose government programs designed to implement compassion, or how members of a church that strongly promotes education can be at odds with the public education system. They don’t understand how Mormons can ally themselves with evangelicals, who by and large despise Mormonism. They can’t understand how Mormons can work to implement moral laws and stand against the “agency” of others with alternative lifestyles, when the LDS Church argued for so many years in the latter half of the 19th Century that Mormons only wanted was to be left alone to live per their religious convictions while allowing all others the same privilege.

But this cuts both ways. Conservative Mormons can’t understand how liberal Mormons can support legalized infanticide, big government that constantly expands to get its fingers deeper into our everyday lives, socialist programs that “force” people to demonstrate compassion, government programs that provide textbook examples of what church leaders used to call “the evils of the public dole,” malaise about national security (without which no individual rights can exist), the suppression of public religious behavior, support of immoral lifestyles, etc. They don’t understand how Mormons can ally themselves with strident secular humanists that clearly hate Mormons (but only as part of a larger group of religionists) far more vehemently than evangelicals dislike Mormons. They empathize with Elder M. Russell Ballard’s recent lament where he listed several social ills, including that, “In the name of "tolerance," the definition of family has been expanded beyond recognition to the point that "family" can be any individuals of any gender who live together with or without commitment or children or attention to consequence.”

Fitting In
From my personal study of the scriptures and church teachings, I’m afraid that I do not find it easy to narrowly define my interests as strictly liberal or conservative. I cannot find a very good match for my personal philosophy in either of the major parties — or in any of the third parties out there either, for that matter. Some facets of the gospel fit well with one political philosophy, while some fit well with another. While some Mormons are completely confident that their politics and their religion match well, I suspect there are a lot of Mormons that more or less feel the way I do.

I believe the reason most U.S. Mormons vote Republican results from:
  • Our two-party political system.
  • The LDS Church’s (nearly) politically agnostic promotion of political activity by its members.
  • Vietnam.
  • Roe v. Wade.
  • Diminished need for labor unions.
Two-Party System & LDS Political Activity
Third parties play an important role in U.S. politics because they can sometimes move the debate one way or another. They can occasionally influence the outcomes of elections. But they rarely win elections, and when they do, their tenure is usually brief (except in New Hampshire). If you want regular political influence, you’ve got to be in one of the two major political parties. History shows that if one of the two major parties disintegrates, another will rise to take its place, such as when the Republican Party rose from the ashes of the once powerful Whig Party.

LDS Church leaders regularly tell members to be politically active, but they refuse to take sides with parties or candidates (although they do occasionally take sides on issues). These facts together mean that most Mormons that follow the counsel to be politically active will choose to ally themselves more or less with one of the two major political parties.

That leaves the question of which party to go with. Utah used to vote more Democratic than Republican, but that began shifting many decades ago. The migration was gradual at first, but became more rapid in the wake of the social and political culture wars of the 60s and 70s. The counter culture came to represent the worst elements of society with its drugs, illicit sex, and general rebellious attitude. The method of delivery of its message of love and peace came across as repugnant to people with more traditional ideas of family and social structure. To stick it to Nixon and the Republicans, as well as to stop the war, Democrats co-opted the counter culture antiwar crowd. Whatever the pros or cons the Vietnam War, many religious people, including Mormons saw themselves at odds with the hippie culture, so the Democratic move to assimilate that culture caused many to lose affection for the party.

Then came Roe v. Wade. The battle over legalizing abortion had been working its way through various state legislatures so that a patchwork of laws on the matter existed across the country. There were well meaning people on both sides. Had the process been left to work itself out legislatively, matters would have homogenized over the next decade or so (with a few exceptions, of course). Enter the Supreme Court, mandating that abortion, which some believed to be infanticide, was now legal nationwide. Debate over!

But the debate is not over in the minds of the American people, so the matter has remained very public. Somehow the Democratic Party has come to adopt this single principle as the one defining issue that holds its various factions together. Even its most grisly forms are strongly defended. Unfettered access to abortion has become the Democratic Party’s Sacrament. Heretics that are not in lock step with this philosophy are not welcome. Even Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who is LDS pussyfoots around the issue in public statements, but then does the bidding of the most strident abortion rights groups.

People that disagree with unfettered abortion on demand have difficulty aligning themselves with the Democratic Party. That means a wide swath of the LDS community. After the court’s decision, Mormons in Utah started defecting to the Republican Party in droves. This dynamic caught three-term Senator Frank Moss (D-UT) off guard, allowing upstart Republican political novice Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to win his seat in 1976.

Larry Eastland has attempted to empirically show (here) that the Roe decision is costing the Democratic Party voters. The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has argued many times (for example, here) that overturning Roe would benefit Democrats by forcing moderation on both sides of the debate. Democrats would no longer be required to maintain untenable extreme positions, and Republicans would no longer be able to have it both ways (arguing one way in their rhetoric, but not having to really do anything about it). I suspect that Mormons would trickle back into the Democratic Party if the chilling effect of Roe became a thing of the past.

Labor/Big Business
The world of work has changed substantially since WWII. While labor union supporters can argue all they want that unions are as necessary today as they were 100 years ago, nobody really believes it – except for government workers. Unions have diminished in every sector except for the government. Working conditions are generally pretty good compared to what unions were formed to address.

Meanwhile, Utah has long been stridently anti-union. Mormons, infused with a strong work ethic and the doctrine of stewardship, have not ginned with the concept of having an institutionalized adversarial relationship with their employers. Unions that once worked for better working conditions now fight for perks that end up stifling potential. Like it or not, labor unions have never become popular among U.S. Mormons. So the fact that the Democratic Party has long been the home of labor unions simply comes across as irrelevant to many Mormons.

Progressives often argue against the evils of big business. But many in the mainstream today are investors in big business with their 401k plans. That includes many Mormons. Why in the world would they want to ally themselves with a party that constantly comes across as anti-business? Their future retirement is riding on business performance. Yet another strike against the Democrats.

The Lesser of Two Evils
For many Mormons that want to obey the counsel to be politically active, these facts and others combine to create a Democratic Party in which they simply cannot find a home. Strident voices from the far left wing of the party don’t help much either. To be sure, Republicans have obnoxious voices on the far right, but these often come across as an over-emphasis (or a somewhat misguided emphasis) of various moral virtues, while the far left often comes across as anti-American, anti-family, and anti-religion. Unfortunately, these sentiments seem to find their way into the party’s mainstream as well. That leaves only one major party that even comes close to fitting the philosophies of many Mormons. They go to the Republicans by default.

Some progressives come across as arrogant when they argue that Mormons are dupes for voting so strongly Republican. This argument rings hollow in the face of research that shows that Mormons are better educated than the general public and that their religiosity tends to increase with the amount of education they receive. Mormons aren’t saps; they are simply choosing their best political option, even if that option isn’t that wonderful.

I think many Mormons are stunned to find Democrats like Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT), who is more conservative than some Republicans and is often a reliable vote for conservative issues. They will vote for him, but they won’t join his party. They respect the fact that he is working to reform the party, but to them he is somewhat of an enigma. Tellingly, some mainstream Democrats find him an enigma as well.

Even with a changed Supreme Court, I doubt there will be any rush to overturn Roe v. Wade, so the abortion debate will continue to be framed by the most extreme views on both sides. While I have been critical of the Republican Congress, I don’t see that current events will lead Mormons to abandon the Republican Party. The Democrats simply aren’t currently offering a palatable alternative. So for the time being, regardless of whether it’s good or not, expect Mormons to continue to largely vote Republican.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Republicans In Trouble With Their Base

The Wall Street Journal has a pair of articles out this morning that send a warning to congressional Republicans. One is by the editors and the other is by John Fund. Both warn Republicans of an upcoming drubbing (mainly by those who have strongly supported them in past elections) as fallout from the Abramoff scandal. Both suggest that House Republicans are not as secure in their gerrymandered districts and incumbent protection programs as they believe themselves to be.

To be sure, both Republicans and Democrats are in this thing together, as Matthew Continetti discusses here. But everyone knows who has been at the ship’s helm, and that is where voters will focus their ire. Such has always been the case.

The way I see it, and the way the editors write about it, the Abramoff scandal is merely a symptom of a broader problem. Congressional Republicans have veered away from the limited government philosophy of 1994 vintage to a philosophy of maintaining control at any cost. I have written many times about my disgust for the Republicans’ recent lack of fiscal discipline.

Desperate House Republicans seem to have suddenly found the religion of fiscal responsibility and are working to implement reforms that Journal editors say are “trivial” in order to look like they are doing something about the problem. Noting that the reforms are of the same ilk as campaign finance reform, the editors ask, “Why is it that whenever Congress gets into an ethics scrape, its first reaction is to further restrict the Constitutional rights of other Americans to influence Members of Congress?” They say, “The real House GOP problem isn't about lobbyists so much as it is the atrophying of its principles.”

How did this happen? The editors discuss the changes in the House Republican leadership over the past decade and say, “The leaders who remain have become ever more preoccupied with process, money and incumbency. Ideas are an afterthought, when they aren't an inconvenience.” Up until now, they haven’t had to worry because Democrats have an even greater dearth of ideas. But the problems of this past year have exposed a House GOP festering with decay that disgusts the Republican base.

John Fund rips House Republicans for their abuse of earmarks. Explaining what earmarks are and why they are bad, Fund says that “earmarks are a particularly corrupt form [of pork]. They are often last-minute additions to conference reports that were never considered in the original bills passed by either the House or Senate. They can thus avoid competitive bidding, performance standards or even disclosure of the direct recipient.” Fund shows how use of earmarks in transportation funding has grown by about 350% over the past five years.

Earmarks are the bread and butter (or cake and latté) of highly paid “parasitic specialized” lobbyists, who offer their services to clients. Per “Ron Utt, a former federal budget official now at the Heritage Foundation,” they virtually guarantee cities and counties earmarks. This kind of thing is brought to us by the passion to protect incumbency. The resulting environment promotes festering of Abramoff-like quid-pro-quo scandals.

Fund notes that earmarks were originally designed to help “lubricate” the political process and to get around bureaucrats that interpret the language of bills according to their own whims to circumvent Congress’ intent. To me it sounds like they tried to implement the two-wrongs-make-a-right philosophy, creating a bad process to overcome an existing bad process. At any rate, the monster they created has gotten out of hand.

Fund quotes John McCain as saying, “the best long-term answer to corruption is a smaller government.” Of course, McCain brought us free-speech-limiting campaign finance reform instead, which hasn’t reduced corruption at all. Michael Barone skillfully points out here that we can never be rid of lobbyists, so legislating their banishment will never produce the desired result. Besides, Barone argues that working to influence legislation that impacts you is a perfectly legitimate business.

What should Congressional Republicans do? The WSJ editors advise the jettison of Abramoff tainted legislators here. But they worry “that Republicans don't yet appreciate the trouble they're in.” Fund drives to the heart of the matter. He notes, “The federal government is now 250 times as big in real terms as it was a century ago.” He says that the only way out of this mess is for Republicans “to restore their limited-government credentials.”

I think Fund has it right, but his solution cannot be implemented overnight. It took years for Republicans to descend to their current level. It will take years and some significant pain to rebuild the trust they have abused. They may choose to begin surgery to remove infected parts now, or voters will begin the process for them in November. The Republican majority has been foolishly squandered, and it may not survive the surgical process.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Church Dishonesty About Polygamy

I have recently finished reading an in-depth analysis of the history of the practice of polygamy by the LDS Church. The analysis by Gregory L. Smith, MD (an astute amateur historian) was posted on the LDS Fair website at the end of November. It has taken me a long time to read it because I have read it in small chunks (the PDF version of the paper is 65 pages long). Some might find it dry, but I found it fascinating. Though Smith is admittedly an amateur, his paper rivals any PhD-generated material I have read on the subject.

Smith is open about the fact that he is writing from an apologetic standpoint. He states that he is attempting to answer the most common criticisms of the church’s involvement with polygamy. While the framework of his deeply researched analysis is historical, Smith analyzes the matter on legal, social, theological, and ethical bases as well. He tries to get the reader inside of the heads of church leaders and members involved in the matter.

Smith is not simply writing to critics, but also to Mormons. He suggests that few Mormons today understand the matter well due to their lack of understanding of the history and the many facets of the social setting of the era. As a lifelong member of the LDS Church, I thought I had a decent grasp of it, but I discovered many holes in my knowledge while reading the paper.

One of the main charges Smith seeks to blunt is the criticism of institutional lying about polygamy by church leaders and members. He painstakingly and methodically walks the user through the various facets of the matter so that the reader can ultimately come to a mental and emotional understanding of why the saints acted as they did. Smith classes most of the false statements as civil disobedience and choosing the least bad of the available options.

Smith works to help the reader understand that members of the church literally believed the practice of polygamy to be a commandment from God. They believed the U.S. government to be acting antithetical to moral laws and that, therefore, it was not only not wrong to lie to the government – it was a moral duty. He parallels this with good Dutch people lying to officials about hiding Jews during WWII. He also works to help the reader understand that the saints saw government oppression as war – legislative at first, to be sure – but later followed by police actions that rival some of the fascist actions against Jews in 1930s and ‘40s Europe. There was a very real threat of military action, which was even debated multiple times in Congress. The implication is that the ninth commandment to not bear false witness is abrogated during a time of war when deception becomes a higher moral duty to achieve a greater good.

For me, the three most interesting sections of Smith’s paper are his discussion of the practice of polygamy after the 1890 Manifesto, the legal fallout from the unparalleled persecution of the saints that all citizens of the U.S. are still dealing with today, and his personal beliefs as to why the church practiced polygamy. I also enjoyed Smith’s treatment of the purpose of the 1890 Manifesto and how it was and is interpreted differently by church leaders and members at that time, the government and the public at that time, and members of the church today.

I highly recommend the reading of Smith’s paper for anyone that is truly interested in developing a better understanding of the LDS Church’s practice of polygamy. Be aware that this is not light reading, but it can be enlightening reading.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What Is Becoming of Our Civilization?

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.” –Jean-François Revel

“Civilizations die from suicide, not murder.” –Arnold Toynbee

“Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries,” says Mark Steyn in a hard-hitting article about the decline of Western civilization. (See his website) The article is long, but is worth reading. It is witty, politically incorrect, fact filled, and very blunt.

Steyn discusses the largely ignored decline of the culture of Western civilization, focusing strongly, but not solely on Europe. He says, “[O]ne of the clearest signs of our decline is the way we expend so much energy worrying about the wrong things.” Steyn notes that after achieving so much affluence, our society has “developed a great cult of worrying.” We spend horrific amounts of time and resources worrying about future events that never materialize.

Steyn particularly notes the dire prognostications and ensuing worry about depletion of resources and environmental decline that were supposed to bring widespread famine, rioting, disease, and death. Some would aptly argue that by worrying about these things we have been able to prevent them, but I’m sure Steyn would counter that the amount of worry has been disproportionate to the actual threat and that most of the worriers proposed solutions were so deplorable that they thankfully never materialized either.

So what should society worry about? Steyn says, “We're pretty much awash in resources, but we're running out of people--the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter.” He notes that there never really was a population explosion and that we are, in fact, in the midst of population decline. While that may seem like good news to the zero population and negative population growth advocates, Steyn finds it quite alarming. He says, “We've prioritized the secondary impulse over the primary ones: national defense, family, faith and, most basic of all, reproductive activity--"Go forth and multiply," because if you don't you won't be able to afford all those secondary-impulse issues, like cradle-to-grave welfare.” Steyn says that predictions of ecological devastation by 2032 are ridiculous, but he offers his own prediction. “If you're a tree or a rock, you'll be living in clover. It's the Italians and the Swedes who'll be facing extinction and the loss of their natural habitat.”

Steyn notes the horrendous decline in native birthrates throughout Western societies. The U.S. is currently faring somewhat better than most, barely cresting the rate of replacement. While the anti-human crowd cheers, the general population hangs tenaciously onto their socialist perks, eagerly firing politicians that threaten to bring some fiscal reality to the table. Obviously, these two trends are on a collision course. Both cannot be sustained. So Western countries increasingly rely on immigration to provide the necessary infrastructure.

Steyn discusses the reality of what will occur, but in doing so he draws a distinct line between Muslim societies and Western societies. He knows that this will be decried as racism, but he forges ahead noting that while race is unimportant, culture is. The societies with real population growth are ostensibly Muslim. While the U.S. can rely on immigrants from Latin America, and Japan can rely on immigrants from the Philippines and Korea, Europe largely relies on immigrants from Muslim countries.

Why is this a problem? Steyn again offers great offense by suggesting that Muslim culture and/or religion carries the seeds of anti-market, anti-modernist fundamentalism. He implies that the U.S. and Japan can assimilate their immigrants, while Europe cannot. He says that the biggest story in globalism over the past 80 years is not the export of Western business, but how the Saudis have taken “a severe but obscure and unimportant strain of Islam practiced by Bedouins of no fixed abode and successfully exported it to the heart of Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Manchester, Buffalo . . ..”

I have liberal friends that will point out that we are incredibly arrogant to believe that Western culture is superior to Muslim culture. Steyn tries to put this into perspective by noting that few of them would want to live in anything but a modern Western culture. He illustrates the cultural divide by hearkening back to France’s recent riots, suggesting that it is quite possible “that by 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations [in Western Europe] on American network news every night.” He predicts, “Best-case scenario? The Continent winds up as Vienna with Swedish tax rates. Worst-case scenario: Sharia, circa 2040; semi-Sharia, a lot sooner--and we're already seeing a drift in that direction.”

Steyn points out that nearly every agenda championed by liberals is at odds with fundamental Islam, and will likely be quashed once Muslim majorities are achieved. Steyn asks, “Can a society become increasingly Islamic in its demographic character without becoming increasingly Islamic in its political character?”

Steyn says, “There will only be very few and very old ethnic Germans and French and Italians by the midpoint of this century.” He asks the following piercing questions. “What will they leave behind? Territories that happen to bear their names and keep up some of the old buildings? Or will the dying European races understand that the only legacy that matters is whether the peoples who will live in those lands after them are reconciled to pluralist, liberal democracy?”

Steyn’s article is filled with many other juicy tidbits and thoughts: what the war is really about, how America helped foster Europe’s decline, the emptiness of multiculturalism, how radical Islam assays to win in the long run, why terror groups exist at all, the inability of many Westerners to value Western culture, how deeply ingrained general government dependency has become, etc. You don’t have to agree with Steyn to appreciate at least some of what he writes and to understand that there is at least some basis for his alarm.

Monday, January 02, 2006

What Is Conservative Thought?

Terms that define different political ideologies are tossed about in common conversation and in the media, but often there seem to be differences in understanding those words. Few pause to consider, for example, what is or ought to be the anatomy of conservative thought. It is simply taken for granted that it is what any particular commentator thinks it to be at the moment.

Jeffrey Hart, a widely published conservative writer who is a retired professor of political science from Dartmouth, has published an article in the Wall Street Journal that has engendered a fair amount of commentary on this subject. (See here, here, and here.) He begins his article referencing Russell Kirk’s seminal 1953 treatise the Conservative Mind. He then says he will present his “assessment of the ideas held in balance in the American Conservative Mind today.”

I expected to see some kind of cohesive definition of what it means to be an American conservative. But Hart’s piece ends up being kind of a tirade against what he sees wrong with conservatism today. His points appear to be presented in no logical order and are given no comparative value. After reading the article I still have no clue what Hart thinks makes up conservative thought, only that he thinks some ideas and policies fail the conservative litmus test.

I agree with many of Hart’s statements. I particularly like his take on the proper role of the judiciary in our constitutional government.
“Though the Supreme Court stands as constitutional arbiter, it is not a legislature. The correct workings of the system depend upon mutual restraint among the branches. And the court, which is the weakest of the three, should behave with due modesty toward the legislature. The legislature is the closest to "We the people," the basis of legitimacy in a free society. Legislation is more easily revised or repealed than a court ruling, and therefore judicial restraint is necessary.”
Hart explains the value of a constitutional republic. “This system aims at government not by majorities alone but by stable consensus, because under the Constitution major changes almost always require a consensus that lasts over a considerable period of time.”

Hart cautions against unbalanced pursuit of free-market economics to the exclusion of “every other value and purpose.” He says that “when the free market becomes a kind of utopianism it maximizes ordinary human imperfection--here, greed, short views and the resulting barbarism.” Hart believes that government has a proper role in promoting and maintaining beauty, such as national parks, the arts, etc. He is concerned that this is too often left to the liberal agenda, resulting in its purpose being twisted.

Hart suggests that the Republican Party is a poor custodian of conservative principles. I have made some parallel observations myself. But Hart’s defining argument seems to be his belief that people in the South are imbeciles. It’s as if he has fallen into elitist thought, which I believe is at odds with traditional conservatism.

The good professor (emeritus) rails repeatedly against utopianism, and seems to argue that realism is the true conservative way. Others have pointed out (see here) that realism cannot be equated with conservatism. That would make Nixon and Kissinger great conservatives, a detestable idea in many conservative circles. Hart seems to embrace realism and parallel current liberal arguments as he argues that the Bush administration’s foreign policy is nothing more than blind, happy-go-lucky “Wilsonianism.”

Perhaps the most contentious argument in Hart’s article is his dismissal of the pro-life ideology. He casually minimizes the desire to save the unborn from termination of life as utopianism gone amuck. He argues that while Roe was a poor tool, “it did address the reality of the American social process.” You can see an example of criticism of Hart’s position here and here, where it is pointed out that his position is contradicted by the position he takes on religion.

I’m not sure what to make of Hart’s call to re-enthrone “traditional forms of religion” in American society. He makes no real effort to explain how this should be accomplished. I’m a religious guy who feels that the country and the world would be better off if each citizen had an inward and abiding faith in the true and living God. Hart dismisses non-traditional religion as lacking the reliability to convey “the distinctive identity of Western civilization.” I might point out that nearly all known religions, including the one to which I belong, had their roots as upstarts. It’s all very good and well to pine for long-term religious tradition, but almost implicit in that emotion is the denial of free religious expression that Hart might class as “spasms of emotion.” That’s a good way to rob religion of its life force. It is what drove “seekers” in the 19th Century to look outside of established religion.

Hart closes his article by glowingly referring to the “constellation of ideas” that comprises conservative thought. He calls this a “permanent achievement.” This great achievement must exist in Hart’s mind, but rather than showing us what it is he has oddly shown us what he thinks it isn’t.