Saturday, June 04, 2005

That Which Does Not Kill Me...

Well this is nice. Apparently Ashkenazi Jews are indeed smarter than the rest of y'all--because we had to self-select for intelligence to keep from being killed off throughout the last 500 years (tip: Andrew Sullivan).

Talk about your historical ironies.

Today's a travel day for me--finally going home! So, I'll see everybody on the flipside when I get into Maryland--at 12:23 AM. It would be faster, but I have to go through Atlanta. Because Minneapolis to Atlanta to DC isn't a huge triangle or anything.

UPDATE: I should have hoped it clear that breezily linking to an NYT article on my way home from college does not constitute an endorsement of biological determinism with respect to IQ. I thought the article was amusing in that it literally was making a "That which does not kill me makes me stronger" claim (particularly with regard to some nasty genetic diseases Ashkenazi Jews are prone towards), and it's funny when historical tragedies are asserted to have this sort of rebound effect. I actually would not be surprised if there is a cultural basis for Ashkenazi Jews having a sharp academic bent that was related to Jewish social position in Europe at this time, but even for groups that are relatively small and had been relatively reproductively isolated for some period of time (which may or may not describe Jews in Europe prior to their immigration to America, but certainly doesn't describe American racial groups), the claim that IQ is inheritable strikes me as pretty dubious on a variety of grounds.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Is it McConnell?

So it seems like the latest line is that Rehnquist is about to step down and McConnell is going to replace him (but Law, Life, and Libido thinks the Chief's got another year in him). I've already registered my support for McConnell, and certainly hope the news is accurate.

Uncorrelated calls McConnell "compelling" and thinks he should get through with ease. I'd qualify that to say he should get through with ease, but the Democrats might try and pick a fight just for the sake of having one. However, this Denver Post column, linked to by TalkLeft, gives me some cautious optimism. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), praised him as having "broke from the mold," and frankly I don't think the Democrats can mount a filibuster without Schumer's support.

I am particularly distressed by the brief in opposition to McConnell (this was back when he was nominated for the 10th Circuit) filed by People for the American Way. While admitting "great respect for his intellect and legal skills," PFAW then proceeds to distort McConnell's positions on several areas of importance. For example, they criticize his support for U.S. v. Morrison, a 5-4 decision striking down the Violence Against Woman Act as unconstitutional, saying it showed a "disregard for women's rights." Yet as the brief admits, McConnell's position has nothing to do with woman's rights at all, it is a statement that beating women has nothing to do with Interstate Commerce, the clause used by congress to justify the bill. Nowhere does the brief even challenge this argument while it darkly suggests McConnell is some sort of caveman who wants to protect abusive husbands. Presumably, similar laws passed on a state level would pass constitutional muster easily.

PFAW also attacks what they say is McConnell's critique of "one person, one vote." However, they admit that McConnell would have achieved the exact same result as PFAW desires, except he would use the Guarentee Clause of the constitution and PFAW is content with the (status quo) Equal Protection Justification. Since I personally would like to see a reinvigorated Guarentee Clause, McConnell's position does not strike me as particularly troublesome.

The overarching problem is that even where PFAW seems to score some points, I don't know if I can trust them because on the issues where I actually do know some of the background, I can see they are clearly distorting the record. This is simply shameful. So, while the PFAW brief (might) give me some reason to disagree with particular legal positions held by McConnell, I cannot say that it shakes my faith in his fundamental fairness or legal acumen.

Meanwhile, My Election Analysis thinks John Roberts would make a better choice, and says that McConnell hasn't been as "solid" as he would have hoped starting on the 10th Circuit. It is implied from the context, although I can't say for certain, that MEA means this to say that McConnell hasn't been as conservative as he would have hoped--bad news for him, maybe, but good news for me. The Asylum is making much the same point--they think McConnell might be too "activist" (what the hell?) for their tastes, and they have the gall to say he isn't an "originalist" (there probably is not a more prominent (and honest) originalist thinker in America today than McConnell). Hey, if both the left and right hate him, how bad can he be?

In the Agora (Cross-Posted here) sums up my feelings well:
McConnell is solidly conservative, but not in a partisan manner. He's an intellectual conservative, not a political conservative and that carries much weight with me. He has a long track record of scholarship that will provide plenty of fodder for the various liberal advocacy groups, particularly PAW and Americans United, to oppose him. But ultimately, he is confirmable. He has broad support from legal scholars, including many prominent liberals, and he has proven to be a consistent conservative rather than a partisan one (for example, he publicly opposed the impeachment of Bill Clinton and spoke out strongly against the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision). Given the other potential choices, McConnell is about as good as liberals or libertarians could expect to get as a nominee given the current configuration.

Folks commenting over there have raised questions about McConnell's Church/State jurisprudence. I personally am not too troubled by it. McConnell is an accomodationist, which is a position I have alot of sympathy for. He has scathingly denounced the Oregon v. Smith decision, a case (majority by Scalia) that essentially demolished free exercise protections for religious minorities. However, he has refrained from taking the hardline conservative "prayer in school is a-ok" position, which is what counts for me. As this article by two liberal law professors, among the 300 who have written in support of Judge McConnell says (note: the article was written when McConnell was a candidate for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals three years ago), "McConnell has also located himself directly opposite Scalia on key establishment clause issues. For example, Scalia (in dissent) voted to uphold government-sponsored public prayer services at public school commencement exercises. McConnell views such events as unconstitutional." If this is the case I think it is (Lee v. Weisman), then McConnell has spoken out in favor of perhaps the most important establishment clause decision in the past two decades. Lee has come under almost as much fire from the conservative legal sphere as Roe, but unlike Roe it is a superbly reasoned opinion consistent with common-sense jurisprudential positions, and also unlike Roe it is not the type of case that should be left to political actors. Democrats should give McConnell some credit here, he is offering his endorsement to one of the biggest feathers (and biggest targets) in the liberal first amendment hat.

Indeed, it is the work of McConnell, among others, that has caused me to reassess my formerly strict-separationist stance as dangerous for religious dissidents. Here's his argument:
...what it means to be free and equal was a contested question....There is [a] possibility that...all legal distinctions based on religion would be abolished. Disabilities would be lifted...Under this vision, the state itself is secular, and knows not the creed of its citizens; religious practice is purely private, and receives neither the encouragement nor even the acknowledgement of the state...

Such a vision was adopted in France at this time as a result of the French Revolution:
Jews, according to the terms of emancipation, were expected to divest themselves entirely of their national character—they were to give up the civil aspects of Talmudic law; disavow the political implications of Jewish messianism; abandon the use of Yiddish; and, most importantly, relinquish their semi-autonomous communal institutions. They were to become like Frenchman in every respect, save religion.

[cite omitted] One prominent French legislator explained that no one could be his fellow citizen 'who does not wish to drink or eat with me, who cannot give me his daughter in marriage, whose son cannot become my son-in-law, and who, by the religion he professes is separated from all other men. Only when Jews do what other men do,' he said, 'what the constitution and law requires of us all, will we welcome them as citizens.' [cite omitted]

The problem, though, was that this vision of secular equality would force Jews to abandon aspects of their Jewishness. To be sure, it would protect them from laws that explicitly singled out Jews for disabilities, and it would maintain a secular public order in which all citizens could participate on the basis of their shared characteristics. It might well spare persons...who do not share the religious sensibilities of their countrymen the burden and embarrassment of public recognition of religion. But it would not protect the ability of religious minorities to maintain their differences from secular society. It would provide no protection for religious practices at odds with the secular interests of the majority. To put it another way, forcing [a Jew] testify on Saturday would formally treat him equally with other citizens, but its impact on him and other Jews would be quite unequal compared with the Protestant majority. You might consider an analogy to the issue of disabilities: In order to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate, it is sometimes necessary to make special accommodations (wheelchair ramps, sign language interpretation, and so forth)[Michael W. McConnell, John H. Garvey, Thomas C. Berg. Religion and the Constitution. (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 2002): 11-12]

Essentially, this is the same argument liberals use to justify "race-consciousness," in order to protect racial minorities, the state cannot be blind to race, because then it will never be able to recognize racism except in the most extreme circumstances. Along the same lines, the government has to be able to accomodate religious minorities whose religious beliefs might require that they differ slightly from the social norm.

Even if you don't agree with it, it's still a compelling and well thought out argument. And everything that I've read by McConnell falls in that category, and suggests that he is an intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful thinker and judge. I would be honored to have him on the Supreme Court.

In a prior post, I wrote the following:
This brings me to something I've wanted to say for a long time. I've read Judge McConnell's works, and have been incredibly impressed. The man is frankly brilliant. I support the Democrats on the filibuster option, and am willing to say it should have been used on nominees like Judge Rogers. If the Democrats decide to filibuster a McConnell nomination, I will be outraged, and guarantee you will hear about it on this blog.

I am begging the Democrats--do not go down that road.

UPDATE: Tony Mauro has an excellent article on Judge McConnell. Althouse loves the description of him as a "perplexing blend" of liberal and conservative, and I do too.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Enemy of the State

My good pal Luci Hague asked me in comments to write on the revelation of Deep Throat's identity. I'm not exactly sure what to say--is there anything new (beyond his name) that has come out because of the story?

So instead of writing my own post, I'll instead kick over to The Moderate Voice, whose thoughts on the subject are must-read material. He goes through the reaction of some of Nixon's old allies to the story. They are not pleased with Mr. Felt. Now that his name is out there, they say he "violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession" (G. Gordon Liddy, and pretty rich coming from the source), "undermine[d] the administration" (Chuck Colson), is a "traitor" (Pat Buchanan), and "made the conditions necessary for the Cambodian genocide" (Ben Stein). All of these are simply absurd (especially the last).

Where were these people in the last 30 years? If they thought that Nixon was the epitome of a great president, they should have been making that argument all throughout the last three decades. That they waited until hearing the name of the source suggests they don't actually believe their arguments, they just want to cause the maximum amount of hurt and pain to someone who they feel brought down one of their heroes. For shame. I thought the rule of law still meant something.

Just One More Time

I swear, this will be my last post on the Amnesty Report story. I mean really, I'm already on number five.

The latest player in our little tragedy is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps the least credible person of all to be addressing the issue. He says:
"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused," he said. "Free societies depend on oversight, and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness.
"Precious little has been written by [newspaper] editorial boards about the beheading of innocent civilians by terrorists, the thousands of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq, the allegations of rape of women and girls by U.N. workers in the Congo," he said. [emphasis added]

Hmmm. Now, I'm a pretty staunch critic of the UN, and the sex abuse allegations in the Congo are absolutely horrific. At the same time, the dynamic between that situation and the one here is quite interesting. On the one hand, if the UN wanted to pull a Rumsfeld(/Bush/Cheney), they could say something to the affect of:
"It's inappropriate for the United States to group the UN, an organization dedicated to peacekeeping and human rights, with some of the worst human rights violators in the world. The events in the Congo are indeed intolerable, and are being investigated. But the UN hardly compares to the level of brutality of the Hussein regime, and it's wrong to suggest we do."

How would I respond to a statement like this? Well, much the same way as I would to the responses the Bush administration has been giving to the Amnesty report. I'd say that the UN should not be immune from criticism simply because of its other good deeds, and that in any event it has far too high an opinion of itself. On the other hand, it is unproductive, biased, and wrong to imply that the UN rises to the same level of evil as Saddam Hussein. Replace "UN" with "US," and the argument still holds, in my opinion.

That's the similarity. The difference, of course, is that the UN isn't denying it's problem and is promising a full investigation. Contrast that to the Bush administration's stonewalling, and suddenly the comparison seems inapt indeed.

Meanwhile, Obsidian Wings has two more posts on the subject. Edward calls out the Bushies for their sudden...distrust...of Amnesty when in the run up to Iraq, they were the most credible people in the world (Pissed-Off Liberal) also runs with this theme). Hilzoy is confused about what the particular manner of how Amnesty made its allegations has to do with their veracity--IE, if the allegations are true, then shouldn't we concentrate on fixing them? Amen to that.

As usual, Andrew Sullivan gives a great sum-up:
Some of the rhetoric in Amnesty International's report on U.S. detainment policies is indeed excessive. It is simply wrong on every level to equate the United States' policy of detention, abuse, torture and rendition of terror suspects with the Soviet Union's vast domestic prison system, designed to perpetuate an evil totalitarianism. But equally, it is now indisputable that a network of secret prisons exists to detain and interrogate terror suspects, that some of those imprisoned are "ghost detainees" with no proper records or accounting, that abuse and torture have occurred in hundreds of cases, that this president signed a memo defining torture into near-non-existence, that there is no secure method for determining the guilt or innocence of the prisoners, and that all of this has decimated America's international reputation. It is equally indisputable that investigations into these incidents are simply not "fully investigated in a transparent way." Even the most egregious cases of murder, as in Bagram, are sometimes dismissed at first for lack of evidence. Incidents of Koran abuse were deemed "not credible" for a week, until five incidents were confirmed. Many, many other accusations are deemed baseless because the only willing testimony comes from prisoners and no investigation takes place. Further, military critics of administration policy are often fired; and the message from the top is unmistakable. These are simply facts. To describe criticisms of this policy and record as "absurd" is itself absurd. It bespeaks either stunning cynicism, or equally stunning denial. And it suggests to me that there will be no resolution to this profound problem coming from the administration itself. They're relying on the general public not to care, or to believe that the ends of preventing terror justify almost any means, including an end to America's proud history of decency toward prisoners in wartime. That makes it all the more incumbent on the Congress, the media and the part of the public that does love this country's reputation and humaneness to speak out and demand accountability. The odds are long, but we have no choice but to try.

One other thought that just occurred to me. This is one of the few times that the Bush administration has really let a negative story about itself spin out of its control. I mean, you have Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld dragged into this, and I have to think their comments have given the story a renewed life it would not otherwise have. Furthermore, I don't think they are coming out the better in these exchanges--they sound bitter and in denial. This comes as a capstone to a whole period where the Bushies have been getting nailed--Social Security Privatization looks dead in the water, the filibuster compromise came as a huge disappointment, Bolton has been huge embarrassment, and now this. Are they, perchance, getting rattled? The first murmurings of dreaded "lame-duck" status are being heard, even amongst conservatives (link: The Moderate Voice).

We'll see how this plays out (hopefully on issues other than Amnesty).

UPDATE: (Updates don't count as new posts, alright!?!) Frustrated as he is about the apathetic administration response to abuse allegation, Publius concedes that "Gulag" was at least as inappropriate as when Santorum compared filibustering Democrats to Nazis.

The Hits Keep Coming

Frankly, the Amnesty International story has a lot more legs than I had expected. I'm on my fourth post on the subject (in reverse chronological order, here, here, and here for my prior thoughts). President Bush himself has jumped into the fray, saying:
"It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world"

This, of course, is entirely besides the point. The US is a country that promotes freedom around the world--a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not right-thinking human beings should be appalled by our actions in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere is splitting badly on the issue. The Moderate Voice has come down hard on the US for Gitmo et al, but seems to be buying the Adnesik line that Amnesty has just bought into America-hatred, which is blinding it to the true human rights monsters out there.

Obsidian Wings, by contrast, is having a mini-war of its co-bloggers. Edward started off by saying that the US was an example to the rest of the world and thus needed to be held to tighter scrutiny (a sentiment I've echoed). Charles thinks the bias is lethal to Amnesty's case and that it the US should not be held to a higher standard than other countries:
There's no cherry-picking here, and there's no singling out a particular nation because that nation happens to be really, really powerful. The vision of Amnesty International is one standard applied to every person. To the extent that the leadership of Amnesty International has focused its ire on a country that has done more than any other on earth to advance freedom and human rights, it is an organization that has lost its bearings. To put it more forthrightly, the perspective of the leadership of Amnesty International is so whacked and so skewed that it's credibility as a human rights organization is in mortal peril.

Most recently, Edward responded that as long as the allegations are true (which I think they are), then we should respond not by crying about Amnesty's "bias" but by fixing the problem.

Andrew Sullivan is claiming victory, and has a prestigious feather in his cap now that Glenn Reynolds is starting to take the deal seriously.

As for me, I stand by my original position. The US has been and remains one of the greatest beacons of human rights the world has ever known--and its wrong to suggest otherwise. But while recognizing our triumphs, we cannot be afraid to deal with our failings. A US that even appears to be backsliding on its protection for basic legal and moral protections will cause more damage to global stability and human decency than anyone could possibly imagine.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hurting the Cause

Regular readers of this blog know that I've written a fair amount on the liberal slant of academia, both on its roots and on what might solve the problem. So I was quite interested to see what Law Professor Scott Gerber had to say in an article entitled: "The Radicalization of American Legal Education: Why the Left's Dominance Is Bad for Law Schools and the Law" (link: How Appealing)

It was absolutely awful. Speaking as someone sympathetic to the position, I can honestly say this was perhaps the most compelling argument for keeping conservatives (or at least Professor Gerber) out of academia entirely. In addition to the constant Limbaugh/O'Reilly-esque statements of "that's right" and "you read that right" ("I am not making this up! I could not make this up!), the entire piece is a collage of shoddy argumentation and barely veiled partisanship in the well-known "if it's bad, it must be liberal" vein of discourse.

Gerber starts with the now well-known statistics on the predominance of liberal voices on academic campuses. Alright, fair enough. Then he gives us this gem:
And if those numbers aren't proof enough of the current state of legal academe, here's a fact that's largely unknown outside of the corridors of America's law schools: the Association of American Law Schools--the legal academy's learned society--was recently led by a self-proclaimed "radical" Marxist. (A nice guy, but a Marxist nonetheless.)

I'm not a Marxist, of course. But what does being one have to do with leading a society? It's not like the AALS is the Supreme Court--it doesn't have a bearing on what professors teach, how they teach it, or really anything all that political at all. As far as I can tell, the AALS is mostly an umbrella organization within which Law Schools can network and communicate. Being a Marxist has absolutely nothing to do with ones capabilities in leading that sort of thing (it should also be noted that the types of Marxists one finds in legal academia are of a very different breed than the ones you'd find in Stalinist Russia).

Then Gerber makes my favorite conservative argument of them all, when it comes to academia. Can you guess what it is? I'll give you a hint: It's a two parter, part one dealing with race and gender, part two dealing with political affiliation.

If you guessed "affirmative action and discrimination," you win a prize! In the same section, Gerber simultaneously argues that a) seeking to hire under-represented racial and sexual minorities for law school positions is unjust and wrong and b) seeking to hire under-represented political minorities for law school positions is necessary and morally required. Honey, you got to pick a position and stick to it: Either law schools have the obligation to hire more underrepresented voices, or they don't. But trying to manipulate the rules so it only benefits your own group--that's just not on.

Gerber next moves into his examples of how legal education has been "radicalized." The first one (and who couldn't see this one coming) was the Clinton impeachment:
The first was when a flood of law professors reported to Congress during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio that lying under oath (as President Clinton had done in the Paula Jones litigation) and obstructing the judicial process were not impeachable offenses. Certainly, the Framers would have characterized that sort of behavior as an "offense against the state": their definition of a "high crime or misdemeanor." Succinctly put, lying in federal court is, and ought to be, an impeachable offense.

An "offense against the state"? Any criminal act is, by definition, an "offense against the state" (including jaywalking, which, if Monica had never surfaced, we'd probably have seen an impeachment proceeding begun on that basis instead). The whole structure of our criminal law system is premised off removing crimes from the realm of torts between persons and making them crimes against the state. That's why they're all labeled "State v. Smith" or "People v. Smith" or something along that vein. Making that your definition of "High Crimes and Misdeamenors" would make "high" superfluous. Succinctly refuted, lying under oath in a civil suit about an action in which congress had no authority to inquire into is not, and ought not be, an impeachable offense.

But here is where Gerber tops himself. Contradictory, hypocritical, and hyperbolic as he may have been, at least so far the good Professor had managed to confine himself to ills that could reasonably be tagged on liberals alone. All that ends in example number two:
The second example of how the radicalization of American legal education has impacted legal scholarship is the recent stream of books by influential law professors calling for a reduced role for the judiciary in constitutional interpretation. You read that right: These professors think courts should get out of the business of interpreting the Constitution. One professor even calls for a constitutional amendment overruling Marbury v. Madison, the landmark 1803 decision by Chief Justice John Marshall that is widely credited with establishing the Court's power of judicial review. You read that right, too: This particular professor thinks the hallowed case that has long been regarded as the source of the strength of the third branch of American government was a bad idea--one that, two hundred years later, should be revisited.

Gerber is correct that there is a movement amongst liberal legal scholars that is beginning to question whether or not liberal policies should be pursued in the court's. However, to argue that it is predominantly liberals who have been critical of judicial review and aggressive constitutional interpretation is simply delusional. Across history (and still today), it has always been conservatives who have been most vociferous in their attacks on Marbury. Indeed, did we not just emerge for a 24/7 news cycle where we heard daily from the right about how evil those "activist" judges are and how they should defer more to the popular branches of government (sample quote, via Rep. DeLay "The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop [the judiciary].")? How quickly we forget.

Gerber's article is simply a spiteful, vitriolic attack against the left--damn the truth, full to starboard. It's disgraceful, and does more to damage his cause than a million Marxist chiefs of the AALS could ever do.

UPDATE: Daniel Solove wonders if
As the judiciary grows more conservative...whether liberal and conservative scholars will retool their positions on judicial review or the role of the courts. Inspired by the Warren Court, liberals sought to justify robust judicial review. Conservatives pushed for judicial restraint and attacked the legitimacy of judicial review. (These are broad generalizations of course.) But the courts have a very different complexion today, and I wonder whether liberal and conservative positions on judicial review will start to shift soon.

This realignment may indeed, start happening. Conservatives have not been too vocal in decrying activist conservative decisions, and as Professor Gerber notes, there are some liberal groups who want a more restrained judiciary. But it is important to recognize where the liberal groups are coming from. It isn't from some abstract position of judicial restraint (which would imply that they are merely flipping positions with the right as it becomes politically expedient to do so). Rather, the change is motivated by a wholesale critique of how judicial victories translate into "real world" changes. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic note that:
[L]ower courts have found it easy to narrow or distinguish the broad ring landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education. The group whom they supposedly benefit always greets cases like Brown with great celebration. But after the celebration dies down, the great victory is quietly cut back by narrow interpretations, administrative obstruction, or delay. In the end, the minority group is left little better than it was before, if not worse. Its friends, the liberals, believing the problem has been solved, go on to something else, such as saving the whales, while its adversaries, the conservatives, furious that the Supreme Court has given way once again to undeserving minorities, step up their resistance. [Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 24]

Liberals have discovered that by going through the court system, they win the big battles but lose the overall war. This is because the victories in the court system make it hard for interest groups to mobilize grassroots supporters to protect against rollback attempts--who needs to fight for choice when you've got Roe--while at the same time providing infinite manpower for infuriated conservatives livid that there interests have been excluded from the political playing field. The "liberal restraint" movement, for lack of a better name, grows out of these pragamatic concerns, not out of a generic distrust of the judiciary as such. Is there a bit of "oh, wow, with conservatives dominating the judiciary now maybe we shouldn't support infinite judicial power!"? Probably. But that is not the overall motivating factor here.

Parry, Riposte

The war continues between the Bush administration and Amnesty International.

Cheney: "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."

Amnesty: "He doesn't take torture seriously; he doesn't take the Geneva Convention seriously; he doesn't take due process rights seriously; and he doesn't take international law seriously" either.

Oh, it's ON now!

Previous posts on the subject here and here.

Finals Season

It's that time of year again...when I am utterly swamped with all the work I put off until right up to the deadline. Posting might be a bit sporadic until the weekend. Try to cope.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Color Your World

A short while ago, I penned a short narrative on how I became race-conscious. The glaring inequities present in our society simply were to great to be explained away or ignored under the guise of "color-blindness." In that vein, I give you a truly stellar post by Bitch, Ph.d.. Like my post, it is in the narrative form, so it isn't easily excerpted. So I guess you'll have to read the whole thing then.

Interesting Possibilities

Via Powerline, I learn that FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley is pondering a bid in my adopted Congressional district, the Minnesota 2nd. For those of you who don't remember, Ms. Rowley is the FBI agent who begged her organization to keep tabs on Zacharias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" of 9/11. Moussaoui is currently the only person being charged with the crime.

This district leans GOP but isn't overwhelmingly so, and a moderate Democrat with security credentials could make a strong run. It could make for a very interesting race, folks.

The Word

Balloon Juice points us to this Dennis Prager LA Times editorial which thinks it's got the religion/politics thing down cold.
A number of years ago I discovered a root cause of America's culture war. It came to me as I debated professor Alan Dershowitz about issues of Jewish concern before a 1,000 Jews at the 92nd Street "Y" in New York City. With the exception of support for Israel, Dershowitz, a Harvard liberal, and I agreed on nothing, political or religious. Toward the end of the evening I came to understand why.

"Ladies and gentlemen," I announced, "the major difference between Alan Dershowitz and me is this: When professor Dershowitz differs with the Torah, he assumes that he is right and the Torah is wrong. When I differ with the Torah, I assume that I am wrong and the Torah is right." Dershowitz responded that for the first time that evening he agreed with me.

That realization was an epiphany for me. I have come to realize that the great divide in values is not between those who believe in God and those who do not but between those who believe in a divine text and those who do not.

This explains in large measure the great culture war in the United States. Americans, of course, are divided not so much by religion as between right and left. Jews and Christians on the left agree with each other on just about every political and social question, and Jews and Christians on the right do the same.

So what distinguishes leftist Jews from rightist Jews and leftist Christians from rightist Christians? It essentially comes down to their belief in the Bible, not their belief in God.

Jews who believe that the Torah is from God agree on almost every important issue of life with Christians who believe that the Torah--and the rest of the Old Testament--is divine. Jews who believe that men (and perhaps women) wrote the Torah agree on virtually every important issue with Christians who also regard the Torah (and the rest of the Bible) as man-made.

To be fair, there is a grain of truth to this statement. Religions do lean conservative, and any believer who takes his/her religious texts literally is probably going to end up more conservative than those who allow for interpretation and change (much as Originalism will get you more conservative results than other modes of Judicial philosophy). So yes, I'd venture that Jews and Christians who believe the Bible is divinely inspired will be more conservative than those who do not.

But outside of that, it is rather shocking just how badly Prager has distorted classical Judaism so that it fits within contemporary political conservativism and meshes with traditional Christian beliefs. To be frank, the political/moral values of Judaism and Christianity are not all that similar, and it is wrong to suggest they are. Prager writes the following:
Jews and Christians who believe that God revealed the Torah, for example, are far more likely to believe that marriage must remain defined as only between a man and woman, and cannot be redefined to include members of the same sex. They believe that people are not basically good, that human life, not animal life, is sacred (because humans, not animals, are created in God's image), and that murderers should be liable to the death penalty (the only law that is in all five books of the Torah is to put murderers to death).

On same-sex marriage, he is probably right (though even there some classical theologians are beginning to challenge that position). On just about everything else, I'd say he's got the classical Jewish position wrong, or at least twisted. Before I go further, I'd like to say that both Christianity and Judaism are not monolithic traditions. The positions that I will be outlining are simplifications--many denominations disagree. So take from that what you will. Also, it is important to note that in Judaism, even (indeed, especially) in its most devout incarnations, Rabbinic interpretations (Talmud, Mishnah, etc) are placed on equal footing with the sacred texts themselves. This does not in any way diminish the divine roots of the Torah, but it is a critical part of Judaic interpretation. A Jewish theology that tries to look solely at the text and not the interpretation is not Jewish in any traditional sense of the term. So, when I present Rabbinic interpretations of certain rules and clauses, they should be seen as reflective of traditionalist notions of how the divinely-inspired Torah should be read.

I. Are Humans Naturally Good or Evil?
Christianity, of course, believes that mankind is naturally inclined to evil. They get this from the fall of Eden and thus the taint of Original Sin. I have no clue where Prager cross-applies this to Judaism, which has no conception of Original Sin at all. Indeed, one of the critical differences between Judaism and Christianity is in how they view this world versus the world-to-come. Christianity sees this world as hopelessly corrupted and sinful, it is merely a vestibule before one enters the divine kingdom. Judaism rejects that position outright, the mortal kingdom has primacy in Jewish theology as the proving grounds for one's righteousness. This position only makes sense if one believes in the capacity for mankind to be good. Certainly, Judaism is not naive about it (that's why we have laws). But the overarching focus of Judaism is on the performance of good deeds, being proactively righteous rather than simply staving off sin.

II. Sacred Human Life
Both Judaism and Christianity believe that human life is holy. From there, they split off rather drastically. Nowhere is the distinction more apparent than on the issue of abortion. Conservative Christian denominations are dead-set against it. Classical Judaism, by contrast, takes a far more nuanced view. Critical to this is the position that life does not begin at conception, and that abortion is, in certain cases, permissible (Sanhedrin 72b, see also Exodus 21:22-23). In end of life issues, there are key differences as well. Whereas many conservative Christian groups have taken an absolutist approach, Judaism is more nuanced. Though it still is, in many ways, very much against Euthanasia, it has elaborate rules about what can and cannot be done to a Goses, or someone who is on the verge of death (within a day or two). The advent of new medical technology has complicated these issues greatly, and the debate continues to rage within classical Jewish circles about what to do in end of life scenarios (see Byron Sherwin, "A View of Euthanasia," in Contemporary Jewish Ethics: A Reader, Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995): 363-381).

III. Animal Life
Though Prager is right that Judaism does not equate human life and animal life (we are not Peter Singer), there still are religious injunctions that seek to protect the dignity of the animal kingdom. The Kosher laws grow out of this sentiment--that animals must be killed humanely, and that there are limits on how we may treat animals. The idea that treatment of animals should even be part of a moral code at all is, I believe, unique to Judaism and unduplicated by Christianity.

IV. Death Penalty
Mr. Prager is correct that the Torah is very clear that the Death Penalty is required for certain crimes. However, he needs to look deeper into Jewish history to get the complete picture. Rabbinic interpretations of these passages have put stringent evidentiary requirements before the Death Penalty can be used--requirements strict enough so the Death Penalty would be used rarely, if ever. This position, in favor of the Death Penalty on a theoretical level while profoundly skeptical of its applicability in practice, mirrors the liberal position on the issue far more closely than the conservative one.

Prager indulges in what is becoming a very disturbing trend: The amalgamation of "Judeo" and "Christian" into one amorphous "Judeo-Christian" tradition. While claiming that this represents merely what the two religions have in common, what we see is that it actually is far more reflective of Christianity than Judaism. Indeed, Mr. Prager projects blatantly Christian positions over classical Judaism, claiming they apply to both. This is a very subtle form of Christian supremacism that can be very seductive to conservative Jews--it allows them to present their political predictions as religiously motivated without actually abandoning their faith. However, tempting as it may be, the fact still remains that this is an incorrect interpretation of Judaism. Jews--of all levels of faith--are statistically more liberal than the rest of the population for a reason. It is not because we've distorted our faith, but rather because we've followed it.