Showing posts with label Bill Clinton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Clinton. Show all posts

Monday, May 3, 2010

Slouching Toward Bosnia




In many respects this sort of tit for tat conflict, I described earlier, where each side is going to push the boundaries as to what is acceptable and justify it as simply doing to the other what is already being done to them is behind the deepening divisions in this country. Republicans maligned President Clinton, Democrats maligned George W. Bush in revenge and now Republicans seek to do the same to Obama. Democrats filibustered judicial nominations and now the Republicans are doing the same. Conservatives decided that the mainstream was not playing fair with the news so they created Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Liberals responded in kind by creating Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. We are not shooting at each other yet. But we could all too easily, I fear, go from only accepting the media of our side as legitimate to following Michael Makovi and saying that we will only accept the legal authority of the people we support. This would mean that there would be Republican and Democrat police officers, judges and each side could have its own congress and president. At this point the best possible scenario would be secession as the country officially is broken up to accommodate all parties. If, as is likely the case, this is not practical in terms of territory and allotment of natural resources, we are left with war as each side attempts to subjugate the other to its will. (The Israelis and Palestinians are a good example of this. Neither side trusts the other to form a single country. There are no workable boundaries for two different States. Thus we are left with a state of war with both sides attempting to force a solution on the other.)

In British parliamentary culture there is what is known as a "shadow cabinet." The party out of power lists its leading members according to the positions they would have if they were in power. This speaks to one of my major objections to the parliamentary system and its lack of set elections; it creates a system where a large minority of the government is actively seeking to bring down the government and force new elections. As opposed to the American system where, in theory at least, Republicans, for example, are supposed to accept the fact that they were defeated by Barack Obama, that Obama is now the President and they are obliged to work with him for the next four years.

One of the virtues of the American two party system (and this maybe is what saves the British model as well) is that, regardless of what one might think of the many ideologically unsatisfying outcomes, it forces a certain level of moderation. Regardless of their party affiliation, I can count on the fact that elected officials on the one hand are not out to completely socialize the economy, but on the other support some sort of welfare state with at least some government health care. No one is going to support a religious theocracy, but on the other hand we retain a political rhetoric that acknowledges some sort of general divine providence. The military's dominating presence in the budget is not going to change anytime soon and neither is this country about to return to isolationism and stop interfering with other countries. I am not saying this is good or bad. Just that it provides a government that no one is going to feel pushed to such an extreme as launching an actual civil war.

In Orson Scott Card's two recent mediocre novels, Empire and Hidden Empire, he postulates a near future American civil war between the right and the left. (In truth it is more like secular leftist radicals, trying to destroy this country, going up against moderate patriotic Christians.) I can think of far more creative civil war scenarios. We can start with Evangelical Christians from rural Pennsylvania launching a tea-party with automatic weapons against Manhattan liberals. Manhattan liberals beg an Al Sharpton-like character to use his connections with black street gangs to save them. In a magnanimous gesture of tolerance, a Pat Robertson-like character visits a synagogue in the front lines of Brooklyn to meet with Israeli arms dealers and announces that Jews are not nearly as hated by God as Catholics. This causes a stir when it hits the internet, and the entrance of suburban New Jersey Catholics, armed with a papal indulgence for the sin of birth control for each slain Protestant. (I leave it to readers to continue the scenario.)

The point here is that government hangs on a very narrow thread as people decide whether to trust each other and whether their differences are not so large as to prevent their joining together in bounds of state-building. In many respects, functional governments are not the norm. Normal is Bosnia, Rwanda and Northern Ireland where neighbors kill each other over race, religion, culture or any other good excuse they can find on hand. The question we have to ask ourselves is why we are not in a Bosnia type situation now. There, if not by the grace of sensible moderates, go us.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Child Voter


As I have mentioned previously, my political awakening came when I was nine years old during the summer of 1992, watching then Governor Bill Clinton run for the presidency. I saw Clinton in much the same way that many college students last year viewed "the second black president," Barack Obama. To me Clinton was "change" and "hope." At that time this country faced a major crisis, a multi-trillion dollar deficit and I believed that Clinton was the man to do that; the Republicans had clearly failed after twelve years controlling the office of the president so it seemed reasonable to hope that Clinton could change this situation so I would not have to pay this debt when grew up. (We have failed miserably at this, but I will leave it to some other time to discuss who to blame for this.) I managed to impress my grandfather with my command of the issues and rallied my friends to support Clinton in an overwhelming victory in the mock elections held at school. Despite this, our legal system did not allow me to cast a vote in the actual election. I was not able to vote in 1996 nor was I allowed to vote in the closely contested election of 2000 despite the fact that I had skipped a grade and was therefore already out of high school as I was, frustratingly still just several months short of my eighteenth birthday. Readers are free to disagree with my reasons for supporting Clinton and I have certainly evolved in my political thinking over the past seventeen years. That being said I clearly had achieved, by the age of nine, a certain baseline of political understanding where I was capable, regardless of whether I was right or not, of articulating political views in a coherent fashion. So I possessed a political consciousness roughly equal to that of the average college student yet I was not able to directly help put Clinton into office as they helped Obama.

I am not here to argue for children's suffrage, though I do not consider the whole notion as something absurd to be dismissed out of hand. I recognize that, by and large, most children do not possess the baseline of political consciousness necessary in order to take part in civic life. Most children are not economically self sufficient nor do they pay taxes. They therefore have no stake in the system. Most children are under the thrall of their parents and would vote however they told them to. I accept these arguments, but I find it strange that any liberal accepts them, because to do so a person has to accept as part of the foundation of their political thinking a premise that puts a knife through over a century of liberal thinking, which assumes that one must judge people as individuals and that any attempt to deal with people as a group is nothing but stereotyping and prejudice.

When the authors of the Constitution decided to not give people like my nine year old self a vote, a decision confirmed more recently when the voting age was brought down from twenty-one to eighteen, but not nine, they bought into the notion that, since most nine year olds lack the intelligence or the economic/social self-sufficiency to serve as citizens, all nine year olds were not to be given a vote even those nine year olds who did possess these things. Furthermore they decided that, since most twenty-one/eighteen year olds are intelligent enough and are economically/socially self-sufficient enough to serve as citizens, all twenty-one/eighteen year olds were to be given a vote, even those who did not possess these things. So today if you are eighteen years old or above, a citizen of this country, have not been convicted of any serious crimes and mentally competent enough to carry out the physical action of voting you can vote. (Considering that we dropped the voting age to eighteen at about the same time as we brought in mass college education, I find the whole economic self-sufficiency argument to be laughable. If anything we should have gone the other way and pushed the voting age to twenty-two when most people leave college and start real jobs.) I wish we could scrap the age requirement and directly demand that people pass some sort of citizenship test, like the one we give immigrants, and report a certain level of income on tax returns in order to be allowed to vote. This would make the voting process much more difficult and expensive to boot so we take a short cut and limit the vote to people of the age bracket of people who generally possess the needed qualities despite the fact that many worthy individuals are shafted by it.

At the heart of this disenfranchisement of children is the argument that it is acceptable to disenfranchise people who belong to a specific group, known for their inability to fulfill a necessary requirement for suffrage. Another way to put this is that if person x belongs to group y and z percentage of y lack characteristic a then it is acceptable to strip x of b regardless of whether x lacks a. I do not object to this, it is essentially an extension of the principle that law can only deal with generalities and not specifics, which Maimonides and the pre-modern legal tradition accepted. That being said, this should put a shiver down every one of your spines.

I can plausibly replace children, as the x in the equation with other groups. Take blacks or women in the nineteenth century for example. Were these groups as a whole, at that point in time, at some theoretical baseline of political consciousness and economic/social self-sufficiency to be allowed to vote? Need I point out that keeping them from voting was justified by comparing them to children? There would be nothing irrational or intolerant about saying that white males (or property owning white males) as a group have reached this threshold and blacks and women have not and therefore voting should be restricted to white males. You can no longer argue that there are women and blacks who personally pass the necessary thresholds and white males who do not so one should not work with generalizations or stereotypes. We have already decided that it is okay to engage in generalizations and stereotypes when it comes to children. I do not know what sin the conservative who fought against women's and black suffrage, on the grounds of their fitness, committed; I do know that the non-child suffrage supporting liberal who chastises him for being prejudiced is a hypocrite.

This notion of stripping groups of their right to vote can be brought up to date. Women have proven to be highly successful in terms of education and taking up active roles in the economy. I would say that women in the western world hit our theoretical threshold sometime during the late nineteenth century. Proof of this is the fact that it was at this point that we see a mass women's suffrage movement. This required large amounts of women with educations and outside of the social or economic control of any fathers or husbands. What about blacks and particularly black men, with their frustrating inability to become productive upwardly mobile members of society, today; have they achieved the necessary threshold? To use examples of some of my fellow bloggers, we could say that Miss S., a black woman, should be allowed to vote while MaNishtana, a black man, should not, regardless of their comparative merit. We could take down Malcolm Gladwell, a writer and thinker I am in awe of, because he is black, male and even has an afro to boot. We can say that Obama is not qualified to be president. Is it any fairer than banning me from being president just because I am not forty years old? The argument for equality and against prejudice, so crucial to modern thinking, is nothing but a cheap clay idol packed with straw that fails to aid its believers when needed.

If we are to accept the legitimacy of generalizations than we can abandon any moral pretense of believing in literal equality as the whole discussion of civil rights is reduced to a cold calculus of what exactly is our theoretical threshold for citizenship and which groups as groups fulfill it. Admittedly the whole notion of group is arbitrary and any person can be tied to a group that does not pass the threshold and can therefore be disenfranchised. If someone wanted to they could try to disenfranchise my present self by arguing, that despite my graduate education, I still belong to the autism spectrum group. Since this group as a whole might not pass the necessary threshold, I therefore I should also lose my vote. Let us be clear, we are throwing around hand grenades and they can blow up in all sorts of unwanted places. The decision to put age into play as a relevant group is just as arbitrary as gender, color or even neurological state. It is simply a convenience that we, as a society indulge ourselves even at the expense precocious nine year olds. Of course if some groups can be made to pay the price then so can others; it is only fair.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

History 112: Rise of Absolutism (Q&A)

1. In the text it mentions something about Louis XIV's second marriage and then bring up his marriage to Maria Teresa, the Spanish woman, so if I am not mistaken that would mean he had three wives. France was a Catholic nation, so how is it that he had three wives if Henry of England had to make England protestant before getting a divorce?

Louis XIV was married twice the first time, in 1660, to Marie Therese of Spain, who was the daughter of Philip IV. This becomes later on because Louis XIV is going to push the claim to the throne of Spain on behalf of his grandson, Philip V, which sets the War of Spanish Succession in motion. This was a marriage of convenience and, judging from the pictures we have of her, Marie was no beauty. Maria died in 1683. Louis XIV then went and married Mme de Maintenon. So there was nothing wrong with this marriage from the perspective of the Catholic Church. During the twenty three years that he was married to Marie, Louis XIV had a slew mistresses; the most famous of them being Louise de la Valliere and Mme de Montespan. This was, for all intents and purposes, viewed as perfectly acceptable. Imagine of Bill Clinton had gone on national television and told the American people: “This is Monica; she is my mistress and I am now going back to the oval office to have sex with this woman. I am the president and there are thousands of women who would gladly sleep with me. I work hard protecting this country so let me enjoy the perks of the office; as Mel Brooks might say: 'it is good to be the president.” Seventieth century France was a far less prudish society than modern America.

2. The text seems to be conflicting to some degree about Louis XIV by placing him as a great king for France on one hand while on the other listing many shortcomings of his reign. It seemed to me as if it is trying to say that he was great, but that he could have done more given better resources and more sincere conviction over the term of his reign (this referencing the fact that the text mentions several points where he initially reacted one way and years later changed his mind and did the opposite). Is this a matter of the three portions of his reign they outline being not well outlined within the text and these changes occurring in distinct stages of his reign, or was this something that was continuous throughout his rule?

In practice, when studying history there are no good or bad people. People do things for different reasons; some of them succeed at some of the things they try and others are not so successful. Louis XIV was tremendously successful at, domestically, forming a strong centralized government and curbing the power of the nobility and, in terms of foreign policy, in making France the supreme power in Europe. That being said, as it should be clear from the reading, Louis XIV was hardly some ubermensch. He had his flaws and was not as successful as he could have been.

3. I can't help but notice some similarities between Louis XIV and Bush's policy. 1. Frequent and petty wars which often have no beneficial outcome for the countries involved 2. An increasing national debt - increased spending by the nation and decreased product. Do you think that these similarities are coincidence or a result of some common political agenda? What would it imply about the future state of the United States? I thought maybe because ppl today are tending to want more unified power through government, that could be the cause of the similarity...What do you think?

Unless one is looking for analogies, one should avoid making comparisons between historical and present day figures. Remember history has no pedagogic value, there are no lessons that can be learned. Personally I suspect that Louis XIV and the people surrounding him were significantly more talented than those in the Bush administration.

4. After reading about Thomas Hobbes' philosophy in which the people "lose their individual authority, but gain stability and authority," I was wondering if any of the people had problems with this? It seems in those times, there was no real sense of individualism. Were there any common people who expressed their uniqueness?

Worrying about one’s individuality is a luxury that few people outside of modern western cultures had the chance to engage in. Most people throughout history had far more pressing concerns like what were they going to eat and how were they not going to get raped and murdered before the day is out. Hobbes is concerned with how do we solve these issues so we can actually be in a position to start concerning ourselves with such ethereal issues such as "individuality." I find Hobbes to be very useful because of how forcefully he puts forth the issue of government coercion. All governments, even our liberal democratic government, are instruments of coercion. The Federal government has the power to force you to pay taxes, they can throw you in jail, they can even hand you a gun and tell you to go die for your country. If you were really so committed to “individuality” you would be an anarchist. The fact that you are not an anarchist shows that you have compromised you “individuality” and made a Hobbesian bargain.
Hobbes actually was quite controversial. Mainly because people, during the time, thought, probably correctly, that Hobbes was an atheist. Hobbes’ very cynical worldview, that you find so distasteful, comes out of his materialism where everyone acts simply based on their material self interest.


5. Most modern philosophy requires a serious body of evidence to be considered for a theory on human nature. Hobbes just speculates and theory-crafts. How did a skeptic critique such an argument when no evidence is presented in the first place?

Hobbes was a materialist, who believed that everything was physical matter. In his defense one could argue that the burden of proof lies with anyone who would wish to argue against his materialism. Hobbes’ politics comes out of this materialist world view. If there is no supernatural than all that remains is selfish material interest. In the Hobbesian world everyone is acting based on crude self interest. The question then becomes how do we fashion a state out of this mass of people who are only interested in their material welfare and would kill their own mothers if it would benefit them. There is no God to punish me nor is there any heaven or hell awaiting me after I die. So what, besides for a Hobbesian police state, is stopping me from breaking into your house raping you and stealing your jewelry before cutting your throat and proceeding to your wife and kids?

6. What was parliament's response to Charles I's defiance? Did the church support the "divine right of kings" since its justification came from scripture? What caused the shift away from the thought that kings possessed God-given power over their kingdoms and when did it occur?

Well Charles I had William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury to support his claims. What is interesting about Charles I and his father, James I, is that even they are not simply arguing for the divine right of kings. For them it is almost a side issue in the face of tradition, natural law and the public self interest.
I would see the essential question of the revolution in sixteenth century political thought as, now that the myth of religious homogeny has been forever destroyed by the Reformation, what is the basis of government authority. Charles I is trying to rule two three countries, England, Scotland and Ireland. In these countries there are Calvinists and Catholics, who oppose the Anglican Church. Even the Anglican Church itself is divided; you have all of these Puritans who oppose how he is running the Anglican Church. So why should people not simply rebel against him and chop his head off? And they did rebel and chop his head off. Much of the Enlightenment is devoted to finding a solution to this very problem that Charles I failed to answer.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Three Cheers For President Clinton

It has been a long time since I have had anything good to say about Bill Clinton. I got my first taste of politics back in the summer of '92 watching the news in my grandmother's kitchen. Back then I was a big follower of then Governor Clinton. What can I say, some kids get into rock stars and actors I got into politicians. My disenchantment from Clinton occurred over a long period of time. I don't think I can pin it down to any single moment. It was somewhere between my growing disenchantment with the Oslo Accords and Monica Lewinsky.
Now Clinton has gone on the attack against President Jimmy Carter, someone whom I had great respect for up until a few years ago. (link) For those of you who have really had their heads in the clouds Carter published an anti-Israel hate fest titled Peace Not Apartheid.
Thank You President Clinton for doing the right and moral thing (for once).