Sunday, June 26, 2005

Musings on an Islamic Apologia

Last night I was watching a program on CSPAN-2 (how's that for ultra-in-depth geekiness?) that featured Reza Aslan talking about his book No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Mr. Aslan has his own website, which you can find here. I thought his presentation was very disturbing, because it seemed a bit long on smug bafflegab and a bit short on blunt answers to hard questions.

On one level that's not surprising, nor cause for any condemnation. Mr. Aslan is a Muslim, and tends to make Islam sound like the superior answer to every social question -- just as any Christian might exaggerate the social and political benefits of his faith. In that sense, his "smugness" is largely in the eye of the beholder; no doubt Mr. Aslan would roll his eyes at my description of how wonderful the Middle East would be if the Byzantines, and not the Ottomans, had steered the region into the 20th century. Now I think religion does matter in these areas. I think it matters whether a society has Catholic roots or Protestant ones, and likewise for Islam, Buddhism or any other faith. So I don't mind it when a faithful person extends his witness into the realm of politics, economics, and so forth, urging us to accept all, most, or some of his beliefs as the basis for our social arrangements.

But I did mind something Mr. Aslan (like many Christians) managed to do, which is to suggest that disagreements with his views about the social and political consequences of his religion are instances of sheer bigotry which have no part in a serious and civilized discussion about democratic politics. He did this on several occasions, notably when he claimed that American impressions of Islam are harmfully influenced by an Evangelical Christian culture which he called "exclusionary" because it doesn't accept Islam's status as a divinely-inspired religion. Whether Christianity is more "exclusionary" than any other religion is a more debatable point than Mr. Aslan seemed to think, and I'll get to that in a moment. For now, I'll observe that I found it very strange for Mr. Aslan, who continually stressed the existence of "pluralism" in the Muslim world (at one point referring to its "infinite diversity") and regularly chided ignorant Westerners for assuming that Islam was a unified ideology that completely dictated the thoughts and viewpoints of Muslims everywhere, to suddenly claim there is a unified Evangelical ideology which completely dictates the thoughts and viewpoints of Americans -- conservative or not -- about Islam.

Tu quoque. I'm not sure how Mr. Aslan managed to attend Santa Clara University, Harvard, and the University of Iowa and come to that conclusion. Or maybe I am sure; Mr. Aslan probably accomplished it by confining his grand tour of American diversity to graduate-student hangouts and faculty get-togethers. In those venues, life in America is largely thought of in terms of being on Prospero's guest list:
"The abby was amply provisioned . . . The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure . . . buffoons . . . improvisatori . . . ballet dancers, . . . musicians . . . Beauty . . . wine. All these and security were within. Without was the 'Red Death.'
Make that "Red State Death" and you've got the parochialism of the Harvard lifestyle pretty well nailed. Mr. Aslan didn't help matters when he kept prefacing his identification of Evangelical "exclusionism" with the word "conservative" -- by which he meant, of course, George Bush and the Republican Party. It would be interesting to hear Mr. Aslan's thoughts on the myopic haughtiness of conservative Evangelicals were he to spend a year stranded on a desert island with Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, and the Guerilla Girls.

Nor did Mr. Aslan's special pleading for Islam help his case very much. He seemed to be arguing that Islam respects Christianity in a way Christianity can't return because Islam recognizes a common divine source for the religions of Abraham's children, whereas Christianity is bound up in a singular myth which involves the fulfillment of human dignity with the repudiation of other faiths. I found that a bit tendentious in light of the Muslim belief that the Bible used by Christians is full of imaginative crap:
The Islamic request to Christians is just this: Please follow Jesus, don't follow Paul, who preaches a different gospel! The Islamic belief about the present Book, which the Christians use as "the word of God", called the New Testament is that it is not the Gospel of Jesus mentioned in the Qur'an. Still, Muslims believe that the Gospels in the bible contain some teachings of Jesus, as well as the interpretations of the writers of those books, whoever they might have been. Also Muslims believe that in the words quoted from Jesus in these gospels, you come across certain ideas, which he received from God too. So the New Testament (particularly the Gospels) is valuable to the Muslims. It is valuable in that there is the "word of God" in it, exactly as the Old Testament (particularly the Pentateuch) is valuable to Muslims in that it contains also the "word of God" in it. . . .

We have good evidence in the Gospels themselves that Jesus was using the original Bible for his preaching. He used to refer to it as The Gospel of the Kingdom: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people." (Matthew 4: 23) . . . Here it is said that Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom. Ask those Christian disputants whether Jesus was preaching one of the four Canonical gospels included in the Bible in 325 C.E, written not in Jesus' own Aramaic language, but in the western language of Greek, at least thirty years after his alleged crucifixion. It is so obvious that no Christian scholar, worth his salt, can deny the fact that the present gospels contain the words of God, the words of Jesus and the words of the writer. That means that they are not fully God's word. The Islamic belief is also the same.
Let me pause here for a minute to explain more fully why the juxtaposition of Mr. Aslan's comments with this ordinary Muslim belief bothers me. It doesn't bother me that faithful Muslims have concluded -- as they must, if Islam is to be what Islam claims to be -- that the Scriptures revered by Christians are full of imaginative crap that has nothing or very little to do with God. What bothers me is Mr. Aslan's implied claim that pejorative views are acceptable when they're held by Muslims about Christians, but inadmissible bigotry that reveals a damnable flaw in Western civilization whenever Christians -- as they must -- take a pejorative view of Islam.

Mr. Aslan's assumed superiority of position, and its concomittant sense of entitlement, bodes ill for his own project. Citizens in a western democratic society characterized by religious pluralism have to accept the fact that large numbers of their neighbors are going to think they're slaves to an unjustifiable and/or pernicious myth. With very few exceptions, just about any iteration of Christianity has found ways to accept this burden without apostasy. Mr. Aslan, however, insists that Islam is a different case because unlike Christians, Muslims can't separate their duties to the civic order from their duties to the divine order. Aside from the ignorance about Christianity which is required to make this statement, it's particularly worrisome to see Mr. Aslan's picture of Muslims demanding recognition of their religion's superiority of position and entitlement with respect to the promulgation of contrary religious opinions. Not all criticism of Islam is "anti-Islamic," and not all Christian attempts to witness for the truth of the Gospel over the inventions of Muhammad are condemnable acts of ethnic or cultural discrimination.

Mr. Aslan shouldn't allow himself to be seduced by the American Left's penchant for enshrining non-western (or anti-Western) beliefs into thinking that secular democracy means never having to hear anything unpleasant (or unpleasantly true) about one's religion. He should realize that when our Left tut-tuts itself about "anti-Islamic" discrimination, it has in mind only the chance to excoriate the Evangelical Christian bogey-man for his malignant intolerance. Should the day come -- as it, in all likelihood, will come -- when Muslims find themselves in a position to influence the making and interpretation of American laws, Mr. Aslan will find that the same wispy-bearded, latte-drinking, birkenstock-shod colleagues who used to commiserate with him about anti-Muslim bigotry screaming to the heavens about female circumcision in Mali, slavery in the Sudan, and Islam's dogmatic opposition to science, reason, and human freedom. It may, of course, be too late by then for the apostles of secularism to do anything more than scream. But maybe there will be enough "bigoted Evangelicals" to make common cause with the Starbucks secularists and, though fear and anger combined with Muslims' following Mr. Aslan's lead and treating Evangelicalism with their own brand of contempt, make being Muslim in America the kind of unpleasant experience which Muslims only now imagine it to be. Mr. Aslan should heed his Prophet, and realize that the People of the Book are, in the long run, easier to live with than the "People of The DaVinci Code."

The same contradiction arose later, when Mr. Aslan was explaining the perils of Americans trying to foist their conceptions of democracy onto Muslim cultures. As a Christian conservative, I found some of what Mr. Aslan said to be a refreshing and thoroughly-bracing gust of common sense in what is largely a fetid hothouse of secular self-adoration. I can't quote Mr. Aslan's speech, but I can quote something very similar from one of his interviews:
The great irony of all of this [the Iraqi war] is the President by his own admission, had such a simplistic view of the complexion of Middle East culture and politics that he really didn't know what he had gotten into, you know, this belief that all we had to do was drop some bombs on Baghdad and Iraqis would be throwing flowers at us and some kind of Jeffersonian democracy would bloom in Iraq. Anyone who knew anything about the region knew this was ludicrous.. . . But when I say that there is great irony here what I mean is that maybe we needed someone with such a simplistic view to allow the Muslims to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them to build an indigenous Islamic democracy.
Just so; the only people who can answer questions about Islam and modern political order are Muslims: Asking Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeldt and the Heritage Foundation just won't cut it. Laws are derived from culture, and culture from religion. It's really that simple, and it means that the American experience is a smorgasbord of savory and bitter alternatives, not a universal blueprint for achieving truth, justice and decency in every corner of the world.

But that's when Mr. Aslan began to lose me, because he kept insisting that the wonderful character of Islam demanded distinctively-Islamic laws and political institutions. He tried very hard to make this sound like a happy outcome by, for example, translating dhimmitude as "protection." Dhimmis -- Christians and Jews -- are "protected people" in Islam, he said, and then he said no more. Which isn't surprising, because I don't particularly admire the Islamic policy of taxing Dhimmis who want to practice their Christianity, or the myriad laws Islamic societies have always had to prevent the spread of other faiths. But me no buts about Christians forcing Jews to pay special taxes and wear yellow stars -- either that's wrong, which it is, or it's an acceptable way to "protect" Jews that really ought to be done by Muslims, who alone have the right to "protect" members of different religions by -- as the Koran says -- making them "feel themselves subdued." Either way, we return to Mr. Aslan's assertion that Muslims are incapable of separating their duties to God from their duties to the civic order.

Discussing the wrongness of imposing American conceptions of democratic society on Islamic countries, Mr. Aslan said it couldn't be done because of this unity of faith and politics which is part and parcel of Islam. Whenever Muslims are in the majority, he argued, they must transform the political and social order to reflect the truth of Islam. I have no doubt that Mr. Aslan is correct, for his assertions are borne out by every constitution of an Islamic state. Here is the Constitution of Iran:
In accordance with the sacred verse "God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who have not fought against you because of your religion and who have not expelled you from your homes" [Koran, 60:8], the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.
But if the "norms and the principles of Islamic justice" involve oppressing non-Muslims, and if this oppression is thought to be consistent with human rights (rights, no doubt, which are to be derived from Islam), then one has to wonder if Mr. Aslan hasn't actually told us that Muslims can't participate in western democratic societies, that they can only bide their time until they are numerous or powerful enough to transform Germany or the United States into Islamic republics whose laws will "protect" us Dhimmis so long as we -- again in the words of Iran's Constitution -- "refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam."

This can easily become a hypocritical concern. If one, for example, chooses to find the portrait of Western civilization in the glossy pages of People magazine, then Roman Catholics such as myself may be said to wish that civilization ground into dust. If one finds Roe v. Wade to be a sterling achievement of western democratic government, then every pro-life Evangelical is engaged in a conspiracy against the state. Howard Dean, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Party routinely make those very suggestions and, depending on what one takes as "civilization," they are entirely right to do so:
I'd rather be a Klansman in robes of snowy white
Than be a Catholic priest, in robes black as night
For the Klansman is an American, America is his home
But the Catholic priest owes allegiance to a foreign prince in Rome
The Klansmen had their vision of "civilization" and the Roman Catholic Church has her vision of it. The DNC has its own vision of "democracy" and so does Iran's Islamic Consultative Assembly. So to a very significant extent, the "war" described by Mr. Aslan is a continuous and ordinary feature of pluralistic and democratic societies. Values will come into conflict. These conflicts will be fought to resolution. And these fights will produce winners who have superior positions and entitlements, and losers who must "feel themselves subdued." It's an inevitable process, and we shouldn't blame Muslims merely because they're going to remind us of it.

Except that Mr. Aslan was at pains not to remind us of it. He kept telling the audience that Islam has no fixed content when it comes to politics and law, that Islam could just as easily be another compromising and negotiating interest group like the AARP as the force which drove Suleiman's armies to the gates of Vienna. The Muslims who felt otherwise, he said, were "fundamentalists" who were out of touch with the fluid nature of Islamic theology and whose rigidity forced them into conflict with western values. But if Muslims are inevitably compelled to transform non-Muslim societies into Islamic societies, and if Islamic societies will have laws and social arrangements which are unique and non-Western, then how can Mr. Aslan simultaneously claim that Islam is so flexible and ever-changing that we need not worry about conflicts in values, about fighting, winning (or losing) a culture war? ‘There is no single Islam,' Mr. Aslan kept saying, ‘there is no true Islam.' Well then, where do Muslims get their duty to remake society into an Islamic form?

I think it might be more straightforward for Mr. Aslan to admit that, ultimately, the difference between his vision of Islamic conversion of the West and Osama bin Laden's vision is in the area of means. This is a far less-damning admission than one might think. The difference between William Wilberforce and John Brown can "ultimately" be put down to the issue of means, as can the difference between myself and men who murder abortionists. But if there's no true Islam, no single Islam, then how do Islamic societies find the moral and intellectual wherewithal to reject bin Laden's vision as Americans, for the most part, found the moral wherewithal to reject John Brown? Mr. Aslan's vision of an ever-changing Islam capable of compromise and even partnership with the western tradition proved too much, for it also proved that the hand of Islam can just as easily push a detonator as sign a treaty.

The overwhelming impression Mr. Aslan left was one of doublespeak, of a glib account which managed to portray Islam as tolerant without yielding anything of its cultural demands; claiming membership in society as an equal partner with Christianity or Judaism while owning a sense of entitlement over those rival faiths; eschewing the ravages of terrorism without committing itself to regard the terrorists as infidels, lawbreakers, and heretics. The standard western conservative reaction to this bafflegab is to recall the Islamic practice of al-Taqiyya:
The word "al-Taqiyya" literally means: "Concealing or disguising one's beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies at a time of eminent danger, whether now or later in time, to save oneself from physical and/or mental injury." A one-word translation would be "Dissimulation."
"It's all lies!," we hiss, "a dastardly plot to inflitrate and overthrow the west with flouridation pseudo-scholarly doubletalk!" I'm not too sure at this point.

A two-word translation for "al-Taqiyya" might be "discreet speech," the term used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to refer to the licit practice of Catholics muting our religious identity in times of eminent danger. There's more from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
St. Augustine held that the naked truth must be told whatever the consequences may be. . . . he puts [a] case which became classical in the schools. If a man is hid in your house, and his life is sought by murderers, and they come and ask you whether he is in the house, you may say that you know where he is, but will not tell: you may not deny that he is there. The Scholastics, while accepting the teaching of St. Augustine on the absolute and intrinsic malice of a lie, modified his teaching on the point which we are discussing. It is interesting to read what St. Raymund of Pennafort wrote on the subject in his Summa, published before the middle of the thirteenth century. He says that most doctors agree with St. Augustine, but others say that one should tell a lie in such cases. Then he gives his own opinion, speaking with hesitation and under correction. The owner of the house where the man lies concealed, on being asked whether he is there, should as far as possible say nothing. If silence would be equivalent to betrayal of the secret, then he should turn the question aside by asking another -- How should I know? -- or something of that sort. Or, says St. Raymund, he may make use of an expression with a double meaning, an equivocation . . . An infinite number of examples induced him to permit such equivocations, he says. Jacob, Esau, Abraham, Jehu, and the Archangel Gabriel made use of them. Or, he adds, you may say simply that the owner of the house ought to deny that the man is there, and, if his conscience tells him that this is the proper answer to give, then he will not go against his conscience, and so he will not sin.
I have a manual of moral theology which says that if one finds oneself among non-Catholics, to whom observing Catholic customs would be greatly offensive, one may omit the observance provided that in doing so one avoids any appearance of defection from the faith itself. Is that al-Taqiyya? I think it probably is, and that the paranoia heaped on the Islamic word is just an echo of how Protestants liked to misuse the subtleties of Catholic theology to prove that we're all deceivers, biding our time until we can break out our guns and ammunition and turn the whole country over to the Pope . . . . .

Confusion, glib doubletalk, eating one's cake and having it -- they're all the marks of deceptive men who have secret agendas. They're also the marks of men grappling with awkward and unfamiliar questions before a hostile and volatile audience. I don't just mean Mr. Aslan's audience. They were Washington intellectualoids. Hell, they probably liked the idea of subverting our civilization and replacing it with some kind of totalitarian ideology. No, I mean Islam's audience in the West. Mr. Aslan rightly referenced the religious wars of sixteenth-century Europe as the crucible in which our slow-poison compromise with secularism was forged. That was our answer. I don't expect or demand that Muslims take it for their own. Given what's happened to Christendom, I'd be very surprised if they did. And if post-enlightenment secularism was forcibly introduced into the West by foreigners, if Rousseau had been the Chinese Minister of Colonial Affairs for France, I'd have expected Western Christians to react far more vehemently and violently to secularism than they did. No, I think Mr. Aslan can be cut some slack for having the unenviable task of writing an apologia for a culture which has not identified its authentic response to modernity, seems to be in no hurry to do so, and also seems at times to be Hell-bent on letting the dynamics of warfare provide the answer.

As I said, Islam has unanswered questions. I think Mr. Aslan sounded far too confident of Islam's ability to answer them in the long term, let alone the next few decades. ‘There is no single Islam,' Mr. Aslan kept saying, ‘there is no true Islam.' Western nihilism can't provide the answer to Islam's questions, not unless Islam wants to become the world's largest Unitarian denomination. There had better be a single, true Islam, for if there isn't nobody really needs to listen to Mr. Aslan explain the harmony which can exist between multiple, fake Islams and the West. Mr. Aslan has written a book on the subject. I think I shall read it. Hopefully there's more pith in it than his presentation to the World Affairs Council.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stream of Consciousness

Unleashed by this story chronicling Howard Dean's efforts to give us the nickel-tour of the Democratic Mind. Story in black, what passes for my consciousness is in blue.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Yeeeeearrrrrrghhhhhhh!! Dean, unapologetic in the face of recent criticism that he has been too tough on his political opposition whereas, if Dean were a Republican, he'd be "defiant in the face of widespread criticism that he has been a divisive force in American politics", said in San Francisco Yeah, that's Dean -- the Liberal Beowulf, going boldly into the lair of the Republican beast this week that Republicans are "a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party." Don't bother with the "what if Dean were Trent Lott" meme. Yes, if Trent Lott had said that the Democrats all look the same and behave the same, and that it's pretty much a black liberal party, he'd be lashed to a rail. That's because, if one discounts the racist connotations of "look alike," Lott would be correct -- the Democratic Party is run by elitists who are so predictably, stultifyingly liberal that they don't even have to jerk their knees, those joints having long ago been hardened into the required position by socialist rigor mortis. And they run things in almost-total defiance of the sentiments and opinions of the party's winning political base -- black voters, without whom Democrats would have trouble qualifying for group rates at Disneyland. And Dean's right about the Republicans -- the vast majority of whom are white, and Christian. Just about every poll will tell you that if somebody "strongly disagrees" with the statement, "the Bible is Western civilization's counterpart to the Kama Sutra," he's ten times more likely to vote Republican. They don't talk about the culture wars for nothing; Dean's just describing the enemy. The enemy is "white" which, in leftist code means "enamored of anything that existed before 1968" and "Christian" which, again translated, means "unlikely to worship a pantheon on which Howard Dean sits in for the god Apollo."

"The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people," Oh, just say it -- homosexual, bi-sexual, multi-sexual, trans-gendered, inter-gendered, intra-gendered people who believe the Bible is western civilization's counterpart to the Kama Sutra Dean said Monday, responding to a no doubt tough, hard-hitting, and difficult question about diversity during a forum with minority leaders ever notice that minorities can't be represented in the Democratic Party without their "leaders"??? If you have, you probably don't think it takes a plantation to raise a child and, therefore, look just like me. and journalists. "We're more welcoming to different folksThey'z just folks, folks, like the Baldwin sisters on The Waltons -- ever wonder why those old ladies lived without a man for so long? It's because white fundamentalist Christian Klan preachers were perverting the Bible into a message condemning polygamy!!!, because that's the type of people we are. At least here in San Francisco. When we have to go to Iowa, however, we'll issue strict orders to the campaign staff not to spit on heterosexual married couples. But that's not enough. We do have to deliver on things: jobs and housing and business opportunities."If you and your pseudo-conservative cousins in the Republican Party didn't take 40% of our incomes, we wouldn't need you to give us jobs and housing and business opportunities. But then we wouldn't need you, and that would cancel the "I want to be a goddess, Claudius" outlook which motivates selfless people to enter public service.

The comments are another example of why the former Vermont governor, who remains popular with the party's grassroots all eight of them, not counting minority-leaders, has been a lightning rod for criticism since being elected to head the Democratic National Committee last February. His comments last week that Republicans "never made an honest living in their lives," which he later clarified to say Republican "leaders," and later clarified to mean, Christians who eat human flesh in underground tombs were disavowed by leading Democrats including Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson until such time as Dean's hate-speech proves prove useful in galvanizing votes, when you'll see Biden putting a torch to land-ownership records in a county recorder's office and Richardson ordering the National Guard to shoot people who can't say "shnizzle the bedizil."

Dean was outspoken not "divisive," not "controversial," but "outspoken" just like Ronny Cox on those Apple's Way shows liberals remember so fondly -- as usual -- as he trolled California this week, You can't "troll" on land stoking his party's coffers Oh for Pete's sake! Stoking the coffers, eh? Sure he wasn't funding the furnace? If these people write for a living there's hope for every monkey chained to a typewriter! and meeting with grass-roots activists known as the "California Eight." His San Francisco visit was at the tail end of a cross-country road tripRoad Trip!!!! Where's Flounder!??? , and Dean said that he will continue to pound the pavement Are you sure he wasn't going to pave the scales? -- and the GOP -- to get the Democratic message of class hatred, race hatred, and sexual-orientation-hatred-in-reverse across to new voters, particularly in minority communities.through their Gauleite . . . er . . . minority leaders.

But Dean's style and rhetoric not Dean's beliefs. No, he doesn't believe any of that stuff. So right away we know that critics are getting all snooty over nothing have sparked increasing criticism from inside the Democratic Party in recent weeks -- and gleeful Republicans say they couldn't be happier.See? Race identification and religious exclusion is a victimless crime when it's not directed at Democrats. Seriously, though -- if your opponent is doing something terribly, awfully wrong, shouldn't you try to stop him? I mean, if the country's supposed to be run by intelligent discussion between principled men, doesn't Dean's type of hate imperil the greater interests of us all? Oh, I forgot, the country's supposed to be run by greedy packs of Starbellied Sneetches and Plainbellied Sneetches who fight each other for patronage rights by any means necessary.

"Where do I sign up on a committee to keep Howard Dean?" crowed Starbellied Sneetch operative Jon Fleischmann, publisher of the FlashReport, a daily roundup of California political news and commentary. "He's the best thing to happen to the GOP in ages."I'm so glad Hitler's leading the National Socialists, exclaimed Horst Dumbass, local Communist-party operative. He's so inflammatory!! He's the best thing to happen to the Communists since the Tsar!

"I'm thrilled he's the DNC chair," says Tom Del Becarro, chairman of the Contra Costa County Republican Party. "Howard Dean is scaring away the middle. People don't like angry people. They like hopeful people.'' Yeah, they like people who are so hopeful they actually believe a bunch of Starbellied and Plainbellied Sneetches squabbling over a few hundred billion in stolen money are going to encourage a society where human dignity can flourish. And that's why the country's likely to be doomed.

But Simi Valley Councilman Glenn Becerra, a staffer with former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson which makes him a rock-ribbed Republican if there ever was one and a Bush appointee Ditto. to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars40% of our income a year!!! FORTY PERCENT these Sneetches take! For what?! So Simi Valley Councilmen can sit on a White House Commision on Something Totally Unrelated to the Purpose of the Federal Government, said Tuesday he was far from amused by Dean's suggestion that Republicans constitute "a white Christian party," and called the Democratic Party chairman "an embarrassment."

"I'm living proof that the (GOP) isn't what Howard Dean is trying to describe,'' Becerra said during a telephone interview. "It's a sad day when Democrats don't have any ideas to put forward, and they have to resort to race politics. President Bush didn't get 40 percent of the Hispanic vote (in 2004) because we're a monolithic, white Christian party."Of course, this could be a "crazy like a fox" move on Dean's part -- generating lots of soundbites in which Republicans distance themselves from their own voter base. We're not white! We have just as much antipathy to white people as the Democrats, more even! And as for Christianity . . .Phheeewww! Sure we have Christians, but that's only because they've proven themselves to be red-blooded Americans first.

Dean, speaking in a roundtable discussion Monday, "discussion Monday?" Is this reporter going to cover the presidential election November? downplayed the controversy over his rhetoric.

"This is one of those flaps that comes up once in awhile when I get tough," Dean said. "We have to be rough on the Republicans. Republicans don't represent ordinary Americans and they don't have any understanding of what it is to go out and try and make ends meet."Fair enough, I suppose, if you can make it stick. And with more and more Simi Valley Councilmen being appointed to more and more Presidential Commissions on the Perpetuation of Big Government, you'll get little argument from me. Problem is, Dean's about as representative of America as Rosa Luxemburg is of Oktoberfest.

Dean said that he had been addressing the matter of Americans standing in long lines to vote. Yeah, for the monolithic white Christian party.

"What I said was the Republican leadership didn't seem to care much about working people," he said. "That's essentially the gist of the quote."If you're Christian, you see, you don't care about working people. Not only that, but you've never made an honest living in your life. I'm still waiting for the denizens of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral to notice this rhetoric . . . . . waiting . . . . waiting . . . .

Still, the words brought sharp rebukes from fellow Democrats such as Biden, who Sunday said Dean "doesn't speak for me ... and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats.""who Sunday said?" Did Dean Saturday speak? Did reporter Star Wars see, before article writing? Besides, this isn't much of a retort from Biden. The only person Biden thinks capable of speaking for the majority of democrats is Niel Kinnock.

Other Democrats, including Richardson, said such comments hurt Dean's effort to increase Democratic registration, contributions and votes in red states dominated by Republicans.But that's phase II of Dean's plan. Those areas are in a state of rebellion against the United States of America. They should be occupied and reconstructed, not given voting status equal to true-blue American states like Manhattan, or George Soros. They won't . . . heh heh heh . . . be a problem come 2008.

But Alicia Wang, a DNC member and vice-chair of the California Democratic Party, said that "if there are any criticisms, it comes out of love. It's like family." You're a white racist homophobic Christ-worshiping bastard, and I love you! Oh gosh, I feel so warm and tingly all over. I've never felt so . . . accepted in my okayness.

Grassroots Democrats "love him," she said of Dean, whose roller-coaster presidential bid drew thousands of new voters and donors to the party before his defeat during the primaries. "People again and again, say, we need him to speak up ... and sound like a Democrat."Okay, here goes -- O Hermes Trismagistos, I invoke thee to protect America from the Christians! Uh, maybe not. How about this one? "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean . . . auggghghh!"

But Dean's performance -- and his problems -- have become a concern to deep pocketed donors in California, particularly Silicon Valley, This guy's gotta have a computer that rips out pronouns. Silicon Valley is not a donor. Donors live *in*, or may be found *in* Silicon Valley. which is the No. 3 ATM for political fund-raising in the country, behind New York and Los Angeles, That's how these people think. All of America is just a giant bank account for the Starbellied and Plainbellied Sneetches -- sometimes you go to the ATM, sometimes you raise a tax or impose a new telephone-bill surcharge, what the hell -- poor people live without money, why can't everybody else do it? said Wade Randlett, a key party fund-raiser in the high tech center. What's a Wade Randlett? Somebody who's read only half of The Fountainhead?

"He's got himself in trouble with social commentary, and that's not what the DNC chair does," Randlett said." That's what The Washington Post is for. For small donors, hearing 'George Bush is bad' is enough," Randlett said. "What I'm hearing very clearly from big donors is: tell me how we'll win." Oh that's easy -- we'll win by Yeeeaaaarrrggghhhh! Randlett said Dean has been criticized for not quickly improving the pace of fund-raising for the party with a recent Business Week story Yep, it's the Pronoun Michaelangelo Virus -- unless Dean was supposed to use a recent Business Week story to quickly improve the pace of fund-raising suggesting that he has been far outpaced by White Christian Party Republican National Committee chairman Elmer Gantry Ken Mehlman.

According to the story, the DNC has raised less than half of the $42.6 million raised by the RNC in the first four months of the year. Dean, whose schedule in San Francisco Monday included the roundtable, a visit to a gay and lesbian house partyWhat's the point of a gay and lesbian house party, I wonder? On second thought, don't tell me., and a fund-raiser, called the report "total hooey."As in "Hooooooeyyy, we're sure gettin' our asses kicked by the Republicans, yessir!

"It's silliness and gossip. We're raising twice as much money as we did in 2003," Dean said. "We're raising a million dollars a week. We're doing fine." That's $52 million a year, Howard. John Kerry had to collect over $326 million to make a serious run in 2004, but at your present rate Hillary will have $118 million less when it's time for her to become a goddess. She's not going to be a very happy goddess, Howard. I'd recommend sending her a few snow-white bulls with the check, assuming you haven't died or something. Here's a tip -- if your name shows up written on the wall of DNC headquarters, with a letter being removed mysteriously each night, it's time to send out resumes to Air America and Amnesty International.

But Republicans note Mehlman wrapped up this third trip as chairman to California last week, and trumpeted an aggressive schedule in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Jose and Sacramento that included hitting Hispanic small business events in Santa Ana, addressing African American voters and women's groups.See? Even the press notices it. Republicans address African-American * voters *. Democrats only talk to the "leaders."

"(Ken's) an operative, a tactician," said Fleischman, of FlashReport. Say that ten times fast. "Dean is a politician."

Randlett said he hopes and expects party leaders will soon "have a sit-down" with Dean over his message "that we're smarter than they are, and we ought to be running the country."Because we're not supposed to let the natives know how arrogant we are. The Brits did that in India, and all it got them was a bunch of confusing and emotionally-overwrought novels.

It's an approach that appears "shrill, angry and dismissive of all things Republican," Randlett said.No! Really? Are you sure, Wade?

Garry South, a leading Democratic strategist, said of Dean, "the only thing we can hope is that he understands the difference from being a shadow president to being the head of the party when we're out of office." His job is to "get the Democratic Party ready for the next election," South said. But "if he views himself as the public face of the Democratic Party, then we have a problem." Because the Democratic Party looks just like Dean, and if that really sank in, people would vote Starbellied in droves.

Dean says the criticism doesn't bother him. "I'm used to it. Look, this is a tough job. But it's not as tough as running for president."Besides, all those guys are white, and most of them are Christians to boot. Probably not Fleischman, I bet he's a Jew who's masquerading as a Christian, yeah, that's gotta be it. It's all so monolithic. Where's Astarte when you need her? Did I mention I'm writing my autobiography? I'm calling it The Golden Ass . . . . .

Monday, June 06, 2005

They Are the Very Models of a Modern Major General

Surveying the Garden of Delights it's made of the Constitution, the Supreme Court today noticed a tiny shoot of federalism, mistook it for the Demon Weed, and ripped it out by the roots. Some years ago California, and a few other states, passed laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. California's law allows marijuana to be used by prescription if a physician determines that the drug would assist patients suffering from "cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief." Two ladies in California were, pursuant to this law,
[B]eing treated by licensed, board-certified family practitioners, who have concluded, after prescribing a host of conventional medicines to treat [their] conditions and to alleviate their associated symptoms, that marijuana is the only drug available that provides effective treatment. Both women have been using marijuana as a medication for several years pursuant to their doctors' recommendation, and both rely heavily on cannabis to function on a daily basis. Indeed, [one woman's] physician believes that forgoing cannabis treatments would certainly cause [her] excruciating pain and could very well prove fatal.
California, in the exercise of its sovereignty, has determined that this is a proper use for marijuana. The federal government, in its voracious appetite for power and its horror of bad publicity, has determined that these women and their physicians ought to be doing hard time.

It's a very simple equation. On one side, you've got a state which has made an unpopular law. It's the kind of law that might be inspired, or kind, or absolutely silly; but it has the defect of terrorizing and inflaming the members of MAUUL, a shadowy organization which, I believe, is presently tyrannizing the whole country. MAUUL stands for Mothers Against Unwise Uses of Liberty, and it swings into action on a raft of issues, pushing for laws, laws, and more laws to prevent people from making any imprudent use of the great blessing of liberty. Sex discrimination is such an abuse and so MAULL -- which files lawsuits whenever two men drink together without "including" a woman in their discussion of basketball and prostate cancer -- is proud to note that Oliver Cromwell was one of its founding members.

Cromwell was a paragon of MAUUL's program. He found that pipe organs made worship pleasant, and ripped them out of England's Churches. He slaughtered the Irish by the bushel because they drank spirituous beverages, gambled, and told one another long, sad poems about the kind of weird and strange things you see in video games. And when Parliament wanted to abuse its great blessing of liberty Cromwell, in a triumph of MAULLism, turned England into a military dictatorship run by pure generals with pure hearts. His legacy lives on in the fervent faces of children who shout anti-drug slogans, dump used cigarette butts they've collected inside the premises of businesses which permit smoking, and rat their pot-toking parents out to the police as part of their school's "Dare to Be Drug Free - Exterminate the Wreckers" campaign.

The typical MAULL member is someone who, upon reading Orwell's description of the Anti-Sex League, wonders if he or she might not borrow the idea to serve a similar noble cause using strips of brightly-colored ribbon. The idea's not Orwell's -- Cromwell's army wore sashes, too. MAULLers insist on setting themselves apart from all the hell-bound backsliders who drink sherry, smoke cigarettes, and eat food that pads the arteries. Hence the lime-green boutonniere for "Tertiary Syphilis Awareness Week," the puce-and-teal corsage of "Food Kills You Month," and all those mendacious self-tests that diagnose your alcoholism if you even thought about answering "yes" to, "Do you find that alcohol consumption makes social gatherings more pleasant?"

These are the forces that confronted the Bush Administration with a terrible dilemma. Should it offend the New Model Army of MAULLers, and risk being labeled -- gasp!! -- soft on drugs? Or should it cosset two dope-toking Californian cancer patients and their fifty-seven cats? Acting with the same astonishing vision it has displayed toward illegal immigration, the Administration concluded that if it could pretend 50 million Mexicans weren't using a cheese-cloth border to unwrite the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, it could certainly pretend that California wasn't actually a state with its own constitution, laws, and sovereignty.

To the measured chanting (cheering is unruly and may lead to smoking, drinking, and the consumption of White Castle hamburgers) of MAULLers everywhere, the Administration announced that the only laws in America are federal laws, and since federal laws won't let physicians prescribe marijuana as a palliative for the constant vomiting induced by chemotherapy, Californians who dared to act as though they lived in a state rather than a French Department were going to lose their livelihoods and their liberty. Like Cromwell's parliament, California's backsliding legislature need not be tolerated when pure generals (now of the Attorney kind) are ready to leap on horseback and ride the land, vigilant for outbreaks of international terrorism and Reefer Madness.

So our pot-toking ladies did what anyone suffering from the disappearance of representative government would do. They tried to find bigger, stronger major generals to oppress the oppressors. In short, they sued, being very disappointed to learn that standing didn't exist for any of their fifty-seven cats, not even the Jellical one. After years of litigation, their appeal reached the last group of generals capable of defeating the Cromwellians.[1]

Of the nine, seven were commissioned by a political party which talks a lot about federalism. One of its leaders actually kept a card in his pocket, upon which was printed the Constitutional mandate that all powers not granted to the national government were reserved to the states. He took it out from time to time to remind him to put it back in his pocket. Other members of this party perpetually rail in print and elsewhere about unelected elites foisting their illegitimate personal priorities on the rest of us hard-working Americans.

This party has been saying for fifty years that the era of big government is over, really over, finally and completely over, honest, just as soon as they fix everything wrong with every hospital, fire department, swamp, social club, family, classroom, and outhouse in America. So there was hope, of a sort, that enough of the seven generals had heard of their party leader's card and would act accordingly to recognize that the United States is a federation of sovereigns, not a corporate flow-chart that relegates California to the box marked "Vice President for Community Affairs."

Alas, it was not to be. The armies met in the fall of 2004, and four of the seven generals donned MAULL sashes, stroked their chins, and opined that since marijuana might be very, very bad, nobody but the federal government had any business making laws about it. They were joined by two other generals from a separate faction, both of whom wondered why the issue was being joined, inasmuch as California's only constitutional function was to allocate electoral votes. Only three generals saw the right, and one of them was a surprise. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has not been kindly treated by the Dossier, not since she wrote an execrable tract in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that sounded more like an addled sophomore's year-book entry than a judicial opinion. But she managed to put her finger close enough to the instant matter:
We would do well to recall how James Madison, the father of the Constitution, described our system of joint sovereignty to the people of New York: "The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. . . . The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State." The Federalist No. 45, pp. 292–293 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961).

Relying on Congress' abstract assertions, the Court has endorsed making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one's own home for one's own medicinal use. This overreaching stifles an express choice by some States, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently. If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative; if I were a California legislator I would not have supported the Compassionate Use Act. But whatever the wisdom of California's experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case. For these reasons I dissent.
I dislike the last part because this case is about sovereignty, not a national policy of bad parenting that intends to let the kids make their own mistakes until things go too far. I certainly hope that's why Justice Thomas, who is quickly becoming my personal hero, and Justice Rhenquist joined her in dissent but refused to put their names to this part of her opinion.[2]

The fabled legal scholar Lino Graglia liked to tell a story which, he said, illustrated why federalism cannot survive in the United States. It involved, if I remember it right, Debbie Reynolds who, after a lifetime as an FDR liberal, became persuaded that Ronald Reagan's vision of American government was more wholesome and correct. In several talks with Graglia -- also a Reagan supporter -- she came to see the evils of judicial activism and rampant nationalism. Until, at least, the day she asked Professor Graglia to sign a petition urging Congress to make it a federal crime to mistreat a cat. When he exclaimed that this was exactly the kind of thing the Constitution doesn't allow, Reynolds exclaimed, "But Lino, this is important!"

Drugs are important. So is the national crusade to reduce American life to a uniform specification written by corporate executives who understand that federalism is a messy business that plays hob with the actuarial tables; national politicians who know that federalism makes their own jobs less important; and a host of national busybodies who'd much rather scream at Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity than persuade their neighbors to do something. You can't blame them, really. It must be great fun being a major general.

Now you must excuse me. I have to make a yellow, grey, and brown sash for "Naps are Naughty" day. And don't forget next week's the Great Nap Out, when we all go 24 hours without closing our eyes to draw attention to the addiction that's eroding our national competitiveness . . . . .

[1] The case is Gonzalez v. Raich, No. 03-1454. The decision of the Court is available online (in PDF format) here.

[2] Justice Scalia was not among the federalists; no doubt he consulted "canonical experts" to learn that, as with the ordinary magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, the Constitution's bill of rights merely expresses the prudential opinions of the founders which do not in any way prevent him from ruling as he likes.