Feigned Praise

Living in a democracy constantly reminds one of the views and the tastes of others, or at least it should. Among the many (and no, David, there are not just two) reactions to this sometimes unpleasant fact are the following: (1) search for the source–the motivation, the justification, the history, you name it–of the disagreeable (to you) belief; or (2) don’t search out the source, but rather make up a dumb story. If this were a moral imperative (and considering how often we’ve run into it on this page it might as well be), it would run something like this: act as if the maxim of your opponent’s belief is really stupid. Since your views are opposite their stupid ones, you must therefore be smart.

Worse than acting on this perverted maxim, is using it to praise others. And so, in praise of Mitch Daniels, George Will writes:

>Ending bottled water for employees of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (annual savings, $35,000). Ending notification of drivers that their licenses are expiring; letting them be responsible for noticing (saving $200,000). Buying rather than renting floor mats for BMV offices (saving $267,000 this year). Initiating the sale of 2,096 surplus state vehicles (so far, $1.95 million in revenue from 1,514 sales). Changing the state lottery’s newsletter from semimonthly and in color to a monthly and black-and-white (annual savings, $21,670). And so on, and on, agency by agency.

All of those seem like reasonable budget-cutting measures. But,

>Such matters might be dismissed by liberals who think government spending is an index of government “caring,” and perhaps by a new sect called “national greatness conservatives” who regard Daniels’s kind of parsimony as a small-minded, cheeseparing exercise unworthy of government’s great and stately missions. But it seems to be an Indiana approach.

Who are these liberals? Who are these conservatives? To Will, it doesn’t matter. Sure, you may find one or two liberals (and perhaps the same number of conservatives) who hold these views. Why argue against *them*? Their view is a strawman of itself. Will (and Daniels) perhaps should consider the fiscally responsible type liberal–the ones who didn’t advocate expensive foreign entanglements among other things.

Contrary to Will’s attempted encomium, we can only assume that Mr.Daniels has good reasons for his beliefs.

Argumentum ad Statuam

If Charles Krauthammer is to be believed, the proliferation of statues of various foreign *liberators* (Ireland, India, Uruguay, Ukraine, Bolivia, among others) not only makes Washington unique as a capitol (the only negative comparison he mentions is–hold on to your hats–France) from the rest of the capitols of the world, but it also shows “America’s devotion to liberty. Liberty not just here but everywhere. Indeed, liberty for its own sake.”

That we love liberty for its own sake–whatever that means–can hardly be demonstrated by statues of specific individuals littering our nation’s capital. As we have seen with our own eyes, other nations decorate the plazas, streets, and parks of their capitals with similar statues (but they’re not devoted to liberty–since they’re not Americans). Besides, the mere fact that the figures mentioned were “liberators” hardly means that they loved American style *liberty* (whatever one means by that).

The weird thing about this argument is that since real deeds of real American leaders have posed rhetorical challenges greater than which Krauthammer can conceive, he hopes patriotic sentiment generated by a Lee Greenwood (“I’m proud to be an American) guided tour of monumental Washington (and New York) demonstrates the purity of our intentions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But don’t just listen to the statues, listen to the “the overwhelming majority of Americans” who “refuse to believe” that our motives are anything but pure and [w]hatever their misgivings about the cost and wisdom of these wars, they know how deep and authentic is the American devotion to liberty.”

We do love liberty, but many find our devotion to it deeply mysterious. To them our intentions demonstrate nothing–they see only what we do. Perhaps rather than insisting on the goodness of our intentions, we should wonder about the wisdom of our actions.

Bad Manners

George Will writes in today’s *Washington Post*:

>Actually, manners are the practice of a virtue. The virtue is called civility, a word related — as a foundation is related to a house — to the word civilization.

Nevermind the specious analogy. The real surprise is that one of the most mannerless of newspaper opinion mongers utters it. But we should thank him. We’ve been looking around for a new analogy. The principles and practices of informal logic (those first scientifically studied by Aristotle) are like manners (and to some degree the rules of punctuation) to the extent that they seem much to *our* dismay to be “unenforceable.” But unfortunately, if it’s the case that

>a nation’s greatness is measured not only by obedience of laws but also by “obedience to the unenforceable”

as Will himself affirms, then we are in deep trouble; for civil society–a society of *cives* who persuade by reason rather than force–is grounded sound reasoning. The citizens who argue–especially those gifted with semiweekly spots on op-ed pages of world-wide circulation–have a special duty to be on their best behavior in their discursive interactions with others. That such has not been the case with this particular author is amply demonstrated by the archives of this website.

We would certainly agree that “manners are means of extending respect, especially to strangers.” And for this reason we bristle at the following:

>It is politeness to the league’s customers who, weary of seeing players dressed in “edgy” hip-hop “street” or “gangsta” styles, want to be able to distinguish the Bucks and Knicks from the Bloods and Crips. Stern also understands that players who wear “in your face” clothes of a kind, and in a manner, that evokes Sing Sing more than Brooks Brothers might be more inclined to fight on the floor and to allow fights to migrate to the stands, as happened last year.

The suggestion that the clothes caused the fight (and only one fight in all of the games–hockey anyone?), or made the fight more likely is as unmannered as judging a person by the way he or she dresses.

Begging the amendment

Two guys writing in the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post write:

>When conservatives say that we want “conservative” judges, or “strict constructionist” or “constitutionalist” judges, what we mean is pretty simple: *We want judges who won’t make stuff up.* We want judges who won’t view the Constitution as a mirror in which, at every turn, they see reflected their own opinions and policy preferences. We want judges who will play it straight, read the Constitutional or statutory text (our text, not foreign ones, which the court has relied on in cases like last session’s Roper v. Simmons , which held execution of juveniles to be unconstitutional), and apply it as fairly as they can to the individual case before them. [emphasis added].

And we cannot help but wonder whether these two fellows have read the Constitution of the United States. Not be glib, but the Constitution’s Ninth Amendment reads–strictly quoted:

>The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Puzzling. The Constitution says unqualifiedly that the enumeration of specific rights doesn’t mean that other unenumerated rights can be denied or disparaged. Now of course such rights are *not* enumerated in the Constitution–but they are claimed to exist–so one has to wonder how people have been able to say “inventing new rights” (as do the knuckleheads who wrote this piece) without shamelessly assuming the very thing they must demonstrate (that the rights in question are not rights retained). So the Constitution itself says that just because it isn’t in there does not mean it’s not a right.

Strictly construed, in other words, the Constitution does not strictly construe itself.

The beam in your eye

Just like one should be careful not to misspell “misspelling,” one should be certain not to call someone else’s argument “intellectually disreputable” in an intellectually disreputable way. And so George Will cluelessly claims Bush has forced the Democrats into a choice of two equally unpalatable alternatives. But, first, the alternatives are speciously dichotomous. And second, in his zeal for victory in argument, Will didn’t even wait for actual obliging democrats to make any such arguments; his intellectually disreputable democrats are hypothetical, that is to say, fictional, as in not actual. Back to the main point. Along the way to the claim about the not-yet-existent argument being intellectually disreputable, Will points out:

>Now Reid deplores the Alito nomination because it was, Reid says, done without Democratic “consultation.” But it was during such consultation that, Reid says, he warned the president not to nominate Alito. So Reid’s logic is that nothing counts as consultation unless it results in conformity with Democratic dictates.

It is not *Reid’s* logic that dictates the childishly narrow interpretation of “consultation.” It’s *Will’s*. Children do this when they want to stick it to their parents–they play on newfound subtleties of words. Here Will’s puerile Bush takes “consultation” to include any conversation on the topic of judges, without the obvious component of, say, seriously considering the objections of the consulting party.

And that’s an insult to Bush as much as it is to the Democrats whose arguments Will cannot even be bothered to wait for.